Day One

Day One
Mist on the pre-dawn lake makes it feel other-worldly; mysterious. I pack my sleeping bag, clothes bag, stuff bag and backpack (doesn’t feel too minimalist to me) into the front of the kayak and slide into the rear seat. From behind the hills, the sun puts a red warning onto clouds across the lake.

A woman dressed in cycling gear is pulling her bike out of a boat and onto the dock.
“Where are you headed?” She asks.
“Nunukani” I reply
“Very nice” she nods. “The first rapid is almost a pull-over and then you can paddle up to the dam portage.”
So much for discovery. The mist is vanishing fast.

As I put paddle to water and cross the swimming line between bobbers, I acknowledge the threshold. The line between sane and insane, between civil and natural, between upper and under worlds has been traversed. I plunge in.

The sun comes up over my shoulder as I’m leaving Little Hawk lake. A totem pole marks the sandy narrows between Little and Big Hawk. I nod to the Thunderbird, fish, bear, and lizard – honouring these friends and inviting them along – no, wait – it’s more like they’re inviting me into their world.

Big Hawk is in a deeper mist. I welcome it as an invitation into deeper mystery. Then the thunder of a whirly-bird stirs up the silence. The helicopter runs low over the shoreline and I think. Wow, they’re looking for me already! What crisis do they need me to solve back in Bobcaygeon I wonder? The chopper really is obnoxious. What mission could they be on at 7am Monday morning? Hunting Real Estate I’m guessing.

The rock cliffs at the north end of the lake are a landmark; they tell me I’m in the right bay. I paddle across to listen for what else they have to tell. I feel their age. How long they’ve stood sentinel over these waters; giving up only the odd boulder; bearded by cedar that has found soil enough to surround the rock and keep it company for a generation or so. They give me a silent nod.

The first rapids are a power place. I can feel not only the beauty of this quiet place but also the happy memories of generations of people and creatures that have visited this spot. A fishing place. A swimming place. A camping place – except for the big metal sign posted by the Ratepayers association marking it’s turf. I want to return and make some happy memories with my family here.

The short carry over is a good practice portage. I test out the new make-shift carrying yoke attached to kayak gunnels. It slips around a bit but works. I can balance all 16 ft. on my shoulders. One trip for the baggage – my bodily goods. And one trip for the kayak – the spirit that carries me. My, my, I am sooo poetic today – pumped for the visions to flow; senses at alert; got the metaphor-motor purring.

The 195 metres up past the dam is a gentle slope. The rushing waters down in a shady, rocky gorge are like a B.C. mountain trail. I take some time to cross the dam and climb down into the gorge – sans baggage- and meet my first temptation. “Look, you could just jump right over the river here. Save yourself the walk back up and around. Go for it!”

“You shall not put the LORD your GOD to the test.” I get to see that I am (perhaps?) more mature than I gave myself credit for. Past the place of toying with risk; knowing more who I am and who I ain’t. And a jumper and a leaper I am not. Bears lumber through or around. Frogs leap. My spirit might fly occasionally, but GOD gave me a bear body and on my feet I’ll stay for today thanks.
“Nice try though.”

I am excited to be on Nunukani. I wish I knew what that name meant – but I like saying it. Sounds like it should be up in the Territories, Iqaluit or somewhere like that there, eh?

The first feature of the lake that strikes me are the dead stumps. At first I see them as wonderful sculptures. There’s one that’s settled right on top of another! The roots reaching out like arms to grip to stony shores or reaching out into the air to pull me in closer, or just reaching, reaching, reaching for…

Then I realize they are casualties. This lake has been flooded by that dam. Probably, the logs were taken from the trees decades ago, leaving the stumps on the shores. Everywhere. Like cancer sores lining the lips of the lake.

