posts

redux: I didn’t know myself.

Note: This post is from January, 2016. I was looking through my blog archives for something else and came across it. I was glad to be reminded that some Januaries have accumulated without political drama, without the weight of a pandemic keeping me awake at night, without, without, without.

*******

They’ve left, beginning the long day’s journey back to Ottawa, with visits to a friend in Vancouver planned, and they’ll drop Angelica off at the seaplane so she can return to her life in Victoria. And already I miss them. Families are such complex archives — the haircolours, the gestures, the stories. And how lovely it was to have a week living in the rich density of that archive. Though it had its moments of confusion. We’d pulled out some boxes of photographs and documents from my parents’ house and there were a couple of envelopes of things I’d set aside to give to my brothers when next I see them. Their baby pictures, our parents’ wedding photographs, old report cards, the church announcement (St. Andrew’s, Victoria) of my brother Dan’s baptism June 24, 1951 (and the back of this is so interesting, with its advertisements for businesses long gone: The Posy Shop at 623 Fort Street, ph: G-5422; Crown Dress & Hat Shop Millinery, Dresses and Accessories 614 View Street; The Toggery Shop Men’s and Young Men’s Clothiers, Hatters and Furnishers “Quality Always Assured” at 1105 Douglas Street). I was doing something else and Angelica was looking at the stuff in Dan’s envelope, including a baby photograph of him, when I heard her call out, “This is you, Mum, not Dan. Look, here’s your birthmark!”

me

And sure enough, though I didn’t know myself, there it is on his her my left wrist.

I was born with a dark birthmark the size of a dime on my wrist. It wasn’t raised, it never bothered me, not as a child or a young adult — although there were times in my adolescence when I was embarrassed by it (as I was with my surname until I was about 18), it was part of me and I thought it would stay with me my entire life. Then we spent a winter in Utah and I met a plastic surgeon at a dinner party and he urged me to have it removed. He would remove it, he said, for no charge. (He was Robert Redford’s dermatologist and spent a lot of time making the beautiful people even more beautiful. None of them wanted marks or blemishes or tags of skin.) But I didn’t want to have it removed. He insisted I take him seriously; he said I was at risk for skin cancer and that I should reconsider; so when we returned home that spring, I arranged with my doctor to have it dealt with. I miss it. I have a strange little scar on my wrist now instead of my friendly dark circle that somehow reassured me as a small child. It was my own special mark.

Before this, I didn’t have many images of myself as an infant. Cameras and film were expensive and in the early years of their marriage and young parenthood, my parents took pictures sparingly. This looks like a portrait — it’s been coloured in that old-fashioned way. John remarked that I should have known it was me because my feet haven’t really changed. And there are those sturdy calves, also unchanged. In fact, among my three brothers, Dan and I share a body type — our father’s.

It’s very fitting to have one’s children and grandchildren visit in January. A month named for Janus, the Roman god of doorways, of beginnings, usually represented with two heads, one to look back and one to look forward; often one face is bearded and the other clean-shaven. I always think of the month itself (the month of my birth) as a jani, or ceremonial gateway, an opening. I was surprised at how I felt to see that 60-year old photograph of my infant self, birthmark intact, and how appropriate it seems to have it now to look at and think about, as the month progresses. It’s a kind of vertigo, a whoosh of apprehension of both time and its obstacles, but also its possibilities. To look back, with gratitude (that I was born, I was loved, I was part of a family) and also regret (the loss of that birthmark!); and to welcome the gateway into the unknown (the garden yet unplanted, the future children unborn). To remember the old businesses of Victoria, the infancy of my brothers, and to look into the deep future as easily as the deep past.

O, the tree, growing from the sidewalk—
It has a little life, sprouting
Little green buds
Into the culture of the streets.
We look back
Three hundred years and see bare land.
And suffer vertigo.

— George Oppen, from “The Building of the Skyscraper”

Monday, quotidian

cheese scone

While I was swimming this morning, feeling grey as the sky outside, in part because I was awake for ages listening to the cat chase a mouse he brought in the other night and still hasn’t caught, I lifted my head from the water and “Wild Mountain Thyme” was playing. Again, the song lifted my spirits, took them onto hillsides of purple heather and pungent herbs, Greece or southern France or the Nicola Valley where your foot can step innocently on a clump of southernwood and the air is filled with the scent. I had a cheese scone with coffee after my swim and when I opened a jar of Nicola Valley honey, it was as though I was there, on a dry roadside, bees humming in the rabbitbrush. I dreamed the other night that we were in Portugal, driving through a small village near Evora, and when I woke I thought, When this is over, I’d like to return to Evora, where we arrived in the dark and then walked after our first breakfast to see this at the top of the little street where our hotel was:

evora-temple-square

I’d like to walk again on the Pennask Lake Road at dusk where we saw flammulated owls eating moths on the warm gravel and to swim in Nicola Lake where bluets hovered on the safety buoys. To celebrate all the occasions with my family and friends. To welcome new books into the world with readings and parties. This morning I opened A Writer’s Diary to January, 1932. The day’s message:

Can we count on another 20 years? I shall be fifty on 25th, Monday week that is: and sometimes feel that I have lived 250 years already, and sometimes that I am still the youngest person in the omnibus. […]And I want to write another four novels…

Well, I’m 66 but I still hope for another 20 years. Another four books, if not all novels. I’ve begun two things, one of them fiction and one of them an extended essay that might simply be something of its own or else part of a group of connected essays. (I am still feeling my way with it but have the old excitement when I think about what it might become.) Later this month I’ll know if Blue Portugal will be published soon. So that leaves one more book. At least. Maybe walking on the edge of Pennask Lake Road, where you feel as though you’re on the spine of the earth, something else will suggest itself, sprung to mind with the scent of wild artemisias and brown-eyed susans, the hooked seeds of wild rye.

And we’ll all go together
To pull wild mountain thyme
All around the bloomin’ heather
Will ye go, lassie, go?
I’ll go, yes. No need to ask twice.

(I wish I had a river.)

ready to come in

I wanted to write about the urgency I felt at 6:30 a.m., looking out to unexpected stars, one slipping below the western horizon, the urgency to do something fine and new as the first week of the New Year slipped away, the cat waking from the foot of the bed where the old Ohio Star quilt kept my feet warm through the cold night. I wanted to write about the sadness of the Christmas tree last night, its last hours in the warm house, the lights bright and clear, and the few ornaments strewn on its young branches. I wanted to have my birthday back, Epiphany, when instead of quietly thinking about my years and the passing of time, I listened obsessively to the news reports of insurrection and violence in Washington. I wanted to write something so memorable about the first Christmas we’ve spent alone in our nearly 42 years together, a small prime rib roast in the oven instead of a turkey for all who sat our table year after year, two foil crowns, and yet I don’t want it to be memorable. Wanted to write about the images of my grandchildren skating in their respective cities, two on a lake near their home, and two on a frozen creek, the courage it takes for a child to push away from a parent on metal blades. (I wish I had a river.) I have this urgency. I have the weeks ahead, spinning out from the reel of the years, I have the words, the yearning for a bonfire with all the branches from last week’s windstorm, every person I love around it, all of us singing into the darkness, without fear or any kind of grief, that star rising instead of setting, ash settling into my hair like a blessing.

white tulips: a birthday meditation

white tulips

Yesterday the power went out mid-afternoon and we ate a simple supper by the fire in lamplight. I went to bed early, trying to read with two little gadgets clipped to my book, small beams of light on the page. When I woke, power back on, John brought me coffee in bed and I heard the news about Reverend Raphael Warnock’s Senate win in Georgia and Jon Ossoff’s lead as the count resumed this morning. I opened my birthday gifts and we went off for a swim. Coming home, it was to the news that a mob incited by the President of the United States had breached barriers and were storming into the Capitol building.

The year ahead is like an unknown river, full of beauty and turbulence. Do we stand on the shores, wondering and timid, do we enter the water, do we swim, do we cling to the rocks, do we help each other, do we drift, do we sink?

I can’t stop listening to the news. On the counter prawns are thawing for a birthday dinner, a bottle of Chablis is chilling, garlic waiting to be peeled and minced to stir into melted butter. There’s even a small cake, glazed with ganache. On the table, white tulips delivered by dear friends.

In the night, boughs came down from the fir trees, a small dogwood fell across the driveway. Creeks swollen by heavy rains rush down the mountain. Chickadees and nuthatches dart from feeder to the twisted wood of the wisteria trained over a beam across our patio.

I can’t stop listening to the news.

