South Baymouth, Manitoulin Island.
As discussed in my previous post, my family and I attended the South Baymouth Canada Day celebrations this past weekend. We always anticipate this world class parade on that gentle jewel of an island sitting in Lake Huron in the middle of Ontario.
This morning I open my eyes and roll over to find I’m joined by a rainy day and the lull of its gentle conversation. As always I want to keep it to myself – I don’t want to have to share it with the mechanical goings on of the work day. I want to walk in it at my leisure and absorb its smell and energy into my body.
I want to watch it lazily from a window as it provides sustenance to the vegetation and washes the streets and sidewalks. I want to cook in the glow of the stove light while I enjoy the sound of it falling outside and the deepened, bluish/greenish atmosphere closing around like a protective hug.
I think of rainy day jobs and creative activities and the pleasure and satisfaction we find in those things because the rainy day has given us an excuse to stay in and do them. I think of certain past lovers and how we dreamt of rainy days together, lolling about, talking, sipping tea, reading the paper and those other things lovers do so well together.
There’s something in a rainy day that slows my wheels a notch – and as I head out the door this morning I’m wishing I could have this rainy day for my very own. Or better perhaps – to share with someone else.
I can find beauty in the seediest parts of any city. Beauty is easy to find if, if you believe as I do that it has many more layers than that which sits on the surface of a thing or a person.
But then there is the kind of beauty that transforms you, the kind the Romantics explored. I’ve experienced this kind of transformative beauty a number of times in my life, and it’s always the product of me encountering some work of art or some aspect of the natural world. I valued beauty even as a kid, and that’s probably why I found such power in studying Romantic literature in university. When I found these poets writing of sublime experiences in encountering beauty, I got it, because I’d been there.
I was about sixteen when I sat in an art history lesson and saw slides of Michelangelo’s Pieta. It was the first seed of an idea that I’m now certain of: that great artists channel a source that moves beyond the confines of human understanding. I experienced a similar conviction about witnessing the transcendent when I studied John Keats and his achievements during his short stay on this planet.
Encountering divine splashes in nature has had even more startling impact on my sensibilities. A northern Ontario forest floor carpeted with trillium; the ancient rocks on the shore of the Manitoulin Island; great masses of bluebells covering the rolling, lusty landscape of mid-Wales; farm fields of yellow mustard radiating a colour you wouldn’t believe existed if you didn’t see it with your own eyes.
The most arresting encounter with the sublime in nature was in a forest next to a monastery and retreat I visited in Finland over the Orthodox Easter weekend some years ago. Saturday church services ran all night, and most of the visitors to the retreat had attended. I awoke with the sun, feeling some regret that I didn’t attend any of the services, feeling shy and out of place in my Presbyterian upbringing and largely secular sensibility. When I walked outside Sunday morning I felt very alone – everything on the compound was closed up tight; everyone was asleep but me. So I went for a walk.
I headed into the woods adjacent to the monastery grounds. Not far in, I was stopped short by the sight ahead of me. The sun was spilling its pale, shimmering ribbons through the dark contrast of the trees, landing in golds and pinks on the snowy forest floor. The picture was so stunningly beautiful I cried, knowing for certain I was being presented with a divine gift. I wondered for a moment if I’d stumbled onto heaven.
Perhaps some would say it’s simply a way of feeling, of exploring sensibility and one’s ability to pay attention to the experience of encountering magnificence. I am not a religious person, though I have experienced transformative moments of beauty in churches. I suppose I find more certainty in the tangible, finding the divine in great artistic accomplishments and the spontaneous magic in nature rather than through any strictures of organized worship or scientific rationalizations.
For me, these spontaneous experiences and the subsequent emotion and inspiration that result are the most convincing evidence that we are living in a magical world. Really, you couldn’t convince me otherwise.
And he, with many feelings, many thoughts,
Made up a meditative joy, and found
Religious meaning in the forms of Nature!
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Fears in Solitude
Story Copyright © Jennifer Morrison 2010
Yesterday, Dad, Cathy, Carly and I visited some relatives at Hilly Grove on Manitoulin Island. After looking at a spot where several Morrisons rest, and where my parents have already chosen to be laid, my sister asked me if I thought I might like to spend all of eternity here. I thought, yes, it seems like a good place for that; then I had a little dance on the spot, just in case.
Early on we visited Angus Morrison and Margaret Jane MacLennan Morrison – parents of my Grandfather, also Angus Morrison.
And then there were Margaret's parents, Jane Glover and George MacLennan.
Jane Glover MacLennan (seated) with daughter Margaret Jane MacLennan Morrison and her granddaughter Elsie Morrison (my father's aunt).
Then to visit my grandmother Violet's parents, William Duxbury and Annie Wilson Duxbury.
And my great, great grandmother, Emma Anne Wilson.
Later we looked at pictures and Dad talked more about the people who came before my daughters and my sisters and me; who are a part of who we are now. I think that maybe the window I look through is in some ways formed by the eyes of these people. We never knew our grandfather Angus or our great grandmother Annie Duxbury, and my father has always wished we had; that they would have appreciated us and we would have benefitted from knowing them.
But sharing stories about them is a way of knowing them. And if it happens that we should spend eternity together at Hilly Grove, I'll go in knowing something about them beforehand.
(Note: My paternal grandparents are not buried here on the Island, but down in Amherstburg, not far from my maternal grandparents.)
The weather on the Manitoulin has been good to us. I've been working hard. On my tan.
This year the local wildlife has been making itself known to us. Shortly after Cathy and I arrived, we watched the sillouettes of a garden snake (or maybe a water snake – I wasn't that up for getting too close to investigate the fella's identity) and a frog. We all cheered as the frog hopped its getaway toward the pond.
But then, not ten minutes later, another little snake caught a frog right where the garden walk meets the deck stairs. My family (not me) watched in various combinations of fascination, horror and disgust as the frog was slowly consumed by the slithery scoundrel.
Later that night, as my dad opened the back porch door, a frog hopped in. Maybe it was appealing for safety from its mortal enemies outside.
Next day, a hummingbird flew into the back porch. We watched, trying to act calm so as not to give the poor little creature a heart attack while it made its way out. It eventually did with my dad's help.
This morning as we had our coffee, we watched (my favourite bird of all) a Great Blue Heron hunting in the pond. When I tried to go outside to get a closer shot, he flew away. I could hear his powerful wings reverberating in the air.
This morning after seeing brother Jeff off on the ferry, Cathy and I went for a long walk. Today, all humidity is gone, and we talked about how the cool air and warm sun felt so delicious on our skin. Best thing about the walk was the sky. It's not a sky you see in Toronto.