by Dr. Celeste Snowber, PhD Professor
Program Coordinator in Arts Education
Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University
my belly moves to earth’s pulse
listen to the land
Our bodies are the earth. The earth is our body. In my practice of walking, dancing and writing in connection to the landscape and seascape is where I keep living these words. My body is the earth – the earth is my body. At first my practice of walking the edge of a shoreline park at the cusp of land and sea was enough. Here I emptied my busy mind and gave in to the rhythm of my feet to the land, and my nostrils to the scents of sea and coniferous woods. My eyes and heart learned from the creatures, which blessed this part of the world: herons and eagles, seals and slugs, and bears and seagulls. These were my companions for two decades raising my children on the edge of wild in the suburbs. In this place, I accessed my own wild heart, one which called out to something larger than myself. The inlet’s path hugging to the sea became my sanctuary. This was the cathedral where I returned to every day with my black lab to find solace, insight and inspiration and to return to the pulse of my own body. Step by step I touched the lifeblood of breath and in return was touched by creation beckoning me to inhabit fully the earth’s offering.
DANCING IN THE ALPHABET OF CREATION
Walking was eventually connected to the practices of other forms of artistic expression. Out of these forms came syllables and words forming poems that were site-specific to the landscape. Walking and writing became inextricably linked. I walked. I wrote. The words deep within my belly and breath formed from the rhythm of my feet to soil. I heard another alphabet from the land and sea and took these alphabets to the page. Eventually it was not enough to walk the earth, I had to dance there. Whether walking or dancing the earth, I was in partnership with creation, moving to the pulse of the land and tides of the sea. Hafiz, the 14th c. Persian poet says, (In Ladinsky, 2010, p. 152).
There is no spot on earth that ever became sacred until something danced there; maybe it was just an atom or two.
The inlet became my studio, where creation spoke to me and through me. The creations from this “studio” took several forms. I created a site-specific performance of poetry and dance connected to the ecology of this place. I shared my work with others: undergraduate and graduate classes, the public and friends. I brought them on an hour and a half contemplative walk in silence, sharing the poetry and dance emerging out of this site and in turn asked them to let all their senses be awake to this Pacific Northwest land which spoke a language all of its own. I was launched into understanding something very different about the intersections between ecology and the body through these experiences. Just as climbing my tree when a child changed my perspective and perception, so did site-specific performative work transform my relationship to the breathing, living and creating. We need to sit at the earth’s feet once again and hear the ache of her land.
WE ARE MADE OF STARS AND SCARS
We are the land. The land is us. We are the water. The water is us. We are not separate from the earth, but part of it. We are all made up of stars. The physical world is shot through with the pulse of the holy. We understand this viscerally, deep in our bones and under our skin, there is a sense that we are all part of the DNA. We are all made up of stars. Physicists and oceanographers speak of such things, and there is much scientific evidence to corroborate these ideas. I need to know things in my viscera; in the text of my body. I did not just need evidence. I needed evidance. When I danced, I knew an ancient knowing that I was part of the earth. I am earth.
Have you danced enough under the night sky, at dawn’s opening light in the fields, forest, or on the edge of stone? Indigenous cultures have known the power of dance outside in creation for time beyond time, but we have forgotten the ancient wisdom. Theologian and poet, John Donohue wrote, “When we walk on earth with reverence beauty will decide to trust us.” (2004, p. 24). I have let beauty trust me and have taken up dancing in forests, rivers, beaches, parks and gardens, wherever the natural world calls out to me. I am fortunate now to be the Artist in Residence in the UBC Botanical Garden and create site-specific performances of dance and poetry in each season and share with the public. What started very organically continues to find a wider place to share these embodied connections to the larger world. I often wonder how long the plants and flora have been waiting for someone to dance there.
Why is it sanctioned to jog, run, walk, hike, talk, chatter as we walk on the paths of our designated nature trails, but dancing is for fools? We see the leaves dance, the wind dancing, the water dancing, so let us join the dance. Why do we limit ourselves? This is the question I ask over and over to myself and to others. What if we didn’t limit ourselves, and let expressivity have its place? Who knows, perhaps the trees are asking for us to salsa on the path, or do creative movement on the sand. Let us dance as children do playfully inhabiting creation. Creation inhabiting us. Through dance and other forms of movement we come to know the deep truth under our skins that we are not separate, but connected. Where else to understand this but through our bodies?
