What is it about midlife that stirs up old unmet challenges and makes “what is” so unsatisfying and “what might have been” so sweet?
Last September, I set off for Lake Nunikani, Ont., in search of answers. In my kayak was a tarp, a sleeping bag and a change of clothes, and that was about it. Strange as it may seem, to get at what was eating me, I chose to not eat for four days. I had carefully crafted a set of rituals and hopes for my vision quest.
Mist rose from the pre-dawn lake. I was crossing over from the routines of family, work and worry into the intuitive places that are always with us but are seldom explored with purpose. I paddled upstream past a pull-through rapid and then made a short portage into Nunikani. It was an easy trip, but that was the plan — I was keeping in mind the return journey with an empty belly and wobbly knees.
I spent the morning exploring the lake until I found the right place to camp. The spot seemed to speak to me, but I wasn’t sure until I pulled out my drum and introduced myself. The wind picked up my rhythm and danced it across the waters before me. The waters rippled out and back, then across, then again from both sides to meet in the middle. Was I hallucinating already? You’re not supposed to start losing it until the third day.
A trip with no place to go and nothing to do — no pad and pen, no books, no fishing line, no food to cook — is tiresome and strange. Over the next three days, I waited and watched; had crazy conversations with the rocks and sky, moss and trees. The waves and the wind and the birds kept me company.
At the far end of the lake there was a cemetery of bleached tree stumps scattered across a long sandy beach. One stump in particular caught my attention. It was planted head-down in the sand. Its roots were in the air, exposed and stretching out in all directions. They are hunger and want and desire. They are my hungers and wants and desires, my arms reaching out in all directions for this and this and this.
That stump seemed like an altar for this quest. Turning my life upside down, exposing the roots. The place had a druid eeriness that both attracted and spooked me. An upside-down place.
I wandered slowly, weakly up into the woods. The shade was cool and moist, and I came upon a stone cliff-face covered in green moss. The moss dripped with tears. They were the tears from my own story. More than this, they were the tears of Mother Earth’s compassion for her human creatures, who let their hungers and fears drive them. I pressed my palms and face against her tear-soaked face.
On the third day, I received my vision. It was nothing new. In fact, what I was given was very old. What the Maker presented to me, in subtle and natural images, was a deeper appreciation of the gifts I’d already been given. I found a new footing with which to take on those old demons.
And I carried away a renewed sense of humour. I was reacquainted with the great Host of spirits of the ages. I was reminded that those spirits quest right alongside me and cheer me on, especially when I feel alone and afflicted.
Paddling home, my heart was as full as my belly was empty. I was hungry for more than the cheeseburger I’d been dreaming of. I had an appetite for what was to come.
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