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Stranded

We are traveling from our large and rambling farm home in Saskatchewan to stay in a tiny studio apartment in Saint John, New Brunswick for a few months. Just getting out the door to leave on a trip is incredibly difficult for me. Even with lots of practice, I don’t seem to get better at readying myself to leave home. I imagine all the things that could go wrong!!

Once in the car, and on my way, everything changes. I am glad to be on the road. Worries fly out the back window as home recedes in the distance.

It’s a perilous traveling season – late March and early April. We can expect any kind of weather. And we get just about every kind of weather, starting with a blizzard blowing into Northwestern Ontario. Roads will likely be closed, even for a few days. A few hours later, we  found ourselves stranded in Dryden, Ontario.

With a warm motel room to nest in,  I  instantly I remembered how much I have enjoyed being stranded in the past. A few days to allow our spirits catch up to our bodies!

We can curl up under the sheets and dive into a novel, vaguely aware of  the steady rhythm of semi trucks passing by through the blowing snow on the #1. Until even the semis stop because the highway is now officially CLOSED. We are in limbo, safe in a cocoon of sorts. Limbo is a delicious place to be.

Shane tucked in at the inviting and warm Dryden Public Library

When we tire of cocooning, we can walk anywhere in Dryden, as long as we can get through the thick drifts of snow. Off to the library – a  welcoming  and light-filled space where we  spend a few hours and get a feel for this community. We explore Main Street, cross a bridge which goes over the many rail lines that run through Dryden, and cross the Sky Walk which goes over and rail and the Trans Canada Highway. We cross another bridge over the Wabigoon River which powers the towering pulp and paper mills. The river, the rail line, the Trans Canada – the arteries that connect this small city to the outside world. Shane and I like to search out the restaurant frequented by locals that is not a chain. We find the Patricia Inn Family Restaurant, clearly the spot to gather, and the food is savoury. We eavesdrop shamelessly.

The Dryden skywalk crossing the #1 highway and the rail lines

 

Art in the Dryden Skywalk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art covering a now vacant building front

Next day, Shane goes off to check out the museum. I set off to find a community created mosaic, aptly called “Pieces of Dryden”. Tucked into a forest above the river, the mosaic is made up of thousands of pieces of dishes, ceramics, mirrors. wall and floor tiles and other fragments of glass donated by citizens of Dryden. Lead artist Willene Moffatt writes, ” The natural beauty of Dryden’s Northwestern Ontario surrounding area is expressed in the flowing and continuous lines that move around the entire structure. The basic elements of nature, earth, air, fire and water are represented in the total design.” The four surrounding benches are situated precisely in the four directions – North, South, East and West. A team of 15 artists and volunteers spent many hours creating the sculpture using 18,000 pieces.” I have passed this very place dozens of times driving from East to West but drove right on by – eyes on the next town, city, camp site. Now I know it is there.

“Pieces of Dryden” – community art 2010

Close ups of “Pieces of Dryden”

 

 

 

 

 

 

This respite has had the feel of a “snow day” – stolen time. The unexpected gift of not having things go according to plan slows us down. We have no choice – Mother Nature calls the shots. Every time! Besides, Northern Ontario, like the rest of us, has not had much snow. As we travel East, people celebrate the first real blizzard of the season and the much needed moisture it brings.

 

Dear Fort Times

Post by Sue Bland, Kate Hersberger, Marsha Cannon, Jill Whiting and Vera Saltzman

On June 27, 2022 the Fort Qu’Appelle  Times chose to publish an op-ed by Brian Geisbrecht called  “We have nothing to be ashamed of on Canada Day.” There has been a strong reaction to this op-ed  in the community surrounding the Fort, and numerous people sent letters to the publisher or the editor to protest their decision to publish this piece. Because some of us do not subscribe to or buy the Fort Times, here are a few of the letters that were written to the paper. If you have written a  letter and would like it to be included here, please be in touch with Sue Bland. You can read the op-ed here.  And because words have their limitations, Kate and Marsha have also shared some art. Kate’s is at the end, and Marsha’s is throughout. Vera’s photographs are throughout the post.

Letter #5 by Vera Saltzman

Re: Op-Ed by Brian Geisbrecht entitled “We have nothing to be ashamed of on Canada Day”

 
Dear Fort Qu’Appelle Times,
The question of whether or not to, or how to, celebrate Canada Day is one many of us are grappling with as we learn and unlearn our country’s history. The article you printed was not helpful, but instead hurtful to so many in the community you serve, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. It saddens me to hear stories of the negative impact this has had on reconciliation efforts where I live. So many are working quietly to build relationships and trust, but your decision, your loud clear voice, has turned back progress.
I want to live in a community and country I’m proud of. I’m not proud of our history.  I can’t change it. But I can learn about it, acknowledge the hurt caused and work to right the wrongs that are happening today – so I write this letter to add my voice to all the others who are so disappointed and angered by your actions. Printing this article was wrong.
Vera Saltzman

“Walking Together and Honouring our Children”, 2nd Annual Walkathon . July 1, 2022. Photo by Vera Saltzman.

