Haida Gwaii, most people know it by its previous name, the Queen Charlotte Islands. When I told people I was going there I mostly had to add that last bit. It is a group of Islands that lie up north, out from the BC coast across the ocean from Prince Rupert…Alaska and Russia are out in the far distance. God’s country for sure, His people, His creation…an amazing place of ocean coming together with land, inlets of water ways and tides letting in and out, in and out, skies above, clear and crisp and blue.
The sky goes on forever, the clouds telling the story of what is coming next, always changing, fog rolling in and rolling out, making way for clear skies, bluer than blue. The stars lighting up the nights, bright, sparkling, peeking, small clouds of stars laid deeper into the heavens, all of them looking down to all of us; standing, looking up, breathing in the crisp night air...framed in by trees and silence.
The trees stand tall stretching out windblown, branches whipped, boughs bent, and trees held there by roots that will not let go. But some of them do, roots exposed, reaching out wishing for the soil they stood in. Some of the trees are weighed down with moss, moss that hangs like sweaters, blanketing the branches that have lost their own foliage, gracing the forests with soft green warmth and maybe a bit of eeriness too, perhaps holding the secrets of souls who passed by centuries ago, over the ocean and onto the rocks of this windblown land.
The rocks come in with the tides, small round rocks that have been rolled around by the waters of the ever changing ocean, some of them shaped into hard agates, all of these waiting to be found and polished and kept in jars, made into jewelry and laid deliberately along the paths, together with ever abundant sea shells, lain on benches, beside graves marking the sacred places of loved ones lost and buried in the ground, here in Gods Land.
The ground itself calls out with words of the souls who have walked here and those who walk here still. Every path leads to places where the land changes to water, water coming in and out, again and again. The land worn and sanded and etched by the years of salty ocean water, all filtered by sand, the sand filling in all the empty places between the grasses and rocks and then wrapping around the edges of the shore stretching out to the places where the ocean never ceases and sometimes only the waves see.
The waves; waiting for the boats, kayaks and canoes paddling out, the surfers who try to ride their crests and the fishermen who try to master and catch the life inside…the waves; calling out to the Island people to come and see what they see.
The people wear their heart on their sleeve and their soul sits right there too. Everyone smiles and waves, everyone smiles; they look in your eyes to see if you are looking, really looking and smiling too. The people are not so busy that they are in their cars getting to the next place but they are going, whether in their cars or on foot they are going to see who else is there, smiling waving seeing. People taking in life, respecting the land, honoring traditions and families taking care of one another, some of them for generations, living laughing loving always loving.
Sandspit, Queen Charlotte, Skidegate, Tlell, Port Clements, Massett and Old Massett…the villages called home by First Nations people, by others who came to log, by those who came years ago with army assignments and those too who came to visit and never left. An Island made up of islands, protected by its people and guarded over by the Totems carved with eagle and raven, whale and crests, each pole telling a story; inspirational and beautiful holding onto the traditions of history.
There are two Totems that stand out in Old Massett facing out to the ocean; at the top of them are carved three watchmen, they are said to be on guard ever watching, protecting the souls who live there…a comfort to many, those out on the water and those who wait on land.
The minister of the small Anglican Church in Old Massett, Lilly Belle, surely a saint, shared with us about being watchmen over one another, taking care, loving, and giving grace just as God, Salaana, is the Watchman over us all.
Haida Gwaii, a carved and landscaped island made up of saints, souls and watchmen.
I love that.