All I really need to know, I learned on a canoe trip

beauty is always in the eye of the beholder

expectations keep you from loving what is

comparison blinds you from seeing

laughter makes anything easier

keeping your center of gravity low makes it easier to weather storms

kneeling takes the burden off your back

devastation and hope are like lovers, they kiss and new life is born

fire is necessary for wholeness

negativity colors everything black

contentment is a choice

it is possible to stay grounded while moving

paying attention fosters understanding

transitions are often the most precarious moments, balance is key

piling up stones to mark the way can ease the way for those who follow

sometimes your body speaks a truth that your thoughts won’t allow

without fire, something precious in life will die off

focusing on the destination makes you take your eyes off the wonders of the journey

its impossible to capture what it is that you see so that others will understand it

sweetness appears along the way in the most unexpected of places

storms release fragrance

exhultation often follows exertion

sometimes you have to dig deep to make forward progress

approaching with reverence changes your heart

wrong turns can lead to enchanted passages

a small depression can provide shelter when stormclouds descend

one’s vantage point can offer fresh perspectives of grace

a song in one’s heart escapes from the lips without effort


Woodland Wanderings

Tales from our recent trip to Woodland Caribou Provincial Park


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Suddenly, it became clear to me. Like spying an elusive shoreline at last, its dark outline materializing from within a dense fog, this indistinct feeling I have been carrying about with me crystallizes. As if some extra weight had somehow been tucked unawares into my pack, my legs had been feeling the subtle heaviness of bearing it, though I’d not been able to locate nor name its source.

A bit “lost” was how I’d put it in a brief descriptor to my spouse, when he’d asked, but later, responding in writing to a friend’s invitation to come to her place for a visit, the words unfolded the feeling, as they often do for me when putting pen to paper and I discover what ‘I know that I didn’t know I knew’. This feeling is not ‘lost’ so much as it is a feeling of rootlessness, of being adrift.

While the word ‘rootless’ indeed fits in some ways – after all it is hard to grow deep roots when one is constantly pulling oneself up and plunking oneself into a different soil, and blossoms never quite develop fully (its seems the prescription to ‘bloom where you are planted’ requires staying put) – the word ‘adrift’ feels more accurate somehow. Afloat in my boat, searching the shoreline through heavy fog, for the fire that signals Home. Though I stop frequently along the way to visit – commune even- at warm and welcoming fires, at the end of each visit, I pack up my tent and move along because the feeling of being a guest becomes wearying in its own kind of way.

Perhaps we all feel like transient visitors at times (or always?). Deep down the longing for belonging never really goes away, it just quiets from time to time, sleeping soundly in the arms of occasional intimacies.

Yesterday the question came to me, ‘What is your idea of a meaningful life’? Again, there was this putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, in this case) and being surprised at the wisdom of that quiet voice within me, who given the opportunity to be heard whispers her truth.

‘An intimate life’, she said.

Intimate -with place, with self, with the other– of the human and non-human variety. Being known and knowing deeply. Such intimacy requires a certain kind of slowing, a stillness, a deeper attention- listening, observing – a being with.

Dwelling with.

Now I also expect that when I accept the invitation to stay awhile at those welcoming, neighboring fires, I am so often invited to stay awhile longer because the other is longing for the same kind of intimacy that my soul so readily bares and shares. There is a richness to the feast of such sharing, and we human beings are so hungry.

But yesterday morning, I knew it was time- time to pack my gear, load my canoe, paddle into the stillness of the morning, into the rising mists of dawn, continue my search for that familiar rise of land, that particular slope of granite, that sheltering grove of pine, that circle of stones that is my home hearth, where i am not stranger, but home.

shield of vulnerability?