I found myself in the water

morning lake 1

Four years ago I began to swim regularly at the local pool. In the autumn of 2016 I had some health issues. After being diagnosed in early September of that year with double pneumonia, my doctor wasn’t happy with the xrays and ordered a CAT scan. The scan showed a pulmonary embolism but also some nodes that resulted in a series of tests and consultations and eventually a PET scan because it was suspected I had metastatic lung cancer. Long story short: I didn’t. What did I have? No one knew. I eventually saw a hematologist and he too was a little puzzled. But again, long story short: I’m fine. During the period of uncertainty I think John was more anxious that I was. I was in a state of transparency, or at least that’s how I think of it. I kept being visited by the dead. I felt them around me, their hands on my shoulders, and although it was unsettling at first, it became very comforting. I’d come downstairs in the night to work at my desk and I knew I wasn’t alone. Meanwhile John would be awake upstairs worrying. In November of 2016, I sent him to the pool one morning. Swim, I told him. You need to do something to take you out of yourself for a bit. I wish you’d come too,  he’d say, and I was reluctant. Years ago we swam at the pool. Years ago I swam in the lake most summer days with my family. But then things changed. More people were around in both places, I was older, I was less willing to take off my clothes and cavort in a bathing suit. Or not cavort, but you know.

Anyway, we were always walking. Almost every day we’d go up the mountain or around a series of trails in the woods beyond our woods, until we came out on a road, either the one that came down the hill to Sakinaw Lake or else the one that passed the marsh by the creek between Ruby and Sakinaw Lakes, the marsh where we saw kingfishers and turtles and once, in winter, a single swan.

That fall of the mysterious illness, I had trouble walking any distance. My doctor thought it might be an inflammatory response to the pneumonia. My right knee was swollen and it hurt to move too much. But I wasn’t going to swim. Because a bathing suit? Among others?

And then one morning in early January, 2017,  I decided I needed to swim. I was drawn to water. I found my old black tank-suit. I joined John at the pool, finding a rhythm to take me up the 20 meters and back again. Back and forth. It wasn’t hard and it felt wonderful. If we went early-ish, there weren’t many people there. A guy who swam laps quite ferociously and who has become a friend (because when someone mentions modernism at the end of your swim, of course you’re going to want to talk to him some more). One or two others whom I knew in other ways years ago and who I know now as morning swimmers.

Because I was so accustomed to my slow kilometer (20 meters x 50 lengths) 3 times a week, I decided to return to the lake again too once the water warmed up in late May. It seemed silly to swim in a pool when I could be in a lake I’ve lived near for 40 years. A lake where we went most summer days when our children were young, where we had a favourite island for boat picnics, where my father fished when he visited us, sometimes bringing back cutthroat trout for a late breakfast. I’d gotten out of the habit of swimming there regularly, in part because the little wild area where we’d always gone had become a more organized park, with sand brought in for a beach, two picnic tables, a toilet, an area kept safe from boats with rope and buoys—and that brought more people, of course. I don’t like change.

Four summers ago I developed a new habit of lake-swimming. John and I went at 8:30, before other people were around. We mostly had the water to ourselves and I could swim the perimeter of the roped-off area for 25 minutes, sometimes watched by a kingfisher or ravens wondering if we’d brought food, sometimes a loon off-shore, swimming in quiet circles, and sometimes in the company of trout who’d jump out of the water for the various generations of flies.

morning lake 2

This past year, the lake was a salvation. The pool closed in March when we were officially declared to be in a pandemic. We missed our pool swims. As early as we could bear to enter the cold water, we were going down for a morning swim. As the water warmed up, into June, we were swimming longer. Every morning during the summer. Our Ottawa family came to stay for 2 weeks in July, when air travel was possible (that brief window), and it was lovely to have our grandsons join us most mornings. They went again later in the day too. Angelica and her beau came for a few days from Victoria and one day we all swam at Trail Bay, the day when Angie and Karna were flying home. When we met our Edmonton family at Lac LeJeune in August, we swam in that lake, and in Nicola Lake (twice), and in the Thompson River. My memories of family and summer are sun-spangled, damp with lake water, tangy with salt.

