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In the Shadow of the Sleeping Elephant

Tracy (Elms) Merrill was born in Port Aux Basques and still calls it home. She resides in Conception Bay South with her husband Boyd, a Gordon Setter called Elsie, and cat, Mauzy. You can read more of her musings on her blog:


Special to the Wreckhouse Weekly

Sprawled beneath the Long Range Mountains and cradled within an ancient glacial valley, lie the fifteen communities that comprise the majestic Codroy Valley. There are many words to describe this place but none better than the simplest term: green. To make home here is to plunge headlong into every possible hue of green, from gently rolling emerald fields, lime-green meadows with swishing yellow grasses and the twitch of horse’s tail, upward to the hunter green backdrop of spruce laden mountains.

When I was a young girl, my family did just this. We settled, like dew onto grass, into this peaceful sea of green. For me, the year we spent in beautiful Tompkins, felt like a long exhale beneath the softest of quilts. We slept in the shadow of the “sleeping elephant” that my imagination had conjured in the mountains behind our house. Several rock slides had left a trail of boulders down the cliff face, demarcating the “ears” of a resting giant stretched loftily into the air.

We had relocated often in my brief twelve years, often living a drifter-type existence, drawing up stakes whenever the chase for employment dictated. Having spent the entirety of my elementary years bouncing from one community to another, a complete year within one school was a priceless gift.

Looking back, two things stand out from that time.

First, the relative ease with which I settled into a circle of friends. Having repeatedly been ‘the new girl’, I had become socially timid and perpetually worried. Have you ever stood before a room full of peers and been announced as “new”? “Please make Tracy feel welcome, class” was a sentence that I heard with silent dread. Trust me, if given an option, I would have preferred the quiet, gentle blend into my new setting, not the abrupt introduction.

The terror that I felt on each first day, and there were many first days, was all consuming, an absolute visceral sensation. It began in my knees and gutted my insides; it ended in a clenched jaw that quivered and eyes that watered. To be new to a school is to be vastly adrift and alone.

In the Codroy Valley however, existence as the new kid felt surprisingly short lived. A hiccup of momentary discomfort. Within mere days, perhaps hours, I was enveloped into the pocket of my class. I felt I belonged, that I was an important cog in the engine of the grade seven machine. Outside of school, the easy acceptance continued. Unlike in past communities, there were no distinctions based upon age or popularity: if you wanted to join into the fun, you joined in. We were a circle of children of all ages. Everyday was an outdoor day filled with swimming in the chilly Little Codroy River or spirited baseball games in the grassy field near our house. Spotlight and hide and seek predominated in the evening hours, in the woods next to our rented bungalow. Looking back, I remember happiness and lightness from that time. This sense that I belonged was life changing.

Of equal importance, that year I fell deeply in love with the world. As a very small child, I loved the ocean. I delighted in watching small boats cut a path through ocean swells, accompanied by enamoured, squawking seagulls. I was blessed to be born in a time when this was a familiar scene, threads in the fabric of a typical Newfoundland day.

A dreamer, a reader, I spent great swatches of time cocooned in imaginary worlds. My favorite place was the hammock in my grandparents’ yard. Contentment was the sway of my tiny self in tandem with the spin of the earth, the salt breeze across my freckled face, Nan’s daffodils nodding their “sprightly” heads in time beside me. I heard the world and imagined that the world heard me, swinging, dreaming.

While living in the Codroy Valley I was finally of an age where all the wonder in my little soul could take action. I was old enough to explore, to take the show on the road, so to speak. The valley world was open and safe. I could explore and no one worried that I was alone. As long as I answered Mom’s 4:30 supper holler, I had freedom.

I remember skipping through meadows of knee high grasses with book in hand while blue sky touched my hair. I leaned on ancient fence posts and got lost in Nancy Drew adventures, or one of the many teenage romances that mom brought home from her job at a neighbourhood store.

