“the rough patch at the turn up the hill”

stitch

A year ago this hour I was in my rooms on the UBC campus, waiting to hear from the surgeon who’d just replaced both of my husband’s hips. One hip was wonky and then with the long wait time for orthopaedic surgery, his second hip also deteriorated. When he was called late last September and told to prepare for both the surgery and the recuperation afterwards, we were filled with optimism. We got the equipment we needed, arranged our house for safe recovery, and made sure the cupboards were full. (Wine rack too.)

A year ago this afternoon the surgeon called me to tell me how well the procedure had gone. I walked over to the UBC hospital, a walk I was to take many times over the next ten days, and went through the rigamarole (stopped to answer questions about my health, putting on a clean mask to replace the clean mask I was wearing, signed the form to indicate the time I was visiting, sterilized my hands in front of the security officer at the desk) to visit John in the recovery ward. He was groggy but excited. Two new hips! The prospect of a return to our long walks up the mountain. Easier travel once the pandemic situation allowed that again. He was a little concerned that he could feel and move his left foot but his right foot was still asleep. The recovery nurse assured him it would also wake up once the anaesthetic had worn off.

I remember walking back to my rooms and calling our children. I also wrote a group email to extended family and friends to share the good news. But by the next morning, a year tomorrow, the story had changed. The right foot was still asleep and that was because John had suffered a compression injury to his sciatic nerve and its branch, the peroneal nerve, affecting his ability to raise his right foot. The chance of this happening was one in a thousand. Over the next week, consulting with the excellent physiotherapists who helped him to move around with a walker, to use stairs, to seat himself and then rise from that position, and with the surgeon who visited several times, as well as with other orthopaedic surgeons who also came to talk to us, we learned that the prognosis was a bit uncertain. The nerves would have to regenerate and that happens slowly. It can take two years. If it happens at all, because there’s only a 50% chance that the nerves will in fact completely regenerate.

Whatever happens we will do our best. When it’s light out, the trees brilliant gold and deep orange, the house finches busy at the work of opening maple seeds, I am ready for anything. But when the weight settles, I pick up my quilt and stitch free-hand spirals into the sashing between the log-cabin blocks. The process of moving out from the centre and then letting the thread find its way out into the open space is calming, in the way I suspect meditation might be. My meditations are of the practical sort though; they always have been. Kneading dough, weeding, watering tomatoes and easing their unruly stems around strings leading them upwards. So I’ll stitch and hope that the threads will take me–us–in the direction we need to go now. Sure-footed or not.

The following week was strange. I was alone (because I’d taken advice to keep myself and John as safe as possible from infections, including Covid of course), walking back and forth to the hospital with a flask of Camino hot chocolate for John (because honestly the food was quite awful and he needed something warm and rich), news from home, and well, just to be company for him in his room overlooking trees.

that week

Back in my rooms, I was working on two quilts. One of them, in the photograph above, had a complicated pattern of spirals in its sashing; I’d sit by a big window and sew. And think. I had a lot of thinking to do. About whether we were ready, about how to get us home, about the winter ahead. Now that it’s a year later and we got through that winter with all its equipment and further medical dramas (because only a few days after we’d returned home, we had to go down to the Sechelt hospital where John was admitted for an issue related to the surgery but also complicated, needing many tests and drug trials) and physiotherapy sessions, acupressure sessions, etc., I am reading a long essay I wrote during and after the winter. I wanted to record what was a life-altering event in our particular lives and I wanted to find the lessons in it. Because there were lessons, ones I might have anticipated and ones I didn’t. I’m thinking of making the essay into a little book, like the book I made of my essay, “Museum of the Multitude Village”.

