Wooded Lake Island. Photo credit: Juan Davila on Unsplash


Soul of the Wilderness

December 2022 | Volume 28, Number 3

by John Shultis

The International Journal of Wilderness (IJW) invites contributions pertinent to wilderness worldwide, including inspirational articles and creative expression. This contribution of poetry represents the enduring power and spirit of wilderness.

Figure 1 – Photo by Andrew Ridley on Unsplash.


Author’s Introduction

I was 14 or 15 years old. My parents drove many hours to get me to the isolated camp, with the help of a float plane near the end. I liked playing outside, so I assume they thought a four-week canoe trip in the Temagami area of northern Ontario, Canada seemed like a good idea. It aslo had the added benefit, no doubt, of getting an angst-filled young teen out of the house. After a few days at camp getting ready for the trip, off went about fifteen newly introduced boys with little or no previous experience. No cellphones, seeing less than a handful of other people until we returned over three weeks later. Just a few maps and two camp counsellors to guide us.

After a few days of getting into sync with this very new environment, I was hooked. The beauty of the Canadian Shield was stunning; and there were more lakes and rivers – not to mention mosquitos, portages, mud, and beaver dams! – than I ever thought possible. It was spellbinding. Wake up, breakfast, break camp, paddle/portage for about 4 hours, lunch, paddle/portage another 4 hours, find a place to set up camp, dinner, talk around the campfire, sleep under the stars, weather permitting, and repeat/repeat/repeat…. How could you do the same thing every day and still be challenged and fulfilled? The tiny but exquisite joy of hearing the loons’ call and response, of discovering the ‘perfect’ camp and the tired contentedness of finishing that hard to find, extra long and muddy portage with a canoe above your head and a heavy, uncomfortable pack on your back.

This canoe trip was my first and most powerful wilderness experience: I only later realized that in many ways I was my best self in the wilds, and the ascetic simplicity of this way of life made me feel whole in ways I had never imagined.


Figure 2 – Photo by Andrew Montgomery on Unsplash.




We started as strangers, young and so naïve; we had no skills, just learned on the way

Pushed off from camp, by Temagami; the adventure began, in the wilds

As the days went by, time was different; our muscles flexed, our minds reacting

To a new way of being, escaping society; becoming more in tune with timeless days


Gut Sucker Lake, Lady Evelyn, Wanapitei and Red Squirrel

Abitibi, Anima Nipissing, Moose and Montreal River


On Native lands, paddling in unison; we passed Echo Lake, screaming like madmen

Voices bouncing off, a wonderous sound; the sky was perfect, endless blue horizon

We beached ourselves at the foot of the mountain; found a trail to take us up to the top

Spent the day on land, a change of vision; at the top we saw, a bigger world


Gut Sucker Lake, Lady Evelyn, Wanapitei and Red Squirrel

Abitibi, Anima Nipissing, Moose and Montreal River


Endless forests and water everywhere; a matrix of our own, with no boundaries

It had become my home, merging into wilderness; I felt a jolt when I sensed the great oneness

A spring we found, high on Maple Mountain; so clear and cold, I can still taste it

How was it so high, what was the hydrology; it was a mystery, maybe genius loci


Gut Sucker Lake, Lady Evelyn, Wanapitei and Red Squirrel

Abitibi, Anima Nipissing, Moose and Montreal River


The stillness of the Shield, granite beauty everywhere; no communication with the outside world

Complete immersion, each river was everything; I felt a peace deep down in my spirit

But all things end, back to the beginning; returning to the world was quite a shock

Oh to return, to feeling in harmony; to feel our youth in such a time and place

Oh to return, paddling in unison; to feel the connection to such a place


Gut Sucker Lake, Lady Evelyn, Wanapitei and Red Squirrel

Abitibi, Anima Nipissing, Moose and Montreal River


Figure 3 – Photo by Brydon McCluskey on Unsplash.


The ‘song’ version of the poem, Temagami, can be found at  (https://soundcloud.com/user-64088723/temagami?si=2098879157a34c92a54aaf4fe91b5239&utm_source=clipboard&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=social_sharing).


About the Authors

JOHN SHULTIS is a retired, adjunct professor at the University of Northern British Columbia in Canada and served as Book Review Editor for the IJW for many years. He now has more time for visiting wilderness rather than writing about it!

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December 2022

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