redux: “nothing but August”

Note: our Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival begins today, a joyous weekend of beautiful music. We are hosting a young violist and his wife and all week we’ve heard him practicing at the far end of the house. There’ve been long sweet breakfasts where we’ve talked of music and everything else and a celebratory dinner at the home of our Festival Chair —a stone terrace overlooking the sea, set with tables, and everyone relaxed in the beautiful light, the clarinettist Jim Campbell and his son Graham (whom we commissioned to compose a piece for the Festival’s 15th anniversary this year) performing as the sun set. I was reminded of this 2016 post, in part because every year there are moments when I know I have been gifted with happiness. It’s transitory of course but worth remembering and celebrating.

____________________________________

beans.jpg

It came to me while picking beans, the secret of happiness.

I was hunting among the spiraling vines that envelop my teepees of pole beans, lifting the dark-green leaves to find handfuls of pods, long and green, firm and furred with tender fuzz. I snapped them off where they hung in slender twosomes, bit into one, and tasted nothing but August, distilled into pure, crisp beaniness… By the time I finished searching through just one trellis, my basket was full. To go and empty it in the kitchen, I stepped between heavy squash vines and around tomato plants fallen under the weight of their fruit. They sprawled at the feet of the sunflowers, whose heads bowed with the weight of maturing seeds.

–from Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

I have to confess, John picked this particular basketful yesterday. But the happiness is mine too. To tie up tomatillos, cucumbers, to re-stake the tomato plants falling over with their abundance, to cut a bouquet of sweet peas on an August morning, a handful of rosemary, a Merton Beauty apple with exactly the right notes of sweet and spice — I wait during the dark mornings of January, the windy March afternoons, the damp Junes, for just these days. Sometimes I’m so busy just watering and deadheading or coiling hoses or weeding to notice. But we don’t get these days again. Or we do, but they’re changed, charged differently. We’re different. Older.

I’m going to sort the beans and then briefly steam a large pan of the smaller ones to dress with green Maille mustard, a squeeze of lemon, and walnut oil to take to a dinner tonight. And some of the larger ones, grown from seed I’ve saved for years, will be frozen. I’ve been pickling the really small tender ones. And tomorrow or the next day, there will be this many again.

The secret of happiness is that it’s momentary and transitory. I’m trying to remember to claim it and celebrate it when I realize it’s often as simple as beans, a dragonfly perching on the top of the trellis, the warm breathing of my husband in the night.

“we’ll do the best we know…”

