It’s hard for me to think beyond the pandemic. Before? Oh yes, with such nostalgia for things like the little trip we made to Victoria in January when we spent the actual afternoon of my 65th birthday in comfortable recliners, watching Little Women (which I loved), and later in January the drive into Vancouver because one son was there for some math work and it seemed like a good idea to meet him for dinner. Nostalgia for a dinner in February where I made Paula Wolfert’s rabbit casserole for two couples we’ve known for nearly 35 years and where we sat at the table for hours, talking and laughing, and when we walked them out to their cars, the sky was glittering with winter stars. So before? Yup. But I can’t really imagine my way forward. Or I can, in the practical sense, though how long will we need to pack masks, nitrile gloves, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes for a simple trip to the grocery store?
It’s what we will come to that I can’t imagine. How we will enter the wider world when we’re assured it’s safe to do so. What that world will look like, feel like. Later this month, some of my family will come to us for a visit. I feel shy at the prospect. (Is it safe to hug?) My daughter asked, Do you want us to wear masks in the house? Of course I don’t. We’ll wear them when we shop but mostly we’ll be here, where you can’t see another house, where the woods take off from the edges of the mossy area we call a lawn. We’ll eat large meals under the vines and drink some of the excellent wine I have saved for their visit. Two small grandsons will help John bring up the last of the firewood down in the old orchard. We’ll go early for swims, when mostly it’s just us or else the man who rakes the sand and cleans the one outhouse each morning.
After that visit, we’ll travel to Lac Le Jeune (Swamp Angel!) to meet with more of our family, settling in for a handful of nights. Our granddaughter can fish with her grandpa, using the rod she’s been practicing with. I don’t think of it as expanding our bubble exactly (in the language of our public health officials) but rejoining our pod.
What then, though? Once the visits are over? I can’t imagine the months ahead. I don’t mean that I dread them but I don’t know how to move into them gracefully, bravely. What we’ve never thought possible is now possible. Maybe even probable.
In my recently published novella, The Weight of the Heart, I note in my acknowledgements that Izzy, who is working on a thesis about the work of Ethel Wilson and Sheila Watson, hasn’t read Watson’s first novel, Deep Hollow Creek, because in the time-frame of my book (1970s) it hasn’t yet been published, though it was written in the 1930s. John and I are reading it together and tonight I was sitting in the big rocker by the fire (weather is decidedly unsummery!), listening as John read these passages:
For the time being she had lost her bearings, she felt, and been engulfed in the vast rolling waves of the folding and unfolding earth.
She had supposed that she could measure out life with a school compass. The universe pinned flat on a drawing board.
For two weeks now life would be centred again in the abstract point which had determined motion in the past. Once that past was present. But the present dies every minute, if it exists at all. It is and it is not. The mind preserves in amber the body of the bee. The honey, the comb itself, is wasted and spent.
The main character, Stella, is preparing to leave the small Cariboo community where she is the school teacher to spend Christmas with her family down on the coast. When she returns after the holiday, she will be setting up house on her own, not rejoining the taciturn farmer and his family with whom she has been boarding. When I listened to those sentences, I heard a direct message from the page to my heart, from before to the possibilities of beyond, of after. I can’t imagine the months ahead, what they’ll bring and what I’d hoped would last forever will show itself to be inert, in amber. I didn’t expect to have to measure the days with sanitizer and clean masks, the terrible possibility of infection. It’s not that I’m unhappy or dissatisfied. My life is privileged in so many ways. But what is coming is unknown, shadowed. Perhaps this has always been the case and I’ve refused to think of the dangers. Yet last night the owls were calling, at least 3 of them, as they always have, and I listened with the same joy as I’ve always had, hearing them. Somewhere in my desk drawer there’s a school compass, a little rusty, but still usable, capable of fixing the abstract point, and everything that circles it, beyond and beyond and beyond.