Last night I was looking through photo files on John’s computer. I was looking for something specific, which I didn’t find. But in a group of photos taken in the summer of 2007, 15 years ago, I was taken back to that time. I remember that Brendan came from Toronto where he was working on his PhD and we went with him to Powell River to collect his sister and brother from the Comox ferry. They’d been in Victoria and I believe they’d gone up to Comox by train to have lunch with their Aunty Jennie and Uncle Jack. After we collected them from the ferry, we had supper at the wonderful Mexican restaurant La Casita, which doesn’t exist in that particular incarnation any longer.
We came home on the Earls Cove ferry at twilight, the vessel moving in the dark water and little lights from remote homesteads piercing the evening. We were glad to be together as a family again and I know there would have been laughter.
Angelica had just finished her first degree, a double major in Greek and Roman Studies and Medieval Studies, and her brothers were at work on PhDs, in History and Mathematics. Brendan’s partner Cristen—this was before the weddings in 2012, before Forrest had met Manon—was up on Ellesmere Island where she was doing research for her PhD in atmospheric physics. I loved hearing about their work, the areas they were studying, so far from home. So far! And far from what John and I have spent our lives doing—poetry, essays, novels…
We all look so much younger in these photographs. Well, we were, weren’t we? I was 52. John would turn 60 later that year. There were books unwritten, jobs for the children undreamed of, marriages, houses, babies, travel. There were deaths in our futures—our parents, too many friends. When I showed John one of the photos this morning, he said, in a kind of wonder, “There’s Cloudy!” She was the cat we gave to Angie for her birthday, maybe her 10th?, and that cat had more lives than any I’ve known.
I know there are many theories of time. The two that interest me the most are the Newtonian view, that time is dependent upon sequence and events, and another, perhaps more specific to Kant, who said, “Time is nothing else than the form of the internal sense, that is, of the intuitions of self of our internal state.” I think he means an intellectual structure that we use in ways to sequence our own lives but is not measurable or quantifiable. That summer of 2007, we were caught in a meander, the current winding and turning back on itself, not measurable as the crow flies, but singular. In another version of the story, the river erodes the banks, turns, finds another route. In river systems, old meanders are sometimes abandoned and become lakes. That summer is a lake in my memory, forgotten by the river’s flow.
This morning I heard a Swainson’s thrush. I was both grateful and sad. Yesterday a thrush hit the living room window, hard, and I raced out to see if I could help it. It was lying on its back, its beak opening and closing, its tongue surprisingly red, and its feet moving quite strongly. I picked it up in a tea towel and cradled it. The eyes, so bright, the beak opening, closing, until its feet stopped moving and the eyes dimmed, then closed too. So many summers I’ve listened to the Swainson’s thrushes sing the morning into being. Mornings when my children were young, when they were gone, or back, when I hoped they were also lying in their beds downstairs, listening. In my new book, Blue Portugal and Other Essays, there’s an essay I wrote about these summers. “Love Song” opens with the song of the Swainson’s thrush and concludes with a few lines of “You Can’t Hurry Love”. It’s a day that is all the summer days (including the ones of 2007). A sun dial reminds us the passing of time and the garden reminds us of the accumulation of time, and although I wasn’t aware I was bowing to both Newton and Kant, I think I was.
The light is our clock. We talk quietly in bed, listening to the birds. In the night there were loons and we’re glad they’ve chosen the bay below us for nesting. One of us remembers a summer when the house was filled with children. Another remembers waking in the tent to face a day of house-building, framing and lifting walls, running out of nails, measuring and measuring again the bird’s mouth notches so that the rafters would rest snugly on the wall plates. One baby slept in a basket on the sleeping bag in the blue tent. (The others were still unborn, waiting to be dreamed into being.) One baby slept in a crib in the new wing of the house, in a room next to the one with bunk beds, while I walked in the garden in a cotton nightdress, coaxing the peas to attach themselves to wire. Three children didn’t sleep as the sun set later and later, long past bedtime, and we made campfires in rings of stones, sat on a cedar plank while the smoke rose to the stars. In the garden, the sundial (Grow Old With Me, The Best is Yet to Come) was smothered by lemon balm.
We move through time. We are in it, we see it in the soft lights of the houses on Nelson Island as the ferry passes at twilight, the remnants of old river beds, the rings of the cedar logs waiting beyond the house for milling. I see it in the faces of these beautiful people who are my family and in my own face, 15 years ago, when I didn’t know what was ahead but was eager all the same.