Letter # 4 by Jill Whiting

Dear Fort Qu’Appelle Times,

I have decided to join the many who were disgusted by the article in last week’s paper!! Publishing this makes me question whether I will continue supporting your paper! You know this article will only communicate that our community is racist even though you have grabbed it from somewhere else [the author is from Winnipeg]!! You have a responsibility to communicate truths…where is the truth here? Yap, it’s an opinion piece but I think maybe you should read these before creating chaos and allowing this person to spread untruths!!

Hope with the many upset responses you will send out an apology to us all!

Shame!

Jill Whiting

Art by Marsha Schuld Cannon

Letters #3 by Marsha Cannon

To the Editor:

Regarding the opinion piece: “We have nothing to be ashamed of on Canada Day”

I feel compelled to reach out and express my utter dismay and disgust that the Fort Times editorial staff allowed this garbage to be printed. Particularly in a town made up of a large percentage of Indigenous peoples.  Is this the opinion of the editorial staff? If so, I suggest you spend some time and energy speaking with the people in your community that have suffered for generations under unequal, unkind and racist policies.  This is not journalism or dialogue, this is hatred and dismissal by an individual who clearly does not care to learn.  I am appalled that you allowed this to be printed and that as Editor, you did not at the very least speak out against it or add a line that this is not the opinion of the Publisher.  These omissions become tacit agreement of these statements. Failure to call out prejudice is to add to it.

Shame on you.

Marsha Cannon

 

To the Publisher:

Regarding: opinion piece titled “We have no reason to be ashamed on Canada Day”

I am utterly disgusted and appalled to see such an opinion piece published in Saskatchewan – particularly in a town with a large population of Indigenous Peoples.  In 2022 there is no room for such blatant racist misinformation.  It is particularly egregious that the editor and publisher chose not to distance themselves from this by at least stating this is not the opinion of the publisher.  By not calling out the obvious bias and misinformation in this horrid piece, you become complicit in generations of uncalled for and unkind racism. I am not an Indigenous person and am horrified by reading this piece.  I can only imagine the effect on individuals who have be subject to such abuses and lies for generations.

I strongly urge you to apologize to the people of Ft. Qu’appelle and perhaps to reassure them that you will be more vigilant in the future when presented with such filth and drivel.

Shame on you.

Marsha Cannon

Art by Marsha Schuld Cannon

Letter #2 from Kate Hersberger

Hello,

Your Fort Times publication included this article: “We have nothing to be ashamed of on Canada Day.” by Brian Geisbrecht. This should never have been accepted  or published. It is shamefully inaccurate, hateful and racist. An apology and a committment to no racist content as well as fact checking is in order here.

Saddened and disgusted,

Kate Hersberger

Scroll to end to view art and poem by Kate entitled “Orange Shirt Day.”

Chief Michael Starr and walkers at “Walking Together, Honouring our Children”, July1, 2022. Photo by Vera Saltzman.

 Letter #1  by Sue Bland

Re: Op-Ed by Brian Geisbrecht entitled “We have nothing to be ashamed of on Canada Day”

An opinion backed by incorrect information can do great harm. This op-ed perpetuates misinformation and untruths which are hurtful to many people in our community – Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike.

First, I want to address some of the inaccuracies. To begin, it’s important to note that the National Death Register has a lowball figure of 4,118 children who died while at residential school. This is a low estimate because only 20% of the pertinent records had been released by 2021.

Mr. Geisbrecht writes, “… the hysteria about the 215 graves is ill-founded because not a single body has been unearthed. Those graves turned out to be soil disturbances and nothing more.”

Geisbrecht’s statement that “no bodies have been unearthed” is misleading since he omits some facts. It is important to understand that ground penetrating radar can only detect anomalies. Until excavations or exhumations can take place, no bodies will be discovered or “unearthed.”

He also omits saying that in the majority of Residential School sites the excavation work has either not begun or has not been completed. Three of the five he references (Kamloops, Kuper Island, and Brantford) are still involved in ground penetrating radar searches and have not made decisions about whether to excavate or not. This is also the case for many searches taking place on Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 soil in Saskatchewan. The author is correct that no bodies were found after excavations were done at the Charles Camsell Hospital and Shubenacadie sites.

Once the ground penetrating searches are complete, each First Nation concerned must make the incredibly difficult decision about whether to exhume the graves or not, so that a forensic investigation can take place. Imagine having to make such a decision.

Mr. Geisbrecht characterizes the response to last year’s news of 215 potential graves as “unfounded hysteria”. This is deeply disrespectful not only to elders who are residential school survivors, but also their families and loved ones. In the responses of my friends in their 60s, 70s and 80s, I observe very heavy hearts filled with a grief they will never “get over ”, a reminder of their own stolen childhoods, and of those children who never returned home. Survivors and their families deserve our utmost respect, our heartfelt compassion, and our acknowledgement of their lived experience during this emotional time.

In choosing to publish this op-ed, the Fort Times continues to privilege the view of the colonizer. A summary of the rest of Mr. Geisbrecht piece could read like this: Therefore, story over. Most of it was made up. Canada is not genocidal. Sure, we have warts, but who doesn’t? The author does concede that “widespread prejudice and discrimination – particularly against Indigenous people – was indeed part of our history” but then, unbelievably, writes, “But, that has passed.” Really? He wants us to turn the channel when our work of reconciliation has just begun.

I believe in the saying, “Truth before reconciliation.” For too long, non-Indigenous people have shaped the narrative of Canada’s history.  In recent years, through the survivor’s stories at the TRC and many other ways, the truth is finally beginning to emerge.

