fruit of roses

Food as well as flowers, I ended with last time — and afterwards I remembered how when I first moved to this house in the autumn, I found the roses beautiful but I knew nothing of how to care for them. They are not picky, not the ones at this house, but if one wishes them to bloom again and again it is good to cut off the heads of the flowers after the petals has fallen, to tell the plant it will not have the seeds and must try once more. Not knowing, I left the heads upon the bushes, and eventually they turned from green to a beautiful orange, and from there perhaps even to red, I do not quite remember, for at some point in the winter I began to love the roses and wish to care for them and so read and learned to cut off the little orange-red balls that still remained and put them into the yard waste bin with the rest of the debris from the garden.

It was not a bad choice, that, but now I have discovered that I could instead have saved them when I cut them, and trimmed the top and bottom off and cut the ball open to remove the seeds — and what was left would have been rose hips, to make into a tea, or to cook and puree for a soup, or even to make into a jam were I so bold. Perhaps this year I will make the experiment and if they please me I will have food from the flowers as well, the fruit of my roses.

the everyday

Life continues, as it does when one is not looking; the garden makes its roses, the orange trees flower and fruit and the fruit falls and lies in the dead leaves waiting to be cleaned up.  Across the street the blackberries come, although less than the year before; it is drought here, a severe one, dry and dust and surprisingly humid in these August days.  I am amazed the blackberries come at all when I think of it, that the plant has grown so and made so much fruit despite months without rain.  Stubborn, that one, and the thorns long and sharp and the fruit very sweet.  I think tomorrow I might go to pick some, if I can make the time.  The warm humid days tire me, not in the body but in the heart, too close and still outside, although today it was pleasant in the morning, a cool gray sky to start and more wind before the heat came.  I know there are people who love the summer, and in June even I am a little won over, but as always I am well sick of it now and waiting impatiently (but without true hope) for autumn wind and rain.

Last fall I crossed the continent to see my dear friend; this year only half of it, as we have decided to meet in the middle.  Five days, a feast beyond what I could have imagined, although many things to do in the time, not just the two of us together for the whole.  Still, I will see him some each day, and we may go to the ballet, and there will be some meals, one or two perhaps cooked together.  It hurts to think of it, so often I do not, but tonight I am finding that to avoid those thoughts which hurt is just another way not to live (had I not learned that already?  I am deeply annoyed with myself, well, good, then let it change) and I am sick of that as well.  Half-sick of Shadows, I might write, except I do not imagine myself the Lady of Shalott, languishing in her tower waiting to look at what must not seen and die of it.  No, I will turn, and look, and then live after all.  An image of the female artist as seen by a Victorian man, my excellent professor said, the contradictions made manifest, imprisoned, creating, but killed by her own vision.  A good thing we have reached the 21st century.

But I meant when I began this to write of the garden; my household has collaborated with another to make planter boxes and fill them with vegetables and thus we have been rich in tomatoes, zucchini and peppers for the last month or so.  It has slowed now, some the drought, some just the pause before another harvest, but still, it amazes and satisfies both, the richness of it, having food outside which one may simply go pick and eat.  After a hungry childhood, satisfying and surprising both, down into the bones.  I think from now on, wherever I live, I will try to have a garden which gives me food as well as flowers.

starting again

What an age it has been since I have tried to write here, a little lifetime it feels, not that things have changed so much — indeed, that is perhaps why it feels a lifetime, for my life has settled into patterns, rhythms of days unbroken by any surprises despite the capacity for great surprise the world must hold.  It is in me, the settling, I think, and right now I am turning around perplexed, pressing at the walls I have made for myself, something like the stereotyped mime in the invisible box, trying to find what it is that holds me in place when there is nothing visible or concrete.  

But the answer to any kind of stuck, for me, is always to write.  And so I write, here, because it is mine, and perhaps it will be beautiful, or not, or wise, or some good thing, or perhaps I will post this and then vanish again for a year.  I cannot guess.  Still, I write tonight, reaching out from these invisible walls into the world I love and miss and desire and fear so much.  I said to my friend, some few days or weeks back, that my heart and I are often not on speaking terms (yes, stealing the line, but only as it was true), and he said he thought that a reason why I so often feel that I cannot find my heart at all, or the rest of my self.  But talking to my heart in my closet seems distasteful, just pacing the space of the cage, and so — here.  For now.



a taste of winter


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My stranger on the bus was right; we had perhaps 10 days of true winter here, no snow on the hills that I saw (too dry, we are in the drought again, one good rain since autumn began and no more), but freezing temperatures night after night, and in the morning my breath hung in the air, and the water left outside froze as it was meant to, cracking into patterns when touched. Opening the door to my bedroom in the early morning I look across the small space of hall and stairwell to the window, out across the neighbour’s roofs; during those two weeks they were covered in frost, just a thin sheet but so beautiful. Of course to be too cold in the body is unpleasant, and this house is not made for it, it happens so rarely, but I did not mind just for the ten days, with my hot tea or hotter coffee to comfort me, and long fleece pants and warm sweaters and a blanket over my lap in the meanwhile. And as this is where it is, by afternoon the sun made it warm again; the frost could not last an hour after dawn. But still, a touch of winter, and I delighted in it.

