posts

the levels

level

During John’s recuperation from double hip surgery in late fall, I took on almost everything necessary to care for him and keep our household going. I did it gladly. We’ve been together 42 years and there’ve been times when he’s done the same for me. I remember one particular morning when I’d brought up a breakfast tray for him and picked up the various things he needed during the night to take back downstairs. (One day I wondered how many times I went up and down the stairs in a day and I kept a little tally. 27 trips was the number I recorded but I might have forgotten a couple.) He said to me that morning, How can I ever thank you for everything you’ve done for me? And I answered, A greenhouse. Done, he replied, without skipping a beat. We did a bit of research and decided on a model and after Christmas we ordered one. It’s a kit. A young(er) friend offered to help us with it once we’d decided on a location but then his circumstances changed so the kit—3 boxes of pieces…—has been waiting for us to figure out how we would do it ourselves. We built our house 40 years ago (I know exactly how many years ago it was because Forrest turns 40 at the end of the month and he was 2 weeks old when we set up our tent and our saw-horses and unpacked the Black and Decker saw, the hammer, and ordered piles of lumber) and we’ve built other structures since: a printshop, a garden shed, several additions to the original house. But of course there was that double hip replacement surgery and the unexpected injury resulting in a paralyzed foot. I was never the carpenter of our relationship but the person who lugged wood around, held up walls as they were nailed into place, nailed down the kitchen subfloor, and made sure things were level. I remember squinting at the levels and wondering how to say that a beam that had been perfect a few minutes earlier was now not. I had no spatial sense at all so I just did what I needed to do at my end of the wall. Luckily I’m strong.

I have to say I was lost. I couldn’t “see” any of these spaces. When John would ask at other people’s houses if the room we were in was, oh, 12×16, he was relating space to basic plywood, which came in 4×8 sheets. There’d be less waste if we went with dimensions that were multiples of 4×8. He could make adjustments in his head, think his way through possible difficulties, and I’d be asking, Will there be a windowsill over the kitchen sink for my shells and stones? Can we have windows low in the dining area so we can see out while we’re eating? My particulars were not his.
                      — from “blueprint”, an essay in Blue Portugal, out next year.

We are making slow progress with the greenhouse. It took us a while to decide exactly where we wanted it to be. Then we (but I really mean John) needed to think about what kind of base we’d use. A platform was one thing we considered. But a wooden floor wasn’t ideal with all the watering and misting the plants will need. I wondered about a pad of gravel and sand and then paving stones (or concrete slabs) on top. They’d hold the heat in winter and could be hosed down in summer to cool off the space. How would we frame them? Well, with 4×4 lumber, lag-bolted at the corners, and then the base of the greenhouse could be bolted to that. All of this was thought about carefully. The site isn’t level because, well, nothing around here is. It’s what one guy who came years ago to give us an estimate for blasting called Basic B.C. But we figured we could use concrete blocks and posts to bring everything to level and fill in the raised sides with big rocks. The rocks and beams will buttress the gravel bed and they will be more or less held in place by cross-bracing. And the rocks will also provide a good place for snakes and lizards, good for keeping pests under control.

We are such slow workers now that we’re no longer those two young people swinging hammers and raising walls. And honestly there’s no hurry. The tomato seeds have just sprouted so there’s still time before I’ll need space to set them out in larger pots on benches we’ll build of cedar. We have the tools. 3 levels! The tiny one at the front was made by John’s paternal grandfather when the family was leaving England for Canada in 1953. That grandfather made his son—John’s father—a toolbox for his new life. (I wrote about it in an essay in Red Laredo Boots.) I keep the level on my desk because it’s a beautiful object of brass and oak but it’s also practical. Set it on a beam and you know what you need to do to make a solid base for a structure.

