Build Your Own Adventure…
Rajan Rathnavalu, the founder of the annual Spirit of the Land Conference in Camrose, Alberta, asked us to consider what Mirror Lake means to us. Camrose itself has many iconic images which highlight the tranquillity of Mirror Lake as an enduring natural element in a small but growing city. The swans are one of those such images, as is the fountain in the southernmost basin of the lake. These tend to be how the lake and city are presented in promotional material, the ideal view of Camrose. These kinds of photos are the selfies in the mirror in perfect lighting with all the right accessories, at just the right angle that are then edited, a filter added, colours more vibrant, until the image is perfect, but in no way a reflection of reality. They are images purpose built, but we are after something more genuine…
Connecting to the lake is like building your own adventure. The choices you make of how to engage begin to set your character on a path of interaction with nature. I’m not saying one accidental candy wrapper that blew away transforms your life into one of littering and disrespect, but gradually the little decisions of everyday build to the bigger connections we have in our lives. Connecting to nature can begin as we might connect to someone else: spend time together, listen deeply, ask questions, and never stop learning. If it is a relationship you plan on developing, that person is worth putting the time into. If our natural areas are worth keeping, they are worth taking the time to connect to.
Getting to Know you…
Hi. I’ve seen you around but never had the chance to talk to you before now. Someone said you’re having a bit of a hard time recently, and I thought I would see what I could do. I know I don’t really know you. I mean, everyone knows of you, you always have pristine shores, you’re surrounded with tall old trees. You added a bit of bling recently due to peer pressure; it’s not my style, but it seems to suit where you’re at right now. I’m sure it won’t last forever, though if you don’t like it. I’ve sat with you before. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed. But then, I haven’t really ever tried to get to know you. I mostly just pass by. I can’t imagine how you feel. Sometimes the world feels like it is spinning so much faster than I can hold on to, and you’ve seen much more of time passing than I realize.
A Fling with Nature…
Who am I to you? I’m a fleeting dream momentarily flickering across the surface? Here for a moment, here for a season, and once more to pass on to another? My heart has never truly belonged to you, though I claim you’re my type, that I care. You draw me in but I hold back. I don’t let myself get attached. You have a habit of changing over time. Changes I cannot be part of. You all do. This cannot be love, merely a love affair. Convincing myself I care. That something beyond affection is there. I lie to myself as I walk away, never looking back. But you know. You tease, you constant that shifts, never yet always the same. Am I your type? Did you ever commit? Do I see my mistrust of you a reflection of me? I refuse to see that I am part of the problem, yet I know I am. I never could read your mind. Hear your thoughts. You never talk to me. But I never talked to you. I never bared my soul, opened my heart. I stood. I wandered. I pretended to look but I only saw the surface. We never got to know each other. I never tried. What does it take to truly connect?
The Power of Imagination…
There’s no denying that the nature of spirituality can be contentious. For some, spirituality represents the irrational delusions of the religious desperately trying to escape reality. It can be seen as the privilege of upper-middle-class suburban soccer mom’s or the perpetually flip-flopped west-coast surf shop owner. Maybe it’s a mere feeling or ineffable emotion, or something else that can be easily explained away or trivialized. But there can be another side too. There are others, those few who have suffered greatly, or searched desperately, where spirituality isn’t a mere privilege, but a deep-seated connection to the life-sustaining world around them. How can spirituality occupy such a large spectrum? And can commonality be found? Perhaps it can be found in imagination.
I would argue that imagination is humankind’s most powerful tool. It can level mountains, put men on the moon, and commit genocide. It can build cities in the desert, liberate millions, and feed the hungry. Imagination is powerful, but it doesn’t act alone. It can be steered, this way or that, to perform masterfully, or perpetrate atrocities. In many ways, the goal of this project is to help steer imaginations. To not just tell history, but to reimagine it. To not just tell the story of what the lake is, but what it can be. To help create relationships with the lake that are not superficial, but spiritual, grounded in a realization of mutual need. To do that, a beginning step is being genuine.
When you listen to Rajan Rathnavalu talk about his connections to nature as relationships, it is easy to hear him speak in a genuine voice. It is palpable when you talk to him. Imagination grounded in reality, spirituality grounded in experience. All genuine. When one considers the lake, it is our hope that they will consider their imaginations as well. What imagination has done, and what it can do. A genuine self-reflection, and hopefully, a spiritual connection.
Sources cited on this page
Camrose and District Centennial Museum, Accession 2009.65.510, image, (Colour, fountain looking north, 2001).
Camrose and District Centennial Museum, Accession 2016.6.89f, image, (Colour image of swans on the lake, printed 1985).
Gwendolyn Bracken, personal collection IMG_0501, image (Vacant bench north side of Mirror Lake).
Oscar Hammerstein II (songwriter), and Richard Rodgers (composer), “Getting to Know You,” The King and I, 1951, sung by Julie Andrews, recorded 1992.
Rajan Rathnavalu. Interview by Gwendolyn Bracken and Curtis Rempel. 22 March 2018. COPLAC Digital Nature Writing Project. Camrose, Alberta. Personal Collection.
Rajan Rathnavalu, personal collection, IMG_1258.jpg (Leaves on the ground),
Rajan Rathnavalu, personal collection, IMG_3378.jpg (Frozen Lake, looking north-west over pedway)
Rajan Rathnavalu, personal collection, IMG_1379_2.jpg (Setting sun, west end of the lake)