The Greening

What is this grey? My morning’s window is a minor river, and the sun and sky are blanketed by a never-ending fleece. Late into the season, the trees still stand naked. Their fight to burst forth leaves has been in vain against the cold. A hundred-year chill.

Still they’ve stood trembling in the winds, budding defiantly. I think if they are forced to wait any longer, a mutiny will occur.

The rain comes down, and in the hour I’ve sat by the window, the world has changed. White poplar trunks are no longer quite so pale. Instead of the sallowness of winter dormancy, a faint hint of pale green tints them.

The grasses are dark gold, rich with autumn’s leftover colour and devoid of its lively variety. Grey road, dun world.

I wait a little longer.

Over in the corner of the yard, the tangle of chokecherry and willow is no longer a black scribble on a monochrome world. Red stems reach high like arms stretching to be lifted out of an underground prison.

All across the woods, leaf buds swell, bronzing the treetops. It’s that weekend. The one of resurrection.

What is this grey? Why is the sky weeping?

It’s just what happens at this time of year. Always has been and ever will be. Against this backdrop, the Paschal lamb and a dark night’s flight from slavery to promise. Against this New World thaw, the Roman occupation of the world that was, and the type of military efficiency that could invent a way to torture transgressors for days without requiring its soldiers to engage actively in the extended cruelty.

Crucifixion: An early example of automation, if you will.

Here stand the trees on the other side of the earth, raising fingers toward a sky that’s weeping. This week, of all weeks, spring finally shows herself.

She arrives at a rock wall with a hole hewn into it, expecting to find a decayed corpse well-flayed and left to rot. Death has happened and it’s done. Leaves have fallen. Cold has settled in. Limbs are icy. And it seems that it will stay this way forever and forever, all rumours to the contrary.

Instead, something has happened in the night. A sun’s ray of a soldier has removed the seal of death. Deep in the heart of the earth, a sudden breath is taken. The flaying and the icy cold are irradiated as the world tilts on its axis toward its source of light.

He has no remarkable appearance. Just a man. In the darkness, he unwraps the cloth from around his head, shakes it off, and leaves behind the bindings, neatly folded.

The seal is broken open.

She arrives, prepared to grieve what was and isn’t anymore. A promising and remarkable life, over. A disappointment to outlast all other heartbreaks.

Instead, she finds the Gardener.

Who else would be about so early in the morning dew? Just a man whose daily job is nurturing creation. Through tears she looks at him and past him, still looking for scars and wounds and the first signs of decay. He stands there, upright and with his dignity evident and unassailable, while she’s still expecting defiled nakedness.

She comes looking for an ending. And it is.

Winter always ends.

Deep in the woods on the other side of the world, the snow still lies thick and sodden. Last year’s foliage is crumpled on the ground like discarded newspaper. It has seemed that the resurrection forgot us this year.

The life I lived for the last decade and a half is over — in a way. Re-beginning, in another. It’s just so late. And I wonder if those years were wasted. Sometimes it feels like the biggest mistake I could have made.

But whether they were wasted or not, things are starting over. Always something new to try, something else to learn, some other wonder to see.

Even death won’t change that. This world struggles against itself, tearing down edifices and doing battle over great achievements. What about that other world, when this one’s strife and disappointment melt away?

A greening that will be.

There is no heaven with a little of hell in it.

-George MacDonald

In Which a Troll Moves On

Winter’s end is a carcass lying in the ditch, a yellowed sagging thing. The blackened bones of the earth jut through its sloughing skin. Dead grass litters the roadside like tangled hair. She was an ugly one.

And I am ugly too, today, rife with headache and a lesser bridge-troll’s interpersonal sensibilities. I have had simply enough. The world is disorderly, in constant need of wrangling and permanently on the edge of fatal error. I don’t feel that I have a kindred soul alongside for this. “Oh, well, we’ll get it when it matters, it’ll all be fine” doesn’t keep things running smoothly.

It’s the troll under the bridge does that. Looks for the cracks before they’re visible on the surface. Watches the floodwater levels. Fights off the dark haunts of the night in order to do it all again tomorrow.

Winter’s end is her own kind of haint. Her carcass self brings the burning of bridges.

In winter’s end, I go away from all I once loved and wanted. Though it’s been darkness to me the last few years, it’s been my darkness. I’ve gotten comfortable under its lid, lying unnoticed and watching for the roof to crack. Patching it all back together over and over again, not sure why. Dreaming of anyplace else.

