“All these years later, Winter Wren is what happened.”

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She listened to the creek falling to the beach. She pulled off her sweater, threw it to the rocks. Her corduroy trousers. She left on her canvas sneakers. And darted under the shelf where the fossils slept in the wall of stone. With a little shriek, she stepped forward into the shower of cold water.

She turned so every part of her body met the water, thrusting her chest forward, her breasts stinging at the contact, her legs shuddering. The pool the water tumbled into came half-way up her calves, icy as glaciers. Freshets ran down her back and she could not feel her knees, her elbows.

And now it was dark, moonlight just beginning to glitter on the ocean. Gasping and coughing, she groped with icy hands for her clothing, wrapping her sweater around her shoulders and not bothering to put on her pants. Sneakers squelching, she climbed the bank and found her way back up to the cabin where her candle guttered in the night air. She could not stop shaking. Rubbing her body briskly with a towel and wrapping another around her dripping hair, she realized she had not felt so alive in months.

Any moment now, Winter Wren will be arriving from the printer. It’s the first offering from Fish Gotta Swim Editions and to say I’m excited and nervous about the whole enterprise is an understatement of enormous proportions. It’s a novella about a place — the cabin and the beach in the photograph above the extract from the book. And it’s about a character, Grace Oakden, who appears in an earlier book, The Age of Water Lilies. I visited a book club to talk about that novel and someone asked, What happened to Grace? I had no answer but it got me thinking. And wondering. Winter Wren is the result. In it is buried a meditation on the 19th c. photographers and artifact collectors (Charles Newcombe, et. al.) who plundered and celebrated and recorded the west coast. The issue is complicated and this novella understands that.

On my study wall is a framed series of nine photographs, illustrating the book’s mantra: Bring me the view at dusk. Nine panels for nine window frames. It was given me by my daughter for my 60th birthday.Every morning I study it while I’m waiting for my computer to boot up and every morning I hear the surf, the noisy creek falling over its shelf of sandstone, smell the kelp. When I wrote the book, I had a hard time leaving its world each day to return to the dailiness of my present life, a dailiness I love and that anchors me in a sturdy durable way. But some days I wonder what would have happened if I’d actually left a note on the door of the cabin you can see above the creek, asking if I could rent the place. That was 1974. All these years later, Winter Wren is what happened.

“A map of houses and days, of secrets and details noticed by a child fiercely in love with the pattern trees make with their shadows…”

 

We spent a few days in Victoria, visiting Angelica and Sahand, and it was (as usual) a time of great pleasure and wistful nostalgia. They live in the neighbourhood where I spent part of my childhood; in fact, they are a block away from my elementary school, the one in which I sat near a window and gazed out at Moss Rocks, thinking of the wildflowers on its sunny slopes, and wondering how many more hours I had to sit in the classroom before I could take the path over the rocks and home. We lived near the Ross Bay Cemetery. My mother would say to us on summer mornings, “Go play in the cemetery. I don’t want to see you until lunch.” I rode my bike down its quiet lanes and I had my favourite graves. Some of them were the graves of children; I cried by a small stone armchair with an empty pair of shoes, the grave of D.B. Campbell, who died in 1913 at 17 months of age, “a little hero”. I used to lie on the warm grass and listen to water. Impossible, my father said. But I knew I heard water. It wasn’t until about 2005 that I found out about the buried streams under the cemetery and in fact throughout Fairfield. I gave the experience of listening to water to Tessa, one of the main characters in my novel, The Age of Water Lilies. And like Tessa, I also played in the yard of Stewart Monumental Works where men engraved tombstones while children darted among the slabs of granite and marble and buried each other in the sand beneath a crawlspace under the building. “A map of houses and days, of secerets and details noticed by a child fiercely in love with the pattern trees make with their shadows in sunlight, of the softening touch of moss on an inscription set in motion in a box canyon where lovers lay in dry grass and dreamed of a future now collapsed by violence. Off the edges of the map, the world settles its story and what can anyone do but remember the route water takes through the decades on its singular journey to the sea.” And much earlier than any of this, the Lekwungen people used the creeks as transportation corridors through their territory. A place contains so many layers of history, so many occupations, so many stories. Sometimes, if the light is right and we are attentive enough, we can apprehend something of this richness. A house, a grave, a creek, a case of masks in the Royal British Columbia Museum with information about the Winter Ceremonials to remind us that our own experience is recent, that the ravens we hear in the yews at the cemetery are the descendents of those who inspired the Crooked Beak of Heaven.