In water I sometimes think I do my best work. I stretch out my arms, I take in the sunlight, the rain, the sound of mergansers muttering over by the logs, the far-off revving of a boat engine, I think about difficulties I am having with writing (I once took apart an essay and put it together in a much better way, all while doing the backstroke), I reconstruct the past so it’s perfectly intact and coherent and present. This is the summer when we put Forrest in a plastic baby bathtub to keep him cool, this is the summer when the wild mint grew around the hardhack, right where the sand now slides into water, the summer of the wasp stings, the summer of Angelica diving over and over until she was perfect, of Brendan wearing his bike cap backwards and hoping to catch a turtle in an old ice-cream bucket. When I am swimming, everything is happening again, and still.

morning mergansers

The pool opened in early fall and although it’s different now, you have to book a time and make sure you’re out of the water at the end of your 45 minutes, your mask on as you enter the change room, and leave it,  it’s swimming. For John, after a surgery gone sideways, it’s an opportunity to exercise and feel buoyant again. I do my slow kilometer with revisions in mind as I anticipate a new collection of essays tentatively in the works for publication. And I’ve added a twice-weekly winter lake swim to my swimming schedule, a time when I feel completely alive in water both familiar and strange. One morning the ferns on the trail down to the lake were silver with frost and I couldn’t feel my feet as I did a brief few strokes within the roped perimeter.

After that fall and early winter when I waited for specialists to read my xrays and look serious as they traced the nodes with a cursor, when I wore the hospital gowns that never covered enough of me, when I entered the dark space of the machines that made visual the changes in my body, I sometimes forgot who I was. I was a lung with dark mysteries, blood that carried dangerous cargo, legs that longed for mountain trails. I found myself in water, strong and purposeful, swimming the lengths, beyond the rope, ravens vigilant in the cedars, and everything possible again.

fast away: zuihitsu for the end of the year

pandemic bread

1.

Before any rumour of virus, there was bread, there was bread rising overnight on the Mexican tiles, bread baking, bread broken with soup, spread with butter and honey, fine cheese, there was bread before, there was bread, there is bread, a hollow sound when you tap the bottom of the loaf.

there were roses

2.

June mornings, the sound of bees, of hummingbirds, of ravens klooking in the deep woods, and bowls of roses to sit on the table, opening, opening, earwigs falling from their hearts.

pines at lac lejeune

3.

You heard their voices. You heard a Clark’s nutcracker. A boat. When you stood up under the pines, you had pollen on your shoulders. You don’t brush it off, your heart in the needles, the warm smell of the sap.

sky swim

4.

You will swim out into the clouds tomorrow to welcome the new year. The islands are your destination but you won’t arrive.

rock, written

The last days of 2020. Grey sky, a cloud of chickadees and nuthatches at the feeder, the sound of ravens in the woods when I went down to the old orchard this morning to gather cedar bark from the logs our friends cut for us the week before last. The bark makes such excellent firelighter on cold winter mornings and we need heat this time of year. We need light. And I need to remember that these months of isolation are just a blip in the long memory of life on earth.

I’ve been stitching a quilt for a friend. I began it just before the pandemic began and it had to wait because I needed some fabric, some batting, and a few other things I didn’t have on hand. And it’s waited too for me to have time to sit with it by the fire, waited during the weeks after John’s surgery, the weeks just before Christmas when I was rushing to finish up another quilt for Cristen’s birthday on the 21st, the Solstice.

graptolite quilt

Cristen’s quilt was big squares of French cottons arranged in a simple grid. The quilting was very simple too, another kind of grid. But this quilt—4 large log-cabin blocks, centred around little squares of red dupioni silk—has become a way to follow spirals where they lead across the plain grey-green cotton sashing. I’m quilting free-hand, letting small spirals send out tendrils to connect them to other small ones, and larger ones. Maybe I’ll use buttons to finish them off later.

I’ve been thinking about spirals and how they are kinetic reminders of time. Years ago I visited Newgrange, the Neolithic passage tomb in Ireland, older than Stonehenge, older than the pyramids. I was there in spring, a lovely time to approach the imposing mound. But imagine it in mid-winter, imagine it on the Solstice, when narrow beams of light through the roof box reach the burial chamber deep within the mound, illuminating the inner sanctum. Of course there are spirals at Newgrange:

new grange

I am stitching spirals, thinking that these months are so long and so momentary. The spirals at Newgrange must surely have been inspired in turn by graptolithina, a subclass of Pterobranchia, fossil forms dating from the Cambrian to Carboniferous periods, as long as 540 million years ago. Graptos, Greek for written; lithos, meaning rock.

graptolite

Stitching the grammar of rocks into cotton, making a trail of ancient writing for a friend living so far away it might be another time, another epoch altogether. We make our mark, the colonies of tiny animals floating in the tide, the spirals guiding the dead, and the sunlight to them on the darkest days of the year.

lines for the wagon of heaven

wagon of heaven

1.

