On Befriending the Land
My little family and I just moved from the bustling city of Toronto to the wilderness of northeastern Ontario. We left the city of our dreams—where we spent a decade growing, learning, and loving—for the wilderness of our longing. The move happened at a time when we needed change, needed a fresh perspective, needed a tiny bit of hope returned to our weary hearts. And it happened sort of like magic—a job opportunity presented itself, out of the Great Beyond, and the rest of the story unfolded and is unfolding, still.
We are currently renting a small cottage on the Nipissing First Nation Reserve. We didn’t know the land was reserved land until we got here and met the neighbours. But, even had we not met the neighbours, I suspect we would have felt it.
The energy is electric here, not in a way that excites or overstimulates you, but in a way that wakes you up. In a way that makes you pay attention. In a way that makes you take your shoes off, plant your feet in the ground, and feel the whisperings of the trees travelling up your bones to your tender forest heart.
Our front yard is full of trees and ostrich ferns. The grass is overgrown and sways in the wind like thousands of waltzing friends. The dandelions—those medicinal miracles—are sprinkled throughout, like little spotlights illuminating the grassy dance.
Our back yard is Lake Nipissing—that large expanse of water originally named Nbissing, meaning Big Water in Algonquin. Sometimes, it is as calm as a mirror—the clouds above perfectly reflected on the glassy surface. Other times, the waves are fierce, crashing against the sand like hard lovemaking.
I love both versions of this lake, and all the ones in between, but am particularly drawn to the wild waves. Their relentless music, at night, lulls me into the deepest sleep, feeling cradled in a way that is reminiscent of life in the womb as I imagine it.
We are visited, daily, by families of ducks and loons. The ducks bounce up and down on the waves in what appears to be nonchalant pleasure. The loons sing their early morning songs which move me to tears. If there is a better way to start a day than loon song, I have not yet experienced it.
Our frequent walks down the dirt road, lined with homes and cottages, takes us past many friendly faces and smiles and typical small-town greetings but, mostly, it envelops us in silence. In green leaves. In birds too beautiful for words. In large expanse of sky. It is medicine. The best kind of medicine. The kind that says, "you belong here."
I’ve been feeling all-of-the-feelings lately, fluctuating between profound sadness and elation. I’ve been going outside, when feeling particularly heavy, and finding my heart again. I’ve been saying thank you, thank you, thank you a hundred times a day.
Last week, when I found myself in a particularly difficult place, I prayed to the wide open sky and asked not for answers, but for guidance. For trust.
Then, I looked up and, as the clouds moved across the sky, they told me the exact story I needed hear, at that precise moment in time. One after another after another after another, the clouds said: It’s ok to be quiet, right now. This is your place, right now. There will be more light, soon. There will be deep healing, soon. You are forever guided and protected.
I nearly fell on my knees in gratitude to the clouds. How did they know? They just knew. I suspect they always do.
We are so connected. So deeply, intricately connected to the land upon which we live. We are one, sharing space and time and breath, giving to and taking from each other in a perpetual life-sustaining cycle.
But we are also deeply, painfully disconnected. Because of years—lifetimes—of taking the land for granted. Of moving to cities where the action is. Of spending decades surrounded by concrete buildings and manicured city parks that have all but lost their wildness. Of rushing around in cars and buses, almost never letting our bare feet soak up the soil wisdom.
Here, in this place of deep connection, is where I am becoming acutely aware of my own level of disconnection. I wish it were easy for me to reestablish the connection I no doubt had at birth, with the planet of my choosing. But it isn’t. Everyday, I have to force myself to get off my phone, get offline, turn off all of the screens, and go outside. Even though I know outside is where I long to be, I often have to push myself to get there. Once I’m there, I want to stay forever. But the effort it takes to get there worries me.
Yesterday, I was chatting with dear, dear mentor. A woman who started out as a teacher, became a friend, and is now nothing short of a sister. This woman is a healer and a warrior and a visionary. She exists from a place of rich wisdom and eternal truth. She has healed parts of me, more than once, by speaking only a few perfect words at the perfect time.
I mentioned how life has been lately. I mentioned the clouds and their stories, the ducks and their charming ways. When she asked if I’d made any new friends yet, I told her I hadn’t made any human friends yet, in this new place, but that I was on very good terms with the green growing things and the bugs and the animals.
Then, she said something that resonated so deeply inside of me, I started to cry.
She said: Those beings are the friends I meant. Lay some tobacco down and introduce yourself to them. That land has been their home for thousands of years. Let them know who you are and they will do the same.
I stopped breathing, for a second. I felt something stirring inside. Something like ancient wisdom—the kind we carry into this world but so quickly have numbed, beaten, distracted out of us. Something like an inner song that must have been sung by my ancestors. Something like a bloodline throbbing with truth.
And I thought: Yes. A thousand times yes. This is how you befriend the land. You introduce yourself to it.
That’s what we do, amongst each other, when we wish to be friends, isn’t it? We don’t immediately jump into a profound and lasting and nourishing relationship. We start small. We start with, "hello." We start by reaching out a hand and taking another hand in ours and saying, with kind eyes and unspoken words, "I wish to be your friend."
It makes sense, then, that this is what we should do, too, with the land on which we stand. The land that is always giving so much to us, so many precious wonders we too often take for granted.
We should start by saying hello.
And so, I did. A few days after this conversation I bought some tobacco. I sprinkled it on the ground. And I spoke these words, out loud, to the land that was listening:
Hi. I’m Vicki. I know you know me already. We all know each other already. But I’m here now, with my little family, for the next few months and I want to thank you for giving our tired feet and hearts a place to rest, for awhile.
While we are here, we will marvel at you. At the ways you move, and light, and delight. At the ways you change, moment to moment, and remind us that we change too, moment to moment.
We will learn from you, knowing that you have been here much longer than we have and that you will remain for many years after we are gone.
We will trust your wisdom and go back to you, when in doubt, in fear, in grief, in pain. We will let you fill us up and we will fill you up in return, to the best of our abilities.
We will play with you. We will play in your grasses and up your trees and in your waters. We will adventure, and discover, and celebrate the simple pleasure of waking up, every morning, breathing your air, for at least another day.
We promise to tread lightly. We promise to be gentle with you and protect you, keeping you safe and clean and free of plastic and other trash that may harm you. We will honour you through prayer and presence. We will accept your gifts with wonder and gratitude, taking none of them for granted.
Please accept this tobacco, as a small offering, from us to you. May we grow together in friendship and beautiful synergy.
It is so nice to meet you, again.
And, I swear, it shifted. Everything shifted.
The unbelonging I felt inside shifted. The doubts about our move shifted. The loneliness shifted. I knew the land had heard me. I felt her reach out her giant arms and wrap me up inside of them. I heard her chanting, "welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.”
A calmness came over me—a sort of inner peace I hadn’t felt in over six months. A tenderness rustled her way into my spirit and I felt a gentle healing, like a warm sunset, expand me. The tears flowed and flowed as I laughed and remembered and surrendered to the joy of embracing my home.
My Earth home.
(This piece was written almost one year ago, in June 2017. It is being shared today, on Earth Day 2018.)