winter work

winter work

It’s cold out and the fire is warm, the coffee dark and strong. I’m thinking about the past year, how it was filled with strange medical adventures, a few wonderful road trips (Waterton Lakes before the fire with its hills covered in arrow-leaved balsamroot, bluebirds on the fence-posts, bighorn sheep watching us eat breakfast at the Prince of Wales Hotel), time with friends and family. Oh, and a book, Euclid’s Orchard. I suspect I may have posted this passage before but I’m doing this exact thing today and everything that has ever happened seems to happen again. Or at least that’s what I want to believe.

Inside I am stitching a spiral into the layers of the orchard I have pieced together, a snail shell curled into itself. That’s what I’ll see when I’ve finished. I begin the spiral at its very heart, keeping my course as even as I can as it opens out and widens. Not the complicated pathways of the sunflower, some turning left, some right, so that an optimal number of seeds are packed in uniformly, or Romanesco broccoli, its arcs within radii resulting in something so intricately beautiful I wonder how anyone could cut into it to eat it. On windowsills, pinecones. The plump Ponderosas, brought home from the Nicola Valley, and a few long Monticolas. They’re dry, open, but at the base, where their stalk connected them to their trees, two spirals are still visible, like a relaxed embrace, lovers asleep. My spirals are simple, my hands sewing to follow a path from its knotted source, around and around, until I’ve learned that my pleasure comes from the journey itself, a needle leading me outward, towards completion. A quilt elegant and sturdy, a sequence emptied of its numbers.

— from Euclid’s Orchard, Mother Tongue Publishing, 2017

on heaven’s door

When we drove into the Waterton Lakes park, we were listening to Dylan. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” A song kind of melodramatic and full of guns but still somehow poignant. If you can listen to a whole song for a single line, a refrain, this is the one.

There were so many moments when I felt I was at that door. Early morning, walking along Pass Creek (this is one of its names and for obvious reasons, it’s the one I’ll use), through the red rock chasm, glacier lilies in profuse blooms on the slope. Driving the bison paddock where male bison were in the wallows and the females were settled along the edges of a small  lake, their young stilty-legged beside them. And mountain bluebirds on fenceposts—


Last night we had a drink at the bar in the Prince of Wales Hotel. We didn’t stay there but I thought I’d like to ascend its long driveway and have a glass of something sparkling as the light faded. The view of the lake in its bowl of mountain was sublime. When we wandered out into the lobby afterwards — a huge baronial hall, actually — John saw the dining room and decided we should have breakfast there this morning on our way to Pincher Creek, then west on the Crows Nest highway. We were the only ones there for the first while, eating our eggs Benedict (well, mine were Florentine) at a table overlooking that serene view, watching three bighorn sheep come towards the tall windows, stop just in time, then settle on the grass in front of us.

breakfast companions

Now in Creston where we just ate delicious Indian food and drank some local Baillie-Grohman wine, a 2016 Récolte Blanche, lovely with the spicy lamb and paneer. Tomorrow we drive west towards home, through the Boundary country where my grandfather worked in 1911 at Phoenix and where I always feel my heart widen in those open spaces between Grand Forks and Osoyoos.  If we’re lucky, there will be bluebirds near Princeton and we’ll watch for the beautiful St. Ann’s church near Hedley. If heaven’s door opened, I know what I hope to see.

postcard from Waterton Lakes

Plains bison with calves, black bears with cubs, a herd of bighorn sheep, a single mountain goat on the Cameron Lake road, bluebirds, two cranes flying above the meadows, deer, the sound of water, the snowy peaks, scent of poplar, mayflies over Emerald Bay, magpies in every tree, sticky geranium, larkspur, arrow-leaf balsam root, low soft blue lupines (I didn’t bring a plant book so can’t be specific), fescues and death camas and glacier lilies at Red Rock Canyon. Dear ones, how I wish you were here.

mum and child

moosehorned cedars circled his swamps and tossed
their antlers up to the stars
then he knew though the mountain slept the winds
were shaping its peak to an arrowhead

And now he could only
bar himself in and wait
for the great flint to come singing into his heart

—from “Bushed” by Earle Birney