I’m moving to my new home today. It’s a piece of raw Canadian Shield – an acre of sand on the shore of the Burnt River upstream from Kinmount.
The property itself is nothing special – mix of flat open field and white pine woods with a tangle of undergrowth and a sampling of birch, cherry, poplar and a few hundred million mosquitoes.
It’s what the property is next to that is the added, extra-groovy bonus. It’s what makes me glad to be alive and in Ontario and what makes me feel like I’m truly going home.
Three Brother’s Falls is a set of magnificent (not too strong a word) waterfalls that spill over a rise of granite. Not found on any roadmap, this local secret special place has a feel to it that reeks of – how to put it? – “power”.
I can easily imagine it a thousand years ago as a place for seasonal gatherings of disparate tribes camping on the flats high above the falls, coming together to fish, trade stories, and renew spirits in the roar and spray of the falls. So it is today.
It’s the sound that soothes my soul. You can’t see the falls from my acre but you can hear them. When my Dad heard them he told me “you spent the first year of your life with that sound in your ears. The manse at Magnetewan was within earshot of waterfalls.”
This explains a lot. It explains why I could live right on the edge of the Don Valley Parkway and not find the constant roar of traffic a problem. I found it comforting. It explains why as a child I could sit in front of the snowstorm screen of the TV waiting for the first magic of the day – and the static rush of white noise strangely fed me.
It explains why – when I sit beside rushing water – my batteries get charged as if I’d plugged into a source of AC current.
That’s exactly what I did for three afternoons last week. I climbed the heart pumping cliff and descended to the foot of the third fall where a rust brown flat rock outcropping faces upstream. Lying on my back in the sun I was below the edge - but just above where the third final plunge of water meets rock bottom with a terrific rapid roaring intensity.
Tons of dark dropped river transform into billowing surges of white exuberance. And - like holy smoke rising, waves of spray lift into swirling breeze’s patterns – dancing recollected songs of those who’ve been this way before. They tell of things unseen and circles still unfolding.
I choose this spot because it’s intensity is too much. As I first climbed down to this place I just wanted to leave right away. The thundering power put my senses – sight, sound, smell into overload – and in my heart there rose an anxiety – as if my whole world – the very ground I stood on – was about to be swept asunder and pounded senseless down onto unforgiving rocks.
So I knew that this was exactly where I needed to be.
I sat and focused on the place where falling river meets rock bottom. The spot where the rubber hits the road. The moment when all that has been – all that will be – finds me – an immovable rock that can/must only prevail – take it all head on or lie dead asleep to the day.
I inhaled deeply all that the river brought to me. Mostly what I get makes me think of Tom Wait’s song “Misery is the River of the World”. The pain of the whole world comes at me in a neverending, unceasing, bewildering rush. I inhale just what I can – breath by breath, minute by minute, - and find that I can do it, face it, receive it without being swept away.
My heart is filled with the suffering of everyone I know and everyone I don’t know – every sentient being suffers. To suffer is to be a part of Gaia. To intentionally inhale and take one’s place in the web of suffering – to let go of the urgent instinct to escape, run, hide, medicate, obfuscate, distract at all costs our attention from this neverending flow of misery – is to come home, find rock bottom, be at peace with … it all.
All this pain – the great blunt genocidal, suicidal evidence of the ages convicting the human heart – and the fine white-hot needling sting of my own stupidity inflicted on those I love most – flows and flows.
The roar deafens my ears to the voices that would take me away from the heart. The thundering force drums into the very granite a vibration that imperceivably resonates in my bones and shakes from me the last of my defences.
Heart opens wide to the grief I’ve buried and carried – treasured and hoarded as my soul possession – as that which defines my own sad story. And in the magic flow of misery and mystery I lose even this.
Is where the Irondale and Burnt rivers meet any different from where the Tigris and Euphrates join? Are the waters that flow in that war torn place of mythic Eden any different from the accumulated sorrows of tributaries, creeks, streams and underground trickles that run past the villages and homes of GOD’s people here? While we bite back the weeping for fear of losing ourselves to it, the MAKER’s tears flow freely for us.
I open my eyes at the instant a strange duck with yellow head skims off the edge of the falls and arrows over my fingertips. On I go – shot from womb to grave to sing songs in the short flight of this era’s day.
Trees lift branches in renewed spring greenery. Rooted in sorrow but made to rejoice. Each year adding another ring beneath the bark.
My heart is the rock – grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love – unmovable except for the grains I have to give to add to the sandy shores where I’ll make my fool’s paradise – home sweet home.
When the season turns again, disparate tribes will gather here to fish, trade stories, and renew spirits in the roar and spray of the falls.
In the meantime, as Tom Waits encourages: “misery is the river of the world - everybody row – everybody row”.
(listen to the song in the link below here)
asphalt fish photo from Richard Choe (see web link in the column beside here)