I’m paddling with my sweetheart in Quetico Provincial Park, a canoeist’s paradise located northwest of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Practically every year for more than 20 years, John and I have driven the 1900-some kilometers from our home to paddle the lakes and rivers of Quetico with good friends. For various reasons, the timing of our regular May trip didn’t work for our friends this year, and now, late August, it’s just the two of us and our old, scratched but trustworthy green Prospector canoe.
The days are quiet. We meet very few people in the week that we are out. Most of the birds have left. We hear blue jays, gray jays and chickadees, see bald eagles and ravens, and watch with delight the loon couples with their teenage offspring.
We have left behind all the electronic devices that tied us to the civilized world, including watches. As a result, we fall into a rhythm of attuning to the sun’s place in the sky, and how our bodies feel. We wake up as the sky lightens, eat when we are hungry, and stop to camp when we are tired.
On the long paddling days, the mind empties. Or rather, it becomes animal mind – a non-intellectual receptiveness to the lush and varied expression of life here in the wild. Our eyes linger repeatedly over the myriad types of moss in colours ranging from green to grey to rust. We hold our breath as three otters surface near the canoe, stretching their necks and snuffling the air to get a better sense of us. Sometimes I close my eyes and let the other senses take over, tuning into the not unpleasant smell of fish in the water, the sound of the wind soughing through the birches and red pines, the rocking sensation of the canoe gliding over the waves.
William Stafford’s poem, Why I Am Happy, is often with me during these peaceful, sun-soaked days. I suspect that his lake – so blue and far – is a metaphor for an inner harmony that one can call on in the midst of the world’s constant turmoil. (The illusion to the wind and the willow might recall childhood innocence, but that is for another subject). I have often found that being in nature creates the bridge to that inner harmony. As I paddle these blue-black lakes so far from home, and allow animal mind its place, the moments flow as an endless now.
Why I Am Happy
Now has come, an easy time. I let it
roll. There is a lake somewhere
so blue and far nobody owns it.
A wind comes by and a willow listens
I hear all this, every summer. I laugh
and cry for every turn of the world,
its terribly cold, innocent spin.
That lake stays blue and free; it goes
on and on.
And I know where it is.