firewood gate2
An hour ago, while swimming, I caught a thread of autumn in the morning air. That slightly winey scent of leaves, a riffle of cool breeze unheard of a week ago when there was sun on the sand at 8:30. Maybe I noticed it because earlier I’d been reading the Autumn section of Bruce Hutchison’s A Life in the Country with my first cup of coffee. I’ve always loved his books and I found this copy at the Friends of the Sechelt Library book sale a few weeks ago. 2 bucks. It’s an elegant memoir of the author’s home-building in North Quadra near Victoria (the same neighbourhood my parents lived in), garden-making, renovations at the cabin he owned at Shawnigan Lake. He wrote so elegantly and beautifully of the dailiness of keeping a place intact, of welcoming visitors, of the strange and wonderful cast of characters who peopled his world. But back to Autumn. His meditations on the woodshed rang a familiar bell.
….If, occasionally, our politicians turned from rhetoric to reality and grasped an axe instead of a debating point or photo opportunity much social damage might be avoided.
   For those who can read its message, the woodshed rebukes such errors. Neatly piled (a high skill in itself), the contents, unlike all paper assets and printed money, are real wealth, an honest measure of value never diminished by the legal counterfeiting known as inflation. And when the chopper inspects the drying wood for next spring’s fire, he must be a little surprised by his own morality. His work, his sweat, his muscle and ache have created that wealth, or at least preserved it. He has asked no wages and he has toiled while his guests revelled in summer idleness.
   There is a darker side to the lesson of the woodshed. A moral chopper should ask himself what right he has to nature’s generosity when multitudes of human beings are cold in winter and hungry in all seasons. A nice question, especially for Canadians who, possessing a transcontinental treasure, grossly mismanage it by defying the woodshed principle.
   The moral question remains, and it has baffled philosophers of every faith since mankind left its caves—how much of nature’s yield does any nation or individual deserve? What volume of wealth are we entitled to hoard for our own use in woodshed or written contract?
We burn a lot of wood over the fall, winter, and spring. We buy some now that we’re past middle age and we cut what we can on our own land. We’re eyeing the dead young cedars, victims of two years of hot dry summers, and once it’s safe to take a saw into the woods, we’ll spend some time taking down what we can. When our older son visits in October, he may be conscripted for some woodcutting too. It’s good work, if hard on the muscles. But it also makes you grateful for a warm fire made with logs you’ve cut, split, and stacked yourself. Last year, in November, we had a load of dry pitchy fir delivered to supplement what we’d brought in ourselves. And the delivery coincided with two things: an emergency surgical procedure for John; and the visit of our Edmonton family. While he convalesced, I stacked wood in the shed; and Cristen, Kelly, and Henry filled the woodbox and kindling bucket in the porch as needed. Mostly John does these jobs and it was good for the rest of us to take them on, to know the luxury of a fire afterwards.
Yesterday was the first day of the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival. I’ve been involved since the beginning season, 14 years ago, with a break of a couple of years in the middle. It’s always a fabulous weekend of intimate chamber music in the most beautiful setting—a restored Forestry building on a little hill above the harbour, surrounded by big trees. The opening event was this year’s Rising Tide, our annual celebration of young performers; the concert is a gift to the community. We were treated to a programme ranging from John Dowland to Leonard Bernstein. It was during the duet “Make Our Garden Grow”, from Bernstein’s operetta Candide, that I reached for my husband’s hand and squeezed it. It was our life, in a way, in the way that music can reach into your heart, play it as deftly as any instrument, in the words of Richard Wilbur, the poet who wrote the lyric for this particular version of the libretto:
We’ll do the best we know.
We’ll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow…
And make our garden grow.

“…all the more wonderful for its mysterious provenance”

the stray

For readers of the blog, the recurrence of plants, coyotes, frog-song, births, deaths, phrases of poetry (sometimes the same poetry), musings about dandelion pizza, the various rivers I love, the growth of grandchildren (and even a fourth one due in July), swimming, must get, well, a little tired. Yesterday I was driving to a meeting and I saw that the coltsfoot at Misery Mile is in bloom and I thought, oh, I should write about that (remembering my own young horse and how the leaves reminded me of his feet), and then almost immediately realized that I already had, in my essay collection Phantom Limb.

I stop on the roadside and carefully lift a plant of the coltsfoot to bring home to my own garden. Petasites palmatus, butterburr, sweet coltsfoot. There are the blooms on their fleshy stalks and the broad leaves with fine hairs on the underside. And there is one small inrolled leaf-shoot, not yet opened, the foot of that colt I hold as I once held the entire weight of his delicate ankles in my hands.

(The plant I lifted didn’t survive.)

And just now, looking out the glass door to the deck, I saw the buds on the volunteer apple tree growing in the rocks on the bank leading down to where our orchard used to be, the orchard I celebrate and mourn in Euclid’s Orchard.

Did this tree sprout from a seed spit over the side of the deck or excreted by birds or even seeds from the compost into which I regularly deposited cores and peelings from apples given us by friends in autumn? Belle of Boskoops from Joe and Solveigh, for instance, which make delectable fall desserts and cook up into beautiful chutney. Or else a seed from the few rotten apples from the bottom of a box bought from the Hilltop Farm in Spences Bridge, their flavor so intense you could taste dry air, the Thompson River, the minerals drawn up from the soil, faintly redolent of Artemesia frigida. This stray is all the more wonderful for its mysterious provenance, its unknown parents, and its uncertain future, for it grows out of a rock cleft, on a dry western slope. I won’t dig it up since I have no doubt its roots are anchored in that rock, but I will try to remember to water it occasionally and maybe throw a shovel of manure its way this spring.

