Post 98 – Gratitude – Community

For Will and his family:

I am grateful to be part of a community, a community who has known you since you were little, when they saw you on the street and were surprised at how you’d changed, how you’d grown, how you can ride a bike, drive a car, get a job.

I think when we are young we maybe take the idea of community for granted, feel the burden of the ordinary, wanting at some point to fly, fly alone and shed who we were to get a glimpse of who we might be. Community can know our stories before we do, putting their own spin on the facts at times.

A community at its best, wraps its collective arms around those who are hurting, those who feel the overwhelming life-sucking pain of loss. Community bakes casseroles and cakes. It sends notes and flowers, and it places hands on caved in shoulders and cheeks against tear-stained faces. It prays silently in the late hours and early morning light, prays for understanding and relief when there is none. A community knows when we have been knocked down, broken, and it puts out its hand to pull the wounded back up, to brace our back, and become a human crutch so we might walk upright even for a few moments, for two breaths, for a heartbeat, to remind us we will indeed walk upright again, not today, but some day. A community breathes for us when we can’t, fills and empties our lungs when we have no strength to do it ourselves.

A community helps us heal, knows that though we smile, though we return to work, though we do our banking and pick up our mail and go about the every day business of living, appearing as though we might still be alive, if only just, knows we are forever changed. We have been to the edge and are trying to find our way back. A community leaves the light on for us, the door unlocked, arms open to welcome us in upon our return.

A community reminds us of when we laughed, laughed easily and sincerely, when we were the best version of ourselves. And a community remembers when we have gone, when we left too early, before the story had its natural ending. A community raises a hand of farewell, especially when it wants us back.

For those of us whose geography has changed, our hearts join the team of “our once was home” community. We join the soldiers who guard the wall from a distance, who call out in the dark across the too many miles to say we wish this weren’t so, we wish it with all our hearts.

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Post 97 – Garnet Angeconeb

I am grateful for Garnet Angeconeb.

I was thinking of heroes the other day while I was walking in the snow. Mighty Mouse was important when I was little. He was a good guy, as most flying mice tend to be. He was always ready to save the day; he even said so in his theme song, if you remember. Tonto and The Lone Ranger qualified as heroes, if for no other reason than the fact that a horse was their preferred mode of transportation and I so desperately wanted a horse like Scout, Tonto’s horse. It goes without saying that Annie was always my hero and always will be, for an abundance of reasons.

We all have a list of people who inspired us, left their indelible mark, altered the trajectory of our life in a positive way, became an oasis, a resting place from which to start again, people whose contributions to our life is forever sealed within us, and all too often those individuals never know of their hero status.

I met a hero this past summer, a hero new to me, but certainly not a newcomer to heroism. His photo sits on my desk, a photo I look at each time I sit down to write, to inspire me, but more than that to draw strength from when I am filled with self-doubt, a writer’s constant companion, and to feel hopeful when despair is lurking. He is Garnet Angeconeb.

Garnet and I were born the same year. While I was attending Alberton Central School, Garnet was taken from his home at the age of seven and placed in Pelican Residential School, forty miles from his home, where he ceased being Shebagosh, his Anishnaabe name meaning “rebirth under the leaves”, and became instead Number 22.

Garnet and 150,000 children like him were forced into Residential Schools in this country between 1840 and 1996. These children were in greater risk of death (1 in 25: CBC News June 2015) than Canadians killed in World War II. It took us 150 years to come to our senses, but not before generations of families had been decimated, language and culture lost, childhoods forever interrupted.

I often hear Canadians from both sides of the story saying things such as get over it, it happened a long time ago. But how exactly does one “get over it”? How would any of us get over the loss of our childhood, the loss of family, the loss of the very essence of who we are. Most of us wouldn’t. Garnet Angeconeb did and like every wound that goes to the very core of us, he will continue to get over it as long as he is breathing.

The details of Garnet’s life can be found on his website www.garnetsjourney.com in the form of a video memoir, a moving and thoughtful tribute to the truth of his life and how he continues to search for healing in his own life, as well as healing for those he encounters in his work, work that earned him a place with The Order of Canada, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, but most importantly has earned him the recognition of himself, that he has resilience, that he is proud to be Anishinaabe despite the years of a system that tried to educate those very qualities out of him.

Garnet is gentle, speaks quietly, with a laugh at the ready. He is kind. He welcomed me into his home to hear his story, an honour for me. The battle is long and wearying, it takes its toll but Garnet continues, not with a voice that flings blame, but rather one that points to the truth and says this is the way to reconciliation.

Garnet wonders at times if anyone is listening. I would say to him: Many are listening. I am listening. I am proud, so very proud to be his friend.

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December 27, 2017

I am departing Dawson City today. Like so many before me, we came in search of gold in its many forms. Many courageous and tenacious people set off to find adventure in Dawson City. In 1898, more than 100,000 set out in search of gold, with less than half able to complete the arduous journey and only a few found gold that year, and many didn’t even look. The Gold Rush was like a war, said Pierre Berton. “Those who survived it were ennobled.”

