Retreat, Recharge, Resume

November 19, 2009 § 13 Comments

As much as I love to work, there comes a time when I want nothing more than to seek shelter from everything that is swirling around me and do a complete shutdown. There are a couple of favourite places for this.

These are not far off, exotic locations, although they have become more distant since I returned to Alberta.

And I had the wonderful experiencing of returning to both of them in October while on vacation.

One such place is the Lake Superior region, which I described in my Ode to Lake Superior (found below). It was published in 2008 by Diane Sims in her book Rider of the Clouds. I wrote this piece before relocating back to Grande Prairie in 2007. At the time of its writing, I did not know yet that my career would involve a return to this community.

The other place is Ripley, Ontario, where my mother-in-law lives.

No, she is not standing over me as I write this!

Ironically, entering the village, there is a sign that proclaims: Ripley, Ontario’s Natural Retreat.

Now, I would not actually choose to live there because I generally do thrive on a faster pace and ready access to any dining, shopping or services that I require nearby and, with a population of less than 1,000 people, Ripley is short on these.

That being said, when I want somewhere to go where I am bound to forget even what day it is, Ripley is the place to be.

Of course, I enjoy the company of my mother-in-law – my wife is not watching what I say – and other nearby family members. However, in this community, I have found I can just wind down and not even consider what will happen later that day, let alone what is in store in the weeks ahead.

I have asked friends and colleagues if they have such places. They do, although sometimes these are locales involving special people, too.

Lori Goodman, a workmate at the City of Grande Prairie, describes Jansen, Saskatchewan as the “best place ever in small town Saskatchewan.”

Jansen is where her grandmother is located and Lori enjoys returning both for the people and the sense of family. Like Ripley for me, Jansen has a slower pace and it’s a community where she does not feel judged, where people are not expecting something of you and there is a sense of trust with folks.

Sherry Lawler, a friend and colleague who operates Alpha Proofing in Edmonton, says these special places for her can be found along a trail in the mountains or by visiting her grandfather in Kelowna.

Do you have a special cove somewhere? A place where you can forget everything and recharge your battery for a day, a week, a month?

Here’s my tribute to my favourite place of all.

A Superior Power – My Ode to Lake Superior


The waves thunder up against the beach along spectacular Lake Superior, pounding the shoreline, with the mighty force of nature. These roiled waters retreat, only to crash up on the rock and sand again and again.

I never get tired of this scene. Even in mid-winter, it plays back in my mind as vividly as if I were there in person.

It is no wonder Lake Superior is dubbed Gitchee Gumee. In the Algonquin language this means all-powerful lake.

As much as I love the breath-taking beauty and the majestic snow-capped mountains of my native Western Canada, there’s nothing like finding a favorite spot along this greatest of the Great Lakes to go and contemplate life.

Sometimes I sit and watch, closing my eyes and letting my mind go free.

On other occasions I walk for miles with my wife, or alone with my dog. When I look back, I see my fresh footprints fill up with water. Maybe this is symbolic for how my pent up thoughts have disappeared after I have left them behind.

Pancake Bay and other spots along this largest of the Great Lakes have provided that space many times to disengage a muddled collection of details. These range from what I have to do upon returning to the office to the more prevalent past events that I have dwelled on with no solutions, regardless of the amount of reflection.

For someone who doesn’t embrace the winter wonderland that can last up to five or six months at a time in this region, there are precious few weeks to visit these favorite haunts to let go of those thoughts that have build up in the crevasses of the mind over those long months of snow and ice.

Even pounding up against the shores as I contemplate what this lake means to me, these waves pose no threat. Not like they can – and have. The date November 10, 1975 is one fixed firmly in the minds of most locals. That is when the Edmund Fitzgerald was swallowed up in a storm nearby with all 29 crew members aboard.

Like a moody, but close friend, you have to know when to approach this companion.

It is difficult to fathom how those crashing whitecaps can transform into a surface almost like a sheet if ice at other times, as loons and other waterfowl take their turn visiting this friend. Or kayakers glide out to deeper waters, perhaps looking to dump their stresses in even greater depths.

On the summer visits I yearn for with great anticipation each spring, the waves are most often like extra playful friends, splashing up against you.

What I find most endearing about this friend is that no matter how busy it can be dumping water ashore or in perhaps its own pensive moments in those times of calm, I always leave knowing I have been listened to … the clutter is gone, washed away to the great depths of the Lake.

