redux: old postcards from Ruby Lake

In anticipation of a family visit later this month, I’m reposting this, from 2017. Some things change and some things never change. Thank goodness.

________________________________________

We’ve lived near Ruby Lake since 1980. Well, that’s not quite right. We bought our property in 1980, began building our house in 1981, when Forrest was two weeks old (we lived in a tent while building…), and moved in on John’s birthday in 1982, just a month before Brendan was born. But I have to say the property and the lake have been our home territory since we first came to camp on a little bluff on Ruby Lake while looking at land with a real estate agent in early 1980, just a few months after we got married.

I loved swimming in the lake. The water is clean, though some summers the duck itch is irritating. So are the big boats, though the ones with (is it?) open-exhaust systems are not permitted; not permitted, but no one enforces it. And so young men (they are almost always young men) like to tear around the lake, pulling each other on skis and innertubes. The lake doesn’t have a lot of public access so the areas that are accessible are often very busy now. It didn’t used to be that way. When we first came to swim in Ruby Lake, there was a rough track down to the shore at the place where the Regional District has now made a family-friendly park. You walked through hardhack and ocean spray and entered the water amid drifts of wild mint.

To get around the busy nature of the park, where we often couldn’t find a space for our family, we’d take picnics out to one of the small islands in the boat we bought with an income tax return when the kids were small. I wrote about those picnics in “Love Song”, included in Mother Tongue Publishing’s The Summer Book:

Out in the boat with a picnic to eat on the island in the lake, the island we call White Pine for the little grove on its high point, or else “Going to Greece” for the scent of yarrow and dry grass. I spread out a bamboo mat on the spine of hill and brush ants from my legs while one child dives from the rocks and another swims underwater. The third is learning to start the boat motor, pulling the cord and adjusting the choke.

This morning I was looking for old photographs and came across a few that brought those summers vividly to mind:

postcard 2.jpg

You could sit on that grassy spine of the island and the world was as you wanted it.

postcard 1

There are manzanitas growing near the water and some scrubby pines on the rise and in spring, chocolate lilies and death camas. The scent of yarrow. Snakes, turtles.

For the past few summers, I haven’t done much swimming. By the time the sun is high and it’s hot, the lake is so busy. The prospect of finding a place among the others on the shore is daunting. John goes every day, late afternoon, and has a favourite place away from the beach. He swims off some rocks. But I like to ease into the water (I never learned to dive) and I’d rather stay home.

But last week I thought, Why not swim early? And why not? All winter we swam in the local pool, in part to deal with some side-effects of the health crisis I faced last fall (autoimmune stuff going on in one knee), and I loved being in the water again. Loved the buoyancy, the lightness of being, the opportunity for long meditative thinking as I swam lengths in the warm water. So after the first round of watering, after the tomato plants have been given their drink, and the roses too, we head down to the park. No more hardhack right at the shore. No more mint. But also a kind of blessed quiet. No self-respecting jet-boater is up before 9.  We enter the green water and listen to crows overhead. This morning there were a few people camping in the parking lot. A motorhome. A van. A small pick-up truck with a tent in the back. Two motorcycles with a pup tent between them. As we walked down to the beach, a guy was standing by the water. His entire body was tattooed. He told us how beautiful the lake was, that he was going to go swimming, and that he and his partner had arrived too late for the campsite at Klein Lake so they came back to the park and put their tent up by their bikes. I knew John was remembering his own first glimpse of Ruby Lake, in the early 1970s, with a girlfriend— they also arrived on motorbikes after dark and camped in a clearing off the highway. When they woke the next morning, they saw the lake below them. He never forgot its beauty. That’s why we’re here.

In a few weeks, some of the kids (and one grandson) will arrive for a week. They spend as much time in the water as they can. There will be towels everywhere, and the smell of wet hair. I can’t wait.

How long can a girl dive before her father accords her a perfect score, how many times can a boy circumnavigate the island with the throttle on low? Another practises the dead man’s float. Three years, or six. Drift on a raft under the low-growing spirea and bog laurel, count turtles on logs, crush a few leaves of wild mint in your hands while the years accumulate. Nine years, or twelve. ( from “Love Song”)

postcard 3.jpg

Summer postcard

towels

And now it’s time, the sundial showing itself beneath a tangle of green leaves smelling of lemon and loud with bees, the yellow-faced, orange-rumped, Sitka, and western. The table is set; time to come up from the lake. Old songs play on the stereo, the ones we’ve sung all these years in summer. You can’t hurry love. Come along, your bodies cool, duck-itchy, the baby fat turned to muscle, your own children in your arms as you scatter damp towels and hang bathing suits on the railings.

