Do you have the patience to wait
Till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Till the right action arises by itself?
Tao Te Ching
a joint blog entry by Sue Bland and Debra Brown
Sue : I am not a patient person. Mostly, I do not have the patience to wait until my mud settles and the water is clear. To remain unmoving is very difficult for me. More often than not, I rush ahead with plans and lists and schemes. The wisdom of the twenty seven words above seems written for me.
Last year, when I was searching for venues to hold my art retreats and PLAYshops and my friend Debra was considering opening her farm home in the Eastern Qu’Appelle Valley for retreats, we wondered, slowly, tentatively…is this something we could do together?
This simple question, and the eventual answer to it, has taken us on a journey together , something we both came to see as a ceremony of sorts.
We talked about the question, let it rest, dreamed about it and slept on it. In time, the answer to our question arose, and it was YES. When would we hold it? We thought about May, dilly dallied, rejected May. Somehow, late August felt exactly right to both of us.
Together we came up with the title – Immersed in Nature: An Art Retreat at Valley View Farm.
We prepared, each in our own way.
Debra: I sorted, cleared, reorganized more layers of 75+ years of family habitation. While this challenged me on many levels, I never lost the clear knowing that offering this retreat with Sue was a gift, the right “next step” to explore the long-held dream of offering sacred space for people at the farm.
Sue: I am so moved by the beautiful hills and valleys, grasses, woods and wetlands at Valley View Farm. How could this sacred place change and inform the way I offered a PLAYshop or an art retreat? If I truly listened, what did the natural world have to say about how we might approach our time together? I wanted our art to emerge from the nature were were immersed in. I wanted to offer exercises that might shift, ever so slightly, the way we see, experience and respond to the natural world. I practised close to home – in my beloved Pheasant Creek Coulee. There I sketched and painted, or simply sat and took in the beauty. There, I considered the visual elements of line, shape and colour.
Our enthusiasms and efforts were buoyed by registrations and expressions of interest. As we got closer to the weekend, a few people cancelled. Should we go ahead? Doubts surfaced. What if everybody cancelled? We determined that we would go ahead, no matter what. The ceremony of this joint venture was well underway, and even if it was just the two of us, we would see it through until the end because we very much wanted to.
Happily, we had three participants, each of who brought her own special gifts and interests to our shared weekend. What follows are some “moments” that stood out for each of us.
Sue: Coming downstairs to see guests each with a dark coffee in tow in the sunporch, a book or journal nearby; companionable silence.
Debra: the land being received with such appreciation and delight on our introductory misty-wet walk up the hill, and throughout the weekend
Sue: a silent walk, sharing wonder and delight with others, but not using words
Debra: women moving and creating in their own rhythms, filling the house with waves of peaceful silence and rich conversation
Sue: the smells coming from the kitchen, as Debra created magic… with plates of such aesthetic beauty and such fresh taste, you could die and go to heaven
Debra: the radiance of one participant, after a final pre-departure walk (and drenching) in the hills
Sue: the sound of charcoal on paper as we drew
Debra: the insistent presence of Nature throughout the program. ‘Immersed’ we were [or was that baptized and blessed?] by the rain, the shimmering dew on the grasses and verdant forest
Would we do it again? When the weekend was over, we really weren’t sure. A week later we met and talked about all we had learned, what we would change, what we would celebrate. Then, with the need to follow the insistent thrum in her core, Debra said, “There is something new rising in me”. That insistent rising is the seed of Sweet Darkness: A Mid-Winter Silent Retreat . And so, this ‘ceremony’ continues to ripple through our lives and into the world.