The children who attended residential schools, those who survived and those who did not, had no voice. It is essential that Canadians listen to these voices now. For me, listening to the first hand accounts of residential school survivors has been life changing.  As a non-Indigenous Canadian, I have a great deal more listening to do. I must continue to unlearn some of what I was taught. Learning the truth is not just a matter of the mind, it is also a matter of learning this in my heart. This is hard yet necessary work.

While the Times publisher notes that “opinions do not reflect those of the publication itself”, he is also quoted as saying, “It was an opinion of someone who we felt readers were entitled to see.” In addition, “Grasslands News said it hoped the article would spark conversation around reconciliation.” (CTV News, July 5, 2022)

How can you create positive conversation around reconciliation by publishing a one-sided view, backed by erroneous statements, written in an inflammatory way, by a person who knows nothing about our community?

The Fort Times chose to do harm within their community.  As a community newspaper, serving Fort Qu’Appelle and surrounding areas, they could have worked to build trust and shown empathy by sharing truthful stories. In Treaty 4 Territory there are many incredible Indigenous people with expertise, lived experience, wisdom and teachings that would benefit us all.

One Indigenous commentator asked, “Is this how all the non-Indigenous people in the Fort area think?” There is no denying that some do, but I am willing to bet that many of us stand with and beside Indigenous friends and neighbours. Many are grateful to live in Canada, feel pride in our country in some ways AND continue to reflect and learn the very difficult truths about our past and present record. Others are not willing to celebrate Canada Day at all. It’s complex.

In the CTV interview cited above, Summer Stonechild says it well, “I don’t discredit our non-Indigenous community for wanting to celebrate, but there [also] needs to be reflection on the truth behind what Canada is.”

I join Summer Stonechild and others in asking the Fort Times to apologize for their ill-considered choice in publishing this op-ed.

Sue Bland

Sources:

Information about the progress at Kamloops, Kuper Island and Brantford are below.

[1] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/tk-eml%C3%BAps-kamloops-indian-residential-school-215-exhumations-1.6460796

[1] https://www.thestar.com/politics/2021/07/15/first-nation-still-investigating-former-residential-school-site-in-british-columbia.html

[1] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/mohawk-institute-search-money-1.6325480

Art by Marsha Schuld Cannon

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kate writes, “Sadly this piece was created in Sept 2013 as a response to news then about the children and families broken as a result of this part of Canada’s history. This piece was also reposted May 30 2021 after the news media outlets began reporting about the graves found in Kamloops. ” (the original post can be found here.)
Orange Shirt Day

At half mast today
for the children
and their families
who endured the war
waged on them.
Hold their spirit softly
and love them now.
The children
who could not choose
who were not fed
who could not speak
who were not safe

 

 

To Name AND Not to Name

This spring, my friend Vera and I have explored wild scraps of land – wetlands, hillsides, ditches – in our part of Southern Saskatchewan. Vera says she can never remember the name of this plant or that plant, and how she sometimes feels “less than” when she is with someone who knows the name of every bird or every plant. I might just be a guilty party here, enthusiastically greeting many of the plants I see by name.  I get a little carried away.

But, like Vera I have also been on nature walks when the lead naturalist is rhyming off the names of what we see – insect, plant, bird, grasses – and I feel a little lost and sometimes, intimidated. So, I know a little of how she feels. Spurred on by Vera, I have begun to question whether it really matters if we know the names of these beings – three flowered avens, Wilson’s snipe, swallowtail – or not? Does finding the right name for a being sometimes get in the way of truly noticing it?

 As I pondered this, I received an email from my friend Laura Stewart, who is a plant ecologist as well as a journalist, a writer, and a musician. She described a walk she took on a silent retreat where she “had the idea to not only not speak, but to try to quiet my internal “naming” and “narrating” of everything”. Laura continues, “As I walked, I gently declined to think the names of plants and birds, or to imagine how I might later blog about what I saw. Incredibly, the entire walk burned itself into my memory far more vividly than usual, and for months after (and to some extent even now, many years later) I could bring it to mind as if I were seeing it at that moment.”

Laura asks me, “Could you encounter the beings differently if you approach them like meeting a stranger, without another person there to introduce you, and let them name themselves to you?” I like this idea; it challenges my usual way of being part of the natural world.

Next time I am with Vera, I try to lessen my compulsive naming, following her to see what plants she observes and points out. I try to notice what about this plant catches my attention. I like Laura’s suggestion to come up with our own name. Vera did this recently, calling a pincushion cactus “the prickly brain”. It is a name that she will never forget!

“The Prickly Brain”, by Vera Saltzman

 

When we become acquainted with someone – a person, a plant, an insect, a bird – we don’t always know or even inquire about their name first. Sometimes we just observe. What is it that caught my interest? What do I notice? Would I like to know more? When being introduced to a new person, I often forget their name  immediately, but if we have a chance for a chat, I will  remember something about them. 

I am so accustomed to naming plants when I walk, that it feels awkward not to do so. Our habits run deep. I wander slowly, a meditative walk, stopping to greet each plant who calls my attention. Many plants are old friends and sometimes I see one who is unfamiliar. Whoops, there I go again – wishing I had my phone (so I could learn her name, of course!) I wonder if we sometimes identify a plant by name, and then dismiss it, not observing further? Identify it, and then tick it off the list?

