Sunday, August 27, 2017

Journey's End, or Reflections As One Thing Passes Into Another

Sky passes into sea, Rose Harbour, Kunghit Island, Gwaii Hanaas

4:30 am Atlantic Daylight Savings Time Sunday 27 August, 2017  West Quoddy, Nova Scotia

Just a week ago we were in British Columbia, preparing for our last day on the boat for the year.  We'd moved into the launch slip, for the boat was to be hauled for some repairs, and eaten a quiet meal in the cockpit as darkness dropped over the Fraser River.  Overhead, dozens of airplanes streamed in on the same route: a sharp turn over the towers of the Alex Fraser Bridge, and then the lock onto a final approach over the river; they rumbled overhead to the airport, lights like a searching beam coming right at us. Our bags were half packed; the next morning I'd strip the bed, wash the sheets, defrost the freezer and scrub down the remainder of the living spaces on the boat, while Marike stowed lines and investigated the persistent and worrying flow of water over the top of the rudder, among dozens of other vital details. Cushions were clean and stacked in the salon, bedding and blankets bagged, charts rolled up, guidebooks put away. And just like that, the journey, which had unfolded gradually across time and space, embedding landscapes and experiences in our flesh and memories for months, rumpled closed; its urgencies began to dissipate.

Rising tide. Hakai Luxvabalis Recreation Area, Queen Charlotte Sound

Did it happen? Of course it did--finally, we'd made it to Haida Gwaii and back--but the marks the voyage left on our bodies, the habits of vigilance and care that it instilled in the rhythm of our days, had begun to disperse.  Before long we would be embedded in the life of the land again, unconscious of each fluctuation in barometric pressure, unconcerned about the exact times of the tides or the force and direction of the wind. Before long we'd be in another geography, on another coast, in our house. Then the question in the middle of the night would no longer be 'how strong is the wind? or 'does the anchor hold?' but something more diffuse and existential: 'who am I; where am I; and what must I do that matters next?' 

A lengthy and demanding voyage relieves us of such questions in many ways by giving us a trajectory and many clear parameters: the goal each day is to make good enough judgments about when, where and how to go a certain distance, that we may arrive safely. The consequences of failing to do this are fairly immediate and significant. Why one goes is not at issue: the meaning of life is to be alive and to stay alive, to become a resonating body, attuned to the wind and waves, other creatures, the landscape, the tides, and to the sounds of the boat. You ask, 'did we make the right call there?' 'is the raw water pump working?' not 'who am I and why do I exist?' You move from chart to chart, asking how best to get from here to there; such efforts, for the time one makes them, seem to preclude the feeling that one has gone astray--above all these days, for thanks to the extreme precision of Global Positioning Systems, it is almost never necessary, while underway, to puzzle out painstakingly where you are. 

Fog lifts and smoke remains. Entering Johnstone Sound from Blackney Passage.

But back on land, reinserted (however fitfully) into the news cycle and various pressing human concerns as we attend to the circuitry--the communications, the appliances, the vehicles, the yard work and habits of cleanliness and order--that sustains our carbon-rich lives, the absence of charts, of an evident trajectory across the repetitions that structure each day, makes existence itself feel heavy, tenuous, puzzling.  Without a map to mark the way, questions about the meaning of life surface: "why am I doing what I am doing? Is it worth it? What am I building as we move from day to day?" Bare existence seems never enough.

And it isn't--not for anyone, and certainly not as a meaningful narrative about living. Elaboration is crucial. So too, a sense of direction. Somehow, always, we want the sense and unfolding self-evidence of the journey, even if that can only be played, on the one hand, as risk, and on the other, as retrospection.

Stars spangle the night sky and a thick dew settles over every surface. Sometime in the day to come, it will rain and we will sit indoors at our computers, writing, searching, replying, seeking contact, affirmation, revelation. But for now, to look out at the Milky Way just might be enough. The dog curls at my feet. I drink a glass of water and go back to bed.  

Grey light of early morning rises, blotting out the stars. I know that another night soon, I'll be up again to weigh the anchor of my soul, and find it wanting.

Carved cedar mortuary pole returns to the earth, K'uuna Llnagaay (Skedans), Haida Gwaii.

All photographs were taken in British Columbia during the course of a voyage to Haida Gwaii aboard Quoddy's Run (June 3-20 August 2017).

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Today I will different

You wake, you say
today will be different, today
I will do what I do what I must what I will
today I will          efficient        today
tasks completed      today       organized    today
my desk in order.
Today I will          different.
Do today as if some other un-waylaid by wind
or whim or want.  Someone of will, not wanton
wondering. What song will you sing then when
samba flings you circumsolar when
lightslant leaps across your foot when
urgency, like sucking sand, slips seaward and
beckons you to swim?

This poem was written for my friend, Gary Markle; I've rewritten it for Poem in Your Pocket day.
The photo is of a cardon cactus blooming near Salinas Bay, on Isla Carmen, Baja California Sud, Mexico in early April 2017. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

How beautiful the snow blasted world

Snow falls quietly at twilight
gathering flakes whisper as they hit the window

How beautiful the snow blasted world. 

After dinner the snow stops falling and the dog and I go out to walk the territory. The moon glows faintly behind a scrim of clouds; clumps of snow cling to every branch and bush and the tops of the flattened grasses.  The apple trees thrust their branches at the sky like so many gnarled and knobby fists; there's a gaping hole where the barn door has blown off--better call for help to fix that one. 

We circle the gardens, step through the weeds to the pond's edge, where a fallen tree covered in snow casts strange shadows on the ice.  No footprints but ours anywhere to be seen. 

We walk along the dyke at the sea edge, each rose hip a huge ball of snow on a spindly branch. There's just enough wind that we can hear the water ripping and rushing into the shore and out again.

The wind is biting. It nips my cheek, hurries the dog to the door, slips through the stitching in my gloves to freeze my fingers. But I'm not ready to go in yet.

Clouds scud across the sky.  I look out over the grey water towards the islands, invisible in the darkness, then turn to scrape off the cars and clear the drive in front of the garage, savouring the sharpness of the air, stamping my feet to keep them warm.  Why must every pair of boots leak? Time to goop them up again.

I am remembering one night when I was about nine. The snow had been falling all evening. The streets were quiet and huge drifts covered the yard.  My siblings and I were sure that when our mother came into the room, she was going to tell us to get ready for bed. It's time, she said, pausing as we started to moan, then all in a rush--to get your coats on and go play in the snow! Shrieking with delight, we tumbled out into the darkness and the drifts, the world magical and thick with surprise and permission. 

It wasn't until I moved to Montreal and learned to cross-country ski twenty years after that--and more than twenty years ago--setting out across the fields of the Chateauguay Valley beneath a full moon, that falling snow occasioned such delight and anticipation again. But now it does.  

I watch the snow mount up higher and higher and hope the thermometer drops, rather than rises, so that I can ski across the bog, over top of the little lakes and streams, the sheepskill and the insect-eating pitcher plants onto the bushy ledges where the coyotes circle and sing.  There, I'll clamber up to a point where I can stand and look out at the sea rolling unimpeded over the horizon; from there, it rolls all the way to Spain. 

I can only ever get to that place on skis, when the bog is frozen and overlaid with deep snow.  How glorious it will be if that's what tomorrow brings.

Photos taken 3 January 2017 in West Quoddy, Nova Scotia