I was utterly flattered when Beth Mairs, founder of Wild Women Expeditions http://www.wildwomenexp.com/ asked me to write a short story submission for their 20th anniversary cookbook. I dredged up some past journal entries and came up with this:
Finally, finally my sweetie & I were going to kayak the North Channel of Lake Huron with the Wild Women of Northern Ontario! I had been looking forward to this trip for a year – ever since our last WWE trip, a canoe trip to Temagami. (Actually, we’d decided to go on the Lake Huron trip on our way home from Temagami.)
It was a bright and sunny Saturday morning when I, my sweetie Kat, and nine other Wild Women put into Lake Huron and paddled due south, heading toward Fox Island, our first campsite. Our group included: a married couple from Texas, one of whom was a geologist, a public-housing lawyer from Washington, an international diplomat who had just completed two years in Afghanistan working there to improve women’s health and education, a dental hygienist, a teacher, a former insurance broker, and our two wonderful, talented guides.
I paddled along and my heart sang. I’ve been kayaking since I was a teenager. Sitting low in the water, feeling the waves pull at my hips, setting my sights on a spot on the horizon and paddling for it, this is where I felt content. Kat, who had just learned to kayak the day before, proceeded to master it and kicked kayak ass! She led the pack the whole trip while I barely kept up. Our group paddled together like a flock of loosely bunched loons, milling around in the water, laughing and calling to each other.
Lake Huron feels distinctly feminine. The colours of the water, the sky and the rocks are always shifting… The view feels simple and open, yet the closer you look, the more complexity it reveals. The clouds on Lake Huron like to hang close to the water. The effect of paddling through close reflections of clouds on the water can make you feel like you’re flying. The border between water and sky can blur… concealing Mother Nature’s mood-swings just over the horizon.
Our guides were in regular contact with the Coast Guard and were prepared for the shift in weather, but the rest of us were caught by surprise. We felt the wind first – an invisible back-hand that smacked into our group and hissed: “SSSSSSHHHHHAAAAAAAH!!!!!!” Everyone leaned forward, dug their paddles into the waves and pushed for shore – we had made it to our Fox Island campsite just in time!
The sky coiled around us, growling thunder. Our boats hit the shore and the heavens opened – it was not rain that fell, it was a waterfall. The world had turned upside down and the lake was falling on to us.
To be rained upon while on a rock island in a lake is to feel truly exposed. There were no tall trees, in fact, I noticed SEVERAL tall trees had been toppled like dominoes; an eloquent testament to the power of the force that held us at her mercy. Lightening sliced through the sky and bled onto the lake, searing thunder burned the air, smelling like ozone, the roar of thunder’s whiplash snapped my spine straight, like a reverse orgasm, my body jolted when the sky crashed. I was so scared I could barely think.
The Texans, on the other hand, were having a hoot! They were so happy to be away from the heat of the south that the storm to them was a nature-sanctioned launch party. They were bewildered by the rest of us, huddled together like grumpy, shivery, rabbits.
We set up a tarp as a “shelter”, ate soggy sandwiches and settled in to wait for the storm to blow out. We waited hours. We were cold. There was hail. It was barely afternoon on the first day of our trip and I was already questioning my sanity (a personal record). At that very moment, Hera (the lawyer) cried “I can’t believe I paid over $800 and drove over 900 miles to be here!”
All the tension in our huddled group of women erupted in hysterical laughter! Hera began to empty her fanny pack, displaying it’s waterlogged contents: shea butter curdled in it’s tin, a pack of trident that had become one large wad of gum & wrapper and had engulfed her lip balm. We huddled shivering under a tent fly and howled with the wind. Let us be crazy – we can’t do anything else!
Our laughter seemed to break the terrible spell of the storm. The rain stopped pounding us and became a patter, and finally stopped. Northern Ontario, beautiful and harsh, would never punish us for long.
Soon, we had our tents pitched and drying out. We had a clothesline draped with wet clothing, flapping in the wind. We had a happy fire of fragrant pine snapping away, we were settled in, dried out and in our warm clothes. Pumped with adrenaline from the storm, my morale bolstered considerably by the warm wool base layers, I felt ready for anything.
Our reward that evening was a Spectacular sunset.
All afternoon I had been thinking “little Eden” to myself; the island felt distinctly apart from the reality I was familiar with. The rock under my feet was pink granite, shot with white quartz – it was so pretty it did not seem real. The landscape looked more like a stylized drawing than a real place, but the daylight had nothing on the sunset. Fox Island at sunset exists in strange and marvelous parallel universe.
When the sun moved in to kiss the divide between water and sky, colour exploded over everything. All colours were intensely vivid. The sky drew a cotton-candy veil of clouds over her face, which shimmered and shifted through neon pink to purple in the east, and radiated gold in the west. The water, having spent most of the day being blue, shifted to lavender where it reflected the pink clouds, the crests of the waves on the water reflected the eggshell blue of the sky.
As the sun sank lower, the water’s lavender deepened to indigo, and the waves reflected the sun’s orange gold from the sky. The clouds rolled and shifted, the pink rock blushed to deep rose, the quartz chips on the rock’s face sparkled like the light on the sequined water. The beauty was so complete, and it was everywhere. Awesome. Humbling. Obliterating.
I could not open my eyes enough at first, I struggled to take it all in. I felt like I could not open my heart enough. And then I stopped trying, and I just surrendered to the experience. I stopped trying to see the beauty, and I began to *feel* it. I stopped existing as myself, as a finite drop of water, when I joined the ocean of the sunset. If I had not already been sitting, I would have fallen to my knees.
Kat & I cuddled in our tent that night. We stayed awake a long time without talking. I listened to the waves, the wind and the clothes snapping on the line. Late that night I woke up and unzipped the tent to stare at the sky. In the absence of artificial light, the stars reveal their infinity. The night sky is not dark or empty; the billions of stars are all sunsets.
That’s it. I hope it gets included in the book. Either way, anyone who enjoys camping should buy Beth’s next cookbook – and the first one too. Just because you’re on the trail doesn’t mean you have to eat dehydrated, pre-packaged meals. Now that we live in a place where we can just go have a campfire whenever we feel like it, Kat & I are flipping through the first cookbook and planning on having meals at the beach, cooked over the campfire, wild woman style!
(By the way, if you’re curious about what else happened on that trip, you can read the rest of the journal here: http://fds-stories.livejournal.com/)
Tomorrow Kat & I are taking the bus into Parksville to buy our very first car. Our First Car! Well, assuming the mechanics don’t find anything horribly wrong with it.
It’s a 1991 Chevrolet Cavalier wagon. Big, heavy, old. Solid, we hope. Heavy enough to get us over the mountains, solid enough to keep running for a few years, fingers crossed. Single owner, a grandmother, who stopped driving it when she lost her vision. Well cared for by her son, a mechanic. We hope it’s a good find. Buying a car is a lot like buying a house. You do your research, you make some sacrifices to stay in your price range, you have it inspected and you hope you got lucky. $1700 will not buy us a magic carpet, but we’re hoping it will buy us wheels that’ll keep on turnin’ for a while yet.
Wish us luck!