Porte de l'Enfer

I’ve just returned from camping a little north of Algonquin Park! I especially love this region of Ontario—it feels like I’m remembering a part of myself when I’m there—and both the kids and I really enjoyed our time together.

The highlight of the trip for me was canoeing down the Mattawa River by myself in silence and space. It was really good for my soul. Throughout the day the water changed from shallow greens, to waterfalls of cascading white, to depths of pitch black, to yellow sand—all of which I thoroughly enjoyed as I flowed with the river.

Along my route, I revisited the Porte de l’Enfer (Hell’s Gate). This is actually the first place I ever visited in an attempt to create pigment colour from the earth. Although this was a calmer season than that initial visit, and I was more experienced, my stop there was even more powerful.

Ancient sacred places like this cave speak in very different ways—ways that I don’t think I’m well attuned to. At first I sat at the mouth of the cave and tried to picture the people over many millennia that had come and taken a little red earth for pigment. It was fun to imagine. But—and it’s funny to write this—there’s something … else … in that place too; not something malevolent, but not tame either. Something still sacred, but wild as well.

It was only as I began paddling away that I became aware that a kind of pressure had been slowly building the longer I stayed. The sensation followed me for some time afterward—and I even found myself looking back every so often. As I distanced the cave, the water slowly grew greener and my trip was sunny, on calm water, with a breeze on my back all the way back to the campsite.

But, before I left the Porte de l’Enfer, I did pick up a couple of rocks from outside the mouth of the cave, which I think might make some interesting colours. In doing so, I had the recurring thought that I should have brought something to leave in exchange, but I was unprepared for this thought on this trip. I felt this reaction deeply and it has given me a lot to think about in how I intend to approach the places from which I take bits of colour. Instead of just coming to take I would like to trade with the earth—but what can I bring?

Now that I’m back home, I have a lot to unpack from our trip … Local-colours (and perhaps a few more thoughts) to follow …

Leave a comment