redux: “I will explain your route…”

Note: I’ve been looking at posts from the Before Times and this was just before, January 2020. I was curious about what I was reading and thinking. It turns out to be more of the same. I am still sewing, still working on essays, and I am reading Homer still, via Rosemary Sutcliff, with one of my grandsons, who is caught in the magic of those stories.


Angelica called on Friday to ask about the tiny brown bird she saw spiralling up a tree trunk in Victoria. It looked a bit like a wren, she said to her dad. But he knew it was a brown creeper because we’d just watched one on this tree right outside our kitchen window (and there’s no creeper in this photograph so don’t strain your eyes!):

tree without creeper

They spiral as they search the bark for insects and they use their tails for balance. While I was watching the bird the other day, I was thinking of stitching, long loose stitches as it moved up the tree trunk and as I sewed the spirals on Henry’s kite quilt. Did I think of the bird as stitching because I was doing that? Are its movements true spirals or do I imagine them that way because I love the Fibonacci sequence in nature and look for it when I am planting and harvesting? And sewing?

About stitching…On Friday night we were reading the Odyssey, Book 12, and John stopped to say, These lines could be an epigraph to one of your essays. The lines, spoken by Circe to Odysseus on his return to Aeaea from his visit to Hades, are part of Circe’s guidance to him as he undertakes what he hopes will be the final leg of his voyage home to Ithaka:

At dawn, sail on. I will explain your route
in detail, so no evil thing can stitch
a means to hurt you, on the land or sea.

We are reading Emily Wilson’s translation and it’s wonderful. But this moment, this word. I wondered how the male translators had handled this passage. So I went looking. My favourite translation until now is Robert Fitzgerald’s. This is probably because it’s the one I came to first, as an 18 year old university student without any Greek. I love the long muscular lines, the vivid language. Here’s how he translates that moment:

                             Sailing directions
landmarks, perils, I shall sketch for you, to keep you
from being caught by land or water
in some black sack of trouble.

And Robert Fagles?

But I will set you a course and chart each seamark
so neither on sea nor land will some new trap
ensnare you in trouble, make you suffer more.

I confess I don’t really know Homeric Greek. When I was writing my novel A Man in a Distant Field, I worked my way through Athenaze, Book 1, an introductory text for Ancient Greek. It was difficult, yes, but the protagonist in my book was translating some of the Odyssey and I needed to be able to do this for him. At that time we didn’t have a very good Internet connection. Ours was dial-up and using it for long periods meant no one could phone us so we tended to be sparing in how much time we spent online. I discovered the Perseus Digital Library, at Tufts University, a great resource for anyone interested in classical texts. You can read them in Greek or Latin or English. You can click on any word in Greek or Latin and you get a little window with a morphological analysis of the word. The Perseus site uses the 1919 A.T. Murray translation.

…but at the coming of Dawn, ye shall set sail, and I will point out the way and declare to you each thing, in order that ye may not suffer pain and woes through wretched ill-contriving either by sea or on land.

I have the Loeb Odyssey, in two volumes, which is Murray’s translation updated by George Dimock, still a prose translation, but the language is less archaic. Circe still points out the way and declares each thing.

When I work through the Greek text, word by word, at Perseus, and with my Godwin Greek Grammar, I get something like this.

But I at least bring to light a way eat each show by a sign in that place which contrivance of ill grievous (causing pain) sum salt earth suffer misery (calamity) have

No stitching. But Circe was a weaver and would she really use the language of mariners or something more related to the work she did with such skill? I love that Emily Wilson has, in this tiny moment in a huge text, brought a feminine (even feminist) gloss to the language of the poem. And I loved that we both noticed it, reading the poem together, while just outside brown creepers made their own metaphorical stitches on a Douglas fir that seems empty this morning without them.

“There is a trick to how/this bed was made”

wisteria wood

All winter we’ve been reading Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey, sitting by our fire, passing the book back and forth. I’ve written here before of my love for Robert Fitzgerald’s translation. I read it first as an undergraduate and I still have my copy from those days, with the price stamp — $2.04 — from the University of Victoria’s bookstore. I’d like to say that Peter Smith introduced me to this translation but it was an earlier (and less vivid) professor in what was then the Classics department. But Peter talked to me later about it, the long muscular lines of the poem and how the rhythm of those lines was part of what it made it so memorable. Its tradition after all was an oral one. In those years we read Milman Parry whose scholarship focused on the formulaic structures of epic poetry, the devices and strategies integral to the performance of the work. In an interview, Fitzgerald said something about Homer that rings so true:

His art was comparable to the art of the great musical virtuoso who can improvise, who can sit at the piano and by his mastery, both of the performing technique and of the musical background, can make music.

