crickets, hearth and elsewhere


I’ve always loved the sound of crickets. In fall, or approaching it, we sometimes hear them in the house. And it’s the time of year when field crickets are drawn indoors, drawn by the warmth of the hearth.

A few weeks ago, John painted the back bedroom so it can be used as a nursery when babies visit. There was a cricket keeping him company as he painted, a premonition of grandson Arthur’s arrival the other day. I’ve read that it was common in ancient China to keep crickets in special cages and they could be counted on to act as family watch-dogs. Errr, watch-crickets. They sing almost constantly, only becoming silent if strangers approached in the darkness of night. Quiet = danger? Something like that.

We have a cricket cage, as it happens — part of a wind-chime arrangement. I can’t imagine keeping a little creature inside it, to sing or otherwise. And soon enough other crickets will find their way into the house, even into the kitchen where I’ve often found them hiding in firewood on the hearth or else on windowsills in warm reflected light.

And Arthur is happily occupying the newly-painted room — and his grandad’s lap.


It’s lovely to have him here (and his parents of course). I’m reluctant to hold him too much as a night drive down the Coast to Emergency the other night because I was having trouble breathing resulted in a diagnosis of double pneumonia. But that’s being treated with a powerful antibiotic and in a day or two I should be recovered enough to at least be a more active grandmum.

Let the crickets sing and the babies laugh and cry. I’m grateful to be able to hear all of it.

On a branch
floating downriver
a cricket, singing.
              –Kobayashi Issa, trans. Jane Hirshfield

late, so late

So late in the season. I woke early and am sitting at my desk, wondering how the months of summer could have passed, or gathered, so quickly. I know, I say this every year; but every year it’s true all over again.

Our Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival has come and gone. All year we work on details large and small — reading with pleasure Artistic Director Alexander Tselyakov’s suggested repertoire for the 6 concerts over 4 days, arranging programme notes (thank you, Evan Hesketh!), finding places for the musicians to sleep and be fed (we have wonderful host families), writing and proof-reading the brochure copy and then the programme copy, putting into place the wheels (or notes?) that will carry the Festival smoothly from one concert to the next. On Thursday night we heard everything come together and we knew it would all work out, even if there might be glitches ahead. I thought I knew Vivaldi but oh, the Violin Concerto in D Major (“Il Grosso Mogul”), played so gloriously by Mark Fewer, David Gillham, Joyce Lai, Ian Clarke, Simon Fryer, and Alexander Tselyakov, was absolutely new to me. Its little phrases of Roma song, its mysterious allegiances to India, its amazing cadenzas which Mark Fewer gave full attention and ability to — wonderful. And listening to COULOIR (Ariel Barnes, cello, and Heidi Krutzen, harp) play Jocelyn Morlock’s  Three Meditations on Light for violoncello and harp on Saturday night was a gift. I thought of Alice Oswald’s “Tithonus: 46 Minutes in the Life of the Dawn” with its expressions of day coming to life, light returning, the urgency of its argument with the night. Our Rising Tide initiative was very successful this year, with beautiful playing by Hanna Crudele, Rae Gallimore, and Jenny Dou. So a weekend of music, a weekend of festive activity (when else do I drink glasses of pink champagne in the afternoon?), and lots of work. After the last concert on Sunday, after the ticket tent was taken down, the chairs put away, the kitchen tidied by Ann Munro (who keeps everyone fed and watered), after some of the musicians had left to race to the ferry and others returned to their host families for a night of rest, we went to have dinner with our friends Robin and Jillian Ridington on their Nordic Tug, the SwanStar. Drank Prosecco with lovely cheeses and other nibbles, followed by steak grilled on the ingenious barbecue bolted to the side of the boat, toasting the meal with red wine, and talking, talking, talking, while the boat drifted in slow circles on its anchor, so that we were seeing the old net sheds on the edge of Whiskey Slough, then the big houses on the cliffs above Gerrans Bay, the remnants of old boats in the mud, posh sailboats and gillnetters pulling on their lines. Robin and Jillian are anthropologists as well as chamber music aficionados and I knew their books before I knew them. When You Sing It Now, Just Like New: First Nations Poetics, Voices and Representations. And most recently Where Happiness Dwells: A History of the Dane-Zaa First Nations. We talked of Dane-Zaa dreamers and shamen, grandchildren and food, books we’d read and were reading, and John and I left with the sense that our conversations with Robin and Jillian could go on forever.

