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primroses

primroses

Some days a gift comes to you in an unexpected way. I had the pleasure of reading a couple of stories to my older Ottawa grandson (via WhatsApp) and his wide smile and bright face reminded me so much of his father at the same age. And there was his father! Coming to the screen to say goodbye as we finished our call, arranging another for tomorrow. There was a little sunlight after the morning rain so I went out to see what was what in the garden. The primroses were heavy with rain so I cut a few stems to bring inside. These are so like the wild ones I used to love in England and Ireland, the ones you’d see when walking on narrow lanes between hedgerows in spring. There were primroses (P. vulgaris) and their cousins, the cowslips (P. veris), and finding them in the lea of the hedges was like finding unexpected sunlight. Putting the stems of these primroses–and all I know about their provenance is that I once bought a single clump at a spring plant sale at the community hall in Madeira Park, which multiplied in many clumps, and I’ve divided them several times–anyway, putting the stems into a vase, I was suddenly on an Irish road with my son, the father of the boy to whom I read stories this morning. We were in search of standing stones and holy wells and we were using an ordnance survey map to find our way through a place I’d known more than 20 years earlier, unaware of the stones and wells because no one talked about them. They knew about them, yes, but why share sacred information with blow-ins? So on a day when it rained as we drove to our swim and then brightened, doubly brightened when two beloved faces looked at mine across thousands of miles, time also doubled, and I was driving with Forrest a road so narrow that the little car we were in was littered with fuchsia blossoms when we parked it by our B&B later that day. Here is a little of that day, from an essay, “Well”, published in Phantom Limb but before that in the online journal Terrain (and I’m linking so you can read the whole essay if you’re interested)

Slow is every foot upon an unknown path.
Irish proverb

We were coming back from Killary Harbour and Forrest noticed a number of things on the map which we could see by taking a third class road leaving the main road near Moyard. I stopped the car on the side of the main road because we couldn’t really see any roads where the map said one should be. Ah, we discovered, reading the legend—there are two kinds of third class roads: the ones wider than 4 meters and the ones narrower. This was one of the narrower ones so maybe it was that opening in the trees. And we turned.

After a short distance on gravel and grass, we came to a farm yard. The road appeared to go through the middle of the yard. Chickens were pecking at the ground and the ubiquitous black and white sheepdog watched us approach. Two men were talking in sunlight, dressed in suits, one with a tie and a Pioneer pin. I stopped the car and rolled down the window.

“Excuse me, we have a map which shows a road….”

They looked at each other and then at us. A few words were spoken between them. I got out of the car with the map.

“Is it a map ye have then?” Both of them came towards us as though I was carrying the relics of a saint.

“Just here, you see, it shows a road. Is this it?”

One of the men, the one not wearing a tie, proved to have an extreme speech impediment but he was very eager. I think he told us that we were parked in his farm yard, that the chickens were his, the fields we could see. The other man, seeing my confusion, came forward to act as a translator.

“It is his land, to be sure. A road, is it? Ye’re wanting a road?” It seemed to baffle both men that someone might want to drive on a road that appeared on a map and which passed through a peaceful yard, geraniums in tubs by the door and a pile of straw outside a shed.

“We are trying to find some standing stones that are shown on the map. They look like they’d be in the open, near here. Do you know them?”

They exchanged words again with each other and the man with the tie said, “There is a stone, yes, in a field just down the road here. If ye stop and look over the neighbour’s wall, ye’ll see it in the field with the sheep so.”

“So this is the road we take?”

“It is, it is. It is very narrow and ye must drive slowly.” He was translating his friend’s concern that we would not be able to see if another car was coming but from the look of the road, no car had been on it for a long time. Primroses grew in the grassy patches between the gravel.

‘Ye’re not Irish, are ye?”

“No, we’re from Canada.” This elicted great delight, both of them reaching out to clasp my hands between their own, much nodding and smiling.

“And ye’ll be careful to drive slowly so?”

“O, yes, I’ll be careful. I’ve been driving for 30 years without an accident.”

“Thirty years! Never! Ye canna be that old to be driving so long so.”

