*”Poached Egg Woman is Nesting” Photo by Cherie Westmoreland
I am an introvert (albeit a noisy one sometimes), so after my art show, I arranged to retreat, to curl up in my nest , breathe deeply, move into a quiet space and just be. Glenn Zimmer of the Qu’Appelle House of Prayer (one of my favourite places to retreat) likes to call this “useless sitting”.
This retreat however, I am headed to the farm my friend Debra shares with her brother. I first visited Debra’s farm two years ago, during the memorable spring of 2011, when much of Saskatchewan overflowed and gushed with water everywhere. Debra’s farm, situated in the Qu’Appelle Valley, has natural springs coursing down the hill through woods of burr oak and other deciduous trees. I remember how amazing it felt on that first visit to stand on her back step – the back step of an almost 100 year old prairie farm home and hear gushing, gurgling water!! I could not get over it. Prairie farm, abundant water. Flowing water, prairie farm. I don’t usually put those two things together.
This year, I can still hear the gurgle of the spring flowing by her back door, but it is not as loud. Arriving here two years ago, I felt as if I had somehow come home. Something inside of me lets down a bit, I sigh, and my body begins to relax. This is sacred ground.
I am here as a guinea pig of sorts. Debra is considering opening her home to people like me, people looking for a place of quiet and stillness. Previously I have visited as a friend. I am still here as a friend, of course, but we have had to change the rules somewhat. As I hope to enjoy what is mostly a silent retreat, we agree on when we will be silent, and when we might visit. We agree that Debra will prepare meals and clean up after. We agree on what I might pay her.
The first morning, I rise early and head out for a walk down the road. Or so I think!! The beautiful Qu’Appelle River beckons and the field looks dry enough, so instead I follow its contours singing a song of thankfulness at the top of my lungs! I am carrying my cell phone (my timepiece- I do not wear a watch) and I receive a text from Angela Bishop. One word – LOVE! I am feeling it, girl. The river is moving quickly, slowed down by bushes here and there. Splash… a cow moose sees me and in her gangly way disappears further into the bush. I head up the hill. All around the trees are bursting forth with their fresh tender new green. Even so, here on the north side of the Valley there is still a huge snow bank. I can’t help it. I slip off my runners and run across feeling the tingly snow in between my toes! I sit and let my feet dry in the morning sun. I begin to cross the hills when I see a large healthy coyote busy with something in the hollow beneath me. Something tells me to change course, and I do, but not until I have had a good look at her. She sees me, seems unconcerned. Further down the road, I bend down and pick up a clod of wet prairie clay thinking about the story of Creation I heard a few weeks ago. In this version, it is the humble muskrat who dives deeply enough to get the mud to put in turtle’s back to create Turtle Island. In another version, it is Otter. The mud feels wonderful and I spread it all over my hands remembering the springs when our eldest daughters would take off all their clothes and enjoy a mud bath. The mud eventually dries. Down the road a grader is coming. I do not want him to think I am a crazy person, so I stoop down at a puddle to wash my hands off.
I am also at Debra’s to do a little writing. I set up in her beautiful sun porch, a room full of windows, of light, of pale yellow and crisp white. The windows look out onto her front lawn, with trees and labyrinth, across the road to the fields, to the curve of the slate blue Qu’Appelle, the hills beyond. On the west side of the porch, there is a swinging couch. I grew up with a swinging couch on a screen porch located 2000 miles to the East. I have swinging couches deep in my DNA, I think. If you prop the pillows just so on Debra’s swinging couch, you can see the beautiful view – that is until your heavy eyelids shut and are transported off to some dreamland. I call it the “Healing Couch”. I can be sitting at the table when I feel almost magnetically propelled to the “healing couch.” Once there, I sink into a deep sleep sometimes for 5 minutes, sometimes for an hour or two.
I wake to Debra bringing in lunch. Occasionally I feel like I should do dishes or something but this is our arrangement. It feels wonderful to receive. The gifts are many.
Wraps are tied with chive stalks and filled with curried egg salad.The food at Debra’s is organic, freshly made, and presented with the love and care for detail that infuses everything she does. The picture here is of a dessert so beautiful it made me cry. Greek yogurt (the only kind, really), with zest of lime, topped by sliced mango and johnny jump ups. It tasted even better than it looks! Eating in silence means I take my time and taste every morsel. Food for the soul.
While here, I am writing a reflection for a service at the annual meeting of the United Church in Saskatchewan. The subject is the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. I appreciate the opportunity to focus on this one thing, to be freed for a while from the many distractions of daily life with my family. I appreciate that the writing unfolds naturally… I write for a bit, then I do something else. During my walks, thoughts about “right relations” unwind like long skeins of wool. Sitting in the sunporch by my laptop, I write and then gaze out the window watching the birds flit from tree to tree. I write some more. Time for a nap. I head out to the hammock, where I hear the tinkle of the spring, hear the breath of wind in the oaks and have an unfocussed view (glasses off) of the green world around. After supper, we take a silent hike up through the oaks to the flat land above and circle the large slough which is home to many birds and ducks. We watch the sun go down, the moon rise, the white tail of many a doe disappear into the woods.
Our last meal is a surprise – a “blessing meal” Debra calls it. We eat in silence. A blessing meal indeed – bison stew with wild rice and onions, “the three sisters” – squash, beans and corn, fresh bannock and for dessert, three kinds of berries.
Over a fire my last evening we talk. We talk about money. Debra is trying to fix a rate for people who may sometime come here on a retreat. It is difficult to figure out, and yet this income will be a part of Debra’s livelihood, her ability to stay here. How to place a monetary value on what Debra offers here? How to even put it into words? This beautiful place – river, hills, valley, fields, woods, springs, wetlands, sky – and all the creatures who inhabit it. The deep love Debra has for her birth home, the many actions, both big and small, she takes each day to show this love and care. The immense courage of her living here, of her living her dream. A different view to catch the heart out of each window. The small arrangements of beauty found around the house. The healing couch. The delicious meals prepared with love, care and great artistry. All of this, everything here, nourishes the soul. To be cared for in this way is a rare and precious experience. I am deeply grateful. The gift that Debra is offering, it seems to me, is GOOD MEDICINE.