redux: it might have been her

Note: awake in the night, listening to wild wind and rain, I thought how different this summer is from those of the past few years. Here’s August 2, 2017.


spring grass

It might have been this black bear sow, the one who came to our house with her yearling in spring, it might have been her who swam just before us. On our way down to the lake, fresh bear scats on the road, and on the sand, fresh tracks leading to the water, in, then out again and off into the woods. I could almost smell her. And when I entered the water, I thought of all the creatures who need cool water, particularly on these hot days when the smoke haze is thick and the creeks are dry. I have bowls of water around for the frogs and we have a funny little pool, created from an old claw-footed bathtub, where the tadpoles have already become this year’s tree-frogs. The bird-bath is full and grateful robins use it most days.

Yesterday the air was so close and hot that we closed all the windows, put on the fans, and tried to stay cool. This morning I’ve just gathered a big bowl of greens — new kale, old kale, lambs quarters, chicory, blood-red sorrel, arugula going to seed — for a pie and while the oven is on, I’ll roast a little organic hen with herbes de Provence and lemons. A watermelon gazpacho. By evening no one wants to cook.


The rain-barrels are almost empty and the Douglas firs are scarily brown. Not all of them, which has me thinking about water and its secret sources. We have a deep well, drilled into granite, and the water is pretty much the same year round. Cold, clear, and so far, there’s been lots of it. But no one should depend on anything staying the same; hence, the rain-barrels.

A few years ago, when we had 13 weeks without a drop of rain, I said I’d never complain about it again. During the wet winter, I kept my promise. And now I’m dreaming of it, dreaming of its sound on our metal roof. Here’s a beautiful little poem by Du Fu (712 – 770 A.D.). What he calls musk, I call the smell of Chablis — water on dry rock, flinty and delicious. Bring it on.

A slight rain comes, bathed in dawn light.
I hear it among treetop leaves before mist
Arrives. Soon it sprinkles the soil and,
Windblown, follows clouds away. DeepenedColors grace thatch homes for a moment.
Flocks and herds of things wild glisten
Faintly. Then the scent of musk opens across
Half a mountain — and lingers on past noon.

“My thatch gate has been closed — but opens now for you.”

garden gate

Yesterday the team building the new fence around our old garden finished their work. They’d agreed to make gates and the idea was wire ones, framed with wood. Simple. But yesterday morning I looked out and Brian was unloading two beautiful cedar gates from his truck and then Julia and Kevin arrived to hang them after buying hinges, latches, and handles from the hardware store. I couldn’t be happier with what they’ve done—the sturdy fence, the 4×4 posts sunk in cement (John and I sledged the previous iron posts in that the deer mesh was attached to, awful work in clouds of mosquitoes…), and now these gates. When we fenced the garden with deer mesh (this would be the mesh that the deer figured out is easy to break through, though it took them 6 years, followed by a curious parade of Roosevelt elk), I said I wanted something whimsical as an entrance point. So John built a pretty pergola of cedar that is now covered in Hall’s honeysuckle. The new gate, the main gate (the other entrance is on the other side), fits so beautifully under the pergola. I loved going in and out yesterday while chestnut-backed chickadees checked out the nest box next to the garden. John’s going to build some more nest boxes to install on top of some of the posts. We had nest boxes on the first fence, the one before the mesh, the one that enclosed the early garden, but when we re-fenced, after the septic field had to be rebuilt, we used the iron snow fence-posts, and there was nowhere to put the nest boxes, so they were nailed onto trees.  New boxes, a new gate, and the peonies coming up with such energy after their long sleep. I know the next decade will pass before we know it.

North of me, south of me, spring is in flood,
Day after day I have seen only gulls….
My path is full of petals — I have swept it for no others.
My thatch gate has been closed — but opens now for you.
It’s a long way to the market, I can offer you little —
Yet here in my cottage there is old wine for our cups.
Shall we summon my elderly neighbour to join us,
Call him through the fence, and pour the jar dry?

–Du Fu

“All light, All ten thousand miles at once in its light!” (Du Fu)


Last night we slept with our bedroom windows open. The night before, a wolf howled and then the coyotes raised their voices. In response? In challenge? A saw-whet owl has been calling so close I think it might be in the arbutus tree just to the south of the house. I hoped for more of that last night but heard only thumps as the cat jumped from one level of the deck to another, hunting mice. And I listened as the cars from the first ferry from Saltery Bay to Earls Cove passed on the highway below. There weren’t many cars this morning and I thought of the passengers on the ferry drinking coffee and watching the moon as the ferry approached the dock at Earls Cove. The same moon that I saw rise over Hallowell and set in the west just before I got up.