The shores themselves have special meaning.

They offer refuge from those oh so chilly waters – it takes until the dog days of summer to feel at all comfortable even wading in … Yet I always tell people who complain about this that I prefer this to camp along or to spend a day at the beach … I remind them that is nice to be able to look in the water and to see the sand bottom, versus the murky water at other Lakes.

And there is also nothing quite so refreshing after a hike on a steamy afternoon as diving into Lake Superior and having the dust and sweat immediately wash away.

The land against this enormous body of water represents a symbol of arrival to me.  I often wonder what the voyageurs must have thought when they climbed out of their canoes for a rest.

The shore here makes me think of a favorite passage in a verse I have posted in my office. It speaks of how if you help others across the river, you will get to shore, too.

It really is true!

Lake Superior represents an even greater challenge than the symbolic river. When I have really thought about it, my most rewarding moments have come while working as part of a team effort or helping a younger colleague find success.

You realize important things like this when you stop and allow yourself to find meaning in life, that things do happen for a reason and, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, be the change you want to see in the world.

Lake Superior does not count amongst the Wonders of the World. It is not an exotic location or have a sophisticated name, or have any mythical stories attached to it.

I have come to know its healing powers on many occasions. When I have permitted Gitchee Gumee to take me in her grips, I have allowed those wasteful thoughts to be washed away for positive new ones.

Lake Superior, my friend, I knew the first time I saw you that we would be spending a lot of time together. And we have. I have delighted in even visiting for the day. We have brought friends and family from afar. They also marveled at you.

If I were ever to move to some other location, I know you would always be there. I would never forget the strength you have given me. I will always return.

Everyone should be blessed to have a friend like you.

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§ 13 Responses to Retreat, Recharge, Resume

  • davidolinger says:

    A footnote to this blog … When I was writing A Superior Power, I started out with great gusto. My friend, Diane, had asked me to write about the area that she knew I loved to visit and the good times I had there. No problem, I thought. Except after I got into describing how I uncluttered my brain by taking walks on the beach and having my negative thoughts disappear, just as my footprints did in the sand, I hit a writer’s block.

    However, it so happened that I had an my first interview for my current position in Grande Prairie via teleconference in Sault Ste. Marie just a couple of days before the piece was due. As I was leaving the hotel where I’d scheduled the interview, I realized it had gone really well and I could actually be leaving the area. It dawned on me that is how I would finish the article: I might be getting the job and leaving Lake Superior, but it is my friend and I could always return.

  • Cecilia Lu says:

    Over here on the West Coast, my favourite local place would have to be Deep Cove in North Vancouver…

    And this is why: (photo-taking skills not mine)

  • Jim Lowe says:

    I grew up in the city – within a long drive from the Mississippi. But my wife grew upon the shore of Lake Michigan, in a small resort town.
    On an especially cold and grey day, I walked down the streets to the shoreline of the great inland sea. Waves crashed against the seawall and tried to intimidate me, but I kept walking through the sand, toward the water.
    There’s something about water, the infinite nature of the sea — even when you know it ends somewhere out there — hundreds of miles out, not thousands. I had a similar occurrence on the Gulf Shore in Florida — walking the beach at night with the roar of the ocean just beyond my nose, smelling seaweed and floating debris of dead fish. It was scary and exhilarating. I kept waiting for the ocean to rear up and sweep in to overwhelm me. But it never came. But it could have.

    And by the way – consider the Indian tales of Lake Superior – you bet it has legends and stories attached to it. Remember Gordon Lighfoot’s song – “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”? Listen to the lyrics to get a small sense of the stories that are told over the largest of the Great Lakes.

    Like your memories and thoughts.


  • Blank says:

    In my blog ( I write how the mountains help me develop a sense of self and give me solace in the process. They truely are my savior. I think that we humans need a place to “recharge” – whether that place is mountains, lakes, or the local coffee shop.

    Mike Vaughn

  • Paul Donehue says:

    The lakes region of NH is my retreat – we have a small chalet on a small lake at the base of the Red Hill mountains. It’s peacefull, inspirational and only an hour from the office!

    • Wendy Peters says:

      Paul, its incredible you have a retreat so close! Mine is at my family cabin… 10 hours away. It’s not exactly easy to do a weekend trip.

