Earth Art to Honour my Ancestors

Last summer I participated in a Morning Altars workshop with Day Schildkret on Salt Spring Island. I loved everything about it: sitting and listening to the land, asking permission before foraging, making art as an offering. It was deeply satisfying to be in conversation with Life in this way. Around the same time, I began connecting with my ancestors in various ways including with the expert help of Shauna Janz. When I took a trip to my birth land in Southern Ontario In October, I felt drawn to visit the graves of my ancestors, some for the first time. It was a natural fit to use earth art at the graveside as a hallowing and deeply relational tribute.

These photos depict that journey over 3 days and 4 cemeteries. For my father I brought a pebbled piece of concrete broken down from the pier he built on Lake Huron, sugar for sweetness, water from the lake, grass that he planted to prevent beach erosion, and cedar for healing. For my mother’s parents: thistles and lamb’s ear—the prickly and the soft for a challenging but love-filled life, and corn for the prairie summers. For my father’s parents: sand, driftwood, and a multifarious collection of pebbles from the shores of Lake Huron, as well as flowers from my grandmother’s garden. For the earliest settler on my father’s side, and his descendants: red maple leaves, and feathers for lift. And and for my suffragist great-grandmother: bread and roses.

Some of the grave markers were buried in grass and dirt, the stones obscured with lichen. I spent time cleaning and clearing and then building the altars. I prayed and I wept. Day expresses the feeling I had, what that experience meant to me, in his book Morning Altars:

“Gifting is reciprocal, and what makes this an altar is that it carries your intention to give, bless, wish, and pray. With your intention, the beauty becomes nourishment to feed all that has fed you. Creating a Morning Altar is about understanding how much you’ve been on the receiving end of the gift of life and demonstrating that you do not take that gift for granted. Your hands and heart have created a beautiful gift to give back to this life so that it can continue on. That is how meaning is made.”

Day Schildkret is coming to Victoria to offer 2 workshops: June 22nd for families, June 23 with our neighbours on the street at Our Place. I hope you can join us.