“I have walked behind the sky.”

clothesline

So. Yesterday I finished writing the final essay for Blue Portugal. Or at least I finished a full draft, with some parts a little rougher than others. There are ten essays in this collection, ranging from meditations on colour, investigations into ampelography, entoptic phenomenon, Bach’s Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor as a soundtrack for navigating grief, the relationship between the venous system and rivers, and using Dante’s Inferno as a means to recover from fractures. I know. It doesn’t sound like a manuscript that will be easy to place with a publisher, does it? In truth, I don’t think the essays themselves are difficult or chilly. But they’re not issue-based. They’re not life-style pieces. I read those and enjoy many of them but they’re not what I write. Or at least they’re not what I need to write right now.

There’s a lot of blue in this collection. The title piece for example begins with wine, Modry Portugal, a beautiful light red wine we drank in the Czech Republic. Modry means blue in Czech (and other Slavic languages) and I wondered about the Portugal. Where did the grape come from, and how, and why. I also wanted to look more deeply at family origin stories. There’s another essay, “The Blue Etymologies”, that I wrote to puzzle through what I experienced when I fell last November and damaged my retinas.  I have walked behind the sky, wrote Derek Jarman in Chroma, and yes, that was exactly where I went. “blueprints” revisits housebuilding and various kinds of fabric resist printing and the cyanotypes of Anna Atkins. Several of the essays use maps and land surveys in an attempt to locate the past and a couple of them might be too personal to interest anyone but members of my family. Who can say.

hooped

What I want to say is how much I’ve loved writing these essays. They are messy, imperfect, badly constructed in parts, and the craft is often careless; if you’ve read previous posts and seen images of the quilts I make, then you will recognize the parallel. But in an odd way they’ve kept me alive. Or they’ve kept my mind alive as I’ve navigated some health issues, have lain awake in the night thinking of my children and their children and how we’ve ended up living so far apart, have learned to do particular techniques with textiles, and have tried to keep what’s beautiful close to hand in the face of climate change, dangerous political systems, and an aging body.

The epigraph for this collection is a passage from a poem by the American poet Robert Penn Warren.

Tell me a story.

In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.

Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.

The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.

Tell me a story of deep delight.

–Robert Penn Warren

Deep delight, in a moment of mania. That was me, in the night, writing by starlight, telling the story over and over again.

“But you must not pronounce its name.”

common pink moss

June is a month for roses and ours have been just glorious. Every few days I cut big bowls full and I can smell the nicest ones from a room away. This morning, the common pink mosses, from a huge sprawling bush given me years ago by an elderly woman in our community, now long-dead. She was odd. One year she walked in the local May Day parade, her head covered with a hood, carrying a papier-mâché head under her arm, with a sign on her back: Anne Boleyn is alive and well in the library. (She volunteered in the library and I guess she wanted to remind us that history was alive and all around us. Maybe.) Yet she lives in my garden and in many others, I know. That’s the way plants so often find us.

pillars

Another rose grows up the railings just beyond the kitchen. It came from a spring plant sale decades ago, unnamed, but when I was writing one of the essays in Euclid’s Orchard, I got out my big dictionary of roses and kept turning the pages until I found it. Did it matter? Would it be any less (more) beautiful named than unnamed?

The rose came from one of the annual spring plant sales at the Community Hall when we first lived here; you brought your box with you, and you got there early because everyone wanted the tomatoes or irises or Muriel Cameron’s dahlia tubers or bits of Vi Tyner’s roses. I’m not sure this one came from Vi Tyner, who did give me moss roses, a soft pink one and another one deeper pink in colour. But it grows everywhere—old homesteads, seaside gardens, along fences in semi-industrial areas as if remembering a former house, ancient care. It grows across from the Post Office in Madeira Park, for example, and I don’t know if it ever gets pruned or watered. And there’s a place on the highway, near Middlepoint, where one grew for years and years, until it was absorbed by the forest taking over the site of a cabin that I believed burned to the ground before we arrived in 1981.
I’d thought a little about trying to identify it but somehow never did. And somehow today was the day, so I took my rose encyclopedia and a cup of coffee out to the table and went through, page by page. Until I came to ‘American Pillar.’ Bred by Dr.Van Fleet in 1902. A very prolific and widespread rose,and yes, it will survive any kind of neglect, it seems.

June is about roses and water. It’s about birds, the ones I hear at dawn, the robins that follow me in the garden for the worms they know will turn up as I pull weeds, and even the stunned orange-crowned warbler that hit John’s study window a few hours ago. I picked her (it was a female, missing the orange crown) up in a tea-towel and carried her around in one hand as I filled the bird bath, watered some vines. She blinked, looked at me with a steady gaze, closed her beak, and after about half an hour, she flew off.

Some mornings when I go out to water, I watch the hummingbirds in the roses and it feels as though my life is passing too quickly. Do you feel this? That you want the days to pass as slow as honey, that you want the birdsong to go on forever, the roses too, and you want it all, the scent of common mosses, water cool from the hose, the tendrils of cucumbers, the taste of sharp mizuna and arugula, how the light goes on into the evening so that you look up from your book and it’s 10.00. I was reading poetry last night and these lines surprised me to tears for the way they spoke to the moment. (I tucked them away to use as an epigraph for my next collection of essays because this is exactly what I meant on every page):

Tell me a story.

In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.

Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.

The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.

Tell me a story of deep delight.

             --Robert Penn Warren, "Tell Me a Story"