posts

redux: aria for early summer

postcard 2

 

“Yes, but what can I say about the Parthenon – that my own ghost met me, the girl of 23, with all her life to come…” (Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary, April 21, 1932)

How I felt that as I looked at our photographs of White Pine Island – Brendan and Angie in their little bathing suits, Lily on a log, Forrest rowing the boat away from us, my parents smiling the summer of their 40th wedding anniversary. All the years of our family, the warm days, the smell of pine, the silken texture of dry grass flattened under our towels, taste of lemonade from the River Trails thermos jug, all of them collapsed into an hour, a moment, held in my hands, water falling through my fingers. How do I keep my memories intact, how apart from this, a brief time in the middle of the night, darkness pressed to the window by my desk, myself reflected in glass as I sit in my white nightgown, every cell in my body yearning for those I have loved, still love, though the only one left in the sleeping house is John.

evening reading

deep hollow creek

We began reading together in the evenings last winter, stopped for the summer, and then continued again this winter. Our first book together was Robert Pinsky’s translation of Dante’s Inferno. This winter we read Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey, followed by Volume One of the Tales of Chekhov. Then Seeing Things, by Seamus Heaney, followed by Outside History by Eavan Boland. We pass the books back and forth, bringing to each our own reading styles, our own cadences. We talk a little about what we’re reading but mostly one of us reads, the other listens. I’ve grown to love this.

Two nights ago, the day after we finished Outside History, we were wondering what we’d read next. For some reason we were talking about my recently published novella, The Weight of the Heart, and I was explaining about the notes at the back, how I wanted to include reference to Sheila Watson’s Deep Hollow Creek, her first work of fiction, written about her first teaching job at Dog Creek in 1934 but not published until 1992*. I wanted to reference it because I think it is a small perfect gem but the protagonist of my book wouldn’t have known about it in 1976 or 1977 when she was searching for traces of the fiction of Ethel Wilson and Sheila Watson in the landscapes of British Columbia. Anyway, I was explaining this and then I asked John if he’d read it. No, he hadn’t. So let’s make that the book we read over the next few weeks. Sure, he said.

When you read aloud, you hear a text that you don’t necessarily find on the page. You hear what I think of as the undercurrents of the language. In this book, about a small community in the Cariboo, you hear the laconic voices of some of the characters (the dour hardscrabble farmers), the more voluble chatter of the woman who owns the store and who is so self-referential that I think I might have tuned her out when reading to myself (but it’s impossible to do that reading aloud!), and you also hear the heightened language framing the narrative. You realize just a few sentences in that it won’t be an ordinary story.

She had come into the valley to find life for herself. It is not difficult, she thought, to recall all the fine things which have been written about life. She could summon to witness Taylor’s rose, Browne’s frame, and Harvey’s microcosmic sun, the palpitating radiance of the life-streak seen with the naked eye in the egg of a barnyard fowl.

The shift between metaphysics and the quotidian detail of life in houses of rough boards, fenced by weathered poles, surrounded by trees filled with fool hens—this is characteristic of Watson’s work of course but reading aloud you are taken by how her language accommodates these shifts. It’s so exhilarating. Is this what it’s like, asked John, meaning all the gossip as the characters are introduced. Yes, I said, but of course there’s so much more. And there is! After a sad description of Rose Flower’s terrible bread (“cold and grey and sour”), which the narrator Stella realizes is Rose’s “peculiar emblem”, there is this paragraph:

Can the validity of this emblem—or of any other emblem—she wondered, be assessed. I see the hand, the compass, the dragon when the book falls open. The hand reaches over the ledge spilling one knows not what of essence or substance into the narrow cleft. Through Sassetta’s eyes or Edmund Spenser’s I see in the shadow of Limbo the red cross—and they see it because the light glances off and reflects from the fire which warms their shoulders as they work. I have always taken the compass as a thing to be held. Yet the hand falters measuring the fleeting body of flame.

