I think everyone needs hero’s. Someone they look up to that inspires them and awakens them to dreams and desires in their heart that would lie dormant otherwise. These people help us to link the gap between humanity and Divinity. They cause us to see beyond what we would consider looking for and to try for what might otherwise be considered unattainable. My hero is Bill Mason — a famous canoeist, painter and “environmentalist” (before that started to be a big thing.) I have watched his film “Waterwalker” on NFB.ca about 50 times. If you ask me why I love him so, I couldn’t even begin to explain it. There are scenes I will watch a thousand times in that movie and it will always bring me to tears. I’m not ashamed to say it, even though it makes no rational, worldly, logical sense whatsoever.
At the end of Waterwalker, Bill Mason is sitting by candlelight in his tent talking about faith and fear and he makes the statement “Sometimes I think we have forgotten how to walk on water.” That statement alone holds myriads of meanings and possibilities for me. In my life there have been so many times when I have almost given up- where hopelessness and fear – rejection and abandonment – illness and depression were more than seemed bearable. Sometimes you need to face external life threats and “natural” dangers so that you are no longer able to see and hear the internal fears and threats. Sometimes you have to be in a place where life and death are starkly obvious to eliminate the darkness and choking hazards of a toxic inner life. People who haven’t had to deal with the demons of depression, abuse and trauma have no idea what it is like to need these outside “markers” of life and death. Those markers set a concrete standard for reality; a physical measure of danger and safety. I will lay in my tent at night and measure my fear of a bear against the fears of my past and then sleep like a baby. I will grasp and claw my way along the wall of a canyon trail to reach a waterfall, glancing down every so often at the empty space below me– heart hammering in my chest — and feel the loosening grip of the night terrors I experienced while recovering from PTSD associated with childhood trauma. Standing on a mountain of solid Canadian shield rock with Lake Superior thundering below me — I glance up at beacon of light slowly fanning out from the lighthouse above me and I think about what it means to feel truly safe and to have a beacon. During the course of recovering and putting the past behind me, I have found many of these “beacons” and Bill Mason is one of a few whom I have clung to. Over the years I have tried to emulate his gentleness, his respect for nature and his faith — in my own small ways.
In our farmhouse, here in the prairies and cornfields of southeast South Dakota, I have a painting of Cascade Falls on lake Superior. It is a reproduction of a painting done by Bill Mason. For years I have told myself that before I die, I want to visit that falls. I want to see it with my own eyes. It doesn’t matter why it is so important to me, but it is. Last week I was able to take that trip: A trip to the one of the most remote shorelines in the world. Lake Superior is a cold and dangerous lake – an inland sea – and not one I would paddle in an open canoe. Should a person tip over in the water, they have less than 10 minutes before losing function of their arms and legs. In an hour you would die from hypothermia. The solution was a water taxi from Heron Bay to Cascade River in Pukaskwa National Park, Canada. We were scheduled to leave on Monday morning at 5 a.m. But a storm blew in the night before churning the big lake into a writhing, heaving white and green monster. We stayed over at Neys Provincial Park and took a day to explore the beaches there. The fog and rain created a surreal environment and the historical significance of the area made it a great place to lay over and explore.