On Bodies and Fear and Love and In a Time of Heartache
Three weeks and one day ago, Aidan and I came back from the last of two nearly back-to-back trips. The first was to New York, and the second was to Waskesiu, a lake and small resort town in northern Saskatchewan. I’ve been going to Waskesiu more years than not since I was about six months old, and it holds my heart and body in a visceral way that makes no reasonable sense. I’m a settler here, a colonizer. I am aware that the land I love is not mine, and it was and is violently wrenched from its people, but I’ve had no other homes that my heart recognizes, so here I am. I visit the woods and water there like a tourist, but it’s with me everywhere.
The night before we came back from Waskesiu, my heart broke. There was this fantastic thunderstorm, lightning so close that our room filled with the smell of ozone. The street was a river in the black night, and I wanted it to carry me far from the suitcases and car that would take me hours away again. It was silly, but I scanned for options, nonetheless. My heart could not fathom leaving.
It feels ridiculous to write this. I’ve been taught that it’s ridiculous to write things like this. Nothing about this is ridiculous.
I love the place I had to leave three weeks and one day ago. My body is a part of its body. It’s lonesome.
I don’t photograph this place just because it’s beautiful. I do it because I know what the tall grass sounds like when an inconsistent breeze pulls and pushes them together. I know what the moss smells like when you rub it against your skin, sweet and green musk with a touch of earthy pepper if you dig deep. Furled bark cracks when it falls underfoot. The tiny burble and splash of water eddying circular beside a stone and back out along other rocks is a heartbeat.
I dream about dragging my body out into those woods when I’m very old and letting myself become a part of them. I want to know I’m there before I’m gone.
There was a hike we went on that ran in a large loop along the lake and then back into the woods beside a marsh and then a creek. In the city, I lose my physical sense of direction and gut-knowing, but up there my awareness settles back in. There was a bear in the trees watching us. I could feel him pacing us, obscured by dense leaves, turning as we turned, but I said nothing. There was no need for panic. I could tell by the sky that we were near the end of the trail, and my belly felt no urgency. I secretly thanked him for letting us be.
The only time I felt true fear up there was when I left a movie I’d gone to alone at the small theatre that’s been there since the 1950s, the Twin Pine Cinemas. The only other people out on the street that late in the dark were men. I feel like a target on the street at night no matter where I am. I’ve had threats whispered into my ear from behind by strangers in a parking lot, I’ve been chased clear to my front door and laughed at while I fumbled with shaking hands for my keys, I’ve been followed for blocks by men in cars asking if I was looking for a “friend”, I’ve been forcibly restrained while I worked to calm and gain the trust of my attacker so I could free myself safely.
I wish the things men have taught me were lies. Forests full of bears wouldn’t have to feel so much safer.
Maybe this is part of why forests and water are my home. We are a body together. I am not a thing it can take from even with the power to destroy me. We are of a piece. If I died out there, we would be together.
Damn this has gotten macabre.
I’m incredibly angry and afraid right now. The world is literally burning, powerful people (mostly men) are revelling in the flames, and I’m feeling hopeless about it at the moment. My heart is heavy and lost like the night before we had to leave.
And I just realized that this is the feeling I’ve carried with me since men first taught me how to feel it when I was barely out of toddlerhood. The state of the world and the politics that are working toward a literal apocalypse have me feeling hunted and panicked, always checking over my shoulder, your shoulder, that other person’s shoulder, where are the exits, keep my back to the wall, don’t leave the house alone, get back before dark, tell the cab driver you took a photo of him and his taxi ID, tell your partner you love him all the time because they’re trying to erase the world with fire and brimstone.
This isn’t healthy in the least, and I have to remember that these aren’t the only things that are true.
Here’s a breakthrough for you: I’ve read about the culture of rape and its correlation with the destruction of nature, but I’ve never felt it so viscerally as I do now. I know it now, and it’s kind of a relief to understand what this feeling is. My body and the body of the world are one in this thing. We are hurt. We are on fire. Powerful men and fundamentalists think they are separate from and above us, that we are part of the collateral, intentional, and pleasurable damage they feel entitled to.
I feel like the kid who couldn’t get out from under again, but I am not alone this time. I am part of a larger whole.
This is important to know, because while my body and heart easily sail back to another time so convincingly I think I am the same now as then, I know differently. I am not so helpless now. I am powerful now, even if in smaller spheres that by themselves can’t save the world.
We are not alone. When I was a little kid, a teenager, and a younger adult silenced by violent men and fear, I was alone, but I am not now. We are not by ourselves. We speak out now more than ever. We can see each other and find each other and build us up together.
I may feel alone and helpless, but I do know that we are not alone and helpless.
It’s easy to forget what’s good when what hurts is so damn beastly, but just because you forget sometimes doesn’t mean the good isn’t there. THERE IS SO MUCH GOOD. I look at trees and water that are still here, I look at millions pouring into Hong Kong streets, I look at the finally nearly complete defeat of polio, I look at the women who’ve stood up to their oppressors so more of us could see we have a place here, I look to the ones reading this nodding along in understanding.
Forgive me for secretly being a goddamn hippie, but LOVE IS WHERE IT’S AT, and ALL IS NOT LOST.
I forgot this for a while this week before I sat down to write. I felt scared and alone, and so I stayed silent like I’ve been trained to be my whole life, but here I am! Writing is an amazing gift. I want to go back in time and collectively kiss the Sumerians on their collective mouth for inventing cuneiform.
Thank you so much for making it this far with me.
I’ve been taught that it’s ridiculous to write things like this, that I’m too earnest, too emotional, too much of an idealist, but nothing about this is ridiculous. Nothing.