I had a restless night, maybe because of all the moonlight! I was awake around 3, thinking about the past few months. It was a cold winter and there were times I wished it over. I fell and cracked my tailbone at the very end of November and still have pain, sometimes quite a lot. And the tears in my retina that were a result of the impact of that fall were repaired, though now I have a small black fly that darts across my vision. My ophthalmologist says this is normal and probably won’t go away. There were some dark days and nights over the winter as I shivered (we heat with wood, mostly, and not everything I need to do in a day is close to the fire!) and thought about mortality. But I’ve learned, or am learning, that adjusting my perspective is the most useful thing to do when stuff gets hard. for example, I could have cracked my head when I fell, or fractured my wrists. I’m alive, in short, and so many people I’ve known and loved have died this winter. Yesterday I received an unexpected call telling me I was being given an literary windfall. And the novella I thought would be impossible to publish is going to be published next year. An essay written partly in response to my fractured tailbone will also be published later this year (I found things out I wouldn’t have known if I’d never fallen). The small dwarf daffodils are blooming everywhere, there are pots of bright crocus by the front door, and a tree frog leaped out from under the hot-tub when John was hosing off the decks the other day. Guys from Egmont (the village at the end of the road) are going to come and make a skookum fence around the vegetable garden because deer and elk tore the old one apart last fall when everything in the woods was so dry and parched and the cabbages and kale were too succulent to ignore. (The fence is something we would have rebuilt ourselves even a few years ago but these guys have a post-hole auger and they’ll sink 4×4 cedar posts 2 feet deep; digging with a pick—the way we’d have to do it— is a bit daunting to us right now. Page wire instead of deer mesh. We’ll help if they need us to.)

Alive, in short, and full of energy and ready to finish the collection of essays I’m working on. Ready to plant greens. Ready to make a quilt for a grandson turning 3 in September (they get quilts when they move from their cribs to beds…) and ready to try Edmonton again (last time was when I fell…), even venturing to Drumheller with Brendan, Cristen, and the kids to visit the Tyrell Museum and the graves of ancient Kishkans.

So it’s spring, or will be by the time we go to sleep tonight. It’s the “Super-Worm Moon”, which is fitting because when we dug out the compost the other day to top-dress the raspberries and garlic, the worms were the size of small snakes. The days are getting longer and the nights are so clear that looking into them I feel like I can see forever. Stars, Jupiter to the south, Saturn over Hallowell, a chorus of coyotes and wolves and the insistent call of the saw-whet owl. Too-too-too-too-too-too. You too.


Above the tower — a lone, twice-sized moon.
On the cold river passing night-filled homes,
It scatters restless gold across the waves.
On mats, it shines richer than silken gauze.

Empty peaks, silence: among sparse stars,
Not yet flawed, it drifts. Pine and cinnamon
Spreading in my old garden . . . All light,
All ten thousand miles at once in its light!

–Du Fu

“…who notices the cloth-gowned scholar?”

last year's quilt

The winter wren has begun to visit most mornings, perching on a chair outside my study window, peering in, then skitting up to a rattan birdhouse to check it for spiders. Every year I forget and every year I am reminded, when this happens, that they are secret birds, with careful habits, and when I see this one, I know where I am in the year.


At this point in my life, it’s all about patterns. Reading my entry from November 1st last year——I see that I was stacking wood (due to a health malady on the part of my husband, whose job this usually is). Last night, around supper time, a guy delivered a load of fir, right on time. (John’s been cutting and splitting wood here, too, but there wasn’t enough to last the cold months; we burn 3 or 4 cords.)

