“One season only, and it’s done.” (Stanley Kunitz)

monday morning

This morning, after our swim, mine truncated because I somehow twisted a muscle in my lower back last Thursday and have been hobbling in pain ever since, anyway, we were sitting in the hot-tub talking about travel. We could just hand over our house to N and her family, I said, and go to Europe for a few months. I spent part of last month reading my old journal detailing my time on Crete and then in Athens because I wanted to confirm some details about my first walk up the Acropolis. I was remembering things more or less correctly but how easily I took for granted the actual fact that I was Greece. That I walked up the marble steps to look at the Erechtheion, the porch of the maidens, the wildflowers growing on the hill. Late in his life, Freud wrote about his own first visit to the Acropolis:

It is not true that in my school days I ever doubted the real existence of Athens. I only doubted whether I should ever see Athens. It seemed to me beyond the realms of possibility that I should travel so far – that I should ‘go such a long way’. This was linked up with the limitations and poverty of our conditions of life. My longing to travel was also no doubt the expression of a wish to escape from that pressure, like the force which drives so many adolescent children to run away from home. I had long seen clearly that a great part of the pleasure of travel lies in the fulfilment of these early wishes, that it is rooted in dissatisfaction with home and family.

My longing to travel as a young woman came from a similar impulse: to run away from home and family and to find out who I was in the great world. To find out my strengths. To learn to accommodate my weaknesses. And to see things I had read about, dreamed about.

I don’t actually have that need now. And in the way that a life happens, accumulates, I have so many anchors to keep me in place. Luckily it’s a place I love. Right now the daffodils are out, there are little groves of purple crocus under the bristly canes of the moss roses, the chives are bright green, the earth is burgeoning. Yesterday I saw the first Audubon’s warbler of the year. Any day now the rufous hummingbirds will return, fierce in their mating, defence of territory, their face-offs with the Anna’s hummingbirds who’ve spent the winter at the feeder. At night I hear the tree frogs singing so loudly that the dark is filled with their urgent song. I think of Stanley Kunitz’s beautiful late poem, “Touch Me”:

I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
                            and it’s done.

In the hot-tub, after talking a little about travel to Portugal (where we intend to go for a couple of weeks next winter), Greece, the wanderlust a little calmer now that we’re in our later years, John said, I don’t really want to leave the house where I hammered every nail. Like me, he’s also been writing about Greece, about his father’s capture there by Germans in 1941 and his own time there 30 years later; we’ve been remembering the sheeps’ milk yoghurt with thyme-scented honey, the salty cheese, eggs cooked in olive oil, and retsina in small bottles just right for lunch. In the greenhouse my own little olive trees flourish, their grey-green leaves a wistful mnemonic for a time cherished but gone.

Maybe the pressure I was responding to when I said, Let’s just leave, is the pressure of time doing that thing it does, has done even more frequently since our experiences during the pandemic when the skies emptied of jet contrails and the ferry traffic that has always been my first call to morning dwindled away to almost nothing. In a single moment, it contains past experience in all its sensual detail, it reaches ahead to a house in ruins, reclaimed by forest, lingers a little, pushing ahead, falling back, before pausing again, birds gone, tree frogs quiet, a moment that is without time: eternity. In the meantime, there are olives to water and a small posy of daffodils and forsythia to cut, bringing the sunlight inside.

redux: last year’s doe

Note: I had many plans for today, including moving big pots of tulips from the greenhouse to the newly-washed west-facing deck where we have a little table for a late afternoon drink now that the days are nicer but yesterday I turned very mildly as I was getting out of the car at the library and somehow pulled something in my lower back. So it’s hobbling around and not carrying heavy things for a few days, alas. Last night I was awake thinking about deer so here’s a post from 2016 about them, a post that could have been written today.


John called down, “There’s a deer right below my window,” and looking out, I saw her, arching her body to pee on the soft moss. I’m pretty sure it was last year’s doe, the one who came most mornings with her fawn,


pausing to nibble grass, the tips of roses, the clumps of daylilies (which, sure enough, were eaten in the early hours). And looking again, I saw that fawn, now a yearling, reaching up to eat the new leaves, just buds really, on the Japanese maple. I went out the back door and chased them off. I love to see them but I haven’t quite finished lifting all sorts of plants — iris, daylilies, and other things these visitors feast on — to replant inside the deer-proof fence that surrounds the vegetable garden. More and more, the garden has to be contained or else elevated to save it from the deer. We used to have dogs. They lived outside — there’s a cedar-sided insulated house John built for Lily, with its own sign — Cave Canem (Forrest was studying Latin…) — and she loved it but Tiger was claustrophobic and would only sleep in the open or, in cold weather, on little nests of dry grass under the house (ours is built on footings, on rock…). If we tried to make things more comfortable for her by putting blankets under the house, on boards to keep them — and her — up off the ground, she’d wait until we went away and then she’d drag them out. She wanted a bed of her own making. Like Lily, Tiger slept with one ear open for animals and we’d hear her barking at dawn, as the deer came near, or else in the night when the bears inevitably came for crabapples.

So no dogs means deer in abundance, or at least in the years when they are abundant. (When they’re not, it’s one sign that cougars are around.) And a bear, last year, grazing on sweet grass and, later, the crabapples. One night this winter, I went out on the deck to look at stars and surprised two deer at the foot of the grapevine growing up over the trellis. Not far from here, as the crow flies, the poet Tim McNulty has written beautifully of deer:

And the nights I sat at my desk unknowing,
and the lamplight
found its way through the frost-lit trees,
what, if anything, did it mean to her
–nipping at her winter coat
to make a bed for the fawns,
sharing our water for a time.

— from ‘Three Poems for Deer”

I’ve just come in from the vegetable garden where I mulched the garlic bed with compost


and saw a tiny tree-frog nestled among some dead leaves and straw, almost exactly the same colour as the straw:

tree frog

It’s the time of year when things happen so quickly. A few days ago, I noticed some clumps of primroses in bud. Today they’re in bloom.


I don’t know what kind these are — I bought them years ago at a community plant sale where (mostly) elderly gardeners brought divisions of irises and old roses and rhubarb and to them I am grateful for my old-fashioned and unnamed moss roses and vigorous horseradish roots — but they remind me of the wild primroses growing in the fields in Ireland when I lived there nearly 40 years ago. There was so much folklore associated with them and I remember various stories about their magical properties, as well as their medicinal ones.

Guard the house with a string of primroses on the first three days of May.  The fairies are said not to be able to pass over or under this string.’

–From the National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin. NFC S.455:237. From Co Kerry.

There are lots of myths associated with deer too. Long associated with Artemis (we all know what happened to Actaeon), they were also credited with nursing abandoned babies and would-be saints, had powers of divination, were spiritual guides, and were considered emblems of decorum and kindness.

Though, until this morning, I’d never seen one pee.

“Don’t put up my Thread and Needle–“

birthday quilt

Yesterday I began to piece together the top for a birthday quilt for Manon who turns 40 today. I had in mind something else for her but then I learned that she’d love a quilt and of course that caused a little frisson of excitement in my circuitry because I love to go through the stash of fabric in my old trunk and find a way to put colours together. I am currently working on a big and complicated piece, this one,


which involves intricate spirals with trails leading to them and away from them. I’m about 2/3 finished. But the prospect of something bright and easy to work on (because I like to have two quilts in progress at once) was enticing. So I planned, muddling my way through the math — how many squares of each colour, how many courses, how to create a diagonal line — and then cut out the squares on the weekend after letting the fabric sit for a few days while I decided on relationships. This is a simple quilt, the kind I call a French patchwork. I love to use blues and reds and saffron yellows to remind me of markets in the south of France, particularly in Aix-en-Provence, where we wandered through a big street market one November morning, buying little bags of olives, some fresh cheeses, a loaf of bread dusted with flour. The dried herbs and nuts were piled onto Provencal cloth.

Don’t put up my Thread and Needle —
I’ll begin to Sew
When the Birds begin to whistle —
Better Stitches — so —

When I sew, my mind goes elsewhere. Maybe it finds itself in Aix-en-Provence, walking the Cezanne trail, or in Prague, on a narrow street leading to the Charles Bridge. These days it wishes it could return to Ukraine, the road from Kosiv to Yavoriv, stopping along the way to look at the sheep fleeces drying by the creeks where they’d been washed before being spun into yarn for lizhnyky, the heavy wool rugs woven by craftspeople who’ve been making them for generations. I thought I’d return so I didn’t buy one when I could have, when a woman showed us the process and took us down to her valylo, wooden boxes in the course of a stream, where the woven blankets or rugs are tumbled in the current to tighten the threads and shrink the wool. And maybe I’ll never return. My mind lingers in Yavoriv, my fingers pushing a needle in and out, the threads making meaning on the surface of the quilt.

