redux: radio’s perfect at night…

…when you’re driving the dark highway home from the ferry and Bruce Cockburn is offering a playlist on the CBC. You tune in late, much later than you think, and first, just past Roberts Creek, it’s Ian and Sylvia Tyson singing “Four Strong Winds”, which has you thinking ahead, to Thursday (“Think I’ll go out to Alberta/ weather’s good there in the fall”) when you’ll fly to see your baby grand-daughter in Edmonton, those sweet harmonies part of how you came of age yourself. And then, just before Sechelt, it’s Joni Mitchell singing “Amelia”, with its beautiful high notes and its hexagons of the heavens, the strings of her guitar, and those geometric farms, which you’ll see as your plane descends after crossing the Rockies. Perfect at night as the moon appears, not blood-red or in full eclipse (you missed that while you napped in the car on the ferry), but shrugging its shoulder until the grey shadow falls away. Leonard Cohen sings of the future, the one that is almost upon us:

Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul…

Oh, and Sarah Harmer, as you drive home, home past Halfmoon Bay, makes it personal:

A raincoat and a French beret
The rolling hills of past mistakes
Like quiet under cloud

And I will long look to the churning sea
This call to arms means wrap them
Around the first person you see.

And then, just before the coyote crosses the road near Kleindale, Bruce has the good sense to ask Tom Waits to sing you the last miles:

Far far away a train
Whistle blows
Wherever you’re goin
Wherever you’ve been
Waving good bye at the end
Of the day
You’re up and you’re over
And you’re far away.

And when you arrive, the moon is waiting, full and silver as though nothing has ever happened and the world is still hopeful and waiting for tomorrow.

moon

Last year

Last year we were in Ottawa for Canada Day. Oldest son worked at the Canadian Museum of History and we went to see the exhibits he’d developed in his 4 years there. It was wonderful week, with a few days in the Eastern Townships exploring on our own, and spending time with Forrest, Manon, and Arthur in Ottawa. On July 1st, we went over to the Museum to watch the huge screens showing what was going on across the river. It rained. We got soaked. But the crowds—huge and peaceful—made the whole evening so festive and lively. The fireworks were extraordinary. Manon took this photograph of starbursts and light above the Alexandra Bridge. We had to cross the bridge later on our walk back, though I confess we stopped at one point and called for an Uber ride for the last few kilometers home. (It was long after midnight and we’d had to walk miles already that day, as the buses in Ottawa couldn’t negotiate the huge crowds in front of the Parliament buildings.)

fireworks

This year, we’re home. Just us. And it was a day of chores. John made the most ingenious door in a window of our utility room so that the cat Winter can let himself in and out because we are weary of his nocturnal habits. He goes outside after his dinner but then he wants in around, oh, 3 or 4 a.m. He comes to the window right above my pillows and either cries in the most piteous way or else he pummels the French door leading from the sun-room off our bedroom to the deck. You are dreaming, dreaming of something wonderful, and then you wake to the strangest sound that you realize is cat feet on glass. Thus the door in the window, the place where the small screen was. There’s a pine shelf he can easily jump up to and then a chair in the utility room so that he can hop down. After the door was finished, John returned to the current project, which is deconstructing the little deck off our printshop, so that he can salvage any usable lumber and rebuild to ensure another 25 years of safe entry and exit into the place where we print our High Ground Press broadsheets.

I took manure around various areas—cabbage patch, salad boxes, potted tomatoes and tomatillos, the beans that are climbing up their arrangements of poles to the sky. Because it’s been so wet, I was thinking that everything needed a good feed and the compost box is pretty much empty.

Last year we were in Ottawa and this year, home. But home, in a way, is the whole country. I’ve lived on both coasts and have been in the north, though not yet to Nunavut. The landscapes change, the accents (and even the languages) change, but somehow it does feel like it’s all home. We have our difficult history to come to terms with but we also value things that sound so small when you use words for them. Civility. Reasonable manners. Care and kindness for the most part. An extraordinary diversity.

This morning I was lying in my bed, drinking my coffee, and I could hear the radio downstairs. I wasn’t really listening, but then I was. Because it was Joni Mitchell, singing one of my favourite songs, the one I used to hear when I lived on Crete and the tavernas played Blue over and over again. I loved it then and I love it still.

