stories of snow and shooting stars

We spent five days in Edmonton, visiting our family there. It was cold. Of course it was. Walking from the car to the house, I slipped on ice and my feet shot out from under me. Maybe I cracked my tailbone. The pain was (and is) pretty intense. But this is an injury for which there’s no treatment apart from pain-killers and time. It was wonderful, though, to spend those days with loved ones. One afternoon, John and I stayed with the kids while their parents worked. We made a gingerbread house which was a big hit, particularly the gumdrops. (Our house had long drippy streams of icing and did not resemble the suggested version on the box. And luckily Grandpa John was able to repair the broken wall with extra icing, though it kept threatening to cave in again.) Afterwards he read Kelly and Henry a story about other houses and a wolf who was able to blow them down.


Aunty Angie came for three nights from Victoria and so there was a trip to the new museum, tickets for a performance of “Nutcracker in a Nutshell”, and a sleigh-ride around the snowy streets of Strathcona, pulled by Sugar and Spice, blond Belgians from Rattray.

sugar and spice on whyte avenue

On our last day in Edmonton, I wondered at the shooting stars, long streams of silver, I was seeing to the side of my right eye. And the tangles of, what, hair?, that kept drifting across my vision. After some calls to various medical facilities, Brendan and John took me in a blizzard across the low bridge over the North Saskatchewan, its surface a constellation of ice stars, to an emergency room where I was examined, then examined again because I was lucky enough that a resident ophthalmologist just happened to be in the hospital, and told I almost certainly have a posterior vitreous detachment. I won’t say I wasn’t a little scared but it was also strangely beautiful to have a glimpse of my inner eye. The ophthalmologist was puzzled when I asked why I was seeing a particular landscape and a skyscape and thought maybe it was my brain trying to make sense of the instruments and their intense light. Her immediate concern was to try to make sure I could have a follow-up examination at home this week or she was going to insist I stay in Edmonton for further retinal examinations. But finally we left, drove back in the blizzard, and ate Cristen’s delicious dinner (saved for us to enjoy with the bottle of good wine John had bought and the box of assorted macarons I’d chosen at an excellent bakery the day before).


The next morning we woke to a foot of snow over the cars on our street. But people were out and about and so we packed our rental car and drove carefully to the airport. Shooting stars were the least of my worries as we passed abandoned vehicles along the Calgary Trail. We flew home with stories of snow and those silver stars and beautiful children on a horse-drawn sleigh and the mystery of what my eye saw, and didn’t. I am seeing a specialist tomorrow to have another dilation but I think that I will be fine. I think of that wonderful poem, “Stories of Snow”,  by P.K. Page—I was lucky enough to hear her read this several times in her beautiful patrician voice—and what it tells us about vision:

And stories of this kind are often told
in countries where great flowers bar the roads
with reds and blues which seal the route of snow –
as if, in telling, raconteurs unlock
the colour with its complement and go
through to the area behind the eyes
where silent, unrefractive whiteness lies.

After Rain

It’s the title of one of the late P.K. Page’s poems, a favourite of mine, her and the poem. I knew her in Victoria when I was a girl, a young poet looking for a model, I guess. And she was such a good one. I hear her reading this poem as I read it now, her elegant voice, her beautiful hands holding her book. This was the poem I thought of in the night when I woke to hear rain on our blue roof. There was a brief shower the other day and a more convincing one in the night. Still not enough rain for these aching woods, the gardens, the creeks and rivers and reservoirs. But welcome, all the same.

I loved walking around my garden this morning and see the moisture on the leaves,

salad days

the shoulders of the tomatoes.

princes in waitingA little rain after months of intense heat — I picked a colander of tomatoes and then went back for these three, as lovely as a still-life:

we three kings

I wonder if we’d appreciate that sound of rain if we’d heard it in March, unrelenting, or a patch of salad greens if it hadn’t taken a fair bit of cultivation to have them ready for the table. I think of how absence makes the heart not just fonder but it provides the template for what’s to come (I’m anticipating the arrival of all my children and their partners and treasured grandbaby Kelly next week). What dry stones look like in a creek bed you cross in winter, one careful foot at a time as the waters rush around you. The blackberries earlier this week, their laden canes the same ones that latticed the trail bare in autumn. The sound of loons this morning after a run of quiet dawns.

And choir me too to keep my heart a size

larger than seeing, unseduced by eath

bright glimpse of beauty striking like a bell,

so that the whole may toll,

its meaning shine

clear of the myriad images that still —

do what I will — encumber its pure line.

— P.K. Page, from “After Rain”