Till then — dreaming I am sewing
Fetch the seam I missed —
Closer — so I — at my sleeping —
Still surmise I stitch —

Today I hope to finish piecing the top and then I’ll decide if it needs sashing or not. (This is a way to even out my careless cutting and piecing work…) I’ll cut backing to size and batting to go between the top and back. When I’m stalled in the novel I am working on, or when it’s raining too hard to be outside, you can find me in the rocker by the woodstove, sewing and dreaming. Dreaming of fleeces and French markets and walking down Boršov quite late one evening in search of Lehká hlava, a beautiful little restaurant in a medieval building, where we ate delicious food a stone’s throw from the Charles Bridge, dreams that are somehow sewn into the quilts.

Note: the poem is 617, “Don’t put up my Thread and Needle”, by Emily Dickinson.

Sunday, miscellany



Outside, a scattering of purple crocus, white Snow Bunting crocus by the front door, stray saffron yellow in pots. And hanging in the kitchen window, the one looking northwest, looking towards the snow-covered mountains, a clump of crocus fixed in mosaic glass. In early evening, the light comes through them.


All night I kept waking. What was I hearing? I thought I was hearing something in the gutters John has been clearing of winter detritus washed down from the roof. Weasels? In spring they race along the edges of the roof, in and out of the flashing, they pause in the dog rose canes by the bedroom window to peer in briefly, they find an opening and come into the kitchen, and we sweep them out again. So maybe weasels. But just now, we watched two dark animals, larger than squirrels, bound across the driveway and up the mossy lane beyond the vernal pool. Mink? It wasn’t until later that I remembered the small dark animal hiding between the two compost boxes, the summer that all the grandchildren were here, and how we stood a distance away, looking at it, and how it looked back.


When I was awake in the night, there were stars. What was I hearing? A loon back on the lake after winter.

As bamboo chill drifts into the bedroom,
Moonlight fills every corner of our
Garden. Heavy dew beads and trickles.
Stars suddenly there, sparse, next aren’t.

Fireflies in dark flight flash. Waking
Waterbirds begin calling, one to another.
All things caught between shield and sword,
All grief empty, the clear night passes. (Du Fu, trans. David Hinton)



When I went out to see if the crocus in the garden had opened yet, wanting a photograph, I saw the rhubarb unfurling. Looking ahead, I am thinking about crumbles, pies, jam with ginger, and compote to have with yogourt.


tiny daffodils

I can’t look at daffodils without remembering Narcissus. Because I have been writing about love and obsession, it was fitting to find a few bright flowers on the edge of the garlic bed, far from a pool, and how they are blooming as though unaware of their beauty. Old boots and kettles, a Chinese pot of bamboo, the stories alive on the edges of the garden.


Unweatherbeaten as the moon my face
Among the waterlogged, the commonplace,

Old boots and kettles for inheritance
Drifting into my head on the off-chance –

A wide Sargasso where the names of things
(Important guests at all such christenings)

Submerge in mind and pool like treasuretrove.
My face as sole survivor floats above.

–Michael Longley

“the long road down to the sea”


I swam to Irish music this morning, hornpipes and reels and one very sweet version of “Carrickfergus”.

I wish I was in CarrickfergusOnly for nights in BallygrandI would swim over the deepest oceanThe deepest ocean for my love to find
As I stroked up and down my favourite lane, sunlight finding the maples outside, a few robins scrapping in their branches, I was in Ireland. Maybe because I’ve been working on revisions of the long essay I recently completed, a piece I’ve titled “Let a body venture at last out of its shelter”, a phrase from a passage of Julia Kristeva’s astonishing essay, “Stabat Mater”, anyway, I’ve been working on revisions and part of the essay takes place in Ireland. It’s a complicated narrative and I won’t go into details here but Ireland takes pride of place in the centre of the essay. When I ran there, in part to escape the attentions of a painter who was obsessed with me (I was 23, he was in his 50s), I took shelter for a short time with a woman who lived in a caravan in a field in County Mayo. (Someone I knew in Victoria connected me with her.)

