written by Bryan Schaap
I FIRST HIKED INTO THE LAKE as a sixteen year old, full of the boundless energy and exuberance of youth. The abiding silence of the wilderness was broken by the heavy footfall and even heavier laughter of my buddies and I – climbing and occasionally racing ever higher up the trail, from switchback to switchback, each of us blissfully oblivious to the strain of much too heavy packs tugging against our hips and shoulders.
As the seasons seamlessly flowed one to the next and the years inexplicably did the same, I found myself continuing to venture up to the lake at least once almost every year, often sharing the experience with others that I brought along who had yet to experience what the lake could offer to their souls. A few days away in the wilderness was a welcome change of pace, reviving the spirit as I returned once again to a time and place of beauty and simplicity.
In the early days, the lure of fishing was foremost on my mind as I strode purposefully up the increasingly familiar trail. With time I learned well the how and where and when of attracting and hooking trout from the depths of the lake and of enticing them with a fly from the shallows near the shore. My angling success grew, and countless fish were caught, given properly brief salutations, and returned to the water. Many savory meals of Rainbow and Brook Trout were prepared and enjoyed over a fire on the shore following a morning or evening on the water. Coated with cornmeal, salt, and pepper, and fried to golden perfection, such feasts were unrivaled by the finest restaurants in the state, and no tableside view could begin to match what was mine in the dining room of the forested lake shore. But, as time went on, I was surprised to find that the number or even the size of the fish was not of nearly the significance it once had been, for it began to dawn on me that I had learned the most important component of the fishing equation – I had learned the why.
As the years went by, I continued to enjoy the companionship of family or friend on the trail, on the water, and around the campfire, But, I also found myself increasingly drawn to solo trips in the middle of the week when I might not encounter another human in the course of two or three days. As the lines on my face grew deeper and the hair on my head grew thinner with an ever-growing amount of gray, I was in the process of learning the why of wilderness and solitude. These times of silence in the midst of God’s creation were filled with moments of reflection, gratitude and refocused perspective. The beneficiary of all that each experience at the lake had to offer was my very soul, and the benefactor of this deep and incomparable satisfaction was the Creator Himself.
MY MOST RECENT TRIP TO THE LAKE took place on the final two days of September last year. That was more than five months ago. In the waning days of a glorious Indian summer, the lake alternately took on the azure hue of the bright blue sky and the uncertain gray of reflected clouds, in the continuing tension of yet another season slowly bidding farewell and ever so sneakily sliding into the next. It seems to me that life can be like that as well – seasons of sunshine and rest intermixed with cloudiness and brewing storms, all outside of our control.
I don’t know if this was my last trip to the lake or if I will be given the opportunity for many more. Three days before the trip I learned of my diagnosis of melanoma.
And so, as my still-strong legs carried me down the trail after my usual final look at the lake, I was paying a bit more attention to the sights, sounds, and smells around me. I more keenly appreciated what the lake had to offer to my soul, and just as I had been thirty-five years previous, I was once again blissfully oblivious to the strain of carrying what might seem to be too much weight. As I began the three mile downhill trek, returning to the busyness of life and a fresh dose of uncertainty, the weight of the unknown was carried by Another. For I was a few steps farther in my journey of learning the why of life, and the giver and sustainer of life was continuing to faithfully give and sustain.
I hope to hike into the lake again early this summer. With the scars of two surgeries and a good prognosis, I have reason to be optimistic. But, if I’m unable to for some reason, I know that I can experience solitude and communion with God wherever I am, whatever the circumstances. My confidence in my body being able to carry me into the beautiful high country remains strong at this point, but my highest confidence without comparison is in the One who in His grace will one day carry me home to the true high country for which I have always yearned.