An Excerpt from Tumblehome

A contemplative teaser from Chapter 2

On My Own But Not Alone

Smoke around to Smoke: August 7 to 12, 2000

I stand on the shore of my campsite and make a futile attempt to capture the sky’s golden splendour inside my camera. The colours fade to grey. Above me comes the distinctive whisper of wings. I look up to see a large black bird fly right over my head. I call out a happy good night. I have become quite bonded with Raven this past year.

The car was loaded, the ranger at work. I was about to make the drive home to pack my life into a U-Haul truck and move to a cottage here in this isolated area where he was practically the only person I knew. And it looked less and less like we were going to survive. I tried to keep the panic at bay.

I paused beside the car to take in the panoramic view one more time, the trees now turning to brilliant shades of red and gold. Would I ever look out over this view again? If I did, would I always associate it with this terrible pain?

Through the blur of tears something caught my eye. A large black bird had sailed in close to the ridge top. There it stayed, before me at eye level, making slow soaring circles just out from the ridge. Its underside was iridescent—somehow a pale black or even a deep dark velvet brown. I stretched out my arms to the raven and wept anew, this time though in the way a child does at the arrival of comfort of its pain. I felt its love and solace at some level beyond pain. They entered my being, not erasing the hurt but sitting with it, an equal but infinitely gentler Presence.

The raven flew off, and I called out my thank you. Then I got in the car and made the three-hour drive to Chelsea to pack up my life.

Raven magic is a powerful medicine that can give you the courage to enter the darkness of the void, which is the home of all that is not yet in form.

I head to the edge of the dark woods to brush my teeth. The whisper of raven wings still echoes in my head. God, I have been learning this past year, is just there, wherever, in the world, or in your heart, you are. Cartwheeling for joy in your joy, or soaring in solace for your sorrow.

Our relationship continued to crumble. I moved into my new home on the Madawaska River in the fall and tried to stay open without having a breakdown. A permanent knot in my stomach prevented me from eating. Sleep, which for me is usually deep and uninterrupted for eight or nine hours, became a time of dread, knowing I would wake up at three a.m. and lie awake prey to my thoughts. I had just moved to an isolated part of Ontario, two or three hours away from supportive friends and family. Just about the only person I knew was the man who had retreated so far it looked like we were going to break up for good.

He came over a few times. He got on the phone to find someone to plow my road through the winter and someone else to bring 10 cords of wood. He brought cedar lengths and split it into kindling for me. The few times he stayed for dinner, I couldn’t eat.

My lack of appetite and sleep was sapping my strength. Usually a strong cyclist and skier and swimmer and hiker, now I could only go for slow walks in the woods. When each load of wood arrived, I had to pace myself, stacking it row by row in the woodshed. My energy was depleted not just from these past few weeks but, it seemed, from a lifetime of “effort.” A lifetime of my heart’s efforts to love and please God—and half a lifetime trying to love and please my various boyfriends. It never occurred to me to let God or my partner love me. If I felt loved it was because I felt I had “earned” it by my efforts to be “good.” To be “good enough.” I didn’t expect the ranger, or anyone, to love me when I was weak, when I was weepy or needy or jealous or insecure. I didn’t feel like the ranger’s treasure, and—a stunning realization—never had. Not because of anything he might or might not feel, but because the concept was too foreign. It was the joking way he’d spoken the endearment that made it okay.

I placed another log on the row and the words came unbidden but all to naturally: We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table. What was blocking me from receiving was, it was so obvious now, that ingrained sense of unworthiness that was reinforced in that prayer every Sunday in church for so many years. It was no wonder I had never felt like anyone’s treasure. The negativity from that communion prayer had become ingrained, apparently, in the very fibre of my being. Never mind all the years of affirmations: I fundamentally didn’t think I was worthy of having all that love and joy heaped on my head.

On my long, slow walks, I came up with a new tape to play over the old: I am worthy so much as to share in all the abundance that is on thy table. If I said it often enough maybe I would come to believe it. Though I knew it would take more than the repetition of positive affirmations. That was just treating the symptoms. It was time to truly, fundamentally know, in the core of my being, I was worthy of being loved. Time to allow myself to be cherished—treasured—just for being me. Just for being. (Holy cow.)

And so, over those fragile fall months, I tentatively opened myself up to being loved.

And Mother Earth, and all her creatures, responded. I would look out my front window, to the oaks sheltering the house, to the crooked red pine on the shore doing a darned good imitation of Tom Thomson’s West Wind painting, to the blue waters of the wide river beyond the shoreline pines. And there it would be. I would go for my walks in the woods, and stretch my head back to see the ravens and hawks flying overhead, and I would look down and catch glimpses of the little creatures going about their lives in the woods around me. And there it would be. In everything—above me, below me, around me—Love. Caring. Protection.

That’s why I can be in here this week. Because of the ever-deepening knowledge, borne of the last 10 months in a self-imposed but not consciously planned isolation in the Madawaska Highlands, that somehow my interior self is innately connected with this interior—this park interior that is such an exquisite part of the external, natural world. Kioshkokwi was a good testing trip, but the deciding factor has been the new relationship I’ve been exploring with the sacred environment out my door this past year. I’m here to extend it, and deepen it.

Only one more night to go with flimsy nylon between me and the night-roving bears. I look up into a hole in the clouds where the stars are shining through and breathe deeply from my diaphragm. It comes to me with certain knowledge: there are no bears lurking here.