Winds push the leaves around like dancers at a grand ball so the sunlight sweeps over my walls and the backyard trees sway dramatically at the back window. The prevailing westerlies far above this blow a ceiling of bruised-bellied clouds eastward until they gather their heavy and position themselves just so, a stillness-before, an intake of breath. At noon a strong hush of soaking rain, straight down and steady. Even the clank and squeal of heavy trucks is muffled by the wet drumming on the roof. Words pour out of me, coaxed by the release.
What a lot of movement, these past weeks. Steps taken well outside of the normal route of things, visits, gatherings, trips both internal and external, and from this moment’s pause I recognize the busy-ness of harvest time. Weather shifts from swelter to crisp, the leaves from green to bronze, branch to forest floor – a carpet made from two whole seasons of growth, wind, rain and sunlight. I’m glad I can wear my beloved sweaters again, I can light the woodstove, breathe the change in the air – all of these things spark a flame of joy in my belly that will warm me through the winter.
Through it all I devise the next studio explorations for shows and workshops in late November. This year, in homage to the places that ground and sustain me, I find and gather leaves and seeds like gifts – Beech, Oak, Maple, Hornbeam, Rowan. Spurred by my wonder at the array of colour and form I find, the magic of seeds and cycles of growth and decay I discover an artist in the UK (Alice Fox) who makes artists’ pigments from plants and earth – these will arrive in the mail like a miracle. I sign up for a course designed by another artist in Australia who makes lovely prints using local foliage, and can teach me how. I find myself studying mordants and tannins and discover a natural Dye company out of British Columbia with excellent information on ethical sourcing of all I require to dig in a little deeper, explore a little more while the leaves change and fall, before the sleep of winter.
My extended family has a long tradition of October gatherings in celebration of gusto, life and life-change. My sister was born November 8, my dad October 29, and me September 30, a birthdate I share with my daughter’s paternal Granda, who is dear to me. This year 9/30 was also named National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a new statutory holiday in Canada in honour of Residential School survivors, their families and communities, as well as (for me) MMIW and any indigenous human anywhere who must deal with centuries of intergenerational trauma as a result of sustained systemic abuse by church, state and capitalist/colonial-blinkered cultures, on an ongoing daily basis.
May we all learn to unravel the cycles of abuse we have been born into, choose healing and mutual respect over their perpetuation, and re-write the story for the generations to come. I fully believe that we can.
The statutory holiday was one of the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation report (2015):
80. We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.
One of the action calls to reconciliation I have heard and answered in myself is a more personal, ancestral inquiry. As a white woman of Scottish descent (both industrial Scots who clear cut forests to stoke their Saruman fires, and working class Scots who laboured more simply under the yoke of English bosses and the Protestant Church) I know I have work to do to unravel the story of my ancestors and the land they left behind, whether for fortune or survival.
Each time I visit Scotland I find myself weeping without understanding why. So much majesty, such an old old song that somehow I recognize, though born and raised in Canada. I ask myself where did the trees go, why did they cut them all down and not re-plant. Sheep wander everywhere, unshorn wool falling off or caught in the gorse. The hills and islands are punctuated by abandoned crofter’s huts, and mostly foreign-owned, say the locals. A hundred generations of families have paid tithe to someone else to farm the land they know as they know their own bones.
And then there are the Commons, wardened by the people, an old custom which we non-indigenous North Americans could learn much from. Recently a country-wide vote rang clear as a bell against Brexit, but with no power to sway the English who still govern them. All of that, and the strength, resilience and wit (and taughtness, alcohol dependance, bull-headedness, often explosive anger) it takes to survive with some dignity. There is enormous complexity in this history, so much I don’t know.
These small pieces I’ll make this fall are the beginning of a journey to learn what I can of my own ancestral story, in part so I can resonate more clearly with the stories of the first peoples of here. I live now in Hamilton, which was settled (after treaties were signed and of course dishonoured by the Crown) by working immigrants who brought seeds from their homelands. Five minutes from my front door grow four ancient Beech trees indigenous to Scotland, each with a girth that would fill the little room in my apartment. Beloved of park-goers and arborists, their heavy limbs are tied to the central trunk to prevent them from falling. They are steps from the old oaks, grown from acorns brought from somewhere else in Europe or the UK. Steps away below the escarpment grow trees native to here – a wild rich mixture of growth and undergrowth I have come to love. I often look out from that escarpment and imagine the space where Hamilton is, covered in old growth forest, as it one was.
The fall skies and wind call me out, to find aluminum, iron and copper dye pots for plant prints (the printed colours change according to the metal). To anchor me home from the Ottawa Trip yesterday I will go visit the old beech trees and then go see if the walnut trees have dropped some leaves I can print from. I’ll do some playful drawings that might take these words to another level of insight and resonance. I’ll finish the new little quilt for the baby that is coming to L, who I taught cello to at age 6.
Stay tuned! If you’re interested in the intriguing, FUN talks/workshops this November it’s in your very best interest to sign up to my newsletter. These will be in person (Owen Sound and Hamilton) and with small groups to develop the online courses that will be available through the winter months – VERY LIMITED availability.
I will announce the October course registration date ahead of time to Subscribers and I have a strong feeling that spaces will sell out quickly. Form is Here:
Happy October 2021, all!