Sturgeon Sand Spit, Quetico – October 8, 2013
I stopped early. Real early. Just past noon early. I stopped on a long spit of sand hanging into Sturgeon Lake. It’s a spot that people have stopped for centuries. I never read that anywhere. There’s no sign. I just know. I look at the sand and I know.
People stop here, it says. They always have.
So I stop too. I stop and pull the boat up. I’ve got hours of daylight left. I could to another fifteen miles. But I don’t move. I stop and sit on an old log next to a ring of charred rocks. I find fallen branches and pile them into a fire. I watch them burn. I stare out at the lake. I watch the water. I lay in my hammock and look up at the white pines framing the blue sky.
Everything feels so dead and I wonder what’s wrong with me. It isn’t supposed to be this way. I’m supposed to be in awe of the beauty. I’m supposed to be relishing the last days of this trip. Instead my chest feels heavy and I can barely breathe. It feels like there isn’t enough oxygen in the air. I sit and stare up, trying not to move, breathing, fighting in my head.
I have three weeks at most. Three weeks. Three Sundays. Three Mondays. One last full moon. Just three weeks. International Falls. Baudette. Lake of the Woods. Three weeks. Then what. Then time starts to really move fast.
Home. Two quick months to New Years. Fast months. I won’t remember them. I will lie in my bed, wake up, lie there again, wake up, lie there again. I’ll sleep and eat. I won’t know the weather. I won’t care. Wake up. Lie there again. Wake up. They are going to disappear in a blur.
Then what. Then it’s next year and I have no idea what I’m doing. I watch months flip away. Torn calendar pages rip away and flutter to the ground. Fast. They pile fast. Solid as cotton candy. Flipped. Empty. Gone.
It is a beautiful fall day. Warm and bright. The kind that makes me believe winter will never come. I sit and watch the fire burn away. I stand up and mess with it. I break branches apart and toss them on. I shift them around. I play with the coals. The flames jump to life. I sit again. I try to breathe. I stand up.
I’m not built to sit still. I get antsy. I think I should have kept going. I think I wasted the afternoon.
No. Sit. I sit and stare. Figure this out. I can’t move in a dead world. What is happening? Where am I? I’m in next year. I’m sitting on my bed. I’m waking up and feeling defeated. I’m lost. I’m watching calendar pages turn. They flip in front of my eyes. I try to stop them. I grab at the sheets. I can’t hold them. They slip through my fingers.
Not so fast, I scream.
I snap a log in half and toss it on the fire. The sun is setting. The sky turns pink and I think to take a picture. No. No picture. Just stare. I sit there. I watch the sky turn. I reach for my camera again.
No pictures, I said.
I sit. I watch. The moment is mine alone. The water turns silver and pink. I breathe into it. I stare. There is nothing else to do.
The crescent moon drops behind the sun. The first stars glow above. I throw my last logs onto the fire and watch the flames curve around them and bite into their edges.
I’m in the room again. I watch pages fall. I feel sad watching them.
No, I think. No.
I grab them in my hands and stack them together into piles. They fall apart. I reach to stack them again.
That’s not where you are, I scream.
I hear something. I look up. I see the fire. It’s caught a fresh vein of dry wood. Flames shoot out of it, spitting up into the darkness.
Trunks of white pines glowing in the light. They stand like ghosts, like the souls of all who’ve stopped on this spit of sand.
I stand next to the fire and stare out at them. They stare back. Smiling, calm, at peace.
Come here, they say.
I breathe. Oxygen floods my lungs. Every line on the tree bark comes alive. The trees become sharp and beautiful. I nod my head. I sit still. I don’t move. I watch until the fire fades to embers and the trunks become shadows against the starry sky.