Category Archives: Reflections

Here

When I consider…the small space I occupy and which I see swallowed up in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I take fright and am amazed to see myself here rather than there: there is no reason for me to be here rather than there, now rather than then. Who put me here?

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées

Standing on a hill with the land tumbling down before me and the immense sky seeming fit to swallow everything whole, it’s impossible not to feel small. But, in being alone here save for a few deer grazing nearby and an unidentifiable bird wheeling high above, I can’t help but feel large, too. I don’t know if it’s just the prairies that can make a person feel both infinitesimal and grandiose at the same time. I think of all the billions of people who are not here, never will be here, have never heard of here, and even if they had, likely would take no great pains to get themselves here. And I wonder, like Pascal and countless others since have, “who put me here?”

DSC_8811 (2)

It takes nothing to forget

It was her birthday yesterday, she would have been 57. It’s hard to imagine that, since she wasn’t yet 40 when she died.

We used to go to the cemetery on her birthday, take flowers, sometimes roses from the farm since this is when they bloom.

But we didn’t this year. Busy with other things and to be honest I forgot until the day was nearly over. A day passes quickly these days.

And that’s just how easy it is to forget. As easy as remembering used to be. It takes something to remember. It takes nothing to forget.

Things that Last

I believe only in things lasting forever.

– Andrew Suknaski

It’s like he knew me when he wrote that, me and all the others with that particular kind of restlessness that resists itself. I don’t want to be restless, changeable, mutable. I want to sit tight, burrow in, become part of something permanent. But my very nature rebels against it, especially when I try my hardest to make it so.

What holds me here? Is there anything that anchors me, anything beyond my own will, my own deep-seated conviction that here is where I must be? Even when I do not feel as “here” as I want to, as I used to.

Of course, fickle beings we are, and me as fickle as the rest, can change our minds, can get caught up in flights of fancy which soon depart, borne away by practical words carried on west winds. Or, our fancies are dulled by the routine of getting by, of doing what’s got to be done, or so we’re told, tell ourselves, believe in lieu of the alternative(s).

This land, steady and knowing beneath me, this blanket of blackest night hanging over me, hold a wisdom I want to learn, but they do not give it up easily. I ask what I should I do, where I should go, if I should stay. Not even the omnipresent wind stirs in reply.

Perhaps it’s not the wind’s job, nor the stars, nor the land’s itself to direct my course. Maybe I am not a sparrow in a stormy night, batted about and at the mercy of some force greater than myself. It is a thought both liberating and terrifying.

And what if some energy from some distant place is stirring within me, calling for me?  To heed it, or not?

Is it enough to be tethered, rather than anchored?

For me, nothing is ever enough.

 I’m still here and what has not changed is
my inability to change
move on
though I’m forever moving on.

– Andrew Suknaski

Dead tree
kristin catherwood|fromthegap.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next Year Country

“There was always the land, those acres a man could walk over at sunset… His own land. No matter how sandy, rocky, dark, or rich, owning land was the triumph of it all. He could pick up his soil and let it sift through  his fingers and say, “This is mine.” If you have not been close to the land, you will never know that emotion.”

– Barry Broadfoot, Next Year Country.

 

There’s a saying, a mentality, which underscores life here: “next year country.” Its meaning is both obvious and elusive, for the plain, simple statement, sums up its literal meaning: “this is next year country” means that next year is always going to be better. When the crop is only fair, or fails entirely, it’s time to turn to next year. But what does better mean? It is not the same as the grass is always greener. It’s pure, unbridled optimism in a land full of glass half-empty people.

Sometimes I get a little melancholy when I read writing that is so perfect, and I think, what’s the point of me writing at all? These others who came before have already written what I want to write. When I’m out and about and something pops into my mind and I get that exhilarating feeling, that thrill of rightness which manifests in gooseflesh and a muted giddiness felt deep in the guts – only to discover moments or months later that someone else has already articulated that exact notion, that thought has already crystallized and been given external form by somebody before me. So what are those thrills for, anyway? Is it enough to just feel them, or must I give voice to them as well? We are always taught to be innovative explorers, to always have something new to offer the world. If we want to write a book, it better be about something no one’s ever written before or there isn’t a chance in hell of it ever seeing the light of day.

