“Standing under the stars last night”

•December 14, 2017 • Leave a Comment

june's glass

Last night we had dinner with friends over at Oyster Bay. 6 of us sat in a kitchen that hangs out over the water at high tide (this kitchen was once a float-house; a number of the old houses in this community were, pulled to shore after the logging camps went broke) and ate good food, talked into the night. Coming home, there were elk (again!) crossing the highway by the golf course, their huge bodies dissolving into darkness as they entered the woods. When we arrived home, we stood in the driveway for a few minutes, hoping to see one of the Geminid meteors. It was too cold to linger long and no meteors shot across the sky but oh, the stars! So many, the constellations silver in the dark sky. You could almost hear them burning so brightly, almost.

We gave ourselves this piece of glass last Christmas. It was made by our friend June who was at the dinner party. It’s different in every season—I can say that now, having seen it for a year, hanging in our big window. Looking at it, I think of stars being born, dying, and planets whirling in the huge cosmic space. I think of salmon eggs in the nearby creek, buried in sand, and some of them floating down to the lake where mergansers wait to feast on them. I think of cells, of the smallest building blocks of life, replicating themselves. So of much this happens in darkness.

Last night we talked of books, ideas, our lives, all of which have been connected for more 30 years. Our children know one another. We’ve attended their weddings, felt pleasure in the news of the births of babies. The Christmas bags I left with them contain homemade things and the ones we brought back promise the same. The world goes on, damaged and impossibly beautiful. We’re part of that, the damage and the beauty. The other day we spent time making our annual contributions to organizations we support, small drops in the huge stream of what’s needed. But like cells, like those eggs in the gravel on the bottom of Haskins Creek, maybe our offerings will grow.

Standing under the stars last night, I thought of John Haines, his wonderful memoir of 25 years in the Alaska wilderness. It’s a cold book, even the chapters set in spring and summer. His was a solitary life, at least the life recorded in this book. But oh, the beauty:

     The stars are brilliant—Polaris and the Dipper overhead. Through a space in the trees to the south I can see part of the familiar winter figure of Orion, his belt and sword; in the north I see a single bright star I think is Vega. I hear an occasional wind-sigh from the dome, and now and then moving air pulls at the spruces around me.

What does a person do in a place like this, so far away and alone? For one thing, he watches the weather—the stars, the snow and the fire. These are the books he reads most of all.

—from The Stars, The Snow, The Fire

 

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“And look! she comes…”

•December 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

after fog

The fog has lifted. On a walk to scout out possible Christmas trees, the prints of wolves (we thought) on the track. And rosehips, bare trunks of alders. Everything so beautiful and so finely-wrought.

The Muse

All that I am hangs by a thread tonight
as I wait for her whom no one can command
Whatever I cherish most—youth, freedom, glory–
fades before her who bears the flute in her hand.

And look! she comes…she tosses back her veil,
staring me down. serene and pitiless.
“Are you the one,” I ask, “whom Dante heard dictate
the lines of his Inferno?”She answers: “Yes.’

— Anna Akhmatova (Translated by Stanley Kunitz with Max Hayward)

“the house hidden in dense fog”

•December 9, 2017 • 2 Comments

beginning

The fog that hangs in the air these December days seems fitting, somehow. Everything is muted and quiet. And how beautiful to see a light in a window, a candle. Our fall was filled with unexpected events, changes. A small medical procedure for John gone rogue and that led to a surgery a month later. Which meant cancelling our plans to fly to Ottawa for a week. He’s feeling much better though and stronger every day so on Wednesday we went to Vancouver to see the Arts Club production of Onegin. It was truly wonderful, transporting in the way that good theatre can be. We saw a matinee and afterwards planned to have dinner at our hotel, also on Granville Island. Wandering back from a shopping expedition to buy indigo at Maiwa, I passed the Liberty Distillery and looked in its windows to see a lovely room lit by small fairy lights. I brought John back so we could have a cocktail in that room with its long antique bar. We are not much for cocktails. We like wine, beer when the moment is right, a dram of good single-malt sometimes, but cocktails, gin particularly, have always struck me as mother’s ruin. The delicious taste of botanicals can seduce one (me, anyway) into thinking I’m drinking something harmless, benign! But I had a gorgeous concoction of pink gin flavoured with rose-petals and rosehips and John had something with vodka, I think, well-fortified with ginger. I was offered a choice of tonics and I asked for the regular one, not wanting anything to detract from the rose-petals and hips; but what would the elderflower tonic have tasted like? We’ll have to return to Liberty Distillery to find out.