On December 21, I was outside looking for the Great Conjunction. Maybe I saw it, in the southwest, just beyond the half-moon caught in the branches of a tall fir. I saw something bright, yellowy-red, and then I went to get binoculars. When I returned, it was something else that caught my eye: a blurry group of stars suddenly clear in the lenses of my binoculars. How many times have I looked south and not noticed Ursa Minor tipping its bucket over the sky just beyond my house?

2.

The wagon of heaven, in the Babylonian star compendia, observations and divinations appearing about the 12th c. BCE. And yes, it looked more like a wagon to me than a bear. A barrow, like the wheelbarrow in our woodshed, tipped up against the logs.

3.

so much depends

4.

Other names for Ursa Minor: dog’s tail, trail of light.

5.

Tonight I will be the woman in her nightdress, bare-footed, on the deck under stars, with binoculars focused on the heavens. Send me your star charts, send me your old stories, send me straight back to bed where someone warm waits for me, starry-eyed.

6.

Maybe I saw the meteor shower in Ursa Minor, a blur of starry light tipped from a wagon high above my house on the longest night.

“the long calendar of the year” (Dickens)

northwest window

But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely…

I’ve always loved Christmas. I’ve loved the carols, baking the foods we love to eat this time of year, the parties, the lights we string around windows and through ivy draped over top of the leaded windows in our entrance area. I love choosing presents, making them when I can, and I love preparing the bags we give to our friends: jars of marinated olives, small loaves of white chocolate fruit cake, shortbread, little bowls. I’ve loved the anticipation of family members arriving, often in time for John’s birthday on the 19th; traditionally this has been the start of our season, a party for 6 or 10 or 25, depending.

This year I couldn’t feel the spirit enter my heart for the longest time. Why bake when we’re not going to be seeing anyone? Why prepare the olives (though the huge jars bought at the Parthenon in Vancouver on the day before John’s surgery in October were waiting in the cool porch). Why. I did shop. I packaged up gifts for my children and their children. I made a quilt for a daughter-in-law’s birthday (today!), stitching by the fire, and at least for that time I found a kind of peace in the movement of the needle in and out, pulling its blue thread along. When we sat down to work out charitable gifts, it felt overwhelming. So many who need help and a limited budget to work with. It’s just been a hard fall for a number of reasons, for so many of us. I wasn’t unhappy but perhaps I was too busy and stressed to understand that what I always loved about Christmas was still potent and waiting. I wasn’t even sure I’d bring a tree into the house to hang with the old ornaments, a star on top.

…the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely…

Last week I made the gingerbreads to package up for children young and not so young. I made shortbread. Not the white chocolate fruit cake, golden with apricots, Smyrna figs, hazelnuts, and jeweled with dried cherries. Not this year. And little by little, I began to feel moments of joy. Was it when I was filling the birdfeeder and a cloud of chickadees descended, one landing on my hand, the elegant nuthatch who travels with them keeping its distance? Or when I realized that we still needed to celebrate John’s birthday properly, even if it meant setting the table for just the two of us? A blue cloth, our Midwinter Moon plates (bought in Bath when we first knew each other and wanted to make a home together), napkins with sunflowers, the candles lit, the Waterford glasses shining. There was even cake—hazelnut torte with ganache (I scaled back my usual method for 8…). We raised our glasses to health and happiness for all.

Through the magic of gadgets, we watched The Tailor of Gloucester on Friday night with two of our grandchildren. It’s such a lovely story, full of music, mice making tiny buttonholes with cherry-coloured twist, the rats who find the kegs of wine singing and carousing in grand style, and courtly dancing. Do you have a Christmas tree, my grandson asked, and I told him, no, but we’ll go up the mountain like we always do and cut a small one. He described theirs and his voice was full of joy.

