“So we plant for the future and for the past…”

pink perfection

This is one of the first things we planted when we built the west-facing deck: a montana clematis. In my memory (not always reliable), it was blooming on Forrest’s 3rd birthday; friends came up for the day from Vancouver and we celebrated in spring sunlight on the new deck. It’s very rampant and has covered an entire section of railing and climbed up to join a grapevine and a wisteria on the trellis over the table we use all summer.

overhead

Last September, after we’d picked the grapes, I heard a commotion on the deck and looked out to see a young black bear climbing into these vines. When I shouted at it, the bear dropped down to the herb trolley below and ran off, but only momentarily. All month it hung around, eating crabapples, ambling around the place like a family dog. (Except it wasn’t.)

When I looked at the clematis just now, I remembered so much. That birthday party, with chocolate cake and the helium balloons our friends brought for the boys, one of which escaped on the ferry across Jervis Inlet a day or two later and probably still circles the earth. (The balloon, not the boy.) The Pacific willow that grew in front of the deck and how the clematis sent tendrils into it, embracing it and eventually smothering it to death. When it fell, the clematis fell too and died but luckily came back from the roots. And when we moved the willow off the bank the fall after it died? We saw that there were old bird nests tucked into the dense shelter created by its branches and the thicket of clematis vine. We couldn’t see them while the tree was living.

When the deck was rebuilt a few years ago, John realized he could use the existing beams and joists but he could extend the surface by cantilevering. The vines were all carefully untangled from their places and laid back on tripods to wait for construction to finish and then they were ceremoniously replaced. The clematis sulked but eventually accepted its new supports.

I remembered the rose we bought at the same time as the clematis, now long gone. And so many dinners on the deck, so many years of parties and conversations (one just last night!) and weeks of watering in the heat of summer. So many raccoons in fall, a bear, generations of hummingbirds, western tanagers, Steller’s jays, warblers.

When I planted the clematis, I wasn’t thinking about the future. The boards of the deck were raw and new. I had two sons, one turning 3 and one a year old. The days were filled with caring for them and helping John with building projects. We don’t plant for the immediate moment but for the future, whether that might be two months or twenty years away. Or thirty-five. While I was taking the photographs of the clematis, I stubbed my toe on something and I looked down to see the Garry oak I am growing from an acorn gathered at Rithet’s Bog in Victoria 5 or 6 years ago. It took nearly a year for the acorn to germinate and each year it’s put on a single set of new leaves. I’ve repotted it once and next year I’ll look for a likely place to put it in the ground.

small oak

This little tree is a sort of double mnemonic. When I look at it, I remember walking the trail around the bog with my husband and daughter, something we often do when we visit Victoria. But I also remember the area before it was a park managed by the Rithet’s Bog Conservation Society, when it was farmland still, before the Broadmead subdivision, before the shopping centre and the churches.

In the late 1960s, I used to saddle my horse early on weekend mornings and ride him across the Pat Bay Highway to a gate leading up onto the old Rithet’s farmland. I was in my early teens, a lonely girl in search of lonely places. Someone had told me that it was fine to ride there, but that the gate had to be kept closed, as there were cattle grazing in the area. I don’t really remember the cattle, but I occasionally saw deer in the tall grass. There were many oaks growing on the slopes. In the spring, there were expanses of blue camas, yellow buttercups, and odd speckled flowers that I now know were chocolate lilies.

I loved the open beauty of those meadows, where pheasants roamed and flew up, sharp-winged as we approached. The meadows smelled intensely dry, fragrant as hay, though not dusty. I’d let my horse canter up the long slopes and loved the way sunlight filtered through the trees.

–from Mnemonic: A Book of Trees (2011)

So we plant for the future and for the past and for the moment that contains both of these. I will probably never see this tiny oak grow into the fullness of time but it’s not why I planted it. Rubbing one of its new leaves between my fingers, I am riding through that gate into Broadmead meadows, my black horse’s neck already damp with sweat.

 

“There is gravity and there is the ground…”

duet2

The other day, Angelica’s friend Genevieve Hill gave us a little tour of some of the archaeological holdings at the Royal B.C. Museum. I could have stayed there forever, opening drawers, looking at the beautiful objects so carefully collected and catalogued. What I loved most were the fragments of baskets collected in wet-land sites. You expect stone tools, you expect evidence of cooking implements, burial goods, etc. But somehow the cordage and prepared roots and barks, woven so ingeniously into gathering bags, nets, the practical baskets used for carrying (and draining) clams and other shellfish — those were the things that made me stop and look carefully at pattern and function, wanting my hands to know how it felt to twist and twine those fibres.

