It is early morning with its quiet coolness. I walk out the old logging road. … The logging road along with other trails through the forest is where I practice walking meditation. I do not think of the road as leading anywhere. It is the road to nowhere, the path on which I journey and have been journeying for a lifetime. Although it is the path to nowhere, in reality it is the way to everywhere, because it enables me to enter into communion with the whole community of beings.
—from Self and Environment by Charles Brandt

Slow down. Take a breath. Attend. Insight takes time. Charles Brandt has been meditating and praying on the east coast of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island since 1965. Over that time, he has come to some elegant conclusions about our place in the natural world. He gathered them slowly, through solitude, study, and quiet contemplation. He has acted upon them. Brandt is a Catholic hermit, priest, ornithologist, flight navigator, book conservator, and naturalist. The solitary path he has taken in life can be seen as both a radical departure from and a return to first principles.

Brandt’s hermitage lies at the end of an old logging road near the Oyster River. Surrounded by coastal temperate rainforest, it is a simple, two-story home made of shiplap cedar planks. It has plenty of windows, indoor plumbing, electricity, and internet access. It is a very long way from the Egyptian caves of the Desert Fathers, the first Christian hermits, who inspired him. Brandt built it himself and named it Merton House in honor of Thomas Merton, the author of TheSeven Storey Mountain, the autobiographical account of a young man’s search for faith that is considered one of the most influential religious works of the 20th century.

Brandt is a calming presence, with eyes reflective of having reached both advanced age and wisdom. He seems perfectly present as he holds you in his gaze. He is tall and poised. He wears a loose-fitting sweater and old running shoes; not a clerical collar or habit. He appears not unlike other healthy people his age. And yet he is one in many millions—an ordained Roman Catholic hermit-priest. Although he relies on a walker, he does not hesitate to climb the stairs to his library where he keeps his copy of The Seven Storey Mountain as well as the other books on spirituality, philosophy, and ecology that have shaped him.

Read the full article at Hakai Magazine.

The Oracle of Oyster River

Brian Payton

Writer, Hakai Magazine