By Amy Spark
Photos by Jodi Lammiman
Thanks again for the ceremony and for guiding us through some of the stages of healing around the grief we all still feel. I found this very helpful for my own healing process, so I am certain it had significance to the many who attended. I suspect there is still more work to do on all of this however, but taking this step yesterday was very meaningful. – Anonymous
We have rituals following loss. Funerals, estate sales, storytelling, flowers on a grave. These are the markers of human loss. Ritual grounds us – it helps us cope. Yet what rituals do we perform when the loss is intangible? When we lose a wetland to development, or beach to erosion? At Refugia, we believe recognition and ritual is important and helpful for dealing with environmental loss.
So we had a funeral – for the trees.
The Ghost Valley community is a tight-knit bunch; one that has been brought together by mutual grief over the landscape changes in the valley. Clearcut logging, rampant off-highway-vehicle use, and the 2013 flood has left the landscape looking very different than it did even five years ago. So Jodi and I were honoured to be invited to help with this transition in a small way: by leading the community through a ceremony of loss.
It began with a pipe ceremony performed by elders Virgil and Glen Stephens. This ceremony honoured the transitions and seasons in the valley, and allowed the community to talk about their loss and pain. And together – we ritualized it through a cairn of mourning. We each took 15 minutes alone in the clearcut, looking for an object that would represent our individual grief. We gathered together and one by one, placed our item in the centre. In the end, what was created was a marker for what was lost and what we were leaving behind.
The Ghost Valley is a special place and is also part of the headwaters for all Albertans who live downstream. We have lost our natural wetlands, when once we had hundreds of water fowl come and go each spring and fall. Beavers, fish… that habitat has been destroyed for lack of water.
This group of people have put their heart and soul into trying to stop the logging but by also staying human about it as well…. We may not stopped it but we did make a huge difference. Not once since we have been involved have we ever heard someone knocking down another for what they believe in! That is a first for me and shows me as well that people can work well together. What a gift.
Our memories of this group shall carry with me wherever I go. These are the memories of the Ghost Valley and the many new friendships that have been made going forward.
So as we go our separate ways... we will always be connected to each other while one is advocating to protect for what they believe in. -- Anonymous
But it turned out to be less of a funeral, and more of a Celebration of Life. For its in the midst of chaos that friendships are often formed. And this chaos highlighted one very important similarity among members of the Ghost – despite all the other differences. To grieve something is to show that you love it. So to celebrate the life that still thrives in the valley, we spent the rest of the evening sharing a meal and stories over a campfire.
As a facilitator, this experience was powerful. But this is not my story to tell; it’s the story of those who live there. So the italicized sections are written by two Ghost Valley community members in their journey of grief, community, and compassion.
Doing this work I think, by its very nature, breeds compassion within us. Compassion for our neighbours, for the wildlife and the forest in which we live. But this compassion I feel extends further to include compassion for those who drove the machinery that leveled the land we are all connected with. Perhaps it’s like a victim forgiving their perpetrator, as impossible as that seems. But there is a hidden understanding that comes with compassion - it would be like looking into the eyes of an equipment operator and understanding his life, his children and his desire to feed his family etc. Compassion and understanding for him will lead to him having more compassion for those impacted by his actions.
Somehow, I know now that if I were to start down a similar path today, to the one we started 2.5 to 3 years ago, I would likely make some different choices, engage people differently and likely see even a better outcome than what we had this time around. Perhaps I could make that journey with less anger and more compassion.
There are still many wrongs in the world of forestry in Alberta (and beyond), but I feel that we need to collectively use our accumulated experience and knowledge to still push for change - but push from a place of compassion.
Below is one of my favorite poems, which to me this symbolizes our deep connection with the Earth - our Mother Earth and how, if we work at deepening our connection with her we deepen our own understanding of ourselves… and with this follows compassion. -- Anonymous
Knowing the Earth
To know the Earth on a first-name basis
You must know the meaning of river stones first.
Find a place that calls to you and there
Lie face down in the grass until you feel
Each plant alive with the mystery of beginnings.
Move in a circle until you discover an insect
Crawling with knowledge in its heart.
Examine a newborn leaf and find a map of a universe
So vast that only eagles understand.
Observe the journey of an ant and imitate its path
Of persistence in a world of bigger things.
Borrow a cloud and drift high above the Earth,
Looking down at the smallness of your life.
The journey begins on a path made of your old mistakes.
The journey continues when you call the Earth by name.