Seagull Outfitters Paddler’s Tales

The Psychic Weight of Knowing

By: Rick Sides

rainbow over the lakeSeveral years ago I was camped on the north end of Saganagons Lake in early July when I saw a lone paddler making his way slowly toward the rock on which I sat to watch the morning unfold. When he got closer I noticed that he had eight packs, several cans of camping stove fuel, and numerous other items of equipment piled high in the canoe. We said hello and he stopped his canoe by my rock for a brief chat.

He said that he comes into the Quetico each year from late May until September. He teaches at a community college somewhere, although he didn’t tell me what he taught. He had a thick beard, a deep tan, and a wiry muscular frame. He seemed very calm and contented. After asking me where I was from he then grinned and added a second question, “What’s been happening in the world?”

As it was July, I shared a few items of late breaking summer news, at least what had happened before I entered the Northwoods myself. He said thanks, wished me a safe and happy journey in these waters, and paddled away into the next two months of his life here.

Although my longest stay in the Quetico has been two weeks, I couldn’t help but wonder after the lone paddler left what it must be like to canoe these waters for months at a time. I certainly know of the Ojibway who lived here and the trappers and voyageurs who paddled here for fur and fortunes. But that was a different time and some would say a different world. Did they think about or even expect to be aware of “what’s happening in the world”? I don’t know for sure, but I doubt it.

When I reflect on the way I live, the daily data I receive, the incoming information about everything from community crime, to the latest weather, to a breaking crisis going on somewhere in the world, I realize the weight that knowledge brings with it. I live in a culture and a time that says I “need to know”. Yet that culture also seems to be full of an anxiety, fearfulness, and insecurity about what it knows as well as a concern that somehow it doesn’t know enough. It appears burdened by, if not drowning in, the level of information it can create, disseminate, and interpret. (If I’m honest, I’ll admit to some of that burden each year when I check the ten day weather forecast on the internet before heading into the Quetico. Of course for me it’s not anxiety just casual curiosity. Or better yet, it’s for my “safety”. That’s what weather forecasters say you know.)

But when I’m in this wilderness of islands and lakes I experience a wonderful lifting of the psychic weight of knowing. Here I know just what I need to know, that each day brings what it will. I’m not in control, and I never will be. Here I am most liberated when I am open with all of my senses to receive and accept the day. I can let time be time. I can let go of the “shoulds”, “oughts” and “what ifs” that anxiety brings my way. I can look for and receive the gracious surprises of being at home in the beauty and power of the nature that surrounds me.

There was another man who loved the waters of a lake called Galilee many years ago. It was said that he liked to go there by himself as well. He said not to be anxious about tomorrow, for the One who brings each tomorrow into being cares for us today, tomorrow and forever. Maybe it was easier to know that back then, before all of the weather forecasts and all.

Paddler’s Tales