Blessings for Judith

You can’t measure love in time. You can spend a lifetime with someone and not develop the kind of feelings you might expect to have, not really. And then, you can spend just a few weeks with another and know you’ll never find anyone like them again.

Your unique combination of togetherness creates the magic of a loving friendship or of a love relationship and don’t ever think that friendship is less important than romantic love.

These are the thoughts I’m having as I think about my friend Judith.  In spite of the short amount of time we spent together, her calm, quiet, loving and accepting nature surrounded me and calmed me down whenever I was in her presence. It’s a way of being I admire, desperately need in my life, wish I was more like, hope to be around again, and will miss so very much. I always knew that she was farther along the path than me, in consciousness, and we all need that in our lives, to do and be better. She also had the same dry humour that turned shared amusements into delicious moments, the kind you think of afterwards and that still bring a smile.

Judith passed away yesterday after an incredibly difficult five months. She died of lung cancer; Mesothelioma to be exact. She could only guess that the cancer may have been growing in her lung from the time, as a young girl, she would go with her father, a plumber, to some of his work sites and where they were both unknowingly exposed to asbestos.

The picture above was taken on June 24th, 2018, one day before she had any indication that she was ill. Although, the very next day she told me that she was having some trouble breathing that day. It hadn’t been apparent to me and she hadn’t said. I took this photo across the table at a beautiful end-of-day meal on Salt Spring at the Treehouse in Ganges. The wine glass looks ginormous. It wasn’t! We spent a wonderful day on the island because I knew she would love it there and I wanted her to see a place that has been such an important part of my life over the years.  

She was from the prairies and lived much of her life back east, and then for a few years after her and her husband amicably separated, she lived in Nelson, B.C. She was a life-long meditator and yoga practitioner and a yoga teacher.

I knew very little about her life actually except that she’d been married for about 28 years, maybe more, and had three children now grown in their late twenties/mid-thirties, all living back east. I met both of her daughters and they are the beautiful people I would expect she would have raised. Her youngest son made it to B.C. twice, but we never met. I also met her ex-husband who was incredibly helpful to her when she needed him. It was unfortunate that she was on the other side of the country from almost all her family members when she became ill. They managed to re-arrange their lives to be with her as she needed them in these last months.

I met Judith in February 2018 at the Victoria Film Festival. We were in the line-up and started chatting and she sat beside me in the film.  I think the film was The Gospel according to Andre. Afterwards we went for tea at Wild, that very New Age coffee place on Yates Street in Victoria. From that first meeting, our friendship was formed. I was relieved and excited to make a connection with someone in Victoria who, from the instant I met her, I just knew I wanted to have in my life. You can meet so many people who are perfectly fine individuals but just don’t come close to fitting into that category.

I believe she’d just moved to Victoria from Nelson the month before. I’d arrived a few months before her. That type of connection doesn’t happen very often and yet every time I’ve acted on those feelings, the end result has proven my initial gut instinct to be correct. Judith was my closest friend in a city where I have yet to meet those she referred to as “my tribe.” “You will find your tribe here,” she said. “Just keep trying.”

On the day of this photo, we went to Salt Spring to the gatehouse on Stowel Lake Farm and I recall her saying that she could “feel the love” that had gone into creating that wonderful place. She hoped to go back there for a meditation retreat one day.

We went to the Sacred Mountain Lavender Farm and the Saturday Market and visited the cottage in the north end on Marjorie’s property where I’d lived before moving off island. I wanted to give Judith a sweet first-time introduction to a place I knew she would love. I believed then that this would be the first of many more visits with her. We didn’t even have time to visit Ruckle Park that day.  “You have to see the place that is my touchstone,” I said. I was looking forward to future visits with her.

The day after that fantastic day, June 24, 2018, I got a call from her telling me that she was having trouble breathing and her chest hurt. I immediately thought she was having a heart attack. I wanted to call an ambulance. She refused.  I convinced her to go to a walk-in clinic across the street from where she lived. It wasn’t long, maybe a day or two, before she was in Emergency having her lung drained of fluid. And then it happened again. Finally, after a few weeks, the diagnosis was made. She even endured an operation to remove fluid from around her heart. In her usual private and quiet manner, she carried on and when she was well enough, we’d meet for lunch, for a drive and then in her apartment where I’d bring a special treat from a nearby bakery or her daughters would make brunch, her husband ordered in Thai take-out. I didn’t get to see her before I went to Hawaii. She wasn’t up for a visit. She was struggling with pain.

