the times

book on counter

Tonight it’s raining and there’s new snow on the mountain. But the last week? Sunny days, with some warmth, and the sound of tree frogs as I dug out a bed in my garden, finished the pruning, tidied up the areas where primula and crocus are coming into bloom.

Last week I sent out most of the copies of the little book I made as a gift to friends and family members to commemorate my 65th birthday. Notes come from them, and a few surprising phone calls. One friend said, “It transported me someplace almost familiar (if that makes any sense).” And it did make sense. Because the essay, “Museum of the Multitude Village”, is about a search for those threads of our family histories that we know when we find them. A few bars of music, a place I knew my grandfather must have remembered all his life (the beech trees, the soft fields rising from the river, the apples drying in the rafters of barns).

The world is as troubled now as it was when my grandfather left Europe to come to Canada. He left poverty, service in the Austro-Hungarian army, the recognition that he would never own land, and he arrived with almost nothing. When he died, he owned a small house, had fathered a son (and before that, a daughter, who died), and he’d learned to write his own name.

When I was working in the garden yesterday, I was thinking about where I’d plant the beans this year, where to transplant the rhubarb (which hasn’t exactly thrived), and how best to tie up Vi Tyner’s old moss roses (they’ve fallen off their trellis). I thought of the book John and I are writing together and how we are bringing very different perspectives to an account of the same events. We built a house, we had children, we made a garden, and now we approach our later years in a dazzle of memories. I write about the beauty of lying in our tent with an infant, listening to loons. I wonder if we have enough diapers for the days ahead. He writes in praise of a good hammer, the efficiency of sonotube. He remembers the details of building forms and how good it felt to swim at the end of the day.

I’m watching for salmonberry blossoms these February days. I’ve found them in past years as early as February 17th and as late as the third week in March. This year the plants are budding and I suspect there might be a stray blossom here or there. They’re indicators for me—that the days are growing longer, that we can look forward to another spring, and eventually the tart berries to eat, if we can pick a few before the robins get to them first. They sing from the thickets, a long beautiful passage of 10 or more notes, rising, falling, as the light rises and falls, the days begin and end, and we write down what we can, what we need to, as Tu Fu wrote down his hopes for spring more than 1200 years ago.

The nation shattered, mountains and river remain;
city in spring, grass and trees burgeoning.
Feeling the times, blossoms draw tears;
hating separation, birds alarm the heart.
Beacon fires three months in succession,
a letter from home worth ten thousand in gold.
White hairs, fewer for the scratching,
soon too few to hold a hairpin up.

2 thoughts on “the times”

  1. Thank you for the beautiful book! It arrived today. Perfection. I look forward to reading your joint memoir. So interesting, how you built it and made a life and family there. Glad to have seen it myself.

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