18 September 2015

Selected Articles From PAX Quarterly Magazine

     A Family Pilgrimage*

     A few years ago, while I was trying to explain my work to a friend of a friend, I was offered some unusual advice.  Calling me an "ancestral scapegoat," he encouraged me to continue the visual history project I was struggling to manifest.  He warned that my relatives might not always welcome the stories I would track and seek to share but that I must persist as the one of my generation who was driven to know the truth and willing to tell the tale.  He urged me to nevertheless continue the search for my creative and spiritual homeland.
     The yearning for a genuine and profound experience led me to formulate a pilgrimage - neither religious nor secular, but personally sacred and tied to a familial landscape I barely knew.  By undertaking a quest and vowing to complete it, I am participating in a universal tradition and practice: to seek and experience the presence of God while separating from the everyday.  
     "The only way out is through," according to Robert Frost.  Decide and the doing gets done, so I began to plan a road trip to what is essentially the middle of nowhere, drawn by a spiritual magnetism to the remarkable geographical landscape of Lake Manitoba.  In its centre is an intersection between two realms, a liminality called Manitoobaa in Ojibwa - Straits of Manitou, the Great Spirit - and known by the pounding of waves and pebbles on its limestone shores, like a spirit pounding a drum.

Cayer Beach (internet-anonymous, 2011)

     My mother was born in the vicinity and a few of her cousins who still live in the region join me on the gravel road journey from Dauphin and Ste. Rose du Lac to Cayer Beach on Lake Manitoba.  It is still several hours before summer solstice and within this liminal zone of time, place, and intention, we discuss the spiritual business of the family - from replacing the fallen gravestones of great-grandparents and finding a way to repair the church roof, to assorted graveside stories of kith and kin.  For a short while the impediments of distance are suspended and the improbable is imagined.  Here, in the smallest of communities and in the most remote of provinces, I find a tangible connection to my ancestors and their stories in the company of the family members who want to know.

     We turn away from the edge of the beautiful lake and the church our grandfather built and named St. Jean de Brébeuf.  We drive back toward the world of everyday, on the other side of an invisible threshold - but different.  We convene and celebrate over a late lunch at the Chicken Chef in Ste. Rose.  I commemorate these family rituals by vowing to return as I have done in four previous encounters with this meaningful place were every exploration reveals inner meaning.  Perhaps I will return again for the longest day of the year in June, or come back in August when it is good for camping and swimming, or perhaps visit in January because winter is my favourite Manitoba season and this is a special place in the cold.  Having a destination and making a vow to reach it fulfill the longing for a meaningful journey, a pilgrimage.

No. 1173 - 20 June 2013 - 13:42:52

PAX: No.19 St. James' Day © 2013