The quilts were finished and went to their new homes — Anik’s house in Dordrecht, the Netherlands; and Cristen’s house in Edmonton. A year later, John’s foot has come a long way in its own recovery, although he will probably always have a slightly idiosyncratic gait. Think of Inspector Morse, if you are a fan of that television series. (In real life, John Thaw had a condition called drop foot, which is essentially what John has now.) Our long walks up the mountain aren’t quite what they were. Rough ground presents difficulities so we try to find places to walk where the terrain is even. But I have to say that otherwise, things go on as they always did. We swim — daily in summer, three times a week after the end of September. We built a greenhouse last spring. Over the past couple of weeks, John split and stacked three and half cords of firewood. Every few days he goes down our long driveway with a rake and a pick to level out the rough patch at the turn up the hill.

When I remember the week after the surgery, I remember the swelling, the bruising, the uncertainty. But also a kind of quiet beauty in the days. Leaves were turning and falling. There were finches in the trees. In the night I had a small lamp by my bed and I read Anne Boyer’s The Undying, finding in its dark record of Boyer’s harrowing experience of breast cancer a coded message that went right to my heart. You must pay attention, you must care from the bottom of your frightened heart. There is something to be learned from this. Find out, tell what it is.

The bruising is phenomenal. Your flanks, both of them, are deep blue and purple, streaked with red; they’re swollen, the swelling extending down your legs to your feet.

The trees are turning, the birds so lively in their branches, and even the rain against the window reminds me of time spinning from my spools of thread, drops finding a trail over the silver glass.

To take a set of objects and actions from one system and reclassify these as elements in another system is like fortune-telling.

cords

“A very familiar kind of rotation…”

this morning

At the mailbox this morning, the maples were so vivid against the dark rise of Mount Hallowell behind them. A friend emailed to say he was seeing the first snow on the Caren Range and I wrote back to say, Yes, we saw that snow as we drove home from our swim. The leaves are turning, the earth is rotating and revolving, and what about us? This morning as I swam my slow kilometre, I was thinking how much I miss my lake swims. I know I can still swim there, and I will, maybe once a week or so over the winter, but it’s not the same as an early summer morning, the kingfishers on the old snags, the sun not yet up when I begin but then rising over the mountain, the same mountain dusted with snow this morning, and how everything is reflected on the surface of the water.

The National Geographic site says this about rotation:

A very familiar kind of rotation is when a spherical, three-dimensional object turns around an invisible line inside its center. This center is called an axis. Spinning basketballs turn around an axis. Globes turn around an axis. The Earth itself spins on an axis.

Does an axis wish for a particular season? A place? Does it spin the earth through its 24 hour cycle, preferring the dark hours to the light, as it spins its heavy sphere ? In the water I am slightly lopsided because of injuries over the years. Fractured pelvis, tailbone… I notice how when I am swimming the backstroke, my body veers to one side, and I have to concentrate to stay in my lane. When I’m lake-swimming, sometimes (because I often swim with my eyes closed) I find myself quite far from shore. I hear my husband calling, Theresa, Theresa, come back! This summer I meant to swim to the island where we went for years with picnics, summer and winter, and where I imagine a version of ourselves lingers still on the grassy slope, but somehow I never got there.

In my forthcoming book, Blue Portugal, I write about the old injuries and how my body has accommodated them.

 

The Tipped Earth
Did you know that the Earth is tipped over? The Earth’s axis is not exactly up and down. It is actually a little sideways, like a tipped-over spinning top. It is tipped about 23.5 degrees.

How did the Earth get tipped over? Scientists are not quite sure. They think it happened when the solar system had just been formed. They theorize that a huge object the size of the planet Mars crashed into the Earth, tipping it on its side.

The huge thing that fractured my pelvis was my black Anglo-Arab gelding, who reared as I rode him up a hill, tumbling backwards and landing on my lap. And it was also gravity that resulted in the tailbone injury, my feet slipping out from under me as I walked on ice. In water I am as light as a strand of eelgrass but I still can’t swim a straight line for the life of me. The injuries are my own axial tilt. The earth’s 23.5° tilt is what causes our solstice and other solar declinations. I am the woman swimming all over the pool, her arms whirling like windmills.

