Setaspell Outpost touches the border of Montana in southern Alberta. It is the land of grizzlies, cougars and humming birds. Debby Gregorash, a woman as fierce as a bear and as tender as a dove speaking and singing for the land, owns Setaspell with her husband, Frank. I was privileged to offer a workshop at Setaspell last week. Nine women from Saskatchewan and Alberta plunged in with me to “Write the Spirit of Nature.”
When she's in town, Deb is a member of McKillop United Church in Lethbridge, Alta. When she's at her solar-powered cabin, set on the edge of a meadow and backed by a forest, her church is the wide, dark night sky, and her fellow congregants are the critters who share their land with her. Deb and Frank purchased these 240 acres to offer a retreat for both creatures and humans, and to preserve it from harm.
My brother, Jim Pogue, a member of Wesley United Church in Vandorf, Ont., has similar intentions on 50 acres north of Toronto. His forested land is adjacent to the Oak Ridge Moraine, a designated significant wetland. This is part of the land on which we were raised. Neither Deb and Frank, or Jim and his wife Laura try to make the land work for them. Instead, they work for the land. They create unobtrusive paths so that guests can get to know wild places. Deb has a trail camera that unobtrusively photographs creatures who use the trail. Not surprisingly, both are excellent photographers — great horned owls, snapping turtles, coyotes and moose are posted to Facebook regularly. I’m glad to think about these wild places, especially because according to a recent Globe and Mail article
, Canada trails our peers — including Germany, New Zealnd and Mexico — in protecting wild places.
The church Creed reminds us “to live with respect in Creation.” Baba Dioum, a Sengalese naturalist once said, “We will protect what we love.” These quotes inform many of my writing workshops. I hope to encourage people to remember our deep connection to the planet, physically and spiritually. The women came to Setaspell to write about this very connection. If you would like to “write the spirit of Nature,” too, please enjoy one exercise we did (The fact that forests are being consumed by raging fires as I write brings a particular poignancy to this).
We used Freefall writing, tapping into the right side of our brain — the creative, poetic, free side. To do this, write as quickly as you can for the allotted time, without correcting, pausing, thinking or worrying about whether the piece is good enough. Use any genre you wish. W.O. Mitchell taught this method, as does Natalie Goldberg
. I believe in it because it taps into our souls. Don’t judge, just follow the piece wherever your imagination takes you. If you get stuck, write “What I really want to say is . . .” and continue. You need ten minutes, a quiet space, a pen and a journal.
The exercise: go to, remember or imagine a tree you have loved. Perhaps it is one you climbed, hid beneath or in which you built a treehouse once. In your mind’s eye, sit beneath this tree and relax. Look straight up into the tree. After a minute, close your eyes and listen. Breathe in deeply what the tree has exhaled. This tree has a message for you, so write it down.
And, please pray — and vote — for Canada’s wild places.
Keep it free!
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