Thursday, February 26, 2009

You'd Probably Have To Live Here To Understand It

"Bears stink. They are really smelly but thlathla, it smells worse."

I, like my young students, sat on the round carpet, drinking in yet another thlathla story. Initially we'd heard a cautionary tale, a typical "boogeyman" story of this culture. Now, however, our tiny, exquisitely wrinkled storyteller had a different look in her eyes. As she now told us the stories brought back by local hunters or fishermen, a look of a deep-seated belief and uncomfortableness shimmered in the depths. The students all leaned forward a bit as we listened, a little afraid to miss an important detail. I leaned in, too. I've always believed in the possibility of Bigfoot but here, on this isolated island surrounded by ocean, mountains and thick forests, I can practically feel the breath of one on my neck.

"It was in the tree, crying like a grown up man."

She'd reached back to her youth, recalling a personal experience. You can understand the belief in her eyes. Her quiet, expressive voice plants hooks in your imagination and you're running back home beside her, trying bravely to follow the thickly-wooded path home. You can hear the weeping high in the tree. You can taste the fear on her tongue.

I'll admit, this sweet elder is a wonderful storyteller. You might even pass off the story as another wonderful rendition of her endless supply of local legends and tales. If she was the only one to tell such stories, maybe that's all you'd think, but, she's not alone. From cradle to grave there is an acceptance of the preternatural world of ghosts and unexplainable creatures in this place. Belief in the existance of the Thlathla, the Bigfoot, is second only, I think, to the belief in ghosts. I've heard stories from many people both local and not.

Thlathla goes by many names up and down this coast. Almost always tall and totally hairy by description, they have been both respected and feared by the First Nations (Native Americans) along these shores. They are known as kidnappers and eaters of people or bringers of power and wealth. It's not just the local people, though. You'll find just as many people foreign to this island return to "civilization" with tales that seem to belong on a 'tales of the supernatural' show on a scifi channel--small boulders hurled at fishingboats by furry creatures, huge, bare-footed footprints found by hunters high in the mountains, police officers who pack their bags after returning ashen-faced from a lonely patrol night. Whether the story is based on experience or local lore, being here makes you a believer. It's easy to disconnect from the unexplained in the city but here you are forced to face the primeval fear of the endless distances, impelled to look past quick, dismissive explanations.

I came to this island already a believer in the unseen world but I sit here now, typing, as a firm believer with my own unexplainable experiences of ghostly voices and giant footprints by an isolated lake. I've been friends and colleagues with people who can't explain their experiences of ghosts who speak their pet's name or hooting creatures that follow their canoe. No. I'm wrong. We all can explain but we'd be hardpressed to explain ourselves to the hardbitten people of the cities and suburbs. Being here in a land clinging to the edge of mythology is the only way to explain it. I wish I could explain the feeling more. You'd probably have to live here to truly understand it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

More Than Food

I tried to rename my blog baby. I thought it would give me a new, fresh start in a new, fresh direction. Instead, all I could find was a growing annoyance with the overuse of "stillness" in the new title and a growing desire to crawl back to my old blog name, "Deetsa's Diningroom", and beg its forgiveness.

My partner, The Frog, agreed with me. He pointed out that I had narrowed my vision about dining rooms. He said that there was more to a dining room than the food on the table. He pointed out the good friends who gathered there and the endless topics of discussion one has in the process of eating. I have to admit, a number of great discussions have started while dining, conversations that run the gamut from skipping rhymes to Alaskan history.

I wandered away only to find that what I needed had always been right there. Forgive me for taking so long to realize it, dear continuing (and new) readers.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Yes We CANada

As a Canadian, I am always aware of the vastness of my country, the second largest in the world. It's normally a fact that I'm secretly thrilled with as a Canadian but not today. Today, I wish Canada was much smaller. If it were, I'd have seriously thought about finding my way to Ottawa, our capital city, to freeze with the big, cheering crowds that tried desperately to see a glimpse of US President, Barack Obama. Alas, I don't have my own jet nor the time or money to travel 3,500 kilometres as the crow flies. I had to watch on TV like many other Canadians.

