The last days of 2020. Grey sky, a cloud of chickadees and nuthatches at the feeder, the sound of ravens in the woods when I went down to the old orchard this morning to gather cedar bark from the logs our friends cut for us the week before last. The bark makes such excellent firelighter on cold winter mornings and we need heat this time of year. We need light. And I need to remember that these months of isolation are just a blip in the long memory of life on earth.
I’ve been stitching a quilt for a friend. I began it just before the pandemic began and it had to wait because I needed some fabric, some batting, and a few other things I didn’t have on hand. And it’s waited too for me to have time to sit with it by the fire, waited during the weeks after John’s surgery, the weeks just before Christmas when I was rushing to finish up another quilt for Cristen’s birthday on the 21st, the Solstice.
Cristen’s quilt was big squares of French cottons arranged in a simple grid. The quilting was very simple too, another kind of grid. But this quilt—4 large log-cabin blocks, centred around little squares of red dupioni silk—has become a way to follow spirals where they lead across the plain grey-green cotton sashing. I’m quilting free-hand, letting small spirals send out tendrils to connect them to other small ones, and larger ones. Maybe I’ll use buttons to finish them off later.
I’ve been thinking about spirals and how they are kinetic reminders of time. Years ago I visited Newgrange, the Neolithic passage tomb in Ireland, older than Stonehenge, older than the pyramids. I was there in spring, a lovely time to approach the imposing mound. But imagine it in mid-winter, imagine it on the Solstice, when narrow beams of light through the roof box reach the burial chamber deep within the mound, illuminating the inner sanctum. Of course there are spirals at Newgrange:
I am stitching spirals, thinking that these months are so long and so momentary. The spirals at Newgrange must surely have been inspired in turn by graptolithina, a subclass of Pterobranchia, fossil forms dating from the Cambrian to Carboniferous periods, as long as 540 million years ago. Graptos, Greek for written; lithos, meaning rock.
Stitching the grammar of rocks into cotton, making a trail of ancient writing for a friend living so far away it might be another time, another epoch altogether. We make our mark, the colonies of tiny animals floating in the tide, the spirals guiding the dead, and the sunlight to them on the darkest days of the year.