Dreams are dangerous. Anyplace else has come to find me, and it has taken me prisoner.

My strength is gone after ten years of patching things back together. My back’s weak and untrustworthy. My knees give out when I climb the ladder for the harrumphteenth time. My hands are crippled twins, shot with pain from wielding trowels of various kinds. I have built my home at great cost.

But this world is a crumbling thing. The wind wears away at the lonely shores, and the stars fall down through the northern night. The home I have made goes too, out to sea.

My ocean is prairie, cold and tossed with frozen swells. It is both beachhead and rolling wave, poised in icy sculpted form over roadsides and fence lines. Winter is leaving late and reluctant this year, dragging spring down under the ice in hopes of killing her by hypothermia.

My bridge is falling down.

What’s an aging woman to do? I’ll be forty in a few years, and the toll I’ve paid in health may not be recoverable by then. I must let anyplace else come for me, and perhaps I’ll have the chance to live again. Perhaps I’ll find health and peace in the sunlight I’ve forgotten.

Free of cracks and patches and holding my roof together in this place I built with my hands.

It’s sturdy enough, now, and it’ll do fine for whatever takes up residence next. There’s good cement, fine tilework, even wood and walls and washed glass windows.

May it do well for the next one. My chains are on me. Paper chains like a child’s festive garland, made with her own hands’ work. Decorated with numbers, signatures and contract terms.

I am already sold to anyplace else. When the frozen waves melt into larksong, I am gone.

How This Story Ends

Many of the essays I write here are in fact letters to faraway friends, most often my Texan varmint of a writing partner, Quixote. They’re illustrations of the life that exists here on the Canadian prairies — an older way of life, a beautiful and largely forgotten place that predates the cultural and economic shifts of urbanization and industrial farming. Here, we are still family, with our feet and history planted in the ploughed earth.

In 2010, I was approached by a small publishing startup about doing a creative nonfiction book. I collected, rewrote, expanded upon, and thought long and hard about how to make these various seasonal ramblings into a bigger picture. They begin here in my prairie. But where should they conclude? Like the ocean, the prairie goes on forever.

Life went on the same as it has, and the manuscript sat quietly in my files. Creative nonfiction, after all, isn’t fiction. It draws on actual life events. How can one write an ending that hasn’t happened?

But now it has.

For he says, “At the acceptable time…”

2 Cor. 6:2

We’re moving away.

We never planned to. When we got here, My Love said it was the last time and we were staying here forever. But for some very strong reasons, eventually he changed his mind. And after a year of stalling and digging my heels in, I changed mine with him.

So we go. Out of the prairie and into a more suburban setting. Out of the solitude (also known, on bad days, as isolation) and into a different kind of closeness, one I’m not sure I’ll be comfortable with.

There, it’s the closeness of unknown neighbours who may have opinions about our rather creative lifestyle. It’s the invisible cords of greater regulation and restriction.

Here, it’s the closeness of family, with all its headaches and treasures. The cords are blood ties and heartstrings.

I have lain down and cried several times. My youngest child was born in this house. We’ve put so much of our time together into it, made it over in ways that speak silently of our relationships and the gifts of others.

The antique floor-to-ceiling newel posts given me by my mother-in-law.

The ceramic tile I laid with my daughters and son, a skill taught me by my father and passed on to my children.

The windows my husband bought me because I find them beautiful.

The church full of people I’ve known literally all my life, many of whom I’m obscurely related to going back five generations. Our ancestors settled here together, broke sod together, broke bread together. The weave is invisible and immeasurable.

I don’t know how to write this ending, except in the belief that it isn’t one. It’s another beginning.

When I left here, it was with no wish to return or ever to claim my heritage. Growing up here was difficult and traumatic. It left me bitter. But like other things that I never thought would heal, that too is healed over now by the surgically precise guidance of an unseen hand.

I trust that hand. It writes a bigger story than I can.

You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your book?

Psalm 56:8

Yesterday, we told our church. I cried. My lifelong neighbours cried. I was embraced and prayed for. There was grief and shock and maybe a bit of denial on all sides. I write this down because I want to remember, in time to come, how different it was from the last church we left. A church full of empty politics and knives designed to sever one’s backbone.

Back then, the phone never rang once. No regrets were given, not even among those few who stayed semi-casually in touch. “Good riddance,” the rumour mill of that other town echoed back to us. And this gem of a quote: “I don’t care about them, but I miss their children.”

