I found my datebook buried under a pile of stuff on the dining table and I looked back to see how long ago it was that we began to live as we now do. 57 days ago we realized that it was no longer safe nor possible to move around our community as we were accustomed to doing. 60 days ago we at a quiet dinner at the Backeddy Pub, the tables well-spaced as they always are, and I remember realizing it was probably the last time in, oh, how long? (60 days.) I remember I had a second large glass of wine because who knew when the next time would be? (A glass of wine in a place overlooking Jervis Inlet, I mean, with the possibility of seeing whales, because of course I can have wine any time I like at home. And do.) We realized at dinner that we’d probably had our last swim for who knows how long. The lake near us is warming up and yes, we’ll swim there, but a thrice-weekly swim in the local pool, with its precise measurements to let you know how far you were swimming and its many clocks to tell you how long, coming out of the pool with the knowledge that you’ve done 50 lengths (at 20 meters each) in 47 or 52 minutes, well, it’s been 60 days.
John and I have both been writing. He’s working away on the memoir we’re supposed to be writing together, a record of house-building, building a life together, rooms being planned and framed and built as children were born to fill them, and then leave them. Somehow my own work on this has been put aside because I’ve been pulled into something else. I’ll return to the house and how we built it but right now I’m finding my way into the dark days of the Spanish flu pandemic and how it affected my grandmother and her young family. Somehow it’s taken on a special urgency as I live through the current pandemic. I also completed the final work on a collection of essays in winter and have been weighing and pondering the next step. It’s quiet work, lyric essays, and I don’t exactly have a line-up of interested parties at my door. But then no one is coming to the door. I’d be nervous if anyone did.
Things were to have happened in the 60 days. There was to have been a driving trip to Edmonton to see our family there. Another long weekend just coming up when we’d have been in Ottawa, helping to tear apart a garden shed to built a new one, a book launch to plan for The Weight of the Heart. I know people are doing these things in virtual time and space these days and I’ve gotten used to WhatsApp reading dates with grandchildren. I treasure those, even when faces break up or freeze. When a phone is somehow turned at the other end so you see a face, in repose, listening, but upside down. But Zoom? I can’t even begin.
This morning, in fine rain, we drove down to Sechelt to do the weekly grocery shopping, well-equipped with masks, gloves, sanitizer. I picked up a book I’d ordered — Square-Haunting by Francesca Wade — and that made me remember we’d hoped to be going to London in the fall for a few days of theatre and museums before flying to Czech Republic where a collection of John’s poems, in translation, is being published in Ostrava. In London we stay near Mecklenburgh Square, the locus of Wade’s book, and we wander in St. George’s Gardens, with its old ghosts and young children walking with their parents. These things will wait for us, I know, and I heard someone say that rather than think of ourselves as stuck at home, we should say that we are safe at home. And I am. We are. In one of those ironies you might not even notice if you were swimming three times a week and driving to Edmonton, flying to Ottawa, the flowers have never been lovelier. The dogwoods are more exuberant than I’ve ever seen them. The crabapple below the vegetable garden looks like a debutante in rich pink. And the wisteria! Returning home to see it framing the patio, I didn’t care about days. Standing underneath is to be deep in the middle of a bee opera. Allegretto, allegro, prestissimo. It’s music you listen to as long as it lets you, as long as it lasts.