Friday, August 4, 2017

Northernness

The voyageurs thought the call of the loon sounded like a crying woman, which describes less the shrill honk of Minnesota’s state water fowl and more the image of utter loneliness these bachelors must have felt, starved of civilization and the sight and sound of female humans for many long Northern months. The loon conjures up loneliness in his very cry: a fitting anthem for these men who forged a slow and lonely aquatic path in these Northern water ways and woods.

On the other side of the island which Bernadette and I do not manage to hike all the way around, there is a very bare spine of volcanic rock peaking out of the clear water of rainy lake. But the stone is covered in some sparse wildflowers, and, most staunch and foolish of them all: a scrubby evergreen, lacking needles, which bares its naked comb of toothed branches against the cold Canadian wind, shoots down shallow roots into the non-existent soil it ekes out of the old lava in the rock, and grows. It just persists at growing and living, because that is what nature knows how to do.
If a seed falls on rocky ground, it does not give up the cause as lost. Instinct doesn’t even brook a doubt.
It goes on, because that is what it must. And it will often fail, the odds are not always in its favor, but it doesn’t much care for thinking in hard analytics before it sows itself.
And it manages to grow.
Nature has an insistence on survival that is miraculous in its persistent intensity.
Much like families, who seem to weather storms like we do today: hunkered down in our screened-in porch, and persisting until sunny skies appear again, which we can laugh under and splash at one another, floating like fruit loops in a bowl of milk carved out by old glaciers.

We speed across the lake, and I am inundated by sun and pale blue sky, lousy with clouds (and mosquitos), and the fresh spray of water, the horizon is hemmed in by pine trees, and it is utterly beautiful.

I think that this is sort of what life’s adventure means: it means attentiveness to beauty in the small and large moments, it means embracing an adventure from hiking Mt. Tabor to clambering over mossy rocks in one's back yard, it means diving into the Mediterranean alone, and off the back of the boat, even though the water’s deep. It means loving those immediate kindred spirits, and those perhaps hidden from your instant recognition, and it means embracing all these movements of grace as gift. Sacred, divine gift, which you will not clasp onto in fear, try to control in your paranoia, not clamp down on, trying to cling to them as buoys, nor shove them into the mold you had intended for your life. It means embracing this wild adventure—its sad loon calls, its dangerous portages, and its surprise turns—knowing that life is only a preparation for that which comes next. And this life doesn’t have to turn out exactly as you imagined it would.
But it must be beautiful.
And it must reach towards that heavenly vision of communion you can taste in the faces of the congregation at the our Father, in praying together before an empty golden tabernacle, in holding court with friends at sunset on all that’s right and wrong in this world. Our lives must point towards that, if nothing else.
And if we have that firm direction of growing, let the winds land us where they may: be it on the lush fields of the Galilee, or a scrubby Northern rock, not even deigned to be called an island.

I wonder what sort of adventure the voyageurs had wanted, how much of it they had chosen, and what they thought about what they had received in return. Did they ever get to sit in their chairs, surrounded by grandchildren and hear the cry of the loon which reminded them, not of a woman crying into their empty lonely frontier lives, but of the vast Northern skies they forged a path through, and the horizon that constantly spread from underneath their fingertips whenever they called it theirs.

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