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in the salmon's shadow

SpruceRoots Magazine - November 2002

Lichen blooming on Spruce trees.

Tlell me about it

by Michell Deakin

I am tidying my children’s bedroom and see the sculpture.

Looking closely I recall its story.I remember a piece of art made earlier by two children, David and Preston Sloan, for the Tlell Art Show. It was made of moss, a bit of fern, a bear, an eagle, some PlaySkool figures out for a picnic and it was set in the context of wooden rainbows, letters to a river and the life cycle of a shipwreck. At the show my children and I explored new words like ecosystem and watershed. Having been to art galleries and openings before, I knew that images and words would be filed somewhere in my children’s minds for use later.

Later came sooner than expected. The day after the art show we started hiking the Pesuta trail, bound for the shipwreck, but the trail held too many intricate adventures. We only made it part way.

Sabina started it. She picked up pieces of this and pieces of that. When I asked her what for, she said, “I’m going to build an ecosystem!” We gave up on reaching the shipwreck. Instead we smelt trees and fungus, soils and lichens. We squished our boots in creek muck. We looked for otters, watched for bear and celebrated the song of the Winter wren. We looked at snags, touched moss blankets, ate lunch and let the wind cleanse our palates. We spoke our thoughts, colours and ideas, and left our words for the river.

Later, at home, with big ideas like ecosystem, ecology, watershed, and connections, little hands emptied their bag of forest findings onto the kitchen table. They mixed bits of moss and bark, lumps of lichen, twigs, feathers, and bryophytes felled by wind with stories of tall trees, sounds and adventures. Ben and Sabina built their own ecosystem. They recreated their Tlell.

They told me tales of interconnections and sounds. Ben heard the water trickling in the creeks, the Winter wren and the ocean waves. They told me about the colours, how people fit into a system and spoke of the wind.

But a 6-year old vocabulary couldn’t suffice when it came to telling me how they felt. The experience was too big. Sabina tried but frustrated said, “I just can’t describe it.”

So back to the sculpture we went. The feelings came out there, not through words but through joy and laughter, sounds, and the connections they had with the place.

The sculpture still sits in a place of honour, a little dry now, but powerful all the same. At first blush it seems just a three-dimensional affair, but when you lean a little closer you hear the wind, the winter wren, and my children’s laughter running through the trees. •

SpruceRoots Magazine - November 2002