Presence and Isolation in the Abyssal North

March 16, 2015

- or, should it suit you better: –

“The expansive and crushing landscape is frozen and silent and evaporating”


Driving four hours into the North only to ride in the back of a snow-mobile-drawn sleigh in pitch blackness 8km into the centre of a lake frozen over does not immediately present itself as an exercise in wonder. Much less, being jammed in to a little unfinished hut atop the icy northern abyss with three other grown men and a bucket of live minnows. But I find that often in the unlikeliest of places, wonder presents itself, if you wait.

The hut itself was particularly un-designed, an effort of unadulterated utility: exposed lightbulbs, 2×4 bunk beds, open flame cook top, a lock-less front door (because: who would be trying to get inside anyway?), and holes drilled deeply through the floors which exposed us to the reality of our situation; that we were in a small house resting atop a semi-frozen lake for the purpose of tricking still-live fish into bitting down on our hooks so that we may later bite down on them. So this is ice fishing…

Blog_Wondermatter_Presence_and_Isolation_002Jason Silva said that awe is an antidote for our existential despair. It is a mechanism which assists in allowing us to transcend the liminal understandings of our lives in context of their inevitable mortality. The trick often seems to rest in the fact that we rarely know when wonder and awe will strike. It can be illusive to say the least. I think the real key is to go our of our way and -even forcibly- place ourselves in situations that are uncommon and new. To actively pursue this antidote.

After the first night of each of us hovering over our respective ice holes, line and sinkers bobbing near the muddy bottom of some Ontario lake, and getting more whiskey down than fish coming up, we retired to our bunks.

This trip was not something I would have been inclined to initiate on my own volition, less so on my birthday weekend. However, when the invitation was aimed in my direction, the very fact that it was not something I was accustomed to doing made the decision obvious. I thought about this as I fell asleep having between the four of us caught a total of three “mud puppies” which are the vestiges of primordial landscapes long forgotten, who live in the depths of freshwater apparently, and are the embodiment of some perverse mismanagement of evolution. Staying enthused can be difficult in such situations.


Join or Die

In the overcast white light of morning I woke. Early. Quietly stepping outside of the hut, I was confronted with an entirely unexpected and disorienting sensation. In an endless landscape of snow covered ground, and a white sky that reached down as far as I could see, there was the dizzying illusion that there was no horizon at all. That the earth and sky had fused together. Cognitive dissonance collided with the physical body, and my knees gave out a little. For a brief moment, it was as if, without external reference points, I understood nothing about the space I was in. Weightlessness in the isolation of the Canadian North. Proper awe.

Blog_Wondermatter_Presence_and_Isolation_004The difficult practice of pulling something from the experience of wonder back in to the world as you know it is something that we try to do with our work at Wondermatter. To take a fleeting and intensely incomprehensible feeling and find a way to keep a few grains of the experience so it can exist in the everyday is an attempt to keep a little piece of that experience on hand for those times you need a little shot of the antidote on the go. In describing a DMT experience, Joe Rogan said that it was like gold dust running through your fingers, which seems an apt comparison to that of any kind of awe.

Blog_Wondermatter_Presence_and_Isolation_003Blog_Wondermatter_Presence_and_Isolation_007Blog_Wondermatter_Presence_and_Isolation_008By the end of the fishing weekend, we had caught a total of five very small but edible fish, but that was less the point in my mind. Being exposed to the relentless vastness of the landscape, the presence that isolation affords, composing bacon and tomato sandwiches for breakfast, running whiskey-fueled laps around the hut in our underwear: this was why we were there.



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