It’s evening, and I’ve come to a lovely little rock island, clad in spruce and cedar. Someone’s used it as a campsite before, but not for a long time. The moss and lichens are untrampled, the tent site sprouted with bunchberry and sarsparilla.

Next to a band of rose quartz running through the bedrock are the stones of an old fire ring – mostly schist, with layered mica burnished gold by the heat of a long-ago campfire. And over to one side, under a hanging spruce bough, lies a small stack of split wood, a scrap of birch bark still tucked under one corner …

After setting up the tent, I go down to the shore. The water ripples darkly. I scoop a kettleful and stop to listen. The lake laps gently at my feet. From a far shore etched with silhouettes of pines comes the deep, rhythmic challenge of a barred owl. In the northwest the last glow of day is fading, and the evening star has begun to shine. Two loons are throwing songs at it. The lake is wine. The evening is overfull with beauty.

I take the kettle of water back to the fire ring, and move the stones around to account for a slight breeze out of the north. The last time it must have been from the west. I’m careful to keep the stones off the band of quartz, just as they were.

I wonder about the traveler who last camped here. What he heard and saw. And felt. I think back on the many journeys I’ve made with others, the many campfires I’ve shared, and how often I’ve sensed the strange truth that, even together, we each travel alone.

But as I take one of the old sticks of kindling and slice off a pile of curled shavings for tinder, as I take the scrap of birch bark and strike a match to it, and the incense of cedar fills the night air, I know … even alone, we travel together.

Douglas Wood, Paddle Whispers