The land is a sacred being. You learn that when you spend enough time with her.
Eventually, you come to regain your senses and you discover that you’ve learned to see a different way, attuned yourself to odd tonalities and structures of sound, become unable to taste the wind or rain, and accrued a second skin that deflects more than it absorbs.
But the land is healing and she returns you to original form. Eventually. It requires the risk of stepping out beyond known territories and allowing the grand sweep of her to claim you. Not merely the occasional weekend escape but a committed surrender to the pitch and sway and rhythm of her.
When you do that she heals you.
She eases her way into the cracks and crevices of you. She seeps into the gaps that worldly understanding creates. She soothes the raw spots, the urban rasp you’ve come somehow to accept as natural.
She reconnects you, as my people say, to the web of creation and that returning when it happens, is as familiar as a soft voice in the darkness.
You don’t need to be native to understand this. We all of us came out of the womb of the same earth and we carry within us the same filigree of attachment, the same ghost of a cord that ties us to her.
We came to live in a cabin in the mountains. We came here with a solid urban resume comprised of a gamut of attitudes and assumptions spawned in the mad rush of the city.
Quiet, especially sudden quiet, was dangerous. The lack of an agenda indicated a lack of measure, of popularity, productivity or usefulness. If something wasn’t happening, something wasn’t happening.
It all sat on us like judgment. It took being here, allowing the land to percolate into the fibre of us, allowing time to decompress and our senses to swell again, to free us enough to appreciate the minutiae of a life on the land.
At first it was glee, the freedom of kids set loose in the playground. But it’s grown to become what we wear, what we say, how we think and how we dream.
It all came startlingly clear one recent morning. It had rained the night before and there was a palpable freshness to things.
Colours and shapes were sharpened by the cut of clear air and sound carried magnificently. The dog and I set out for our morning walk awed by the ever changing face of our surroundings.
Just down the gravel road is a sweeping turn that’s made tighter by the thickness of bushes and trees that push out to its borders. The line of sight is restricted and traffic slows to navigate it safely.
It’s like a portal that slants downward sharply out of the heights and into the long slope to the lake. Walking it has always felt like a scene from a movie, the hero encountering a vista of staggering proportions.
We were walking slowly, taking everything in. When we came around the high arc of it a deer stepped out of the bush and stared at us.
I commanded the dog to sit and she dropped to her haunches immediately. The deer stood six metres from us, ears swiveling and nostrils flaring for scent. None of us moved beyond that.
She was a mule deer, a doe and she had a satiny summer coat of tan with a thin ridge of black along the top of her neck. She was mature, with the confidence of several years behind her.
As the dog sat staring at her she raised her head slightly and watched us in return. Satisfied that there was no danger she stepped closer.
The dog is a terrier, a hunter, a chaser, but she sat at the edge of the road quietly enthralled by the appearance of this magnificent creature.
She didn’t bark, she didn’t growl or whimper at the opportunity to run and chase and play. Instead, she sat with her head tilted studying the deer who stepped closer, slowly. The deer looked at her, then at me and moved closer again.
There was a timelessness that descended on that moment. For me, breathing slowly, it took me back to moments from my boyhood when wandering the bush was like meditation, the spell of it — magical and exciting and humbling all at the same time.
For the creatures, it was a returning to the time when there were no barriers, when, like my people say, there were just the animals and all was harmony.
The deer edged closer. Behind us we could hear the loons on the water, the nattering of squirrels in the trees and the crows and ravens in their garrulous conversations high in the branches.
Everything was still. As I breathed it was like I could feel the air move between us and there was no separation of our breaths.
In Ojibway the deer is called Way-wash-ka-zhee, the Gentle One and its medicine power is nurturing. I said her name quietly in my language and eased my hand up toward her.
She tilted her head and stepped closer. The dog held her silent sit. Slowly, the deer eased forward until she was a couple metres away from us.
I saw her then, clearly, sharply, felt her curious, gentle power.
Only the sound of a truck on the gravel broke that timeless spell. The deer startled some but then looked back at us before she broke for the depths of the bush.
In that glance was a knowing, a recognition of a peace encountered, remembered, and carried forever. There was no threat, no difference, only a crucial joining, a shared breath of creation.
See, we don’t become more by living with the land. Instead we become our proper size.
It takes unity to do that. It takes the recognition of the community we live in, this world, this Earth, this planet. When you do that, it comes to inhabit you, fill you, returns you to harmony.
Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He recently won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels.