A Week in the Wood and a Lake

I spent the week in one of my favorite places, along the shores of Lake Superior. I camped in the Temperance river, and fished, hiked, and took a bike ride. But the most telling moments of the week were reaching the summit of Eagle Mountain, and sitting on a rock next to the shoreline watching the sunrise every morning. I don’t know if I could better reach the peace of mind available to us all in these natural surroundings. I know today, hands on how difficult it may be on the psych and the body to return to the concrete of the cities.

A goal of mine has always been to hike up Eagle Mountain. I have heard it to be challenging and especially the last half a mile before you find the summit is quite rock laden, so as they say, wear your hiking boots. I think one of the spectacular pieces of the hike are watching the tops of the trees lower as you further yourself up the mountain. Soon the overlooks begin to occur and they are everywhere with a few steps any direction from the highest point. There is a plaque speaks to the history of the summit, and it was so refreshing to sit there for a minute or two and be grateful to the nature around me. I realize these are soft mountain hikes and there are potentially higher and more challenging ones down the road, God willing.

On my hikes I have begun carrying one small rock in each hand, weight enough to balance my stride when walking. I found a couple at the start of the hike and set them down next to me as I had some trail mix before my adventure back. Once I began I realized I had left them where I was sitting, so I picked up a couple more, as they still belonged to the nature around me. I was told of this idea by a friend years ago, and I have mentioned the practice before, but recently it has had a profound effect on my connection to the environment around me. The walk allows the rocks to maintained that balanced cadence that carries me home, and now they are on a shelf in my home, where I do hope to gather many sets over the next couple of decades. Hiking has become a passion with me that I struggled with for many years. I cannot suggest why it is more relaxing, just that it is compelling and has become freeing.

On Lake Superior I found a rock where I sat each morning and watched the sunrise and observed a different flow of waves hitting the shoreline each time. The first day the water was calm and the second pleasant waves graced the rocks and boulders around the shoreline. On the third day there were quite stunning waves, the sort that imagined there would be surfers somewhere on the lake today, assuredly wearing wet suits given the temperature of this lake.

The fourth brought a calm again, but the waves still indicated a new presence. On that day, the same rock, same time of morning, no one else on the shoreline, I felt tears come and I let them go. There are so many reasons in my life to have tears, and yet so often we don’t allow them to flow. We hold them back. On this morning, I let them go, and I sobbed, and I didn’t wipe the tears, I wanted the feel them on my cheeks, my skin, my body. The moment was truly cleansing and brought by my expressing a gratefulness for the serenity of the lake. I provided apologies, and hopes, and dreams, and a desire to remain present in my life. I thanked the water in a manner of speaking to God, and the moment felt incredibly peaceful. My coffee finished, I got in my packed vehicle and started out my return to the cities.

There is something rather unusual about my time alone lately, camping travels, bike rides, attending events. It feels good, and thus far it feels right. It helps to balance the pain. I am learning how to ‘be’ as a dear friend plead me to do in the early days of the dissolution of my marriage. I am learning how to be ok. But it does take time. I would like to believe I am there, I have arrived, and for the moments I experienced this week on the summit and near the lake, I am confident I met those goals.

I look forward to the next adventure ahead.


© Thom Amundsen 7/2021

The Story of Mak (or Man’s Best Friend)

The year 2020 started off with a bang for me. I was suddenly about to be found swirling in a myriad of life choices, decisions, adjustments and COVID 19. To begin the year, my marriage of 30 years had fallen apart, and I was forced to look at myself in the mirror and take responsibility for my own share of grief and distance in a collaboration that had been failing for years. When I reflect upon our time together there is no question the rock my wife provided me in the midst of years of turmoil with a variety of addictions that helped unravel my world. I am fortunate on many different levels for her support not only in straightening out my own life, in her patience, and as well, our opportunity to share in the wealth of raising two wonderful children.

So the reader might ask, what does any of this have to do with a dog? One common denominator in our marriage was that we always had a dog. We had a cat for a lot of years as well, but that was a different story. We raised three Golden Retrievers from puppies over three decades, the last moving on with her true companion, my spouse. When we split there was no question she would travel on her journey with the companionship of the dog, albeit hers was an ownership I would never argue, given the nature of our circumstance. I began the first month of a separation without a dog and living in a home we had shared together raising our children and dogs for twenty years. There is no question the nights were long with memory and confusion. The one piece missing for me all the time was an animal, a dog to come and lay near me whether I was overwhelmed with tears, or simply wanting a companion to hang out with. The silence was deafening.

Then one day my daughter suggested I take her dog for a few days. She said she couldn’t stand to see me so alone without a dog after seeing us grow as  a dog family all these years. To be clear, I would have plenty of opportunity to see our present dog when time permitted, but being in the early throes of a separation it had been hard to imagine those times. So I gave my daughter an emphatic ‘yes’ and she brought her dog – a golden retriever – over that evening. My world changed in an instant and three days later as I was readying her return to my daughter, I had already begun scanning pages for rescue dogs. I knew I would get a dog eventually, I just didn’t know when I would be ready.

The answer to that question arrived one day in the story of Mak, a Bernese Mountain dog basically given to me out of the kindness of a colleague’s heart. It was immediate love.IMG_0313 Well, the first night Mak chose to lay twenty yards away from me all night, basically just keeping an eye on me, a complete stranger. That first night was a sleepless night for me, not knowing whether this dog would ever acclimate himself with me. Within 48 hours we were pretty inseparable, and that to me is the essence of seeing a man with his dog. This week I am on our last leg of a journey up to the north shore, morning looking at the vast waters of Lake Superior and then later on mini-hikes throughout the day. Mak is such a mellow dog, I was able to let go of the leash and just have him toddle along with me on the path, in fact many times he would take control of the walk by laying down in the middle of the path and giving me a look like, ‘there is no way you are making me keep up your pace’ – break time. Let me tell you it is a rather daunting ask to force a 120 pound animal to move forward until they are good and ready. The hikes were filled with smiles and laughs that serve as a preview for many walks in the future.

