Editor’s note: Jason Maloney, his wife, Cindy Dillenschneider, and their Australian Shepherd, Red, recently headed north through Wisconsin’s far-north forests to cross a recently opened border. Agri-View asked them to share their adventure.
Growing up on the land helps us later in life. Learning to work as a child changes one’s perspective. Instead of looking at difficult tasks as impossible, we come to know the satisfaction of a hard job done – and done well.
For many a connection with working on the land early in life also changes the spiritual outlook. Work can be part of spiritual life; toil can be a prayer. Instead of feeling close to creation and the Creator in a building, folks feel close to God through nature. They attend a grand cathedral that spreads from horizon to horizon outdoors. A few of those folks feel best connected with sublime serenity in the most remote natural places.
Lake Superior is a huge wild spirit. In minutes it can change from calm with a mirror-flat finish to raging gales with high violent seas. Those who know it respect its power. The coast of the lake is also still wild in most areas. The south shore has sand, sandstone, great hardwood forests and huge conifers – hemlock, white and red pine, and tamarack. The north shore is Canadian Shield granite – extraordinarily slippery and extremely abrasive at the same time. A slide along it rapidly wears holes in gear and skin. The dark granite makes much of the northern shoreline inhospitable to boats; harbors are rare. The forests growing on the thin soil between granite outcrops are boreal. Conifers dominate; spruce and cedar are common.
Canada’s Pukaskwa National Park is a huge tract of boreal forest and forbidding granite shoreline. Much of it is so untamed that visitors to its remote areas must attend special briefings to check their level of preparation and physical training. People are cautioned not to wander away from the shoreline because the forests swallow humans, leaving no trace. Lake Superior can do the same. But being in a place where nature rules openly and humans are revealed to be puny things makes the spirit of souls soar.
The park has front-country camping on a first-come, first-served basis. The campsites provide a good place to make final preparations for a sojourn into the wild. The Coastal Trail, with a loop on its northern end, provides a path for modern explorers.
The Coastal Trail runs for 60 kilometers to the south from Hattie Cove. The further south one goes, the less-defined the trail becomes. Some folks charter boats to drop them at the south end so they can backpack north to civilization at Hattie Cove. Other folks bite off smaller bits of the trail by concentrating on the north end between a suspension bridge over the White River and Hattie Cove; the looped trail is called Mdaabii Miikna.
Canadian backpacking and hiking trails are rated so users can match their physical conditions to the trails they wish to take. But in Canada sometimes a field of smooth boulders can be part of a trail rated as “easy to moderate.” The Coastal Trail and Mdaabii Miikna are rated difficult. Those who have backpacked there believe the rating is accurate.
Those exploring the loop and trail must reserve campsites along the shore and provide detailed plans to park personnel. Those personnel will mount a search for any who fail to return on time. Concentration on one’s footing is essential; serious injury requiring evacuation can happen in a second. Evacuation must be made via the lake and can take many days.
The journey to come close to the Creator has never been advertised as easy. For those who make that journey in Pukaskwa National Park, it’s difficult and sublime. Time passes quickly along a gargantuan fresh-water sea that’s wild, powerful and uncaring. Toil along hills, steep rock and sudden depressions clears the mind. Much electronic gear doesn’t work; the area is so remote. Barriers to creation and the Creator fall away. Endless waves caress sparkling water. Limitless dark granite lies forever along the shore. Deep forests are home to billions of trees, boreal plants and wild beings. The pristine beauty, the pattern of life, the keys to the mystery are all spread out before the tiny humans visiting the huge place.
As one sits in a camp in a wild spot under wise cedars hundreds of years old, it’s impossible not to feel the power of the lake, the power of the wild earth and the spirits of those who camped in the same spot during the past 10,000 years. The quest for connection, understanding and perspective through nature has not changed. But in modern times, with illusions of us dominating nature, it becomes especially important to strip the illusions away and confront reality. We are very small and insignificant in a gigantic creation – the vast universe. The Coastal Trail in Pukaskwa National Park is a wonderful place to gain insight and humility in a spiritual quest begun early in life on the land.
Visit www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/on/pukaskwa for more information regarding Pukaskwa National Park.