The ledge of Stella’s window overlooks the narrow cleft where the house is built against a hill but somehow it is also an aperture. This is a book to take your time with and reading aloud will allow us to do just that.

The cover of this New Canadian Library edition features a painting of Lynn Valley, North Vancouver, by Frederick Varley. But it could have featured a painting by another member of the Group of Seven: A.Y. Jackson. In the 1950s, he stayed at the stopping house in Dog Creek, owned by the Place family, and painted what he saw around him. Hilary Place, grandson of the original Place of Dog Creek, wrote a book about his family and his community. Sheila Watson has a cameo in the book—as Sheila Doherty, she was his grade 8 teacher. On the cover of Dog Creek: A Place in the Cariboo is a beautiful view of the deep hollow threaded through by a blue creek, painted by A.Y. Jackson and given to his hosts.

*Deep Hollow Creek was nominated for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction that year but it didn’t win. The English Patient did…

 

“Were you my possible other life?”

lake2 (2)

It was not actually raining when we went down for our swim this morning but there was fine mist. The air wasn’t warm though the water, not yet at its summer temperature, felt the same as it’s felt since we first started swimming three weeks ago. Once I’m fully submerged, I forget it’s chilly and do my strokes beyond the ropes delineating the beach area. I’m out of bounds but not really too far out in the lake beyond the shore.

I’ve been thinking about liminal space lately. Maybe we all are. Liminal, from the Latin root limen, meaning threshhold. From my anthropology courses in the last century, I remember that it was a term used for the middle part of a rite of passage, when you have left one stage to transition to another, which you have not quite attained. It’s a space of uncertainty. As we negotiate the new routes and pathways that might allow us to travel safely in our daily lives, so much of what we have known and done is left behind. Or our relationship to our old lives and lifeways has shifted. In the night I lie awake, wondering if I’m prepared for the future, do I have the right guides, have I paid attention to the signs, do I know the dangers and can I meet them with courage and with love? I don’t know yet. The footing feels uncertain, the boundaries unclear.

I recently read Hua Hsu’s profile of Maxine Hong Kingston in the New Yorker and I was struck at several points by Kingston’s apprehension of ghost lives, the ones that are sort of adjacent to our own. As part of a delegation of writers visiting southern China in the 1980s, she travelled with Toni Morrison and Leslie Marmon Silko:

One day, they were on a boat going down the Li River, and Morrison saw a young woman doing laundry along the shore. Morrison waved to her and said, “Goodbye, Maxine.” She gets it, Kingston thought. If immigration hadn’t brought her to the U.S., “that could have been me,” she said. “Were you my possible other life?”

When I was in Ukraine last September with my husband and daughter, we were at a celebration in the Carpathian Mountains where we feasted, sang, laughed, and danced. My daughter leaned to me at the table at one point and said, “That woman looks so much like you.” I looked and did she? I think she did. I recognized myself in her. After a prolonged and lively dance, I sought her out and with the help of another woman who spoke some English I told her what my daughter had said. We touched each other’s face and held each other’s hands. My sister, she said, laughing. So much of that trip was me looking at houses high up mountain slopes or else beyond the fields by the road as we drove to my grandfather’s village, not imagining myself into them, but occupying that space in a way that I can’t explain. I was not the woman in the van but out of my body, up in the soft grass, looking down, a faraway look in my eyes.

in the carpathians

In “The River Door”, the long essay I am just finishing, I realize how this sense I have of being between lives has influenced the way I am structuring the piece. There are three strands of narrative. One of them I’ve justified to the left margin of the page. Another to the right. But there’s also one that hovers between the two perspectives—I could call them early and late, or historical and contrived, imagined, or now and then—and I’ve centered those passages. They’re brief, lyrical, and when I think about them now, I realize they’re thresholds. Step forward, step back, stand for a moment in the space between what you know and what you don’t, the living and the dead (because it’s an essay in part about the Spanish flu), the past and the present.