So much I’d forgotten about this kind of work. The smell of sawdust as the posts are cut, the usefulness of roofing felt for shims, the utility of squares and handsaws and levels. And even how you can search around in the old outhouse, taken from its original location once real bathrooms were functioning in the house to become a storage shed for propane and rope, anyway, you can search around until you find the two ancient jacks, once part of a jury-rigged boat-trailer that a welder named Shakey (I know!) replaced with metal supports, to hold up the beams while the posts are cut to size. You can see one of them in situ at the back of the photograph.

Maybe by the end of the month we’ll have a functioning greenhouse, solid on its beams, clean slabs of concrete set in sand, the hammer and drill put away and the saw hung up in the workshop. In the meantime, today there was a moment when time wrinkled as it does and bending to read level, I was also wondering to cook on the Coleman stove that night when we finished work and whether we had enough lumber to finish the last wall of the kitchen.

“As flowers…unfold and straighten on their stems…”

poppy

Just now I was sitting in the big rocking chair by the fire, drinking my second cup of coffee, and listening to the news. It’s been a year, more or less, since we began to think of the world as a more dangerous place. Not just the virus but the endless clamour from the former President south of the border. A year since we knew we’d have to live more carefully, avoid contact with others, draw in, draw in, until (in the words of John Donne), we made “one little room an everywhere.” It wasn’t a hardship. We weren’t confined to an apartment. We were healthy enough to do our own shopping, with the precautions of hand sanitizer and masks. Our little room is 8.5 acres. But there have been times when my life has felt reduced to its smallest denominator.

For the past few days the news has been full of vaccination news. At first I didn’t pay too much attention because I thought it would still be months and months until I’d be eligible. I knew it was much more important to make sure that those more vulnerable or at risk received theirs first. In a line-up at the Post Office yesterday, I was standing (6 feet) behind a woman who was talking to someone else about her own effort to get her and her partner scheduled for their vaccine. She said she was 79 and her partner in his mid-80s. The person she was talking to assured her it would happen soon. The commentators on the news talk of light at the end of the tunnel. Our province’s Chief Medical Health Officer is beginning to talk about things opening up, allowing small gatherings again, limited travel.

Just now I looked up from the chair and saw the light coming through the glass poppy hanging in front of the sliding doors to the deck. It was as though the poppy was reflecting that light, that possibility, fully open, a second bud waiting in readiness for its turn. The other day on the phone one son wondered about a summer visit. At the time I couldn’t imagine how that would happen. But now it does seem possible. I can imagine waking on a summer morning to the voices of my grandchildren in the kitchen, eager for pancakes, a swim, eager for tree frogs and lizards and a fire for marshmallows in the circle of stones by the garden gate.

Some days I’ve felt that this is the life I will live forever now. Worse things could happen, of course, than the bare alders, the skim of frost on the deck railings in the morning, the quiet of my house going on and on. But just a few minutes ago I walked out on the deck and looked at the new shoots of honeysuckle, the buds of clematis forming, buds on the old wisteria swelling as they have for the past 35 years, a single long note of a varied thrush in the woods beyond the house. Two years ago we were reading Dante’s Inferno by the fire and I remember the end of the second Canto:

As flowers bent and shrunken by night at dawn
Unfold and straighten on their stems, to wake
Brightened by sunlight, so I grew strong again…

Not strong exactly but hopeful.

“A kind of opposite is also true.”

constellations

Last night I stayed awake for longer than usual, wanting to finish the book I was reading: The Smallest Lights in the Universe, by Sara Seager. Sara is an astrophysicist at MIT and the book is a memoir of her professional life, her passion for exoplanets and the possibility (she would say probability, I think) of life forms in the vast universe. It’s also a memoir of her unexpected widowhood and how she moved ahead in her life and career with two small boys to care for. I found it an entrancing read and after I closed it last night, I thought for a long time about stars and motherhood and grief.

