Gratitude. In the end that was all it ever came down to. Gratitude for the little things. The feather found, the pebble that felt right in the hand as I walked, the lesson no matter how hard learned. Gratitude became my way of finding balance. I was human though and sometimes gratitude came less easily than others, but some how Creator managed to put something into my path that would remind me to breathe and see correctly again. When I listened and allowed the reminder to sink in it was as if the world grew still again. Gratitude isn’t easy. It’s not something that a person can manufacture. It has to come from inside and so when you are truly grateful you can hear Creator laugh with joy. “You got it” he says, “well done little fox, now keep walking forward.”
But there were days when it was hard. When a problem seemed so insurmountable that all you could see was the void and feel it sucking at your feet. For me it was usually when the family was threatened. Someone was ill or we were running low on supplies. The care for the people I loved would cause guilt that I hadn’t been good enough to protect them. The reality was less dramatic but these were old, old wounds and sometimes they spilled pus into my thinking. So I was grateful for my sacred place.
We had both agreed very early in our lives together, that sometimes the best thing is to be alone. It wasn’t a rejection of the other but rather a protection. We understood ourselves and knew that sometimes a man has to be alone. He has to be able to be separate even in a union and so we both created little shelters at opposite ends of the beach. Looking back I see how completely the choices we made in building them reflected our own personalities. I built mine and he built his with no help from the other. The choices we made were absolutely ours. They reflected who and what we were on a subconscious level. They were us placed in the landscape as form. But despite the differences and the similarities they were sacred and we respected the right of the other not to enter or even look inside.
Zah built himself a shelter if cedar logs. Completely enclosed except for an entrance at the front which looked out over the ocean. He used cedar logs and laid living turf on top as a roof. I remember how overtime it disappeared into the landscape completely. I only saw inside once and that was in an emergency and I hurt to have to look. But I would know when he needed to be alone. There was a look in the eye and a silence that wasn’t rejection just a deep need. I would find myself hugged and kissed and then he would be gone, sometimes for an hour, sometimes for a couple of days. I never minded. I would leave food and a flask of coffee on a rock just at the base of the slope to his place and walk back to the beach. My love needed to think deep thoughts and that was enough.
Looking back my own space said more about me than I possibly would have wanted to admit. It reflected back to my own heritage, to memories of my ancestors perhaps. To describe it would be to describe a sheep pen, my great, great, great grandfather having been a shepherd. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but looking back it was the only structure which fitted. A circular wall of stone, the front entrance facing the ocean, the back third given a roof with two flat stone. Just inside the entrance was the fire and the floor was sand brought up from the beach. Over time I planted the outside with ferns and honeysuckle, I scattered tobacco seed and let it slowly naturalize. When I found a wild flower in seed I would scatter it around too, so that over time it looked like an old, abandoned sheep pen. I hated roofs and doors so for me I covered as little as possible. Enough to lie down and sleep if needed but always able to see the stars and the rain if it fell. Tucked into a crevice at the back were pencils and birch bark. I’d tried paper but it always went soggy and so when I needed to write something down the curls of bark were better. They lasted in between visits and like the whole of the structure were practical not fanciful.
So they became places to heal and to grow, places to pray and to be quiet with ourselves. The returning was always fun too. Working quietly we would feel an arm circle our waist and a tender kiss on the back of the neck which led to more kisses. They were passionate but more than that they were tender beyond words. The welcome home of a warrior from battle not the lover needing release. no questions asked, no answers needed. We were safe and home and that was all that mattered. So after the expansive, all embracing hold and the meeting of spirits and lips life would go on. Fry bread would go into oil, food would be served, dusk would settle, and stars would come out. A hand might be taken and one would lead the other to walk quietly through the woods or along the beach, then bed and the union of bodies, as well as, hearts. The coming home was about tenderness, about home, about the union and the return of balance. Gratitude.
For myself I needed the ritual of it. The kiss to say “This isn’t goodbye but I have to go for a little while” then the slow walk down towards the beach. Each step became a prayer. My mind would notice. A bird, a stone, the things that mattered in the moment. The slow quieting of the mind and spirit as I moved down to the place where I would weep, laugh, scream, be human. No emotion too strong and never wrong but needful. Ritual always meant that certain things needed doing once I arrived. There was care of self and space. The floor would be cleared of leaves and twigs, sand swept, fire built, the things which gave space to emotion. Then once the fire was burning I could sit and quietly let myself be with what was needful.
No matter how hard the emotion, how deep I may have felt I had fallen, I always started with a prayer. A simple one. One that encapsulated the bond with Zah. No matter what pain I would experience my first thought, first need was to hold him safe back at the house. So the words would roll out, sometimes with tears but always with gratitude.
“O, Great Spirit who listens to all, hear me your littlest fox as I speak for my brother the bear. Make the moon shine softly during the nights of his childhood so that the warmth of his mother will always be in his memory. Make the berries grow in abundance and sweetness so that the vigor of his life will strengthen his heart and the years of old age shall never be a burden to his body. Let the wildflowers refresh his temperament so that his manner will always be carefree. Give his legs swiftness and strength so they will always carry him to freedom. Sharpen the senses of his ears and nose so they will always keep harm from him. Let only those men share his path who in their hearts know his beauty and respect his strength so that he will always be at home in the wilderness. Make men praise life so that no one needs to feel the shame that lives in a heart that has wronged. Then my wild brother, the bear, will always have a wilderness. As long as the sun travels the sky. O, Great Spirit, this I humbly ask as your littlest fox for my brother the bear. Keep him safe and his cubs too, and always let me see him dance in the joy of his being within the wild, wet woods of your creation.”
It was an adaption of something he had sent me years before when we first started walking and sometimes it was enough to bring me back to balance. To remember Zah and acknowledge the river of love which I felt for him. It was a daily prayer, but in the moment of imbalance it became even more powerful, more healing. It enclosed the important in safety so that they were kept out of whatever was turning me inside out. When everything settled back to peaceful balance the gratitudes would come, thanks for the little things and the big things. It would always start with the big things. The ocean, the place, the woods and beach, the big huge gifts that Creator had blessed me with which were important but not vital. Then slowly the gratitudes would become smaller. Our garden, our home, smaller and smaller till they reach the smallest but most important one, Zah. I always cried at that one, but they were tears of joy. People have told me that he should have been the biggest, but they miss the poet’s point.
Big things are easy to be grateful for. It’s easy to be grateful for sitting on a big beach with the sun on your face. The difficult thing is to see the small, the things which are easily forgotten or taken for granted. The things which are tiny but make all the difference in the world. Like a plate of sandwiches when you have forgotten to eat all day and are so engrossed in your writing, coffee by the bedside when you wake, a hug which isn’t requested or an “I love you” that isn’t always prompted with one beforehand. Like the electrons spinning to make up an atom they can be easy to forget because they are so small, but when we do the world falls apart into a vacuum of nothingness. So Zah was my smallest gratitude but he was always, always the most important one.
So with gratitudes said I would walk down to the ocean and wash my hands and face in the salt water. A pebble would be picked up and placed at the start of the path to my shepherd’s hut. One more reminder that I had come through the fire, been washed clean, and could return to my love and our home. Every step was still a prays but now it they were prays of gratitude. “Thank you for my beautiful bear, thank you for the holding and the love of him, thank you for our life and our living.” As I walked first through woods and on into the garden they would be included too. The flowers that grew, the vegetables and the fruit, the bees and the ducks, everything crystalized into prays and as they did the colours became more vibrant, the scents stronger, and the balance stronger. I would wrap an arm around his waist quietly and we would kiss tenderly. The bear and the littlest fox.