turn the earth

Apr 2, 2024

Dear Animal,

If my voice seems a bit muffled this month, it’s because I am buried deep here. Still, the design is fantastic, I marvel at that white sky. In the mountain hamlet of Sunshine, I’m told by the locals that this fall, 3 feet, is manageable; it’s 4 or 5 where things get rough. We moved a lot of snow when we made NiX, Animal, and I have always loved the grunt of the shovel. In my life on the Sunshine Coast, digging this time of year meant turning the sloppy, spring earth in the potato garden or moving wheelbarrows of wood chips to make paths. Here we have run out of water again, and need to clear the way for a delivery truck, and that means shovelling the long driveway. The guy who usually clears our drive had three trucks break down so we are on our own. So, I collect snow to melt on the stove for the house and get the shovels out. We start in our parkas and end up in our shirtsleeves. The men of my family can move a bite of snow three feet high, but they tire quickly. I have to take it in layers, but can go for hours. Occasionally, there is a woodpecker or a jay, but mostly, I am alone, paddling with my shovel through an ocean of snow. 

A table and chairs in a snowy landscape

Description automatically generated

3 feet deep

I know I send you pictures of the same sites month after month. I trust you enjoy the way time plays on the stage and gives focus to the lead actors: wind, sun, snow. It’s hard to notate the blocking, as it is changing all the time. Four days after the snow falls, I begin to hear the heat of the sun. It sounds like spring. I was melting myself in August when it was 93 degrees. Once the sun gets hot, the tree limbs, heavy with snow, start to lift. I get pelted a few times by this secondary fall while shovelling the drive. I throw the snow, and I make all the rookie mistakes moving it the wrong places. 

A mailboxes buried in snow

Description automatically generated

on the road

We get another dump overnight. I open the door. Take a picture. Text it to Colin. Who opens his door and does the same.

A snow on the ground

Description automatically generated

I know you feel sorry for me, being truly in the swing of spring as you are, with blossoms and green emerging. It doesn’t make me hate the winter I am in, I just wonder at it. How will spring ever arrive? I think of the conversation I had with my kid’s doctor recently. She said that puberty is a series of deep shifts before any physical changes might appear in my child-like 12 year old. I think of that, as I reckon with what might be underground here, what change might look like when it comes. 

The quest of this series is to reach out monthly to you, dear Animal, and tell the unfolding story of falling in love with a new land. Maybe it is the stasis of winter, but I’ve been feeling pretty stuck. The quest has turned into questioning;  how do I even go about this?

And two artists have been on my mind these many months, as people who have done great journeys between countries. So I reached out and ask them both for counsel (for which I would compensate them because ALWAYS PAY ARTISTS.) I thought I would start to share their insights last month, but, as you may remember, a moose got in the way. So I ended up sitting with their insights for several weeks, letting them seep in. And I’d like to share their insights with you, Animal, as they articulate the meaning of home, and how they have come to it.

A person holding a plastic wrap around a large animal

Description automatically generated

Edwardine van Wyk in Slime, by Bryony Lavery, photo by Donald Lee

The first is Edwardine van Wyk. I’ve known Eddy since about 2016, from the cast of Slime, written by Bryony Lavery and produced by The Only Animal and Banff Centre for the Arts. Eddy played an animal translator, Barb, with a kind of skinless bravery. Here they are, with a plastic sea and seal puppet designed by Shizuka Kai, and lighting by William Hales in the 2018 production. Eddy (they/she) is an international artist currently working as an unsettled settler in so-called Canada. They are native to Namibia with a performance history in South Africa. Eddy has more than 16 years of training in performance in the crafts of acting, dance, film, clown and theatrical creation. Find Eddy on Instagram here: @hernameiseddy or watch for them on a local stage near you. 

I ask, what does home mean to you, Eddy? 

Eddy writes, 

“‘Home’ is the place I have left and returned to many times. Home is a limbo-land in my psyche that shapes and reshapes itself as I go on this road called life.” 

“I have the image of my mother’s hand being my “home”. I have the image of my body being my “home”.”

A person standing on a mountain

Description automatically generated

Eddy travelling in South Africa, photo by Carine Strydom

“I have images of all the oceans I’ve seen and the lands I’ve walked. 