“This is my son,” I said proudly. As though to prove my age, my tall son smiled from the passenger seat.

“Ah, he’s never yer son! Well, ye’ve the gift of youth on ye anyway. God bless.”

With that, we were on our way, nosing the little car between blossoming hawthorne which reached into the windows to tickle our noses with its sweet smell. It formed a dense hedge on either side of the narrow road with fuschia among it and the raised banks white with wild garlic, yellow with primroses. Birds sang unseen within its depths.

“the secret of secrets”

merton beauty

I know I write the same things every year, how I go out to the garden and the apple tree is just beginning to bloom (here, for example), or the lizards are mating (here), or I am listening to birdsong (here), and I know that there is a kind of sameness to my posts. But honestly? Is there a way to say how you forget, almost, over the dark winter days and nights, how lovely apple blossom is when you see the first tight clumps begin to open, or when you get out of your car at the local pool and hear warblers, yellow-rumped warblers, and looking up into the big-leaf maples, you don’t see the birds but you realize that the flowers have come out, the fat chartreuse clusters, in just the past week, and that’s why the tree is filled with music, anyway, is there another way? If I could paint, I know I’d be out there with ink and colour wash, trying to put it all down on paper, fine watercolour paper, and if I could think my way into music more deeply, I’d try to notate the songs and sing with the warblers, the red-winged blackbirds, the robins on fine spring mornings, with bars devoted to sapsucker pairs buzzing back and forth, and even the klooks of ravens in lazy circles above the trees where nestlings lie low in their shadow. (Instead, I listen to this.) You forget, and the days and nights are long, and dark, you forget, and then one day it is all in front of you again, inside you again, and you remember a poem you have always loved, Anna Akhmatova’s “A Land Not Mine” and its sublime conclusion (in Jane Kenyon’s translation):

Sunset in the ethereal waves:
I cannot tell if the day
is ending, or the world, or if
the secret of secrets is inside me again.

Instead, I make my notes on old envelopes and share them here with you.

I don’t want to make that list.

this morning

1.

Tomato seedlings (6 Amish Paste and 12 Black Krim) pricked out and given their own pots. They’ve joined the others also waiting May for their outside planting: 2 Persimmons, 2 Black Beefsteak, 1 Ardwyna, 2 Principe Borghese, 2 Orange Cherry, 2 Yellow Pear, 2 Caspian Pink, and 1 Orange Strawberry, all from my friend June. Also two Brandywines from a garden centre because I love them, along with a big red cherry of some sort. There are still more Black Krims to prick out even though I wish I could just put them into the compost box. But no. Each strong seedling will be put in its own pot and watered and when August and September come, the cry in the wilderness will be me, wondering why on earth I grow so many tomatoes. But the little gasps of pleasure in December will also be me eating a bowl of pasta with roasted tomato sauce from the freezer or dipping corn chips into bottled salsa so it’s all about perspective.

2.

I thought there’d only been the one bad period when I was awake at night utterly bereft of hope. I thought I’d coasted through the first year of the pandemic reasonably well. But the other night I was reading old posts, like this one, and this one, and this one too, and realized that each month has its hard time. I live in a beautiful place and I have the best of companions. He has had his first shot of vaccine and I’ll be receiving mine next Wednesday. It could be worse. It could be so much worse. I don’t want to make that list.

3.

Squash: Green Hubbard, seed from a particularly delicious butternut, maybe Waltham (unknown because I saved the seed carefully in paper towel but neglected to write the name), Galeux d’Eysines pumpkins promising salmon pink skins with sugary concentrations forming warts on the surface. One year I found a little packet of Rouge vif d’Étampes seed which grew pumpkins that looked exactly like Cinderella’s carriage and I made ravioli stuffed with roasted pumpkin flavoured with sage and Parmesan.

after squash

4.

