Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lost in the Forest

Today while walking with Gracie on the well-traveled trail behind the medical clinic, I took a detour up a side path to have a pee. (I love peeing in the woods, a habit formed while living on Lasqueti.) In the interests of discretion, I went a little farther up the path than I had in the past. I noticed that it seemed to continue through the forest, which surprised me since I was sure I had gone up that way before and the path just petered out into thick salal.

So I followed the narrow trail and found myself in another world. It was almost like falling through the looking glass. The unfamiliar path, the light slanting through the trees in a different way, the birds chirping  and swooping. I remembered how much I had enjoyed walking with the dogs up old logging roads when I lived in the Kootenays, going where we hadn't been before, getting a bit lost. I love that feeling. I never felt at risk in any way, even though I may have been many kilometers from other humans, and I rarely told anyone where I was going. Yet I am not an adventurer, I just feel safe and protected amidst the trees, and trust the dogs will eventually get me back to "civilization".

But I am probably the odd one out. The fear of being lost in the woods is a foundational myth in many cultures, particularly that of Canada. For years I have carried with me the clipping below. The story captured my attention because it seemed so preposterous. In August of 1909, the Governor-General of Canada, Earl Grey, got completely bushed in just a few hours. I loved how the formidable wilds of British Columbia got the better of him. I pictured someone like Lord Downton being plopped down on the north shore of Jervis Inlet, thinking he would bag a couple of grouse before returning home in time to dress for dinner. The arrogance of the British aristocracy, asserting their privilege to raise a ruckus in the woods and prove their dominance over the land (and Nature).
The small clipping has grown into many pages of notes. I have visited the BC Provincial Archives in search of more detail. I have found photographs of Earl Grey performing many official duties on this tour of the west coast, such as opening Vancouver's Granville Street Bridge and being made an honourary member of the Arctic Brotherhood in Dawson City. The story seems a natural segue from the Codex Canadensis work, and so I am about to begin a new piece. It will be an embroidery, on linen, quite big. I'm thinking of something along the lines of a page of the Illustrated News, from the time before photographs were used in newspapers, a precursor to the News at Six.
Earl Grey, in the back seat, visits the hollow tree in Stanley Park.
 Am I being disrespectful in making fun of the Queen's representative? Would I fare any better myself in the same situation? Yes, and probably not. But I forge ahead anyway. 2017 marks 150 years of Canada as a nation, yet the celebrations are muted in the wake of Truth and Reconciliation hearings regarding the residential schools that were part of a concerted governmental effort to destroy indigenous cultures. Rightfully, many of the touring exhibitions and commissioned works focused on the sesquicentennial are created by First Nations artists. It is not a time to celebrate our colonial past, but to question it.
Official portrait of Earl Grey.

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous8:04 PM

    I love this story. It will provide a wonderful basis for your new textile piece. I hope you can finish and show it before this semi-celebration, 150 years, is finished. Your last statement is very apt. History books tell us that confederation formed the Canada we know in 1867, but Colonialism kept Canada under the British boot for a very, very long time. Residents of Canada were known as subjects of his/her majesty, or citizens of the Dominion of Canada until about 1950. Also, it was not until Trudeau began the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the 80s, to replace the British North America Act, that we could proudly state that we had established real independence from Westminster. All that time, for most of the 20th century, Britain still possessed a great deal of legal power over Canada.To be honest, I don't think we were independent during the last 150 years. Maybe the 21st century will be better. Maybe we will finally find our identity in the woods and in the vast Prairies and Tundra of this land. Jean-Pierre

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  2. Oh wow. What beautiful writing at the beginning of this post - it drew me in to your thoughts and heart, Heather. And then to continue to your new idea and final thoughts about the celebration - questioning of 150 years of organized Canada. Love it.
    Love you xoxo

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  3. That is a pretty great story! Can't wait to see what you create from it. It's really easy to get lost in the woods here. North Shore Search & Rescue regularly get lots of practice saving people from their own stupidity.

    Like you I feel comfortable in the forest. I've never actually gotten lost but definitely on occasion walked a lot farther than I had intended!

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  4. I love your questioning in this post colonial world

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