Last year I was stitching the quilt at the beginning of this entry, from linen I’d tied and dipped in indigo dye. I backed it with warm red flannel and it’s on a couch, for cold evenings. This year? I have another length of the linen, not quite so deep a blue, but I’m about to turn it into something, not sure what yet, but maybe, oh, a quilt?

this year's quilt

I have some Moravian blueprint, too, bought from a shop near my grandmother’s village in the Czech Republic, and hoarded until the right thing came along. I think it might look beautiful with this linen. We’ll see. The cold months are long and fires are warm. It’s been raining for days and I think of Du Fu, preparing for winter:

In Chang’an, who notices the cloth-gowned scholar?
Locked behind his gate and guarding his walls.
The old man doesn’t go out, the weeds grow tall,
Children blithely rush through wind and rain.
The rustling rain hastens the early cold,
And geese with wet wings find high flying hard.
This autumn we’ve had no glimpse of the white sun,
When will the mud and dirt become dry earth?


an autumn meditation, after Du Fu

sitting duck

It’s autumn again, the year turning as the planet turns, as the ocean at Long Beach last week eased into shore and then retreated, the silver of it in morning light as lovely as anything I’ve ever seen.

I’ve been moving plants into the sun-room for winter. I always think this will take, oh, half an hour but of course the plants need to be pruned back, tidied, dead leaves shaken into a bucket. Some of them are the parents or offspring of things I’ve tended for more than 30 years. The jade plants, the scented geraniums, some succulents brought for me as Mother’s Day gifts at the local swap meet, a Meyer lemon I bought on a whim in 1987 and often have enough fruit from for marmalade. 3 huge epiphyllum cacti that bloom year round and draw the hummingbirds in summer when we hang them from the overhead beams of our deck pergola to shelter among the grape leaves and wisteria.

I came in to read Du Fu, his Autumn Meditations. Always the precise observation and always the sadness for friends gone, the summer only a memory, the sound of geese flying south.

Jade frost bites the maple trees
and Wu Mountain and Wu Gorge breathe out dark fear

as river waves rise up to the sky
and dark wind-clouds touch ground by a frontier fortress.

The chrysanthemums have twice bloomed tears of other days,
When I moor my lonely boat my heart longs for my old garden.

The need for winter clothes hurries scissors and bamboo rulers.
White Emperor City looms over the rushed sound of clothes beaten at dusk.

Yesterday I put my summer clothes away, lavender tucked into pockets. When John got up to make the fire and coffee, I heard him wonder aloud at the light over the patio, then his chuckle as he realized it was the wisteria leaves turned gold. It happened, as these things happen, as life happens, almost overnight. And every year we are startled by the unexpectedness of the usual. This morning, I thought, oh, I must ask my mother about something, and then realized, yikes, she’s dead. Has been for 8 years next month. But wasn’t only a year or two ago my parents joined us at Long Beach and sat on logs looking out to sea while our children turned cartwheels in the sand? One of the succulents I brought in was a Christmas cactus grown from a tiny slip from John’s mother. This year it’s loaded with buds.


As Du Fu noted, “Immortal companions share a boat, move on in the evening.” The plants come in and I find room for them under windows from a house built before the First World War, many of the panes still with their original wavery glass. That’s why my sight was blurry when I came downstairs. I’m sure of it.



I was up in the night reading at my desk and found this poem by Du Fu. It was exactly how I felt.

Flowers are shadowed, the palace darkens,
Birds twitter by for a place to perch;
Heaven’s ten thousand windows are twinkling,
And nine cloud-terraces are gleaming in the moonlight.
…While I wait for the golden lock to turn,
I hear jade pendants tinkling in the wind….
I have a petition to present in the morning,
All night I ask what time it is.

There ought to be words also for the walk you take in the early morning, shaking dew from your feet as you open the garden gate. Wind in the shells hanging from a beam. A restless night, strange dreams, and now the sun has come over the mountain, the sky is clear, and everything is possible.

“…full of the silts, the effluents, the timbers and old cars and snowmelt and rain of their journeys…”

fraser below lillooet

From a work-in-progress:

I find the rivers I love, the ones I dream about. I find them in the atlas and realize they too have their difficulties. They rise in springs or seep from marshes or the melting of glaciers, they gather, they flow, so clean in their beginnings, and unless they become grounded or are endorheic, they arrive at the great oceans of the world full of the silts, the effluents, the timbers and old cars and snowmelt and rain of their journeys. There will have been diversions. There will have been accidents. There might have been meanders and braidings and temporary islands and dams.

A deep river, two or three houses in bamboo quiet,
And such goings on: red blossoms glaring with white!

Among spring’s vociferous glories, I too have my place:
With a lovely wine, bidding life’s affairs bon voyage.

