Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Who Doesn't Love the Night?

What...person...doesn't love...the light...the waking day?
              Novalis, Hymns to the Night

1 December 2010  5:19 am

It's the first of December and so I am up before dawn making lists. The moon has just risen, late; it hangs in the southeast above the sea, a narrow crescent surrounded by stars.  A planet--but which one?--glitters brightly above the horizon like a spaceship or satellite.  The water is silver, a reflecting pool of light, the sky dark, the islands darker still, black mounds hunched against the water.  Wind whistles and pushes at the north wall of the house, making the wooden beams creak.

The wood stove crackles. Zero degrees outside, just freezing.  Damp.  I huddle in my housecoat and slippers--have to make this quick, these lists, then toss more wood on the fire so I can slip back into bed, beneath the eiderdown and the purring cat.

It's been weeks since I've written anything but emails--and notes and suggestions in the margins of student papers.  I realize I'm enjoying the sensation of the pen traversing the page, the satisfaction when the words gather and shift, then click into place, sentence by sentence. 

I wonder why I can't do this more often.  Chores, it seems, get in the way--laundry, cooking, correcting.  

But this too: pleasure in walking or drowsing in the light or before the fire, those moments of animal comfort we steal from the run of things to do, in order to keep ourselves flaring and flaming despite the coming season of ice and winter nights.

   Must the morning always return?
                 Novalis, Hymns to the Night

8 December 2010

5:30 am and it's pitch black but for a streak in the sky to the southeast, a break in the clouds.
Rain pours from the gutter and drums over the roof.
The dog sleeps on the couch, wakes, sighs.
The fires have all gone out, so I light them again, make a cup of tea, begin my enumeration.
Chores for the coming day.

Someday, perhaps, I'll simply rise at this hour and begin the day.  But now, given the hours we keep, it is simply the middle of the night, the time when I wake long enough to sort out a dozen miniature dilemmas, small dramas, manic schemes--anything to keep them from sieving sleep some other night.

No one knocks on the door at this hour--no one from the outside that is--which is why I can finally hear my inner rattle, the scrabble against the walls, the turn just before the moments before the coming of the light.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Practical Economies (Must We Always be In Arrears?)

3:30 am, Sunday 14 November

                 like the chinook
salmon jumping and falling back
nosing up to the impossible
               Robert Lowell, "Waking Early Sunday Morning"

The fire crackles, flames, scatters orange light across the room.  Sleepless again.

A sudden gust of wind rams into the wall of the house, rattles the beams, tests the flex of the wood.  Winter is coming and we are getting ready for it: six more cords of wood stacked in the garage now, our hands and wrists aching from so much picking up and shifting, lifting, placing.

The sea was purple last evening at sunset, my only camera my memory, my eye.  --For we were otherwise occupied, racing against dark, falling dew, cold, to get the last row loaded on the truck bed, then stacked, moving shadows in a yellow puddle of electric light.

I had wakened Saturday morning, cross despite the sun, overwhelmed by a dread of what seem like infinite numbers, those large collections of multiples we must manipulate--wood to stack, pictures to snap into powerpoint slides, pictures to review and edit, papers to grade, laundry to sort and do and hang, articles to revise, letters to write. 

Wanting, instead, just to drift lazily in the morning sun, unaccosted by the rough discipline of counting or accounting in spheres where I am always found wanting.

Stop, back off...
Fierce fireless mind, running downhill.

Death seems close when we are only counting.  As if all we can manage is a life lived in arrears.  Unadulterated despair.

But Robert Lowell says it well in "Our Afterlife I," a poem in his last collection, Day By Day (he too struggles with the stacking up of impossible accounts):

We are things thrown in the air
alive in flight...

Yes, that's what I mean! I want to sail--

ride the wind


Stop the accounts, the endless worry. Now!

Robert Lowell, "Waking Early Sunday Morning" Near the Ocean (1967).   Other lines in italics in this piece "Stop, back off....Fierce, fireless mind...." are also lifted from this poem, which is really a lament about a loss of sacred spaces in a time of greed and war, a time that remains our time.

