Aug 13 2008

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A Blank Spot on the Map

Posted at 5:45 am under Blog Post

It’s time to seek out a blank spot on the map and lose myself in it. I’ve reached a point where short excursions into the woods aren’t working for me anymore. This happens every year or two. I get up, go about my daily affairs as cheerfully as I can and pretend that I’m just like everyone else. But down deep I’m fighting back the urge to rip off my clothes, howl at the moon, then disappear into the forest.

This thing called civilization, with all its written and unwritten rules, is a prison to me now. I’m just counting the days until I can escape. Soon I hope to venture deep into the Adirondacks by myself. Just me and my dog, that is, who understands my urges. Already I can hear the loons.

One never breaks completely free of civilization, but it’s possible to go deep enough into wild country where other people become largely irrelevant. A brief encounter with another backwoods traveler; a few minutes of polite conversation with a pair of backpackers; perhaps even an exchange of information about weather or trail conditions with some solitary soul. Nothing more than that. Society is precisely what needs to be left behind.

Not a day goes by now that I don’t think about West Canada Lakes Wilderness. I first visited it in 2002. I wandered through it while hiking the Northville-Placid Trail a couple years ago. It’s the biggest wilderness area in the Adirondacks and one of the largest roadless areas east of the Mississippi. I miss it the way most people miss home when they’ve been away from it for a long time. I’ve blocked out a week next month to go there, so all I have to do is hang tight until then. Easier said than done.

Once the wild has gotten under your skin, there’s no going back to who you were before. Not really. I’ve been dealing with this ever since I left the Alaskan bush sixteen summers ago. In a sense, a part of me never left the bush. Now I need the wild as much as I need human contact. Can’t imagine going without it indefinitely, and there are times like these when it trumps every other need but food and water. So I’m counting the days…

I’m fortunate enough to be married to someone who understands this need. In fact, Judy’s been on me for months to break away. She usually sees it in me before I do. Not quite sure what she sees, but she’s learned over the years to recognize it. Maybe it’s the faraway look in my eyes; maybe it’s the sharpness of my words or the darkness of my thoughts. Hard to say. She just knows.

My dog, Matika, just groaned. She’s lying on the floor, relaxed but ready. If I grabbed my pack and started gathering up my gear, she’d be bouncing off the walls in a matter of minutes. She’s waiting for the command: “Let’s go!” I hope to bark it at her in a few weeks. Then together we’ll go deep into the woods and rediscover our wilder selves. But for now patience, patience.

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