“As flowers…unfold and straighten on their stems…”


Just now I was sitting in the big rocking chair by the fire, drinking my second cup of coffee, and listening to the news. It’s been a year, more or less, since we began to think of the world as a more dangerous place. Not just the virus but the endless clamour from the former President south of the border. A year since we knew we’d have to live more carefully, avoid contact with others, draw in, draw in, until (in the words of John Donne), we made “one little room an everywhere.” It wasn’t a hardship. We weren’t confined to an apartment. We were healthy enough to do our own shopping, with the precautions of hand sanitizer and masks. Our little room is 8.5 acres. But there have been times when my life has felt reduced to its smallest denominator.

For the past few days the news has been full of vaccination news. At first I didn’t pay too much attention because I thought it would still be months and months until I’d be eligible. I knew it was much more important to make sure that those more vulnerable or at risk received theirs first. In a line-up at the Post Office yesterday, I was standing (6 feet) behind a woman who was talking to someone else about her own effort to get her and her partner scheduled for their vaccine. She said she was 79 and her partner in his mid-80s. The person she was talking to assured her it would happen soon. The commentators on the news talk of light at the end of the tunnel. Our province’s Chief Medical Health Officer is beginning to talk about things opening up, allowing small gatherings again, limited travel.

Just now I looked up from the chair and saw the light coming through the glass poppy hanging in front of the sliding doors to the deck. It was as though the poppy was reflecting that light, that possibility, fully open, a second bud waiting in readiness for its turn. The other day on the phone one son wondered about a summer visit. At the time I couldn’t imagine how that would happen. But now it does seem possible. I can imagine waking on a summer morning to the voices of my grandchildren in the kitchen, eager for pancakes, a swim, eager for tree frogs and lizards and a fire for marshmallows in the circle of stones by the garden gate.

Some days I’ve felt that this is the life I will live forever now. Worse things could happen, of course, than the bare alders, the skim of frost on the deck railings in the morning, the quiet of my house going on and on. But just a few minutes ago I walked out on the deck and looked at the new shoots of honeysuckle, the buds of clematis forming, buds on the old wisteria swelling as they have for the past 35 years, a single long note of a varied thrush in the woods beyond the house. Two years ago we were reading Dante’s Inferno by the fire and I remember the end of the second Canto:

As flowers bent and shrunken by night at dawn
Unfold and straighten on their stems, to wake
Brightened by sunlight, so I grew strong again…

Not strong exactly but hopeful.

the thing with feathers


We were in Vancouver on Sunday night. We’d gone to see Jordan Tannahill’s superb play Concord Floral at the Roundhouse and then we met with others for dinner at a Greek restaurant. We talked, ate well, drank retsina, and then John and I returned to our hotel. I looked at news on my tablet and read about the atrocity in Quebec City. I kept reading, trying to make sense of it. A young man goes into a mosque and shoots people at prayer? In what country could something like this happen? Not mine; please, not mine.

But it was. For the past few months we’ve thought violence and intolerance lived elsewhere, most recently, even until Sunday night, south of the border in particular, and that we were somehow a kinder gentler nation.

I don’t know what to say. Words seem too small and meaningless in the face of what happened. We will keep on doing what we do. We’ll try for goodness, for kindness, and we’ll try to do something practical too. You are what you do. And there will be something.

For now, a poem.

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

–Emily Dickinson