—from “Love Song”, included in The Summer Book, Mother Tongue Publishing, 2017

“…we made campfires in rings of stones…”

Maker:S,Date:2017-10-11,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

A photograph arrived the other day, two grandchildren in new hats at an Alberta campsite, and it brought back memories of our summers, our camping trips, the scent of woodsmoke and the sting of mosquitoes. Time to pull out last year’s The Summer Book, an anthology of wonderful essays and reflections on sunlight and swimming and the passing of time.

The light is our clock. We talk quietly in bed, listening to the birds. In the night, there were loons, and we’re glad they’ve chosen the bay below us for nesting. One of us remembers a summer when the house was filled with children. Another remembers waking in the tent to face a day of house-building, framing and lifting walls, running out of nails, measuring and measuring again the bird’s mouth notches so that the rafters would rest snugly on the wall plates. One baby slept in a basket on the sleeping bag in the blue tent. (The others were still unborn, waiting to be dreamed into being.) One baby slept in a crib in the new wing of the house, in a room next to the one with bunk beds, while I walked in the garden in a cotton nightdress, coaxing the peas to attach themselves to wire. Three children didn’t sleep as the sun set later and later, long past bedtime, and we made campfires in rings of stones, sat on a cedar plank while the smoke rose to the stars. In the garden, the sundial (Grow Old With Me, The Best Is Yet to Come) was smothered by lemon balm.

—from “Love Song”, in The Summer Book, Mother Tongue Publishing, 2017

old postcards from Ruby Lake

We’ve lived near Ruby Lake since 1980. Well, that’s not quite right. We bought our property in 1980, began building our house in 1981, when Forrest was two weeks old (we lived in a tent while building…), and moved in on John’s birthday in 1982, just a month before Brendan was born. But I have to say the property and the lake have been our home territory since we first came to camp on a little bluff on Ruby Lake while looking at land with a real estate agent in early 1980, just a few months after we got married.

I loved swimming in the lake. The water is clean, though some summers the duck itch is irritating. So are the big boats, though the ones with (is it?) open-exhaust systems are not permitted; not permitted, but no one enforces it. And so young men (they are almost always young men) like to tear around the lake, pulling each other on skis and innertubes. The lake doesn’t have a lot of public access so the areas that are accessible are often very busy now. It didn’t used to be that way. When we first came to swim in Ruby Lake, there was a rough track down to the shore at the place where the Regional District has now made a family-friendly park. You walked through hardhack and ocean spray and entered the water amid drifts of wild mint.

To get around the busy nature of the park, where we often couldn’t find a space for our family, we’d take picnics out to one of the small islands in the boat we bought with an income tax return when the kids were small. I wrote about those picnics in “Love Song”, included in Mother Tongue Publishing’s The Summer Book:

Out in the boat with a picnic to eat on the island in the lake, the island we call White Pine for the little grove on its high point, or else “Going to Greece” for the scent of yarrow and dry grass. I spread out a bamboo mat on the spine of hill and brush ants from my legs while one child dives from the rocks and another swims underwater. The third is learning to start the boat motor, pulling the cord and adjusting the choke.

This morning I was looking for old photographs and came across a few that brought those summers vividly to mind:

postcard 2.jpg

You could sit on that grassy spine of the island and the world was as you wanted it.

postcard 1

There are manzanitas growing near the water and some scrubby pines on the rise and in spring, chocolate lilies and death camas. The scent of yarrow. Snakes, turtles.

For the past few summers, I haven’t done much swimming. By the time the sun is high and it’s hot, the lake is so busy. The prospect of finding a place among the others on the shore is daunting. John goes every day, late afternoon, and has a favourite place away from the beach. He swims off some rocks. But I like to ease into the water (I never learned to dive) and I’d rather stay home.

