“Brighter stars than you see anywhere else” (M. Wylie Blanchet)

morning inlet

For a little while, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find my way back into Easthope, the novel I began more than a year ago and put aside for a whole lot of reasons. One of those reasons was that I suddenly needed to write about a painting of me as a young woman, the result of a long-ago relationship with an artist. I immersed myself in an archive of letters and notes, in critical theory, and in the process I found out things about myself and friendships, love, power, and the male gaze. After I finished the writing, a long essay called “Let a body venture at last out of its shelter”, I tried to work again on Easthope. Oh, I fixed a sentence here, a paragraph there, but the actual writing eluded me. Why bother. A series of small disappointments about writing in general and Blue Portugal in particular had me thinking it might be best to simply stop. It’s not like my books are every wildly popular or successful, though I know those things are relative. I don’t write to be popular or successful. I write to find things out, to pursue an idea, a mystery, or to remember imperfectly and construct from those memories a matrix of meaning.

Anyway, I left the work alone. But then I found myself dreaming of the few days we spent at the end of August visiting Princess Louisa Inlet. In the dream I was back in the water. There were lions mane jellyfish just as there were among the rocks below the dock and I was trying to avoid them.


In the dream I could see the gelatinous bell or medusa but not the long mane or tentacles packed with stinging cells. It didn’t stop me from swimming, not in the dream or last summer, when I got up before everyone else on the boat and went for the most wonderful swim of my life in quiet water, two seals following me, light beginning to come over the tall mountains above the inlet, no sound but Chatterbox Falls cascading down the rocks, glacial and cold.

the falls

I wanted to be back there so badly that I wrote myself back. Or not me, but Tessa, the character in Easthope who has some of my personality traits. (And if her name is familiar, that’s because she was a child in an earlier book.) She’s interested in natural history, she isn’t interested in expanding her technological knowledge, she is curious about everything, but unlike me she can paint.

Tessa found the passages she loved, where Capi and her cargo of children found the entrance to the very inlet in which they were about to spend the night.
     The inlet is about five miles long, a third of a mile wide, and the     mountains that flank it on either side are over a mile high…
     She read, finding the rhythm of the prose as the Deserted Bay gently rocked in the beautiful water. (Those snowfields, the woods at the end of the inlet, the scars on the mountains, tying up at Trapper’s Rock.) Then she handed the book to Marsh, who continued, his voice low in the twilight.
     The stars had filled up the long crack of sky above me. Brighter stars than you see anywhere else…bright…so bright… Somewhere in that uneasy night I dreamt that I was watching a small black animal on a snowfield, some distance away. I don’t remember why I was so curious about it, but in my dreams it seemed most important for me to know what it was.
A seal slapped its tail near the boat – he’s looking for you, Tessa, said Marsh, putting down the book – and it was time for bed. Sam and Marty were pulling cushions off the benches to lower the table top down to make a double bed in the galley and Tessa tried to make up the bed for her and Marsh though she quickly realized that the shape of the foscle was too strange, almost triangular, to smooth a sheet over neatly. No matter. Do you mind if I open the hatch for the night, she asked Marsh. Nope, he didn’t mind. Poking her head through, she saw soft lights in the other boat, and a silvery crescent of moon over the inlet at the first narrows. When she got up to pee sometime before 5, she saw the summer triangle – Venus, Deneb, and Altair – where the moon had been at bedtime.

The photo at the beginning of this post is what I saw through the skylight. Before I went to sleep and when I woke the next morning at 5. That was the water that had me slip into it before anyone else was awake. Maybe the seals were surprised. I couldn’t see jellyfish because there wasn’t enough light but somehow I was blessed. Writing about that morning is how I am finding my way back into Easthope, the sound of water lapping against the boat, the rush of the falls, the wooden dock groaning a little as the sky brightened.

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