Two nights ago, I was returning to bed after visiting the bathroom and I paused to look out the window at the dark sky. (Although we have curtains, we seldom draw them shut at night.) Two nights ago there were so many stars that I stood for a time just taking in the silvery shimmer across the vault of sky over the Douglas firs just beyond my house, the beauty settling in my whole body like a promise. This is here, I thought, despite everything else. Despite the vaccination delays, the lists of those who have died, the willful denial of science by too many, the families in trouble, those who are lonely and isolated. Despite the horror it’s easy to succumb to when the new numbers are released each afternoon. This is here, this matters, this keeps me standing in the darkness looking out, I thought. I’d just begun The Smallest Lights in the Universe that evening so maybe I was particularly vulnerable to the beauty but I hope I’m never immune to it. In late November, 2018, I fell on ice and without knowing right away, I injured my retinas. In the days immediately following my accident, I had the sensation of seeing stars cascade past my face, a sensation as thrilling as it was frightening. Or to be honest, I wasn’t frightened until later, when I had emergency surgery to repair my eyes, and learned how serious the situation could have been if I hadn’t gone to the hospital when I did.

On a snowy evening in Edmonton, I sat in a chair high above the city glittering below, and saw images so beautiful that I know why people have sought them since they first ate datura or drank fermented honey and ingested mushrooms so toxic they could not have lived long afterwards. In dark caves they applied ochre, charcoal, and ground calcite to show light falling from the faces of horses and spiral patterns that led them to a dizzy apprehension of time and starlight. Following the spiral, they went to the heart of the mystery. It was never ours. It was always ours.

When I sew my spirals, I am finding my way into darkness, hopeful that I will find my way back. I am walking a path worn to the bare earth. It’s one way I know to hear myself think. I sew small shell buttons to the ends of each trail, a place-marker, shining as the light shone by my face in an Edmonton room where I lay in intense pain, but also in joy as I heard my grandchildren singing. Two little dicky birds sitting on a wall, one named Peter, the other named Paul.
from “The Blue Etymologies”, in Blue Portugal and Other Essays, forthcoming.

It might sound dramatic to say I was changed by the experience but I was. I learned how precious my eyesight is—and isn’t it strange that it takes injury sometimes to allow us to understand what a gift it is to see?

There’s a very moving moment in Sara’s book when she is in New Mexico with her sons, trying out a new camera prototype, capable (she hopes) of finding the information she anticipates will further her work with exoplanets. It’s a moonless night on a desert with the Milky Way overhead.

We wanted to stay out there with the stars until the sun began its rise, washing them out one by one until even the brightest had disappeared.

We would know they were still up here. People about the sun and its reliability, how even on the darkest days we know it will come out again. A kind of opposite is also true. Even on the brightest days, beyond blue skies, there are countless stars shining over our heads.

I think of the shimmering stars within my eyes themselves, shining, shining, I remember looking at stars with my children decades ago, but in the place I still live, our attempts to find and name the constellations, I think of how much has been lost but how much still remains, lit by starlight when I least expected it.

redux: isolate

garlic

Note: I thought it was a year ago that we closed our doors to the world. But it was actually March 14th, 2020, that this post was written and I take that as the anniversary of our year in (mostly) isolation. The other day I began an essay titled “The Year” and am struck by how much happened and how little happened. I was kind of surprised to read the bit about how we’d swum that day and that our pool would remain open. March 14th was in fact the last day it was open until September when under strict protocols, swimmers were able to book a 45 minute swim, with a few others, and I am so grateful for the luxury of my thrice-weekly swim. In the blue water, by the big window, the world seems almost normal.

___________________

The house is quiet. For the past week I’ve listened to the news almost constantly, feeling a little pulse of anxiety or fear each time there were updates of Covid-19 cases, both on the west coast where I live or in any of the cities where loved ones live. Entire countries are locked down. I know the world has experienced pandemics in the past and I have no doubt they were just as frightening and serious. (On my desk, I have copies of death certificates for my relatives who died in 1918 in the Spanish flu epidemic…) Somehow our immediate access to news, to events as they unfold, makes us, or me at least, feel that this one is worse. It certainly occupies a huge space in the collective consciousness.