“How do you two manage to keep smiling?” a friend on the sidelines asked us back then.

“Oh… we don’t. We shed our tears at home,” my husband answered.

So we went, broken; we went home.

And here my home was, waiting to heal so many, many aching wounds.

We’ll never quite leave. I’ll always be from here, where my great-great grandfather built a manor house and planted an orchard. Where a creek winds down between pasture hills under oak-scented leaves and sunshine. Where family may hurt each other, but they don’t leave it on those terms. There’s always coming back and making better.

I get it now. I know where I’m from.

I’m from here, and forever, where a good and gracious God will make a final healing and a final homecoming. In this world, all things change and fall to dust. The old schoolhouse my father attended has burned down. The church where my ancestors are buried is abandoned. The people I remember, pass on. There are would-be publishers taking out their personal issues on the business and churches imagining their internal politics are religion. It’s all a big game where the fleeting, poisonous butterfly of ego rules the day.

All is vanity. There’s nothing new under the sun.

But still the grain fields ripple under a vast and perfect sky, like the last unending amen. And always I will walk them; find me there.

Every Natural Love

“I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all… How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

-Penn Jillette, proselytizing atheist

The Great Divorce

“But could one dare — could one have the face — to go to a bereaved mother in her misery — when one’s not bereaved oneself?…”

“No, no, Son, that’s no office of yours. You’re not a good enough man for that. When your own heart’s been broken it’ll be time for you to think of talking. But someone must say in general what’s been unsaid among you this many a year: that love, as mortals understand the word, isn’t enough.”

-C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

There comes a moment in a Christian’s life when one doesn’t want to be a Christian anymore. Very rarely is it for the sake of our own cherished, secret sins. No, those we justify, as Lewis has rightly noted elsewhere. We tell ourselves tales of how our own unrighteous thoughts and inclinations can’t be so very bad, for after all, we’re Christians.

No, the moment when one has a sudden urge to quit Christianity is in the moment of loss. Loss of face, loss of self-respect, loss of valuables or dreams.

Loss of loved ones.

Hypotheses and Realities

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

-Philip K. Dick

A short time ago, a friend listened to me rail against the empty hypotheticals that arrive with profound loss. In general: Oh, she is at rest now. Oh, she is at peace. Or on the Christianish side, oh — perhaps there was some last-hour miracle in which her heart changed, or perhaps all go to heaven due to some overbearingly rude indifference of God toward the will of those who have no wish for a God at all.

My grandmother was one who had no wish for God. From my childhood on, my grandparents were avowed atheists. It was she who taught me the art of thoughtful skepticism: to examine religion and large (or large-seeming) ideas and compare them to how the world actually works. She introduced me to Shirley MacLaine’s New Age notions and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. She mentored each of us in many a late-night conversation, preparing us for the deceits and absurdities of the adult world.

She did for us what was never done for her, and it changed my life.

It was my grandmother’s materialist atheism that taught me to look for and thoroughly question the connection between religious abstraction and concrete reality. In a very real way, her sense of intellectual principle has kept me a Christian all these years. I’m no intellectual lightweight, yet I can’t falsify it.

But I railed because, in the overture of a late and cold high summer, she died.

The Heart Has its Reasons

In the shoals of grief, the Christian quickly runs up against a sudden, fierce anger against God. If God can save whomever He chooses, and it’s nothing of man’s doing, then why doesn’t He save those for whom we pray most fervently? If God can intervene in whatever He chooses, then why doesn’t He save the failing marriage, rescue the broken engagement, spare the innocent child, relieve the suffering of poverty and war?

On the threshold of death, it would be reprehensible to posit some high-minded abstract answer. All I can or should say is that I know this angry struggle. I know it and I’m cut by it to the core of my heart, because she’s gone.

But I cannot, even now, accept convolutions of our love for loved ones. High-minded fancy is blasphemy in the space where reason knows nothing. As Pascal said, the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.

The afterlife (or lack thereof) is an abstract without connection to our real experience. We don’t know, so we make up fables and judge facts by them. This reversal can tear the heart to shreds in times of grief, precisely because it gives nothing to hang onto. Stop believing in it, and it goes away. That’s only another burden for the heart to bear.

“I Don’t Respect That At All”

Empty platitudes are no solution; neither is trembling at the natural differences of view between us who remain on this earth.

