Good Friday, flying northward

In two hours we’ll take the shuttle to Newark and then fly to Ottawa. It’s a beautiful Manhatten morning, the sky blue and the buildings rosy with sunlight. It’s been a very full five days with long walks, interesting music (the Attacca Quartet playing John Adams the other night — I loved “John’s Book of Alleged Dances”, esp. the Pavane, “She’s so Fine” — and Mason Jennings and Charlie Mars at the City Winery), delicious food (including a vegan meal at Blossom with JP and Karin)…


Yesterday we intended to take a boat tour of the Harbo(u)r but the line-ups were daunting (Spring Break…) so instead we found ourselves at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.


There was an exhibit at the Museum which I’m still thinking about, “house of memory”, by C. Maxx Stevens. She used found materials — horse hair, old photographs, garden stakes, dress patterns, etc. — to explore how our memory of time and place is composed and sustained.

I particularly admired a piece called “Three Graces” — three images of wood and objects, like inverted nests or small shelters, representing the artist and her sisters. Certain elements — photographs, braids of horsehair — were almost totemic. The whole exhibit made me want to make things, to gather materials together and try to build my own memory houses. Enough of this gallivanting around cities!

“And I’m like, whatever.”

Just walked back from a stroll along the river, stopping for coffee and pastries on Broadway. The world whirls on, colourful, loud, overhead (military helicopters this morning), and underfood (the pigeons). We went to a play on 42nd Street last night, “The Flick” — it was good, a lament (in a way) for the loss of real films shown in independent houses. Tonight it’s a concert, and before that, a harbo(u)r cruise. (We like to do these in large cities by water — Paris, London, Prague — because you get a sense of the city that you don’t get trudging around.

So walking along Broadway, on our way back to the hotel, I saw a beautiful woman standing outside a nail salon, leaning on the building, in high-heeled sneakers, her hair done in a million tiny braids, saying loudly into her phone, “And I’m like, whatever.” And yes, I thought, yes.


the hours

How they fly. How we wake up, find our way across Central Park to the Frick Museum, and lose ourselves for several hours among the most glorious art. We went for the Piero della Francesca exhibit, a small exquisite collection of angels and saints, the pigments aglow after more than five hundred years. And what a beautiful building, so quiet and civilized after yesterday’s excursion to the Museum of Natural History — it’s Spring Break: say no more. (The Frick doesn’t admit anyone under the age of ten…) Anyway, the whole experience was wonderful. I found myself looking really carefully at the Degas drawings in the exhibition of Impressionist drawings and prints, wondering how he got the sense of texture, and learned a new term: stumping. I think this is the use of a leather instrument to press graphite into the paper to create dense shading.The drawings were so terrific. The dancers, the racehorses with jockeys alert on their backs…

We had dinner with our friends J.P. and Karin last night as their guests at Machiavelli, a restaurant owned by a friend of theirs — wonderful food. And a young pianist playing. (I loved hearing a Bach partita while I ate my pasta stuffed with beets and ricotta, strewn with poppy seeds!)

Tonight we’re going to hear the Attacca Quartet play music for strings by John Adams, including “John’s Book of Alleged Dances”. I can’t wait. (And before that, we’ll meet some friends from Whitehorse for a drink at the Algonquin Hotel.)

waiting for the Frick to open

Five pounds of possum

We arrived in New York late afternoon, a kind of wild dream. Organized ourselves and went out for dinner at Buceo 95 around the corner from our hotel here on the Upper West Side. Lovely tapas — bacon-wrapped dates, little goat’s milk cheese fritters with a honey and hazelnut glaze, a dish of paella with wild boar. Pique Poule wine from the Languedoc (which made one forget the airports — Chattanooga, Atlanta, JFK —  and attendant fuss of getting to gates, waiting, waiting, waiting, then spending short times in the actual air).

The other night we took Chris and Susie to Terramae, a new Appalachian bistro in Chattanooga. We had a wonderful dinner — duck leg and egg being a highlight (a leg of duck confit over baby greens with sweet potato hash and a duck egg over top which made a natural sauce). Then we drove up Signal Mountain to a civic hall where the Mountain Opry has performances every Friday night. It was magic. People playing music for the love of it — mandolins, banjos, guitars, basses, a piano, singers with that high lonesome sound to their voices. We all loved hearing a group sing “Five pounds of Possum”:

Five pounds of possum in my headlights tonight,

If I run ‘im over, everything’ll be alright.

