Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Wild Woman of the Woods.

Arbutus branches reaching for the sea.

Down the road from our home, maybe fifteen minutes away by bicycle, is a point of land on the north shore of Fulford Harbour. It is Indian Reserve land, but the tribal owners permit others to walk on it: very thoughtful of them, given the difficult history of land settlements between the original inhabitants and the newcomers.
It is possible to walk a loop trail that leads through cedar forest and then up through oak and moss covered rocky slopes and then back along the shoreline. The walk might take a leisurely hour: it is a vest-pocket bit of land whose original use to the Salish people would have been as a summer fishing camp at the sheltered beach. The soils there are a thick midden of seashells, freshly exposed along the shore by winter waves.

I`ve walked here for thirty years or so, with my young and then grown-up family and now with my grandchildren. I also come here on my own when I need to touch base with a deep reality that this bit of sea shore acts as an entry point for me. I`m sure that if we are lucky we all are aware of what part of our life does this for us. The natural world has chosen me, but I`ve also seen into that space in the eyes of those that suffer or are dispossessed. I know each of us can find his own truth in a multitude of places and times and that it is important to our understanding of the world and our place in it that we should do so.

This place at the shore does not exist merely to give peace and harmony to me. That may be how many receive it, but I will not wrench it around so it will perform that sole function for my benefit. Rather it calls to me to see it`s reality and create from it a new understanding of my place within it. "Look at me! Look at me! See me as I am, not through the usual filters that fill your mind!" it says. And that is difficult and challenging and takes a sharp focus.


Recently I walked with my camera, releasing my thoughts to wander down darker trails. There are twisted arbutus trees here that seem locked in combat, a dark fir forest that exudes sadness and the kind of horror that raises the hair on the nape of my neck. Shattered, beaten shards of rock are pressed apart by plunging roots. It helps that it is an overcast winter`s day and that a brighter layer of Spring leaves cannot yet disguise the snarl that lies just below the surface. The ‘Wild Woman of the Woods’ is here now, speaking through this landscape. Perhaps it is no accident that this powerful place is Indian Land, uncluttered by settler`s Gods and busy commerce. This small piece of the island is still free to unsettle my mind as it expresses a wider and wilder range of thought.

Truth is beauty, beauty truth.

A couple of walkers come up behind me as I am photographing the twisted trunk of a fir tree. "What am you doing? What there is worth a picture?"
I stop and look at my subject through their eyes and see the pitchy, carbuncled, hacked bark. I pause and then say thoughtfully that it is beautiful. I am remembering the last lines from John Keats`Poem ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ "Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That`s all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." This is beautiful, but within a more searching aesthetic than simply what pleases my eye. If I can see the truth of this place, no matter how fierce it may be, then I will be seeing a true form of beauty. Within this frozen passion I am close to understanding some very great thing. For a moment, " I see you ! Yes, I see you!"

1 comment:

Gwyn said...

Hi Dad, I think I know which spot is the "dark fir forest that exudes sadness and the kind of horror that raises the hair on the nape of my neck" and it does the same thing to me. I remember as a child that I always wanted to get through that part quickly because I was afraid I'd see ghosts or something. Actually, come to think of it, I still feel that way!