I take my time exploring. Halfway up the lake I cross the mouth of the lake’s oblong western bay. I can’t quite make out it’s end through a spray of rain; a heavy mist really. This western bay is the only part of the lake still in mist. My heart drops at the sight of three yellow canoes at the point where I’d thought I might camp. As I approach, I’m waved in to shore by a guy repairing a canoe bottom with duct tape.
“What happened to our sunshine? I ask him. (I’m really thinking “what happened to my solo time on the lake?”)
“Hey, come on in for a coffee. Did you get a sight booked?” he asks.
“Ahhh, no, what do you mean?”
“Both these sights on the two points are booked for tonight, but we’re hoping they’re not gonna show.”
“Oh, you need to book. I didn’t know.”
“Yeah, come talk to my son, he’s the one that talked to the Ranger.” He’s got the end of my kayak in hand pulling it up on the shore.
“No, no, I uh, uh, want to get my camp set up before the rain comes. So, are all the sights booked?”
“I don’t really know. We’ve got the two sights at the north end booked, but we’re hoping the people who booked this sight don’t show. You can stay with us. Come talk to my son. He’s got his friends from his band with him. They’re touring Canada.”

Even though I feel like I’m breaking the rules of the quest, I get out of the boat for some info. A necessary evil. I need to know where I’m not gonna run into more of these two legged creatures. Tom, introduces himself and his wife and son come down the rock slope to meet me. The three young braves from the band remain aloof, up by their fire.
As the son explains to me about their booking, I catch Tom’s wife watching me. She’s very curious; searching my face for clues. I look at her and her worried wondering melts into a smile; her mask. I give her my best reassuring-mask-smile back.
“So, you don’t know about the other sights on the lake then?” I ask after the son’s finished.
“Nope, there’s the island at the south end, the east shore site on the rock, and maybe there’s a site in the bay there, but I don’t know whether they’re booked.”
“Okay, well, I guess I’ll check them out then. Thanks (for nothing).”
“You can always stay with us.” Tom offers again. Either this is my second temptation – to hang out with musicians and not be alone with my shadows – or Tom’s in the need of some middle-aged male company. Or, he’s just a really friendly guy; eager to entertain a stranger; a potential angel. But this angel’s already backing up, saying goodbyes and good lucks and I’m thinking “Damn! Am I going to be foiled up by humans? Not what I expected to be the problem here.”

Thinking these thoughts, working on a strategy, trying to let the worry go and trust that I’ll know the place to camp and it’ll be good, I paddle to the north end of Nunukani. The whole north end of the lake is a long wide sand bar with a tree carcass every ten metres or so. It’s like a herd of giant elk were slaughtered there leaving behind just the heads and antlers. It has a graveyard feel in the grey, overcast, morning light.

I get out and walk along the sand up to the largest stump around. It has been totally inverted so that it’s roots are all up and out to the sky. The stump is planted head-down in the sand. A circle has formed in the sand around it giving it the look and feel of a monument. A place to come and visit and ponder and – it feels like a ritual place. A place where druids and witches dance. It’s an upside down place. Where the mystery of what’s deep in the earth is lifted up to the sky.

The roots reach out long in all directions. And many of them are decayed and gone leaving dark open mouths that empty silent wails into the air around. They are hunger and want and desire. They are my many, many, hungers and wants and desires. Those arms are my arms reaching out in all directions for this and this and this. Always reaching.

I circle it. Wishing I had friends to share it with. To dance with me. To do some ritual. This idea scares me. I am afraid of the dark spirits here that might confuse my interest with an allegiance and pull me in too deep. Those roots have struck a chord with what is already deep inside. I’m here to let it emerge into the light.

I take a pee at the edge of the circle. “Now, don’t get pissed.” I say. “No disrespect, just marking my place here at hunger’s edge.”

On my way back to the kayak I see someone out of the corner of my eye and look…Damn! I forgot that a direct look’ll remove them from my vision. Oh well,
“See ya later.”

Back to the hunt for a site. I must intuit the right place. Let my “knowing” tell me. On the eastern shore there’s a site marked on top of a huge rock. This rock has lines sweeping up out of the water and turning back down again. It looks like the Leviathon I’ve been reading about in Job; the one God goes on about stanza after stanza as an image of the deep dark mysteries beyond human ken.

The site is high and dry with a spot back in the woods to sleep. I’d catch sunset and stars from the rock but would wait long hours to see the sun in the morning. I wouldn’t see the lake from the sleep spot and there’s not much deadwood around. There’s a path that hugs a rock wall. It follows the shoreline but back in the shade of the woods. It descends down, down, into a hidden hollow. It has a feel of a place of sorrow and hurt. It’s not happy to have me here but invites me into it’s misery.