Lowell's "Our Afterlife I" in his last collection, Day By Day (1977), is dedicated to the poet's old friend Peter Taylor, who goes on, Lowell jokes, planning to live, despite the recent deaths of friends Ezra Pound, Edmund Wilson, and their nearer contemporary, W.H. Auden. More than anything, however, here Lowell writes for himself, for at 60, he is feeling increasingly weary and physically unwell.  In 1975 and 1976, he will be hospitalized three times to try to control his mania, and then again in January 1977 for congestive heart failure.  He will die in a taxi of a heart-attack on September 12, 1977, enroute from Kennedy airport in New York.  He had just left his third wife, Caroline Blackwood, in the UK, and when he died, he was on his way to rejoin his former wife, Elizabeth Hardwick, in New York.

Cracked? --Or Cut?

What difference does it make when rot has set in?

Not even the birds are tempted.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


6 November
(Sunday, 4 am)

Turn on the light.  Turn over.

Tonight we 'fall back' into Standard Time.  It's the one night of the year when a body might painlessly gain an extra hour of sleep, and I'm insomniac, mind full of manic burble.

Rain spatters the window, the wind moans softly but the air is still pillowy, warm.  I pad about the house in my bare feet.  Outside: pitch black, the horizon folds upon itself.  No islands, no sea, no sky, just darkness visible.

As usual on such nights, I create titles, lists, map out future projects.  Usually, initially, a single word or phrase pries me from bed: tonight, perhaps tellingly, that word is "cracked."

I get up so as not to have to remember, so as to be able to forget.  Writing the words down at once pulls a long thread of associations and absolves me of clinging, repetitiously, to these shreds of the night.  I'll be able, soon, to return to sleep, to return to that endless and flooded/ dreamland....

I huddle under the lamp, make lists, and cannot find words for what truly cleaves my heart:
to each death we bring every other one.

That must wait for morning.

The first two instances of italics in this entry are, in fact, lines lifted from Elizabeth Bishop's poem, "Sunday, 4 am." The last line in italics is mine.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Days of Death II: Awake So as to Find Words

4:44 am

I cannot sleep.

The crescent moon has risen, and throws an hour-glass shaped path of light across the bay.  It's bright enough that a few of the islands are illuminated. 

Why am I wakeful?  I feel, somehow, a failure of words.  It's not just a failure in the face of death--though our neighbours' son's suicide, and the impossibility of saying anything meaningful to anyone or about anything in the face of such a yawning gap plays its part in this night.

Suicide is a break in the compact we make with each other to try to survive; it is this compact that keeps us alive.  We all see how the parents have plunged, themselves, into this brokenness.  We say, I don't know how they'll survive it.  And as we speak perhaps we mean that phrase metaphorically or psychically.  But it is also terribly literal, awful in its concreteness--the father speaks nonstop like someone drowning in waves of emotion beyond words--and he is.  The words keep him drawing breath; without them he simply gasps for air. 

I can't stop hearing his cry as he ran upstairs and paced the empty rooms: oh Sonny, Sonny, Sonny, why did you do it?  Anguish so large it spills over, laps around our necks.  I hold my head above it, but just barely.

Every heart knows something about such a cry.  --But not this, not this: the sudden shot to the head.  Who could know that? It's beyond knowing.

Just before he ran off and began sobbing, the father stepped over to me and asked, Is my eye bloodshot?  I feel like my eye is bloodshot.

No, I said.  His eyes were red-rimmed, but not bloodshot.

Well I think it's bloodshot, he said. It just seems bloodshot.

Oh my dear, I said, it's your heart that's bloodshot.  The words just tumbled out of me.  A truth.  Blood shot indeed.  And he ran off, gasping.

I feel badly about that, although I also know he probably barely heard what I said.  The wailing wasn't about what I'd said.  It was that his son was blood.  Shot.  Who knows? Maybe in the eye.  We've assumed it was the head.  Because for us, in part, it is.  Your mind just stops working when you think of such tragedy, such catastrophic collapse.

Words are dangerous.  They always say more (and less) than you think you mean.

Perhaps that's why I've been finding them such hard going of late.  I seem to be able to find a few right ones. A few wrong ones. And then pockets of silence, that's all.  Pictures hum more loudly, echo in my inner (bloodshot) eye.

