writing on the edge of the world
It’s an exaggeration to say that I live on the edge of the world. Our peninsula juts out into Georgia Strait and west of us, beyond the smaller islands in the Strait, is Vancouver Island. If you drive across it, you arrive at Long Beach and the communities of Tofino and Ucluelet (where we’ll for a few days in late March). That area truly feels like the edge of the world. I went to Long Beach many times as a young woman in the days when people lived in driftwood shelters at the high tide line and you could wander the miles of sand naked if you liked, with only a shell tied to your ankle with a strand of seaweed.
So not the edge of the world here on the land we’ve lived on for 35 years. But some days it feels like that. It’s temperate rain forest, the sea is near, and the view from our dining area is due west so that we see the sunsets year round. Lately we’ve been looking at Venus tangled in the big firs just beyond the window. The year is following its usual route to spring and the red-winged blackbirds are whistling on the marsh we pass on our way to the mailbox. If I wake in the night, I hear barred owls. No coyotes mating yet but we saw a dead one on the side of the road a month ago and I’m wondering if it was one of the pair we’ve had in our woods for years now.
Some days it feels as though we’re very far from the centre of things. I read the news online every morning, from several sources. The world does not feel like a safe place. Not just politically fraught and damaged by human action — its oceans, its atmospheres, its weather, its potential to feed the hungry — but seismically as well. (I wish I didn’t know about this site but I do. This morning, a 4.9 quake southwest of Port Hardy. I wonder if that what we felt, or thought we felt, when we woke.) We do what we can. We keep a supply of dry food and candles. We recycle. Take care of our garden. We send money regularly to organizations supporting civil liberties, free speech, refugee resettlement.
I know that writing can be a political act but mine has never felt that way. I admire writers who are called to that action. I read them. But my own work is quiet. It’s a kind of recording. Not simply my own experiences but places I’ve loved, what they’ve meant as locii of interconnected histories. Relationships. How people are shaped by plant communities and vice versa. How stories are told and held in memory, not just our own but the earth’s. What is held in the layers of stone and sediments. How bird song is part of that. Pollen records. Grass distribution. The architecture of honeycomb. And how books can be maps to understanding those stories.
In my novella Winter Wren, a potter tells Grace that he wants his pots to be about the place he made them. His clay comes from the Sooke Highlands, his glazes are created by burning native plants — skunk cabbage, scouring rush — and using the ash for the silica it contains. I want that too. I want my books to hold what I love, to remember what I’ve known, and to keep these things safe and true.
Here’s what Grace looked out at each day on the edge of the world. Those rocks have been there for at least 25 millions years, the layers like pages keeping a story in place.