by Randall Richard Rogers
Let me be clear right from the start. It’s conceivable you are looking at this photo, taking into account the Facebook page you’re on, and, noticing our proximity to Ely, Minnesota and the Boundary Waters. It’s not the moon over those pristine waters.
It’s David Kaar’s flashlight shining into the black night off the dock where he’s desperately hoping a boat is coming to pick-up four weary travelers and deliver them safely to camp three-quarters of a mile away across the lake.
This story begins four or five hours earlier. Maybe years.
It is Friday evening late in July at Rendezvous Fall Lake, 2019. Rendezvous is a gathering of men, mostly initiated men, some of whom began this ritual more than 30 years ago. They realized the relationships that began to form while staffing Warrior Weekends couldn’t grow and deepen within the pace and structure of the weekend itself. So, Rendezvous was conceived to give men an opportunity to breathe deeply, to expand their hearts and friendships. This place, tucked just outside the Boundary Waters afforded just such an experience.
On this particular Friday, Snake and I, along with three or four men have been working to prepare the camp for the arrival of men. There’s bushwhacking, trail clearing, camp site clearing and still time for a swim and morning circle blessed with the open hearts of hard-working men and the occasional eagle fly by.
The work is fun, the air is clear, men’s spirits are high, and damn I can get tired when the sun begins it’s precipitous drop. Around 5 or 6 I am told Kaar’s group, the last to arrive, has suffered a late flight arrival and they don’t anticipate arriving at the dock before 10pm. Hmmmm. David Kaar late?
As evening arrives and the food is put away, a circle forms. Bill Kauth is already in camp, and Joe Laur and Tosi. The evening circle is rich with story, parable and metaphor. Maybe it is one of them that sparked the thunderstorms? At any rate, like a dull thunder an update call comes in from Kaar, Kauth informs me they are running later still. There is new road construction not present just a few days ago. In between lightning strikes a conversation begins in camp . . . perhaps they should find lodging and come over in the morning? Water, lightning and aluminum boats are not a good mix.
These developments are very important to me as I realize I haven’t given you all the pertinent facts. There is really just one. I am the boatman. I am the one responsible for getting these men safely to camp whenever they come in.
This weekend happens to be a magical time in Ely. It is their annual Blueberry Festival. Every corner is filled with people, admirers of the rustic adventuring Ely is famous for. The park is full of exhibitors, coffee shops and bars do big business, music fills the air and laughter is abundant. But, not hotel rooms. So Kaar and his group are encouraged to stop in Virginia, thirty miles back, to seek lodging and spend the night. We have agreement and a plan and at 11:30pm on a moonless night, I am beginning to imagine a sound night’s sleep.
At 12:10 my phone rings. I am giddy for sleep in my tent and it is possible I had already dozed off just slightly. It is Kauth and he has taken a personal interest in this saga. Turns out there were no vacancies in Virginia. Kaar and is cadre are coming and due to arrive at the dock at 12:45 am. Game on.
I get dressed and struggle to find my headlamp. I am a full 150 yards out of camp perched in my tent with a lovely morning view of the lake. It is not morning. As I scurry through the woods, every tree wants to trip me. Branches are slapping me, it’s like my personal Trust Walk. I arrive at the dock knowing it will require two trips with the 16′ boat. Bill Kauth insists on joining me. I suggest I can manage and he insists he feels personally responsible. I relent and admire his personal attentiveness to getting these men to camp. We set off with hardly a plan in the dark.
It occurred to me earlier in the day when this first became a possibility that we did not have night navigational lights for the boat. Green and red, for bow and transom, they signal others on the water your whereabouts and direction. Wow, I am aware now. I realize quickly my headlamp is causing me more trouble than aid. I turn it off. We are just 50 feet into the journey when the motor dies and I have to persuade Kauth to turn his lamp off too. I can’t see a thing in the glare. Breathe, Randall.
No more than two minutes later, my eyes clear, the shadows lighten and contrast rises. I start the motor having opened the tank valve a bit. I encourage Bill to keep his lamp off and I am amazed at how the lake, the trees and the moonless sky reveal themselves. Something comes home inside of me and joy bubbles. I am going to bring these men out onto the lake in absolute, utter darkness. I could not have conceived a more apt introduction and ritual.
That light on the dock, reminds me of the light I am always shining into the dark of my life. It brings me right to my weekend and equally to this moment in the world. Still, there’s humor for when I see the gear that has come with these men, I am reminded. It’s not unlike a warrior weekend after all. Old warriors, it turns out, forget what it is to watch men unload their cars as they arrive for a training. “Bring only what you need for the weekend” I hear, gently and with a smile.
On the first trip, I bring two men with as much baggage as I dare. The boat is full and riding low and I am waiting. Waiting to tell them to turn off all their headlamps. I have to insist. We pull away from the dock into abject blackness. With the storm’s passing there remains only a gentle breeze and already a few stars have begun to present themselves. I am ready. I know the rocks, I know the bouys, I see the tree lines almost like they are signals. The motor is purring.
In ten minutes we are approaching the middle of the lake. Unannounced, I cut the motor and the vessel rides its own energy for a minute or two. Listen. The invitation is complete, finer than I could have construed. In the near silence, the lapping of the water, laughter from a distant camp fire and a renegade Loon welcome us. How could I have resisted this? How many other gifts lie in the places too dark to see?
I hope to see you this year. Make your plans, bring a stout headlamp but be prepared not to always rely on it. I’ve gotta go, I’ve got more men to bring across.