A Light in Dark Places

If I had a blog, today I would write about the lifeline that has sustained me during some of my darkest hours. Today I would write about the inspiring words of others.

Books - LightThe most important thing I have ever read came to me just before I started college. I was at loose ends the summer before I left home for the first time. It was 1990 and libraries were still the end-all-be-all for avid readers so I spent my days haunting the stacks for good distractions. On one of my expeditions, I found a book called Light From Many Lamps by Lilian Eichler Watson. It was a collection of quotes, poems, and passages from Ms. Watson’s favorite literary works and I was, in a word, captivated.

Part of the book’s allure had to do with the fact that I had been collecting the same kind of quotes since I was ten years old. I got the idea from my dad, who also kept a quote book, and by the time I entered college, my collection filled several journal-sized books. I had everything from Robert Frost, to JRR Tolkien, to Ronald Reagan and I treasured those passages as if they had come from the Oracle at Delphi herself. I knew the words of others spoke to me, but until I found Light From Many Lamps, I had never considered making those words my own.

Light From Many Lamps introduced me to a new concept, a way of using poetry and prose that went beyond mere recollection and preservation: The book encouraged me to commit favorite passages to memory and use them as a light when life’s path grew dark. I took Ms. Watson’s words to heart and, over the years, I have used these  passages as incantations against fear, loneliness, and despair.

books invictusThe first poem I memorized was, Invictus, by William Ernest Henley. During my first year in college, when I was homesick, I repeated this poem over and over and it gave me the courage to go on. The poem took on new meaning twenty-five years later when I learned it was a mantra of hope for Nelson Mandela during his thirty years in prison on Robben Island.

books-frostThese are by no means the only words I hold dear to my heart. If I were to count them, they would stagger the imagination. I love Emily Dickinson’s Hope is a Thing With Feathers, Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods on A Snowy Evening, selections from Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and countless passages from naturalists like Sigurd Olson, John Muir, John Burroughs, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, just to name a few.

These men and women are my heroes and through their stories, I find my own. Their poetry, prose, and songs, are my battle cry when I face the dark unknown, my shout of victory when obstacles are overcome, and my whispered prayers when my own words fail. In knowing their words, I am never alone. Indeed, I am in the company of the gods.

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,                                                                                                                          Black as the pit from pole to pole.                                                                                                                              I thank whatever gods may be                                                                                                                                For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance,                                                                                                                             I have not winced or cried aloud.                                                                                                                     Under the bludgeoning of chance,                                                                                                                      My head is bloodied but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears,                                                                                                        Looms but the horrors of the shade.                                                                                                                    And yet the menace of the years                                                                                                                          Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how straight the gate,                                                                                                                  How charged with punishments the scroll.                                                                                                          I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.

Going With the Flow

If I had a blog, today I would reflect on the start of a new year in the wake of the Flood of 2015.

The Little Piney from the Bridge at Newburg

The Little Piney from the Bridge at Newburg

Missouri is about rivers. We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 named rivers and creeks plus countless back-road streams that come to life when rain is abundant. On Christmas night 2015, it started to rain. It came down in buckets for three days and nights, leaving us with a grand total of 11.26 inches. Even the tiniest stream became a roaring river, closing back roads and interstates, washing away homes and cars,  and changing the lay of the land in ways I never imagined.

Yesterday, we visited our own river: The quarter-mile of the Little Piney Creek that is our southern property line. We wished we could see the Piney when it was up and rolling, but the myriad side-streams kept us away until yesterday afternoon; until the moment we were witness to the raw and merciless power of Nature.

Before & After

Before & After

To put it bluntly, the river and the valley that lies beside it is unrecognizable. The pasture that once fed our cows and sheep is now a beach. The river gouged a new inlet, six or seven feet deep and fifty yards long, into the field, buried or ripped away the fences, and left a giant sycamore, uprooted by the flow, resting on its side where the river bank used to be.

 

The New Channel

The New Channel

The pathway that meandered through the green mansions of sycamore, river birch, and paw-paw trees is scoured clean of underbrush. Great masses of sticks, leaves, and vines are draped around tree trunks, six or seven feet above the ground. Feet of sand cover the ground and everywhere, great trees lie upon the ground, felled by the raging stream.

The Path to the River

The Path to the River

At the river’s edge, the sand bar where we picnicked, swam, and sunbathed on steamy summer days is reformed. Here, the sand is gone; replaced by stones from miles upstream. The path we used to drive down is blocked by downed trees and made almost impassable by a huge hole filled with river water.