They need help desperately at Drumheller,” she said. “The flu seems to have taken a particularly virulent form among the miners. They even believe it’s the Black Death of Medieval Europe all over again. There’s no hospital but the town council has taken over the new school to house the sick.”

Where were they living when the flu arrived? I see them, mid-river, a wagon of their belongings, paused. Paused between homes, between what they’d known and what was to come, the moment a hinge on the river door.

When I read the profile of Maxine Hong Kingston, I kept thinking, Yes, this is so familiar. Leslie Marmon Silko remembered visiting an old storytellers’ hall in southern China and how she realized that Kingston’s work is “storytelling at its highest level, where webs of narrative conjure the ghosts that stand up and reveal all.” I need this kind of storytelling now, to guide me through this liminal space where I no longer feel safe earth under my feet. I am waving goodbye to the woman in the Carpathian Mountains, telling myself hello.

blackberry solstice

blackberry blossom 1

What was I doing at 2:43 when the sun reached its northern-most point in the sky? When summer officially began? I was making pound cakes in the kitchen, flecked with zest from our Meyer lemons and lemon thyme from the pot on the deck. I was thinking about how cool and grey it had been in the morning when we went for a swim anyway, reasoning that the lake would be the same temperature as yesterday and we could warm up quickly afterwards, and I was thinking about the winter and spring, uninterrupted by visits to Edmonton and Ottawa, and how lucky I was to at least have space, a garden, some writing in progress, and a house full of books to read because otherwise? I didn’t want to think about otherwise.

So I can’t say I noticed the moment of the solstice. But as the pizza was baking, I remembered that the blackberry was blooming, the little bit of Rubus laciniatus we let sprawl under some forsythia near the woodshed. It blooms and then in August I have a small harvest of its fruit. It’s not a native berry. It’s an Eurasian interloper, this evergreen or cutleaf bramble, not as invasive as its relative, Rubus armeniacus, the Himalayan or Armenian blackberry, and the berries taste distinctly different. They hold their shape in a galette, which is what I use them for. The flowers are brief and lovely.

Can you tell me what happened to the blossom
Blackberry blossom when the summertime came?
The blackberry blossom, oh the last time I saw one
Was down in the bramble where I rambled in the spring.

I don’t think I’m ready for summer. I usually have so many things to plan and prepare for. We are hopeful about visits from our children but that all depends on the progress (or not) of COVID-19. The chamber music festival here in our community was about to be downscaled a little after 15 seasons of hugely successful concerts but now it’s been cancelled altogether.

So much has and hasn’t happened this winter and spring. It feels like the planet has shifted slightly, its orbital speed (averaged at 29.78 km/s) altered. Even if and when there’s a vaccine for this virus, I don’t think we can or should return to what we thought was normal. We’ve learned things about work, about time, about our own natures in relation to others. We’ve learned what we will and won’t accept from our leaders and those who are entrusted to keep us safe. Faults have opened wide in the geography of our civic relationships and with enough diligence and hard work, we might be able to heal the damage of centuries of inequalities.

On a personal level, I’ve grown even more appreciative of my life partner, the man I’ve lived with for more than 40 years. His love and patience are unsurpassed. Every morning he brings me coffee in bed, we read books together in the evening, he is so encouraging when I need that faith and encouragement the most. I can’t imagine a better person to be quarantined with.

The bramble was wild I was torn by the briars
My love he wooed me as I lie there
With a flower in my hair and my cheeks all flashy
Was the blackberry blossom from the blackberry bush?