On the way home from Sechelt, we listened to Roseanne Cash’s The List and I sang along to just about every song: “Sea of Heartbreak” (made even more ravishing by the added vocals of Bruce Springsteen), “Five Hundred Miles”, “Girl from the North Country“, and more. I read Christa Couture’s memoir, How To Lose Everything, last night. It’s remarkable. And what I did afterwards was count everything I hadn’t lost, everything I was grateful for, and I ran out of fingers.

mornings

A few mornings ago, it was this: a weasel by the sunroom door. Did the cat bring it? There’s no sign of teethmarks, a struggle, and in any case, there is almost nothing fiercer than a weasel. This particular species can kill a rabbit by climbing onto its back and biting into its neck. I was sad to see a dead one. Alive, they make themselves known by running through the gutters and small runnels between the panels of our metal roof, hunting mice. Some mornings, in my bed, I’ve looked up to see one on the dog rose canes across the window, peering in at me. The last time a robin nested on the beam across our patio, before Winter the cat came to live with us, we were watching, as we’d watched for years, for the eggs to open, the hatchlings emerge, the young to develop and fledge. But one morning there was a commotion outside, both robin parents agitated and squawking, and then I saw a weasel on the laundry stoop, broken eggs around it. I sent my children the photograph of the weasel and my daughter, who works in a museum, wondered if the mammals curator would want it. She asked and yes, he did. So I measured the little animal, recorded our coordinates, and froze it in a ziplock bag for the next time I see Angelica. I think the weasel will be turned into a study skin and I’m glad it won’t go to waste. That its life wasn’t entirely wasted. Years ago I found one in this same place, on a second-storey deck, by our sunroom door, and in those days we didn’t have a cat. So perhaps it had a virus or parasites. (I wore disposable gloves when I measured it and put it in its bag.)

These mornings are beautiful. When I woke at 5, a Swainsons thrush was singing beyond the house. I took my coffee out to the greenhouse and it was cool and green inside. Something had been eating the arugula leaves and looking closely, I found a tiny slug on the surface of the soil. No doubt it was in the soil when I potted up the seedlings a week or two ago. And around the half-barrel outside the door, tiny flies were hovering over the pitcher plant. I didn’t linger long enough to see if any of the entered the pitfall trap (isn’t that a great name for the modified leaves filled with digestive fluid?) but later this morning I’ll look. I wish my grandchildren were here to join me on a little walk around to see the wonders of the world. Instead, the ones in Ottawa will hang the mason bee house we sent them for Christmas while our blue orchard mason bees are out and about, the females filling the holes in our 6 houses with nectar and pollen before laying her eggs and sealing the holes with mud. We’d look for snakes sunning themselves on the rocks by the garden, lizards on the pile of old cedars shakes (our former roof) that we use for kindling, we’d see if the chickadees are nesting in the boxes in the trees, and peer at the coyote scat at the bottom of the driveway. The Kwanzan cherry is almost open. Everywhere the bees are humming, varied thrushes are whistling in the dense woods, and mornings open us, don’t they, so that we can hear each note.

Between our two lives
there is also the life of
the cherry blossom.
–Basho

quotidian: what grows

looking in

1.

I’ve been taking my second cup of coffee out to the greenhouse at 8 a.m. This morning the thermometer read 4 degrees but by 9 it was 20. I wish I could share the scent–damp earth, tomato leaves (from the trays of June’s tomatoes; she grows interesting kinds and always has some to share: this year there are Persimmons, Orange Strawberries, Black Beefsteaks, Small Yellow Pear, Pink Caspians, Orange Cherry, Ardwyna. I have smaller ones I seeded last month, from saved seed: Black Krim and Romas. At the end of the pavers, Red Sails lettuce (from an early March seeding) is ready to pick. There’s also arugula, some Italian mesclun, and the spinach won’t be long. I have these things seeded in the garden too but it’s nice to have early greens to pick! By the spray bottle, one of the little olives from a half-price bench at a store in Sechelt, and on the ground, in the big black tub, an Arbequina olive, with tiny blossoms. While I was putting plants on the bench John built using an old cedar board from one of our trees, slow bumble bees found their way in. By the front door, where the stairs are yet to be built (but the risers are there, ready for them), I have a tub of water with yellow flag irises in it, and a pitcher plant (second shelf on the left, reaching out) to go in once I’ve replanted it. How long before the frogs find this new habitat?