 

A New World Order

A New World Order

It is sobering to see an entire landscape changed overnight; taken from the world of the familiar and replaced with something barren, battered and bruised. This morning I stepped into an alien world and I felt afraid. Standing on the banks of the Little Piney I faced the fear that haunts us all: The fear that we are not in control.

Nature, biology, random human violence all force us to admit that however neat and tidy we make our personal lives, nothing is certain; nothing is forever. In the blink of an eye, our world can change forever – and that is what keeps us awake at night.

The Sycamore

The Sycamore

In the face of The Flood, stepping across the threshold into a new year feels less comfortable than it has in the past. I can pretend that my vision of 2016 is accurate: That I can set goals and see them realized; make plans and see them bear fruit and walk confidently ahead on a familiar path, knowing that the foundation of my life is secure, but the Little Piney tells me to be careful because life isn’t safe. In fact, life is terribly unsafe. It is unsafe for children, unsafe for adults. Life is unsafe in any direction. Life is unsafe at any speed.

So how do I move forward? How do I face this brave, new world? The Piney offers me wisdom in her rebirth: The disaster came, but The Piney didn’t resist. She rose and fell, changed her course, and even made footprints in a foreign land. The river flows on without fear of the next flood. Even today she is coming clear again. In a few more days, her voice will be softer and, come spring, little green things will begin to poke through the choking sand and reclaim their rightful place among the budding trees. The Piney says, “Ride out the catastrophe, then start again.”

Things on the river will not be the same. New paths will emerge, old trees will fall, and water will make its home where once there was dry land, but, if we are wise, we too will adapt to the change. Even in this microcosm of life, we will find new bliss. Summer will come and one fine afternoon, we will traverse the fallen trees and muddy pools and sit beside the laughing waters once again. The wood thrush will sing, cardinals will find refuge in the brush piles, and otter will find crawdads under rocks that have come from many miles away. Life is change. Change is life. All we can do is go with the flow.

The Little Piney Renewed

The Little Piney Renewed

Winter Days

If I had a blog, today I would write about The Greenwood in winter.

The Missouri Arctic

The Missouri Arctic

Winter is back. Yesterday’s high was 15 degrees (with 25 mph winds) and today is even colder. The low last night was -2 and we’ll be lucky if we crawl into the teens for a high this afternoon. The snow that fell on Monday is reflecting most of the sun’s warmth back into space, leaving us wrapped in a blanket that offers no warmth. Until the weather breaks, our lives revolve around caring for our animals 24-7; keeping them well-fed and sheltered from the wind and snow.

Rain in the Snow

Rain in the Snow

Yesterday, despite the wind, we let the horses out for the day to stretch their legs and get some fresh air after three days in the barn. Horses are a great source of potential energy and when they are kept up, that energy builds day by day until they can get outside and burn it off. They made quite a spectacle of themselves, running, bucking, and even rolling in the snow; thrilled to be out in the sun and cold. Watching them play like kids on a Snow Day always lifts my spirits; at least someone is enjoying life in the freezer. I don’t really hate the cold weather, but as I get older I tend to adopt the Zen of the Hen instead.

The Zen of the Hen

The Zen of the Hen

Over at the chicken house, the tenor is quite different. My laying hens, rooster, and Ferdinand the duck prefer to stay indoors when snow is on the ground. I opened their door to the coop this morning, but no one wanted to venture out. The hens spent their day on the roost, under their heat lamp, or busy scratching for the dried mealworms I scattered in the straw as a treat. Ferdinand, my fawn and white runner duck, did have to forego his daily bath, but he when he saw his swimming pool had turned into a skating rink, he, too, was content to nestle down in the straw and enjoy winter from afar, alongside his roommate Edward, the Australorp rooster. I promised my boys warmer days will return, but even as I said it, I wondered how many times I’ll make that promise before the cold is through.

The Horse Barn

The Horse Barn

The bulk of our winter chores revolves around cleaning horse stalls. When all five horses are indoors full-time, keeping their quarters clean is an arduous job. While it is easier to scoop frozen “horse apples” and our work is certainly less fragrant this time of year, there is no getting around the fact that it’s plain old hard work. To pass the time, I turned to the mantra I used when backpacking. Most backpackers have a chant they use to distract themselves when hiking up an endless hill or trudging across rugged terrain. I adopted mine from a book I read about a woman who through-hiked the Appalachian Trail. It goes like this: “We are the through-hikers, mighty, mighty through-hikers. Every where we go-oh, people want to know-oh, who we are and so we tell them, ‘We are the through-hikers, mighty, mighty through-hikers…’ ” This encouragement has gotten me to the top of many mountain passes and today, it got me to the end of my task in record time. When I was finally able to stand up straight and stretch my aching back I felt as though I had reached the summit of Everest. Mom and I gave the horses a round of apple-treats, checked in with the barn cats and headed home for lunch in front of the fire. Mission accomplished.