But back to the leaves, the new snow, the sound of geese, the darkness coming earlier and earlier, everything closing in, shutting down, our chairs pulled closer to the fire, the soup pot steaming.

 

“The cricket’s song of Autumn/holds us still.” (Du Fu)

soup

Yesterday I was working in the little greenhouse, preparing it for winter. I’d thought I might overwinter peppers and eggplants but it won’t be warm enough in there so I brought out the tubs, picked the remaining vegetables, and swept the floor. I was surprised to find a cricket on the low bench.

Years ago, when John taught at Capilano College in Sechelt, I remember how when I’d drop in over his lunch break in autumn, there were always crickets in the washrooms, dark ones, chirping on the cool tiles. It was as reliable an indicator of fall as the geese in their untidy scribbles, calling against the mountain, or the scent of smoke in the morning as the fire in our woodstove caught and snapped. Sometimes a cricket would come in with the firewood, a portent of prosperity and health for the household.

I rearranged the pots of things that will stay in the greenhouse—the 3 olive plants, one with 4 little green fruits on it; the bougainvillea; the scented geraniums; the long tubs of greens I planted a month ago and which gave us a salad to share with friends for our Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday. And when I looked for the cricket, I couldn’t see it. But I heard it, heard it as I pruned and sorted, as I gathered the fallen bracts of the magenta bougainvillea.

I love the autumn, though it’s not without its melancholy. How did it get to be this late? That’s a question I ask myself frequently. Late in the year, late in my life. The other day a young man from Greenpeace called, following up on a petition I’d signed against the use of glyphosate. I knew a request for a donation was coming but in the meantime we had a nice chat. He wondered if I was familiar with Greenpeace’s work and I told him I am 66, that I remember the Phyllis Cormack (a repurposed halibut boat) heading to Alaska in the year I was in grade 11, hoping to head off the underground nuclear test planned by the US on the Aleutian island of Amchitka. I remember (I think) a demonstration on the lawn of the Legislature in Victoria. So yes, I was familiar with the long arc of Greenpeace’s activism. And now it’s microplastics, glyphosate, and what have we done to our planet? Moving plants in the greenhouse reminded me of the heat dome this past summer when it was so hot in the little structure that I had to sluice the cement block floor with cool water every few hours.

On a Thanksgiving Monday I am making soup with the remainder of the turkey, the first I’ve cooked in two years because we were away over Christmas in 2019, leading up to the pandemic, enjoying a holiday meal with Forrest, Manon, the boys, and Manon’s family. That Thanksgiving I think I roasted a chicken for John and me. Soup is the great solace of autumn, pots of turkey noodle, roasted squash, comforting borscht, potato and kale, Greek lentil. When it warms up a little outside, I’ll finish the greenhouse work, taking more geraniums in, emptying the rest of the soil from the peppers and eggplants. And I’ll keep an eye out for the cricket. They are symbols of good luck and vitality and I will make sure it knows it’s welcome.

The song of ourselves may move us, restless,
Through long nights. The cricket’s song of Autumn
Holds us still.
                        –Du Fu

“I keep meaning to stop,/to wait for you.” (Carl Phillips)

