There is a 95% chance that today’s weather will be too hot, too cold, too sunny, too rainy, or too windy. In many ways, a canoe trip at Floodwood can be viewed as an endlessly repeated exercise in various modes of misery, each a contrast –therefore a relief—to the misery preceding it. So, why am I here? It has something to do with this canoe having the ability to take me to new vistas, from here to imagining and back again, renewed. Maybe it’s enough to say that I am here, as another Voyageur once put it, “To iron out the wrinkles in my soul, to keep that which we love and value close at hand.”
To sum up this place and experience in words is a futile task. I know pieces of it when I see it though: sharing comradeship around an evening campfire after a grueling day of paddling into the wind and hauling canoes and gear over carries, a Scout learning the J-stroke after 4-days of blisters and zapped patience, a crew working seamlessly together and living out their own versions of Lewis and Clark while exploring their own inner higher latitudes. Wondering why this place beguiles me so, I realize that neither the land nor the water alone makes this place without some kind of rooting in the good soil of experience. For me and my mates on staff here at Floodwood at least, it is the canoe that has made that connection.
Mid-Morning. Hidden along the lakeshore is a portage sign. Portages, called carries in the Adirondacks, are either hated or loved, to be avoided or embraced, all depending on your perspective. We soon have a canoe over our heads, rocks in our sandals, mosquitoes up our pants, black flies burrowing into our necks, and beaver bog water running down our backsides and draining through our Chacos. But if I’ve figured it out right, there are only about 290 steps to go on this canoe carry trail, and at the end of it is a cold, blue lake that’s going to feel about one thousand times better than the best shower I’ve ever had.
Early Afternoon. As the canoe glides along a series of looming cliffs suddenly the pattern changes and a squall is upon us, blowing hard and whipping up the lake into a conundrum. We land on the shore of the island, a pleasant respite from paddling all day. The raging wind and rain reminds me how I took for granted the gorgeous weather earlier in the week. We don’t know how good we have it till it’s gone. For a short while at least, the island is somewhere to rest, to renew the joy of being, to gather strength for the journey.
Evening. Perhaps the best paddling happens now, more wildlife and a placid lake in which to fly among the reflections of stars and smell the sweetness of the Earth. I go down to the shore. From a far shore etched with silhouettes of pines comes the deep, rhythmic challenge of a barred owl. Two loons start throwing songs at the last glow of the northwest sky. I climb back up to the campsite. Beauty seeps in. A dying campfire projects dancing shadows on the trees overhead. I stir the coals around to account for a slight breeze out of the north. Home they say is where your dreams live, and home to me feels like Floodwood.
The North is singing all her old songs, and these are things that continue to pull me back to Floodwood. I cannot quite put my finger on what it is that we refer to as “Floodwood magic” and perhaps the knowing isn’t quite as important as the feeling, the feeling of being pulled to a place and all it represents.
After traveling to many corners of this precious Earth of ours, somehow it’s Floodwood that keeps drawing me back, the place where I got my start in the outdoors, igniting a fire that’s grown ever since, a place that encourages spreading of the map, retracing the pattern of routes taken, plotting those to come, a hope of poking the world and hoping it pokes you back. Like any map, it is of value only insofar as it enables experiences in the real world, not on paper nor on a computer screen. According to my map, I’m camped at Floodwood in reality, but consider myself squarely centered in paradise.
A cool night. A bed of granite and caribou lichen on this rocky spot, high above the untrammeled forest and overlooking a peaceful lake. It’s a wild place, a place that ends up being absorbed by you, a place you end up resembling yourself if you spend enough time here. From down-lake a loon once more casts a voice to the shores and the silence, and this time, to my next trip and a chance to dip my canoe paddle in Floodwood’s waters.