redux: stories of snow and shooting stars

Note: As I was swimming this morning, easing out some pain in my lower back, I realized it was 2 years ago that I fell on ice and fractured my coccyx. When I wrote this post, I hadn’t yet seen the ophthalmologist in Sechelt who diagnosed damaged retinas in first one eye and then other other and who over the course of a couple of weeks repaired them.


We spent five days in Edmonton, visiting our family there. It was cold. Of course it was. Walking from the car to the house, I slipped on ice and my feet shot out from under me. Maybe I cracked my tailbone. The pain was (and is) pretty intense. But this is an injury for which there’s no treatment apart from pain-killers and time. It was wonderful, though, to spend those days with loved ones. One afternoon, John and I stayed with the kids while their parents worked. We made a gingerbread house which was a big hit, particularly the gumdrops. (Our house had long drippy streams of icing and did not resemble the suggested version on the box. And luckily Grandpa John was able to repair the broken wall with extra icing, though it kept threatening to cave in again.) Afterwards he read Kelly and Henry a story about other houses and a wolf who was able to blow them down.


Aunty Angie came for three nights from Victoria and so there was a trip to the new museum, tickets for a performance of “Nutcracker in a Nutshell”, and a sleigh-ride around the snowy streets of Strathcona, pulled by Sugar and Spice, blond Belgians from Rattray.

sugar and spice on whyte avenue

On our last day in Edmonton, I wondered at the shooting stars, long streams of silver, I was seeing to the side of my right eye. And the tangles of, what, hair?, that kept drifting across my vision. After some calls to various medical facilities, Brendan and John took me in a blizzard across the low bridge over the North Saskatchewan, its surface a constellation of ice stars, to an emergency room where I was examined, then examined again because I was lucky enough that a resident ophthalmologist just happened to be in the hospital, and told I almost certainly have a posterior vitreous detachment. I won’t say I wasn’t a little scared but it was also strangely beautiful to have a glimpse of my inner eye. The ophthalmologist was puzzled when I asked why I was seeing a particular landscape and a skyscape and thought maybe it was my brain trying to make sense of the instruments and their intense light. Her immediate concern was to try to make sure I could have a follow-up examination at home this week or she was going to insist I stay in Edmonton for further retinal examinations. But finally we left, drove back in the blizzard, and ate Cristen’s delicious dinner (saved for us to enjoy with the bottle of good wine John had bought and the box of assorted macarons I’d chosen at an excellent bakery the day before).


The next morning we woke to a foot of snow over the cars on our street. But people were out and about and so we packed our rental car and drove carefully to the airport. Shooting stars were the least of my worries as we passed abandoned vehicles along the Calgary Trail. We flew home with stories of snow and those silver stars and beautiful children on a horse-drawn sleigh and the mystery of what my eye saw, and didn’t. I am seeing a specialist tomorrow to have another dilation but I think that I will be fine. I think of that wonderful poem, “Stories of Snow”,  by P.K. Page—I was lucky enough to hear her read this several times in her beautiful patrician voice—and what it tells us about vision:

And stories of this kind are often told
in countries where great flowers bar the roads
with reds and blues which seal the route of snow –
as if, in telling, raconteurs unlock
the colour with its complement and go
through to the area behind the eyes
where silent, unrefractive whiteness lies.

6 thoughts on “redux: stories of snow and shooting stars”

  1. I had to read that twice to be sure I understood it correctly — I’m surprised you are still swimming. The water must be so cold.
    I enjoy these lovely memories and always find I can put myself within the ‘scene’ as if experiencing it with you.

    1. Oh Diane, the swimming is in the local pool. During these Covid times, you have to book a time and usually that means you get the pool to yourself(selves). We go 3 times a week. But it’s funny you should think it was outdoor swimming because this morning I’m going to begin lake swimming again too. Just briefly for the first few times (for safety!), but I hope to increase so that it’s a proper swim. It’s cold this morning but I want the challenge.

      1. Oh, I can’t wait to hear your winter lake reports, Theresa. I’m fascinated by cold water swimming… my lowest temp has been (in my pool) low 50’s F. (I know air temps only in celsius and water only in F… distance in kilometres and weights in pounds… all of which I blame/thank being only partially formed when Canada changed to metric, ha!) Definitely take it slow and gradual. I stayed in far too long (I realize now I’d gone numb). I think it can be a little like frostbite, after a point it starts to feel warm. Like fire. Bad sign. Have you read ‘Pondlife’ by Al Alvarez. And I apologize if I’ve mentioned it before… I mention it all the time. Sub-titled ‘A Swimmer’s Journal’, it’s all about his year-round habit of swimming outdoors at Hampstead Heath. Nothing actually happens. It’s mesmerizing. But best to be a swimmer to fully appreciate it.

      2. Carin, I haven’t read that one. But did read Jessica Lee’s book about swimming in lakes around Berlin for a year and it was fascinating. Last year in Ukraine we spent some time in the Carpathian mountains. The days were warm but overnight there was frost. I woke early each morning and swam in the unheated pool and I’ve never felt more alive in my body.

  2. Just checked the library and they have it, ‘A Year in the Water’. Can’t wait. I used to swim well into November in our (unheated) pool, but by late October I’d put on a wetsuit. Have not done that now for a few years. Movement is too restricted and while still exhilarating it isn’t anywhere as wonderful as water on bare skin. I’m jealous. That ‘alive’ feeling is a drug.

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