But last week I thought, Why not swim early? And why not? All winter we swam in the local pool, in part to deal with some side-effects of the health crisis I faced last fall (autoimmune stuff going on in one knee), and I loved being in the water again. Loved the buoyancy, the lightness of being, the opportunity for long meditative thinking as I swam lengths in the warm water. So after the first round of watering, after the tomato plants have been given their drink, and the roses too, we head down to the park. No more hardhack right at the shore. No more mint. But also a kind of blessed quiet. No self-respecting jet-boater is up before 9.  We enter the green water and listen to crows overhead. This morning there were a few people camping in the parking lot. A motorhome. A van. A small pick-up truck with a tent in the back. Two motorcycles with a pup tent between them. As we walked down to the beach, a guy was standing by the water. His entire body was tattooed. He told us how beautiful the lake was, that he was going to go swimming, and that he and his partner had arrived too late for the campsite at Klein Lake so they came back to the park and put their tent up by their bikes. I knew John was remembering his own first glimpse of Ruby Lake, in the early 1970s, with a girlfriend— they also arrived on motorbikes after dark and camped in a clearing off the highway. When they woke the next morning, they saw the lake below them. He never forgot its beauty. That’s why we’re here.

In a few weeks, some of the kids (and one grandson) will arrive for a week. They spend as much time in the water as they can. There will be towels everywhere, and the smell of wet hair. I can’t wait.

How long can a girl dive before her father accords her a perfect score, how many times can a boy circumnavigate the island with the throttle on low? Another practises the dead man’s float. Three years, or six. Drift on a raft under the low-growing spirea and bog laurel, count turtles on logs, crush a few leaves of wild mint in your hands while the years accumulate. Nine years, or twelve. ( from “Love Song”)

postcard 3.jpg

in any way possible

new dawn

This morning I was up early, just before 5, to work on the corrections of Euclid’s Orchard. Before I got out of bed, I heard the dawn chorus begin, the sound coming in the window as it does every year. I wrote about this in my essay “Love Song”, included in The Summer Book, which had one of its launches yesterday at the Sylvia Hotel in Vancouver, an event I’d loved to have participated in but we’re leaving tomorrow morning for 10 days in Ottawa so I couldn’t get away so soon before our departure.

On an early summer morning, I wake to the sound of Swainson’s thrushes. Beyond my bedroom window, beyond the house, they sing where the woods begin. And there are robins, vireos, the long whistle of a varied thrush. My curtains are rough white linen and they filter light, the light at dawn, coming from the east, pink and golden as the sun finds its way over Mount Hallowell. My husband sleeps closest to the window and he pulls the curtains aside to let in more song. There is honeysuckle blooming, and dog roses, trumpet vines. Hummingbirds bury themselves in the flowers. The pink throats of the tree frogs inflate, a loud vibrato close enough to touch.

This morning I listened and then came downstairs to work at the dining table (my desk is too cluttered…), reading and correcting, and stopping now and then to think about how an essay began or to wonder if others would remember a particular event the way I do. I confess to a little trepidation about this book. It’s very personal. But when I wrote at least three of the essays, I was in a strange place; I was living between worlds, between the living and the dead. I know that sounds dramatic but it felt very much that way in the fall as I waited for the results of tests and scans, all undertaken because of the suspicious nature of some nodules in my lungs. For a time, it was thought that they might be metastases, which meant that every effort had to be made to determine either the location of primary cancer or to rule it out. I am grateful that the results were so good and that I am actually very healthy (I always took my robust health for granted) and in a profound way I am grateful also for the time I spent in the company of ghosts. I learned things. I finished things. My daughter Angelica translated a line from Ovid’s Tristia for me to use as an epigraph for one section in the essay “West of the 4th Meridian: A Libretto for Migrating Voices”:  I wish to be with you in any way possible. When I was writing the essay, I didn’t know what might be possible. I only knew I didn’t want to waste time. And this morning, getting up from the table to make coffee, I looked out to see the New Dawns cascading over a beam on the patio.  A warbler paused for a moment on the little hanging birdbath by the kitchen window. In any way possible

Bedtime Reading

bedtime reading, approaching summer

I always have a stack of books on my bedside table and I’m often reading three or four simultaneously. Sometimes that’s because a certain mood requires a certain book. Human Acts by Han Kang is so devastating that I can only read a few pages at a time. The prose is quiet and even lyrical and it takes a few moments to realize that you are reading about bodies putrefying in the wake of the 1980 Gwangju Uprising in South Korea. It’s an important book, an important record. But difficult to absorb in many ways. How an army can massacre its own citizens. Mutilate them. Refuse the bodies the right to burial by those who loved them.