It all comes around again. That’s what I’m saying, I guess. (Even the meeting I was driving to was to work on details for the upcoming—14th!—Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival, one of the pleasures of summer; I’ve been part of the organizing committee, off and on, since the beginning.) We sit on the deck at the end of the afternoon with a glass of wine and we notice that the big-leaf maples are heavy with incipient leaves and blossoms. And that means warblers and other songbirds drawn to both the nectar and to the small insects gathered on the blossoms. And as the leaves unfurl, we’ll watch for the western tanagers who nest either in the maple canopy or near it because we see them going back and forth during the nesting season, a flash of red and yellow, brilliant in summer sunlight.

My noticing, if I may call it that, is part of the way I remember, the way I try to keep intact the world I cherish. I am as political a creature as many or most; I have issues I follow, organizations I support, and lives beyond my own family and friends that I advocate for and with. But what I can do daily is record the place I have lived on and in for nearly 40 years—its cycles, its weather, its rich and ordinary earth. So the coltsfoot, the stray apple tree, the tanagers, even the samaras that fall from the maple in autumn and echo in the middle name of my first grandchild. Not only my home but what surrounds it, holds it. That people want to read these things never ceases to astonish me and I am grateful to you. And to Gaston Bachelard, who feels like a lifelong companion in his wise book about space—both the architectural space we inhabit but also how it fits into its environment, in our actual experience and how we recall it, how it influences our dreams and memories.

We comfort ourselves by reliving memories of protection. Something closed must retain our memories, while leaving them their original value as images. Memories of the outside world will never have the same tonality as those of home and, by recalling these memories, we add to our store of dreams; we are never real historians, but always near poets, and our emotion is perhaps nothing but an expression of a poetry that was lost.
                                     —from The Poetics of Space

 

“the spiral at its very heart”

Now that the launch date has been set for Euclid’s Orchard—September 8th, 7:00 p.m., at the Sechelt Public Library (desserts to follow reading!)—my husband John has just printed a little keepsake to hand out to those who buy books that evening (book sales courtesy of Bev Shaw at Talewind Books). If you think you recognize the spiral image, it’s because it’s the same one we used for one of our Christmas cards a few years ago. a linocut, created by me. I’m not an artist, obviously, but Euclid’s Orchard, particularly the title essay, has spirals (some of them featuring the golden or logarithmic spiral, though this isn’t one of those), so it seemed a good graphic element for this keepsake. Two runs through the press (the big Chandler & Price) because it’s two colours. For years I’d look out the blue-framed window at the north end of the kitchen and see him out in the print shop, leaning over the press or the table where newly-printed pages were drying and so it was nice to pause there again and see him. Because all the doors and windows are open, I could even hear the thumping of the press working away—it’s treadle-driven— and I thought of it as a pulse. A heart-beat, a printer placing paper against the friskets on the bed, bringing the inked type-filled chase down to the bed so that the type could meet the paper and impress itself into the fibers.

keepsake with linocut

Does it feel a little like we’re coming to the end of summer? I know there are weeks of it left but the weather has changed, the smoke’s gone, and there’s a cool thread running through the warm air. This coming weekend is the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival, something I’ve been involved with off and on for 13 seasons. It’s going to be a good one. We’re sold out and the excitement is high. Tonight is a dinner to welcome the musicians (who arrive early for rehearsals) and to thank their host families. I’ve made an apple galette and have picked a handful of nasturtiums to garnish it. The programme is spectacular this year, with many Canadian composers woven into each concert. The Harbour’s own mezzo-soprano, Rose-Ellen Nichols, is singing “Ships of the Night” from the Tobin Stokes opera Pauline; Rose-Ellen premiered the role with Vancouver City Opera and I’m looking forward to hearing her again. She’s part of our Rising Tide initiative where we invite young performers for an afternoon concert and it’s free (though with limited seating so only the first hundred people will be able to sit in the performance space, though others can sit on the grass outside).

