Time to continue my story-a-day challenge/sweeps. Thank you so much to everyone who read and liked the first one yesterday, it’s nice to know this isn’t quite a terrible idea. Since the Vancouver-centric story was so popular yesterday, I figured I could continue with another piece inspired by my time in the city, though this one takes a different form. Written back in June, it’s by far the oldest of the works I’ll post on here this week. I wrote it on the plane coming back to Winnipeg for a week– able to be written only in that special stillness that only comes at night on a plane when you’re cramped against the window seat beside two Prairie truckers– and even though it takes place around my cabin on Lake of the Woods Ontario, much of the concerns in it were instilled in me during my time at UBC. It came from me asking the question “what if more literature were written from the point of view of the earth itself? Would that change the way we look at society?” Obviously, a piece like this can’t hope to answer a question of that scale, but the (at least relative) success of how this one turned out will ensure I’m not gonna just shelve an idea like that. So it’s a little unconventional, but I hope you like it all the same.
Once again, I’d like to reiterate that none of these pieces I’m releasing stand-up on their own, but rather the seven help to show where I’m at in my writing right now.
That Stillness at the Edge of the World
There’s probably a moon in the midnight out there. What happens to a family cabin after the family’s fallen to pieces? Paint a picture before it fades away.
Make the trees brush across the night sky. Make the stars paint themselves, dots glimmers. Make that house– leaning hillside, digging its claws into the dirt– shine bright again. Give it that light and that life it used to have: the clamp of the children running through its creaking crooning doors, the raising of cardboard castles, the splash of a family submerged– the frightful scream of a family coming up for air. Make that house croak again with the frogs in the moonlight– in the warm corner where a lamp flashes back and forth. Scrape the paintchips and re-dig the eaves, let the wasps flourish but let the dogs bark and paddle their way down the sandy banks towards lapping shores. Let the trailer gain moss as it eats the refuse of the decades– the LIFE Magazines, the cotton-pressed dolls, the first editions. Let the house grow into itself as it grows into the ground, as spruce poke the windows as birds turn beds into nests. Just fill the cabin with life again.
Don’t keep it locked away as darkness takes over the corners, cobwebs without spiders the panes along the plates. Don’t leave it locked–and in leaving it, leaving it open to the glue heffers and alco-snatchers for their next fix. Don’t leave it for the Land Remuneration Committee to plot out and section off; the biddings and auctions, the new families and old rivalries to slash at deeds, how they will or how it might. Don’t leave it to time on the human clocks, not when time is cruel and gets faster every day– time measured through towers growing far off to the West. Because towers grow so much faster than trees.
Time’s less measured among trees. But if you follow line of the path made by ten-thousand footsteps, you’ll find the edging of the wood quarry used for the cabin. Seventy years ago the grand old Patrician cut piece after piece of timber while his wife and their one-year-old watched from the deck chairs. She watched while she curled her hair (in the new contraption shipped up from San Francisco) with one hand, keeping the other on Baby. She admired her husband’s tenacity– the strike of the piece hitting harder with every sheer, that straight-nosed drive he never seemed to show for the Bonds Company. But she could never understand it. The cabin looked out upon a lake which in its stillness only made room for the loons. Fencing the bay were the densely wooded spruce hills, a touch of islands interrupting the expanse. There was no denying the place was nice. But a piece of Heaven? She’d come from Vancouver, on the upper edge of West Van, in a house her father– honored by two separate Queens– had shipped across the sea from India. On balmy evenings she and her brothers played tennis in the shadow of mountains. In what light or with which blush could she pretend to be excited by this?
But it’d be her who could watch it grow over the slow years. Watch it grow with her four children and their fourteen children. Watch them pass and find their own paradises in the edge of the water and middle of the woods; watch them pass on– to see the world (see Vancouver), to return to that same small spot bringing in the new batch of them to dance between the trees. And when the disease of the dirt and tree moss entered her husband’s lungs and left him speechless, she could watch him watch the lake from his wheelchair on the porch. In the red setting sun, she saw the paradise in his withered eyelids and trembling hands. So when she died ten years after him she was the one who asked for her ashes to be spread in the two different parts of the country– the shores of Ontario and of Vancouver– so that one day the wind might bring them back together again.
All across those years the cabin stood or swayed. Past years of brush-fire tornadoes and floods it held on. But now the speeding boats splash the loons’ nests into the oblivion of the open waters. Now the parties are until dawn. Because at some point whatever’s past it must come by and peer inside the paradise, peer inside like a boy into his sister’s diary.
Somewhere past the forest there’s a town, then somewhere past that town’s a city– follow its line starboard over mountains and the peaceful sea. Somewhere out there Kubla Khan grows tremendous and Biblical, curls its way up to the sun and the last of the atmosphere. The towers always stare up: they’re so concerned with touching the light that they leave the rest of us below in the fog of smog, in the dirt and the mess and the poverty of the rain gutters. The waves crash like a drum beat ready for the final hurrah: earth cracks and fire belches as the wind strikes down towards the towers like a hawk making a final desperate flight after the Hunter’s snare or a dolphin pressing again the meshing of the Fisherman’s net.
It’s the kind of thing that makes the mountains humble. So where does a cabin out in the woods sit below the planes? Can a painting stick around after the fires have melted everything else?