the murmur of voices in cold air

near stump lake
It’s always interesting to me that new friends can be made in one’s later years and that you find yourself wondering why it took so long to meet these people. In truth, I knew of Robin and Jillian Ridington before I ever met them. They are distinguished anthropologists, the authors of books that form an important part of the canon of North American ethnographic studies. On my desk I keep a copy of Where Happiness Dwells: A History of the Dane-zaa First Nations , an extraordinary gathering of stories told to them by elders living in the Peace River area, a place where they’ve done fieldwork (and made friends) for decades. I also loved When You Sing It Now, Just Like New: First Nations Poetics, Voices and Representations.  (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006).
We met at the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival. I’ve been involved with the Festival as an organizer and writer since the first year—2005—and Jillian and Robin have been supporters since that first summer. I thought Robin in particular looked familiar but it wasn’t until later, after I’d taken a break from the Festival for a few years and then returned, that we became friends. One of the highlights of the summer is joining them for dinner on their Nordic Tug—they come to Pender Harbour by boat, often from their haven on Retreat Island, near Galiano Island. Robin grills steaks over the most ingenious barbecue at the stern of the boat (where there’s also a mangle for washing clothing; they spend a lot of time exploring coastal inlets and islands, living aboard for weeks on end). The tug drifts in slow circles on its anchor and we talk, drink red wine, eat until it’s time for Robin to take us back by Zodiac to the dock at Whiskey Slough. The old harbour is there as we talk—the net sheds, small houses with weathered boards, a few boats I remember from the days when we bought our halibut and salmon as the fishermen returned each year—though the new harbour continues to grow those huge houses and fences and yachts capable of taking out docks as they turn.
So friends, with whom we began a conversation years ago and we pick up where it left off whenever we meet. When we were in Victoria for a reading at Munro’s Books in October, we stayed with the Ridingtons for two nights (before heading over to the Surf Motel). We had delicious meals at their table and a wonderful evening of pupus (the Ridingtons spend winters on Maui where they immerse themselves in high Hawaiian music and culture and I love that they use Hawaiian words so naturally at home, including this word for appetizers!) and wine with John Schreiber and Marne St. Claire. I gave them a copy of Euclid’s Orchard as a gift. And this morning Robin returned the gift with this beautiful review:
Perhaps because her son Brendan is a mathematician, she used the matrix of Euclidean geometry as a way of interpreting the web of cultural and natural influences surrounding their lives.  She even attempts to learn something of mathematics, enough at least, to inform and organize and understand her experiences on their land.  As with everything Kishkan has written, these essays are beautiful, personal, and at the same time universal in their scope.  They are to be read, contemplated and then returned to after some dreamtime assimilation.
Jillian reviewed Winter Wren (and by inference, Patrin) in the summer 2017 issue of Herizons. The review isn’t available to read online but here’s a link to the issue in the event you might want to order it. (I read Herizon at the library and it’s terrific.)  Jillian is intelligent and perceptive; here’s the first paragraph of her review:

BC writer Theresa Kishkan has been writing compelling fiction and poetry for many years. Recently, she has embraced the novella as her chosen form. A novella “retains something of the unity of impression that is a hallmark of the short story, but it also contains more highly developed characterization and more luxuriant description.1” In other words, it’s a perfect form for women writers who have a story to tell, but lack the time or desire to write an extensive novel — or simply find their material more suited to the shorter form.  For me, the novella a perfect form – long enough to fully develop characters and plot, but short enough to be read in the snatches of time I usually find available. Kishkan’s first novella, Patrin, published by Mother Tongue Press in 2015, tells of a woman’s search to find her Roma foremothers, using clues sewn into a quilt left to her by her grandmother. It is a tale of renewed roots and reclaimed skills. Her latest work, Winter Wren, is the first publication from Fish Gotta Swim Editions, a new company founded by Theresa and her friend Anik See, which will specialize in novellas.  And these two books are little gems – brilliant and reflective.

