Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Taking a Walk in the Woods

Text by Rebecca
Photos by Rebecca
... tree shadows ...

On Sunday Arta and I decided to take a walk on the property to get our Fitbit steps in.

What started as a walk ended up as a stroll to the far end of the property and eventually, a walk up the path that has been maintained by Glen and Greg to join up at the end of the Sicamous Trail.

At each moment along the walk, I thought we were just going a few steps further until we finally decided to commit to going right to the highway or turning around and going back home.

It was the first sunny day in a week.

The ground was incredibly wet.

The moss was soft under our feet and the forest around us had rich green colours.

... a standing mother log ...
We stopped along the way to note the place where a large tree had fallen and torn apart the trail.

We lay in bed this morning for the first hour talking about yesterday’s walk and thinking how fun it would have been to take the little kids on the walk.

Our conversation turned to the pedagogy.

How does one create a walk for kids that is entertaining for them and that also attaches them to the land.

What stories could be told along the way, stories that would teach them about plants, animals, the land, history, their relations, seasons and more.

I was thinking about reading Andree Boissele’s dissertation.

In the first chapter she talks about the Stolo field school and going out on the land with elders.

On reading that chapter I was struck by the realization that one of the reasons to tell stories out on the land is to enable the elders, themselves, to better access the knowledge they have.

"I am wondering if I can make it across this water
without some help with my balance."
Landmarks are attached to stories, experiences, seasons, and stuff in ways that enable one to recall and bring to mind other pieces of information. As we went on our walk,

Arta would stop to point out where Wyora had wanted to build a house, where Glen had built his tree house, the different names that we have given to the streams we crossed, the place where Glen the tree had fallen in the woods and Glen had been able to tip the trunk back into its hole and restore our path.

 At one point as we were climbing up the hill, grasping for branches to help pull us up, I grabbed onto a cedar branch and scrambled up the hill. The branch was springy and the needles were soft against my hand. I found myself remembering that on the west coast the cedar are referred to as the generous ones.
The walk also gave us a chance to talk about LaRue and the different ways people did or didn’t feel connected to the land.

To know something is not always to love it. To know something in greater detail changes your relationship to it.

... a drop of water held by a leafy cup ...
So how might we create ways for the young people on the land to build an intimate relationship to it.

And could we do this in a way that acknowledged the stories that were on the land before we arrived here. That pulled to my mind the story of The Cedar People that had been told to me by Earl Plaxton Junior on a walk up Mount Pkols in Victoria last summer. I knew that if I had the children with me, this would be a place where I could tell that story. Indeed, since much of the trail had been well maintained and we had both talked about how generous Uncle Greg was, in doing the work to make this trail accessible for anyone who wanted to use it, we started referring to Uncle Greg as the generous one.

 All last summer we spent time reading Indigenous stories to the young children, seeking to make those stories part of their own lives. But it did occur to us that there is something quite powerful in telling those stories out on the land because it is one thing to tell a story about cedar and it is another thing to hear the story while standing beside a cedar where you can see it, touch it, smell it, listen to the birds in the trees around it, to the sounds of the forest around it. And also see cedar branches nourishing the forest floor, feel the bark, the branches, the light dappling the forest floor through the branches. We could also see branches on the forest floor that had broken off because of the heavy snowfall in the winter. So looking around us it was possible to make time visible in the moment. To think about what had fallen and why and to see new life growing out of branches that had fallen in years past, the fallen branches continuing their form of generous giving to the environment around them.
... the minutia of the forest floor ...
So our discussion turned to making a book or a resource or a photo journal gathering together some pathways through this walk in the woods.

If I am taking the kids out in the woods, it is helpful to be prepared. Stories about the cedar could be told just about anywhere in British Columbia, for you will see one on any part of your path.

So the goal here, for the LaRue folks is a blog post of this walk with some tales and stories gathered around it. Share some stories than can be attached to the land if you want to walk this path with your children or your grandchildren, this summer or this winter.

At one point in my own life, I spent a long time worrying about whose stories belonged to whom.

I still think those are important questions.

... just checking to see if the deck has come back ...
But I also think there is some urgency to the question of how we attach ourselves to the land and stories, wherever those place might be.

And there are some good reasons for thinking about how to do that in a way that attaches to the world that we live in, no matter where that is.
I keep bouncing back and forth between what is a blog post, what is for a pedagogy piece and what is for my work.

It feels scary to say land based learning, like there is something in it.

Like I wouldn’t go camping or take a bunch of people out into the woods, if I didn’t know where I was going.

So I know that people worry about the dangers of doing things that you don’t know. But there are also dangers in failure to engage.

... high on Pilling's Road ...
In some ways it seems more important than ever to build relations with the world around us and part of this means being more attentive to our environment and attaching stories to those places.


As an example of this, on our walk we spent a lot of time thinking about water. We stopped by a small bed of moss. We noticed a sparkle on the ground. There was a small patch of tiny flowers, each of which was holding a large drop of water. They seemed jewel-like.

 It was tricky to find a way to capture that in a photo. I stood in one direction and my body blocked the sun, casting a shadow across the flowers. From another direction the beads of water produced a glare on my screen. In my first photo the drops of water were too far away to be visible. Magnified close up, there was a loss of the sense of scale.

 And in any event, I am not a great photographer, so the photo was blurred.

... looking down at the railroad track ...
That was just all in the nature of trying to capture the photo in one degree. It made me think of how much time I spent standing at that spot, trying to capture that image, one that is burned more significantly into my memory than my camera shot. I certainly spent more time with the photo than anyone will spend in reading the blog. A mini-flash back to my most recent trip to London and my gallery walk in the National Gallery where the guide asked us to guess how much time the average visitor spends looking at an individual painting. He told us five and a half seconds, just long enough to cast their eyes across it, or just long enough to point their camera and take a photo look at later. He told us that he thinks it is just fine for people to take photos, though he reminded us that each photo in the National Gallery’s collection is posted on line in high definition and in good quality.

