“That I loved the old wooden walls, the cold toilets, the scent of seaweed when the doors were open?”

shirley hall

On Monday, John and I took Angie and Craig out to Point No Point for lunch. This has been a favourite destination of mine since the early 1970s when friends and I would drive out on a Sunday for tea in front of the fire. Miss Packham served the tea and I remember there were little squares and perhaps cucumber sandwiches. It was my dream to stay in one of the little cabins and John and I did just that in 1982. There was a fireplace, a basket with old New Yorkers, a bed that filled a tiny alcove looking out over salal to the sea.

Where does the name come from? I’d wondered but never looked it up. The little brochure on our table at lunch provided the answer and I’ve found it again on the resort website: “The unusual name “Point-No-Point” comes from the original survey of this stretch of coast. It refers to a secondary point of land that is apparent, but doesn’t extend farther than the two primary points on either side of it, commonly referred to as a “point-no-point”.”

The little dining rooms—there are two— hang out over the salal and spruces and you feel that you could drop a stone into the surf below. There are binoculars on each table so that you can determine whether you are seeing seals or kelp. The food is delicious. I had chowder and soda bread and a glass of Quail’s Gate Chasselas-Pinot Blanc-Pinot Gris. After lunch we walked down through a tunnel of green to the rocks by the water.

point no point

As we drove towards Point No Point on the West Coast Road, I asked John to stop the car opposite the Shirley Community Hall. If you’ve read my novella Winter Wren, you might remember the dance at the Hall, circa 1974. I believe that’s the year I went to a dance there and never forgot it. I think there were dances of that sort at community halls all over the province. Long tables filled with food, a raffish band, wild dancing: in short, memorable.

But do we remember? Will we remember? Last year John and I went to a concert at the Cooper’s Green Hall in Halfmoon Bay. It was wonderful, Tube Radio (Boyd Norman, Gary McGuire, Brent Fitzsimmons, Ian McLatchie, and Andrew Bate, joined by Simon Paradis) playing great music and people dancing and talking at tables pushed against the wall. At the intermission, I went to the bathroom and joined the line of women waiting for their turn. A woman in front of me turned around and said, “I’ll be glad when they tear this place down and build a new hall.” I was so surprised I didn’t know what to say. And what would I have said? That I loved the old wooden walls, the cold toilets, the scent of seaweed when the doors were open? The dark field you crossed to where you parked your car, lit only by stars? The memory of apple butter being stirred in a huge cauldron at the Apple Festival in front of the hall each autumn?

I’ve been thinking about the old community halls and talking to people about them. In our own small community, we have several. The one in Madeira Park where we’ve attended some of those grand old dances, including a Fishermen’s Homecoming where portraits of the boats were all drawn by school children and hung in fish nets on the walls, weddings, funerals, awards ceremonies, spring bazaars and Christmas craft sales, and if we were gambling types, we’d have gone to the weekly bingo too, and it’s where we vote, where the rowdy community meetings rattle the roof when new bylaws have to be introduced, and where more than a few all-candidates debates have shown that people we like don’t necessarily vote the same way we do! There’s a wonderful old hall in Egmont where we’ve danced at weddings and cried at funerals and where the hippie-stomp dances are legendary, as are the community seafood feasts.

I have in mind a grand gathering of profiles of the halls of British Columbia. I can’t do this myself and even tremble at the thought of trying to organize the project but I think it’s important that we record and commemorate these places before they disappear. As Joni Mitchell so beautifully sang, Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone? (And she once sang “Unchained Melody” at a wedding in the Madeira Park Community Hall!) I know that the British Columbia History Magazine did feature community halls in an issue in 2016 but I’d love to see more, know more. If you have a story about a community hall, please contact me (theresakishkan at gmail. com) and if I find there’s critical mass, I will try to take this forward. I have several people on board already. The wonderful Matt Rader wrote of the Dove Creek Hall near Courtenay:

Tell me, who hung the hand-stitched stars on the wall?
Who hung the evening light from the windows?

