Last night I dreamed of stairs. I was ascending, not descending, and it seemed the stairs went on forever. It was exhilarating but there was also a sense that I had no idea where I was going. I was afraid to look back but I knew I should try to remember everything that I was leaving as I climbed.
I think the dream came from seeing this pile of old cedar yesterday:
John was splitting some rounds of fir and getting old lumber ready to cut into usable lengths for the woodstove and this pile represents the old stair treads he replaced a few weeks ago. The stairs are the ones that lead up from the grass on the east side of our house to the deck that wraps around two sides of the second storey and serves as a roof for three bedrooms below it. Our bedroom opens into a sun-room and the sun-room opens onto the deck. It’s where I grow tomatoes against the warm south-facing walls and where we have our coffee each morning. There’s also a collection of potted roses and a Meyer lemon tree (this moves into the sun-room each winter and produces enough fruit for marmalade). We built this deck when we extended our house in 1990 to accommodate growing children and I think the stairs were built the next summer, in 1991. I remember Kate Braid coming for lunch (and also to sign copies of her poem “Concrete’s Coming” that John printed as part our High Ground Press poetry broadsheet series) and the two of them looking at the stringers, talking about the best way to bolt them to the house.
The treads needed replacing. The original wood came from a little mill on Trout Lake Road where the sawyer sold cedar 2x4s that were odd lengths and where we bought a lot of this cedar for decks, The roof that also served as a deck was once something called “torch-on” I think—heavy roofing felt applied to plywood—and we built decking over top, using rough cedar in sections that could be lifted to clean underneath. Those sections were so heavy to lift and eventually the torch-on needed to be replaced and the local roofers didn’t want to do it. So we replaced it with a membrane that is very durable and makes a good deck surface without the fuss of those moveable sections of cedar. Some of those sections were dismantled and used to frame garden boxes.
But the stairs went on. I’ve gone up and down them thousands of times. There’s a Mme. Alfred Carriére rose growing up one set of railings. I’ve lugged buckets of soil up and down, bags of manure, compost, plants, chairs, pots of tomatoes and roses, and sometimes I’ve sat on the stairs because the sun had just come up and those cedar treads were the first place to warm up. Just beyond them is the copper beech tree where I scattered the ashes of my parents.
Last year when we were away in Alberta helping Brendan and Cristen build a deck of their own, the neighbour who was feeding the cat phoned to say that bears had come up the stairs to drag pots of tomatoes part-way down. This year I’m sort of waiting for the mama sow to remember and to guide her cubs up to try again. Weasels have come up the stairs and somehow a snake found its way up too.
There was something forlorn about the stack of old stairs by the woodshed. We’ll burn the wood; it won’t go to waste. But all the times I trusted their strength to take me up and down, to take my children, then my grandchildren up and down: was that why I dreamed of stairs rising and rising, take me to some unknown height?
The man who built the stairs (affectionately known to me as John) asked that I post a photograph of the new stairs.