When I begin to write something long–an essay, a novella, a novel–I find myself gathering materials without any clear idea of how they’ll be used. It’s like textile work in some ways, like quilting, or at least the way I quilt. Assorted fabric, maybe some linen, some French cottons, old jeans, a scrap of dupioni silk; buttons; a memory of a quilt in a window in a dusty town passed through 20 years ago where a particularly lovely yellow had been paired with soft blue. A story. A scribbler (remember them?) in a tiny museum in Egmont in which a group of children from Doriston where the school population fluctuated between 8 and 12 wrote about their community in the early 1930s. An Easthope engine. The city of Lviv. So ok. I began to write about Lviv almost exactly a month ago, writing a scene in which two women connect, one in Ukraine and one in a small coastal community, I thought perhaps Sooke on Vancouver Island. I wrote some pages and then I didn’t know how to continue. I didn’t have the right mass, the right elements, not enough of them, though I didn’t know how many that might be.
Yesterday we took a friend to lunch in Egmont, stopping first at the Heritage Centre so he could see the collection. Our son Forrest, a museum curator and historian, once said the little museum bats well above average for its exhibits and focus. Our friend agreed. I did what I always do which is to turn the pages of the Doriston scribbler in its protective mylar, entranced by the careful work of the children who wrote about their community, its natural history, its celebrations, its importance. I asked the man working in the museum if I could arrange to have it scanned and he was so enthusiastic. I confessed I am a writer and somehow I’d like to do something with the document although I wasn’t sure what or how. Then I looked at some more things and one of them was the green Easthope engine. If you live in a fishing community and you know older fishermen, you’ve heard stories about Easthopes. They were fairly economical, fairly reliable, and were common sources of power for fishing vessels in the 1920s and 30s. Looking at the Easthope yesterday, I felt that old familiar shimmer. Remember this, take account of this. It’s important.
If you’d asked me a few days ago what Lviv, Doriston, a green Easthope engine in the Egmont Heritage Centre have in common, I’d have rolled my eyes. Nothing. But somehow they do. Somehow I will find out by writing about them singly and together and will figure out a pattern, a coherence. When I came home from our lunch on a deck overlooking Jervis Inlet, I opened the file I began a month ago, the one with the two women, one in Lviv and one in a small coastal community that is no longer Sooke but Egmont, and because the file only had a note on it and no title, I typed a title that gives me such excitement and anticipation: Easthope. (And yes, mine was that voice in the dark last night, asking John if he was asleep. Not quite, he replied drowsily. Can you describe how single and two cylinder engines work, kind of simply? Tomorrow, was the answer.)