And that’s it. That’s it exactly. Let’s find out!

green thoughts on Fairfield Road

Returning from the Cottage Bakery on Fairfield Road with pastries for breakfast, you see the most beautiful patch of miner’s lettuce by the trunk of a tree, much more lush than the clumps you took down from the mountain a month ago and planted in your garden.

miner's lettuce

Enough for salads, enough for pizza (the succulent leaves hold up well to heat). But (oh, there’s always a but…) you also see the many dogs being walked along Fairfield Road on this bright Monday morning and yes, they are peeing against trees. Even this one.

And you also notice yourself walking ahead, as though the woman that small girl who walked this road more than 5 decades ago has become is still slightly out of reach, walking a little too fast to catch up to.

on fairfield

 

 

the view from here

the view from here

Yesterday we were having breakfast on Galiano Island with our excellent hosts, Louise Decario and Brian Mitchell. We stayed with them in 2016 when we were guests of the Galiano Island Literary Festival and so it was lovely to join them again after my workshop at the Festival on Friday. This is their view. Brian is a painter and he said he has made many works with the title, “The View From Here 1”, “The View From Here 2”, etc. Yup. I get that.

My husband says sometimes that I need to rein in my nostalgia, as though it was an unruly horse in need of training. But when you ride the ferries from one island to another, there is always the shadow of the ferry you took as a girl to these islands, in childhood with your family to Salt Spring for camping on St. Mary’s Lake, and later, as a young woman, to visit friends who were living in rustic cabins and trying to learn how to farm. Those farms are still there and the ferries, oh yes. I know that there are people who think we need bridges to link the islands but my response is always what it is when the same thing is said about access to the peninsula I live on, also serviced by ferries: “Where did you think you were coming to?”

ferries

Yesterday, in order to return to Tsawwassen from Galiano Island, we had to travel to Mayne Island first of all, and then wait for smaller ferries bringing passengers from Saturna Island and another, maybe Pender? Or Salt Spring? You could smoke rising from distant chimneys and yes, some sheep in fields, and cliffs with arbutus clinging to their edges.

We do get glimpses of that old coast and sometimes in the most unexpected places. On Thursday, enroute to Galiano Island, we spent the night in Steveston. We were told that snow geese were on the marsh at Garry Point so we drove out there to see. I only had my tablet camera and so of course everything is blurry but groups kept rising up, calling loudly, and it was wonderful. I remember driving out to this area 30 years ago to see fields white with foraging geese who’d arrived from Wrangell or Siberia.

snow geese

We walked by Scotch Pond for another old coast moment, a group of fish boats waiting out the cold. And there were echoes of both the cannery that was once here and the sheds where the Atagi family had their famous boatworks, the sound of red-winged blackbirds in the reeds.

on Scotch Pond

And this morning? I’m drinking a cup of Galiano Coffee Roasting Company’s delicious Raven Dark (a gift from the Festival, put into our swag bags moments after the beans had been roasted on Friday) and looking out on Fairfield Road. This was the neighbourhood I lived in as a child, my old school just across the road, and the cemetery where my mother used to send us to ride our bikes in the safety of its green lanes under the most beautiful trees. We’re going there later, for a walk. I know we’ll go to Eberts Street to look at our old house, the park where we used to play soft ball in the falling light on summer evenings, near the Dallas Road waterfront where we gathered bark on weekends for the woodheater in our kitchen. Oh, the scent of salt-infused Douglas fir bark, burning hot on a winter day. And the sound of gulls.

So this is me, trying to rein in that unruly nostalgia. Like a headstrong horse, it wants to run, it wants to take the bit in its mouth and race along the old streets, plunging into water, listening, always listening, sniffing the wind and the wood smoke, and quite honestly I’m at a loss as to what to do about it…

“When I look behind…”

snow angel

Yesterday John and I celebrated the 39th year of our meeting. (I know I’ve written about it before.) We always have a special dinner—last night it was duck breasts with a port and dried cherry sauce, followed by little molten chocolate cakes with raspberries and creme fraiche. A bottle of lovely Vacqueyras from the Rhone Valley, full of cherry and red currant.

