Spirit Quest

Rife with blessings, there is a spirit in the land

By The Reverend Doctor Hanns F. Skoutajan

The Reverend Doctor Hanns F. Skoutajan

It is the Thanksgiving weekend. If you haven't already drained the pipes, secured the dock and have done all the many chores that await a cottage owner, this is probably your last chance.

We don't own a cottage. Many's the time that we wished we would. Having read Roy MacGregor's musings about his second home in the wilds, I grow envious. His summer retreat, nothing posh about it, has been in his family for generations. Cottage opening and closing is an annual ritual, an activity that gives contours to the year.

However, as you read this, I and my family will be enjoying this most beautiful time of the year at a rented cottage in the Gatineaus and 1 1/2 hours north of Ottawa. The colour of the foliage will be stunning, the reds of the maples, the green of the conifers and the blue of the sky reflected in the water will form a kaleidoscope of colour. The lake, of course, will be too cold for swimming but our canoe will take us along the shore, past sheer rocks covered by yellow lichens. Marshy bays shelter the water fowl that haven't already departed south. The loons will still perform their nocturnal, awe inspiring conversation across the lake. That is so quintessentially Canadian! Frogs will croak, grunt and trill. If lucky we might glimpse deer coming to drink at their shoreline bar.

Smoke curls up from our cottage chimney. We'll be using lots of logs to keep us warm. And then there will be food, lots of it. Our son and family have volunteered this year to prepare the turkey. We will gather around a rustic table loaded with steaming plates. Wine will sparkle in the glasses and candlelight will add a festive glow.

In that setting its hard to restrain a thankful heart. Our lives are rife with blessings. The words of the table grace seem limiting, almost banal. We are suffused with a genuine feeling of satisfaction and joy that is hard to express in words. That company of family is far more than a formal congregation.

Deep inside me I hear music: "Come ye thankful people come." However, "sing the song of harvest home," doesn't quite ring true. Most of us are far from the harvest home. We are city dwellers who do not reap but gather at the local farmer's market.

I enjoy those visits to their stalls, chatting about the growing climate of this past year: too wet, too cold etc. How much longer will they come to town. Of course, some with extensive green houses will be with us all year round. They will move inside the hall in the winter weather. These are the diminishing group that still have a connection to the land and a dependence on the weather. For them thanksgiving is more existential than for us who only enjoy their labours.

Once upon a time ours was an agricultural nation. That's how my parents and I managed to to breach the border. Only farmers or those brave enough to attempt rural life were allowed to Canada. Our first Canadian home was an abandoned log cabin without water or electricity in northern Saskatchewan. We describe our first years as starting at rock bottom and continuing steadily downward. We were saved by the war. Canada became an industrial nation almost overnight producing weapons of war, tanks, planes, ships and uniforms for our forces as well as the food to sustain them.

Most of us live in cities now or live an urban life out in the country. Recently I listened on CBC to a phone — in program with an expert answering questions about preserving a variety of vegetables and fruit. It reassured me that there were still many who grow stuff in backyard gardens. I found it comforting that not everything comes in cans and frozen packages and sealed bags.

This connection with the land is important to preserve. We must not lose it. It is what makes us human. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers. We belong to the land more than the land belongs to us. Thanksgiving is therefore an important festival in the year that celebrates that connection.

Thus be thankful, protect this environment its all we've got, cultivate a spirit of gratitude for growth and harvest and the sharing of all gifts.

There is a spirit in the land.

9 October 2009 — Return to cover.