I spent the next morning with a young photographer, Alexandra Bolduc. The Montreal publisher bringing out a French language edition of Patrin in 2018 wanted a current photograph of me for the press’s website. (This is Marchand de Feuilles.) And somehow the fog, the bare trees, the glimpses of water seemed right for my book and its atmospheres.

This morning it’s still foggy and somehow a little sombre. Like so many other people I know, I’m finding the current political climate, the global one made loud and ugly by that vulgar and dangerous president to the south, anyway, I’m finding it troubling beyond words. I’ve been sending letters to our Provincial Government, asking them to suspend work on the Site C Dam on the Peace River. I dream of flattened landscapes, of fire, of violence. And yet Christmas approaches. Ours will be quiet. Angelica is coming for a few days and I think I will roast a duck this year for the three of us. (Turkey is great when you want lots of leftovers but do we?) I made gingerbread boys* to include in the parcels that have already been mailed to Edmonton and Ottawa. I am thinking about fruitcake, the white chocolate one I make with tawny fruits and rum. There are a couple of parties in the next week and it will be good to hear the old songs, eat some festive food. I brought a bottle of Liberty Distillery gin home with me and who knows, maybe one of those cocktails will occasionally replace the customary glass of wine by the fire before it’s time to cook dinner.

And in the meantime, I’ve begun quilting the big length of rough linen dyed in October. I didn’t even wonder about what to do with it, simply begin stitching a spiral. It’s a way of thinking for me, thinking with my hands, finding a way to make sense of things. Holding the weight of a quilt-in-process on my lap, finding the best way to hold its layers together for warmth and beauty, the house hidden in dense fog, its lights glowing.

*I have tried for gender diversity with the gingerbread shapes. I bought a girl cutter, for instance, but somehow the dough doesn’t like to be cut with that one. I can’t get the dough to let go of the metal. An angel? Same thing. So boys it is, with Smartie buttons and dragée eyes. And also coyotes howling at the moon, fish, stars, lobsters (though those shapes are also difficult to use), pigs, trees, stars…

 

“the light that fills the world”

•December 3, 2017 • 2 Comments

antler carving

And I think over again my small adventures
When with the wind I drifted in my kayak
And thought I was in danger

My fears,
Those small ones that seemed so big
For all the vital things
I had to get and to reach

And yet there is only one great thing
The only thing
To live to see the great day that dawns
And the light that fills the world.

—Anon. Inuit Song as Translated by Tegoodligak, South Baffin Island

“I never wanted to go anywhere else in the world…”

•December 2, 2017 • 2 Comments
reading
I can’t see which book John is reading to Kelly (two weeks ago) but in my mind I am hearing the one he read many times during her visit, When I was Young in the Mountains, and I hear his voice coming from those chairs by the woodstove: “When I was young in the mountains, I never wanted to go to the ocean, and I never wanted to go to the desert. I never wanted to go anywhere else in the world, for I was in the mountains. And that was always enough.”
On our walk the other day, the second to last day of November, we were passing where Vine Brook Creek tumbles down the side of Mount Hallowell to find its way into Sakinaw Lake, and he said, “I don’t think of us as living in the mountains but of course we do.”
vine brook creek

 

Winter trees

•December 1, 2017 • Leave a Comment

abandoned

First day of advent, Old English, from Latin adventus ‘arrival’, from advenire, from ad- ‘to’ + venire ‘come’.