It feels like I have been walking over and through lands since I was born– 

a sort of nomadic wanderlust twisting and turning in my veins.”

“I have been to so many types of land with wide ranges of energy. 

The energy of the land is always “it” for me. 

What does it make me feel?”

A plant with yellow flowers

Description automatically generated

Fauna from travels, photo by Eddy van Wyk

“Everywhere I have gone I have loved somehow, but it is always in hindsight. 

Maybe when I was there I loved it less.”

“The main land I have left 

is a little-known country called Namibia. 

The dust, the dirt, the desert, the ants, the snakes, the flies, the thorns, 

the long grasses, the sunsets, the birds–

these are flashes of my “homeland” I see in my mind’s eye 

and I am always thankful for them. 

A sense of wonder fills me when I visit Namibia, 

but in my heart I know I have left there, 

that these visits are like dream states 

and I need to absorb the place of my recent ancestors with every sense I have.”

Photo of Eddy and Namibia by Clisha, a family friend

“As I’ve become and become and become I have learnt to carry my home with me. 

For the most part I call my body my home 

and from there I extend to the land and 

try to find harmony within that specific ecology. 

I lay my roots but briefly. 

Soon I will go again.” 

A group of flamingos on a beach

Description automatically generated

 Photo of Namibia by Eddy Van Wyk

“Perhaps one day when I land I will call that place home. 

One day when I put my roots in all the way, I’ll know I’m home. 

It feels like I am expanding and contracting, arriving and departing and everywhere I go I am still discovering.”

I also feel that as long as my mother is alive a part of me will always consider close proximity to her a form of home.”

A person taking a selfie in a grassy field

Description automatically generated

Photo of Namibia by Eddy Van Wyk

So, yes, I got this advice from Eddy, about 6 weeks ago. I have been looking at it every day. Eddy’s home is in their body, and family, and extends into the land from there. Eddy seems to have a deftness moving  back and forth between Namibia and Vancouver, and other lands, that frankly, I lack. I have paths in the grass, and you, Eddy, have passages laid in stone, navigating this road towards home.  When I read, “I have learnt to carry my home with me.” 

How?

I take this question up as I shovel us out, long hours of heave, breath, loft, and a quickened heart. Over the months, I have learned how hard this land is, and how much effort it takes to live here. I’ve resisted that, longing for the soft moss world you have there, Animal. Maybe I am getting stronger though–my body takes to the work of shovelling. I put down the ongoing assignment I have on my phone—to learn the repertoire of Noah Kahan, the hipster musician who my eldest wants to see in concert this summer. I think about Eddy’s words, their experience of body as home, and repeat to myself, on the quiet and sometimes out loud, to my hands and arms lifting, my legs and feet holding me on the hill, and my core as I twist to throw snow again, I tell my body, “This effort, this is it, this is home. This body is home.” 

And it works, in a way, but home becomes a haze, a wobble by the end. I reach the road, finally, and after doing one more pass on the steepest bits, cutting down to the sod so that the wheels of the water truck can grab traction, I’m done. I stagger back and sit on the snowbank. I have no more movement left in me and neither does the snow. And maybe I get that sense that Eddy’s speaks about—I extend into the land. The afternoon has gone dim into evening. For a time, I am still on a hillside. I should have started dinner an hour ago. Soon, I will stand and go up the hill to the house. Then, a truck is coming. The water truck, perfect timing, I think, but no, it is the local guy, who fixed his rig, it is the plow truck. It pulls right up, rolling the window down to ask me, ‘hey, still need a plow?’

I smile, and he cuts up the drive cleanly in a minute, and I sit with the fact that it was all for nothing, moving this snow all weekend, me, my husband, my teen. Except that the effort was some piece of moving in, that had been undone. I did that. I follow the plow truck up the drive and peel off my snow pants and make dinner. That night, lying in bed, my hands ache. I think I was holding on too hard. Onto the shovel, but not just that. 

Wanting more, I ask Eddy, can you tell me more about what that process is for you, how you fall in love with a new land? Do you have specific things you do?’

Eddy talks about swimming in the water, and I entertain this notion. I put it off for warmer times, there are alpine lakes and alpine streams. They give me a piece of advice that aligns with endless winter. 

Eddy says, “I like to cook a meal.

