Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of being invited to participate in an event organized by the Shuswap Writers Association and the Shuswap Naturalist Club. The event was well-attended and it was wonderful to read from Mnemonic: A Book of Trees to such an enthusiastic audience. There was also time to explore the area around Salmon Arm and Sunday morning found John and me driving down into the north Okanagan to buy cheese in Armstrong. We spent time in Enderby, driving slowly up and down its quiet streets. In the soft light of a Sunday morning, it was easy to see why people settled in the area. A wide arable valley, for instance — and evidence of a strong agricultural history in the fertilizer plant, the old barns and farmhouses. And a lot of brick! Houses, businesses, even this beautiful old drill hall:
There must be a reason for all the brick, I said, and sure enough we found ourselves on Brickyard Road, running more or less parallel to the Vernon-Sicamous Highway and the old Salmon Arm road. Why a brickyard and why Enderby? Places retain these small traces of their pasts, a moment when the sun illuminates a building in a particular way so that its bones, old and elegant, are revealed. And like an interesting elderly person, you want to talk to them, find out their story. When I googled “brickyard enderby”, I got the Enderby Museum site but somehow I couldn’t actually get there. The site is down or defunct, it seems. So this is a story that will have to wait.
And just so it’s clear that these rambles into fresh territory aren’t all about history, I’ll show you the shoes I found in Kamloops. They’re handmade in Spain and the style is called Rococo. Now for a suitable grand ball and a velvet gown to go with them…
Driving towards Savona yesterday, just past the Deadman-Vidette road, we watched this big-horn ram skitter around in a field above the Deadman River. I wondered where the rest of the herd was and I think his nervousness was in part on their behalf — that they take care crossing the highway…
He was as elegant as any animal I’ve ever seen. And those colours — the duns and golds, the pale green of the artemisias!
I thought I’d missed the long farewell of the geese flying south over the coast — the snow geese passed overhead earlier in October apparently and the sight of them is one of joys of autumn. They stop on Westham Island for a few weeks and we’ve gone there to see them grazing in the shorn fields before they leave again for their winter refuge in the Great Central Valley of California. And the Canada geese, the Black Brants — looking at the maps of their flyways is like looking at a complicated knitting pattern, the lines passing and twisting and carrying one colour through the sky under or over another.
But the other day, driving with Angelica in Victoria, we saw a large skein flying high over Royal Oak where I spent my teen years. We both saw it at the same time and she said what I’ve always felt: “It makes me feel like crying when I see the geese flying south.” Our memories are knitted into the experience of seeing them. I remember riding over the vanished Broadmead meadows on my horse in autumn and seeing geese. I’d call to them, “Goodbye! Goodbye!”, and feel a kind of sorrow as I watched them disappear into cloud or distance. We often hear them when we are putting the garden to bed for winter, their calls bouncing off Mount Hallowell and echoing so that we can’t always tell where they are, and sometimes we miss seeing them completely, though we’ve heard the song of their passing. The other day, I couldn’t tell which geese we were seeing. They were too high and I was driving on the freeway. But I’m sure I could find out by looking at flyway maps and the annotations birders are famous for making.
Autumn brings with it all the ancient rituals, doesn’t it? The putting by of food, the stacking of cut logs in the woodshed, the airing of the winter quilts. Although I quilt (and am busy with the latest salmon quilt, stitching the spirals into the centre panel, and waiting for the moment when I can sew shell buttons onto the spines of the salmon I batiked, then dyed with indigo pigment), I find myself wanting to knit. I am hopeless with the patterns that look like math theorems: 2nd row P1A (5A, 1B, 9A, 6A) 4 times.
But I am slowly learning a little math, in part for an essay I’m working on called “Euclid’s Orchard”, which will have a quilt to accompany it, each piece — essay, quilt — documenting the other, and maybe it’s time to try to decode the knitting charts. I have the skeins to begin:
There might be a way to include the flyway maps in this essay, a way to bring geese into a discussion of genetics and orchards and Pascal’s triangles and a son who knows something about all these things.
We spent the weekend in Victoria so I could participate in the Victoria Writers Festival. What a wonderful few days. The organizing committee did a fabulous job of choreographing a seamless and beautiful programme of readings, panel discussions, and workshops. And a wrap-up party at the home of John Gould and Sandy Mayzell. I loved walking across the campus at Camosun College, under the mature Garry oaks, to read from my work and to share stories and laughter with a great group of writers.
