"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life,
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau's words have resonated and connected with people throughout the many decades since he wrote them. He speaks the truth. To live deeply, mindfully and authentically, benefits everyone, from who we are at our deepest levels to who share our lives with. I found this very passage amidst much graffiti in Union Station in Toronto, shortly after my friend Jay had arrived from Cape Breton for three weeks of camping, socializing and Blue Jays games. This passage stood out in bold green in between declarations and admonishments, dreams and fears that were scribbled all around it. I took note.
Part of Jay's journey out to Ontario from the rugged and remote island of Cape Breton on the east coast of Canada was to go with me camping to Rockwood Conservation Area near Guelph. Rockwood had been recommended to me by other friends who have camped there many times over the years. We booked a campsite far in advance according to their suggestion.
To say that experiences differ from one place and time to another is a huge understatement. Just a few days previous we had been surrounded by thousands of people at a Toronto Blue Jays game, deep in the company of multitudes cheering and enjoying the festivities. Here however, was an altogether different adventure. It was quite a place, possessing a good degree of civility without being a distraction from the experience of being in the woods. I had returned not one month previous from the backcountry of Alaska that you can read about here, and Jay is from a very remote area of Canada so there was plenty of discussion surrounding the contrasts and similarities to each place. We took every opportunity to appreciate Rockwood for what it was, very special, a unique and beautiful place to explore a quiet little pocket of Ontario.
Our tent at the campsite.
We spent a total of two nights and two days at Rockwood. On our second day we explored the two main trails that are found within the park. They were beautiful and easy to negotiate. It gave us a chance to really see the area and there were some lovely cliffs and rock formations that we encountered along the way. We saw quite a few people on our hikes but we didn't feel crowded, instead focusing on what we saw along the way and appreciating this unique place: beautiful mirrored ponds, foliage of every shape and colour imaginable, birdsong in almost every tree and the sheer enjoyment of experiencing each turn in the path for what it was.
I loved the juxtaposition of vertical trees and horizontal rocks here.
Perhaps a future painting?
Jay and I are inspired by the works of Thoreau, Emerson, Mary Oliver, John Muir and others. These are people who have outlined a philosophy of living that we respond to strongly. We possess an appreciation and reverence for the beauty of the unexplained and the sublime complexity of the natural world that surrounds us. Thus, Alaska and crashing waves in Cape Breton were not needed...all we needed was the trees, a path (or not) and our openness to experience as much as we could from what we encountered along the way. These authors and poets move us deeply and have profoundly affected our lives. I will include a poem by Mary Oliver at the bottom of this entry that illustrates what I am trying to say more succinctly than I can here.
A path through cedar trees winding down to the water below
We rented a canoe in the afternoon of our second day, which provided another form of hypnosis: instead of the quiet crunch of foliage underfoot we listened to the soothing rhythm of the paddles cutting the water and the vantage point the lake provided us as we gazed up at tall rock with pockets of caves, framed by cedars on either side. We paddled by the old Woolen Mill which was build over a hundred years ago. It seems almost out of place in such a forested area, this shell of a regal building standing in a clearing, surrounded by the woods.
The old Woolen Mill
We enjoyed ourselves at Rockwood and took away as many experiences as we could in that short period of time. It is very close to where I live (about an hour away) yet seemed much more remote. My tent held up beautifully in the rain and was easy to put together (so easy that it made me realize how easy it will be to travel on other adventures with Jay). Co-operation is key. We had some great fires and great conversations too, exactly what our goal had been. Half the fun of going on camping and hiking trips is the company, who you share your memories and experiences with. Sharing happiness in your life with others makes life worth living, without question. Solitude has its place too of course, but when we choose march briefly with a similar drummer, whole new vistas of appreciation and potential open up to both of you.
Mornings at Blackwater Pond
by Mary Oliver
For years, every morning, I drank
from Blackwater Pond.
It was flavored with oak leaves and also, no doubt,
the feet of ducks.
And always it assuaged me
from the dry bowl of the very far past.
What I want to say is
that the past is the past,
and the present is what your life is,
and you are capable
of choosing what that will be,
So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination,
or the harbor of your longing,
and put your lips to the world.
My solo exhibition of Newfoundland paintings is fast approaching! I hope you can make it out to the show. Here are the details:
Portraits Of Newfoundland
November 5-22nd, 2009
Abbozzo Gallery, Oakville, Ontario
Opening Reception November 6th, 7-10pm