For some people, it might be about home and family—perhaps their mothers' kitchens when they were children. For others, it might involve a favorite activity, like gardening, golfing or fishing. I suppose it could even be an imaginary place, a kind of spiritual outdoors you get to by just walking out on your abrasive thoughts and surroundings for a while.
But what I'm thinking of would be a place in Nature, a real locale, a tangible space of air, water, earth and life. Do you have such a place that's dear to you?
If it were to be wiped from the face of the earth,
I'd still go there.
A DOSE OF WILDERNESS
My happy place is a real place. I go there physically when I can, and in my imagination when I have to. If, for some reason, it were to be wiped from the face of the earth, I'd still go there. That's how much a part of me it's become.
It's a slough, or side channel, of the St. Croix River, the beautiful stream that separates Minnesota from Wisconsin for 125 of its 164-mile length. I discovered it as a boy, when my family would spend summers at our home just across the river. And, even though I've had few lasting connections with the house and land, I've continued going to the slough, in both body and spirit, for more than fifty years.
These days that's not a bad price to pay for a
dose of wilderness.
Today, the trip involves a little more effort than that boyhood walk of about a quarter mile to the river. Now I have to drive north from my home in Minneapolis for about an hour. Then I get my canoe and gear in the water and paddle about half a mile to the inconspicuous gap in the wooded bank that marks the slough's entrance. These days that's not a bad price to pay for a dose of wilderness.
By the time I pull up at the landing, I've already begun my transformation, dropping off my worries along the way, picking up a few parcels of quiet anticipation. When I step out of my car, the air's clean and fragrant, the sun warm, the clamor of the city left far behind. And, if I'm lucky, the St. Croix looks just right—low enough to leave exposed a few welcome sandbars, but not so low as to require portaging into the slough.
What best exemplifies my metamorphosis, though, is the striking change of vehicles—leaving the one designed for a mile a minute for the one whose progress is measured in yards. I'm also trading a conveyance that both consumes and breathes poison for one with no appetite nor breath but my own.
There's something so perfectly liberating and empowering about the self-reliance of traveling by canoe. Each paddle stroke, each foot I might have to drag or carry my gear across a log or shallow sand bar, rewards me with a modest, well-earned result. It's a celebration, not simply of freedom, not just of connecting with Nature, but of the way my body works and feels.
Their breath and mine, as well as that of a thousand fellow beings—poplar and pine, deer and otter, cardinal and eagle—mingle in this delicious air.
The synthesis of physical exertion with my mental and spiritual surrender make me part of this place—one that, very likely, has changed little since the days when the Ojibwe or Dakota plied these waters three centuries ago. Their breath and mine, as well as that of a thousand fellow beings—poplar and pine, deer and otter, cardinal and eagle—mingle in this delicious air.
My time in the slough is like a meditation on two levels at the same time: the syncopated rhythms of paddling and breathing center me deep within, while a lush tapestry of sensations wraps around and, like the sure guidance of trusted friend's arm, draws me out to become one with my surroundings. My mind, free of schedule or expectation, glides, like my canoe, wherever I choose to take it—or just drifts with the wind. Either way, my spirit is nourished completely.
It's a change I'm afraid too many people find so easy that it's hard.
It's funny: I don't think very much while I'm paddling in the slough. I used to feel I could use the time to do some creative problem solving or to make difficult decisions about my life. But I've come to understand and accept that that's not where my spiritual energy wants to go. It wants to lift me above all those mundane tasks and embrace that one deceptively simple task of simply being. It's a change I'm afraid too many people find so easy that it's hard.
I hope you have a happy place, a place where easy is easy. If not, I hope one will find you.
Where's your happy place? Is it one of peace and reflection? Do you ever go there virtually?