Year II

Story 47: Stinging Nettles

At the far end of our own brick walled garden was a wooden gate that opened to a large churchyard. A network of narrow paths wound their way through rows of ancient graves, whose stones had, in some places fallen down and cracked, overgrown by ivy. Large Chestnut trees lent our street its name, and cast their deep shadows.

Stinging Nettles is a story about living in England, playing hide and seek in the graveyard, and about the good women who circled the wagon.

Story 48: Field Guide, Day 1

On a moonless, starless night, one of the only signs of an nearing dawn  is whether I can see a hand in front of my face. The other indicator that day is within reach is the beginning of a reel of sounds unrolling. Some clever  trick of unseen light,  a simple click,  releases today’s spool of sound:  the mechanism springs to life, and sends its signal to the player piano.

Day 1 of Field guide is about signs and signals.

Story 49: Field Guide, Day 2

A  symbol’s meaning  lives largely inside our heads, and yet, despite lifelong dedication to its study, it only contains a dimly understood capacity to explain experiences, worries, hopes and dreams.  And here lies its danger: if we are too caught up in meaning making, when we insist and stake our lives on a symbol’s inherent truth, despite little proof, when we stare unblinkingly at a symbol,  allow ourselves to be locked in by its dogma, tradition, lack of imagination, are reassured or frightened by its promises, we might not notice other, more salient ways to navigate the world.

Day 2 of Field guide is about symbols.

Story 50: Red-Winged Blackbird

We navigated some rough waters, misjudged a jagged edge that left a scar on the bottom of our canoe, adding paint to the rainbow of others who had come before. And all the while we knew full well that we’d have to lead the canoe up these rapids again, at the end of day. 

Red-winged blackbird is about journeys and solace.

Photo credit: Shane Philip

Story 51: InBetween

I thought about the message an old high school friend recently sent to me. He’d been trail running through the woods, and found himself  on a bed of feathers. In my imagination I saw hundreds of molting birds, shaking their soft wings. But no, he said,  these weren’t feathers, it was cotton weed, which doesn’t, in my mind, make the scene any less beautiful.  (See Links 35)

Story 52: Shadows on the Wall

I have been frightened by a lot of things in life, and given my rather wild imagination, fear of the unknown is one of my favorite ones, keeps me up at night, although of course, there are plenty of other shapely warnings all around,  hinted at and sometimes made explicit.

Story 53: Seeds of Doubt

In the middle of the night, I will sometimes wake up in our small  orange tent to listen to my growing seeds of doubt, will trace their shaping forms in my mind, will question the what ifs that lurk nearby. (See Links 37 and 38)

Story 54: Magic Spells

300 hundred years ago, one of my ancestors, a Josep Bill, sat at his desk at night, in the house in which we both grew up, and copied out strange words and spells and symbols. The many pages show how threatened and insecure people were in their life on earth, though they yearned, as do we,  for assurance and protection. Confidence, optimism and happiness were not  part of the conversation;  people put their faith into religion  and magic spells instead. 

This story is family lore and I remember my grandfather telling us children about the magic book that was kept between the pages of our family bible. In the 1970s, after our family emigrated, a local teacher transcribed the spells and published their account in a small booklet called Zauberspruche, Doktorbucher und andere Schriften. 


Story 55: Potato Bugs

According to legend, some years ago, a powerful gust of wind ripped the net out of the  clutches of the farm hands, lifted the long filmy white tail high into the stormy sky, across and beyond the hedgerows, and over the coolness of the darkly waiting forest.

Potato Bugs is about our attempts to control our world.

Story 56 : Lake Cabonga

When we rounded the corner of a large island the wind struck us. The lake changed to emerald green, then black, darkening clouds were encircled by light, and within minutes the lake was boiling.

Lake Cabonga is about a bumpy canoe trip, fear, faith, hope and trust.

Story 57: Levels of Light

This past summer we explored a distant part of Lake Cabonga, an immense reservoir that was created when lakes were dammed and flooded many years ago. What was once a part of light, now lives submerged beneath the surface of the lake.

Levels of Light explores what lies beneath. (see Links 35)

Story 58: Sleep of Reason

Sleep of Reason is about rules, and sometimes breaking them. (See Links 40, 41)

Story 59 : Still Waiting

On my way back down I heard the ringing of copper bells that led the way, brought to life by long ropes pulled by passers by. And beside the entrance I now saw, what  in the early darkness I had missed: the brightly painted Lord Ganesh, god of all beginnings, wisdom and understanding.

Still Waiting is a story about searching for understanding. (See Links 32,40)

Story 60: Unheard

The Musquiem people have a word  that means “things that are hidden”. The word is used to describe sacred objects, often ceremonial, that are thought to possess supernatural powers. These  objects are not simply art or functional things, they embody stories and histories, the threads that tie the past to the present, the future.  Because they are sacred, they are not displayed in the open, reminding us that not everything is meant to be seen, or heard.

“Unheard” is about survivors’ stories – of suicide, dispossession, fire, residential schools – that are often not told. (See Links 42)

Story 61: Cold Cellar

Cold Cellar is about flat coke, woolen socks and our habits and hankerings for more.

Story 62: Temagami Time

“Trees warp time, or rather create a variety of times: here dense and abrupt, there calm and sinuous .” John Fowles

Temagami Time is about our relationship with time.