“I found the yellow plates on the day before Thanksgiving, 1991. We’d gone by boat down the length of Sakinaw Lake, tying up to some logs at the western end. From there, a boggy path leads through wild mint and arums to a small estuary. High cliffs on either side of the bay give the place a protected hidden feeling; you could be at a creek mouth at the edge of the world.”
“Wading across the rising creek, I suddenly spotted an unusually large shell on the bottom, partly obscured by eelgrass. Curious, I lifted it out and put it in my bucket among the frilly oysters; it rang against the side of the galvanized bucket like a bell.
Remembering my strange disc, I took it out of the bucket and showed the others. Holding it up to the light, turning it this way and that, we could tell it was a plate.”
“A rough shelf hung partly off one wall and on the shelf were four dusty yellow plates, the only things in the shack that were unbroken. They were waiting, as the first plate waited, in a dark corner, not underwater, but fallen the same, five suns from a flying heaven.”
“Thanksgiving, 1991. We ate the oysters broiled in their own juices with lemon over top, clams stewed with garlic and garden tomatoes, turkey and all the classical trimmings, served on the yellow plates. We each said a grace before eating, something to be thankful for–food, family, the peace of the big trees around us, and the weather bringing rain, wind, the brilliance of sunlight in October, sometimes streaming from the great sun overhead and sometimes hidden in creekbeds, shacks, flawed under dust and barnacles, waiting to be found and praised.”
A small chicken defrosts in the kitchen. Squash, a savoy cabbage, blue potatoes grown from a couple brought home from Ottawa last year, apple and blackberry compotes topped with pastry fish. I am thankful for what I have but I am also wistful for feasts at the pine table, every chair filled, the silver polished and gleaming, the glasses at every place. 4 of the yellow plates broke and were thrown out but I bring the last one, chipped and cracked, down from the sunroom where it serves as a plant saucer. Let it hold an empty oyster shell, two squashes, the memory of that day 19 years ago when we went to a beach on the edge of the world, a family intact, “oysters blanketed with seaweed, the clams opening and closing in the cold water.”
Note: the first four passages are taken from “Yellow Plates”, publishing in Red Laredo Boots, New Star Books, 1996. It’s out of print but if you are interested in a copy–it’s a collection of essays–I have a few copies available for sale.