2.

I was thinking in the night, at my desk because, well, I couldn’t sleep, anyway, I was thinking how we are saved. I was saved as a young woman, late teens, by a summer job in a popular Victoria garden. I worked in the store, selling seeds and china, and after my second summer there (I worked there for 4 years), I also worked on weekends during the university year. I packaged seeds, learned to knit on my lunch hours with the older woman who taught me (though I’ve forgotten everything I know but how to knit a straight line and once people have scarves, they don’t really want more, even Henry, who is 4 and who told me kindly that he already had a scarf so no need to knit him another). I learned about plants then too, in theory, though I had no garden. I loved the early shifts when there was time to walk through some of the gardens to see what was in bloom because people would always ask, as they came into the store on their way home, What is the pink flower in all the hanging baskets, and I’d have to know. I was saved at that job because women who were the age of my mother gathered me into their circle, knitting and gossiping, and they didn’t suggest that I cut my hair or tidy my room or think about applying at one of the local banks to be a teller because honestly where would an English degree get me? I walked through the sunken garden, committing the names of the rhododendrons to memory, and once, when I was really early for my shift because I’d overestimated how long it would take me to ride my bike from Royal Oak to Brentwood Bay, I saw an archer come out of the mist, on his way to his car, which seemed impossible, but I was told he had a special license to scare away deer during the tulip season. This memory grows, grows, until it happened on subsequent mornings and on my walk around the garden, I found an arrow in a small birch, tipped with silver.

3.

An ant is walking across my study window with a dead spider in its jaws. A robin is purposefully plucking at the moss that passes for a lawn. Daffodils open like unexpected suns. I am waiting for swallows, waiting for stairs, waiting for the frogs I hear in the night to find their new tub while the tomatoes grow by the minute.

better days

the bench to be

Today we began the bench for the greenhouse, the one to hold seedlings and pots; it will sit along the west wall, the long wall, which is 10 feet. Luckily we had some cedar boards under the house, a little longer than we need them to be, so it seems like a good idea to use one of them. I pulled it out and we measured and decided to cut a bit from both ends because one end had a crack and the other was quite wide. But mostly? Perfect. This is a board from one of the cedars we had taken down at least 13 years ago. One of them was too close to the house and the other had grown from a weedy scrap to a big tree in the time it took to blink. And it was shading the vegetable garden. I wrote about these trees in Mnemonic: A Book of Trees, which is why I know how long ago they were taken down.

origins

When John cut the board we’re using to size, it was as though it was fresh cedar, the scent so spicy and beautiful that I remembered everything about the day it was made. I remember the guys coming with their portable mill and cutting lengths into boards and how we used some of those boards for various projects. I remember how one of the guys had his own peculiar odour (we’d been warned) and how he used his big saw and mill with the precision of a cabinetmaker. These planks are wild-edged, so that you can see where the branches were, the contours of the trunk.

I brought up our old sawhorses to set in place behind the greenhouse so John can cut old boards from our original decks, the ones that were in place for 30 years or so before we rebuilt them for various reasons, saving the usable boards for a good moment, which is this one. Look at them, he said. You can see where I almost cut through in places. And look at the rust on the brackets! Yes, I thought. Look at them. They’ve seen better days. I’m glad to be able to use the old deck boards, John said, arranging them to measure and cut down slightly. We have become our parents, I think, saving everything to be used again, or repurposed for something entirely undreamed of, in years past.

saw horses

They’ve seen better days but so have we. Or have we? We’ve seen good days. Also the past year, which has been filled with difficulties due to surgery, loneliness, anxiety. But maybe this act of making a bench will serve as a hinge to openings. More light, the return of friendships gone fallow because of distance and fear, and even arrangements of seedlings on its beautiful surface, growing, growing, because that’s what it is in them to do, given the right conditions.