“The country is broken, though hills and rivers remain…”

The other day it was 12 degrees here and I went out in a long-sleeved shirt to do some garden work. There aren’t flowers yet, though the small daffodils are in bud and the primulas are nearly blooming. Only a day or so, I thought, as I picked up fallen branches, pulled the mulch aside to see how the garlic was doing. There were even signs of life in the cucumber boxes, though not cucumbers; the miners lettuce I transplanted to one of the boxes is looking very green and bright and there are some little kale volunteers in the other one. In a week or two I’ll be cutting the miners lettuce for salad.

But this morning? Oh, it’s cold again. There were so many stars in the night that I should have known there’d be a frost this morning. So instead of looking for spring flowers in the garden, I’m finding them inside instead. Friends are coming for dinner tonight and I took out one of the linen tablecloths John’s grandmother made for his family after they’d emigrated to Canada. She was an amazing needlewoman, taking classes to learn new stitches and possibilities, and although some of the cloths we have are more sophisticated than this one, none of the others have this colour or exuberance.



There are also primroses stitched into the linen, and nasturtiums, lilacs, violets…

We’re having a spring dinner (sort of), with a Meyer lemon semifreddo for dessert, and we’ll be surrounded by flowers, lit by them too:

june's lamp

I was reading Du Fu this morning and was caught by this beautiful poem. Our country is a bit of a mess this morning, with the Gerald Stanley not-guilty decision causing terrible pain to so many, and the inter-provincial squabbles between B.C. and Alberta about the hazards of increasing bitumen delivery to our coast and Alberta’s embargo of our wines (their loss utterly). There’s solace in ancient poetry, which doesn’t lose its power over the centuries:

The country is broken, though hills and rivers remain,
In the city in spring, grass and trees are thick.
Moved by the moment, a flower’s splashed with tears,
Mourning parting, a bird startles the heart.
The beacon fires have joined for three months now,
Family letters are worth ten thousand pieces.
I scratch my head, its white hairs growing thinner,
And barely able now to hold a hairpin.

“…which way/ Does the heart go from here?”

mountain, november 3

The other day, I was doing outdoor chores in flip-flops. A light sweater (and shirt-sleeves as I stacked a cord of sweet-smelling fir in the woodshed). But then yesterday, driving home from Sechelt, there was snow by Trout Lake, just a quick flurry, and by the time we neared home, we could see the mountain behind us (Mount Hallowell) was white with new snow. It’s so beautiful. Right now, the clarity of snow and blue sky reminded me of one of my favourite winter poems, though winter is still officially a month and a half away. It’s by Du Fu, that wise sage of the Tang Dynasty.

Beginning of Winter

I sag with age: these martial robes are tight.
Coming home, cold’s colors deepen.
Fishing boats work up the rushing stream.
A hunter’s fire marks the high perched grove.
Long as there’s sun, I drink by leisure’s pools.
When sorrows come, I’ll chant of ancient heroes.
Spears and halberds still can’t be laid by.
To stay, or to serve, which way
Does the heart go from here?


Li Bo (also known as Li Bai and Rihaku, friend of Du Fu, who has visited this site before) knew about heat. Read this aloud for its music and the relief of that wind.

Gently I stir a white feather fan,
With open shirt sitting in a green wood.
I take off my cap and hang it on a jutting stone;
A wind from the pine-trees trickles on my bare head.

It’s hot here. I’ve lost count of the weeks without rain. I know there was one shower in late July but nothing for weeks before that, or since. I know we’ll lose some trees this year. We water the ones near the house—the copper beech planted for my parents, the little oak found growing on a trail near us (and seeded by a squirrel, I think, from an acorn gathered in a garden near Sakinaw Lake), the magnolia planted for John’s 40th birthday, the Merton Beauty apple in the vegetable garden. But the Douglas firs, the cedars, the hemlocks—well, let’s face it, we live in a forest, and there are too many trees to even begin to water in the way they need it: gallons, for those root systems anchoring them in place. Many of them are very stressed. We are too, a little. Though not too stressed to make chiles rellenos for dinner, half of which appear here, the other half eaten with roasted salsa, corn, steamed beans and tiny crookneck squash (and these remaining chiles will make a nice dinner tomorrow night, too, cool with tomatoes and salad of green beans and little potatoes with tarragon).

chiles rellenos

What weather. Flooding in so many places, temperatures in the high teens in Ottawa, and here it’s more like 33. Yet this morning the lake was beautiful and cool, the light clear, the sky as blue as a book of hours.  I’d love to wake in the night and hear rain on our metal roof. I think the trees would too. In the meantime, a white feather fan would be lovely, and wind from pine trees.