John and I were the only people at the lake this morning, the only people swimming in light rain. It was satisfying, swimming my lengths across the beach area, back and forth, although I noticed how I stray when I swim on my back, always heading for deeper water. (I swim outside the line of floats demarcating the safe area anyway because I like to begin and end my laps beyond its boundaries.) I laugh about this, my erratic sense of direction, but to be honest, I have a good inner compass. On return visits to cities, I’ve guided us to favourite restaurants, little corners where we’d bought good bread, churches, museums, a square where we sat and simply soaked up the sun. So when I find myself swimming out into deep water, I have to wonder what it is I’m hoping for.

I looked to the sky and the spring rain fell
I saw the water from a deeper well

On the beach side of the floats, the water is green and lovely. The sand on the lake bottom is white and the beach is fringed with cedars, hardhack, and some maples, so the water reflects their green. Beyond, the dark water begins. This morning, because it was grey and misting (more than raining), I looked up to grey sky. A noisy gang of ravens was whooping it up in the woods. I swam, back and forth, and when I’d turn at the end of a lap, I wondered how far down I’d go if I simply sank. What it would mean to sink.

Found I had a thirst that I could not quell
Lookin’ for the water from a deeper well

On Tuesday I spent time working on some recent essays. I have most of a collection of them and some days I think they’re finished and other days I wonder. I was fixing a small problem with tenses in an essay called “The Blue Etymologies”, about indigo dye and how an accident leading to damaged retinas resulted in a kind of rich visual experience I hadn’t anticipated. I remember writing the essay in December and January and waking most mornings with such excitement to be plunged into its pages again. But now when I read it, I think I might have avoided some of the reality of my situation. I didn’t write about the pain of the accident (I fractured my tailbone), nor the wonder I felt when my ophthalmologist  told me how I dodged a bullet.  Wonder that so much that I took for granted — reasonably good eyesight, the prospect of years of seeing the things I love on a daily basis, without difficulty — was in jeopardy, even briefly. So I tried to take myself deeper into the experience, back into the fear and the beauty.

     To locate a place and to mark it with images so close to gods that they breath still, after 30,000 years, or longer…this impulse, the shudder in the shoulders as the shapes appear out of the darkness at the tips of your fingers, your charcoal or ground pigments so carefully prepared: is this what we hope too with our powders and threads, our jar of ink, of leaves made into paste? When I hang our new cloth on a line in sunlight and press my face to its beauty? Breathing in the swampy scent of indigo, heady as grass clippings, oxygen, while above me the blue sky arches over the world. The cloth is a tent to hold me damp inside it. Inside indigo, as Dr. Sacks found another route to inhabit, however briefly.

Colour the little wall maps of the universe you are making. The sapphire colour for the spheres of the world. It would be useful not just to look at it, but to reflect on it in the soul. Deep inside your house you might set up a little room and mark it with these figures and colours. (Ficino, Three Books on Life, from Derek Jarman’s Chroma)

     (When I sew my spirals, I am finding my way into darkness, hopeful that I will find my way back. I am walking a path worn to the bare earth. It’s one way I know to hear myself think. I sew small shell buttons to the ends of each trail, a place-marker, shining as the light shone by my face in an Edmonton room where I lay in intense pain, but also in joy as I heard my grandchildren singing. Two little dicky birds sitting on a wall, one named Peter, the other named Paul.)

lake water

Deeper, I wanted to swim deeper this morning, to stroke into black water and find out what was there. Far away, two men were fishing from a small boat and the ravens were up to something. What was there. Logs, fish, the drowned bodies never recovered, fresh water clams, lost objects from the wrists and fingers of swimmers, turtles in the mud, the reflected heat of the sun.

I took my troubles down a dead-end trail
Reachin’ out a hand for a holier grail


Note: the passages of song are taken from “Deeper Well”, co-written by Emmylou Harris, David Olney, and Daniel Lanois and worth listening to here.

a deeper well

Our water comes from a well. There’s no pretty stone wall with a bucket to lower via a windlass, no moss or wild violets fringing the mouth. There’s a red steel cap – that’s all. And the well is deep, drilled into granite, encased in steel for the first 20 feet to protect it from groundwater. When the guy came with the drilling rig more than 30 years ago, he told us that there were many fissures feeding into the main shaft and that, depending on the time of the year and the aquifer, our water would come to us from different levels.

And it’s wonderful water. It always tastes the same – cold and wild from the tap. (I confess I can’t taste the difference from the deeper water and that coming from a source closer to the surface.) We don’t treat it. We had it tested and the results were excellent. Nothing bad, no arsenic (fairly common in our area). I’m touching wood as I write this. Reliable water – for drinking, for watering the garden, for any number of things we take for granted – is a gift.

I’ve been thinking about wells and their metaphorical value lately. The work I’m trying to do is slow and kind of plodding and I’m a little concerned that I’m not actually writing from the deepest place possible. I’m not sure how to do that with this material. There’s no solution apart from patience and maybe more effort. I cleaned my study, hoping that a tidy desk would be like a clean slate. And it feels good to sit here. I love my view – the woods to the south of the house and more immediately, a little porch where winter wrens (I know they’ve been reclassified as Pacific wrens but old habits die hard) come most mornings lately to search for tiny spiders in crevices between the cedar siding. I watch them move so quickly along the wood, pausing sometimes to sing. Sometimes a coyote passes the house. And elk.


Yesterday I had a small bonfire of the vanities, burning old drafts of manuscripts and bits and pieces it seemed silly to keep. I’d kept them for too long and they’d gathered dust, the wrong kind of dust. Not the useful patina of history, that’s for sure.

A few minutes ago I heard Emmylou Harris singing this song which completely resonated with the difficulty I’m having. I remember this song, from Wrecking Ball, one of my favourite Emmylou albums:

Did you tell your baby ’bout the bend in the road
‘Bout the rebel yell, ’bout the one that fell
Lookin’ for the water from a deeper well

 It’s timely to be reminded of the dangers of that trip to the well, hoping for the deeper water. But I’m still going to try.