The cutleaf blackberries are interlopers but there is everything in the brief moment of their blossoming, everything in the moment between spring and summer, while I stood at the counter and mixed lemon pound cake and thought about time, years passing, how I used to wait the entire winter for summer, for long swims in the green water, the sound of my children around me. Sometimes we’d pick berries on the way home, our hands and mouths stained purple with the juice.

blackberry blossom

(The lines of song are from Michelle Shocked’s “Blackberry Blossom”, on the Arkansas Traveler album, recorded in 1992.)

a creek ran through it

1917 map of squatters community

This afternoon I came in from (re)planting cucumbers to find some maps waiting in my Inbox. A few months ago, I’d asked a librarian at the University of Calgary if he knew of any old maps of Drumheller and he told me that the Glenbow Museum map archives were transferred to the university library. He identified several from the time period I was interested in. To my great surprise (and excitement), one of them was a map discussed in the digital pdf version of the microfiche I viewed at the Provincial Archives in Edmonton in spring of 2016. The map was in tatters in the pdf, each tatter taking up a page, with many parts missing, and there was no possibility of constructing a usable map of them. But then, wow, it turns out the actual map exists, in the holdings of the University of Calgary library. Due to COVID-19, the maps weren’t accessible but once the situation changed, the librarian kindly promised to scan them for me. I’d sort of forgotten or at least I’d put the thought of the maps in a corner of my mind and went on with the essay I’ve been writing about my family in Drumheller during the Spanish flu epidemic.

What can a map tell you? It can tell you exactly where your grandmother and her first husband settled with their children in a squatter community near the Red Deer River on the outskirts of Drumheller in 1913. The community was situated on School Lands and as time went on, there was increasing pressure from many levels of bureaucracy to deal with the population who’d built shacks, chicken houses, gardens, and who (according to one irritated politician) paid nothing for the services they received. Which I’m guessing he meant were the roads adjacent to the settlement, roads that turned to gumbo in rain and snow, according to one woman who said that it was easier to walk on the railroad tracks to town. People lugged water from the river on stone boats and sleighs. Many of the men were miners and housing was limited. The mines provided some housing, most of it for single men, and if the miners were laid off, they lost their shelter. The School Lands, a large vacant section just west of the town, attracted those who were resourceful enough to construct houses for themselves cheaply. I knew from the records that my grandmother and her husband had a shack 20 feet by 25 feet for their 10 family members (eventually 11) and that they had a garden 80 (or 50; the number has been corrected and is blurred) feet by 125 feet. My grandmother’s brother had a shack nearby, built into a bank; its dimensions were 10 feet by 15 feet.

The land was surveyed in 1917 and subdivided. The map I’m looking at is the result of that work. In November 1917, the lots were sold at public auction. There’s a list of successful buyers and neither my grandmother’s husband nor her brother show up on the lists. I’d wondered about this until I found a notice of the auction in the Hanna Herald of September 20, 1917:

Any person who was not, at the commencement of the present war, and who has not since continued to be a British subject, or a subject or a citizen of a country which is an ally of his Majesty in the present war, or a subject of a neutral country, is prohibited from purchasing any of of these lands under penalty of having the sales cancelled and the payments made thereon forfeited.

Where did they go, the  Chechonskis, the Boraynakis, the Dodyks, the Moskals? I know that my family eventually ended up on the other side of the river, near Michichi Creek, but in what context? Did they buy property, did they lease, did they simply settle again on vacant land? Did the others?

Between the time they were given notice to vacate the squatters community and the time the Spanish flu arrived in Drumheller, what happened? Finding out is the next part of my work on their story. It’s not even a year. Two of them died, then the baby. Maybe they were able to stay put for a time. A man called Francis Vint bought the land they lived on and I notice that he bought other lots too. He was an engineer. Maybe they arranged to rent the land. But a baby was born, a garden was perhaps abandoned, a house moved (or left), chickens herded into cages, and a family crossed the river, if not right away, then shortly after. Two of them died, then the baby.

When I was in Drumheller last spring, I stayed with my husband, one son, his wife, and their two small children in a restored miner’s cabin on the Newcastle Trail. I went for an early morning walk to the river and somehow all of it felt eerily familiar. The other day I put a short piece of my essay-in-progress on this site. Then yesterday the map arrived. What can a map tell you? It can show you the contours of lives lived a hundred years ago as a pandemic loomed, it can show that a creek ran through the garden area, and that all of this was less than two blocks from the little cabin where you slept with your family, feeling the presence of that older family in the air when you walked in the morning along the river bank below their shack. A creek ran through it, blue on the map, a scribble of the text I am trying to learn, with maps and old letters, and the sound of magpies in the cottonwoods.

