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.