Teetering past the solstice


Oh, it can be dark here in the canyon in December. Three hours of direct sunlight if we’re lucky. And cold. The solstice arrived with, finally, a dipper on the creek below the bridge up the road from our place. The one where the outlet of the ground water seeping out of Gordon Harvey’s old park enters the creek and makes an open spot even when everything is frozen. The old park where little bridges used to cross the creeklets trickling through tall spruce and cottonwood. A carved bear, long gone. A guest book anchored to a tree, also gone.

The solstice also brings a plane landing into the -14 winter evening. On it, our elder son and his fiance. Vancouver kids shivering in the cold. Life in the house doubles. That night, wolves howl nearby. It feels like a sign, a return of life and light. The next day, -20, we climb the hill and look for tracks. We don’t find them but we relish the sunlight as we look across the valley, its murky air.

The other boy arrives with our almost six-year-old grandson, wild with Christmas, keen for everything. We walk over to the creek, throw chunks of snow off the bridge into the open spot just under the bridge’s arch. No dipper.

The birdfeeder is a circus of colour and movement: Steller’s jays, whiskey jacks, redpolls, nuthatches, chickadees, hairy and downy woodpeckers, a magpie and pine grosbeaks. On the fringes, a pine marten. A pair of ravens. Look, we say to our grandson, whose first language was raven squawks he made with his grandpa, raucous squawks the ravens answered. Look. There they are. Your old friends.

The house is quiet as we come to the end of the year, the boys and the girl gone. The temperature stays low and the creek is quieter and quieter. The openings all closing. But the light is returning and I know somewhere on Driftwood Creek a dipper is dancing in the new year.

… some lines from an old poem of mine … Why are some rivers?                                                                            

A quiet seepage –
too quiet, really, to be called a spring –
can unlock the earth’s own heat.
The ice exhales and opens
a sudden pool for this dipper
bobbing on a splintered stone.
It dives right in and finds a current
that’s warmer than the winter air.
There’s spirit in there somewhere
and bouncing back, the bird
it dipsy doodles
on the slippery dance floor
tapping out some bebop riff
we all wish that we could follow.

Happy New Year from Driftwood Canyon!

9 thoughts on “Teetering past the solstice

    • Good to hear from you Catriona. Your mom comes to mind at the most unexpected moments – I have some of her beautiful place mats in a drawer and every time I see them, I see the house where you grew up, her loom set up in a room near the door. It was a cantankerous loom and we spent many hours sorting out its problems, but she made beautiful and surprising combinations of colours and textures on it. An excellent friend.

  1. I love your writing, Sheila. It feels like a warm blanket of clouds is being wrapped around my soul. Thank you for this. You are so very generous to share such wonders – both visually and in writing:) And a very happy new year to you and yours.

  2. Lovely piece, Sheila; evocative of BV memories as well as of your lovely little valley. I’m envious of your bird list–and of the “other taxa”, as birders call mammals and other non-birds if we even bother to note them. Magpies were rare in the BValley when I lived there nearly 40 years ago. On Denman Island in 30 years I’ve seen only one Dipper–no high-energy creeks on my flat little sandstone island. We had Pine Grosbeaks on two different Christmas Counts but only then. A few Redpolls are being seen in Victoria and nearby Courtenay this winter, but not on Denman so far.

    And this year we have a special treat–Steller’s Jays. Every now and then they’re abundant everywhere on Vancouver Island, possibly in response to a bumper crop of young the previous spring, or maybe a food shortage in the mountains. The Jays don’t normally like to fly across water, so we can go years without seeing one; they’re seen regularly on Vancouver Island and in these big years they pile up around Victoria, unwilling to cross Strait of Juan de Fuca. This winter I think we have as many as 15 on Denman–very big deal.

    On the bright side, two weeks ago I hitched a ride on a troller and saw lots of seabirds, including Cassin’s Auklet and Ancient Murrelet, not to mention two small pods of Orcas (other taxa).

  3. Lovely to catch word of the coast this time of year. When we visit my mom, who lives on the beach in Powell River, we often see harlequins too – our very special spring visitor to the canyon. Speaking of birds, have you ever read Harold Norman – he’s an eclectic fellow who spends much time in Nova Scotia – a folklorist, novelist (he wrote The Bird Artist) and birder. In My Famous Evening, he quotes a poet, Robert Kelly: “Everything I love most happens every day.” Lynn, thank heavens, is still happening every day, and so too are those birds coming to the feeder.

  4. Happy New Year to you and Lynn, Sheila! I’ve really been enjoying these posts that combine glimpses of your world with your poetry. And I love that your grandson’s first language was raven squawks.

  5. Beautifully written, Sheila. I feel your angst and joy from Ontario. We love Smithers in the winter but know we are not there fulltime when only 3 hours of direct daylight grace your canyon! Happy New Year!

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