Leaving home is an arduous task. Not literally, but philosophically, emotionally, spiritually. It's not agoraphobia, it’s just that there is really no place I’d rather be than running through my familiar woods, working my garden dirt, pausing to stare at Breadloaf Mountain. I am a putter downer of deep roots, living in the same house for the last 23 years, becoming one with this place. But from time to time a shove out the door is in order. There is value in leaving.
Leaving makes room for other things, opens up space, keeps us looking around. Elsewhere the birds and trees and people, roads and towns and skylines are all new. Suddenly I notice the wind sounds unfamiliar in these trees. The rain drips differently off these leaves. I carry the same body on the same scarred legs, yes, but now through a fresh landscape.
We are holed up on an island on Lake Ouareau in Quebec, a couple of hours north of Montreal in the Laurentian highlands. The early morning quiet of this place feels tenuous. I barely breathe for fear of disturbing it with a cough or footstep or coffee cup lifted gently from its hook. The rain slows everything. The start of the day is plodding, deliberate. The impetus to be out is quelled. Rain splats against the glass behind my head, and trees are bent by the westward wind. Little birds find refuge in the low-growing evergreens and flit from branch to branch piping their little songs and searching for whatever it is little birds search for on rainy mornings. Restless, I stand on the porch and feel the rainy air blow around me, cooling my itchy skin.
This place forces the typical day's pace to a crawl— as slow as we can bear to keep it. There is no connection with the wider world. No electricity, no phone, no internet, no interruptions. Life is simple, uncomplicated, task-oriented. Water is hauled in buckets from the lake and heated on a propane stove for washing. Necessities include a sleeping bag, a book, and matches. What’s left of the day’s light is swallowed by hungry night settling in around us. We sit in candlelight. Our fingers work with melting wax and we talk about life and art and letter-writing. Family, childhood, memories, pains, and joys. Ideas and wishes and feelings.
Ringed by red pine and gentle mountains, the lake is dotted with cottages. On sunny July afternoons the water buzzes with motor boats and laughter. Kayakers hug the shorelines and explore swampy inlets and rocky islands. But on this cold rainy morning it is just me, standing barefoot in my raincoat with a coffee cup, watching a pair of loons. They hunt and dive and paddle on by, giving me a rare and precious front row seat to their striking black and white and red plumage.
The 1920s stone fireplace holds a midday fire while the rain continues to hold us in, voluntary captives in this treasured place. Kate is practicing the curious and unfamiliar art of doing absolutely nothing, pillows propping her arm and injured wrist in a position of rest. Mia works needle and thread to patch a pair of linen pants worn thin by her mother. Damp dogs rest at opposite ends of the room. I sketch and read and scribble words on paper. This placid pace is both delicious and uncomfortable. I grow fidgety and wander from window to window. Dry kindling pops and crackles, shooting sparks uselessly into the metal screen, jarring the silence. The dogs lift their heads briefly, sigh loudly, then easily re-enter their canine dreams. We are held here, water on all sides. Fire and tea and wind and rain.