Dispatches from the Northlands, I

The Protected Place, Cortes Island, British Columbia
December 17, 2015

I write from the waterways, from an island in between islands, from a self in between selves. Though I have come to rest, I still feel myself in motion.

I have lost sight of who I was when last I approached the blank page. She waves at me from distant shorelines. If she calls I cannot hear her, though, as I speak into the silent mist, the sound I hear is almost familiar.

I am my voice. I catch intimations of myself in the words I overhear myself speak.

Sometimes I speak in riddles. It is in riddles I can identify myself most clearly. Riddles: where words converge in a manner which fails to coalesce, where tension and juxtaposition form a generative friction in which I recognize some quality, some feeling, I would name my self. This friction might be described as a fragrance. It is a sensual thing, for the self may be best described as a sense.

I am one point between coordinates of thought and tone, feeling and color. I am one point, constantly in motion. I am a felt presence and a feeling thing. I speak and I perceive. I perceive what I speak. I perceive a world and, sometimes, I perceive myself in it.

What is “I”? “I” is one letter in an alphabet of sound, an alphabet which is the seed bed of language, words, thought streams which reach between “I” and anything. “I” is one letter. It is one sound. In english it is the universal utterance of identity. It is singular. It is distinct. All of us, each of us, is an “I”.

“I” is always unique. The “I” by which I call myself in one moment is not identical to the “I” by which I call myself in another.

Spelled phonetically, I is an affirmation: aye.

I don’t mean to sound so abstract. Maybe it’s the solitude of this place. The fire reflects in the window in front of me me. The window is six feet by three feet. It is the leftmost window of six identical windows, bay windows, in a small wooden cottage. There is no water inside. Outside there is rain. I only wish I could describe the way the water falls from the roof. I will tell you that it falls quiet, and that quiet is not the same as silent.

The grey of the sky matches the grey of the sea. The sea is always calm here. I sit for hours on the moss and watch the waves migrate in, watch widening ripples circle back out. Layer upon layer of waves linger and move in the waters around the place. They move toward and away from one another like lips. This is an in between place. This is one of a million mouths. In the place where shorelines meet the waterway I can almost hear a breathing that belongs to the sea. I can clearly see a pulse.

The trees are young, no more than 150 years. The old ones fell… I don’t know when. Gilean Douglas knew. Her homestead is just ‘round the bay. This was her Protected Place, a place that now belongs to anyone who wants to learn how to live. That is what I have come for, to learn to live and to learn a new identity in living. This place is learning its identity, too. I am here for now, surely. I may stay quite a long while, tending a hearth where people come from across the world to be together and learn.

Our power comes from the sun here. Our water is rain. Our light is gas lanterns. Our heat is fire. One cottage has hot water. No one lives in it. It’s Libba’s place. But the bathtub outside, on the deck, overlooking the bay, is the place to bathe. The kitchen, crafted of cob and cedar, looks out over the garden. The kale is still growing at this time of the year. The root cellar is full. We are taking kiwis to our neighbor friends this coming solstice day.

There are 1000 of us on this island in winter. The library is open one day each week, though we can get a key at the post office. The post office is open on Mondays and Wednesdays. There are no police. The folks at the ferry are the gatekeepers. To be forbidden from this island is a real thing. To be welcomed is a honor.

Here in The Protected Place, the nearest road is over a mile away. We hike in. Sometimes, with a load, we take the boat. Mostly we walk. Yesterday, there was fresh wolf scat on the trail. It hadn’t been there on the first trip out. It was there on the second, fresh, and in the middle of the path. They were sending a message. Yesterday I woke to wolves howling just outside. They had called, too, in the hours after dusk.

We’ll be keeping our fires burning through the winter. Come, if you are wanting, and warm yourself.

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