morning coffee

It was after my second sleep that I woke from the dream. After waking at 4 in panic to realize I hadn’t closed the greenhouse door last evening–yesterday morning I went out for kindling and smelled a bear, maybe the same one that came two nights earlier to tear apart one of the compost boxes; and most mornings there’s evidence of deer–in panic, I went out in the dark in my nightdress to make my bare-footed way to close it up. (I don’t think anything found it because a bushy tomato plant was still filling part of the threshold.) So after the second sleep, the brief one, when I woke in tears because of the dream. Everyone was here, all the children, their parents, and it was today, the day I’m making a feast for friends we haven’t seen for months. But in the dream I was making the meal for them. Two were racing out to the mossy area they called The Field, still in their pyjamas, and I told them to go in and put on warmer clothes if they were going to roll around on the ground. I was looking for something. Firewood maybe. And I came up on to the deck, standing for a minute in the quiet to plan pancakes for breakfast, when Friday came up behind me. Friday was the dog John had when we met in 1979, an English sheepdog X, and she became the dog of our children’s early childhoods. She died when Angelica was an infant. I have always regretted the way her death was a little too perfunctory. A year earlier a vet had given her vitamin shots and told us it would give her a good year. It did. And then everything seemed to go at once but mostly her bladder. She was on a course of antibiotics. Then another. Then her entire backend collapsed. It was a loss of proprioception, the vet said. She no longer knew where her limbs were in space. Every morning I’d come downstairs with a baby over my shoulder, two small boys needing breakfast, John getting ready to drive down the Coast to work (he was teaching in those years), and the kitchen would be flooded in pee. Before anything else, the floor had to be washed. Before the fire, before coffee, before breakfast. One morning, John just said, Boys, say goodbye to Friday, because we knew this day was coming but didn’t expect its arrival. So suddenly, so soon. There were tears. Goodbyes. She was carried out to the car. For the next year, Brendan, who was 3, said he could hear her barking underground. So she came up behind me in the dream, joyous to be home, a chain attached to her collar and wrapped around her back legs, but still she had found her way to us, through the woods, her curly hair tangled with sticks and bramble. Can I tell you my dream, I said to John, and afterwards he said, You want the dead back. I do. It’s true. I want them all back. The parents, the friends, the dogs, the cats. I want them all here for the turkey I will be roasting this afternoon, dense with dried-fruit stuffing, the caramelized brussels sprouts, the salad of garden tomatoes and basil, the vanilla and maple ice cream I made last night to have with Amy’s dessert. I want them all home. John brought me strong coffee to drink in my bed and I opened Double Shadow, by Carl Phillips, and wept again as I read these lines:

                                      I keep meaning to stop,
to wait for you.

Coffee in my green cup, face damp, the scent of the fire either coming in the open window or else drifting up the stairs. I want them all back.

patchwork

P1070361

This morning I tried to make an inventory of my quilts. I began quilting 34 years ago and am truly self-taught. Someone told me once that I’d get better (I think I was lamenting my careless skills) and that wasn’t true. I’ve now made 35 quilts and I am still careless and I don’t sew well. But I love the process and I am always working on at least one quilt, often more. Right now it’s a school bus quilt to celebrate grandson E’s transition into a bed. I also have some pieced variable stars that have been waiting for me to notice them again and figure out what to do with them. I think I know now so I’m looking forward to finishing the top. What you’re seeing in the photograph here is a pieced top for a quilt I made for Forrest and Manon about 10 years ago. I batiked the fish and then dyed the squares in indigo. The lighter marbled squares are me using up the dye when it didn’t have much ooomph left in it. I love the soft blue though. I can’t remember if I sewed akoya shell eyes on the fish.

I was thinking about quilts as I was reading Maria Stepanova’s In Memory of Memory last week, a book that won’t quite let me go. Her Canadian publisher calls it a documentary novel. Maybe it is. I wonder about calling it fiction though. It is a scrapbook in a way, a pieced quilt made of fragments. Family stories, portraits, songs, maps, journals, letters — all of these, incomplete in themselves, with missing elements, forgotten names, have a cumulative effect. Some sections of the book are like art history (meditations on Rembrandt), 20th c. history (the sections on the siege of Leningrad and the Stalinist purges are harrowing), and very moving parsings of family history in all its possible variations.

The past had bitten me, but it was only a warning nip, and it was still prepared to let me go. Slowly, very slowly, step by step and bawling gently at the effort, I made my way back to what once had been the beginning of a path through the cemetery. 

I thought how the material could have been organized differently and the book would have been a very different experience. I was curious about the decisions Stepanova made to include particular things and how different the book might have been if she’d been given permission to use material her father vetoed. In some ways I was reminded of an interview I’d watched, Doireann Ní Ghríofa talking about her wonderful A Ghost in the Throat, and how genre isn’t on her mind as she writes, that what she’s doing is, in a way, its own thing. I completely understand that. It’s true, too, of In Memory of Memory.

