Friday was record warm and rainy so many of our streams and rivers are at flood stage. Yesterday was cold with heavy snow and a thick blanket of new snow has covered the briefly bare ground. This morning brought bright blue sky and sun, the landscape ablaze with light and deep shadow.
We are at mid-month in January, and days such as this take on a decidedly French Impressionist tone, the play of light and shadow enhancing the subtle colors of the winter landscape. During thaws, the landscape bare of snow, the world seems drab and colorless.
I’m reading Sara Maitland for the first time in years, and discovering what I’ve missed: a lot. She writes in an enchanting prose style, a sort of subtle magic realism infusing even her essays. I’m sampling and loving it, alternating between Maitland and Sherman Alexie, between two very different views of displacement and loss.
Both authors are concerned with the impacts of colonialism and the erasure of culture and ecosystem. Alexie is funny and angry, Maitland subtle, quiet, and thoughtful. Reading them concurrently creates a rich conversation between two brilliant writers, a dialog reaching across gender and culture to explore and examine the ongoing loss of what is precious.
Near the end of his memoir Alexie realizes, with the help of a friend, that his parents refused to teach him his tribal language because they loved him. They were among the last fluent speakers of the Coeur d’Alene language, and Alexie imagines they wanted to spare their children the burden of holding a dying language. He also wonders whether they hoped to ease their children’s entry into a fiercely racist world.
Reading this passage I was reminded once again of a dream I had years ago in which my father’s mother came to me and explained she, her mother, and her mother’s mother had erased our Native heritage so that we, the children, could be safe. This dream remains a bittersweet marker in my journey and an explanation for displacement.
Perhaps displacement is simply part of the human condition, brought on by war, climate change, and simple greed, a sanitized word for expulsion and loss. Perhaps we humans have always been on the move, forever seeking home. Maybe, just maybe, we are all moments away from becoming the wandering stranger, the crip, the homeless.
I wonder whether difference threatens us because we know we, too, are subject to the whims of fate, that tomorrow we might find ourselves cast loose from the safety of an intact body or home, that we are each and all a moment away from loss, exile, and desperation. Perhaps it is simply too painful to remain aware of that, to see in others’ lives that which may befall us.