Before I answer that, allow me to begin with a PLACE. This is the root of all the questions.
As I write this I am at a place I only recently discovered. Let’s call it, “The Island the Lake Made.”
I’m not going to tell you where it is or how to get here. I want this place to stay exactly as it is right now; empty of everyone else.
I have come here by canoe, the only way to get here. It slides smoothly onto the yellow sand of the most perfect beach. The shore is scattered with purple and white shells and pieces of quartz. All around the lake stretches green and wide.
The shoreline in the distance is ringed with a row of low, green mountains. One distinctive ridge line rises above them, teetering on the edge of blue. The sky stretches above me, and the sun shimmers on the surface of the emerald water.
The moment I arrive the soul of this place calls out to me, thrums deeply just below the edge of hearing.
This island feels ancient, full of many moments long before this one.
I do not know how long this island has been here, or if it was an island at all when this was a river and no one dreamed of a lake like this in the mountains.
But the land itself sings. Since discovering it just over a week ago I have already been back twice. I have been drawn again and again to the power and the beauty that hangs in the very air here.
The first time I came I was uncharacteristically without a notebook. My mind filled with words reaching for the beauty and the remarkable spirit of this place. Without a pen and paper the words burned and died and I left them laying here on the sand.
I am back today and pick them up again, putting them onto this page.
Behind me is a forest in miniature. The leaves and needles of the trees dance and rustle in the wind. From their branches come the calls of countless birds.
Some of the leaves have already begun to change, and summer fades and falters as scarlet blooms amongst the shades of green and brown.
For some reason all of the larger trees have fallen and lay defeated, their roots exposed and their bodies creating a maze of the island.
One has snapped in half and lays propped on the ground, still alive. Leaves grow along its descent to the ground, gathered closely to the trunk, new life bursting forth where death once seemed so certain.
Each part of the island is different, unique. It was the beach that brought me here, but every inch holds some new wonder.
A clay point sticks out into the lake at an angle and waves froth and churn against it. It is orange and smeared red with ochre like the paintings on a cave wall. The water carves at the wet clay and makes tiny caverns in the side of the island.
I am sure this place holds secrets it will never tell. I can hear them in the wind; feel them beneath me as I float in the gentle waves that lap against the shore.
I am in love with this place as it is right now. I am swallowed up in it, filled with joy to be me, here, in this place at this exact moment in time.
On a quiet day there is no one else in sight, and this island feels like it could be this place at any age.
For whole stretches of time I feel this way. Then I notice a rusted can lying in the shade of the forest. A jagged piece of broken glass nestled into the sand of an otherwise perfect beach.
I might feel alone in the world on this island, but the people who came before me have left more than words laying in the sand.
That’s true anywhere these days I suppose. Go to any remote corner of the Earth. Human’s trash is bound to be scattered across it, marring the perfection that Nature has spent millions of years crafting there.
This brings me back to my question. “What can you pick up today that will last for 500 years?”
The answer is simple. I have brought along trash bags, and will be collecting every bit of trash that I find here. I will load it all into my canoe and take it away from here, leaving this island a little closer to itself than when I found it.
I encourage you to do the same. The litter you pick up today might otherwise lay there for another 500 years.
Go out into the world and find those places that speak to you. Leave them a little cleaner than when you found them.
Don’t forget to follow me in LOCUS: A journey in search of PLACE.