Me

Me

In five hours, it will be chore-time again and we’ll start the lugging, lifting, and loading all over again. Some days I wonder why I chose this life rather than that of a business-woman. I could be sitting behind a desk in a warm office on these bitter mornings, sipping coffee and chatting with clients and co-workers, far removed from the wind that rattles the windows and the curtains of snow that dance across the parking lot, but then I open the barn door and am greeted by a symphony of nickers, clucks, meows, and crows that remind me just how much I am needed by the creatures I love. I might be able to earn more or achieve more at another job, but nowhere on earth could I feel more complete. This is where I belong.

Be Still And Know

If I had a blog, today I would write about the sacred nature of silence.

The Lord of Holiness

The Lord of Holiness

The last few days, the message of The Universe has been, “Be still.” I spent two days on a solo retreat in Missouri Wine Country, enjoying the rare privilege of reading, writing, and sitting in quiet contemplation. Originally, I had gone to the little town of Hermann to eagle-watch along the Missouri River, but when I arrived, I knew my trip was to center around restoring my spirit, not adding to my portfolio. I gave in to the urge to rest and in the stillness of those midwinter days, I found new life in the simple act of doing nothing.

Any doubts I had about forsaking my eagle project were erased this morning when I discovered a handsome bald eagle perched in a tree near the barn. I had followed my heart on my retreat and now the eagle had come to me and I knew at once the story I needed to share:

The Eagle wasn’t always the Eagle. The Eagle, before he became the Eagle, was Yucatangee, the Talker. Yucatangee talked and talked. It talked so much it heard only itself. Not the river, not the wind, not even the Wolf. The Raven came and said “The Wolf is hungry. If you stop talking, you’ll hear him. The wind too. And when you hear the wind, you’ll fly.” So he stopped talking. And became its nature, the Eagle. The Eagle soared, and its flight said all it needed to say. (As told by Marilyn Whirlwind on Northern Exposure).

My Bald Eagle

My Bald Eagle

Today the eagle assured me I can trust my heart; that not all needs are met by action. The eagle reminded me that unless I am quiet in body and in spirit I cannot hear the voice of The Divine. Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke to this when he wrote: There are voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world.”  and still more compelling, he admonished, “Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods.”

Going forward, I will remember to stop, to be still, and to listen, for then I will not have to go in search of Holiness; it will come in search of me.

An Experiment in Stillness

If I had a blog, today I would write about my grand experiment in quietude.

Hermann, Missouri

Hermann, Missouri

It has been more than a decade since I’ve gone on a retreat by myself, with no other goal than to rest. Today I’ve broken this unhealthy trend and am sitting on a king-sized sleigh-bed, watching the sun go down over acres of vineyards and inns sprinkled with snow-white church steeples. A fire is blazing in my fireplace and I am sipping a superb dry Merlot. This is the life.

The Vineyard

The Vineyard

Although my taste of wine-country is happening in Missouri, not Provence or Tuscany, this little corner of Heaven makes me feel as though I am in a far-away land. The place where I am staying is called Hermann Hill Vineyard and Inn. It sits atop a high hill overlooking the Missouri River Valley and the quaint Germanic town of Hermann. If a person time-warped into Hermann without GPS, you would feel certain you were in Germany’s Rhineland. Rolling hills, tall brick homes, and sprawling vineyards make it very hard to think “Missouri.”

Quiet Time

Quiet Time

The remarkable thing about my vacation so far is rediscovering the point of a vacation: To do as little as possible. I realize some people need constant action to stay sane, but I am not one of those people. I go, go, go, but that isn’t my default condition. I need down time; all-the-way-down time and I didn’t even know it. I planned this trip around hiking and (with a little luck) getting some photos of the bald eagles that sometimes winter along the Missouri River and while I may do those things, I’m not going to push it. If laying around watching favorite movies or reading a good book sounds better, I’m going to risk public opinion and do it.

I make light of this, but think about it: Could you go on a trip and feel good doing nothing? Would you return home full of energy and self-esteem if you all you had to report was how the light changed across the countryside as seen from your veranda? It’s a sad state of affairs when society expects us to accomplish something even when we are (theoretically) getting away from it all. It’s time for a change.

