Land Lovers – April 2024

This is the third “Land Lovers” profile, compiled by local Guelph artist, writer and Ignatius land lover, Dawn Matheson, with photography by Teresa Blanking, a flower gardener. Please reach out to us if you are a lover of our fields and forests, flora and fauna and want to share in the wonder. We’d like to profile you.

Meet Michael and Matthew Hamp, a father-and-son team who have walked the land at Ignatius, slowly, tenderly, hand-in-hand, for over 20 years. The land has been the intermediary in their relationship as Matt negotiates the world without speech.

1. Who are you? What would you like us to know about you?

(Michael:) My journey on the land started many years ago as walker, runner, skier, teacher, chaplain, and friend. I have been blessed to experience the seasons through the eyes of Mother Nature.

I hope that my retreat work with St James’ Catholic High School students left them with positive experiences that will last a long time. Perhaps they will bring their own children to move slowly along the trails and through the forests. Like us, the land is constantly changing.

2. How do you spend most of your time out on the land at Ignatius?

I now walk— and have for over 20 years— with my youngest son, Matt, 31, who lives with Autism and Downs Syndrome, which means something different for every individual.

3. Why do you come? What does this land offer you?

The land, for Matty, has been a celebration of freedom, openness, and delight. Sensing a wealth of joyful emotions. Feeling the earth. Knowing fatigue.

It’s fascinating to walk with him because he is picking things up that are beyond you and I. He lives in the moment. But, this freedom is not constant. Autism has changed Matty, robbed him in a way I only know as mystery. The land itself has become, at times, a scary place filled with rocks, holes, roots, uneven grassy paths, dogs barking, loud birds squawking overhead, the high-pitched sounds of school children … and, yet, there are days when the delight returns and he feels the earth, and enjoys greeting strangers or farm workers. This delight is why we both come.

4. What do you do to give back to the land?

The land continues to evolve for him and for me; continues to give and to teach. Where will it take us in the weeks ahead as the land prepares itself for spring? For myself, this experience is far from my early days as a young man. Now, I live through Matt in constant prayer, trying to absorb the mystery of my son as we venture onto the land once more. Because he cannot speak the land becomes our way of communicating. His deliberate walk slows me down and teaches me again and again of what is truly holy. His face guides my next step. I am so grateful for this land and this time — this place to be with him.

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