And Katherena Vermette’s The Break is extraordinary. The way the narrative unfolds is like a rich and beautifully embellished textile unfolding and when you look closely, read the details closely, you realize how dark the tale. And yet there’s light—as soft and quiet as moonlight across snow or the glowing stones in a sweatlodge fire. There’s hope too, for all the characters, almost indistinguishable from love.

Birth of a Theorem by Cedric Villani was a birthday gift from my mathematician son. I’ve read it once and it bears re-reading. As any of you who read my essay “Euclid’s Orchard” will learn, math was a subject that terrified me and still gives me nightmares. Or at least it did until I decided to find out why and how that happened and what I could do to find my way into its beautiful mysteries. Birth of a Theorem takes the reader into the process of developing a theorem and in many ways it’s not unlike the process of working out a quilt design or the pattern a collection of essays should take. I loved the correspondences even if the intricacies of the mathematics are completely beyond my thinking.

And The Summer Book is the new anthology of essays about the season we are just approaching (if we use the notion of astronomical summer to define the beginning…). 24 B.C. writers contributed pieces to this book and there’s huge range in the writing. Last night I read Sarah De Leeuw’s “Beige Corduroy Coat Worn Over Turquoise Bathing Suit”. A caption from a fashion magazine? Only in the imagination of a girl living in a remote town the summer before she enters grade six: “I imagine myself on a catwalk, perfect posture. The waves roll and crash on the beach north of Port Clements. The coat rides up over my bottom as I walk, an eyelid of turquoise bathing suit winking out.” My own contribution to the anthology is “Love Song”, 35 summers remembered into an essay about lakes and duck itch and picnics and birdsong. It’s an essay that gathers all my loved ones, the living and the dead,  together for a grand dinner, even the dogs.

Here they are, with their dishes of tomatoes, prawns, skewers of chicken, the familiar brownies dusted with icing sugar. They are standing on the patio where the young robins are learning to fly, where the lizards cross from woodshed to stones in the blink of an eye.

 

same old

We drove from Creston to Osoyoos today, along the Salmo Creston Road where there was snow at the summit, and a frozen lake. Part of the road washed away, simply collapsed down the side of the mountain, and a crew working hard to replace it. Same situation at Bonanza Pass, the whole side of the highway washed down the ravine. The Kettle River was higher than I’ve ever seen it. Along a stretch of highway just past Bridesville, road repairs from water that had uprooted small pines and taken down pasture fences. And today of course the American president has pulled out of the Paris Accord. The world begins to look like a place I don’t want to remain alive in forever, though I want my grandchildren to have a safe and healthy planet. Their parents are doing the right things, one of them a climate scientist who must despair when she reads the headlines. But still she walks everywhere with her babies, feeds them well, reads to them, and doesn’t own a car, preferring public transit and a bicycle when possible.

But some things are reassuringly the same. The house I always stop to photograph at the foot of Anarchist Mountain? It’s still there. I didn’t stop today but can use the photograph from last fall because other than the fact that the grass was green rather than golden this afternoon, the house is beautiful and serene in its age and resilience.

lawless house, anarchist mountain

As we head for home—tomorrow!—I think of the summer ahead, the prospect of visitors (Forrest, Manon, and Arthur in late July, Angie and her beau overlapping I hope, and others here and there), the chamber music festival I help to organize, a new book arriving in early September, a garden (which will be overgrown when we arrive after two weeks away), birdsong from all those nesting near the house, swims in the lake, cool wine in late afternoon, the first sockeye on the barbeque.

An essay of mine is included in Mother Tongue Publishing’s spectacular The Summer Book and in it I remember everything I’ve ever loved about summers and my family. How time doesn’t pass, how it accumulates, how everything is contained in a single memory that takes a whole life to celebrate.

There are calzones in the basket and tins of sparkling lemonade; later, bottles of cider, cool from the shallows where they’ve been corraled with rocks. How long can a girl dive before her father accords her a perfect score, how many times can a boy circumnavigate the island with the throttle on low? Another practices the dead man’s float. Three years, or six. Drift on a raft under the low-growing spirea and bog laurel, count turtles on logs, crush a few leaves of wild mint in your hands while the years accumulate. Nine years, or twelve.

I called my essay “Love Song”. And it is.