the island was shining in the distance

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This morning the sky was still overcast when we went down for our swim. Yesterday it rained. Last night there was thunder. We’re promised another heat wave but looking at the slugs on the path on the way down to the water, I wondered if they knew. The surface of the lake was mysterious with mist. But oh, in the distance, the island we call White Pine was shining in a single shaft of sunlight.

I thought of Muriel Blanchet at that moment. A few weeks ago, in the Egmont Museum, I saw the 50th anniversary edition of her The Curve of Time, a book I’ve loved forever. It’s the book I buy and lend and then buy again. The friend I was with, a retired English professor, had never read it so I bought the copy on the shelf and put it into his hands. I think you will enjoy this, I said, and maybe you’ll return it because I don’t think I have a copy in my house right now. It’s one of the books that truly belongs on a coastal bookshelf. The title refers in an oblique way to the philosopher J.W. Dunne’s theory about time’s relativity, about serial time, and dream cognition. In The Curve of Time, Blanchet and her children cruise B.C.’s wild and beautiful coastlines, where time is endlessly cyclical and layered. They are in the moment as far as it’s possible to be and the moment goes on forever. Blanchet’s title was inspired by Dunne and the playwright and poet Maurice Maeterlinck, who thought that time was best represented as a curve. She wrote:

 

“If you stand off to one side of this curve, your eye wanders from one to the other without any distinction.”

This morning I was about to enter the water when I stopped and thought about the island I was seeing in its sunlit moment. An island we have picnicked on, winter and summer, for more than 30 years. An island I might swim to one day, to meet the family we were when our black dog rode the prow of our little boat like a figurehead, the old fishing basket packed with our supper. Coming up from the water, I will pause for a moment to watch us on our towels on the island’s rise, soft with dry grass, the scent of yarrow in the air, and the white pines strong on their bluff. They haven’t fallen, not yet, not in the storm that took them down 20 years ago, and our fire ring is still at the top of the bluff in their shade.

On a site devoted to visualizations of datasets, I found this lovely definition of time and its curving nature:

Time curves are based on the metaphor of folding a timeline visualization into itself so as to bring similar time points close to each other.

I think of Muriel Blanchet, or Capi as she was known, with her 5 children, on their boat the Caprice in 1926, sailing the coast, caught in the curve of time as it flowed and turned and caught the light, refracting it, holding it, forever and never, and how her narrative is the one I am drawn to now, as a peach and blackberry pie bakes (the ongoing pies of summer, themselves a form of encapsulated time), islands waiting for me, for all of us.

As far as the eye could see, islands, big and little, crowded all round us—each with its wooded slopes rising to a peak covered with wind blown firs; each edged with twisted juniper, scrub-oak and mosses, and each ready to answer immediately to any name we thought the chart might like it to have.”

2 thoughts on “the island was shining in the distance”

  1. I’m astonished to read about Capi Blanchet here since I just discovered her last week in a Knowledge Network program “Dear Reader”, ten short films about BC writers. I recorded the program hoping to see you as one of the featured writers (maybe in episode 2?) but discovered instead some familiar folk and some, like Capi, new to me. The Saskatchewan government pulled the plug on our provincial educational TV network years ago so I rely on Knowledge and TVO for a window on the arts in Canada. Now I have to seek out her book. Thanks for steering me to it.

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