C Magazine


Issue 136

Where I Learned to Weave
by Meghann O’Brien

These writings are reflections on growing up in the Kwakwaka’wakw community of Alert Bay, where I also learned to weave. After we moved away, I returned each summer with my family for the commercial salmon fishing season. One year (2007) I brought around a typewriter with me everywhere I went, including on the fishing boat and into the forest. When I look back on the writing from this time I value it so much. Because, I feel like at that time I was the kind of person that the weaving wanted to give itself to, or trusted itself with.

  • Haida baskets.

I feel like the weaving took root in my heart as a worthy place to flourish in, and lately I find myself wondering if I’m still that person. It offered so much, but to translate this skill from another time into the capitalist structure we exist within poses challenges. The weaving has been my hiding place, quiet, private, intimate, the place where I can love the way that I want to, and that is why I treat the tradition with such respect. I wouldn’t go back and take out my original weavings from that time to make them perfect aesthetically. They carry the same weight if not heavier than current work, even if the exterior expression is more re ned now. In the same way I wouldn’t want to heavily edit these words. They stand as are. I see them now as in protest to the english language and the world it evokes into being and its lack. I may be abiding to tradition in my weavings, but the english language is something that was violently imposed on my people. I take free reign in assembling the colonizers’ language in any way I feel fit to do so.

There are such gifts of the past so valuable, that they must be repeated. There is the weaving of cedar bark and I wish with my heart to learn of it. To learn such means of practicality. I desire to wear the love of my ancestry as a headband on my head that comes down to a basket who was woven for berries. I have a certain desire to sleep after this. I have a desire to compose boxes of bent maple or cedar for the storage of herbs and weeds from the sea and berry cakes of all kinds. And things such as dinosaurs and guts from the sensitive type of man who loves. The kinds of love offered are terrible. I despise the love as it exists between humans on this planet. I want love like it is shared between roots and the soil.

21. yesterday was the 5th july, Thursday. I worked on the net and made patches with a needle and tar twine, and Billy was drunk and had scabies. At his house Jared was cutting the lawn for beer money, and I was gathering clover; only especially ones who were very colorful. When the time had come for finishing the net for the day, Billy and I went to gator gardens swamp and he showed me the means of stripping cedar bark from trees and bending it for carrying. His son Kyle was four now, he stamped his feet to that certain rhythm from the log drum at the big house and started singing in kwakwala. Billy said he was praying and singing songs for the trees while I took it’s bark.

Then I went and gathered more rose’s petals. I seen Dorothy Daniels, and I collected salmon berries, and the sun had a beautiful time, I think, in the sky. It was evening now, I was by myself, we were together on the other side of the island that is more empty than the other. This side of the island is looser, it looks at Malcom Island, although they do not have eyes. It was so lovely last night, just so. It is so lovely here tonight, I’ve spent this evening by myself, it was nice out and the clouds were out too. My salmon berry cakes were ready when I returned, so I took them out and put new ones in. Then that night I am stripping the outer bark from the inner bark from the cedar trees bark. Is it that you are weeping for the naked flesh of the living tree unclothed? It was dark by then, there was cakes to be made from salmon berries, and there was a pot of honey wine to be made. And rose petals to be laid down then, down in the spare bunk. My dad said the roses made them smell good like roses. I felt pleased at this yesterday.

24. July 7th, 2007.
Today I went to Jeanette’s parents house and picked some of their raspberries. On the way down I found my way to some salmon berry bushes and was gathering a few of those when they came alive, the whole bushes when I looked into them they just began to be bursting with berries. And I picked them, then some leaves would rustle or shift and then and then awhole new bunch of perfectly ripe huge berries would jump out, so shiny. They were so shiny, and dark and soft, . I made my way into the thicket. It was so thick, so old. There was an opening, and the prickles were surprisingly prickly. There was so much old dead twigs under there, it looked really excellent. Then there was the main trunk of the bushes, a few of them, they were so awesome. When the salmon berry bushes get older, their trunks get thicker. There is an outer skin like paper or bark that forms, like a arbutus tree. And it grows sideways, shooting up shoots straight up in the sky, so from the outside it looks like the bushes just grow straight up. But they don’t they grow very sideways with the shoots straight up. They make it look like the bushes grow up, not sideways. It was so thick with skinny dead twigs all in the underbrush. There were
some dead looking leaves, slightly brown colored and crinkly like foil paper, and then these berries hanging everywhere, like being inside a salmon berry Christmas tree. It felt like I was inside the heart of the salmon berry. It felt like the salmon berries had come from the centre of the earth, and that it was the energy from the centre of the earth, the heart of the salmon berry spirit. The thicket felt and looked like it was really old, it was magnificent and I miss it already. It reminded me of the thicket that was beside the house I grew up in. That thicket we used to play in it every day when we were little. Me and Kimberley and Andy Wagald. He was my first friend. I think me and him played together more in there than Kimberly and I did, or more than he and I and she.

Aug 5th, Finally I have made it to the forest near the beach with my typewriter. I find myself fond of small lilies in this step forest, an interest towards the way they grow, their beauty makes it hard to stand being alive, they have a pattern, owing, it is flowing, the way similar to how the heart would flow, if it could contain love.

there are straw grasses too, green ones, the typewriter sitting on quite a hill, this hilly forest with an ocean underneath it, and rocks who are larger than they appear from a distance.

There is devil’s club, i was sifting about the lillies and green grasses when i got a small blue jay’s feather, how lovely, i like the devils clubs presence, and the ferns, who have their powdery seeds all lined in a row on their undersides, fidgeting, this is a lovely place to be. My basket looks good here, too, I went for a brief walk up the slope. A slug has made friends with the typewriter while I was absent. Then I sang songs to the devil’s club and i watched it in the breeze. Then the sun went behind the mountain, and I decided to walk to the rocks down the slope to go back to the boat to sleep or skip rope. I keep fear about the kinds of beauty that wakes us. I have finally made it to the top of the boat at dusk with my typewriter. And now, look, I’ve nothing to say. Except for how the mosquitos are out and perhaps its time to hide under sleeping bag covers for the night.