“A blown-away leaf, the composer said, could be heard as ‘a love song’.”


My family left yesterday morning, in a rush of activity, one group heading to Earls Cove to cross Jervis Inlet and the other south, to Langdale, to cross Howe Sound. (Angelica flew home on Wednesday, across Georgia Strait.) On our way back from Langdale yesterday, John and I stopped for a swim at the little pebble cove we swam at on Wednesday. It was lovely but melancholy to sit on the logs after the swim, drying in the sun, everything quiet. Families fill such space with their needs, their complications, their various personalities, the sheer energy of their lives. I’m sure there is an equation for what happens when 11 people gather, who were once 5, and who have lived away from the home they shared (1 of them) for longer than they were in residence there, who left and returned more times than a single person could count. What is the mathematics of love in this situation?

I have been a mother for more years than I wasn’t. I didn’t expect to be. I wasn’t much interested in dolls when I was a child and didn’t create elaborate family structures in any kind of play. Yet now I see the possibilities of those structures everywhere. It’s after 1 a.m. where I am now. I’ve come down to my desk to do some work and my study window is wide open to the night. There are coyotes vocalizing in the woods as I write this. They’re farther away then they were the first night all of my children and their partners and their own children were here, when the song was one harmonic tangle. I’m listening tonight and wondering. Did one parent just bring back meat? Has one youngster strayed? Those quick sharp yips—am I right in hearing anxiety? Urgency? The harmony is missing. They’ve lost the song, at least temporarily. Maybe the parents are too busy for simple music.

And now? Silence.

I came down tonight to do some work on a collection of essays I’ve recently finished. Or almost finished. I have one more to write, after I visit Ivankivtsi, my grandfather’s village, in September. But for the most part, Blue Portugal is complete. It rambles, it investigates blue, retinal damage, aging, textile work, ventures into ampelography, into family history, it attempts to learn the dance movements of Bach’s Violin Partita in D Minor, BWV 1004, it listens to Janáček:

                                              Listening to the young pianist playing “The Madonna of Frydek”, I am in the fields of barley, soft grasses, poppies. A blown-away leaf, the composer said, could be heard as “a love song”. The children are running ahead, a bag of apples slung over the back of the oldest.

Sometimes I wonder what kind of writer I would have been if I’d never met my husband, been a mother, never lived the life I do? Would I have pursued a PhD in classical literature, would I have learned to play a cello, would I have settled in a little house at Ballynakill, the one a man I loved was thinking of buying? Would I have been more systematic in my thinking? If my desk is a reflection of the state of my mind, then woe is me: there are worry dolls, a tray of shells and fossils, a line of books ranging from Robert Fitzgerald’s translation of the Odyssey at one end to Exploring Victoria’s Architecture by Segger and Franklin at the other, bracketing poetry, natural history, a Greek grammar, Virginia Woolf’s diaries, a few Loeb editions, and Margaret Ormsby’s British Columbia: A History. The other day my older grandson asked me about the bones on my desk and I told him they were the pelvic bones of our middle dog, Lily. (I wrote about her pelvis years ago and then again in an essay in Blue Portugal. So I’m not actually finished with any of this material yet. That’s why I keep it to hand.)

I wonder if the coyotes have gone to sleep? I can hear something else. It might be the weasel who has her nest under the compost and who I’ve seen several times now, looking up at me from one corner of it. And a tree frog is creaking out in the grapes. The other night, as we finished our last meal together on the deck, I felt something on my bare leg. Was it Eddy’s hand? He is one and was crawling under the table. But no. It was a frog, making its way from the table pedestal to the jade tree under the eaves. The other children crowded under the table to look at the small beautiful creature clinging to my leg. Later, in bed, I had to wonder if that had actually happened, the whole dinner, the frog, the gathering of children under the French tablecloth.

                                             Listening to the young pianist playing Janáček’s “In the Mists”, I close my eyes and imagine the landscape where you were born. Foothills of the Beskids, near Janáček’s home village. He was a folklorist as well as a musician and gathered the songs and spoken tales of Moravia-Silesia. Did you sing? Did your family have its own musicians? Did you listen to the bells on the sheep and imagine them into simple tunes? Listening, I am in Moravia, I am in a village of white buildings painted with ultramarine flowers by Anežka Kašpárková, I am myself a babička, stitching blue cloth in long red stitches, my four grandchildren running in the tall grass.

6 thoughts on ““A blown-away leaf, the composer said, could be heard as ‘a love song’.””

  1. Looking forward to reading the book, Theresa. And – my friend in France is also now hosting her far-flung children and grandchildren, submerged in personalities and meals. (In France, two big meals a day needed.) I wrote to her that her life is like life in the theatre – periods of incredible intensity followed by periods of complete solitude and tranquillity. When her family leaves she sits alone at her desk writing about linguistics. When they’re there she’s immersed in the needs of small children, including the adults who used to be her own small children. Like you. Quite a lot going on there for you both.

  2. I think that’s a very good analogy, Beth. This morning our house is so quiet. I can hear the water pump switch on (I have a hose on in the garden…), the small hum of the fridge. I miss the shrieks and thuds of feet on the stairs! But it was good in the night to find my work again, to hear the things that inspire it also.

  3. I so enjoy your writing, Theresa… happy to know a new book is on its way. (Love how you describe a return to the swimming place and the sudden quiet of it… the way you describe families filling spaces…)

  4. And those 1 a.m. coyotes. I,too, never quite know what I’m hearing… I’ve been told they howl that way after they’ve made a kill and are about to sit down for the meal. Always a mixed emotion moment for the listener.

    1. Carin, we found ourselves singing “Fox went out on a chilly night” while the grandkids were here. Interesting to think about sourcing food, etc. from the perspective of the predators! (“He didn’t mind their quack quack quack and the legs all dangling down-oh, down-oh!”) Sometimes I hear the coyotes responding the the far-off wail of a siren and once, a fog horn!

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