The precious find I made cannot be used to purchase things or restate the dollar value of my earthly wealth, but it certainly broadened my view, expanded my heart and sent me on my way home with the feeling of having been a Yukon-er, if even only temporarily.

I came away with a new perspective of Canadian history, fed by the wisdom and passion of Alex Somerville at the Dawson City Museum, a young man with Nova Scotia roots and with an immeasurable knowledge of all that played out to create the Dawson City that exists today, above the 64th parallel, along the Yukon River on its way to the Bering Sea, 279 kms (173 miles) from the Arctic Circle.

I have grown accustomed to the blue hue that everything is awash in from three in the afternoon until almost noon the next day, this time of year. The shortened day slows the heart rate it seems, calms the restlessness, pauses the urge to hurry. Yet the community is very much alive, serving up turkey dinners, organizing a boat parade with lights and sound and the purest of fun, the procession winding its way through town, faces pressed to the window as the armada passed. The Fire Truck complete with real-life fire fighters is delivering packages filled with cookies and treats and surprises to every senior in town, the list of community caring seemingly inexhaustible.

I will most definitely miss the face of Brenda Caley who opened her door to me, made space in her full life for a friendship that bettered me, and that I have no doubt will endure until my hopeful return one day or her pilgrimage East.

I will miss it all and I am so grateful to have had the privilege to come and sit at a desk in Pierre Berton’s childhood home, imagining the boy who played in the abandoned and forgotten buildings from the days of a short-lived gold rush, ignited by American George Washington Carmack and his Canadian brother-in-law Skookum Jim Mason who found the first nugget at Bonanza Creek in August of 1896, and cried out, “Gold!”

Thank you for coming along with me, for being there when I felt homesick and a bit alone. Gold indeed.

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November 10, 2017

I had the great privilege of attending the English class at Yukon School of Visual Art (SOVA) and facilitating a creative writing exercise in character development. I am always amazed by the elasticity of the youthful brain and where that imagination goes. Inspirational. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time and watching teacher Jeffrey Langille gently and skillfully guide his class. Jeffrey works with video and photography and captures what most of us miss.

“In his video work, Jeffrey Langille considers the capacity of cameras to register events differently from human perception and to convey the slow time of many occurrences. His work involves using landscape stillness as a theatre for the arrival of change, whether human, geologic, or atmospheric. Writing and research are an integral part of his working process, which includes video, film, and photography.” (www.yukonsova.ca)

Another teacher at SOVA is Jeremy Herndl, a talented visual artist. I was able to have my own private gallery showing of one of Jeremy’s paintings. Though I am not certain of the exact dimensions of the painting, suffice to say it was very large and I couldn’t help wondering how an artist is able to provide such detail on a canvas of such a size. Check out his website to view some of his fine work.

http://www.jeremyherndl.com

2017 11 10 Jeremy painting

Another piece (below) by Jeremy

of his Wilderness collection

2017 11 10 Jeremy Wilderness

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November 8, 2017

I came all the way from Wolfville, Nova Scotia to Dawson City, Yukon, travelled the 7,392 kilometers to hear the extraordinary music of Beòlach, a multi-talented group performing the magic of Cape Breton music. I didn’t come all that way just for the music, but had that been the reason, it would have been well worth the trip. I think it’s rather comical that I came from Nova Scotia to hear Cape Breton Music in the Yukon Territories. “That’s ironic,” a few people said to me at the concert last night. I was wearing my Nova Scotia sweatshirt, just because.

The line-up of performers had a deep pedigree: Mairi Rankin on fiddle, yes, of that Rankin Family lineage; Wendy MacIsaac, the other fiddling genius, cousin of Ashley MacIsaac; Mac Morin, quite possibly the best piano player I’ve heard since Gord Mackintosh played the piano at my house when we were in high school; and Mattie Foulds playing bagpipes, guitar, and various whistles. Beòlach is the Gaelic word for lively youth, and lively they were.

2017 11 08 Beolach

            To say the music was uplifting, energizing, smile-creating, joyful, would be understating it. There was not a soul in attendance that was not tapping a foot or hand or bouncing in their seat, with smiles across the board. Little children were up dancing. In fact, during the encore, Wendy MacIsaac had a large group from the audience up performing a square dance, teaching them as she went. The whole evening was beyond wonderful.

In no small way, this was made possible by the help of Peter Menzies, a musician and teacher who came to Dawson in 1981, digging in and finding any and every way possible to help grow music locally and provide opportunities for residents to enjoy, celebrate and learn music, “to provide an inclusive place for music,” Peter says. He is especially keen to pass on the torch of fiddle music to the youngsters here, creating the North Klondyke Highway Music Society and rebuilding the fiddle tradition here in Dawson. “We all become part of the framework to achieve the restoration of fiddle music appreciation and skill,” explained Peter during intermission. Residents come out and support the events that bring the professionals to Dawson and in buying a ticket we are encouraging the very rebirth of fiddle music that once was a music staple here in the Yukon.

