Packing List (a poem by Erica)

photo credit: Erica L. Bartlett

photo credit: Erica L. Bartlett

PACKING LIST

Going to Alaska,

I have a long list

of things to pack,

practical realities

of venturing into

a colder wilderness:

rain gear, warm layers,

winter hat, gloves,

camera, binoculars, and more.

 

But even more important

are the intangibles

that are harder

to remember

because I can’t

put my hands on them.

 

Wonder.

Excitement.

Curiosity.

A sense of adventure.

Openness to beauty.

 

Without these,

all the outer gear

is worthless,

so much deadweight

keeping me mired

in the daily life

I am trying

to leave behind.

But if I bring everything,

once here,

my opportunities

are limitless.

 

To venture into

places unknown

unfettered by weather

that at home

would keep me

curled on the couch.

To empty myself

of expectation,

of life’s wearing routine,

and be filled

anew,

inspired to awe

by the muscular mountains

shouldering up

to the horizon.

Freed

by the enthusiastic soaring

of gulls, eagles, ravens

carried far above

by the buffeting wind.

Delighted

by the cheerful colors

and clowning behavior

of puffins

and rolling sea otters.

Entranced

by the unexpected glimpse

of rainbows,

a fairy-house

of tiny alabaster mushrooms

in damp leaves,

the delicate blue veins

of a glacier,

a crimson wave

of tundra foliage

on the hillside.

 

I take these

new intangibles

home,

carefully packed

in heart and memory,

ready to pull out,

to renew me again,

and remind me

to look for wonder

and adventure

on every step

of my journey.

- by: Erica L. Bartlett

Carrying in the Boundary Waters (Aram)

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Along with the lake miles we paddled in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area last week, my fellow wilderness wanderers and I also had about ten portages. All together our portages totaled several miles of carrying our gear and canoes over rugged terrain to bypass the shallow rapids that connected one lake to the next. What I found beautiful about our carries was the collaboration that compelled us. We got the job done on every one, but never in a rush, never singularly, and never by moving our outfit from lake to lake in a way that compromised our capacity. By sharing the load, and when necessary taking multiple trips, we managed to sustain our energy so that we could finish our route and still keep our eyes open long enough at the end of the day to watch the moon rise over the water.

Earlier this year, in late winter, I scribbled a note in my journal, “Today I start my day recalling that earth weighs what earth weighs and that I do too. Today I’m going to carry my weight, not the weight of the world.” 

The most profound insights are like a good piece of outdoor gear. They are well worn, heavily used and sturdy. This is one such insight: There is a great measure of strength to be found in the embrace of our limitations.

To those of you compelled by the work of bettering the world, I hope you find the strength from day to day to carry your weight, and what’s more I hope that you remember with each step that the entirety of the load is not yours to bear. Let’s get the job done. And then let’s spend some time at the end of each day reflecting on how we can sustain our strength to do our work again tomorrow.

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Wild River Resistance (Genevieve)

This past weekend, Aram and I led a trip in the Wild River Wilderness area of the White Mountains National Forest in New Hampshire. The events surrounding Charlottesville happened while we were in the woods, away from screens. And I’ve returned from one Wilderness to find myself in another metaphorical Wilderness...Wondering if we as a society are bending away from justice in that long arc of the moral universe MLK, Jr. and abolitionist ministers spoke about.

When I’m in the real Wilderness (with trees and rivers or the vast landscapes of deserts), my heart quiets and my mind stops. I have space to listen. The proverbial Wilderness of the world doesn’t disappear, but somehow becomes more manageable. And in the approximate words of Audre Lorde, self-care becomes an act of political resistance.

As I type this, my dog is sleeping quite soundly next to my feet; making little high-pitched bark noises as she dreams. She’s tired and content from running around and swimming in the Wild River. And the recent vitriol of the actions of hate groups in Charlottesville feels strong. But so do I.

For those of you on the front lines navigating hatred, caring for our vulnerable populations, and helping move us towards justice in the arc of the moral universe, Renewal in the Wilderness stands with you.

Aram and Opal the Canoe Dog.

Aram and Opal the Canoe Dog.

Translations of Wilderness (Aram)

Aram and the July 15th Pleasant Mountain crew.

Aram and the July 15th Pleasant Mountain crew.

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot since starting my work with Renewal in the Wilderness, especially this year, is how to articulate the value of wilderness experience to the people we aim to renew and to our wider community of partners. How do I translate my experience of finding serenity and inspiration from the natural world into language that speaks to and connects with others in the context of their life experience? How do we as an organization frame wilderness engagement in a way that fits the needs and capacities of the care providers we aim to serve? This is a dynamic set of questions that I return to regularly. (Similar to the question posed here.)

Last Saturday Fiona and I guided a small group from our Beauty Walk community on a day-hike following the blue-blazed trail to the blueberry-speckled summit of Pleasant Mountain. We paused at the summertime trickle of water that falls through the Needle’s Eye crevice partway up the mountain. Fiona passed out several haikus by Matsuo Basho that we each read in turn. We read translations of the poetry. Fiona read them back to us in their original Japanese. At the summit we composed haikus of our own, articulating something of our experience on the mountain that day into a few breaths of poetry. 

Few things have had a more profound effect in my life than the experience of walking sensitively with others in the wilderness - hearing their reflections, seeing their expressions, sensing their connections. For me, sharing a trail, a stream, a way in the wild is poetry in the flesh. A sort of material spirituality. It’s hard to explain. I love it.