The Rites of Fall

Ask your teacher

I’m writing this post on the last Friday of September, 2013. The weather on the coast has devolved into its single digit lows, and forecasts of rain, showers, and cloud. It seems both so recent, and yet so distant at the same time somehow, that we were coming back into school suntanned and anxious about the start of another new year, about routine, and work, and the intensity of life that will build to its apex in June.

Sitting here now I feel much removed from the scattered headspace I brought with me out of summer; I feel sharp, motivated, and as though I can visualize the goals I’ll have for the coming year in a way that August and the first week of school didn’t allow.

What happened these last few weeks that facilitated this shift?

Untitled

Each of the TALONS classes has been away on a weekend retreat, for starters, with our afternoon class joining our friends at Sea to Sky Outdoor School in Gibsons, BC, on the first weekend of September, and the morning group camping in the woods of Sasquatch Provincial Park, at Hicks Lake. Already, these groups have bonded over campfires and songs, communion with one another over meals, and the wilds of the outdoors in hikes, voyageur canoes, and nights under the bountiful stars. There was also the magical happening of an encounter with the wonder that is bioluminescence, which never fails to disappoint.

I’ve introduced a new cohort of Philosophy students to the idea of conducting their learning in the open, and the course site is already a hub of conversation between our for-credit participants, course alumni, and a few open online learners.

Untitled

And on the weekend summer officially ended, I made my way to my family’s cabin to take in the traditional Last Gasp of Summer that is the Pender Harbour Jazz Festival.

September, it seems, has no shortage of familiar rituals to help merge the summer into school year. To help frame the coming year in terms of where the last one left us. And to help acclimatize us to the rigors of work, once again.

Soon, we will be researching Eminent People, and continuing through the Rites of Fall that sew the seeds of the TALONS spring and the academic year, and bring to the surface the narratives that we will tell in the coming months, something I’ve written about here before, though with a different focus.

What brought about this new association with ritual was an interview I came across – as I come across so many other wonderful web gems – on Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish:

We need ritual, whether it feels imbued with grace or merely rote, because it draws us back to the physical world — which seems, always, like a distraction from the silence of pure communion. It’s a temptation, for me: the longing to withdraw from action and other people and become a contemplative.

I can really see the truth of the above quote here at the end of September, where my thinking has met with the focus of the new year, and the practical applications of my summer daydreams. I’ve been brought back to the physical world, in a way, through the comfort of the familiar, of being greeted by faces familiar and new, and doing what we always we do this time of year: engage with ourselves and our peers and colleagues anew, and find out where it is we are this time around.

If that sounds a little opaque to you, no matter. It’s my own understanding that’s become grounded through these rituals.

How have the Rites of Fall provided for yours?

Solar Power Blues

An audio gem from Saturday’s campus fire at Sea to Sky this past weekend, Owl leads the TALONS in a audience-participation version of Solar Power Blues, which he explains in the clip.

Family Legend

_ALB6070

Campire Stories

A little twist on the Family Legend assignment from the Daily Create let me bring this neighbourhood legend to the Camp Magic Macguffin campfire. 

They had come from Burnaby, had the MacDonalds that came to reside on Garcia Court, and beyond the neighbouring suburb were from points across the breadth of Canada and back into Europe. Both branches of the family we knew reached the old countries of England and Scotland eventually, but had each traced vastly different routes across Canada to the coast.

Mr. MacDonald’s family had splintered out of a line of Joneses in Ontario and settled in southeastern British Columbia near the American border where towering mountains are ringed by lingering smog of a half-century’s smeltering. Mr. MacDonald’s father had worked in that smelter, and he and three siblings were raised in a narrow two-story house near their elementary school. The family lived above the gouge of the Columbia River and knew well the hoards of river moths that owned the dusks and dawns of summer with a singular and biblical tenacity.

It has struck me each time I’ve heard it told that Mr. MacDonald never passes over the subject of his hometown in conversation without mentioning these moths. His eyes sharpen and he pointedly engages each person within eye and earshot in his narration; there is no mistaking the onus he places on the regular emergence of the hovering pests.

“You have to drive with your windshield wipers on,” I have seen him marvel. “And the town hides itself indoors, sure to seal every window and door – even though you could at best keep only ninety percent of them out!”

Listeners cringe at this image, and Mr. MacDonald relishes their discomfort. “Oh yeah!” He often repeats important details for effect, stalling and indulging brief cul de sacs and dead ends before continuing with the story. These productions never seemed scripted until I began to hear these various narratives told and retold by Mr. MacDonald, and then also by others on the street, word for word.

This particular story of the onslaught of minuscule beasts wobbling as they rise from the Columbia River Valley inevitably meanders to the recounting of the childhood of Mr. MacDonald’s youngest brother, David. (No one fails to mention, in this telling, that Brandon bore such a resemblance to his father’s brother that once Brandon had reached the age of fourteen, they were christened “DavidBrandon” for the duration of several family gatherings that spanned almost a decade.)

It is told that as a child David never harboured the town’s apprehension for the river moths, and would await their nightly coming tide at the crest of the bluffs above the river. Standing bare-chested toward the setting sun, he would watch the air thicken above the flat pools on the Columbia and hear the million hatchlings popping onto air. The hum would drive in a cloud toward him on the hill and his heart reportedly raced as the million moths reached and engulfed him before sweeping over the bluffs like a humming wave. They would fly through his hair and glue their wings to the sweat of his arms and legs, and he would let the ones that could land and begin to crawl, trekking his skin and covering him from head to toe. Only once the night’s flight had subsided would he walk the steep grade of the hillside and descend slowly into the freezing depths of the river. The moths that resisted at the surface of the water would come unstuck once submerged, and David would rise from the water clean, washed with the first boilings of the next night’s hatch.

I heard this story for the first time at a cul de sac barbeque at the end of my driveway. Mr. MacDonald had put his silver beer down to do the telling, and as many as fifteen of us looked on as he reached the dramatic finish, painting his brother as a shining martyr of these moths. Perceiving that I was perhaps the only one present who had yet to hear this tale, he nodded to me for what I assumed was my appraisal of the tale.

I said meekly, “Didn’t anyone ever go out there with him?”

Mr. MacDonald laughed and said, “DavidBrandon always wanted to know the same thing.”

A Summer in Pictures

As a means of dusting off the blog after a long summer’s nap, I’ve embedded a collection of my Flickr photos from the last few months spent kayaking, concert-going, camping, hiking, and otherwise enjoying the peaks of a Pacific Coast summer. Above you’ll find the fruits of trips paddling in Port Moody’s Burrard Inlet, camping on Vancouver Island’s Sombrio Beach, Pemberton’s Blowdown Pass, and the Columbia River Valley for a Kings of Leon concert at the Gorge Amphitheatre.