The pile of lumber grew—the beam, some 2x10s, 2x8s (these were full dimensions, as the boards were unplaned), some planks which began as one dimension but then tapered as the logs narrowed. I could see them as benches or tables, balanced on stumps. I kept touching them. Their surfaces were damp, the inner mysteries of the wood released to light. On one chunk of wood, hardly a board, the grain formed an eye, elongated and ovoid—a god or a raven staring out. When I smelled my hands afterwards, the incense lingered, familiar and sibylline.
              –from “Thuja plicata: Nest Boxes”, in Mnemonic: A Book of Trees

 

you are here

you are here

1.

Look, he said, showing you his phone. This is where we were 5 years ago today. Five years ago today we were in Edmonton, our granddaughter was not yet 2, her brother unborn, one cousin living in Ottawa and a second cousin years in the future. You were here. She was wearing a pink tutu and an flame-coloured parka and the hat you made her when she was born. Last night she asked for The Seven Silly Eaters and you read that to her and her brother, along with a Curious George, and you sat on the deck with the books while the tiny screen on your phone shared their faces, the little toys and toothbrushes and strawberry-flavoured toothpaste the dentist had given them after their check-up. They showed you their teeth. You showed them the herbs you’d repotted, the iron frog in one of the pots, the clay robin in another. You are here. Just for the moment you are here.

2.

Your friend tells you she has tomato plants for you so you stop by after your swim. She is there, her husband too, and another friend. You haven’t seen them for months. They are just up the road but it hasn’t seemed safe to see them though now that better weather is here, you think that might change. There are 16 plants, 9 different cultivars, and you find a place for them in your new greenhouse. When it’s time to plant them out, you will remember your friend at her greenhouse door, handing her husband the box to put in your car. You are here, you are in a familiar place, the scent of tomato plants green and heady, and maybe by summer you will eat together again, sit under the stars, share the goodness of your gardens.

3.

When you wake in the night, you are in a panic. Yesterday’s infection numbers were too high, you couldn’t sleep, and then you could, but when you woke at 3 a.m. you couldn’t stop your heart from racing. So you turned on your reading light while you husband dreamed next to you, you picked up your book, Gabriel Byrne’s stunning Walking with Ghosts, and you read for two hours while the only sound in the house was you turning pages. Turn the page. You are more than half-way through the story. You are here.

4.

You are home. Your husband has just put another log on the fire against April’s capricious cold. There is new snow high on the mountain. You are safe here where no one comes. Coffee in the pot, ginger cookies in the old pottery crock. And Sam Lee singing:

Oh starlight, oh starlight
I’m walking through the starlight
Lay this body down
I see moonlight
I’m walking through the moonlight
Lay this body down*

You are here. A little stack of books for when the children call for a story. The scent of daffodils. Walking with Ghosts half-finished. Too much has happened. You are here.

*”Lay This Body Down“, from Old Wow.

an empty chair

blue chair

This morning, in beautiful sunlight, I asked John to take some photographs of me. I need one for the cover of Blue Portugal and it seems dishonest to use an older one. Does anyone ever like photographs of themselves? Who is the person we imagine we’ll see when we look at what the camera has found? It wasn’t me this morning. Who was that woman with her droopy eyes and tight smile? I didn’t know her. Maybe we’ll try again another day. But looking out after I’d said, No more!, I saw my Steller’s jay friend on a branch behind the chair we’d used (blue after all…) and I tried to focus on the bird, snapped the empty chair instead.

Late yesterday afternoon I finished a draft of an essay I began last week, an essay about how we went into Vancouver in mid-October for John’s scheduled double hip replacement surgery at UBC Hospital and what happened after. It’s long. It might not be any good and it might be too personal. But I felt that I was doing something worthwhile as I wrote, remembered, consulted daybooks and medical instructions. I’ve called it “Seams” because I was making two quilts at the same time, I was changing the dressings on John’s incisions, and I was reading about a geological occurrence called tension gashes, when rock stretches and veins of quartzite or calcite “stitch” the resulting fractures.

Here’s a little bit of the essay from the last section.