On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh Canada
With your face sketched on it twice
Oh you’re in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet

Oh I could drink a case of you darling
Still I’d be on my feet
oh I would still be on my feet

In those years, I thought I might live elsewhere, I couldn’t imagine a future in which I lived on a piece of land for nearly 40 years, but I live here, with great joy. Is it the country that’s in my blood like holy wine? In a way it is. There’s lots of hand-wringing about our place in the world, our history with its difficult chapters. Last year I wrote this after our Canada Day in Ottawa and it still rings true for me:

From where we were, we couldn’t see the tipis by the main stage in front of Parliament. There’s a lot wrong with our country and it’s a good time to remember those things. It’s too late in our history for the injustices to go unchecked and unacknowledged. Economic and educational disparity, poor water: all of it, any of it, is unacceptable. But we also have a country in which great things are possible and we need to insist on fairness and equality. Looking at all the faces around me, listening to them sing, watching the fathers hold their children up to see the beautiful lights in the sky, and the mothers consoling babies for whom the noise was too much, the teenagers waving wands decorated with maple leaves and carrying little flags, I felt I was part of something big and beautiful. Not perfect. But it’s up to us to try harder, to insist that those we elect work towards a better system that serves us all well, not just some of us. Or maybe even most of us.

“That I loved the old wooden walls, the cold toilets, the scent of seaweed when the doors were open?”

shirley hall

On Monday, John and I took Angie and Craig out to Point No Point for lunch. This has been a favourite destination of mine since the early 1970s when friends and I would drive out on a Sunday for tea in front of the fire. Miss Packham served the tea and I remember there were little squares and perhaps cucumber sandwiches. It was my dream to stay in one of the little cabins and John and I did just that in 1982. There was a fireplace, a basket with old New Yorkers, a bed that filled a tiny alcove looking out over salal to the sea.

Where does the name come from? I’d wondered but never looked it up. The little brochure on our table at lunch provided the answer and I’ve found it again on the resort website: “The unusual name “Point-No-Point” comes from the original survey of this stretch of coast. It refers to a secondary point of land that is apparent, but doesn’t extend farther than the two primary points on either side of it, commonly referred to as a “point-no-point”.”

The little dining rooms—there are two— hang out over the salal and spruces and you feel that you could drop a stone into the surf below. There are binoculars on each table so that you can determine whether you are seeing seals or kelp. The food is delicious. I had chowder and soda bread and a glass of Quail’s Gate Chasselas-Pinot Blanc-Pinot Gris. After lunch we walked down through a tunnel of green to the rocks by the water.

point no point

As we drove towards Point No Point on the West Coast Road, I asked John to stop the car opposite the Shirley Community Hall. If you’ve read my novella Winter Wren, you might remember the dance at the Hall, circa 1974. I believe that’s the year I went to a dance there and never forgot it. I think there were dances of that sort at community halls all over the province. Long tables filled with food, a raffish band, wild dancing: in short, memorable.

But do we remember? Will we remember? Last year John and I went to a concert at the Cooper’s Green Hall in Halfmoon Bay. It was wonderful, Tube Radio (Boyd Norman, Gary McGuire, Brent Fitzsimmons, Ian McLatchie, and Andrew Bate, joined by Simon Paradis) playing great music and people dancing and talking at tables pushed against the wall. At the intermission, I went to the bathroom and joined the line of women waiting for their turn. A woman in front of me turned around and said, “I’ll be glad when they tear this place down and build a new hall.” I was so surprised I didn’t know what to say. And what would I have said? That I loved the old wooden walls, the cold toilets, the scent of seaweed when the doors were open? The dark field you crossed to where you parked your car, lit only by stars? The memory of apple butter being stirred in a huge cauldron at the Apple Festival in front of the hall each autumn?

I’ve been thinking about the old community halls and talking to people about them. In our own small community, we have several. The one in Madeira Park where we’ve attended some of those grand old dances, including a Fishermen’s Homecoming where portraits of the boats were all drawn by school children and hung in fish nets on the walls, weddings, funerals, awards ceremonies, spring bazaars and Christmas craft sales, and if we were gambling types, we’d have gone to the weekly bingo too, and it’s where we vote, where the rowdy community meetings rattle the roof when new bylaws have to be introduced, and where more than a few all-candidates debates have shown that people we like don’t necessarily vote the same way we do! There’s a wonderful old hall in Egmont where we’ve danced at weddings and cried at funerals and where the hippie-stomp dances are legendary, as are the community seafood feasts.

I have in mind a grand gathering of profiles of the halls of British Columbia. I can’t do this myself and even tremble at the thought of trying to organize the project but I think it’s important that we record and commemorate these places before they disappear. As Joni Mitchell so beautifully sang, Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone? (And she once sang “Unchained Melody” at a wedding in the Madeira Park Community Hall!) I know that the British Columbia History Magazine did feature community halls in an issue in 2016 but I’d love to see more, know more. If you have a story about a community hall, please contact me (theresakishkan at gmail. com) and if I find there’s critical mass, I will try to take this forward. I have several people on board already. The wonderful Matt Rader wrote of the Dove Creek Hall near Courtenay:

Tell me, who hung the hand-stitched stars on the wall?
Who hung the evening light from the windows?

