a few days ago —

— we walked with friends over by Oyster Bay. More than ten years ago I wrote a novel, A Man in a Distant Field, in which the main character, an Irish schoolmaster, washed up on the shores of Oyster Bay. I explored the area a fair bit in those days, wanting to give my character a true place to live, a particular place on earth, and this particularity — the weather, the scent of wild roses in summer, the water birds, the bears that came to feast on salmon in autumn, the oysters on the rocks by the shore — would allow him to understand the resonances in the poem he was translating (which happened to be the Odyssey). And walking again by the bay a few days after Christmas, I felt that old complicated obsession a writer shares with her materials. While the others stood down by the water and watched a hawk on the opposite shore, I dreamed my way back into this abandoned cabin, not exactly the one I called World’s End in my novel, but a similar one. (As Melville so wisely noted, “It is not down in any map; true places never are.)

a man in a distant fieldHe put the poem aside and walked out to the shore. He never tired of the bay, stretching out to open sea. Today the tide was coming in over the exposed mud flats, threaded with silvery runs of fresh water. There were birds everywhere — sandpipers on the shore where he supposed their nests must be, ducks coming in with the tide, a solitary loon, silent in daylight, geese gathered by the small rocky islands where some of them nested. He loved the smell when the tide came in, the rich fecund mud, warmed by the sun, meeting the sharp iodine of the sea. He supposed men had always stood by water, admiring the liveliness of its movement, loving the sight of birds feeding on its shores, fishing its depths with their strong bills. (from A Man in a Distant Field, Dundurn, 2004)


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