The Sacred Spaces We Find. The Ones We Create

I’ve been considering the place and aspects of sacredness in our physical spaces more and more in recent weeks. This has a great deal to do with our month-long stay at the Purdy A-Frame Residency in Ameliaburgh, Ontario. And much to do with mental and emotional waking up from a two year plus hiatus from the world outside the south shore of Waawiiyaatanong because of that stay. A movement between spaces is rather critical to our understanding of ourselves and the small portions of Creation we come to inhabit. You could say it is a fundamental act of defamiliarization. My ancestors knew this. And this fact is something successful poets and writers do everyday. And perhaps it is in the blur of motion between places that allows us to see the things that touch our spirit in both positive and negative senses. In looking at them with unencumbered vision we can see and feel places for what they are. Provided we listen and observe. This essence is the medicine of place that I often heard my Lenape elders and adherents to the old ways speak of when speaking about places of significance.

The A-Frame at Roblin Lake is one of those absolutely and widely acknowledged sacred spaces of Canadian Literature. Hand built by Al and Eurithe Purdy, this is literary the house that Canadian poetry built. Purdy was also the poet that transformed poetry from coming from the ruling academic elites. His work at Roblin Lake brought a honest poetry from the roots and words of the land itself and helped to establish a course of lyricism and narrative verse that has long infuriated the gatekeepers of “proper” literature in the country. There is a reason that Purdy and his work are rarely taught in universities today. The honesty and approachability in his work is something that folks in tenured situations have come to fear. That fear stems from their inability to produce work of the same caliber and their inability to defamiliarize themselves to the world around them. So few in English departments around the country are able to step back to look at the world with wonder. They are convinced of their ability to “understand” the “realities” of the world and become locked in a rut. Ruts that are greater and more lonely than anything most working and common people experienced in their past few years of pandemic lockdowns.

Myself and my family discovered the positive medicine flowing through the land around the A-Frame. It was easy enough to spot for an old Lenape. The great mother tree, the Nushèmakw or willow tree, stands between the house and the lake. This sacred tree to us old Lenape represents so much of the loving touch of our mothers. And know that we, along with Al and Eurithe and all of the former and future A-Framers slept, dreamed, laboured, and created embraced by the roots and limbs of that sacred tree. For me it lead to a large volume of work. But for all of us, it led to a critical healing. Our mothers call us back to who we truly are. And in warm embrace of that sacred portion of earth we all came to feel whole like we hadn’t before the great troubles began back in 2020. And while those troubles have not ended for countless many around the world (have they ever really?), we gained enough medicine to make our way forward. The creative soul is nurtured by the positive medicine of the sacred.

And make no mistake that the medicine that the Purdy’s found at that lake was no doubt strong. But the A-Frame that they built on that lake in the middle of Loyalist country became an receiver of that medicine, funneled towards its positive nature. The land with its banks of lilacs and clusters of flowering trees were most definitely sculpted around the house by the family. In the form of the land and the home at its edge, you understand that the right sort of people can walk onto a piece of land and come to understand it like family, dig ones roots into it and let it sprout into you. This is the sort of relationship that one can build an honest national literature with.

Does this mean that we can create the sacredness of places? People have. The Purdy’s did, to an extent. They came to know of the land’s spirit and used to fashion their work and their lives with. As much as we are part of creation, we too are filled with the sacred energies of a place. Returning from this residency and pilgrimage of sorts, I carry the spirit of that place. The medicine can follow the man. The relationship is reciprocal. Consider creation around you. Move about.

Nushèmakw (willow tree) and the sacred Roblin Lake

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