“But you must not pronounce its name.”

common pink moss

June is a month for roses and ours have been just glorious. Every few days I cut big bowls full and I can smell the nicest ones from a room away. This morning, the common pink mosses, from a huge sprawling bush given me years ago by an elderly woman in our community, now long-dead. She was odd. One year she walked in the local May Day parade, her head covered with a hood, carrying a papier-mâché head under her arm, with a sign on her back: Anne Boleyn is alive and well in the library. (She volunteered in the library and I guess she wanted to remind us that history was alive and all around us. Maybe.) Yet she lives in my garden and in many others, I know. That’s the way plants so often find us.

pillars

Another rose grows up the railings just beyond the kitchen. It came from a spring plant sale decades ago, unnamed, but when I was writing one of the essays in Euclid’s Orchard, I got out my big dictionary of roses and kept turning the pages until I found it. Did it matter? Would it be any less (more) beautiful named than unnamed?

The rose came from one of the annual spring plant sales at the Community Hall when we first lived here; you brought your box with you, and you got there early because everyone wanted the tomatoes or irises or Muriel Cameron’s dahlia tubers or bits of Vi Tyner’s roses. I’m not sure this one came from Vi Tyner, who did give me moss roses, a soft pink one and another one deeper pink in colour. But it grows everywhere—old homesteads, seaside gardens, along fences in semi-industrial areas as if remembering a former house, ancient care. It grows across from the Post Office in Madeira Park, for example, and I don’t know if it ever gets pruned or watered. And there’s a place on the highway, near Middlepoint, where one grew for years and years, until it was absorbed by the forest taking over the site of a cabin that I believed burned to the ground before we arrived in 1981.
I’d thought a little about trying to identify it but somehow never did. And somehow today was the day, so I took my rose encyclopedia and a cup of coffee out to the table and went through, page by page. Until I came to ‘American Pillar.’ Bred by Dr.Van Fleet in 1902. A very prolific and widespread rose,and yes, it will survive any kind of neglect, it seems.

June is about roses and water. It’s about birds, the ones I hear at dawn, the robins that follow me in the garden for the worms they know will turn up as I pull weeds, and even the stunned orange-crowned warbler that hit John’s study window a few hours ago. I picked her (it was a female, missing the orange crown) up in a tea-towel and carried her around in one hand as I filled the bird bath, watered some vines. She blinked, looked at me with a steady gaze, closed her beak, and after about half an hour, she flew off.

Some mornings when I go out to water, I watch the hummingbirds in the roses and it feels as though my life is passing too quickly. Do you feel this? That you want the days to pass as slow as honey, that you want the birdsong to go on forever, the roses too, and you want it all, the scent of common mosses, water cool from the hose, the tendrils of cucumbers, the taste of sharp mizuna and arugula, how the light goes on into the evening so that you look up from your book and it’s 10.00. I was reading poetry last night and these lines surprised me to tears for the way they spoke to the moment. (I tucked them away to use as an epigraph for my next collection of essays because this is exactly what I meant on every page):

Tell me a story.

In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.

Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.

The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.

Tell me a story of deep delight.

             --Robert Penn Warren, "Tell Me a Story"

 

Euclid’s Orchard also contains roses

american pillar

The rose came from one of the annual spring plant sales at the Community Hall when we first lived here; you brought your box with you, and you got there early because everyone wanted the tomatoes or irises or Muriel Cameron’s dahlia tubers or bits of Vi Tyner’s roses. I’m not sure this one came from Vi Tyner, who did give me moss roses, a soft pink one and another one deeper pink in colour. But it grows everywhere—old homesteads, seaside gardens, along fences in semi-industrial areas as if remembering a former house, ancient care. It grows across from the Post Office in Madeira Park, for example, and I don’t know if it ever gets pruned or watered. And there’s a place on the highway, near Middlepoint, where one grew for years and years, until it was absorbed by the forest taking over the site of a cabin that I believed burned to the ground before we arrived in 1981. I’d thought a little about trying to identify it but somehow never did.

And somehow today was the day, so I took my rose encyclopedia and a cup of coffee out to the table and went through, page by page. Until I came to ‘American Pillar.’ Bred by Dr.Van Fleet in1902. A very prolific and widespread rose,and yes, it will survive any kind of neglect, it seems.

—from “Ballast”, in Euclid’s Orchard, Mother Tongue Publishing, 2017

new dawn

Some old wood, some new wood, said Daisy Harknett. So I cut pieces with both. I dipped the lower part of the wood in rooting hormone (though I could have used a tea of willow bark) and stuck them into little pots of soil. And now my New Dawns tumble over a beam, a pergola, and the front door of my house. The pear tree, with its heavy crop of honeyed fruit, is lost now forever, consigned to the same fire as the rotting fence posts, the stable door. Yet anyone who ate one of those beauties must surely remember the flavour. I took a bag of them to one of my classes at the University of Victoria in 1974 and handed them around to my classmates. The instructor, an Irish poet of some note, ate a couple of the pears in quick succession and said they were the best he’d ever tasted. Years later he published a memoir with ripe pears in the title, and although I haven’t read it, not yet, I’d like to think it might be an unconscious homage to Daisy’s pears.