I’m convinced her life-long meditation practice and personal spiritual beliefs enabled her the dignity to accept what she could not change. But I’m also shocked to know that in this day of modern medicine, it did not seem possible to manage her pain to the degree one would expect and desire for any human being. I’m confused by that and so sorry she had to endure it.

Now that she has left us, I will hold her spirit close to mine and remember her as the beautiful being of loving kindness that she was, knowing that I was lucky to have her in my life for the short time that I did.

I like to imagine her now dressed in a flowing, colourful gown, the kind she would not have typically worn on earth because it would have been too bold. She is leading a yoga class in a beautiful tropical environment, mingling with other spirits and a light is beaming off her because she is free, of pain, of all worldly concerns, journeying in peace. I will miss her so much.

The Big Island Version 3.0

I made a spontaneous decision to go to the big island of Hawai’i before Christmas. I felt mentally tired, had the vacation time, and going to the Big Island is an easy trip for me, given that it’s the third time I’ve been there.

It’s a bit like going to the tropical version of Salt Spring I know it so well. The weather was perfect, not too hot for a Canadian because it is their winter after all. It wasn’t crowded and I was told that the volcanic eruption of Kilauea in the summer had really impacted tourism, especially in Hilo and in the village of Volcano. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park had just re-opened (but not fully) in September.

My favourite thing about the Big Island is the diversity of landscapes from volcanoes to tropical gardens to waterfalls, lush green valleys and even pasture land up in Waimea country. You can go snorkelling or take a surf lesson. Whether you want to go out on one of the tours such as Fairwinds or BodyGlove or you just want to catch the trolley that goes along Ali’i Drive to go to the family friendly easy snorkelling beach of Kahhalu’u Beach park it’s up to you. From sea turtles to coffee plantations to golf to snorkelling with Manta Rays at night if that’s your thing, to taking tours of octopus and seahorse farms or just learning about the Hawaiian heritage and local arts and crafts such as the kapa quilt patterns in the quilt museum in Kona or about the history of Tsunamis at the little museum in Hilo. There’s touristy Hawaii in Kona village and the long strip of shops which keeps things interesting and there is not so touristy old Hawaii out in the rural areas.  Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is one of the most stunning tropical gardens you’ll ever see and not to be missed. This time I found this unique and aptly named Peace Garden at the end of Painted Church Road. It was spectacular, perched high above Kealakekua Bay.

Because I’ve already seen most of the tourist things from my first and second trip, this was going to be just a more hanging out kind of trip. I wasn’t even going to rent a car until I realized, you have to rent a car if you’re going to go to the Big Island and not get stuck in Kona. So I caved, rented one for two days, and that was just enough to get me out to the Place of Refuge which is one of my favourite places and I dropped into the Painted Church. I also wanted to take a quick trip back up the hill behind Kona to Holualoa, a funky little place with some good artists’ shops. I also made the longer drive up to Waikoloa, and went to the spectacular Kua beach on the way back on an incredibly blustery day where the waves were frothing and flashing.

One day, I went to a beach area that a lot of tourists would probably just pass by because it doesn’t look like it would be very nice when you’re looking towards the ocean from the highway. But it’s really nice, runs for miles and it’s almost deserted. There were some locals surfing farther out. It’s only about a 20 minute drive North from Kona.

I was walking along when I spotted this guy peering intently into the water, poised to pounce with his net to catch fish the old fashioned way. I was slightly bemused. It looked like I’d stumbled upon some episode of Survivor. But that’s me being dismissive of long held traditions that actually work. Unfortunately, they didn’t work for him that day. No fish caught!

He came into shore and we started chatting. In no time at all, he offered me a beer. I thought about it for about 30 seconds and said, Okay. Sure. Why not. I was thirsty after all. And I put my towel down and we watched the fishing boat that had been trolling back and forth farther out and we talked about this and that and nothing really. I asked him how old he was. He asked me how young I was. His choice of words told me a lot about him. And then he asked me if I’d like some dried Ahi tuna. It’s great with beer, he said, and it was.

I like those kind of interactions while on vacation. They seem so pure. A mutual understanding that it’s a human connection made without expectations except sharing of realities and soaking up the other person’s energy. I really liked his energy. For all I know, he could have been homeless. He had a pretty wrecked Mazda truck. He didn’t have a job. He’d worked previously for 18 years at Holualoa Coffee Company. He had two kids.

Those kinds of interactions make traveling alone the adventure it can be.

