The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man. ~ John Muir
One night in late winter I find myself in the company of a good friend. We sit in his apartment drinking beer and listening to records on his turn table. John is a free-spirited, gentle soul and an artist in the truest sense of the word. His apartment is a collection of collectibles… records, CD’s, and musical instruments. Spending time with John is easy, he’s just one of those people that you don’t have to try too hard to be around. We don’t say much and when we do it tends to be a fragmented idea about the bonds that pull people together and push them apart. Most of the time we just listen to the sweet sound of a singer songwriter emanating from the record player.
John and had planned to go to a nearby bar, so even though we are both quite comfortable where we are, we make our way to a lively watering hole. We share a pint, nacho’s and a game of foosball which John wins quite handily. It’s bright in here, though. And loud. And there’s something about the mood we’re both in that compels us to leave with a half pint of beer still left in the pitcher.
Outside, I watch fine raindrops land on John’s face as he smiles into the wind to greet them. It inspires me to pull back the hood on my own jacket and do the same. We decide to head down the hill to the Wallace Shipyards and stroll along the pier there. I’ve had some good times on that pier. A few years back the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior was in town and I got to go on board and fulfill all the fantasies of the idealistic nine-year old in me who thought she could change the world. A year after that, the Esperanza made its way up here for some repairs soon after it had taken part in a protest against Arctic drilling. In my narrow mind, this shipyard is a haven for the environmental champions of the sea.
Where are you from, Mariko? John asks innocently enough as we venture out on to the pier. This question is strangely difficult to answer and one I’ve been struggling with for the last few months. I recently took a course on traditional land resource management that transformed into a two day discussion that blurred the relationship between land ownership and land stewardship. Here in BC it’s a huge issue because there is so much wilderness up for grabs, especially in the Northern part of our province. Fish farms on aboriginal land and mega energy projects through the most pristine wilderness have polarized the population all year. By the end of that course I had finally come to understand the complexity and futility of the situation under the current system and subsequently found myself feeling powerless and disillusioned.
How does that relate to me not being able to answer a question as simple as where are you from?
I am from here. The Pacifc Northwest. I’ve lived most of my life on land that was historically under the stewardship of the Coast Salish First Nation. My mother was born here and so was my father. All four of my grandparents were either born here or arrived at a very young age. My mother’s family emigrated to Mission from Japan and during WWII they were forced to leave and travel inland. Generations earlier, my father’s kin were among the first colonists to settle here. I guess in some circles they were the bad guys. But my story remains the same…. I’m from here.
I may not know some of the original secrets of this place, the sacred ones past down from generation to generation, knowledge keeper to knowledge keeper. But I know a place in Delta where the raptors ride the wind, and little nook in the mountains with a peek-a-boo view of Howe Sound, a maple tree near a patio where a pair of hummingbirds will faithfully appear if you can be still for just thirty seconds. Some will disagree when I claim to be from here, but none can deny that right now I am here.
All this over an innocent question between friends. John and I stare into the ocean; under an almost moonless night, the water looks like a rolling pewter meadow. Beautiful and beckoning, hinting of turbulence below. I wonder sometimes what thoughts swim beneath John’s wistfully serene half smile. I try to capture a photo with him and this mood of ours. There is something about John that makes me want to capture a lot of the moments we spend together. How does he manage to move so gracefully unaffected from one scene to the next?
We pass a building with a mural on it; a crowd of men waiting to punch the clock. There is a man near the bottom right hand corner smoking a pipe and John wants to know if he and this man look alike. I admit that they don’t and I wonder silently why he feels connected to this stranger from the past. How much did this unknown man and the men who surround him alter the landscape we both so admire. Mostly men from other places who came here and built vessels from the pristine wilderness that was here to move people and more large trees to and from other places. Who can say beyond doubt that any of it was for the better or worse? How can we know in any given moment how the choices we make will affect what is beyond our sphere in place and time? I suppose the best we can do is take a moment to consider those things.
I love the place where I’m from. I feel connected here, at times irrationally so. A drought sucked some of the life out of me two summers ago, yet every time I see an eagle soar I can’t help but feel at peace. Watching the development of homes for the financial elite creep higher up the mountainside or a harbour seal swimming in a bay full of barges can make me feel exactly the opposite.
I take a photo of John standing in front of the mural and think about the context of what it means to be in one time in one place. Are we bound by duty or an inherent genetic pull to replicate the patterns of the past? I’ve always been optimistic about our potential to heal old wounds, but then, I’ve always been a fan of fairy tales.
John is a motorcycle enthusiast and on another day I find myself clinging to the back of one of his leather jackets as we endeavor to watch a sunset by the beach. John loves to explore the nooks and crannies of the area around Vancouver. You see so much more of the landscape on a bike, he explains. You feel more part of it. I agree completely.
It’s been a while since I’ve been on the back of a bike and I have missed the feeling of having to surrender all control. It becomes a spiritual journey for me and there’s no way to do that without first making peace… whatever that means.
The sunset is spectacular. All shades of yellow, orange and pink make an appearance across a canvas of blue. Nature’s intrepid miracle. It’s enough to awaken the child-like optimist in me to tug at my disenchanted sleeve. I don’t know what to do, but I know I have to do something. Because I’m here now.