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Alternative Culture Magazine

The Homeland

24 May 1996

It's been a long, cold winter and a long, cold, rainy spring. Now, near the end of May, the warm sunny weather has finally arrived for the first time this year. There's much catching up to do: in the garden, the orchard, and the heart.

Not that things have been going poorly, or that I can blame anything on weather...but today, I felt such a difference. A lot of things in my life came together suddenly yesterday and today, small breakthroughs and final accomplishment of a number of errands and postponed meetings. The details are unimportant. What was more striking to me as I walked in the sun-dappled forest this morning, is a sense of homecoming.

I was raised in such a forest. Oh, not me, personally; and not exactly that type of forest. But our species, over the long term of millions of years of evolution, developed in such an environment. Warm, shady, filled with other living things: a sense of presence: them in me and me in them. Part of a living fabric. The whole brain and body awake, aware, alert to the presence of all life that is, in that scene we now call an ecosystem.

All seems possible now, in such an environment. To "make a living," when it's warm and dry and comfortable to be out in it, seems possible now in terms harmonious with those other living things. This is a northern mixed forest, predominantly fir and pine, cedar and hemlock, vine maple and birch. There are, on this outing, no deer to be seen. Maybe, finally, they have taken their cue to move into the higher country. Small animals are few: the odd squirrel; the sound of birds. Inevitably some ants; no mosquitoes, yet. The plant cover on the forest floor is behind schedule, the bracken and thimbleberries not really opened up yet to spread thickly everywhere as they will after a spell of hot weather. There is not, in other words, a lot to eat in this forest. But still, I can feel good about spending the time here to find food, to prepare shelter, if needed. I'm not going to freeze to death at night, quite. With a little more practice in snares and tracking, cordage and firekeeping, it could be done and to be out there doing it would not be a great hardship.

I don't stay, of course, to do all that, but instead lope down the trail to home and computer to write about it instead. Another intellectual copout, in a human world doing that for its living. Besides, to really do the job right takes full time, and cooperation with others at the same task, over the course of the good growing weather. The Gitksan, further north in B.C., worked like mad in the summers to put away forest foods. It worked: they actually did it. It can still be done, and some hardy few are doing it. The Inuit manage with no real summer at all.

So what's my point?

Just to pay homage to that thrill in the heart that comes from finding home again. Even if just for three months, or one day, or during one morning walk down a forest trail. To celebrate the warmth of recognizing one's ancestral house, so to speak, and family; to welcome again the joy of stretching one's limbs and lungs out in that comfortable element.

"I've gotta be going now," I say and return to the place of my migration.

"Come again soon," I hear, and it echoes with me still.

© Nowick Gray

"The Homeland" appears in the 2014 collection, My Country: Essays and Stories from the Edge of Wilderness.

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