Yale, Saddle Rock, Sailor Bar, Alexandra, Hell’s Gate, Ferrabee, and China Bar, blasted through canyon rock, openings birds swoop into, and out, deer skittish in headlights as they race the long paved stretches, panicked by their knowledge that they are inside the mountains, inside mountains, passages north and south, look down, down at the Yale midden, hollows of old kikulis, remnants of cedar burial wraps, ground dense with salmon vertebrae, and the salmon themselves, 30 pound springs, river red with sockeye, the muscular steelhead heading north, north, past where Old 97 hit the snow-covered rock slide in 1909, Maggie Lloyd on her seat in the bus, face pressed against the window: “The trees retreated, now, from the roadway and the road passed between grassy mounds, rippling flowing, it seemed, out of each other. Above them, the pine trees ascended.”; shadow of brigade trail through the trees, past lilacs and fruit trees near the Alexandra Bridge, the old bridge, injured and dying men on the slopes, the words of Radcliffe Quine still in the air: “I tell you it is a hard road to travel. You have to carry your own blankets and food for over three hundred miles and take to the soft side of the road for your lodgings and at daylight get up and shake the dust off your blankets and cook your own food for the day and take the road again.”: the grave of 14 year old Catherine Patrick, dead of pulmonary tuberculosis in 1938, Lily Clegg on the porch of the Alexandra Lodge with her pipe and sharp eyes, taking a break from the endless housework and cooking, the far-off sound of Simon Fraser on his river below Hells Gate and Ferrabee where the original road had crept along the rocks on wooden trestles: “The water which rolls down this extraordinary passage in tumultuous waves and with great velocity had a frightful appearance; however, it being absolutely impossible to carry the canoes by land, all hands without hesitation embarked upon the mercy of this awful tide”; and the lofty view down from China Bar where “sad and fatal accidents often occur, and horses and their owners are dashed to pieces on the rocks below, or drowned in the deep foaming waters rushing down the narrow defiles from the vast regions of mountain snow melting in the summer heat.
I’m listening (again!) to Iris DeMent sing her beautiful settings of Akhmatova’s poems. And this one, this morning, sings its way directly to my heart.
The ancient gods changed men
To things, but left them
A consciousness that smoldered endlessly
That marvellous sorrows might endure forever,
You have been changed into a memory.
I keep telling people that I’m glad we don’t live forever. I’m finding the world a difficult place these days. It’s hard to keep my own focus and intention when it seems nuclear war hovers again in the minds and actions of madmen (it’s almost never women), when the things that we thought might be solved by now are still the ugly presences they’ve always been, and our planet and its urgent climate issues, well, what to say about that.
I just picked the last of the basil before frost—because it’s in the air when we get up, even if the temperatures are not quite low enough—and made a double batch of pesto to freeze for winter. The last tomatoes.
There are three Meyer lemons remaining from the tree’s generous bounty.
And of course there’s so much to be thankful for. This time last year I wasn’t sure I’d have more time to pick tomatoes and lemons, a big colander of lettuce-leaf basil. And yesterday as I prepared a duck for the oven and we opened a bottle of golden wine that went down so easily that the bottle is empty this morning,
and as John set the table with our moon plates and the faux Murano goblets, I was grateful for every molecule of my life. For a day, maybe all the sad mutterings of the world will go away, and we can go pick chanterelles and read by the fire. I found wooden knitting needles at the thrift store on Saturday and am wondering if it’s too late to learn to knit. Oh, I can, a bit. Straight lines, like scarves. But a few years ago I found yarn made with nettle fibre and I’d like to make something worthy of it. Something to wrap up in during the dark times to come.