It won’t let me go. Her uncles, her aunts, her great-grandmother who went to medical school in Paris. What they left. What they lost. Sitting in the chair by the fire, sewing, I am in Leningrad, I am sorting family photographs and letters, walking streets in small forgotten towns looking for traces. And how my own scraps gather, accumulate, until the right arrangement suggests itself. Fish on blue cotton, lopsided stars, log cabins pierced at their centres with red fire.

In a book about the working of the mind, I once read that the important factor in discerning the human face was not the combination of features, but the oval shape. Life itself, whilst it continues, can be that same oval; or, after death, the thread of life running through the tale of what has been.

lines for October

hips

1.

We’d just turned off our reading lights and were settling in, just closing our eyes for the night, when something climbed the rose canes on the other side of the south window. Raccoons, said John, sleepily. I got up and turned on the deck light and a large raccoon scrambled up the railings to the shed roof of the first storey of the house. Oh goodnight, I said, and got into bed. But what was that, right by the west-facing windows over our pillows? I shone a flashlight out and two raccoons came right up to peer in at a woman in a white cotton nightdress, her flashlight in one hand, the edge of the comforter in the other. They reached their forepaws, delicate as hands, to touch the window.

pileated

2.

Going out to bring in firewood, I heard loud drumming coming from the fir tree right by the porch where the woodbox is. And there, a foot from the ground, a pileated woodpecker working its way around the trunk. Not the spring drumming on hollow trees for love, not the urgent territorial thundering on the power pole by the garden, but a steady beat, steady, steady, as it reached into the bark where some of the new termites from a hatch we watched rise out of the ground nearby, a low grey cloud of insects, where some of them must have settled in the wood.

october 4, jay at lunch

3.

I used to watch for them but now they watch for me. Morning, noon, and evening. As I was making coffee first thing, one of them was waiting, peering in anxiously, head cocked. It used its strong beak to knock on the railing in case I didn’t know why it was there. And I put out a handful of black sunflower seeds from last year’s sack. When I came to make a fire before lunch because I was still chilly after my swim, one was on the post closest to the kitchen. Are you the same one, I asked, but it only muttered and rode the railing like a dude on a surfboard. Yesterday 4 arrived at the same time, shouting at the tops of their voices, beaks open, crests askew, shoving each other off the posts. The same ones? Maybe I feed one 3 times a day, or several once a day, and occasionally all of them at once.

feather

4.

The bathroom window was open and I heard them, clear as anything. Were they snow geese or Canada geese or cackling geese? When I went out to try to see the scribble of them against the mountain, they were already gone.

If I knew the story

across nicola lake

After a long hot summer, the autumn rains have come. Everything is wet. The trees are turning, the ones that didn’t scorch and lose their leaves early because of the drought. For the past few days I’ve been head down in my new novel. There are things I know about it and things that surprise me. I don’t think I could write from an outline. If I knew the story, I don’t think I’d bother writing it. And this is certainly a tale I’m following, a thread into the labyrinth, a strand of kelp anchored to the dark ocean bottom.

I’ve come to the part about grief. I wasn’t exactly expecting it. The main character is haunted by an tragic event that happened more than 80 years earlier. The thing is, it’s something that really happened. Not in the life I know, not to anyone in my family, but it was in a way a catalyst that set some things in motion. A community began to dissolve. The main character, having only just discovered the community’s history, figures out that a recurring dream she has has something to do with the event. I’m writing, I’m spending time reading what I can (though there’s only a tiny archive of information about the event: two newspaper clippings my son helpfully found for me; an aside in an article written by a friend; and a few mentions in histories of the Sunshine Coast), and I’m sort of pondering how much restraint I should exercise in even using this event. I think it’s fair to say that only a handful of people alive know about it. It haunts me like it haunts my main character.

