redux: blue days

Today, three years after this post, I’m clearing the (figurative) decks to prepare for another indigo dye session out on the big cedar bench by my garden. Sometimes I read back to see how I did things and to remember how much I loved the process, even the days of blue hands afterwards…



In early June, I wrote of my delight in finding Memory on Cloth: Shibori Now, Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada’s marvellous exploration of shibori, or shaped-resist dyeing. I’ve done a little of this in the past, in a very amateur and careless way, and I’ve had some jars of indigo waiting for the right moment to try it again. I prepared some cloth (old sheets, some scraps of rough white linen left over from curtains, a worn damask table-cloth), trying as many techniques as I could, and then waited for the right time. Some were bound with string and elastic bands (kanoko); some were stitched (karamatsu or larch); one was wrapped and then ruckled on a piece of pipe for arashi, or storm; and one had pebbles from Trail Bay in Sechelt tied into it for kumo. Preparing cloth and dyeing it is a meditative process, like quilting — or at least it is for me. In a way, it’s thinking with my hands. So the time has to be right. And in Memory on Cloth, Wada writes:

Shibori recognizes and explores the pliancy of the textile and its potential for creating a multitude of shaped-and-resisted designs. When the cloth is returned to its two-dimensional form, the design that emerges is the result of the three-dimensional shape, the type of resist, and the amount of pressure exerted by the thread or clamp that secured the shape during the cloth’s exposure to the dye. The cloth sensitively records both the shape and the pressure; it is the “memory” of the shape that remains imprinted on the cloth. This is the essence of shibori.

Yesterday I dipped my prepared pieces into the dye vat. The process is magic. The dye itself is a kind of swampy green. The fabric turns pale yellowy-green and only becomes blue when it’s exposed to air. So you dip and then let the pieces oxidize; then you dip them again. The more times you do this, the darker the finished dye. I did 4 dips of about 20 minutes each, letting the pieces rest for half an hour on a long bench of rough cedar in-between their visits to the vat. One of the pieces, the damask table cloth, was wrapped around a piece of pvc pipe with cotton string, too long for the dye vat, so it had its own basin of dye and had to be turned regularly to allow it to take the colour evenly.

in the dye.jpg

There was time to do some watering in the nearby vegetable garden while the various pieces were soaking or else resting.

all tied up.jpg

I picked kale and made a green pie for guests who were coming to dinner. I made sourdough bread. And for each step of the dyeing process, I tried to lose myself in the fabric. If the cloth records the shape and pressure of thread and clamps, what does it remember of its worker? That she is flighty? That she was thinking of a sad member of her family too far away to truly comfort? That she wondered if she’d added salt to the bread dough? Never mind. I did my best, I think.

There are differing opinions as to what you should do when you’ve finished the last submersion. Some people advise you to rinse your pieces immediately and let them dry on a line. Others suggest letting the pieces oxidize for 12 or 24 hours to set the dye completely before you rinse them and then wash them in a mild soap. Because we had friends coming for a swim and dinner, I chose to let mine sit overnight on the cedar bench. And this morning I went out at 7 to snip the threads, the elastic bands, the string, and to remove the beach stones from the square of linen. There was very loud noise on the other side of the vegetable garden and I eventually realized it was a whole family of pileated woodpeckers, the young having just learned to fly. They were flapping around awkwardly and making the most comical noise while the parents scolded and encouraged. And mosquitoes kept stinging the small of my back.

But what pleasure to lay each finished piece out on the grass! Each a surprise! I’d wondered when I was awake in the night if I’d bound pieces tightly enough, if the dye would somehow penetrate the thin pieces of wood I’d used for the itajimi pieces (you pleat the cloth, then fold it and clamp it or use elastic bands to keep it place between two pieces of wood). A more careful person would have more interesting results, perhaps, but I have to say I love what shape and pressure created, how the cloth remembers its time as a three-dimensional object. You can see the itajimi in the photograph opening this post. Here’s the damask tablecloth remembering the storm:


And my favourite might be this, the rough linen shaped by beach stones from Trail Bay:


I expected a darker blue, given the number of times I dipped each piece. (The intensity of colour comes from the number of short dips rather than a long sustained soak — or at least this was what I gathered from the numerous things I read about indigo dye.) But maybe my indigo was old or weak. Anyway, it’s a ravishing blue.

