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Long story

Oweynagat, County Roscommon

“…I had heard whispers over many years about a chamber of female divinity that was said to exist somewhere west of the Shannon, but I could find no reference to it in any book or journal. Then, finally, two years ago I stumbled upon the chamber, as some in the local community in Tulsk, Co Roscommon, had chosen to make it public again. It’s a cavern called Oweynagat in which an ancient goddess energy is said to reside…When the time was right, they were able to point small groups of individuals towards a tiny opening beneath a hawthorn tree in the bank of a field that led to it. The field is down a narrow laneway, apparently leading nowhere.”

Manchán Mangan: Indigenous people, Ireland and guardians of old lore

These are dark days. Sometimes, before dusk, I walk across the street from my house to sit alone in the field. After a while, I feel vibrations coming from a great distance through the earth into my body. The movements remind me there are places where the goddess lives, even in these times. I imagine they are hidden safe houses where she appears. They are not written down in books or recorded in databases – they’re hidden in plain sight – maybe through that small opening among trees that could be a fox’s den. Except it would open to a much bigger place, where from time to time over many centuries, people have sat in silence, holding each other’s hands, listening to the slow, soft whisper of time passing. They are listening for the long story, the one that opens up and folds back, further and further back, into the past until they reach the roots.

In the dark and stillness, I feel afraid. I don’t have time for this. I check my phone, but there is no signal. I’m off the grid. But I’ve already begun to sense the vibrations extending in all directions from where I stand, which is in an ordinary field beside the bike path. It’s as if I always suspected this place was here, and somehow found that fact reassuring. I have to force myself to stay still and not run back to the house, to resist the urge to get back to business. Because this place is deep and asks a lot of me. But I know the world is at stake now. Maybe it’s always been, but we’ve reached the tipping point. We need the goddess who loves gentle creatures, like my little dog who lies in a patch of sunshine on the floor. I love to look into his glassy eyes and smell the warmth of his fur. I need to visit the goddess. I must let time take me back and further back, all the way to its roots.

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Cold Water Can Work Wonders

To help me deal with panic attacks and flashbacks that I now experience more often because of the pandemic, someone gave me an info sheet called the “Distress Tolerance Handout.” In it, I found a page called Cold Water Can Work Wonders:

When you put your full face into cold water . . . or you put a zip-lock bag with cold water on your eyes and upper cheeks, and hold your breath, it tells your brain you are diving underwater. This causes the “dive response” to occur. (It may take 15–30 seconds to start.)

Your heart slows down, blood flow to nonessential organs is reduced, and blood flow is redirected to the brain and heart. This response can actually help regulate your emotions. This will be useful as a distress tolerance strategy when you are having a very strong, distressing emotion.

I tucked this information away somewhere in my memory – maybe I’ll give it a try some time, I thought

I am glad I read about this technique because it helps me to appreciate the movie, My Octopus Teacher. In it, Craig Foster, who is both protagonist and filmmaker, talks about returning to False Bay in South Africa, where he grew up free-diving in the kelp forests of the Atlantic.

After many years away he returns, suffering from burnout and great emotional distress. He can no longer do the things he loves, like communicating with his son and making documentaries. There in False Bay, he begins free diving again — with only a snorkel and flippers – no oxygen tanks. He says:

In the beginning, it’s a hard thing to get in the water. It’s one of the wildest, most scary places to swim on the planet. The water drops to as low as eight, nine degrees Celsius. The cold takes your breath away. And you just have to relax. And then you’ll get this beautiful window of time for 10, 15 minutes.

Suddenly…everything feels okay. The cold upgrades the brain because you’re getting this flood of chemicals every time you immerse in that cold water. Your whole body comes alive. And then, as your body adapts, it just becomes easier and easier. And eventually…after about a year…you start to crave the cold.

Foster finds a way to slip inside of nature through his dives in the kelp forest and the friend he made there: a common octopus (octopus vulgaris). As much as I love the story of Foster’s octopus friend, I need to keep this story moving, so now I’ll talk about Claire Paris, another freediver.

Paris, a master at holding her breath, can do six-minute plus breath holds in a pool and dives more than 200 feet down in the ocean on a single gulp of air. Once she gets down there, she feels an immense sense of calm.

She prefers to dive without goggles to enhance the diving reflex, the body’s response to submersion in cold water. This mechanism kicks in when you immerse the nostrils and face in the water. Paris and other freedivers say that so far beneath the ocean’s surface, everything slows down.

I have a friend who lives by the Irish Sea and swims in the ocean every day—he loves both swimming and surfing. But it’s also a way to dealing with the stress of the pandemic. I’ve seen photos of him with his friends, pushing their way into the sea through the big frothy Atlantic waves. Soon enough, I’ll be up near Killaloe, Ontario, where I can swim in a cold lake and catch the last of the summer’s rays. Maybe I’ll try a few dives and see if cold water really can work wonders.

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The time to act is now: Vaccines for poor countries

Dear Anita Vandenbeld,

Now that vaccines are rolling out here in Canada, it’s time Canadians and their representatives turned their attention to ensuring that citizens in poor countries around the world are vaccinated as quickly as possible. 

An internally displaced Afghan family on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan; People enjoying the sunshine in Ottawa. PHOTO BY OMAR SOBHANI/REUTERS; ASHLEY FRASER/POSTMEDIA
An internally displaced Afghan family on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan; People enjoying the sunshine in Ottawa. PHOTO BY OMAR SOBHANI/REUTERS; ASHLEY FRASER/POSTMEDIA

Currently, there are not enough vaccines to quickly inoculate high priority groups in poor countries. Canada’s vaccine plan puts vaccinations for all Canadians, even low-risk groups, ahead of the most vulnerable in poor countries. This is inhumane and even dangerous. 

By putting ourselves first, we are increasing the risk that more variants develop, some of which could evade our vaccines completely. As Hilda Bastian, the Australian expert in analyzing clinical trial data and founding member of the Cochrane Collaboration says: 

“We need to reduce the chances of the virus morphing into more dangerous variants — vaccines might not protect communities enough from new variants sweeping through. The notion that there can be countries where there’s going to be 40-year-olds and 30-year-olds vaccinated while there are terrible outbreaks in other parts of the world, and even the health care practitioners are unprotected, isn’t okay on any level.”

Given the limits on the number of vaccines doses that can be produced this year, wealthy countries like Canada are putting citizens of poorer countries at risk for severe illness and death while we put our low-risk citizens first. 

Canada has an obligation as a wealthy nation to help prevent this tragic outcome. 

The time to act is now. The Liberal government must reverse its decision to keep 50% of the COVAX vaccines and ensure that all doses go to poor countries. It must also look beyond that program and donate a portion of all vaccines to ensure that seniors, healthcare professionals and other vulnerable citizens in poor countries are vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Dales

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Learning to play the bodhrán

For most of my life I’ve been a writer. And over time, I’ve learned that all creativity, whether it’s writing, music or something else, is an adventure.

Over the years I’ve seen many Irish music groups, and watched bodhrán players moving their sticks over their drums, performing rhythms and patterns impossibly fast. And they even played with both ends of the stick! I’ve always wanted to learn this instrument.

Just before we were all sent home in the middle of March, I picked up a cheap bodhrán at Long and McQuade and signed up for lessons through the Online Academy of Irish Music (OAIM).

By nature I’m an extrovert and usually find staying home for days at a time pretty hard to do. I like to be out and about, doing things with friends.

But suddenly I had more free time and all of it had to be spent at home. So I began to play the drum, doing online lessons and practising, sometimes for several hours at a time. The first thing I learned is how to pronounce bodhrán. It’s “bow-rawn.” Hard to say!

The OAIM drum teacher, Brian Fleming, was very good. So I thought I’d see if he gave lessons online. Sure enough, he does! We started meeting via Zoom in March—connecting County Kerry in Ireland with Ottawa for an hour or so every week.  

Since then, my learning has accelerated and I can even play the stick doubled-ended on the drum.

Bodhráns are made with goat skin and they can be finicky things—if the drum is not tuneable, you have to wet the skin every 15 minutes while you play. So, after a couple of months of dribbling tablespoons of water, I was ready for a tuneable drum.

Brian recommended bodhrán maker Ben March who lives in Country Clare. I gave Ben the specifications, he made the drum and FedEx delivered it a couple of weeks ago.

I was able to have Ben put an inscription on my bodhrán: “on the adventure.” I can’t wait to see where this drum takes me. Already I’ve visited the seaside in Ireland and discovered my favourite bodhrán player, Ronán Ó Snodaigh.

My husband plays the mandolin and we are learning jigs and reels so we’ll be ready to join an Irish session at our local pub when we can all finally get together in person again. Check out a video of us playing the Ashplant Reel together on our front step.

In the meantime, my wonderful drum will be my portal to a new kind of creativity and way to connect with others both at home and far away.

