They called Al Purdy "the voice of the land' and I know exactly what they mean. Every poem he wrote, every verse he read, was rooted in his love for the landscape where he had been born, where he grew up, and to which he always returned from his wanderings. The voice of his poetry has that country sense to it, rolling and flowing like the creeks and rivers through the hills, sometimes smooth and sometimes a little rough, but always with a basic gentleness. The country north of Belleville was more than the place he lived: it was the structure underlying all his work.
I too feel that way, have always felt that way. The land, whether a rough granite outcrop supporting nothing greater than lichen, or a hundred hectares of fertile black swamp bottom, speaks to me in ways I feel but can't hear. The land in all its guises lives in me. It is the battery that powers me. And sometimes when the power is low, I need to be recharged.
That's when I turn (or return) to the land. This afternoon I spent better than an hour in bitter December weather with a chilling wind on the hillsides, exploring the Eramosa Karst, Hamilton's most recent Conservation Area with people who were inquisitive following a few who knew. I became acquainted with another facet of the land that is me.
Land and water. They have always fascinated me. What I remember best of my childhood in the Netherlands is the earth and the water. Not the cities or industries. The same with my youth in Canada. Yonge's Falls turning the swift twists of Jones' Creek into a lazy broad reach toward the St.Lawrence. Everywhere the rush of water on stone. Later the Niagara Escarpment from great Horseshoe Falls to the dribble of Springhill; and coast to coast from this side of Fundy to the far side of the Rockies. Water wearing away the land.
This afternoon presented another view of the flowing of water wearing away the solidity of hard rock. When water goes over the lip long enough, it creates a canyon, a gorge. When the water is strong enough, and the rock weak enough, it creates sinkholes and caves and underground streams and springs and ...
Oh, the small miracles!
Many of my earliest poems dealt with that dichotomy directly. I remember the poster I had made: my poem called "Earth and Water" with a photograph my brother took at Jones Falls on the Cataraqui. Even today natural elements, the voices of the land, inspire me.
With age and infirmity, it isn't as easy as it once was to reach out to the land. Human activities - paving green space, developing farmland for commerce - also make it harder. When the opportunity comes to tune my voice in harmony with the land, I take it gladly and give thanks.
Thanks that the land still exists; thanks that people still care.
I want the land to speak to me and through me for some time yet.