This was the way of it,
Let the story fires be lighted.
~ Robbie Robertson.
When train travel in Canada was affordable, and it still seemed fun to sleep sitting up in a coach seat, I often made the 21-hour journey as a student between Thunder Bay and Toronto. It was beautiful in every season, especially along the north shore of Lake Superior ~ vibrant autumn leaves, ice and snow sculpted on the windblown lake, the bright green of the forest in spring, and the dazzling blueness of sun drenched water.
Our family travelled by train from the west coast years later, this time with the luxury of beds, and meals in the dining car. At bedtime, my daughter and I cuddled together in our bunk while the full moon shone on the snowy mountains. The magical world outside our window seemed like a dream as we drifted in and out of sleep. The next day we descended from the mountains and began hurtling across the prairies, soaking in the spaciousness of land and sky. And then, as our love of train travel began to wane, we reached the familiarity of the Boreal forest – spruce, fir, jackpine, birch, and cedars, the tracks winding between and beside lake after lake.
It’s hard not to wonder about our sense of place while travelling over the land, passing small towns and villages, remote homes and farms ~ the meaning that places hold for us, our attachment and connection to the places we love.
When we lived in New Zealand our children studied Maori language and culture – Te Reo Maori. They were asked to prepare their Mihimihi ~ an introductory speech about who you are and where you come from in relation to your land and people. Specific geographical features associated with your home are shared, linking you to the land ~ your maunga (mountain), awa (river), and moana (sea) ~ and to your tribe, ancestors, and marae (sacred gathering place). Our family could only imagine what it would be like to have these ancestral ties and place connections.
It would be easy to be sorrowful about what we have lost through our roaming and migrations. I have felt a pining for those deep roots, a longing for ‘home’ that has led me to search for a place never to be found on a map. Still, there are times when a warm and welcoming sense of home reminds me of who I am and where I am from. The vegetation may differ, the smells, and climate, even the orientation of the sun, but walking through a deep green forest, swimming in a cool lake, smelling the damp earth in spring, bathing in the light of the moon, or feeling the sun warm on my face, I feel… home. And although most of our ancestors are unknown, and many of their stories have been lost, we carry them with us in our bodies, and know their lived experiences deeply in our dreams and memories. And when home feels elusive, and the space and time between beating and now still hearts feels too great and distant, I become quiet and listen ~ and there, deep within, are the ancient vibrations of our ancestors and loved ones and the land from which we all come.
Walking, I am listening to a deeper way.
Suddenly, all my ancestors are behind me.
Be still they say. Watch and listen.
You are the result of the love of thousands.
~ Linda Hogan.
This is a beautiful song by Robbie Robertson and the Red Road Ensemble, Twisted Hair
This was the way of it
Let the story fires be lighted
Let our circle be strong and full of medicine
This is my dream song that I’m singing for you
This is my power song that is taking me to the edge
This is rock medicine
The talking tree
The singing water
I am dancing underneath you
This was the way of it
It is a river
It is a chant
It is a medicine story
It is what happened long ago
It is a bead in a story belt
It is what has been forgotten
It is the smell of sweetgrass and cedar
And prayers lifted to sky father
It is a way, a tradition
The way it was always done by the people
It is a feeling of warmth
The sound of voices
I am dancing underneath you.
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