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How to play Canadian bodhrán dog

Check out this useful lesson on playing your dog like a bodhrán.

I’ve been keeping myself sane by playing the bodhrán and taking lessons via Zoom. My dog doesn’t like the noise, but he’s pretty chill about my attempts to play him.

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Lullaby of the land

I wrote this song recently, after doing a “deep dive” into the Pogues’ music. It’s a contrafactum, a song in which the melody is similar to another song yet contains different lyrics. In this case, the melody is from The Lullaby of London by the Pogues.

I posted the lyrics for the original side by side with my version on social media and asked my musician friends if they wanted to give it a try. My friend John Linehan (who is, of course, Irish) volunteered. We polished the lyrics some more and he brought it to life by performing it.

I recorded it live at the Irish Session at St Brigid’s Well in Ottawa.

Have a listen!

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Sk’elep speaks

Canada’s residential school system for Aboriginal children was an education system in name only for much of its existence. These residential schools were created for the purpose of separating Aboriginal children from their families, in order to minimize and weaken family ties and cultural linkages, and to indoctrinate children into a new culture—the culture of the legally dominant Euro-Christian Canadian society…

– from Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Imagine a little boy or girl walking a gravel road on the reserve near home. Picture in your mind’s eye an Indian agent driving through town, opening the door of his truck and snatching a child from the road, to spirit the child away over a thousand miles to residential school. As you imagine the scene you may be in a safe place, such as your home or a café. Or on a train taking you to school or work. Unlike the child, you board the train willingly, whether following a familiar route or going on an adventure.

When the children board the train, it is icy cold and strange. They are all alone, without Mum or Dad or Grandma. The train conductor knows this—he’s done this run before, driving the straight rail all night through bush and swamp, his cars full of frightened children, crying for their families. Their lonely voices rise and pass through the windows into moonless sky. The train conductor hears the small voices and remembers them always.

If such a thing happened to even one white child—a child of privilege, the police would be called. The alarm sounded. Search parties sent out to shine lights in dark places. Every sighting reported. People running through the darkness with lights held high, through the neighbourhoods, searching for a sign.

In the image above, sk’elep is howling. I can’t tell if he feels rage or joy. I think his fierceness includes both. At night, he still visits the place where they kept the children. It’s been closed 40 years, but his ears still prick up when he hears the voices. He sings with them.

Sk’elep is still here, as people in their regalia still dance at powwows, as fires that went underground rise to the surface, crackling with tobacco and cedar. The shadows of eagles’ wings brush the darkness, bringing clean, cold air to the abandoned rooms of the old residential school, dispelling odours of mould and fear.

The train whistle is gone but sk’elep always sings at night. He passes through backyards and across suburban streets, sending his voice over the neighbourhoods, waking people from sleep. He walks the broken railroad tracks that come down from the north, and he remembers.

**************

Artwork above by Chris Bose of the Nlaka’pamux nation. The image includes a photograph of the Kamloops residential school building. The Kamloops Indian Residential School was in operation from 1893 to 1977. Sk’elep or coyote is the trickster figure in the Traditional Stories of the Secwepemc.

Writing by Jennifer Dales.

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What is reconciliation? Purple and white

In this life I’ve felt a touch, whispering of cloth against my skin; big sky flowing over me, an endless blanket of twinkling lights, round white moon floating there, caught in a tangle of branches and clouds. At the height of summer, I’ve walked at night in a stand of pines; the forest is small, but trees become deep and endless in darkness, and I wander there. I once found a clearing where women danced, their dresses swaying and jingling; the bells on their skirts gleaming silver in the pearly light. I’ve always wanted to dance like them, to circle round and round under branches of jack pines, on ground covered with soft, scented needles; round and round to the distant sound of drums.

In this country I’ve walked forests where leaves and needles sway softly, walked under spruce, pine, cedar, tamarack, maple, poplar, birch—walked over clear cuts too, over charred ground, as far as my eyes could see, with a shovel in my hand and saplings in my pockets. In northern B.C., near Cranberry River junction, I watched the sun set at nearly 11 o’clock, listened at night for the sounds of Cranberry River as I lay in my tent. But I never heard or saw it, only imagined the water, narrow and fast-running, bubbling over rocks, fed by cold melting snow running into a rocky bed every spring season, a river descending, always southward.