Am I to go into suffering? If so, this would be the place. It has a strange pull on me. At it’s lowest place I push through branches to the shore. Waves are splashing a chatter against flat boulders. Is this a language I’d learn? Something or someone has splashed water onto stones at a sitting spot. There are others here. Back in the woods a rope dangles from way, way up. Someone went to great trouble to suspend it there – only to cut it off as high as I can reach up. It feels like there should be noose at it’s end.

This place gives me the creeps I decide. Maybe it’d be good for me but, I’m not looking for trouble today. Back up over the whale’s back to the kayak. Jays squawk at me “Intruder! Intruder!”
“Okay, okay I’m leaving already!”

I’m sure now that the island is the place for me. I didn’t notice a site sign when I passed it the first time. Lots of driftwood to burn. A beach for the kayak. Rocks to watch stars from. An island unto myself.

Turns out there is a site marker. It’s a well used site complete with sitting stumps around a large firepit; a choice of kybos; a forest to wander and two points north and south for watching – watching for people – I’d be obsessed with waiting for canoeists to come and go and should I interact with them, or try to avoid them? This place would work but….
I get back into the kayak.

A wind from the south has picked up and I decide to let it push me - wherever. The wind is blowing in dark clouds at a steady pace but they’re high and as far as I can see not dragging rain along with them. I sit with eyes closed or, study the shore tree by tree, stump by stump, rock outcropping by rock outcropping. It doesn’t take long for the wind to blow me to the site at the southwestern edge of the west bay but I know it’s booked and it doesn’t have an open view onto the lake. I paddle out around it’s point and discover that once again the bay is filled with mists. Again a spray of rain, not enough to soak, washes down.

Into the spray I paddle. I know there’s a portage out to a small fishing lake. Maybe that’s what I’ll need to do to find the solitude I seek. At the bay’s end, there’s a portage sign where a creek’s trickling across a stony shore. The trees rustle up a welcoming sound and the sky seems a bit brighter here. It feels like a good place.

The portage is overgrown and rugged. Trees have fallen across the path and a scramble is necessary at several places. Even without a load it’s trouble. Wallace pond is small and circular. A good day place but it’s not calling me. No, I think, I’ll camp back at the shore.
But when I get there I notice a spot that I’d missed just along the northern edge of the bay. It doesn’t look promised but I’ll check this one last place out.

And, of course, it’s perfect. A huge treestump carcass hugs the rock at lake level. On either side of this rock are beaches strewn with fallen trees and driftwood; enough for many, many fires. The rock rises in stages. Four feet above lake level there is a large flat area. It’s big enough to hold me and any ceremony I might cook up. Another four feet up takes me to the campsite. A large white pine stands guard to a grove of Hemlock. Diffuse light comes into the open grove beyond the rock’s high place. It feels welcoming.

On the brow of the rock there is a stone firepit and beside it a small flat area covered in hemlock needles turned to earth – just right for my sleeping area. I’ll be able to sleep facing the water, southern shore and some open sky.

Beyond the campsite there is a path that follows along the bottom of a cliff face covered in green moss. But instead of the gloom of that other path there is something else here. I notice that the vertical face is almost entirely covered in a green moss and it is dripping, dripping, dripping; wet all over. It comes to me that this is “a weeping wall”. This wall sheds the earth’s tears. I press both hands against it and close my eyes and immediately an image of worms pouring out from the cracks of the wall comes. I step back a bit surprised by the immediate and vivid image. I lean forward again and this time it is fish; schools of them pouring forth. Abundance coming from the earth’s weeping.

The Hemlock here are older than any human living. There are maple and oak and birch cedar and white pine and all kinds of small willowy saplings. It is a mature woods; mostly open beneath a canopy 20 feet up, confident and secure.

Something shifts in the feel of the place though as I begin to unpack my bags back at the shore. Two trees groan in a raised wind. I’m thinking “will they groan all night long?”. The sky darkens and the place that welcomed a visit seems not so sure about my plans to stay.

So, the first thing I unpack is my drum. I made this drum last summer. I made it to fit into the bottom pouch of my old canvas pack – for just such an occasion. Sitting on a log section by the unlit fire, looking out to the lake, I introduce myself. It’s a rythym that spells out the meaning of my name.

