Author Archives: Shalan Joudry

Shalan Joudry

About Shalan Joudry

shalan joudry is an oral storyteller, poet, ecologist, and mother from the traditional district of Kespukwitk (southwest Nova Scotia). She lives and works in her community of L'sitkuk (Bear River First Nation) with her family. Using her theatrical background, shalan brings Mi'kmaw stories to a new generation of listeners, as well as recounting personally crafted narratives that follow Mi'kmaw storying custom. Of both Mi'kmaw and European ancestry, shalan weaves these worldviews in ecology and her writing.

Elapultiek (we are looking towards)

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Author’s Note: Set in contemporary times, a young Mi’kmaw drum singer and a Euro-Nova Scotian biologist meet at dusk each day to count a population of endangered Chimney Swifts (kaktukopnji’jk). They quickly struggle with their differing views of the world. Through humour and story, the characters must come to terms with their own gifts and challenges as they dedicate efforts to the birds. Each “count night” reveals a deeper complexity of connection to land and history on a personal level. The full version of Elapultiek is published by Pottersfield Press (2019).

*

Scene Three: Wi’klatmuj

 

BILL: I wasn’t sure you were coming back.

NAT: Tet.

BILL: Ready for another count night?

NAT: E’he. Katu ki’l?

BILL: I assume ay-hay means yes.

NAT: E’he.

BILL: There, I’ve learned a word in your language.

NAT: As you should. It’s the first human language of this land.

BILL: Cloudy, 100 percent cover, but not raining.

NAT: I don’t see or hear any swifts.

BILL: No.

(Silence)

BILL: I brought a video camera tonight in case you did come. I thought maybe you could be in charge of getting the video for me. I’ll check the count on slow-motion later. (Hands her a video camera.)

NAT: Sure. I’ll verify your data.

BILL: Well, I’ll take it home and watch it.

(Silence)

NAT: I had a few youth out here last night. They had a great time.

BILL: You came an extra night?

NAT: Ya. It was really wonderful.

BILL: Did you count them?

NAT: No. We just enjoyed watching them. And then we sang a friendship song.

(Silence)

BILL: Geologists say that these hills of the Appalachian were once as high as the Rockies. And since, over all that time, they’ve slowly eroded, worn away so that they’re now only hills. Incredible. Just think: we humans have been on this earth for such a short amount of time by comparison. What’s great about talking about the science of the landscape is that it renders cultural differences moot.

NAT: The mountains and rocks are the oldest and wisest. That’s why our Elders teach us to call them grandfathers and grandmothers.

BILL: I’m not sure how wise a mountain is.

NAT: Why do you have to be so oppositional to everything I say and believe?

BILL: It’s you who is being confrontational. You’ve been passive-aggressive since the day we met.

NAT: I’m here for the swifts. I still don’t see any.

BILL: There’s a chance that the swifts didn’t even leave the roost this morning if it was raining, or they went in early today because of it.

NAT: They might be in the roost right now?

BILL: It’s possible.

NAT: Then why aren’t we going over to check?

BILL: I’m starting with protocols first.

NAT: I’ll go over and check. Oh, and please don’t touch these things here.

(Nat EXITS. Bill shuffles, looking over at Nat’s things)

(Nat ENTERS)

NAT: Yup. They’re in there already. I heard them chattering like when they’re flying. I wonder what they’re telling each other. Maybe where the good food is or tips on where to go tomorrow.

(Bill puts his things down)

BILL: I’ll go have a listen and be right back. Please watch the sky, just in case.

NAT: Obviously.

(Nat watches sky and hums while Bill EXITS briefly. Bill ENTERS)

BILL: Yup, they’re in there already. The count is over tonight. (Examining his things.) Hey, where’s my clipboard?

NAT: You know, that reminds me of a joke I heard.

BILL: What?

NAT: What do you call a deer with no eyes?

BILL: What?

NAT: No-i-deer.

BILL: What?

NAT: Koqowe?

BILL: You want me to go away?

NAT: Mo’qwe. Koqowe means what.

BILL: Are we having a conversation?

NAT: I know I am. I’m not sure about you.

BILL: Back to the beginning. Do you know where my clipboard is?

NAT: Mo’qwe. No-i-deer.

BILL: I must have dropped it.

NAT: Etukjel. Or a wi’klatmu’j might have taken it. Probably thought you were writing down forest secrets.

BILL: A what?

NAT: A wi’klatmu’j. A little forest person.

BILL: Like fairies and leprechauns?

NAT: Similar, yeah.

BILL: So you’re telling me the Little People took my clipboard?