When I was a girl, I snowshoed in the forest on my grandparents’ land with my Grandpa, under the pine and spruce boughs. I watched him haul out logs, stood nearby as he cut and split them for firewood to heat the big cast iron stove in the kitchen, where a kettle of water always simmered, ready for tea. My grandparents had a swing set across from the old house, and in summer, I would swing as high as I could, watching the sun glint on the tin roof of their home, feeling the coolness of dark evergreens rising behind me. Toward sunset, the mosquitoes would bite my cousins and I as we flew back and forth, watching the sun descend, glinting on the thousands of smooth round stones mixed in the sand and soil of the driveway.

In the city there are pathways too, places where you can wear down the asphalt; I’ve added my footsteps along routes near my house, my boots rising and falling to the rhythm of rush hour traffic. I’ve packed down snow in winter and added my breath, smoky vapour in the freezing air. The big city feels small sometimes—for all its steel and concrete, at times it seems like little more than clusters of houses and office towers hunching along a southern border. Canada, our vast and powerful country, clinging tenuously to warmth and light, while our sleep is disturbed by dreams of driving off the road into darkness, of unexpected blizzards that bury us in snow drifts, of sitting there behind the wheel, frozen and silent until spring. Sometimes we dream of twisting roads leading to nowhere, of rutted gravel ending at the sites of closed down uranium and diamond mines, or an empty oil field, or a vast patch of razed ground. The truth is we only want a little bit of the wild, not too much. It reminds us painfully of all we’ve stolen from the land to feed our cities; of how we can’t manage there, or survive. We just want to live in safety, wrapped in our country Canada, that place of peace, order and good government.

The stand of pines where the drums reverberate, where I’ve walked at night, belongs to a people, the Onkwehonwe people at Kanehsatà:ke, every tree top and root, every needle-covered path. When I walk there it feels like someone’s home, like you could stand all night in a clearing where the moonlight washes over the branches, and pours over our heads, as mosquitoes bite us and the coolness of the woods drifts down upon us.  I’d give it all up, the comfortable, polite neighbourhoods, the friendly faces of Canadians, the peacekeepers, our smug satisfaction. I’d give up the dream and cross over, follow the river currents in my memory. Extend my hands and feel the weight of wampum beads pressing into my skin, the weight of broken treaties, the smoothness of purple and white beads, row upon row, a sea of peace and friendship once offered. But I’m still wandering each day further away from my old home and onto the land; out of Canada and into the world, wide-open places, shimmering with stories, overgrown with relations.

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Ricochet

His words ricochet. He casts them out, they strike and, on the rebound, start to make sense. They pick up grit and dirt from skittering on roads. Bits of wood from striking against walls and glancing off trees. Words and strings of words: constellations and courage, Newfoundland dogs, a great black plate of ice. Something called winterfighter in Thompson, Manitoba; breezes turning into rivulets; treasures buried on the Paris of the prairies.

If his words come to you, they may create an image in your mind’s eye, a feeling in your heart about living here, on this land and in the city, with your feet on the street, under trees and street lamps, beneath satellites that circle around the world and back to you.

He offered poems and songs like sparks from a campfire, leaving behind flames that smoulder and catch on, enter our imagination and make us see things from the outside—bigger, more mysterious.

His words ricochet. He throws them as hard as he can into the air and fears they will make no sense. But you are alert and quick and your heart is open, so you catch them, closing your hands before they hurtle onward. You feel them bouncing against your palms, see light sparkling through openings between your fingers. The energy of words seeps through your skin, helping you understand the country, the people, your own heart. And the hearts of others, who don’t feel this country, Canada, is home. The words slow down and become softer—like a goose feather that drifts into your hand, or milkweed that flutters around your feet as you wander a field behind your house.

It was urgent for him to get the words out, to use them all up, so he sent them hurtling. But really, he only needed to open his hands and blow softly to release a butterfly of wings and meanings. We were always there, holding out our hands, waiting for them to brush our palms.

Now his work is over, and he’s left a job for the reconcilers: to be gentle and quiet so we hear voices and stories that are always told but not understood. To reach out and take hold of each other across the deep divide of ignorance and anger disturbing this country, and not let go. Even if we are strangers to each other; even if we have to walk a long way together in the cold and dark. A job for the reconcilers: to never forget the promise-breakers; the treaty-breakers. To do everything we can to build good relations and trust. To walk the sometimes cold and treacherous path along the divide, looking for places that might become hospitable; where we can build new crossings together.