But before dinner, a friend dropped by. She saw the quilt I was working on and said it reminded her of seeing the Northern Lights on a recent flight back from England. I said I felt at this point in the quilting that I was seeing snow angels. Those too, she exclaimed. She wanted to know how we met and John told her the story of the poetry reading at Open Space Gallery in Victoria, with bill bissett, and how we’d had dinner together with a mutual friend who was hosting John overnight (though he ended up staying with me instead!). And how the ferry he’d taken to the Island that afternoon was the only sailing that day because of high winds. We almost didn’t meet at all. Would he have remained with the woman he was with then? Would I have returned to Ireland to the nice man I’d left behind while I sorted out my life to try to find a way to go back? My friend said, But if you hadn’t met, then all this—she indicated the gallery of photographs taped to the fridge: our children, their children; and by extension, the whole of our life together—would never have happened. I looked at the photographs of my beautiful children. And the three grandchildren I adore (soon to be four). I would have been another person if none of this had occurred. Another life, another man (or not), other children (or not). But not these beloved people.

This morning, folding towels and looking out at the snow that fell last night, I kept hearing this poem. It’s one of my favourites. If anyone knew about time and its strange metaphysics, it was Stanley Kunitz.

The Layers
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.
So maybe they’re scavenger angels too. Maybe they’re birds taking flight. But somehow I see the little children who were here last winter in snow and then in Edmonton last summer in sunlight, and who, but for a twist of fate, might not have been here at all. Or anywhere.
weeds and grandma's shadow.JPG

“My heart, unaware…”

grandma theresa
a portrait of Grandmama painted by Arthur, age 2, assisted by his Dad, age 36

From a work-in-progress:

The fibular vein. Anterior tibial vein. Posterior tibial vein. The three become the popliteal vein at the knee; and then that vein enters the thigh, via a passageway called the adductor canal, as the femoral vein. These are the veins where the thrombosis formed, a clot poised like a temporary island, breaking free, travelling into my pulmonary system where it lodged as an embolism, threatening my heart.

My heart never knew it was threatened. My heart grew large with love that time, in anticipation of a third grandchild, surrounded by other family members, hearing their voices, sitting with them at the long table we’d eaten at for more than three decades. My heart, unaware, as I tried to catch my breath. It never knew it was threatened. It was filled with love, it was heavy with love.

And other minor veins drain into the femoral vein, like small creeks. The femoral vein graciously receives its tributaries as rivers receive theirs, the threads of mountain courses, of run-off, of bog-dark sweet creekwater, limestone, gritty, clear as mirror glass, dense with salmon, lively with mayflies and dragonflies catching fire, of rivulets, right-bank, left-bank, forked, streamlet, greater saphenous vein, which usually receives the external pudendal vein as well as the superficial epigastric vein, and the superficial circumflex iliac vein.

“The country is broken, though hills and rivers remain…”

The other day it was 12 degrees here and I went out in a long-sleeved shirt to do some garden work. There aren’t flowers yet, though the small daffodils are in bud and the primulas are nearly blooming. Only a day or so, I thought, as I picked up fallen branches, pulled the mulch aside to see how the garlic was doing. There were even signs of life in the cucumber boxes, though not cucumbers; the miners lettuce I transplanted to one of the boxes is looking very green and bright and there are some little kale volunteers in the other one. In a week or two I’ll be cutting the miners lettuce for salad.

