It is moments like this that make life complete. It is night. There is a silver sliver of the moon rising in the east. Loons laughing fills the night air. The dark night’s sky is chuck full of stars; so many in fact that it is down right overwhelming.
The sheer and vast number of stars in this sky within northern Quebec, where there is no ambient light from human civilization, fills me with awe. I am aware of my utter insignificance in a universe that seems endless and yet somehow very connected. I am nothing more than an observer in a rich sea of lights that appear as pinholes on the inky horizon.
Several days prior to this great evening six men, of which I am one, traveled to this remote location in search of respite, peace, and good fishing. This is my 15th trip to these great north woods of Quebec. I have come each and every year faithfully, knowing that each trip could be the last. I hope to continue this for years to come but my advancing age and the sheer magnitude of our personal economics could change that in a heart beat. Yes, literally a heart beat.
My two sons (Brendan and Liam), their good friend (Danny), my long time good biddy (Smitty, also known as The Marine), and new good friend Giaco are sharing this adventure. Three of us are younger and three of us are older. We have collectively, and in good humor, decided the have a fishing contest which will be tallied at the end of our stay in this vast wilderness. Originally it was billed by all as the young guys against the old guys but that morphed into the “young guns” versus the “wise guys”. After all, a little respect never hurt anyone.
This vast forest of Quebec, a province just shy of the size of Alaska, is nothing but overwhelming. The vastness, the beauty, the thousands of lakes left behind by the last Laurentide glacier, the thousands of miles of logging roads, and the bountiful wildlife all are nearly beyond imagination. It is the planet as it should be; free, without human worries, and balanced. It is not hard to lose yourself here. If something was bothering you from the civilized world when you arrived it disappears as quickly as a black fly slipping into the dark night.
Our temporary residence is at a small cabin on at Lac Wetetnagami. This cabin is miles, and miles, and miles from the small town of Lebel sur Quevillon over dusty logging roads and then miles over water in a small boat and outboard motor before you arrive at a sandy beach and a terrific view of the lake looking north and west. You haven’t seen blue until you’ve seen a northern Quebec sky on a bright and sunny day. And you haven’t seen pink, orange, and salmon colors until you’ve seen a sunset over Lac Wetetnagami. It is that beautiful; a place where every sound, every color, and every scent seem an order of magnitude beyond anything you have ever experienced before.
There is no luxury here. It is the simplicity of the life style here that makes one imagine a life without conveniences as, perhaps, something superior. Even the outhouse is charming. With the door open one can take in the wild world that operates absolutely fabulously without human intervention. During one morning outhouse visit I was reminded that the Earth would do just fine without us humans. We seem to think, for some odd reason, that we are necessary. We are not.
After an evening of our first day’s fishing Giaco and I brought two beach chairs down to the water’s edge. A thin silver crest of a moon hung in the sky. The night was nearly black. The contrast of the millions and millions of bright, white stars that loomed overhead was as powerful experience as I have ever had. Surveying the sky from southwest to northeast I was awed by the randomness of the stars placement. To my left there were bright stars pin wheeling up from the horizon. Here they were relatively sparse.
Directly overhead the Milky Way produced so much light that the light from one star was diffused by the light from another star. Only the brightest stars were easily distinguishable. The blurred back ground of light was the result of looking into the depths of our galaxy. We were looking at light emitted from stars many thousands of years ago. There is something mind shattering when one contemplates time and distance.
To my right there were ample stars, some familiar constellations like Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. I knew if I located these two constellations finding Polaris, the north star, was made easy. I still try to fathom why all the other stars seem to move while Polaris stays in a fixed position. It is a deep thought the contemplation of which would be better served on another night.
All of these stars, it would be impossible to count them one by one, could be formed into countless random patterns. I wondered why some were joined into explanations of myths and gods by our human predecessors, while other patterns easily identified in my mind went largely forgotten. There seems to be no easy answers to some questions.
Giaco and I were largely quiet and said very little. There was really nothing to be said but the obvious. And even that would have been a severe understatement.
Imagine looking into the starry heavens. Loon calls echoing across the waters. Light from the stars shimmering as a reflection on the dark water’s surface. All of this without any human distractions. In my mind’s eye defines perfection. Enough said.
The next day we fished for 12 hours. We worked hard for a modest harvest but our luck was good enough to fill everyone’s belly that evening. Drinks were had by all. There was great appreciation for where we were, what we were doing, and who we are; six guys simply seeking refuge from a modern world.
That evening Giaco and I returned to water’s edge. The empty beach chairs were waiting for us. Giaco had an Ipad with him so that we could look at the night’s sky and see the named constellations. The Ipad, using a built in GPS, could be held up in front of your face and give you the exact name of each constellation. No matter where you turned it reoriented itself and revealed to us more names of stars and constellations. A lesson in astronomy for sure, which is not without merits but for this observer the device lacked imagination. Yes, the technology is stunning but without the ability to create new thoughts the exercise lacks in imagination. It is my imagination that drives me to see new points of view, to examine issues from a new point of view, to write about parts of my life experience yet unexplored.
Nature called. Giaco had to leave. I was left to my own devices which were, quite simply, a mind full of wonder and not much else. I looked into the dark abyss. Stars filled the night sky and the voids in my mind. My imagination went into over drive and started seeing networks and associations between all of the different stars. The possibilities seemed endless. I imagined that if one were able to connect the bright white dots in the right order it might unravel the mysteries of the universe. It might reveal laws of nature never before understood. It might even decode our beginnings, our intent, and where the universe was heading. And if one were able to connect the dots in just the right pattern it might even reveal new dimensions where we could look at our earthly experience from afar. The amounts of infinite possibilities entering my finite brain were maddening. I though about my own life. Seemingly unrelated events from my childhood that controlled my behavior now, the subtle observation of an act of kindness that forever changed my actions in the future, or, perhaps, the vast elegance and symmetry of the natural world taken in years ago that now directs my feelings for our planet. Without connecting the dots few of my present day experiences would have as much value or meaning. My life seems so much richer because I am aware of these related patterns. Giaco returned and I brought myself back into the here and now.
The next morning while on Wetetnagami with rod and reel in hand we watched bald eagles, diving ducks, and loons harvest bounties from this remote lake. The sheer joy of watching other species fish along side of us was beyond words. Each cast, each retrieve seemed to be in slow motion. Each fish caught came into our collective view as a natural act. Our angling was no different than the fishing skills held by other animals sharing these waters that were essential for survival. It was as if each flick of the rod where the bait and hook sank to the bottom a piece of our past consciousness was put back into place. Some might see this as primitive. For me this way of seeing the world proves to be essential.
That night the stars again filled the night. And while it is true that I spent more of the evening sharing the days adventures with the rest of our gang I did manage to spill out into the evening before resting my head on a pillow in a cabin bunk.
The millions of stars and the endless patterns still boggled my simple mind. But on this evening I approached the dark mysteries of the skies form a different perspective. I no longer wondered if it held all of the necessary answers. From some innate part of my inner soul I knew that the night sky did, indeed, hold all of the forgotten truths. It is just a matter of connecting the dots and exploring all of the possible combinations. The answer is held in the night’s heavens. A lesson long forgotten by most. A lesson that we should all remember into eternity.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in September 2014.