I slept on a bench below the window, rolling out my sleeping bag each night and rolling it up again in the morning. There was a dog, Johnny, who’d appeared like me at the gate, wanting refuge, and place for his infected leg to heal; and several cats. Hooded crows flew over daily from the round tower where I think they roosted; their ash grey plumage, punctuated by black head, throat, and tail, became familiar in the hedge as they waited for toast scraps. Sheila was a vegan but didn’t mind if I had milk on my oatmeal (she took a jam jar up to the farmer and he filled it with creamy milk from one of the cows who rubbed against the caravan). She made omelettes of millet, flavoured with snippings of wild garlic, and she made strong French roast coffee from Bewley’s in Dublin in a small brown jug, using a tea strainer to pour it into our cups. I hitchhiked into Castlebar and brought back almonds for her nut milk and cheese for myself. I brought us a bottle of French wine, and oranges. Dark chocolate, vegan approved. She picked St. George’s mushrooms and fried them in olive oil. After a couple of days we went looking for a place for me to live. She’d arranged for me to caretake a cottage up some hills above Foxford which we got to by bus, taking Johnny, a cottage owned by a forester she knew, but when we got there, we discovered travellers had camped by it, burning the kitchen and sitting room floorboards for fuel. I didn’t need much but I did need a floor. She asked a few people she knew. There was a man in Louisburgh, who couldn’t offer a house but did have an extra table. Someone else wondered about that house over to Parke where everyone had either died of the rheumatism or become too crippled with it to move because it was built right up against a seeping bank but he didn’t know how to get in touch with the owner, who lived in France. Someone else who occasionally brought her ailing animals to care for and who knew everything about everyone but couldn’t think of anywhere likely. One morning I packed up most of my belongings and headed out to find somewhere, hitchhiking down the west coast, stopping in each small village to ask at the post office if anyone had a rough cottage they’d rent cheaply. A fish dealer in Clifden called one of his suppliers, a fishing family on an island off the coast, and they offered an empty cottage. Which was where I went, after returning to Sheila to pick up the rest of my stuff and to provide a new address for my mail. At her insistence, I went to talk to the farmer about having the donkey’s hooves trimmed. They were so long, they curled up at the ends like Arabian slippers. He smiled, sucked away on his pipe, and went on with what he was doing. Which was fixing a fence with some lengths of salley. 

Swimming, I was in Ireland again, 23, troubled but also at home in the weather, the music, the isolation once I left Sheila’s caravan with its menagerie, inside and out. The cottage I moved to had its own menagerie, including a dog who entered by the front door and promptly claimed anything that smelled of me, including my sleeping bag, by peeing on it, and a donkey who rested his chin on my bedroom window sill.

This morning I was humming “Carrickfergus” as I drove home.

My childhood days bring back sad reflections
Of happy times spent so long ago
My childhood friends and my own relations
Have all passed on now like melting snow

The reflections in the essay are sad sometimes but also thoughtful. What happened, happened. I went on to have a good life, blessed by a loving partner and children and now grandchildren. I wish others hadn’t been hurt by my actions when I was young and I also wish I hadn’t been hurt in turn. Time is an extraordinary current we live in, not knowing quite where it will take us. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I’d stayed in Ireland. That was a possibility, as was a return. I did return. I went back twice. It still felt familiar, its weather, its music, the lure of isolation, but I wasn’t the same young woman, holding her sadness close, and unable to imagine a future without the difficulty of bad relationships. My essay explores that. I’m glad to have written it, though it was hard at times to revisit the letters and other records of the year I was 23.

But I’ll spend my days in endless roaming
Soft is the grass, my bed is free
Ah, to be back now in Carrickfergus
On that long road down to the sea

I live now on a long highway that begins and ends at the sea. It’s different water but it is deep with possibilities. This morning I will listen to more Irish music and this evening I will drink a toast to Sheila and her caravan, the island where I lived in a cottage surrounded by nettles and wind. Sláinte, I’ll say, holding my glass up to the light, Sláinte mor.


redux: “time is your material”


Note: when I was awake in the night, working at my desk, tweaking the book-length essay that now has a title (“Let a body venture at last out of its shelter”, from a passage of Julia Kristeva’s “Stabat Mater”), I remembered reading Ann Hamilton this time of year, 2019.