And then a night in Vancouver — John was reading at the Vancouver Public Library as part of the Vancouver Writers Festival Incite Series — where we stayed in our favourite hotel   (speaking of history): http://victorianhotel.ca/   It’s kind of quirky and the breakfast room is always in yet another stage of renovation but the rooms are comfortable and the rates are so reasonable, particularly for Vancouver. (And imagine, you get breakfast too: wonderful croissants and baguettes with fruit and coffee.) When you sit at the table in the window of your room in the morning, you have the sense that you are truly somewhere. Not just anywhere, but a place, a location, a building with echoes of its making in the brickwork around the windows, the little glimpses of other buildings around the corner:

from the Victorian Hotel

The hotel was built as a guesthouse in 1898 and occupies a corner in what might be termed a “transistional” neighbourhood. But on the other corner, Finch’s — the best sandwiches in the city: we had fresh baguette stuffed with sliced free-range eggs, butter lettuce, dijon and mayo, and thick slices of tomato. Nearby, Sikora’s, for cds (some of us will probably never learn to download music. I still don’t know what an ITune is). And around the corner, The Paper Hound, a marvellous independent bookstore.

Driving away from the Victorian, along Hastings yesterday, I saw the Marine Building ahead of us, cradled by a curved glass tower in morning sun. The new, the old. The Marine Building is one of the most beautiful structures in Vancouver. It was built in 1929-1930, with Art Deco carvings and plasterwork and a Mayan effect in its upper stories; at 21 floors, it was the signature skyscraper of its time. You might not notice it if you’re walking along Hastings or Pender, listening to your ITunes, but if you look up, there it is. Unforgettable.

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we’re #28

I love the series of Literary Landmarks featured in B.C. BookWorld online. (http://bcbooklook.com/2015/12/02/john-pass-theresa-kishkan/) John and I are #28; our landmark is the corner of May Street and Memorial Crescent in Victoria, the locus for my novel The Age of Water Lilies and a place very dear to both of us. As new lovers we walked those enchanted streets and into the Ross Bay Cemetery which was where I played as a child, riding my bike up and down its quiet lanes and listening to the buried streams flowing under it to the Strait of Juan of Fuca.

And I love this photo of us, taken by my brother in early summer, 1980. What shows: our youth, our happiness. What doesn’t show: I was newly pregnant with our son Forrest, though I didn’t know it would be him. (I had the option of knowing the gender after an ultrasound but I thought I’d like to be surprised.)

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the road from Lillooet to Kamloops, via Pavilion

First, a walk below Lillooet along the Fraser River, a path we quickly realized was a bear’s daily route. Scat every ten feet or so, filled with pin cherry pits and rose-hips, one so utterly fresh it almost steamed. But no other sign of him. We were led to the edge of the river by deer tracks, made just a little earlier:

P1100697The pines had long needles (not always the case in dry country) so I decided to gather them at various points today and tomorrow to make a basket when we return. Readers of Mnemonic: A Book of Trees might remember my efforts a few years ago and my hands have the sense they’d like to try again.

“Take a bundle of three pine needles (or two bundles, says one book). So take your three, six, or even eight pine needles, and snip the sheath(s) off the end (or pinch off between your fingers). Make a little circle of one end with a tail of the sheath-end of the needles. Thread a length of raffia onto a wide-eyed tapestry needle and begin to wrap the circle, drawing the tapestry needle from back to front. Oh, I am all fingers, all thumbs! No dexterity at all. I study the diagram, wrap my circle, drop my pine needles, and unravel my raffia until it is impossible to work with. I begin again, burning that first attempt. Then the second.”

I loved the cactus gardens and the little nest in the top of a small tree:

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P1100715On the road through the Fountain Reserve, there were signs:

P1100721and when we reached Pavilion, we saw the sad evidence that the store had burned down: the remains of a beautiful stone fireplace and a two-storey chimney, metal flashing still intact. (Actually we knew this because we drove the road last in 2009 but I’d forgotten. The first time we saw the Pavilion store was on a camping trip with our children and we’d driven down over Pavilion Mountain, through the Diamond S Ranch, on a hot day and we stopped at the store for ice-cream.)

P1100726Hoodoos near Marble Canyon:

P1100736We didn’t drive into Walhachin this time but looked across the dry bench and over the Thompson River to where it exists like a small piece of history wrapped inside an enigma. Every time we pass, we realize that the flumes that were constructed in 1909-10 to carry water to the orchard community from springs near Deadman River, some twenty miles away, are a little more decrepit. They haven’t carried water for almost a century but when I did a reading tour for my novel The Age of Water Lilies, which is partly set in Walhachin, many people talked about the flumes and told me stories about a great-uncle who’d worked on them or a grandfather who went off to fight in the Great War, some of them with Lord Strathcona’s Horse, and I know that the flumes hold memories more seamlessly than they ever held water.

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