Then the copycats may follow for we live in a world of imitation. So maybe I’m just a copycat after all, rehashing what the wise ones before me have already thought, said, and written. But then I remember how every story ever told has its roots somewhere in some ancient, nebulous source where all stories come from. That we have been telling and re-telling the same stories, with different characters and settings and simpler and more elaborate plots, throughout time. So maybe it’s worth something for me to keep writing anyway, even if what I have to say isn’t new. It’s just my way of saying it.

Next year country: to hope for something better, to keep on against the odds because, somehow, it’s worth doing.

Sun Stands Still

The olde year now away is fled,
The new year it is entered

– Traditional

Longest night, but not darkest night. Not this year. Not with the moon almost full.

I went out to my spot, in the hills, tonight. My tracks were the first human tracks on fresh fallen snow, but not the first tracks. A highway frequented by rabbits, coyotes, deer, birds was laid before me. It was silent tonight, but I knew I was not alone up in those hills. The moonlight revealed all those tracks, a dizzying network of them.

The winter solstice is the anniversary of from the gap. I didn’t even think about it when I wrote The Great White Winter, didn’t really pay attention to what the date was. But now, two years to the day, it seems weighted with significance.

In the natural world, the one that is not governed by the clocks and calendars of humankind, the winter solstice is the eve of the new year. It is the shortest day (here, in the northern hemisphere), the longest night. It is the beginning of winter. It is a time when old things die and new things incubate and wait to grow.

Today is a day to think about the new year ahead, and what should be let go and what should be nurtured to grow. What should be left behind and what should be run toward. It is a time to take stock of what’s come before and plan for what’s to come. It’s a time in-between.

I think about how far I’ve come in the two years since I started writing in this space. I think about how I felt two years ago, because I remember it well. And I think about how I felt one year ago. And it seems like no time has passed, and like all time has passed. I’m not the same person I was and yet I’m more myself than I’ve ever been before.

I think about all the places I’ve been, how far I’ve travelled. I think about where I want to go next, of all the places not yet seen. And it frightens me a little, because those places are far away and I so hate leaving here. But I must, as I have before. Must go to come back.

But for now, there is no going, no leaving. There is just the stillness, of my mind, of my heart. There is just the quiet, the strength of the moon and stars and the lay of the land beneath my feet. Right now there is no need to move. I can stand still, for just a moment, as the sun stands still.

 

Trail

“Who ever listened to the dreamer or a poet”

– Andrew Suknaski, Wood Mountain Poems

A trail fades to nothing if it’s not followed.

It wasn’t Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Rumi, Eliot, or Rilke, though certainly I followed paths of their creation, too. It wasn’t Laurence, Grove, Butala, or MacLeod, though certainly I’d be no kind of writer without having read them first.

No, it’s been Suknaski all along. Little did I know.

I always wondered who was the poet who came before me and already said the things I want to say. Perhaps they’ve already been said. But perhaps it’s my turn to say them different, somehow. After all, I’m not a poet.

I remember that stranger saying to me: “you will write the words that have been forgotten.”

My prophecy.

 

Mastery, and Truth

For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers.

                                                                          – Victor E. Frankl

I’ll never forget sitting in that crowded, humid pub on Water Street in St. John’s, open mic, a Friday probably, wintertime, and a young man done up dapper in a brown suit stepped up, opened his mouth, and sang.

Shamus leaned over to me and said, “that’s a real singer” with the conviction that only a folklorist of Gaelic lineage who grew up in the post-industrial world of Nova Scotia can have. I was new in town, new to the island, to folklore, to this pub, felt like I was new to everything, and I barely knew Shamus, a fellow folklorist who just happened to be sitting next to me.

And I remember how the hair stood up on my arms, not only because of the pure voice of the singer proving Shamus right, but because of the truth in Shamus’ statement, and his recognition of the mastery possessed by that singer. I remember the statement more than the song – like so many things ephemeral, the song rushed into me, filled me up, then departed, leaving me with only the memory of having experienced something grand, no memory of the thing itself. But I remember Shamus’ words, and the way he said them, and the expression on his face as he said that true thing.