In the night I had to stop myself from getting up to come down to work on my current essay “blueprint”. thinking that it was high time I had a proper sleep. I didn’t go back to sleep right away but listened to the mouse that was making tiny sounds in the sunroom just off my bedroom and to the sleeping sounds of the cat (who brought the mouse in to show us the previous night and then dropped it in his excitement). I thought about the essay with a deep curiosity for where it might take me, and how. I know some things about it, of course, but I don’t know how they will come together. Because it’s partly a piecing together of how the plans for our house were imagined and made, I’ve made a little set of questions for John to answer, as he drew the plans. I’m not sure I remember exactly how I did the plans, he said yesterday as we sat by the fire after lunch. That’s ok, I assured him. Your not remembering is important too. He thought he’d done a lot of drafts on lined yellow paper and I’m hoping those turn up somewhere.

Our life here was never really planned. We met, married, wondered where we might live. There was a lovely old rented house but it was falling down around us and the owner had plans. We looked briefly at houses in Vancouver and realized it would be huge debt and we didn’t really want to live there anyway. We bought this land, thinking we’d camp on it, maybe forever. And then we realized that we could build something. And one thing led to another.

We had a baby and I enrolled in the MFA program at UBC. It didn’t work for me for a lot of reasons. I’d thought I could get that degree and perhaps teach. But that didn’t happen. I love Ann Hamilton‘s essay, “Making Not Knowing”, for its wise musings about how artists find their way into their true work:

You may set out for New York, but you may find yourself, as I did, in Ohio. You may set out to make a sculpture and find that time is your material.

I thought I’d teach, and write poetry. Instead, I helped to build a house and wrote prose. I’m still writing prose and although I sometimes miss the brief quick heat of writing a poem, I’ve learned that prose, particularly the essay, has a wide and generous capacity to hold everything you ever wanted it to. Everything you ever needed it to. Like the expandable string bags I first saw in France, pulled from a pocket in a market and filled with cheese, a head of chicory, a little pot of stoneground mustard, a baton or two, some butter wrapped in greaseproof paper, a melon, a bottle of wine, an essay will gladly perform the same function.

It’s important to me right now to think about my work and why it matters to me. I spent many years just finding time to write and now I have all the time in the world, though maybe not enough of it. I feel both urgency and patience. In a way it’s a perfect combination. I know what I want to do won’t go away if I let myself stay in bed rather than coming downstairs in the dark to write a page by lamplight. I used to think I wasn’t a real writer because I didn’t make outlines and didn’t work in a particular way. I’ve seen the photographs of sticky notes on bulletin boards and I know that it must provide terrific guidance for some writers but it’s not my process and I’m relieved to acknowledge to myself that I don’t have to do it that way. It’s a good thing I never taught writing, apart from a few workshops here and there, because I don’t have a system to pass along.

Imagine those bags, though. You hold one, wondering what you will choose at the market under the bright umbrellas. You didn’t make a list. But following your nose, you find the heaps of freshly-picked basil, a tumble of tomatoes so ripe you can imagine their juices puddling on the cutting board, little rounds of cheeses wrapped in vine leaves, spices from North Africa, brown eggs laid that morning, a tablecloth of brilliant yellow cotton printed with irises, branches of blossoming thyme that have brought bees from the hillsides with them, and somehow, somehow it all fits in your string bag.

But not knowing, waiting and finding—though they may happen accidentally—aren’t accidents. They involve work and research. Not knowing isn’t ignorance. (Fear springs from ignorance.) Not knowing is a permissive and rigourous willingness to trust, leaving knowing in suspension, trusting in possibility without result, regarding as possible all manner of response.

“One thing is finished, another begins”


One thing is completed, another asks for a beginning. Yesterday I finished the first full edits of the long essay I wrote between October and February. I wasn’t sure as I was writing if the final thing would be a book or an essay and I guess I’m sticking with the idea of it as an essay. It’s a little longer than 30,000 words; it’s constructed in sections, some of them as brief as a paragraph, some of them 5 or 6 pages long. It’s illustrated with images of the paintings and sketches it refers to. We own most of them but a few kind collectors have photographed their own paintings and sketches and sent them to me to use. It doesn’t yet have a title but this afternoon I’m going to go through the manuscript with a title in mind.