And that’s it. That’s it exactly. Let’s find out!

radio’s perfect at night…

…when you’re driving the dark highway home from the ferry and Bruce Cockburn is offering a playlist on the CBC. You tune in late, much later than you think, and first, just past Roberts Creek, it’s Ian and Sylvia Tyson singing “Four Strong Winds”, which has you thinking ahead, to Thursday (“Think I’ll go out to Alberta/ weather’s good there in the fall”) when you’ll fly to see your baby grand-daughter in Edmonton, those sweet harmonies part of how you came of age yourself. And then, just before Sechelt, it’s Joni Mitchell singing “Amelia”, with its beautiful high notes and its hexagons of the heavens, the strings of her guitar, and those geometric farms, which you’ll see as your plane descends after crossing the Rockies. Perfect at night as the moon appears, not blood-red or in full eclipse (you missed that while you napped in the car on the ferry), but shrugging its shoulder until the grey shadow falls away. Leonard Cohen sings of the future, the one that is almost upon us:

Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul…

Oh, and Sarah Harmer, as you drive home, home past Halfmoon Bay, makes it personal:

A raincoat and a French beret
The rolling hills of past mistakes
Like quiet under cloud

And I will long look to the churning sea
This call to arms means wrap them
Around the first person you see.

And then, just before the coyote crosses the road near Kleindale, Bruce has the good sense to ask Tom Waits to sing you the last miles:

Far far away a train
Whistle blows
Wherever you’re goin
Wherever you’ve been
Waving good bye at the end
Of the day
You’re up and you’re over
And you’re far away.

And when you arrive, the moon is waiting, full and silver as though nothing has ever happened and the world is still hopeful and waiting for tomorrow.

moon

a perfect day

A walk at Schooner Cove this morning, where the ghost of the girl I was shadowed me on the beach —

P1100535

— followed by lunch at Shelter in Tofino (mussels in Thai coconut broth; fish tacos), and then Long Beach where some swam (not me), and where this shell presented itself:

P1100534Sometimes we can go back. Sometimes a place holds what we loved so beautifully that we feel our hearts ache a little for the past but we know that the hours can be perfect all the same. We can listen to Joni Mitchell’s Blue while Sahand cooks Khoresht gheymeh (lamb stew with lentils and the most delicious smelling potatoes and eggplants alongside) and the view is soft, crows in the trees bickering, and everything is now.

Playlist for summer

After weeks of rain, a time when the province’s rivers flooded, when cherry growers mourned the condition of this year’s crop, when the berry growers in the Fraser Valley prayed for sun, when the roses lost their petals in sodden clumps, when driving home in darkness meant being alert for frogs on the highway, when the slugs (I swear) grew to the size of mice, well, yesterday afternoon the sun came out. And we are promised weeks of it. The UV index this morning is 7. Or maybe 8.

So it’s time to bring out the summer music. I confess I’m not really sure what a playlist is. I don’t have any of the latest technology, I still play cds and have only once or twice downloaded a song. What I’ve always loved about vinyl records and then cassette tapes and compact discs is the sense of narrative in the playing of them. You start at the beginning and you listen to the whole thing (mostly). You realize that the musician had a particular kind of listening in mind as he or she decided on the sequence of pieces. There’s a trajectory and the listener is part of that.

Last night friends came for dinner and we listened to a collection of Romska balada, a cycle of Roma songs that are individually beautiful but form an extraordinary extended expression of longing, sorrow, prayer, and joy. Somehow this was perfect music for sitting under grape leaves while the sapsuckers flew from tree to tree and we talked of absent children, gardens, and waited for the lamb to finish grilling.

So what would my summer playlist sound like? Some Dylan, Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending”, played by the marvellous Hilary Hahn, Steve Earle singing “Jerusalem” (and not Blake’s Jerusalem, though maybe I’d want that too), two “Four Strong Winds” – Ian Tyson and Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris singing “Boulder to Birmingham”, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Drew Minter  singing “Son nata a lagrimar” from Giulio Cesare, a duet that gives me goose bumps just typing the title, Dire Straits (“Wild West End”), Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in its entirety, and then maybe Jean Redpath singing the songs of Robbie Burns. I’m sure I’ve left out key elements but it looks like I’ll have the whole summer to perfect my list.