And what the cloth remembers, I will remember too — gathering the stones, sewing the circles that became the growth rings of larch, tying cotton string as tightly as I could. And the cloth and I will also remember the raucous sound of adolescent pileated woodpeckers finding their wings, learning what a voice sounds like in open air, in the morning, before the heat begins.

redux: the days are beautiful

*The more things change, the more they stay the same. Children still locked up, a vulgarian (with small hands) wreaking havoc. Still, the other day, driving to Egmont, I saw the white waterlilies blooming on North Lake and my little bentwood box, made by Shain Jackson, still smells beautiful.


Last night I had trouble sleeping. The ugly events in the country to the south of my own filled my mind. Imagine even considering that it would be appropriate to take children from their parents, no matter how legal or illegal the parents’ attempts to cross the Mexico-US border might be. No one leaves a home country unless they are desperate. So imagine the difficulty and pain those parents have experienced already (and the stories are beyond terrible) and then imagine removing the children from their parents and putting them in cages. Imagine believing that somehow the Bible has decreed that this is just fine. Listening to privileged men and women suggest that it is within the realm of what’s humane to do this has made me so angry I could eat rocks. Spit fire.

And this only one event, one awful moment in a country’s devolution.

This morning John was outside deconstructing the little deck and two sets of stairs leading to our printshop, the home of our High Ground Press. He likes building projects and these steps and the deck are the last things that need replacing. He’s been pulling usable wood from storage under the printshop—some 2x6s used in a treehouse that was taken down years ago; some other bits and pieces. I was working at my desk when I thought it might be nice to have a cinnamon bun from the bakeshop on the Skookumchuck Trail. For years it was run by Lynn and Martin Mees and the baking was just wonderful. The cinnamon buns, brioche with blue cheese, small pizzas, huge cookies. And really good coffee. Lynn and Martin moved on to a new chapter and a young couple bought the bakeshop. I thought we could also go to the museum in Egmont where you’d find the best collection of chain saws and Easthope engines anywhere. And a scribbler from the old school at Doriston containing a child’s report on his or her own community, a place still remembered by some, including my friend Andrew Scott who wrote this about Doriston some years back. (He’s been to Doriston but I haven’t. Lucky him.)

The bakeshop was closed, still on spring hours (weekends only until July 1 when it opens 7 days a week). We crossed the road to the museum, mostly so John could ask about donating an old chain saw, and I saw the most beautiful small bentwood cedar boxes made by Shain Jackson. I bought one because I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t. It smells so rich and resiny and the abalone is soft to the thumb.

cedar frog

I wanted to take a photograph of the Egmont Community Hall for the project I am most emphatically not doing (a history of B.C.’s community halls). I’ll add it to the collection of materials I’ve been gathering about the halls in case someone else wants to take the project on. We’ve danced at weddings here, eaten small salmon sandwiches at funerals, and wandered in and out on Egmont Daze when hotdogs are free for kids and huge urns of coffee are steaming and the Thrift store upstairs is open for business.

Egmont Hall

What now, I asked, because I was hungry. Let’s see if the West Coast Wilderness Lodge is open, John replied. And it was, just. We were the first people there for lunch and we had the best seats in the room that is a wonder of the world. Old fir floors and a view of Jervis Inlet:

west coast wilderness lodge

Driving back along the Egmont Road, I stopped the car by North Lake to look at the beaver lodge right by the shore. A pair of yellow warblers must’ve had a nest in the hardhack growing beside the lodge because they kept darting in and out of the green depths and another male was singing in a snag nearby. And all over the surface of the lake along the road, white waterlilies—Nymphaea tetragona?—in bloom, like a moment out of Monet.

lilies on north lake

So sometimes the days are beautiful. You wake from broken sleep, you feel helpless and angry, you wonder how you can go on in a world that values lives so little that children would cry from cages while their parents were imprisoned elsewhere, and then you drive to Egmont where small wonders reveal themselves unexpectedly. Warblers, lilies, a frog with abalone eyes. If there was to be a soundtrack for the morning, it would be Michelle Shocked singing “Blackberry Blossom” because all along the Egmont Road the long thorny canes were holding blossoms up to the sun.