And then what? What will I do with a 30,000 word essay about art and obsession? About pain and love? I’m not sure. I wrote the essay as a way to figure something out, a relationship I had with a painter when I was 23. Other people’s stories are involved because, well, they were. Some of those people are dead. But a few are still alive and I have some reservations about intruding on their privacy. John read the essay yesterday and his reaction was so gratifying. He thinks it should be published. (And he is one of the people whose privacy I intrude on.) So a title first and then a decision about what to do with the manuscript. I don’t have forever. None of us do. So I’ve become quite purposeful about tying up threads.

And speaking of threads: that beginning I alluded to. My daughter-in-law Manon is turning 40 this month. I’d wondered about making her a quilt but then I thought, Oh, I’ve made her and Forrest and their boys quilts. Why would anyone want another? But it turns out she does want another! She loved the quilt I made Angelica for Christmas, a French patchwork,

french patchwork

and so we talked about one of those. I have some likely cottons in the trunk where I store fabric and we looked at them. Something was needed, a good clear yellow. Then I remembered some cotton napkins at the consignment shop in Sechelt, a set of 6, that looked as though they’d never been used, still crisp and bright. I bought them. They are 18 inch squares and so I’ll quarter them and cut 9 inch squares from the other cottons we chose. Manon’s friend was in Avignon two summers ago and the two women were talking on WhatsApp one morning in the kitchen. Manon wondered if I’d like some Provencal cotton because her friend was willing to buy some for me. It was a video call and Karine was in the store that very moment. I chose a red and yellow print, the one you can see in both photographs, and a blue I’m going to use as a tablecloth. It’s only fitting that some of the red and yellow goes into Manon’s French patchwork.

One thing is completed, another begins. Even though there are wars, burning forests, floods, a sea full of plastics, I can write an essay and find its title, and I can cut bright cotton into squares to make a quilt for a new home in Quebec. I can finish and I can begin and the two are the same.

No, start here.                    Deer peer from the edge of the woods.

                                                         We used to see woodpeckers

The size of the sun, and were greeted

by chickadees with their good morning songs.

We’d started to cook outside, slippery with dew and laughter,

                                    ah those smoky sweet sunrises.

                   –Joy Harjo from “How to Write a Poem in a Time of War”

“an indefinite, frequently prolonged period”


This morning I am wondering how it got so late. Late in the year (wasn’t it only last week that we were watching 2022 disappear behind some clouds beyond the lake?), late in my life (68!), late in human history? I was drinking my coffee in my bed, listening for the little boys, though they left yesterday to go into Vancouver for the first leg of their journey back to Quebec. This very minute they are flying across the Rockies, from one time zone into another. I was drinking my coffee in bed, thinking about time. Tonight we turn our clocks ahead, whatever that means. Does it change time itself?

Time is what clocks measure. We use time to place events in sequence one after the other, and we use time to compare how long events last… Among philosophers of physics, the most popular short answer to the question “What is physical time?” is that it is not a substance or object but rather a special system of relations among instantaneous events. (From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

In the sequence of time I am living within, there are shifts. This year the salmonberry blossoms are at least two weeks late. The earliest I’ve seen them is February 17, though it’s usually more like late February that I notice their cerise flowers along the roads and trails; they’ve been as late as second week of March. The other day on our walk, we couldn’t even find swelling buds on the canes on the trail along the shoulder of Mount Hallowell. The salmonberry blossoms bring the bees and the rufous hummingbirds, though the latter are more reliably linked, here at our place at least, to the emergence of red flowering currant. And these things are very site-specific. Sometimes in talking to friends, I learn that they link the arrival of rufous hummingbirds with other flowers. Friends who live right on the shore of Oyster Bay notice other relationships. But these are ours, imprinted in our memories. And our expectations.

The other day I was outside moving some potted bulbs from the greenhouse to the deck when I heard a tree frog in the salal. I couldn’t see it. I took my older grandson over to the stacks of black plastic pots behind the garden shed, the ones I grow tomatoes in, to see if we could locate a tree frog there. (They like the pots because there are often tiny slugs or woodbugs overwintering there.) No luck. And in the greenhouse itself, I know there are at least two resident frogs, though I haven’t seen them yet this year. In November they were happily tucked in among the kale and the last pepper plants. There’s a small tub of water with corkscrew rushes in it so the frogs won’t dry out.


