The city where my drawings appeared has the largest population in Canada. Although it is also our country’s most cosmopolitan city, I was under some pressure from my editor, not a Christian himself, to draw something that referred to the crucifixion of Christ.
Though it is arguably the most important celebration of the Christian calendar, I felt uncomfortable drawing a cartoon of Jesus on the cross, that might be significant to Christians among the readership, but which excluded a vast number of non-believers.
When I was a child, my mother herded us kids off to church every Sunday. I went dutifully to Sunday school and even had a short career as an altar boy which didn’t end well, but that’s a story for another time.
This to say, that I am fully aware of the importance of Easter in the calendar. Truth be told, for me the important date around that time of year is the vernal equinox. As a northerner, I rejoice in the moment when the sun returns to claim its fair share of the day. Beaming down longer and stronger, it sets its sights on midsummer’s day to reward us for enduring those short, dark days of winter.
So, on the editorial page my practice was to celebrate Easter, not with a drawing of a man hanging on a cross with nails piercing his hands and feet, but with cartoons of crocuses and daffodils poking out through warm patches of soil among snowdrifts.
When I came to Newfoundland as a livyer, I became, as everyone here must, more aware of the nature that surrounds us. This awareness is born of the need to observe and respect the rhythms of the universe and how they affect our lives upon this ragged shore jutting from the edge of a continent into a vast sea.
From earliest days the inhabitants of this place paid close attention to the hints of what was coming next. Their lives depended on it. Was it safe to put out to sea in a tiny craft fashioned from animal skins tightly drawn over a fragile frame of saplings, knotted together with sinew? Would the fine weather last, or were those clouds on the horizon developing into a mortal threat? Those on shore studied the same clouds. From them they could gauge how much time was left to gather and cover up the fish drying on the flake before the drenching downpour arrived to soak and risk spoiling them.
As autumn drew to a close, the old people would determine from the abundance and distribution of the berries how harsh the coming winter would be.
Understanding the messages of nature became the oral tradition of our people, their knowledge of survival. It was the creed of this life and how to continue living it, as important as a creed written in any holy book to guide us safely into and through the afterlife. Over centuries here in this most robust acreage of land and water, the elements of nature have been our guardian angels.
It is why my wife Lisa in the shortest days of the year makes her way to the post office to pick up her seed catalogue. From it she orders the bulbs that are planted in the cool and dark refrigerator where they sprout ever so slowly. When they emerge into the light inside our house on the shore, they grace every corner of every room where the sun of the solstice can penetrate. They are announcing the arrival of spring. They are the icons of our guardian angels.
Back on the editorial page of the newspaper all those years ago, the pictures I was drawing were of these same flowers, our guardian angels. These icons are what make us whole. Wholly holy.
Peter Pickersgill is an artist and writer in Salvage, Bonavista Bay. His column will return in two weeks. He can be reached by email at