Possum grits, possum gravy —

what a beautiful sight!

Five pounds of possum in my headlights tonight.

Chattanooga is an amazing place. We  wandered the streets, explored the ridges and drove with Chris up Lookout Mountain, signs every half-mile alerting us to key locations of battles or skirmishes of the Civil War, and we loved being part of the Meacham Writers Workshops.

I had the best chocolate croissant of my life at Niedlov’e Bakery on the funky Main Street, around the corner from our hotel, and we had an afternoon looking at galleries and eating lunch near the Hunter Museum of American Art, a place that deserves many visits. Imagine coming face to face with Ansel Adam’s “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941”, an image familiar from books, and reading that in fact Adams thought of the negative as a kind of musical score; as the photographer/printer/conductor, he’d interpret the image slightly differently each time he printed so that the light and dark (those crosses in the foreground, the horizon in the background, and that moon…) would vary slightly each time.

Tonight there was a smudgy moon on our walk back along Amsterdam Avenue. And I know it will be a different moon tomorrow night!

Poor wayfaring strangers…(not)

We’re just back from breakfast at the Bluegrass Grill on Main Street in Chattanooga. What a wonderful city! We arrived the night before last, met at the airport by Chris and Susie, and whisked off to our hotel.

ImageLast night we gave a reading at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, the audience as warm and generous as one could wish for, and then had drinks afterward in yet another beautiful brick building. Later today there’s a reception for the Meacham Writers Workshop (we’ll each do a workshop on Saturday) at the home of Richard Jackson. We’ve seen the famous (or infamous) Bradford pear trees, so beautifully in bloom (but smelly), and we heard mockingbirds.

For the rest of the day, we’ll explore. It’s a city that strikes me as being built on a human scale. I walked around yesterday while John met with one of Chris’s classes and I saw the Tennessee River with its lattice of bridges. We’re going there shortly. In the meantime, this is one of the little things I noticed on yesterday’s walk.


spring bells

Tomorrow we’re heading away for a couple of weeks so I’ve just been wandering around, seeing what’s in bloom (not much: miniature daffodils, crocus, snowdrops, a few stray blossoms on the rosemary bushes), and generally sighing heavily at all the work there is do around our garden. It’s not that I mind the work — I love it! But I’m wondering about time. Will there be enough? I’m also moving quite rapidly to the conclusion of my novella-in-progress (Patrin) and I’m trying to slow down that process, to spin it out a little longer, as I’m enjoying the writing of this book so much. My character is in the maple pastures, the javoriny (and any of my Czech friends can correct me if I’ve misunderstand this concept) which I think are the grassy areas in mixed forests in the Beskydy Mountains of eastern Moravia.

So, time is what I’m thinking about, and spring flowers, and also the fact that the two lovely female deer who visited regularly last spring and summer have been around again. Their small heart-shaped footprints are in the mud and they’ve been grazing on daylilies. I wish they wouldn’t but how to stop them? We no longer have a dog, always the best protection against deer in the past. When I came in from my wandering, I was looking at the rose around the front door, wondering if I’ve pruned it enough (it’s very rampant), and I noticed the elephant bells hanging there.


They might be a solution if only one had enough of them. How lovely that would be — the sound of thousands of elephant bells in the wind! But honestly I can’t imagine them keeping deer away, or elephants for that matter.

Here’s a bouquet for St. Patrick’s Day!


All this is true

Remember the beautiful Homeric Hymn to Demeter?  Persephone tells her mother Demeter of the events leading up to her abduction by Hades: “…we were playing and gathering sweet flowers in our hands, soft crocuses mingled with irises and hyacinths, and rose-blooms and lilies, marvellous to see, and the narcissus which the wide earth caused to grow yellow as a crocus. That I plucked in my joy; but the earth parted beneath, and there the strong lord, the Host of Many, sprang forth and in his golden chariot he bore me away, all unwilling, beneath the earth: then I cried with a shrill cry. All this is true, sore though it grieves me to tell the tale.” I think of this ancient poem (6th or 7th c. B.C.) every spring, when flowers return, the trees leaf out, and the bare ground replenishes itself. This year it’s particularly poignant for me as I work to try to restore some beauty to my garden. There are still big heaps of soil everywhere, which is itself a kind of bounty, because it usually seems that there’s never enough soil! In a few months, when I pot up the tomato seedlings, I’ll be glad to have a ready supply of dirt to mix with manure and peat and alfafa pellets. And there are wonderful moments in this project of putting a garden back together. For example, a few weeks ago, I was shovelling some soil for a border and found, buried under several feet of earth, a whole clump of crocuses. I’d tried to remember where the bulbs were before the drain field work began and I dug them up to replant later. But I’d missed these crocuses. Not only had they survived intact under the weight of dark soil, but they were in the first stages of bloom. I carefully replanted them and noticed this morning that they’ve opened completely, none the worse for their time underground.


