It appears that a distance of 2.5 kilometers away from the internet produces serious internal doubts about my ability to survive. Reports of black bears, lynx, cougars and moose greeted me upon arriving here at the cabin on secluded Deep Bay, in Riding Mountain National Park. So far, all I’ve seen is a resident hare I’ve named Peter Králík (Králík being the Czech translation of our beloved surname “Rabbit”), but these other hidden residents haunt my dreams and my peripheral vision. The wilderness is a cage, a desert island. How am I supposed to do my banking, check the mail, like my friends or say what’s on my mind when the world is made of chlorophyll, plant fibre and various distillations of water vapour? Hidden birds keep repeating the opening notes of a song I can’t remember the lyrics to, and I can’t even use SoundHound because the iPhone doesn’t get reception this far into the sticks. Now and then, other humans walk past in their hot pink dry-fit and Lu Lu calf-slit capris on their way to the dock, which extends out over the water of the bay: a clear view to the bottom. Oh look! A fish!
Is this the world? Is this the world of humans? All around the globe, in beautiful places with excellent views and often a water feature, humans have built Artist Retreats. These settings are serene and unreal, a good old-fashioned kickback to simpler times when we still understood which way was north and the road was a progression to a better place. We can’t own this place (the best we’ll get is a 42-year perpetual lease), but we’ll send the artists out there to write/paint/sing about the world of yellow butterflies and lingering June twilights. Then, we’ll consume their work and reap the psycho-nutritional benefits of withdrawal, escape, contemplation and presence. It is too late for us collectively. We can no longer “Go forth!” into the wilderness. We do not have the proper maps.
Out here, my maps are made of deet and cellular sweet spots, of electrical outlets and device chargers, of a two-tier refrigeration system that can keep the wine chilled while making ice for an afternoon Pimm’s cup. These maps are certainly not leading me deeper into the woods or into the animality of my humanness, they are dragging me steadily away from the full-sense physicality of the world, making these basic, organic places as foreign as a 19th Century historical romance novel.
Why retreat? To get a better view. Of the lake? Sure. But also of the place I’ve just retreated from. Airports and cobbled Europe, most recently, and the amply cross-connected network I am part of in Winnipeg. Then, of course, there is the extreme immediacy of my internet life, which goes so far as to surpass the physical present. I keep up at a jog behind the evolution of the urban human habitat, following my maps, downloading updates as I go. My discomfort warns that I am out-growing the habitat of my evolutionary origins. Is this actually possible? Or have I unwittingly subscribed to a delusion that existence begins in the mind and grows in the imagination? Every time I eat, take a shit, slap a mosquito, I am reminded of my body, it’s 3-dimensionality, and the ability to see it without red and blue paper glasses. I look to the mirrors of my form – bears and trees, the wetness of the lake and call of the nuthatch – and wonder where the maps I follow will lead me. To a museum of man and nature, complete with QR coded interpretive stations and a walking tour downloadable to smartphone? Oh look! A human! Only there, the cage is knowledge and the lock, convenience.
I have no idea what these butterflies are doing. Twenty or so have congregated on a four foot stretch of beach. They have formed a line, and periodically swap places, alighting with a few erratic flaps of their yellow and black wings. They were here yesterday, too. I am curious about their habits, their genus, which worm they metamorphosed from. Have they been hanging out since larvae-hood? Or is their camaraderie something that came with the wings? (I’ll have to google it later.) For now, their company is enough.