I passed lazy afternoons watching billowy clouds race across the horizon. I chased little fishes in shallow pools, learned to swim and discovered the joy of lounging on a pebbly beach while the sun dried my skin. I skipped rocks, learned that the flattest, thinnest ones travelled the greatest distance. I walked the railroad tracks, hopping from one tar-soaked tie to the other. I flattened pennies on the iron rails, waving like a lunatic at the train conductor as the train sped by and whooping with delight when I located my penny in the gravel near the still hot tracks. I realized I could hold my hand on the bars to “feel” the train, long after it had passed me by.

I walked endlessly on rural roads, edged with dandelions, buttercups and wild daisies. The hum of bees was the background music to a sunny day. I became a part of the dancing trees, their movement constant from the winds steered from mountain top to river valley through the expanse of sky. I learned that I was not separate from this space, but of it.

I breathed deep. I breathed full. Felt wonder. Felt acceptance.

Much time has drifted by since then. Yet I have not forgotten how it felt to immerse into the fullness of the everyday.

Recently I found myself trying to recreate that wondrous feeling.

Elsie, my loyal setter companion, and I walked our usual path, the sun bright above us. In what feels like an aberration this year, no wind stirred the trees. The rain-bloated river gurgled merrily next to us and birdsong followed our steps. A glorious morning unfolded in front of me. Yet, as has been the norm for this past year, my head was full of the mundane and the worrisome. For the duration of this pandemic, I have coped by lining up all of my various “ducks”, rearranging them by importance or urgency status. I’ve planned and organized, arranged and strategized. I have kept atop of news, educated myself and prepared for the worst. My brain has not emptied, not rested in a seemingly long time. Now that the worst of this past year seems to be lagging behind us, my brain struggles with acceptance. It is difficult to let go of the worry and the anxiety, to find a more relaxed footing. “Normal” approaches, but will I ever feel normal again?

So, during today’s walk, I attempted to find some of the lightness that infused my grade 7 year. I remember that feeling, the contentment that pervaded my days, like salt through ocean water. I longed to grab it and hold it, to make it mine again.

I watched the world around me as I walked, grounded my wayward mind into the present over and seemingly over. But like the skipped rock of my childhood, my thoughts bounced and scattered, settling on nothing.

I came to realize several things. First, it may take some time to undo the worry of this past year. Patience may be required. After months of held stress, jaws are slow to unclench, shoulders resist dropping from ears. This is OK. From my yoga world, I am reminded of the niyama, Samtosha. Everything is fine. All is well. Accept and be grateful.

Next, I realized that I cannot recreate the “happy” of old. In trying to reforge a past feeling, we chase it from reach. That unique sensation belonged to a twelve year old girl on the cusp of her first forays into adventure. She deserves the abundance of those feelings.

My 50-year-old self has lived much life since then. That unique period cannot be mine to retake. I’ve outgrown it. I am a different version of that girl. To strive to that same experience is to do myself an injustice. Instead of trying to sift salt from the ocean, recapturing the impossible, I can appreciate the NOW. The joy that is offered up in THIS day.

So, Elsie and I began a jaunt. The dictionary defines jaunt as a short excursion or journey for pleasure. When I speak of jaunt, I think exuberance: a bounce in the step, a wag to the tail. Elsie and I did exactly that – we bounced and wagged. We had a chat. She smiled sloppily at strangers as is her wont to do. We dipped our paws in the crisply cold river. We watched a robin, unencumbered by our norms, bare its breast to the world as it flew above our heads. We took deep breaths. I forgave myself when my thoughts meandered back to worries and I breathed deeply. Again. And again.

Reset. Return.

While it wasn’t the Codroy Valley and I wasn’t an innocent, skinny twelve year old, with cowlick still untamed and book in hand, it was good. It was the beginning of a newly minted happy. No essence of the past permeated it. It was shiny and new, subtle and fragile. But it was mine.

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