Tonight we are going for dinner with our friends at Oyster Bay. I haven’t looked at the tide table but I’ll take my bathing suit just in case. When the tide comes in, the bay is the most beautiful place to swim. You are swimming over the remains of fish weirs and oyster beds and there’s feral asparagus, remnants of the cultivated crops grown by the local market garden, self-seeded in the rich muck along the shores. My friend gathers it in spring in her canoe and those dinners are spectacular. Tonight’s will be, too. And I offered to bring dessert—a gooseberry fool flavoured with a little rose-water, and lavender and lemon shortbreads. I made them with rice flour for those in our party who don’t eat gluten and as I was mixing and shaping, I wondered at what point you can call something that you’ve always made in honour of the person who gave you the recipe (well, her son actually, who is in his 80s now) but who would probably not recognize the recipe any longer, well (realizing I’ve lost control of this sentence), how long you still name the recipe for that person? When Alistair MacKay,who was once my husband’s French professor at UBC and who, with his colleague Floyd St. Clair (partner of David Watmough), became dear friends, gave me his mother’s recipe for shortbread, he asked that I call it “Mrs. MacKay’s Shortbread”. And I do, most happily. It is excellent. I’ve passed along the recipe to others and told them they too must call it by its true name. (It was a hit in Amsterdam last Christmas, apparently.) But when I add rosemary or lemon zest or fierce Chamayo chili bought from a man selling bags of it on the roadside in New Mexico, is it still “Mrs. MacKay’s Shortbread”? Yes, I think it is. So “Mrs. MacKay’s Shortbread, with variations for the times we live in, the flavours we crave, the spice we want in winter, the flowers we have available in summer”.
Back to Oyster Bay. I am married to a poet and have lived with him for nearly 40 years, surrounded by poetry. He says he is often surprised to find records of our daily life in the pages of this blog. Surprised by what I remember or pay attention to. Mostly he’s glad, I think. And similarly, I am often surprised to find our daily life in his work. Surprised and delighted and grateful. Here’s part of the first section of one of my favourite poems, John’s “Mud Bottom”, set on Oyster Bay some years ago now but still vital and true.
I should put on old runners
to walk the creek’s last clarity, its main channel
down the estuary utterly exposed,
brazen and pungent in the sun. Its bed
of clay and hard sand is the only footing
in acres of slippery, deep mud. Its few round stones
in shroud and sweep of seaweed hair are the blind heads
of seekers pushing upstream.
They would be worth knowing, knowing
what a husband knows.
A river, a marriage, living
are deep-pulling puzzlements their whole length.
—from “Mud Bottom”, in Water Stair, Oolichan Books, 2000.