Mysterious and Magical Walks
on Mnidoo Mnising/Manitoulin Island
Walks that inspired There Is No Word for Wilderness
by Lisa Hamalainen
In my summer residency at 4elements Living Arts, participating in the Fieldbook Project – part of the year-long curatorial theme on ‘Walking’, I wrote a play called There is No Word for Wilderness – performed in the Elemental Festival in the fall. It is an immersive performance guided by a hare (an incredible handmade puppet by artist Patricia Mader). The audience is beckoned on a trail adventure as the story of a young woman who is reconnecting with the land and water, and herself, unfolds before them.
My creative process involved frequent walks – exploring the trails of Manitoulin Island, wandering my home town, and adventures along the Kagawong River Trail. The story had been brewing in my mind for some time. I had a good sense of where the young woman was coming from and the crossroads she would meet, but it was where she was headed, what she would learn, and how she was going to change that I wanted to unearth on these walks – after all, the best part of going for a walk is never knowing what you might discover, and you will always discover something. When you take the time to slow down, walk an easy rhythm, relax your mind, you become centred in your heart, and approach a walk with an openness like childhood wonder – it is then you will find what you’re meant to. Perhaps it will be something physical, perhaps it’ll be a creature you cross paths with, perhaps you’ll gain a fresh perspective, or solve a problem, whatever it is, it will come to you and it will change you in some way. And so, on these walks, with each discovery, the story began to grow. What follows is a description of three mysterious and magical walks that offered great inspiration…
We approached the forest’s edge in Sheshegwaning. It spanned as far as the eye could see, covered in tall, slender trees – birch, pine, cedar and maple.
“What do you see when you look at a forest? The trees? Leaves? Look deeper. I see life. The trees breathe what we need to live, and in return we breathe what they need to live.”
We began our walk into the forest following old, muddy tire tracks. We balanced along the ridges of the tracks as far as we could before having to turn direction. Changing our rhythm we stepped off trail, jumping over fallen trees and climbing under branches. After an hour or so we neared the forest clearing where bright light seeped in from the nearby shore. We stepped onto white slabs of limestone filled with fossils and scattered with little blue claws. We ventured down the limestone staircase heading towards the water then tip toed lightly over smooth stones to the water’s edge. It was crystal clear. It was incredibly stunning. To the east we could see the Cape, tall and glorious. We took a moment to rest. The next step was to heave up the cattle trails to reach the top. Thrusting our body weight forward, using all fours, we climbed up the side of the mountain.
“If the cows can do it, so can we.”
Leaning into the mountain, weaving between, under and over the trees, we clasped branches in our hands as if they were arms reaching out to us. We arrived at the top.
“Take a look at the view. Now do you feel connected?”
The top of the Cape was covered in soft grass and groves of cedar trees. We walked lightly, slowly, enjoying the warmth at this height.
“You might find an eagle feather up here.”
I began to search.
“Is this one?”
“What about this?”
“This one then?”
“Yes that’s eagle. It’s small though.”
I looked for what felt like an hour longer with no luck.
“I give up.”
I really wanted to find one, but we had to be heading back. We still had to climb back down the hill and walk through the forest before we lost sunlight. Knowing it was time to return I sighed in appreciation of the adventure, feeling connected and light hearted. Then just as we were about to set on our way it was as if something, some force, something outside of me, stopped me and pulled my attention to look down to my right side. I mean, I didn’t see something out of the corner of my eye and then decide to turn my head. I saw nothing, and without deciding, I paused, turned and looked down. Lying there in tall grass was a large, beautiful eagle feather.
“An eagle feather!”
“Wow, look at that! I was hoping you’d find one!”
It came to me. When I stopped searching too eagerly, when I stopped trying too hard, it was there.
Walking the footpaths of my childhood… an escape from my hectic city life… a literal breath of fresh air. As I walk along the trails, sidewalks, foot trodden short cuts, I rediscover moments from my youth…
I grew up on Campbell Street. It’s where I played hide and seek with my neighbourhood friends. I’d hide so well that no one could ever find me and the game would often finish without me. It’s where I rode my bike morning to night, weaving through the ditches, riding with no hands down the hill. It’s where I built snow forts and caught snowflakes on my fuzzy mittens, ate those snowflakes and got threads stuck on my tongue. It’s where I decided licking an icicle on a frigid cold day was a good idea. It’s where I’d run screaming if my brother and I were fighting and I thought he was going to kill me. And it’s where I’d climb trees to escape in serenity, to perch at the top and sway in the breeze.
Taking a stroll down my old street…
Ah yes, there’s the house I grew up in. Mr. Patterson was our neighbour. See that big tree there, bordering the yards? That great big branch was a fantastic spot to read a book. I’d perch there, if Mr. Patterson said it was okay. Oh and here’s that steep ditch I tried to plough through on my bicycle, but the tire got stuck at the bottom and I toppled over. I think the pebbles are still in my knees, well, the scars from them remain. To the right there used to be an old Catholic Church where they held friday night youth nights. I’m not Catholic, but everyone would go – what else were you going to do? We’d drink fruit punch, get all hyped up on sugar and run around like crazy listening to Dance Mix ’95. Just down the street you can see a rusty and faded Coca-Cola sign, swinging lightly in the summer breeze. That was Hilltop Confectionary, where we’d buy penny candies and Bazooka Joe, we’d blow bubbles and laugh at Cecil’s jokes. And just at the bottom of that hill is the ramp where we’d sit, dangling our legs off the side of the wall, watching the cars and people pass on by below… Passing an old friend on the street, she shouts, “Hey, Sunshine! Hey, Sunshine!” I turn back, “Sorry I was lost in my own thoughts” (a habit I’ve inherited from becoming accustomed to city anonymity). She laughs and says, “That’s alright. I hear you’ve moved back. You’re gettin’ back to your roots, girl!” I suppose I am.
Walking these familiar paths of my youth brings me to a place of truth and openness. It is pleasant to do something a little closer to the ground for a change. And it has been good to return to this other energy, this other pace of life, to feel what that is – to slow down and enjoy each moment, to not let life whizz by, to take everything in with wonder and curiosity, much like we do in childhood. My mind feels clear.
We stepped onto the Kagawong River Trail on a cool September evening, setting out to find a scene location for the play – the home of a character called Wise One. Wise One is part elder, part owl and the first character that Young Woman has interaction with on the trail. I had spotted two different locations that for some reason spoke to me – two groves of cedar trees that looked like cozy shelters, inviting homes. I was considering which place felt right and asked my husband what he thought. I explained that this is the first scene on the adventure walk and I didn’t want it to take place too early on the trail, but not too far along either in order to keep the audience’s attention. It was becoming cooler and darker out, nearing time to leave, and I still couldn’t make up my mind. We thought best to sleep on it, the decision could wait until rehearsals. And so we turned to walk away. Then suddenly out of nowhere a massive white and grey owl came soaring above the river. We stood there motionless gazing at her in awe. She flew in absolute silence with such grace. Then in one steady swoop she flew up into the top of one of the groves and rested. She perched there looking down at us. I was speechless. I’d never seen an owl in person until then. Nodding to her in thanks, we acknowledged where the owl scene was meant to take place.
Photo by Jamie Oshkabewisens, of There is No Word for Wilderness written and directed by Lisa Hamalainen