“I did not mean to describe, once more, the downs in snow.”

 

bluebird of happiness

A morning when the news is filled with the beautiful faces and stories of those killed in the crash of the Ukrainian airliner west of Tehran on Wednesday morning. Each of those was loved. They were members of families, households, communities, they had dreams. To see their faces now, at the beginning of a new year, a new decade, is so sad.

I sit at my desk and think about the year ahead, my own year. Some mornings I open A Writer’s Diary like a horoscope, wondering if there’s a message in Virginia Woolf’s notes and musings. In 1941, on January 9:

A blank. All frost. Still frost. Burning white. Burning blue. The elms red. I did not mean to describe, once more, the downs in snow; but it came. And I can’t help even now turning to look at Asheham down, red, purple, dove blue grey, with the cross so melodramatically against it. What is the phrase I always remember—or forget. Look your last on all things lovely.

I did not mean to describe again the cascara draped in lichen, the skim of frost on the bare branches of ocean spray. The heavy light. A bright flash as a sapsucker turns from its work on an alder. The footprints on last night’s deer still impressed in the moss. It could all be taken so suddenly and so to notice is to hold the moment as beloved.

In Ottawa the other week, I was reading a small edition of one chapter of Richard Dawkins’ River out of Eden:

A young salmon migrates down the stream of its birth and spends the bulk of its life feeding and growing in the sea. When it reaches maturity it again seeks out, probably by smell, the mouth of its native stream.

Was it the light, was it the proximity of my son, his wife, their two small boys, the dense richness of Christmas in the air, my husband of 40 years, the work my son and I were doing to reconstruct some family history, what was it that made me read that last phrase as, “the mouth of the narrative stream”? As I wrote down the phrase, and the reference, I began to realize that the narrative stream is a perfect metaphor for our lives, and I filled a few pages of my notebook with the beginnings of a new essay, one I hope to finish this month.

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