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highway 5

highway 5

I woke at 5:30 and opened the curtain of my room on the 5th floor of the Plaza Hotel in Kamloops. We’ve stayed here many times. I love its placement in the older part of the city and how from this particular room I can see Highway 5, cars heading to and from the Yellowhead Highway. Sometimes when we stay here, we drive down Highway 5A to Quilchena and Merritt—that’s what we’ll do today—and sometimes we are returning from somewhere. Like Edmonton, the first time we met our granddaughter Kelly in 2014. (When we got the call to say she’d been born, we loaded up presents in our car and raced to hold her, the tiniest girl, and to congratulate her parents.)

This morning I said to John, it makes me wistful to look at the cars heading north on Highway 5 and he replied that we could easily change our plans and go to Edmonton to visit our family there. But I reminded him that they are all heading to Europe later this week on matters of mathematical import. That little girl, now 5, and her brother, 3, will live in Paris and Munich for 5 weeks and then spend a week in Oxford. I made them drawstring bags to take on the flight. When they open them, they’ll discover magnetic games (Snakes and Ladders, Tic Tac Toe, Racing Cars), puzzles, finger puppets, and little pads and coloured pencils. So even if we did drop everything and drive the road I can see from my window, we’d be returning a day or so later. Hardly worth the drive.

So we’ll stick to our plan of meandering down Highway 5A, through the most beautiful grasslands on earth, and stopping to look at lakes, particular pines, like the one in this post for example. and maybe driving to Monck Park where we camped every summer when our children were young. I have in mind an essay and will be taking notes. Some things never change.

postcard, from Lillooet to Kamloops

The light at Marble Canyon, so austere and beautiful. And standing above the Thompson River at Walhachin, I understood (as I have every time I’ve gone there) the why of it. We veered off the Transcanada to wander up Tunkwa Lake road to eat our lunch and stopped to say hello to donkeys in a pasture, one just lying down as I walked to the fence.

postcard, Fraser and Thompson Canyons

Through the tunnels, whoosh, the moment of realizing you are inside a mountain. Then stopping in Lytton to look down to where the Thompson sidles into the Fraser, driving Highway 12 along the Fraser River, first in light, then in shadow. John slowed for a coyote standing on the edge of the road, gazing at the river, but I missed it, drawn instead to the ochre flanks of the mountain on my side of the road. John said, I am so grateful to have a life where I can drive this road and see this beautiful country. Me too. Wish you were here.

paused

leaf

When we came blackberry picking in early September, we missed the berries on this low plant, Rubus laciniatus; its fruit ripens after the Himalayan blackberries of early to mid August. In the patch where we went with our buckets, we did pick a bucket of the cut-leaf blackberries. Walking yesterday, I saw a small bird (too quick for me to be more specific) darting in under these strong canes. Even though these are an introduced species, they feed birds, and they feed the bears who are lurking around, waiting for the salmon to enter the creeks. I see seeds in coyote scats up where we pick berries every year. I could have picked a handful yesterday, there were enough for that but I left them, regretting it afterwards. The wonderful American poet Galway Kinnell’s poem, “Blackberry Eating”, ends this way, and making weather adjustments for Vermont, where he lived, and our more balmy west-coast, the timing is just about right:

…the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.

I love the term, “introduced species”. It sounds so formal. Too formal, I suspect, for the actual process of plants finding a foothold in a place not their own, or at least not to begin with. They arrive in so many ways, as ballast, mixed with other seed, in imported plant matter, wrapped in damp cotton in the suitcases of those arriving from afar, wanting to bring something of their old lives with them. (There’s a walnut in my little change purse, picked up from a park in Kyiv last month, and some hollyhock seeds from the churchyard in my grandfather’s village.) I’m not making light of what can be hugely and dangerously problematic: an invasive species edging out a native one, creating imbalances in ecosystems, and everything else that can and does happen. But I think of the benefits too, though predicting them, weighing them against the damage, is not science I’m qualified to engage in. How many gardeners choose seeds that remind them of plants their parents or their grandparents grew? One of my favourite tomatoes is Black Krim, with origins in Crimea. I don’t grow many potatoes but like to have a few hills of French fingerlings, with their buttery yellow flesh suffused with pink veins.

In Ukraine last month, I loved the fields of sunflowers in the western part of the country, grown for their oil. The fields went on for miles, as lush and vivid as sunlight. They are mainly Black Peredovik sunflowers apparently and now I wonder if those are also the seeds I buy for the bird-feeders in winter? The seed I am currently hand-feeding, in small amounts, to my morning breakfast companion, who eats a few and takes the surplus away to store. I’m going to plant a few next spring to see what happens. I’ll look forward to this over the coming winter, with its long cold days. Here is the bird, paused between seeds.

pause

I am grateful these days to the colour of blackberry leaves, the morning cry of the Steller’s jay in the fir outside my kitchen, the scent of cedar kindling catching in the woodstove in the morning. The other day, as light was falling, I heard geese against the mountain, though I couldn’t see them because of all the cloud. But think of them! Following a signal and a map that we know nothing of, making their scribble against the sky, turning and calling to one another in clouds, and in darkness. I paused on the side of the highway on my way back from the mailbox. Galway Kinnell again:

What do they sing, the last birds
coasting down the twilight,
banking
across woods filled with darkness, their
frayed wings
curved on the world like a lover’s arms
which form, night after night, in sleep,
an irremediable absence.