I think of one of Paul Celan's last poems, "All those sleep shapes" ("Alle die Schlafgestalten") written not so long before he too committed suicide, unable any longer to count up the fragments:

All these sleep shapes, crystalline
that you assumed
in the language shadow,

to those
I lead my blood,

those image lines, them
I'm to harbour
in the slit-arteries
of my cognition--,

my grief, I can see,
is deserting you.

I know we cannot guard others' grief for them, or from them, no matter how wakeful we remain.  My wakefulness this morning will not have meant, I am on watch so another can sleep.  My watch relieves no one; it simply keeps me here, in the compact with other sorrowing souls. All it really can mean is that I, too, rise, dull before grey dawn--to continue, with the rest, as best we can.

 Paul Celan, "All those sleep shapes" ("Alle die Schlafgestalten"). First published posthumously in his final book, Zeitgehoeft (1976). In English in Poems of Paul Celan. Trans. Michael Hamburger. New York: Persea Books, 1988, pp. 336-7. 

In fact, however, I've quoted this fragment of Celan from American poet, Claudia Rankine's meditation on death, depression, loss, family, sleeplessness and hollowness of contemporary American life in Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric. St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2004, p. 61.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Days of Death

We heard the news yesterday. Our neighbours' son had committed suicide.  He'd been missing for a couple of days, and the family was frantic.

A hunter found the body in a nearby quarry.  Now the family is devastated.  Nothing will ever be the same again: no sunrise, no sunset, no turn of the season, no lightness--or light--on the horizon.

We have words for nearly every loss but this one, Marike points out. Widow, widower, orphan.  But what do we call it when a parent loses a child?  It's unspeakable.  The kind of loss you do not recover from.

We gather in small groups at their house. Everyone brings food, but no one is hungry.  What I put in my mouth turns to stone in my stomach the mother says.

None of us know what to do, neither we nor they.  We stand around, talk, don't talk, some cry, some laugh.  Coffee percolates through the pot, over and over.

The food, Marike points out later, is an admission of impotence, of incompetence. See here, we're with you--we don't know what else to do either!

Finally I take my camera and walk along the road.  I frame dead leaves in the memory of this one, a reflection as I think of another.  The cold damp, the rotting leaves, the falling dark are apt, words without words on this sorrowful day.

We are all here to tend towards death, says another neighbour. This is true, but it is no consolation.

Remembering, among many, these near anniversaries:

Travis Watt (8 February 1976--28 October 2010)
Bill Readings (5 February 1960--31 October 1994)
Ann Smith (5 October 1918--25 November 2002)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Learning to Stand On Our Heads

25 October 2010

I'm in Ohio, and my niece and her friend want to learn to stand on their heads. 

I show them how to make a tripod consisting of two hands or elbows and the head. We practice.  I do stand on my head--I can--but I haven't thought to do so for years. 

And so I begin to wonder--when do we lose the enthusiasm for such dramatic shifts in perspective and in the orientations of our bodies?  At eight, most of us thirst for such upside-down intensities.  But scrape adulthood and all of our dignity gets vested in staying upright.  --Or, if we do now and then stand on our heads, it is within the context of a practice, like yoga, or anti-gravity exercises, and not for the sheer glee of seeing our feet in the clouds. 

It's a pity--and why hanging out with kids can be such fun.  They're so inventive and so erratic.  And honestly, who doesn't need to balance her head on the ground now and then?

Rachael DuLaney in the leaves--or are the leaves on Rachael?  
Thanks Rachael for all of your laughter and great ideas!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dreaming Sloth Leisure

Still mourning the passing of summer--the slippage from heat, light and leisure to frost, darkness and haste.  Once the semester starts I feel forever behind--in tatters, belated, in arrears.  Breathless.  I will never catch up.  So I hear, particularly loudly, Robert Lowell's lament to Elizabeth Bishop, when, in the full sweep of too much going on he writes: 

[C]an anything be well done that isn't accompanied by dreaming, sloth, contemplation, leisure?

In part, he's trying to make Bishop feel better about the painstaking slowness with which she writes--months and years may run out before she completes a poem.  Though at this writing, in late October 1963, revolution and a military coup are brewing in Brazil, where Bishop lives with Lota de Macedo Soares, and Kennedy will soon be assassinated--preoccupations that may slow even the speediest of poets.  And within weeks Lowell will be hospitalized by the onset of another manic episode--his own painful way of braking excessive speed.   

