Should we stay or should we go?

It’s been a tumultuous few months in Driftwood Canyon. About a year ago we began to think about moving to the coast. Back to Powell River, the town where I grew up. Indeed, back into the house where my mother still lives. Where I’m writing this now.

No one was more surprised than I was. For years I thought the farthest I’d move was the fifteen km into Smithers. Anyone who’s read my blog here, or my other writing, can’t help but know how much the Bulkley Valley has been part of our lives; I met my husband (t)here, our kids were born and raised (t)here, we’ve hiked and snowshoed the hills for over forty years, we have deep and richly satisfying roots (t)here. I agreed with Wendell Berry and Pete Seeger advising us to settle in a place and stick to it.

But priorities shift. And while obstinance is a familiar stance for me, I am adaptable. And my mom, approaching 95, lives in a large house beside the ocean. So here we are.

I cringe a little when people say something is meant to be. It’s nice when things fall into place, but I don’t believe there are forces in the universe re-arranging the furniture to open up new opportunities for you or me. But when we talked to the ducks, they lined up in a lovely row.  One day I met an acquaintance in the drug store, told her we were moving, and asked in jest, do you want to buy a house in the country? She looked at me funny and we both laughed. The next week she appeared on our doorstep with her partner; we had tea and showed them around. They began to arrange financing. And that was pretty much it: we had four months to choose what to keep and what to clear out from forty years of feathers, skulls, stones, nests, books, toys, letters, photographs, and internal combustion engines. We had four months to finish editing, designing and printing Creekstone’s latest book. We launched Song of the Earth: The Life of Alfred Joseph by Ross Hoffman at the Hagwilget Gathering Place the night before we left.

As for the signs:

The winter was long and cold.

A fellow whose property touches Driftwood Road decided to log down the steep bank right to the road, haul out a few truckloads and leave a mess for his neighbours to enjoy.

Another fellow had been logging on his property further up the creek; he wasn’t allowed to haul his logs out Driftwood Road, but the wetlands we snowshoed in for years are now islands within cut blocks.

The willows are dying; the beautiful scrub willows that have given shape to a landscape of straight trees – spruce, pine, aspen, birch and cottonwood – and made enchanting nooks and crannies and forts and benches of lichen-spattered bark, the host for the fragrant fungus that sets you sniffing at stray wisp of something like vanilla. The beautiful smell of willow burning in the stove. The willow borer has laid waste to them and their dead lie strewn across the steep canyon walls, just waiting for another kind of fire.









The spring turned dry and dusty, great clouds rising off roads and parking lots.

And then there’s the wheelbarrow. I’ve been rewriting the ending of my wheelbarrow poem for twenty years – and when we celebrated our fortieth year beside Driftwood Creek, it became “Forty years: one house, one husband, one wheelbarrow.” We’d had many discussions about what to take to Powell River. What to give to friends, to the thrift store, what to throw away. A week before the moving van was scheduled to arrive, we talked about that wheelbarrow. It seemed silly to take it; my mom has two. The next day, Lynn brought up a load of firewood and returned to the woodshed with the empty barrow. One of the handles fell off.  I’m not sure what that signified. A certain kind of obstinacy of its own.

Choosing to move didn’t mean it would happen. Or that it was meant to happen, as tempting as that thought is. I became particularly fond of the idea of unexpected connections years ago, reading parts of David McFadden’s Great Lakes Suite: A Trip Around Lake Ontario, first published in 1988, as well as A Trip Around Lake Erie and A Trip Around Lake Huron, both first published in 1980. McFadden always found significance in seemingly random occurrences. But perhaps find isn’t the right word. Perhaps create is more accurate. Which is what writing does, at least for me. Creates significance, meaning.

We’re here now and beginning to get our bearings. The harlequins we looked for this time of year in Driftwood Creek are floating right below my mother’s house. White-crowned sparrows that cleaned up under our bird feeders in Smithers forage under her shrubs. But the mammals we see are seals, sea lions, orcas, otters. The birds we feed are gulls and crows. And after all those years living in a canyon, watching the evening sun play across the trees down the road, we can stand outside and watch sunsets that go on and on.


Considering my wheelbarrow

Sage Hill banner

About seventeen years ago I went to my first writing retreat at the Sage Hills Writing Experience in St. Michael’s Retreat just outside of Lumsden in the Qu’appelle Valley of Saskatchewan. Sage Hills was pretty new then. Coordinator poet Stephen Ross Smith (now at Banff) created a wonderfully collegial atmosphere where new and unknown writers could work, eat, drink, play pool and watch birds with many of the country’s best. I brought some poems to work on, but found myself struggling a few days in, overwhelmed perhaps by the august company.

I was looking for calm, for simplicity (it may have had something to do with the place itself), and was maybe missing home and husband just a little bit. Thinking of Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”,  I cast about for an object (I wasn’t going to choose a bird – Don McKay and Trevor Herriot – both birders and naturalists were in residence that year) that held enough meaning to prompt the muse to speak. Triggered perhaps by Stevens’ contemporary, William Carlos Williams, I turned to my wheelbarrow.


Considering my wheelbarrow


In the tumult of autumn wind
leaves cut loose
the only still thing
is the wheelbarrow.


     An empty wheelbarrow rests
lightly on a flat tire.
Spilling firewood it sits
unmoved by my curses.


A collector of rain
the wheelbarrow is
not red.


There are so many kinds of wheelbarrows.
Mine is orange
like a schoolbus.
The children
it carried are grown.


Consider this:
when a wheelbarrow sprawls
on its belly
its legs are in the air.


After a summer’s labour
the wheelbarrow and the compost
bosom to bosom


I must keep watch
both on the wheelbarrow’s path
and its awkward load.
Its obstacles are mine.


Three stones from the creek
do not fill the wheelbarrow.
My arms teach me
of volume and density.


 I could rest easier without
a truck than without
a wheelbarrow.


Contemplate the barrow before the wheel.
Would I relinquish the wheel?
Who am I fooling?


 The wheelbarrow has many homes:
the woodshed
the garden
the compost.

In the wide light of the moon
it wanders.
In the morning
I have to call its name.


Twenty years:
one house
one husband
one wheelbarrow.


Steller's Jay 1 (600x400)


The poem was published in the weather from the west in 2007, at which time I changed the last verse from twenty to thirty years. When my son took this photo of a Steller’s Jay this past Christmas, I realized it’s still the same wheelbarrow. And the fellow who loads it up with firewood every winter morning is still the same husband. The wood feeds a woodstove in the same house. Thirty-seven doesn’t scan very well, but we’re hoping to get to forty …

One thing I learned over the years is that whenever I go away on writing business for any length of time, it’s good practice to write something for my sweetheart. The title the weather from the west comes from a poem I wrote when I was at Banff a few years after I went to Sage Hills.

the weather from the west

where the weather comes from the west
small birds gather
on the bare branches
beside my balcony

I stand
face upturned
snow flakes on my eyelids
my cheeks
in my open mouth

I melt
distill the crystal messenger
carrying this windborne dust
released perhaps
when the rock you kicked
bounced down to the creek
or the dog dug for a stick
you tossed

I swallow

2014-11-04 Lynn feeds a whiskey jack (800x600)