“…the Deadman and Bonaparte, Upper Hat Creek”

back in the river

                                                                 the Deadman and Bonaparte, Upper Hat Creek,

Coldwater, and the Kispiox where my children waded on a hot day in July, the Leech and Jordan, the Nitinat and Koksilah, the Oyster and Nimpkish, the Po (a rock, with an inscription, “Qui nasce il Po”, near Pian del Re, then the long journey to its fossil delta) and Arno (where I stood on another bridge and wished I could afford soft gloves) and the sweet Hoh, Queets, and Ozette where I camped as a young woman, the Snake, the Escalante and Kanab, the Lost and the Warm, and the Coeur d’Alene,

the Kern, the Mad, Klamath, and Rowdy Creek,

the Sooke, the Elk,

and the one I walk to season after season, near my home, where coho salmon swim in by starlight

and mergansers wait to feed on their eggs.

Note: this is an extract from “How Rivers Break Away and Meet Again”, included in Blue Portugal and Other Essays, available from any bookseller.

“…the book will return…”

leaves from Hallowell Road

I woke up this morning with all kinds of ideas about form, how it finds us rather than the opposite, how for some of us, our life’s work is all of a piece, an ongoing composition that allows for — even encourages — continous engagement. I’d read a review of Jorie Graham’s From the New World: Poems 1976-2014, by Ange Mlinko and I think I was dreaming of Graham’s poetry, heard its music and wild intelligence all through my sleep. She is a poet who mines the deep seams of Western culture from a personal perspective, always questioning and questing. And the way she positions her lines on a page, challenging the space and accomodating them to its imperfections — no one else does that in the same way. Mlinko has her reservations about some of Graham’s later work but says, “Her long-lined long poems expand into time like a lyric version of manifest destiny.”(http://www.thenation.com/article/modernist-poetry-in-a-crowdsourcing-age/) She is an unabashed Modernist and I suppose that one of the reasons I find her work so persistently exciting and congenial is because those are my values too. I go to the great Modernist writers of the 20th century as often as I look for something new. And reading, say, Virginia Woolf or Katherine Mansfield, Basil Bunting or James Joyce, I find the world made new again and again. And then again. In The Second Common Reader, Woolf proposes the ideal way to read, which is an ideal guide to her own work of course as well as those books we return to over and over again:

The first process, to receive impressions with the utmost understanding, is only half the process of reading; it must be completed, if we are to get the whole pleasure from a book, by another. We must pass judgement upon those multitudinous impressions; we must make of these fleeting shapes one that is hard and lasting. But not directly. Wait for the dust of reading to settle; for the conflict and the questioning to die down; walk, talk, pull the dead petals from a rose, or fall asleep. Then suddenly without our willing it, for it is thus that Nature undertakes these transitions, the book will return, but differently. It will float to the top of the mind as a whole. (from “How Should One Read A Book?”)

I wrote down those early thoughts this morning and then promptly lost the post into some Internet fog. And the day happened, with some housework, a long walk in search of mushrooms (only two chanterelles worth keeping and several pines too sodden to bring home), the rescue of a tiny rough-skinned newt from the road where it had crept out and then lost too much body heat to move any further, and listening to, then seeing, a kingfisher above the marsh between Hallowell Road and Sakinaw Lake, where Ruby Creek swirls in its autumn fullness, and where I hoped to see cutthroat but instead only found long streaks of white guano where eagles had feasted on their bodies. The day happened and the sun has set, though there was such a glow of late sun in the cascara just beyond my window. Everything full of everything else, shape-shifting.

What is the light
at the end of the day, deep, reddish-gold, bathing the walls,
the corridors, light that is no longer light, no longer clarifies,
illuminates, antique, freed from the body of
that air that carries it. What is it
for the space of time
where it is useless, merely

(from “Salmon” by Jorie Graham)



Watercolour, December 1st

This morning we walked to Haskins Creek again. Three days ago we didn’t see a single salmon in the creek but now they’ve arrived! These are Oncorhynchus kisutch, the coho salmon.




Haskins is a narrow creek, hung with salmonberry, ferns, and other native plants as well as Himalayan blackberry vines encroaching at the lower end where the creek empties into Sakinaw Lake. One year Angelica and her friend Gloria did a science project in which they sampled aquatic insects in this creek over a five week period and found that the numbers and varieties of insects indicated that the water quality was quite high. There are huge cedars near the creek too. Later in the run, we’ll find spawned-out carcasses distributed over the ground where eagles, bears, and ravens have dragged them.

For some years I’ve followed the work of Dr. Tom Reimchen at the University of Victoria. He’s a biologist who studies the relationships between salmon and forests of the western Pacific coast. One of his areas of interest is the occurance of the salmon signature in the growth rings of ancient trees. I’m not a scientist but I think it works this way. Nitrogen 15 is an isotope occuring mostly in marine organisms. Salmon are eaten by bears, wolves, and birds, and what’s left of the carcass enters the terrestrial ecosytem through decay as well as in the excrement of the birds and mammals who distribute the heavy nitrogen in the forests. The number of salmon in any one year will vary depending on species and whether it’s a peak year or not. So the tree ring growth will reflect these flucuations. The story gets more complicated of course as all good stories do but I think of this amazing cycle every time I see the fish and the huge trees growing by Haskins Creek.


Indigo fish, buttoned

Progress on the fish quilt has been, well, slow. Life has intervened — weddings, short trips, a delivery of five yards of mushroom manure for the garden. But now that cold weather is here, I have such a yearning to sit in the big wicker rocking chair by the fire, stitching. I had problems finding backing for this quilt — nothing I had on hand quite worked so I ordered a big flannel sheet in a lovely marine blue which was backordered, then lost. Finally I found unbleached cotton of a good weight and went through the process of preshrinking, drying, and then piecing to the right size.

So here are the three layers, basted together, waiting to be quilted.

And in a moment of what I hope was inspiration and not foolishness, I thought how lovely it would be to articulate the spines of each fish with small shell buttons. I think this will echo the beautiful Tlingit button blankets with their emblematic fish and birds.

Indigo fish, blue water, red frame

I spent the morning finishing the salmon quilt top. In June I batiked fish onto cotton squares, applied a shibori pattern with thread, and then dyed the squares in indigo. Not really with a plan in mind, I submerged the remains of the old cotton sheet I’d cut the squares from in the bucket of indigo dye and left it for a few days. I was surprised and delighted with the marbled pale blue results. So I cut squares out of that cloth and alternated fish blocks with squares of marbled blue. I used 4″ strips of deep red cotton between the rows and then framed the whole thing with 6″ sashing of the same red cotton. I’m really happy with this top and look forward to sandwiching organic cotton batting between it and a backing I haven’t yet decided on, basting it all together, and then beginning the actual hand-quilting, which is probably my favourite part.

Here’s a photograph of the top hanging on the clothes line. The colours aren’t quite right. The indigo is deeper and the paler marbled squares are richer. But this gives the idea and I’ll add progress reports as I go along.