Posts tagged ‘Haida Gwaii’

January 6, 2014

If time is a circle, can you live on the edge?

We may not realize it, but the concept of linear time is very much a construct of Western civilization. The idea that a person can physically exist in only one temporal dimension — the present moment — without the ability to move between the past and the future worlds, does not hold sway in many other cultures, where time moves at a different pace or even on a different continuum.

Take, for example, the Haida First Nation living in Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands), a remote archipelago off the northwest coast of British Columbia. For the Haida, writes author John Vaillant in his 2005 book The Golden Spruce, “time operates more like a spiral, or like the rings of a tree.” Vaillant continues:

There is a saying among the peoples of the Northwest Coast: “The world is as sharp as the edge of a knife,” and Robertson Davidson, [a well-known Haida artist and carver], imagines this edge as a circle. “If you live on the edge of the circle,” he explained in a documentary film, “that is the present moment. What’s inside is knowledge, experience: the past. What’s outside has yet to be experienced. The knife’s edge is so fine that you can live either in the past or in the future. The real trick,” he says, “is to live on the edge.”

It’s an intriguing concept, this idea of time growing outwards like a tree. In this case, time is circular, but the plane is horizontal, not vertical, and the direction of movement is outwards in radial lines from the centre, not in loops around the circumference. Here, the countless “rings” of past life and experience accumulate in the centre of the circle, pushing the present — and the future — ever outwards, but remaining close at hand, consolidated and strong, in case of need. This circle, it seems, would collapse without the foundation of the past to keep it strong; yet the circle would also cease to expand and grow if not for the present moment always moving towards (and into) the future.

As novel as this concept may appear to a linear mind, the Haida perspective does share one thing in common with its Western counterpart — and that is the difficulty of staying in the present moment. The present moment is a knife-edge, says Robertson Davidson; it is easy for a person to slip off that edge into either the past or the future. Whether you slip off that edge in a physical sense or a mental one doesn’t really matter, I’d argue. In the end, the trick is the same: ┬áto live on the edge — not in the sense of embracing risk or pushing boundaries, but in the sense of existing in that hair’s-width space of the present moment.

July 2, 2013

How gathering mussels on a beach can fill you up inside

I like this quote from poet Susan Musgrave about the enigmatic lure of life on Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands), a wild and sparsely populated archipelago off the northern coast of British Columbia. Musgrave has been a part-time resident of Haida Gwaii since 1972 . Like many local residents, she built her own home, forages for food, and lives according to the rhythms of the land and sea around her. This quote appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of British Columbia Magazine.

If you spend the whole day getting mussels off the beach and you come home and cook them up with some snow peas from the garden, and you’re tired and wet, it’s more fulfilling than buying them in [a grocery chain like] Thrifty’s, because you actually had to participate in the process of your life as opposed to just being a consumer. Haida Gwaii does that for people; it allows them to go back to a time when they were more involved with their own lives, as opposed to when they were just watching or being led.

Would that we all had the opportunity to exist, at least for a time, in such an elemental state of engagement and harmony.