My dear friend lives where the winter comes hard and stays long, ice to make the streets glass and tree branches collapse, snow for days or weeks on end. I do not envy him the inconvenience of it, or the real danger there is some times, power going out, the need to know where the food and fresh water are, to have the plan in case one has no heat for a long while. But I hear his stories, look at the pictures, and think for myself — someday, I will be somewhere else, a place in which water does not vanish three years of every four, a place with the seasons that are still in my bones despite my nearly two decades of absence from them. Another city, another country, perhaps somewhere I must struggle with the language. In one of my favourite books (one I dare not reread; it may not be palatable now and the loss of it would be a tragedy) the man says, “I want to see a different light,” and chooses a year of travel and death from illness at the end rather than to stay in his home forever safe and secure and long-lived. A young person’s story, you might say, but when I was young I thought him foolish not to remain with the sure thing, and now, now I am waiting my own time to go. Once again, glory over length of days, but this time not my own — and who knows? There is no reason I might not have both.

the man on the bus


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I flew across the continent, north and east, to see my dear friend and also go learn some new things — in that order, although ostensibly perhaps the reverse.  My flight came in very late, flying against the sun, so earlier in my body than in the city where I landed, and when I finally found the bus I needed to take me to my hotel it was quite night, and I was tired and hungry and elated with the newness of it all and knowing I would see my friend the next day.  So on the bus, rather than sitting quietly once a seat came open and reading or daydreaming, I stood and listened to conversation, two men, one older, exuberant, telling everyone who would listen his story, the other younger, Francophile by his accent, rather bemused to be on the receiving end of this attention but I think also pleased.  The younger had come from a vacation somewhere south, an island, and was going back to his small town three hours away from where we had all arrived, to his work driving a taxi.  The older was an electrician with a travelling show, just come from Moscow, and he told stories of the places he’d been — no, not even the places, the weather.  Stories of the weather he had seen, the cold he had just left behind in Moscow, the heat of Arizona where the walk-in freezer where the food was kept became a favourite place for him to take naps, the wind in a third place (Texas?) that made his work difficult, his love of the ocean near his home where he would sail and his friends would tease him for wearing too little or too much clothing depending on where he had most recently been for his work.

I stood, listening, watching their faces, the younger man engaging, answering questions, the older telling his stories, enjoying the audience, and I made the little noises now and again, that I was listening, and once or twice asked a question, and then suddenly he turned and asked me where I lived, and I told him — not too far from his ocean home.  He said something about the weather here, and I admitted that I missed true autumn, true winter, and that in my travel I was hoping to have a little taste of cold before going back home to the dry sun.  And suddenly serious, he said to me, that it would be a true winter back at home, as true as it might be, cold enough that there is snow on the hills once or twice, and that he was not certain how he knew it, but he did know, he felt it, it would be a cold winter.  Then laughing again, he said, but not as cold as Moscow!  And he picked his thread back up and began the stories once more.

Now, of course, he might be right, and he might not be right, and either way the winter will be what it is, unchanged by his guesses or knowledge.  But now that I have that to carry with me, if I choose, I may look forward with some amusement to see if he guessed correctly — and regardless of what comes it is sealed into my memory now, standing on that bus going through the dark strange city, from the brilliance of the airport to the spaces between and then the new lights of downtown, strange buildings and signs, listening to him predict my winter.

autumn in the west


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My faithful reader asked me what is blooming in my garden right now; an excellent question, although I fear rather a dull one, for while the calendar insists upon autumn, and my body the same, the weather here where I live is still heat and sun and no rain, and my garden is all roses and sunflowers and citrus trees. Not that these ever fade, but the sunflowers will eventually go to seed, and the roses slow for the winter, even stop blooming entirely for a few months, while the citrus continues stubbornly to provide me with lovely and delicious fruit which I would (do) enjoy if only I was not so hungry for cold, wet, ice, snow, all the things this place rarely if ever provides. November, perhaps, the cold and wet, but never the ice and snow, not here. Someday I will move somewhere that my body and the seasons may be in sync again, and then I will complain about defrosting cars and shovelling walks and yearn for the first sight of spring rather than throwing my hands up in despair when February brings daffodils.

