Seagull Outfitters Paddler’s Tales

Wilderness Reflections…

By: Rick Sides

(On a Quetico lake 100 miles northwest of Lake Superior, July, 2001)

What is it about this place? Who I am here?

I love the colors, the smells, the changing clouds and scenes, the trees. I like doing the basic tasks of living in this place ­ like getting wood for a morning fire, preparing basic food and eating modest amounts of it for sustenance rather than cuisine, taking care of self, the body and its needs. I like the simplicity of being here.

I love the mornings best of all ­ the feeling of having a new day here with all of its possibilities and non-prescriptions. I am satisfied with the feeling of “no expectations.”. And the earth around me, does it really need anything from me, from us, other than to love and care for it and not take it for granted? It is challenging here to struggle with how we really fit in. It’s like claiming all over again that we live in the earth, not on the earth. We are not separated from this earth, regardless of whether our experience of place is in the wilderness or in the suburbs of the city. The earth is our home.

It is interesting to think of how the earth loves us ­ of how it is a “mothering power” as the Lakota believed. The earth is living; it is sustaining; it is constantly giving of itself; it is regenerating. It can be injured and hurt. It can have its natural processes interfered with. It has the capacity, given its qualities, to hurt. We can interpret that hurt any way we want. Natural disasters (is there really anything such as a “natural disaster”?) are often called “acts of God.” Is anything that hurts us and we can’t explain it laid at God’s door? It begs the question: is nature created “free” to do what it wants? And if so is there any “will” involved at all? Theologically we say “no.” But we struggle with it still.

Yesterday a bald eagle took a newborn loon from the nest just down the shore from our campsite. The mother swam around the lake wailing for hours, looking for her lost chick, the one she watched the eagle consume. This morning as I was washing my face by the lake she appeared less than 10 feet from me. She watched me wash. She didn’t seem afraid. It reminded me of where I am and who I am ­ the guest in the natural habitat of the loon, the human being at home with this beautiful bird, a person grateful for this brief fellowship. I suppose she was “going on with her life” as we humans are prone to say. She was out fishing for breakfast. Perhaps she was just checking out this strange companion who washes his skin with his hands in order to be clean. She watched me for several minutes then disappeared under the water. It was a wonderful moment for me. It was morning. It was grace. It was what being at home here is all about.

Paddler’s Tales