When I was writing my memoir-in-essays, Mnemonic: A Book of Trees, I taught myself to make pine needle baskets as part of a process to understand Ponderosa pines and what pine bark beetle damage has done to their range and health. I made 3 baskets. One went to Forrest as a birthday gift and I have 2 left. The first one I made is the smallest. I used raffia to stitch it and I was not very good at it. The turns are clumsy and awkward. The second one is a little better. I used linen thread I drew first through a block of bees wax to strengthen it. I found a rhythm and I really loved the work. But somehow I haven’t returned to making baskets though I have some pine needles cleaned and waiting.

In the meantime, I began an essay a few weeks ago to figure out some stuff about string. Seeing the tattered fragments of cedar and spruce so carefully woven into baskets so long ago, preserved in the museum, has me wanting to thread my wide-eyed needles with linen thread, to begin the little spiral that begins the basket.

Origin

Old English streng (noun), of Germanic origin; related to German Strang, also to strong. The verb (dating from late Middle English) is first recorded in the senses ‘arrange in a row’ and ‘fit with a string’.

I was looking online for information about the importance of string and of course found page after page about string theory, the belief that particles are replaced by one-dimensional strings interacting or vibrating in space. Gravity is involved as a unifying force. This is where I stop, thinking, No, that’s not what I want to examine at all. Give me string, three-dimensional, lengths of fibre twined and twisted and accumulating until there’s enough to use for practical purposes. There is gravity and there is the ground, where my feet are located, firmly, though of course gravity has something to do with it. But bending, taking a strand of wild honeysuckle from the ground and realizing that it could be flattened with the fingers, maybe twisted with the bark of silverberry, and made into something – a basket, a loosely-woven bag to carry what needs carrying – well, that strikes me as an act of beautiful creation, worth exploring, worth gathering myself. Let the unifying force be what we can make with our hands to be useful in the world we inhabit. Let our strings vibrate, as violin strings vibrate. As our vocal chords vibrate. As a strong bag woven of string carries our wild greens home for our dinner.

 

redux: “Boy and baby only. Fair. Grey blue.”

I’m catching up with myself and part of this involves re-reading blog posts from past years. The threads of the work I’m doing right now have their origins in things I’ve worked on before and I want to make sure that my understanding of them, how they relate to the fabric as a whole, is close to being true. And as the wonderful Utah Phillips once wrote,

Time is an enormous, long river, and I’m standing in it, just as you’re standing in it. My elders are the tributaries, and everything they thought and every struggle they went through and everything they gave their lives to, and every song they created, and every poem that they laid down flows down to me – and if I take the time to ask, and if I take the time to see, and if I take the time to reach out, I can build that bridge between my world and theirs. I can reach down into that river and take out what I need to get through this world.

Here I am, trying to figure some things out via old blog posts, trying to find my own past in them, as well as the long lives of my family, for a work-in-progress. A work that contains strands of actual fabric, photographs, remembered stories, old texts, overheard conversations, and imagined conversations, some of them with people, some of them with books. How meta is that?

__________________________________________

I’ve recently finished reading Lorri Neilsen Glenn’s Following the River: Traces of Red River Women in which she travels both physically and imaginatively through the country where her great-grandmother Catherine lived and died. Rupert’s Land, Selkirk, Norway House, Warren’s Landing—all these places hold traces of the family story. I won’t tell it here. But it’s worth reading, both for the elusive strands that have been painstakingly recovered, in part or in whole, and woven into something both practical (because we need these records of our ancestors to help us understand our own place in the world) and beautiful, and for the deep sense of the land and what it remembers (those traces). Abandoned graveyards, modest monuments to lost or murdered young women, foundations of buildings long fallen to earth. There’s poetry here, there’s prayer, there’s the simple naming of names in all their possible variants, from both English and the different dialects of Cree that shaped Lorri’s family.

My family history began on a different continent. But there were many moments when I saw in Lorri’s book something of my own attempts to parse the language of old documents and photographs, some of this in a language as difficult to shape in my mouth as Cree was for Lorri. Sometimes what I tried to read wasn’t language at all but images. It was often strange and frustrating but then there’d be a moment when I understood what I was seeing. Lorri realizes that a photograph of her great-grandmother with her husband and children was taken after Catherine’s death and that Catherine’s head has been imposed upon another woman’s body for the sake of the photograph. Thinking about Catherine’s daughter, Lorri’s own grandmother, she wonders, “What must it have been like to stand behind someone else’s body wearing your mother’s clothes, holding still until the exposure was complete, feeling such profound absence?”