Good Night Wine Country

Good Night Wine Country

We’ll see how it goes, but for the next 36 hours I am going to listen to my Inner Being and if She says, “Rest,” I’m going to rest. It’s a little scary, but I think I am up to the task. Ooh! My complimentary ice cream and warm cookie are here. I think this is going to work.

Gran’s Violets

If I had a blog, today I would write about my grandmother’s legacy: Her African violets.

Gran's Violets in my first apartment.

Gran’s Violets in my first apartment.

Granny Ruby loved African violets. From my earliest days, I recall the splashes of pink, purple, and white that graced her side tables and intrigued me with their soft and furry leaves. I wasn’t allowed to stroke the leaves without Gran beside me, teaching me how to love her little garden without doing harm. She told me wonderfully mysterious tales of Africa, “The Dark Continent,” where the flowers originated and I loved to image them growing in the dampness of the jungle, sprouting from moss-covered rock faces and the spongy surface of decaying logs. They lived in the same part of Africa known to my hero, Jane Goodall, and that gave the flowers a mystique that holds me in thrall even today.

Gran's Violets in our kitchen window.

Gran’s Violets in our kitchen window.

African violets are finicky, needing just the right amount of water and sun to flourish. I often helped Gran feed the violets and learned how to tell if they were content with their living conditions. Some liked a little morning sun, others wanted perpetual shade. Given just the right amount of care, the plants would reward us with their colorful blooms. It was a boon to me because, with the exception of Gran’s violets, my horticultural skills are nil. It isn’t that I dislike plants; in fact, I love them dearly – from the tiny Easter flowers that sprinkle the back yard in springtime to the tallest oak tree in the forest, plants mean as much to me as animals, but somehow I am not destined to be their keeper.

Because my most earnest attempts at gardening always ended in failure, it was with more than a little anxiety that I took custody of Gran’s violets when she passed away. Not only were these living beings, but having lived with Gran and Grandy for most of their married lives, the African violets were part of my heritage and I was determined to keep the tradition going whatever the cost.

After they came into my care, Gran’s violets lived a nomadic life as I moved from dorm, to apartment, to my first little house on the edge of town. I fed them regularly, scoped out north-facing windows to give them the right amount of light, and I repotted them when the stems grew too woody. To my great surprise, not only did the violets survive, they flourished. I attributed their health not only to my diligence, but also to the love that I felt for my gran. She and I were best friends from the day I was born and it seemed that part of Gran’s spirit lived on in the flowers she gave to me. Many a dreary day was brightened by their colorful blooms and at times when I felt lonely or homesick, Gran’s violets gave me the feeling of home.

A little springtime in the middle of winter.

A little springtime in the middle of winter.

Today, the violets bloom merrily in our Great Room, greeting all who come to sit by the fire or share a family meal. In the winter, Mom and I sometimes move the flowers into the kitchen where they can benefit from the pale sun on its short journey through our little valley. Not a day goes by that I don’t greet Gran’s violets and say, “Thank you,” to Gran for leaving a glorious legacy behind.

 

True North

If I had a blog, today I would write about my secret love affair with arctic cold.

A Parhelic Circle that formed around the sun on our coldest day of 2014.

A Parhelic Circle that formed around the sun on our coldest day of 2014.

“Time for the weather report: It’s cold out, folks, bone-crushing cold. The kind of cold that’ll wrench the spirit out of a young man or forge it into steel.” On this ten-degree morning with 30 mph winds screaming through the tree tops, the forecast given by Chris-in-the-Morning on Northern Exposure fits the prediction for The Greenwood on this polar January day. While most people are running from shelter to shelter, heads bowed and bodies tensed against winter’s return, I have to admit, I revel in the cold. Whatever my bloodlines, somewhere in my DNA is the code for Eskimo, Laplander, or Sherpa – a string of the genome that makes me feel centered, even euphoric, when I face chores on a day like today.

Me in my Up North gear.

Me in my Up North gear.

Part of my love for les temps froids is simply that I thrive in the cold and wilt in the heat. My inner furnace keeps me warm regardless of the wind chill, but apparently I have no internal cooling system and summer heat sends me to the mat. But that’s just a small part of the story – a story that begins in 1990, with the advent of a television show called Northern Exposure. I was in college, living alone for the first time and searching for an identity that fit my solitary, wilderness-loving nature. When I saw Northern Exposure, a critical piece of my inner puzzle fell into place telling me The North was the place for me. Not only did pointing my compass in that direction lead me to my own version of Cicely, a little town called Ely in Northern Minnesota, it also introduced me to the fascinating world of dogsled racing – the world of The Beargrease, the Yukon Quest and The Iditarod.

