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Reflection at dawn: After journey of a lifetime, goal to be lost in silence of North Woods

(This is the second part of Deacon Plaiss’ reflection. For part one, see the Oct. 7 edition of the Northwest Indiana Catholic.)


      I am not a misanthrope. My family is very important to me. Dinner with friends is precious. However, I am a man of boundaries. When I want to pray, write, read and think, the only person I want with me is my wife of 41 years.

      I am well aware that the great North Woods are no Eden. Winters are long, dark, cold and full of snow. It’s not that I relish winter; it’s that I tolerate it better than heat and humidity. Noise up there can be problem, though usually not. It’s called snowmobiling.

      Summer, too, brings its own scourge: flies the size of a Buick and mosquitoes with the zeal of the plague. It may not be Eden, but it’s my kind of place. When most people talk retirement, words like Florida, Arizona and Tennessee pop up. I smile and respond with places, such as the Upper Peninsula, Land O’ Lakes, Ellison Bay and the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The befuddled looks are priceless.

      I hear a screeching noise behind me. I turn from Lake Wooster and I see a yellow school bus grinding to a stop. A few kids - giggling, coats unzipped, hats askew, lugging backpacks - scamper aboard the bus. The bus resumes its route and disappears from sight. The exhaust fumes dissipate.

      The silence resumes.

      Though I have come to Wooster Lake many times over the years, Wooster Lake is not my destination. It is merely a stopping point on a journey. My journey has led me north: from my hometown along the Ohio River in New Albany, Indiana, to Bloomington, Indiana for college, to a library along the southern shore of Lake Michigan in La Porte County, and now to teach teenagers about Jesus the Christ and his Church in the northwestern suburbs of the Hog Butcher for the World (Illinois).

      The end of the line will be the great North Woods. On this final leg of the journey, I want to carry along Thomas Merton and Norbert Blei, prophets both. But I don’t just want to carry them along; I want to read their words in the habitat in which they wrote those words. For if the words of Merton and his hermitage, and Blei and his Door, have touched my soul so deeply as I sit 45 miles from Chicago, how much more deeply will I be pierced by their words if I am actually in their habitat?

      Never underestimate the importance of place.

      But as important as Merton and Blei are to me, I must mention, too, Mystery of the HauntedMineby Gordon D. Shirreffs. I bought the book for 45 cents through Scholastic Book Service when I was at Mt. Tabor elementary school back in in the 1960s. I still have it; a paperback yellowed and crinkled with age and smelling of a used book store.

      I have read it from beginning to end more times than any other book, except The Adventuresof Huckleberry Finn. The last phrase from the last sentence of Shirreffs’ book reads, “…and a person without a dream is dead.”

      Hence, my plan to be lost in the great North Woods.

      A fish just jumped. 


     Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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