Monday, August 31, 2009

Leave Taking

Last week, snow showers were forecast for Saglek Bay with low temperatures in the thirties. Wind is always in the forecast, no matter what the season or day of the week. Gary, one of the park rangers at base camp, said the northern lights become more common from mid-August on, as the daylight fades and gives way to darkness.

As we draw nearer to autumn, I find that the magical thrall of this trip begins to fade as well. Last weekend, we brought our daughter Bekah back to college in Washington, D.C and next week Anna begins school as well. Other priorities crowd in and I find that I am giving a great deal of thought to work, mulling over a possible return to active ministry in the Episcopal Church.

And yet, and yet...our trip to the Torngat Mountains still circles round close to my heart and lives on, as I trust it always will.

The Air Inuit Twin Otter took off late from the George River. Aboard were several Inuit elders on their way to park base camp for a week of meetings with park authorities. The Torngat Mountains National Park came about as a result of a land claims agreement between the native people and Parks Canada. They now collaborate in the management of the park. The plane would drop them off at Saglek and we, in turn, would get onboard for the flight back to Kuujjiak. From Kuujjiak we would catch a flight to Montreal, then drive on home to Maine.

At the airport the wind was blowing hard down the valley. Waiting out in the open for an hour or so, we sought refuge out of the cold wherever we could. We were treated to a visit by a herd of caribou that hung-out behind an outbuilding used as a garage for service vehicles and other machinery. Two parked themselves on a ridge overlooking the mountains, standing next to a fuel storage tank reserved for search and rescue missions. With cameras in hand, we slowly approached and were surprised when they showed no interest in moving on, as if posing for a photo with the perfect backdrop of the snow covered Torngats beyond. We zoomed in for shots that excluded the fuel tank, as if the caribou were standing out in the middle of nowhere which, in fact, they were. The bear monitors accompanying us got a good look through the telescopic sights on their rifles, without firing a shot. The caribou finally moseyed on and joined others of their kind up on the hillside.

At last the plane came within view, its landing lights shining brightly in the distance as it came in off the bay for its final approach. With the runway clear of caribou, it came down and landed, dropping off the elders as we stowed our gear aboard. On the flight back to Kuujiak, we all peered through the windows, getting last looks of the mountainous landscape we had just spent a week in. We caught a brief glimpse of the North Arm where we had set-up camp.

The place of spirits. The spirit of the land and of the polar bear and of the ancient peoples who have traversed that place. Such places are rare these days, such untouched places of wilderness where the original face of creation lives on unimpeded. Such is the vision that gave birth to the spiritual impulse, these elemental forces--of wind and mountain and sea- that shaped the soul of humankind. All else that has evolved as religion seems to me mere commentary on this primordial face. We so complicate it with our doctrines and dogmas, when at base it is so simple, yet so awesome.

May we have the grace to be still enough to stand in such places and listen; listen to that which came before us all and will live on long after we have gone, that which is our essential nature and our true home.

Photo Credit: David S. Heald Caribou at Saglek Bay