Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Sacred space: the backyard in summer

On Sunday evening a friend invited my family and I over to his place for a barbecue.  His place, like ours and like so many others here in Norway House (which is about 8-10 hours north of Winnipeg), is located on the riverside.  As we sat on the back porch, the burgers sizzled on the grill and the brown river waters flowed past. At one point an eagle rose in the air above us, flapping languidly overhead. And with a cooling breeze keeping the mosquitoes at bay, all was well with the world as the sun went down. 

Admittedly the backyard vantage point for many of us here in Norway House is better than what many others have in  this world of ours: you don't get views like this in Toronto, that's for sure. But still, the backyard in summer - no matter where you are, deep in the heart of suburbia or somewhere on the outer edges of an expansive wilderness - is a sacred space. It's time away from the rest of the world: with beer and wine near at hand and meat cooking in the open air, there's something gently festive about such moments. 

Afterwards, it made me wonder about our relationship with land, with nature.  It made me wonder if our connection with the earth - with the soil, the water, the trees, those elemental things - could begin right there in the backyard.  One can, from the vantage of a backporch or a kitchen window, look upon the same tree, day in, day out, in spring, summer, autumn and winter, and get to know that tree closely: the shape of its branches become etched in the mind, become something so familiar it become a kind of face, like the face of a loved one.  Known, familiar, pleasing.  As a result, we come to feel connected to the tree and therefore responsible for it.  And perhaps through it we are connected to a wider world.  

I do recognize certain incongruities here.  The beef burgers that were being BBQ'd aren't a sustainable source of protein and the Australian wine that we were drinking doesn't exactly fall within range of the 100-mile diet, so thinking of this Sunday evening scene as an example of environmental bliss, of a "deep connection" with the earth, is simply erroneous and maybe even ridiculous.  But a few guilty pleasures are allowed, are they not? And that earthy connection has to begin somewhere, so why not with the humble view of the typical backyard birch tree?     

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