Anne M. Smith-Nochasak:
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The next summer, I first discovered blackberry bushes rising in wisps beside the logging road. The berries hung thick and green on the boughs, a few more ripening each day, eagerly awaited by the birds, the bears, and me. I learned that in late August and early September, if I went daily, I would find a few fresh handfuls each time.
That was the year of my friend's chemo. It was 2020, and the late summer brought a new phase in the pandemic, from lockdown days to his regular flights from Northern Labrador to St. John's, where I would join him, my once-husband, my forever friend. Although his condition was described as terminal, he was very mobile, and we spent the recovery periods between rounds touring hardware stores and visiting.
A friend there took us blueberry picking one blessed, soft evening in early September, far from the city and the chemo centre. She thought the berries would supplement our food vouchers at the hotel, but my friend had other ideas. Every berry we picked was packed away and frozen, a gift to take back home to the family. You see, my friend was used to being a provider. This was what he had left.
Mainly it was a gentle evening, a sharing of laughter, a sharing of silence. It was time shared on the land together again.
During my times home, I roamed my mutilated clear-cut, reveling in aloneness far from the stresses of navigating my friend's appointments and schedules. Although the silence in my little clear-cut was welcome, mainly it conjured images of one evening of joy. It felt good, but it felt lonely.
Each year I go to my little clear-cut here at home, and each year I discover Nature has reclaimed just a little more. Succession now crowds the landscape. There are no stately trees yet, just saplings and bushes packed together. Years from now, someone will look around and see that the forest has recreated itself.
This August, the berry picking has been bittersweet. I look down along the hollow, seeking a glimpse of a denim jacket, a figure hunched over the bushes. My friend should be wandering the hillsides, seeking the best patches. He does not pick berries this year.
Yet he is present, in every moment and molecule of my being.
The bushes hang out over the logging road, heavy this morning with ripe fruit. Perhaps farther back there will be more, but the brush has grown thick there and the weeds are pungent. I leave those berries for the birds and the bears, who are generous enough to leave the road for me and my dogs. We meander along, and I listen and look.
No laughter rings over the hillside as a special patch is discovered. No blue denim shifts against the green. I share the moment with the dogs, smiling as they tug at the berries and then wait for the offer of a handful, bramble-free.
I have struggled with clinical depression throughout my adult life, and admittedly, this season has been hard, for the laughter will not be heard, the denim will not move against the green. Yet in nature, there are moments in which I can live as healed.
I raise my face to the sky and see that the green reaches high into the blue now. The morning seeps into the gaps that press my being apart, and in that moment, I experience wellness. A breeze rises, ripples the leaves, and envelops me.
Then it is gone.
Nature reminds me that in each moment there is perfection, if I but embrace it.
Nature is a teacher and a healer.
I step forward with confidence, not studying the uneven ground at my feet.
The root snags my foot, and I lurch forward.
The container tumbles free; the lid pops and the berries scatter.
The dogs close in.
Nature, my teacher and my healer, also has a sense of humour.
I smile as he would. And the morning is fully alive.
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Today is a day of hope. After periods of intense heat and humidity, days and nights of severe storms and floods, and before that wildfires flaring without warning in the parched woodlands, we have a day of clear skies, gentle breezes, and a warmth that caresses us instead of beating us down. Today is a generous example of what out world can be.
This is a day that summoned me to the water. Today, I did not feel strong enough to paddle on the nearby lake, the one I described in my last blog, so I left the builders and the boaters to enjoy their dreams while I pursued mine. Since Sunday, I have felt an overwhelming need to meander along the wetlands above the little bridge a few miles along the road. With surprising ease, the kayak slid over the bushes and down the embankment to the river's edge.
The water was high but contained by the wetlands, and my water trail was well-defined. My course upstream appeared near, but the river brought me on a long, meandering paddle, turning many times before I reached my path upstream. Patience, the river urged, for there are trees to gaze at, waterlilies to touch, dragonflies to follow, and lessons to be learned. Patience, for the morning requires your surrender.
Two Mergansers joined me briefly as I paddled, and I recalled this time of year at the cabin, when the ducklings would swim across the cove each evening, proud behind their parent as they churned their way to the creek. The water was up today, and we crossed the beaver dam without portage. Dragonflies flitted and hovered, as they had during my Amarok's last summer, as they had on the day she died out there at the cabin, seventeen but filled with the aura of a life well-lived. The dragonflies dazzled me this day as they recalled her to me. A third duck swam near, but as I approached, it scurried off into the thickets along the shore, like my lady, my Husky, swimming free at my side. My past came into my present.
The journey passed like a dream until I awakened at the shallow rapids below the second bridge. Mere moments had passed, but I was there, past my goal.
Returning, the current carried me. A lone deer stood poised behind a sapling at the water's edge. As my kayak drifted near, the deer emitted a sudden snort, then a series of hoarse barks as she dashed for the wood. There was too much thrashing in the woods for one; she was teaching her young, it seems.
The sun warmed but did not burn. The dull sweetness of ripening meadow hay was thick in the air, recalling the taste of stale marshmallow. The edge of the wetland was rich with the energy of earth's decay and renewal. The pungent odor pulsed over the waters.
There between the bridges, there on the wetland, Nature remains in perfect balance. Each moment speeds by, yet each moment lasts forever. It extends beyond time in the eternal present of memory.
The moment between the bridges holds me; when all beauty comes crashing down, when darkness covers me, this is the moment that will breathe life into me.
There between the bridges rests all I need of paradise.