“Here again is the usual door.”

bucket list

A winter visit from my family, a run of mild days, and time by water: these are some of my favourite things to help with the dark days. These, and re-reading essays I’ve always loved, finding in them passages to serve as signposts for the years ahead.

Virginia Woolf’s “Street Haunting: A London Adventure”, for example, in which Woolf offers a kind of walking guide for exploring the evening streets.

How beautiful a London street is then, with its islands of light, and its long groves of darkness, and on one side of it perhaps some tree-sprinkled, grass-grown space where night is folding herself to sleep naturally and, as one passes the iron railing, one hears those little cracklings and stirrings of leaf and twig which seem to suppose the silence of fields all round them, an owl hooting, and far away the rattle of a train in the valley.

When the familiar, in other words, becomes something other, luminous and shimmering, because of a walker’s altered perspective.

Still as we approach our own doorstep again, it is comforting to feel the old possessions, the old prejudices, fold us round; and the self, which has been blown about at so many street corners, which has battered like a moth at the flame of so many inaccessible lanterns, sheltered and enclosed. Still as we approach our own doorstep again, it is comforting to feel the old possessions, the old prejudices, fold us round; and the self, which has been blown about at so many street corners, which has battered like a moth at the flame of so many inaccessible lanterns, sheltered and enclosed. Here again is the usual door; here the chair turned as we left it and the china bowl and the brown ring on the carpet.

We’ve been doing things we usually do in summer, walking to Francis Point to look at crabs,

francis point

and taking coffee and muffins down to Ruby Lake in the unexpected warmth of a January morning:

by water

And in winter, they are unexpectedly sweet for all that is contained of other seasons, other excursions to beloved places, for swimming and the sight of ducklings, for long sunsets and the evening calls of the common loons.

At bedtime last night I was reading Orwell’s wonderful “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad”, which I first read as a teenager, and which still feels true:

Is it wicked to take a pleasure in spring and other seasonal changes? To put it more precisely, is it politically reprehensible, while we are all groaning, or at any rate ought to be groaning, under the shackles of the capitalist system, to point out that life is frequently more worth living because of a blackbird’s song, a yellow elm tree in October, or some other natural phenomenon which does not cost money…

My grandson keeps me company when I’m at my desk and he opens the baskets I have all around me, the ones with feathers, with ancient notes to self, stones, the emptied egg case of a skate (or mermaid’s purse, we always called them), a bit of charred embossed tin ceiling panel from the old townsite of Granite Creek, a few fossils from the Great Salt Lake in Utah. He opens the baskets and each thing is new to him, and to me, who looks at it as a child looks at a stone or feather, curious and enthralled. After he leaves this weekend, I’ll hear his voice calling out in huge excitement as his father carefully overturned rocks to reveal the tiny crabs scuttling for cover, and his delight as he crept into a hollow in a huge cedar on one side of the trail down to the water. None of this cost us a penny, not for the light or the water or the sound of his voice in the surprising warm air. And when we drove* home in darkness, after a meal at the pub, there was moonlight on the driveway, a scattering of stars, smoke in the air from our fire. “Here again is the usual door; here the chair turned as we left it.

*ok, so we had to pay for gas….

 

 

 

 

“radiating light”

arbutus at Francis Point“There are arbutus trees at Francis Point, a grove of them, leaning out to sea, wanting to partake of the cool air off the water on summer days. Mount one and stretch your body along its length. Has there ever been a tree more seductive to the touch? Has there ever been a trunk, peeled of its bark and new, more like the smooth torso of a beloved? Without mark or blemish, asking us to run our hands along its taut muscularity? The underwood is chartreuse, radiating light.

How many times do we shed our outer layers in a life? How many times expose our tender new skin to the world, soft as the soles of a child who has never touched the earth? Looking out my window, I see the bark curling from the arbutus on the south side of my house. Like paint peeling from an old surface, we hardly notice it but are drawn to what’s revealed underneath. Steaming the bark with the pale bulbs of camas would turn them pink as young flesh, beauty for the eye and the palate.”

                                                              from Mnemonic: A Book of Trees (Goose Lane Editions, 2011)

arbutus bark

wild lilies on Francis Point

We were away in Ottawa over the Easter weekend so we didn’t walk out to Francis Point to see if the white fawn lilies were blooming, the lilies I grew up knowing as Easter lilies for their habit of coming into flower at that particular time. This year I suspect they were still tight buds in late March. It’s been a cool spring thus far. But yesterday we went to the first bay and saw masses of them on the headland.

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These are Erythronium oregonum, a delicate creamy white lily with mottled leaves. I’ve loved them all my life. As a child, I used to wander Moss Rocks in the Fairfield neighbourhood of Victoria and marvel at the wildflowers there — these lilies, the magenta shooting stars (Dodecatheon pulchellum), nodding onions (Allium cernuum), and the beautiful rich blue camas (Camassia quamash). I’d come back to my house full of something I had no language for. This early introduction to such wild beauty helped to shape my sense of an ideal landscape, one both beautiful and nourishing (for the onions, and camas can be harvested and eaten, though it’s not advised to do this unless you know the protocols of ethical plant conservation). .

There should be a poem for the moment when you walk along a path under huge trees to a point overlooking Georgia Strait, Texada Island in the distance under cloud, and you see them, the white fawn lilies, their leaves shining after rain. You are the child you once were, ecstatic on the rocks,  the woman who has walked to this place for more than a decade to see what’s survived the winter — and look what has, look what grows in both abundance and in solitary beauty:

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