I had such a moment with my musings about family photographs and I remembered writing about it on this blog. Here is a post from July, 2011, as I was finalizing the proofs of my book, Mnemonic: A Book of Trees.

The Moirs Happiness Package

In my forthcoming book, Mnemonic: A Book of Trees, there’s an essay about my father and his father. I don’t know much about my paternal grandfather and in this piece, I try to puzzle through the mysteries of family connection, try to find traces of my grandfather through the small clues in my father’s stories, the tiny hoard of memories. At one point, I was thinking about two photographs in the basement of my parents’ home in Victoria. This is what I wrote about one of those photographs:

“In the second photograph, my father stands in his white shirt, short pants, dark stockings, and boots on a rattan chair. Someone has told him to stand still, because there is nothing natural about his pose. But — and here’s the bizarre thing — hovering in the air, as though balanced on the arm of the chair, is the swaddled form of his sister Julia, who died three years before he was born. This is the late 1920s, before Photoshop — before any of the techniques we are now so accustomed to using. I know that photographers could manipulate images even in the nineteenth century (I think of Hannah Maynard in Victoria with her trick portraits and artistic interpretations). But this is clearly the work of someone who didn’t have much skill at all. The half of the photograph in which baby Julia has been inserted is blurry.

That only this one photograph survives suggests that although money was probably in short supply, my grandparents wanted a record of the two children they had conceived together. Perhaps they were more sentimental than I’ve been led to believe, because what other reason would result in an image of a baby being inserted into the photograph of her brother-to-be, at least five years after her death? Julia was nearly three when she died, and yet the photograph is of an infant, wrapped in a blanket, wearing a hat against the cold.

Photographs are intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying. I’ve tried to read these ones for hidden narratives of love and family connection and perhaps I’ve interpreted them completely incorrectly. Still, sometimes photographs with their cryptic stories and forgotten conclusions are all we have.”

I wrote the essay as my father was dying and since then my mother has died as well. I brought home that photograph (a grainy image clumsily cut to fit in a wooden frame) and many boxes of family papers which I’ve been slow to sort. Every time I open a box, the smell of the past – dust, old cigarette smoke, the sadness of missed or lost connections – overpowers me and I close it again, thinking that the time will come when I’m more resilient or at least able to look at the materials without crying.

The day before yesterday, I opened one of the boxes, determined to put together some photographs for a family project. The problem is, nothing is sorted or organized, so in some ways, I’ve no idea where to look. There are some albums, yes, but then there are also envelopes with bank statements, stray photographs caught between them, or my high school report cards shoved into folders with baby pictures, drawings, my grandmother’s naturalization papers from 1937, etc. Where to begin?

I began with the Moirs Happiness Package, a chocolate box with a bluebird on it, and the slogan, “There’s happiness in every box.” Inside, a small collection of  photographs, all of them bent and foxed, and all of them as astonishing to me as anything I’ve ever seen. My father was the only surviving child of his mother’s second marriage. The first child of that union was Julia. She died of diphtheria, I believe, and is buried in Drumheller, Alberta, where the family lived. There are two photographs of Julia’s funeral. One shows a group of solemn people in front on a bleak house, the men and women dressed in dark suits, the girls (some of them must be the daughters of my grandmother’s first marriage) in white dresses and veils. A small white casket is set on a wooden bench. The second photograph is taken inside. The casket is on a table covered with a starched white cloth and is flanked by two girls in white. A child’s face can be seen surrounded by flowers: Julia.

There are two other photographs, too, which I realized were the ones which had been brought together to create the large image of my father and his sister. What’s amazing is that there are notes on the back of them, obviously the work of the person charged with “regrouping”. Notes about tint and placement. “Boy and baby only. Fair. Grey blue.”

 

There’s so much I don’t know. I want to find out more about my grandmother, a woman who was born in Horni Lomna, in what was then Czechoslovakia, in 1881 and who left, with her first husband, Joseph Yopek, in 1913. He died of flu in 1918 and she was left with 8 children. She married my grandfather a year or two later (I should know when and will try to find out), giving birth to Julia, and to my father, in 1926.

Our recent house-guests from the Czech Republic, Petr and Lenka, showed me pictures of Horni Lomna. It’s a small village in Moravia, nestled in the Beskydy Mountains. When John and I return to the Czech Republic next February, I intend to go to my grandmother’s birthplace and see if anything remains – a name in a cemetery, in a parish record, perhaps.

