Being a hundred miles from the nearest road, coupled with youthful bravado, was a recipe for disaster. The year was 1965; the location, northern Ontario in a canoe. It seems like it happened yesterday. As the sun’s rays flowed like molten gold across the tranquil lake, my cousin and I were searching for a suitable campsite along the quiet shoreline. Reason told us we had plenty of time to get settled in for the night. I envisioned a dip in the cold lake, drying off before a roaring fire, a hot cup of tea, a meal, and curling up in my sleeping bag.
However, our competitive spirit convinced us we could push on a few more miles before dark. Did you ever have two inner voices urging you to make two different decisions at the same time? Which one did you listen to? One part of the youthful me viewed life as a marathon that needed to be covered in the fastest amount of time: a “chalk up another win and place another trophy on the mantel” type of guy. The danger that loomed before us was that my cousin was of the same mindset, meaning we had no one to put the brakes on what was about to happen, and there wasn’t anybody coming to the rescue!
According to our topographical survey map, there was a tributary ahead that connected the lake we were on with the river we’d planned to explore. As we paddled closer to the chute, my cousin turned to me and asked, “Are you afraid?” Never answer questions like this unless you’re ready to make a decision! Did I say “youthful bravado”? I knew I had called his bluff when suddenly the current caught our canoe. As desperately as we attempted to fight the current, it was a losing battle.
So, white-faced, down the wilderness waterslide we went! Only by sheer skill and experience did we survive long enough to enter the river. By now we were bouncing around like a cork being swept through the darkened chasm. The sun had set and the sheer stone faces of the cliffs refused to provide any shoreline to which we could escape. The darker it got, the more scared we became, and the increasingly louder roar of water spelled certain disaster ahead.
The angry water boiled, drowning out our voices, as we attempted to steer in between large boulders that appeared more like phantom shapes in the darkness. The canoe got firmly wedged between the rocks; at least it was no longer moving. I don’t know how much sleep we got that night. I slept in the canoe and my cousin slept on the rock.
Have you ever driven a car at night in a snowstorm? Then you know the toll that concentrated focus takes. Whenever you’re facing any danger, real or imagined, your physical body doesn’t know the difference. Sitting in an office cubicle dealing with high-pressure decisions is just as taxing as running the rapids. Type A personalities excrete 100 percent more magnesium, which is responsible for helping us to keep calm, than the average person. When you release adrenaline, your blood sugar and pressure rise, but like a sugar high, they crash if you attempt to sustain it too long. Concentration also crashes. If the stress is of long duration, you secrete cortisol, which alters brain waves and coping skills. This is especially true when you find yourself in a situation you feel you must control, but you can’t.
Isn’t it healthy to ask yourself what behavior initiates a stressful situation? As in the case of my friend and I, the quest to be “better than, smarter than, braver than” can get us into trouble. It places undue performance demands upon us. Stress can also happen when we have a departure between our imagination and our reasoning and an inaccurate evaluation of our skill level. Driving overconfidently in a snowstorm or allowing the mind to revert back to its default setting, which allows the mind to wander and relieve tension by daydreaming, can get you killed!
Speaking of getting killed … as the shafts of morning sunlight filtered down over the fog-captured river, waking up our aching bones, we stared up at the cliff wall beside us and the river before us, which snaked around a sharp bend. My cousin managed to jump from boulder to boulder with a rope to reach the little ledge of shoreline. He secured the line on his end; I tied it to the canoe and wedged it back into the current as he pulled.
When we finally reached solid ground, we knew we had no choice but to climb the cliff. I took the lead and climbed to the top. That was when my heart skipped a beat. From my vantage point, I could see around the river’s bend. It suddenly dropped 80 feet into a whirlpool of churning fury!
We spent that day pulling our gear and the canoe up the cliff face and bushwhacking a path for several miles until we were able to put in onto a more sedate river. It was getting close to dusk when we pulled ashore on a sandbar near a very serene point of land.
After building a fire, having a cup of tea, and relaxing my focused mind, I was soon sound asleep dreaming. The stress switch had been thrown off, and we slept like babies in the sand. When we woke to warm sunshine on our faces and another day of life, we promised ourselves the tranquility that only quiet waters can bring. I’m wishing you a quiet and peaceful heart!
Reflections from Turtle Lake!
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