John and I were the only people at the lake this morning, the only people swimming in light rain. It was satisfying, swimming my lengths across the beach area, back and forth, although I noticed how I stray when I swim on my back, always heading for deeper water. (I swim outside the line of floats demarcating the safe area anyway because I like to begin and end my laps beyond its boundaries.) I laugh about this, my erratic sense of direction, but to be honest, I have a good inner compass. On return visits to cities, I’ve guided us to favourite restaurants, little corners where we’d bought good bread, churches, museums, a square where we sat and simply soaked up the sun. So when I find myself swimming out into deep water, I have to wonder what it is I’m hoping for.
I looked to the sky and the spring rain fell
I saw the water from a deeper well
On the beach side of the floats, the water is green and lovely. The sand on the lake bottom is white and the beach is fringed with cedars, hardhack, and some maples, so the water reflects their green. Beyond, the dark water begins. This morning, because it was grey and misting (more than raining), I looked up to grey sky. A noisy gang of ravens was whooping it up in the woods. I swam, back and forth, and when I’d turn at the end of a lap, I wondered how far down I’d go if I simply sank. What it would mean to sink.
Found I had a thirst that I could not quell
Lookin’ for the water from a deeper well
On Tuesday I spent time working on some recent essays. I have most of a collection of them and some days I think they’re finished and other days I wonder. I was fixing a small problem with tenses in an essay called “The Blue Etymologies”, about indigo dye and how an accident leading to damaged retinas resulted in a kind of rich visual experience I hadn’t anticipated. I remember writing the essay in December and January and waking most mornings with such excitement to be plunged into its pages again. But now when I read it, I think I might have avoided some of the reality of my situation. I didn’t write about the pain of the accident (I fractured my tailbone), nor the wonder I felt when my ophthalmologist told me how I dodged a bullet. Wonder that so much that I took for granted — reasonably good eyesight, the prospect of years of seeing the things I love on a daily basis, without difficulty — was in jeopardy, even briefly. So I tried to take myself deeper into the experience, back into the fear and the beauty.
To locate a place and to mark it with images so close to gods that they breath still, after 30,000 years, or longer…this impulse, the shudder in the shoulders as the shapes appear out of the darkness at the tips of your fingers, your charcoal or ground pigments so carefully prepared: is this what we hope too with our powders and threads, our jar of ink, of leaves made into paste? When I hang our new cloth on a line in sunlight and press my face to its beauty? Breathing in the swampy scent of indigo, heady as grass clippings, oxygen, while above me the blue sky arches over the world. The cloth is a tent to hold me damp inside it. Inside indigo, as Dr. Sacks found another route to inhabit, however briefly.
Colour the little wall maps of the universe you are making. The sapphire colour for the spheres of the world. It would be useful not just to look at it, but to reflect on it in the soul. Deep inside your house you might set up a little room and mark it with these figures and colours. (Ficino, Three Books on Life, from Derek Jarman’s Chroma)
(When I sew my spirals, I am finding my way into darkness, hopeful that I will find my way back. I am walking a path worn to the bare earth. It’s one way I know to hear myself think. I sew small shell buttons to the ends of each trail, a place-marker, shining as the light shone by my face in an Edmonton room where I lay in intense pain, but also in joy as I heard my grandchildren singing. Two little dicky birds sitting on a wall, one named Peter, the other named Paul.)
Deeper, I wanted to swim deeper this morning, to stroke into black water and find out what was there. Far away, two men were fishing from a small boat and the ravens were up to something. What was there. Logs, fish, the drowned bodies never recovered, fresh water clams, lost objects from the wrists and fingers of swimmers, turtles in the mud, the reflected heat of the sun.
I took my troubles down a dead-end trail
Reachin’ out a hand for a holier grail
Note: the passages of song are taken from “Deeper Well”, co-written by Emmylou Harris, David Olney, and Daniel Lanois and worth listening to here.