Can you tell me what happened to the blossom
Blackberry blossom when the summertime came?
The blackberry blossom, oh the last time I saw one
Was down in the bramble where I rambled in the spring.

blackberry blossom

the things we wake to

At 5:30, the smell of smoke. (Every window open.) Came down to check and yes, there’s a fire nearby, about 15 minutes south of us, on Cecil Hill, overlooking the little townsite of Madeira Park. Where we shop. Where we are preparing for our 15th Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival in August, where my children went to elementary school, where the government wharf is. All morning the water bombers (skimmers, these ones are called) have been swooping down over Sakinaw Lake, the helicopters are dipping their buckets in one of the calm bays nearer the fire. It was 2.25 hectares last night as we were eating mussels at the Backeddy Pub, oblivious, watching for whales (not lucky enough last night). Just now? 5 hectares. And people on evacuation alert.

I didn’t go back to sleep but when I got up a couple of hours later, the rabbit (now we are thinking it’s a snowshoe hare or snowshoe rabbit, Lepus americanus) was grazing peacefully just below the deck off our bedroom. I watched it for quite a while and realized it was eating, almost methodically, yellow hawkweed.

morning hare

We’ve seen it every morning now for the last 6 days, always near the forest edge. They prefer dense understory, apparently, and that’s what we have. That’s what’s burning on Cecil Hill. First thing, the reports were that the trees weren’t on fire but the underbrush and this time of year? Oh, it’s dry. The salal is desiccated in areas, the duff—old leaves, stems, the crisp moss—like fire-starter. Which it is. And has. The Cecil Hill fire is believed to be human-caused.

So smoke and hares and the experience of being elsewhere, in a way, because I’m editing my novella, set mostly around the Thompson and Fraser Rivers, even in them at times. Years ago we took Brendan and Cristen white-water rafting down the Thompson River, from Spences Bridge to Lytton, and at quiet points along the river, the guide encouraged us to swim. I expected it to be cold and it wasn’t, really. It was green and deep and one of the most beautiful experiences of my life, drifting alongside the raft, hanging onto a rope. There are moments like that in the novella, and also much sadder ones, but now I am looking for a title that carries the rivers in it, graceful, dangerous, and deeply historied. I keep making notes but I don’t think I have the right one yet.

These were the things I woke to: the smoke (so evocative in winter, when it’s our own fire in the woodstove, keeping us warm, reminding us of every winter we’ve spent here, building the fire each morning, drawn to it from other parts of the house to talk and share a glass of wine late in the afternoon); the snowshoe hare, like an emissary, its mouth full of hawkweed and its ears twitching; and the prospect of time in the rivers, or near them, if only on paper. Here’s a little passage to remind me, and you, too.

Our bodies are porous. They take in river water, sunlight, the scent of Artemisa frigida, dust from bone dry slopes, dust of bones themselves littered on the talus (bighorn sheep, marmots, the tiny hollow leg bone of birds eaten and excreted by coyotes, sand particles), pollen from ponderosa pines, midges, spores too minute to affect anything other than a lung, fine hairs of mule deer, the stink of migrating salmon. Over us, the deep blue sky, through us the air so warm and clear we breathe it in deeply and it doesn’t seem altered when we exhale yet the work of our bodies is there too. And helium, beryllium, and carbon, iron and nickel, the dust from dying stars.


It’s almost time for bed. I’ve been working at my desk on the first edits for my novella about rivers and women writers and maps (it’s in the process of trying to find a new title for itself because the publisher suggested the one I’d been using wasn’t quite right and her comment rang true), due out next spring from Palimpsest Press. The night is very quiet. So far. Last week the barred owls were hooting up a storm, two of them at least, and every few nights I hear coyotes or loons. Sometimes I wake, thinking I’ve heard a coyote just to the south of the house and realize it’s a loon down on Sakinaw Lake. Or vice versa. A long trembling sound in the dark. There are loons in this book, in the form of a name: Three Loon Lake, the name Ethel Wilson gives to Lac Le Jeune in her Swamp Angel. And there are plenty of coyotes because Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook has a part in the narrative too. I love it when I’m reading a passage and am interrupted by the sounds of the night. Maybe they even influence the rhythms of my writing, long unbroken sentences, then silence. Maybe. I think of what happens when I write about water, how my sentences surge and then slow down, how they whirl and gather, how they pull and retreat. Could it be any other way? If you truly listen, what you write will be full of the world.


