Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Return to “Civilization”

Editor’s note: this is the third of a 3-part journal entry following “Sojourn” (ACZ Archive, August 2015), and “Shore Dinner DeLuxe” (ACZ Archive, September 2015). – Paz



Three days is not enough time to spend at our favorite north woods spot, Forked Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. After a camping trip of perfect weather, a Shore Dinner DeLuxe, and a great gathering of friends (and mosquitoes), Sunday morning arrived on schedule, and it was time to strike camp.

Leaving the lake for another year is a dreaded moment. I break down the tent and pack the stove, the cast iron, the lanterns. We ask each other if we’ll do any fishing before we leave, but our inner drives compel us to keep moving forward, back to the world of clocks and calendars and schedules and work. We pack the boats and head for the launch.

The boat launch at Forked lake is of the most basic type. There’s a circular gravel drive, a ten by ten foot dock, and a shallow sandy area to put in watercraft. Mostly these are canoes and kayaks. The camp site has a number of aluminum Grumman canoes you can sign out, and some folks bring small power boats like the AquaMarie. This launch is not one of those fancy ones with a paved drive, ridged concrete to help you get traction, a solid surface in the water for your trailer wheels. No, this is as basic as it gets. The drive leads to the water and the rest is up to you. It’s a bit shallow, and has a couple of boulders in inconvenient spots, but if you get right next to the dock you can back your trailer in far enough to launch or retrieve your vessel.

Fast forward past all the neat outdoorsy stuff like loading the boat with the camp gear, motoring through the marked channel to the launch area. Up to the parking lot. Fetch the Funbus, move over one lot and hook up the boat trailer. Here we drive down the gravel road to the small “traffic circle” adjacent to the launch. It’s a busy weekend in the middle of July, and Sunday at 11 am is checkout time for everyone. Not exactly mobbed, but busy.

If you’ve ever driven (or backed) a trailer hooked up to a motor vehicle, you know it takes a little room. Maybe this is obvious to people who have never pulled a trailer, or maybe they’re oblivious to the concept. A sign near the dock says “Please Do Not Block The Launch Area”. As I reach the edge of the circle, I note two cars more or less parked on the left. I’ll need to wait for them to move out of the way before I can swing the Funbus and trailer around to position for backing into the water. I wait, idling, looking. Several young folks are milling about the cars, apparently packing to leave. Guy starts sort of rearranging the trunk so things will fit in. Two cars are behind me. Gal with guy comes up, she must be driving the other car, and they begin to converse. Probably talking about where we’ll get gas or stop for lunch or who will stop at Grandma’s to pick up the cat.

Along the waterfront, the dock area is essentially full. A couple folks pick up their kayaks and load them onto roof racks. A few others pull their Grumman canoes, marked with the name of their campsite home Forked Lake, Lewey Lake, Indian Lake, out of the water and move them to the rack. Forked lake is part of what’s called a chain of lakes, the outlet of one leading to the inlet of the next. In some places you can canoe from one to the next, at others you’ll need to portage your boat and gear, usually a fairly short distance.

I’m all about being considerate of others, and following the rules of civility that allow us to get along as happy neighbors. I wait patiently for the young people to finish talking and pack their trunk. The packing is done now, and they’re still conversing. There are three cars behind me now. In the friendliest tone I can muster, I call out “Can you move those cars out of there?”. They acknowledge positively. Perhaps they didn’t realize they were clogging up traffic. A guy from a car behind me walks up to my window. Clearly another follower of the rules of civility he asks “Do you mind if I go around you? I just have to pick up my kayak over there.”, he gestures to the far left. “Oh, of course,” I reply, “Sorry to hold you up.”.

Folks are not in any hurry to clear out, but then again we’re all on vacation, so why should we rush? I continue to wait as the parked-pair youngsters are finally able to actually get in their cars and move them out of the launch driveway. Our space to the right of the dock opens as a kayaker pulls out. As I wait for the parked pair to move, one of the cars behind me pulls around and drives to the water’s edge, backing up next to the shallow spot beside the dock. Just about where I need to put the trailer.

Now I’ve been parked and waiting for what seems like about ten minutes, so I tell myself it’s probably five. I’m a bit annoyed at the person that drove around me, as if I was sitting still because I wanted to or something. Why else would I be waiting in the queue with an empty trailer, pointing at the dock? Seems obvious to me, but it doesn’t take too many letters to get from “obvious” to “oblivious”, which apparently these folks were.

Well, I can’t sit here all day, so as the parked-pair finally move out, I swing the Funbus around to position to back the trailer in. Another considerate person calls out “You need to get in here?”. Rhetorical, maybe, but considerate. He pulls his car away from the dock area, leaving just enough room to fit the trailer in the space. I begin to back the trailer delicately into the narrow opening between the dock and the inconsiderate driver and mate that end-ran me. It may crowd them a bit, but I can put this in there. Like threading a needle, I carefully inched back, considerate even of the inconsiderate, I certainly didn’t want to hit their car with the trailer!

