Poetry and Place: A Hidden Music

One of my favorite places on Salt Spring is the southern edge of the island in Ruckle Park where a trail through old growth firs and arbutus trees along the coast offers expansive views, pristine beauty, and an entry into the mysteries of the Gulf Islands, a rare ecosystem of unique flora, fauna, and sea life. I’ve been coming to park with my partner, Phil, since the late nineties when I moved to the island, thus it seemed fitting to launch my new poetry book The Way the Light Enters by Black Moss Press here on an afternoon in October.

Our group gathered in a farmyard near some of the historic barns erected by the Ruckle family, who settled the land in 1872 and a century later donated a thousand acres to the B.C. government for the park.  Given the light drizzle, I read a poem called “Learning to Love the Rain” written after my first campout here. As we huddled under a shelter, I read a few more poems inspired by visits to the park, interspersed with the honking of turkeys wandering around us, then we headed down to a stone-pebbled beach in Granny’s Bay. Everyone sat on giant washed-up logs while I offered poems about other special places on the island: a sacred well known for its healing qualities, a First People’s reserve with a stumped tree altar, a museum that housed native artifacts including a bone-carved soul catcher, the highest mountain on Salt Spring where initiates held vision quests.

Yet it wasn’t’ until we climbed a trail along the coastline to a flat rock under the firs that I felt the power of poetry and place merge to work their magic.

Everyone settled quickly on rocks, mounds of earth, and against trees while I offered poems about a rare orchid that blooms once every twenty years, a ferry ride to the island under an arch of rainbow light, and a “creation story” poem about Haida Gwaii. Inspired by a chief who visited Salt Spring for a talk on the famed archipelago in northern B.C., “The Raven’s Song” seemed to open a portal to the underlying layers of this place. When I read the last two lines: people began to dance and sing new songs/to all things wild and beautiful, one woman let out an audible ahhhhhhh into the silence.  I looked up to see bright eyes and shining faces in the light rain.

Our last stop was farther along the trail at a campsite under a giant old-growth fir whose boughs touched the ground in several places. Here I read a poem called “The Edge of the Island,” which speaks about ancient songlines/still alive with hidden music and from the remarks of many on the walk I knew they’d attuned to the “hidden music” of the poetry and this sacred place.

The next day most of the symptoms of the shingles I’d been recovering from for the previous month, as well as a bout of vertigo, vanished. A line by Rumi in one of the last poems I read at Ruckle Park seemed true for us that afternoon: Awe is the salve that will heal our eyes.