Linda Pils grew up in the center of the universe – New York City – or so she thought until she made her home in Wisconsin.
I rise early. It’s quiet in the cabin, but outside the morning bird chatter has already begun. I open the blinds to get my first view of High Lake. The mist is rising and the sun is still hidden by the towering trees of the Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest. Binoculars around my neck, adorned with life preserver, sunglasses and visor, I grab the thermos as I depart, closing the screen door quietly, grabbing my paddle at the bottom of the stairs.
My chartreuse kayak is already at the beach. I pull it down into the still water, smelling the mint as the kayak moves through the vegetation. Placing the paddle across the bow, I drop down into the seat, backing away from the still shore with just a few strokes.
Early morning is a time of wonder, of stillness, and of intense gratitude for this small bit of Wisconsin that I have come to know so well.
But, it wasn’t always like this, growing up in “The City”, as all egocentric New Yorkers call that place, as if there were no other cities in the world, forests and lakes were faraway places to be feared. “Where were the people? Where were the stores? Wasn’t it spooky and dangerous? Don’t bears attack everyone who walked in the woods? ”
I had overcome these fears, albeit slowly, starting on our camping honeymoon in Acadia National Park and the Provincial Parks across Canada on our journey west to our home in Madison, Wisconsin. We continued to camp and spend our summer vacations visiting state parks. Soon, our kids, Alan and Kristi joined us on hikes, campfires and nights gazing up at the stars.
It was later, when I was travelling to train teachers all over the country that my friend Barb called and invited me to her cabin outside of Boulder Junction for the weekend. It was Thursday night. I had just flown into Madison and would be leaving again on Sunday. “I’m really tired,” I explained. “Come on,” pleaded Barb, “Cindy’s coming, too, you’ll have time to relax, you can sit in the back and sleep, we’ll pick you up tomorrow afternoon.”
I was tired, but I hadn’t spent time with these dear friends in over a month. “Okay, I’ll go.” Barb’s car was loaded with bags of food, coolers of food and endless duffels of gear as we started off a bit later than planned for our weekend adventure.
I paid little attention to the music or chatter in the front seat, nodding off as we drove long into the night. I woke up as we slowed down to make a sharp right turn onto Highway B, heading out of Boulder Junction. The road ahead was straight, the full moon had risen high in the dark sky, and the silhouettes of the trees bent together, forming an archway over the narrow road, the moonlight cascading down through the boughs. It was as if we had entered a cathedral, a holy place, an ethereal canopy of wonder. I could only stare in rapture at the beauty before me.
We had traveled all around the state, “What made this moment so very different? Had I been too busy to notice this beauty before? Was it that my life had become too scheduled, too filled with getting to the next meeting, finishing the next project, or racing to the next hurried vacation?
Or was it, as Rachel Carson wrote, the sudden “rediscovering of the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” I had been living, not in the moment, not in joy, but driven by the many calendars that swirled around me, waiting to be checked off and filled out.
Ten years have passed since that moment. We now own Barb’s perfect little cabin; our friends purchased a different one, just down the shore. I go out in my kayak most days, depending on the wind and the look of the clouds. I still feel the wonder I felt on that first night. I’m in a sacred place. My spirit is refreshed and I say a prayer to the heavens. “I’m so lucky to be here.”
My mom always told me that I was born in Jamaica Hospital in Queens, but I know better. I was switched at birth. My real home was and always will be a little cabin on the shore of High Lake, in the north woods of Wisconsin.