He is no question a hiker with a prowess, but right now around 16 months of big baby, so we will take our time readying ourselves for an all day hike – someday maybe, quite a feat, more for me than the dog, but he will push me forward. The last couple of days have been spent just watching the rain outside our window as the churned waves that would crash along the shoreline and then drift out to sea with shadows of mid-day sunlight moving them like surface shadows in a breeze. The magic of the lake was certainly not lost upon either of us throughout our hours together. Tomorrow we will return home.

IMG_0315I have found myself in recent weeks understanding more and more how special this animal is in my life. If I am having a bad morning, I only turn to see Mak’s doe-like eyes waiting for my glance and when we do connect his tail takes off. When in a lighter moment Mak wants to play he will plant his two front paws onto the carpet or wood floor or the grass outside and stretch his body all the way to his back paws and then land squarely on his butt and give me a look like, ‘c’mon man, let’s go!’ There really is something rather special in the affinity a man can feel with his dog. I’m writing this and if I look across the room, I will find Mak in a comfortable posture sleeping the night away. The moment I move a muscle his eyes will be upon me checking my next move. I can only be grateful to have this big guy by my side as we venture into this extraordinary time with COVID 19 starting our year with a pandemic, and now the remarkable early stages of social justice being finally recognized as a purposeful focus in our society. I can only imagine how torn I might be having to face the perils of a pandemic alone, how lost I might feel not having anyone to talk to about my feelings towards social unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s incredulous death. To Mak, it is simply another day, but one that will be spent giving me the confidence to know we both appreciate one another unconditionally.

So having met the end of Pink Floyd’s Animals, the twilight out my window as Lake Superior slaps the rocks nearby with a gentle breeze, it is time to retire for the night. I see his tail wagging as he caught my glance, knowing something is up. Ah, the sweet peace of a man and his dog as we venture forth in these our early days of summer.

IMG_0310


© Thom Amundsen 6/2020

summer on Lake Superior with Mak

Sweet Albatross

albatross and sailboat

would that we might
seek refuge
in a distance
be aware of our
surroundings
I will guide you by wing
sweeping upon distant
perils and swallows
trust me
for it is my
guidance
would you chance
in the grips of Nature’s siege
upon a
human
whose quiet
fallibility
reveals itself
in a distant
memory.

Lines

Glance across great body of water,

See a family of fowl travel near

Look to notice crystal waves appear

The magic of earth is all the matter

 

Birds sing in the hidden pine of morning

A quiet reminder that love is in the air,

Symbolic in its historic grasp of where

Our lives begin sweet, soft listening

 

While for the moment the sun looms high

A brilliant casting inside mellow earth

We haven’t ever understood her girth

This profound lesson toward asking why

 

I stood inside the water’s edge today,

Humbled asking I might a cry this way.

 

Whisper My Name

To be heard

By her magic symphony

I am the audience

She the mystery

 

Oh, to know the many

Value of this body of mystique

The waves lapping shoreline

Only to be heard.

 

I wonder the soul

She keeps in quiet harmony,

The many lives, the sea men

Leaving wives and children home

 

Would we the living

Ever really understand

Why such stark reality

Beckons her command.

 

On occasion my passion

Would be the horizon

By which nature’s remedy

Harmonize sweet melody.

The Water’s Edge

I’ve often stood here,

Seeing the glass,

Mystique

Is nature’s remedy

 

A soft whispering cacophony

Waves sing forever,

In the trees they are listening,

Chanting,

Living in sweet serenity

 

Oh to know the mystery

What lies ahead

Is in the arms of a cradled soul

So distant yet near

We are all inside memory.

 

A shadowy horizon

The eye is lost in fantasy

The beauty of time

I’ve often stood here

White Caps Weave

Lake Superior 4/1/2015

Lake Superior 4/1/2015

***

The trance of your cadence is marvelous

steady, always climbing silent new walls

yet we might hear your cry to recall us

a treat to our eyes, with each white cap falls

~

upon rock, mixing soil, leave sign of rife

battle internal released in shallow.

Long ago mothers recall quiet life

with now a soul you garnered in gallows,

~

scream wind a spiritual compass within

leaves our naked eyes curious while we seek

new lives, next days, in sound waves to begin

stronger response in Her grasp of the meek.

~

Share this wonder rampant in earthly rhyme

Our heartbeat will you gracious measure time

Sitting With You

FullSizeRender

Lake Superior in Spring 2015

~

I have in morning at break of dawn,

while the afternoon plodded on,

I have in the evening watched your fury,

in the tides of settling sea I have looked.

~

Yet in all of your mystery,

I will look again for answers,

cast an eye upon your majesty

to realize I am again your visitor

~

The last rings of winter caress

your sides like clinging threads

on the frame of our shoulders,

only to recede when sunlight speaks.

~

yet you will continue to be the same,

a master of our universe, just waiting,

allowing many to traverse your skin,

if only to remain outside of your lair.

~

Those that have dared are nameless

to you, yet families grieve years later,

the depths of your mystique swallow

the kindest soul, the earnest fathers

~

I look out upon you as evening breaks,

watch the ring of clouds frame you tonight,

only beauty and exceptional grace come

to mind, as I again, wait for your answers.

~

your history is timeless, the merchants that pass

through your waters, daily, searching their souls,

we stand on the shoreline without ownership.

I stand alone wishing you might one day speak.