1. On our clothesline, the linen bedcover sent to John’s mother from her mother after his family had emigrated to Canada from England in 1953. The bedcover is exactly the right weight for these warm August evenings. I don’t believe his grandmother made the cloth. It’s very large, hemstitched, and is banded with soft pink. But she did embroider the wreath of roses in its centre. When I met her in 1979, she was blind and quite blunt. She prided herself on her Yorkshire roots and I knew she didn’t much like me. To be fair? I didn’t much like her. Speaking bluntly meant she offered opinions on everything and it didn’t make for interesting conversation. But in the years since she died, I’ve grown to respect her. We have many of her tablecloths, each more beautiful than the last, and I understand something of how she tried to keep the lines of family communication open between England and Canada in the days before easy telephone calls and emails. She was not only alone but lonely. She’d moved from her home in Sheffield after her husband died to the Suffolk town of Felixstowe, which was where I met her when John and I visited her for a few days before a trip to Paris. She’d work for months stitching the cloths she’d send as gifts, the one vivid with spring and early summer flowers—daffodils, primula, poppies, violets; and the cream linen one with brown fanciful designs done in the most elegant stitches. There was the one that never arrived, the one she worked on for a whole year, her own design, picking up elements of the family’s blue willow china, packing it for Christmas and mailing it in plenty of time. Each time she wrote a letter to her daughter, she asked if it had arrived yet and it never did. I can only imagine it on the table of someone who received it by chance or error and I hope they love it as much as I would have. We have that china now and I can only imagine our plates on her blue cloth, pagodas and birds and lovers on a bridge between one time and another.
2. From a clump of dots inside jelly, turning to commas, then tadpoles, every year the emergence of Pseudacris regilla delights me. Many years the frogs lay their eggs in a claw-footed bathtub I keep as a little pond by the compost. This year I didn’t see any eggs among the flag irises, the marsh marigolds, scouring rush, and sedges growing in pots in the tub. We always have tree frogs around so I know they must be breeding nearby but when my grandsons were here from Ottawa, we saw 2, then 3, then 6 tiny frogs on leaves on the small deck by the front door. They are like jewels, the green of Oriental jade, inscribed with lines of bronze and gold, their bellies opal pink. This is the first year we’ve noticed them deep in the throats of the lilies growing in pots on the front deck and even when the flowers finish, the frogs like to perch on the fallen petals. Maybe the lilies attract tiny insects. Maybe the frogs are just suckers for the rich perfume of the Casablanca lilies. I made a little video of the frog doing exercises that looked suspiciously like yoga but for some reason I can’t embed it here. But imagine this one (the size of an almond) stretching first one leg, then another, and lifting its face up to the sky.
3. Strings holding tomato vines ripening in the sun, water from last night’s thunder storm falling in fast streams down the blue roof and into the water barrels, the lightning I saw at midnight, stitching sky to trees, and the six syllables of the great horned owl’s call in the small hours, the last one a grace note, stretching out and out and out until I was asleep again.
4. A hundred and two years ago my grandmother did her laundry in a shack on the south side of the Red Deer River. She had just given birth to a baby who would be dead by the following spring. In two months her husband and brother would also be dead. When I hang out the cloth made by my husband’s grandmother and when I bring it in later today to smooth over my bed, I will think of her washing her family’s clothes in water lugged up from the river, her 8 remaining children helping, or not, and how what we do is part of a long continuing line. We push the door open with our hip, balancing the basket on the other hip, and we do what we can to keep things clean, to make use of sunlight and wind, and to love each other as much as we can.
There were doors, small openings. The slag heaps where people brought home enough coal to heat their shacks. Coal seams ran under some of the houses and people could hear the picks below ground as they hung out laundry, fed their chickens. A door opens, someone is sweeping an earth floor, sweeping the crumbs out to the chickens, unpegging the sheets and diapers from the line. A few mended shirts are draped over bushes, their empty sleeves spread wide.