I just catch the flu--and then scramble on.  As Lowell writes, signing off, "Pardon this flurry.  It's just in the nerves."

Robert Lowell to Elizabeth Bishop, "Letter #285" (October 27, 1963). Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop.  Thomas Travisano and Saskia Hamilton, eds. (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2008): 513, 514.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Muzzling, or Where Does Creative Thinking Really Happen?

Several weeks ago, back before the hurricane, before the summer skidded abruptly into autumn, before the fog and rain and shriveled brown leaves became a part of the surround, I got up one morning and thought about the day, and the night before:

Hazy pink morning, the sea grey.  The sun a red ball. Still. We wake in the night and fret: the stillness is eerie, unsettling.  The owl at the back of the pond hoots into the silence:  Hoo! Hoo!  Hoo! Hoo! again and again.  Why does the owl sing at night? Marike asks.  And why the same song over and over?

This question, as soon as she asked it, as soon as I recorded it, inspired another sort of mimic hooting in me: for it set lines from Wordsworth's Prelude to echoing so loudly in my head, that I had to run to the shelf and begin paging through the volume of poetry just to still their rant.  (Or is it cant? What theory of the origin of language is here?

Here, so you can still the echoes in your own head--or begin to hear them if they don't already rattle--is Wordsworth:

 There was a Boy, ye knew him well, ye Cliffs
And Islands of Winander! many a time
At evening, when the stars had just begun
To move along the edges of the hills,
Rising or setting, would he stand alone
Beneath the trees, or by the glimmering Lake,
And there, with fingers interwove, both hands
Pressed closely, palm to palm, and to his mouth
Uplifted, he, as through an instrument,
Blew mimic hootings to the silent owls
That they might answer him.  --And they would shout
Across the wat'ry Vale, and shout again,
Responsive to his call, with quivering peals,
And long haloos, and screams, and echoes loud
Redoubled and redoubled; concourse wild
Of mirth and jocund din! And when it chanced
That pauses of deep silence mocked his skill,
Then sometimes, in that silence, while he hung
Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprize
Has carried far into his heart the voice
Of mountain torrents; or the visible scene
Would enter unawares into his mind
With all its solemn imagery, its rocks,
Its woods, and that uncertain Heaven, received
Into the bosom of the steady Lake...(Prelude Book V: 389-412)

Why does the owl sing the same song over and over? And why are we so drawn to imitate it? Surely Wordsworth is somehow right--this imitation of nature--this play of mimicry back and forth, this enthusiasm for such exchanges must be at the origins of our language, our poetry...  In any case, I've been musing on these questions ever since.

In fact, in a strange and perhaps altogether predictably repetitive twist, I've been musing on the word musing.

Wonder where that word comes from? Marike asked, and so one night after dinner I pulled out the dictionaries--an old compact Oxford English that belonged to her father (1934) and Skeat's Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (c. 1900).  Muse, I mused, must be related to light-heartedness, to amusing.  Perhaps.  But not quite.

The etymology of muse is far more beautiful than that.  And perhaps it answers to why we are given to such mimic hootings of, and wild concourse with the animals around us.  Not because they inspire us, in the way of the nine Muses of classical mythology.  That strain of the word is descended from the Greek Mousa, which shares the root men-, or mon-, with other words denoting to think, to remember.  But muse, as I marked it, meaning to wander about in your thoughts--or as the Oxford dictionary would have it, "to ponder, reflect, gaze upon meditatively..." this muse derives, it seems, from the Old French muse, or MUZZLE, which is to say, to "sniff the air when in doubt about scent."

Or as Skeat argues it, the word comes into English from the "F[rench], muser, 'to muse, dreame'."  Before that, he says, one finds the roots of the word in the Old French muse meaning "the mouth, muzzle....The image is that of a dog sniffing the air when in doubt as to the scent; cf Ital[ian] musare, to muse, also to gape about, 'to hould ones musle or snout in the aire' Florio, from Ital[ian] muso, snout" (Capricorn Edition, 1963, 341).