Winter Trees

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

—William Carlos Williams

the murmur of voices in cold air

•November 30, 2017 • 4 Comments
near stump lake
It’s always interesting to me that new friends can be made in one’s later years and that you find yourself wondering why it took so long to meet these people. In truth, I knew of Robin and Jillian Ridington before I ever met them. They are distinguished anthropologists, the authors of books that form an important part of the canon of North American ethnographic studies. On my desk I keep a copy of Where Happiness Dwells: A History of the Dane-zaa First Nations , an extraordinary gathering of stories told to them by elders living in the Peace River area, a place where they’ve done fieldwork (and made friends) for decades. I also loved When You Sing It Now, Just Like New: First Nations Poetics, Voices and Representations.  (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006).
We met at the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival. I’ve been involved with the Festival as an organizer and writer since the first year—2005—and Jillian and Robin have been supporters since that first summer. I thought Robin in particular looked familiar but it wasn’t until later, after I’d taken a break from the Festival for a few years and then returned, that we became friends. One of the highlights of the summer is joining them for dinner on their Nordic Tug—they come to Pender Harbour by boat, often from their haven on Retreat Island, near Galiano Island. Robin grills steaks over the most ingenious barbecue at the stern of the boat (where there’s also a mangle for washing clothing; they spend a lot of time exploring coastal inlets and islands, living aboard for weeks on end). The tug drifts in slow circles on its anchor and we talk, drink red wine, eat until it’s time for Robin to take us back by Zodiac to the dock at Whiskey Slough. The old harbour is there as we talk—the net sheds, small houses with weathered boards, a few boats I remember from the days when we bought our halibut and salmon as the fishermen returned each year—though the new harbour continues to grow those huge houses and fences and yachts capable of taking out docks as they turn.
So friends, with whom we began a conversation years ago and we pick up where it left off whenever we meet. When we were in Victoria for a reading at Munro’s Books in October, we stayed with the Ridingtons for two nights (before heading over to the Surf Motel). We had delicious meals at their table and a wonderful evening of pupus (the Ridingtons spend winters on Maui where they immerse themselves in high Hawaiian music and culture and I love that they use Hawaiian words so naturally at home, including this word for appetizers!) and wine with John Schreiber and Marne St. Claire. I gave them a copy of Euclid’s Orchard as a gift. And this morning Robin returned the gift with this beautiful review: https://sites.google.com/site/plumeofcockatoopress/books-read-2017
Perhaps because her son Brendan is a mathematician, she used the matrix of Euclidean geometry as a way of interpreting the web of cultural and natural influences surrounding their lives.  She even attempts to learn something of mathematics, enough at least, to inform and organize and understand her experiences on their land.  As with everything Kishkan has written, these essays are beautiful, personal, and at the same time universal in their scope.  They are to be read, contemplated and then returned to after some dreamtime assimilation.
Jillian reviewed Winter Wren (and by inference, Patrin) in the summer 2017 issue of Herizons. The review isn’t available to read online but here’s a link to the issue in the event you might want to order it. (I read Herizon at the library and it’s terrific.)
http://www.herizons.ca/node/602  Jillian is intelligent and perceptive; here’s the first paragraph of her review:

BC writer Theresa Kishkan has been writing compelling fiction and poetry for many years. Recently, she has embraced the novella as her chosen form. A novella “retains something of the unity of impression that is a hallmark of the short story, but it also contains more highly developed characterization and more luxuriant description.1” In other words, it’s a perfect form for women writers who have a story to tell, but lack the time or desire to write an extensive novel — or simply find their material more suited to the shorter form.  For me, the novella a perfect form – long enough to fully develop characters and plot, but short enough to be read in the snatches of time I usually find available. Kishkan’s first novella, Patrin, published by Mother Tongue Press in 2015, tells of a woman’s search to find her Roma foremothers, using clues sewn into a quilt left to her by her grandmother. It is a tale of renewed roots and reclaimed skills. Her latest work, Winter Wren, is the first publication from Fish Gotta Swim Editions, a new company founded by Theresa and her friend Anik See, which will specialize in novellas.  And these two books are little gems – brilliant and reflective.

How do people find one another? How in this world of billions of people do we find the ones that we can share conversations of poetry and dreamers and music, of our families, of the old coast we all love and remember, the politics we deplore, the books we are reading (and writing)? We do, though. When we were in Victoria, Robin played a soundscape recorded by Howard Broomfield in Doig River—children singing, stories shared, dogs barking, the murmur of voices in cold air, by fires so near you could smell the smoke. I’ve dreamed of those voices, preserved on tape and in memory, and it’s what I’ve always wanted. Continuity, true place, true words.