 I find I can live with not naming, not recording, and not narrating some of the time. It doesn’t come naturally but it does add new dimensions to my love of wildflowers. I can see that it is going to take more practice.

Learning Names can be Very Satisfying

At the same time, learning names is satisfying in other ways. Here is an example.

Recently, I heard  a loud rhythmic PI PI PI sound followed sometimes by a startling descending whinny in the wetland across the road. Was I hearing two birds or one?   Was it a bird?  Probably. But could it be something else? Maybe. In my distant memory, I had heard this call before but I never really zeroed in on it. Now, for no seeming reason, I was drawn by this call time and time again.

I spent a few dawn mornings in a sit spot in the wetland listening and observing. Eventually, I simply couldn’t resist the urge to learn who made these sounds by listening to audio recordings of marsh birds. I had been hearing a sora rail. “Common, but seldom seen”, the field guides said.   Once I saw a picture of the sora, I could imagine her moving through the shallow edges of the marsh.

I learned that the sora  makes both calls – the rhythmic PI and the squealing whinny that sometimes comes at the end of a series of PI PI PI’s. I began to pick out at least two sora rails, sometimes seeming to call back and forth from different ends of the wetland. Learning her name helped me learn more about this elusive  bird. Day after day, the call of the sora seemed very close, in fact, right under my feet. But, I could never see her.

One day, I sat in a chair by the edge of the marsh knowing this bird was near, when suddenly there she was quietly and calmly wading through the marsh, bobbing her pointed tail. She was much smaller than I had imagined. Truly at home as she manouevered through the underbrush of the marsh edge, she had delicately patterned slate gray and rusty feathers,  a standout yellow beak and paler yellow legs.  I love Blaine Klemek’s description of the sora: 

“Small and plump with longish legs and slender non-webbed chicken-like toes, the minute-sized birds deftly navigates the tangled jungles of wetland habitats as effortlessly as a snake crawling through grass.

Both species (the sora and Virginia rails) have the ability to practically walk on water, utilizing floating vegetation and other debris for support as they go about their lives. In the case of soras, they also negotiate wetland vegetation by clinging and hopping from plant stem to plant stem, thus making as much use, if not more, of vertical substrate as the horizontal.”*

Source: Sibley Birds East by David Allen Sibley, p.116

Fun fact: Rail’s bodies are laterally repressed which allows them to escape into dense grass or reeds. Hence the expression, thin as a rail!!

What a thrill! Since then I have seen her a several times, and am still amazed at her dexterity and way of moving. Because I had never imagined a bird moving through the marsh in this way, I had to learn how to notice her. Most certainly, I had failed  many times when her call was close.  This little sora is teaching me to see in new ways, to slow down, to listen carefully, and to be very patient. I wait for a sound in the water, a quick movement, a feeling that she is near.

I think back to the loud sound that initially caught my interest, and never in a million years would I have put this small bird together with this loud call! Learning the name was indispensable to my inquiry.  But, I also enjoyed the period of mystery.  I went out to listen with a sense of heightened awareness and curiousity.

I am grateful to Laura and Vera for opening up the possibility of being with the land and not naming or narrating what I am experiencing some of the time.

I think a story  Robin Wall Kimmerer shared  says it best . A botanist was praising his guide for his knowledge of local plants when the guide answered, “Yes, I have learned the names of all the bushes, but I have yet to learn their songs.”~

Sora Rail in marsh edge, work in progress

 

 

 

 

 

Learning the Sora Rail from a National Geographic photo. I would never have known their feet are so large compared to their body size. This surprisingly small bird weighs less than 3 ounces.

*Source: https://www.crookstontimes.com/2022/05/25/sora-and-virginia-rail/

~ Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, p.43

Photographer Vera Saltzman and I are collaborating on a long term project we call “Where will the frogs sing?” We are interested in the small scraps of wild or naturalized land between farm fields and roads in our part of Saskatchewan, including wetlands, aspen bluffs, pastures, native prairie and more. We spend wonderful time in these wild remnants – sitting, watching, listening, wondering. Some of the questions in the post below have arisen from our experiences together. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuned In

 

Note: This post was originally written April 26, 2021, part of a collective response called Reading Robin’s Essay where contributors responded to portions of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s essay “The Serviceberry: An Economy of Abundance”. Spring 2021 was very dry, after a number of very dry years. 

Have you had the experience of wandering in a familiar place, and suddenly seeing another being as if for the first time?  Each time you go out, it’s as if you are drawn to this being? I liken it to being tuned in, on the same frequency as say, a white tailed deer. When I am tuned in like this, I see deer everywhere. I walk over a rise and there is a doe and we gaze at each other for a few timeless moments. I disturb a fawn hidden in a clump of trees. I find antler sheds everywhere. Sometimes, I am attuned in this way to a creature for a few seasons. At other times, I am drawn to a particular plant. Last spring, the willows, and later, the pussy willows, had me in their thrall. I visited them every day, photographed them, spent hours exploring their startling spring hues with water colour paints. These last few seasons, I am drawn to water. To the places that once held water and do not any longer, to the places that still hold water. I am drawn to the ways that water moves, the ways that it stays still.

