Some experiences make us feel like we are contracting and expanding simultaneously, caught between wonder and our own insignificance. It might be the sight of an unimpaired horizon or the glowing cross-section of the Milky Way stretching like a spine across the sky. In Holly Day’s “Canadian Shield,” we are humbled by time.
The author presents us with a community of organisms that has won its existence over spans of time we can’t really grasp. It is primordial and persistent. The flowers dig “roots into greenstone and basalt” and are anchored into the very bones of the landscape. They have weathered all the waves of succession and are the millionth generation. They belong.
In contrast, the presence of the narrator is wholly alien and our customary relationship to land is upended. We are suddenly outsiders. It isn’t “to whom does this land belong?” but “do we belong to this land?” The recognition that we don’t almost stings. We couldn’t possibly, blink that we are, because nothing counts in this place but roots in rock and aching, era-long survival.
And yet, isn’t there something hopeful even in the birds’ desperation? Once interlopers, haven’t they carved a niche through continued survival? There’s a sense of earning a deeper belonging over time. It’s an expansive concept, elegantly contained.