True North - A piece of original art I created in 2000.

True North – A piece of original art I created in 2000.

Overall, I have no interest in professional sports, but when the dogsled racing season begins, I’m as rabid as a fan can be. I have no idea who won last year’s World Series, but I can tell you who’s won last year’s races, their finish times, how many dogs they used, and what strategies they employed to beat their competitors. I follow The Iditarod online and often stay up well past midnight to watch the winner pull under the burled arches at the finish line in Nome. Watching the men and women who spend ten days travelling day and night through treacherous landscapes and bone-chilling cold, I am filled with admiration – and, in my younger years, a dream of running dogs myself.

My Iditarod Gear

My Iditarod Gear

Now that I am now well into my forties, and deeply invested in my life here in Missouri, I imagine my Iditarod dreams will stay just that. Though I may never have the experience of crossing Rainy Pass in the Alaska Range or running down the frozen Yukon River at -40 degrees, I can still get my fix when the polar vortex comes to call. Then, standing on the rise beyond the barn, with snow swirling around me and the wind ruffling the rabbit-fur lining of my hat, I know for just a moment what it feels like to face True North, what it feels like to come home.

Onward and Upward

If I had a blog, today I would write about the perils of being an introvert entrepreneur.

My favorite place: In the woods with the chickadees.

My favorite place: In the woods with the chickadees.

The time has come. The new year has arrived and by tomorrow night I will have run out of “it’s still the holidays” excuses for watching Downton Abbey DVD’s instead of working to make my photography more than a hobby. Even though I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, I do want to take my photography to a new level in 2015 – a level that makes some money – and as good as that sounds, I know I’ll be struggling with my supreme introversion all the way.

One of my best friends: Abe the Arabian.

One of my best friends: Abe the Arabian.

I spent this morning reading in Alain Briot’s book, Marketing Fine Art Photography, and, to be honest, it made my heart race and my stomach churn. The thought of calling galleries, going to art shows, and sending queries to magazines and book publishers makes my blood run cold. I like nature photography because it puts me in the woods alone all day. Alone is where I gather energy, where I feel strong, and where I feel safe. So what’s an introvert to do?

After my anxiety and frustration with myself subsided, I took a deep breath and looked at my predicament from the perspective my parents taught me as a child: “If you come to an impass, don’t waste time chipping away at the wall in front of you. Step back and look for a creative way around.”

The Color of Joy - A Northern Cardinal on a dreary day.

The Color of Joy – A Northern Cardinal on a dreary day.

With that in mind, I got out my journal and made a list of things I could do (comfortably) to market my photographs: I can build a solid website, complete with shopping options and I can continue to share my work in this blog. I can push the envelope a little by checking out our local artist’s group and entering their annual photo contest and I can send samples of my North Woods work to art galleries in Ely, Minnesota, where I go on retreat almost every year.

List in hand, one other thought came to me: If the Ego is trying this hard to tell me I can’t do this, odds are I can. I won’t morph suddenly into Tony Robbins (or some other mega-extrovert), but I will find a way to reach my goal while staying true to my introverted nature.

So, for now, I will cast a few seeds into the wind and see what happens. I don’t have to be Ansel Adams or Jim Brandenburg overnight. All I have to do is take the first few steps in the direction I want to go and let my story unfold the way it is supposed to. In that, I am resolved.

Longest Night

Snow-Light

Snow-Light

If I had a blog, today I would write about Yule  – The passage of  the Winter Solstice.

Forty-five years, and most of what I remember is light: The mellow gold of sunlight in autumn, the cobalt hue of a snowy morning, the greenish hue after a passing storm, the pink and violet of a summer’s eve, and the welcoming glow of the lights of home. These are the palette upon which my memories are painted and so, on this shortest day of the year, I think it is fitting to share some thoughts on the return of the light.

December 10 - Winter's Tapestry

Endless Twilight

Each year I look forward to the Winter Solstice, to the annual tipping point when the daily loss of light is stopped and the process reversed, bringing us a little more dawn and twilight each day until mid-summer. If there was ever a year when I need the Return of the Light, it is this one. Since the passing of our two canine companions in October, my inner light has been burning low. I get up every day and do my chores, my desk-work, and my errands in town, but it is all in a world as grey as the winter landscape outside my window. Until now, my only resource has been to submit to the perpetual twilight and ride it out as best I can.

