Coming Home

If I had a blog, today I would tell you about the place my spirit calls home. Today I would write about Ely.

Welcome Home

Welcome Home

Thirty miles south of the Canadian border is the town of Ely, Minnesota. Although I’ve never lived there full-time, I this little burg of 3500 people my home because it is the place my spirit dwells most of the time. Ely is sacred ground.

Chilly autumn days make me long for that wild country because once upon a time, Mom and I visited Ely every fall. We would go in September or October and spend a week in the same rustic cabin on White Iron Lake, shedding our worldly cares as we were filled by the spirit of true wilderness. Obligations here on the farm have kept us from our annual pilgrimage for three years now and when the sun grows mellow and the nights are cold, the need to head North is almost more than I can bear. I know we will take up our journey again when The Greenwood needs us less and in the meantime, I can relive adventures past by returning to the journals I have kept in years gone by.

This morning I was reading about our trip in September 2006. That trip was a return after an absence of almost ten years and it gives me hope that Ely has not seen the last of us yet.

September 28, 2006

The Ely Water Tower

The Ely Water Tower

We made it. We are in Ely! It took two days and 16 hours of driving, but what a small price to pay for a week in the arms of the North Woods. When we saw the Ely water tower rising above the trees, tears came to my eyes. When I die, I will not see the Pearly Gates, but instead it will be this snow-white tower, painted with the sunrise over the trees, that will lead me home.

Coming into town on Sheridan Street, I felt as though I’d never been away. A few stores had changed location since we’d been here last, but other than that, Ely remains the same. In a world that changes by the minute, there is comfort in a place where things remain the same year after year.

Sheridan Street

Sheridan Street

Until I came to Ely, I didn’t know it was possible to be friends with a town, but I am sure Ely brightens just a bit when Mom and I return. To prove my point, just as we passed Basswood Trading Company, a jet-black raven sailed across the street and landed on the roof of the store, looking right at us as he made his loud, croaking call. It was a wonderful welcome home.

Our Sun Porch

Our Sun Porch

Our cabin is located about six miles from town, down Highway 1. We met Liz (the owner of our rental cabin) around noon and spent two hours visiting with her. We’ve known Liz and her husband Steve since we first came to Ely in 1997. They own a number of remote cabins in the area and we always rent from them. Consequently, we’ve become good friends over the years and it is always a pleasure to have our catch-up with Liz when we arrive.

The Path to the Lake

The Path to the Lake

The afternoon was waning by the time we got settled in and we walked down to the dock to greet the lake before evening set in. Birches, maples, alder, balsam, and spruce trees line the path to the lake, interspersed with huge greenstone and granite boulders that were brought here by the last ice age. The maple leaves are stunning this year, bright tongues of flame in the fading light. The slender reeds at the lake’s edge hold bright leaves among them, afloat on water as black as obsidian. Water ousels dart among the reeds and rocks along the shoreline and juncos flit among the trees at the forest-edge. In the distance, we heard the song of a white-throated sparrow rise through the silence and just at dusk, a flock of mallards sailed overhead then landed in one of the coves to settle in for the night.

Roads Go Ever On

Roads Go Ever On

Loathe to give up even a moment of daylight, I took a walk down our road before coming in for dinner. With every step I sank deeper into the flow of The North. I drank in The Great Silence and reveled in the cold, balsam-scented air. This is home. In these forests, I feel as one with the heartbeat of the Earth. I am Earth. Earth is me. Like a child in her mother’s womb, I am cloistered by the trees, the lakes, the sky. I hold out my hand and I touch my own being. In this place there is no distinction between sacred and secular. Here, all things are holy.

As darkness fell, grey, folded clouds settled over us for the night. Winter is just around the corner here. Dreams of snow are close at hand as the land settles in for its long, nine-month rest. All around me is silence. Echoing silence. This is the place I was meant to be.


Lighting the Way

If I had a blog, today I would share with you my synchronicity for the day.

