I’ve lost track of how long we’ve been here without much contact with the outside world. I know that sounds melodramatic. We do have phone calls and texts from children and friends. But last evening I heard a car come up the driveway and I sent John to the door because I was not prepared to talk to someone else. It turned out to be a neighbour, delivering a letter that had ended up in his mailbox. I talked to him a little through the screen door, from a distance, and maybe he didn’t notice that I’d cut my own hair the day before, scissoring a foot off and tossing it into the woods, then asking my husband to even it out a bit.
I thought of how easily one adjusts to solitude. It doesn’t mean I don’t get lonely. Some days are longer than others. I feel in a way as I did when I lived on an island off the coast of Connemara and left once every week or two to buy groceries in the nearest small town. There were no stores on the island. I lived alone in an old stone cottage and although some of the other 60 residents of the island were friendly enough, I wasn’t of them and would never be. I’d miss the strangest things in that year I spent on the island. Warm baths (I had two basins and a rainwater tank), someone to read aloud with, as we read the Odyssey this winter. Now I miss my grandchildren and their parents, though we do get to see them via Skype from time to time. And it probably won’t be forever, though some days it feels like that.
I thought too of that post-apocalyptic poem of Edwin Muir’s this morning. In it, something has happened, a war, and a couple of survivors are visited by horses, willing to accept the harnesses that would allow them to pull a plough. But before the horses come, there’s a passage both chilling and realistic. After what has happened, who wants the world as it was?
By then we had made our covenant with silence,
But in the first few days it was so still
We listened to our breathing and were afraid.
On the second day
The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no answer.
On the third day a warship passed us, heading north,
Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day
A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter
Nothing. The radios dumb;
And still they stand in corners of our kitchens,
And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms
All over the world. But now if they should speak,
If on a sudden they should speak again,
If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak,
We would not listen, we would not let it bring
That old bad world that swallowed its children quick
At one great gulp. We would not have it again.
We do have a radio and we listen to the Prime Minister every morning. We listen to Dr. Bonnie Henry. Yet it seems unlikely that we will have the old world again. I can’t imagine that we will take our safety and freedom for granted in the way that we did. Will we move through airports without thinking about potential viruses or jostle up against people in line-ups again? I wonder.
This morning it wasn’t a horse that came to offer itself to our work. But looking out while drinking my coffee I saw the Steller’s jay that arrives most days for the seeds I leave on a deck post. Its blue is a colour I dream of, even saw within my own eyes during an accident last year when a fall resulted in torn retinas. The ophthalmologist shone a light into my eyes and among the several entoptic phenomena I experienced was the blue field, the richest blue imaginable within my own vision. I knew it at once as the colour I try for when I dye with indigo. In Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, indigo is described as Berlin blue, a little black, and a small portion of apple green. The sample provided is clear and true. I see it in the jay’s feathers, his pretty eyebrows.
So a single car coming up the driveway to deliver a stray letter, a bird on the railing, and the occasional jet contrail as a plane passes far out to sea, on its way perhaps from Alaska to California. The horses in Edwin Muir’s poem are described as arriving as though “Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world,/Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden.” The jays are lucky. They don’t know about the graphs and models, the curves flattening or rising, the stock market’s fall, what we’ve lost as a species, and what is yet to come.