A few years ago I started a small annual pilgrimage to the north woods. The location lends a feeling of seclusion; a time to retreat, to crunch through the woods with my dogs and appreciate the lush green of July or the frozen snow globe of January. It is a time to silence the world; to hear my own thoughts.
If you include all the ritual stops for cheese, bread and wine, the trip is about three and a half hours. However it is in the last 30 minutes where a striking shifts occurs. From the Twin Cities to the North country it is beautiful: loads of adorable towns, lovely lakes and deep forest. The last 20 miles the view changes from inviting to desolate.
It is common to travel this road and see no one. There is no cell service, nor a place to get help (or gas) if needed. The blackbirds mockingly pace in overhead flight and the landscape of downed trees and open starkness leaves one with a less than comforting feeling. A friend who lives in the area named the experience, “It is desolate.”
This last trip I noticed the gas pedal down further and speed higher than normal while driving this stretch. I realized I was trying to get through this wilderness area as fast as I could, as if speeding down the road would be the equivalent to a lucky amulet.
When we are in a desolate wilderness in life, it feels a lot like Hwy 27. Mostly, we want to bypass it. And if we can’t do that, we want to get through the discomfort as quickly as possible. Here is the rub: there is no way around it, only through it. In the desolate times of life, we have little control on how fast we get through it. We do have a choice on how we get through it.
The next time I drove Hwy 27, I wondered how I could change my actions to invite a different experience. I decided to intentionally slow down. And I watched. At first I saw nothing new, nothing that felt worth going the speed limit and sitting in my discomfort. However, about 10 miles in, I saw an eagle at the side of the road having lunch: I would have this missed this gift had I been speeding. I looked up, another one soared in the breeze. It was when I slowed down, breathed through the anxiety and observed what was around me that I saw the good and the beauty in the midst of the desolate.
I was reminded: slow down. Breathe through the discomfort. Be aware of what it around you. Watch for wonder.