…A September sun sets on the water, in the midst of the Adirondacks. Alone I paddle, accompanied only by loons, swimming circles ever so cautiously around the canoe. The purest of silence is occasionally broken by an exhale and a dive, as the birds forage for fish below. Where they resurface, a mystery. The story repeats itself as darkness sets in, until a campfire once again brings light to the lakeshore. The sweet smell of pine consumes the air, as a symphony of cracks and pops give character to the flame. The eerie, yet inexpressibly beautiful wails echo endlessly in the darkness; a reminder of whose territory I’ve decided to borrow for the night…
Impulse decisions call for long car rides and crazy ideas at the end of them; like loading my gear into a boat and paddling away from the world left ashore. Out of the craziness and into nature, to wild places. Where tasks derive from only the simplest of sources, like gathering wood for a campfire, setting up the tent, cooking dinner. Where time is passed purposefully, and easily, in fresh air and good spirits. Where happiness is imminent.
Once ashore, I tucked my phone deep down into my pack and opened a book. It was Runes of the North, by Sigurd Olson, which has quickly become a favorite of mine. Only a week or so prior, I had read a chapter about Olson’s journey up the Knife River and into the northern boreal forests of Minnesota by canoe. He wrote about pure wilderness, just as he had experienced it many years ago. He too paddled far away from any signs of human life, into the unknown, describing so beautifully his encounters with moose and loons and the limitless stretches of wild lands that connect Minnesota to the Arctic. Ambiguously, with my kevlar canoe and Canon camera, I tried recreating it.
The Adirondacks in fall are populated, and in many cases unbearable in the way of people. Every road lay flooded with cars, every trail conquered by day hikers. The same can be said for the lakes and ponds. Immediately upon arrival, my heart sank, as I watched and listened to dozens of canoes and kayaks making their way around Follensby Clear Pond in the September sunshine. I knew right then and there, my hopes of recreating Sigurd Olson’s journeys were impossible, even silly. But still, I paddled out. As I arrived at my island campsite, the day was still young. I burned hours chopping wood, cooking pirogies and relaxing on the lakeshore from a hammock, as I waited anxiously for the sun to sink in the sky, and cast softly on the loons. Commotion from boats on the water ceased to end.
Late in the afternoon, I awoke from my hammock, unaware that I had even fallen asleep. Distant wails and tremolos rang out from across the lake. I looked out to notice the evening light, which had begun to set the stage. In one motion, I grabbed two cameras, pushed offshore and set out to find the birds. Before long, I was surrounded by loons; nine of them, to be exact. Together, we floated in silence. It then occurred to me, I was alone on that lake. I looked far and wide for other canoes and kayaks, but found only emptiness. The water glowed orange with the late day sun, the loons swam before me and for a moment, I closed my eyes and I was there; Chapter Two: The Explorers. I felt the magic of wilderness, as I imagine it existed so very long ago. How exactly it all came together is a mystery I choose to leave unsolved, but its manifestation leaves me inspired. I will find that feeling once again, wherever it takes me.
The loons and I floated together until nightfall. We watched each other, so carefully, yet intimately. I knew I had been accepted, as they no longer seemed concerned by my presence. After a short while, I set down the cameras, the ore, laid back in the canoe and admired the scene. For only my eyes and ears could experience its beauty and its grace so purely. I will never know how long that moment lasted.
I lit my fire and relived the evening over and over again. Wails echoed across the lake that night as I fell asleep.
“My runes have come from the wilderness, for in its solitude, silence, and freedom, I see more clearly those values and influences that over the long centuries have molded us as a race”
- Sigurd F. Olson