Posted by: sulya | 3 December 2011

Conversations With Grain and Guest

This last summer was challenging.  I mean it was challenging in a profoundly middle class way and I am mindful of that but it was challenging nonetheless.   There were fantastic car breakdowns at hour 12 of a 14 hour drive with three children and one teenager leaving me alone with all of said offspring on the side of a highway while the tow truck whisked the other half away to the dealership with the broken vehicle.  There were epic family fights about which the six year-old has since said, during a conversation about how people sometimes fight but it’s actually how we fix things that matters most:

“Yeah, you and Aunty  yelled at each other a LOT and then we were allowed to come back in the house.”

There was the cause of that argument which is rather old as it was heralded into existence as I took my first breath and created the family categories of “second child” and “little sister.”

There was a severe infection in one of the children and a genuinely scary case of bacteria-IN-THE-BLOOD pneumonia in the grown man.  Pneumonia, I might add which was misdiagnosed as a flu by a GP and left untreated for two more days with fevers that could only be broken for 1 hr at a time with 5 advil and 4 tylenol.  It was only properly diagnosed when I had had it and decided we were driving right from the farm to the hospital in the city where someone would be able to provide fluids immediately, if nothing else…

There was a solid month of house painting and renovation and de-cluttering to put the condo on the market where I did all the painting myself while everyone else was at work or summer camps.  Probably due to the fumes, but perhaps also as a result of the longtime tendency to personify inanimate objects, I wound up in rather deep closeness and conversation with my paintbrush.

“Why are you talking to your paintbrush?” I would be asked when people got home.

“Who else would I be talking to?”

“Okay, then…”

There were midnight stints waiting for rural police officers to come away from Domestic Abuse situations in other small towns to check whether or not a community store had been broken into.  There were disappointments and tensions galore.

And at a certain point I felt as though I really had no one to talk to at all and like I had been taking care of everyone and everything with no one taking care of me and that was, frankly, to eerily familiar a feeling.  And it spooked me on top of the drained and sad and self-pitying…

The house was quiet, the sick mate was asleep, the one child we had with us was 10 and contentedly playing and watching TV.

So, I went to get some fresh air and clear my head and wound up at the top of the farm’s Cessna, runway surrounded on three sides by grain as tall as my hips, my waist.  The closest thing to me was the farm house nearly a half mile behind me.  I had the spooky and liberating thought, a city girl’s thought:

“There’s no one to hear you scream.”

I started to pace.  And rant.  And yell.  I truly, truly lost my shit.  I was screaming and screaming at that grain and the endless sky and everyone and anyone who had ever wronged me or anyone I care about with a fury I had not expressed that way maybe ever but certainly not in a very long time.

That grain got quite the earful and, as it turned out, it was not alone.

I had landed on my knees, in tears, exhausted, only to stand again because my stillness had encouraged mosquitoes to find me.  I turned to head back to the house and saw an animal, as gold as the grain in parts, low to the ground with a darker stripey mask marking around its eyes.  It was out of the grain on my right and frozen by the sight of me as I turned.

I froze too.  Lowered myself slightly so as not to seem too intimidating but kept my distance because it was clear this animal was frightened and it was equally clear to me, somehow, that it was a carnivore.  A threatened feeling carnivore.  I was aware and grateful for the awareness that it was – at this time at least – more frightened of me than I was of it.

It turned and moved back toward the grain.  Stopped.  Looked at me again.  Turned and moved back toward the grain again.  Stopped.  Turned to look at me again and make sure I was not moving or following.

It disappeared into the grain.

I started to wonder at what it might be.  I had never seen one of its kind before, that I knew.  After a while, certain that it was gone, I began to walk back toward the house.  Fifty feet in front of me the animal broke the boundary of grain on the right, bolted to the other side of the runway and disappeared into the grain on the left.  It had booked it up the side of the runway on the right to be clear of me and still cross over.

The sight of it, so earnest and fearful, made me laugh a little.  Not because I find another creature’s fear amusing but because the fear was so entirely unfounded.  I had no interest in harming the creature, no more than the presence of humans already harms most animals.

It was this unbridgeable misunderstanding which made me laugh.  The universality of it.  The near hopelessness.

When I got back to the house, I did a Google search on a handy laptop and found this photo by Gerald Romanchuk :

Photo borrowed specifically from HERE

What I saw was a BADGER.  Given I had never before seen one and given the farm is on both Cree and Blackfoot territory, I decided to see if I could find any stories or myths about badgers.  I didn’t necessarily find ones pertinent to those tribes specifically but I did find this, written by Ina Wolcott:

Badger symbolises aggressiveness, reliance, self-expression, holding ones own, link to the underworld and the magic and mystery of creation, link to plant and animal spirits, fearlessness, boldness, braveness

The power of the badger lies in is its aggressiveness and the readiness to fight for what it wants. On the flip side, the badger is also about healing – they are the keeper of Earth’s healing herbs. Badger will persevere in finding a cure. People with this power animal are often healers and have the guts to use unconventional methods.

And that’s just the first two paragraphs.  Read the rest HERE if, you like.

I read those two paragraphs.  I considered what I was doing right before  I saw the badger frozen near the grain.  I considered who I have been, who I am.

I whispered to myself:

“I summoned that badger.”

I grew up in a house that yelled.  We shouted and argued and yelled.  Sometimes it was fun and part of debate.  Other times it was just painful and trying and full of emotions one or the other of us couldn’t really understand or handle.

The long and the short of it is that I am not afraid to raise my voice but, as it turns out, I am terrible at expressing anger – at even acknowledging to myself that I am angry – until I am  pushed so deeply into it that it is articulating me more than I can possibly articulate it…

Since the badger, though.  Since I summoned a badger.  I am getting better.

Last night, in bed,  in our new house where we do not share walls with anyone, in a house that did not have any kids in it.  I yelled and ranted and raved.  I screamed until I cried.  I screamed so loudly at one point I couldn’t quite believe it was my voice I was hearing.

It was not, in any way, an ‘indoor’ voice.

I was not alone this time, though.  And, I chose to let all of it out.  It didn’t just happen to me.  I chose it.

And when, on the flip side – exhausted – I asked this man I now share my life with if I had scared him, if he was regretting his choice to be with me.  He said:

“Of course not,” he pulled me more tightly to him, “you need to talk to the badger once in a while.”


Mr. Romanchuk and Ms. Wolcott, if you are in any way upset with my borrowing your photo or words for this post please email me and I will immediately remove it from the site.  I have no interest in breaching copyright, only sharing your work in the body of my story and cannot possibly afford any fines so please do let me know as soon as possible if you would like me to take it down or remove the copy. 

Thank you, T.O.I.R.



  1. Screaming. In my third year of my undergaduate degree I learned just how important and valuable it can be to just stand and scream your head clean off. I’ll admit my problems have never been anything other than thoroughly middle-class and small on the grand scale of things, but eff it, they were my problems and they mattered to me. Sometimes you just gotta let it out. And if you have an awed audience, all the better. Especially if they’re of the weasel family. Even better still if there is a human listening who might actually be able to acknowledge and help with whatever caused the screaming in the first place…

    I miss your regular writings but I presume the infrequency is due to a rich and active off-line life and i wouldn’t have it any other way! I hope I am right in thinking that all is and must be well with you.

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