So, then: the anger of loss.

“…someone must say in general what’s been unsaid among you this many a year: that love, as mortals understand it, isn’t enough. Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this (heavenly) country: but none will rise again until it has been buried.”

“That saying is almost too hard for us.”

“Ah, but it’s cruel not to say it.”


My love is not enough to invoke eternity. Not my love of work, not my love of principle, not my love of others. Only Christ’s love for my soul; Christ who died for me. And for you.

God, then, will have to be enough for me, because I can’t be enough for you. Why should I be? To say otherwise would be a tremendous conceit and a denial of my faith.

You can stop believing in me, and I can go away. In some sense, we ourselves are not a full reality. So, instead, I will entrust you to God’s goodness, and be good to you insofar as I can stumble through, because He is good.

Our Cultural Hells

“You cannot torment yourself,” my friend said, “with images from medieval paintings. Whatever comes after, we know that God is good.”

And he was right. Those images of hell are representatives of a relatively recent and bloody European culture, rife with the brutal treatment of rivals — burnings at stakes and other monstrous tortures. To acquiesce wholesale to them makes grief a vicious weapon that spears us through the heart.

Those are images of this world, not of the blank spaces in our knowledge of hereafter. Neither the outer darkness nor the light of heaven are within our sight while we walk this plane. Only their shadows fall here.

But if as non-Christians we torment ourselves instead with the idea of annihilation — that there is no heaven or hell but what we make for ourselves on earth — then we must believe that every natural love is ultimately destroyed.

That too is a culturally-driven speculation, a thing we can’t know.

I watched it shatter my grandmother when my grandfather died; I sat with her as she broke down and wept and berated herself for the illogic of grieving what, to her, simply didn’t exist anymore. Not him; not their love.

Yet we can’t know this as a fact, not in the way we know the sun rises in the east. Not in the way I know the knife-edge of anger at God in the face of death and loss and evil.

We arrive at eternity’s front path by an indirect route.

To Cross The Salt Sea

She always told me what she believed, because she loved me. Because she knew that to hold convictions on the greater good of humanity, and not speak, is disreputable and cowardly.

She’s gone; whatever comes after, I know that God is good. This, at least, is no abstraction; I can connect it to the concrete reality of life in all its pains, for I’ve experienced His goodness. And when I stop believing in it, it doesn’t go away.

There I begin, over and over again.

She taught me to look for the set of ideas that corresponds most robustly to the world’s visible facts. From there, we may triangulate the way forward, indirect though it be.

That gift takes me through her loss, beyond empirical reason, and charts me a course across the salty seas where reason knows nothing; where the heart’s reasoning rules.

And I arrive, over and over again, at this:

Every natural love is not destroyed. Some rise again, and live forever.

If I Have Ever Had a Memory

I can’t even remember my name most of the time. I find myself waking up even though I’m already awake, and wondering who I am and what I’m doing. So if you’ve ever had a memory, I envy you.
Jill Domschot

If I have ever had a memory, it’s a flash of leaves and light. I can’t remember what I’m doing; who I am has always been up for grabs. I have a poor sense of my own person. I never know how to answer when asked my name.

The countryside rolls with the winds like a sea. It’s the grain, it makes waves, and the hills are swells rising higher than houses. The trees in the valleys are seaweed forms, mottled by the shifting light that filters down through clouds that sail on forever and aye.

This is my ocean. 

If I have ever had a memory, it’s of this place where houses tumble down after the last century’s boom and crash, quickly built by railway speculation in the grain trade, and slowly crumbled by the dustbowl’s lingering effects on once-prosperous estates. These farms were the manor houses of the New World, fiefdoms unto themselves. Now both the politics and the liberties available have changed irrevocably.

There used to be a homestead every half-mile. They say the housewives found it terribly isolating. Now the silence of birdsong and the sun’s turning is overridden by gargantuan tractor engines echoing off the hills and jet planes shushing by at altitude. Everything echoes in this ocean’s spaces. It echoes in the space left by family farms that had no choice but to fold in the face of corporate-sized endeavours. It echoes in the spaces left by the children who dwindled away. Eighty in the school when I was a child. Then fifty, then thirty, then a dozen. Then a handful and a fight over the inevitable closure.

This is my ocean, but I don’t belong to it anymore. The farming is done; my father was the last of four generations. Where we go after this, I don’t know.

