from the marsh

Spring was well on its way last week with some purple crocus in bud in the garden, feathery new fennel coming up, a few snowdrops in bloom, but best of all, a kind of golden-pink in the western sky around 5:30 p.m. Late enough in winter to have premonitions of spring light. At this time of year, we watch for the thin scribble as a high jet flies south over Georgia Strait. There’s probably a way of figuring out its destination but it’s always seemed like an announcement, in bright silver against the indigo sky, to say, Not long now.

Brendan was here for the weekend. When we arrived home from collecting him from the ferry on Friday, he stood by the sliding doors and said two things. “It’s so green!” (He lives in Edmonton.) And ” It’s still light at 6:00!” But then when he came out the next morning, the world was white with snow. We’d had about 3 inches overnight and the snow fell until Monday, about 6 inches in all. So much for a spring respite from Alberta weather. We did go walking, all bundled up — or at least John and I were. Brendan wore a hoodie, insisting we couldn’t actually consider it cold!

So the salmonberry blooms are late this year, the buds only just beginning to swell on our local bushes. I’ve been watching a particular clump of yellow violets, hoping for a few early flowers, but I bet they won’t bloom for another month.

This week, though, the red-winged blackbirds have been trilling on the marsh we pass on our way to get our mail. We saw a bold male on a high tree above the marsh, singing for all it was worth. And this time of year, it’s worth its weight in gold — that tumble of notes over the marsh as we clumped by in our winter clothes.

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waiting in gravel

I’m working on the borders of the salmon quilt now, stitching various sizes of circles in a random pattern around the edges.  I’m thinking of the coho eggs waiting in the gravel of the nearby creeks. They’ll hatch in early spring but the embryos will remain in the loose gravel, consuming their egg sacs, before emerging to live in the shallow areas until they’re big enough to swim into deeper water and defend themselves against any number of predators.

Here is a border in progress:

P1090498I have many akoya buttons in different sizes so I might use them in and around the circles.  And here are the eggs in the gravel:

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from “Euclid’s Orchard” (a work-in-progress)

“What I want to do is find a way to sew the graphic representation of Euclid’s orchard. For nearly thirty years I’ve quilted to find a way to explore texture, to try to bring a one-dimensional space into something resembling two: runnels of cotton pierced with small stitches; stars slightly embossed on a bed of dark velvet. I think of these surfaces as a kind of landscape relief, something for the hands to read as though reaching down from the sky to learn something about the earth – hills of brown corduroy, cabins built of strips of coloured fabrics, a red hearth at each centre; an indigo river alive with the ghosts of salmon, their eggs glittering among the stones below them.

I want to create those neglected trees rising from the surface of the ground, the clovers and wiry grasses around their trunks, the spring daffodils I planted in hope, and all the teeming biota under the earth: worms tunnelling through the porous soil, the burrows of field mice, the root systems of the native wildflowers. I want the nematodes, the protozoa, fungi, the broken rocks, minerals, the decaying organic matter creating the humus needed to keep the soil healthy. I want to commemorate a dream, now abandoned, but potent in the collective family story. We had an orchard. We gave up on it.”

the bench

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Do most households have a place like this bench? A place where things are set “temporarily” until they can be put back where they belong? (And then they linger there, gathering dust, and friends, until the whole thing is so precariously balanced that something has to be done?) This pretty bench, made of elm, was purchased for $25 at a farmer’s market in Princeton (B.C., not N.J.) in the summer of 2010. It’s become the place where books accumulate. On top you can see the Norton Facsimile of the First Folio of Shakespeare. On the weekend, our actor friend Jeffrey Renn was here for dinner and overnight and we — with friend Liz Young, also here — were discussing The Merchant of Venice. Jeffrey recalled something particular to the First Folio edition and (as it happened) I had the Facsimile so pulled it from my shelves.  “Let’s look it up,” I said! (My children once said that this will be my epitaph, having heard it so frequently during their childhoods. I know there’s probably an app for that now but I love the physicality of books…)  And the beautiful Golden Age of Botanical Art, a birthday gift from John, which had to removed (to the bench) from the coffee table on Saturday night so we could put out pre-dinner snacks for our guests.

