Why Walk?

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‘Pilgrimage’ is such a tired metaphor it’s hard to remember sometimes that it’s based on actually doing something.  “Let’s go on a pilgrimage to my favourite restaurant”. “Life is a pilgrimage from birth to death.” Yes, sure. But…But what keeps me interested in not just studying journeys, but also walking them, is the way the brain unhooks at 5 km/hr. Without even trying to, you begin to notice geography, and your own body, and the relationship between the two (as you walk up a long prairie hill, for instance, or start to sweat in the sun). You pay attention in a different way to nature. Or better, nature presents itself to you, when you are available: coyotes sleeping in a burrow, badgers running ahead along the fallow-line, the meadowlark calling from a grey fence-post, a family of otters playing as they cross your path from the river, some old abandoned buildings, the soil at your feet. This is almost impossible at highway speeds. When you walk, you begin to think emotional and philosophical and spiritual thoughts – not because you plan to, but just because of the leisure and the rhythm, maybe even the slight boredom. For those fortunate enough to be able-bodied, the fact is that walking is one of those conscious activities closest to being unconscious, freeing the mind up for contemplation and surprise intuitions. Walking journey connects landscape, body, story and movement in a unique way. For those of us who try to allow space for the spiritual, walking pilgrimage is a gift. It’s meditation for anyone, like me, too undisciplined or lazy to meditate in other ways. Rebecca Solnit puts it this way: Pilgrimage is premised on the idea that the sacred is not entirely immaterial but that there is a geography of spiritual power….  it reconciles the spiritual and the material, for to go on pilgrimage is to make the body and its actions express the desires and beliefs of the soul (“Wanderlust” Penguin Books, 2000. Page 50).

A Five-Minute Cooks’ Tour

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on the subject of – what else? – western Christian pilgrimage (clink on the following link) https://vimeo.com/183303404

And I Have Felt a Presence

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For I have learned

To look on nature, not as in the hour

Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes

The still, sad music of humanity,

Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power

To chasten and subdue. And I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man

 

(William Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey, July 13, 1798)

Reconnecting with Land article

buffalo wallow rock

Clink on the link below for the article that will appear tomorrow (Aug 28 2015) in the Prairie Post. Thanks to Matthew Liebenberg for his questions and writing!

Prairie Post Aug 28 2015

Hugh magnified by valley

Un pèlerin des temps modernes retrace les pas de ses ancêtres

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You can find here the radio broadcast of my interview with Radio-Canada, in French, as well as a photo essay by William Burr, also in French, about the trail and our pilgrimage.

http://ici.radio-canada.ca/emissions/pour_faire_un_monde/2014-2015/chronique.asp?idChronique=380260

A Musical Moment

Kathryn Scott, Madonna Hamel and Matthew Anderson try to remember the words and harmonies to Java Jive. We were camping overnight at Chimney Coulee, near Eastend SK, and half-way through our group’s 350 km trek along the North West Mounted Police Patrol trail. This is a moment from a summer 2015 pilgrimage organized by Hugh Henry and Matthew Anderson. The video was shot by James Page, photographer, from Val Marie SK. on the NWMP Patrol Trail pilgrimage July 30, 2015

12 minute documentary on our walk by local news service

My thanks to George Tsougrianis, who did a great job on this documentary, putting it together in two days! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLUdJZC72GU&feature=youtu.be&t=2m45s

Norwegian Prairie Reunion

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One of the pleasures of this North West Mounted Police Patrol trail walk was that I had the chance to do the last section of it in the company of some of the same folks who walked the St Olaf trail in Norway with me in 2013. Pictured are Allen Jorgenson, Kathryn Scott, and Gwenanne Jorgenson. The Jorgensons and I caught up (Gwenanne was a little less camera shy) and Kathryn and I got to sing and walk to our heart’s content. And Allen and I shared poetry. Mostly, the walking and lack of paper led to Haiku. Here’s one:

Listen! the trail says,         While you pilgrims toss and dream     Night’s creatures walk on.

fencepost on the Frenchman

Some Kind of Weather Coming

Some kind of weather coming

That’s a prairie way of saying it. The expression can mean anything from hot temperatures to a tornado, and is usually delivered with the same inflection no matter which.