2017 11 08 Peter Menzies fiddlers

THE NORTH KLONDIKE HIGHWAY MUSIC SOCIETY

Music connect us, no matter the genre and it provides for a healthy community. Fiddle music has “inspired Canadians to dance for over 400 years,” said The Fiddleheads in The Fiddle History of Canada presented to Yukon residents in April of 2017.

The highlight of the evening for me was the final encore. Mac Morin’s brother and family live here in Dawson. Mac’s little nephew climbed up on Mac’s knee at the piano and placing his hands overtop those of his uncle, the little boy played along with a look of sheer bliss on his face. He won’t be forgetting that anytime soon and who knows, it may very well have been that moment that will inspire him to play the piano when he grows up.

2017 11 08 Mac Morin and nephew

If you ever get a chance to hear the music of Beòlach, grab it!

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November 1, 2017

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I’ve been busy, or pretending to be busy, battling being homesick, facing sorrow, wrestling with self-doubt. And while I was busy, winter increased its volume, took control of the days and is shortening them with decisiveness.

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The river is trying to freeze, ice easing out from the sore like a stain on a tablecloth, chunks of ice getting bigger and bigger, colliding with one another, choosing teams.

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Robert Service’s cabin continues to look at me from up the hill, saying “get on with it”, without patience for my hesitant writing.

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The sun takes almost the entire day to find its way up the hill to me and most days can’t be bothered.

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Though I know it is warm and green at home still, the leaves protesting the change in seasons with flare and beauty. Here winter is bold, shouting and I can’t help but appreciate its beauty.

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I attended the Wine Odyssey at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture, an annual fund-raiser, pairing up wine tasting with delicious appetizers. I came home realizing I had participated in a wine-drinking event rather than wine-tasting, the portions perhaps a bit too generous. It was a splendid time, this pianist and drummer entertaining us the entire evening with extraordinary sound.

 

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Gratitude – Post 96 – Annie

I am grateful for Annie Lahti.

I heard this morning, as I write this on October 29, that one of the most precious people in my life has gone. I can scarcely imagine the sun will continue to shine without her, that spring will ever come again and that I will find my way home. I write this for her.

Annie

Dear Annie:

I would have sat at your bedside these last weeks had I been able, had I been allowed to abandon my post in the Yukon. I would have held your hand, whispered my favourite stories, stories of you. I know you were surrounded by your family, surrounded by love, with Mandy as the vigil in the end. You didn’t need me there, my love quietly and securely tucked inside your heart, but I needed to be there for my own comfort, for my own needs. This is my letter of gratitude to you, repeating the stories and memories I have told you over and over for all these years and though we were separated by too many miles you were never far from my heart, never forgotten, always missed.

I would have thanked you for filling my heart with love, when I was little. Remember the day you came to gather me up to take me to your house. I was four, afraid and sad to leave my dad, my mother gone back to teaching, my dad needing to farm without the perils of me tagging along behind him. Remember how we laughed years later about my struggling and screaming as you and Aarne drove me in your station wagon, up my lane and next door to yours. You opened the glove box of your car, while holding me securely on your knee and showed me the cut-outs you had there, the surprise to stop my wrestling to get free. It worked and within a matter of hours your home became mine, your table the only one I ate at without complaint, without excuses, without resistance. And before long my dad would turn me lose at our barnyard gate and I would race across the field to you, take your hand so we could walk the rest of the way down your lane together.

All the memories flow in together, forming a collage as I sit here, not bothering to stop the tears. I am transformed into the princess with flour sack cape, weaving her way through the sheets hanging in the basement on rainy Mondays or outdoors in the sunshine, my kingdom, the wringer washer gurgling and sloshing the laundry in its soapy tub, your skilled hands guiding the soggy clothes through the wringer to magically press out the water, your hand warning me to be careful. I am gathering eggs with you, basket in my hand, squatting down under the sloping ceiling of the chicken coop, my hand tentatively sneaking beneath the warm feathery belly of the resting hen and stealing her eggs, her clucking in annoyance. Remember when I fell, tripping over stones and broke all the eggs but one, and you never scolded, never frowned or looked annoyed, but wiped my knees and my hands while saying we would try again tomorrow. Remember hunting in the mow of the barn and the attic of the shed looking for kittens, calling out muddy-ka, mother cat you explained.

I lied in the straw in your cozy red barn while you and Aarne milked cows and I cuddled calves tied with a bit of sisal twine and then we lugged the milk to the milk house down by the creek, a cool and dark and sacred place, separating the milk from the cream and filling the cream cans. Or while you made donuts, snapping and sizzling in the oil, I built castles and barns with Ralph’s Sta-Lox building bricks until I was allowed to shake the donuts in a paper bag to cover them with sugar, taking a few home to share.

I can’t choose a single memory, can’t refine it down to one image other than crawling on to your lap, and placing my head against your chest and knowing I was safe and loved, a feeling that resides in my heart and always will.

Thank you, Annie. I would have begged you not to leave me had I been there. But I wave with love, sending you off with my grateful heart. Until we meet again.

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