All that creativity and self-care mimics what I would do in my own home so my sense of self begins to relax. 

I think being relaxed is a good marker of how at home you feel. 

That’s harder and harder to feel these days amidst global unrest, 

but there are definitely pockets of relaxation or peace to be found everywhere.”

pizza dough/small hands

Because reckoning with this land is so much about effort, I enjoy Eddy’s advice to find ease. However, taking this advice about cooking a meal is not natural to me because I really just like growing the food and putting it on the counter. I’m farmer, not chef. But hey, other than icicles there is not much growing now. But I end up at a cooking class with my son, and watching him gives me some of what you advise, Eddy. It ties in to your idea of family being home. My child is happy, that is home.

Their last piece of advice is somewhat easier for me to take. Eddy says, 

“A long walk that takes in everything whilst paying attention to my own body in relation to space is the closest thing to a practice I have. 

Around a year and a half ago I was in a place in South Africa that had a lot of magic to it. All around me honeybush tea was growing. 

It’s a very hilly area and it was quite remote. 

Being that remote, being that inland was a foreign sensation in my body. 

I felt hugged and it was almost as if I wanted to stretch that hug by walking. 

I would walk for hours and hours up the hills and down the valleys. 

One day I came upon a long thin black snake in the middle of the road. I steadied myself and walked around the back of the snake. 

Had I not been aware of my body or the landscape, I may have stepped on that snake and the story may have been quite different.”

“Walking is a newer practice for me and has very little to do with the place(s) I consider home. 

I think it’s about absorption to me. If I can absorb enough of the place, maybe it will absorb me in return.”

This is the best instruction for me, I walk, and I sink right in. I think of porousness as a practice. The job of absorbing this place. The skinless bravery that it takes to become somewhere new. 

A person walking in the snow

Description automatically generated

the driveway

The second artist I want to introduce you to is Mohammed Zaqout. I first met Mohammed as a part of the 100-member cohort of the Artist Brigade that The Only Animal brought together in 2022 to bring new perspectives on the creation of climate art. Last year, The Only Animal commissioned him to create Growing Roots. The project  worked with refugee claimants to engage them in a creative process designed to make them feel more connected to the natural world in their new home. They participated in storytelling, poetry, memoir, making art with their hands and meeting an Indigenous artist who shared their own history, a history that the refugee claimants had not learned in their process of becoming Canadian residents.

Mohammed (he/him) was born and raised in a refugee camp in Gaza – Palestine. He holds a degree with honors in Business Administration and Accounting from the University of Palestine. Since moving to the unceded lands of the Coast Salish peoples’, Mohammed has been advocating for refugee claimants’ housing, right to work, and find belonging through his work as the Achieving Financial Mobility Project Coordinator at Kinbrace. Most recently Mohammed has been leading a new pilot professional development program – Transforming Employment Narratives (TEN).

With his BIPOC and refugee lived-experience, he continues seeking more justice and systems change. Mohammed is involved with Solid State Community Industries in addressing the economic immobilities of racialized migrant youth by achieving a solidarity economy and building cooperatives. Mohammed is a Co Director of LightWork Consulting Cooperative, a workers co-op focused on fostering justice and belonging through safer, inclusive, and more diverse work environments. Also he is a Community Advisor with the Vancouver Foundation, Youthful Cities, and RADIUS-SFU offering programming, engagement, and consultation.

I asked Mohammed what home meant to him, and what it means to fall in love with a new land—as a Palestinian, as a new Canadian, as someone who is  invested in his homeland as well as in growing roots in Canada. Here are his words, and his photos that tell a little of his story, given to me to be given to you. 

Mohammed says, 

“It’s hard not to fall in love with Turtle Island, it’s beautiful. When you come from a land under siege that is the most populated and polluted area on the planet, to the land of the Coast Salish peoples, you can feel the difference in nature and spaciousness.”

“As I came from Gaza, Palestine, when I learned about the history of Turtle Island, it felt like home already. The history of colonialism and apartheid that my people suffered since before 1948 and hearing the stories of the indigenous peoples’ made me connect to the land and its people much faster than I thought I would. 

We all know what is happening back home in Gaza, Palestine right now. When my homeland and people are suffering due to the injustice and power imbalances by those who call themselves world leaders including Canada, it causes disconnection.”