In a few days, Forrest, Manon, and Arthur come for two weeks! Angie will join us for part of that. And while they are all here, we anticipate a phone call from Edmonton to say that another baby has joined our family, a brother or sister for Kelly.

Yesterday, as I stood on the deck and wondered how it had got so late, a cedar waxwing came to the mountain ash to feast on berries. It was so silky and slightly clumsy and when it turned to pluck from a low-hanging clump, I could see the yellow wash of its belly.


I know it’s not quite the end of summer, even if it feels that way. But fall is in the air. The winey smell of berries drying on their branches, rustle of leaves under foot, the earlier sunsets, the later dawns (I was up at 5 and it was still dark, though even three weeks ago, I could hear birdsong). Soon we’ll be feasting with some of our children, they’ll be heading lakeward every afternoon to plunge into the waters they’ve known since infancy, I’ll be listening for the phone call to tell me of another grandbaby, and then when fall actually comes, John and I will head off on a brief road trip so I can gather sensory detail for the novella I reluctantly put on hold at the beginning of the summer.

by the stairs

Going out yesterday morning, I found this buck waiting by the stairs leading down from the deck.


He was nibbling cotoneaster berries on a small tree self-sown on the edge of the path and he wasn’t worried about me at all. How beautiful, the length of his throat, his liquid eye, and the velvet on his antlers. I wonder if he’s the same one we’d see last year, coming home at night from our chamber music festival, the one that ate nasturtiums and went off into the dark woods still chewing.

“…nothing but August”


It came to me while picking beans, the secret of happiness.

I was hunting among the spiraling vines that envelop my teepees of pole beans, lifting the dark-green leaves to find handfuls of pods, long and green, firm and furred with tender fuzz. I snapped them off where they hung in slender twosomes, bit into one, and tasted nothing but August, distilled into pure, crisp beaniness… By the time I finished searching through just one trellis, my basket was full. To go and empty it in the kitchen, I stepped between heavy squash vines and around tomato plants fallen under the weight of their fruit. They sprawled at the feet of the sunflowers, whose heads bowed with the weight of maturing seeds.

–from Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

I have to confess, John picked this particular basketful yesterday. But the happiness is mine too. To tie up tomatillos, cucumbers, to re-stake the tomato plants falling over with their abundance, to cut a bouquet of sweet peas on an August morning, a handful of rosemary, a Merton Beauty apple with exactly the right notes of sweet and spice — I wait during the dark mornings of January, the windy March afternoons, the damp Junes, for just these days. Sometimes I’m so busy just watering and deadheading or coiling hoses or weeding to notice. But we don’t get these days again. Or we do, but they’re changed, charged differently. We’re different. Older.

I’m going to sort the beans and then briefly steam a large pan of the smaller ones to dress with green Maille mustard, a squeeze of lemon, and walnut oil to take to a dinner tonight. And some of the larger ones, grown from seed I’ve saved for years, will be frozen. I’ve been pickling the really small tender ones. And tomorrow or the next day, there will be this many again.

The secret of happiness is that it’s momentary and transitory. I’m trying to remember to claim it and celebrate it when I realize it’s often as simple as beans, a dragonfly perching on the top of the trellis, the warm breathing of my husband in the night.

“How long could we live before we were found in a place no one expected us to go?” (from a work-in-progress)

At the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, I had the privilege of talking to a large audience about the novella — my own and others. It was so gratifying to have people come up to me over the next few days to tell me their own favourites and to ask more questions about this most lovely of literary forms (and perhaps least appreciated on the critical and just plain publishing front).

I’ve just spent an hour (one of the small hours) working on my current novella, The Marriage of Rivers. Well, maybe not working on it exactly but re-reading, changing a comma here and there,  moving a sentence to its true place. There are barred owls calling out in the darkness — and the stars! The night is dense with them, the long path of the Milky Way right above our house.