And a coda to that post. I did go to my grandmother’s birthplace and although I couldn’t enter the graveyard because of snow several feet deep, I did walk down a road by the Lomna River to stand in the snow and look at the house where she was raised, where she lived with her parents and her five children while her first husband went to Canada to make a home for them to come to the next year (1913). What happened then is the subject of a long essay in my most recent book, Euclid’s Orchard. And yes, it involves photographs, old documents, reading a landscape as foreign to me as the languages my grandparents spoke.

horni-lomne-26

 

what the essay wants

essay bit

It wants space, it wants room, it wants to cry, to think aloud, to examine a plan showing subdivision of Lot C Block 6 Plan 2528 AR in Beverly Heights Annex and determine its relationship to where your grandparents built their house, it wants a recipe for your grandmother’s sweet plum pedaha, it wants to know the details of your mother’s birth and abandonment, it wants to include the spring song of the Swainson’s Thrush, the quick rustle of the winter wren in the underbrush just this morning, it wants to spread itself across the page like the clean hieroglyphics of crows on the beach of Cox Bay last month, it wants, it wants, it wants.

essay 2

 

 

“I pressed a pencil hard by the Deadman River”

For a few months now, I’ve been busy with some essays and also with work associated with the micro-press I run with my friend Anik See. (The second novella on our list is at the printer! For more information, visit www.fishgottaswimeditions.com) Hovering in the back of my consciousness has been my own novella-in-progress, though that progress has been stalled. Why is that, I’ve been wondering. Every time I open the file to work on it again, I am transported to its time (the 1970s), its locus (Lytton, the Thompson Plateau, and the area west of Clinton), and its explorations into the women who wrote those landscapes and whom we seldom hear referenced in the literary conversations. I mean of course Ethel Wilson and Sheila Watson. The protagonist of the novella is a young woman writing a thesis on their work, using their novels to map a very specific terrain. Or at least this is part of what she is doing. She is also coming to terms with the death by drowning of her brother and in this respect there are other texts that travel under the surface of the narrative: mostly these are ancient Egyptian funerary texts—the Books of Breathing and the Book of the Dead.

I want to talk a little about the use of secondary material in a creative work. It’s problematic. It seems to me that it wasn’t always quite so difficult to think about including other texts in one’s own work as long as the writing was properly acknowledged and cited. OF COURSE I don’t mean pretending that the material is your own. Of course not. But I’ve always thought of writing, or at least most of the writing I do, as a kind of conversation, an extension of thinking, and also an act of homage to the work that I’ve loved  and that has shaped who I am and what I do. Am I wrong in remembering that it used to be common to include passages (again, properly cited) and epigraphs (ditto), without there being the difficult dance we call Permissions? Here’s a letter I received from Seamus Heaney in 1977 after I’d written to him to ask for permission to use some lines from a poem in North as an epigraph for my book, Ikons of the Hunt.

then.jpg

I sent him the book when it came out and he in turn sent me a card congratulating me. “There is no need to go Fabers.” (In my query, I’d wondered.)

One reason I am thinking about this in relation to this novella is because so much of what I want to write depends on being able to include passages of several novels in my own. Sometimes the author is directly referred to in my text and sometimes, like the passage I’ll show here, I quote the passage in the context of how it’s being used, in this case to annotate a map the narrator is using as background for her thesis as she travels in search of the places mentioned in the books she is writing about. I’ve always planned to include a bibliography and have kept careful notes.

…He could not fault my writing, he admitted, but said he remained unconvinced by the material I’d quoted. I wouldn’t waste my time, he said, on this sort of thing. It’s barely coherent.

I thought of him as I made my marks on my map. His bristly moustache, there. I pressed a pencil hard by the Deadman River. His sneer, there, as I sketched some trees—“…such trees as these marched in thin armies up the runnels of the hills which were strangely coloured in places by outcroppings of rose red rock.”—on the west side of the Thompson just before Ashcroft.