A younger friend called earlier today to ask if we needed him to buy groceries for us. He wasn’t sure how isolated we were, or wanted to be. I thanked him, his kindness very welcome, but said we were fine. I think we are. We live about 15 minutes from a village with two grocery stores and a pharmacy; there’s a health centre a few minutes from the village. 45 minutes away is a larger town, though just last week we laughed as we drove into it because we noticed a sign (a new one?) indicating “City Center”. The population is about 10,000. There’s a hospital, a couple of grocery stores, a book store, several pharmacies, a few places to eat, a library, and other small-town services. Many of these are along one street and I guess that was where you’d end up if you followed the sign to the City Center. We tend to go to the larger town once a week and our nearby village a couple of times a week. So far it’s seemed safe. No one we know has become sick. The local pool is still open and just this morning we swam, though we were the only ones there. This is not uncommon on a Saturday morning, though. When our family in Ottawa called today, they said that pools, libraries, and museums are all shut down or about to be; schools and daycares too. They said they were wishing they could come to B.C. for a couple of weeks, and wouldn’t that be nice? The little boys could come swimming with us and their dad could help with firewood.

What does it mean to isolate yourself, to enter into a state or place of isolation? The Oxford definitions are interesting.

(Mass noun) The process or fact of isolating or being isolated.
(As a modifier) Denoting a hospital or ward for patients with contagious or infectious diseases.
(Count noun) An instance of isolating something, especially a compound or microorganism.

Elsewhere, I found this etymological information about the word:

“standing detached from others of its kind,” 1740, a rendering into English of French isolé “isolated” (17c.), from Italian isolato, from Latin insulatus “made into an island,” from insula “island” (see isle (n.)). English at first used the French word (isole, also isole’d, c. 1750), then after isolate (v.) became an English word, isolated became its past participle.

Sometimes I tell people we live in an isolated area. We do. We have no immediate neighbours. We see no other houses from our house. We have 8.5 acres and we live on a cleared area on one part of that acreage, surrounded by deep woods. Mostly I don’t feel isolated. I’d say, rather, that I feel private. When I work in the garden in good weather, I have the windows and doors open (though screened) so that I can hear music coming from the house. It can be as loud as I want it to be. I like the pure darkness at night.

But to have to isolate ourselves? That’s another thing. We would be fine for quite a long period because I have a good larder—the freezer is full to the brim with berries, fish, meat, soups, broths, boxes of filo pastry, still a couple of pies from the fall, and the shelves in the porch that serves as our pantry are laden with jams, jellies, chutney, salsa, and various other preserves. We have lots of dried beans and rice and lentils. Big bags of flour and other grains. A good quantity of wine. In the garden earlier, I was looking to see what could be planted and where and I rescued a couple of red cabbages that were gnawed on by deer last fall when a bear broke the garden fence. I’d left the cabbages and forgot about them but they recovered quite nicely, though they’re misshapen. (Tomorrow I’ll cook them with apples and some red-wine vinegar.) There’s kale, tiny shoots of miners lettuce, perennial greens like chicory, buck’s horn plantain, dandelions. The chives are up. There’s parsley, other herbs, and the garlic is looking quite robust as it bursts forth from under its mulch of leaves. I planted lettuce and arugula in one of the boxes John built a few years ago. They’re like cold frames, I guess, but with old sliding windows on the south-facing sides, plexiglass panels to put on top when it’s cold, and chicken wire on the other three sides, to keep deer out. (The boxes aren’t in the fenced vegetable garden.) The peas I planted inside are nearly ready to go into their bed and tomato seedlings are coming along.

What I have, and what John has, is work to do. Our own writing, the garden, various repairs. We can go long periods without seeing people and it doesn’t feel strange. Unless it’s mandated. Unless we’re forced to stay home because nowhere is safe.

Tonight we’ll go out to Egmont to have supper at the Backeddy Pub because it’s still open and who knows what will happen next week. Sometimes we see whales from the window there. There’s a woodstove, like at home. I hope that everyone who is sick with this virus recovers, I hope that our health care systems withstand the stresses, I hope that those who are alone have enough to read, enough to eat, and that we all find ways to care for each other.