An online dictionary gives this as one definition of time:

…an indefinite, frequently prolonged period or duration in the future: Time will tell if what we have done here today was right.

What will it tell us though? That we were so uneasy with it that we created the practise of advancing the clock and then reverting to what was considered a standard time? That we couldn’t simply adjust to increasing and decreasing periods of light without tampering with the clock? When my older grandson was with me in the garden, he brought the sundial to me, saying, What’s this? (It is set on a low stump but isn’t fastened into place so it can easily be lifted…) And I explained, sort of. His grandad, who wears a watch (I don’t own one), had to come to put it back into place so that he could show A. how to use the sundial to tell time. If you’ve read Blue Portugal & Other Essays, you’ll know that our sundial has an inscription on it: Grow Old With Me. The Best Is Yet To Come. When it was given to us as a gift, perhaps 35 years ago, the notion of growing old was not foremost in my mind. Getting my children to the school bus on time, making sure the laundry was done, the bread baked, the library books located and returned took precedence. But now that I’m 68, it’s pretty hard to pretend that age is not, as the young say, A Thing. What’s remarkable about the sundial is that it’s accurate enough. Do we need to know time beyond the hour, the minute? Does it matter?

On Thursday, we all went down to the lake so Forrest and I could have a (brief) swim. Last year this family visited in February and we did the same thing. The water was warmer then. Even though we’d had a cold December in 2021, by early February, the days were warmer. On Thursday, the water was icy. We both went in and did a few quick strokes while the others remained on the beach, winter jackets zipped up. As we were standing on the sand afterwards, wrapped in our towels, I remembered that the week before last there was a skimming of ice on the water.

Newton did for time what the Greek geometers did for space, idealized it into an exactly measurable dimension. –Paul Davies, from About Time: Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution

How does a lake perceive time? When the ice is on the surface, does the beautiful body of water long for summer or the quiet of fall after all the cabins have been shut up for winter? Is the lake ever lonely for swimmers, does it track the moon’s phases, the nesting cycles of geese and mallards, does it listen for the sound of kingfishers teaching their young to feed themselves?

Time, Kant argues, is also necessary as a form or condition of our intuitions of objects. The idea of time itself cannot be gathered from experience because succession and simultaneity of objects, the phenomena that would indicate the passage of time, would be impossible to represent if we did not already possess the capacity to represent objects in time. (From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Tomorrow I’ll be the one asking John, What time is it really? Our clocks will be changed, the sundial adjusted, and one after another, the blossoms will open, the hummingbirds will arrive, and even though we’ve damaged our planet in ways too terrible to contemplate, maybe we will still enjoy seasons for a few years yet.



winter brothers


After the picnic at Trail Bay, my grandsons went to the edge of the water to skip flat rocks. In the distance, a tug pulling a barge. A few ducks. I forgot I was cold.


There are no salmonberry blossoms yet. Two weeks late. But Pacific willows alight with their soft flowers, the silvery pussies, a few ravens high on the thermals as we walked to collect a single rib from the elk skeleton polished off by wolves, and Venus in the western sky at dusk, bright as a tiny lantern.


The moon so bright that it’s as though we sleep with the lights on. There are lots of tears with small boys visiting. A bow breaks, the walls of the house of split cedar logs collapse.

When shall we lean in the empty window,
Together in brightness, and tears dried up?  (Du Fu)


Prawns and chorizo thawing, swimming scallops (also called singing scallops) in the fridge, Bomba rice, and saffron from Persia. Tonight we’ll feast on paella and a salad of oranges flavoured with tiny leaves of mint just emerging from their winter sleep.


Last night I dreamed I’d forgotten the flowers I promised to bring to Angelica and Karna’s wedding in August. On a weathered cabin wall, I found moss roses blooming and hurried to cut enough of them. They fell apart in my hands.


redux: “So a road becomes a series of tracks, byways, trails into the mystery.”