It seems to me that this newer translation is a different kind of work. Wilson doesn’t attempt the 6-footed lines, the dactylic hexameters that were the measure of ancient Greek narrative poetry. Her Homer sings in iambic pentameter. I pretend to no expertise in Greek prosody or English for that matter and my Greek is very small indeed. This Odyssey reads wonderfully but it’s not performative. It’s intimate, perfect for two people reading aloud on a winter evening.

We’re not quite finished. We’re reading Book 23 (of 24 books), “The Olive Tree Bed”. It’s always been my favourite part of the poem and now, 40 years married, I sort of understand why. It’s about loyalty, marital codes, caution. It’s anchored in the most perfect domestic object: a bed. After Odysseus has killed the suitors and the insolent slave girls who consorted with them, after he has walked through his rooms, naked, fumigating them with smoke and sulfur, he is bathed and dressed and is seated before his wife, who has not yet decided if he is the man who left 20 years earlier and whose homecoming she has longed for. She wants this to be him but is he truly her husband? He asks his old nurse Eurycleia, for a bed so he can rest. Penelope directs her to move their bed outside their room and to make it up with blankets and quilts. Odysseus responds in anger.

Woman! Your words have cut my heart! Who moved
my bed? It would be difficult for even
a master craftsman—though a god could do it
with ease. No man, however young and strong,
could pry it out. There is a trick to how
this bed was made. I made it, no one else.
Inside the court there grew an olive tree
with delicate long leaves, full-grown and green,
as sturdy as a pillar, and I built
the room around it. I packed stones together,
and fixed a roof and fitted doors. At last
I trimmed the olive tree and used my bronze
to cut the branches off my root to tip
and planed it down and skillfully transformed
the trunk into a bedpost. With a drill,
I bored right through it. This was my first bedpost,
and then I made the other three, inlaid
with gold and silver and with ivory.

I love this moment in the poem. The bed is as symbolic of their marriage as any ring or vow and this is when Penelope’s reticence dissolves.

As well as reading the Odyssey, we’re working on a shared project, a memoir of building our house. John’s writing upstairs and I am here, at my desk, thinking and remembering my way back to those years. I’m writing about the domestic details for the most part—caring for an infant in between hammering and lifting walls, making meals on a Coleman stove and a fire within a ring of stones with an old oven rack on top for a grill. John is writing about the rafters over our kitchen and how they were fitted onto the top plates of the walls. In a way it’s one of the secrets of our particular house, our marriage. Are you really my husband? Then tell me how did you discover the simple way to cut a birdsmouth joint? Which footing has our initials in it, drawn in damp concrete by finger? Where exactly is the cobbled stone path I made to the outhouse, now long grown over?

We’ve been reading at night but I’ve also begun to suggest that we read whenever I feel rising anxiety, often just after the Prime Minister’s daily update. To sit and read this old story filled with storms, murderous creatures, sorceresses, unexpected kindnesses, abiding love and deep purpose is one thing we can do in our house on the edge of the continent during this time of crisis.


within stories

sea lions.jpg

Stories within stories within stories. That’s the Odyssey. We are reading it aloud, to each other, most evenings by our fire. This translation, by Emily Wilson, is really marvelous. It reads smoothly and naturally. I’d wondered when I bought it how she would convey the long dactylic hexameters of the original text and her choice is iambic pentameter, the meter of English narrative poetry. I enjoyed the postscript to Robert Fitzgerald’s 1961 version in which he discusses at length the strategies he used to try to replicate the formulaic tropes of the poem, part of the legacy of its origins as performance. A translator is always working with equivalencies, I think. I enjoyed too Emily Wilson’s Translator’s Note:

I have taken very seriously the task of understanding the language of the original text as deeply as I can, and working through what Homer maybe have meant in archaic and classical Greece. I have also taken seriously the task of creating a new and coherent English text, which conveys something of that understanding but operates within an entirely different cultural context.

We read and I notice that we smile a lot. We smile when we recognize a moment, or appreciate an image. When Menelaus is telling Telemachus about the old sea god Proteus of Egypt and how he was advised by the god’s daughter, Eidothea, to surprise the god as he slept, he recounts Eidothea’s description of how to find him:

He goes to take his nap inside the caves.
Around him sleep the clustering seals, the daughters
of lovely Lady Brine. Their breath smells sour
from gray seawater, pungent salty depths.