  • JuleS says:

    I have a couple of places. Last year about this time we were finishing the second-story addition to our home, which we had been talking about for 10 years. My wonderful husband built it primarily to house my library which numbers more than 5,000 now — and grows by a dozen or so every week, thanks to my constant haunting of used-book stores, thrift stores, rummage sales and etc. (as Joan Rivers says, “I never pay retail!”)

    So, that second-story library is one of my retreats, since the only other rooms up there are our bedrooms and about the only time we’re there is when we’re sleeping. My 9-year-old often plays in his room but he’s so absorbed in his reading, computer or “playing cars” that he doesn’t ever bother me when I’m in the library.

    My other place is the office, which is away from the house — partly to “feel” more like an office and thus compel me to get “real” work done, but also to prevent preoccupation with my books (and the laundry, and tonight’s dinner, and the cats, and the dishes, and the pictures I need to hang, and…and…and…!)

    My office is in a building ca. 1927, very elegantly old and aged so it “feels” like a writer’s den. And, it seems that most of the tennants are in their offices on a very part-time basis. The rent is so cheap many of them just seem to rent space here to have a business address, or, like me, use it has a retreat.

    Unfortunately, the very week I moved in (a couple of months ago) the city began MAJOR work on the street which, while seven floors below me, still was so nerve-wrackingly noisy that I had to leave on several occasions and work at home.

    Now that the work is for the most part done, my office, like my library at home, is a quiet and private retreat. I consider both to be my sanctuaries, and family and friends respect that — they rarely drop in unannounced. Even my 9-year-old, who walks over to the office from school across the street, typically goes to dad’s office (right up the hall) to hang out ’til we’re ready to go home.

    My favorite time to be here (at the office) is after 5:00pm. As quiet as it is during the day, with so few tenants around, it is delightfully peaceful and isolating to be here after hours — especially now, on CST when it’s dark outside by 4:30 or so.

  • Diane Rooney says:

    Very interesting reading where people turn to to recharge, retreat, and resume. My choices are quite different. When I need to get away from work and family challenges or creative blocks, I try to spend a few days in New York (or, if I can afford it, London), going to plays, art museums, and places where I can observe the social scene. I find that I absorb and am recharged by the energy and creative power I find in these places, and I find inspiration of various kinds. I also get away from being focused on the scale of my own problems and challenges.

  • AVA says:

    I read your post on LinkedIn and was going to extol the virtues of Lake Superior, but you’ve done a beautiful job of that already. I’d only add that Lake Superior in winter can be an even BETTER place to retreat and contemplate for a number of reasons:
    *The desolate, dangerous landscape
    *The hidden power (especially evident at frozen waterfalls, like Gooseberry Falls State Park)
    *Very few other people are there

    That said, I’ve since moved to Illinois, and Lake Michigan isn’t as moody as Lake Superior, but still an adequate substitute.

  • Estela says:

    Hiking, swimming and wine tasting…in general. I also like to recharge myself in meditation retreats. There is one very special on the Catskill mountains, new York. And top of my list are the Brazilian beaches.
    I would love to contribute to your book. I am Brazilian and Canadian, and it is interesting how people differ in the way the recharge themselves. Brazilian care about relations to friends and society, Canadians care about their innerself and nature…it is all about how you relate to yourself, your world and nature.

    • Wendy Peters says:

      Estela, that’s interesting! I had never thought of the ways different cultures tend to recharge themselves. Has anyone else noticed cultural differences in the way we recharge?

  • Andrea says:

    For me my quiet place is out at my parents farm north west of Prince Albert Saskatchewan. Nothing much ever seems to be going on but that is always the right pace for me.

  • Jen Rice says:

    Camping at Pancake Bay, especially in previous years when we shared that experience with you and Joyce, certainly is Jim’s and my haven in Ontario.

    My other haven, one which I will not experience anymore, is at the Wheeler’s cottage at the base of Mt. Mansfield, Vermont. The view of the mountain is beautiful and I always felt a certain awe, a certain peace,a certain joy, and a certain “coming home” feeling when I would gaze upon it. Being half Vermonter may explain those feelings, and while I may not physically experience that particular spot again, the feelings are conjured up as soon as I envision Mt. Mansfield or gaze upon a photo of it.

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