“…faces looking up, eyes luminous with life.”

buttons

This morning, getting ready to head out for my swim, I surprised myself by stepping on something hard on the carpet by my bed. It was a little pearl button, fallen from my nightdress. I put it aside and will sew it on later. Buttons have been on my mind lately as I revise and tidy the final version of a manuscript before trying to find a publisher for it. Buttons, because they figure in many of the individual essays in the collection I am calling Blue Portugal. I use buttons as embellishments on quilts and of course looking at them as I sew them, I am curious about their origins, both the buttons I am sewing as well as the concept of buttons in our culture(s). One of the essays is called “Anatomy of a Button” and here is a little extract:

After my visit to the optometrist, I come home thoughtful. I have seen my inner eye with its small scars, discs securing my retinas in place. I have a dark path of silk and linen and indigo cotton and I have a basket of akoya buttons that I run my thumb over as I shake a few into an oyster shell to see how I might use them on this quilt. I imagine the process of stamping the buttons out of shells and then seeing them sized and polished, drilled with holes (mine all have two holes, though I’ve seen them with four), left loose or sewn onto cards for distribution to stores.

Sinew, gut, veins, threaded through holes in needles made of bone or tied securely to one end, guided through hide and fur, 30,000 to 60,000 years ago, and possibly longer. Plant fibres, twisted and turned until a strong thread was ready to attach one thing to another, snares and nets and fasteners created to hold clothing to the body, tying the knot, using a well-knapped flint to cut the end. In Greek mythology, the Moirai or sisters of Fate spun the threads of our lives, measured them to determine the length of our lives, and cut them to end our time on earth. The threads of our past, our present, and our future spun, and measured, and cut with shears. We know something of this cycle in our own bodies: we are born, the cord connecting us to our mothers cut, our days measured out, our own children born out of our bodies, the cords cut and tied off to make them separate from us, the large artery of our heart distributing oxygenated blood until it can no longer keep us alive. Maybe we have sewn, maybe we have threaded needles, pushed them through cloth, gathered and smoothed and trimmed the threads, and we have sewn buttons, mended tears in our clothing or our children’s clothing, patched and layered, we have drawn cord through a seam and pulled the cord tight until the opening closed and whatever we had gathered in a bag was safe for now. Maybe we have put our mending aside and waited for a quieter moment, sunlight on our favourite chair. A clean oyster shell holding buttons, faces looking up, eyes luminous with life.

changes

I’m in the process of changing my website and I’m no techie so the progress is slow and a little daunting. I’m trying to make it easier on your (my) eyes and maybe simpler to find your way around. But is it simple for me to find my way around the area that allows me to customize the pages or create new widgets or, or, or…? Not yet.

In the meantime, let’s celebrate the big-leaf maple, so beautiful right now. Let’s celebrate the Kwanzan cherry out the back door, filled with sunlight this afternoon.

kwanzan

Last night I had two nightmares, filled with imagery so terrifying that I was afraid to sleep again. I know it was because I watched the election news. Things could have been a lot worse, that’s for certain, but they also could have been a lot better. Our planet deserves our care and attention and I’m afraid the climate emergency won’t receive the focus that it requires at this point in our history. So we’ll do what we can. Look at the trees, dig out the garlic bed, and share breakfast with this loud companion who is waiting by the sliding doors every morning.

wing feathers of jay

redux: years

Note: the year of this post was 2016. Three years later, we are quietly celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary with an afternoon concert, followed by duck (yes!) and a Desert Hills wine in our Waterford glasses. There are now 4 grandchildren. Perhaps a thousand more books. I don’t think we have any Gamay left but there’s one of the Helena rosés. Anyway, this morning the first thing John said to me was, I’d do it all again. And I would too.

___________________________

I’d stayed with my parents in Victoria the night before my wedding and I hadn’t packed anything warm. So on that cool morning, I put on the dress — white cotton with a laced bodice, circa 1979 (which it was) — and brushed my hair, arranged the wreath of yellow roses my mum’s friend made for me, and pulled on the old Cowichan sweater I’d left in my parents’ basement. Then I got into the Mazda pickup with my dad and we headed out for the 11’o’clock ceremony performed by a Unitarian minister wearing a Welsh fisherman’s smock at an old heritage house turned restaurant near Sidney. My groom was waiting in his Harris tweed jacket and wide corduroy pants. A tie! A belt with a big hand-forged buckle. There’s only one photograph of us because my brother said he’d take pictures and for some reason they didn’t work out. But I’ve never forgotten the day. Or where it led.

wedding1

I still have the dress, tucked away in a trunk. And that belt is still around. We have accumulated so much over the years, 37 of them. A houseful of furniture, thousands of books, 3 children, two daughters-in-law, 3 grandchildren. A houseful of memories, of sunlight and shadows (because there have been plenty of those), meals at the long pine table with friends and family members, some of them still with us and some of them gone to spirit. Last night I dreamed of my mother, that I wondered where she was and my daughter told me she’d left her at a restaurant because my mum said she loved to sit in the dusk and think about her life. My mother died in 2010 and often when I sit in the dusk, I think of her. One day my daughter will wonder where I am and maybe my granddaughter will tell her a similar story. We never leave, do we? We are always part of a story, if only someone cares to tell it.

Tonight we will sit at the table and eat duck breasts with a sauce of port and dried cherries (and maybe some rhubarb; I’m thinking that the two stalks John cut the other day would go well with the cherries). There will be Savoy cabbage from the garden and a salad of the last arugula. To drink? A gorgeous Desert Hills Gamay in the Waterford glasses John gave me for my 50th birthday, 11 years ago.

intact.jpg

The glasses are still intact, though so much of the world has broken and frayed. Not us, not yet, and I look forward to the first sip of the Gamay, late summer distilled in a high-shouldered bottle, the first taste of the duck in its silky sauce, while the dusk gathers around us and the years contain our lives, the stories we still remember and tell.