Vanessa Pejovic | September 24, 2019
Reflections from the Harvesting Ceremony and Closing of Common Waters
Last weekend, I was lucky enough to watch the moon rise, round and orange, in the clear eastern sky. My belly was full, I was surrounded by others enjoying the view, and a fire crackled warmly beside me.
It was a beautiful way to end the Harvesting Ceremony at rare Charitable Research Reserve.
With that, the circle of the Common Waters project closes, but the conversations must continue.
They began, back in June, with Indigenous teachings, rich in symbolism and spirit, shared by Christine Lefebvre at the opening reception of this community project. We were invited to listen and reflect upon our own role in nature, in remembrance, in stewardship of our home. We were reminded that water is lifeblood – something we may already claim to know. Do our actions as humans truly reflect this understanding, though?
What are the implications of our growing disconnection from nature and the loss of the ancestral knowledge that allowed us to thrive on – and with – the land for generations?
Throughout the summer of Common Waters, community members – artists, activists and academics among them – examined and shared their relationship with water in diverse and expressive ways. I’m grateful to have been able to attend several events related to this project. Without a doubt, I’ve been introduced to ideas and individuals that have left an impact on me. The overall messaging, I thought, was passionate but not preachy, and I appreciated the breadth of knowledge and creativity involved. Lots of food (and water) for thought.
It was through this project, actually, that I learned of Braiding Sweetgrass, a beautiful book by Robin Wall Kimmerer, who combines her training in botany, her Indigenous ancestry, and her gift of language to share the life lessons the Earth has taught her. I am moved by her work.
Moving, too, was last weekend’s Harvest Ceremony that began in Minjimendan, the sustainable Indigenous food garden at the rare Charitable Research Reserve. The garden’s development was led by Dr. Andrew Judge, whose vision to share Indigenous land-based sustainability practices has blossomed with the support of collaborations with rare and Conestoga College. The garden is not only smartly designed – constructed and planted in such a way to work with the land and provide irrigation naturally – it holds symbolic and spiritual significance as well. The water channels and planting beds, I learned, form a spiral. The golden spiral, shaped in a specific mathematical ratio related to the Fibonacci sequence of numbers, is a powerful symbol of growth and consciousness that occurs in many traditions and appears naturally in everything from snail shells to pinecones.
I was among dozens of people who surrounded the centre of the garden to watch as Andrew lit a ceremonial fire to celebrate and honour the gifts given by the Earth. His words regarding fire as a natural and necessary balance to the project’s focus on water resonated with me; an alignment with my personal exploration of dualism and the implications of inseparable, contradictory elements combining to make a true whole. The evening was warm, the light was golden, and it was a pleasure to be present amongst the towering sunflowers for this ceremony.
The group then moved to the site of artist Don Russell’s project Stone, Clay and Fire: Making a Circle, in which a fire, built within a circular trench of clay lined with stone, burned continuously from June 21-28 of last year. On this evening, Don lit a fire in the centre of the circle before sharing a few words, then each attendee was invited to express their feelings about their presence in this sacred space. I was struck by our similarities – many of us strangers – as well as the expression of gratitude voiced here. We listened to one another’s words with the calls of birds and the rustles of grass in the background. The connective and stabilizing power of ritual and ceremony felt very real to me.
The sun dipped below the horizon and the sky glowed purplish-blue as we gathered at the final station, the Conceptual Longhouse, where stakes are planted to mark the location and size of a traditional Indigenous living space. Again, a ceremonial fire was tended as we learned of ancestral ceremonial traditions from Bill Woodworth and Christine Lefebvre. Drums, songs, a delicious fresh feast, and a glowing Harvest Moon followed. Huge thanks to everyone involved in organizing this special evening. It was a privilege to be there.
Rounding out the Common Waters closing weekend, Instant Places – the duo of Laura Kavanaugh and Ian Birse - brought their unique audiovisual style to Design at Riverside on Sunday afternoon. Combining handmade and synthesized audio and visual elements using a complex electronic system, they created a sound and image mix with its own abstract and otherworldly ebbs and flows.
The storefront at BRIDGE on Main Street was my final stop, where key elements from the Common Waters project were featured on the archive wall. The organisms from the Mud and Microbes workshop live on in their clear test tubes, Andrew Judge’s life-sized diagram outlining the seven sacred Indigenous teachings hangs on the wall, and samples of hand-bound books from Judy Major-Girardin’s workshop ornament the shelves.
So. Art, science, architecture, identity, memory and responsibility have merged in the sphere of this project. The circle closes, but the wheel keeps turning. To move forward in a way that honours our beginnings and the home we share demands something of us: that we listen, an act becoming increasingly difficult in a world full of noise. Dave Isay, founder of the StoryCorps Project, in which people are invited to share and preserve meaningful conversations, collected some of the most impactful stories in his book, Listening Is an Act of Love. This title is truth. Listening, of course, is not the same as hearing. Listening – to each other and to the land we share – requires presence, patience, and an engagement of all the senses. When we truly practice listening, we drive connection. We carve paths between us where understanding, empathy, and gratitude can flow like waters through a stream. Only then can we act in a way that respects our past and shapes a sustainable future. What does this mean in practice? I’m still figuring that out for myself, but I think this project has demonstrated that sharing our stories, skills and gifts with one another can affect change.
The collaboration of Common Waters has demonstrated the literal and metaphoric connective power of water. It has been an appeal for our community to listen and learn about some of the most vital issues of our complicated times. I’ve been impressed by the creativity, intelligence, insight and receptiveness of the organizers and facilitators. I’m grateful to the Common Waters team for the invitation to participate and for embracing my reflections (clumsy as they may sometimes be) as part of this project. Thank you!
- Vanessa Pejovic, September 20, 2019