“it lives in my spine” (Leonard Cohen)


Yesterday we went down to the old orchard, now overgrown and returning to forest, and John bucked up some of the cedar logs left after some we had some work there 3 or 4 years ago. Cedar’s not a great firewood. It doesn’t burn as hot or as long as fir, maple, or alder. But we have the logs and they’ll provide some heat. After John’s double hip surgery in October, 2020, he was left with a paralyzed foot after a nerve was compressed during the procedure. We hoped for a complete recovery but two years have passed and that’s unlikely now. But it’s much better than it was. Using a chainsaw is possible now, for example, because his balance is better. So that’s why we were down in the orchard, him bucking and splitting, and me carrying logs to the back of our Element. Two years ago, a friend came with his son and they cut up a couple of the logs. I wrote about it here. At the time, looking out the kitchen window as Joe and August stacked logs in our woodshed, I thought I was seeing angels. And maybe I was. Sometimes people offer exactly the thing you need and that day it was the offering of logs to warm our house.

the very core

I was lifting logs from the area by the chopping block when a long stick the width of a pencil dropped to the ground. It was the core of the log John had just bucked into stove lengths and then split. I must have seen the core of a cedar log before but this time I really looked at it. Hard, and smooth as skin, faintly pinkish–you can see it in the photo at the top of this post, though the pink is lost in that image. It is its own thing, its own strength. I put it aside and will keep it on my desk with all the other objects–the paperweight John brought me from Toronto years ago and which led me into an essay about my mother (“Paperweight”, in Phantom Limb); a large smooth rock from the Skeena River; a chunk of fossil-filled rock from a beach west of Sooke; two ikons, one from Greece, courtesy of Angelica, and one from Skagway; the pelvis of my beloved dog Lily; a tiny ceramic tree frog; a glass heart (a gift from John); and a bowl of shells and stones collected over the years.

We were in the old orchard, the one I wrote about in Euclid’s Orchard, and sunlight was bright on the house above us, the bigleaf maples on the edge of the orchard, and we were doing work we’ve done for decades, willingly, grateful to still have the strength to bring in the wood. There are things I’m having a hard time with these days and I’m trying to write my way through, hoping for clarity and peace. The core of the cedar reminds me of days past, days of kindness, which of course is the title of one of my favourite poems of Leonard Cohen. Reading it just now, I find lines to carry with me, to hold as strength and courage.

There was good light then
oil lamps and candles
and those little flames
that floated on a cork in olive oil
What I loved in my old life
I haven’t forgotten
it lives in my spine

It lives in my spine, what I haven’t forgotten. The fires we lit in the orchard to burn old brush, the ones when our children were still here, the ones when they returned with their own children. The days of apple blossom and pear blossom, rich as sandalwood. The good light of a few candles on the deck at the end of a dinner. The bees. The friends who have passed into memory, the ones who turned away, the dark nights driving home when elk crossed the highway in a long stream, the single snowy owl on the tree by our driveway. In my spine, what I loved in my old life, holding me true in the days since, the ones to come.

6 thoughts on ““it lives in my spine” (Leonard Cohen)”

  1. Cutting firewood is such a quintessential Canadian activity that while destructive connects you to nature. With most people now in cities that particular connection and benefit is lost. I am about to fell a big ash, riddled with the dreaded borer, and an elm that succumbed to disease. Neither were deemed worthy of palliative care. So will soon cremate them and see how well they warm us.

    1. For years we could get wood that was left over from logging or from trees felled by wind. That was great (and we were younger, more willing to scramble around in the bush). And you know the saying about firewood warming you 3 times over…

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