Octopuses, Deer flies, and Human beingness

I picked up the book, the one that had filled my heart with wonder at the intelligence and sentience of the other beings with whom we share this planet, and with whom we share aspects of a vast and ungraspable divine light….or bits of a higher intelligence… or remnant sparks of the big bang… whatever you will. Its words spoke to me of the hubris of our human condition, believing as we are that it is we who contain the one and only image.
I dove into the book, as I dove into the tent perhaps, for shelter, from the nagging voices that in the background buzz about, and the harsher ones that bellow about, making of me a hopeless and despairing lump of clay.
‘Let your vulnerability be your shield’, my friend had said. What does that even mean? So many nuances to that invitation. How to let down one’s defenses, the very ones we think are protecting us when in truth they may be keeping out the very thing we need – authentic human being, unknowing and imperfect and communal.
In a conversation with my daughter, later, we dove into the acceptance of one another’s ways – each so vastly different than the other’s- though we too come from the same body, the same elements swirling within our human frames. Letting down the guard of knowing what was right and true, we temporarily dropped the veil that keeps us from seeing simply, through eyes of love.
The author of the book speaks too of how her study of those creatures – so very different than we humans – and her growing intimacy with them, makes her want to get inside their skin, understand how it truly is to be who and how they are. She comes face to face with the reality, over and again, that we can never fully grasp the internal experience of another – human or other.
My daughter told the story of how Mr Rogers died questioning whether he was good enough. I wonder if that perhaps is the one thing all humans have in common, this striving to know that we are loved as we are. Somehow, I don’t expect that the other-than-human creatures in this phenomenal world are plagued with that broad smudge upon their lives.
Inside my tent, there is just a thin screen between me and the outer world. Is this a shield of vulnerability? Certainly it won’t protect me from the violent thunderstorms that can rise in a flash of lightning to roar across this landscape, but I can watch the treetops sway above me from this vantage point, feel the resilient strength of their dancing. I can awaken from my sleep to gaze upon the fullness of the moon, reflecting the light in her own way as she traces her graceful arc from head to foot across the hazy summer night sky. I can fill myself with wonder at their ways, which are not my own.
But this night, as I dove into my tent for escape from those nagging voices that swarmed and buzzed about my head, biting at me with their incessant jaws and drawing blood, I picked up that book and swatted at them one by one until their own blood adorned the cover of my book. I too can be a cold-blooded killer (hmmm, does an insect have cold blood? was the blood smeared upon my book my own that they had stolen from me? is that justification? does it matter?) The irony that I was using a book about the sentience of other beings as a weapon with which to kill was not lost on me even as I pummeled away.
On my drive to this beloved place, I had listened to the read-aloud short story, Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood. The main character also pummeled to death one who had so many years ago stolen her life’s blood in a vicious date rape of her 14 year old vulnerable self, altering the course of her life story’s trajectory forever. It was a ‘killing me softly with her song’ moment for me, hearing her words ‘singing my whole life’. I understand what it is like to be inside that particular human skin with not even a thin screen to protect you from the onslaught.
The nagging voices in my own head about my own smudge, which often feels more like being coated in sludge, rise up seasonally like this to haunt my sleep. Human shame is like that. Even when put upon us by another (which, let’s face it, is almost always the case at the beginning of the cycle) it is nearly impossible to fully cast off. The ways our hearts react to that initial smearing of our innate worth, add layer upon layer to that shame, like the layers of soil laid down within the heavy stone the story’s protagonist finally used to pummel the skull of her predator. Believing the lie of our unworthiness, of our soiled selves, of our un-lovability, we live as if we are, all the while desparately seeking someone to silence those internalized voices of disgrace.
Reading the pages of my own life story, I tear out the pages, seeking at last to destroy that which haunts me, only to retrieve them once again from the trash.
Eight deerfly murders later, I lie back to read again from my book. In it, the human beings in charge of the aquarium, despite their efforts to save the life of a captive octopus, inadvertently cause her demise. They are filled with deep remorse at their failure. Sometimes shame is like that too. Try as we might to do good, to love purely, to not pass along the wound, we fail. The conversation with my daughter is a case for that point.
Several hours later, I open the tent door a crack to stealth out for a pee. About one hundred and fifty seven mosquitos lie in wait. The ones who don’t hit my bare skin as I squat follow me back into the tent. The book comes back out again.
Perhaps it will just be like this from time to time, this seasonal cycle. However, the Octopus that the aquarium adopts after the unfortunate death, they name Karma. Not fate, karma is the choice to act differently, to learn, to grow in wisdom and compassion. Self compassion included.
Is self compassion, then, the shield of vulnerability my friend invites me to pull over myself? Wear that as a mantle in place of the cloak of shame. Like the screen of my tent, a thin enough membrane to allow me to breathe deeply and reverentially of the beauty of those who surround me, a thin enough shield to allow love to more fully enter, to flow both in and out, without needing to be rigid, or right, or true, or the one and only, or sinner, or savior, or saint, or merely good enough, but human in all of its vulnerable and unknowable incarnate wonder. 