Now that's a beautiful etymology!  The origins of creative thinking found, not in sight or hearing, but in what--or more properly, the way--a dog sniffs the air. 

We often say, as we watch the dog scent out the messages left in the yard overnight, that she is reading the morning news.  Indeed.  And all my mimic hooting, here, is only that, a weak, attenuated imitation of the dog's MUZZLE.

--Which is to say--if you follow out that etymology--TO BITE.  

But more on that--the link between thinking, creating and aggression (or between people and dogs)--another day.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Change of Season

Suddenly Fall is here.

Hurricane Earl blasted the bloom from our world; now every leaf is salt-burned and red or brown.  Dying, even before the frost.  All around, cranberries ripening underfoot.  And a cooler wind, though the earth still feels warm under bare feet.

This weekend, the highest and lowest tides of year.  And today, my mother's birthday--sudden joy!  How beautiful the world is still!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Squall and Bluster--a Report on Hurricane Earl

When the storm is over, and you know you've survived--the roof still, more or less, intact, and so too, the people and creatures that you love--it's easy to make light of the wind.

If you've survived, a worse storm could forever be imagined; if you were really prepared for this event, its hours of gusty conditions and salt spray--even an inconveniently long loss of power--will have seemed like a let-down.  

For as a hurricane, Earl wasn't much.  Top winds in Nova Scotia clocked in at 135 kilometers an hour at Beaver Island Light, our local lighthouse, offshore 10 miles.  That's about 84 miles an hour--enough to classify the storm as a hurricane, but not of the sort that "tears up trees or "carries buildings before it"--these attributes are reserved for 100+ mile winds on the Smeaton-Rouse Scale of 1759, an early attempt to measure and codify wind strength.  Except....we have seen some number of "torn up trees" and toppled sheds.  Does a storm have to be utterly catastrophic--nay, apocalyptic--to count as a fearsome or awesome event?

--Perhaps, if extreme weather is one of the few routes left to the real--real emotions, real events, real disruptions to our daily modes of organization and response....

However you measure it, a hurricane creates strenuous conditions--as the second Beaufort Scale (an early 19th Century scale that in revised form is still more or less in force among sailors) puts it--"Force 12 winds are a Hurricane--Or that which no canvas could withstand."

If we'd not had repeated updates and weather reports streaming through every media outlet, however, we might not have seen this one coming.  (Would that have made it more "awesome"?)

Here, a time-line of observations, beginning with

The Morning of the Day Before (Friday 3 September 2010)

The air is still, hazy, hot, grey--not even a wisp of cloud in the sky.  The sea shines grimly: the water is flat and utterly still, a mirror extending for miles beneath a white and empty sky.  If you didn't know, you wouldn't suspect a hurricane was on the way.

Except.  Something at the back of the neck prickles; you feel the barometric pressure drop.  It announces itself in a dull headache, a breathless sort of buzzing worry.  Even the animals seem jittery and reluctant to stay outside.

I clear debris and move objects from the yard, tie down the lid to the trash box, make lists of necessary items, hang out a wash.  In the bones of my skull a sort of chatter, a sensation like the humming of rails as a distant train approaches.  Not yet visible, but on the way.

Still, this bothers me--would I be attentive to the significance of these signs if I didn't think I knew what they were about?


Faint echoes of wind piffle the hot air.  Small waves run into shore as the afternoon progresses.  At 5:00 pm we head to the beach.  Walk. Swim.  By 6:30 clouds are clustering in the west.

By 10:00 the clouds have disappeared and the Milky Way spangles above us.  Nothing is really going to happen is it?  There won't be a hurricane on the morrow.  The air is soft, warm, still.  We are chased indoors by mosquitoes buzzing in our ears.

Midnight and that illusion is dashed.  The horizon has closed.  Both sea and sky are black, the islands invisible in the inkiness.  Thin bands of light to the northeast and southwest.  The air is syrupy with humidity.

A whiff of wind, a low moan, as if from a long way away.  The doors clatter as the air sucks at them.  It's coming this storm, this wind and rain.

Light gusts press against the walls of the house.  The wood creaks.  And the cicadas continue to sing into the dark.

Another low moan like a warning or premonition: it speaks of howls to come.