Lately there’s been a brown rabbit hanging around (avoiding somehow the coyotes). It was nibbling the tops of dandelions up by the copper beech planted in memory of my parents. Last evening, when I was in the vegetable garden, I heard a loud clanging on one part of the fence but couldn’t see anything. This morning I saw the rabbit crouched by the one spot where a little animal might be able to scoot under the fence, carefully chosen because its mesh is supposed to be too small for anything really to be able to get through. Anything but birds. The robins pass through. So do towhees. So was the rabbit in the garden and did it make the noise going out in a hurry because it saw me? I thought something had been eating the lettuce and it turns out I was right. This morning we put some boards up along the bottom where the gap is and tomorrow we’ll do something a little more permanent. Years ago, decades ago, there were rabbits here, offspring of someone’s domestic bunnies, either escapees or else ones released because of abundance. But then the coyotes arrived and we haven’t seen rabbits for years. I love watching the jackrabbits in Brendan and Cristen’s Edmonton neighbourhood; some mornings you look out and see them crouching on the boulevard. An area with plenty of places for a species to hide and thrive is called a predator shadow and apparently Edmonton is just that. Maybe this particular rabbit has been thinking of my garden as a predator shadow because a coyote could never get through the fence. Thinking of my garden as an easy lunch. But not for long.  The beans are in flower and so are the squash. Let the rabbit eat dandelions.

Oh! Just now, a loon. It’s one of the most beautiful sounds I know, lonely and tremulous. Every now and then when we go for our morning swim, we’ll see loons on Ruby Lake. Sometimes a single bird but once, memorably, a mother and her two young. She was teaching them to call and I swam back and forth along the shore listening to her hoot and then the young ones trying to imitate. It was too early for boats so the loon three-part song was the only sound, apart from my splashes as I back-stroked along the shore.

So now I’ll go to bed full of the sound of loons, hoping that the right title will come to me, that I’ll wake early with a phrase sounding itself in my head, wanting to be written down on the scraps of paper I keep by my bed for just those moments. I’m listening, listening.

Wish me luck?

“…next to deep woods”

at the edge

Looking out, as the sun came up over Mount Hallowell, as I wondered at my restlessness, as I tried to think of how to do the work that is waiting for me, listed on a scrap of paper, the list enumerating the hours, I saw the deer come out of the woods. So I went to stand about twenty yards away, talking softly, and around us the robins were making their last songs to territory and creation.

Go elsewhere your own way,

lonely and wanting. Or
stay and be early:
next to deep woods

inhabit old orchards.

           --Philip Booth, from "How to See Deer"

“But you must not pronounce its name.”

common pink moss

June is a month for roses and ours have been just glorious. Every few days I cut big bowls full and I can smell the nicest ones from a room away. This morning, the common pink mosses, from a huge sprawling bush given me years ago by an elderly woman in our community, now long-dead. She was odd. One year she walked in the local May Day parade, her head covered with a hood, carrying a papier-mâché head under her arm, with a sign on her back: Anne Boleyn is alive and well in the library. (She volunteered in the library and I guess she wanted to remind us that history was alive and all around us. Maybe.) Yet she lives in my garden and in many others, I know. That’s the way plants so often find us.


Another rose grows up the railings just beyond the kitchen. It came from a spring plant sale decades ago, unnamed, but when I was writing one of the essays in Euclid’s Orchard, I got out my big dictionary of roses and kept turning the pages until I found it. Did it matter? Would it be any less (more) beautiful named than unnamed?

The rose came from one of the annual spring plant sales at the Community Hall when we first lived here; you brought your box with you, and you got there early because everyone wanted the tomatoes or irises or Muriel Cameron’s dahlia tubers or bits of Vi Tyner’s roses. I’m not sure this one came from Vi Tyner, who did give me moss roses, a soft pink one and another one deeper pink in colour. But it grows everywhere—old homesteads, seaside gardens, along fences in semi-industrial areas as if remembering a former house, ancient care. It grows across from the Post Office in Madeira Park, for example, and I don’t know if it ever gets pruned or watered. And there’s a place on the highway, near Middlepoint, where one grew for years and years, until it was absorbed by the forest taking over the site of a cabin that I believed burned to the ground before we arrived in 1981.
I’d thought a little about trying to identify it but somehow never did. And somehow today was the day, so I took my rose encyclopedia and a cup of coffee out to the table and went through, page by page. Until I came to ‘American Pillar.’ Bred by Dr.Van Fleet in 1902. A very prolific and widespread rose,and yes, it will survive any kind of neglect, it seems.

