It’s the scent of the place that keeps bringing me back, that lulls and haunts my memory when I am away from it. Miles of densely packed pine trees, woven and stitched together like a thick army: a force like that can’t help but emit not ripples but waves of their earthy perfume, rich and dark. It’s the scent, I think, that reaches out with arms and tugs at all that is wild in me, until I am inside out, raw, with fresh, baby skin, aching to dirty myself in the forest’s floor and absorb its unrefined fragrance.
It’s a forest floor that is brimming with history, and if you lean your ear down close, you can still hear the whispers. Whole tribes of people who lived, dependent on what the forest could give them: berries, game, fish. Before it became an escape, a National Park in Canada, a vacation destination, it was a way of life. And we return to remember why.
We take a step back in time, in a sense, when we come here. A pilgrimage of sorts, to the way things were. We come with our modern things, yes, our fiberglass canoes and quick-dry shorts, our iodine water tablets and our freeze dried pasta specials. We don’t depend on the forest the way they used to; we have no need to be attentive to the direction the trees sway or the color of the sun when it slides down the sky. The way we live is no longer dependent on the flooding of the lakes, but we are drawn by the whispers. We are drawn by the way we could have been.
And so we flock to this park, in our modern ways, to the doors of forest and lake. We hang our food bags between trees and we ask the forest floor for kindling. We remember what it feels like to have dirt under our nails; with pride, we relish the soreness in our shoulders, knowing it was our strength that transported us across the lake. No phones, no cars, only the odd hum of an airplane, we are stripped of distraction and forced to wade through the hard work of living well, pushing far each day’s folds and smoothing out the creases.
We go back in time in another way, here in this park in the North, where the sun doesn’t set until ten and the stars come close enough to make us wonder if our eyes have turned to magnifying glass. This is the place we go as a family; the place my dad missed only one year out of twenty two, the year he was diagnosed with cancer. When we come back here together, we go back in time, paddling through lake and memory. Remember the spider that made a web across our canoe, and the way it caught the rain when it fell? Remember the moose tracks we found on our site? Remember the loon lullaby out on the lake, the one we still dream about at home? Remember when your gorgeous gray eyes were all I thought I needed, and being back here, on this boat, I think it is true again?
We come back to this place, not because it is whole, for nature is as broken and bruised as the rest of us. We come back to this place because it is real, because it is unspoiled and therefore can wash us clean in its dirt. We come back because the scent of the forest reminds us that this is place is bigger than us, but the whispers wrap around us and make us part of this place.
We come back to this place not because it makes us feel like living, but because it reminds us that we are alive, and our souls stir and whisper like the forest floor.
About the Author: Rachael Dymski is a Masters in Fine Arts candidate at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She travels all over the world, but Algonquin is her favorite place.
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