This August, before I left for a 2nd annual wilderness canoe trip with a group of women friends, I was asked, “Is your trip a retreat?” The asker meant, have I planned and organized the trip to be a retreat as a part of the work I do as a spiritual companion. I paused, stumbled with my words until the truth came. “Well, no, not in the way you might be thinking of a retreat, but yes, this trip is a retreat.”
I had known each of these women for years, but prior to our 2020 planning meeting, these women had not known each other. Some had never paddled or hauled canoes across land or packs via waterways. That didn’t really matter. Each brought a thirst for life, a spirit for adventure, and enthusiasm for trying something new. Conversation, laughter, and silence came naturally in the woods and on the water. Enthusiasm dimmed when we grew tired, when the packs became too heavy, and when we were hungry. In difficult times we worked as a team to find firewood, collect drinking water, and hang our food pack high to deter bears and other critters. Sometimes relief came without heavy lifting. A kind word. A piece of licorice. A smile. I recall an experience years ago when one of these women began singing as we traversed a rugged portage on a hot day. Her beautiful voice lifted the weight from my shoulders and carried me to the next lake. I still hear her sweet voice when I am faced with a difficult trail.
On clear, calm nights we’d paddle out into the lake in complete silence, then just sit. Alone. Together. Sky open to eternity as we rested on the star-studded black water. An owl called. Then silence. A subtle shift in current adjusted our canoes. Then still. A cool draft brushed our skin. Then warmth. Solitude permeated my being. I felt bound together with everything that is and everything that ever was.
This year I left camp early, before the sun and my fellow voyagers rose. The planned departure was due to a loss in the family. A flock of geese, one eagle high in a pine, loons, unidentified large white birds in the distance, and surfacing fish, perhaps bass, were my companions. I felt a settling of my soul and a readying for new changes that were coming my way. I felt gratitude for it all.
Yes. This was a retreat.
May you find places and spaces that nourish your soul.
May you brave new beginnings.
May you be steadied in difficulties.
May you know that you are loved.
– Kathy Walczyk