“Home can mean a lot of things to me, it is my identity and existence.”

A building with towers on top of a beach

Description automatically generated

Gaza from my workplace during the 2014 war, photo by Mohammed Zaqout

“One thing that I would say about it, Home is Palestine. I see the colors of our flag, the watermelon symbol. I see the black in the grief and pain, the suffering of loss and displacement.”

Palm trees in a park

Description automatically generated

From my apartment balcony before the war, photo by Mohammed Zaqout

Our destroyed home, you can see the palm tree from the balcony photo.

“I see the red with all the lives lost, their blood, the children, the over 33,000 Martyrs and counting.”

A group of people walking on a street with smoke coming out of the building

Description automatically generated

The first attack on our home, photo by Mohamed El Saife

“I see the green in the eyes of my little brothers looking forward to a better future rising from under the rubble.”

A child in a graduation gown holding up a sign

Description automatically generated

 Mohammed’s youngest brother, Karim, is 11 yrs old – talented and loves soccer 

“I see it in our hopes for land back and liberation. Lastly, the white, our hope for a peaceful path on our own land. 

Home is where my family is.”

A group of people standing together

Description automatically generated

My family, missing my middle brother, photo by Mohammed Zaqout

This is the story Mohammed gave me to share with you. O, it feels almost impossible to add any words here, with this first-hand account of this broken world. I want to take a moment to thank Mohammed for taking the time to share this story, with all of his burden, the heartache and stress he is under right now. Mohammed’s family, and his people, his homeland are in a battle for life and death, and all other concerns fade away. It is his story, but it is ours as well, as it happens right now, right here, on the one home we share, the Earth. Here is the link to the GoFundMe campaign if you want to help to get Mohammed’s family to Canada. So far our community has raised a third of what is needed to get the family out of Gaza, and safely to Canada. If you want to do something to help this terrible situation, then give if you can, and share if you are willing. 

What else helps you now, Mohammed? I ask. Both he and Eddy talk about belonging. 

Mohammed says,

“Finding home is finding belonging. To find belonging you need a lot of things in place to reach that point. It’s never easy and it takes time. As a refugee to this land arriving from another stolen land, Palestine, as a refugee; I was challenged to find that balance…who am I here? Am I  another settler, an uninvited guest, or what? To find home, you need to find community. You can never call a place home without a community, friends, and family.”

Eddy says, 

“I think a sense of home has a lot to do with belonging and for some of us belonging takes a lot of processing. 

Do I belong here? If you’re home that shouldn’t even be a question. 

But sometimes you can create belonging through your new community or the ways in which you navigate the new place. That’s a big part of my life: belonging. 

I often feel I don’t belong, maybe that’s why I don’t land all the way or perhaps this is an endless feedback loop.”

Belonging.

A group of pine cones and rocks

Description automatically generated

pinecone farming

A few weeks ago, I  planted pine cones that are common here, to see what a newborn pine tree looks like. As it grows I wonder if maybe it’s grass seeds that got stuck in there—rather than a pine tree coming forth. I guess I could google it. But I don’t want to find out that way. It is a relationship I am tending to here. Part of the processing. Learning how things grow is part of me taking root. It takes time…

Two containers with dirt and plants

Description automatically generated

Native drought-resisitant wildflowers on the left and hollyhocks potential on the right

I also start some native wildflowers in a milk jug. I’ll transplant them in May after the last frost. In another milk jug, I planted seeds from the hollyhocks of my old garden on Joe Road. Last year, the hollyhocks grew12 feet high and were so beloved of the bees, that the flowers themselves were abuzz. I don’t know if hollyhocks will grow here, but I will turn the earth. The grunt of the shovel. Push seed in soil, 2 times as deep as the seed is tall.I will wait and see. 

A group of flowers in a garden

Description automatically generated

hollyhocks 2023, Joe Garden, xwesam/Roberts Creek, BC

The future is a soil-dark mystery, among many of this fallow season. I sit with the mystery. These two artists, Eddy and Mohammed, who have shared their stories with me have also planted seeds. Animal, I hope that something  is planted in you there too. I hope something grows from this: peace, belonging, and the safety of our beloveds. 

In this terrible world, a seed. At least that.  

Yours, ever,

Kendra

SHARE THIS POST: