Yesterday my publisher Mona Fertig sent me photographs of the approval copy of Euclid’s Orchard. (It had just arrived at her house on Salt Spring Island and she knew I’d like to see how beautifully it turned out. The physical book, I mean.) And oh how lovely! The cover’s sky is particularly gorgeous, given our own grey haze, the result of fires burning all over British Columbia.
But it was the inner spread she also sent, the opening page of the title essay and the image I chose to take the reader into its world, that I am so happy with. It’s a Melba apple tree, in winter, in the orchard we planted so joyfully (and with a lot of hard work) back in the 1980s and then finally abandoned, with sorrow, a few years ago. The essay explores this and it also explores my attempt to decode some of the mathematical ideas so integral to my son Brendan’s life, both in his childhood and now as a math professor in Alberta. I wanted an image that was somehow proximate, that referenced history, pattern-making, botany, the relationships between quilting and Euclidean geometry, and the ghosts who hover in our lives—our younger selves, our ancestors, the disembodied voices of coyotes in the night, even Euclid of Alexandria himself, with his Elements and his proofs. Brendan was good-natured about helping me with so many things while I was writing this essay and his patience continued as I co-opted him to produce a Euclidian algorithm in various forms in the hope that one of them could be layered with the Melba apple tree in winter. Designer Setareh Ashrafologhalai worked her magic and voila!
Old moss and lichen, bare boughs, and the technique for finding the greatest common divisor of two integers. Magic.