Like the arching structure of my tent, perhaps overarching veil of self-compassion is much stronger than it seems, strong enough to withstand these occasional storms.

Deer Fly.jpg


too much beauty to bear

She really wants to know my growing-up, formative landscape, the one that surely must have created in me this deep love of Earth and Water in this place….

I once heard a young woman describe what it was like for her to fall in love with a woman after many empty attempts at heterosexual relationships… how everything suddenly fell in place, as if she’d at last discovered what had been missing. She described it as something like the gnawing feeling you have when you know you’ve misplaced something but can’t recall what it is or even be certain whether you’ve actually lost something at all or might just be lost yourself. How it is that when you stumble upon it you finally remember who you are.

That’s the best answer I can give to her question, vague as it is. That when I found this place, it was like something missing in me was found and returned to me. How this particularly shaped hole formed in me, I cannot say. It is a mystery of belonging too deep for my words or my understanding.

Part 1

Two nights ago, an unexpected and unsolicited piece of information came my way. I don’t know what to think about such bewildering sychronicities as this, how it is that not 24 hours after I wrote the words above, confessing my feelings that something missing in me is inexplicably met in the water and the woods of Algonquin, this news arrived on the doorstep of my heart. Not a day after confessing the unaccountably deep feeling of belonging and homecoming I experience in my bones in this place, which seems to have no relation to any landscape in my personal life’s history, I learn the strange news that my ancestor grandmother may have been a Penobscot Indian. Yes, that Penobscot, people of birch bark canoes and beavers, otter and moose and turtles, lakes and rivers and mountains.

If I am honest, I tend to be quite cynical about things like this. Not only synchronistic timings that feel providential, but also that there is in me the spirit (even if only the DNA) of an ancestor so strong that it awakens such longings in me, vague memories of rightness and feelings of familiarity. But here I am, a bit giddy, in fact, waking through the night with her in my heart. I feel like Alex Haley discovering the roots that made his own life suddenly clear.

A 4th great grandmother was she, a woman whom I’ve known was a chapter in our family story but about whom I had no details, such as setting or plot, other than she was a ‘full blooded American Indian’. As a young girl, I’d been enchanted by the possibility of her, imagining myself her descendant. I remember ingenuously attempting to walk through the woods without making a sound, (checking my footprints to see if they were parallel and straight, as I’d been told a ‘true’ Indian’s were), beading bracelets on my ‘Indian loom’, and yearning to let my boy haircut grow down to my waist (which I finally did when my mother got angry after the beautician gave me a stylish cut in the 4th grade of which she didn’t approve, and so never took me for a haircut again). As an adult, I’d occasionally pour over the photos of my ancestors, which my grandmother had given me stretching back to the 1860’s, looking for hints in those solemn faces. My best guess, living in this part of the country and state, was that she might have been interred at the Carlisle Indian school and married from there.

I cannot fully describe the elation I experienced, the oh my god, ‘yes’, as the pieces fell into place. The strange feeling of home in that place. The way my body relaxes when it settles into a canoe. My affinity for the beaver, the turtle (even before experiencing them in Algonquin), the hemlock and spruce.

It feels as if I am gifting her in my return to those places, seeing those waters through her eyes, weeping with the joy of the long awaited reunion of lover to beloved.

Part 2.

