Friday, June 9, 2017

SOLSTICE SOLITUDE


Thus situated, many hundred miles from our families in the howling wilderness, I believe few would have equally enjoyed the happiness we experienced...You see how little nature requires to be satisfied. Felicity, the companion of content, is rather found in our own breasts than in the enjoyment of external things; And I firmly believe it requires but a little philosophy to make a man happy in whatever state he is. This consists in a full resignation to the will of Providence; and a resigned soul finds pleasure in a path strewed with briars and thorns. ---Daniel Boone

Legendary early American trailblazer and famous woodsmen Daniel Boone was constantly exposed to daily dangers and perils of frontier life. Survival meant living of the land and evading Indian attacks. He would often disappear into the forest for weeks and even months on long extended hunts before returning home to his family. According to author Robert Morgan, "Boone sought oneness with the wilderness as a mystic seeks union with the creator or a lover yearns to merge with the beloved."

There is a story about how a hunting party heard an odd sound coming from the woods. Upon investigating, they came across Boone, lying on his back in a little clearing singing to the clouds, trees, and passing birds. Singing for joy. Singing for nature. For Boone, life in the wilderness was a sublime combination of fear and delight mostly experienced by traveling alone.

My solo kayak trips have bestowed that same familiarity for me. In the far off distant land of Minnesota, I use to strap my kayak on to the roof of an old Chevy van packed up my camping gear, some freeze-dried food along with a notebook and pen, then escape for an overnight, maybe a weekend or if I was lucky enough an extended trip lasting several days. Of course the dangers were minimal, outside on falling off the roof of my van while unloading my boat.

I would slip off into some corner of the wilderness just around the bend from the boat ramp. Like at Lake Bronson State Park in the northwest Minnesota for my first solo trip to a boat in camping site on an island. Paddling on the lake that first trip I had a great feeling of exhilaration, followed by terror coursing through my body. The dreaming and planning, finally turned into a reality outside of my so called comfort zone. Still it wasn't long before I was feeling those mystic powers of the lake exercising my self doubts.

"There is magic in the feel of a paddle and the movement of a canoe, a magic compounded of distance, adventure, solitude, and peace," wrote canoe guru Sigrud Olson, "The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness and of a freedom almost forgotten. It is an antidote to insecurity, the open door to waterways of ages past and a way of life with profound and abiding satisfactions. When a man is part of his canoe, he is part of all that canoes have ever known."


I brought my daughter's chocolate Labrador the next summer for a trip to Scenic State Park, near Bigfork, Minn. I had been dog watching Mazie all summer while my daughter was working at a summer camp. She was a natural water dog and enjoyed riding in my tandem kayak. I had brought her along for a few over-nights already. She would scare off any raccoons just by being in camp, kept my feet warm at night, and ate my leftovers

We paddled around the esker, a long ridge of sediment left behind by ice age separating Coon Lake and Sandwick Lake. From this point I could see that the park lived up to its name. A group black and white patterned loons were fishing nearby taking turns diving and disappearing into the water. The silence was then broken by one's tremolo, a wavering call of alarm announcing our presence on the lake.

Camp site #6 overlooks the Sandwick Lake. Several large pines had fallen into the lake camouflaging the site's boat in entry. It was spartan site to say the least, equipped only with a fire ring and grill adjacent to a grassy spot to set up my tent. It would be my base-camp for that next couple of days while staying at the lake. My home away from home.

“To wake up on a gloriously bright morning," wrote American geologist and explorer Josiah Edward Spurr, while leading an expedition mapping the interior of Alaska, "In a tent pitched beneath spruce trees, and to look out lazily and sleepily for a moment from the open side of the tent, across the dead camp-fire of the night before, to the river, where the light of morning rests and perhaps some early-rising native is gliding in his birch canoe; to go to the river and freshen one's self with the cold water, and yell exultingly to the gulls and hell-divers, in the very joy of living."

"You alone?" questioned came from a group canoeists floating by my camp site on the next year's solo trip on the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"Always," I said. Which wasn't really true. I would take my kids along on lots of camping trips all the time. I loved sharing my adventures with my family, but my solo trips were special. They were my chance to get-away, to feel the joy of a vision quest and to be a modern-day Daniel Boone.

By day I would paddle around the lakes or rivers, exploring hidden coves and bays. I'd follow streams until my path was blocked by a beaver dam or stop just before the rush of some rapids and contemplate paddling on to the sea.

While at night, with the kayak beached, the tent set and campfire burning, I would enjoy some freeze dried stew with a bottle wine and watch the world come to a standstill, as the sun would either burned up in the black silhouetted pines or dissolved in a fiery glow into the lake. There I would melt into the warmth of my campfire under the stars, listening to the haunting reverberation of the loons. My thoughts of past and worries of the future would fade into the peace of the present.

"One day I undertook a tour through the country," said Boone, "And the diversity and beauties of nature I met with in this charming season, expelled every gloomy and vexatious thought."

Because being alone wilderness you can find the silence and solitude that can fill your heart and soul.