— from “Ballast”, in Euclid’s Orchard, Mother Tongue Publishing, 2017

a rose is a rose is a rose

american pillar.JPG

This past week, I finished the final proofs of Euclid’s Orchard and now it’s gone to the printer. Publisher Mona Fertig is so diligent, asking about tiny details that I’d overlooked, questioning dates on photographs, spacing. It’s a book of essays and each essay tries something different so there’s no standard format. Individual essays use epigraphs as starting points, or conversational ploys, or simply homages. Sometimes they need to be part of the actual text and sometimes set off more formally. Mona’s questions helped me clarify my own intentions. Some essays have endnotes, though the work is anything but scholarly. I wanted to remove too much extraneous material from the actual text but of course I also want to cite sources and identify the various voices that enter to speak at various points.

Today I’ve been watering and doing other chores with the thought of the book in my mind. Standing on the west deck just now, I looked at the beautiful old “American Pillar” rose that is pondered and finally identified in an essay called “Ballast”. It’s not the rose mentioned in this brief passage but it might as well have been. It can be found in settings just like this one.

In the woods between Elk Lake and Beaver Lake, I remember an abandoned house completely knitted into place by honeysuckle and roses. Knitted into my memory by roses of a kind I’ve never seen since, apple-scented, white, and humming with bees. On my black horse, I approached with the sense that here was an ancient fairy tale hidden in the woods. Which were not wild exactly but remnant—a few forgotten apple trees, pruned by deer, beaked hazelnut, even laburnum. I entered the tale, as a girl will, with a sense of wonder and expectation. I tied my horse to a tree and tried to peer in the window…

–from “Ballast”

“by any other name”

                                    O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet…

–from Romeo and Juliet

This morning I was working on this new essay, “Ballast”, and was in the process of wondering, not aloud exactly but certainly on the page, about a rose I have growing over a railing on the west-facing deck, our garden “room” if we have one: it’s the deck where our table is in summer, where we eat our dinners, sit with guests at night with glasses of single-malt, listening for loons down on Sakinaw Lake:

summer roomThe rose came from one of the spring plant sales that happened every year at the Community Hall when we first lived here; you brought your box with you and you got there early because everyone wanted the tomatoes or irises or Muriel Cameron’s dahlia tubers or bits of Vi Tyner’s roses. I’m not sure this one came from Vi Tyner (who did give me moss roses, a soft pink one and a deep pink). But it grows everywhere — old homesteads, seaside gardens, along fences in semi-industrial areas as if remembering a former house, ancient care. It grows across from the Post Office in Madeira Park, for example, and I don’t know if it ever gets pruned or watered. And there’s a place on the highway, near Middlepoint, where one grew for years and years, until it was absorbed by the forest taking over the site of a cabin which I believed burned to the ground before we ever arrived in 1981.

Anyway, I’d thought a little about trying to identify it but somehow never did. And somehow today was the day so I took my rose encyclopedia and a cup of coffee out to the table (you can see both there, if you look hard. It’s not a good photograph but today is so hot that I wasn’t going to stand around fussing with the camera…) and went through, page by page. Until I came to “American Pillar”. Bred by Dr. Van Fleet in 1902. A very prolific and wide-spread rose and yes, it will survive any kind of neglect, it seems.

american pillarI’m interested in how plants travel, how they are carried to new places, how they are botanical palimpsests, in a way.  And how they hold stories. Some of the stories are plain and true and some are cryptic. In Placentia, Newfoundland, two autumns ago, we stayed in a beautiful old Second Empire bed and breakfast inn. There was a lovely garden in front, overlooking the gut or channel connecting two arms of water. And a little photo-essay in the entrance hall detailed the restoration work done on the house, adding that the old roses in the garden had come in soil serving as ships’ ballast, the ship having come from Ireland.

I have roses from gardens no longer extant. Vi Tyner’s for example, which provided the moss roses as well as white violets, yellow flag irises, and a root of Viburnum opulus which promptly died once planted and which I was always too timid to tell her. A “Tuscany Superb” which came from a cutting given me at a birthday party held perhaps 30 years ago in a house which has long been torn down. My “New Dawns” (a repeat-blooming sport of “Dr. Van Fleet”) came from an elderly neighbour of my parents in Saanich who told me how her mother rooted cuttings (old wood and new wood, in specific proportions, which I’ve forgotten now, but she helped me cut them and three of them did root and thrive still, more than 30 years later).  That’s another rose, like “American Pillar’, to be found in almost every old garden, it seems. Ours are in full and rampant bloom right now and they are almost exactly the colour of my granddaughter’s shoulders. They have such a sweet and delicate scent, almost apple-y, and what’s in a name? Such beauty and such hope.

a new dawn