As I play, the wind responds. It brushes across the canvas of lake before me. Two breezes converge wavelets from opposite ends, meeting right before me and dancing away only to sweep around and display a new pattern across the waters. I almost pause in wonder but keep the dance going; laughing and raising my song in the joyful play. We’re friends – this place and I.

I get my 10 by 12 foot tarp rigged between trees (enough on the ground for me and my stuff, corners held by rocks, my roof held by ropes 3 feet over my head, open on three sides) just in time for its first test. The skies open and down it comes; growing in intensity as my shelter passes each stage; graduating with a crack of thunder and a good deluge that only brings in a small amount of spray and trickle. I am so happy. I am a kid cozy in my fort. I’m living my favourite bedtime comfort fantasy – nestled in to warm covers; exposed to the elements; a bear in its den.

The sky clears as if performing the next act of a perfectly staged day for me. With birchbark and twigs, I manage a fire while the sun retreats in promises of red. I paddle out a bit to watch the winds sweep orange and green wisps over me. From shore I catch a light show to the south – the storm working it’s way across that horizon while stars – first venus then the polar star then more and more and more until the sky is milky with ‘em. I finish my mint tea – my only refreshment, and crawl into my cave heavy with contentment.


Hello Friend,
I’ve set down a few thoughts here on the following pages so that you and a few others might come along with me on a little kayak excursion I’ve been planning for some time.

I set out Sunday September 24th, stayed at a lakeside cabin for the night, and had my last meal. I began kayaking the next morning without break-fast. I found a spot to camp on a secluded lake (Lake Nunikani below Dorset) and remained there until Thursday morning. Thursday evening was spent back at the cabin with a meal to sleep on. Friday morning I was home to family.

The purpose of this prayer/fast/journey (Vision Fast if you like) was simply to spend time with God and Christ and Self and Shadow and to discern God’s will in my life.

This plan was inspired by friend and co-Gaia Centre Board Member, Doug Aldworth. Doug led a seminar last spring, where he shared his own Vision Quest experience. He referred me to a book entitled “SoulCrafting; Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche” by Bill Plotkin.

A further resource he offered was “The Trail to the Sacred Mountain; A Vision Fast Handbook for Adults” by Steven Foster and Meredith Little. This is a short summary of the process used by the School of Lost Borders in California. This school has led groups of people through the experience for several decades.

These books provide ideas and examples of rituals and spiritual practices. They encourage the Vision Fast participants to draw from these examples but not to copy them. Their hope is that an authentic ritual will emerge from the culture, tradition, and imagination of each participant. Since all earth-rooted cultures have similar, but unique, fasting-seeking-communing with the “Other” rituals, we are encouraged to draw deeply from our own roots and create something authentic to our generation.

A preparatory meeting with Doug was very helpful to get practical advice shaping my particular plans; to be encouraged by his experiences; to share some of my story; and to receive his offer of back-up safety support (if I don’t show, he comes looking).
Doug is an experienced Out-tripper and a qualified Outward Bound Instructor. His confidence, involvement, and enthusiasm in my plans was a very supportive element.

I also invited my community to pray with me, and for me and my family, during the days I was away. In return, I promised to share my experience with them. What follows are my promised words.

Yours Truly, in the Spirit that reminds us that we are One,

Excerpts from article “Confusion before the Cross” by Bill Wylie-Kellerman
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." And Jesus answered him, "It is written, ‘We shall not live by bread alone.'" Luke 4

Clarence Jordan suggests that perhaps we are blinded by the mundane simplicity of the first invitation: yield to hunger, make stones bread, break the fast. In the plainest terms, the invitation to Jesus is to seek first his own needs and appetites, to be ruled by them, and to join "the enemies of the cross" whose "god is their belly," against whom the Philippians were once duly warned (Philippians 3:18-19).

We need look no further than our own lives and times to comprehend the runaway enormity of the temptation. In consumer culture it is writ large and with a vengeance. Appetites are researched, targeted, hooked, inflated, managed, and manufactured. People are held in bondage by them. Their servitude and silence and single-minded distraction are guaranteed.To undertake a Lenten discipline, to fast or deny an appetite, is not to inflict some perverse self-punishment or to be justified by a religious act. It is a prayer of freedom: to loosen the bonds and restore a right relation to the created order. It is so politically loaded because it breaks with the culture precisely at the point of the culture's main method of control.

Day One to follow...