The Lights of Home

The Lights of Home

As you know, my family is going through a very hard time right now, coping with the news that our border collie, Owain, has cancer. His prognosis isn’t good: Two or three months at best, and I find myself struggling not to fall into despair. The ever-present voice of the Ego whispers morbid, soul-wrenching thoughts about abandoned dog-toys and empty places by the dinner table and while I’m determined to not to fall for these destructive ploys, some days its just plain hard to keep going. In an effort to raise my spirits, I decided to blog about a very special book, one that I discovered almost thirty years ago, during another summer of duress. The book, called Light from Many Lamps, is a collection of essays, poems, and quotations – some well-known, some little-known – compiled and published by Lillian Eichler Watson in the early 1950’s. It was Ms. Watson’s intention that her book be a source of inspiration for anyone who is facing hard times and her hopes were certainly realized where I am concerned. In today’s blog, I intended to share my past experiences with you, but Light from Many Lamps had another agenda entirely.

As I prepared to write, I brought out my dog-eared, well-worn copy of the book and laid it on my desk. I noticed a Post-It note stuck to one of the pages, so, before I started my blog, I opened the book and read the essay I had marked some years ago. It this short piece, rabbi Joshua Loth Liebman writes:

“I often feel that death is not the enemy of life, but its friend, for it is the knowledge that our years are limited which makes them so precious. It is the truth that time is but lent to us which makes us, at our best, look upon our years as a trust handed into our temporary keeping. We are like children privileged to spend a day in a great park, a park filled with many gardens and playgrounds and azure tinted lakes with white boats sailing upon the tranquil waves. True, the day allotted to each one of us is not the same in length, in light, in beauty…but there is enough beauty and gaeity in the hours if we will but treasure them. Then, for each one of us the moment comes when the great nurse, death, takes the man, the child, by the hand and quietly says, “It is time to go home…It is your bedtime child of the earth. Come; you’re tired. Lie down at last in the quiet nursery of nature and sleep. Sleep well. The day is gone. Stars shine in the canopy of eternity.” 

I laid the book down and reached for a Kleenex. Once again, Light from Many Lamps offered me not what I expected, but exactly what I needed. That is the way of synchronicities.

This afternoon I will sit down with my book and draw strength from those who have gone before. I will trust Marcus Aurelius when he writes, “Nothing happens to any man which he is not formed by nature to bear,”and I will take heart that Epicurus knew whereof he spoke when he encourages us that “…pain is neither intolerable nor everlasting – if thou bearest in mind that it has its limits, and if thou addest nothing to it in imagination.”

I don’t want to face what lies ahead, but I have no choice. I can’t run from it, frighten it away, or deny its existence. My only alternative is to face it, without resistance, and rely on Light from Many Lamps to lead me safely home.

Take Joy

If I had a blog, today I would reflect on the words of a 14th century monk named Fra Giovanni, that he wrote to a friend on Christmas 1513.

Owain - Our Mr. True

Owain – Our Mr. True

Life is hard. Some days too hard. Earlier this week we learned that our beloved border collie, Owain, has cancer. He is fourteen years old, well beyond the normal lifespan of his breed, and it has been a joy to travel the road of life with him from the day he came to us as a pup. Owain is family and his passing will bring many, many days of tears, but I am lifted up by the words of Fra Giovanni, who assures me that behind every trial is the hand of an angel, outstretched to lift us up until we can stand on our own two feet again. All the wonderful things in life are before us, offered freely, for those who have the courage to believe in the light when all the world grows dark.

For the moment, Owain is as happy and energetic as ever. He’s outside this morning, barking at the songbirds, his voice drowning out our breakfast conversation. Such things might seem an annoyance, but under these circumstances, Owain’s eccentricities are a joy. A few days ago, it seemed as though happiness had slipped through away forever. Sitting at the vet’s office, hearing the awful news, I couldn’t fathom how I could face the days to come, but then I read Fra Giovanni’s letter and I began to look beneath the veneer of gloom for even the smallest glimmer of hope – and I found it. My time with Owain may be shorter than I had hoped, but they can be good days, days of richness and depth of feeling that I can store in my heart forever. They will be my touchstones on days that are more difficult to bear.

We live as mortal beings, our days numbered from the hour of our birth. Mortality can be a curse or it can be a blessing; the choice is ours to make. If we are have the courage to set aside our fear and grief, we will find moments of joy in even the darkest hours of our lives. Thank you Brother Giovanni for showing us the way.

I salute you.

I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep.
There is nothing I can give you which you have not;
But there is much – very much – that, while I cannot give,
You can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today.
Take Heaven!

No peace lies in the future that is not hidden in this present instant.
Take Peace!

