As I make my way past boys with skateboards tucked under their arms for the bus ride home, patio patrons lamenting their last outdoor latte of the season and river trail walkers returning to their cars, I momentarily get that panicked feeling I feel when I’m late or lost or both.
I’m here at the Forks for Voices of Oodena, a series of readings hosted by the Winnipeg International Writers Festival. The readings are to take place at the Oodena amphitheatre that should be here somewhere nestled into the base of a hill near the forks of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers. Oodena is a meeting place of ancient times. It is a meeting place of today, except that today I can’t seem to find it.
As I stumble from a graveled walkway onto the grass I hear a low murmur. Walking toward the sound I come upon a giant but thin sculptured metal horn, with one end pointing to the sky and the other pointing into a bowled out area at the base of the hill I am now standing on. Below is a stage and seating area surrounded by a low circle of brick walls that form the Oodena Celebration Circle.
I would like to write that a sudden sense of peace and calmness overcomes me but instead I feel self-conscious as I pick my way down the hill and past the outdoor stage already populated by the authors and organizers who are here to share their words with those assembled.
I make my way to the cement stairs at the back of the circle opposite the stage choosing a spot away from the rest of the crowd where I can sit and lean against a brick wall, a handrail above my head that I can use to pull myself up again from sitting when it is time to leave. I choose this spot complete with handrail because I anticipate that as the sun sets there will be a damp chill in the air that will settle into my bones making it difficult and awkward to get up when it’s time to leave.
I stretch out my legs onto the step in front of me, zip my coat up to my neck and cross my arms on my chest, adjusting my hands so both of them are tucked in and warm even though the chill I expected has yet to materialize.
The moderator makes her way to the microphone and explains that all of tonight’s writers have a connection to Manitoba and its history. She adds that not once in the history of these summer turned to fall annual readings has the show had to be moved indoors; something magical about this place keeps the cold and weather at bay.
As one by one the writers step up to the microphone and read out loud their stories, poems and observations, the sun sets, darkness comes and a two thirds moon rises above the stage.
The yellow lights inset into the rugged bricks that make up the skeletal form of the amphitheatre give Oodena a warm glow. Or maybe it is the words the writers utter that bring warmth to Oodena – words about a Norse trickster god and his journey with a man to Gimli, words about familiar bridges with unfamiliar background stories, words about ancestors, food, gardens, families, awakenings, and muddy water – the aboriginal meaning of this place we call home.
And when it is over, I easily push myself up from the ground that anchors me to this place, this time and the time before it… somehow lighter than before I came.
– A special thank you to Chadwick Ginther, France Adams, Sarah Klassen, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, and Rhea Tregebov for their words.