For several weeks leading up to our planned vacation, life had gotten crazy. My day job was busier than expected. My consulting business was busier than ever. I was fretting over new presentations, trying to wrap up things at work so I could be away and not feel guilty, and was just kind of overwhelmed with all the day-to-day tasks that seem to need to get done to keep a household going and a family happy.
I looked at my desk and saw the two cell phones, the laptop, and the iPad all within reach and wondered how I was going to leave all my connections behind for a week. Finally Friday came, and it was time to pack and head north to cooler temperatures, a cabin in the woods, and a canoe and paddle that would transport me into the wilderness. Time to go from a hot, sticky, busy southwest Florida to the quiet, far reaches of northern Minnesota on the edge of the Boundary Waters.
A long day of travel, and we arrived at our little cabin in the woods just before midnight. Even though it was pitch black out, I immediately headed to the dock to look out onto Lake One. When I looked up at the sky, it took my breath away. The sky was as dark as I’d ever remembered seeing it, and I’m sure I’ve never seen so many stars anywhere – they were brilliant. My heart did a happy dance, and I could feel my excitement growing. I was going to be away from all the work and worry – disconnected for a whole week. There was no cell phone coverage here.
It took a couple days to stop thinking about updating the Facebook pages, sending tweets, or checking emails. But we got into sort of a pattern of waking early (it gets light at 4:30 AM there), going for a hike or a paddle, reading, going for another hike or paddle, napping, reading, hiking, paddling, exploring. One day we decided to do a long paddle. We explored every nook and cranny of the lake, paddled the adjoining Pagami Creek, went as far as we could go and then headed lazily back, stopping for lunch at some rapids. We even watched a bald eagle try to catch a loon while the loon’s mate protested. That day was the turning point for me. Finally I was not thinking about communicating with anyone back home. I was finally unplugged mentally as well as physically.
And yet I felt more connected than ever.
I was connected to the moment, the place, the wild woods, the creatures that inhabited it. I was connected to my dear sweet husband who was sharing this time with me. I was connected to the quiet, the space, the time. I was connected to me. I was able to just be and not have to do. Only the moment mattered.
When we hiked, I could sense animals around us, even if we didn’t see them. When we paddled and saw beavers slapping their tails in warning, loons diving for fish, eagles soaring overhead, turtles sunning on rocks, I didn’t analyze or question. I just observed and appreciated. The grouse and their young surprised us at many turns. The garter snakes lay lazily on logs getting warm. The wolves left their tracks and scat, reminding us that there is still a place for these beautiful predators. The moose were elusive, but that didn’t stop us from searching for them everywhere. The songbirds kept a running chorus going all day long. We were simply visitors, trespassers even. My time here reminded me that I am only a very small part of a much bigger world – one that people take for granted too often. It made me grateful that there is still some wilderness – big expanses of land and water – where all these creatures can roam.
When it was time to leave, I walked the same path I’d taken in the pitch black night when we’d arrived. It was early morning and I wanted to say goodbye and thank you to the lake. As soon as I got to the dock, I started to cry. I didn’t want to leave. This wild place had gotten to me. It was a part of me. It had restored me. Unplugging had reconnected me to what mattered. My mind was clear. My heart uplifted. My spirit renewed.
On the way home, I contemplated the usefulness of all the technology that seems to be taking over my life in so many ways. I wondered if it was worth it. Does it really connect us? Or does it disconnect us? The answer is both. The key is to find balance – and make a commitment to unplug completely now and then. Get outdoors. Reconnect with nature. Get quiet. Do nothing. Just be.
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” – Edward Abbey
But, more importantly, I contemplated our human commitment to set aside large tracts of wild lands – unmolested by humans – for the sole purpose of letting nature be. Humans need wilderness as much as the plants and animals do. We’ve just forgotten. Maybe it’s time to remember…
Here’s how I’ll remember…