Some days, days when trouble looms, literally (a huge telecommunication tower is scheduled to be built across the highway from our property, which is troubling in itself, but the chosen location, a corner of property adjacent to the entrance to the Iris Griffith Field Studies and Interpretive Centre, named for a woman who would be horrified at this development, makes clear the lack of respect our regional district and the owners of the property have for the environmental values so many of us hold dear), some days I sit at my desk and imagine myself elsewhere. This morning it’s Lviv, a city I loved when I visited two years ago, and where part of the writing I’m currently working on is set. I don’t actually know what the writing will become. Fiction, mostly. Mostly it’s a dialogue at this point, a series of questions and answers. Attempts at answers. But as I write, I know a few things I’m moving towards. One of them is textiles and how they are repositories of memory and history. Is it a surprise to learn that text and textile share a root?
from Latin textus “style or texture of a work,” literally “thing woven,” from past participle stem of texere “to weave, to join, fit together, braid, interweave, construct, fabricate, build,” from PIE root teks- “to weave, to fabricate, to make; make wicker or wattle framework.”
In Ukraine, I was drawn to the beautiful rushnyk we saw everywhere, the ritual cloth embroidered or woven with red thread, the colour of life. In churches, they draped the ikons. When we arrived at villages, we were met with bread, salt, and horilka, the bread wrapped in rushnyk. When the family members who learned I’d visited their village (but somehow missed them) came to visit us at a hotel in the Carpathian Mountains, they brought me a piece of Bukovynian rushnyk. I bought some textiles to bring home but of course I wish I’d bought more. I gave my sons (because Angelica was with us in Ukraine and she bought some of her own) and their families a piece of rushnyk each for Christmas in 2019.
I read somewhere that rushnyk were important in a symbolic way in the building of houses, where they were used to raise final beams.
Suffixed form *teks-ōn-, weaver, maker of wattle for house walls, builder (possibly contaminated with *teks-tōr, builder) tectonic; architect from Greek tektōn, carpenter, builder.
They protected hearths and harvests, they were used to wrap newborns, they contained images of sacred fertility and family gatherings. Some days I wear my heart on my sleeve. I wear bright poppies on a shirt, a vyshyvanka, made in the small city of Kosiv, and I think of the woman who stitched them, unknown to me, a granddaughter who returned in search of family history and who found living relatives, and who found a living language of red embroidery and weaving she wants to understand.
What’s going on across the highway has its own language. Public consultation. Technological necessity. A lot of baffle-gab, quite honestly. What wasn’t heard was the sound of children’s voices, the ones we hear on spring days when buses bring classes to nature school and kids learn about wetlands, plant communities, and biodiversity. After the pandemic, buses will pass under the shadow of an enormous tower, higher than the highest trees, a structure utterly out of its element, but somehow deemed appropriate by both the telecommunications giant responsible and the property owners who have given their permission (though for years they have promoted their resort business as a nature sanctuary). It hurts my heart, the one on my sleeve and the one that beat so hard in the night that I couldn’t sleep.
In the work I am currently finding my way into, one of the characters curates a small museum of these textiles, and by coincidence, or not, she is related to to the character who is trying to learn more about her family story. If I keep my head low, listening, my eyes on the cloths I chose in Kosiv, maybe I will learn something of the language essential to understanding a story hidden in red thread.