I remember driving to Alberta along the Crowsnest Highway as a child, stopping by the site of the Frank Slide, the site where some millions of tons of limestone slid down Turtle Mountain, burying a portion of the small mining town at the foot of it. Between 70 and 80 people were buried. My father loved a story and he would tell us that a baby girl was the only survivor of the slide and that she’d been found on a rock, miraculously unhurt. I know know that this is only partly true but for years I thought about that child, dreamed of her regularly, and yes, I can say I was haunted by the story. So I understand my character and following her search for information makes me glad to wake up each morning, even though her search causes her a kind of inchoate grief. She’s not sure where it will lead her. I’m not sure either. But we’ll find out, I guess.

Autumn is the season for this kind of work. The trees losing their beautiful leaves, the skeins of geese we saw over the fields east of Chilliwack, forming and reforming as they headed south, the lonely beach at Nicola Lake where we’ve had so many family swims, picnics, conversations under the lyrical pines. In October, I remember the two Octobers, one in 2009 and one in 2010, when I was anticipating the deaths of my parents. I remember how it felt to hear about my father’s final night as I stood in a phone booth on the Campo San Pantalon in Venice, watching the black water. And how it felt when a nurse called me in the middle of the night the next year to say my mother had died unexpectedly just then. (I’d been with her two days earlier.) So the days are wet, the trees will soon be bare, and it might be mist I’m looking at the world through just beyond my window or it might be the passing of ghosts. Or tears.

Walk with grief like a good friend.
Listen to what he says.
Sometimes the cold and dark of a cave
give the opening we most want. (Rumi)

Would you write a story if you knew the conclusion? I’m serious. Would you? I think it’s too late for me to do anything but what compels me to sit with documents, puzzling through old details of life and death, and find what it has to tell me. And this one, well, I’m along for the ride, as mysterious and sad as it might be. I do know there’s also joy, there’s also mystery, there’s the solace of handwork, old marine engines, curious birds, a small museum, and very good bread.

“This basket is too small to hold much more than memories…”

baskets

Yesterday we drove home from Kamloops where we spent a few days doing the things we love to do in that beautiful landscape. We drove down to Nicola Lake for a picnic and a swim. We stopped on the roadside to collect some sage and rabbitbrush. We walked along the Thompson River, listening to water. We ate a wonderful dinner at the Brownstone Restaurant while trains passed outside in the dark. We turned off onto roads we’ve never driven on before–Long Lake Road, Paul Lake Road–and saw a Great Grey Owl swoop across the road right in front of us, settling on a tree where it preened and surveyed the world. We saw horses, hawks, sunrises from our bed in the Plaza Hotel, and the beauty of tule rushes turning russet in the marshes.

What I didn’t do: I didn’t gather pine needles for baskets, although at one point John wondered if I would. When I was writing my book Mnemonic: A Book of Trees, we took a special trip into the Thompson-Nicola area specifically so I could gather needles from beloved places and then attempt to weave them together as baskets of memory.

The Red Hill needles are easy to place. They settle into the embrace of the Kamloops Lake trios, smooth as they circle and rise to the moment when the next bunch is introduced. A hesitation here, then here, as a needle snaps, as I run out of thread, as the short length demands that I stop and choose another trio. Pause, and step, and move with the weaving. A basket of dry leaves grows as I work.

If you detect music in that passage, good for you. The chapter, or essay, that I’m using is called “Pinus ponderosa: A Serious Waltz”, and I tried to write some of it in waltz time. (Writing to particular and specific rhythms is a challenge I set for myself when something requires it. In my forthcoming book, Blue Portugal, there’s an essay using the dance structures of Bach’s Violin Partita no. 2 in D Minor.)

