If Jesus Were a Bear

Algonquin ParkA few years after I started researching and writing Tell Anna She's Safe, I decided to go on what I called a "reconnaissance mission" into Ontario's Algonquin Provincial Park. It was the summer of 1998, a time when I had lost all my usual female paddling partners to marriage and children but was still single myself. I didn't want to let my lack of a paddling partner stop me from doing what I love most in the world: canoe tripping in the Algonquin Park interior.

So on the August long weekend, I parked myself and my tent for four nights on one campsite on Kioshkokwi Lake, an hour's paddle from the take-out, to find out if I had the wherewithal to one day do a "real" canoe trip on my own. Paddling and doing short test portages by day and surviving imaginary bear attacks by night, I discovered I did. But on the third day, the park warden came to check my camping permit, and within five minutes of meeting him I heard a small but clear voice in my head tell me this was the man I was going to marry. I had come to the park to find out if I could go solo, and found the one I wanted to go in tandem with the rest of my life.

That's how my as yet unnamed canoeing memoir begins—with the allure of the happily ever after. You can probably guess that the "happily ever after" did not materialize in the fairytale way. Two summers later, I was embarking on my first real canoe trip, still reeling from my brief but heart-searing engagement to the park warden. The experience had brought me to the realization that I did not feel worthy of being loved. It also awakened in me the knowledge that the well-spring of Love is inside me—as it is in everyone. And so began my journey, to healing and beyond—way beyond.

The framework for the memoir is eight solo canoe trips I took over an eight-year period within the healing, and testing, environment of the near wilderness of Algonquin Park. Within this framework of trips, the memoir takes the reader on an interior journey beyond society's myths about romantic relationships and the nature of God to an experience of true acceptance, compassion and Love. It shatters the illusions that prevent so many of us from experiencing the intrinsic connection—the "Divine" connection—we have to the natural world around us and to all of the people and creatures within it.

As an aside, I wrote quite a bit of Tell Anna She's Safe while I was on these canoe trips, and the memoir also serves as a chronicle of my journey to finding the right voice and understanding to tell this difficult story the way I wanted to—with empathy. That, too, arrived in the solitude of the park.

I thought the memoir was finished and had previously posted an excerpt but thanks to some excellent professional editorial feedback I received this spring, I'm now in the midst of a necessary revision process and so I've temporarily removed the excerpt until it—and the rest of the manuscript—undergoes some necessary surgery. So stay tuned!