 

reading Eavan Boland after dinner

new dawn

You could say the days are ordinary. You wake, drink your coffee, think about the hours ahead. You don’t fill them. They unfold. Some days they are luxurious as silk, sequined and rich. Other days they are plain, the stuff of dishcloths and patched jeans.

You pierce a sequin with a needle.
You slide it down single-knotted thread
until it lies with all the others in
a puzzle of brightness.

At your desk, the essay you are writing reveals itself paragraph by paragraph. You know but you don’t know. When it’s finished, then what. It will join the others in a file that one day might be a book. At this point in your life, you know what to expect. You expect little. There are writers and writers. Some are like you, the ones who live in the texture of old stories, plant histories, the textiles made by hand and repaired again and again. When you say, I’ve done my best, a little voice asks quietly, But did you? You live in the beat between those sentences.

                                A glamorous circumference is
spinning on your needle, is
that moon in satin water…

It’s late in human history. Is it too late? You can’t say. Is it too late to sit on your deck after dinner, under the lattice of grape vines and wisteria, reading Eavan Boland to each other? The wine bottle sits on the table like a golden lamp, the soft light of early summer.

                                  …you will stitch that in

with the orchard colours of the first preserves
you make from the garden. You move the jars from
the pantry to the windowsill where
you can see them: winter jewels.

Is it too late to swim in the lake, light spangling the surface of the water as you push your arms forward to begin? In the green depths tiny fish are swimming, some of them singly, some in groups. When you meet the young bear on the path to the garden shed, you clap your hands loudly to send it on its way. Is it too late to wish for the hours to fill—forget unfolding!—with something more dramatic than paragraphs and needles, the arrivals and departures you once held in your heart as carefully as a daybook would, the hours, the hours, the ripening apples, the jars on the windowsill accumulating.

(Passages of poetry are from Eavan Boland’s “We Were Neutral in the War”.)

“Was it here?”

drumheller 1912

from a work-in-progress:

Early on the morning we are to leave Drumheller, I open the door of the little house we are staying in. My grandchildren are playing with puzzles, their parents and my husband are making breakfast. I walk to the river, just a block or two away. The trail is crisp with frost and the willows hang over quiet eddies of the dark water. Was it here? One map suggests it was. Was this where Joseph Klus dug his house into the bank, laid his blankets on a cot, listened for rain? Is this were he first felt the chill, the congestion in his lungs, shivered until he was moved to his sister’s house where he died among the children, one of them an infant? Did anyone bring soup or tubs of water for washing his body? Two days later, Joseph Yopek also died, in Anna’s care.

Was it here or was it across the river? Magpies watch me walking. There’s a hotel I’ve seen in early photographs and someone told me the squatters’ camp was in that area. Our little house looks out on the hotel. Was it here, was it here? Everyone is nice to me but I know they don’t understand my urgent need to determine where my grandmother lived, where she lost first one, then a second, and finally a third family member in a short period of time. Baby Myrtle died of whooping cough with the underlying condition of malnutrition. I can’t imagine my grandmother took to her bed, not with 9 children, but did her milk dry up? Was there no money to supplement the infant’s diet?

Was it here, where the children were sent for water, were hushed while both Josephs coughed themselves to death? Was it here the coal smoke rose from their chimney, carrying the souls to heaven?

monsoon pie

monsoon pie1

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know I’m always making hortopita or green pie, a version of spanakopita, that Greek pastry with spinach and cheese filling. My pie uses wild and cultivated greens. I remember this pie when I lived on Crete in the mid-1970s. I didn’t eat meat in those years so I was grateful for something so delicious and nutritious. The mother of the man I loved used to gather greens for the pie she made for his restaurant and I loved watching her sort them before cooking them. She was keeping an eye out for snails and other critters that wouldn’t have been welcome on the plates of thsoe who ate in her son’s establishment.