Anyway, I’ve just put the Fascimile back on its shelf. And underneath it was a little book I’d forgotten about. The Bill: For Palma Vecchio at Venice, by László Krasznahorkai. My friend Anik sent it to me in the fall. I’d read it then, for the sheer pleasure of its presentation — a 14 page single sentence, addressed to the 16th c. Venetian painter Palma Vecchio (also known as Iacopo Negretti), asking him about his method, his fierce eye, his relationship to the women he painted so sensuously all those centuries ago and who gaze at the reader from the pages of this gorgeous monograph, sewn (!),  with French flaps. This essay is translated by George Szirtes and the book is beautifully designed, generously set in 16 pt. Berthold Walbaum, making it a pleasure to read. How wonderful that Sylph Editions in London care enough about essays and other works that might not find such congenial presentations elsewhere.

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I’ve taken it from the bench and will find a more appropriate home for it on my shelves. But not until I’ve read it again.

Gary Snyder by firelight: a moment

I was awake in the night and came down to put more logs on the fire. It was snowing outside, the last hurrah of the cold snap we’ve had for the past week. I know that cold is relative. When I talk to my sons in Ottawa and Edmonton, I realize that minus 8 celsius is actually pretty mild. But here, on this coast, it felt cold. We don’t have down parkas or felt boots. But we do have an airtight woodstove and its heat is very welcome. It doesn’t burn through the night though and at 3, after putting logs on the orange coals, I sat in the rocking chair by the hearth to wait til the logs caught and burned well before partly closing the damper.

The snowflakes were huge and soft as they fell to the deck off the kitchen. There was smudgy moonlight and the night felt big and mysterious. There ought to be a poem for this moment, I thought — the fire, the weather, the dark night. But I didn’t want to turn on a light to find a book.

And now, at my desk, watching the snow melt in the inevitable rain, I know the poem. “Milton by Firelight”, from Gary Snyder’s Riprap & Cold Mountain Poems:

No paradise, no fall,

Only the weathering land

The wheeling sky,

Man, with his Satan

Scouring the chaos of the mind.

Oh Hell!

Fire down

Too dark to read, miles from a road…

And here’s the poem written out on the patio this morning:

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a dog in the heavens

I’ve been dreaming about dogs, some unfamiliar but also the dogs who have lived with us, whom we’ve loved. Friday, the English sheepdog cross, with one stiff leg she used like a rudder and a tangle of curls like dreadlocks. Lily, the Lab cross with a bit of wolf, who was brave and dignified, and who was part of our pack for 13 years. I wrote about her in an essay, “Phantom Limb”, and sometimes I still see her out of the corner of my eye, ambling across the grass with her nose in the air. Our last dog was Tiger, a golden retriever cross, who was born under a log near Ruby Lake to a crazy mother and a placid father, who was also her half-brother. That explained much about Tiger. She was sweet but “off” in some ways. When she was young and there was thunder or fireworks, she’d high-tail it down to her natal log. Never mind that her mother had moved on long ago and the woman who’d lived in the trailer by the log had also moved on. I still see Tiger, too, lying in sunlight on the driveway or else staring into the distance.

This week, a highlight of the night skies has been Canis Major, the Great Dog, with its bright star Sirius. This constellation was first charted (I think) by Ptolemy in the second century and is part of the myth of Orion, representing one of his hunting dogs. In the sky this week, you can see Canis Major following Orion as he chases the Seven Sisters or Pleiades across the heavens. I’ve always loved Orion and he graces the sky just to the south of my bedroom these nights, the three brilliant stars of his belt leading the eye to the Pleiades, who are a bit smudgy right now.

And is it a coincidence that the coyotes have been singing their hearts out this week? Last week they were mating — I think this is the pair that have denned to the south of our house for several years. We’ve seen them both, and at least one offspring, during the summer. A few summers ago, one half-grown pup appeared at 10 a.m, regular as clockwork, as we drank our coffee on the upper deck in August. This pup even inspected the dog-house — this was summer after Tiger died — and sat briefly on its threshold, as if to contemplate the settled life. It was easy to see that dogs and coyotes shared a common ancestor, though I understand that this is complicated, involving theories about divergences — some dog breeds can be traced back, through DNA sequencing, to ancient populations in the Middle East and Africa. And I think German Shepherds (Lily had some of this) are more closely related to wolves. Lily would play with Tiger when the latter was a puppy and one of their games involved Tiger trying to get Lily to regurgitate food for her. They went through all the motions of what must have been a deep reflexive prompt and response. It was like a window into very ancient history.

Last week, mating. This week, singing a beautiful clear song for the joy of it. And are the coyote songs causing my dreams of dogs? Or is it simply time to take the next step in bringing a new dog home? John spent last summer restoring that dog-house. It has a new floor, a new roof, and its cedar siding has been freshly stained. And the little sign Forrest made for Lily, Cave canem, is still legible above the opening.

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