Note: a year ago, I was tying up the final loose threads of my book, Blue Portugal & Other Essays, with the amazing team at the University of Alberta Press. So how interesting to read back two years before that to see that I was writing one of the essays in that book and constructing the quilt it references. The quilt hangs on the wall in our living room, the book sits on my desk in all its blue beauty, and the years continue to spool out in front of me. Still!


About a month ago,  I found myself not only writing an essay, “A Dark Path”, but also thinking about how and why I wrote it. This is not the way I usually work. I mean, yes, I write, and yes, I think, but I don’t often see the process that takes me from one to the other so clearly. Or at least not while I am in the heat of writing. Writing is a very intuitive process for me. I don’t start with a plan. I don’t think I’ve ever made an outline. You might be thinking, Well, it shows. (A book of my essays was once turned down by a publisher who scolded me for what he sternly called “a scattergun approach.”) I’m not making an argument for all writers to work the way I do. But I also feel confident (or as confident as someone can be, at this moment, knowing that all the other uncertainties are part of my writing life too) that I’ve evolved a method that is true to what I need to do.

I’m working on a series of connected essays, of which “A Dark Path” is one. I didn’t begin this body of work thinking that I’d be writing individual pieces. I’d thought I was going to write a memoir called Blue Portugal, an extended single text, probably book-length, about family history, wine, genetics, and the colour blue. Blue Portugal? It’s the name of a wine we drank in the Czech Republic when we were invited to teach a short course about B.C. literature at Masaryk University in Brno. I was discovering something of my grandmother’s past when we were there. I’ve written about this before. But I wanted to immerse myself in what I knew, what I could discover, and everything in-between, because it seems to me that part of what we do when we write about the past is to imagine how the spaces might be filled in. The wine seemed like a good touchstone for this investigation because the grape, called Modrý Portugal in the CR, Blauer Portugiese in Austria, Portugizac Plavi in Croatia, Kékoportó in Hungary, and so on, was thought to have come to Austria from Portugal in the 18th century.  But recent research by scientists at the Julius Kühn-Institute (JKI), Institute for Grapevine Breeding Geilweilerhof, Siebeldingen, Germany determined that the origins of the grape lie in Lower Styria.  I read a paper on this research and was fascinated by how much the work of contemporary ampelographers resembles my own obsession with the early lives of my grandparents, and theirs, and theirs. The paper concluded:

The knowledge about grapevine cultivars progenitors discloses the genetic composition and geographical origin of cultivars, assists to trace back migration routes and to estimate their distribution and importance in former times.

As I’ve been working on Blue Portugal, I find myself taking side-roads. Sometimes those side-roads don’t want to return to the main road. One of them has become “The Blue Etymologies” and it’s the one that calls to me in the night (though luckily not last night because honestly I wanted a whole night of dreams, not a few hours here, an hour there). I’ve been writing about the process of dyeing with indigo and woad and then was surprised that another thread entered the essay in early December after I’d fallen and damaged my retinas. When my ophthalmologist told me that the visual patterns I’d been experiencing, both as a result of the injury and during the examinations with bright lights, were called “entoptic phenomena”, that led me to find out everything I could about the various forms of the phenomena and also what they meant to people who experienced them. That side-road led to others—trails leading to caves used by paleolithic artists to record their own experiences of entoptic phenomena, paths to rooms where people experimented with psychotropic mixtures to summon the phenomena, and even, through Derek Jarman’s sublime Chroma, the urge of artists to use colour to map the soul.


And all the while, writing this essay, I’ve also been sewing, working on two quilts, one “A Dark Path” and one a small indigo-dyed panel I’m quilting with spirals. In one of the books I’ve been reading, by the archaeologist David Lewis-Williams, I was startled to learn that my work with spirals can be interpreted as a valid response to the damage done to my retina:

The exact way in which entoptic phenomena are ‘wired into’ the human nervous system has been a topic of recent research. It has been found that the patterns of connections between the retina and the striate cortex (known as VI) and of neuronal circuits within the striate cortex determined their geometric form…In Stage 2 of the intensified trajectory, subjects try to make sense of entoptic phenomena by elaborating them into iconic forms.

So a road becomes a series of tracks, byways, trails into the mystery. Sometimes I feel as though I’m sewing a map to my own history and sometimes, well, I have no idea where I’m going. I close my eyes. There’s light, spirals, stars falling from winter skies. And blue, so much blue.