|Sea to Sky. Copyright Andrea Paterson. 2014.|
I certainly got my wish, arriving at a tiny private cabin overlooking the above pictured lake. A short walk took me down to the dock where I could look out over the water to the snow capped mountains beyond and breathe the clean air. I immediately got the sense that I had landed somewhere wild. It never ceases to amaze me that a two hour drive by car can take me from my front door to the gateway of wilderness.
In my cabin at night the silence was so complete that it woke me up. At about 3 am when all the birds were sleeping and the darkness was so complete that I couldn't tell the difference between having my eyes open and closed I would suddenly wake up with a feeling of terror creeping over my body. I think we city-folk forget what silence is really like. We forget how dense it is, how layered and complex. The darkness and the silence contained within them a whole world that I don't have access to lying in my bed at home with the traffic noises dulling my senses. So on my second night I was lying there in the dark, listening to my heart pound in the uncanny silence and then the silence was broken by rustling. Something...something fairly large walked across my cabin porch. I have no idea what it was and was too afraid to investigate. I tried not to breathe and whatever it was went away. A shadow disappearing into shadows. It was as if the wild-things that stay trapped in my civilized body managed to escape and click-clacked with their ragged nails across the threshold of my heart. That creature outside was also inside and I was afraid of it, afraid of recognizing my own animal nature roaming out there in the dark.
|Resident Husky. Copyright Andrea Paterson. 2014.|
On my second day at the retreat centre I set out on a hike up to Garabaldi Lake--a 19 km round trip journey straight up a mountain to a glacial lake. I left my camera behind as I wanted to travel as lightly as possible. I was at the trail head by 8:15 a.m. and began the steep climb up a series of switch-backs. I spent the first hour fearing I would be eaten by a bear. I had some real anxiety about being alone on a mountain trail. Being so early there were very few other hikers and the forest rose thick around me, broken only by hundreds of feet of vertical cliff face. But I had come to gain confidence in my ability to be alone, to travel alone, to confront whatever demons were contained inside solitude. An hour in I had stopped worrying about the bears. My breath filled my body, my muscles were warm and I was moving steadily. At the three hour mark I caught my first glimpse of Garabaldi Lake and I think I may sworn aloud because it was just so otherworldly. There was this pristine turquoise body of water surrounded by the remnants of the winter's snow. I had to trudge through rotting logs and slush to get to a bridge overlooking the water. The air was perfectly clear and the distant mountains stood out starkly against the morning sky. I sat there for a half hour staring and trying not to think about my trek back down to the parking lot. I think I conquered something on that hike and it wasn't just my own body which I forced to work its way up the mountain, it was something more subtle, something that had to do with a deep seated fear of becoming lost alone in the wild.
I half fell, half ran back down the mountain making it back to the parking lot in about 2 hours. I had blisters all over my feet and the gleam of my car was almost as stunning in that moment as the gleam of the lake. I stumbled into my car and made it back to the retreat centre in time for lunch.
The rest of my stay was spent engaged in serious relaxation. I would rise for breakfast, read until lunch, go for a short walk around the grounds, write until dinner, then go back to my cabin to read and write some more until bedtime. It was amazing to have such long hours for rest, reflection, and uninterrupted lounging. I spent the weekend reading a book on writing called Ensouling Language by Stephen Harrod Buhner. I felt like it was talking to my soul. I felt like I was seeing directly into the creative process for the first time in my life. Buhner discusses the concept of notitia or "the attentive noticing of the soul" which allows a person to reach out and touch the things around them with a sort of non-physical, soul-oriented touch and suddenly see into the essence of those things. This is, according to Buhner, what allows the writer to understand and communicate great truths.
So I spent much of my weekend practicing the art of notitia. I let myself reach out to touch the "emotional tone" of nature around me and tried to forget my tired ideas about what things are and how they operate in relation to me. In this state I took some pictures of the things around me, trying to see something new in them:
|Birch. Copyright Andrea Paterson. 2014.|
|Driftwood. Copyright Andrea Paterson. 2014.|
When I had to come back to my life I experienced some brief culture shock. Even three days away were enough to make me forget the chaos of my daily life. When I stepped in the door my life came crashing down on me as if it had been piling up to the ceiling in my absence. Into my mind flooded knowledge of bills to be paid, and toilets to clean, and lunches to make, and groceries to buy, and a million little things needing my attention. Notitia was drowned under minutia. Yet I had a chance to get in touch with the wilderness, if only briefly, and I had an opportunity to see differently for three short days. It was worth it to have that respite. I can carry it with me into my harried days and also recognize that occasional trips to the mountains are not just luxuries but necessities. This is the second year in which I have gone on retreat and I believe it needs to be an annual tradition--an opportunity to, in the words of Buhner, "travel into the wilderness and bring back meaning in buckets made of words, to give it as drink to the thirsty, to slake the thirst of those who have lived isolated too long inside their own houses, to give them the living experience of wild water" (87).
|Recharging with Tea. Copyright Andrea Paterson. 2014.|