redux: years

Note: the year of this post was 2016. Three years later, we are quietly celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary with an afternoon concert, followed by duck (yes!) and a Desert Hills wine in our Waterford glasses. There are now 4 grandchildren. Perhaps a thousand more books. I don’t think we have any Gamay left but there’s one of the Helena rosés. Anyway, this morning the first thing John said to me was, I’d do it all again. And I would too.

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I’d stayed with my parents in Victoria the night before my wedding and I hadn’t packed anything warm. So on that cool morning, I put on the dress — white cotton with a laced bodice, circa 1979 (which it was) — and brushed my hair, arranged the wreath of yellow roses my mum’s friend made for me, and pulled on the old Cowichan sweater I’d left in my parents’ basement. Then I got into the Mazda pickup with my dad and we headed out for the 11’o’clock ceremony performed by a Unitarian minister wearing a Welsh fisherman’s smock at an old heritage house turned restaurant near Sidney. My groom was waiting in his Harris tweed jacket and wide corduroy pants. A tie! A belt with a big hand-forged buckle. There’s only one photograph of us because my brother said he’d take pictures and for some reason they didn’t work out. But I’ve never forgotten the day. Or where it led.

wedding1

I still have the dress, tucked away in a trunk. And that belt is still around. We have accumulated so much over the years, 37 of them. A houseful of furniture, thousands of books, 3 children, two daughters-in-law, 3 grandchildren. A houseful of memories, of sunlight and shadows (because there have been plenty of those), meals at the long pine table with friends and family members, some of them still with us and some of them gone to spirit. Last night I dreamed of my mother, that I wondered where she was and my daughter told me she’d left her at a restaurant because my mum said she loved to sit in the dusk and think about her life. My mother died in 2010 and often when I sit in the dusk, I think of her. One day my daughter will wonder where I am and maybe my granddaughter will tell her a similar story. We never leave, do we? We are always part of a story, if only someone cares to tell it.

Tonight we will sit at the table and eat duck breasts with a sauce of port and dried cherries (and maybe some rhubarb; I’m thinking that the two stalks John cut the other day would go well with the cherries). There will be Savoy cabbage from the garden and a salad of the last arugula. To drink? A gorgeous Desert Hills Gamay in the Waterford glasses John gave me for my 50th birthday, 11 years ago.

intact.jpg

The glasses are still intact, though so much of the world has broken and frayed. Not us, not yet, and I look forward to the first sip of the Gamay, late summer distilled in a high-shouldered bottle, the first taste of the duck in its silky sauce, while the dusk gathers around us and the years contain our lives, the stories we still remember and tell.

“How in age our own bodies remember their youth…”

wedding1

38 years ago today John and I were married in Sidney, B.C., dressed in our finest. The bride wore a gauzy dress made by Yofi Creations and a wreathe of yellow roses in her hair; the groom was resplendent in a plaid tie, a Harris tweed jacket we’d bought in London and which never really fit (the salesman kept saying, “Oh I like my clothes tight, don’t you?” and it seemed churlish to disagree…), and wide corduroy trousers. This morning John said, 38 years, and his hands made that gesture: where did they go? Where indeed.

Furthermore, the rings in the branches that have been cut off show the number of its years, and which were damper or drier according to the greater or lesser thickness of these rings. The rings also reveal the side of the world to which they are turned . . . — Leonardo Da Vinci, Leonardo on Painting

How in age a tree remembers, how the feet of tiny birds felt on the bark; how on a summer day, drowsing in sunlight, a tree might have been startled awake by a bear climbing to its first strong branch; how an osprey might have settled on the broken crown to survey the lake, the glittering run of river. How the pines stand in their wild observatories, anchored in rock, looking to the heavens, drinking deeply from the aquifer. They have seen meteorites fall, leaned into wind with sockeye migrating below them; given a small shake as ash from burning forests settled on their boughs.

How in age our own bodies remember their youth, how it felt to make love on bare ground (pollen drifting from one cone to another), to rise and walk among trees, light shimmering through their leaves. Listen! A nuthatch, a grey jay, a woodpecker, feasting on insects. How time compresses, so that all summers arrange themselves in a codex of dry skin, tart berries on the tongue, the surprise of cold water as we entered rivers. How later, organizing the photographic archive, we try to imagine ourselves back into that tent on Nicola Lake, our children racing down from the volcano, the pines filtering early morning sun so beautifully that later we say, “it was paradise.”

