“I sing of a night..”


Yesterday I was down in Sechelt (about 45 minutes south of where I live) and I thought how festive the small town looked. In the Bakery, where we had coffee and one of the delicious chocolate-dipped shortbreads, John observed that every surface was decorated. Big tins of gingerbread people, silver stars, baskets of the shortbreads (and several other versions), so that we felt we sitting inside a Dickens story. And outside, the chestnuts and acacias on the square were draped with lights, the trees along Cowrie Street twinkled, the storefronts were bright with stars and garlands. I wonder if it’s easier somehow to keep Christmas in a minor key when the place where you shop is so lovely? I was thinking about this as I drank my coffee this morning, planning how best to pack the parcels going to Victoria and Edmonton (we are going to Ottawa for a few days over Christmas so it’ll be a matter of finding room in our suitcases for the gifts going there). I remembered the early days of our family life here and how we wondered if we’d be able to continue the traditions of a tree cut on Christmas Eve, cards printed on our old platen press, simple presents for our immediate family, baskets and bags of homemade treats for our friends. I’m happy to say that most of this continues. I say “most” because this year the card—a Steller’s jay cut into lino—didn’t work out, despite two days of painstaking work on the part of the printer. I made the lino-cut, from a sketch by our friend Liz, using a photograph and an actual jay on the railing of the deck, eating its breakfast. John set the type, blocked it up, but the ink was old and the results aren’t nice. We are of two minds. He wants to send it, with an apologetic verse (more typesetting, more tedious fiddling). I don’t.

Still, the woods look so beautiful this morning and the oranges in a bowl in the kitchen smells like Christmases past and today I’ll wrap and package the things I hope carry messages of deep affection and longing. The old carols call, asking to be played, to be remembered on the cold days leading up to the day itself. My favourite might be the haunting “Don oiche ud i mbeithil“, recited by Burgess Meredith in English, sung in Irish by Kevin Conneff, on The Bells of Dublin.

I sing of a night in Bethlehem
a night as bright as dawn
I sing of that night in Bethlehem
the night the Word was born

radio’s perfect at night…

…when you’re driving the dark highway home from the ferry and Bruce Cockburn is offering a playlist on the CBC. You tune in late, much later than you think, and first, just past Roberts Creek, it’s Ian and Sylvia Tyson singing “Four Strong Winds”, which has you thinking ahead, to Thursday (“Think I’ll go out to Alberta/ weather’s good there in the fall”) when you’ll fly to see your baby grand-daughter in Edmonton, those sweet harmonies part of how you came of age yourself. And then, just before Sechelt, it’s Joni Mitchell singing “Amelia”, with its beautiful high notes and its hexagons of the heavens, the strings of her guitar, and those geometric farms, which you’ll see as your plane descends after crossing the Rockies. Perfect at night as the moon appears, not blood-red or in full eclipse (you missed that while you napped in the car on the ferry), but shrugging its shoulder until the grey shadow falls away. Leonard Cohen sings of the future, the one that is almost upon us:

Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul…

Oh, and Sarah Harmer, as you drive home, home past Halfmoon Bay, makes it personal:

A raincoat and a French beret
The rolling hills of past mistakes
Like quiet under cloud

And I will long look to the churning sea
This call to arms means wrap them
Around the first person you see.

And then, just before the coyote crosses the road near Kleindale, Bruce has the good sense to ask Tom Waits to sing you the last miles:

Far far away a train
Whistle blows
Wherever you’re goin
Wherever you’ve been
Waving good bye at the end
Of the day
You’re up and you’re over
And you’re far away.

And when you arrive, the moon is waiting, full and silver as though nothing has ever happened and the world is still hopeful and waiting for tomorrow.