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The chasm

Living in reality
We can endure your cages your bullets
Your lies your confusion
We know you have destroyed your peace
Living in reality you only exist

-John Trudell

For such a long time, settlers and our government have been doing the same thing over and over. We repeat and repeat the same patterns until they become the fabric of our life and seem like reality itself. In this reality, some people love peace, order and good government and some do not: the angry ones, the people from whom we stole the land. The ones whose languages and cultures we tried to kill off. The people we betrayed. Our betrayal is our sorrow and tragedy, buried deep within us—the wound of our country. But this fabric, this injured country, seems like our only choice. As if our way of life is the best one possible and theft and violence were the only means of creating it. Canada. Peace, order and good government. Peacekeepers, diplomats and nice polite travellers are our faces to the world.

Yet consider how we arrived in this present: by refusing to share the land. By signing treaties with our predecessors and breaking them, or misunderstanding (on purpose) the agreements we signed. By taking the land without offering even the promise of compensation. What is now called “Crown land”.  The unceded traditional territories of all the people who lived here first and still live here now.

We parcel this land into lots for houses, roads and industry. We clear-cut, mine and drill for oil in the vast regions. What little is left over we turn into national parks, where we manage the wildlife – counting species of fish, birds and other animals. In parks, we dictate where visitors may walk or swim or pitch a tent. Whatever is left over after that is for Indigenous peoples—we allot 0.2% of the land to 5% of the population [note] https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100034846/1100100034847 [/note].

More often now, we hear voices demanding the Canadian government acknowledge that most Canadian land is unceded territory. These voices are getting louder. Our country is filled with histories and life-ways that have existed for as long as anyone can remember. Lands and waters that defy management, that science and technology cannot account for. We try to dismiss these voices or discredit them – these other nations within our borders. We continue to build houses in disputed territories, in places such as the Mohawk community of Kanehsatà:ke in Quebec and on the Haldimand land tract at the Iroquois community of Six Nations in Ontario. We surround communities with heavy industry, such as the Chippewa people of Aamjiwnaang First Nation who are hemmed in on all sides by the oil and gas refineries and chemical plants of Sarnia, Ontario’s “chemical alley”:  home to 40% of Canada’s petrochemical industry [note] https://www.thestar.com/amp/news/world/2017/10/14/in-sarnias-chemical-valley-is-toxic-soup-making-people-sick.html [/note].

To ensure the success of our Canadian project, we place a higher value on our settler lives than we do on Indigenous lives. We don’t always know we are doing this, because we know so little about the Mohawks and the Chippewas and other nations, like the Nlaka’pamux people of Coldwater First Nation in Merrit, BC. A bitumen pipeline runs through the middle of their reserve. Now Kinder Morgan wants to build a new pipeline directly over the community’s main water source. The people have said no. The chief of Coldwater First Nation says: “For us it’s not about the politics, but the future of our community and ensuring we have access to clean, safe water.” [note] http://aptnnews.ca/2018/04/13/the-first-nation-that-believes-it-can-stop-kinder-morgan-itll-be-our-standing-rock/ [/note]  The Prime Minister of Canada says, “We are one country. The federal government is there to ensure that the national interest is upheld.” [note] https://ipolitics.ca/2018/04/15/feds-to-take-financial-legislative-steps-to-put-kinder-morgan-on-track [/note] He has promised that Alberta bitumen will reach the west coast by the Trans Mountain pipeline, no matter what.

In the past, we hid the evidence of how we tried to wipe out the old cultures – we ensured that our children did not learn about residential schools or the banning of Indigenous languages and ceremonies. Now, as parts of the truth come out, we blame our actions on the ignorance of the past – back then, we did not know better than to separate children from their parents; we thought teaching them Christian ways would make them more like us. That some children starved or died of TB, or that certain nuns and priests abused the children is unfortunate. We have said we are sorry for trying to “kill the Indian in the child.” [note] https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100015644/1100100015649 [/note] But our ancestors lived in a harsher, crueller world. We can’t be held responsible for it. We had not yet achieved our current state of peacefulness and kindness – we were not fully Canadian.

Nowadays, we sometimes allow the old songs and stories of this place to be told, though we often try to orchestrate them. We want everyone to know how open and accepting we are. We are sure it would be much better for Indigenous people to settle their differences our way, under the power of the Crown and through our justice system, though it tips most often in our favour.

And so we repeat broken stories of how we triumphed, how it was all for the best, while we stand on the ground of other nations. We think, how ridiculous: Indians having countries. The Indians who could have ruled countries are long dead and gone. There are no real Indians anymore.