The Day Of

7:30 am.  I awaken to a brief spattering of rain--a warning salvo.  Overnight, the wind has increased in intensity.  It moans, rattles at the windows and doors, spins dry leaves into whirling spirals.  Waves roll steadily into shore, slapping hard and then harder against the stones.  I rush about, closing windows, make a pot of tea, empty the full-again dehumidifier, and decide to harvest some more lettuce and pick an armful of blooms before the flowers are shredded by the storm.  Neither cat nor dog is interested in going outside.

The wind builds as I am picking; it wrenches a bag from my hand and sends it up the road; it peels the shirt from my back.  But the rain holds off until I am done--just a few plump drops on the top of my head.

And then the storm begins.  The radio blares warnings; we watch as the surge fills in at low tide, pressing water up the shore and deep into the cove, stopping just below the high tide line.  It is a day of perpetual high tide.  Rain runs horizontally across the the windows, the rivets holding a gutter in place give way, and the ragged downspout twists in the wind, clanking.  Water pours from the roof, begins seeping in around windowsills, running in streams from spots we had thought were long-repaired leaks. Not anymore.  Marike and I run around the house stuffing towels on sills, settling baking pans under drips, emptying a drawer full of water-colour paintings into another room.

Then nothing to do but watch and wait it out.  The power lasts until 2:30 pm, then flickers one last time and dies.  By 3:00 pm, the rain has stopped and the wind changes direction; it is no longer coming from the sea.  But it strengthens, ripping leaves and twigs from trees and flinging salt spray over the house.  Clouds race across the sky, gathering and separating.  For seconds at a time, we catch sight of blue sky.  It's over, this storm and it hasn't really been too bad--not here anyway.

We decide to head out, with the dog, to see what we can see.

Downed trees--we have to swerve around many; some hanging over power lines.  In Port Dufferin, an electrical  line on a school bus--the power trucks are already there.  A man in a cherry-picker, at work on a transformer.  The roads covered with debris.  Here a tree fallen on a house; there a hole in a roof top.  Apple trees fling green apples along the side of the road.

In Sheet Harbour we look in on our little boat, Lark.  Oops!  The mainsail has worked partly free and flaps in the wind.  Nothing we can do yet, however--it would be impossible to row out to the boat in this wind.  Kenneth Routledge, who has let us moor the boat in front of his house, comes out to tell us they thought sure she would be lost at the height of the storm.  The rudder had worked loose, too, and was flapping, and she'd been rocking from gunnel to gunnel and then suddenly she was down, knocked over completely! That loosened mainsail didn't help any either, he says, fixing us sharply. They looked again, and she'd come back up--it was a close one. We all sigh with relief, and perhaps a twinge of shame.  Kenneth's wharf has taken a beating too--we tell him we'll come back the next day to help him patch it together.

Our survey of the neighbourhood finishes up at Sober Island.  We park at Ramey's place, Factory Cove, to hike out to the seaward point.  Ramey motions me up to the house--he wants us to take along a friend of theirs, an intrepid woman in her 70s.  She collects her camera and rubber shoes and we're off, "monkeybarring" over and under fallen trees, racing towards the thunderous sea.  Then there it is: stupendous and roaring.  Spray fills the air.

In seconds we're drenched, and laughing like maniacs.  Only Bathsheba seems worried; it's clearly daft to be out here in this weather.  We pick our way along the coast, staying well back from the crumbling edge, trampling ripening cranberries underfoot.  You have to keep a hand over your ear to keep it from filling with water.  Our fellow traveler, Barb is filled with glee and shouts out, "If I die tomorrow, it won't matter, I've been here for this!" I feel exactly the same way.

We return home, towel off the salt, and eat supper by candlelight: blinis with smoked salmon, a spicy whipped cream and vodka.  It's a pleasure this quiet, this darkness.  We toast to our good fortune, to have survived--even enjoyed--this storm.  And then suddenly Bathsheba is barking, as if an intruder is entering the house--which, in a way, it is. The power is back on.

