If you’ve never tried it, canoeing in falling snow is an experience like no other.
Not fast, frothing water, high-adrenaline and rapid maneuvering between ice and frost crusted boulders, being sprayed and splashed by 36 degree water every five seconds, and having driving slush sting and cut your face and any other exposed skin, until you’re red, raw, trembling and just trying to stay alive.
No, the other kind. A soft dusting or slow motion avalanche of beautiful, ethereal, crystal feathers cascading out of a colorless enveloping snow-sky almost close enough to touch, falling silently on deep, still waters reflecting that snow-sky into circular forever. Each crystal disappearing on contact as it meets its mirrored rising twin, melts unseen into mystery and oneness. Gliding weightless, floating in a horizonless world of no clear reference points, like a black and white photo taken with an unfocused lens, gray, gray blue, soft white, a million shades and shadows of soft, foggy gray fill everything, blot out all color and clear forms, slowly swallowed by the thickening snowstorm. Downey wet sheep’s wool spreading out, filling all the spaces in the world until there’s nothing left.
Ice and snow, cold water and mist, deepening, darkening. Close racing white points seem to bend in glowing streaks like speeding through stars. The solidness of the canoe, the dipping, sluicing, little splashes here and there, and dripping reemergence of the rhythmic rise and fall of the paddles, the only reminder that this, too, is more than a dream. Soft pools of fog from the breath of companions, wet stardust clinging to ruffs and eyelashes, guard hairs and glove backs growing heavy and white.
Dreams of flying emerge in the minds of children at these times, of ultralights and super cubs, hang gliders and NASA, of sprouting wings, transforming, lifting off… Such dreams die hard, if they die at all, intoxication of freedom, liberation, ecstasy, permanently rewiring the minds of those who would welcome them. Flight takes many forms, some simpler for bush kids to come by than others. Those paths go down many dark, strange, and beautiful places, and must be carefully guided in the years to come to avoid destruction.
Time falls away, diving deep becomes intoxicating, people become other selves and must be coaxed gently into returning, changed, bearing treasure or brokenness, love, loss, and sorrow, connectedness, and joy. Remembrance is a thing left on distant shores. Finding glittering trails, pieces of ourselves left all over the landscape, we hunt, searching for the one piece that will make us whole again. A song, a flavor, a particular quality of light, the sound of forgotten voices, suddenly forming the last central piece in a mosaic, it’s image and artistry both terrible and beautiful by design. Or upending the box of an entire puzzle. Floating free into starscapes, memories of creation, resurrection, and return, the endlessly circling drum-beat spiral of life jumps into sharp relief.
Rarely do memories turn out to be what we expect, or wish, for them to be. Raw, real, and unflinching, the cool shock of experience draws passion from lifeless fantasy. Illusions shatter, an infinity of perfect snowflakes exploding into nothingness, evaporating before the bonfire of inner truth. A return to oneself is a return to the connection that binds and nourishes us all. Through the creation current that flows through our DNA we find God, and eachother. All life, all lives, reflected in the eyes of strangers, sons and daughters, predators and prey, unbreakable chords defying every feeble attempt at separation.
Eventually the snow clears or the bank emerges, soft curtains lifting on a wider world. Sand, gravel, soil, brown and yellow seeded grasses, deep green and shadowed moss-furred forest and waiting fires. Warm salty soup made from wild rice, onions dug from the bank, and the organs of animals. Gently banking the canoes, first tingling steps out of the cosmos onto solid land. Unloading gear to stash beneath tarps under protective spruce trees. Lifting as one, and overturning boats within the watchful circle of the camp. Drying our outer clothing around tin stoves, laughing and drinking tea and coffee boiled in their kettles into the wee hours.
Unseen Wheels start spinning at these times that will take years to find completion. Stars fly in our minds, our dreams, pervade our souls. Every echoing step taken in a million moccasins, a million feet, a million years, every breath reverberating through ancient unfinished paths, the only way off, forward. Many times in our lives we are lifted gently, ripped violently away, or simply get distracted and end up lost and wandering, separated and unable to reach our destinations. All paths yearn for completion. Through years, centuries, thousands of miles or thousands of generations, they find us again. The world of our ancestors and the world of our descendants converge, and we are only drifting, somewhere in the middle, past and future campfires only temporarily out of sight. At such times one must navigate on blind faith, hold a steady course, and revel in the beauty of the moment, confident in the knowledge that the bank, the forest, the future, is still there, and will find us.