Autumn Equinox: The Return

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Fall equinox has arrived, as have I, back in the shadow of Hesperus Peak once again.  The journey west was a long one–now two weeks and 6,000 miles from St John’s.  Watching Newfoundland disappear in mist, sea, cloud as the MV Blue Puttees ferried us across to Nova Scotia was like watching the mystical isle of Avalon melt away in the distance.  Will I be able to conjure it up again sometime in the future?

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Meanwhile, at least one mystery has been resolved.  Those stone cairns marking the TransCanada Highway?   Turns out they are faux inukshuks, a relic of Inuit communication (pointing the way, or noting ‘Kilroy was here’), now become so popular as to be meaningless.  Something like the Kokopelli rock art of the Southwest, trivialized to the point of absurdity.   Not exactly creative art.

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I also learned that the Bay of Fundy, which is bordered on the east by Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley and on the west by New Brunswick and Maine, is an enormous, ferocious tidal pool whose nature decidedly did not agree with me.  Talk about a personal relationship with the landscape–sometimes it just does not work for you!  The “tidal bore” of returning sea water actually causes several Nova Scotia rivers to run backwards in a massive surge twice a day.  I found myself completely disoriented by that phenomenon, as does, I suppose, much of the local fish population.  The good news is that in fleeing back north to the lovely Northumbrian coast, I discovered the seaside apple orchards of Amherst.

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So here is my windfall, under the autumn equinox sun.  The journey is not ended, but another ring on the spiral has come full circle.  It is time now for retrospection, reflection, integration.   Will Winter’s dream raise Avalon out of the mist come next Spring?  Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Leaving St John’s Travelin’ Blues

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Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland                                                                                                  Ah, where is Ron Hynes, that sinner cum-sainted singer songwriter of St John’s, when you need him?   Gone from us now, but please go here and listen to his voice before reading another word.   The lights in St John’s actually went out the night Ron died.

Gone now from the place that lit our hearts, his and mine.  Leaving town yesterday was an emotional landslide.  In the cloud and mist I passed signs for bayside hamlets–Robert’s Arm, Jackson’s Arm, Joe Batt’s Arm, Brown’s Arm, Three Arms–oh someone please reach out and stop me going.  But now I sit at the opposite end of Newfoundland, overlooking the port where tomorrow’s ferry carries me back to the Nova Scotia mainland.

Sitting above that other harbor this afternoon, I recalled Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass, a fabulous tale set in a place where one’s soul takes the shape of an external animal spirit–your daemon.  What a sensation of comfort that story offered, imagining your soul in your arms, eye to eye, holding and beheld.  As the story unfolds, dastardly forces are experimenting with separating children from their daemons, their creative source.  And so it felt yesterday morning, leaving my daemon behind.

You’ll pardon my literary license as I grieve this departure!  This evening, I sleep once more on the shores of Newfoundland.  In the days to come I will hug the coast as the moon waxes full, keeping the Sea in view.  There is great peace there.  And beyond, the westward trek is the great Unknown.  Who can question that crazy wisdom?

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Life as Pilgrimage

My last full week here in St John’s begins today.  It is a significant week–the moon is waning, to be renewed on September 1st as a Virgo Solar Eclipse.  Mercury turns retrograde at the last degree of Virgo on August 30th, tripling its time in that sign, which it rules.  And Venus glides into her own sign of Libra on the 29th.

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But what does it all mean?  Sandwiched between the summer passion of Leo and the autumnal dance of Libra, Virgo is the Listener.  It is Mercury mind toward inward, and especially so when retrograde.  How well are we attending to what is unspoken?  Between the lines?  In the white space?  Do you recall the silence that speaks volumes?

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Immersed in the book world all my life, I think of the palimpsest, how echoes of past voices linger through the generations.  Listen to the layered silence, can you hear them? That is Virgo listening, with Mercury retrograde as our hearing aid.  The new moon solar eclipse alerts us to the profound possibilities that can open at our feet this fall if our ear is so tuned to the ground.

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The Earth changes her rhythm now.  She’s preparing to absorb the fodder of what’s gone to seed.  Thus our plant relations return their year’s experiences to Earth to process.  This is the palimpsest of roots and branches, of tree rings.  This is the ancient palimpsest of fossils come and gone from Newfoundland, “The Rock.”  There are places on this island where the inner mantle of Earth has been turned inside out and rests on the surface, where our feet now leave their own dust imprints.

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Listen as Venus’ haunting voice chants the tune of Autumn’s approach.  Sun, moon, earth align–there is a harmony of the spheres that plays deep beneath the cacophony of political and demographic noise.  By the lunar eclipse of September 16th, my journey will have taken me south of the 49th parallel again, returning me stateside.  I will slowly wend my way west-southwest.  I will be listening to the consonance of alignment as the noise fades into the space between….  at least, this is my pilgrimage prayer.

