Note: In mid-August of 2007, my wife and I, along with her 16-year-old nephew, took a two week vacation. It involved a lot of driving (2352 miles), and the bulk of our time was spent at Pukaskwa National Park, near Marathon, Ontario. (Pukaskwa is pronounced "PUH-kuh-saw".) To me, Lake Superior is sacred. You can interpret the word sacred in any way you want; I know what it means to me.
Pukaskwa is a special place in that sacred place, a place set aside not only for the enjoyment of those who find her, but as a protection of wilderness. This is the first of some posts about that trip. Undoubtedly there will be tangents into the ecological, philosophical, photographic and spiritual domains. As I write this post, the bulk of the photos I made are either in transit to/from processing (the Kodachrome), or awaiting some darkroom sessions in the case of the 4x5 Tri-X. Additional posts will come as I receive and process more film.
One of the most unexpected, almost startling things about camping at Lake Superior was the silence. It was most noticeable at night, but my wife also noticed it since there were little, if any, birdsongs in the mornings.
At night when everyone settled in, the only sound was the waves on the beach and the pre-cambrian shield shoreline. Even that was muted on calmer days. The individual campsites are well separated at Pukaskwa, so we normally heard no activity from nearby sites; Pukaskwa's normal campers are very quiet types, not party animals.
This silence seemed to almost disturb, or at least annoy, my wife. To me it was fascinating. While I understand the practice of meditation from an intellectual perspective, and have sometimes successfully meditated, this silence was like someone really explaining the silence of meditation to me by using a palpable, physical example.
I also thought of the social and cultural implications. Any people, but especially pre-contact native communities, undoubtedly have their psyches influenced and formed by such an environment. For example, it aids sustaining sensory sensitivity such as is necessary for tracking, awareness of approaching people from outside the community, alertness to weather changes, etc.
While the whole issue of noise pollution and human detachment/alienation from the natural environment has been raised as a serious social issue from time-to-time, it never seems to sustain a longer, serious discussion and reach the level of an important social concern. It occurs to me that this is most likely because so few people have really experienced the phenomenon of real and nearly complete silence.*
It would be an interesting experiment to place people in such an environment and record their feedback -- both conscious and bio-feedback. I'm sure this has been done, but it still interests me. One additional thing that strikes me is that I am at a loss as to how to describe my reaction. To say that it put me into state something like altered consciousness doesn't really hit the mark, but is as close as I can come at this point. Cleared my mind? Sort of, but it was more like cleansing of soul or spirit. Not that I am totally clean, but I feel cleaner.
If this were the only value of wilderness, it would be enough. I am persuaded that without periods of regular silence immersion, it is not possible to fully connect with the environment.
*For the record, the silence of our particular location was frequently interrupted by helicopter flights. Some were likely from flights to resupply back country campsites with "government issue" bear buckets, and others, I suspect, were taking searchers into and out of Rainbow Provincial Park, where a camper had gone missing while taking a morning run. This did not spoil the experience, rather it seemed to heighten it.