If I have ever had a memory, it’s of award-winning pies and breads at the local fair. Horse teams stomping their feet and circling the ring. Artwork and photography on display. Handmade quilts and sparkling Gem jars.

We did these things because it’s what the land required, not out of high-minded idealism or magazine promotions. Not by lifestyle choice, but by choosing to live here.

And I do.

If I have ever had a memory, it’s of calling my mother-in-law for Grandma’s sweet pickle recipe.

Steam rising from the canning pot and dampening the strands of hair that escaped from the scarf on my head and the braid falling down my neck.

The scent of dried-out wheat and barley stalks falling in tidy swaths, their chaff carried on the wind. The sunset that reaches across half the sky when harvest dust hangs in the air, and a huge golden moon on the rise.

If I have ever had a memory, it’s of the neighbour phoning to say he found my son a blacksmith’s tools at an auction. Of brickwork on the tumbledown abandoned houses, lath-and-plaster walls of finer quality than drywall, stained glass windows in parlors and front doors.

If I have ever had a memory, it’s of leaves and light. Leaves green and young, poplars rattling in the summer breeze and reeds swishing in answer. Leaves golden-brittle, tumbling down on overgrown field trails that were once official roads. Now they’re mere tracks, but still we know them all, and who once lived there.

I can’t remember what I was doing in that flash of leaves and light because I wasn’t doing anything, just being.

It’s called the backwater for a reason. Out in the back places, silent ponds stand under leaning trunks, sheltered from the sun’s touch. Beaver and muskrat dive and build. Secrets hum in the night and flicker like sparks: when things are still, the fireflies dance outside my bedroom window. Always, I stop in wonder. These are my lights that burn all night, the only ones I want. For my next dance, I’ll take the wind upon the winter’s first snow.

I don’t know how to answer when my name is asked because there’s history attached to it, history that you can’t know if you haven’t been here.  Some of it is painful; some is still a mystery even to me. Do you expect to call me what my family and neighbours call me? I don’t hand out that name. It lives where I live.

I came from outside this culture, and it took me nearly forty years to start to understand its hidden ways and now, in this place, it’s dwindling to a ghost. It’s still vital and alive elsewhere, and this is not its last rodeo. But like any self-respecting old cowboy, it’s not what you want it to be. It is what it is.

Who I am is no longer up for grabs at this late turning of the season. This is my ocean; I haven’t ceased to belong here yet. Lord willing, my burial will be upon this sea.

The Seventh Fairy Tale of the Modern Woman

Yesterday, my sister pointed out Six Fairy Tales for the Modern Woman. I said that mine is the sixth, because although we’re landlocked, I never wanted to learn to surf.

However, she noted that there’s not much mention of children, although child-raising is a perfectly valid life choice too. So, for my sister, here is the seventh fairy tale.

VII. Once upon a time, a girl reluctantly married her high school not-exactly-sweetheart because she didn’t want to raise their unexpected baby alone. This necessitated laying aside her plans for an eventual PhD, not to mention the part about becoming a permanently-single cat lady with a nicely-appointed heritage home in the university district and a grand piano in the living room. “Well,” she said to herself, “This certainly negates any possibility of Fairytale #1 coming true. Just look at the baby spit on everything. And I have no money to decorate the way I’d like.”

But over time, she realized she’d intuitively made this choice because the young man really was Prince Charming. It just took a few more kisses than the Fairytale Manual mentions. (Those old books are notorious for their missing pages.)

The girl and her sweetheart grew up together in their twenties, and they had four extremely quirky but well-loved children. They travelled the continent with their young family in their thirties. And when she had spent half her life with him (she was only 36 at the time, and he was 38), she looked at the grey in his hair and thought, “We’re not even old yet. How rich I am to have known him all this time, in all these ways.”

Then she walked into the kitchen and saw a young man, nearly grown, looking quietly at her with the intentness of a child memorizing all his mother’s expressions. She hadn’t raised her baby alone, and suddenly she was nearly done. Two young ladies were giggling and sharing secret thoughts. And a younger man hugged her round the waist as she went by.

The house she was in, they had built together. The gardens were tended by six pairs of hands. The shop was littered by the tools of all the children following after that man, whose life dream had always been to be a father and husband. And in the evenings, the children’s songs rose and drifted out the windows and into that faraway northern realm called The Land Where Rainbows Live.