I’ve been pondering Albert upon my return. We sat there for about 45 minutes that day and then when we parted he took my hand and we looked into each others eyes and there was a real connection there. I wanted to give him a hug but I didn’t. I’m thinking Hawaiian hospitality has to be pretty renowned and he did his nationality proud that day.

He told me where he lived and said I should drop in before I leave if I wanted to. But I didn’t. I’d be gone in less than a day.

Everything that mattered for me was in the moment.

Childhood memories through a pepper shaker’s glass

I was doing the dishes the other night and once again, I took out one of those small wiry brushes that allow access to inaccessible corners of glassware or ceramics. I purposely bought those little brushes so I could see if I could get the inside of a small glass pepper shaker clean. For reasons I can’t explain, the pepper residue just won’t come off the inside of this tiny shaker. And as I was doing that it occurred to me that I’d been trying to get this little thing clean for about 2 months and I still hadn’t got there.

In the midst of doing what’s become almost a habit as part of doing the dishes, I stopped and asked myself, What are you doing? Why does this tiny little glass pepper mill that has no financial value matter so much to you, and apparently it really matters!

And when I thought about that I realized that this small object, smooth to the touch with rippled diagonal lines, elicits such strong memories for me of Sunday dinners in my childhood when there was almost always someone coming to dinner, an occasion at a time when having people over, not going out, was how special occasions got marked.

As a little girl, the child size of these must have been what appealed to me. I would often be asked by my mother to put them on the table from their usual resting spot in the china cabinet in the dining room, as if I was putting the cherry on top, the final accoutrements on the white linen table cloth as the guests arrived.

If it was Sunday, there was almost always someone coming for dinner. Uncles and aunts, my father’s parents, sometimes one of my eldest sister’s boyfriends and dinner, it seemed to me, would last a very long time.

Good china. White linen. Cutlery laid out correctly. The special silverware taken carefully from that heavy wooden box with the red velvet lining. My three older sisters moving back and forth between kitchen to dining room as a trio of servers  in that big old house in New Westminster, three storeys high. A fireplace in the the dining room, another one in the den. Beams on the ceilings. A sunroom. Window seats. Awnings. The kind of old house that few are lucky enough to live in now. The only time I’ve been able to call a house mine even if it was my parents who owned it.

After my parents died and their things were sorted and given away, I realized that these little glass salt and pepper shakers represent the feelings of togetherness, of family, that I have not had for a very long time. I made the decision to keep them when I could just as easily have given them away. And every time I look at them, they represent a link to a past that is a testimony to my mother who worked so hard as a home maker, to feed her family and mark special occasions properly. I never use them. They don’t work very well but that’s not the point.

It would have been my parent’s 73rd wedding anniversary today if they were still alive. They got married on February 25th, 1945, in Holy Trinity Church in Winnipeg at 6pm by a Reverend Findley. The reception was at the Marlborough Hotel. I only know this because I have my mother’s bride book and it has the details, along with details of what she wore and all the well wisher cards and strange long white ribbons with women’s names typed onto them, which must have been a custom at the time, the names of the attendees at the bridal showers held for her.

My parents eventually moved to New Westminster and they rented rooms in a house at 215 Fifth Avenue near Queen’s Park. There’s a receipt in this bridal book that details the cost of the monthly rent for these rooms. They paid $22.50 per month to a Mr. Taylor who, when he died, left them furniture and his son gave them a good deal on the house to buy it.

Maybe you have something that represents so much more to you than its physical value and even though it’s special, you haven’t explicitly acknowledged it yet, out loud that is. You haven’t really made it known to yourself even though your actions say it’s so.

All good de-cluttering books speak to keeping only those things in your life that you love. I de-cluttered before moving to Victoria and I can say that it’s good to look around my living space and have my eyes fall only upon only things that are meaningful to me and that I’m pleased with. Your mind engulfs the beauty and the joy of what those things represent and feels satisfied, not distracted or irritated or forced off balance which is what happens when your house if full of stuff that has no reason to be there.

In my life, and I expect in yours, these are the kinds of objects – the ones with much more meaning than that which is visible on the surface – that matter the most. Think about it a while and see if what I’m saying makes sense for you.

Seedy Saturday and entrepreneurial gardeners

Took myself off to Seedy Saturday at the Victoria Convention Centre. I love Seedy Saturday and apparently there are an ever exploding number of Seedy Saturdays that happen all over Canada now.

Even though I don’t own land, a girl can dream, can’t she?

