Amongst the wilderness, we make our home
I hear the rustle of an early-rising client. I open my eyes, take a second to orient myself. It’s a familiar sight inside my little tent – my sleeping bag feels like a comforting home now. I glance at my watch – my five minutes of groggy time is up and I know I have fifteen minutes to pack up and get to the kitchen. I say goodbye to my comfy, quiet haven for the day with the distinctive zippppp of a tent door.
I’m struck by the unfamiliar sight waiting just outside my door. Slowly, I remember. I remember last night: staring at the mountains, entranced by the midnight sun dancing across the pristine alpine water, skipping from mountain to mountain. Now, the sun is already high in the northern sky, creeping down into the valley and winding its way around the river bends.
Time to move. Tent down, fire started. Hot water on. Breaky started. Wake-up call: coffee, tea, hot chocolate for all, to soften the chill in the air. Hot cereal is served, pancakes are on their way. Full bellies and smiles all-around, hot dishwater ready to warm someone’s hands. This part of the day is accompanied by mixed feelings: anticipation and excitement for the day ahead, interspersed with the bittersweetness of leaving a new home that kept us comfortable overnight (albeit occasionally it’s “good riddance” to the sand, bugs or animals).
The other day, someone asked me how I deal with the lack of routine, the lack of “home” during the summer months. They wonder: “isn’t it emotionally exhausting to never sleep in the same place?” The truth is that when I was travelling for slalom racing, I did find it exhausting. I was always looking forward to “sleeping in my own bed”. To my surprise, this rarely crosses my mind on canoe trips. My sleeping bag becomes as comforting as “my own bed”, and the tripping routine feels reassuringly familiar.
Amongst guides, it’s common knowledge that each has their particularities. From setting up their kitchen “just so” (with everything in its particular place), to a favourite meal cooked with their special technique, to “their” way of making camp coffee. We seek those routines and the comforting feeling of knowing exactly where to find the salt and pepper. Those consistencies are our comforts.
We have made our home for the night, and dinner is done. Chatter and laughter waft out of our blue-barrel-and-log dining room, as tales of the day and campfire smoke drift into the sky. Dishes and kitchen cleanup are done, then goodnights are said. I crawl into my little haven of a tent, into the familiar feeling of the sleeping bag that kept me warm last night, the night before that and the one before that. I feel tired, sore, satisfied and grateful. I feel like I could sleep forever, but the anticipation of tomorrow sends me into dreamland with a smile.
These places where we sleep, these places we reach by canoe, make me feel humble. With them inevitably comes a bittersweet understanding that we live in a land that is so much wiser than us, that is incomprehensibly bigger and more complex than we are. These places demand respect and admiration.
Finding these feelings is finding home, regardless of where I sleep.
The truth is, the wilderness is not ours in which to make our home.
Rather, amongst the wilderness, we find our home.