Friday, August 9, 2019

Boundary Threshold

In The Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell gives us a map. On this map, there is a boundary – a threshold. It’s pretty soon after the “denial of the call to adventure.” In stepping across the threshold, the

hero moves from the “ordinary world” into an extra-ordinary world. 

Think of Skywalker: “I can’t go to Alderaan! I have moisture-farming to do here on Tatooine.” Then he meets Obi-Wan. Then they cross the threshold and off they go on a journey. 

I was thinking about “thresholds” as we set out last month into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Jill and I would be five days in the BWCAW, along with the Cooks and the Conrads and the Johnsons. We had our senses open for those lines of demarcation that were sure to appear between the ordinary and extraordinary worlds. 

The boundary threshold might be as straightforward as a signpost that tells you:
“On the other side of this line is Wilderness.” Or it might be as subtle as the sudden awareness that you’re as far away from a paved road as you’ve ever been in your life.

One of our first stops on the way to Sawbill Lake was the Trestle Inn, a saloon at the junction of an unpaved county road and an unpaved Forest Service road. We were in a loose caravan, driving north on Minnesota State Highway 61. As we peeled off onto County Highway 1, we went in an instant from (a) traffic, to (b) no cars at all. It was a shift we could feel. We’d crossed a boundary.

Another crossing came the following day. The outfitters dropped us at our put-in. We loaded our canoes, lashing our gear to the thwarts, and shoved off. After paddling Baker Lake, Peterson Lake, and Kelly Lake, with easy portages in between, we came to an obstruction.

At a narrows entering Jack Lake, a beaver had stacked a low dam. We were only two hours into a five-day paddle, and Jill was still getting her feet wet (literally). I dragged my paddle to slow us.

“We’re gonna have to get out,” I said.

“Say WHAT?!” Jill replied, her tone going up an octave on the second word.

“Yeah. Beaver dam. We can’t paddle around it or over it or through it. We both need to get out and pull the canoe across. Don’t worry,” I pointed in the water, “they made a little ramp for us.”

“Well. Okay then.”

Condensing this part: We got out. It was knee-deep. We pulled the canoe over a beaver dam. We climbed 
back in without dumping it. We resumed paddling.

Jill looked over her shoulder at me and I thought I could see a tear in her eye. At first I thought it was because she was scared. But then she spoke and I could hear a tremolo of pride:

“I have never done anything like that before in my LIFE.”

We were in the extraordinary world now.

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