Besides, like a lot of things, dreaming about an incredible garden is often better than reality. Because reality means I’d actually have to haul dirt and weed and water and spend weekends working and if there’s anything I’ve learned in the past five months now that I have a full time job again, it’s that every second of my weekend is precious. No squandering weekend minutes or seconds doing anything I don’t want to do.

I sat in on three talks, and learned so much. The day started with a medicinal plant talk by Jessy Delleman who owns Fireweed Farm and School.  It was interesting to see slides of how she transformed a piece of land in about 4 years and built a business that includes seed selling, workshops, walks, plants, and healing tinctures all focused on native plants.  Her business is focused on native B.C. plants.

I then moved on to Dan Jason of Salt Spring Seeds talking about ancient grains because he has a new book about that and his rant about Monsanto was fantastic. It was worth sitting in on just to hear that.

I had no idea that he grew about 700 different crops on his farm on Salt Spring. When he began a long time ago, he’d actually started with soy beans and had a lot of hope of getting some funding for those except the powers at be didn’t believe that he could grow those successfully. Of course, he’s been growing them successfully for years.

It was so interesting to listen to him speak about soy and quinoa and amaranth and Ethiopian barley (no, there’s not just one kind) and how when he started growing, he was convinced that amaranth, not quinoa, was going to be the trend that took off. He still thinks amaranth’s day has yet to come. It was interesting to hear the hope he had about how things are really shaking all over B.C. and on Vancouver Island when it comes to local producers and how that’s beginning to impact consumer purchasing. He pointed out that it’s actually how we eat and how that food gets distributed that’s the largest contributor to greenhouse gases.

The last talk I attended was by Chris Hildreth and his company TopSoil Innovative Agriculture along with production manager Scott Mellett. It’s so impressive to see someone with a vision pursue it and figure it out and through action and hard work help make changes in zoning in the City of Victoria so that now, urban agriculture and making that happen here is apparently a lot less daunting.

His initial idea was to grow vegetables for restaurants by utilizing unused rooftops in Victoria. But, it wasn’t just about filling some market need. His vision was all about local and sustainable and making sure the people in the restaurants were an integral part of the plan. He learned the hard way, that his initial vision needed reworking and now they grow produce, mainly greens, by using land that has yet to be developed at Dockside Green. His 10 years of experience in the local restaurant industry meant that instead of like many urban farmers who may be approaching restaurants from the outside in, he was approaching them from the inside out.

His business is totally sustainable in that he works with a small number of nearby restaurants like Canoe Brewpub, Fishhook, Fiamo, Lure and others so that everything is either driven or cycled to the restaurants that are very close to where the produce is grown. The produce gets delivered in reusable boxes, so there’s no packaging or plastics to throw away by the restaurant staff and then the boxes get picked up and the restaurant’s composting gets recycled by another company and delivered back to his garden and the cycle begins anew. In the spring and summer they also sell directly to consumers from their market stall on the same property. I know where I”m going this summer for produce.

It was all so inspiring.

Ross Bay Villa: A historical family and the volunteers who love them

Kathryn McAllister, tour guide.

The children’s bedroom with the quilt and the horse, lovingly restored.

A contemplative view of the tree from the kitchen.

One of many events that happen throughout the year. Taking place today, Sunday, Jan. 21 at 1-3 $15 including tea and Victorian cake.

The pantry

A work party of women hand sewing felted squares for a new wallhanging.

There are few things I like better than to rise early on a weekend, the whole two days stretched before me, and just head out, a vague idea of how the day might come together. Maybe I have figured out the rough plan ahead of time or I have just heard of events that I’ve mentally noted as they have come to me through a reading of a community newspaper or on social media or because I specifically and earlier in the week sought to find out what’s up.

Yesterday was one of those days.  Somewhere in the middle of the week I had come across something called the Ross Bay Villa. What a grand and elegant title for what is actually quite an unassuming little place.  At 2pm every Saturday for $5 you can have a tour of this heritage house across from the Ross Bay Cemetery at 1490 Fairfield Road.

As I entered the property two men were working the front lawn, pouring sand onto the grass and a young woman greeted me. Only one other person, a young guy, a very quiet history buff, was there for the tour.

I learned that Kathryn McAllister is the tour guide’s name and on the Society’s website, I see she was awarded an Emerging Storyteller Award from the Storyteller’s Guild of Canada. She’s a font of local historical knowledge and not surprisingly, she’s a history student at the University of Victoria. Her passion for the old place was bubbling over. Just this summer, she got married under the apple tree out front.

