There’s a shade of blue that lives where the sun meets the horizon every morning. It sits in that mysterious space where darkness meets light, where night begins its rise into day. When you see it there’s a compulsion to simply stare as though it were a face in a crowd, familiar yet alluring in its strangeness. It’s an off-purple fading into blue grey.
There is no word for that shade. In Ojibwa there is no expression for it and English has met its match to come to definition of it. It is simply an impossible blue.
I discovered it for the first time in 1985. I was one of a group of aspiring storytellers gathered on Manitoulin Island. We were there for 10 days to sit with traditional elders, hear stories and teachings and work at incorporating those into the work we would do as storytellers. None of us were accomplished. We all merely carried the desire to create and to blend traditional oral storytelling with contemporary theatre, fiction and poetry.
The elders were there to provide the foundational structure to our work. As soon as we arrived they began to direct us, to lead us to places within ourselves and within our cultural lives where the spirit of stories lived. One of the first things they instructed us to do was to get ourselves outside early in the morning. They wanted us to be facing east as the sun came up over the trees. They wanted us to sit there without speaking and watch. Then they wanted us to tell them the story of what we saw there.
That first morning was chilly. It was late October and there was frost, the taste of snow in the wind and a scrim of ice at the edge of the small lake. Sitting on a large rock while first light broke on the horizon was hard. I’d had no coffee and the clothes I’d brought were insufficient for the season. But I sat there and watched and waited for something to occur.
At first there was nothing. Then, I began to discern swirls and shapes and patterns in the sky. All my time spent in cities had taught me that morning breaks sharply, shadows got put to flight and the sun came to dominate things. But what I saw that morning was an almost lazy roll into full morning. As the sun climbed higher, a wild palette of colours I had never imagined spread slowly across the skyline. I was awed, floored by it. When that feeling was on me the fullest, I saw impossible blue.
It sat on the edge of darkness and light. When I saw it I recognized it immediately. But I didn’t know it with a memory or a specific recollection. Instead I recognized it by feeling. That incandescent blue awoke something inside of me and when I felt it stir to life I wanted to cry.
I told the elders that and they smiled. Then they told me that the blue was spiritual because it sat between dark and light. It represented both the emptiness of things and its fullness and because of that it carried the possibility of everything. When we are born, our spirits are just like that, they told me. But life happens and we learn to shut that possibility down. We learn rules and judgment and it shrinks it. The storyteller in us diminishes, weakens and lies dormant in us. When I saw that blue and felt it stir to life inside of me, my storytelling spirit was sparked to life again – and that was why I wanted to cry.
Over the next nine days, they showed me how to coax a flame out of that ember of spirit. We spoke of the rich protocol and tradition of storytelling. We talked of principles, values and the empowering energy of story both to the teller and the listener. We engaged in ceremony and ritual and every morning I took myself outside and sat on that rock and watched the light break across the sky. When I left there I felt alive, kindled to flame and eager to get to work.
Well, it’s 24 years later and I’ve become a storyteller. I’ve learned to integrate all those elders taught me into a body of work that gets bigger and bigger each year. But I still go out as early as I can some days to find that blue. It’s always there and it still affects me the same. I feel. I awakened inside – and then I go home to work on my stories.
We should all find that impossible blue, in the sky and in ourselves. It fills us and empowers us to tell each other the story of our lives. The fullness and the emptiness, all at the same time.
Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels and his new novel, Ragged Company, is out from
Doubleday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org