Harvest was a beautiful day. It was warm, yet brisk, sunny, but not scorching. We got lucky as organizers, the weather always affects the mood of an event, seeping its way into the lines in peoples faces and into their cheque books.
As one of the volunteer organizers, I was anticipating with worry and excitement the dawn of Saturday, October 15th. When I awoke, exhausted from a conference I had been volunteering at for the past two days and saw the sun, I was exhilarated. It was a blessing. I love the sun, watching a sunset in quiet contemplation, feeling the healthy, happy rays saturating my mind and soul, and seeing what it does to a flower. When the sun’s out, I’m out.
After mingling and checking everyone in, we were off on the bus with the lovely Diana as our driver. I even felt elated by the smile Diana gave to guests as they arrived. This was going to be a good day.
People were buzzing. Sandra Campbell, our valiant and resilient creative director, had brought together an engaged community of artists, food activists, land stewards, and people of the media. There was a lot of interest in each other’s stories and these were people easy and comfortable sharing, so really, think buzzing here. As we got going, Sandra’s opening address brought us all together and engaged us in our day’s agenda.
The buzzing became subdued and then muted as the three poets, Maureen Hynes, Maureen Scot Harris and Nicholas Power each presented their creative thoughts on the land. This first reading had been inspired by an earlier ‘Seeding’ visit to the lands in Spring of 2016. I remember looking out the window during Hyne’s reading feeling removed from the slow moving traffic, the sounds of what seemed like an unending line of construction -removed and quiet, calm. The past two days at the afore-mentioned conference had been one of heightened emotions and intense mind power. This first reading was, for me, a calming preparation for what was to come, an opening up of the heart and mind.
We arrived at the Robertson farm to a line of smiling, warm and somehow safe feeling smiles. I had been especially excited for this next experience to unfold, an Ancestor ceremony performed by the Soul of The Mother group. Based out of the Six Nation Reserve close to Brantford, the group was my first time experiencing First Nation ceremony where those leading us were not all of Canadian’s first people. Once again, the buzzing of people connecting and sharing wound down to a simmer and then silence as we became enthralled in Elder Cyndi White words of the importance of creation and respect of the ancestors in our work protecting the Pickering Lands. The ceremony was grounding, beautiful, and for me, spiritual. I felt both awakened and calmed by the music, the smoke and the words.
After the ceremony, lunch was served. Delicious and interesting, our meal of meat and mushroom turnovers, seasonal salad and mixed vegetable tamales was eaten at long white tables set up in the field to the side of the Robertson farm house. Some of us had a view of the sun-speckled field as we ate. It was beautiful. Another chance to connect and imagine what these lands could be used for
We next warmed up with Karen and Alan of K’eja d’Dance. Within minutes, people were releasing and laughing, opening their bodies up to the movements. In a circle we could look into each other’s faces and see our enjoyment and play reflected back at us. This energy took us to the Rouge Conservation Area, 2nd edition, making the thoughtful narration of the journey by Jim Miller a bit overlooked. Regardless, we quieted down enough to hear some of the highlights about the rich growing history of land.
Our time in the conservation area was next, being lead by the dancers Michael and Ana and moved by the musicians Tatjana and Eggardo. At different moments during our walk, our guides would have us pause and use our bodies to communicate what we were thinking. We tied out collective offering to our ancestors and those of the land’s to a tree before the creek bridge. We listened to more beautiful words as we contemplated water, soil, and place. Afterwards, we came to the clearing by the house and each quietly took our places in a compass of moving, swaying bodies, pointing to the four directions as we switched focus from dancer to dancer. Once again, the actions and thoughts and intentions floating around us as we danced connected us to the lands, and them to us.
There were three moments during the day that have stuck with me. The first was when Vivi, one of the artists from the Soul of the Mother, smudged me. Her smile of acknowledgement was both kind and emotive, she seemed to understand the intense feelings I had about this mission with the empathy shining out of her eyes. To me, in that moment, the land’s ancestors were communicating their gratitude and love, willing and urging us on with compassion and honesty through the eyes of their messenger. Woah, I thought, this is powerful, what we are doing: this is real.
The second moment was after lunch, when I took time to walk down a corridor of large Oaks and Maples splitting a field in two on the Robertson farm. Gently shaded, the walkway was covered by soft grass and heather, the sun streaming through the breaks in the foliage above. I let the sage sift through my fingers at what seemed the entrance way to the corridor, thinking to myself that this is the door to the beginning of something, not knowing exactly what that something was yet.
The third moment was the time we were given to be on our own to move with the leaves and the branches in the Rouge Conservation forest. For me, I needed this time to be with my own mind, not talking or sharing with a person, but to really concentrate on my surroundings without outside stimulation. The moss was springy under my feet, the forest breathed back to me, the cedar smelled clean. I listened and I imagined.
As we drove home, Jim read to us from his great grandmothers letters and the poets gave us one last reading. We arrived back at the green P parking lot and that was it. I didn’t know how I felt. My feelings for the day, how it went, how I felt, didn’t begin to rise out of the over-stimulated exhaustion brought upon by the big weekend the event fell in the middle of, until the past few days. I felt peace, the peace I always find by walking and being quiet on the land; it gave me joy, to think about all of these people interested and keen; and, it gave me a sense of responsibility, for these lands and the future of them. These are feelings that are not new to me but they are new in terms of this particular land, and my relationship to it. I got to know the lands, and the lands got to know me.
This very real ‘something’, this quiet calmness that comes from a heartened connection to the land, is something I believe we can all respectfully attain. The Pickering Lands present a beautiful opportunity for this. Why not actualize it?
Cheers Harvest ’16, you were life-grounding.