A Pilgrim in Ireland by Frances Greenslade - Excerpt
A Pilgrim in Ireland
A Quest for Home

by Frances Greenslade


ON A DYING-DOWN Indian summer day, I turn off the highway and climb the winding road to the Medicine Wheel. We’re in a valley hemmed in by hills rimmed with silhouettes of feathered firs. Tepees and tents circle the grounds and except for the line of cars parked in the shade of the trees, there’s no reason to believe this community hasn’t always been here. I am Irish Catholic, and this tradition, though adapted and altered from another time and place, is my husband’s, not mine. But I have been welcomed to it so warmly that my trusty Catholic guilt, which adapts itself to any occasion, has left me for now

I am part of the neophyte vegetable-chopping crew, led by John, a professional cook who rises to the challenge of making do in our makeshift kitchen. Pots clatter, laughter bubbles like soup and across the field comes drumming, low and steady like a heartbeat. Burning maple pops and hisses and the wood stove kicks. A blue flame flickers on the propane stove. In the half light of falling dusk, Alex, with lawnchair wings folded under each arm, improvises a joyful eagle dance across the wet grass. Tonight there’ll be seven of us in a tepee, stretched out in our blankets, edging closer to the fire as the night chill comes down. We’re telling jokes into the dark, passing around the late-night junk food, laughing till we’re sore, as one after another drops exhausted into sleep. This place—the jagged conifers, the people, the smell of wet earth—this feels like home.

Autumn equinox. The first night. A large circle of friends and strangers stands around the sacred fire that will burn for four days and four nights. The damp British Columbia night licks at our backs. Mist and wood smoke hang over the field like ghosts. Anyone who leaves the smoke is swallowed up in the mist and disappears. Above the mist, tepee poles stretch into the dark sky like old bones, glistening with dew in the moonlight. Coyotes yip from the hills. We lean in close to hear the soft voices of the Elders, steady, calming, water running over stones in a stream. They tell us the ancestors are close, and if we listen we can hear them speaking to us.



Back to top