John and I went to the Island two days early in order to have time to do our usual rambling around the city. We stayed in the Surf Motel on Dallas Road and this was the view from our room:
This is the Odgen Point breakwater. I wrote about this breakwater in Mnemonic: “All those huge granite blocks were brought from Hardy Island, near where I live on the Sechelt Peninsula. I want to walk out on it as I did as a young girl with boyfriends on dark Friday nights. We’d pause to kiss as waves crashed against the exposed side. I always felt like I might fall — into the deep cold water of Juan de Fuca Strait of the most mysterious waters of human affection.” It always felt kind of dangerous to me. And now I note that railings have been erected along both sides of the breakwater which is perhaps a metaphor for aging.
I walked by myself down Dallas Road to stand in front of the house Charles Newcombe built in 1907 and part of the layered history that is Victoria to me. I stopped to pick a sprig of Quercus virginiana from the tree I wrote about in Mnemonic. I’ll keep it on my desk to take me back to that street, that house, its complicated legacy.
We also drove out to Goldstream Park to watch the beginnings of the salmon run there. We saw just a few fish, early swimmers, and some dippers in the shallow riffles. It’s an extraordinary place, that river making its way under huge maples and cedars more than 500 years old. I was taken to Goldstream Park as a child to see the fish each autumn and I’ve never forgotten the smell, the excitement of glimpsing them sidling under the ferns overhanging the river edges, and their intricate skeletons stripped clean by eagles and ravens. Time stands still, and it doesn’t.
For our Thanksgiving dinner: a pie made with one of the zucca tonda padana pumpkins (mine weren’t huge) on a bed of bigleaf maple leaves and under those a cutting board made of bigleaf maple wood. Riches of the season!
I’ve been sick all week with a bug caught on the plane from Newfoundland to Vancouver and all my plans to get the garden ready for winter went up in smoke. Yesterday was the first day I had enough energy to spend a few hours outdoors and some of that time was wasted in simply walking around, wondering how I would ever get things done. (And wondering how on earth the garden had managed to produce so much kale…)
But this is the (Canadian) Thanksgiving weekend and today I transplanted some volunteer Chinese mustard seedlings, watered the salad greens I’d planted in the cold frames yesterday, and I had the pleasure of picking lemons. These are Meyer lemons, which are believed to be a cross between lemons and either mandarin or common oranges, from a shrubby little tree I bought about 25 years ago. It doesn’t look like much and it gets every disease there is — sooty mildew, scale… I just repotted it before pruning it and giving it a final spray of Safers fungicide and horticultural oil, Tomrrow we’ll lug it into the sunroom for the winter. But in the meantime, a bowl of lemons, the last gold of the season. And their flavour is truly delicious. If I have time, I might make lemon curd to carry the flavour into winter.
The dream was as natural as life. She was there, sitting in a big chair, and I sat with her, my daughter (about fifteen) at my other side. I held her hands with their long cool fingers. She had almost no accent. If the dream had been real life, she’d have been about 120.
We talked. I can’t really remember what we talked about but I was sorry I’d left it so long. I didn’t say this to her but I felt it intensely: if I’d known she was still alive, I’d have visited much sooner.
Holding her hand, I turned my face close to hers. I went to Horni Lomna, I told her, and tears ran down her cheeks. I should have brought you a picture. But those trees…
She said, not as an interruption, but as a memory: those were plum trees. The tears coursed their way down her wrinkled cheeks, water finding a route across dry land.
And spruce? I asked. Spruce, on the road leading to the church?
And is it the Lomna River that passes just in front of the house, with the little bridge over it?
She didn’t say anything.
I put my daughter’s hand in hers. This is your great-granddaughter, I said. But she was thinking about something else, her thin hair pulled into a bun and her house-dress faded. Or perhaps couldn’t see us there in the room where none of the dates fit together – her birth, the trees covered with snow in February in Horni Lomna, the age she was when I was born, my own age when she died, and what would a woman dead for five decades be thinking about in a room with two strangers sitting beside her? Maybe the plum trees by that small house, maybe the weather, maybe the years and what they’d brought, and taken.