The Yule Log

The Yule Log

As we gather around the fire tonight and light the Yule Log – an white oak log draped with juniper boughs, sage, and rosemary, aromatic herbs that symbolize life; with holly and ivy to symbolize the ancient celebration of Yule, and with sunflower seeds to celebrate the return of the sun. As we sprinkle the log with a few drops of wine as a toast to the coming year, then set it alight as a symbol of letting go of the past, I will try to send my sadness skyward with the fragrant smoke and dancing flames. Though my grief will not vanish as the Yule Log turns to embers, perhaps I can draw warmth from the memories of Owain and Hank and let that drive out the darkness of grief.

Celebrating the Light

Celebrating the Light

One more long night and the earth begins to tilt back towards the light. I am ready to reach for the light as well.

Happy Yule to one and all.

Julie

Christmas to Me: Part III

If I had a blog, today I would finish telling you the story of my best Christmas ever…

Crossing Conchu Lake

Crossing Conchu Lake

Christmas Day dawned clear and cold. Without the folderol of opening presents or cooking a big company dinner, we ate our Paddler’s Porridge. This is our usual North Woods breakfast as it was the traditional breakfast of the French Voyageurs, the legendary fur-traders and explorers who made this part of the north part of song and lore during the 18th and 19th centuries. In need of a hearty breakfast, these strapping young men started each day with hot cereal made from of oatmeal, mixed with wild rice, and craisins. I add cinnamon, vanilla, cream, and butter to up the ante just a bit, but either way, after a bowl of Paddler’s Porridge, even a Southerner is ready to spend the day out on the frozen lakes.

Once the dishes were washed, we bundled up and strapped on our skis, traveling east towards Uranus and Conchu lakes. Around noon, we crossed from Conchu to the Kawishiwi River, a ribbon of ice between tree-lined shores. The name: Kawishiwi (or Kawashaway) comes from the Algonquin words Kaw, meaning “no” and Ashaway meaning “the place between.” To the Chippewa, who dwelt here until the coming of the white man, this land of “No Place Between” was a spirit land; home to those who had passed beyond the mortal coil and was forbidden to those who still lived. Despite the legend, we chose to follow in the footsteps of naturalist Sigurd Olson, who came to this place often, in search of some sense of the magic the Chippewa found in this world between worlds. We did not know what we would find, but it was thrilling to be in a place so steeped with mystery.

Mom & Dad on the Kawishiwi

Mom & Dad on the Kawishiwi

As we traveled along the river, we discovered we were not the only ones to use the Kawishiwi as a winter roadway. The new-fallen snow was crisscrossed with the tracks of deer, foxes, moose, and wolves and it made me feel good to be part of this tapestry of life, a member of The Wild. In the trees along the shoreline, chickadees, timberjays, and pine siskins went about their daily round, gathering pine-nuts or retrieving seeds hidden during the bounty of autumn. In the distance, we heard the raspy voice of ravens patrolling the landscape for food. The wolves rely on the ravens’ aerial reconnaissance to locate deer or moose that have died from injuries, starvation, or cold. The ravens circle above the carcass, calling loudly, in hopes that the wolves will come and tear the bounty into bits the ravens can share. It is a somewhat macabre relationship, but that is the way of The Wild, the way of The North.

Lunchtime found us near a frozen waterfall. Across the river was a rock outcropping where we ate the sandwiches we’d packed for just this occasion. Despite the cold temperatures, the dark rock face was warm and it made a perfect rest stop after a long morning of skiing. By the time we’d eaten and basked in the sun, it was time to turn towards home. That far north, it was twilight by 3:30 and full dark an hour later, so we didn’t have time to waste on our journey home.

Lark Lake Sunset

Lark Lake Sunset

We crossed onto Lark Lake at sunset, the sky awash in magenta and purple. Most winter sunsets Up North are quite pale, so this blaze of color was a perfect end to a perfect Christmas day.

Nearly twenty years have passed since our Christmas on Lark Lake. We’ve been back to Ely many times since and each trip has been more akin to a pilgrimage than a vacation. There is something powerful, mystical and magical in the wilderness of the North that opens a person to experiences most profound. Part the magic comes from living simply – without the bells and whistles of modern convenience – and the rest is experiencing Nature in her wildest, freest form. Up North, Nature is still a wild thing, unfettered by human design. When you step into the woods or onto a frozen lake in the North Country, you become the servant and Nature is the master. It is an exhilarating experience, a gift from The Wild I will never forget.