The word my son Brendan just used when I described how a bear had broken into the vegetable garden while we were away and then how the doe who haunts our place these days found the gap in the fence and made short work of the beautiful Findhorn-sized red cabbages, all the kale, the raspberry leaves, the roses, and anything else that caught her eye. (The bear didn’t eat much, I don’t think, but it dragged two garbage cans off to see what might be in them. Nothing edible—kitchen garbage is kept in the garden shed until we go to the landfill once or twice a year. Nothing interesting to a bear; just stuff that can’t be recycled.) I was saving the cabbages for Doukhobor borscht and planned to cook one with apples and red wine vinegar to have with the Fraser Valley duck we’re having for Thanksgiving dinner tonight. And the kale! Nipped right to the stem. The Tuscan black, the Russian red, the Redbor, the strange hybrids that have evolved in my garden over the years I’ve been growing kale and letting some of it go to seed. (There’s a collard-ish one that is delicious in soup.) John fixed the gap and I dragged a big slab of cedar, left-over from the big tree we had milled years ago and whose boards frame the raised boxes in the garden and provide a beam to take wisteria over the patio, well, I dragged that slab to the gate and propped it across the opening because it seems that the doe figured out how to shimmy under the wire.
So a duck for dinner, stuffed with cornbread and dried cherries and even some salal berries I dried by just leaving them in a dish on the worktable. Wild rice. No red cabbage, whiffy with vinegar and sweet with palm sugar. No kale salad (but there are still lots of tomatoes and basil). A crumble from the freezer, made when the rhubarb and raspberries were ready. A bottle of either Wild Goose Autumn Gold from our stash or else the single bottle of Desert Hills 2016 Helena Rosé that looks like a sunrise.
And at least the doe wasn’t hungry enough for zinnias.
It’s a strange experience to be pursuing the sad origins of my father’s family at the same time that my immediate family is growing and flourishing. In Edmonton, on the same greyscale film as these old photographs, oddly enough, I viewed the ultrasound of Cristen and Brendan’s baby, due in September. I saw the baby’s hand, the baby’s face. And last year, in late February, as John and I visited Amsterdam to attend a wedding, a call came to our hotel from our older son Forrest and his wife Manon to tell us that they were expecting their first baby. Moments later, an ultrasound of beautiful Arthur arrived on my small Samsung tablet. I hold all of these in my mind and my heart’s archive, these grey approximations of the lives I cherish, even the ones so far away in time, that I will never know exactly where the boy who rode that little car lived, or where the family gathered in front of a weathered house dispersed to after the funeral. And did that boy’s grandparents, my great-grandparents, back in the small house in the valley below the Mionsi forest, ever see a photograph of him? Ever learn his name? They never saw their daughter Anna again.
A time of birthdays. It’s Arthur’s today — the boy in the passage above, from Euclid’s Orchard, who appeared first to us in an ultrasound image in an Amsterdam hotel, is two. He sings, he loves his weekend breakfast at Bobby’s Table in Ottawa, and this morning he was celebrated in that restaurant with his own pancake.
Via Skype, we watched him open the package of gifts we sent: a book, a pirate flag, a pirate ship puzzle, and other small things (we also sent him a wooden balance bike in summer so he could use it before the winter weather arrived). I think he liked the little soft globe, the earth writ hand-sized, best. That’s always the way with little kids. They like the wrapping paper (Arthur was drawing on the brown paper I’d wrapped the box in before his dad wondered if he’d like to do the puzzle), the tiny presents —a wee plastic aquarium you put water in and the fish grow!; but of course the adults tend to think the bigger the better.
Arthur’s cousin Henry turned one exactly a month ago. And the great-grandfather of both these boys would have been 91 in a few weeks. He is the boy in the little car in that bleak farmyard in the photo above. His is the shadow I live inside, mostly gladly, a shadow left by poverty and complicated history. He would have been good to these little boys, showed them how to use a fishing rod, and maybe even taught them Morse code. I cast my own shadow too, the one my oldest grandchild noticed in May as we were walking on the street in front of her house in Edmonton. Sometimes it dragged behind us, sometimes alongside us, a grey approximation of how we are connected across time.