Yesterday we were driving down to the final concert of the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival (I’ve been involved since the first Festival in 2005 and it’s the most wonderful series of concerts over 3 days) and suddenly I was leaning against the car window as John negotiated the twisty highway past the Malaspina Ranch and up Misery Mile, scribbling into my little notebook. What are you writing, he asked, and I made a motion with my hand: Can’t talk now.
What was I writing? I had this image of us on a train, travelling through darkness, with small lights in the distance. And I realized it was part of the essay I’ve begun about my grandfather. I should have been keeping in mind all the things I needed to do once we arrived at the Music School in Madeira Park (part of a restored complex of Forestry Buildings overlooking the government wharf) but instead I was ahead of myself, on that overnight train we will be taking from Kyiv to Chernivtsi in September on our way to my grandfather’s village. There are things I hope will happen. I hope I will find evidence of the family he left behind when he came to North America in 1907. I hope I will learn something that tells me who he was in those early years. What he saw as a boy. I began the essay and then put it aside because I don’t yet understand the relationship between the little I do know and everything I don’t know. Perhaps will never know.
So for now, three photographs, a small archive of papers, two early but specific memories, a few names, dates, and enormous longing. And some lines in my notebook, written in pencil as we drove to a concert, anticipating the sound of a train passing through the darkness, with us inside, sleeping or not. When I think of it, I am excited beyond words. That we will travel backwards and forward, through time, to find memories if we’re lucky. Ghosts, too.
Impossible now to think of train travel without a kind of tenderness – as if that is what love is: arrival after arrival.
— from Railtracks, by John Berger and Anne Michaels
2 thoughts on ““What was I writing?””
What an exciting project. I wish you success.
Thank you! Had planned to travel to Ukraine last September but life intervened.