This began last fall. I love walking the fields after harvest, taking note of their swells and hollows, their dips and rises. Almost without knowing it, I found myself walking a low channel that led to a large shallow depression in the land, both dry. For most of the springs I have lived here, these places are full of water, attracting thousands of snow geese, ducks, and, sometimes tundra swans during early spring, and shorebirds as the water recedes. We have had a series of dry years, so these low spots now hold the memory of water, the echoes of those rowdy geese. As I walked, I imagined these places full of water, as they once were. As I walked, I realized that my walk was a kind of prayer for the return of these waters.

Not so long ago, I went to Pheasant Creek after listening to Pat McCabe, a Diné (Navajo) mother, grandmother, activist, artist, writer, and ceremonial leader, speak about engaging with water. I had watched the creek’s spring flow ebb in a few short days. Now, the creek had become a series of ponds with dry land between each pond. Our land is thirsty.  My intent was to offer prayers. While sitting with the creek, I had a strong sense that I needed bring a bottle of water each time I visited, and to present it to the creek and the surrounding hills as an offering. Such a simple request. A new practice for me.

Now each time I go wandering, I pack a jar of water in my knapsack. Sometimes I sit quietly on a favourite rock near a shallow, still pond. It may seem still, but that’s deceptive. Duck weed is starting to grow here and there. A water bug disturbs the smooth surface of the water. A light breeze ruffles the water, small ripples are created. Reflections shift with the ripples.

I walk along patches of dry creek bed. Pheasant Creek meanders, curving in a most satisfying way. I hop from rock to rock, observing the pattern of the rocks, how in previous years the water has arranged and rearranged them. The grasses, too, show the movement of the creek when it is flowing. There are tiny shells, also holding the memory of moving water.

I wonder – if I was a creek bed, what would it feel like to have rushing water move over top of me? Then in another season to be exposed to air, to wind, to rain, to snow? To feel the sharp hooves of deer, the soft pads of coyote, the rubber sole of human feet on my belly when I am accustomed to the feel of water? If I was water, what would it feel like to move over and around these rocks, to navigate each curve, to caress the creek bottom? Would I feel the difference between flowing the length of a creek and merging with another body of water, and not flowing – becoming a pool with land all around? Does the rock I sit on miss the feel of being submerged in water?

In light of the many serious issues facing water on our planet and right in my own back forty, it is tempting to wonder if making an offering to the water, or taking time simply to be with bodies of water (or with the land) can make any difference.

I think it can.

I like the question Barbara Barnett asked in her piece entitled, “Meeting my Judgement” +: “With what mindset and heartset do I come to the harvest?” I might ask “with what mindset and heartset do I visit the coulee, sit by the creek, wander the hollows in the fields?”

I was recently reminded that before I spend time with a body of water, a tree, or other being, I must first ask permission. Hello, may I sit here? May I listen? May I share with you?* The idea is that I might have an intuitive sense that at this time the rock I like to sit on would welcome my company, but at another time, maybe not. Asking rocks and trees and water for permission to spend time with them was certainly not a part of my upbringing! At the same time, as a child, water seemed to be not only amazingly alive, but also filled with magical properties! Like so many of us, my imagination has been reigned in by our Western consumer culture which does not see the water, the tree, or the creature as sentient and conscious with complex ways of knowing. But if I believe that the rock, the tree or the water are in some way aware of my presence, then it makes sense that I would extend the same courtesies I would to a human friend.

Can I slow myself down, still my hamster wheel mind, and approach the land with an open spirit? We can get so busy that we overlook the gifts around us and do not have enough open space within to really take them in. As Geneen Marie Haugen, writer and wilderness wanderer, writes, “So much clamours for our attention, such noise, constant seductions and distractions, from whatever is most valuable to us. It is challenging to pull way from the narratives that are being determined for us, and to engage instead, with the wild earth or the deep imagination.”

I remind myself what I understood so clearly as a child, to “go wandering as if there are listeners”. I like how nature writer Barry Lopez puts it, “One must wait for the moment when “the thing” – the hill, [the creek, the tree] – ceases to become a thing and knows that we are there.”

It isn’t only that the deer, the willow, and the water “know that we are there”, but also, according to my friend spasaqsit possesom (Ron), they are darn happy we are there, and that we are noticing, becoming tuned in. Finally, they say!! Our attentive presence matters. It is imperative. This is an integral part of reciprocity.

I understand that “it is all gift”. Water, and every other aspect of our life. When I make an offering of water, I acknowledge this. As Robin writes, “Conceiving of something as gift changes your relationship with it in a profound way, even though the physical make up of the “thing” has not changed. Gratitude is so much more than a polite thank you, it is the thread that connects us in a deep relationship…”

To spend time intentional time on the land, near water, or under the sky and to pay attention is a counter cultural act. To be with the natural world in this way disrupts the dominant Western narrative of the land that is so deeply ingrained in us, even if just for the hour or two that we are out there. In subtle but important ways, I gradually change my orientation to all that is. By “tuning in” to the natural world, I let go for a time of the frequencies that dominate so much of my life. When I can settle in to a place, begin to move with the rhythms of the land, wander and explore “as if there are listeners”, I begin to know my right place here on earth.

+ Barbara Barnett’s piece called “Meeting My Judgement” was a part of the collective response to Reading Robin’s Essay, which was shared with other participants. 

