Inukshuk as Teacher

New in my garden this summer is Inukshuk. It is Inuit in origin, steeped in symbolism, and irresistible because of its human shape.

In traditional Inuit settings, Inukshuk served any of several purposes: a directional guidepost for travelers, a warning of potential dangers, a message centre, a cache of food, a hunting aid or an event marker. Meanings include “beacon in the North letting travelers know they are headed in the right direction” or “thing that can act in the place of a human being.” I choose to believe the Inukshuk stands in welcome.

Inukshuk became my teacher. Through constructing one for my garden, I recognized a metaphor for life. Like the traditional ones, my Inukshuk was constructed of local materials. All I had at my disposal were the rocks scattered through various flowerbeds. I collected and assembled these rocks. I didn’t do any preliminary culling. Every rock had the opportunity to be part of this creation. None were dismissed as the wrong size or shape or colour.

I selected a spot at the southwest corner outside of my house. Earlier this spring, I had, after 16 good years of fighting it, finally surrendered to the barrenness of this space. Protected by an unusually wide roof overhang, it seldom receives any rainfall. The sun reflects off the bright white siding making the hot, dry spot even hotter and drier. I could no longer fight the lack of rainfall, lowered water table in our well, sandy soil and wilting heat. Landscape cloth, gravel and decorative white rock now fill this area. But something was missing — Inukshuk to the rescue, with its touch of humanity (granted, with a somewhat stony countenance) to add whimsy and welcome to our home.

My Inukshuk would be constructed solely of rock. This art demands the rocks be positioned in a manner both artistic and functional because nothing but placement prevents their collapse. I couldn’t risk having mine crumble at the first sign of adversity.

Time and time again, the rocks came tumbling down. Time and time again, I reconfigured them. Rather than anger or disappointment at this repeated failure, I felt a determined, yet calm belief that I would be successful. This was a challenge to my creativity, problem-solving abilities and perseverance. It was a fresh reminder that nothing enduring will exist without a solid foundation. The recognition that balance and proportion is everything.

The grating, scraping sounds of rock on rock resounded as I replaced and repositioned pieces. It sounded like cries of protest. I tried unsuccessfully to make things fit, stay put, support the weight above, and look good. Not that I’ve ever tried to force things in my life before, you understand. Or insisted on using a particular tool/object/word/method when it was glaringly inappropriate. Or refused to call upon help or support from others. Or resisted playing the cards I was dealt, hoping instead for others.

Inukshuk is a puzzle without the accompanying directions. Several configurations are possible. Several approaches will get you there. There is no single one way. There is no single right way. There is only your way.

Inukshuk taught me that much as I prefer a specific rock for its strength or shape or beauty, it just might not fit into this particular plan. Or maybe it’s forced to play a supporting role instead of the lead. Or maybe it waits in the wings for the next job. Inukshuk taught me life is often a steel-toed work boots, hardhat kind of construction zone with lots of heavy lifting and always the potential for collapse.

Inukshuk taught me to build strong foundations, to look at the possibility inherent in each tool at my disposal, and to stay open-minded to the final outcome.

I taught Inukshuk that one is lonely, even if you’re a rock structure, so I built another.

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