Now that I’m home, I’m wishing I’d taken the time to gather pine needles. I was thinking, Oh, you have too many other things to do this winter and you won’t have time to make baskets and anyway, you aren’t very good at it. But I’m remembering the intense satisfaction of finding a way to weave smoothly, to figure out how to stitch more regularly–the basket on the left is the first one I made and it’s kind of a mess but you can see that my stitching improved by looking at the inner part of the larger basket on the right–, how finding good linen thread that I waxed by drawing it through a small block of beeswax made all the difference, and I regret that I left empty-handed.

Or did I? I have these baskets. I have a few more made by others and each one holds something. Fossils, a tiny feather, a whole complicated history of walks under pine trees over decades.

In this story, the children have all left home but their ghosts still run down into the kikuli pits at Nicola Lake, gather pine cones to burn in the campfire after shaking them first to release the seeds, and beg for another hour of play before settling down for the night in their sleeping bags. During pauses in the telling, loons call, a coyote yips, and listen! Wind off the lake stirs the wild roses by the shore. Or is it a bear feeding on the blushing hips?

   This basket is too small to hold much more than memories, though in a way the world is constructed of such things dreamed into being and remembered in all their textures: pine needles, the stray feathers of a nuthatch, a dazed bat found once under bark, emerald beetles in flight or tiny brown ones burrowing into healthy trees and leave as a death sentence the strange scribble of their life cycle. Remembered as a gracious dance of the living and the dead in the perfection of sunlight. As though memories are enough to feed the beloved in their afterlife, as though nothing else would do.

at rest

at rest

We were on our way back into Kamloops, driving on Long Lake Road, just after we parked on the shoulder of the quiet road for 10 minutes to watch a Great Grey Owl swoop over the road and perch on a tree about 50 feet away from us, anyway, we were on our way back when I said, Stop! Because two horses were so perfectly at rest in their pasture that I wanted to enter the field, their bodies, and just be there for, what, the rest of my life? Another horse was keeping watch off to the side so they could drowse in the weak morning sunlight.

And later, well, driving back from Paul Lake where we’d eaten the leftover pizza from last night and watched a joyous golden labrador swim with wild abandon, that was when I said stop again. Because there was one of those places you feel you know, maybe you lived there in another incarnation, the one where you raised cattle on the slope of Harper Mountain, grew sunflowers as tall as yourself, and kept a couple of horses who’d lie down in the grass on a late September day and show you what it means to truly rest. Magpies flying up from the fences, bluebird houses nailed to the posts. We’ll send people this photograph, I said to John, and tell them it’s our new home.

new home

traveller’s joy

pine sky

In Kamloops this morning it was sunny and warm as we walked along the river. We have two days and thought we’d go down to Nicola Lake tomorrow for a picnic and to swim. But why not today, we said, because tomorrow it might rain. By the time we drove down into the valley, it was grey, and thunderheads were forming closer to the hills.

nicola swim

The water was very cold. When I glided out for a quick swim, I remembered last year when we came with Brendan and Cristen and the kids, bluets on every float. This year it was only us, and only me in the water. When I came out, I looked up at the sky through the pine tree right near the water’s edge, and it was every summer I saw in the lattice.

travellers joy

We stopped on the road to collect some rabbitbrush and sage. Traveller’s joy foamed over the fencelines and a hawk landed on a grizzled old pine. In every field, under every tree, a story, some of them ours, dried with sage to hang from the rearview mirror, placed on windowsills to shed their seeds.

rabbitbrush

Turn the page quickly. Remember the rivers you have walked along, and into, and how you were held by water green and lovely. How your grown sons still remember the Nicola River, your grown daughter the ride you took by horseback to Salmon River and its memory of the sockeye runs before the Hell’s Gate slide, a river you have also driven along on your way to Salmon Arm, its silvery riffles so beautiful in sunlight. Before the slide and before bank erosion and flooding, agricultural run-off and the heavy feet of cattle making their way to water. So many fish on this page, its wide waters. How you stop at Lytton each trip to marvel again at the marriage of rivers, your husband’s arm around your shoulders.

               –from “How Rivers Break Away and Meet Again”, part of the forthcoming Blue Portugal, University of Alberta Press, 2022.