small stories on the Merritt-Kamloops road

We drove down Highway 5A from Kamloops to Merritt this morning. There was light snow and some fog. And some mysteries. How, for example, did this carcass (species unknown) get into the middle of frozen Trapp Lake? We wondered if it might be the way the highways crew deals with road-kill, dragging it to the centre of the lake so that birds could feed from it and then once the ice melts, the remains will simply sink to the bottom of the lake. But there were no marks of its having been dragged. So did a deer try to cross the frozen lake and then break through the ice, floundering until it died? The ravens were awfully happy, in any case, and there were eagles earlier when we drove down. (We took the photograph on our return.)


We noticed this perfectly shaped Ponderosa pine near Peter Hope Lake Road


and slowed to admire it. Then we saw a small brass plaque on it.


Who was Eleanore MacVicar and who was Mac?

This is a ranch I notice every time we drive this road. I’ve imagined myself into it, a hundred years ago, many times and realize now that Margaret Stuart would have ridden past it in my novel, Sisters of Grass. I love its plain beauty, its vistas.


And here’s a pair of swans, on ice, in Nicola Lake. The rest of the flock was swimming nearby but this pair wanted to ride a small section of ice.


There was nowhere to pull over when we saw the newborn calves at the Willow Ranch or I’d end this post with them — tiny, black, their ears already pierced with bright red tags. Instead, I’ll end it with a pinecone from Eleanore MacVicar’s tree.


the marriage of rivers

We’re on a little road trip, a spur-of-the-moment whim to travel into the Thompson-Nicola area for a few days. We drove up the Fraser Canyon, a route that is deeply nostalgic in all kinds of ways. Signs remind the traveller of the goldrush and the building of the Cariboo Wagon Road begun in 1860 and the highway winds past the old Alexandria Bridge, the lodge, a hundred small reminders of those times. And this was the route my family took regularly when I was a child  — I recall my father announcing various places along the way (“Children, look at Jackass Mountain!” or “We’ll stop in Spences Bridge to stretch our legs” or “If you don’t talk until Boston Bar, we’ll have ice-cream…”). I loved the hot air — the Canyon is like a funnel in summer and there are wonderful archival photographs showing how the Native people used the heat and wind to air-dry salmon on racks above the river. I always hoped to see a rattlesnake but had to wait until I was an adult to see one on a road near Cache Creek. I loved the pines and the wildflowers and waking in our tent in the mornings to the smell of sage.

This is also the route John and I took on trips to the Interior with our own children so there is an added layer of nostalgia as we remember camping at Skihist, stopping for ice-cream at Boston Bar, walking a length of the old Wagon Road near Lytton. And there’s now another layer too as we stood at the Skihist picnic area and looked down to see the Thompson River racing towards it marriage with the Fraser and recalled rafting that length a few years ago with Forrest, a special gift to celebrate his successful defence of his PhD dissertation on British Columbia history. Here’s the Thompson, seen on a cold March day:

the Thompson River

We’re looking forward to taking Brendan and Cristen on the rafting adventure this August (to celebrate their defences a few years ago and now Brendan’s appointment as a tenure-track professor of math at the University of Alberta) when I hope the water will look less forbidding than this. (Seriously, that raft trip was the most exciting thing I’ve ever done! We paddled from Spences Bridge to Lytton, swirling out at the end in the wonderful confluence where the Thompson and Fraser Rivers meet, two colours of water flowing side by side for a time, then merging…)

And here’s the little pre-1900 Nlak’pamux church at Pukhaist which I’ve looked at in its isolation below the talus slope as long as I can remember. My father pointed it out when I was a child and I pointed it out to my children and I hope it will still be there in years to come so I can show it to my grandchildren…

old church at Pokhaist