Touch anywhere to begin

Flying to Ottawa late last week, I kept seeing the message on the screen in front of my seat: Touch anywhere to begin, or press enter. When I fly, I almost never watch the movies but like to have the map so I can see where we are in relation to the land below us. Sometimes I look down to see mountains, tiny green lakes in clefts of rock, the scribble of rivers, quilted fields of Alberta and Saskatchewan, and clouds, lots of clouds. I read the New Yorker this time, drank water, wondered at the baby we were about to meet, our newest grandson Edmond. Touch anywhere to begin.

edmond reclining...

I began simply by looking at him when we came down the elevator to see his whole family waiting. His brother had cards for us, wild exuberant paintings. His parents had things planned: tea (with Manon’s mum Nicole) at the Billings Estate National Historic Site above the Rideau River (Forrest does exhibition development and research for a group of museums in the Ottawa area and this is one of those sites);

tea at the billings estate

some time at the Museum of Nature (where I couldn’t stop looking at the blue whale skeleton, its elegant vestigial fingers, wondering about deep time and how a body changes over the years. Press enter.);


swimming in the Madawaska River and in the pond at the Caldwell-Carver Conservation area near where Forrest and Manon live; walking the boardwalk at Mer Bleue and talking about frogs, muskrats (I startled one when I was leaning over the boardwalk to look at some bog rosemary), larches, and how one day the little boys might do this with their own children; eating delicious meals, including duck tacos the first night at Ola Cocina with its little tables set up on the sidewalk and lights strung through the trees. There was ice-cream and lots of stories and talking about time, if not exactly deep time, with Arthur at the Madawaska River. (Press enter.)

after our swim we talked about time

There were perfect moments. This one, for example:

a passle of passes

And others, not photographed. The feeling of Edmond’s fingers clutching mine as I held him under the grapes in the backyard. (Touch anywhere to begin.) Watching Arthur sing “Song of the Water Boatman” as his father read him that book at bedtime on our last night in Ottawa.

I didn’t take enough photographs. I wish I could show you what small boys look like when they’re sleeping in their car seats and you stop for ice cream in Almonte or how a face lights up when Grandma draws the faces in the windows of the school bus she has chalked onto the sidewalk outside Ola Cocina. Or three generations of Pass guys walking ahead on the boardwalk at Mer Bleue, their legs exactly the same skinny shape, leaning into each other, deep in conversation. I wish. I wish. Press enter.


Sedna on Elgin Street

Tomorrow we’re flying home, away fron our new grandson and his parents; we won’t see them again until January. Today we went to an exhibit at the Karsh-Masson Gallery, an installation by Jason Paradis, which was like being in in the middle of starlight, the long beams of ethereal light anchored to rocks in the centre of the gallery. Then we walked along the canal, past an Inuit woman with 4 drawings spread out for sale under a shop awning on Elgin Street, anchored to the pavement with small stones. I looked. I walked past. When we got to the car, I said maybe I needed to go back. Forrest came with me. How much do you think the drawings will cost, i asked him, new to the world of street art. He thought about 20 dollars. Two of the drawings — pencil crayon, I think, on fine Arches paper — were particularly beautiful. One was a single loon, elegant and stippled. And the other? It’s Sedna, I said. And the woman looked into my eyes and said, Yes, Sedna.

Many songs are sung to this powerful goddess and in new seasons, pieces of the liver of the first-killed sea mammal are returned to the waters, imploring Sedna to release her bounty to the hunters so that they might feed their families. The angakok may visit Sedna in a trance, where he hears of the taboos and disrespect inflicted on her by the people, and soothes her by combing her hair with a bone comb.Many songs are sung to this powerful goddess and in new seasons, pieces of the liver of the first-killed sea mammal are returned to the waters, imploring Sedna to release her bounty to the hunters so that they might feed their families. The angakok may visit Sedna in a trance, where he hears of the taboos and disrespect inflicted on her by the people, and soothes her by combing her hair with a bone comb. (from The Canadian Encyclopedia)

I paid the woman 60 dollars and thanked her. I am so grateful to have seen her work, signed N. Mark, Iqaluit, Nunavut, and her name in syllabics.


in the meantime —

Away to Ottawa for a few days to help Forrest and Manon build a trellis over the deck we helped them build last May. It was our great fortune to have the company of Angelica, Brendan, Cristen, and grandbaby Kelly too during our stay. Here’s the trellis in its infancy:

beginningsAnd here it is three days later, in use:

in useThat little vine in front is a rooted cutting from the wisteria John’s mother brought from her mother’s garden in Suffolk in the 1970s. We have three huge vines from it and I am so happy to know that it will live on in other gardens, providing shade and memory, along with its spectacular blooms and fragrance. It survived its first Ottawa winter so the future looks promising.