I remembered traveling the length of Lynn Canal, from Skagway to Juneau, by catamaran, and being told by the skipper that we would pass a sea lion rookery enroute. If we were lucky, and quiet enough, we could get quite close to the rookery. On deck, quiet, we were hit by a wall of odour, sour as old cheese, and there they were, the sea lions, some sleeping, some roaring from the rocks. Was there a god among them? Maybe.

“Good evening, stranger…”

kite, in progress

Last night we began to read Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey. We’ve been meaning to read together for awhile now, after last winter’s experience of Dante’s Inferno, followed by the odes of John Keats. I was sort of pushing for the Odyssey but John was resistant. Maybe nothing quite so classical this time around, he suggested. But I brought out this beautiful edition, purchased (in part) with my gift certificate from the Galiano Island Literary Festival two years ago, and we simply began. It reads so well. “Tell me about a complicated man.” What an opening. Yes, tell me. I’m going to resist the urge to compare. My beloved Fitzgerald translation lives on my desk, coming apart at the spine, fringed with stickie notes, a source of both solace and inspiration for at least 45 years. I paid $2.04 for it in the University of Victoria bookstore in the fall of 1973. I’ve read other translations but this one has always felt like Homer to me. I have to say that I do love the cadences of this Wilson version, though, and look forward to tonight.

With that, she tied her sandals on her feet,
the marvelous golden sandals that she wears
to travel sea and land, as fast as wind.

I might try a little exercise as we go along, using my Loeb Odyssey and my battered Goodwin Greek Grammar. I know there are more modern ways to immerse yourself in languages but I like the slow work of an old grammar and scraps of paper.

                                                            “Good evening,
stranger, and welcome. Be our guest, come share
our dinner, and then tell us what you need.”

Imagine if we could still open a door to a stranger, a woman in beautiful sandals, and offer her a meal, not knowing that she is a goddess. Imagine.

redux: a few days ago–

In the spirit of recycling, I’ve been re-reading my old posts and offering them again. Might I add that it feels like only, oh, last week, that I was hanging around this area, trying to locate my character Declan O’Malley on its shores.


— we walked with friends over by Oyster Bay. More than ten years ago I wrote a novel, A Man in a Distant Field, in which the main character, an Irish schoolmaster, washed up on the shores of Oyster Bay. I explored the area a fair bit in those days, wanting to give my character a true place to live, a particular place on earth, and this particularity — the weather, the scent of wild roses in summer, the water birds, the bears that came to feast on salmon in autumn, the oysters on the rocks by the shore — would allow him to understand the resonances in the poem he was translating (which happened to be the Odyssey). And walking again by the bay a few days after Christmas, I felt that old complicated obsession a writer shares with her materials. While the others stood down by the water and watched a hawk on the opposite shore, I dreamed my way back into this abandoned cabin, not exactly the one I called World’s End in my novel, but a similar one. (As Melville so wisely noted, “It is not down in any map; true places never are.)

a man in a distant fieldHe put the poem aside and walked out to the shore. He never tired of the bay, stretching out to open sea. Today the tide was coming in over the exposed mud flats, threaded with silvery runs of fresh water. There were birds everywhere — sandpipers on the shore where he supposed their nests must be, ducks coming in with the tide, a solitary loon, silent in daylight, geese gathered by the small rocky islands where some of them nested. He loved the smell when the tide came in, the rich fecund mud, warmed by the sun, meeting the sharp iodine of the sea. He supposed men had always stood by water, admiring the liveliness of its movement, loving the sight of birds feeding on its shores, fishing its depths with their strong bills. (from A Man in a Distant Field, Dundurn, 2004)

we were not on the path of totality

We didn’t have special glasses. We used two metal colanders as pinhole cameras and noted that the images through the round drainage holes turned from periods to commas as the eclipse progressed. We sat outside and it got a little cooler, a little greyer (which was eerie) but not dark.  It’s not a month in which we hear much birdsong at all so the quiet wasn’t unexpected. A hummingbird worked in the zinnias. One in our household slept.

sleeping through the eclipse

Yet we do live in perilous times. Listening to the madman south of the border makes this moment in the Odyssey ring true. It’s Theoklymenos, the seer, in Book Twenty (the Fitzgerald translation), foretelling the death of the suitors:

Oh lost sad men, what terror is this you suffer?
Night shrouds you to the knees, your heads, your faces;
dry retch of death runs round like fire in sticks;
your cheeks are streaming; these fair walls and pedestals
are dripping crimson blood. And thick with shades
is the entry way, the courtyard thick with shades
passing athirst toward Erebos, in the dark,
the sun is quenched in heaven, foul mist hems us in…


a great loveliness of ghosts

Since the beginnng of January, I’ve been swimming three times a week, sometimes four. There’s a pool and gym at the local high school and for years my children took lessons there. We’d go sometimes on winter weekends, especially when the power was out for a few days, as was more common in those years. (There’s a new kind of wire now running along the Hydro poles and we don’t have those long outages any longer, though we still have a few days here and there when the power goes out and we resort to lamps, a Coleman stove).

But the pool. I don’t much like chlorine and I don’t exactly like the notion of swimming back and forth without much purpose. Whatever it was that happened to me after my bout of pneumonia in late August had some unexpected side effects. One was pain in my right knee. Sometimes it was too severe for me to go for the long walks we like to take most days. It didn’t occur to me until quite late in the fall that swimming might alleviate the pain or at least allow me movement. And then it was Christmas so I didn’t bother looking for my bathing suit and figuring out the pool schedule, though by then John had begun to swim a couple of mornings a week. Home he’d come with news of the world — or least news of the world of Pender Harbour retirees.

So I began to join him in early January. There’s something that happens a few laps in. My mind clears, I find my way in my breathing and in the water itself (because water can resist you if you don’t find where you should be in it), and some deep thinking begins.

I’ve been thinking about what happened to me in the fall, why I felt, with the uncertainty of my health situation, that I was between worlds. At night the sky shimmered with stars and I wanted to be among them. My dreams changed. I saw things in my daily life, just out of the corner of my eye. People I knew long ago. People who’ve died. It was comforting in a way. Whatever happened, there would be company. I saw my mother in dreams a few times. I thought of Odysseus’s journey to the underworld, “the realm and region of the Men of Winter”,  and how he found his mother. She told him she died not of any true illness but of loneliness for him. And reading Book Eleven just now, A Gathering of Shades, I remember all over again why I love Robert Fitzgerald’s work with this great poem: “Here was great loveliness of ghosts!” If they are lonely for us, so are we, for them.

I am grateful that the worst hasn’t happened (or been diagnosed). I’m grateful to have the opportunity to carry on with my life, which I’ve always loved. But I think I’ve learned things about what waits for me. I had such clarity in the fall. I hope I don’t lose that. I knew what I wanted to do with my time on earth. I knew what was important. I wrote and sewed and planted a hundred tulips. I fed the birds with such tenderness, because what if it was my last fall?

In 2013, in mid-winter, we had to have our septic field rebuilt. Because we’d made our big vegetable garden over the field, we had to dig out everything we could — raspberry canes, gooseberry bushes, roses growing there because the fence protected them from deer and elk, an apple tree, huge perennial herbs, bulbs of every sort. We dug things up and put them into temporary pots and then the man who was doing the rebuilding, a gardener himself, lifted the soil into big heaps outside the garden area with his backhoe. He scraped up every last teaspoon of rich earth. And after he’d made the new drainfield, we worked out where we’d put new beds, all to be framed with recycled cedar boards from old decks and various projects, the paths over the drainlines so if there was trouble, we’d know exactly where to find it. Then Doug scooped the soil back with the bucket of his backhoe, smoothing it into long barrows in the areas between the lines. It took some weeks to build those boxes, to replant what was waiting, and to try to establish the garden again. One day, easily a month after we’d replanted everything we’d taken out, I dug a hole for a new rose.  And here’s what my shovel brought up from under the earth:

from underground.jpg

There’s an amazing scene in Book Eleven of the Odyssey when Odysseus meets his old comrade Akhilleus.

            Let me hear no smooth talk
of death from you, Odysseus, light of councils.
Better, I say, to break sod as a farm hand
for some poor country man, on iron rations,
than lord it over all the exhausted dead.