What we did. We went from home with equipment we’d borrowed or bought, we wore our masks into the hospital where you were taken away to be opened and given new hips, and when you woke, you had no feeling in your right foot. For a week you got out of your bed in a high ward and you learned how to move in a new way, helped by men who were strong and kind and who taught you to adjust for your injury, who taught you to use the stairs, to lie on your bed and teach your legs to work again. Sometimes you cried, because it hurt and because you were disoriented. I did too, for those reasons and others. At night you were alone. At night I was alone, stitching, or reading about a woman who entered hell and returned, parts of her body missing. When we came home to the house we built 4 decades ago, we were not the same.“Diagnosis,” said Anne Boyer, “takes information from our bodies and rearranges what came from inside of us into a system imposed from far away.” But I remember after the second hospitalization, after your heart had stopped fluttering like a frightened bird in your chest and after the foxglove had become habit and after your doctor told you to consider yourself no longer at risk, just take your medications, and after we’d learned a new pattern for our days and nights, we held hands in our bed, the stars as bright as they’d always been, Christmas coming, owls in the darkness, and it was each other we loved, the beauty of our fire in the mornings, poetry some afternoons as you read me Louise Gluck or I read you Stanley Kunitz:

The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only...

redux: “I’m always five hundred miles away from home”

Note: this was from July 2019. This morning, Good Friday, I was thinking that last Easter was the first family event we’d had to postpone due to the pandemic. We’d planned to drive to Edmonton but that wasn’t possible. I don’t know how many miles away I feel this morning but maybe more than five hundred.

__________________

A perfect day. Sunlight, ocean, the voices of my grandchildren, the beauty of my children and their partners in the water. We all drove down the Coast to take Angie to the plane for her flight back across Georgia Strait to Victoria and we had time for a picnic at Trail Bay. Kelly noticed the blue mountains across the water and I told her that was the island where her other grandparents live, the ones she’ll see on the weekend. We’d gone to a small pebble beach, the tide low-ish, rocks warm in the sun. I knew my older son Forrest would swim; he keeps a life-list of water: rivers, lakes, ponds, and oceans. And I thought the children would wade. But then Cristen went in, buoyant in the tide. Then Brendan. John stripped off his shorts, took off his unders, and put the shorts on again. (We’d already had our morning swim in Ruby Lake so when we were getting ready to drive down to Sechelt, we both agreed we wouldn’t bother taking our bathing suits. Famous last words.) I was dying to swim but there I was, in a linen dress. What to do? Oh, Mum, said my daughter, swim in your underwear. So I did. Off came the dress and who was to know the sports bra and striped underpants weren’t a bathing suit? Well, I think it was obvious they weren’t. But I didn’t care.

eddy and grandad

It was so wondrous to swim in that mild green water. To let yourself be carried out a distance, then lifted back to shore. To look at the blue mountains beyond. I haven’t felt like this since I swam in Portugal, said Forrest. Not so alive in the water, so buoyant. And me? Maybe not since Crete. The children found rocks, a few shells, one fell and cried, three went into the water, and afterwards we walked along the shore for ice-cream. When we came home, I took out the compost and saw a weasel in one corner of the new compost box, looking back at me, its eyes bright and alert. It slipped out of the box but when I brought the children out to look for it, we saw it in between the two boxes, waiting for us to leave. I think it might have a den under the box; it might be feeding its young on the mice that come for the seeds and vegetable parings.

Last night my children and their partners went out for supper to Egmont while John and I cared for our grandchildren. They ate a simple supper, had their baths, and we read them stories before bed. We sang songs. In Arthur’s room, I tried to remember the words to “Five Hundred Miles”. My favourite version the one Roseanne Cash sings on The List, her album of songs from her father Johnny’s list of essential country songs.