June is about roses and water. It’s about birds, the ones I hear at dawn, the robins that follow me in the garden for the worms they know will turn up as I pull weeds, and even the stunned orange-crowned warbler that hit John’s study window a few hours ago. I picked her (it was a female, missing the orange crown) up in a tea-towel and carried her around in one hand as I filled the bird bath, watered some vines. She blinked, looked at me with a steady gaze, closed her beak, and after about half an hour, she flew off.

Some mornings when I go out to water, I watch the hummingbirds in the roses and it feels as though my life is passing too quickly. Do you feel this? That you want the days to pass as slow as honey, that you want the birdsong to go on forever, the roses too, and you want it all, the scent of common mosses, water cool from the hose, the tendrils of cucumbers, the taste of sharp mizuna and arugula, how the light goes on into the evening so that you look up from your book and it’s 10.00. I was reading poetry last night and these lines surprised me to tears for the way they spoke to the moment. (I tucked them away to use as an epigraph for my next collection of essays because this is exactly what I meant on every page):

Tell me a story.

In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.

Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.

The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.

Tell me a story of deep delight.

             --Robert Penn Warren, "Tell Me a Story"


When the young dreamer becomes…

…a father and an archivist.

My older son Forrest, father of two sweet boys, is moving into a wonderful job at Libraries and Archives Canada; his official title will be “Curator” and he’ll be curating exhibits at various locations, not only in Ottawa but in other gallery space as well.

This afternoon, on a Fathers Day call to his dad, he remembered this entry in his elementary school yearbook, as he was finishing Grade 6. Ambition realized! (By the Gods of Olympus…)


“Let me then…”


“Let me then, like a child advancing with bare feet into a cold river, descend again into that stream.” (from ‘A Sketch of the Past’, Virginia Woolf)

Yesterday, using the new printer that arrived on Friday (old one, perfectly serviceable, would no longer talk to the aging computer it was linked to and of course there are no longer drivers available, etc.), I printed the first full draft of Blue Portugal & Other Essays, a collection I’ve been working on for the past two years. In fact, it’s not quite finished. There’s a place holder, a title, for the final essay: “Museum of the Multitude Village”. This last essay I hope to write after a trip to my grandfather’s village in Bukovina in September. In trying to locate more Kishkans in that area, I discovered a museum in a neighbouring village, founded by one Vasily Kishkan, described as a writer and teacher.


This collection surprises me and it doesn’t. I wanted to pursue some threads and I did that. I also found myself revisiting landscapes with new information, trying to make sense of what I already knew, or thought I knew. If I was trying to write a book to fit the current market, I’d be very disappointed now because this isn’t that kind of book. I have my touchstones for what I do and thank goodness they are always close at hand. Last night I was re-reading Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life, by Julia Briggs, a book in which the author explores Woolf’s life through her writing, including diaries, letters, and unpublished work. She invites the reader to follow Woolf as she writes, edits, faces both uncertainty and the true possibilities of her work. Last night I was particularly interested in the chapter on the writing of Roger Fry’s biography, a book she began with hope and excitement and concluded with something like despair as the machinery of war sounded everywhere around her (the book was published in 1940). As solace, she wrote some autobiographical sketches, including “A Sketch of the Past”, the most beautiful essay about her childhood at Talland House in St. Ives. I remember walking to the road above Talland House on a trip to England in 2005, entranced by its views and garden. Could I hear voices from where I stood on the road? Coming from the trees? Maybe.

Yesterday, with my newly printed manuscript in hand, I sat outside with my red pen. I’ve already edited most of the essays but one I finished recently, “Mapping, an Unknown Place”, was still pretty rough. I didn’t realize how rough until I had the actual pages in hand. I’m still that old 20th century writer, the one who needs to see the pages following one another in actual time and space, not on a screen. So I scribbled and made notes to myself and spent time at my computer entering the changes.


And realized this morning that I was writing to my father. The essay tries to find him (again) in the place where he was a child. I’ve gone there before but this time I had more information, as though that would allow me to be closer to him. Did it? I don’t know. But it made me feel remorse for how our relationship left too much unsaid. On this day, of all days, I want to give myself a second chance with him and one of the opportunities that writing gives us is just that. Let me then, Virginia Woolf said, descend again into that stream. And oh, yes, that’s what I hope for.

