One voice

The other morning, around 3 a.m.,  I listened to coyotes just to the south of my bedroom. In February we heard a pair of adults mating – and no, it wasn’t hard to mistake what they were up to; the sounds were very close. And what I listened to the other morning, what I think I heard, was at least one young pup. If you’ve had dogs, you know the sound. It reminded me of August, 2010, when Forrest was here for a few days, and we were enjoying our breakfast on the upper deck. I told him that a half-grown coyote had been visiting some mornings but that I never thought to bring out the camera and take a photograph. When the young pup came around the side of the house, ambling over towards the garden shed, Forrest suggested I go in for the camera. But alas, the battery was worn down. Luckily the coyote hung around long enough for Forrest to take this. What you can’t see is that the pup was eating salal berries, pulling down branches and holding them with its foot while it delicately plucked the ripe berries from along the stem.

I love to lie in bed and listen to the whole family of coyotes sing. There are moments of counterpoint, beautiful harmonies, long passages of obbligato, like an oboe d’amore supporting the rest of the song.

Dawn song

This morning I’m watching two robins finish the nest they’ve been building this week. It’s in an elbow of grape vine, a place this couple (or another that looks just like them!) began a nest last year and then abandoned it. They are very industrious, going back and forth to a nearby bluff where they pluck moss and dry grass for the creation of this beautiful messy home. I love to hear the dawn song, a series of clear whistles, often going on for some time, and in the background there might be the long note of the varied thrush, changing pitch as the notes rise and fall. Yesterday I heard a recording of Nat King Cole singing “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and I thought of how often our memories are framed by bird song, that we say, Oh, it must have been August because the barred owls were calling, or it was April and we heard the robins at dawn. I may be right, I may be wrong,/But I’m perfectly willing to swear/That when you turn’d and smiled at me/A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.

music in the morning

Yesterday I put on a cd while I was doing some work at my desk. It was Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s Recital at Ravinia, music I haven’t heard from some time as the cd was tucked under several others in a pile I haven’t looked at in ages. I do listen to Lorraine, several times a week, her extraordinary voice filling my house and my heart as I cook, fold laundry, or simply sit by the fire with coffee or wine.

These pieces were recorded in 2004, two years before LHL died; her voice was never better. And Peter Serkin is the perfect accompanist. In the recitative, O Numi eterni! O Stelle, stelle!, she takes us to the heart of Lucrezia’s terrible torment, and she does it with such emotional clarity. I listened from my study and then went to the other room to hear every note. I haven’t been singing this year. There were too many events and distractions and I knew I’d never have time to practise, let alone make my regular lesson. But I miss it, and perhaps never more than when I hear Lorraine sing Handel.

a bathtub pond (for Zuzka)

My friend Zuzka asked me to send her a photograph of the bathtub I use as a small garden pond. She and David have bought a house near Brno and after their baby is born later this spring, she hopes to make gardens on a terraced slope. She has an extra bathtub, she says, and wanted to see how I’d used mine. (Mine came from Liz who received in turn from her friend David who was a great gardener and who used it for compost. He died and she thought it was fitting to have us put to some sort of use in our garden.)

This is not a fancy water feature you might find in a grand garden. But I think it has its own charm. You can see the marsh marigold coming into bloom and the pot of bamboo in front of the tub. The water stays fresh because we live in a rainy climate. And the tree frogs often find the water, laying their eggs against the reeds. Last year long-toed salamanders laid eggs in the tub and because their young didn’t quite make it to the adult stage over the summer, I know they’re still in there. I saw some in the fall, large tadpoles with frilly gills. And the last few nights the tree frogs have been singing loudly so I hope they’re finding each other and making the next generation!

Too early


For the past eight or ten years, we’ve gone to Francis Point at Easter to see the white fawn lilies in bloom. These are Erythronium oregonum, a flower I remember from childhood because they grew in abundance on Moss Rocks in Fairfield (a Victoria neighbourhood) and also in Beacon Hill Park where I’d ride my bike just to see the drifts of them with their beautiful flowers nodding on slender stems. We called them Easter lilies, mostly because you could count on them blooming at Easter. Emily Carr said of the fawn lily, “You will find her in tangled thickets and untilled soil in cuttings beside roadbeds. She blooms at Eastertime.” And even though Easter can come in early April, or later, or (rarely) earlier, this is when we find them. So this morning we went to Francis Point, though I had my doubts, given how cool our spring has been thus far.

Alas, they weren’t blooming, Yet. Another week or ten days of mild weather and I bet the little bluff where this picture was taken will be dense with their flowers.

It was good to be at Francis Point on such a mild calm morning. We saw three sea lions, though this photograph just shows two of them.

And a tug pulling a barge full of heavy equipment passed.

We sat in the sun at the end of the trail, under the recumbant arbutus trees and listened to ravens and the sweet song of what I think was a white-crowned sparrow.

And as we climbed back to the trail, we were delighted to see little patches of mimulus blooming against the rockface, tiny yellow trumpets flecked with red.

Remember us

I was awake in the night, trying to puzzle my way through my current writing. I am hoping to explore the trajectory of my grandmother’s life, from the small house in Horni Lomna (there are photographs of it in my posting on February 26) to Drumheller and then to Beverly. There’s so much I don’t know but I’m learning how to read the maps at least, learning the names of the places she lived, understanding (from the road in front of her house in the Beskydy Mountains) what trees she would have seen, the animals and birds (thanks to Petr and Lenka who scanned a document on the Mionsi Forest which has the names of flora and fauna in Latin which I can figure out, rather than in Czech which would present difficulties…Rana temporaria, Aruncus vulgaris, Accipiter gentilis, and Corvus corax – already it sounds like home. Not that we have that particular frog but at least I’d know what I was looking at…).

As a result of an afternoon at the British Museum a few weeks ago, I have been thinking about the Fayum portraits from the Coptic period. These were usually painted on wood panels – oak, lime, fig, cedar, acacia, among others – in tempera or encaustic, with bright pigments, and in a naturalistic style. They were portraits of the dead. Tucked into the folds of the wrappings around mummies, they provided both (it seems to me) a sense of identity as well as a commemorative function. After two thousand years, the faces still look directly at the viewer. There is so much to be learned from these portraits. Loving attention was paid to hair styles, jewellery, clothing. Remember us, they ask from eternity.

I have photographs of members of my own family and wish I knew more about them. They look out from their moment on paper – a funeral, a posed shot of young girls (and I can tell which one is my mother because I know how it feels to hold her mouth—my mouth – that way), two plump women with arms linked, one of them with the same features as my grandfather from Bukovina (and in fact the photographer’s information is printed on the back: Photograph Atelier “Riviera”, Inh. Ferd. Straub, Czernowitz, Hauptstrasse 16), never suspecting that they will end up haunting a woman in the next century.