Then, lady from inconsiderate land (the mate in the end-run car) gets out and calls to me in protest “We need to load out of here.”

Without thinking, my minor frustration boils up a bit and I ask her “Do you have a trailer?”, trying to overstate the obvious. Don’t you think I need to load out, too? Didn’t you notice the eighteen-foot long empty trailer behind me? Why do you think I was sitting there waiting for all these other cars? They’re driving a tiny car, so they could have only a canoe or kayak which they need to lift to the roof anyway. Couldn’t they carry it six more feet, and move over, and let me in? I was here first.

With that, lady end-run moves over and stands next to their car, behind my trailer, so I can’t continue to back in next to them.

Herein lies my Armchair Zen lesson for this trip. After all my study, after all my meditation and self-talk, after three peaceful days in one of the quietest places in the state, it took just one incident in the first half-hour of my return to civilization for me to feel frustration, aggravation.  For me to speak out in a somewhat inconsiderate tone.

So there I sit. Perhaps fumes could be seen coming from my ears. Perhaps my wrinkled old face bore a scornful look. I may even have been talking to myself.

Up to my driver’s window saunters Old Guy. I’m kinda old guy myself, of course, but this guy was a little older, and perhaps wiser. Perhaps further on the zen path than me.

“Please don’t block the launch area.” he says, in a sort of mild tone. I begin to respond with the tale of denied water access, and before I can get too worked up, I realize his statement was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I think he said it just loud enough and in the direction of the End-Run couple. Then he launched into a tale of how he’d been coming here for 30 years. Wasn’t this crowded when he started coming here. There were bear poles instead of bear safes (a 12-foot pole with a pulley, up which you would hoist your food at night to keep it from the bears). His friend would travel around the lake to the campsites with coolers of food, delivering to people who wanted to keep food (and bears) in the camp to a minimum. His voice was soft and smooth as he spoke. His reverence for the lake, the campsite, his joy at being here 30 years later, nearly beamed from his face. He kept me engaged and distracted as the End-Run gang ploddingly loaded their little car with belongings. I was waiting for him to reach out and place his hand on my forearm, as friends do, and was forced by circumstance and civility and a little awe-struck wonder to listen to the old man. To respond to his observations. “Really?” “Wow.” “No kiddin’?”

Just as Old Man is offering warm regards and taking his leave, the End-Run gang finishes their packing and adds the final insult. Leaving the car parked at the waterfront, they walk over and pick up a Forked Lake aluminum Grumman canoe, and carry it up to the rack. They didn’t even need to pick up a boat!

For hours afterward, the inconsiderate actions of the End-Run gang kept milling about in my head. Nearly ruined my ride home, one of my favorite parts of the trip. Driving through The Adirondack Park, hauling a boat, feeling and looking like the All-American sportsmen camper. I stopped at the Blue Mountain Lake Store to pick up a souvenir, a token gift for my wife, staying comfortably at home, and willing to tolerate my trips to childlike adventure with the boys in the woods.

The actions of the Old Man became clearer as I rode. He must have been an Armchair Zen master himself, no doubt. Clearly he could see I was frustrated or offended, he could see that animosity was brewing. He knew there was little point in addressing the End-Run gang. Maybe they’re not a lost cause, but certainly they would not accept commentary or criticism with a zen mind. More likely they might be confrontational, defensive. At any rate, they were not in a good place to learn a zen lesson, perhaps.

It’s my hope that Old Forked Lake Man could see. Perhaps he could see the light of my enlightenedness even when I was blind to it. Perhaps he could see that here is a person that may be able to benefit from a little redirection, and a moment to allow enlightened thought to re-enter my brain. Here is someone ready for a zen lesson.

He was right. I learned that I am but a child at the beginning of my zen walk. While I think of myself as far down the path of the way, I’m really still a construct of my life before the path. Before the age of 50 or so, before it occurred to me there was another way to view the cosmos and all that is in it. The lessons are obvious in hindsight.

Anger and judgment have no place on the path. So they were inconsiderate? Isn’t that judgement? So I was made to wait. Is anger the right response?

A place at peace

A place at peace

I will think of the End-Run Gang incident, and of the Old Man of Forked Lake often.

A peaceful place should be filled with peaceful people.

And don’t we ultimately want the whole world, the entire cosmos, to be a peaceful place?

Peace is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak.

Thank you, Old Man.

I will study your lesson well, and hold it close to my heart.


Seek Peace,



Comments on: "Return to “Civilization”" (3)

  1. Getting through the experience with the least amount of injury, I think, is what this kind of encounter teaches us. Allow wounds to heal. I like the photo – also this: ‘Peace is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak.’


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