Here’s my granddaughter helping me to weed garlic:

P1110932And here’s my beautiful daughter and daughter-in-law and granddaughter at brunch on our last morning together:

P1110920And here’s Kelly’s granddad:

P1110951And our hosts Forrest and Manon (who will have a baby of their own in October, a welcome addition to future family gatherings):

P1110924I loved seeing what a doting father my son Brendan has become, patient and loving:

P1110949In the meantime, at home, things grew:

P1110982P1110988P1110980Now I have to go tie up tomatoes which have already begun to bloom.

home is where the ladder is

Nearly two weeks away, mostly in Ottawa visiting my son Forrest and his wife Manon, with sidetrips to Montreal and Quebec City. There was the added pleasure of the arrival of my son Brendan, his wife Cristen, and their baby Kelly for two nights towards the end of our visit. So time under another roof, though a familiar one, with family new and old. Not that Forrest and Brendan are old, exactly, but they were once my babies. And the women they’ve brought into our family are very dear to me. As for Kelly, well, it’s extraordinary how a grandchild takes you back into the rich history of your own young motherhood.

In Ottawa I bought David Malouf’s memoir, 12 Edmondstone Street. It’s about houses and how they shaped him — as a child, a man, a writer. And it’s so beautifully written — I confess he has long been a favourite of mine and I wonder why it’s taken me so long to find his memoir, published in 1985? His obsessions have led me in similar directions — the notions of memory and houses and war and our pursuit (as in the exquisite novella, An Imaginary Life) of alliances with the natural world and those who might be able to teach us what it means to be other.

A limit. A wall we cannot go through. Which is in some ways where we began. Except that memory, in leading us back, has turned us about. It has drawn us through room after room towards a past body, an experience of the world that cannot be entered, only to confront us with a future body that can. Memory is deeper than we are and has longer views. When it pricked and set us on, it was the future it had in mind, and the door our fingertips were seeking was not there because we were looking in the wrong place; it was not that door we were meant to go through.

In Ottawa, in the company of baby Kelly, I kept remembering the infancy of my sons. They were born before and during the building of the house I live in now. Their childhoods took place here. Every wall has a faded handprint, every window holds the image of a child looking out in morning and in darkness. Our house was made to contain our family and even now I balk at any kind of renovation. John asked recently if I thought it was time for a new kitchen. The cupboards, built of yellow cedar, are a little battered. We don’t have a dishwasher. The dining area is narrow, because of the necessity of a bearing wall to take the weight of a changing roofline. Yet the long pine table has held every kind of meal, from first birthdays to Christmas dinners to food in celebration of graduations, engagements, and weddings. And that interior bearing wall is punctuated by three leaded windows, given us by someone undergoing a renovation in their own home. When I wake in other houses, I always have to reorient myself — where is the south-facing window where the treefrogs peek in? The west ones which receive the brunt of winter winds? And when I set a table in another dining area, I find myself looking for the window by our own, the one we sit by in February and watch the silver moon in the firs.

ladder in the dining areaIt’s good to be home now. I was able to put the vegetable garden to bed before we left but there’s still a lot to do outside. And inside, of course.

David Malouf observes, “At a certain point, you begin to see what the connections are between things, and you begin to know what space it is you are exploring.” You do, yes, and you begin to anticipate the arrival of its ghosts.

my boys


waiting at home

Yesterday we returned home from a week in Ottawa, a week during which a deck was built, many walks were taken, large meals were indulged in, and some explorations were conducted at the Museum of Civilization. I kept seeing wildflowers I wasn’t familiar with (near Calabogie Lake), and trees. A pine with very long soft leaves. Oaks just coming into leaf, the leaves themselves almost frilly, with red margins. (I brought back an acorn and will try to grow one for myself.) On the Eagle Nest trail, there was a small toadlet and amazing views and I brought back memories of those stored in a safe place.

Coming up the driveway, we were so thrilled to see that the wisteria framing our patio (on a long cedar beam taken from a tree we took down years ago and had milled into lumber, a process described in Mnemonic: A Book of Trees) was in full bloom. When we left last week, it was in bud, the leaves opening but not yet fully out. Friend Jeffrey, who stayed here for a couple of nights while we were away, took this photograph:

wisteriaThere are two more of these beauties around the house and I took a root to Forrest and Manon for their garden. (John has already been booked for next spring to help them to build a pergola over one end of the new deck.) The wisterias came from John’s mother who brought them in turn from her mother’s garden in Felixstowe, along with mint, perennial geranium, honeysuckle, tucked into her suitcase after summer visits. I took kale to Ottawa and a tiny mountain ash; and I brought back violets, the ones growing like weeds in the grass and which I carefully dug up from the place where the deck was going to be built.

And it looks like one of my novellas has found a home. A publisher who is enthusiastic about the form has written to say she would love to publish Patrin in the spring of 2016! More on this as things develop but this news is too good to keep to myself!