I found myself saying it on the second last day of the NWMP trail pilgrimage. We were walking atop a tableland of prairie grass. We’d slowed to look at tepee rings – about a dozen of them, stretching across several high hills. Just then there’d been a magical moment, as a small herd of unbroken horses wheeled counterclockwise around us at full gallop, circling to come up right behind Madonna, who was behind us and so intently peering at some of the rocks that she didn’t notice the animals, clustered and shivering, in turn peering at her. Then suddenly the horses were gone again, and we found ourselves looking up at an increasingly black, roiling cloud that stretched from one horizon to the other. A group of cattle nearby starting lowing – a plaintive, anxious sound. A muscular north wind came up, and with it the first drops of rain, pelting hard and from an angle. Some kind of weather coming.

We were too far from any coulees to take shelter, and there were no trees (not that trees would have been a good idea anyway). Gwenanne had found a small cut in the prairie, a few meters deep, and the group of us huddled in there. I still had some hot tea, but when the skies started growling thunder, some of us went to our elbows. The cattle were making very unhappy, frightened sounds. Rain beat down and lightning cracked. “It’s the bear principle,” I joked, “you don’t have to be faster than the bear, just faster than the other person.” “Good, well one time to be happy I’m the shortest,” announced Madonna.

We found out later there was an extreme weather warning for wind and thunderstorms for our area at that moment. Just like the prairies, I thought, to give us such an experience on the second last day of trekking. The wind was so strong that the storm blew over, and drying out happened quickly, although the temperature had dropped precipitously. It was a howling, cold, night, and by the time the vehicles were moved and the tents put up we only had time for some soup. Communitas in a crowded van. I crawled in to my tent and listened a while to the gusts buffeting the nylon and straining at the stakes. Then I put in earplugs and borrowed in. Getting used to the prairie isn’t just beautiful sunsets and endless days of watching deer spring out of the valleys. It’s also this. A reminder just before parting. Some kind of weather.

Matthew post storm

Eating like a Horse

stag watching us

It’s raining lightly, tonight, at the Brost ranch. While there was still light, we headed past the ranch-house beside us, and down a grassy path to an old monument half-hidden about a half-kilometre away in the trees. It’s a small, mostly-forgotten concrete marker that says “North West Mounted Police post Cottonwood Coulee, 1878-1885”. The rancher told us it was there. Hugh knew there was such a marker, from the Everett Baker slides, taken in the 1950s and 60s. No one knows when the marker dates from. As we stood on the site of the old fort, over the hill, the sun was setting in brilliant golds and reds. Do you see that? asked Madonna, pointing. From the top of the coulee, a stag is watching us, framed against a sky like a painting.

Tonight’s dinner was a good example of communitas. Each of us brought something to the table – the Jorgensons brought pasta and pesto, Rick his hamburgers and onions, Madonna a lentil casserole, and I had my rations. we made a feast of it, laughing and teasing each other. Two days left in the walk, and I am disturbed that my mind is already starting to turn away from blisters and feet and the history of these hills to scheduling back in Montreal. Food tastes so good when you’ve waked so far for it, I think.

Speaking of eating, on our way back from the monument, the yard is full of horses, together with some cattle and a donkey. One of the horses is so interested in my camera that s/he looks like they want to eat it. We get back, only to hear from Gwenanne that one of the horses was nibbling at our tents. The ranchers tell a story of a local hunter who left his new truck in the field only to come back and find it scratched and all the plastic eaten off. Apparently, the horses like to nibble. As I write this, it’s dark, and there are horse sounds all around. I will move the van somewhere closer to the tent, and hope for the best.The group head off to sleep. There’s a neighing sound, somewhere close by. “I’d better check,” Madonna laughs nervously. “They might be eating my tent by now”.

communitas dinner