NAT: Not little people. Person. One. It just takes one to run off with something like that.

(Bill looks around.)

BILL: Did you see anyone?

NAT: Mo’qwe. I was looking for renegade swifts. (Silence) Hey, what do you call a deer with no eyes and no legs?

(Silence)

NAT: Still no i-deer.

BILL: This is ridiculous. Fairies don’t exist and you singing to the trees or speaking in code talk doesn’t do anything to help protect these species. I’m just trying to get my observations. It might just be a game for you but this is my life’s work here.

NAT: Good luck with that.

(Nat EXITS)

*

In scene four Nat begins a ceremony which makes Bill blurt out his plans for buying the property. In the middle of the argument a raccoon appears on the chimney before going into it.Many swifts still descend into the chimney, most coming back out, though some didn’t. Both Bill and Nat decide to come back the next night to check if the raccoon is there again.

*

Scene Five: Roost Check

 

(Bill ENTERS and prepares. Nat ENTERS with extra gear)

NAT: I’m ready for you tonight, Amaljukwej!

BILL: Hi Nat. Let’s not argue tonight.

NAT: I’d like to tell you what I’ve decided.

BILL: Yes?

NAT: You say you’ve been working on species at risk for many years but from what I can tell the situation isn’t getting much better. It seems that all you do is measure things. I sat and talked with the fire, which is my methodology

BILL: That’s not a—

NAT: I’ve decided that I won’t count the swifts with you tonight. You can do that with your mainstream eye, but what I need to do is use our cultural teachings.

BILL: That’s what I’ve been saying: let me do the biology work.

NAT: I’ll need you to count in your head because I need silence.

BILL: Fine.

NAT: Good.

(Both look to sky. Some birds are trickling in, Bill makes notes. Silence)

BILL: How do you think we know when to list species as being at risk?

NAT: You pay attention.

BILL: No one is observant enough to know all the species and their relative abundance and relationship to threat.

NAT: My family still spends a lot of time on the land.

BILL: You still live in houses and drive in vehicles, I assume. We all live a little less connected. We count them. Biologists count the population, map them, and then make recommendations when they seem low. Like these birds. There they go.

(They watch the birds funnel in chimney. Nat is in an active listening stance)

BILL: I think that’s all of them.

(Nat comes out of her stance. Bill counts his tally.)

BILL: We’re down 17.

NAT: They’re in crisis. They need two things.

BILL: Oh yeah?

NAT: We need to offer tobacco to the fire to send them hope.

BILL: That’s not a recovery action.

NAT: If you take time to humble yourself and talk to the fire, you’ll find it helps the work. Try it. You’ll see.

BILL: What’s the other thing they need?

NAT: We need to hold a public meeting in town to get everyone involved.

BILL: We just need to stick to the count and make recovery plans. Stewardship and citizen science are blown out of proportion. “I Love Swifts” buttons aren’t going to help.

NAT: I’m going to organize it.

(Silence)

BILL: If there is going to be any kind of discussion about the species, then I should be there.

NAT: Ok, then come.

BILL: I still didn’t find my data sheets from the beginning of the season. I need to send them in to Maritimes Swiftwatch.

(Silence)

BILL: You don’t know what happened to my clipboard, do you?

NAT: Mo’qwe. Of course not.

BILL: Just asking.

Three Decades of Silence / Wiklatmu’jk

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Three Decades of Silence … and Counting

I remember sitting alone on the edge of the soccer field, where the land turns up, hill-ward by the school fence. I remember letting the distant cheers and loud chatter of the others drown themselves out while i daydreamed and wrote stories or poems. The freedom to wander in my mind, there alone, was intoxicating. When i was new to the next school along our many moves across the country, in finding my essential solitude i would resort to sitting in a bathroom stall over lunch period, until weeks later when i would find a secure spot outside in the yard. I needed a safe place where i would not be coerced into playground games. I didn’t want to run and play tag or soccer. I didn’t want to hop scotch with the girls talking about foolish things. I just wasn’t that kind of child. Or perhaps it was the paralyzing shyness that prevented me from being physical in such a public place.

I didn’t know then that eventually i would become so dedicated to being a storyteller that i would one day enrol into the Native Theatre School in order to be seen and heard in public spaces to share stories. Though today there is only silence, this computer, and you.

My mother reflects back on my demeanour and my need for solitude as she recounts the story of our house in Yellowknife. Even then she understood mothering three different children meant three variations of mothering styles and for me meant unpacking the storage cubby under the stairs so that i would have a private, silent, space. I had a table and a lamp. I remember creating shadow puppet shows on its walls and once, only once, opening the door for my family to watch.

