Where I live
* I had planned to write about dinner parties this month, about my eagerness to bring people to my table as soon as it is safe. In the face of community loss, I’ve set those words aside in order to reflect on the seismic shift of the last couple of weeks.
We gathered on beaches across Gabriola the day after the accident, small fires dotting the shores from one end to the other, marking our presence at covid-sized gatherings. Over a couple of hours we watched the tide come in over the algae-covered rocks, and the sun go down over the Georgia Strait. Joining in contemplation and kinship with shared songs and stories, we marked the end of the first day our neighbours Chris Straw and Marc Doré did not wake with the rest of us. Their lives lost when part of a concrete truck collapsed while pouring the foundation of the new home that Chris and his partner had contracted Marc to build. Only two days before that, we had said good-bye to David Botten, another beloved islander, who died from a cancer that was untreatable by the time he discovered it. The grief on our island seems relentless and many will drift in mourning for a long time to come; fires on the beach, outdoor walks with friends, are the only places we can meet to unpack the tragedies this last year has brought.
On my blog I recently wrote “long-term commitments like fruit trees are a sign that we are fully settled into living on this island and in this home”. A week later I found myself included in the bucket brigade–a Messenger chat thread–of women providing support to the bereaved. In those first few days, a hierarchy of aid was established, Rubbermaid totes left at the end of driveways to collect cards of condolence and food, and a fundraising campaign set up to support the immediate financial needs of the families. Although I had little to contribute, I felt a strong sense of being “in place” and fully present in the community in a way I haven’t before.
Some people move to rural areas to become hermits and pride themselves in doing so. My experience has been the opposite. In the last six years, Brian and I have worked to stitch our story in alongside the stories of others. From the very first summer of living here, we opened our doors to house concerts, fundraisers, dinners, and other gatherings pretty much continuously. In return, we have been invited in. Into the homes of others, the family of musicians, the circles around beach fires, and the neighbourhood gossip. This is the patchwork that connects us, the strong cloth we make together. Though community antagonism and loss sometimes tear the fabric, the hands of many work to mend it.
In bigger places like Vancouver, where I lived for twenty-five years, death and tragedy go unremarked on by most. The city continues on just as it was, no matter how much you are grieving a loss or feeling the effects of a traumatic event. If something particularly dramatic or awful happens in your neighbourhood, the grocery store clerk might bring it up, but more likely not because they are bagging and have ten more people waiting. The hole left by the person now deceased is only momentarily open before the great rushing of people and events fills it in so that only the close friends and family remember anyone had existed in that spot at all.
But here, on our island of 4000 people, we still talk about last winter’s plane crash as if it was yesterday. The songs of Victor Anthony, who passed in 2018, are played regularly by the musicians who loved him. And although Nancy did not live here for long, we notice when the place she owned goes up on the market for sale and we talk about it. She only died last year after all.
Chris Straw was a community leader, a defender of our island ecology and passionate promoter of the arts. Marc Doré built the homes many islanders live in with admirable craftsmanship. David Botten was an actor and musician who offered us all so much entertainment, not to mention kindness and wit. Their stories will be added to the others who we talk about long into the future. When new people come we will say, “Oh, it’s too bad you never knew him….” and it will be a shame that this is so.
On the evening when we gathered after the accident, the darkness was rolling in with the tide when eight-year-old Arlo arrived with his parents. He perched himself on a log, so sure that our focus was on him (it was), and regaled us all with tales from his life, lifting us from the chill with his brightness and chatter. After a few moments of catching up he decided it was time for more and sweeping his bangs away from his face–eyes reflecting the firelight–he demanded, “there should be music!” And so the last musicians left, myself and Tina, carried that day into night with the banjo and fiddle, and her sweet voice travelling up with the smoke of the fire. This place where I live is stories and songs, and we write it together at the edge of the Salish Sea.
Tis the season for Turkey Tail, a fungus with powerful medicinal properties. I recently learned how to identify these while out for a healing walk with a friend.
March: Spring Nettle and Mint Tea
Cooking has been the last thing on my mind lately, so I offer you a humble recipe in keeping with the season. I have been experimenting with nettle teas this week and have landed on this as my favourite version. This makes a refreshing spring tea.
fresh nettles, enough to fill a one quart jar
mint tea bags
Pack a one-quart jar with fresh-harvested nettles. (Wear gloves when harvesting and handling).
Pour boiling water to one-inch from the top of the jar and cap with lid. Leave overnight. Strain the leaves from the liquid in the morning. This makes a nettle infusion (stronger than a tea).
When you want tea, fill your mug half way with boiling water and a mint tea bag (or mint leaves in a steeping ball), steep for 30 seconds, then fill your mug the rest of the way with the nettle infusion.
In the workshop
A couple of years ago I purchased this rather garish turquoise fabric with peacocks on it, determined to break with my muted colour palette and go bold! But really, who was I kidding? I would never wear a dress in this colour, no matter how much I love it. Rather than see it go to waste, I lined some black jacquard and turned it into a coat for spring, which I look forward to wearing once the weather warms up a bit more. It is reversible, though I suspect I will never wear it bright side out.
Republic of Lies by Anna Merlan is a well-researched and very readable overview of conspiracy theories and their impacts on US politics. Released in 2019, her work brings us to the threshold of coronavirus and the explosion of QAnon. By now it should be clear that the proliferation of conspiracy theories is far from harmless, but if you’re still unclear on that point, pick up this book.
The Disaster Song Tradition: Musician friend Robyn Carrigan recently contributed one of her songs to this project, and it awakened me to the specific genre of disaster songwriting which exists in Canada and elsewhere. The site mainly collects mining and maritime songs (the research is focused on Atlantic Canada), but there is also a miscellaneous category which includes lumbering and railway tragedies. Robyn’s contribution Down There, about the Westray mining disaster, is a fine addition and a song I have loved since I first heard it in the 1990s.
One of the books I’ve read in the last couple of weeks is the slim volume World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil and Fumi Nakamura (illustrator). This is the kind of book I aspire to write: memoir shot through with a gentle wonder found in nature. A balm for these times, reflective and necessary.
The events of the last couple of weeks have reminded me of how many interactions and moments we’ve lost due to the quarantine months of the last year. I am so eager to be done with it, or at least for the weather to warm up so outdoor gathering becomes possible again. I need to get properly caught up with the people in my life! This newsletter and other online interaction have been a bit of a lifeline in the last few months - so thank-you all for being out there.
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