We in Canada, at the last poll taken, were so charged with Obama-mania that about 80% of us admired the new American president. Just as a point of comparison, that is more than the popularity of our own leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Seeing the Canadian news this morning you could see even normally stuffy, stiff politicians looking a bit giddy to host Obama.

I admit I have been swept along by the charismatic style and soaring rhetoric of Obama. I, like many Canadians and other people around the world, have watched the presidential race closely. We in Canada, I think, had a special interest in the result because we are the largest trade partner and one of the closest allies of the United States.

I tried to read and watch what I could today about Obama's visit to our nation's capital, to our prime minister. I was excited to see not only his grinning acknowledgement of those crowds screaming "Yes We Can!" but also the gracious press conference between both leaders. Hey, it was one the few times I'd seen my Prime Minister actually seem human and even somewhat eloquent. I think, like most Canadians watching, we felt like the shy girl in the corner getting winked at by the popular guy in school. We felt seen, validated. I think we haven't felt that way for a while.

I realize that the national news networks in the U.S. weren't as interested in the Canadian personal stories of the day but I wish they had paid just a little attention to our news tidbits. I've seen the touching images from the U.S. of young African American kids crying when they realize that they too can become president but it translates to some other countries as well. It happened here. I got misty-eyed. It was sweet to see young Canadian kids of colour saying, 'I see Obama and I know I can be ANYTHING I want if I work hard enough". As a teacher, I know that I could have told my students that until I was blue in the face before but they had to see it to believe it. They believe it now. I know they'll believe me more readily now.

The story becomes a little personal for me now. A young teenager I once taught some years back seemed to have problems seeing any point of trying to do better. I learned, from another teacher, the day after the election, that this same student had begged to be allowed a few minutes grace to get home in time to watch the news about Obama. Not one time but many times. This startled me in a good way. I was hopeful but hesitant. Was this the spark that was needed to chase away the regular gloom I'd seen in this child? I saw this student the next day, the young eyes still shining with hope. I smiled and got a shy one in return. I quietly said, "Yes you can". I saw the "Yes I can" returned in the shining smile I got as an answer.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sing, Sing A Song...

I love music.

Music is more than a sound to me. It is more than background noise. It is more than a soundtrack following my emotional crests and falls. It is more than something I teach. It is quasi-religious to me. Maybe it is my religion.

You'd be surprised to realize, then, that I don't own an I-pod, MP3 or any such musical device to take with me wherever I go. It's not that I don't like them. I'd probably love to have music near me during a walk or prodding me through exercise. But I can't. I simply can't. It would take an act of God to stop me from singing along with almost any song, even if I never heard it before. Even a sore throat doesn't stop me.

I sing.

I could go on saying "yahda yahda... years of experience... yahda yahda training". But that is just icing. Even without all that I would have sung down the pillars from Heaven. Singing is like breath to me. Singing is my prayer to God. Singing, I think, is the way I connect with God and God connects with me. God knows that I'll pay attention to the message when the music begins.

I've spent nearly two hours trying to end this post. I don't know how. I think it ended where it needed to. I can't think of any fancy turns of phrase to introduce the piece of music that inspired this thought blip. Enjoy. Sing with me if you like.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Computer That Was Meant to Be

For a long time now, being on my home computer was a lip-biting experience. Will it freeze? Will it faint? Do I dare take a bathroom break? It got to the point where it wasn't even worth the bother trying to attempt anything creative or requiring computer stamina.
Timing seemed to be all wrong for using the work computer--either I was way too busy or, if I had time, I was way too tired to think in large, wordy chunks. Plus, I wanted to be able to sit in the comfort of home in my velvet robe, talking baby-talk to my dog and pondering politics with The Frog. That's where I really wanted to be when musing.
I thought a new computer would follow me home at Christmas but that wasn't to be. I thought a new computer would fly to me a month ago but that wasn't to be. I thought I was getting a Gateway computer but that wasn't to be.

All that has changed.

My new toy got here today.

And I love it. Already.