All the old signposts have fallen,
wood cracked and rotted,
atlases crumble, a pile of maps
flutter and dart like hummingbird
wings, the GPS signal is out of range.
Her compass slips from her hand,
the only thing she knows is that
she walks in circles now,
the trees ahead familiar
but really nothing is the same.
She wanders for hours, days,
weeks, loses track of the nights
as one tumbles into another.
Finally, she stops, builds
a bonfire from all the old maps
still in her pack, invites others
who wander by to gather,
each of them savor warmth
from flame and kindness,
laugh while they tell stories
of how they once knew the way.
Her eyes meet another,
hand outstretched, together
their breath rises in white spirals
into cold air and they
stay still long enough
to learn to love the quiet ache,
the old longing to be sure,
to see the country of certainty
as a memory receding
like an evening horizon until
there is only the black bowl of sky.
They begin to hear the whisper
of breezes, the secrets of birds,
follow the underground stream
that runs through each of them,
and they no longer ask
which way to go,
but sit and savor this
together, under night sky
illumined by fire and stars.
Memories of traveling to Newfoundland five years ago were evoked this week, thanks to photos I’d posted on Face Book coming back to remind me, and viewing the beautifully shot episode “Strange & Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island.” I didn’t get to Fogo Island then. Hadn’t even known about it. But it’s been on my list since, and visiting may come sooner than later as international travel might now be a thing of the past.
That trip, with its magnificent vistas of land, sea and sky, awakened a deep love for the wild and inspired words that remarkably won me a writing contest sponsored by the tour company.
It’s been good during these my fallow days – when the only vistas I’m seeing are those in my back yard and community, and the only words that come are few and far between – to remember back then, to trust in now.
Seeing Newfoundland in Six Vignettes
I The Table Lands, Gros Morne June 20, 2015
The vastness of this Island’s spirit, holding the Earth’s very own heart exposed to all the elements.
A paradox of deep beauty, magnificence and awe, with a cutting desperation for survival.
A people who, fierce and proud – despite what we mainlanders think – know what matters.
II Woody Point, Gros Morne Early Sunday Summer Solstice Morn June 21, 2015
A Bonne Bay full of Sun on this Sacred Sunday Summer Solstice morn.
Shhhh… the only sounds…
A choir of birds. Robin singing, thrilling, trilling. Black Crow cawing. Meadow Lark warbling. Red winged Blackbird wooing.
Blood red blossoms about to burst forth on the front yard crab apple tree.
Water softly lapping on the stony shore.
Locals sitting on their front porch stoops, sipping coffee, smoking the day’s first cigarette.
The “from aways” their laughter and chatter break the spell.
I stand on yet another threshold looking for the middle way.
III Norris Point, Gros Morne Our Summer Solstice Prayer June 21, 2015
Intention held in the hearts and minds of twelve women wild to witness the whale, grand dame of our species.
A blow…once, twice seen along the rock and tree faced cliff.
Colour full kayaks skim the surface, carry us Home.
Our hands drum the chant of welcome, invoking her wisdom, calling her in.
A tail sighted…once, twice breaking though the glassy bay.
A sudden breach.
Our collective Heart leaps with the closeness of her show.
A prayer received and delivered.
IV Woody Point, Gros Morne Last Breakfast at the Granite Cafe June 22, 2015
“I’d be nervous all the time,” explains the sweet young server (can’t be more than twenty-two, eyebrow piercing twinkles a delicate blue, matches her eyes), sharing a bit about her baby girl, why she’ll stay put on Woody Point, where the closest traffic light is in Corner Brook, so Adrianna can run free.
V Western Brook Pond, Gros Morne June 22, 2015
That long-awaited landscape. The one I first saw on TV. You know, the one that grabbed my Heart and fired my Imagination. The one with the cliffs.
“I’d like to go there one day.”
So what fired the Imagination of those ancient mariners? The ones whose fjords evoke the very one I’m travelling down right now?
VI Long Time Home L’Anse aux Meadows and Home July 7, 2015
Two days travelling then waiting. Anticipation grows with the wish to be settled back home. Thankful all uneventful, as a day later, and for several more, re-routing, premature landings, delays, all in response to bomb threats on my airline.
The world’s madness – is it more than ever, or the consequence of instantaneous connection – hits my consciousness broadside, closer to home.
And what of those ancient mariners and the many days’ and weeks’ and months’ anticipation and sailing across the ocean? What bold imagination and steel-hearted courage, madness even, drove them from their Nordic homeland to what we now call Iceland, Greenland? And then further south, to be the first of their kind, my kind, to settle on this, my home and native land?
L’Anse aux Meadows, the very tip of Newfoundland’s northern most shore. One thousand years ago. We now know centuries before the likes of men we call Cabot, Columbus, Cartier.
When I recall the day I disembarked from the van, set foot on and looked out over that first “from away settlement,” over the bare expanse of naked land and sea and sky – cold and windy and grey and raining – I can hardly imagine, in a thousand years, their first reaction to seeing and setting foot. Unless I search in my own DNA and evoke that of my father’s, when he first saw, from the ship carrying him across the ocean from post-war Germany, and set foot on the land that he would claim and make home, that day over a mid-century ago.
Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance, when you’re perfectly free.
– Rumi – translated by Coleman Barks in The Essential Rumi, 1995
Sweet synchronicity – no sooner had I written this post when I heard a musical interpretation of these verses. Composer Anna Clyne created an orchestral arrangement featuring the cello, titled DANCE. Listen to the fourth movement, “in your blood,” with cellist Inbal Segev and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
My father could use a little mercy now The fruits of his labor Fall and rot slowly on the ground His work is almost over It won’t be long and he won’t be around I love my father, and he could use some mercy now
My brother could use a little mercy now He’s a stranger to freedom He’s shackled to his fears and doubts The pain that he lives in is Almost more than living will allow I love my brother, and he could use some mercy now
My Church and my Country could use a little mercy now As they sink into a poisoned pit That’s going to take forever to climb out They carry the weight of the faithful Who follow ‘em down I love my Church and Country and they could use some mercy now
Every living thing could use a little mercy now Only the hand of grace can end the race Towards another mushroom cloud People in power, well They’ll do anything to keep their crown I love life, and life itself could use some mercy now
Yea, we all could use a little mercy now I know we don’t deserve it But we need it anyhow We hang in the balance Dangle ‘tween hell and hallowed ground Every single one of us could use some mercy now Every single one of us could use some mercy now Every single one of us could use some mercy now
There is nothing I can write today that isn’t already being penned by those more astute, more qualified and more proximate to the rioting south of me in the United States, this time catalyzed by the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis. To say the collective outrage is palpable would be a gross understatement. As I write, headlines appear on my screen reporting increased aggression and violence from police towards protesters. And all the while, the nation’s “leader” resorting to his m.o. – ironically one he tried to shut down this week – tweets with the effect of throwing gasoline on fire. To say these already volatile scenarios in American cities are being intentionally and strategically inflamed by bands of out-of-state Neo Nazis and white supremacists, taking their lead from the one in charge, might be speculation bordering on truth.
So I borrow from the words of others to help me find my own.
And a perspective I heard yesterday in a zoom conversation.
“We need to connect the demand for justice – which is an outpouring of love – with tenderness.”
Omid Safi Islamic scholar and teacher of The Heart of Rumi, May 30, 2020
Over the years at summer folk festivals across my province, I’ve heard American songwriter Mary Gauthier sing one of her most memorable songs, Mercy Now. Released in 2005, its relevancy persists as a poignant anthem for these times. Reading the lyrics over at her website for an excerpt here, I realized, with a heavy heart, that every word is as pertinent today as then. Maybe because her gift is to write with a sparse honesty about our human condition.
“…My brother could use a little mercy now He’s a stranger to freedom He’s shackled to his fears and doubts The pain that he lives in is Almost more than living will allow I love my brother, and he could use some mercy now
…Yea, we all could use a little mercy now I know we don’t deserve it But we need it anyhow We hang in the balance Dangle ‘tween hell and hallowed ground Every single one of us could use some mercy now…”
Mary Gauthier, Mercy Now, 2005
I’ve completed the seventh week in The Soul of a Pilgrim with its practice of “embracing the unknown.” This, too, a reality of the human condition, despite our best efforts and delusions to think we know one moment beyond this one. An early morning practicing the art of contemplative photography, framed by this theme, bore these ephemeral gifts of tender mercy in image and word.
Please, can I have a God who within me beyond me enboldens, encourages, enthuses me and we
to be better to do better
for self and kin of every tribe and colour every love and gender
so that me and we may always love, live and breathe
(inspired by “Please, Can I Have a God,” by Christine Valters Paintner, in The Soul of a Pilgrim, 2015)
Do not rush to make meaning. When you smile and say what purpose this all serves, you deny grief a room inside you, you turn from thousands who cross into the Great Night alone, from mourners aching to press one last time against the warm flesh of their beloved, from the wailing that echoes in the empty room.
When you proclaim who caused this, I say pause, rest in the dark silence first before you contort your words to fill the hollowed out cave, remember the soil will one day receive you back too. Sit where sense has vanished, control has slipped away, with futures unravelled, where every drink tastes bitter despite our thirst.
When you wish to give a name to that which haunts us, you refuse to sit with the woman who walks the hospital hallway, hears the beeping stop again and again, with the man perched on a bridge over the rushing river. Do not let your handful of light sting the eyes of those who have bathed in darkness.
Saw the wanderin’ eye, inside my heart Shouts and battle cries, from every part I can see those tears, every one is true When the door appears, I’ll go right through, oh I stand in liquid light, like everyone
I built my life with rhymes, to carry on And it gives me hope, to see you there The things I used to know, that one fine
One fine day
In a small dark room, where I will wait Face to face I find, I contemplate Even though a man is made of clay Everything can change that one fine —
One fine day
Then before my eyes, is standing still I beheld it there, a city on a hill I complete my tasks, one by one I remove my masks, when I am done
Then a peace of mind fell over me — In these troubled times, I still can see We can use the stars, to guide the way It is not that far, the one fine —
One fine day
– David Byrne and Brian Eno – 2018
David Byrne, founder of my most favourite dance band, Talking Heads.