by Barbara Belknap, Matrix Convener
It’s been a little over two weeks since we celebrated our Gather the Women annual circle gathering at Trent University in Peterborough, Canada. I am still savoring the love, the laughter, the tears, the music, and the conversations we had. Mary Cunningham of Sierra Vista, Arizona, Donna Ahlstrand of the North Bay area of California, Joy Adams from Orange County, California, and I (from Juneau, Alaska) rented a car in Buffalo, New York, and drove to Peterborough.
We only have about 30 miles of road north to south in Juneau, so I volunteered to drive. There was much laughter and chatter in the car all the way, but Mary focused first and foremost on being The Navigator. Late the night before, in our hotel, we were able to print out a map from MapQuest. Mary’s job was to hold those papers tight and guide me from the border to Trent University. As you can imagine, there was a lot of laughter until we got to Toronto. Then it was all business getting me through the city. We missed one off-ramp, and I was able to zip off the freeway, and get back on going the right way.
As we drove through Peterborough, and got closer to Trent University, our excitement and anticipation grew. We were going to be reunited with our friends from South Dakota, California, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. We were going to see our dynamic Canadian friend and sister Convener, Diane Jung, and meet Jennifer Ball and Susan Bird in person. Those three women, along with Heather Plett, planned the 2012 GTW gathering, and we all knew how much work that was.
I met Jennifer at last year’s GTW gathering in Racine, Wisconsin, but did not know she was an author. In our Boutique (where women brought things to sell), I bought a book she co-authored called “Doing Democracy with Circles – Engaging Communities in Public Planning”. I’m big on community building and am looking forward to reading it. We also had our Silent Auction with donated items from the women. This is how we raise scholarship money for our next year’s gathering.
Thirty-two Canadian women and ten American women sat in circle together. Boundaries disappeared. Tears were shed, as they always are when women feel the safety of the circle. There was also lots of laughter. I loved it that we had young women, middle-aged women, and crones. We had mothers and daughters. From what the younger women shared, we know that being there was a transformative experience for them.
Diane Jung loves to dance and she loves to sing, so we had lots of movement and singing. Ann-Marie Boudreau, a professional singer and musician, was with us the entire time, and she shared her stories of her recent visit to India with us. She also led us in song, but was able to blend her voice with ours so that we were like a choir. One evening, some of met around a campfire and Ann-Marie played a instrument from India that seemed to be alive. She sang like an angel. We sang old favorites with gusto as the fire snapped and crackled.
We were together three days, living in the dorm, eating in the cafeteria (healthy hearty food), laughing in the halls, and sitting in circle. One afternoon, we were taken to the petroglyphs. It took a bit of time to get there so we were able to see the lake country. Once we were there, I realized that these petroglyphs were distinct from the ones I have seen throughout the Southwestern United States and in Australia. While the carvings in the stone were somewhat similar, these ancient engravings were housed in a beautiful domed building to protect them from the harsh Canadian winters. While there, one of the indigenous women and her daughter did a water ceremony for us. As she spoke, her daughter poured a little bit of water in the deep crevasses in the rock.
Back at Trent, our circle gatherings were heart-felt. The activities were interesting and, in a session on courage led by Heather Plett, I know my heart broke wide open. The prayer flags we made from that session are hanging in my office here at home to remind me of my strengths. Heather has a blog that I am now reading regularly. (http://heatherplett.com).
As we ended our gathering, Angie Lux, a Convener and our Treasurer, announced that the Nevada County, California women would be our hostesses for Gather the Women 2013 in Lake Tahoe, California. Everyone appreciates the planning and work that goes into these events, so our gratitude goes out to Angie and Rosemary and all the other women who will prepare the way for GTW 2013. I can’t wait!
Mary, Donna, Joy and I got back in our car and headed for the U.S./Canadian border crossing and Buffalo. This time, we chatted non-stop about how wonderful the gathering was, what we remembered the most, the Canadian women’s hospitality, the new women we met, and the ones who stepped forward to be a part of GTW, and the happy reunion with our friends. Before we knew it, we were back in the United States and headed for our hotel. The next day, we all went our separate ways happy knowing that we’d see each other again in Lake Tahoe.