Yesterday, my first day back from my recent visit to Algonquin, I visited my mother, who is suffering from significant dementia. I’ve written often about that troubled relationship here. (like this post and that one ) Lately there has been a sort of truce between us, me loving the humanity in her, the ways that her own life must’ve been painful and difficult, finding compassion for her as a woman in my own maturity that i couldn’t as a young woman. She, in her forgetfulness of me over the past year, has mostly greeted me as a nice stranger whose company she enjoys. Yesterday, something clicked in her, as she asked my sister, for the 10th time during our visit, who I was. Suddenly, from her newfound awareness, she went into a negative tirade about how bad I was (nasty was the word she used). I allowed it to simply be, as best I could from a place of heartbroken love, understanding the pain I have also likely caused her. Perhaps it is true that hearts breaking open make space over time. Still, though I was on some level able to see her with eyes of love/ feel compassion and forgiveness for her in those moments, it was interesting to notice how my body belied my benevolent thoughts. I experienced a complete draining away of my energy.

This morning a quote came to me, attributed to native American author, Linda Hogan –

“Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”

Part 3.

Today, I went to a post-medical-testing consult with my. spouse It seems he will be needing surgery again. Our plans for paddling together in Algonquin will have to take a back seat for the 3rd summer in a row. There will be consults, surgery, pain, caregiving and recovery. My love for him and my sadness over the loss coexist in my body at once. There is so much more complexity within this than I can begin to express here, than perhaps I am even consciously aware. Again, my body knows it. The profound grief within this washes over and through me, and all I can do tonight is to let it be.

I listened yesterday to a podcast where the following words on ‘love in the hard places’ gifted me with their grace. I return to them now.

Love is space. (it is not preference, alignment, affinity or positive reflection). It is developing the capacity for spaciousness within ourselves to allow others to be as they are. That is love. And that doesn’t mean that we don’t have hopes or wishes that things are changed or shifted, but that to come from a place of love is to be in acceptance of what is, even in the face of moving it towards something that is more whole, more just, more spacious for all of us. It’s bigness. It’s allowance. It’s flexibility.”

I thought today often of the strength and resilience of my Native American grandmother, the intense grief that must have been hers to bear within her profound longing for place, the ache within her for home and belonging, perhaps even for Love. Perhaps I have more of her inside of me than I know. She gifts me now with eyes to see how to hold it all, with a heart wide enough to Love.

northern spring awakening 2

April 29

On Sunday, I attended a church where the stations of the earth are being prayed and the wonders of evolution are being celebrated ( yes ), then drove into the park to thickly ice-and-snow covered lakes where the north winds blew cold. We saw several die hard fisherman out ice fishing for the opening of trout season. Farther upstream, however, the shallow creek was flowing wide and fast, the beavers busily out and about as we took our Sunday picnic on her banks, protected from the wind, on sun warmed rocks.
Yesterday, the temperatures stretched to reach 65 degrees, the ice on our south facing shore pulling away a few feet from that reach. I sat with my afternoon tea, for an hour or so after the day’s chores we’re done, late in the day and could almost see and hear its aquiescence. My friend promises she’ll paddle that narrow shoreline channel for the few hundred feet that it is open along the edge today, although in some places it is barely wide enough for her kayak. Diehards seem to thrive here.
The flickers have awakened me the last two mornings, their squeeky toy chatters when they come together a humorous contrast to the way they find the loudest thing to drum upon ( metal chimneys and electricity transformer oxes) to show off. The morning air flowing in the cracked open window is nippy on my nose (@25 degrees), but the morning chorus warms me, nonetheless. Time to put a log in the fire.
Oh sweet Canada.

May 1

At the end of the day’s chores, I sit in silence at the waters edge. The sun is high and warm, the wind almost tropical, except for the coolness it lifts from the ice. Closing my eyes, I feel the wind tease the loose strands from my working hair knot. Listening deeply it seems that the rhythm of the wind’s gusting and receding is the breath of Earth, and I fall into that rising and falling with her.

I think about the question my friend has asked me, “How did your landscape form you?” though I still cannot answer. She really wants to know my growing up landscape, the one that surely must have created in me this deep love of the Earth and the Water in this place.

I once heard a young woman describe what it was like for her to fall in love with a woman after many empty attempts at heterosexual relationships… how everything suddenly fell into place, as if she’d at last discovered what had been missing. She described it as something like the gnawing feeling you have when you know you’ve misplaced something but can’t recall what it is or even be certain whether you’ve actually lost something at all or might just be lost yourself. How it is that when you stumble upon it you finally remember who you are. Ah.