How do people find one another? How in this world of billions of people do we find the ones that we can share conversations of poetry and dreamers and music, of our families, of the old coast we all love and remember, the politics we deplore, the books we are reading (and writing)? We do, though. When we were in Victoria, Robin played a soundscape recorded by Howard Broomfield in Doig River—children singing, stories shared, dogs barking, the murmur of voices in cold air, by fires so near you could smell the smoke. I’ve dreamed of those voices, preserved on tape and in memory, and it’s what I’ve always wanted. Continuity, true place, true words.

late, so late

So late in the season. I woke early and am sitting at my desk, wondering how the months of summer could have passed, or gathered, so quickly. I know, I say this every year; but every year it’s true all over again.

Our Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival has come and gone. All year we work on details large and small — reading with pleasure Artistic Director Alexander Tselyakov’s suggested repertoire for the 6 concerts over 4 days, arranging programme notes (thank you, Evan Hesketh!), finding places for the musicians to sleep and be fed (we have wonderful host families), writing and proof-reading the brochure copy and then the programme copy, putting into place the wheels (or notes?) that will carry the Festival smoothly from one concert to the next. On Thursday night we heard everything come together and we knew it would all work out, even if there might be glitches ahead. I thought I knew Vivaldi but oh, the Violin Concerto in D Major (“Il Grosso Mogul”), played so gloriously by Mark Fewer, David Gillham, Joyce Lai, Ian Clarke, Simon Fryer, and Alexander Tselyakov, was absolutely new to me. Its little phrases of Roma song, its mysterious allegiances to India, its amazing cadenzas which Mark Fewer gave full attention and ability to — wonderful. And listening to COULOIR (Ariel Barnes, cello, and Heidi Krutzen, harp) play Jocelyn Morlock’s  Three Meditations on Light for violoncello and harp on Saturday night was a gift. I thought of Alice Oswald’s “Tithonus: 46 Minutes in the Life of the Dawn” with its expressions of day coming to life, light returning, the urgency of its argument with the night. Our Rising Tide initiative was very successful this year, with beautiful playing by Hanna Crudele, Rae Gallimore, and Jenny Dou. So a weekend of music, a weekend of festive activity (when else do I drink glasses of pink champagne in the afternoon?), and lots of work. After the last concert on Sunday, after the ticket tent was taken down, the chairs put away, the kitchen tidied by Ann Munro (who keeps everyone fed and watered), after some of the musicians had left to race to the ferry and others returned to their host families for a night of rest, we went to have dinner with our friends Robin and Jillian Ridington on their Nordic Tug, the SwanStar. Drank Prosecco with lovely cheeses and other nibbles, followed by steak grilled on the ingenious barbecue bolted to the side of the boat, toasting the meal with red wine, and talking, talking, talking, while the boat drifted in slow circles on its anchor, so that we were seeing the old net sheds on the edge of Whiskey Slough, then the big houses on the cliffs above Gerrans Bay, the remnants of old boats in the mud, posh sailboats and gillnetters pulling on their lines. Robin and Jillian are anthropologists as well as chamber music aficionados and I knew their books before I knew them. When You Sing It Now, Just Like New: First Nations Poetics, Voices and Representations. And most recently Where Happiness Dwells: A History of the Dane-Zaa First Nations. We talked of Dane-Zaa dreamers and shamen, grandchildren and food, books we’d read and were reading, and John and I left with the sense that our conversations with Robin and Jillian could go on forever.

In a few days, Forrest, Manon, and Arthur come for two weeks! Angie will join us for part of that. And while they are all here, we anticipate a phone call from Edmonton to say that another baby has joined our family, a brother or sister for Kelly.

Yesterday, as I stood on the deck and wondered how it had got so late, a cedar waxwing came to the mountain ash to feast on berries. It was so silky and slightly clumsy and when it turned to pluck from a low-hanging clump, I could see the yellow wash of its belly.


I know it’s not quite the end of summer, even if it feels that way. But fall is in the air. The winey smell of berries drying on their branches, rustle of leaves under foot, the earlier sunsets, the later dawns (I was up at 5 and it was still dark, though even three weeks ago, I could hear birdsong). Soon we’ll be feasting with some of our children, they’ll be heading lakeward every afternoon to plunge into the waters they’ve known since infancy, I’ll be listening for the phone call to tell me of another grandbaby, and then when fall actually comes, John and I will head off on a brief road trip so I can gather sensory detail for the novella I reluctantly put on hold at the beginning of the summer.