But this morning? Oh, it’s cold again. There were so many stars in the night that I should have known there’d be a frost this morning. So instead of looking for spring flowers in the garden, I’m finding them inside instead. Friends are coming for dinner tonight and I took out one of the linen tablecloths John’s grandmother made for his family after they’d emigrated to Canada. She was an amazing needlewoman, taking classes to learn new stitches and possibilities, and although some of the cloths we have are more sophisticated than this one, none of the others have this colour or exuberance.

daffodils

poppies

There are also primroses stitched into the linen, and nasturtiums, lilacs, violets…

We’re having a spring dinner (sort of), with a Meyer lemon semifreddo for dessert, and we’ll be surrounded by flowers, lit by them too:

june's lamp

I was reading Du Fu this morning and was caught by this beautiful poem. Our country is a bit of a mess this morning, with the Gerald Stanley not-guilty decision causing terrible pain to so many, and the inter-provincial squabbles between B.C. and Alberta about the hazards of increasing bitumen delivery to our coast and Alberta’s embargo of our wines (their loss utterly). There’s solace in ancient poetry, which doesn’t lose its power over the centuries:

The country is broken, though hills and rivers remain,
In the city in spring, grass and trees are thick.
Moved by the moment, a flower’s splashed with tears,
Mourning parting, a bird startles the heart.
The beacon fires have joined for three months now,
Family letters are worth ten thousand pieces.
I scratch my head, its white hairs growing thinner,
And barely able now to hold a hairpin.

“the Leech and Jordan, the Nitinat and Koksilah, the Oyster and Nimpkish, the Po and Arno”

fraser below lillooet
The Fraser River, below Lillooet

At 2 a.m., I was awake and thinking about the essay I thought I’d finished last night. I’d worked on it yesterday morning, then had to go down the coast to do errands, but as soon as I got home, I was back at my desk. I thought I had it and I went to bed with that deep satisfaction that comes when you complete something. Until I woke in the wee hours with the sense that there was still more to do. So I came downstairs, feeling my way in the dark, and switched on my small desk lamp that always makes me feel that I am in the best place in the world: my own room with its deep rose walls and Giotto ceiling, my books and papers all around me (some would say in disarray but mostly I know where everything is). I heard owls. The cat was delighted to find me awake.

Sometimes I feel constrained by form. I think of the essay in a particular way and I think I am writing that kind of essay. An argument, an anecdote, a piece of non-fiction (a term I dislike, esp. when paired with “creative”), a reflective narrative (on occasion), a memoir-ish construction, a series of questions and answers. A beginning, an ending. I’ve written versions of this essay and I know I will write other versions in the future. But the essay I’ve been working on is something else. It’s both objective and subjective. The passages based on memory or history are reconstructed and might not be objectively true. The passages based on human physiology are imaginary voyages into my own body. Its geography is dependent upon maps that might not be accurate in the Cartesian sense but I think the heart would approve. (Mine does. At least it does this morning.)

In the small hours, I realized that I had to push the actual physical structure more than I had by simply deciding to move some of the sections to a right-handed margin. Yes, I was pleased with how this worked but I wanted less reliance on river banks and dams and more flooding. So that’s what I did. I sat with my paper draft and tried to see how I could use the space to make my language advance its imagery and its innuendos. The final draft (or final until this morning) is nearly 7000 words and there is a structure, yes, but it’s not the kind I usually employ. There are connections across time and space. You’ll notice them if you give up the expectation that one thing leads to another in a straightforward pattern. Here’s a short passage from section 14.

the Deadman and Bonaparte, Upper Hat Creek,

Coldwater, and the Kispiox where my children waded on a hot day in July, the Leech and Jordan, the Nitinat and Koksilah, the Oyster and Nimpkish, the Po and Arno and the sweet Hoh and Queets and Ozette where I camped as a young woman, the Snake, the Escalante and Kanab, the Lost and the Warm and the Coeur d’Alene,

the Kern, the Mad, Klamath and Rowdy Creek,

the Lost, the Elk,

and the one I walk to season after season, near my home, where coho salmon swim in by starlight

and mergansers wait to feed on their eggs.

And if I sound excited, it’s because I am. Every time I finish something, I wonder if I’ve written everything I have to write. Maybe that’s it. And then I write something else. I’m kind of looking at my clutter (it’s an organized clutter. Maybe.) and wondering what I might find if I move things around.

Oh, and I still don’t have a title.