I’ve been going to Cape Croker for eight years. It’s a camp site on an Ojibway Reserve, just north of Wiarton, in the Purple Valley, on the east side of the Bruce Peninsula. I’ve come to feel about the place that it’s one of my spiritual grounding spots. It’s a place I go to for stripping down, to becoming a more basic me. I carry and practice some indulgences there, but I also find ways to release my grip on situations, problems and obsessions that imprison me in my day-to-day life.
I started coming here with Ponczka, the year after we met, a short time after we bought our house and began living together.
My previous history of camping had been insubstantial, but meaningful. I used to make excursions to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. I approached it then with a city dweller’s spontaneous indulgence, venturing out with no equipment but an old sleeping bag, a few items from my kitchen, some canned food, bread, peanut butter and juice. The coastline was a graveyard of old timber, and one of the chief pleasures of these excursions was to set myself a roaring fire and keep it going throughout the two or three evenings and nights. The other highlight was the upward-looking hope for skies clear enough to reveal the thick-with-stars band of the Milky Way. On some trips I enjoyed the stars every night; on others, not at all; such was the ambivalence of a Washington coast sky.
This bit of the Peninsula, over which shone the ever rotating beacon of the lighthouse on Destruction Isle, and where grey waves crashed and roared constantly, yet in different moods and intensities, became a spirit grounding place for me. Not the first or only such place; there have been many: the castle lake in Central Park, the bridge over the Charles in Cambridge. Lots of parks. And other places, too. The top of the Health Service hospital in Seattle, from where on early mornings I could not distinguish the snow on the peaks of the Cascades from wisps of morning cloud.
Lots of places have been invitations, to plug in, to settle, to release.... There are many metaphors and images to use. It strikes one in so many different ways, to be lifted up out of the everyday and given a glimpse of oneself removed from the fleeting cares and habits, to stand a bit more naked, to others, but mainly to oneself. Images arise of treasures that have come my way, in the form of people, places and experiences. I recall faces I thought I had forgotten, along with the names and the particulars of our brief encounters. I remember driving around in the middle of the night, at the end of my first day in San Francisco, with Rose, a woman I met while shooting pool in a bar. There was the bunch of guys sitting around a camp fire together in New Orleans, right where the Mississippi empties out into the Gulf of Mexico, on the night of Mardi Gras, with the revellers prancing and parading just a block away. There was the room in the barn outside of Austerlitz, New York, quiet and heavy with creative concentration and the coming on of Spring. There were the long moments of stillness on remote highways, moments that would’ve been lonely without all that space spreading everything out, so that loneliness became something entirely else, and waiting for that car to come over the horizon was like planting seeds you know will only come up when you are long gone.
Cape Croker is the inheritor of all my expectations and wants of spiritual places. And yet, its free of any claims I might have. I am happy when I go there, regardless of anything that might go wrong, or the discomforts brought on by mosquitos, storms and cold, blowing air. Peace and contentment emanate out of every stone and tree. It’s a place that relieves me of any sense of hurry or expectation bound by a clock. Time feels so abundant there that it’s impossible to feel that there could not be enough. And though I am aware of having felt that way, just a day before, and that I will surely feel that way again, while in those moments of tranquility, none of that matters. I slow down, until the gliding of the clouds across the sky becomes a ballet, and I note the change in the tide when it happens, and silence reveals itself for the constant chorus of life that it is.
We usually travel to Cape Croker on a Friday night, leaving a little after 9, and arriving in Cape Croker well after midnight. By that time, Ponczka is always asleep, and I have the pleasure of setting up tent and air mattress by myself in the dark, trying not to make noise or use the flashlight any more than necessary. Sometimes I’ll start a fire. Other nights, if it’s clear, and especially if it’s the first trip of the year, and my first opportunity in months to see a star-filled sky, I’ll take a few minutes to gaze upward. Sometimes the glow of the moon is all the light that’s wanted.
There’s always a shift after the first twenty-four hours at Cape Croker. During the first day, tarps and gazebo go up, the hammock is slung between the trees; there comes the first dip into the sound, then the second. The kitchen area comes into being as food is prepared. And whatever is cooked comes with a flavour as though offered up directly by the nature all around us.
After a night’s sleep, I always awaken with a sense of being home, of belonging in this place where the rhythms invade and take me over, until I am myself in a way I haven’t been in awhile, if only because I haven’t taken the moments to feel and to know it. I play my sax, and l practice Tai Chi, and meditate, partly because these are good things to do, but more because the place invites me to move my body and spirit, to stretch and open. I make music because I feel the music waiting to come out, and I WANT to play. And my sax will play me, to the extent that I release myself to it. I find and live a different shading of myself, I breathe deeper.
The earth all through Purple Valley is thick with rocks. Escarpments to the north and south of the camping beach form cliffs of craggy formations, eroding slowly in geological time, years passing between rock falls. It’s an area of small ranches with weather beaten sheds, with cows and horses grazing between the clumps of stone. Ponczka and I watch the slow decay of two buildings we’d love to live in: a mansion on the main street in Wiarton, with thick panes of bowed glass framing the main room, a dumbwaiter and separate servant’s stairwell. The other is a school on the edge of the reserve. We dream of living there, our lives rooted in such a place, where weeks and months pass slowly, where growing old would not seem unnatural. We would start an Art Colony, where painters, writers and musicians would come to experience their spirit's release.