Not coincidentally, two events struck ground at the same time in grade six: my mother was cautioned i needed to work on my social skills; and i became a published poet.

After the flurry of sharing my poetry and short stories with children’s magazines, my teachers, and my family for two years, i stopped writing, much to my mother’s disappointment. (It was, after all, my mother who helped me work through spelling trouble by writing children’s books together. Through her own writing, my mother taught me to use words on paper to create our art.) The truth, however, was that i simply stopped sharing my writing as it was bringing me uncomfortable attention and expectations. I let the silence suck me back into being.

If it were not for that special kind of silence that i find addictive and nourishing, i would perhaps not be a writer.

A Giving Heart by Tammy Lewis

A Giving Heart by Tammy Lewis

Without another person forcing me present, my mind wanders and in that space the words form, like a painting. Sometimes the canvas is blank when i sit down to write, while other times it comes to me half-shaped while i’m in the middle of something else, like showering, doing the dishes, or buying groceries. When i was in my early adult life this was fine: an idea would come and i would pause to take out my notebook and sketch the phrasing out. I would hold the distant chatter of a public place as static noise while avoiding talking with people until i later returned to my apartment and finished the piece.

That certain kind of silence for too long in cities became a poison, turning too close to symptoms of depression. I was overdosing in alone-ness, in the static chaos of urban life. No longer were the boundaries clear between the healthy doses of solitude for productivity and those kinds that were gently suffocating.

For an introvert and a writer it is a bit of a leap to agree to share a life with another person, however, you do. We find ways of creating balance between sharing time and space but then also retreating into oneself.

Then i became a mother.

I lost my silence, my retreat, the freedom to let my mind wander and thoughts which map out stories and poems in unexpected moments. None of that existed for me any more with a toddler and a baby. The cost of something so beautiful, such as mothering, was to lose part of the fabric of my identity.

While my daughters were little my spirit was starved for that place my brain goes to write. People would offer to take care of the girls, but there was always a mountain of things to choose from that also needed my attention. Instead of letting my mind wander among a silence, it would be sleep-deprived, making practical plans, working, and worrying about my daughters/planning for their return.

I remember a day when i stole some time to daydream. Usually, i would stifle the words wanting to be painted with. But this day the girls were at preschool and i was working on a contract file, preparing a report. Yet other words were seeping in, arranging themselves in the back wall of my thinking and so i stood up, went outside on the back step in the summer’s air, and soaked in that special silence. I stood there without calculating anything else as though i were twenty again. I believe a smirk came over my face, a feeling of infidelity with a stolen luxury.

For years it was this way: stories and poems would die just after their birth while my daughters interrupted me, i was simply too exhausted, or other real life of adulthood ceased the flow of words. Not having access to creative silence was bothersome. Slowly, bit by bit, i would steal moments and instead of sleep i would write. Just a bit. Just to stay sane.

I have more access to silence now and i’m regaining balance. There are more opportunities to finish a thought from inception, through daydream layers and back again to end cycle—completed, and leaving me climbing off the narrative ride. I think i even still giggle a little when i catch myself free-floating.

Not every parent can be away from their young children for an extended vacation. I would prefer not to, yet here i am, having said yes to their family trip abroad without me. The house is cold without their voices that have grown integral to my world. I miss even their bickering and their calls in the middle of the night.

There’s all the silence i want but it doesn’t sound right. It’s not filled with their laughter outside as i’ve ushered them out to play. There isn’t the hum of their sleep while i stay up an extra hour before bed or get up an hour early. Our routine kept me focused, kept me connected. Their voices nourished me.

Now i’m overdosing in silence in the waiting. So here i sit. With you. My story.

Good night.

 

Wiklatmu’jk

my daughters fold hours of work and play
as art, philanthropists preparing
goodwill offerings for the wiklatmu’jk
they know must still be there
how empty the forest is without the people
how sterile our lives

my stories were once the birthing space, improvised
teachings, meticulous but careful
how much i pressed on, the seriousness of this art
some days the veil so thin between truths
animating what only mothers can

now i sit witness on the periphery
their abounding joy focusing their hands
while i’m mourning my own belief
an unraveling that comes with age
unveiling the earth’s tricksters misplaced

i have little magic left to cause
into my daughters’ malleable world
confirming mythology’s last umbilical cord

when too many days were mute
and my children asked
i could only but take them to the trees
it’s up to you to find a wiklatmu’j
maybe they’re in a different shape