Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Receiving messages from spirits of place, or, sailing into Toba Inlet

Here is a story of my attempts to understand a message and its meaning. We left on a sailing trip, “going to go up Toba inlet,” we told our friends.  Before leaving I packed some tobacco offerings, although our time away did not include any of the moon phases I honour in this way.  
Two days out in beautiful sun and perfect breezes and we are at the head of Toba. The traditional territory of the Klahoose First Nation, the inlet is a grand sweep of mountains and sky with the ocean shading from blue grey to pale green in the distance, where the cloudy glacial silt begins to enter and mix. 

There is no wind out in the Pryce Channel entrance and we imagine motoring up to Brem River, then turning the dogleg right and going “a ways up.”  I am gawking at rock bluffs, scree slides and the remnants of snowfields.  I enter this holy house like a spiritual tourist eager for revelation.
A breeze begins to follow off our stern and up go the sails. It picks up slightly and as the dinghy we tow begins a happy gurgle we decide to sail “wing 'n wing.”  Probably my favorite set—the main and the jib out on opposite sides so we are under Pearl's wide, white wings.  This is a difficult configuration to steer and my full attention goes to maintaining the balance between the two soaring sheets of canvas.  

Much more wind now, white caps are beginning to tumble alongside.  The distance to the headland where we turn right into the main run of Toba is beginning to seem too far way, even though it appears calm.  Behind us, back in Pryce Channel, we can clearly see calm water.  The wind is only here. With us. 
Too much.  Too much.  We have to turn around. What follows are long minutes of tense action. Struggling into the wind to wrestle in the jib. Then the engine on so Pearl can claw her way back toward the entrance of the inlet.  “I don't think Toba wants us to come in here" I shout over the clatter and roar.  Then I suddenly remember the tobacco offerings.  And not doing anything to acknowledge the spirits of this place when we entered their house.  Just as there is community law, and forest law—unwritten but understood ways of behaving honourably—I believe that there is spirit law.  And my somewhat mindless behavior violated several. Reciprocity is communication. Respect the elders.  Contact is not friendship. When you don't know you are forgiven for not knowing...when you do know, you are not forgiven.  I made no gift to acknowledge the spirit presence of this place, I behaved with entitlement instead of humility, I knew better.  

We are back near the entrance to Toba.  I take the last part of my lunch sandwich, which has been languishing for some time in the bottom of the cockpit because it has been too rough to eat and steer at the same time, and I drop it overboard, saying, “I feed you. I feed you.”  The wind stops. Abruptly. The sea ruffles into tiny wavelets. A vulture rises from Channel island just ahead and circles several times directly over us. I cannot resist a smile at the synchronicity as I go below to begin my belated lunch dish duty when suddenly the engine goes quiet. Already coming up the companionway I hear just one word. 
About 40 feet from our beam a humpback is slowly surfacing.  We are close enough to hear a squeak and a belch as it blows before slowly submerging. A small skiff with three people has been watching because they start their engine and move off as the whale resurfaces and turns toward Pearl. It stays on the surface for a time, then moves a short distance to rest again.  Like we are disturbing its nap.  We drift off in a wide arc to give plenty of space before motoring away.  For as far as we can see behind us, the whale is still on the surface, taking the rare breath, apparently back to sleep.
That evening I reflect back over this story of wind and visitation. My intuition tells me something significant happened, a message from the other than human world. My rational mind tells me don't be silly.  
But in Barbara Tedlock’s words, I know how to “embrace casual but meaningful coincidences of inner and outer events.”  The wind, the remembering, the sandwich, the calm, a soaring vulture and a surfacing whale are of themselves surely quite ordinary, but the emotional and intuitive connections created a sequence that woke me up to something not ordinary.
The wind is force. Like the place shouting, “no one invited you here to take without giving.” Reciprocity is communication.
 The vulture is an ancient presence. Us white folks usually learn to dislike them, but they are the only bird that does not kill, that does not eat souls.  A creature that does not harm.  Feels like a wise admonishment.  Respect the elders. Contact is not friendship.
The whale is the iconic spirit of this place.  Do not disturb my sleep.  When you don't know you are forgiven for not knowing...when you do know, you are not forgiven. And you know better.
So, did that sequence of events really have this meaning?  
They did to me.  
You will have to tell your own story about a windy day.  
Happy sailing from the Journey Oracle

Friday, July 12, 2019

What is Community Law? Or how we live here

Community law is not the legal system; it is a way of behaving that is unspoken and unwritten, but mostly realized among people who share a place. Of course there are many terms in psychological, social and cultural studies to describe how people act with each other, but in a small rural place community law is not a detached examination of applied concepts, it is a certain tilt of will.  
Here are some examples of community law in action: Telling the house sitter to call a neighbour to help with an alarmingly low tire; asking the guy with tools in his truck if he knows how to get into your locked car; creating a spontaneous phone tree among people who have farm animals to find who is missing the sheep that has turned up in your yard; lifting off branches that have fallen on young trees and ferns as you walk through an adjoining property to the beach. 
So what are the community laws embedded in each of these four examples?
Flat tire: There is an expectation of receiving and offering help to people one does not know. 
Locked car: There is trust in the honesty of others. 
Lost sheep:  Animals as well as people deserve to be safe and well cared for.
Fallen branches: Property is neither wholly private nor openly public but held in a kind regard by those who use and care for it.
Each of these examples also has a deeper thread in common: that of “we" instead of “I.” In a remote location such as Cortes Island, there is no, or only very expensive,  access to services from strangers: BCAA, a locksmith, the SPCA. What we have is each other and so we cannot afford to isolate ourselves behind gates and surveillance cameras—figuratively or literally. 

Why is this blog illustrated with images of cloud-swept mountains?  Because community law is like this: ways of behaving that are both solid and enduring, and are also a shifting flow that depends on the nuance of intention and intuition. And why pay attention to these laws ?  For those of us who have been here awhile they don't enter consciousness so much as they just are the way we are. For those of you who have recently come here, I think they do bear thinking about, because this is how you live now.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Honour song for whales


I wrote about a solstice celebration with a twist in my last post. One of the high points of that peculiar journey was being accompanied by a Humpback whale when coming back to Cortes Island. When we returned I decided to paint a new frame drum that had a very interesting surface.


At first I thought it was going to be an air image but when I turned the surface in a different direction this watery world appeared. And into it swam a whale.

The humpback whales are returning to our island waters in greater numbers each year.

I am hoping that the song of this drum will carry a vibration of blessing and protection to the whales. especially since I read last night that Japan has lifted its 30 year ban on hunting whales, and is planning to again send factory ships into their waters.

You can listen to this drum being played with a felted drumstick by clicking on this youtube url.

The Honour Song drum is available for purchase by going to my website and visiting my Etsy webstore.