Winter, reading

winter, reading

“Hang there like fruit, my soul,
Till the tree die.” — from Cymbeline

Readers of this blog might recognize Winter, the cat who came out of the woods (mysteriously) and decided to live us last January. There was some confusion about gender but we finally worked out (with the help of the Pender Harbour vet) that Winter is a neutered male. (He is dappled and there are dapples right where his dangling bits would be if he still had them.) He is a lovely cat. In his first few months with us, he slept in the utility room, on an old red blanket. We didn’t know his habits and I am an unreconstructed animal person. I love to have them around but I don’t particularly to have them wandering around food preparation areas (Winter has a pan for his toilet requirements so you know where his feet have been…) and on tables and rooting through stuff that’s been left out. When it seemed that he didn’t do such things, we opened the door at night and he joined us at the foot of our bed. He likes to be at our feet, which is wonderful; he is large and warm and just the right weight for cold feet. He is companionable in the best way. He doesn’t fawn. He doesn’t like us to swoon over him. He just likes food and our company and a place at our feet at night. He particularly likes it when I come to bed early, as I do most nights (unless we have dinner guests). I arrange all the pillows behind me and I read. I look forward to this all day. I have a stack of books on my bedside table—right now, the pile includes Jon McGregor’s extraordinary Reservoir 13 (I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this when I’m finished), Josep Pla’s The Gray Notebook, and Sylvia Brownrigg’s Invisible Countries (sent to me by my friend Anik because we adore the Sylph Editions Cahier Series)—and I love the moment when the pillows are right and I reach over for the evening’s pleasure.

Last night I finished Ali Smith’s Winter. It’s a very seasonal read. By that, I mean that it’s full of weather, of Christmas and its difficulties when family members gather and no one is quite sure of what’s expected, and of the notion of art itself. Each character assembled in the huge and storied Cornwall house has at least one story and those overlap (or don’t) in surprising ways. No one remembers the family history in the same way and we’re not sure who is reliable and who isn’t. But it doesn’t matter. A disembodied stone head floating through the house reminds us that things are never what they seem and when characters venture out into Cornwall itself, either in the present moment or in the past, what they discover is truly astonishing. Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures (which reminded me of a glorious afternoon spent in her studio garden in St. Ives in the summer of 2005, looking through her pierced forms), the nature of paternity, of truth (the hapless Art, whose blog “Art In Nature” has been hacked by his estranged girlfriend), and how a homeless stranger invited into the house (the appropriately-named Lux, a unit of illuminance, one lux equal to one lumen per square meter: 1 lx = 1 lm/m2 = 1 cd·sr/m2) is the presence that draws out the stories and allows each family member to shine. The novel is really quite mythic, though it is also planted in the present moment, where a terrible American President addresses the 2017 National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia and Lux reminds the household of how the Conservative Government truly treats immigrants. Art’s aunt Iris remembers her heady (and terrifying) involvement with the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp and as for Cymbeline, well, its themes of forgiveness and reconciliation float through the novel, a little like the stone head, but much lighter and more luminous. Like Lux.

winter reading

“…which way/ Does the heart go from here?”

mountain, november 3

The other day, I was doing outdoor chores in flip-flops. A light sweater (and shirt-sleeves as I stacked a cord of sweet-smelling fir in the woodshed). But then yesterday, driving home from Sechelt, there was snow by Trout Lake, just a quick flurry, and by the time we neared home, we could see the mountain behind us (Mount Hallowell) was white with new snow. It’s so beautiful. Right now, the clarity of snow and blue sky reminded me of one of my favourite winter poems, though winter is still officially a month and a half away. It’s by Du Fu, that wise sage of the Tang Dynasty.

Beginning of Winter

I sag with age: these martial robes are tight.
Coming home, cold’s colors deepen.
Fishing boats work up the rushing stream.
A hunter’s fire marks the high perched grove.
Long as there’s sun, I drink by leisure’s pools.
When sorrows come, I’ll chant of ancient heroes.
Spears and halberds still can’t be laid by.
To stay, or to serve, which way
Does the heart go from here?