She took us through the rooms describing the Roscoe family and their five children who had made their home there from 1865 to 1879 when Mr. Roscoe took his own life, or at least that’s the best that can be determined. But what really stood out from all of Kathryn’s stories was the magnitude of work that went into saving the old place after it had fallen into disrepair following a series of owners.

Finally, somewhere around 1999, through creativity and elbow grease, volunteers came together to begin to restore the place and even own it through the creation of a society.  What really struck me was just how much commitment to authenticity still seems to exist. From researching wallpapers to having authentic rugs hand sewn in England to stitching by hand the white on white bedspread in the children’s room and the lovingly restored rocking horse.

The quilt on the end of the child’s bed was made with cotton swatches of fabrics authentic to that time, available in the U.S., and the wallpapers were recreated with stencils. The oil cloth flooring in the front hallway was hand painted.  The Ross Bay Villa Society has painstakingly recreated what a middle class family, such as the Roscoe’s, would have lived in at the time.

Throughout the year, they host events such as the one happening today with parlour games. There’s storytelling and special speakers and in July there’s some sort of big community potluck or tea in the front yard to celebrate the house’s original construction more than 150 years ago.

They even have a gift shop in the very finely renovated shed out back. The famous local tea shop, Murchies, has created a tea in the home’s name.  A crafty volunteer creates some fabulous old-fashioned apron smocks for sale, the kind that cover your dress from shoulders to hem. Great for artists and bakers alike. My grandmother used to wear that type.  Cloth tea towels have been silk-screened with the same design of the wall paper in the children’s bedroom which required a volunteer to go into at night with an infrared light to be able to see the design that had been left on the walls in order to copy it accurately before it being silk-screened.

The floors are covered with oil cloth and the wallpaper in the front hallway was made to look like the regal square panels of wood you might find in an old fashioned library.

It’s a true labour of love and you can only imagine what the Roscoe family might feel if they could know how lovingly their original home in Ross Bay has been restored. After her husband’s death, Mrs. Roscoe had to sell off everything, to bring her five young children back to England, making their way  up the Coast and finally to New York before setting sail for the old country.

There’s even a connection between the Roscoe family and the famous children’s illustrator and writer, Beatrix Potter.

Visit the Ross Bay Villa Society website for year-round events.

 

Camino de no thank you

The only person I know to have walked the Camino de Santiago was an acquaintance from The SFU Writer’s Studio, Barb Kmiec. Before I heard a few stories from Barb, it was something I thought I might like to do one day.  I was impressed that a) she did it alone, and b) she survived it. I’m not positive she did the entire route, but I do believe she did complete enough of it to get the certificate.  After hearing about it, I made a decision right then that I could check off this quasi-desire and label it, Camino de no thank you.

The walking appeals to me. The hordes of peregrinos (pilgrims) and the sleeping options would preclude my taking the first step. Not to mention that lately, my weak right ankle, (an old basketball injury), and one crooked toe that I’m guessing has some minor arthritis, would have to get sorted out. The thought of sleeping in a room full of others, in a bad bunk, after a day of walking 15-25 km, reminded me of the worst hosteling experience I had in London in 2001 and in Edinburgh somewhere on the Royal Mile.

In London, just after arriving, wide-eyed and a little overwhelmed because I hadn’t stayed in a hostel for a long time at that point, I was kept awake all night by man in the bunk above me. He was non-stop snoring. He didn’t speak English. We couldn’t communicate and we were the only ones in the two-bunk room. This went on for three nights. By the third evening, I was practically homicidal. I’m not sure why it never occurred to me to just ask for a different room. Duh!

I do not want to re-experience that or sleep in a room full of people in an uncomfortable bed that thousands of others have slept in before me. I do not want to deal with disgusting, painful blisters to do a pilgrimage that, from a spiritual perspective, I don’t really know at this point why I’d do, and for me, the spiritual, not the physical, would be the point, although I gather they’re inextricably linked.

I’m telling you this because last weekend I found myself ordering a small guidebook, Camino Francés, written by Bryson Guptill, from P.E.I., that I’d seen referenced recently on social media. I’ll call it a no frills guide. You can read it in a night or less. You’ll get the route he took with tips, some photos, and exact GPS-plotted distances. If you’re looking to whet your appetite, this could be one book to have in your arsenal. I do have to give a warning about the quality of its binding however. It would probably not survive more than a few days in a pack. Maybe he’ll rethink that on the next printing and use a cerlox bind instead.

“Are you going to walk the Camino this year?” he asked me in an e-mail that he wrote back to me when I ordered the book.