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A New Kind of Country

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There’s been a lot of tidal action here since my last post.  Ebb and flow, ebb and flow–trying to decide where to leap back in reminds me of a grade school playground jump rope game.  Two girls (never boys) would twirl the ends of a long rope while the third timed her skip into the center.  Doing a little run up to the turning rope added a bit of boldness to the game, catching the rhythm as you jumped in.  These last couple weeks have been kind of a run-up to a game in full swing.   So let me just try and catch the rhythm for you.

Out in Witless Bay the puffin birds are bouncing off the waves like cartoons of themselves, tumbling through the air just above the water.  Right alongside the puffins the gannets (related to boobies) are suicide-diving so deep it seems miraculous when they re-surface, generally without anything to show for the attempt.

In another bay below the Newfoundland East Coast Trail there are humpback whales gorging on schools of capelin.  Blowing great funnels of seafoam and bellowing like elephants as they breach, all we can see are their long sleek humpbacks and sometimes the slightest flick of a great tail.  The little minkes are all around but don’t much show themselves, like quiet hobbit whales in hiding.

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Down at the harbor, it’s a mystery walk every visit.  There’s the sleek, slick NASCAR luxury yacht called Wheels, front and center.  At the far end of the wharf hidden near all the containers awaiting transport is the beat up rusty hulk of the Dutch Greenpeace vessel, Arctic Sunrise.   The gray military ships are like gargantuan ghosts, sitting right there for all to see but oddly they don’t “show up” on the St John’s Port Authority website page Ships in Port.  Hmmmm.

Theater:  saw Between Breaths, a stark, contemporary bio-drama by a local playwright about Jon Lien, the “Whale Man” who pioneered methods for single-handedly rescuing whales trapped in fishing nets.  And to balance things out Shakespeare’s comedy of errors Twelfth Night, at a small replica of the Globe, Perchance Theater.  Brilliant performances all around.

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Music: the fortieth annual Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, four days’ worth given the rain and shine.  All local performers this year–some were three, four generations deep in family musicians.  Great-grandfathers fiddled alongside their eight year old grandkids and I couldn’t tell you who was more proud of their music.  Enough to burst your heart.

Blueberries are in season.  Walk any coastal trail and bring a bucket.  Sun sweet, free for the picking, and next up: crackerberries, snowberries and raspberries.

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And finally, my friend loaned me an old beloved paperback to read, published in 1978 by the American novelist Dorothy Gilman.  She had semi-retired to Nova Scotia when she wrote this little book, A New Kind of Country.  I’ll end my jump-rope recount for you here with her opening paragraph.  It’s about discovery.

“This is about living in a fishing village in Nova Scotia, and it’s about living alone, and about being a woman alone.  Thoreau remarked in the opening pages of Walden, “I should not talk so much about myself if there were anyone else I knew so well,” but this is not about myself, not really.  It’s about discovery.  We’re collectors, each of us, for all of our lives, collecting years, illusions, attitudes, but above all experience, and to me it was seemed very simple: I wanted a different kind of experience.”

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Full Orchestral Effect

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Having arrived at the end of the northeasternmost road on Turtle Island, a new journey begins (insert: opening notes Beethoven’s Fifth).  Our universe is composed of cycles within cycles which themselves are constantly evolving.  It’s a Happening place, this universe!  And maybe just an eighth note in the Greater Composition.  But within it, we are ever turning and re-turning, holographic and complete.

So Why Not fiddle on?  Dance through these precious times unfolding in waves of light and sound?  Walking the St John’s harbor on my first full day here, my friend and I were delighted to see a hulking French research vessel aptly named Pourquois Pas?   Why Not?

Indeed.  And why just fiddle when you can partake of the three-day, fortieth annual Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival?  Just a few blocks stroll up the hill to Bannerman Park this weekend, we will join a Gathering of countless creative rhythms & cycles of expression.  I imagine a satellite image of this 43,000 sq. ft. island (The Rock) as a pulsing aurora of rainbow light.

I can also imagine a similar image of the island of Tasmania (Newfoundland’s antipodal twin), every January during their Cygnet Folk Festival.  Points of light, these island gatherings of music and celebration are beacons of Other Possibilities for us all. They are lighthouses that beckon us into quiet bays of peace where humpback whales spout from just beneath of surface of the water.

There are islands of rock and green that call to our creative hearts with light, and sound, and tidal rhythms.  So our hearts reside in our own personal bodies of ocean.  Wherever we are, at the center of the circle we can find our home.  My thanks Dougie MacLean for that iconic song–it launched my journey and delivered me safely into St John’s.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yV5y0h01xaw

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Fiddling while Rome Burns: On the Ceilidh Trail, Nova Scotia

What happens when you learn to love the detours — you fall in love with life like it’s for the first time, all over again.  It’s been six weeks now since leaving Silver City–feels like six months, six years…   This journey has not been the spiraling meander of 2013, but a leisurely 5,000 miles of point a to point b.  By Lammas, August 1st, I will have arrived at point b — my good friend’s jelly bean Victorian row house in St John’s, Newfoundland.