*Thanks to those who took part in Brooke Arnold-Roche’s “Emerging into Spring” (https://fireandhoney.ca/) for “reminding” me and furthering many of my thoughts.

 

The Fairy Meets the Inner Critic

Fairy bodies come in all shapes, sizes and colours

 

I planned a paper fairy PLAYshop for January. Omicron came along and knocked that out of the realm of possibility – at least as a real LIVE breathing and in person PLAYshop. The Pandemic is giving our adaptability muscles new opportunities to flex!

 

Fairy paper packets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instead I offered  an at home version where participants received a packet of papers to make their fairy, as well as access to instructions and templates and a short Zoom fairy consultation (really a fairy party) with me.

The night after mailing more than a dozen fairy paper parcels, I woke up from an unsettling dream. In the way of dreams, I can’t tell you anything about it, except that once awake,  this sentence popped into my head, clear as a bell. “Fairies are so insubstantial.”

“Insubstantial?!!” retorts the fairy. “That’s our superpower! Most beings are far too substantial! Insubstantial, yes! Insignificant, NEVER!!”

 I don’t think I laughed out loud then, but I have several times since. This first voice is clearly the voice of my own personal inner critic. She is not usually so funny!

Insubstantial. Flighty. Frivolous. Fanciful!! These are the kinds of words my inner critic loves to taunt me with.

One of the wise fairy makers said, ” I would just tell that inner critic to lighten up!!”

I notice that an enlivening spirit is with me when I am selecting fairy papers for people. I am happy as a clam, I love doing it, everything is a complete mess, and any notion of 1, 2, 3 or getting this done in a certain block of time is completely out of the question. Beside the point. It’s those darn fairies – trying to keep me messed up (in a good way)!

When creating a fairy, I am quietly delighted. Some parts of fairy making are quite finnicky and absorb all of my attention.  Time slips through my fingers.

Abra-cad-a-bra! People appear on the my screen. Pouffff – they are gone!! When gathering on Zoom, we fairy makers notice a companionable gaiety and levity in the air. We laugh a lot!

Collaborating with other fairy makers has stretched my ideas about fairies and the possibilities they hold. A mom and her two young sons adapted the PLAYshop to make superheroes, which got me wondering about male fairies and why fairies are so gendered. Another fairy maker started with the thought of creating “Dreaming Fairy” – the fairy who would contribute to the world we want to live into. During one Zoom fairy party, participants had songs pop into their minds when making fairies. “Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes”…and “Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day.” The songs found their expressions on the fairies created.

“Heart of Gold” Fairy

 Sometimes I wonder, did I choose fairies as a project? Or, did the fairies choose me? I think the fairies chose me! In the midst of coldest winter, a pandemic that doesn’t seem to end, and a renovation job taking me deep into our stone basement to “mud” (reinforce the walls with a mixture of sand and lime), it seems that creating paper fairies is the perfect antidote, the best winter  and pandemic elixir, a panacea of sorts.

The fairies whisper “Tread lightly”! They loosen my laughter and delight and playfulness. They lead me down new flight paths.

Up, up and away!!

To view an ongoing gallery of fairies created, click here.

“Revolutionary Dancing Fairies are Getting Out of the Kitchen” – by Diane Mullan

“Petra (green fairy) is off her Rocker!” -by Diane Mullan

“Up, Up and Away!” by Diane Mullan

 

 

 

Every Child

I often think about children in December. A lifetime ago, I worked at our community school. I remember the fraught, exciting, and sometimes magical time leading up to Christmas  as we tried to make the best possible memories for our kids. Being a parent is frequently overwhelming, and in the period before Christmas, the Overwhelm Factor looms LARGE. I recall the struggle of many parents, myself included, who could not afford many gifts, and the societal pressure to give more. And more.

Working every day with children, I sensed an acute longing that ran deep beneath seasonal shifts. What every child most needed was the truly attentive presence of at least one adult. “Don’t worry so much about all the gifts,” I wanted to say. “Spend time with your kids. Ordinary time, and special times, too.” Of course, often the advice we give, is the advice we ourselves need.  As a parent myself, I knew how hard  being truly present to my children could be. Some days,  I could hardly be present to myself! But there were moments…perhaps on a walk, or cuddled together reading a book. Baking together. Learning to skate together.  Stopping to watch a snowy owl on the way home. If December is about children, in our rush to “get it all done”, we often overlook the gift of simple (and not so simple) presence and attention that every child needs and longs for.

September 30, 2021

Continuing to think about children, I travel back in my mind to September 30th, 2021 – the first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. A day set aside for survivors and intergenerational survivors of Indian Residential  Schools to ask Canadians  “to see us, to hear us and to believe us,” after unmarked graves were unearthed and confirmed at former residential schools across the land. As this day approaches, my husband and I are spending a few days along the shores of Lake Superior. I feel a heaviness welling up inside me as September 30th approaches. How will I mark this day? I  intended to be at home, joining a walk from the present Okanese School to the site of the former United Church run residential school, both on the same reserve. As we drive, we  listen to the stories of  survivors on the radio. I  think about the  people I know – family, friends, neighbours of all ages- who have been deeply affected by the legacy of these “schools”.