The map I have been trying to draw eludes me. I look and look again. Was it here the washtubs were stored, in full view of the singular hill, was that the river beyond the cottonwoods, the road with its little haze of dust? Yearning is a cloudy overlay. As much as I want to see the thing clear and definite, the land, the house, the road leading to town, and away to the places my father walked, looking for bones, I am lost in the contours of paper and dirt. My thumb rasps old paper. Wandering down the gravel road alongside the barren ground with its tufts of tough grass, broken bottles at the edge, a few brave grasshoppers clicking, I keep my face averted from the truck with the Canadians Against the Temporary Foreign Workers Program sign painted across its side. I will it away. Away. On the map I can’t draw or annotate but keep clear in my imagination, I can find the exact location where my Canadian family (all foreign workers, domestic, miners, subsistence farmers) began. The cone-shaped hill holds more than its layers of mudstone, sandstone, shales, and seams of dark coal. Within the hill, the fossilized bodies of dinosaurs large and small, later mammals, reptiles, fish, trees as unlikely as giant redwoods and mulberries in that dry land. On its steep slope, my father lingers. My finger traces the road, the place where Michichi Creek enters the Red Deer River, its elbows of ice and the pike and walleye resting in the shadows. I smell the mineral scent of the waters, far off rain in the clouds. My father is riding towards me, hell-bent for town. He is 3 years old. He is 13. He a man bent by the news that his brother died. I open my arms to him, full of questions, full of love.

late swimmer

“The lake of my mind, unbroken by oars…” (Virginia Woolf, from The Waves)

lake2 (1)

I learned to swim at the age of 6 and as a child, I lived for water. Summers in lakes, the ocean, the shallows of Englishman River where my family camped. Lived for the clarity of immersion, the moment when you release your attachment to ground and push off into water. Later, as a teenager, I used to ride my horse to Island View Beach on the Saanich Peninsula. I’d take off his saddle and ride him into the water. Sometimes I thought we could push right on to James Island. He loved the chuck as much as I did.

But for years I didn’t swim much. The lake near us where we took our children daily in summer is lovely but the little wild beach became tame and the local regional district trucked in sand, expanded the parking lot, and it was harder and harder for me to want to join my husband on his daily swim in late afternoon. I didn’t like the changes. I missed parting the hardhack and mint to enter the water, missed finding a clump of grass or a warm rock to sit on after a swim. When my children came home in summer, they headed down to the lake each day, sometimes twice, and while I didn’t join them very often (except when we took our little boat out to one of the islands for a picnic), I felt that the planets were all properly aligned when I saw the towels draped on railings and smelled the wild scent of the lake on their skin when they hugged me.

But then I had some health issues that prevented me from taking my regular walk and I missed the exercise. I’d already sent John to the local pool–this was November of 2016– because I knew he was worried and I wanted him to channel the stress into something relaxing. I didn’t want to swim in the pool for some of the same reasons I gave up the lake. I don’t like crowds. But then I did join him, in January of 2017, and discovered there are seldom crowds at the Pender Harbour pool in winter. I swam 3 times a week, a kilometer each time, and found myself more and more attached to the experience. A few people would ask me, How much do you do?, meaning, how far, how long, and when I told them 50 lengths, they were impressed. Imagine! I liked the sense of myself as a swimmer. My mum loved to swim and one of my favourite photographs of her was taken by my dad on Gonzales Beach in Victoria where they rented a little house and learned to be parents.

mum on gonzales beach

Once I’d become habituated to regular swimming, I wanted to go the lake again. But not in late afternoon when the beach area is filled with people and reckless young men who bring their jet skis to the shore and others who ignore the signs saying No Boats and tie theirs up to branches of cedar. Well, what about mornings, said John. What an idea. So we began to go down around 8:00 or 8:30 when no one was there except the friendly man hired by the regional district to collect garbage and clean the outhouse and rake the sand. I don’t have a device to tell me how far I swim but I think it’s about 3/4 of a km. And we go almost every day in summer.

This morning was so lovely. It’s not sunny, except in fits and starts. But the water was so green and clear, the air clean, the cedars laden with cones, and not a single boat on the lake. A cutthroat trout jumped 3 times right in front of us and swallows dipped over the surface of the water, probably feeding on the same hatch as the trout. Later in summer, we’ll see tracks in the sand when we come down — deer, even a bear last year, wanting what we want: solitude, the old sense of the lake before the crowds, its cool welcoming licks against the shore.

lake2 (2).jpg

redux: it’s a long way from Clare to here

Note: This time last year I dreamed of Galway, and last night? Again. The soft iodine wind that came in the window by my bed in my cottage on Inishturbot. The wild fuchsia on the narrow roadsides. The music.

