January 19, 2012
We’ve had a dusting of snow in the past few days, nothing like the quantities in the Fraser Valley, but just enough to make our steep driveway impossible to drive up. Last night we parked down by the highway and walked up in darkness. For Forrest and Manon, visiting this week from Ottawa, it’s a reminder of true winter.
What I love most about snow is seeing the graphic evidence of who else is around. Birds, small mammals, even the larger ones sometimes (we’ve seen bobcats at the top of Sakinaw Lake road and found their tracks afterwards; perhaps not surprising that they looked exactly like a large housecat’s…). Last night we saw a flying squirrel on the deck, huddled against the sliding doors. When I opened the door to toss out some sunflower seeds for it, it glided off the deck as gracefully as a bird.
Here’s our tracks on the patio with the varied thrush’s alongside:
And here’s the varied thrush’s tracks again, beside the flying squirrel’s.
Tonight we had a special dinner to celebrate my birthday. Some years we have other people around the table – friends, family…Some years John takes whomever is still home with us to a local restaurant. I love those events. But this year, it was just the two of us. And it was as sweet as a birthday dinner could be.
There was salad – half an avocado each, dressed with hazelnut oil and Meyer lemon juice, on a bed of crisp greens, a few toasted hazelnuts on top. There was duck breast, sliced into rosy medallions, with a sauce I’ve figured out over the years: dried cherries softened in good port, a little chicken stock, some cream. Baked sweet potatoes. And a bottle of Joie Farm 2010 Rosé, in the Waterford goblets (“Clannad”) which John gave me for a 50th birthday gift and which are still intact. Joie Farm Rosé is one of my favourite wines. It’s robust, not girly, and what the winemaker says on the label is true: “ Drink this wine to inspire the feelings of summer, whatever the season.” Summer in January, on Epiphany, a dream of soft wind and sunlight, golden grass, laughter on the deck as glasses are raised while grapevines shade the table.
A birthday marks more than a year’s passing. It contains hope – that another one will follow – and regret: have I accomplished anything at all of what I planned a year ago? Probably not. And of course you can’t really photograph a meal, not with our little Lumix camera. So much isn’t visible. Two places are set but others are present, in my heart if not in actual person(s). You can’t see that the platter holding the duck and sweet potatoes is decorated with five carp, swimming under the shady boughs of pine trees. Two hover while three undulate in the deep blue glaze. Still intact.
This morning, my first thought was: How did it get to be 2012? So late, so late – in the century, in my own life (I turn 57 later in the week) . . . I have the sense of time accumulating, yes, but sometimes there’s too much of it, and I feel inadequate in the face of it. In a month, I’ll be travelling, partly to research my grandmother’s early life in Moravia for a book I hope to write. I know the title — Blue Portugal — and I’ve made a start but want to know more, to see her house in Horni Lomne, and maybe the graves of her parents. I’ve also been making notes and gathering material for a novella.
My small study is filled to the brim with paper. When I was a student, taking writing courses, I remember we were told how important it was to keep drafts. I worked in Special Collections for a time and periodically boxes of papers would arrive from writers whose papers the university collected. It was fascinating to sort through this material and I guess I kept the possibility in mind for my own future. Maybe one day I’d ship a box of letters, worksheets, all the bits and pieces that are part of a writing life, and a young woman would reach in, read a page or two, and wonder about the mysterious process of making a book.
Last year my solution to part of the clutter in my study was to conduct a bonfire of the vanities. Stacks of drafts, old versions of manuscripts, miscellaneous letters and notebooks – poof, up in smoke! I stood at the edge of the heap, out behind the garden shed, pushing papers into the flames. It was exhilarating and it made me feel so clear. While I burned the stacks of pages, I also thought my way through Winter Wren, the novella I’d recently completed, working out its problems and figuring out how to improve it. I can still smell the smoke in my old jacket. It might be a good way to begin this new year, more than a decade into the century.