“A maiden once gifted with voice…” (Pausanias)

barnacle

What do you think of when you imagine the future? The time surely coming, when we can gather again, with loved ones, to eat together, and talk, without fear? What do you imagine?

On a bathroom shelf, a barnacle, with a holdfast of kelp. When I gathered it on one of the long beaches in Pacific Rim several years ago, I saw it as a sibyl. An open mouth (on the other side, you can see the openings of two barnacles), a mediator of liminal space, voicing the future. On that day, walking on miles of sand with my husband and daughter, the future was unknown but somehow safe. We were healthy, we were together, in a place where we’d once been with extended family members spreading the ashes of my parents. John and I had been coming to this part of the west coast for decades, together, and long before we met. I came alone and slept on the sand in my old down sleeping bag in maybe 1973 and woke to deer prints around me. I remember taking off all my clothes (I was 18) and tying strands of seaweed to my ankles, beaded with tiny shells. John came with an early girlfriend who was a surfer (from Santa Barbara) and they stayed on the beach in their Volkswagen van for a few days so that Dulcie could compete in a surfer event. Every year or two we’ve returned. Our children love it. And on the phone earlier this evening, Angelica hoped that we could all get together again there, maybe in the summer, but next year for sure. I think of us all, together and in smaller groups, walking, swimming, body-surfing, and sleeping to the sound of waves, and tonight I hope to dream of this. Not like last night when I dreamed of a house-fire and people screaming.

What I imagine is asking the barnacle shell on the cedar shelf in the bathroom to give me good news. The Cumaean Sibyl fended off Apollo who wanted to sleep with her (of course) by asking to live (in exchange for her virginity) for the number of years represented by the handful of sand she held. When I picked up my Cox Bay sibyl, a few grains of sand fell onto the shelf. Are those years or promises or both?

redux: the view from here

Note: This is from February 25, 2018. I was trying to rein in my nostalgia but oh, what about this morning, when the thought of as simple a trip as I described in this post is impossible, when the view from here is, well, the view from here: the trees to the south of my house.

the view from here

Yesterday we were having breakfast on Galiano Island with our excellent hosts, Louise Decario and Brian Mitchell. We stayed with them in 2016 when we were guests of the Galiano Island Literary Festival and so it was lovely to join them again after my workshop at the Festival on Friday. This is their view. Brian is a painter and he said he has made many works with the title, “The View From Here 1”, “The View From Here 2”, etc. Yup. I get that.

My husband says sometimes that I need to rein in my nostalgia, as though it was an unruly horse in need of training. But when you ride the ferries from one island to another, there is always the shadow of the ferry you took as a girl to these islands, in childhood with your family to Salt Spring for camping on St. Mary’s Lake, and later, as a young woman, to visit friends who were living in rustic cabins and trying to learn how to farm. Those farms are still there and the ferries, oh yes. I know that there are people who think we need bridges to link the islands but my response is always what it is when the same thing is said about access to the peninsula I live on, also serviced by ferries: “Where did you think you were coming to?”

ferries

Yesterday, in order to return to Tsawwassen from Galiano Island, we had to travel to Mayne Island first of all, and then wait for smaller ferries bringing passengers from Saturna Island and another, maybe Pender? Or Salt Spring? You could smoke rising from distant chimneys and yes, some sheep in fields, and cliffs with arbutus clinging to their edges.