‘No,’ I said. ‘Not this year. Probably not at all. But just in case.’

And it was that part of the sentence, ‘just in case’ and the fact that it had popped out of my mouth, [where the heck did that come from?], that left me both curious and a little worried. I mean, that I actually took the time to order the book did not escape my curious attention either.

Then yesterday morning after reading his book, I was up, unintentionally,  way too early, and I decided I must re-watch, The Way, with Martin Sheen. But it wasn’t to be found on Netflix.  Instead, I came across another film, Footprints: The path of your life, a documentary about 10 American guys led by a young Catholic priest from Arizona. I thought it was really good because of its focus on spirituality (in this case Catholicism) and besides you don’t often see a movie about 10 guys, with at least one who’d had some major losses to overcome, make it happen.

At some point, past the halfway mark, the group realized that the slowest members had to come first, regardless of how slow they might be. Halfway through they found a unique solution for making that happen on the major inclines. You’ll have to watch it to discover what that was. Apparently seven of the 10, just in case you’re still romanticizing such a trip, had to seek medical attention during the 40 day experience (this little tidbit runs quietly across the screen at the end of the movie).

I couldn’t stop thinking of my friend Dave Brent when I watched it  For all I know, he’s way ahead of me and he’s in training for it with all the walks he leads around the Lower Mainland as a secret warm up.  Dave, are you holding out on us as to your ultimate walking motivation?

So just wondering, how many of you secretly desire to do the Camino de Santiago? Have you already done it? Got any unique tips?

Not that kind of revival: Lekwungen

The other evening I went to the Royal BC Museum to an event billed as a storytelling event by Indigenous people.

In my mind, I was going to show up and First Nation’s people were going to tell me stories that I could romanticize all chock-a-block with salmon and ravens and full moons and North West Coast mythology. And afterwards, I’d be full, as if I’d eaten too much bannock. My belly would ache but emotionally, I’d feel satisfied, probably self-satisfied to be more accurate.  Reconciliation with a capital R. I’m all in.

Sady, it’s beginning to feel, to me, that the planet is going to melt and implode before true reconciliation makes any significant inroads. Too many non-indigenous people aren’t willing to listen and try and understand and it pains me to hear their ignorance.

But on Wednesday evening, I was in the small amphitheater on the fourth floor of the museum where I quickly realized, these stories weren’t going to be told in English. They were going to be told in their own languages, in this case, Hul’q’umi’num’ [Hull-ka-mee-num] and SENC?OTEN [sin-cho-ten].

An elder, Sarah Modeste, was there. Apparently, she’s the woman who turned the knitting of Cowichan sweaters into an entrepreneurial endeavour and, at one time, she had 300 knitters under her coordination. There was a linguist there named Andrew Cienski who works with First Nations’ speakers to develop language skills and resources for teachers and community members working to revive their languages.  The Lekwungen language has one native speaker left. It’s almost extinct.

The moderator who, unfortunately, was non-Indigenous, told us to listen to the pacing and the tone and the sounds. And as Sarah Modeste began to speak, even though at 82, recovering from a recent stroke, she’d sometimes have to pause when she forgot a word, I began to visualize her with her dad, on the beach or in a long house and how he may have spoken to her as she shared a story called “Clam digging with my dad.”

Afterwards, she shared a memory, in English, about how she’d be sitting on the beach and she’d hear the sound of the paddles from his canoe, returning to her, and how they’d knock against the side of the boat, the wake of the water and we’ve almost all heard that somewhere. She brought that alive.

Hearing the language, not knowing the words, brought home the reality that, OH MY GOD, THERE WERE ENTIRE FUNCTIONING CIVILIZATIONS THAT EXISTED LONG BEFORE US in a way that I hadn’t truly internalized before. It’s hard to explain it. Of course I knew that. But I hadn’t really internalized the implications of it until I listened to the people who spoke share their languages.

Sarah Modeste said that when she speaks in her own language, she’s always thinking about the trees and the water and the animals and everything that is the natural world. When she turns to speaking English, she immediately begins to have thoughts like, “I wonder what’s on sale at Walmart? How much did those shoes cost I saw at The Bay?”  English is a universal language of trade.

Other Indigenous people got up to speak, mainly women, and one of them was a Grade Two teacher. Unfortunately, I now can’t recall her name, but when she told her story, she used her entire body, gesturing and modulating her tone and when you hear someone speak a language the way she did,  you understand that when you refuse a people their language, you have destroyed the foundation of their lives.