Yes, absolutely. I wouldn’t change my life on earth for anything. Not yet. But I have some sense of entering the great system of rivers surrounding the underworld: the Acheron (river of woe), the Cocytus (river of lamentation), the Phlegethon (river of fire), the Styx (river of unbreakable oath by which the gods took vows), and the Lethe (river of forgetfulness). I’ve always loved rivers. And having dreamed of my mother and others I’ve loved and lost, I understand what Odysseus meant when he said, “But my heart longed, after this, to see the dead elsewhere.”

our allotted threads

I am thinking about textiles this morning  (no surprise there; my mind is often occupied with scraps and how to use them, how to turn a pile of small and easily cast aside remnants into a quilt or, well, something else). Thinking about the threads of life — having my grandson Arthur here over the holiday makes that particular thing ever-present — and the Moirai, the three Fates: Clotho, spinning the thread of life; Lachesis measuring each person’s allotted thread; and Atropos, ready to cut the thread at the end of that allotted time. I love the passage in the Odyssey when Odysseus has been recounting his adventures  to an assembled party in Phaiákia and the king Alkinoös asks them to return in the morning for the ceremonies of leave-taking:

Our banquet’s ended, so you may retire;
but let our seniors gather in the morning
to give this guest a festal day, and make
fair offerings to the gods. In due course we
shall put our minds upon the means at hand
to take him safely, comfortably, well
and happily, with speed, to his own country,
distant though it may lie. And may no trouble
come to him here or on the way; his fate
he shall pay out at home, even as the Spinners
spun for him on the day his mother bore him.

— Odyssey, Book Seven

Our family will leave in a few days. I want to somehow spin something out of the rich and dense materials of living with them, amongst them. A quilt? A story? Something that manages to be both? Textiles have the capacity to do many things simultaneously. In the making of them, they satisfy at the very deepest level — and women have always known this, I think. In earlier times, women were given the work of making clothing, vessels to gather and hold food, to provide comfort and warmth using the materials at hand. For centuries it was easy to relegate this work to the realm of domestic utility but I think we know (and women have always known) how important an economic force this work has been. Continues to be in cultures where women still produce textiles (often cooperatively). This Christmas I gave Forrest and Manon a beautiful basket of woven and coloured reeds, made by Lydia in Uganda. I have on my bed a duvet cover made in a women’s workshop in India, dyed with indigo grown by the women, prepared by them, and then printed onto cotton using traditional techniques. I have a few of the blocks used in this kind of fabric printing and they’re beautiful.

Look at this ravishing coat of salmon skins with a plain and modest front and a beautifully detailed — storied? — back and you realize that women have always known that textiles can be message-carriers, they can be subversive. (“If people visited, women couldn’t look at visitors. Women sat at the fire, with their backs to visitors, but that back side was beautifully decorated—their backs said so much more than their faces.”)

I’m still in my dressing gown as I write this and looking down, this is what I see:

dressing gown.jpg

Years ago, a friend in Cornwall sent me this garment as a gift. It’s made of many many squares (scraps!) of salt-dyed silk. Its maker — a clothing designer called Denise Stracey – is obviously a woman after my own heart: each small remnant of some larger project has been arranged to make something utilitarian and also lovely. It’s lovely to wear. Silk against the skin, the morning made bright and lively.

I will be here
till midnight,
cross-legged in the dining-room,
logging triangles and diamonds,
cutting and aligning,
finding greens in pinks
and burgundies in whites
until I finish it.

There’s no reason in it.

Only when it’s laid
right across the floor,
sphere on square
and seam on seam,
in a good light—
a night-sky spread—
will it start to hit me.

These are not bits.
They are pieces.

And the pieces fit.

from Eavan Boland’s “Patchwork”, Outside History: Selected Poems, 1980-1990

scraps in winter


Late Middle English (as a plural noun denoting fragments of uneaten food): from Old Norse skrap scraps; related to skrapa to scrape. The verb dates from the late 19th century. — from Oxford online

Small detached piece of something, fragment, remnant, (pl.) odds and ends, useless remains… — from Concise Oxford 1973-74 (my copy bought for university)

I’m thinking about scraps and fragments and, yes, remnants. I just made a comforter for the crib we’ve recently bought for visiting grandbabies. We have a smaller portable crib which has been fine until now but babies grow and this crib has the added feature of converting to a toddler bed. Grandson Arthur will come for Christmas and I thought I’d use some scraps of quilt batting to make a crib-size comforter. And then I wanted to make a cosy cover for it. I had enough blue striped flannel for one side so I found a remnant of that pink print at the wonderful Dressew on Hastings Street in Vancouver the other day. And sewing, I thought of all the quilts I’d pieced together at the kitchen table, all the remnants and scraps that somehow became something larger than themselves. I don’t like waste. I have baskets and bins of little pieces of fabric and I love to find new functions, new meanings for them.

