My name is Travis Niskigwun. I belong in the north - on the shore of Lake Superior and in the Shield beyond. I belong where lakes are still the eyes of the earth, and where the shadows of invisible beings move on the snow in the moonlight. I belong where there are bears and spirits still...This story comes out of the Lake and returns again. It’s many stories. It has many beginnings as the Lake.” (pg 5 in Wayland Drew’s “Halfway Man”)
My story comes out of the ocean and returns again. Its many stories. I’ve always loved standing beside the shoreline, wind harsh. Flapping everything, my hair, and jacket billowing. Blue-grey waves unrelenting - meshing life’s power and fragility into a rhythmic motion - tracing the sand with froth in its wake.
This is where my heart feels most held. Standing on the edge; life open and mysterious as it circles forward. Salt in my hair. Sand on my toes. The cold. The foam, the waves, the ripples and the gurgles. “Look at the sunset,” Grandma used to say when we leaned against the railing on the deck, “Look at how the sun always sinks into the sea and rises again each morning”. Her fingertips echoed strength. Her grasp was firm; I could feel her love in the folds of my sweater.
I hadn’t seen the ocean since before Aaron died. Barefoot in the moonlight – toes numb and tingly from the water – I dip my hand to taste the salt. This shoreline hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be free. Here, I come to know that the circle always ends where it began:
“A Search… for something seemingly more beautiful and expansive than the endless wells of grief and the day to day mundane. Something to allow the heart wrenching nature of loss to make sense to a child who didn’t yet understand that sadness is just part of the equation of love”.
The ocean, the "something". Beautiful in a different way: life giving, nourishing, and ferocious. Turning towards the water, where all life comes from. Bare toes in the sand, and surrounded by bright moonlight suspended in the blackened sky. Same windswept brown hair, here, as eight years ago before Aaron died. Same feet, toes, hands, and the same heart. A circle comprised of salty tears and a whole lot of love.
East Coast Trail 2018
It was grey when we began. Fog in the hills but soon the water softened to blue and you couldn’t tell where the sea ended and the sky began. Life blown up on a canvas, everything was intensified: aching feet and back, fear, and confidence. I had forgotten how to listen to my own body, everything was raw and real. Blisters. Tears. Sweat. Blood. Laughter. A sweaty, cold and tired body and nothing in the world was better than cured meat, hot lentils and dry clothes.
I didn’t use to believe that I’d make it in life. Make it through the day without being surrounded by posters of my teardrops. Or make it to a time when my heart learned to laugh outside the confines of its inevitable, dark truth. He’ll still be dead. Whether or not I let love back into my heart; or push it away in fear of losing what could never be permanent anyway. But here we are, eating lentils that are too spicy on a flat patch of grass in the company of seagulls and ravens and the pink light giving itself away to the water’s embrace. Blistered feet, aching toes and a body that’s beginning to remember itself.
One day in a meadow of wildflowers bordered by waves, the child in me came out to play. Unbraided my greasy hair and let it flap in the wind, while the child oblivious to the pain of someone dying, frolicked freely in the breeze. And every night the sea lulled me to sleep: a lullaby that lets go – waves crashing on rocks- eroding time.
On the trail I found compassion for my body. A deep gratitude for my body’s ability to carry me across the land. Feet that could walk hundreds of kilometers. A spine that could carry a backpack. Legs that could propel me up and down cliffsides. There were no big standards or expectations to amount to other than being a kind and thoughtful human being.
And in the most Eastern Point in North America, Cape Spear, I remembered:
That life does not always go from pure dark to pure light and back again. What is most plentiful is the existence of the in-betweens – when light and dark dance together. If you look closely, you can see that moment at day’s end, when light and dark take hands and begin to dance – the rolling hues of gray beckon you to let go and find comfort in the songs of the seabirds, the rhythm of the waves and in the heart that’s remembered how to listen to its body’s own truth.