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…

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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.

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

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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:

arashi

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

kumo.jpg

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.

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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.

listening

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.

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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.

pillars

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…)

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