But yesterday, after writing a short section, I suddenly knew what was holding me back from this book. And the fact I’ve called it a “book” is part of what I understand to be the problem. Although I don’t usually write with the thought of publishing what I am currently working on, I guess I know that’s the final step in my working process. I write. I revise. I revise some more. And then I find a publisher. I don’t have an agent. I had one briefly in the early 2000s but she was reluctant to actually place the book I’d finished—A Man In A Distant Fieldso we parted company. I tried other agents, in part because there’d been little flutters of interest for film rights for two of my books, but no agent in this country (or any other) would take me on. And that’s fine. I know that I am mostly a literary writer and that there’s a limited market for what I do. I wanted to make sure my books had their best chance and I can say I’ve done that. So yes, a book. That’s what I expect what I’m writing to be when I’m finished. But knowing how difficult it is now to actually include secondary material without paying large sums to do so has me wondering why on earth I should complete this and who on earth would publish it.

When I wrote my memoir-in-essays, Mnemonic: A Book of Trees, I spent years reading and researching and remembering. There’s masses of source material cited and acknowledged After the manuscript was accepted, we spent some time deciding exactly how to shape it. Abandon some of the material? Footnote it? Endnote it? Use it as indirect quote? Paraphrase? I wanted every text I’d read and consulted to be obvious because I felt so many of the writers I’d read were guides, mentors, friends. I spent ages figuring out how to prepare the framework and the bibliography (it’s 6 1/2 pages) because it turns out that citation styles have changed from the last century when I was a student and in any case my publisher’s house-style is Chicago rather than MLA. But then I was told I had to start securing permissions. And that became something I’ll never forget because oh, how things had changed from the days when Seamus Heaney said, “There is no need to go to Faber.” I wrote to authors and in most cases they were so gracious. Translator of Dante, and an extraordinary poet in his own right? “Absolutely.” Translator of Odysseus Elytis? Yup, by all means. But then I was told (by my publisher), no, you must also secure permission from the publisher and that’s when it got expensive. There are seven pages of endnotes and I paid about half of my advance in order to be allowed to use quite a lot of the material cited. Sometimes it was 100 pounds for ten words. (In that case, I paraphrased.) The big publishers were the most aggressive and I understand, I guess, why my own (smaller) publisher insisted we track down every one of them. Though seriously? Someone is going to go after an author for quoting and citing a sentence from a book in her own book which, let’s face it, is never going to be a best seller and make her millions? Or even thousands? What times we live in. There were a lot of sleepless nights and I watched my modest advance trickle away, 50 bucks here, 75 there. If I knew the authors would see that money, I’d feel a little less grim about it. (When people write to me to ask if they can use something I’ve written, I always say Yes! Just remember to cite the source.)

None of this should be in my mind and heart as I follow a young woman in search of two women authors in the last century, wanting to insist on a feminine cartography in a landscape claimed and settled by men. Men I read and love, I hasten to add, but I don’t want the women forgotten. I don’t want their books forgotten. None of it should be in my mind but it is. That we can no longer have a conversation in our books with authors who’ve taught us, shaped us, guided us, without paying, is something I have a hard time reckoning with.

 

 

silver dagger, boots of spanish leather

kelly's quilt.jpg
Quilt, basting stitches not yet snipped out.

I’ve been in the kitchen for part of the day, finishing up a quilt for my granddaughter’s second birthday. I stitch and think, think and sew. Her dad said he’s building bunkbeds in her room — another baby is expected in late August — and so it’s kind of serendipitous that I’ve made a quilt for one of those beds: the one she will sleep in. When I see her, I love the times when her parents go out in the evenings and I get to put her to bed. I wrap her in a blanket and sing old ballads to her. She never takes her eyes off my face while I’m singing. Her serious blue eyes, the tiny collection of curls at the nape of her neck (this is most of her hair; she has very little anywhere else): well, there’s something deeply lovely about these times. And what do I sing? Mostly the Child Ballads, the wonderful old songs of England and Scotland collected by Francis Child in the second half of the 19th century. I’ve loved them ever since I heard early recordings of Joan Baez singing “Mary Hamilton” and Pentangle’s version of that murder ballad, “The Cruel Sister”. I don’t have a great voice but Kelly doesn’t know that. And she’s a captive audience, a child in her grandmother’s arms.

