Life Goes On
After Steve's death that winter, I began, tentatively, to plan the next Sacred Earth Journey to special sites along the Great Northern Peninsula. In late spring unexpected news arrived. A group of Peruvian shaman-healers were able to join us. This possibility was something I had imagined and Steve and I had talked about, but it happened with such ease it seemed meant to be. I'd met Don Martin in Ontario a few years before and this would be Dona Bernadina's first time away from her home. Martin Pinedo Acuna was a respected traditional healer from the village of Huasao. Known as a powerful seer, he worked with healing stones and despachos and his gift with the flute was legendary. Bernardino Cateri was from the region of Puna and Lake Titicaca. She was gifted in plant medicine, a skilled tracker of energies, and I would learn, a beautiful singer of icaros or medicine songs.
We were a group of twenty-one, that Mayan sacred number again. Some of the people present knew Steve, and some had been with us the year before. People gathered from the United States, Canada and Peru; half of our gathering were Newfoundlanders. When Russell, the earth energy healer from Indiana arrived for his second visit, he said it felt like coming home. The trip to Port aux Choix to conduct ceremony for the ancestors was the highlight of this journey. It was, as much else during the ten days, a wonderful blend of planning and spontaneity.
Our bus took us to Port aux Choix and our first stop after the Visitor Center was the Point Riche Lighthouse. Everyone jumped off the bus to wander and explore the limestone terraces stretching around the point. It was a spectacular clear day and a perfect place to commune with the elemental spirits. Dona Berna, a short and small framed woman with dark hair and intense dancing brown eyes, was dressed in her traditional multi-coloured skirts and slim leather sandals of her mountain culture. She scampered over the rough limestone rocks and I watched her talking to the spirits of the place in her own language, placing offerings into the ocean as waves crashed against the shore. Getting everyone back on the bus to go to our next stop was a struggle; the site had a magnetic power.
Eventually everyone returned to the bus to go to the other side of the island. There we walked along a trail across the island through windswept barrens. Don Martin insisted I lead the way, though I had not walked these trails before and had to trust that we were being led. Following a path through some boreal forest trees, along a marshy pond and low lying tuckamore we emerged at Crow Head, the highest point of the island. Here everyone gravitated towards a mossy mound on a ledge overlooking the sea and Philip's Garden, where the Dorset Paleo-Eskimos lived some 2000 years before. Below us were the caves where the Dorset placed the bodies of their dead. It was the perfect place for our ceremony.
Dona Berna laid out her brightly patterned llama wool blanket and began to prepare the despacho ceremony as each found a place to sit in the circle. I looked around at the glowing eager faces; one woman unwrapped her prayer scarf, others opened their medicine bundles. Each prepared to enter the space of the sacred, to connect with spirit and the forces of creation. Feeling overcome with love and thankfulness for this gathering, and something immense and unknowable, I laid my face on the ground next to Don Martin and allowed my tears to fall into the dense spongy moss, spreading partridgeberry, and lichen. What I felt seemed too big and expansive to fit into a string of sound or meaning, too rich to be captured in a photo.
I knew the ancestors were gathered here, witnessing and participating with us, feeling us and thankful that we had come so far to be here, from lifetimes and continents away. I was amazed at how this event had come to pass, this possibility that out of the ethers manifested in ways I could not have imagined. In a flash I sensed the beauty and perfection of this day and this moment, the cycles of life that took me away from this land and back again. On behalf of all those who were there in spirit, I felt the honouring of the sacredness of place, for those who walked this land for thousands of years before us, who loved and continue to love and keep it still. My body and soul felt at home here, and I knew all our spirits were nourished. Wordlessly, Don Martin patted my back, then stood up to go gather wood for the fire.
It was the fastest burning bundle I had ever seen, second only to the first I offered here several years before. After it was done, someone discovered a rock filled cavern just below the high mound where we sat for the prayer bundle. The sound of water emerged from the bottom of this rock-strewn place, and though several tried to reach it, the hole was amazingly deep and curiously constructed. An old well fed by an underground spring we thought. Laughing like children we took turns lying on the boggy earth and holding each other’s feet so we could look and throw offerings into the watery cave. It was a perfect counterpart to the masculine mound we’d sat on and the fire that carried our prayers to the heavens. Everyone felt the momentous significance of what had just transpired; we embraced each other with warm hugs and happy tears flowed. Our work here seemed complete.
Excerpted from my upcoming book, The Long Way Home: A Shaman's Return to her Newfoundland Roots