We’ve had a very wet June thus far. The day before yesterday, before dinner, there was the most torrential rain I think I’ve ever experienced on this coast. (The one that caught us in St. John’s a few years ago as we walked from our B&B to The Rooms rivalled it but—could this be true?—it came at us sideways so our umbrella made no difference.) When I went out for greens for my pie, I was astonished at the growth in the garden. This, despite the slugs. I cut a huge bowl of kale, dandelion leaves, buckhorn plantain, chicory, and chickweed (there’s a clump growing around a calamondin orange that I never pull out because it makes such a good addition to the pie). The chives are more like scallions this year, big and healthy. And the curly parsley is heading towards flowering so I want to use as much of it as possible.

Tonight, one of my favourite suppers: this monsoon pie with dollops of yoghourt green with dill; leftover tabbouli from last night (that parsley…); and roasted carrot salad with garlic and mint. A few glasses of wine and we’ll think we’re lounging by the Mediterranean, not huddled by our woodstove when the rain starts again. In her wonderful book, Honey from a Weed, Patience Gray provides all sorts of information on wild foods and their history. I love this old Carrarese saying: Chi vo far ‘na bona zena i magn’un erb ‘d’tut la mena: Who wants to eat a good supper should eat a weed of every kind.

monsoon pie2

“I saw no Way—The Heavens were stitched—”

first star

The rains this month are monsoons. Yesterday, this morning — torrential, so loud on our metal roof that we can’t hear ourselves think. And what would I think about anyway? These days I am heavy with weather, heavy with solitude. I don’t mean that in a negative way particularly. In the past 3 months, I have found my way into interesting history, part of it my own family history, and part of it the wider complexity of how a country treats those it has encouraged to come with promises of land and citizenship and how it fails them. I use the present tense though I am looking at records dating back a century. I use the present tense because I am writing about how individuals navigate, or don’t, the conditions of a pandemic. I feel the solitude my grandmother must have felt as her husband died, then her brother, then her youngest child, still an infant, isolated by her lack of English and her poverty. I am writing that moment and I am in it.

The rain has meant I’ve put some things aside for better weather. I have a basket of fabric prepared for my dye vat but I need a run of good days for that work. Last weekend I woke with an urgent need to make something. I’ve experienced this feeling since my childhood. I remember rushing to the basement where there were scraps of wood and old tobacco tins of nails and trying, trying to think of how to do something with them. Now I rush to the trunk of fabric in our guestroom and the big basket of indigo-dyed sheets and scraps left from a previous vat. I pull out cottons, remnants of other projects, pile them onto the bed, and wait. Sometimes I see relationships. Possibilities. Sometimes it’s something in my own experience I want to explore. I made a quilt and an essay simultaneously last year. I called both “A Dark Path”. I used the fabric as a way to make a physical path to take me through the process of fracturing both my pelvis 50 years ago and my coccyx in late November of 2018.

I woke in the early hours last Saturday morning just in time to see the Strawberry Moon passing my bedroom window, followed by a single star in the dark firs. Last Friday, I’d gone to the ophthalmologist in order to have my eyes checked. When I fractured my coccyx, the impact of falling on ice resulted in some retinal damage. My appointment last Friday was thorough. A technician took images of my inner eyes and when the ophthalmologist met with me a few minutes later, the images were on his computer screen. Here, and here, and here, he pointed. These tears have healed so well! I looked at my eyes, the little scars like buttons, and then he showed me the healthy retinal veins and arteries scribbled over the surfaces. When I stepped back, the images were like planets, heavenly bodies on the screen in the bright room. I held my eyes briefly against the palms of my hands. When I saw the Strawberry Moon passing the window, its surface could have been my eyes, the retinas with their single layer of pigment cells a soft orangey-pink.

