I know the world doesn’t end at the edge of a map, water doesn’t stop flowing, trees don’t fall down like dominoes and disappear, but it almost feels like it should. You almost wish it did.
There is comfort on a piece of paper. Stare at one long enough and you can almost see the world come to life before it appears on the horizon. You know what’s coming and dulls the teeth of it all, it gives you a sense of place, a sense that you are doing more than drifting through the wild.
My maps ran out at an old dam on South Fowl Lake next to a six-foot tall warning sign. I didn’t realize they ended short, that the last fold was just scale and legend, but you can’t buy maps in the middle of the woods.
“Danger,” the sign shouted in thick, white letters painted over fire-engine red. “Stay Away.”
But the Pigeon River flowed through and my route had to flow with it somehow, even if I saw nothing but whitewater and all I had to guide me was a fifty-year-old book’s description of three portages and a banged-up road atlas.
I stared over that dam like a kid at the edge of the world, filled with fear and smiling.
I didn’t know then that I’d find a portage trail half of a mile away on the lakeshore. I didn’t know I’d miss the second portage in the fading light and have to pick my way through shallow whitewater with mist rising off the warm river into the night’s cool air. I didn’t know I’d paddle until forced to shore by a waterfall roaring in the darkness.
I didn’t know a thousand things, but I knew that life isn’t lived in the comfort of an endless map, it isn’t lived in routine or ease. It’s lived outside the places you know, out there beyond, out where the world is big and scary and full.
I smiled and stared and laughed and trembled because I knew, I knew life is lived at the edge and I was about to go over.