That’s the best answer I can give to her question, vague as it is. That when I found this place, it was like something missing in me was found and returned to me. How this particularly shaped hole formed in me, I cannot say. It is a mystery of belonging too deep for my words or my understanding.

northern spring awakening

April 23

Today, I walked across the ice-and-snow covered lake to the point, where a series of wolf tracks converged on the shore, then disappeared up over the granite ledge . A set of moose tracks emerged from the same general area headed out toward the island. I discovered the vixen’s den burrowed into the bank behind the cabins. I’ve spotted her out and about with her swollen teats, hunting for food, heard her barking last night.

The blackbirds are making a racket, waiting for the marsh to thaw.

April 25

Woke to the music of the white throated sparrow singing her “O Sweet Canada Canada” outside my window and the percussion of the rain pattering on the tin roof. The morning fog, rising off the ice, was thick as cotton (or maybe it was whipped frosting), blurring the separation between frozen water below and gray sky above. This afternoon, an otter went running and sliding across the lake like a child on a slip-and-slide in summer.
The rain is helping the lake to finally begin melting. Soon these rolling frozen furrows will be waves lapping the summer shore.

April 26

The day dawns bright and crisp (28 degrees), the sky a brilliant blue after a crystal night where the almost-full moon cast it’s silver light upon the birches and the still frozen water. The days are growing warmer (near 60 degrees yesterday) as each day spring inches nearer, even as the ice inches away from the shoreline. The quality of the ice changes day by day. It is now rough and pecked on its surface, no longer smooth. The waters uphill are rushing with the snow that melts by day. Inland vernal pools are filling.
The wood ducks have found their way here now, their ooeek calls fill the early evening air. The ruffed grouse are strutting their stuff, proudly puffing that ruff while displaying their tails and drumming their wings for any seemingly indifferent females who might be gleaning nearby.
Yesterday, while walking I caught a scent of something so terribly sweet that it made me pause to look closer, wondering what could be possibly blooming in these bare winter woods. Even the butterflies seem to be awakening, alighting on the cindered roads. For minerals, I presume. And O Sweet Canada continues to sing her morning song.

April 27

Tonight, a picnic dinner with my friend on a sloping rock next to the frozen bay. A beaver decided to join us, munching away on his twigs perhaps 15 feet from where we sat, taking advantage, as were we, of the late day sun ‘warming’ the 3 feet or so of open water along the shoreline. We heard him before we spotted him, chomping so noisily I thought at first he was a duck flapping his wings in the water for a bath.

A long walk ensued, following in the tracks of the moose, where we spotted a turkey and a hawk and heard the first wood thrush of spring.

The snow continues to melt, carving rivulets and tumblng over rocks and winter-fallen limbs. The sap is likewise running, dripping from woodpecker holes. I caught a drop on my finger, put it to my lips for a taste.

A rainbow, high in the sky, arced from one end to the other of a solitary cloud in an otherwise clear sky, neither foot touching the earth. My friend called it a “sun dog” and said it portends rain. The forecast is indeed for cold rain, possibly freezing, or snow tomorrow.

Spring in the north .

April 28

Cold and raw, freezing rain this evening. The day was blustery and crisp. My body is tired this evening, for though I have been sharing the delights of this late winter north, there is also much work to be done to prepare the lodge for summer guests, who are due to begin arriving next weekend. By day, I have been washing windows and wiping down walls, painting, hauling water ( it is too cold yet to turn on the taps) and firewood, doing yard work and carting debris. There are mattresses to lift and bathrooms to scrub.

However, the remuneration for me is most generous – the opportunity to dwell for a time in this place that loves me like no other. To be with the Earth here as she awakens from her long sleep, attending to each nuance of that awakening, like observing a lover in bed next to me, stirring then settling, then rolling over and snoring, then eyes peeping open with a yawn and a smile, arms welcoming me into embrace. These vulnerable intimate moments bonding me ever more.

Both of these experiences here… the physical work and the more sensual, quiet attending… remind me that I am a part of something quite precious and rare.

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