Time turned on, as it tends to. She did not learn to surf at the age of 65, because she didn’t want to. The man had no interest in decorating, so she decorated the house however she wished, now that times were better. And she kept a promise she’d made to herself back in her twenties, which was to cultivate smile lines.

She suspected the wrinkles and wear-marks were caused by those children, who were always coming back to reread her face like a familiar old book from childhood. Honestly, it would make anyone a little dogeared, but it was also why her lines were happy ones. Her skin became thinner and delicate, but it reminded her of really beautiful tissue paper — or perhaps the onionskin of some sacred text, for this unexpected life had taught her that not all mystery has yet left the world.

And in her old age, her two sons smiled at her with their father’s blue eyes, and her two daughters laughed with the laughter of their father’s heart. The paper was certainly crinkled; but she was quite certain no pages were missing at all.

Fake Word of the Week

Rarely am I this snarky on the outside, but it’s almost always like this on the inside, and I decided in favour of novelty today. This is neither pro- or anti-state, pro- or anti-education system. It’s anti-bad-thinking. And now, your Fake Word of the Week.

Hypocrazy (n.): The false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion, with particular reference to total illogic.

Source: Unintentional typo of an online friend.

Context: A friend of mine was recently informed by a self-appointed life critiquer that children belong to the state, not to parents. (Assuming children belong to anyone, I suppose there’s an argument to be had here…)

On that premise, the self-appointed critiquer concluded that “we taxpayers” have the right to monitor how “you homeschoolers” raise and educate children, because “we taxpayers’s” children have the right to live alongside others who will integrate peacefully and productively into the state. After all, that’s why the state gave birth to them from its own fleshy loins, right?

If there were a Darwin Award for sticking one’s finger in a logic light socket, this assertion would certainly be a nominee. In the (universally applicable, ultimately non-partisan) wisdom of Frank Caliendo, there’s two kinds of words: inside words and outside words. Inside words stay in, and outside words come out. I guess somebody’s inside words popped out.

Homeschoolers pay education taxes too, and thus (by this argument) have a right to demand that parents of public school children be held accountable for how they raise the next generation of civic and/or criminal irresponsibility to fruition. Not that no homeschoolers are criminals or all public schoolers are irresponsible, but as soon as we start talking about broad-brush accountability principles, the statistical realities of being the mainstream majority come back to bite one on the butt.

Hypocrazy, isn’t it.

How to Be a Writing Parent, In 13 Bazillion Easy Steps

1) Check to see that the kids are occupied elsewhere. All good? That’s what you think, but we’ll go with that.

2) Grab the headphones and fire up the laptop.

3) Write half a sentence. Answer the first knock on the bedroom door.

4) Pick the movie for movie night out of a stack of thirty DVDs that the 10-year-old has brought in and dumped on your bed.

5) Write three really fast sentences while the 12-year-old is playing with your toes and asking rapid-fire questions about why you don’t like your feet touched.

6) Write five more sentences while the 12-year-old and 15-year-old are playing a weird game on your bedroom floor where one of them lies face-down and the other one hauls on the arms to induce vertigo. Notice that vertigo is an incredibly loud syndrome.

7) Write two more sentences while the 12-year-old and 10-year-old sit on the couch in the next room and berate each other for wiggling. Notice that wiggling also has incredibly loud symptoms.

8) Give up and go watch a movie with the kids.

9) Shush the kids 50 times in 20 minutes.

10) Drink wine and wonder if you will ever put an entire coherent thought together again in your life.

11) Sneak into your room during their mid-show bathroom break and write two and a half more sentences.

12) Shush the kids, answer plot questions, deal with the 12-year-old’s complaints about Alan Rickman using a cutting sword incorrectly to stab Kevin Costner, say goodnight. Wonder how they got to be such nerds when they’re essentially feral.

13) Plan to write a bit now that the house is quiet; instead, fall asleep sitting upright with your laptop on your knee.


The parking lot is a blackened patch of sun in a white and frozen ocean, and for the moments it takes to cross it, I am eighteen again, or fifteen. I am small in a large world, making my way through its unnoticed spaces, and they are full of a warmth I’ve only just come to know.

On the far side, the gargantuan machinery of my husband’s workplace churns on forever, making men its servants. Behind me is the guardhouse, where an aging fellow in blue uniform stands sentinel for the truck drivers who come and go.