Earlier in the week, I realized what I am missing during these days of rain and the nights with more of it, apart from that single night when I saw the moon, are stars. In winter and spring, the stars were spectacular. Some nights when I got up to pee, I’d see planets too, huge in the dark sky. On Tuesday I sketched a plan for a star quilt. I found a length of cotton bought cheaply as the end of a bolt a few years ago and cut out squares from that for the bodies of the stars. I cut scraps of light indigo-dyed cotton for the background of each star. Once I’ve pieced the star blocks, I’ll have to figure out sashing. Deep blue would be good but maybe instead some saffron yellow. I don’t know yet. So much depends on light and mood. I have a dyed sheet to use for the back of the quilt, its edges quite light but a panel of deep indigo down the centre, lighter scribbles where I’d tied it with hemp twine before dipping it in the dye.

It was easier for me to find my way through this fraught and damaged time a month or so ago when the nights were clear and the days bright. Only two weeks ago we were swimming. The dawn chorus was loud and rich. In the rain it’s hard to hear anything but its steady drumming on the blue roof, the splash of it falling from the downspouts. If I want stars, I’m learning I’ll have to make them myself.

I saw no Way—The Heavens were stitched—
I felt the Columns close—
The Earth reversed her Hemispheres—
I touched the Universe—

–Emily Dickinson, 378

 

“Like the symbol for infinity.”

In other Junes, we’ve taken road trips, driving through our favourite landscapes. Windows open, music, stops to look at wildflowers. I feel restless this morning, remembering, but somehow I don’t feel brave enough to leave home. Not yet.

Looking back, I remember the Bridesville-Rock Creek road, how we turned off Highway 3 in 2013 on our way to Grand Forks and meandered through soft grasslands, sweet-scented pines, bluebirds on the fenceposts, and everywhere sticky geranium, upland larkspur, old man’s whiskers. We stopped to watch yellow-headed blackbirds in a small marsh and when this ranch appeared in the distance, I lost my heart.

In my new novella, The Weight of the Heart, the main character encounters a couple who have a ranch near Lac Le Jeune. I had in mind a particular place, though in my imagination it’s further from the road than it is in real life. This part of it is what I remember very vividly:

jocko creek horses

And in my book? I think there’s an intimation that it doesn’t really exist, that perhaps Izzy dreamed it:

He turned his truck and went up over the hill and I followed, followed the road Maggie must have driven with Joey or the Gunnarsons. There were pines, more of the bull pines in the distance, and a shimmer of lakes just off the road. A few weather-beaten cabins back in the trees, some of them pole frames and shingles returning to earth as moss and needle duff. The very cabins were as trees in the forest. I followed, past the Jocko Creek Ranch, which surely Ethel Wilson would have known from her trips to Lac Le Jeune. And just beyond, the Two-Bit Ranch, where Pete and Alice raised cattle and Appaloosas. Their sign, marked with their brand, two circles, side by side, overlapping slightly, like the symbol for infinity, hung between two posts over the gate, which was anchored on either side by wooden wagon wheels.

Like the symbol for infinity. This morning, that’s how these places feel to me. I haven’t been back to the Bridesville-Rock Creek Road since the serious fires of 2015 and 2017. If we could pack the car today and head out, Emmylou Harris on the stereo, is that where I’d want to go? Maybe not. I do know we’ve talked about our favourite stretch of Highway 99, between Lillooet and Pavilion, stopping at the Fountain Flat store to fill our coffee mugs, and stopping along the shoulder of the road to look down at the Fraser River below.

above the fraser

Instead, I’ll prepare copies of my book to send to my children and a few far-flung friends and put a few of the keepsakes John printed into envelopes for others who’ve bought The Weight of the Heart. (If you’ve bought a copy, let me know and I’ll send you a keepsake!) In other Junes, we’ve taken road trips. This year we shelter in place, our memories vivid with rivers, wildflowers on the Bridesville-Rock Creek Road, and the sound of yellow-headed blackbirds on a small hidden marsh. Like the symbol for infinity, they too are anchored, turning a little in the wind.