 

in pieces

This morning there’s a red-breasted nuthatch hanging out with the chickadees. I thought I saw a more elegant small body on the wisteria and sure enough, a nuthatch with its elegant eyeliner was perched on a long lateral branch.

nuthatch

I call the chickadees “the sillies” because they come to the window over the kitchen sink if their feeder is empty; they jump around on the narrow sill. They know the food comes from that direction and I like the reminder. They’re a constant. Winters, summers. Last summer a pair nested in one of the cedar boxes John built for violet-green swallows. We watched them dart in and out and just by chance John was standing by the big window facing the arbutus tree where the box is and saw the moment — it happened within five minutes! — when all six nestlings left home. Each one peered out the opening, cheered on by the others who were waiting in the nearby mountain ash. It took courage to try their wings for the first time, to alight on a branch of ash and find their balance. Here’s the last one, a bit more reluctant that the others.

next.JPG

This morning I’m trying to find a way to finish an essay for my forthcoming collection, Euclid’s Orchard. I thought I had all the preliminary work done — five essays drafted and ready for an editor’s eye. But then my publisher suggested I might want to add one more. And I do have one in pieces. Literally. I’ve been looking at it and wondering how to knit the sections together, to find a way to provide a seam. But this morning I think I might leave it in pieces. There’s a logic for this. They are all discrete elements and the way they’re connected is through memory. The online Oxford Dictionary defines “essay” this way”:

Late 15th century (as a verb in the sense ‘test the quality of’): alteration of assay, by association with Old French essayer, based on late Latin exagium ‘weighing’, from the base of exigere ‘ascertain, weigh’; the noun (late 16th century) is from Old French essai ‘trial’.

So let this one be that. An attempt, a trial. It’s certainly a kind of weighing. Its title? Well, right now it’s “Ballast”.

This is the second day of our Midwinter Chamber Music Weekend in Pender Harbour. The summer Chamber Music Festival I’m involved with has created this weekend for those of us who love intimate chamber concerts whatever the season. Violinist Corey Cerovsek, cellist Adrian Brendel, and pianist Michelle Mares treated us to a beautiful concert yesterday, including the ravishing César Franck Violin Sonata in A Major and the Beethoven “Archduke” Piano Trio. Today? Ravel, Chopin, and Johannes Brahms (the Trio No.2 in C Major). Can’t wait.

late, so late

So late in the season. I woke early and am sitting at my desk, wondering how the months of summer could have passed, or gathered, so quickly. I know, I say this every year; but every year it’s true all over again.

Our Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival has come and gone. All year we work on details large and small — reading with pleasure Artistic Director Alexander Tselyakov’s suggested repertoire for the 6 concerts over 4 days, arranging programme notes (thank you, Evan Hesketh!), finding places for the musicians to sleep and be fed (we have wonderful host families), writing and proof-reading the brochure copy and then the programme copy, putting into place the wheels (or notes?) that will carry the Festival smoothly from one concert to the next. On Thursday night we heard everything come together and we knew it would all work out, even if there might be glitches ahead. I thought I knew Vivaldi but oh, the Violin Concerto in D Major (“Il Grosso Mogul”), played so gloriously by Mark Fewer, David Gillham, Joyce Lai, Ian Clarke, Simon Fryer, and Alexander Tselyakov, was absolutely new to me. Its little phrases of Roma song, its mysterious allegiances to India, its amazing cadenzas which Mark Fewer gave full attention and ability to — wonderful. And listening to COULOIR (Ariel Barnes, cello, and Heidi Krutzen, harp) play Jocelyn Morlock’s  Three Meditations on Light for violoncello and harp on Saturday night was a gift. I thought of Alice Oswald’s “Tithonus: 46 Minutes in the Life of the Dawn” with its expressions of day coming to life, light returning, the urgency of its argument with the night. Our Rising Tide initiative was very successful this year, with beautiful playing by Hanna Crudele, Rae Gallimore, and Jenny Dou. So a weekend of music, a weekend of festive activity (when else do I drink glasses of pink champagne in the afternoon?), and lots of work. After the last concert on Sunday, after the ticket tent was taken down, the chairs put away, the kitchen tidied by Ann Munro (who keeps everyone fed and watered), after some of the musicians had left to race to the ferry and others returned to their host families for a night of rest, we went to have dinner with our friends Robin and Jillian Ridington on their Nordic Tug, the SwanStar. Drank Prosecco with lovely cheeses and other nibbles, followed by steak grilled on the ingenious barbecue bolted to the side of the boat, toasting the meal with red wine, and talking, talking, talking, while the boat drifted in slow circles on its anchor, so that we were seeing the old net sheds on the edge of Whiskey Slough, then the big houses on the cliffs above Gerrans Bay, the remnants of old boats in the mud, posh sailboats and gillnetters pulling on their lines. Robin and Jillian are anthropologists as well as chamber music aficionados and I knew their books before I knew them. When You Sing It Now, Just Like New: First Nations Poetics, Voices and Representations. And most recently Where Happiness Dwells: A History of the Dane-Zaa First Nations. We talked of Dane-Zaa dreamers and shamen, grandchildren and food, books we’d read and were reading, and John and I left with the sense that our conversations with Robin and Jillian could go on forever.

