Friday, September 23, 2011

To be or to do? How to reply when the wind speaks your name

The September breeze has decorated our backyard fire pit with a garland of yellow leaves from a nearby walnut tree. That’s a walnut tree for you. They’re always the first to call it quits and drop the curtain on summer.

With our fishing poles and canoe now stowed in the barn, I’ve reluctantly done the same thing. All that remains of summer is a plastic pail of dull stones that someone left on the patio. Could these really be the same red and green jewels that we plucked wet and sparkling from the cold rush of the Lake Superior surf?

Eventually, they’ll end up in the flower bed – just like the others did last year. No matter. I’ve already got plenty of Up North tchotchkes to clutter my fire place mantle. Besides, for this year’s souvenir, I’ve brought home something better: a keepsake memory that I’d do well to ponder for the 45 weeks until my next vacation.

The setting was Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, near Munising in the Upper Peninsula. It was Friday afternoon, the last day of vacation. And while I’d enjoyed the week, a part of me had never let go. I’d yet to feel deeply relaxed, that moment of blissful detachment when recreation becomes true re-creation.

While the family swam and combed the beach for agates, I wandered down a hiking trail near the Miner’s River. It led through a dark stand of hemlock, but it wasn’t wilderness. It was too close to the beach and parking lot for that. The river, too, was pleasant but unremarkable; like dozens of other knee-deep, tea-colored streams in the U.P.

But as I veered off the main trail to visit the river, something stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t a really breeze; it was more like a fragrant exhalation from the woods itself. The air was deliciously hot, dry and sun-cured; sweet with the turpentine aroma of pine sap. Above the water, the unnamed wisp had swept two yellow butterflies into a thermal updraft. They rose in a delicate spiral, a DNA helix come to life. It was an aerial ballet, I tell you. The butterflies mirrored each other’s moves as if choreographed. It was so startlingly human that it almost seemed creepy.

And that did it. The world at hand, the one I’d driven 500 miles to explore and enjoy, finally had my full attention. For the first time that week, I noticed how supremely comfortable I was in my summer vestments: baggy shorts, old t-shirt and fishing cap, good walking sandals. How could I ever stand to wear anything else?

Everything that meant vacation was suddenly right there. The lakeshore, the woods, the U.P., the whole blessed summer had gathered itself into this singular moment and place. Here, in a one-seat shrine edged by living steeples of white spruce.

You could still hear the rumble of cars on the washboard road to the beach. But the sudden quiet I’d found here was of a different sort – more within than without. It was the stillness that I once tried to find through meditation but never could. I must’ve spent 20 minutes there, partly to savor it, but also to ask why all of this had found me here.

Like most of us, I’d gone on vacation to do things. To fish and hike and canoe; to rent a cottage on a lake in the woods; to eat pasties and ride the tourist boats out of Munising Bay. I’d taken a long to-do list Up North, but what I really needed was a to-be list. And you know it’s bad when they have to dispatch two yellow butterflies to tell you that.

1 comment:

  1. well said! sometimes nature just hits you right in the faced like that.