These past few days, I have been moving plants from a thick tangle of grass which was once my perennial garden to a new spot out in the orchard. The thatch of grass has not been a perennial garden for several seasons now…. something I have been loathe to admit. Each spring, I have longed for the perennial garden of old and thought, “maybe this summer, I will find the time.” Finally, this year, I am able accept that I will not bring new life to this old spot, and that the time has come to let it go. As I have been digging and uprooting plants, I have also been remembering…I started this garden just before we had our first daughter. In this garden our daughters created magical homes for the fairies, picked bouquets and played imaginary games on our beloved chokecherry tree. Many of the flowers in this garden come from women dear to me – my late
mother-in-law Wanda, my dear friend Hope, my neighbour Wendy, our Aunty Joy. Through the years, this garden has given us joy, delight and colour. But as we travelled more often to Christie Lake in the summers, the garden got way ahead of me. Its fate was sealed a few springs ago when a mother duck laid 13 beautiful eggs right in the garden’s middle – giving me a great reason not to weed. As I take the roots and stalks of plants to their new spot, near the apple tree and by a willow bench, I think that it is fitting that this is also the year that our youngest daughters will leave home. The garden has lived its life. It has been the garden of our daughter’s childhoods. Freedom from this garden will give me more time to paint, more time to be with the wildflowers in the coulee. Some of the transplanted flowers will survive in their new home, some will disappear. I am curious to see what else will come to life.
A few weekends ago, I took part in “A Weekend with the Wildflowers and Grasses of the Qu’Appelle Valley” at Calling Lakes Centre (PCTC). Calling Lakes Centre is slated to close in August, after 60 years of making a difference in the lives of so many from all across Canada. For some, our weekend with the wildflowers was a way of saying goodbye to a much-loved place, of giving thanks for the wonderful memories. For others, this weekend was a way of saying “hello”. A mother and daughter who were new to Calling Lakes Centre reveled in the freedom of running up and down the hills and to the lake and back again. They said “hello” to this way of being together – just the two of them – without other family members. They said “hello” to their mutual love of wild plants, of fairies and of creating art. Our accompanying Elder, Dot, wrote “I recognize that for others it was kind a a good-bye time. For me, having not spent so much time there, it was more of a hello time. Hello to the flowers, some of them new to me, a Manitoba girl. Hello to a time of wandering up and down the hills, enjoying the view of the valley.” I love that the goodbyes and hellos, the new and the old, the memories and the possibilities are so intermingled.
As Calling Lakes Centre is winding down, new life is emerging in surprising ways. Close by, in Fort Qu’Appelle a dedicated band of volunteers and visionaries have invested much time in renovating Central School, built in 1911. Together, they are creating the Qu’Appelle Valley Centre of the Arts. This fledgling centre has already nurtured musicians, artists, poets and yoga practitioners with more to come.
Calling Lakes Centre nurtured many people during its 60 year life. Those of us who have been privileged to work there were inspired to explore learning which uses all the senses, which allowed people time with their own creative spirits in a peaceful place away from it all. You could say our own roots were strengthened at Calling Lakes Centre. I notice how many alumni staff continue to offer opportunities to learn – by offering retreats, readings, opportunities to explore art and poetry, PLAYshops. Seeds of ideas that may have emerged first while at Calling Lakes Centre, ideas that will germinate and flourish in other places. One program staffer, Jenni Krall along with her husband Jason, have started the Wild Spirit Prairie Sanctuary on their beloved land, where they hope to celebrate spirit in this beautiful wild place in a simple way and off the grid.
The closing of Calling Lakes Centre has had me looking for new venues to continue to offer PLAYshops. I have always returned from visits to my friend Debra’s farm in the eastern Qu’Appelle Valley feeling renewed and refreshed. Could Debra and I work together to offer a PLAYshop? After dreaming, and discernment and discussion, we decided we could. The particularities of place at Valley View Farm encouraged me to take a new look at PLAYshops, and so in August we are offering “Immersed in Nature: An Art Retreat at Valley View Farm” in the spirit of a “trial balloon”. Coincidentally, Debra worked at Calling Lakes Centre for many years.
Goodbye. Hello. Some parts of what we have loved survive. Some parts do not. The new emerges in the midst of the old. The new is inspired by the old. The spirit of the garden, the spirit we found on the hills during the wildflower weekend, the spirit of a group engrossed in creating something beautiful together lives on and takes fresh and surprising forms.