La Ronge, Sask.
There’s a black fox running the edge of ice at the open water. He’s moving fast but from where you stand there is only the sensation of movement. When he bounds toward the trees you can see spurts of snow from where his back legs push and the feeling of freedom, of total abandonment to the territory, falls across you in a small thrill.
This is the country of the Dene and the Cree. From here all waters flow northeast toward Hudson Bay. The land is flat. From even the least height you can gaze out across kilometres and kilometres of rock, muskeg, lakes, rivers and the seemingly never-ending carpet of black spruce. This is still essentially an untamed place.
The fox gains the trees and vanishes.
You’ve come here to teach a writing workshop. The people who have come to participate are all northerners. Sure, there are the transplants, those who landed here for one reason or another and became grafted to the magnificent tree of life that is this country. But they are all deep in the thrall of this place. They have all come to love it. This is their home.
They’ve come to learn to write. But more importantly, they’ve come to learn to write specifically about their homeland. They’ve come bearing a wealth of memories, anecdotes, legends and tall tales about the lives they’ve fashioned here. Each archive of recollection is unique. Each is a living library. Your task is to help them delve into the stacks of their lives and recreate them on paper.
It’s not an easy thing. But they are here. The idea of being able to write about what this land represents to them is strong. From their individual perspectives it is a living, breathing entity as alive and vital as the fox we watched scamper along the ice. It’s as mysterious, powerful, alluring and magnetic as the practical magic they see their elders perform mending nets and traps or tanning hides.
They are not all aboriginal. Still, they hold this land in an esteem that speaks of an enduring attachment, a love and an honour that goes beyond mere presence. They have become a part of it. They have allowed it to fuse with the essential stuff of their being so that their breath is the land’s breath and vice-versa. That’s not an overstatement. It’s the fact of their living.
That’s the reason they have come. Deep within them resides the keen desire to say, to state, to declare their affinity for place, their love for this granite spine that holds and contains everything they have come to know of themselves.
Maybe that’s what this country needs more of. Maybe, in the final analysis, the ongoing question and controversy over pipelines, tar sands, clear cuts, open- pit mines and any resource stripping anywhere, requires the raising of ordinary voices expressing their emotional and spiritual relationship with this land. Beyond the science, the politics, the consciousness raising and the spin doctoring there is a need for all of us to say outright to each other how we feel about the planet we call home.
We need to share our direct and personal relationship with our Mother Earth. In that way, every forward action becomes a statement of our collective being. It becomes, like the burgeoning voices of new writers, the emergence of a whole new breath drawn from the land and then spilled over it again like a blessing. It becomes hope.