Sunday, October 20, 2013

Emily and Me

Through an aisle of waving grasses and woodland wildflowers, I approach the high bench where I plan to sit quietly for an hour or so, gathering scattered pieces of myself. Resting at the crest of a hill I sit overlooking Mt. Peter and Mt. Paul, twin mountains guarding the Thompson River which floats like a curled blue ribbon on the earth.

 I carry with me only a pen, a journal, a bottle of water, and the buzz in my head. I sit with my back against the bench and my face to the east, where the yellowing grasses are hazy in the afternoon sun. I draw in a deep breath. Not for the first time, I think of how fortunate I am to live only a short five minute hike from this stunning vista.

Although I can’t let go of language entirely, I do manage to sit for a long spell in a wakeful hush. I keep my eyes open because I wish to see the stillness, not escape from it. The panorama I see is hardly wilderness, and yet every blade of grass, every bird and twig courses with a wild energy. The same energy pours through me. Although my body grows calm from sitting still, I rock slightly with the slow pulse of my heart. My breath and the clouds ride the same wind.

I think of the way humpback whales breach the sea with a snort from their blowholes and a wave of their flukes, and I remember how the water erased all signs of their passage moments after they dove again. Is that how it is for us? Do we slip crying breath into this world only to disappear, all traces lost when our time is done?

Physically gone, yes. But what about the soul? The heart? The essence of the beloved. Memories float in and out of consciousness; now gentle, now raging, now yearning. Images of an old wooden boat which has slipped away from its moorings and come to rest against a green and purple shore ... of a water lily climbing serenely toward the surface of a pond ... of a fallen leaf turning round and round on the river ... of a rippling wave dancing its way into existence and spreading out in slow circles until it kisses the shore.

There is no absolute stillness in death. Even the dead yield their substance in the stories of who they were, in the love bestowed, in the bone-memories of those they touch.

My thoughts drift to my recent visit to Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria where I knelt in the grass next to Emily Carr's grave. A much loved Canadian artist and one of my favourites, my visit was a pilgrimage of sorts. The impact of her work is still plain to see today as her gravesite is scattered with sketch pencils and paintbrushes left by adoring lovers of both her paintings and her prose. Nearby rises a stone marked with these words of Emily's, written almost a century ago:

“Dear Mother Earth, I have always specifically belonged to you. I have loved from babyhood to roll upon you, to lie with my face pressed right down onto you in my sorrows. I love the look of you and the smell of you and the feel of you. When I die, I should like to be in you, uncoffined, unshrouded, the petals of flowers against my flesh and you covering me up.”
Me too, Emily. Me too.


  1. So beautifully written, from the heart. Then, I would expect no less from you.

  2. Wonderful post. Interesting how the beauties of nature lead us inevitably to meditate upon the fleeting nature of life.

  3. I've had a nice long visit with you here. Your writing is like a song, an old, old song. I've missed you.

    We don't disappear like a whale. The world we inhabited passes away for us, and we move on to whatever lies beyond this place, but we live in the memories of those who love us, with an aching vitality. I know this because I've felt them moving in me, those who are gone from here...