Wednesday, June 17, 2009

At Lake Superior

Just returned last night from a short trip to Gooseberry Falls State Park along the shores of Lake Superior. Seeing as I live in the center of the continent, Lake Superior is the closest thing we have to an ocean. It's an amazing place that easily sets one's mind straight about how tiny and not so significant it is in the grand scheme of things.

A few fun facts about Lake Superior.

1. It's the largest of the Great Lakes of North America, and the largest fresh water lake in the world by surface area (31,820 square miles (82,413 km2).

2. One of the two largest indigenous groups in Minnesota, the Anishinaabe (or Ojibwe), named the lake Gitchigumi, meaning "big water".

3. Over 80 species of fish have been found in the lake.

4. The water surface temperature ranges seasonally between 32°-55°F (0°-13°C), meaning it's an awful cold swim most of the time!

On the rocks above the shoreline, I did zazen before heading home yesterday. Waves crashing in, gulls and crows squawking, cool wind hitting my still body as breathing occurred, blending in with everything else. There was no need to do anything, no need to even try and let go of what was arising in my mind. Sometimes, I think we get too fixated on the idea of attachment - ironic isn't it - and have this view that every last ounce of attachment must disappear from our lives for us to be truly living the Buddha way. But what is attachment beyond a warped sense of love which needs to be tended to. And what about translation issues, how the word "craving" might be more accurate, that it is our cravings that cause us so much suffering? Yet, isn't it also true that we get fixated on eliminating those cravings, so much so that we can loose track of the bigger world alive and at work within us, all around us?

In front of Lake Superior in the picture above is a yarrow, a powerful medicine plant. According to Greek mythology, Achilles used yarrow intensively to cure his war wounds - hence it's Latin name Achillea millefolium. According to herbal medicine traditions, the plant is not only a wound healer, but also a healer of colds, fevers, sore throats, infections, and skin irritations. I have personally watched the crushed leaves end the bleeding of a cut with such suction that the skin was nearly sown back together again in less than 10 minutes.

Like myself, the yarrow in the photo was a tiny presence in a vast landscape. Neither of us were really much compared to the giant lake, and yet isn't it also true that both I and the yarrow plant contained it all, every last drop. A good reminder to not do anything more than just be who you are, as fully as you can be. I bow to the tiny yarrow plant, and the giant lake behind it for waking me again.


Sara said...

Isn't the lake a wonderful thing? I feel so lucky to live in Duluth within walking distance of this beautiful body of water. I know a lot of folks from the cities come up to rejuvenate and I am glad to hear your trip went well. I love sitting down by the water, watching, listening, not thinking, just being.

A said...

Ahhhhhh.... The North Shore is as close as it gets to "God's Country" for me (and I'm not even a believer in God).

Just drop me in a cabin a few miles from Grand Marais and I'll be happy for the rest of my life....

Your fellow Minnesotan (and grateful to be),