Spirit Quest


Disturbed ground: Archeaology of the heart — and of the Spirit

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

There wasn’t much sand and earth left. Forty winters and summers had passed. Snow, wind and rain had removed what used to be mounds of the stuff that had been excavated from the well. They had to dig very deeply to find water and even then there wasn't much to be found. We had to pump the handle 80 times to get a pail of water. Those mounds had, once upon a time, been my world. I had civilized this wilderness with roads, tunnels, even a waterless port where I docked my imaginary ships. Cars and trucks were recognizable only to my mind. I had constructed them from pieces of wood and came alive in my imagination.

There were only two realistic vehicles, one, a rubber airplane,  a Bata plane just like the ones I saw at the Prague airport. Mother had bought this toy at the very modern Bata Shoe Store on Wenzelaus Square in the heart of the city a few days before our departure for Scotland in 1938.

We didn’t have much baggage inasmuch as we were refugees fleeing from the German invasion of our homeland. Father, wanted by the Gestapo, had already left and mother and I had to wait for the first transport of women and children. It was a tense time, only a few weeks before Christmas. We wondered how and where we would be celebrating this happy family  festival, hopefully reunited with father.

The other toy was a little blue van, a Dinky Toy, which I had received for Christmas from our wonderful hosts in Scotland. Plane and van were easily stowed into my backpack when once again we were on our way, this time to across the ocean and almost a whole continent. Our new home was an abandoned homestead in northern Saskatchewan.

While I civilized those two mounds of sand and earth what existed behind me was anything but civilized, log shacks in various states of decay, no glass, no toilets, no electricity. Somehow we endured these privations for three years. In the depth of winter we departed with the same cases with which we had arrived.  My father had preceded us to find work and a place to live in Toronto.

That last Christmas mother and I were totally alone. Mother had a way of making a home out of a few boxes and suitcases, pillows and blankets. We even  had a Christmas tree decorated with scraps of coloured paper. Mother had made a tent with one of the blankets under which we huddled on those cold nights, my dogs at our feet providing warmth. Between us we had a box of chocolates which father had sent. We told stories to keep our spirits up.  The log cabin as much as possible had  become a home.

Forty years later I returned to that farm. I had been to Edmonton and rented a car to take me to the farm in order to see what was left of the place. It wasn’t easy getting there. It had rained for several days prior to my arrival and the roads were what is known as prairie gumbo, a substance akin to chocolate fudge. They weren’t good at any time, mere ruts mostly.

As I approached the farm, 160 acres of sandy soil, rocks and poplar trees, the road became treacherous. I got mired in mud up to the hubcaps. Somehow I extricated myself and backed to the next intersection. I wasn’t about to give up my mission as the farm could be approached from the other side. This time  I was more cautious and when I saw open water on the road ahead I stopped. At this point I spied what must have served as a way to bring farm implements into the field. It was gravelly and I felt it would be a good place to back in and turn. But when I stopped and looked into the rear view mirror I was surprised for what I saw was our field, easily identified by the swamp or slough, as the natives called it , in the middle of the field. I was home.

I abandoned the car and walked along the path that years ago I had followed daily on my way to school. After half a mile walk I saw them or what was left of them. Two walls of the barn still stood and the rest had collapsed inside. The cabin however resembled the game of Pick-Up Sticks, just a bunch of logs and boards tossed together.

As I surveyed the wreckage I discovered a friend. I recalled that as a child I was impressed by a very thick chunk of a log in the wall of the cabin. I had never seen a log of that size, it must have come from quite a distance for there were no trees of that measure in this vicinity. There it was resting in the pile. By this time I had sunk deep into nostalgia and the log seemed to greet me as an old friend.

The well was no longer in existence. I would guess that it had been filled in to prevent animals or humans from tumbling in. However, I could see where it had been and beside it there was some sand but the earth mound (now much smaller) was still very much in evidence.

I stood there taking in the scene of my former civilization which had once again returned to wilderness. Like an archeologist I decided to prod the dirt for artifacts. With a sharp stick retrieved from the pile that had been my home, I began to dig or at least to poke into the ground.

Suddenly I struck something solid, a rock perhaps, though in my heart I wished for something more exciting. I didn’t have to dig too deeply when I was able to get my tool under the object to lift it out.  When I reached into the hole to pull it out I immediately recognized a Dinky Toy, my van. Years ago it had been left behind, missed but not forgotten, when I departed for the east.

The blue paint was pretty well gone but the body was intact, a bit rusty but the wheels still moved, not smoothly, nevertheless rotated on their axles.

I stood there with the toy in my hand, like a mourner bearing an urn of ashes. I don’t know how long I lingered before I heard a voice in my head urging me to leave. It was getting late and I had to walk back to the car and then drive two hours to a motel.

But there was another urge that made itself strangely apparent, “Return the toy to the earth where it has rested all these years.”  A part of me wanted to take it along, however, I resisted and gently took the van and reverently placed it in the ground, covered it with the soil in which it had been found. I stomped it solid and then turned and slowly walked away.

I have some nostalgic connection with this area and occasionally employ my Goggle Earth to zoom in on the farm. I can see the field and the swamp but the logs are gone. Around it I can see disturbed ground.

I am reminded of those ancient Roman roads in Britain that can be seen from a plane running like scars across the countryside. The ground on which our “buildings” stood is likewise scar tissue, disturbed ground.

There is a grave there that holds a little toy filled with childhood memories. That child still lives within me as a reminder of a distant way station on the journey of my life. There is a spirit that guides us on our way. It does not promise a safe or easy road but assures us that we are not alone. Welcome that spirit into your life.