a map of those lost moments

old rivers

The snow is all gone. A week ago, drifts by the woodshed, heaped along the highway, ice on the drive leading up to our house. Everything was muffled–the sound of a plane overhead, ravens in the woods, and the sound of sheets of frozen snow falling from our metal roof as the thaw came. 10 days ago I turned 67. The turn is complete and I have begun to feel those years accumulated in my body as I think about spring.

These are such strange times. Some days go by and it’s as though nothing has changed. We swim, I cook, John fills the woodbox, we keep the fire going, and we continue to write. But the news! I’ve always been a news junkie and so I read several papers online as well as listening to the CBC hourly news several times a day. Is is just because it’s winter, and dark, that the world seems to have become both sick and dysfunctional? More and more people infected with Omicron, hospitals stressed, our social safety nets challenged. Russia rattling swords on the borders of Ukraine, the Taliban taking Afghanistan back into darker times, unending drama to the south of us…it’s hard to imagine better days.

When I woke in the night I was haunted by what I haven’t done. As we enter the 3rd year of this pandemic, I wonder why I haven’t used the time more productively. I keep saying I’m going to improve my French (2 bilingual grandsons…), organize my files more efficiently, find a way to winnow some of the clutter at every turn in this house I love so much. I’d even like to become more proficient as a quilter, a maker of textiles. Awake, I am haunted by lost possibilities. When I work on the quilt I am nearly finished, I realize that part of what I am sewing is a map of those lost moments. As I push my needle in and out of the rich blue and red cottons on the quilt top, the red traces on the underside echo the sleepless nights, the roads we never took, the rivers I never entered because of turbulence or fear. Once, swimming in the Thompson River, I could smell fish and I realized that as we were rafting (and swimming in calm moments when our guide said we could) from Spences Bridge to Lytton, sockeye swam beneath us, heading in the other direction, to the places of their origins. They’re in the quilt too, their own courage and perseverance at odds with what I see as my own lack. I sew my irregular stitches, never improving, while the world is on fire, dark with war, shadowy figures conspiring to violence, rafts sinking, and my only effort this morning is to stack logs by the woodstove and hope for the best.

            The stove’s flame-red mirage lingers.
News comes from nowhere. I sit here,
Spirit-wounded, tracing words onto air.
                          –from “Facing Snow, by Du Fu (trans. David Hinton)

7 thoughts on “a map of those lost moments”

  1. Theresa, I know that when we’re feeling those dark moments of doubt and loss, reassuring words don’t help much. But for those of us out here, you are tremendously productive and focussed, with your many books (and writing prizes), your quilts and garden and beautiful, thoughtful blog posts. You matter to a ton of strangers, let alone to your family and the friends who’ve actually met you. I’m writing this because you’ve often, in my dark moments, written the same kind of thing back to me. I’m looking out at maybe 20 cms. of snow and it’s still snowing. We’re buried. It’s pretty. Sending love your way, b.

    1. Thanks, Beth. Sometimes the nights are dark in more ways than one. And it’s very sweet of you to offer kind words. Listening to the news about snow in Toronto a few minutes ago. I’ve heard from my Ottawa family that they’re bringing out the snowshoes…

  2. I agree strongly with Beth’s response. It’s how I feel too. I consider you incredibly productive but also in a meaningful way. Meaningful to you and John, your family, your readers, your friends.
    I’m listening right now to Hermanos Gutierrez and they’re soothing, flowing music seems to me to be the soundtrack that I feel when I read your thoughts and words.

  3. Thank you, Diane. It was a rough few days but things are brighter now, I think. Sometimes it’s hard to keep perspective. Music, yes! Lately it’s been the wonderful Iris Dement and her Trackless Woods (settings of Anna Akhmatova’s poems), somehow perfect for January days.

  4. It’s gorgeous from my Toronto window just now, snow falling still. But I agree about the timbre of the news these days.

    Do you know about Duolingo’s podcast in French for English speakers? I started with the one about free divers who are working to restore the coral reef system and it’s both interesting and current and it’s helping me move ahead with my own French (also for family members in immersion as well as my interest in reading untranslated Quebecois work). https://podcast.duolingo.com/french

      1. Hah. Me too. You might want to start with the most recent, to enjoy the sense of topicality (the series has just completed) and, if you enjoy it, pick whimsically to make it as…enjoyable as possible. (The earlier ones were less interesting for me.)

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