Making the Business of Life Easier

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The Outsiders
Winter: 2

Summer Part 1  Part 2  Part 3
Autumn Part 1  Part 2  Part 3
Winter Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4
Full Photo GalleryBehind the Story

By Margaret Philp with photographs by Patti Gower

Back across the city near the east branch of the Don River, a solitary set of footprints marks the trail that lies beneath knee-deep drifts of snow. From the bus stop on Sheppard Avenue, the tracks snake down the hill to the ravine bottom, across a wooden footbridge and along the path before abruptly turning into the forest.

Nestled in the trees at a bend in the river, Pauline Davis's tent and her assortment of God-fearing signs are in plain view from the trail.

Inside, she is heating water for hot chocolate on her tiny propane stove. The heater hisses, the air inside warm and stagnant.

She wears a black sweatshirt with a glittery gold design on its front. Her long, silver-streaked blond hair is pulled tight in a ponytail. Her face is chalky white, with silver-framed round glasses perched on her nose. In her sturdy rubber-soled boots, she looks stocky and powerful.

Come spring, it will be 18 years since Pauline trudged into the ravine with nothing more than an air mattress, a bedsheet, a change of clothing and a Bible stuffed into her bag.

On the day her landlord refused to renew her lease, she boarded the first bus that came along, hopping off at a stop near the ravine and wandering down into the cool, budding springtime forest.

"I didn't know where to go," Pauline says. "I got off the bus because this looked like a good place to hide. If God wants you someplace, you're going to be there."

At first, her only shelter was salvaged sheets of thick plastic used for wrapping skids at the grocery store. But in the years since, her lifestyle has grown more luxurious, her home turned into a veritable palace for the ravine.

"I thought I'd never be warm again for the rest of my life," she remembers of those dark early days.

As she tells it, God handpicked her to be his messenger of peace and justice on Earth. She believes she is the reincarnation of Eve, cursed to suffer the rain and cold and hostile intruders in these woods until the fateful day when Adam ventures into this holy spot.

"I think that everybody that God chooses ends up in the woods. A voice crying in the wilderness. It's not just symbolism. It's reality. It's also in the scriptures that God tells me to go north of the city and dwell in the field, and from there I shall go to the Middle East. That's in the book."

She says God first spoke to her in a vision three decades ago, when she was a young housewife with a husband and three children and had no time for church and religion. In it, she was standing on a stage, preaching to a crowd so immense that she is convinced it was the entire population of the planet. She ignored the vision for years, preoccupied with the rigours of raising a family.

In the next telepathy from God, she saw two angels locked in battle, crossing swords. "I didn't understand the vision at first," she says. "But now I know the angels were Christ and Satan, and the swords are words."

Pauline relates her story of unearthly visions and voices from beyond with a weary shrug, as if she does so purely out of a sense of duty, never doubting for an instant that she will be dismissed as crazy.

A few years before God nudged her into the ravine, Pauline started walking. She would walk all day long, never stopping, unconscious of her arm drifting upward and her fingers parting in a peace salute until the day her youngest child, then 16 and living with her mother, started to mock her.

"When I first began walking  --  I know this is hard to believe --  but God actually pushed me out of my home and I started walking."

She gives a little self-deprecating chuckle. "I had to walk. I had so much energy that if I didn't walk, I would explode."

The Peace Lady was born. Before long, she had donned the white gown and the homemade brass crown of 12 stars on her walks. Next came the phantom-like appearances on bridges, the roving Statue of Liberty on overpasses looming above the blur of traffic for 16-hour stretches, arms never dropping.

She stopped these sojourns a little more than a year ago, the job made redundant with the advent of technology. Her brother designed a Web site for her so she can spread God's message word for word to a mass audience.

In the meantime, she waits for Adam. He is a childhood friend of her elder daughter, a man named Kelly, and she had no clue of his role in the world's deliverance from Satan's clutches until she had a vision of him years after they first met.

She has waited for him since. "I don't have any choice," she says. "And nobody can take his place."

Pauline does leave the ravine. Four days a week, she works cleaning houses and caring for an elderly woman. On Wednesdays, she catches an eastbound bus to the Scarborough Town Centre where she meets her 74-year-old mother for lunch and an afternoon movie.

Her mother, Dorene Edgar, is waiting at a table in a crowded food court. She is brimming with wit and sarcasm, wisecracking like a stand-up comedian about her daughter's unorthodox lifestyle.

She relishes telling a story of someone wanting Pauline's address. "Well," she grins, "her address is third tree from the river and her phone number is water, water, water."

Mother and daughter were estranged for years, with Pauline incensed by her mother's exasperation with the move to the ravine, by her stubborn refusal to understand that she is the reincarnation of Eve.

But since losing a husband and son to cancer a few year ago, Dorene has discovered spirituality and the Christian church. And while she still longs for Pauline to leave the woods, she has learned to swallow her maternal instinct to nag for no other reason than to preserve their tattered relationship.

"If I tell my daughter I'm concerned for her, she'll give me heck," she confides out of earshot. "So I've learned not to question. Can I change anything? No. I've learned to accept her for who she is, but I'll never understand why she lives in a ravine. Would you?"

Eating their gravy-smothered French fries in this suburban mall, they could not look more ordinary, this middle-aged daughter and her elderly mother on an afternoon outing, nattering about the movies playing in the theatre downstairs, gossiping about people who matter only to them.

And that is the contradiction of Pauline, a Bible-thumping woman with an improbable obsession with being God's emissary on Earth who slips easily into the everyday role of aging daughter and suburban mall shopper, as unremarkable as the next-door neighbour.

Summer Part 1  Part 2  Part 3
Autumn Part 1  Part 2  Part 3
Winter Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4
Full Photo GalleryBehind the Story

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