When we drove over the top of Pavilion Mountain that day, I got out to open the gate. James drove through and I hung on the gate for a moment, over the cattle-guard, swinging briefly back in the direction we’d come from, and forward, gently towards Clinton, the wedding, the rest of our lives. And his death. It was the axis of symmetry, a notion I remembered from high-school math, the perpendicular line between a parabola, a two-dimensional, mirror-symmetrical curve: before and after. It was warm, we’d had ice-cream, but I shivered. My world (or his) was about to change. I actually thought this. Carefully closing the gate, I thought we should just stay in the kingdom of grass, find an abandoned cabin, set up housekeeping together. We could grow hay, oats, collect spring beauties to dry for winter, we could gentle a pair of the wild horses that ran through the Chilcotin, train them to carry us even farther away, runaways in the Pantheon Range. I wanted my brother all to myself. Never mind the wedding and confetti, the western band on its low stage at the front of the hall with streamers and balloons rising to the ceiling like lost souls. The couples dancing in their summer finery. How long could we live before we were found in a place no one expected us to go?

(O you gates, you who keep the gates because of Osiris, O you who guard them and who report the affairs of the Two Lands to Osiris every day; I know you and I know your names.)


the shells of morning

I want to write about the light and cool of this August morning, how I looked just now at the shells John hung above the summer table, how they have something of heaven in them as they shimmer together– their sound echoed in the Adagio of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez which I am listening to before going out to do the watering, the vegetable gathering (beans! Savoy cabbages like Dutch still-lifes! Cucumber skins opaque with dew!).

shells of morning.jpg

Last night we returned home from the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts to hear something large crashing over on the other side of the garden and this morning we know that it was an elk breaking down a small chestnut, gorging on the leaves, shattering the branches, and then disappearing into the darkness. On Thursday, in the afternoon, we saw a huge bull elk up at the edge of the grass, eating ocean spray. He had the biggest set of antlers I’ve ever seen, six points on each side, and still covered in golden velvet. In the particular light of mid-afternoon, his antlers seemed to be growing out of the copper beech between him and us, the copper beech under which my parents’ ashes are scattered (beech for Bukovina, my paternal grandfather’s place of origin; and for book; the book of my own origins). I could smell the elk from where I watched on the upper deck. The bulls are readying themselves for the autumn rut and in the past I once heard two of them bugling at each other in our woods, vying for harems. And this morning you can smell him again in the cool air, his breath green with chestnut leaves.


summer muse

summer muse.jpg

Twice this morning, I’ve gone out to do something near the garden and realized the young doe was there. I think she’s one of last year’s fawns, maybe even one of these, who visited regularly, grazing on dandelions and sweet white clover.


Our encounters leave me full, somehow. As though poetry is close enough to touch in the golden air.

See, they return; ah, see the tentative
Movements, and the slow feet,
The trouble in the pace and the uncertain

See, they return, one, and by one,
With fear, as half-awakened;
As if the snow should hesitate
And murmur in the wind,
and half turn back;
These were the “Wing’d-with-Awe,”
–from “The Return”, Ezra Pound

“He saw so clearly…”

whale house

That trip to Klukwan, how long ago was that, when his father photographed the Whale House, photographed the blankets hung on a line, fine Chilkat blankets of spruce bark and goats’ wool. He saw so clearly the man in the Raven in the Roof hat, the dancers in their Snail House regalia…He saw the Rain Wall with its hole for the chief to enter his quarters, the Raven Pole (he’d peered into the faces carved in the Raven’s feet), the Black Skin Pole.

— from Winter Wren, Fish Gotta Swim Editions

“…old pleasures abundant”

august fig.jpg

A book I turn to in summer is a beautiful edition of Robert Bly’s Ramages, published by Gaylord Schanilec’s Midnight Paper Sales in 2005. This was a gift from Anik See, friend and co-conspirator in our Fish Gotta Swim Editions project. The poem”Turkish Pears” holds in it the heat and bounty of August.

Sometimes a poem has her own husband
And children, her nooks and gardens and kitchens,
Her stairs, and those sweet-armed serving boys
Who carry veal in shiny copper pans.
Some poems do give plebeian sweets
Tastier than the chocolates French diners
Eat at evening, and old pleasures abundant
As Turkish pears in the garden in August.

No veal or multiple kitchens here, no pears this August (when you read my essay “Euclid’s Orchard” you’ll understand why…), but there are old pleasures and gardens and even a sweet-armed serving boy. Errr, man. And if not Turkish pears, at least Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’, which we ate last evening stuffed with Boursin cheese and wrapped in proscuitto. And I’ve just picked more.