We do get glimpses of that old coast and sometimes in the most unexpected places. On Thursday, enroute to Galiano Island, we spent the night in Steveston. We were told that snow geese were on the marsh at Garry Point so we drove out there to see. I only had my tablet camera and so of course everything is blurry but groups kept rising up, calling loudly, and it was wonderful. I remember driving out to this area 30 years ago to see fields white with foraging geese who’d arrived from Wrangell or Siberia.

snow geese

We walked by Scotch Pond for another old coast moment, a group of fish boats waiting out the cold. And there were echoes of both the cannery that was once here and the sheds where the Atagi family had their famous boatworks, the sound of red-winged blackbirds in the reeds.

on Scotch Pond

And this morning? I’m drinking a cup of Galiano Coffee Roasting Company’s delicious Raven Dark (a gift from the Festival, put into our swag bags moments after the beans had been roasted on Friday) and looking out on Fairfield Road. This was the neighbourhood I lived in as a child, my old school just across the road, and the cemetery where my mother used to send us to ride our bikes in the safety of its green lanes under the most beautiful trees. We’re going there later, for a walk. I know we’ll go to Eberts Street to look at our old house, the park where we used to play soft ball in the falling light on summer evenings, near the Dallas Road waterfront where we gathered bark on weekends for the woodheater in our kitchen. Oh, the scent of salt-infused Douglas fir bark, burning hot on a winter day. And the sound of gulls.

So this is me, trying to rein in that unruly nostalgia. Like a headstrong horse, it wants to run, it wants to take the bit in its mouth and race along the old streets, plunging into water, listening, always listening, sniffing the wind and the wood smoke, and quite honestly I’m at a loss as to what to do about it…

sentences about moonlight

moonlight

1.

When I put the cat out just before 5, I could smell moonlight, cold as a mountain stream.

2.

Coming downstairs, moonlight in the kitchen, on the copper pots, on the snowdrops in a tub by the doors to the deck.

3.

Would you have come?
Would you have come
Without scorning,
Had it been
Still morning?
Beloved, would you have come?
–Edward Thomas

4.

Moonlight has turned the leaves of the small olive tree silver as it leans to the window, hoping for spring.

5.

“The light reflects off old volcanoes, craters, and lava flows on the moon’s surface.”

“I know a river”

Ours is the middle balcony

I’ve been working on revisions of my essay collection, Blue Portugal, due out from the University of Alberta Press next year. It’s an interesting process, to revisit work and to see both its strengths and its weaknesses. I’m glad to have the opportunity to correct some of my careless constructions, to streamline some of my meandering thinking. But mostly? I’m grateful to spend time in the ecosystem of these essays again. They are accumulations of places, histories, explorations, and in them I find a more expansive version of myself. A woman standing in a gallery in the National Museum of Archaeology in Lisbon, reading about geographical loneliness. Or in Ukraine, watching a woman wash a recently completed lizhnyk in the river tumbling below her house. Or in Fort Simpson, walking near the MacKenzie River while pick-up trucks circled, their drivers waiting for the ice to break up on the river.

I was surprised to find the pandemic in the pages of my essays too. Or not surprised, but I’d thought I was writing about the Spanish flu epidemic and I was, but there’s also a section about our newly-enforced state of isolation:

The first time someone knocked on our door since the pandemic began, I felt my heart race. I couldn’t move. You’ll have to go, I told my husband. He did, and it was a neighbour, bringing some of our mail that had ended up in his box. He put it on the post at the top of the stairs so that no one had to come out. Hearing his voice, I came to say hello through the screen door. He stood well back. After he left, I opened the door. For several weeks no one but us had stood on the other side, looking in; or on our deck, looking out at the world. My company had been my husband, and the dead who stood around me at night.

 

This morning is misty and there are still patches of snow on the ground. I have some masks to wash, some seeds to start, and in a little while we will head out for our swim. We’re lucky to be able to continue swimming because I know so many pools are closed. I do my laps in blue water by a window looking out at maples. While I swim, I think. I am thinking today about Portugal, how warm it was, how we went with an archaeologist in Evora to see some neolithic sites older (by 7000 years) than Stonehenge, observatories of careful attention. I remember lizards on the capstones of the passage graves and black pigs grazing under oaks as they had in the days of Odysseus. I remember the flat we rented in Lisbon, above a tiny square where a man and his wife ran a little bar with two tables on the cobbles and where we sat with a cool drink on the day of our arrival while almond trees bloomed against the wall. We’d traveled for a couple of hours to get there, crossing the Tagus River. Apart from our swims and one grocery shop a week, we are staying home. It could be worse. And luckily I have this work to do in which places I’ve loved are mine again to walk through.