The next day will be clean-up.  We'll help Kenneth repair his dock and then row out and tidy up Lark.  We'll wash the cars down and take vinegar, warm water and squeegees to the salt-sprayed windows.  We'll put the fence back up around the vegetable garden, and try to rinse off the salt-burned leaves of the plants.  We'll wash all the wet towels we used to sop up the leaks, and hang them in the air to dry.  We'll go for a walk, and watch the gulls wheel up into the wind.

We got off easy this time, and we know it; Earl was a good ride--fine thrills, little calamity.  A tap, a warning. Another time we won't get off so easy. Thanks for that kindness, Earl.

Big waves at Sober Island (4 September 2010)
Spray at Sober Island
2 views of Taylor Head Pysche Beach (3 September 2010)
Seaweed in wave at Taylor Head (Psyche Beach)
Clouds gathering in the west (Sheet Harbour 3 September)
Rain at Quoddy (4 September 2010)
Rescued flowers (4 September 2010)
3 views of waves and spray at Sober Island (4 September 2010)
Salt spray on the windows (5 September 2010)
Salt-burned vegetation (5 September 2010)

Quotes from the Smeaton-Rouse Scale of 1759 and the Second Beaufort Scale come from Richard Hamblyn.  The Invention of Clouds. London: Picador, 2002, pp. 193, 197.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Impending Events

September first and the air is full of impending events.  School begins of course, and with it, for me, the fuller contours of a new job.  But what is preoccupying everyone here along the usually cooler shores of Nova Scotia is the heat--and the threat of hurricane Earle, swirling up the seaboard from the Caribbean. 

For now, the air is still, nearly windless; the sea calm, warm enough to entice us to stay in the water for abnormally long periods.  Whatever this is, this heat and stillness, it will not stay, that much is certain.  We look over our shoulders superstitiously--how must we pay for this slice of Paradise?  And then that worry subsides, worn away by the suck of water on sand, the joyous play of a dog with a stick and the cool prickling of salt on skin.

We are enthralled by the light.

Psyche Beach, Taylor's Head Provincial Park, Nova Scotia
Bathsheba on the beach
Marike rescues a beached crab
Bathsheba buries a stick
Evening light

Thursday, August 26, 2010

There Where You Are Not

The hardest thing about death is the way your senses are trailed by ghosts.

For a very long time, maybe forever, a dead one whispers into your surround and you think you see this one, there, over there.  Or you pick up the drift of her scent, the timbre of his voice.  The corners of your eyes, the backs of your ears, the edges of your palate, sometimes even the insides of your elbows are in haunting collusion with the dead; together they conspire to keep you on the switchback between sudden hope and crushing sorrow.  Even today, nearly 15 years after my friend died in an airplane crash, I sometimes think I see him, in a city where he'd never been, striding down the street in a lemon yellow raincoat, hair flapping over his eyes, grizzled rain on Halifax sidewalks.

Love conjures these ghosts; we look for those we miss everywhere. Unceasingly, as if in prayer.

We returned from Mexico to a house without Linus, but her shade is with us still, in every creak and crack and wail and cranny of the house, in sunbeams and on blankets, in our gestures and responses, our habits of listening, of moving; she remains sewn through the motions and spaces of our daily living.

We will learn new habits, but we will never entirely lose the spectral sense of emptiness that particularizes these places, here, there, where she was and is home no longer. 

This is how we feel the proximities of each death: again and again, our hearts rent like fabric, a patchwork of tearing that can only continue until we too, will die.

Linus spaces: chair and blanket, sunbeam and radiator, edge of the bath, food dish for raw liver, chair and bear, cat-clawed chair

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Solace of Colour

Grief. And Grace. II

After Linus died, and the bees came--and the wind, pinning us into one harbour after another--I began to dream in colour.  Marike and I would pack a lunch, bottles of water and gatorade, our swimsuits and snorkeling gear, and paper, brushes and boxes of paint, and head to shore.  We walked, swam, looked out to sea, and painted.  What mattered, to me anyway, was not so much the quality of the final product, but the fact of making something, the layering of colour, like a laying on of hands in our hearts.  Not healing exactly, but solar solace, a bouncing of light beams, a rendering of the world which rent us, at once awful and beautiful and more vast than we could tell.

Broken rocks for broken hearts.

Watercolour sketches, San Juanico, BCS, Mexico, 18 March 2010