“…the harmonic scales of a fenceline…”

jocko creek horses
“The foal was still damp from her mother’s tongue. I put my hand out and her soft nostrils rested briefly on my palm. Then she returned to sucking. Her eyes, when she paused to look at me, were deep pools. They had only known daylight for a few hours and I thought of her still curled up in her mother’s body while I’d slept the night before; she was curled up with her brother who didn’t even taste his mother’s milk. I thought of them asleep in their watery darkness while I swam in the river, wanting to let go of life to join my own lost brother. Touching the filly’s spine as her tail flickered, I was surprised to find myself wiping away tears.

Last night we arrived home from a few days in Ottawa, celebrating Christmas with our family there. I made stone soup with one little boy, read “The Wheels on the Bus” many times to the other. We ate large meals, we walked (slowly, because of Grandad’s hips) to the park, and we slept in a room completely filled with books. (The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…) This morning I reviewed copy-edits of my novella The Weight of the Heart, due out in spring from Palimpsest Press. When I began to write this novella, the two small boys didn’t yet exist. Yet as I looked at the text this morning, I imagined them into the landscape their dad loved so well. One day we will go there with them and show them everything we love about the dry country in the interior of B.C.

at pavilion
“So we were taking that same route, but backwards; we were driving up Pavilion Mountain rather than down and we were heading north to Kelly Lake, then east to Clinton. But my body felt the road’s contours, the rich feathery growth of the pines, the tickle of those soft grasses. I could relate these things to a map but I didn’t use the map to see how to get from one place to another. I used it as a literary text of its own.”

Reading again of the main character Izzy as she searches for the places at the heart of The Double Hook, Swamp Angel, and Hetty Dorval, and as she tries to understand the final days of her brother’s life before he drowned in the Thompson River, I felt myself to be there, in autumn, among the sumac and dried rabbitbrush, the air pungent with sage, weathered wood and lyrical pines at every turn in the road. Writing a book is one thing. Editing it is another. This stage of fine-tuning the language is a gift on the last days of the old year.

above the fraser
“I wanted them to know that I’d found the contours of their language in hills, above rivers, in the shadowy reeds of a lake, the harmonic scales of a fenceline; I wanted them to know they have written books so beautiful that they’ve entered my body, have shaped the way I see the land.

“…stories belong on maps too…”

under the bridge

This morning I’m working on the (final) edits of my novella The Weight of the Heart, due out from Palimpsest Press in spring. It’s about several things, maybe even many, but at its heart is a young woman searching for the terroir of books she has loved: Ethel Wilson’s Swamp Angel and Hetty Dorval; Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook (and the rumour of Deep Hollow Creek, because my novella is set in the 1970s and DHC wasn’t published until 1992, though it was written before The Double Hook…). The young woman, who is Izzy, drives up the Fraser Canyon and over to Lac LeJeune and all the way to Dog Creek, and she marks a map—this is before gps, before Google—with textual notes. She is making a feminine (even feminist) cartography, though she wouldn’t have phrased it that way.

By association, stories belong on maps too, even the ones that were too quiet to be heard or else refuted the popular narratives. Stories have their own geography and need a scale bar that allows them to express location, relationships, emotions, weather effects on riverbanks, and the erosion of delicate landforms. Or they have their own gender and no one understands the legend.

When I was writing this novella, I didn’t think it would be published. Yet it will be, and I am so grateful. But more than that, I’m grateful to the women who wrote books that helped me to realize that our landscape has been lovingly commemorated by women who aren’t exactly household names in the great literary canon. I had the opportunity this time last year to remember one of them as part of CBC Radio’s The Backlist and with The Weight of the Heart, I have another opportunity to showcase their books.

The other week, on a little road trip, John and I stopped at Lytton to look at the Thompson River, greeny blue and somehow lithe, entering the brown Fraser River. The rabbitbrush had lost its yellow and gone to seed, sumac along the riverbank was brilliant red, and you could hear the thin voices of ospreys fishing. Always always always.