The Cortes Portraits: Joy Kerfoot

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I exhale and fold forward. My fingers trace the woven carpet below me. Drawing my hands together, I scoop the air and draw it upward along the front of my body. My hands continue upward and then overhead until I cannot reach any further. Then I release it, this invisible energy I’ve drawn up from the earth. I exhale. My arms arc widely down to my sides, grazing those of my practice partner: Joy Kerfoot.

Outside, December frost has settled into the garden. It’s so crisp that the earth crunches underfoot. But inside, Joy’s tiny home is warm. The wood stove is glowing and filled with cherry wood, salvaged from a fallen tree on the property. It’s scent couples with the earthy vetiver already fragrant within the room. The smell comforts me, like Joy’s warm gaze from across the room.

The warmth of Joy’s cabin is not reliant upon the seasonal flux of Canada’s west coast weather. It’s the energy of the space, re-loved and refurbished piece by piece over the past two years. The cabin didn’t always belong here. Seventeen years ago it stood upon Reef Point Farm overlooking the sunsets of Smelt Bay. But it, like Joy, has found a new home nestled into the community of Raven Farm, a cooperative land share on the south end of Cortes Island.

Joy first came to Cortes Island in 1999 to attend a work study program at Hollyhock. Since then, her road has led back to Cortes time and time again. Today, Joy offers personalized therapeutic healing sessions in Vancouver and on Cortes. She also co-facilitates Movement Medicine with Kaili Blacklock-Hind, a weekly conscious dance session for island locals at Hollyhock during the retreat centre’s off-season. Joy pours hours into crafting the perfect playlist for each session, one sure to guide dancers into a state of embodied presence. You can feel that presence ripple through the room.

The sensitivity that Joy brings to her facilitation, carries through to all aspects of her life. When we visit, Joy is fully present from the moment I walk into her home to the moment we embrace goodbye. Her authenticity makes our time together feel precious; there is a stillness here that does not allow distraction. Joy truly sees me. We see each other.


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After our opening movement session, I pose Joy in the corner window of her cabin. I clamber onto her sofa trying to catch the perfect angle. As I teeter on the cushion, Joy’s fingers drift to the gold bee charm around her neck. It’s a small charm, but she cups it like a heavy burden.

“Something’s been weighing heavily on my mind” Joy volunteers, still fidgeting with the little bee, “A week ago I read that wildlife populations have dropped by an average of sixty percent over the last fifty years. Sixty percent since I was born. It’s staggering.”

Joy looks at me with a heavy heart. I nod in response. Colony Collapse Disorder, only seventy-six remaining Salish Sea orcas, pipelines, tar sands, and border walls. Humanity’s collective impact is almost unimaginable. It’s become so overwhelming, I’m starting to grow numb to it. Joy has not. She gestures to the woolen creatures on her table. Part knitted, part felted, they are models of small fluffed butterflies and orcas. Many are still in progress, the beginning of something yet to be.

“I made a wool necklace for my niece's birthday, which had a butterflies in it” she continues, “It got me thinking. What if I created wool mobiles of high-risk species? I’m not sure where they would go, or how they might help incite change. But I have a feeling that if I make them, the rest will become clear.”

I look over at her dining table laden with bits of dyed wool. I lean further off my cushion perch and spot a baby orca beside a mother still taking form. I shift back to Joy and feel the support slats of the couch move. I tumble through them to the ground.

“Oh shit Joy, I think I broke your couch.” I say. I’m peering up from amid its frame. Three support slats lay on the ground beside me. She smiles and then laughs. Her face has lightened; her heavy heart has given way because of my absurdity. I start to laugh too. Together we put her couch back in place. It isn’t broken, it’s just misaligned.


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We make our way up the ladder to the second floor of Joy’s tiny cabin. The skylight there casts soft light onto her bed, which sits prominently in the centre of the small space. Behind the bed stands a short wall of sliding rice paper doors.

“Try not to fall into those!” Joy teases, “I built them too, but it would be hard to replace the paper.”

“They are lovely” I say with a smile, as I make my way carefully around the foot of the bed.

I invite Joy to pick up one of her books, while I change my camera settings. She chooses The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying written by Sogyal Rinpoche. It’s an introduction to Tibetan Buddhist wisdom. As Joy folds back the cover, I catch a look of surprise on her face. Beneath the cover is a long-forgotten handwritten letter, from a not-so-forgotten author. I give Joy space to rediscover the memory, but linger in the doorway to capture her intimate re-acquaintance with this man on paper.

Joy wraps a burgundy sweater around her shoulders and exchanges Rinpoche’s book for The Essential Rumi. The sweater is a bold burst of colour in the otherwise calm space. I begin to notice other objects that echo the colour: flowers decorating her comforter, pillows resting in the studio space adjacent to us, and a splash of red in one of Joy’s recent paintings. When Joy descends the ladder to put on the kettle, she leaves the sweater behind. I pick up her unfinished canvas and set it on the easel outside her bedroom door. It’s a perfect match, the abstract patch of deep red and the discarded sweater resting upon her bed.


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“Chocolate?” Joy asks, as I make my way down the ladder back into her main room. I don’t think I’ve ever turned down chocolate. I’m not about to start.

Joy sets two mason jars of dried leaves out on the counter. One is chocolate mint from the garden of her friends Mary and Hannu. They are well known island locals. The other is a combination of mint and nettle, from the shared gardens on Raven Farm. We select the latter to pair with our salted almond chocolate. I take a piece of chocolate and let it melt, before washing it down with a warm sip of mint tea.

This is the epitome of a visit with Joy. The two of us sitting around her wooden table, enjoying tea and the company. Joy picks up the woolly baby orca she has created. I’m bewildered with how she has moulded the black wool with white to create its unique pattern. She explains the lengthy process of moulding and felting. She must layer the pattern just right. The markings, she shares, are modelled after Scarlet, the young missing orca from British Columbia’s famous JPod who was presumed dead this September. I pick up the unfinished mother, still white all over. Joy and I hold the pair in the air, imagining how the mobile will take form, and how it will move. Reuniting mother and babe.

Though the sun is setting, Joy and I slip outside to capture of few photos in the back field. Raven Farm is a large thirty-six acre property, and Joy loves every square foot. The cold is shocking after the warmth of her tiny home. But we don’t linger outside for long. Just long enough to catch a final glimpse of sunlight, before it disappears behind the tree line.


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