We have a satellite system supplying our internet connection and our television reception. I don’t know how to turn the television on — I don’t quite see the point of televsion unless it’s used for movies I know I’ll love; otherwise I’d rather be in my bed reading. But the days when I’m quilting are perfect days for the Folk Roots channel. And today for some reason the old ballads kept coming on. And oh, they take me back. To my university years when I was listening to folk music as carefully as I was reading Milton. Those songs educated my heart while Donne’s Holy Sonnets educated my mind. Just now, Nanci Griffith singing “Boots of Spanish Leather”, which I know isn’t exactly ancient; but surely Bob Dylan had those rich songs in mind when he wrote it. It inspired the title essay of my book, Red Laredo Boots. We had Other Voices, Other Rooms on our stereo system in our old GMC pickup truck the winter we drove up into the Fraser and Thompson Canyons in search of history, our children in the backseat. And so it inflected the drive:

On the Ferry From Horseshoe Bay to Langdale, That Same Day

While the children walk the decks to stretch their legs after a long day’s drive, I am sitting with this notebook to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. Of course I have because I see I haven’t mentioned trying on a Lee jean jacket in the Fields store in Merritt or looking at the photograph in the Ashcroft Museum of the couple from the Upper Hat Creek Valley, he holding a cigarette and she, a cat in her arms. Who were they and where did they end up? Behind them you can see the evidence of hayfields and tall cottonwoods to picnic under when the work is finished. They look so young and proud in the air of 1913, before the War, before the fire that burned down most of Ashcroft, before the young men left nearby Walhachin for battles they’d never return from. We’ve taken lots of photographs, of course, and will put them in our album to tell something of this ramble. The truck still smells of sage, though the sprig hanging from the mirror is withered and dry. And every time I hear Nanci Griffith sing, I’ll regret that I didn’t at least try on the red Laredo boots:

Take heed, take heed of the western wind.
                           Take heed of stormy weather.
                           And yes, there is something you can send back to me.
                           Send me boots of Spanish leather.

from Red Laredo Boots, New Star Books, 1996.

Just now, “Silver Dagger”:

Don’t sing love songs, you’ll wake my mother
She’s sleeping here right by my side
And in her right hand a silver dagger,
She says that I can’t be your bride.

It’s one I’ll have to work on for singing Kelly to sleep. Maybe under the new quilt, a friendly patchwork for a child to dream under. And the songs are cautionary, in all the right ways.

My daddy is a handsome devil
He’s got a chain five miles long,
And on every link a heart does dangle
Of another maid he’s loved and wronged.

the 7th is just getting ready to leave

For awhile now, we’ve been watching a pair of chestnut backed chickadees in the nestbox on the arbutus to the south of our house. We built the nestboxes for violet-green swallows — we carefully placed three in various locations around our house — but they don’t seem to use them much, although many years ago they nested regularly in a dilapidated box on one post holding up the fence around the vegetable garden.

The chickadees, though: we do see them taking nest materials into this box some years but we’ve never seen the whole cycle. Maybe something spooked them and they decided against the box. (Now we know there’s a weasel around and maybe that’s the answer to the riddle.)

But this year, we watched them building and then we went away to Ottawa. When we returned, we saw the pair entering the nestbox and leaving, and we realized that they probably had a brood. They’re not shy. All winter I put sunflower seeds out for the birds and the chickadees are bold enough to sit on my wrists as I fill the feeder. They are hauntingly light, the touch of their feet as delicate as anything I’ve ever felt.

This morning John was watching from a window and he said, I think the young are leaving the nest! And they were!

almost.JPG

We watched 6 small birds pause in the opening, one after another, while the parents called from the nearby mountain ash. As each one summoned up courage and flew (flew! Imagine doing that for the first time!), the others made encouraging sounds from the ash. I loved seeing a fledgling land for the first time on a tree branch, tentatively and clumsily — those feet! — and then finding its own balance.

Some took a bit longer. A parent would take in a grub to feed the reluctant youngster and then a few minutes later, another chickadee found its wings, found its way to the mountain ash.

first landing.JPG

The 7th has just left. And no other face appears at the opening so we think they’ve all fledged. Half an hour, and a whole family learns to fly. What an amazing way to spend half an hour on a sunny morning, the very last day of May. Of course I am reminded of my own beautiful family, all fledged, all nesting far away. I wrote about this in Mnemonic: A Book of Trees, in a chapter about building our house and building the nestboxes:

How time passes, how everything we knew is stored in our own bodies — the dull ache of sleepless nights, the sharp yearning for love, the sorrow of these empty rooms once filled with children laughing, fighting; their books, their toys, their filthy socks, and tiny overalls. One boy still sits under the original nest box (though I know it’s not possible, he lives in Ottawa) with his notebook, trying to sketch the swallow nestling that hangs out the opening, saying, Don’t fall out, Parva! Be careful. And I stand out among the trees, under stars, while the moon thins and fattens, turns soft gold in autumn, hangs from the night’s velvet in February, draws me out on summer evenings to drink a glass of wine while owls fill the darkness with that question: Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all? It was always me and I never once minded.