It’s the same with writing. I’ve been revising the essays that will form a collection called Euclid’s Orchard, to be published next September. One of the essays is called “Tokens” and it is a series of linked meditations about my mother, my attempts to find out about her biological parents (she was given up at birth), and also to find out who she was all the years she was my mother. And in the process of writing about her, she was there in the room — the bottle of My Sin perfume my father brought her as a gift in (I think) 1962, still 3/4 full; her Harris tweed coat nearby, her scent still in the satin lining. Her sayings, always a little off: “Let’s play it by air.” “He was mad as a hatter.” (This, to explain someone’s anger.) “By the same token.” (For anything.)

Winter is a good time for thinking about scraps, fragments. The Ptolemaic scrap of papyrus with three lines from Book 20 of the Odyssey that don’t exist in other versions of the poem. Unfinished music. Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems. The Archimedes palimpsest, which I remembered this morning: years ago I read about the cleaning of a 13th c. prayer book that contained (partly erased but recoverable by delicate conservation practices) two treatises by Archimedes, the Greek mathematician and physicist (and astronomer, inventor…) who lived from around 287 B.C. until around 212. There’s so much still hidden, so much to be discovered, often in fragments, like the lines of the Odyssey, to offer us moments of the world before us.

The other night, John and I had dinner with our son Brendan who was in Vancouver for some math work at UBC — conferring with a research partner and giving a seminar. We asked for news of our grandchildren and I loved hearing how Kelly, who is 2, refers to her Daddy’s work. She calls it “counting by the vending machines.” When she and her mum and brother visit her Dad at his job (mathematics professor at a big Canadian university), they meet up at the vending machines in the lobby. And math? Well, it’s a kind of counting.

“all the night’s pure figures”

I was awake for a long time in the night, thinking about time. Often I find myself so close to understanding its passing, what it means. I was awake in the night, thinking, in the room we built nearly 35 years ago, with the leafy silhouette of the arbutus tree dark against the white curtains. This tree, now as high (or higher) as the second story of our house, was a tiny shattered collection of branches when we first began to build in the summer of 1981. But in a few weeks the warblers will be loud in its blossoms.

The moon was in its first quarter last night and when I got up to pee, I paused by the window above the stairs where I could see the Great Bear, Ursa Major, that beautiful constellation,

                   …that some have called the Wain,

pivoting in the sky before Orion;

of all the night’s pure figures, she alone

would never bathe or dip in the Ocean stream.

(Odyssey, Book Five, 263-6, trans. Robert Fitzgerald)

It was a spring sky, or nearly so. Even though there’s new snow on the mountain behind us, the air has spring’s promise. The colours of green are almost fluorescent, particularly the moss on the trunks of the big-leaf maples which are just beginning to show their flowers. (When we walked the other day, after a big wind, you could see the buds all over the trail.) We think we are tuned to the seasons and maybe we are, to some extent, but I’ve been remembering how last March we spent part of a day with an archaeologist in Portugal, looking at the Almendres Cromlech and other neolithic sites near Evora.


The Almendres Cromlech site was constructed over several thousands of years, each phase reflecting social, ceremonial, and spiritual values, and seems also to be an astronomical observatory — though why would this be a separate consideration? That says more about me than the people who lived there and were associated with the place, were as rooted to it as the stones appear to be rooted in the dry earth.  There is one stone which is associated with spring equinox and a line from the site to a single menhir about 1400 meters away points to sunrise on the Winter equinox. It was a place I felt I could spend a lifetime. There were cork oaks and black pigs foraging for acorns beneath them. Wild flowers, chestnut trees, olives, and the oaks, tiny lizards skittering among the stones, the sun. Time was a different thing there, a densely layered accumulation of stones, wind, even the generations of pigs, dating back (at least) to Homer:

Bring in our best pig for a stranger’s dinner.

A feast will do our hearts good, too; we know

grief and pain, hard scrabbling with our swine…

Odyssey, Book Fourteen, 416-19, trans. Robert Fitzgerald

So the Equinox approaches –March 20, 4:30 a.m. — and we’ll observe it with the usual lack of ceremony. No stone circles to help us predict the sun’s early rising, the long setting over Texada Island. No pig, fattened with the mast of oaks, to roast over a fire of dry chestnut wood. Our stars are storied but who can remember? Years ago when we built our house, we’d sit by the fire outside our tent and John would point out the constellations he knew. Orion, for whom he had special affection (my husband was an archer as a boy and his bow, his quiver of arrows, are in the workshop still, though the bow is unstrung all these years), the vain queen Cassiopeia, and the Great Bear and her son, who never set, “never bathe or dip in the Ocean stream.”