The gloom in the world is but a shadow;
Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.
Take Joy!

There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see;
And to see, we have only to look.
I beseech you to look!

Life is so generous a giver.
But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard.
Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor,
Woven of Love,
By Wisdom,
With Power.

Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, or a duty. . .
Believe me, that angel’s hand is there;
The gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing Presence.
And our joys: be not content with them as joys.
They, too, conceal diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering,
That you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.

Courage then, to claim it. . . .that is all!
But courage you have,
And the knowledge that we are pilgrims together,
Wending our way through unknown country. . .

And so at this Christmastime, I greet you
Not quite as the world sends greetings,
But with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you,
Now and forever,
The day breaks and shadows flee away.

Sauntering Towards the Holy Land

If I had a blog, today I would write about my return to Nature.

Bankside in Autumn

My Bankside in Autumn

“And so we saunter towards the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever it has done, and shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.” – Henry David Thoreau

Growing up, I was truly a child of nature. My mother taught me to cherish The Wild; to find solace in shady glens and peace beside the river’s edge. We took long walks, identified birds and collected flowers to paste in our memory book and it seemed that nothing could be richer than a life lived close to the earth. But somewhere between youth and womanhood, I lost my way. The heady years of high school and college drew me into the world of clothes and cars, friends and finals, then threw me headlong into the search for a career, a life-mate, and an existence that would bring me security and the approval of the world. I was on a path, of that there was no doubt, but it took me almost a decade to realize it wasn’t the right path for me.

My Little Wilderness

My Little Wilderness

The change came on a rainy autumn afternoon. I’d been studying for hours, preparing for a test in abnormal psychology, and when the rain let up, I decided to walk to town. I picked up my camera and headed towards the paved walking trail that led to Main Street and the shops and cafes I frequented on Sunday afternoons. I’d only gone a short distance when I heard the wind rustling the leaves of  the sycamore trees behind my apartment. The dry leaves rattled in the chilly breeze and it beckoned me to come and walk among them. Despite the chill in the air, the creek that ran among the sycamores sang merrily as it skipped over rocks and spun crisp, curled leaves upon its waves. Before I knew what I was doing, I’d gone down the bank and was wading in the icy flow. There was a field on the other side of the creek and I could see flocks of birds gleaning fallen grain among the stubble. What were they? Sparrows? Juncos? I had to know!

The embankment on the far side of the creek was steep and twice I slid down the muddy slope before I made the summit. My hands, legs, and feet were caked with mud, but I didn’t care. I pressed my hands to my face, breathing in the sweet fragrance of damp earth bringing with it memories of making mud pies with Gran on summer afternoons. As I walked around the edge of the field, I filled my pockets with fallen acorns and hickory nuts and waved to the skeins of wild geese flying overhead. I hiked until twilight, then tramped merrily down the muddy bankside and back across the creek. My body tingled as if it was coming alive after years of  slumber. I laughed and cried and sang to the chickadees that followed me through the sycamore grove, back to my apartment. In the gathering dusk, I sat beneath my deck and watched a red-bellied woodpecker stash acorns in the wood of a long-dead tree. How long had it been since I shared my life with birds? Longer than I could remember, longer than it should have been.

Welcome Autumn

Welcome Autumn

That night I dug around in my closet until I found a cardboard box labeled, “Books.” I brought it into the light and sifted through the volumes until I found a copy of Walden. It was a book I’d had for years, but, despite my good intentions, had never read. I opened the text and in Thoreau’s journey, I found the call to my own. In the months that followed, I immersed myself in the work of Emerson, Thoreau, and Edward Abbey, reclaiming my birthright as a Lover of the Wild. I set aside some of my worldly ambitions and replaced them with long walks, good books, and, in time, my own journeys into the wilderness.

The Journey Begins

The Journey Begins

Another year, another rainy afternoon, and once again I start my journey home. The world has taken its toll, a yearly tribute of sorts, and it is time to remember who I am. My path into The Wild is well-worn now, for I don’t stray far, even when the duties of life pull me away and I have Henry David, Ralph Waldo, and Sig Olson to help me find my way back to the trail. I am ready to shoulder my pack and saunter through the golden days to come, drinking deep from the wellspring of The Divine and basking in the serenity of that golden bankside until it and I are one.