—from “Pinus ponderosa: A Serious Waltz, a chapter from Mnemonic: A Book of Trees, published by Goose Lane Editions, 2011.

years

I’d stayed with my parents in Victoria the night before my wedding and I hadn’t packed anything warm. So on that cool morning, I put on the dress — white cotton with a laced bodice, circa 1979 (which it was) — and brushed my hair, arranged the wreathe of yellow roses my mum’s friend made for me, and pulled on the old Cowichan sweater I’d left in my parents’ basement. Then I got into the Mazda pickup with my dad and we headed out for the 11’o’clock ceremony performed by a Unitarian minister wearing a Welsh fisherman’s smock at an old heritage house turned restaurant near Sidney. My groom was waiting in his Harris tweed jacket and wide corduroy pants. A tie! A belt with a big hand-forged buckle. There’s only one photograph of us because my brother said he’d take pictures and for some reason they didn’t work out. But I’ve never forgotten the day. Or where it led.

wedding1

I still have the dress, tucked away in a trunk. And that belt is still around. We have accumulated so much over the years, 37 of them. A houseful of furniture, thousands of books, 3 children, two daughters-in-law, 3 grandchildren. A houseful of memories, of sunlight and shadows (because there have been plenty of those), meals at the long pine table with friends and family members, some of them still with us and some of them gone to spirit. Last night I dreamed of my mother, that I wondered where she was and my daughter told me she’d left her at a restaurant because my mum said she loved to sit in the dusk and think about her life. My mother died in 2010 and often when I sit in the dusk, I think of her. One day my daughter will wonder where I am and maybe my granddaughter will tell her a similar story. We never leave, do we? We are always part of a story, if only someone cares to tell it.

Tonight we will sit at the table and eat duck breasts with a sauce of port and dried cherries (and maybe some rhubarb; I’m thinking that the two stalks John cut the other day would go well with the cherries). There will be Savoy cabbage from the garden and a salad of the last arugula. To drink? A gorgeous Desert Hills Gamay in the Waterford glasses John gave me for my 50th birthday, 11 years ago.

intact.jpg

The glasses are still intact, though so much of the world has broken and frayed. Not us, not yet, and I look forward to the first sip of the Gamay, late summer distilled in a high-shouldered bottle, the first taste of the duck in its silky sauce, while the dusk gathers around us and the years contain our lives, the stories we still remember and tell.

Empty

“So there is also an alas in this song of tenderness. If we return to the old home as to a nest, it is because memories are dreams, because the home of other days has become a great image of lost intimacy.” — Gaston Bachelard, from The Poetics of Space

On the evening of June 11th, I noticed some strands of moss and grass in an elbow of the New Dawn rose growing around the window over our kitchen sink and venturing along the top of the front door. By mid-day June 12th, it was clear a robin was building a nest. We had guests for a few days and we were in and out the front door. John barbequed lamb one of the evenings of their visit and salmon the next; the barbeque is on the patio just down the stairs from the front door. In some ways it’s not a great place for a nest because of so much human activity in that particular area but in another way, it’s perfect. There’s a generous overhang of eaves to shelter a nesting bird and her eggs and there’s a birdbath hanging from the eaves. We watched from the window over the sink as the robin brought mud in her beak, worked it into the nest with her feet, then shaped the inner nest to the dimensions of her body. On June 13th,  she settled herself in the nest and so I posted this sign on the inside of our front door:

We stopped using that door. We stopped making much noise in the kitchen. When I was washing dishes, I’d sometimes see the robin watching me, alert but not exactly fearful. Sudden movement resulted in her flying away briefly but she always returned.

Assuming she laid eggs soon after building the nest, I expected to see hatchlings mid-to-late last week. The incubation period is, on average, 12 days from the time that the last egg is laid. She was very patient, leaving for brief periods to feed herself. We could hear males singing nearby and thought that one of them was no doubt her mate.

This morning I didn’t see her when I got up. And every time I looked out the window, she wasn’t there. In the woods, males were still singing in the rain. By noon, I suspected the worst: that she’d abandoned the nest for whatever reason. I waited another hour and then took a bench out to the deck below the rose and held the camera over the nest. I couldn’t see anything myself but the camera told this sad tale:

I don’t think the nest was robbed. There are no fragments of shell anywhere near. And when I reached my hand into the nest, after viewing the photographs on the camera’s small  screen, I could feel that the bottom of the nest was completely smooth, like a pottery dish: no remains of dead nestlings or shells.

In the meantime, there’s a male robin singing as I write this. Maybe the couple will try again – there’s still time! And just out the window of my study, I’ve been watching a house wren investigage this little house that Brendan (Brendan, who will marry Cristen in less than three weeks!) gave me two Christmases ago.