That evening, I collect random pebbles as I walk the beach.  Each is so beautiful and unique. Long smoothed by the motion of water over sand, they come in beautiful colours –  dusty rose, slate gray, white, ochre. I get an idea. I drop to my knees and smooth out a circle on the beach with the palm of my hand. Smoothing sand is soothing. Listening to the rhythmic sound of the waves rolling in calms me. I remember many contented moments as a child, doing just this, smoothing sand and arranging pebbles. Absorbed.

I collect more pebbles. I choose slate gray pebbles to spell  the word “EVERY” in capitals in the circle. Slate gray gives emphasis to this word. No child is left out.

For the word “child” , I use all the colours of pebbles spelled in lower case letters. Somehow, lower case letters seem vulnerable, like children are vulnerable. With each pebble I place, I think of a child I have known or who I know now. Some are thriving, others are getting along. Too many died way before their time from violence or suicide, drugs or a car accident.  A legacy not only of residential schools, but also our colonial and genocidal actions, past and present. I notice how the sand quickly covers some pebbles, rendering them almost invisible. I clean the sand off each pebble, so that each can be seen, can takes its proud place in forming this word.

The verb “MATTERS“, I spell out in capital letters in dusty rose – the colour of the heart. I think of the many ways we invisibilize children, especially those children who are not “easy”. I remember the times I have dismissed a child’s feelings. I consider how the unmarked graves are material (matter) evidence for something Indigenous people have always known.

Around the edge of the circle, I poke clusters of pine needles into the sand. The pine needles provide a border, some protection maybe, but what is inside the circle is now open to the air. All wounds need air in order to begin the process of healing. I find two wrapped orange lollipops which are from a feast I attended in honour of children who never made it home. These go on either side of the word “child” signifying the pleasures of childhood these lost children  missed.  Spelling these words, smoothing the sand, and thinking about so many friends and relatives allows the heaviness in me to shift a little. Creating this beach art feels exactly like a prayer.

Every Child Matters – Lake Superior, Sept. 30, 2021

The Orange Shirt at the End of Our Lane – Every Child Matters

When we returned home, our daughters welcomed us with an orange shirt at the end of our lane. The orange shirt remains there. Each time I see it, I feel a slight jolt inside.  It has blown in the wind, fallen on the ground and been hung again. Each day it changes. I don’t want to get used to the orange shirt. I don’t want to forget.

The orange shirt reminds me….

EVERY      child     MATTERS                                                                                                                                                    Every child matters. See us, hear us, believe us. Truth before reconciliation.

Listen. Learn what I can. Unlearn what I grew up knowing. Learn about past injustices but learn also about present injustices. Learn from the brilliance and wisdom of Indigenous people. Listen.

I can offer my support in practical  and respectful ways as our neighbours and friends begin a ground search for lost children at the former Lebret Indian Residential School. Volunteers, food, money are needed.  I can also offer my prayers.

Back when I worked in the community school, we had pins that said  “It takes a village to raise a child.” So many wonderful people and creatures helped us raise our children. Can I be part of that village? Can I give back? Can I help lighten the load for other parents and grandparents?  I can try.

Every day the orange shirt reminds me that I need to live as if “every child matters”.              Every day, the orange shirt challenges me.

I am alert for the openings that help me truly live as if every child matters.

Every child matters … every day.

Orange Shirt Design by L. Delorme

 

Amaryllis

 

I have been enjoying reading accounts of people who have taken up a creative pursuit during the pandemic. In some cases, they are people in the latter half of their lives. I have particularly enjoyed watching some young people for whom creating art during the pandemic has been lifesaving and who are sharing their creations via social media. The time and space to create art has been one of the blessings of living in an otherwise limited world.

A dozen years ago, I enrolled in what is now called the Prairie Jubilee Experience. Back then it had a much longer title. My own desire at the time was to explore my spiritual life more intentionally and with some guidance along the way. This was exactly what I needed at the time. One of the unintended benefits of taking part in this two year course was that creative expression of all kinds was encouraged. We could write papers or we could hand in a painting (or a video of a dance). Throughout my life, I always found one way or another to express myself creatively, but this opportunity opened up new possibilities for me. Ultimately, I felt led to spend more and more time creating art, and to share my love of artistic expression and nature with others.

Once the course was done, however, I wasn’t quite sure how to move art into a more central place in my daily life. I could paint or create a collage in response to a spiritual question, but what would I paint without such a prompt? I decided to begin with what was right in front of me, to spend a little time each day painting the amaryllis that was growing in our window sill.

Here are some of those early watercolour sketches.

It was a great delight to observe subtle changes in the amaryllis each day. I didn’t know it then, but painting was one way to “befriend a flower”. The energy of the amaryllis astounded me. Each day, there was marked progress. All of this was happening at the same time as much inner growth was happening inside me. Then, one day, I had an epiphany. I thought I had chosen the amaryllis as my subject, but in fact, the amaryllis had chosen me. I felt there was an amaryllis inside me, reaching for the light and growing just like the one I was painting.

Since that epiphany, I have  learned that what I choose as subject matter is seldom random or arbitrary. Very often I am inspired by the very plant, or hill, or tree or colour that I need as teacher or medicine. I discover this as I paint or cut and glue papers to create an image.

