Thursday, February 4, 2010

Wild Places

Every year as summer ebbs into the memory and fall is in full flow, it feels good to get a break from our civilized world. It is my time to recover flagging energies and truly connect with nature and the wild. In Temagami, after a long day’s paddle across large lakes and along narrow rivers, the reward is to discover an ideal island at which to set up camp. A waterfall roars off in the mid-distance, beyond the bend. The sun is going down as we gather wood for the evening’s campfire. Dusk is magic hour as our canoe draws us past ancient rockfaces. We bear mute witness to the spirits of the ages, their reflections dancing wistfully on the waters as night descends. These custodians of the canyon wrap us in fog as we glide along the waterline, transients, water-boatmen on the silky surface, a liquid bond straddling the twilit heavens and the dark untapped depths beneath our paddles.
We have been guided in to this old-growth sanctuary by ravens, and now loons announce their welcome. At this season of change marked by the onset of cold nights, the odd shower or flurry, gusty winds and the continued shedding of foliage, there are likely no other humans in our midst, but deer and bear, beavers, fish, frogs, ducks and birds are around. To share time and space with them is to feel a definite spritual connection to the wild and to those who have trodden these paths, paddled these waters before us. At dawn a cluster of pines stands sentinel over the misted lake. A stroll reveals the island to us. Pink rocks are partly cloaked in moss and lichens, partly bare but drenched in early morning moisture. The sun suddenly pierces through the trees across the lake. The ground between the towering white pines and clumps of birch is soft with decomposing matter.
I try to make nature part of my every day but there is no substitute for raw exposure to the wilds and the elements. Temagami transports us into a magical realm where the cycle of life and the vision of death are seen stark and true. Seeds germinate, struggle for survival; plants live long, age gracefully, and finally return to the earth, embraced by the living forest floor which nurtures the cradling soil for a successor seed blowing in on the wind. Plants, wildlife and weather perform an absorbing, never-ending play, in which we are incidental participants rather than masters. We soak up the charged energy; nature challenges us and rewards us with fleeting epiphanies and visions of great beauty.
Native peoples endured the extended cold of long winters out here in the woods because they embraced nature, respected it, and gave thanks to it. They were part of it, and it became them. The blowing snows, the numbing cold, the evolving climate are a reminder how intimately connected we all are to the Earth, and how we meddle with it at our peril. As a ‘civilization’, we are accelerating the extinction of species; toxins in the air, water and soils; an altered climate; irresponsible resource exploitation; unfettered corporate greed.
We should be preserving every wild place, setting them aside for future generations. Our wide-eyed wonder is the key to our souls, and our intimacy with nature in the wild enables us to affirm all life. After all, “Once wonder has been chased from our thinking about the land, then we are lost ” (Robert Macfarlane – The Wild Places).