Right here, the air is fresh and spring is rising. My southern friends would ask how that can be, when the snow is still piled in drifts the height of men’s heads. Winter covers my northland in a tsunami four feet thick and poised motionless in place. Or so it appears.

But on the asphalt, meltwater is trickling. The sun’s heat is coming. Winter will ambush its way back in the door another time or two before the metamorphosis is complete, but in my books, this is the first day of spring. It’s out of step with the summer of my life, a blooming heady thing full of roses and thunderstorms. The spring is quieter, purer, cooler, and it takes me back.

I remember sharing youth and potentiality with my cousin, wandering the back alleys of the city around our grandparents’ house. I remember the day I got my university acceptance and went dancing through my college town’s historic district with the boy who would become my husband.

Youth is unmitigated and yet invisible, an empty space stretched painfully between the substances of childhood and adulthood. It runs shallow and fleeting across the hard surfaces of life. Then it’s down the drain.

It’s not really difficult to let it go. It’s a place that’s better to visit from a distance. I wouldn’t want to live there.

This young, fresh thing so idolized in our culture is a chimera, and we futilely reconstruct and worship what we never really saw. It can’t be seen. It fleets past in the single hour when the air is fresh with promises unmade — promises that can’t be made, for no one knows the future — and its tentative warmth is something that can’t be bottled in a snake-oil elixir.

I woke this morning to a crystalline world. Raised my head from the pillow, looked out the window, and saw the trees across the road were laced with frost and shimmering in the sun. By noon it melted away. Nothing but the usual grey sticks remained, stuck at odd angles in the four-foot blanket of snow.

The surface sheen we mistakenly call beauty can’t be kept. But that’s because of the warmth of life — a greater kind of beauty.

That underlying essence, the thing we can’t capture in a bottle, remains. It grows beneath the chill, deep-rooted in spite of the muck and awkward wallowing of our transitional pains. It grows like a mustard seed. And it is a time traveller, carrying us through the interstices of the world.

So I walk across a black patch of sun and cool, fresh air, and for those moments I’m lost within the interstitial. It’s not youth I remember; it’s not youth I need to remember. It’s the first moments when I felt that metamorphic warmth — that warmth which has become a blaze, and will dwindle to a comforting bed of long-lived embers in my autumn. In the final season, it will become a spark which struggles to remember the fire from which it has drifted loose.

God willing, I’ll find my reflection in the unnoticed trickle of the meltwaters, even then.

How the Blind Can Lead the Blind

All is night, and all is right with my world. In this winter darkness, I know exactly where I am.

For a long while, I was buried under snow of a different kind, under a winter of loss and uncertainty. In this cold season, the northland is like a desert wasteland. Those times come to a person’s inner world too.

Now is another greening. Not a spring — my springs are all past, and now my summers stretch out before me. Though it lacks the tizzy of new awakenings, this is no sensible time of life. It’s one where romance prevails and rainstorms come and go. A time of warmth, vitality, and changeable winds. A time to sail away from known shores.

Now is a time to embrace the friends who can bring such a thaw to pass. Love is a very great power indeed.

Outside the south-facing window, the starshine hides behind a blanket of thick cloud; snow buntings rise and twirl as night travellers along the roads disrupt their rest. They catch the headlights of passing cars and rise like sparks into the freezing air. They fly into emptiness and are gone beyond sight.

Like thoughts, like dreams, they fly away. Like the places I’ve wandered in my heart and mind, and like this place where I write to you tonight.

It all whirls past, faster and faster with every turn. Life spins out of our hands and meets its end, a thread run off the bobbin. Set a match to it, and it’s just a spark, no fire. And then it’s gone. Before I know it, my place in the world will burn out.

But love is a very great power indeed. It sees sparrows and snow buntings fall, though the darkness is lit by not one star. Love knows when a dream dies, and it weeps when time turns to char and ash. Love feels the weight of the burdens we carry, small or large, forced upon our shoulders or self-inflicted by our choices.

It’s possible to die of broken wings.

Yet there are hands that heal. Hands that have been broken themselves. That’s how they know the wounding. That’s how, in this winter darkness, I am not lost. Because hands of like nature were stretched out to me in the acceptable time.

I am hidden in the comfort of my room, and the south-facing window is a blank, the colour of slate. The antique lamp in the corner glows golden. After I turn it off, I will feel my way to bed and lay me down by sheer force of familiarity.

And in the peace and warmth, where love prevails, I will think of how the blind can lead the blind — by reaching out to touch.