Life for a teenager is hard to say the least. It is even more difficult if you are growing up in a remote northern Native community. I remember feeling the stress and anxieties of that period between being a child and not exactly being an adult. I had energy to burn and there were very few outlets that I could take part in. Added to this, there was a constant series of chaos, confusion and frustrations that were mixed with moments of tragedy and anxiety. As much as I enjoyed being part of a large family of friends, siblings and extended relatives, there were moments when I just wanted to get away from everyone and everything.
I recall periods when I felt overwhelmed during the post-holiday stress, when everyone including myself came down from the high of the Christmas season. These were times when I would take early morning walks by myself to walk alone on the snowmobile trails leading to the lake north of town. An early morning walk was always done in the dark as the community was just beginning to stir. It felt refreshing to step out into the deep freeze of mid-winter and to be bundled underneath layers of clothing to keep me warm on my trek.
Some mornings I would head out to the riverside and stand over the high bank and stare out into the dark. Perched on that bank on those mornings I felt like I was standing on the edge of an endless black gulf that just continued on into infinity. Somehow it felt good to be out there alone in the dark while most of the community slept quietly. It was a relief to know that there were actually quiet moments in tranquil places that I could take the opportunity to enjoy on the outskirts of my little isolated and remote First Nation in the wilderness.
During my teenage years I always seemed to be surrounded by some kind of turmoil and I constantly had to react to a barrage of intense situations that just kept coming at me. Choosing to escape for a few minutes alone out on the land provided a refuge for me during these times. Whenever I ventured out of town by foot, I always chose a time during the day when I knew no one else would be around. Often I found myself seeking the refuge of the wilderness in the winter when we all spent months crammed into a small house in the middle of the community. In those days there was a lot of drinking and drugging so that made things difficult.
Whenever I ventured out, I always started my walk with a head full of thoughts and worries. As soon as I left the lights of town and stepped into the dark world of the wilderness I felt a change come over me. I recall my winter walks vividly. Any worries I had left me as soon as I sensed the cold creeping through my layers of clothing. Any anxious thoughts faded away because of the fear I felt in being alone at minus 30 below zero.
In the blue light of early morning, a survival instinct took over and I felt invigorated. I understood that life out here was difficult and hard and that if I spent too long by myself, it would be dangerous. Somehow, those thoughts pushed aside any worries I had. Out on the land in the dead of winter, any small anxieties or thoughts of worry dissipated into the vastness of the early morning darkness. Here I achieved a form of meditation wrapped up in the focus of one thought… staying warm.
On those walks, I imagined what it must have been like for my ancestors who trudged out into the dark to hunt and gather to feed their families. I had heard plenty of stories of hardship from my parents and Elders about grandparents and great-grandparents who had to march through snowstorms and freezing temperatures to lay their traps or move their families from one hunting ground to the next. It was not an easy life and there were times when many fell into difficult circumstances and did not survive in the unforgiving cold.
Simply the thought of that kind of life made my problems, worries and issues seem small. Nothing I was experiencing at the time was really a matter of life and death. My reflections out there on the lonely trail, under the shimmering stars with just a hint of the glow of a rising sun on the horizon reminded me that I did in fact have a good life and that things would get better.
At this time of the year I still have those old feelings of sadness, something inside me still pulls me down in the middle of winter. I worry about friends and family who are sick or having a hard time. I wonder if the future will be bright for all of us with so many nasty people running the world. I am concerned about the spread of militarization as the economy dips further into what seems like a tailspin. It seems a little harder this year to look into the future with hope. I have learned all my life to move along on my way with a great attention to signs. The signs I am reading these days are not all that positive.
So I am planning to head out on a trail somewhere at night or in the very early morning. I will feel the bite of the frosty air, take the fresh oxygen into my lungs, fill my eyes with the wonder of what I cannot see and cast my worries aside. The sun will rise again.