Pause and reflect

by Leslie Bek
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the Upper Peninsula in the winter. Where else on Thanksgiving Day can I leave my home and fifteen minutes later arrive at a ski hill or trail and then plan to do the same thing again for an Easter egg hunt?
If you are someone who has been in school for the past nine-plus months, it is finally here—summer vacation. If you are someone in the workforce, it is finally here—time to take a vacation.
Although technically the summer season began weeks ago, in the Upper Peninsula, our true summer weather just arrived. It is time to enjoy the outdoors in ways different than our other seasons—time to pause and reflect.
In the early 1980s, we enjoyed a Fourth of July parade in Marquette. Sitting curbside on Third Street, we took in the festivities as we baked in the sun and seventy-five-degree temperature.
Our next stop was a direct route to Lake Superior to take a cooling dip. In the few minutes it took to reach the beach, the wind had shifted to the north and begun to blow; the sky darkened. I began to cool off instantly just being in the presence of the lake. My debate on whether to take the plunge ended as quickly as the warmth of the curbside perch passed. The snowflakes began to fly. It was Marquette in July.
I have enjoyed telling that story to my downstate family who rarely visits between December and April. “We’ll see you when the ice melts,” they say. “Same to ya,” I say. After several years of coming north during March, springtime snowstorms and blizzards, my sisters have asked, “Can’t youjust celebrate (my son) Ian’s birthday in July?” No matter what time of year, my Dad begins every telephone conversation with “Is it snowing up there?” or at least an inquiry about the weather. It seems seeking an answer of sun and warmth is an endless quest.
It’s the U.P. in July: time to come visit, time to pause and reflect. The weather isn’t the travel factor now, rather it is road construction—so travel from midnight to 8:00 a.m. is recommended.
waterfall-142636_640My friends Lynn and Lon Emerick are noted outdoor enthusiasts. I think of them as Traditional Environmental Specialists. From them, I have learned the differences between a hike in the woods, a walk or saunter on the trails. I’ve also learned that conversation is discouraged during these outdoor activities. That part was difficult for me at first.
It was on one of these mild adventures I realized I was experiencing my first real and intentional pause and reflect. Listen to what is here; look for things you might otherwise miss and let yourself become a part of nature, they had encouraged. Now, no matter how long my trek, I always emerge refreshed from the inside out.
Taking time to pause and reflect is different than a vacation. Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m just back and I think I need a vacation from my vacation?” Taking time to pause and reflect doesn’t mean you stop being active. It means you change your focus. It means being aware of the moment you are in and creating a moment you can savor. Imagine pushing the pause button on the attention-grabbers of your daily life. Pause the to-do list, the work worries, the household chores and the many concerns still will be there. Remember to turn the volume down, too.
Here is my own reflection of a recent twenty-four hour pause at a youth camp, meeting and retreat site. It is a mixture of rustic and modern facilities that is home to all who seek a place to gather in a natural setting.
On Saturday before noon, Ian and I prepared to turn into the camp drive. We did what we always do: turn off music, close books, quiet conversation, take off the seat belts and put down the windows. We pause and begin to take in the space, look for things other eyes are not seeing and listen for sounds other ears are not hearing. I focus on my side of the car and he focuses on his side.
As we park, we see that Ian’s dad already has arrived and he is out lakeside. We will be welcoming members of our Cub Scout den—around a dozen folks—within the hour for our end-of-the-Scout-year camp-out. Ian’s dad is the den leader, and I am some type of assistant/mom.
Ian is anxious to know which cabin we are staying in so he can head off with his sleeping bag and stuff. I answer, “Cabin 1.”
People begin to arrive and the place comes alive. Voices, children dashing about, questions of what can we do first and next are flying around like the hatch of insects. I give the “ground rules” of the space and then all are off to size up life jackets and grab oars and fishing poles. The water, getting in it and on it, is a magnet.
I then had a profound awareness: it is 10:03 p.m. and we had just finished our last campfire song and the fire was to be extinguished. Hadn’t we just collected that wood, begun with a lesson on fire safety, how to build a fire and the uses of fire? Hadn’t we just begun with a Native American chant/song of gratitude? Hadn’t the guitar music just begun to give us calm and bring out the voice in each of us?
Where had the ten hours of time gone? For me, it had absolutely stood still. I felt at that moment the moment I was in. I had been on pause and began to reflect.
It became memory before I knew it. Boating, fishing, maneuvering and negotiating who would be oarsman and who would be captain, and when would be “my turn” at anything and everything; being the “firsts” to swim this season. The making and tossing balls of coarse sand and colorful balloons skillfully with funnels, and the art of tying a balloon knot; learning about marksmanship and gun safety, shooting a BB gun at balloons tied to the baseball backstop, the walks and foot races.
Community meals and fireside treats. I sit on the picnic table across from Ian at dinner time. As he begins to stuff the end of a hot dog and bun loaded with onions into his mouth, he says to me and also to the whole world, “This has been a great day.” Friend Gwen stops by and takes it all in and our circle is briefly a bit bigger.
The darkness of the night surrounds us and we watch the bats swoop for their nighttime feed. The few neighboring fishing boats leave the lake and our campfire smoke hangs above the water like a blanket. Flashlights dot the blackness; cabin doors clap shut.
The morning gathering offers root beer pancakes, scrambled eggs, fruit, juice and hot coffee. We then line up for our walk to a chapel for worship. One more trip to the lake as things are cleaned up and packed away. I water our newly planted trees and shrubs and look with pleasure and gratitude at the little green leaf buds proudly declaring their new growth.
As we drive out, I feel not only my own smile, but the camp smiling back. Our presence gave it rejuvenation and a greater purpose; it fostered a connection between people and place.
Soon our tires would reach asphalt and seat belts would go back on. We were going back to where each of us had come from. We would not be the same because we had taken a pause.
Everything looks and feels different after a bit of time taken to pause and reflect. The evidence is in your own mirror.
I think these thoughts have everything to do with health and that is what matters.

— Leslie Bek

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