“We see everything and we don’t see anything.” (Ai Weiwei)

the shapes

Yesterday morning I got up and the first thing I did was to look out the west-facing window above my bed. It was April 2 and there was fresh new snow on the small hill beyond the lake, the hill we call Grass Lake Mountain. Somehow my heart felt complicated. Snow in April (the peas I planted in the greenhouse are sprouting, daffodils are everywhere, the warblers have returned), frigid air, even the brief fall of huge soft snowflakes in the afternoon, and the sense that so much has changed, shifted. There was to be a family gathering in the summer which had to be postponed. I hoped for a different version of it but I don’t think that will happen. There are grandchildren not seen since late September. We live for decades thinking that everything will stay the same but it doesn’t. Hasn’t. You never think that love will change but sometimes it does. It goes elsewhere.

This morning at the pool I tried to work out how to move on with my life, swimming up and down the lane closest to the windows. I feel a little stalled, to be honest. I do the same things and mostly I’m fine with that but I’m also longing for something. I don’t know what. On my way home from Mexico in late January, I had this urge to make something big, something sculptural, using a few of the cedar rounds from the dead trees (victims of climate change) we had taken down before Christmas. The wood has such beauty. The shapes are organic. I had something in mind but I can’t quite see how to do it. Maybe I’ll figure it out. In today’s Guardian, there’s an interview with the artist Ai Weiwei, now living in Portugal, and at one point, after discussing his hoards of sunflower seeds, the tons of buttons he received from a button factory going out of business in England, and how he wasn’t yet sure what would happen to these collections, there’s this:

He shows me another collection nearby: a mini-forest of twisted, gnarled olive tree roots, requisitioned from neighbouring farmers.

I’ve seen olive roots and can imagine the pile of them, twisted and intricate. I can imagine waiting until I knew what to do with them. Or at least I think I can imagine that.


My collection of rounds is out behind the garden shed. Some of them are tunnels, some are windows, some are contour maps of an unknown world. I need maps right now. I need their clarity and direction. I don’t know where I want to go but I want to be over yonder, knapsack packed with a thermos of coffee and a snack, finding out what’s around the bend, what’s next. How to get there from here, where there’s still snow on Grass Lake Mountain in April.


“Many things I collect are useless for others,” he says. “But it would be a waste if those things were not being paid attention to. We see everything and we don’t see anything.”

2 thoughts on ““We see everything and we don’t see anything.” (Ai Weiwei)”

  1. Wow Theresa! Love sometimes goes elsewhere. Heavy, but I agree. But the elsewhere may be you or me. I too often want to be over yonder, but there is always more yonder. With my deteriorating legs and knees, I am obliged to find yonder nearer or internally. During Covid, with travel south curtailed, I went walking in parts of the city I had never been, a quasi-yonder. It wasn’t warm but it was interesting, even exotic.
    I like your logs (what a pick-up line!). I saw some like that near a public trail but couldn’t lift them so had to be satisfied with photos. Now, beachcoming, I am discovering wonderful shapes, patterns and colours of seaweed (not Sargassum!), but cedar smells better, so again I will content myself with photos.
    Chin up, which John must have heard in England, the world is still rewarding.

    1. Thanks for this, John. I think Covid sort of alerted me to shifts in familiar dynamics and I hate change. I hate to think that we have to adapt. But it seems to be the case. Mostly I’m ok with it but sometimes I feel bereft.
      Yes, the logs are beautiful. Some of them (and there are huge stacks of them in various places at the edges of the woods) will of course go into the woodshed, once split, but I have a hoard I hope to do something with. Maybe with coarse rope and twig basket-like arrangements.
      The seaweeds are beautiful. Years ago a friend made me a kelp basket and it hangs from a pot-rack in our kitchen, holding the spatulas. I’d like to try to make one sometime.
      The world is rewarding in so many ways, you’re right, but it can also feel sort of treacherous sometimes. The rise of the strongman, the turn to the right in so many countries and jurisdictions, the fires and floods that seem to be the norm now, and the losses that are a natural thing at this point in life, I guess, but they never cease to cause sadness.

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