All these years and all these roads
Never led me back to you
I’m always five hundred miles away from home
Away from home, away from home
Always out here on my own
I’m still five hundred miles away from home
I’m still five hundred miles away from home

Later I read in the kitchen while the outside lamp was softened by moths. When the kids returned from Egmont, I went to bed and listened to them laughing downstairs. John was already asleep. They live so far from this home but still they return. Today Angie turned to me as we sat on a log watching the others swim and said, I don’t want to leave. I knew what she meant. They’ll all be gone on Saturday and the house will be tidy again, but quiet. Away from home, away from home, always out here on my own. I am that woman swimming in her pink striped underpants in the deep generous ocean, looking at her family on the shore.

hanging a door

wecome in

On Monday, John finished constructing the door to the greenhouse and we ceremoniously fit it into its hinges. It opens and closes! The roof vent does the same! Yesterday was a shopping day down the Coast so we didn’t do any work on it but bolts were purchased to finish off the base (we were short a few) and I bought a thermometer for the wall. When we came up the driveway after our swim this morning, I saw the greenhouse standing in its place, looking exactly as I’d hoped it would look. I have to confess there were moments when I doubted we’d get to this point. We didn’t mean to put it together ourselves, though our younger selves would certainly have rolled up their sleeves and got to work, not on a kit (which is what we bought) but on something built from wood and old windows and funky as anything. Given our present circumstances—one of us with a post-surgical injury; the other one more of a helper than a builder—we ordered the kit because someone we know said he’d come to help us with it. But then he wasn’t available. The kit sat in the carport and I remember I said, Oh, come on. We can do it. There’s no rush. We’ll do it slowly. It’s not that we can’t do this stuff. It’s more that it’s difficult for John to move around on uneven ground because of balance (that foot!) but once he’s in place, with a chair handy, he’s fine. He has good spatial sense and can decipher plans and instructions. I’m sort of hopeless at that but I’m strong.

And slowly it was. There was the base to consider. The place we had in mind is on a slope behind our house. We’d need to work out a way to build up three sides against the top one. Rock! And lots of it. I can lift 50 or 60 pounds reasonably easily and the biggest rocks were not easy to lift. I’d trundle 4 of them at a time up in the wheelbarrow (up!) and we’d fit them into the frame we’d built of 4×4 (again, that had to be lugged up to the site and it was waterlogged so very heavy; we needed to square that frame and level it and then wait a day and level it again) on posts set on concrete pavers. So rock, then smaller rock to wedge into the gaps between the bigger ones.  Once that was done, then we had to fill the inner part with sand. Luckily we also needed to have work done on our driveway so the guy who came to do that brought sand and used his small excavator to carry buckets of it to dump in the base. Then pavers. There’s a space of 9″ along one side and end and the idea was to fill that space with beach stones. Yesterday I gathered some bags of those at Trail Bay and put a few down last night, just to see. Today I’ll do the rest.

beach

That 2″x2″ wooden brace you see in the top photograph (there’s one on the long wall too) will come off and permanent corner braces will keep the post and beam solid. John will build proper steps to the door, wide ones, with room for a potted tree or two. I intend to bring one of my big Chinese pots to sit on the ground by the steps, with water in it for frogs. And a waterbarrel at the other corner to take rain from the little gutters (you can’t really see them but they’re there) for watering inside.

But right now? We have some planks under the house, wild-edge cedar from a tree that came down many years ago and that we had milled (there’s a passage about it in Mnemonic), using some of the lumber for various projects. I’ll drag them out.  John’s going to make a bench for one of the long walls, to put seedling trays on, and we have some other shelving units to find room for. Maybe by the weekend I’ll be bringing out my little olive trees and other slightly tender plants for their new home. Last night I put some tubs of greens I’d begun elsewhere—arugula and mesclun—and they looked very happy this morning. T

The news is terrible. New variants, coups, the worst of human nature coming to the surface in ways I’d thought we’d left behind. I think of Du Fu:

The country is broken, though hills and rivers remain,
In the city in spring, grass and trees are thick.
Moved by the moment, a flower’s splashed with tears,
Mourning parting, a bird startles the heart.
The beacon fires have joined for three months now,
Family letters are worth ten thousand pieces.
I scratch my head, its white hairs growing thinner,
And barely able now to hold a hairpin.*

The country may be broken, though hopefully not irreparably so. I’ll grow greens and lay beach stones in sand to cobble together new possibilities here at home.

*translation by David Hinton