“If that blue could stay for ever”(Virginia Woolf)


As I was walking under these trees this morning towards the lake for my swim, I remembered my dream, the one I dreamed after letting the cat out past midnight and waking again at dawn to hear the Swainson’s thrush still singing, singing, its final song before the silence of August. I thought of Virginia Woolf: “It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes makes its way to the surface.” So what surfaced, what was the dream?

I wanted to write a play. I wanted it to be filled with the rivers I was seeing as I dreamed–lovely narrow ones, tumbling over rocks, silvery in the light; wide ones, almost as wide as the ocean, with distant hills on the other side; a deep green pool at the bottom of a falls that reminded me of Rearguard Falls, the farthest point the Fraser River salmon reach on their long migration. Wanted the story of the young man who was talking to me about his life on a farm in Nova Scotia, the story of someone else (it’s not clear who) I saw on the road between one river and another.

The play I wanted to write had complex stories and voices (the rivers, the road itself, the trees dusty on its shoulders) and how would I do it? I asked my son, Brendan, who is a mathematician. In the dream he suggested I make nodes of each voice, what it wanted to say, the dramas within the rivers themselves, the lanky branches of the trees. When you’ve done that, he said, we’ll figure out their values and make an equation. Then you will be able to write the play.

When I woke from this dream, a little light coming through the white linen curtains, the song of the Swainson’s thrush beyond the mossy area at the edge of our land, I wanted to know that equation. How to bring together the voices I’d heard so clearly, their stories, the way they were separate but somehow waiting to be drawn together on a stage lit by a small lamp, the plangent notes of the Aria da Capo concluding the Goldberg Variations, everything waiting, the words with their values, the careful polynomial notation. the equivalencies, the structure. I wanted to sleep again, dream again, just long enough to pay more attention to Brendan’s work as he took the nodes and gave them form.

I lie back. It seems as if the whole world were flowing and curving — on the earth the trees, in the sky the clouds. I look up, through the trees, into the sky. The clouds lose tufts of whiteness as the breeze dishevels them. If that blue could stay for ever; if that hole could remain for ever; if this moment could stay for ever.
–Virginia Woolf, from The Waves

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