In the long calendar of the year, there are the dark days and then the ones rich with light. I was awake at 2:02 a.m. at the moment of the longest night. I was awake, filled with hope. As the days grow longer, I am hopeful that we will come together again, all of us, in person, to take up our lives in community again. As friends, as families, as citizens. Hopeful that a small tree will hold the riches of the year.

When the last of the spirits shows Ebenezer Scrooge his own gravestone, his name on it serving to shake him finally to a new realization of what could happen if he remained miserly and tiny-souled, Scrooge has a true change of heart, from the man who asked, “Are there no prisons? And the Union workhouses? Are they still in operation? The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?”, to the man who becomes a model of generosity and good will.

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!

Next year, I won’t put off making the white chocolate fruitcakes or scale down the birthday torte preparations but plan the feasts for all those who have traditionally come and those who might like to again.

the chilly notes of old carols

christmas cards

Almost every year since 1980, we’ve printed Christmas cards on our 19th c. Chandler&Price platen press. It’s treadle-driven, with an elegant fly-wheel, and when it’s in action, I can hear it from the kitchen, the rumble of its gears, and the steady thump of the treadle. I say “we” but John prints the linocuts that I make at the kitchen table after softening the lino against the window of the woodstove. I’m not an artist but almost every year I come up with something that we match with passages of poetry, old carols, a few sentences from an essay. The blue boat you can see at the back of the photograph is one of the carol ships we used to watch from our friend Edith Iglauer’s deck. The boats would move in and out of the little bays, their rigging strung with lights, and you could hear people singing carols on their decks. Those of us watching from shore would try to match our voices to the ones that drifted across the dark water. One year the card was our house on its hill. Another showed our cat sitting on a windowsill. Once a quilt block (Variable Star), once a pear, once a grouse in cotoneaster, once a pygmy owl on the bough of fir where we spotted it on a walk. Last year there was supposed to be a Steller’s jay but I wasn’t happy with the inking and said I wouldn’t mail it out. John went quiet. (It’s a lot of work to set the block, to set the type, to print—often in two colours, which means two inkings, two times through the press.) He mailed a few and somewhere there’s a stack of under-inked jays with rather dashing crests.

This year, there won’t be a card. When I said the press is treadle-driven, I mean that there’s an iron treadle that is pedaled with the right foot. If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’ll know that John had double hip surgery in October and suffered from a compressed sciatic nerve that affected his peroneal nerve, resulting in a paralyzed right foot. It may or may not recover, though he’s experiencing more feeling in his foot and more movement, and we are hopeful. With some work, he will no doubt be able to figure out a good way to use the treadle again but not yet. He has some plans for press work in the new year and who knows, there might be something to send out then.

I think my favourite of all the cards is the one on the left, in front—two coho salmon in Haskins Creek. Every year we walk over to the creek to witness the return of the fish to the tiny creek running down off Mount Hallowell to where it enters Sakinaw Lake. The fish swim the length of the lake in summer and early fall, waiting until there’s enough water in the creek to allow them to make their way to the gravel beds where they’ll dig redds and spawn. Eagles wait in the huge cedars and coyotes lurk and once I saw a bear dragging a fish away on the opposite bank of the creek as we walked towards the water. Watching the salmon puts life, and death, in perspective.

Mid-winter is the season of miracles—children returning from distant enterprises; the chilly notes of old carols in the air; ancient stories of birth and death; two dark red fish sidling together in a riffle overhung with ferns, fish who have come such a vast distance through rain and under stars to find this unlikely water; a few loose eggs in the gravel glistening like a rare and costly gift.

—from “Autumn Coho in Haskins Creek”, published in Phantom Limb, Thistledown Press, 2007.

Later this morning we’ll go over to the creek. I don’t know if the fish are there yet. Some years they arrive in early December. We’ve watched them at New Year. So who knows. But we need this now. We need to remember the ancient stories that sustain us, all of us, as the northern hemisphere tilts its furthest distance from the sun and we prepare for the shortest day of the year. We will be the couple, arm in arm, on the bank of the creek, looking into its fast clean water, as the fish swim past barely noticing us. And if you listen carefully, across the dark water, you might hear one of us singing softly:

I sing of a night in Bethlehem
a night as bright as dawn
I sing of that night in Bethlehem
the night the Word was born*

*this is one of my favourite Christmas moments, recited by Burgess Meredith on the Chieftains’ Bells of Dublin