Exciting things happen at edges.

Whether it’s an edged tool like a knife or axe or at the blending of two habitat edges like a woods and a wetland or at the humble edge of the passage of time we can be sure of a change. Edges were not so evident as Nancy and I steered our Toyota Tundra northwest out of Minnesota, into North Dakota and into Manitoba.  We were in the first day in our migration to the Outpost in Canada’s Yukon.

The richness of the Red River valley is due in large part to the lake sediments left behind after the ancient glacial lake Agassiz drained away. The land is flat and vast. After all this extinct sea-like lake held more water than all the existing lakes of the world. Finally our eyes were treated to a bump in the topography when we approached  the distinct ridge that marks the western shore of the old giant lakes beach line. Beyond that rise there is still a stretch of hundreds of miles of mostly flat and mostly mundane farmland.  Here the horizon seems to spill off uninterrupted into the spaces of west, north, east and south. All appears the same without distinct edges.

It was during the crossing this span of amazing productive land that I internally reflected on my own personal transition. I have been fortunate to lead an intentionally vigorous and healthy life. Through the years I have pushed my own edges while paddling remote whitewater rivers in the far north, winter camped under diamond bright stars while the cold drove the trees into explosive retorts, backpacked up peaks, rode bicycles up and down mountains and have even looked a grizz in the eye. Living big is what I want to do. But suddenly in the past two months, I have bumped up against the edge of mortality. I am fully aware that driving down the freeway is statistically far more dangerous than running whitewater in a canoe or encountering a grizzly bear, but those things haven’t rattled me like the news that I am afflicted with atherosclerosis, commonly called hardening of the arteries.

Forty seconds of laying perfectly still, flat on my back with my arms extended over my head allowed medical personnel at the Minneapolis Heart Institute to scan my heart. It was the ensuing picture that moved me from the edge of comfort to “yikes.” The smoking gun in determining why fat, cholesterol and other substances build up in the walls of my arteries and form hard structures called plaques was not so easy to discern. It is a very rare day when my wife and I buy any red meat. Basically the only meat we eat is venison or wild game I hunt. We eat wild salmon once a week.  And almost all of our vegetables and fruit are organic raised ourselves or bought. We are both very physically inclined. Cycling, paddling and hiking over the warm months and then skiing, spinning on an indoor training cycle or splitting firewood during the cold months.  I don’t smoke and am only a moderate consumer of alcohol. So what gives? Well it turns out that I was born with a body that likes to create a higher than average level of cholesterol. In other words my family history has brought me to the edge of realizing my own mortality.

The fact that my father died of a massive heart attack while in his fifties was the impetus that nudged me to being proactive and getting a heart scan in the first place.  I have never felt healthier and was training hard on my road bike to cycle solo the 150 miles of the Chilkat International Bike Relay http://kcibr.org/. (Note this will not be possible. For the first time in the 20-year history of the relay, registration filled a month and a half early. Guess who did not get in?) In my 60 years I have had only a very few prescriptions, once for painkillers and a few dose of antibiotics.  And other than the handful of stitches received after I was rendered sterile via a vasectomy, I’ve never had a stitch! Suddenly I am one of millions of folks in America on statins and I don’t like it.  But I will take the chance and hope they help reduce my cholesterol levels.

So while I move along the thin line of good health and suspect health, I will reduce my intake of saturated fats. For me that mostly means sacrificing my butter, cheese and ice cream intake. I will work hard to find it within myself to continue climbing peaks, on bike or foot, drinking great gulps of crisp air in the process. After all, the next transition from my mortal life to one beyond will be no different than a remote wild river bend that is both alluring and frightening. But I can’t imagine not taking that peek.

Our log outpost on the Watson River is positioned with a view of an upstream and downstream bend. It is the stuff that dreams are made of and even though I have been swept in a canoe through the dancing waters of both bends, my gaze is daily drawn towards those edges where the river turns unknown.

I suspect every traveler who drives west across the Canadian prairies or the plains in America sits up a bit straighter when they spot the first glimpse of Rocky Mountains on the horizon feels an alertness that is renewed. In a sense it is going from flat lining to a healthy ragged spike of living. It is that alertness that makes me feel most alive and demands that I pay close attention to life. And in the process be continually astonished. With my own diagnosis of arteries hardening, I have found my own personal peak and it too has nudged me towards a renewed mindfulness of this very moment.

Time to turn north, towards the boreal edge and the Yukon where residents and visitors alike are reminded to “live large.” So be it.