Saturday, March 6, 2010

Poking Around . . .

“If all the lakes were chocolate cakes

And all the isles were great big cup cakes

Then how lucky I would be

For all the Lakes surround me!”

- Candis Wilds

I was 6, maybe 7 when I first penned those lines while attending elementary school in St. Ignace. We had been assigned the task of composing a poem about a place we longed to visit. It was my first introduction to creative writing – it was also my first introduction to the sting of rejection. I received an “F” along with a strong lecture about conforming to instructions. I sat quietly during the lecture, knowing full well that while Ms. Peterson was to be admired for her “flat lander” clothes and manners she still knew nothing about the magic of living in the U.P. or of the art of “poking around”. And she wasn’t willing to accept a “brilliant child” such as myself being enthralled with the idea of living out my life wandering the woods and waterways of the eastern Upper Peninsula. We spent the rest of that year at odds.

I was taught to poke around at a very young age by my Great-grandpa Wilds. Sundays were always reserved for our walks. We would stop at the shed and collect the burlap bag waiting silently in a corner and then head off in one direction or the other. Direction was never important. Poking around was – paying close attention, prying at stones with sticks, turning over rocks and lifting logs to look for snakes and other crawly things, kneeling close to search out the tiny bones mixed with fur in an animal’s scat, tracing tracks and telling tales associated with how they came to be, poking a cattail down some hole. “Poking around” as Grandpa put it.

People who poke around have burrs stuck to their shoelaces and rocks in their pockets. Their days are not divided into hours and minutes but by the passage of the sun across the sky – or the rude grumblings of a stomach reminding them of a meal missed while wandering. They appear – to those who walk with the purpose of exercise in mind – to ramble aimlessly. They spit into the water to make the fish rise. They randomly gather wildflowers to bestow on those they love. Often they stand still for a long time, listening, and then head off to follow some far away sound.

Unlike hiking, poking around has neither destination nor timetable. And while Thoreau insisted that you must think while you walk, poking around has no such noble aspirations. This is because poking around doesn’t take much sustained thought. Poking around simply leads to nourishing that inherent sense of wonder we are all born with but which few of us manage to sustain into adulthood – children are often the best at poking around.

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune, that as adults, most of us have lost this true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring. “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder,” Rachael Carson wrote, “he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” I was blessed to have the companionship of my Great-grandfather and later, after his death, the encouragement of my Great-grandmother to continue poking around on my own.

It is this indestructible sense of wonder, this unfailing love of woods and water inherited from my Great-grandparents – which managed to withstand Ms. Peterson’s early chastisements – that has often sustained me in adulthood.

And it is this same inborn sense of wonder I hope to help my grandchildren keep alive. A sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and unknown, exploring nature by becoming receptive to what lies all around them, inspired by long lazy meanderings through the woods and along the waterways of Drummond Island.

And so we poke around together as we roam about in the early mornings while the sun rises over Potagannissing Bay, trailing sticks in the clay along the shore, stacking stones to “mark our way” and gathering pockets full of rocks to be used in some yet unknown craft project – often carrying a burlap bag in which to gather our treasures. And we keep alive my Great-grandparents legacy while we chant the lines to some poem about the Great Lakes penned by the little girl who grew up to be their somewhat unconventional grandmother.

“All that is gold does not glitter; not all those that wander are lost.”
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 - 1973), The Fellowship of the Ring, 1954


Cheryl said...

This is exactly what I felt yesterday as I escaped on my bicycle to explore the island, returning exhausted, yet energized at the same time; renewed and refreshed by the smells, the sounds, and the beautiful and strange new sights I experienced along the way.

Candis Collick said...

The best possible way to spend a day, eh Cheryl?!