“smoke rises straight and calm” (Gary Snyder)

Yesterday morning I had time for a swim in the pool at Cerritos before Peter and Sharon drove us to the airport at San Jose del Cabo for our flight back to Vancouver. In the evening we were having dinner in Richmond. On the plane I was thinking, and dreaming, that state where the mind solves things it didn’t know it was puzzled by. What was my puzzle? It’s hard to describe but at its core it’s about making things. Not just essays or quilts or meals, though I love to do all those things. I want something else, something that I can do over time, with my hands, involving wood and string and sticks. In the fall I read this review of a show featuring the work of the late Polish artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz. I hadn’t known about her but reading the review and looking at the images (and more I found online) of her sculptures, woven from fleece, linen, rope, hemp, and sisal, I was enthralled. More than enthralled. My hands wanted to be immersed in both the materials and the finished pieces. I wanted to be immersed. On the plane, I closed my eyes and thought about what I could do with some of the sections of the dead cedars we had felled in late fall. Slowly we will split them and bring them to the woodshed in our old red wheelbarrow. But I have my eye on a couple of them. I want to use them for…well, something.

the shapes

But what? I wonder if there’s a way to suspend one of them from a tree, laced with heavy rough rope. Maybe wrapped in a basket of long willow sticks, or maple, or both. Long supple sticks. Or maybe the basket forms alone, without the cedar, but with shells woven into the form? Baskets for the air? Dream nests? I don’t know. But that’s what I was thinking about, not quite planning, but moving towards in my mind. I was excited the whole drive home.

The first thing we did when we got home was make a fire to take the chill off the air. We’re burning fir and it smells nice. But not as nice as the pine burning in the fire circle (made with an old washing machine tub surrounded with rocks) at Pizzeria el Potrero the other evening. That was one of the most memorable meals of my life. Simple food: I had a pizza Margherita, made with tomatoes and basil grown by the owners, and someone else had a pizza with gorgonzola and pears. There was wine, excellent talk under the little lights strung from tree to tree to fence, and more talk afterwards by that fire. There was excellent music. To get to the pizzeria, you have to drive off the main road from Cerritos to Todos Santos onto a dusty little trail through huge cacti and straggly mesquites. It was almost dark, though the tiny new moon tilted in the sky like a little cradle, and then the lights over the paddock, the scent of woodsmoke — we were there! At the end of the evening, all the other diners gone away by foot or by car, we were still there. And in a way, I’m still there, thinking of ways to weave wood and rope into, what, vessels to hold dreams?

after pizza

The older I get, the more urgent it feels to draw the strands of my life together. The stories, the love I have for my family and friends, memories of places and events (rafting down the Thompson River, camping on Nicola Lake, celebratory meals on our summer deck with the wisteria hanging over us, owls calling in the woods, deer stepping high on the soft moss, Ruby Lake first thing in the morning), all of them braided and woven and threaded with shells, turning in the wind.

      the tangle of the heart.
Black coffee, bitter, hot,
     smoke rises straight and calm
​Still and cool.
         –from “The Cool Around the Fire” by Gary Snyder

3 thoughts on ““smoke rises straight and calm” (Gary Snyder)”

  1. I understand that urge to draw the strands of your life together. Time seems short. An exceptionally beautiful post – thank you!

    1. Thanks, Lainie. It does feel short these days and I feel compelled to get things done. But I still don’t know what they are or how to do them! (Pleasure in figuring it out…)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s