I know a river
Where the lights of the city
are the unique stars
laid over its waters
          —
from a song by Fado singer Camané

a knock at the door

Last night we were eating our Valentine dinner—little filet steaks, roasted asparagus, spinach salad—when I remembered something I’d read earlier that day, maybe in Bonnie Burnard’s Suddenly, maybe somewhere online. What if there was a knock at the door and you found your children there, not as the adults they are, with their wide and busy lives, but as the children they were, available to you again for a couple of hours, an afternoon? What if. Maybe it was the candlelight, maybe the two glasses of excellent Côtes du Rhône (Gabriel Meffre’s Plan de Dieu), but I began to cry. It had snowed all day. The day before too. And it’s snowing as I write. Snowed in, on the edge of the world, and everything so far away. Most days I feel the privilege of my life. I have an excellent partner, we have wood in the woodshed, a durable roof over our heads, the pleasures of nice food and wine, our own work to do. So there’s nothing to cry about. But what I would have given last night to hear a knock at the door, to open it to see the faces of my children as they were 30 years ago, or longer, looking up in the porch light, wanting in. There was cake enough for all of us, the fire was warm, and what would we have said to one another as the snow swirled and settled on the boughs of the Douglas firs that have grown to great heights since we first looked out at them, a young family at our table.

the blues: a few sentences on a cold February morning

jay in winter

1.

When the jay appeared in the fir beyond the deck this morning, I realized it hadn’t been coming for breakfast for weeks, hadn’t been standing on the post to look in, wondering when the seeds would appear, and I realized I’d been wrapped in my own winter blues, too distracted to notice its absence.

2.

I am not yet accustomed to a phone ringing (or playing “Brown-eyed Girl” because that’s the ringtone I set and I don’t know how to change it) as I sit in the car, waiting, so it took me a few minutes to realize how to see who I’d missed and how to return the video call, which was my grandson Henry, who is 4, wanting to talk about Jupiter and sharks and counting to a hundred, not a big number he insisted, and then confided that most kids skip the 30s but he doesn’t, and when his face disappeared from the tiny screen, I was waiting, waiting, under a blue sky, thinking about planets and how long it’s been since I saw my family.

3.

Every day I sit by the fire with the pages of Blue Portugal*, scribbling and scoring out passages, moving others so that they make more sense, pausing in my reading to remember things I’d written about — driving to Lillooet on a cold November morning, seeing stars quite literally after retinal damage when I fell on ice 3 years ago, looking out a train window in the night as we travelled from Kyiv to Chernivtsi in search of my grandfather’s village and realizing that Orion was right over our train carriage, the same Orion who hung over our house thousands of miles away, walking along the Red Deer River and seeing a little creek enter it, not knowing that I was in the very place where my grandmother lived with her first husband a hundred years ago, in another lifetime that led to my own.

4.

When I woke this morning at 5:30, it wasn’t Jupiter I saw but more likely Mars, and so many stars in a sky the colour of indigo velvet, while John slept, and the cat slept, his position an ampersand between us on these cold February mornings.

5.

The blue hour, the one we wait for late February when the sun slips down below the horizon and the sky deepens to the saturated indigo of a Maxfield Parrish landscape, a platter of truite au bleu on the long table, a glass of Modry Portugal poured and waiting on the counter. An hour to be accompanied by the music of Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell. Stitch, stitch the dyed linen into rough quilts, spread the Indian cloth on the grass for the evening picnic, your hands blue with cold.
–from “The Blue Etymologies”, part of Blue Portugal

*Blue Portugal and Other Essays will be published by the University of Alberta Press as part of their Wayfarer Series in 2022.