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But here today, camped beside the sandy beach of Seafoam, Nova Scotia, the sense of arrival is complete.  Wild roses edge my campsite and bramble down to the sea.  The sun traces a long low arc in a mother of pearl blue sky, from Northeast to Northwest.  This soft-lit Northumbrian coast is rich farmland and lavender is a big crop.  Fields of brilliant violet swirl the air with the heady spice of lavender cut by a salt ocean tang.   Driving east along the lazy narrow highway, windows wide open, the fragrant breeze is a sensual blessing.  Sixty miles and I maybe saw two scraps of litter, probably windblown.  That bit alone was a celebration of Earth, Herself.

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Up and down this quiet corner of Nova Scotia small communities are gathering for their summertime potlucks:  Scotsburn, Gosling Glen, Duckling Dale, Tatamagouche.   I toured an organic lavender farm this afternoon, just up the road from my camp.  You can smell it from here.  And if you can imagine it, they’ve made a lavender product of it.  From pet shampoo to tea and salt blends, soaps and lotions of course, and piece de resistance, lavender ice cream!  An old family farm, turns out the husband of the heiress is from Pagosa Springs, two river crossings east of Cortez.  And so May the Circle be Unbroken…

Fiddle while Rome burns?  You bet.  The Ceilidh Trail (Kay-lee, Gaelic for Gathering), actually begins a bit north of here on Cape Breton, tomorrow’s destination.  It’s the ancient home of the Mi’kmaq indigenous people and further settled 400 years ago by French Acadians and Highland Scots.  These are the people who still call Cape Breton home.  The music and art they gather to make and share are unique in the world.

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For the next couple days I’ll be camped in Mabou, the heart of the Ceilidh Trail.  There will be a pub, there will be fiddling, and dancing, and probably a local beer or two quaffed.  There is a joie de vivre celebrated among such different people here, like few places on the planet these days.  Their gathering is about losing walls, not building them.  From this perspective the blazing fiddles, creative hearts open, the dance, the willingness to Gather cultural histories together…  this looks to be the meaningful way through, as the old empires collapse.

 

 

 

 

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Cherchez la femme

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Some days dawn with more mystery than others.  Or, some days beckon us into their mystery more insistently.  Our Presence is requested.  This is not something you hear with the ears attached above your jaw.  This request comes in through our pores, a tingling wave of silent refection, a watery ripple.

Or not.  Alice got the call when she spotted a white rabbit with a pocket watch.  She answered it by giving chase.  Me, I got behind the wheel of my car in North Bay, Ontario and asked, “Where to?”   For the first time since this summer’s journey began, I was without destination, campsite reservation, map.  No idea whether I’d spend another night in endless Ontario (imagine crossing Texas four times), or perhaps exit the TransCanada highway and slip north into Quebec.  I’d been silently practicing my feeble French, making up phrases from my limited vocabulary and laughing out loud at their absurdity.  “If you please, where is the room of the Women?”

But back to the Way Finding.  All along the TransCanada I was enchanted by the small but elaborate cairns perched wherever rock outcroppings lined the road.  I imagined north country gnome-scouts leaving markers for their kin who followed.  Or a special road crew assigned to not just pick up fallen rocks but stack them in their own signature arrangements.  Or maybe it was Andy Goldsworthy’s second cousin passing through.  Je ne sais pas.   Regardless, each sighting was like a reminder of our commitment to our journeys, once we’ve elected to answer the call.  Here you are.  There you go.

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After last week’s post I heard from a few people about the nature of The Gap.  The Gap is your unpredictable doorway into the Mystery.  It’s your personalized admission ticket.  It’s Alice falling down the rabbit hole and finding herself too big, too small, too big to enter.  But she is committed to the chaos and so finally admitted.

Exiting the TransCanada–twice–I explored one road, backtracked, made several u-turns and unexpected detours.  I’d run out of map, leaving Ontario.  But I was actually being led, backroad after backroad, to a tiny village in the Outaouais region.  Where?  To a particular information kiosk, which was the fourth one I’d tried and failed to locate.  Ah oui!  Maps!   The starlit woman there awaiting me was as delighted by my French as I was by her English.  But she had only just moved to the area and was clueless about “Where am I making to camp with the dog?”  After consulting with several locals on my behalf, she simply invited me to come and stay at her place.  And weary as I was I nearly accepted until she remembered to show me the village campground across the street.  A grassy sward along the historic Joseph River and surrounded by public gardens and walkways, quaint bridges back and forth across the rushing river…  Magical.  Under our noses.

She and I were threads drawn together across the mystery of this day, its byways and u-turns.  Rock cairns or no, maps or no, there’s an irresistible Mad Hatter’s tea party always awaiting our arrival when we say yes to the Gap.  And don’t let the detours deter you.

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