Inside the Bloom, watercolour

“Inside the Bloom” framed…reflecting the outside world and in the very window the first amaryllis was in

another watercolour inspired by Amaryllis

 

Farewell, Kerry Farm Ice Rink

It’s the beginning of March, and the feel of spring is in the air.

Secret Wish: I am holding out for a blizzard or two, as we need  more moisture in Southeastern Saskatchewan.

Just before we move into spring, I will share these photos of the grasses, leaves of Grandmother Willow and that noxious weed, Baby’s Breath, as they are found in around the Kerry Farm Ice Rink, and inside the ice of some lanterns (now melted). I love them all. I love how their forms are expressed in ice, that temporal art form.

Canary Reed Grass in ice lantern

Canary Reed Grass

Although canary reed grass is an invasive species, I love her form, especially in winter against the whites and blue and purple shades of the snow.

Willow leaves on ice


Willow leaves in ice. Lantern mold is an ice cream pail.

Willow leaves in ice lantern, bottom view

Grandmother willow

Baby’s Breath in ice and growing nearby in snow

Invitation: Living into “An Economy of Abundance”

Hawthornes-  the haws are still  available in Winter (my substitute for a photo of Saskatoons in winter)

Prelude

Early in December I was invited to take a meditative walk and see if something in the natural world caught my attention. What I especially noticed was how many Saskatoon berries were still on the bush. Most were dried like raisins. I ate a handful and found them full of taste. What a sweet surprise, I thought…after all, the birds, the squirrels, the bears and we humans ate our fill of Saskatoons in the summer, and yet, there were still some left over!! What abundance! How marvellous – to savour this summer taste as the days grow darker!

A few weeks later, Robin Wall Kimmerer, published “The Service Berry: An Economy of Abundance” in Emergence Magazine. Wouldn’t you know it? The service berry is also called the Saskatoon berry! This excellent essay celebrates the abundance and gift of this “best of the  berries”.  Wall Kimmerer also explores gratitude, reciprocity and the gift economy using the Saskatoon bush as guide and teacher.

This essay struck me as beautiful medicine for the next decade, as well as a call to action or perhaps (worded differently) – an invitation to respond creatively and “live into” the community Robin Wall Kimmerer envisions. While some of us are anxious to return to “normal”, I think many of us would qualify “normal”. The pandemic has enabled us to see ever more clearly how our culture of excess has not served us well, and how it has favoured some at the expense of so many others and so much else (including care of the earth). Robin Wall Kimmerer is a  wise visionary and leader,  who so clearly articulates the need for a change in our priorities and direction. She does so poetically. Even better, we can read the essay or listen to her read it to us, or both!!

Here’s the invitation:

Please consider accompanying me as I read and listen to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s essay “The Service Berry: An Economy of Abundance”  over the next few months. I have divided it into 4 sections, simply because there are many ideas here and reading over a longer period of time allows us to sink into these ideas. We will take approximately a month to read and respond to each section.

I invite you to comment on a particular quote (or quotes) that stirred something in you.

I also invite you to respond creatively, if you feel called to do so. You might feel called to respond to one section and not another. Or to all four. Or to none. All are good.

A perfect example of a creative response

What do I mean by responding creatively? Think of some of the creative people you know – people who decorate their homes with that special touch, poets, make up artists, beaders, ice lantern makers, cooks and bakers, welders, tattoo artists,  wood workers, dancers,  music makers,  knitters and crocheters, story tellers, leaders in ceremony, healers, potters, sewers, seamstresses and quilters, entrepreneurs, song writers, mothers and fathers, aunties and uncles, graphic artists, tic toc creators, gardeners, worship leaders, cake decorators,  photographers, people who dress with flair, nail artists, sculptors, gardeners, snow fort builders…the list could go on and on.

A creative response could also be an action –  sharing a gift,  taking care of a piece of land, nurturing a small garden, writing a letter, “paying it forward” in a way that nurtures connection. Receiving a gift could also be a creative response – for many of us receiving well is harder that giving or sharing. As Wall Kimmerer notes, we are receiving gifts all the time and sometimes we become alert or especially aware of a particular gift we have long taken for granted.

To some extent, we are already living into “an economy of abundance”. It feels to me that doing this together in response to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s essay brings a degree of intention and community which  will make a difference  for each of us, and perhaps ripple out.

Sharing Our Responses and Comments

Your comments and creative responses will be shared on a dedicated website (with your permission). I hope to get this website up this month (February 2021).  I will send you the link to the website when it is available, and regular updates or reminders now and again. You can send your responses to me by email.

Other ways of becoming community may emerge naturally as we accompany each other in considering and living into Robin Wall Kimmerer’s ideas. If you have thoughts about how we might share our responses  with each other, please send them on to me.

How To Join In

E- mail me at poachedeggwoman@gmail.com if you are interested in taking part in some way or have questions. You will receive an e-mail with a link to each section we are reading, and subsequent e-mails with links sharing how people are responding.

Feel free to share this with others who may be interested.

Here is a  PDF of Section 1 of the essay – Robin Wall Kimmerer SECTION 1

Here is a PDF of Section 2 of the essay – Section 2 – Reading Robin’s Essay

Here is a PDF of Section 3 of the essay – Section 3- Robin’s Essay

Here is a PDF of Section 4 of the Essay- Section 4 PDF

Photo used with kind permission of Chantelle Bonk