Coming Home

Marianne Worcester - Writer, Instructor at Vancouver Community College

Fifteen years after arriving on this coast (from the Prairies) I am no longer a pilgrim or a refugee, but a settler, with proprietary rights and responsibilities. Although my new contractual relationship with this landscape is indeed a luxury, its pleasures were hard won and had little to do with ease or money. Arrivals and departures from our island are always uncomfortable, often difficult or even dangerous, each passage negotiated with anxiety and relief. Early on, with young children, boxes and bags of groceries and the stuff of daily life, building supplies and bits of scrounged furniture, we would cross the unpredictable expanse of Howe Sound in an open boat, dodging the hotel-sized B.C. ferries and their wakes, arriving safely in our small bay only to have to pass everything from boat to dingy and row the last precarious100 yards to the beach. Huge tides, ferry wash and the notorious Squamish winds out of the north were contenders for our safe arrival. I never got used to it. My body, by now so familiar with the motion and rhythm of small boats, resists it still; the adrenalin flood of terror as the boat planes and plummets, pulling us through the unstable miles, and always the grey-blue question of survival, the possibility of being devoured by fear. Horizons shift, islands loom and fade, debris makes an obstacle course out of any trajectory. I have learned that it feels better to stand and take the shock of the plunging boat through my feet. I am learning to lean into it more, to allow for groundlessness.


This island life I have been drawn to is punctuated with exits and arrivals, none of which is ever the same, ever comfortable, ever without the possibility of disaster. No one forces me to get into the boat but I still always hope to be offered a reprieve at the last minute. Maybe seriously grim weather or a phone call will put off the final commitment. But then I have to go, everyone’s waiting, and I need to get to the other shore because that is where something awaits me, the ineffable something, to which I make my way. So, I gesture ‘yes, if I must’ to an inner place, relinquish all that I know about the world, and ride out onto this fluid landscape, believing in nothing, not even previous experience which has brought me safely there for many years, wet and without dignity, but on my feet.

And sometimes I have felt the moment in which terror slips away and exhilaration begins; where the wave crests and holds for an instant before spume curls and begins its descent. In that instant I have lately felt myself surrender to the wildness, consent to the uncertainty, to the possibility of joy. But mostly I still love only the arrival and its illusion of solidity. Blessed sand and rock, blessed shore. Arrival feels like accomplishment, and although it takes a few hours to regain aplomb and a sense of balance, like childbirth, the memory of the terror quickly fades and you find yourself doing the unthinkable again.

I don’t really know what faith is. But I know how to leave the safe shore and ride the waves in acrobatic feats of hope, pleading for mercy all the way. And I know how to jump off on the other side without stumbling, with a child in one hand and a bag in the other, borne up and over again and again in terror or glee. With much practice the arrivals are becoming more graceful, and departures less ambivalent

I don’t know when I first became aware of it, but a phrase would form itself in my mouth as soon as I stepped onto the beach and smelled the forest: “see me, touch me, feel me, heal me” it would chant. At every crossing this mantra would find its way to the surface and I would whisper it, like a pilgrim at a shrine where previous blessings had been dispensed and received. As I habitually stooped to search for the sea’s deposits of polished glass among the tidal debris on that spit of sand, I found myself wanting to submit to something; like a mendicant with a bowl, I held myself out to earth, air, fire and water.

In those first years while the children roamed and my partner built a cabin, I slept. But it was more like a drowning in the nurturant silences than the sleeping I did on that other shore of my urban life. I lay on every welcoming surface, as a child in her mother’s lap, and when I emerged from this deep and profound resting that lasted for several years, I awoke to the knowledge of my own aliveness, the body electric, returning. I awoke to a sense of the genus loci of my island home, a presence abiding here in the silent places of green upon green, casting its patina of sacrality over everything. Even when I was far from Gambier, I could find my way there through body memory and rest in its mossy laps, bathe in the sweetness of salal and arbutus, ocean spray and cedar. I could hear the rush of raven’s wings across the clearing, the greetings of gulls and eagles. I glimpsed the slick brown fur of mink along the cliff’s edge, caught the phosphorescence as it mocked stars on a soft August night. Underneath it all, the abiding surge of surf against sand, something constant and yet always on the move. I began to know myself loved. New sources of energy and creativity emerged. That acre of rainforest on an island in Howe Sound became my new permanent home address. I marveled and built altars on my sacred sites, circles of stones to which I brought humble offerings, gestures of my child self, a cycle complete.

Light and dark,sound and silence, wind and water – my unteachers. I have begun to learn to bear the beauty, to submit to silence as to joy, to tolerate the ambiguity of half light and the unvarying remittance of green. I have begun to unlearn the craving for variety and the cold comforts of a small-scale world. The soul does swell again, even after long confinement, and the vigilant fifty year old does find a self that fits. After much has fallen away, much remains. A breeze spinning maple leaves that fall like dinner plates signals change coming; whitecaps in the bay suggest moving on; the tide’s hourly in and out plays within a cosmic cycle of remove and return. We must remain here, awake and alert, in these sheltered places where water seeps perpetually out of the earth onto velvet mosses, and galaxies of microbes break everything down and reform it again. We have come here to bear witness to diversity, to subjectivity, and communion. We have come for benediction, begging absolution, and yearning for home.

Lately I have come to know myself here in yet another way –the product of privilege and therefore, accountable. Our way of life on this island may be coming to an end as the machinery of ‘progress’ moves inexorably toward our old growth forests. Without political will and the intervention of love, this wilderness may disappear into a managed recreation area. Loss of connection to this wildness that remains, in this place where Immanence and Transcendence intersect, would be an inestimable loss to the planet. This jot of rainforest at the edge of a sprawling coastal metropolis is a microcosmic world of historic, biological, evolutionary processes which contain the seeds of our regeneration. Only from here can we find our way back home, that larger home which is our sacred web of life. This particular island, this watershed, this biome of rock, sand, moss, cedar and deer – we go intertwined; for better or for worse, in sickness and in health; and death will only be the final intimacy, the perfect gesture of our lifelong complicity. The source of all that is to come is right here in this blue green place, which is not mine and yet profoundly mine. “We are the land we sing”.

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