On Expedition, I discovered a patient and thoughtful friend, and I think Brian discovered that he is an artist. Experience leads to such discoveries. Fleming may have discovered penicillin, but I discovered Brian. As powerful as penicillin, Brian’s voice is a cure for distraction. To read Brian’s words is to meditate on our relationship to each other and to this world. Read Brian’s post and discover more than you know:
Outward Bound closely adheres to the principle of “Leave No Trace.” The wilderness should look exactly as it did when you arrived. There may be fewer branches on the ground because they were used for firewood, but otherwise no evidence that you were there. You must pack out whatever garbage you bring in with you, unless it is 100% biodegradable.
They emphasized this point on our first night, as we sat around a wooden picnic table, each of us wearing the headlamps suggested on the packing list. From a distance, we might have looked like miners sitting down to dinner. But no one from the North Woods would have mistaken us for people who regularly travel far underground to haul up minerals. We had no axes, no picks, no dynamite, no ore-dusted clothes. The job of a professional miner is surely physically grueling, done in a darkness not of their choosing.
Miners need their headlamps to see the iron and nickel they must cut out of the ground and dredge up to the surface. Our headlamps were only a convenience for our safety in camp; we didn’t need them to see what we were dredging up to the surface.
We came to Outward Bound to do our own version of physically grueling work – paddling, portaging, collecting firewood, setting up camp, hauling around our mondo packs. But there was mining also, just of a different sort. After dinner we would gather together with our headlamps in the dark. Instead of axes and picks, we were given questionnaires, surveys and opportunities for reflection. Why had we come to Outward Bound? What was going on in our life right now Where were we going? Our headlamps lit the steep, dangerous inclines of our inner lives. I came because my father had offered me an out Outward Bound trip when I was 14, and I declined. I was an awkward teenager and thought it would be better if I hung out with my friends that summer. But what was I afraid of then? I came 34 years later to go down that dark tunnel.
The week progressed, we did our physical work and learned the skills we had come to learn – paddling, tying knots, starting and keeping a fire going. We were scrupulous in cleaning our campsites and leaving no trace. On the final night at Homeplace, we again gathered with our headlamps on. This time, we were in the relative luxury of a structure with a roof and concrete floor. Our instructors asked us what we would take away with us from this week and what we would leave behind. There was no physical trace, but we could leave behind the residue of our emotional mining. One student asked how much could be left behind. A young, but wise, instructor replied that the lakes were deep and could take as much as you wanted to leave behind.
The next morning, we were instructed that our sleeping bags had to be unzipped and turned inside out before they were stuffed into the sack. It was part of protocol — doing it this way would make it easier for the staff when they would later hang the sleeping bags out to dry. It is protocol, but someone at Outward Bound clearly has a sense of image and metaphor. Had we not unzipped ourselves and turned ourselves inside out over the past week? I dutifully followed the protocol, but then envisioned a new stuff sack: I stuffed in all of the mined emotional sludge from the week. Then, in my mind, I returned to our final portage site. I closed the sack and placed it in a canoe. I said goodbye and pushed it into the lake, like one of those mythical Viking funerals. I turned away before it was out of sight and then continued with the business of the morning.
The details of what I discovered about myself and why I came there are not important. I let it go – the energy of my story and memory absorbed, dissolved and dispersed in the lake water. I will not return to visit those particular lakes or those memories. However, if I am quiet enough, I can sometimes feel the echo of that energy as it flows with the water. It slips through the lattice of lakes in the Boundary Waters, into the Great Lakes, through the St Lawrence Seaway, out into the Atlantic, following currents to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. For that is the wonder of water – it absorbs, dissolves, and flows. It flows ceaselessly in a great cycle. Each drop of water eventually finds its way to the sea – then traveling over the entire surface of the world, joining with, flowing with, and eventually disengaging from every other drop of water out there. With each contact, passing a molecule of that memory along.
Who else will these drops encounter on their circuit? A fisherman in Massachusetts? Lovers on the Seine? A grandmother on the Nile, an oil worker in the Niger Delta, an actress on the Cape of Good Hope, a banker in Mumbai, a ship builder in Borneo, a widow in Fukushima. What do they leave behind with the water as it flows by? Likely the same things I did – prayers and penitence, as well as anger, desire, fear, love, guilt, joy. The water absorbs it all and keeps on flowing.
I think I have a deeper understanding of the importance of “Leave No Trace” and Outward Bound’s commitment to it. We continue to fill our lakes, rivers, and seas with physical garbage. When they finally fill up – where then can we place the detritus of our souls?
–Brian Meyer, BWCA 8 Day Expedition Alum
Thank you, Brian Meyer, for your friendship and your words.
Marlais Brand, BWCA 8 Day Expedition Alum
Don’t miss your opportunity to turn on your headlamp.
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