Now I use that term when I read something so true, so full of mastery, so perfectly written, that it hurts the heart. I say it or think it to myself when I read and re-read clumps of certain words strung together by the likes of Alistair MacLeod or Richard Yates or Sharon Butala or Irène Némirovsky. That’s a real writer.

When I see a rancher settle himself in the saddle with practised and unconscious ease – that’s a real cowboy. When I see my dad duck his hand into the stream of grain flowing from the back of a truck to catch a sample – that’s a real farmer. When I see my friend lean over a tiny piece of stone with some fine-pointed tool and his eyes squint and glaze over and throw sparks altogether at once – that’s a real artist.

There are lots of good singers, lots of good farmers, lots of people good at things, but not all of them are “real” in the way Shamus meant it that night. You can perfect a craft, be a brilliant writer,  a competent artist, a skilled artisan, an experienced farmer, rancher, coal miner, professor, tailor, sailor, butcher, baker or candlestick maker, but still not reach the one step further to mastery, which comes only once you’ve managed to tap in to the vein of truth, the depth of knowing that goes beyond the immediately knowable. It only comes once you’ve realised the power in submitting to something greater than yourself. The knowing that no matter how much you practise, or try to perfect, that there’s something beyond you, out of reach, that you must submit to. Trust in and submit to.

The truth.

 

 

Why Didn’t I?

This past summer I drove halfway around the world. I never left the prairies, but still, the amount of road I covered would stretch halfway ’round this earth, if one cared to measure miles in that way. The road still stretches out before me, but now there is some time to slow down, to stay put, to reflect, to remember. To ask myself questions,

Like,

Why didn’t I take that one back road, that one somewhere out west, down south, near the line, the one that had that old house, that old barn, that abandoned homestead? There’s so many roads like this, so many abandoned homesteads, I’ve photographed lots already, I don’t have time, I’m already running late.

Why didn’t I stop that one time, that time I really wanted to when the sun was setting behind me and bathing everything in a coppery light, casting my hair into shades of flame in the rearview mirror, a light so dense I could feel it? How many sunsets do I need to take pictures of? I don’t have time, I’m already running late.

Why didn’t I stop near that slough, the one that was full of pelicans gracefully and serenely bobbing amongst the cattails, brilliantly white? There’ll be more pelicans to see, they’re kind of far away anyway and besides, I don’t have time, I’m already running late.

How many back roads did I take? How many times did I stop to take photos, to sit on the hood and just gaze all around me, how many times did I roll the windows all the way down so the heat and the dust could come in and cover me over? How many times was I on some abandoned highway and felt so much at home that I believed I could live there, at 100 kilometres per hour, forever? How much did I relish every moment of it, even when my eyes were gritty and my shoulders ached? How many times did I arrive at my destination breathless just in the nick-of-time or even a little bit late because I just had to stop to look at that church, to drive through that decaying village, to try to capture the brilliance of the springy green grass? How often did I speak aloud my wonder at the all-encompassing beauty of the hills, how many times did I express my love for every cow, rabbit and antelope that I whizzed past? How much more could I have seen, stopped for, photographed, marveled at?

And yet, why didn’t I do more?

Stink Lake House

Time Passes

Time passes, slips away, recedes right before my very eyes. It’s that time of year again, the time for shoring up, buckling down, tightening up. Winter is on its way, no matter how many warm and sunny days we’ve been having and may yet have. And true to form, to my own internal clock, something in me, the restless, creative drive has begun to curl up, to burrow in, to get all warm and comfy and sleepy. My ideas don’t have the sizzle and spark that they did in spring and summer. My overwhelming zest for life, so powerful that it’s almost frantic at times, has dwindled down. Not because the love has gone, but it has deepened into a solid appreciation, a constant gratitude for what has come about and what may yet be. I can rest on all that I’ve done the past several months, let myself sink into it until the restlessness returns, probably with the first stirrings of spring.

Barren Trees