“I thought I’d seen every room but now there’s this one, these canvases, 27 of them.”

mist on the inlet

I am back in Easthope, the village at the end of the road, back to the novel I’d put aside to write “Let a body venture at last out of its shelter”, an memoir-ish essay which I am hoping can be published as a small book, back in Easthope, which resembles an actual place but is more in the tradition of Melville’s “It’s not down on any map; true places never are.” In Easthope, there are netsheds and boathouses, there’s a community hall clad in weathered boards, a little museum filled with marine engines and Depression glass. There are stories of drownings and murders and grizzlies who swam across the inlet. In a small house, there’s a surprising galley of paintings:

Each painting—and there were, what, 25, no, 27 of them—was of a stump. A huge stump, almost filling the canvas; its wood runnelled and lichened and sometimes green with moss. Tiny plants grew up from the flaring bases. Most of the stumps were notched with horizontal cuts, some barely visible under the lichens, carefully detailed. Against one stump, a long board with a metal tip. Against another, a long crosscut saw, rusted, with worn wooden handles. Trees—hemlock, whippy cedars, even a supple maple—sprouted from some of the stumps and around them, the newer growth, long green boughs, tall sword ferns, delicate huckleberry. She knew she’d seen some of the stumps alongside the Easthope Road. She and Marsh had even stopped once to take a photograph of one beauty. On each canvas, the lower left corner, a small jewel-like image of a tree. Tessa figured Richard had imagined each stump back to its original majesty, determining the species from its bark or odour or any characteristic he could determine from what remained. She knew she’d seen some of the stumps alongside the Easthope Road.

And what remained? A sturdy ghost, a presence in the green woods, a reminder of what the forest had looked like before the huge trees had been felled, with considerable skill and effort, and hauled away to become houses, factories (Marsh had bought some Douglas fir beams reclaimed from a factory in Gastown to shore up the floor on the netshed), schools, windows. Together, a gallery of ghosts, hidden away, lit by their own grey quiet light. She found a light switch just to the left of the door. With more light, she could see something else, something extraordinary. Just visible through the boughs surrounding the stumps, silvery stars. No, silvery constellations. Actual constellations, because she recognized Ursa Major, Orion, the Pleiades. She called Marsh to see. This house, she told him, is full of the past, but somehow it’s alive too. Look, Marsh, look. There are even stars in these. How did he do that? I thought I’d seen every room but now there’s this one, these canvases, 27 of them. Truly beautiful work. What else will we find? I don’t even want to think about it.

The world is so unsettled right now, the planet trembling on its axis. Some days I can’t bear to read the news. Instead I’ll write about Easthope, the scent of woodsmoke, fish chowder, and the sound of boat engines idling at the dock.

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