... looking up out of the dark forest to the sky ...
On that day we saw only five paintings.

One 1/3 hours, five paintings and we stayed 15 minutes with each painting.

His goal, he said, was to have us build reationships to those 5 paintings. I am smart enough now to bring one of those waling stools, so I don’t stand.

I punk myself down in front of the painting, so, standing or sitting we spent 15 minutes while he talked about the artist, the time period, the images, the economy, the dog in the painting, the clothing worn by the sitters.

And by the time we left each of those paintings, I felt as though I had a new friend.
I could have done this in a history of art class.

Indeed, that is how I have done most of my learning.

But there was something quite different about being up close to the painting itself. I could see the brush strokes, the hand of the author was visible in a way that it isn’t in the reproduction.

I can also bring to mind the voice of the gallery guide, where I was sitting in relation to other people in the room, which side of the room the painting was hung on, the room around the painting.

All of this, just a way of getting back to that bead of water nested in the petals of that plant.
I don’t know how long Betty or Alice’s attention would have been held before that plant was poked.

 I can imagine having ready to hand, a story about those beads of water because if you are watching the forest floor after the rain you will find one.
... only bent bark is left ...

 And probably in the back yard of some’s lawn as well. 

There was water in the moss.

Last summer, walking on the moss there was some crunch. On this walk the moss was a cushion, a sponge.

Not enough to get my shoe wet, but enough to feel when I pushed my hand into the moss and lichen on the trees. 

We climbed over a large old log that laid across the plant.

To get over it, you simply had to sit on the log and then swing your leg over the top.

... green and white on a bed of red ...
The log was covered with moss.

When I stood up, my jeans were full of water from that one.

The moss gave up its water.

There was a mushy area where someone had laid logs across the water to keep one’s feet from slipping into the mud. This is where the water was running through a cloud full of silt.

 Some of the water ran through culverts.

 We watched a beautiful waterfall above us.

... just a small rest on the upward climb ...
 I guess there was an occasion to think about water that runs, water that sits, water that is captured. There was no place to get a good drink from any of the clear streams. We couldn’t kneel by any of the streams. Too wet. But those little flowers had gathered water as a drinking bowl for someone.
Along the way it felts as though the birds were in conversation with us.

We also talked on the walk about stories that are laid on the land from our family. We walked down old Pilling’s Road knowing that in a month or two there will be wild strawberries there.

We looked for the tell tale leaves.

We saw the burdock which is a completely storied plant for me, walking along, picking the seeds and throwing them at others.

Burdock is part of the game. And as a child I knew this was part of the reproductive cycle. Was it waiting for young children to transport it from one spot to another.

... the Spring forest in its whites and greens ...
We had been talking about this because people talk about oral culture as though it is somehow inferior to written culture.

But when we look at the stories with the children, the stories come alive with the children, more than in the reading. And when stories are told orally in a context where there is something to look at, or something to attach the story to, it is all the more powerful.

It is easier to talk about burdock tea while holding a burdock ion your hand.

This does bring up the question of time.

A burdock when it is dried, a burdock when it is dried, a burdock when it is in blossom. Fireweed makes most sense in some stories when you can see the wisps of white seeds floating oni the wind. There are reasons for stories to take account of time
... a photo  never shows how steep
the trail really is ...
Part of what made the walk interesting was seeing how much water was coming down in the streams. So much water. Streams that I see as only trickles in the summer, now overflowing their banks. Good metaphors for time. The lake was frozen at one point. There the water becomes a surface. It looks like nothing is happening. And then there is a flood of action. You can turn anything into a lesson. Is the water water, or is it a metaphor? We were having all of these conversations about time to wait, and to acknowledge that a season has not quite arrived, or that the water level at one time won’t be the water level always. I can show kids where the strawberries will grow, but I can’t show them the strawberries if I take them on a walk right now. So this isn’t the moment for that story.

But it is also knowing that there are other things. There is what the land has available and then there is the need of the person interacting with it. You can draw many stories out of the land at different times. There is so much there. But it is helpful to know what the need is before drawing out the story.

... at the end of the walk the clouds are lifting ...
Something is almost always in season. A person doesn’t’ have to theorize that all culture is oral culture before theorizing what orality can provide.

Being able to access text and image is useful.


I can think about taking kids on walks.

Can I take kids on virtual walks and can it provide links for me to do something similar in my back yard. How do I get my children to have skills to attaching themselves to the world they are in? If I go on the walk and say here is a bird, or here is a budock, who cares. Give me a story with that thing.

To drop people off at the Sicamous Trail end
go down the Trans-Canada until the
road narrows to one line each way.
There is where the deer lay down for the night.

Here is where a moose peed in a stream.

Here is where the road got washed out. Here is where Cohl got strangled on a motorcycle. Which road does one take to get back to the cabins?

We tell those stories one way or another.

When we left, I thought we were just going to walk back and forth on Pilling’s road But no, Arta, just wanted to look first here and then there. The two pottern kiln’s Then the stream between Wyona’s and Moiya’s. Greg’s enthusiasm for clearing a path. One story lead to another, until when we got to the top of the path where the question was, should be walk all of the way to Sicamous?

I said no way.

But that is the story I always asked when I was young.

Can I walk to Sicamous? Can I run to Sicaomous? Can I skip to Sicamous? Can I paddle to Sicamous? Can I bike ride to Sicamous?


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