LIVING FROM SKIN, STONE TO SKY
What I feel in my body, I feel in the earth. There is a crisis of perceiving the earth as something as consumed and used. To begin letting this glorious sensuous earth into your bodies is a place to shift the tides. We are living from skin to sky. The scars of the land are within our bodies. Literally, we bear the consequences of toxicity and pollution, as we bear the glory of feeling the wind in the hair, the moisture on the skin and the fragrance of spring in our nostrils. It is all one. We admire rock, stone, canyon with marks of burnt umber and sienna, charcoal gray and notice the beauty of age. We are attracted to what is worn and ancient. People go from all over the world to find places where stone stands in its majesty. Yet, we do not seem to treasure our own scars, whether they are from accidents, or incisions from operations, or just age. I have always loved the artist, Mary Blaze’s work who is on the front cover of my book, “Embodied Inquiry,” which this chapter is in. Her marks are exquisite, bearing the beauty of marks on our bodies. What if we could look at the marks on our aging bodies or young bodies with scars and see the wonder of the canyon lands? Treasuring the fragility and strength as complimentary pairs of being human.
You have marks all over your skin
gradation of pigment of burnt sienna,
burnt umber, terracotta, clay lavender.
stretch marks on stone,
beauty squared infinite tongues of light.
We don’t often treasure our own marks as yours –
scars, birthmarks wrinkles of age
but you Canyon, teach us to honour
the marks on our flesh
for they too are
shaped from climbing
into life and here too is a place
RETURNING TO THE EARTH’S INTELLIGENCE
The busyness of our lives on this planet, has made us vulnerable to forgetting. The body remembers and calls us back. Just for a moment, right now, pause in your reading. Remember a place, which called out to you, beckoned to you as a child or even as an adult. Perhaps it is a garden or seascape, or prairie, or a small patch of land in your backyard. It could be one tree. One tree can hold the world. This place is your place of refuge.
Dr. Celeste Snowber, Photo by Tamar Haytayan
Let yourself for a few minutes, find the place you know is the earth’s intelligence. Live inside the memory in your body, which may define a sanctuary amidst the natural world. In some small way, invite yourself to return there. What do you smell? What does the sensations within your body feel like? Take a few moments to pause into the preciousness of this place. What calls out to you here? What is it you already know deep in your body? You can go to this same place with your body and mind for retreat.
One of the reasons we don’t make time for practice like the one above is that we see them disconnected from our daily work rather than part of it. Being responsive to email is just as important as being responsive to your heartbeat and to the pulse of the natural world. May we not only be responsible, but responsive and let our bodies remember our way back home to the earth. Our body is the earth. The earth is our body.
Celeste Snowber, PhD is dancer, poet, writer and award-winning educator who is a Professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University. Celeste interweaves multidisciplinary forms in her performances and published works and attention to embodied ways of inquiry has been central to Snowber’s scholarly and artistic work for over two decades. Among her books are Embodied prayer and more recently Embodied inquiry: Writing, living and being through the body as well as three collections of poetry. Her most recent book of poetry, The marrow of longing, explores her Armenian identity and has been published with HARP Press in Spring 2021. Celeste creates site-specific performance and has been the Artist in Residence in the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden creating full-length performances connecting poetry and dance out of each season. She has performed across North America and Internationally in a variety of venues, including concerts, galleries, museums, conferences and outdoor spaces. She can be found at www.celestesnowber.com.
Personal website: www.celestesnowber.com
Newest book: The Marrow of Longing
Ladinsky, D. (Ed.) (2010) Hafiz: Daily contemplations. NY: Penguin.
O’Donohue, J. (2004). Beauty: The invisible embrace. NY: Harper Collins).
This chapter was originally published in my book, Snowber, C. (2016) Embodied Inquiry: Writing, Living and Being through the Body. Rotterdam/Boston: Sense Publishers (pp. 71-81).