By the end of this week I will have been in Val Marie, at the convent, two months. Originally, I asked for a month. But when the first thirty days rolled around and I informed Mette that I’d been here that long she said: ‘Well, you’re the only one who’s counting”. It’s that kind of place.
It’s also the kind of place where, if you get lost looking for an unpublicized buffalo jump and you wave down a truck or a farmer and ask for directions, you’re apt be given a free map. And not just any map, one of those township maps with geographical sites and parcels of farms marked off like squares at a big country wedding buffet- something at which I’ve both attended and worked since arriving).
“You drive here, turn here, go through this gate, end up here”, said the bearded man who left me with his pen and his map spread open on my car hood.
“Wait! You forgot your map…and your pen!” I yelled, a couple of times, above the wind.
he got into his truck, stuck his head out his window and grinned. “Keep it! You need it more than me!” Then he waved and drove off, leaving me with a map, the land, and a lump in my throat.
A guest from Mexico, nestled into one of the sitting room couches, confided in me one night: ” I like it here, it reminds me of Mexico. People don’t give you what they have extra. They Give you what they have! It’s sure not like that everywhere.”
As for writing: it has never been this easy for me to write eight hours straight. The silence in this room expands beyond the borders of the building; it’s not as though I am in a tiny enclave of quiet with the busyness of Toronto or Chicago swirling around outside of me, pressing to get in. The silence extends and expands inward and outward.
So, this has indeed become a place to begin practising in earnest the disciplines of the desert mothers and fathers, the monks of Gethsemane, the sisters of Assumption: the disciplines of Silence, Solitude, Stillness, Fasting (I’m on again off again on that count. On a day at the Harvest Moon Café, where I’ve been asked to work the occasional shift due to a sudden loss of staff, I tend to accept the generous meal that comes with it), Prayer, and Slowness.
Although I’ve tried to lay low, I can’t resist invitations to meals, hikes, jam sessions. Sundays I run across the highway (highway 4 is a narrow paved road, as opposed to the wide gravel thoroughfare that is Centre Street) in time for mass and after we try to have a coffee, even a potluck, to bring back fellowship and community. Theresa leads the hymns. Caspar rings the bell. Tony mows the lawns and keeps the sparrows from nesting under the church doors and pooping on parishioners.
Wing night is every second Wednesday at the Val Marie Hotel, a kind of saloon, where there’s a ‘no cameras aloud’ policy ever since the ladies curling team from Montana came up and apparently behaved lasciviously after a bonspiel here. People come from all over for Aline’s four kinds of wings. I’m partial to the salt&pepper ones. It’s a good night to catch up on stories, both old and recent, and drink cheap beer. When I first arrived Theresa and Caspar took me to wing night to help me meet folks who may have known my mother. They are not rich folks, so the gesture was incredibly generous and sweet and typical. People give what they have around here, not just what they give extra.