And on the low table, books about human anatomy, atlases of the strange geography of our bodies, with their own legends. It’s the veins I’m particularly interested in. They are usually indicated in blue, as opposed to arteries, which are red, to represent the oxygen-rich blood carried away from the heart to the rest of the body. The blood the veins return to the heart is darker, because it is oxygen-depleted. In one of the veins of my leg, a clot formed, though there’s no sign of it now.
On Monday, I pieced the strips for the quilt I have been thinking about, the one using some Japanese momen, assorted blue cottons, and two red cottons–a print with viney leaves, and plain red. I had in mind these vertical lines, or lanes, maybe, inspired by my morning swim. Sometimes while I’m swimming, I hear my own pulse, and I thought I could reference this with the deep red. And the reason I’m swimming regularly at all is because in the late summer and fall of 2016, I had a series of related health issues, probably set into motion by a deep vein thrombosis. By the time any of the resulting damages were diagnosed, I’d had double pneumonia and a pulmonary embolism and suspected metastatic tumours in my lungs. All of this has been settled. The tumours, if that’s what they were (and there was some back and forth on that. Maybe scarring? Maybe fungus? I tell you, once you’ve looked at scans and xray of your lungs with a respirologist indicating the margins and nodes with a pointer, musing about biopsies and outcomes, you never forget), anyway, whatever they were disappeared. The other stuff cleared up. But I began to swim and some days I felt I was swimming for my life. I can’t look back. I just keep swimming and as a result, I’ve found a new arrangement for my thinking and my sense of my own strength. This quilt will be, in a way, a testament to that, to those dark months. And I would live them again, in a heartbeat, because I learned things about myself and what I value(d).
All down the coast, we passed creeks in the darkness, Homesite, Meyer, Anderson, Maple, Haskins, scribbling down the mountains. And I would do it all again, sit at the desk with a nurse taking my pulse, my blood pressure, arranging for bloodwork, ultrasound, medication to prevent a blood clot moving up into my lungs, for the glow of the cougar’s eyes in our headlights, and the knowledge of water finding its way to the sea.
This morning, after my swim, I was sewing the strips together–I’d laid them out on Monday after piecing them and found a pattern I liked– and I was listening to the The Current on the CBC. The show was extended today in order to gather stories and information about the catastrophic weather events in my province over the past 4 days, and by extension the past year. The visuals of highways actually breaking into pieces as rivers flood them and undermine their bedrock, of mudslides making other road systems impassable, people stranded in their cars as helicopters rescue some of them from dangerous terrain, of towns and valleys under water, places I’ve known well and loved– Merritt, Princeton, Yarrow in the Fraser Valley where the horse of my girlhood was born and where I found him in a field of soft grass and lost my heart to him– well, I had to keep wiping tears from my eyes as I sewed and listened. And it came to me that the quilt had become rivers, blue systems connected to one another.
I don’t know what we do about the immediate climate emergency. We’ve just watched our leaders let us down yet again in Glasgow. Here in our province, there is an unwillingness to declare, immediately, a state of emergency. We nervously think of our larders, our firewood supplies, wonder about loved ones elsewhere, and I don’t know what we do. Our gestures have to be courageous and bold. And our gestures have to be productive.
In my forthcoming book, I wrote about rivers and the body and how we are linked. I remember my own unsettled years when I stood on a suspension bridge over the Englishman River on Vancouver Island, contemplating an act I felt driven to by the unhappiness in my life. I wrote about it and wished I could have held that young woman in my older arms, tucked her under a quilt of red and blue strips, stitched by a fire in the house she would one day help to build, then live in.
(A woman, hand inside her rain jacket, tenderly taking her pulse, the drama of her heart pushing blood, whoosh, into her circulatory system, the drama of her life, whoosh, at wrist, at neck. She wonders if she will move forward to the other side of the river, or back, into the wreckage of the past weeks while her dog pants at her feet, eager for more walking. Not this, not the dark considerations of life or death.)
A quilt waits to be imagined into being. It waits until a day when fabric and imagination and memory conspire together, when rivers overflow their banks, lifelines are threatened, and it insists on becoming something more than thread and cotton. Seamed and durable, it will wish for safe passage, by road, by water, a steady pulse, a place on the map.
Note: the passages of quoted material are from “How Rivers Break Away and Meet Again”, part of Blue Portugal and Other Essays