And we make yet more promises we do not keep – of clean drinking water or equal funding for education. We show respect by calling the first peoples “Indigenous” instead of “Indians.” Before that, it was “Aboriginal,” “First Nations” or “Native.” But the empty words we speak don’t change the fact that we are creating a dystopia, a chasm opening up between us. In this chasm, we are strangers on the land – we become lost and drown. Our maps blow away on the wind, swept out of our hands. Animals turn from us, and predators attack. It is a place full of thorns and dead ground.

As time passes, the chasm grows wider until it seems the only way to cross –  to reacquaint ourselves with this place –  is to lose ourselves: to walk off the map and leave behind the marked trails; to search the land’s deepest places for the overgrown winding route – the path our ancestors walked before we settlers made enemies of the Onkwehón:we [note] http://www.kahnawakelonghouse.com/index.php?mid=2  [/note] (the original people). Before we forgot how to be Onkwehón:we.  

We’ve been thinking and acting like settlers for so long we no longer think this place (this land we call Canada) could seep in and grow through us, green and alive. We are sure that it could never be so vast. That starlight cannot sing in valleys and light up the highest leaves, turning the deep green pine needles to shades of blue.

We might still dream in our beds of open rooms where a starry sky appears each night, but it is only dreaming. We may, in our dreams, sit by a window to smell wet earth and the perfume of summer flowers. We might hear someone else who is outside in the night, singing in a soft voice from their yard. See the golden square of their window, lit up. Hear the sound of coyote breathing as he searches through our garbage. We may suspect that we are not the only ones. If only we could remember these things, if only we could still know them when we wake from dreaming.

 

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The open door

-for Jesse Thistle

When you say you are sorry (from your heart), you open the door to a room within. A cool, peaceful space where a breeze blows in the half-open window and green leaves brush against the glass. You enter and sit in the chair, yellow sun slants across your face and there are no distractions. You’ve begun to understand pain—being hurt and hurting others. You’ve started to make space for it, and in consequence, find yourself here in this room where pain lives side by side with your heart, in peace.

When you say you are sorry, a door opens and something new begins. The door may open to a different place where sad stories and tragedies fill only a few rooms in a great, sprawling house. A house also filled with laughter and the smells of supper cooking, the quiet murmur of voices in prayer. Someone’s fingers tapping on a keyboard, writing a story; someone else singing, another sewing. Listen to the sounds of children running in and out of the house, playing hide-and-seek in a field, gathering wood for the bonfire. They remember and dream as you do, memories and dreams of their own, mysteries falling from the stars, sparks of light shimmering among trees in summer. This house has always been here. But maybe you belonged to a people that painted over the door. Whole other lives. You never saw them until now.

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The circle

They pull and they paw me
They’re seeking to draw me
Away from the roundness
of the life

-from “I Pity the Country” by Willie Dunn

I picture a fine, woven silver web that begins and ends inside a spider. The spider begins and ends in a web of life that has no beginning or end because it is a circle. Our social and blood relationships are intertwined as webs, beginning and ending in each of us, who in turn begin and end in the circle.

The Indigenous Peoples of this place seem to have a sense of the world as circular and revolving, always turning and returning to the same places and seasons. Some of my ancestors must have seen the world the same way—they were shepherds, fishers and farmers who lived from season to season, year to year, on the land. But today, to our science-based, settler minds, the circle is an inconvenient mystery—we can’t find its beginning or end. Circles don’t stretch out across the land as straight lines do, pinning down life with sharp edges.

The circle curls up into itself and spreads out, getting in the way of our complicated systems: our electrical grids, roads and bridges, telecommunications lines strung out over the earth. Our straight lines are hard and flat, pressed down over mystery and disturbance, onto a land we don’t understand, despite how we try to measure and parcel it out, square it away.

We have a straight, flat gaze that freezes in place tracks of wild animals weaving through forests, running through backyards in the middle of the night, stopping in mid-air all the wings that ride the wind above our houses at dusk. We would hold it all there, tight in our grasp.

This is the place we call Canada, a place of science and industry, connected from Victoria to St John’s by the world’s longest highway, settled in cities and towns. But the older place, the one to which this modern nation clings, tenuously, sees Canada and laughs. The very idea. As if. That place stretches out endlessly. Within it, our highways are only fading lines on the landscape, our cities small outposts of flickering light. I am small in this place and can’t see the beginning or the end.

We settlers draw our lines, measure our property, make up rules. But we’re lost inside the circle. The circle is outside of our outer world, beyond our imagination. It makes up the sky that holds our sky. All our rivers and oceans flow within its ancient roots and stones. And it keeps spreading out every time we think we’ve touched it, taking us further into the wild.

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