words & photo :: Colin Field
The first time it happened was a couple of decades ago. Camped on Babine Lake in northern B.C., I was brushing my teeth on the lakeshore when it hit me. An overwhelming wave of gratitude. This simple, monotonous act I perform every day was elevated by this special place. As the world woke up, I was alone with nothing but the peace and quiet of the morning, the stillness of the lake and the beginnings of the day. The snow-capped mountains loomed high above and I wanted to cherish every second. For those two minutes everything was okay with the world. There was no past, no future, only the moment.
At the time I was reading too much Kerouac. I was attempting to emulate my literary heroes Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarity. Hitchhiking across the continent, trying to live in the now while resisting the tie-downs of mortgages, jobs and car payments.
Peace & How to Find It
Achieving this moment of zen required two elements: the mundane task of brushing my teeth and a beautiful landscape. It was a powerful two minutes of peace. It was a feeling that I wanted to remember, a sensation I wanted to duplicate as often as possible. I promised myself that for the rest of my days, I would always be grateful for the joy of brushing my teeth in the wilderness.
Over the years I have repeated the experience. On the banks of the Nahanni, the ice-cold water and ceaseless roar of the river sent my mind racing towards silence. On the shores of Lake Superior, the rolling waves and clinking of pebbles revealed to me the existential sound of one-hand clapping. And in the rainforests of Tasmania, with the mists of the mountains surrounding me, I was enveloped by the oneness of self and environment.
These moments of peace are few and far between, but they’re powerful; each of those 120-second slices of contemplation have made me a better person. They’ve reminded me of what’s important in life: experiences, friends, family, the Earth itself. They reminded me to slow down. To enjoy. To live in the now.
Making Time for What Matters
Then came the spring of 2020 and something no one saw coming (well, except the majority of the science community) with COVID-19 and self-isolation. The world shut down and the chance to get away from it all disappeared. Which meant no zenned-out bliss for me. Try as I might, brushing my teeth in the bathroom doesn’t work. Camping in the backyard was a pretty good substitution, but I long for the wilderness. I need the beauty of nature. Endless vistas, still mornings, the silence of nature or the roar of a river will always be superior to the flicker of fluorescent lights.
This summer I’ll be heading into the wilderness whenever possible. As backcountry sites open, I’ll book them. I’ll brush my teeth on the shores of the great Canadian wilderness as often as possible. Surprisingly enough, the COVID-19 experience taught me some of the same lessons as my moments of enlightenment—that the rat race we all get caught up in is rarely meaningful. That the important things in life aren’t difficult to attain; I just need to make time for them. So I will.
And I predict that in the fall, during my annual checkup, I’ll get a glowing report from my dentist (although I know he’ll tell me I need to floss more). —ML