In spite of all of that, or perhaps because of it, I love autumn passionately. And this new house I moved into last year, only twenty miles south of the previous, is just enough more inland from the ocean that the weather is a little colder in the autumn and winter, so there is more excuse to drink hot tea (and chocolate, and buttered rum in the evenings) and wear slippers and wish I had a fireplace. So in spite of my continual frustration there are things to look forward to.  And if the man I spoke to on the bus is right (a story for another time, dear reader, you will like it), the winter will be unusually cold and sharp here — though why he should have been right I do not know, except that I would enjoy the weather.

betwixt and between


A busy time; I have many things to say and no space in which to say them, as the year turns towards pencils, chalkboards, books, or in this modern day I suppose laptops and ipads and so forth.  But I have hopes for this weekend, and next week.  A post saying there is no time to speak may seem a tautology, but I imagine that my one or two readers might like to know the reason of my silence.  There are, after all, so many kinds.

a sudden and unexpected recession of waters


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My waters have gone, much more quickly than they came, and I am left in the time after, finding my ground again.  This happens every year, but usually much more slowly; a long period with nothing but water, then a slow, slow ebbing, and all the while holding my little square of frozen earth until at last there is the landscape again, mine but transformed by the water, and myself transformed as well, and I must begin again to learn it all, step by step until the next comes.

Except this year, not. This year is new, however much I may cling to the familiarity of my old calendar (being unwilling so far to take the path of the revolutionary French), and so I should not be surprised that the climate changes as well. The past came, and I did not drown, and it has gone again, and my landscape is changed, but only just, and myself — well, I am changed and changing with this constant motion of growth, but no sudden shock this time, no distillation, just myself a little damp and tired and confused and happy.

Now as I look around, seeing the puddles still left, the mud, the places where the bark came from the trees and the places where, somehow, the flowers remain in full bloom, I think of Margaret Atwood’s “After the Flood We” — especially this stanza:

fish must be swimming
down in the forest beneath us,
like birds, from tree to tree
and a mile away
the city, wide and silent,
is lying lost, far undersea.

That is from her first book of poetry, The Circle Game, from 1966 — about which I have many mixed feelings, although it is quite good poetry. But that, I think, is another post.

today the sea


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There are days the past comes like a flood, and one may see it coming, take off one’s shoes, roll up the legs of the jeans (if one wears jeans, I don’t enjoy them, but they are sensible for the garden, where a skirt would catch on the thorns of my roses), and either avoid the water entirely or — more likely and in some ways perhaps more sensibly — get wet anyway, but know, still, that there is dry ground and a warm towel and perhaps even a hot drink waiting, after.

But sometimes the water rises without warning, no rain or wind, just suddenly everything is waste, barren, nowhere to stand that is not the gray, cold sea.

Little indeed can he credit, whose town-life
Pleasantly passes in feasting and joy,
Sheltered from peril, what weary pain
Often I’ve suffered in foreign seas.
Night shades darkened with driving snow
From the freezing north, and the bonds of frost
Firm-locked the land, while falling hail,
Coldest of kernels, encrusted earth.
Yet still, even now, my spirit within me
Drives me seaward to sail the deep,
To ride the long swell of the salt sea-wave.
Never a day but my heart’s desire
Would launch me forth on the long sea-path,
Fain of far harbors and foreign shores.

That is Charles Kennedy’s translation of “The Seafarer,” an Old English (or does one say Anglo Saxon nowadays?) poem.  I doubt it is the best translation, but it is the one I am most familiar with and so fondest of, and the one that comes as soon as I begin to write about my own waste-water.

That ‘coldest of kernels’ is actually ‘corna caldast‘ which fits very nicely with the Cunningham, does it not?  Hail as frozen corn.  I had not thought that before, very nice.  I do not read this language, not yet, so much of this resonance might simply be within my mind, but then, what else is this space for?

Sometimes the barbarians.  Sometimes the fertile land between.  But right now, the sea.




August Hail

In late summer the wild geese
In the white draws are flying.
The grain beards in the blue peace.
The weeds are drying.

The hushed sky breeds hail.
Who shall avenge unreason?
Wheat headless in the white flail
Denies the season.

J.V. Cunningham, from The Exclusions of a Rhyme

Unreason avenges itself, I find.  Would I were a better poet, or did not swallow my words before my mouth opened, but for now, Cunningham says it as well as I might, and considerably better.


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