In a few days, Forrest, Manon, and Arthur come for two weeks! Angie will join us for part of that. And while they are all here, we anticipate a phone call from Edmonton to say that another baby has joined our family, a brother or sister for Kelly.

Yesterday, as I stood on the deck and wondered how it had got so late, a cedar waxwing came to the mountain ash to feast on berries. It was so silky and slightly clumsy and when it turned to pluck from a low-hanging clump, I could see the yellow wash of its belly.

waxwing

I know it’s not quite the end of summer, even if it feels that way. But fall is in the air. The winey smell of berries drying on their branches, rustle of leaves under foot, the earlier sunsets, the later dawns (I was up at 5 and it was still dark, though even three weeks ago, I could hear birdsong). Soon we’ll be feasting with some of our children, they’ll be heading lakeward every afternoon to plunge into the waters they’ve known since infancy, I’ll be listening for the phone call to tell me of another grandbaby, and then when fall actually comes, John and I will head off on a brief road trip so I can gather sensory detail for the novella I reluctantly put on hold at the beginning of the summer.

“I say, ‘Regicide.’ I say, Help!'”

From An Exaltation of Larks, by James Lipton:

An Herde of Wrennys, The Book of St. Albans. Hodgkin says, “The wren was probably allowed the term of ‘herd’…because it was the king of birds.” I say, “Regicide.” I say, “Help!”

It’s been slightly more than a month since the boxes of my novella Winter Wren arrived at my door. Readers of this blog might remember that my friend Anik See and I have begun a small literary imprint, Fish Gotta Swim Editions, to publish novellas for now and perhaps other innovative prose forms in the future. It’s been an interesting process so far. I wrote Winter Wren, Anik designed the cover and text, and the wonderful team at Printorium in Victoria printed the beautiful hand-sized books. People are sending the nicest notes or calling me to tell me their impressions. So far, so good!

winter wren.jpg

It’s a word-of-mouth endeavor at this point. We don’t have an advertising budget so we’re relying on email newsletters and the kindness of friends and strangers. Anik doesn’t even have copies yet but will receive hers when she’s in Canada next month. After then, she’ll fill orders for European customers and those from other parts of the world. (I’m filling orders for North, Central, and South America. And have mailed books to the UK and a few other places far afield.) But we both believe that readers will be interested in novellas and will somehow find us and our titles. (More are in the planning stages.)

Several reviews are forthcoming and I will post information and links on my News and Events page once I have them. I look forward to reading from Winter Wren when I participate in the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts on Friday, August 12th at 2:30 p.m. (I plan to talk about novellas in general and to also  read from my Patrin, which isn’t even a year old yet!) There will also be a proper launch for Winter Wren, probably in September. (If this sounds a bit vague,it’s because, well, life is busy right now! The Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival, which I’m involved with, is coming up on the weekend of August 18-21 in Madeira Park; some of my children are coming for a couple of weeks later in summer; and there’s a third grandchild due in late August. But watch my News and Events page for a book launch date and if you’re in our area, come to help celebrate its regicide — without giving too much away, that word has a kind of eerie truth for this tale of wrens and the solstice and the passing of the old year.

pages.jpg

And if you want to support independent publishing not just in Canada but internationally (because Fish Gotta Swim Editions is located here on the west coast as well as in Amsterdam), please consider ordering a copy of Winter Wren. You can order from me. Or Anik. Several bookstores here on the Sechelt Peninsula carry the book and others can order it for you. If you are interested in a review copy, please let me know.