“it will all become clear to me”

Yesterday we left the Word on the Lake Festival in Salmon Arm after two intense days of workshops, conversations, much merriment, some interesting connections and reconnections. Myrna Kostash, for instance, read from a work-in-progress about her Ukrainian grandparents and old photographs and the urgency she felt to find out and record what she could of their lives. It was beautiful work. We talked afterwards about the stories we never heard as children but how we feel compelled to tell them now, though they’re in tatters and fragments.

John and I drove to Canmore for a night and then along Highway 1 to Cochrane, taking quieter highways until Olds and the journey north to Edmonton where our sons were gathered with their wives and children, ready for a building project that will happen this week. John’s family drove often from Calgary to the mountains in the years after their arrival in Canada from England in 1953. The road was windy and slow. It’s a route I took also as a child, though in the opposite direction, with my parents and brothers, traveling from Vancouver Island to my father’s parents who lived by then in Beverly and a little later to Edmonton itself after my grandfather’s death when my grandmother went to live with one or another of her daughters. My father would drive us to Drumheller to try to make peace with his earlier life there and there was so much he didn’t say, didn’t tell us, though the past hovered in the air as light and as fierce as mosquitoes. Once we stayed in the Rosedale Hotel and my mother made us sleep on top of the beds on our sleeping bags because the sheets were stiff with dirt. This wasn’t the Rosedeer Hotel in nearby Wayne, a little gem where John and I stayed for a night in the honeymoon suite last April and woke to frost on our window and the sound of magpies. For ages I didn’t think much about those earlier years but now it seems I am haunted by them and the decades that preceded them, when I was not yet born or even imagined.

I keep thinking that if I just pay attention, it will all become clear to me, the old house, how close it was to the Red Deer River, who slept where within its small dimensions, and how to find my own way to it, dreaming or awake. The place on the bridge where my father fished, his line taut in the current, his eyes green as the water. Dragonflies stung the surface of the river, wings like nets. — from “West of the 4th Meridian: a Libretto for Migrating Voices”, part of Euclid’s Orchard, forthcoming in September 2017.

I looked over from my dinner under the maples in Brendan and Cristen’s backyard to see my older son Forrest playing with his niece Kelly and her cousin (Forrest and Manon’s son Arthur).

Forrest, Kelly, and Arthur

The lumber behind them will become a porch and a deck this week, if all hands are willing. And we will eat our dinners under the trees while overhead the magpies in the nest Manon and Arthur spotted yesterday in a big spruce make their sociable chatter. We don’t know how many there are but maybe by the end of the week we’ll see more of them.

Long walks through the ravine where we went today to see frogs (who remained hidden) in a tiny pond surrounded by lily-of-the-valley. Stories — I read five bedtime stories to Kelly (Arthur had already gone to bed at the little apartment his parents are staying in for the week) and looked over to see Brendan reading to Henry:

brendan and henry

These are the days, the nests, the babies and young children, the meals under leafy shade, and an urgency to record it also. To keep it all alive.

“the long roots of her mother’s mint”

great grandmother's mint

First thing tomorrow, we’re heading off into the wild blue yonder. First stop: Word on the Lake in Salmon Arm for a weekend of readings, workshops, and editorial sessions with aspiring writers. From there, to Edmonton where most of our tribe (we’ll miss Angelica!) is gathering for a week-long building project at Brendan and Cristen’s house. The lumber’s been delivered, the sand for settling foundations, John has filled the trunk of our car with tools (because most mathematicians don’t have power saws, assorted levels, a plumb-bob, crow-bars for prying an old porch off the side of a house, and various other implements collected and used in the long process of building a home here on the Sechelt peninsula). Forrest, Manon, and Arthur are coming from Ottawa so it will be a week of animated conversation, many bottles of wine (we’re bringing some of those too), and, for some, mojitos. I think of cocktails as Mother’s Ruin (it doesn’t take much) so won’t partake* but my contribution will be 2 pots of mint. As I’ve weeded this spring, I’ve kept the volunteer mint to take to Edmonton. Some of it already travelled to Ottawa and is part of a garden there where a small boy will be told one day, “Your grandma brought this and guess where it came from originally?” John’s mother used to visit and in the trunk (or boot, as she called it) would be many cuttings and roots of plants from her garden. I’ve written about this in “Ballast”, one of the essays in Euclid’s Orchard.

She carried rooted shoots of the original family wisteria in turn from her mother’s garden in Suffolk, wrapped in damp paper in her suitcase after one of her annual summer visits to her mum. Have you anything to declare, I imagine her being asked, and like me (who carries acorns and interesting cones and seeds from everywhere I visit), she took a deep breath, keeping inside every important reason for children to continue their parents’ gardens, and said no. In her suitcase, the long roots of her mother’s mint, the perennial geraniums.

And it will be a week of little trips too to places that speak to me — to us — of our family connections. Two springs ago, John, Brendan, baby Kelly, and I drove out to the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, east of Edmonton. I don’t know many details about my grandfather’s life in Bukovyna but somehow seeing the Nazar Yurko house gave me some insights into the domestic culture of his village (Ivankivtsi).

house

We’re planning to drive out the open-air museum again this trip, with all the grandchildren strapped into their car-seats. They’ll see the house with its adjacent garden, where I remember drifts of ferny dill that the young woman weeding told me self-sowed everywhere. (I wanted to lift a little clump and tuck it into my pack. Maybe this time I’ll be bolder.) They’ll see the church

church at Ukrainian Village Museum

and I’ll show them a photograph of the church in their great-great-grandfather’s village and they might hear the echoes that I hear when I enter these buildings.

church in my grandfather's village

And then their fathers can muddle the mint that came from their great-great-grandmother’s English garden (via their great-grandmother, and then their grandmother) and make a jug of mojitos. So the world is remembered, mint and rum and the bells of old churches.

*I mean cocktails, not wine. I’ll drink more than my share of the Wild Goose Pinot Gris but mixed drinks catch up on me sooner than I’d care to admit.