And is it courting bad luck to say that the Ukraine trip has been rebooked? Fingers crossed. All of them.


Does this happen to you? That you wake, knowing you dreamed of something deeply important, but you’ve forgotten what? How did you sleep, I asked John just before 7 and he replied, Not well; strange dreams. Given that he is experiencing a new health thing, I wasn’t surprised, but sort of sad, because sleep is the one time we can leave the daily worries and be transported. I knew I’d dreamed of something unsettling too but couldn’t remember just what.

Putting laundry into the washing machine, I found myself singing softly and I realized it was this song:

And then I remembered my dream. John and I were somewhere, don’t know where, and two guys were also there, obviously bored. Never mind, one of them said, we’ll just drive on to Galway. I was pierced, in the dream, and now, that someone could simply drive to Galway, a city I love and have spent a little time exploring. It was the nearest city to me when I lived on an island off the west coast of Ireland and sometimes I got to tag along with someone going there with fish or on other business. Later, in Ireland with my son Forrest in 2001 so I could research Irish history and revisit some special landscapes while I was writing A Man in a Distant Field, Forrest and I spent three nights in Galway. He was just finishing an undergraduate degree in history at the University of Toronto and he’d taken a course in Irish history and was full of information I’d never known. But I knew places and plants and another kind of history so I think we were a good pair that spring. We were blessed with weather. I think it rained the day we arrived in Dublin and it might have rained another day but mostly it was warm and sunny, ideal for following the Ordnance Survey Map I’d ordered from Kennys, a book store and art gallery in Galway, before flying to Ireland. I wrote about that trip in an essay, “Well”, in Phantom Limb, how we used the map to find (or not) sacred sites:

We didn’t see St. Patrick’s Well off the Maam Valley road, nor his bed a little further on. We drove as far as the path to that Well but then it led through a farm yard and the sign told us Do Not Enter. Later in our trip, we ignored the signs and ventured into Hoare Abbey, a field of beehive huts on the Dingle Peninsula, a grove on ogham stones on a private drive, but we hadn’t yet found the courage to climb the gate, and walk up the path, smoothed by centuries of travellers and believers.

near dingle

Forrest found a small map in Galway that took an interested person, or two of them, on a walking tour of medieval sites, many of them hidden in plain view. You looked up and saw a gargoyle, an oriel window, the hall of the Red Earl. We walked, parsing the streets in their layers of occupancy. Streets I’d walked and never thought to look up.

We went to places I’d been but had never known to look at with an historian’s eye. At Sellerna, this megalithic tomb:

at sellerna

The Kilmalkedar church on the Dingle Peninsula:


In my dream, this was all somehow in the atmosphere, that a person could simply go to Galway, or by extension, Ireland. But that person wasn’t me. I know I am mourning in a mild way the loss of our trip to Ukraine and London in September, wondering (perhaps) if we will be be able to plan such things again. Things happen. One day you are healthy and vigorous and another day you aren’t. And a song helps, or doesn’t. It’s a long long way from Clare to here, from Galway to here, from the village in Bukovina my grandfather left in 1907, maybe for good reason, maybe not. It’s part of a project I’m working on, a series of essays that might become a book. I didn’t think Ireland was part of it but, well, are dreams instructive? Was I being told to pay attention to where the heart longed towards?

We had to stop while John Smith drove his cattle to their evening pasture, him still in the black wellingtons with a familiar dog at the heels of the last wild-eyed heifer. He waved to us as though to anyone and for a moment I thought to call to him, asking him…but what? Where have the years gone, John Smith, that you are still with the cattle and I am driving with a son the age I was when I lived on the island we’ll see when we park the car and take our picnic to the sand.


Was I being told to at least look at old photographs and remember that ramble through narrow roads so overhung with fuchsias and hawthornes that we kept having to pluck blossoms from our clothing when we got into the car, or out of it.

I sometimes hear a fiddle play or maybe it’s a notion
I dream I see white horses dance upon that other ocean
It’s a long, long way, it gets further by the day
It’s a long way from Clare to here