on fragility   14 comments

a page from my journal which is being written over top of Lattimore’s translation of The Odyssey of Homer

I’m back home for awhile now – getting the van ready for our long autumn trek across the continent. It may surprise some of you to know that I barely drive between the long voyages. On average, I use about two tanks of gas in summer and two in winter. I’m not really much for driving around between the places where I toss out my anchor and rest awhile. It’s the in-between migrations that cause me to get behind the wheel. Otherwise, I am quite happy not to leave my property for days, or even weeks. I have always preferred solitude and trying to live an uncomplicated life. It’s just that events in my life keep getting in the way.

So, the last potatoes were dug out of the garden, farewells said to my very good next door neighbours who recently celebrated their 65th anniversary. It’s difficult to say goodbye. I usually take the newspaper in each morning, give the odd haircut, bring vegetables in from the garden, play a little fiddle, and share the odd story. It’s nice to have such good friends so close by. But now my old project house – the oasis in what is the otherwise pretty difficult ocean of my life – has been locked up until my next return.

journal page documenting just how hypothetically easy it has become to smash my world

Of course, my departure was not without a little turmoil. As I rushed around taking care of last minute tasks while trying not to forget any small detail, I suddenly noticed that Sage was not dogging me the way she usually does. Normally, when it looks as though I am close to leaving to go somewhere, she sticks to my heels like a burr. She had been doing so all morning and then, poof, I realized that I was alone. That sensation of alone-ness has become quite conspicuous since Sabrina’s death in May. Wherever I go, there is an emptiness, a sort of hollow feeling like staring upon the inside of an empty drum which echoes with faint scrabblings of the past.

I tore around the house calling Sage’s name, then out onto the front lawn and into the back garden. I looked down upon the brook which, after a summer of drought, was now practically seething after a couple of torrential rains. However, Sage never goes down the hill to the brook on her own, so I dismissed that dreadful possibility. Instead, I thought of the incident a couple of weeks ago when the male pheasant from the pair that nests in a nearby field, appeared close to the house, tempting Sage to follow as he wandered off through the tall grass, occasionally emitting one of his weird little honks.

And so I ran up and down the field, calling frantically, clapping my hands in my usual summoning gesture. I kept that up for a good 20 minutes, managing to race all over my own property and back to the decommissioned railway line trail. Finally, exhausted, I returned to the house, feeling rather like collapsing – not from fatigue, but because I felt emotionally smashed at losing one of the last anchors that holds my life in check, preventing it from cartwheeling into the darkness of some distant galaxy.

If there is one thing that can be said about my life, it is that it is not without drama. When it is not someone close to me giving a last breath, or a great chunk of frozen mud flying off a truck to smash in the front of my van, or a boat flying off a trailer in my lane on a freeway, well… it is always something, isn’t it? However, sometimes something good happens. As I stood in the garden trying to think of what to do, I heard two sharp barks – familiar happy barks. I turned, slowly doing a 180 while running my eyes over the lawn, woods and house. Again, two more sharp barks, and then Sage’s gleeful dog grin at the window in a barely used room of the house. I had been in and out of it for about 15 seconds shortly before she went missing. As my mother describes, Sage is like a wisp of smoke that can slip through the smallest crack of an open door. She must have followed into the room when I tossed some papers onto a table before shutting the door for the season. Of course, I was relieved, but also left to ponder at what ease that familiar feeling of devastation manages to surge forward to hammer me. One would think that four years of struggling along, rebuilding my life and attempting to repair my psyche, would have stood me in better stead to deal with potential trauma, but now I have confirmed that that is not that case. It’s quite unsettling to know that, in spite of all that I have done to quash the anxiety resulting from the abandonment inflicted by Don’s death, I seem to be no stronger than I was at day one. In fact, maybe I’m all that much weaker after four years of relentless wear and tear and also being that much older. There’s probably some lesson in all of this – perhaps a warning to those who don’t realize how the events of our lives can just pile on, one over atop of the next, until we are driven to our knees. Remember that the next time you notice that someone who has suffered a great deal of loss doesn’t seem to be coping as well as expected.

our campsite at Kouchibouguac National Park

Well, in any case, we finally pushed off out of the yard, stopping to take the obligatory “goodbye house” photo which I shall not post here today. With a forecast of “gale force winds” along the Bay of Fundy coast for later that day and evening, I chose a different route which would put me at Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick by late afternoon. I reasoned that it would be more sheltered there. I’m glad that I chose a fairly modest distance for the day as I felt unusually tired from driving – in part because there was quite a terrible accident on the eastbound side of the highway as I neared the New Brunswick border, and then a dead bear cub on the road near the park. By the time I backed the van into my chosen campsite, I was feeling a little fried. I had intended to stay just the one night, but decided that, given the stress of the day and the quietness of the park, coupled with warnings of heavy rains to come, I would stay a second night. I am so glad for that decision, for instead of driving, I spent the day walking in the woods, playing fiddle, and sketching and writing in my journal – the above pages which are writ and drawn upon a second-hand edition of Lattimore’s The Odyssey of Homer (click on all photos for larger views). I realized just how much I was in need of some serious down time to pull myself together before driving the next 1000 kilometers (620 miles) on the following day.

Sage, enthusiastically assuming the mantle of Botany Dog

We enjoyed our day, walking about in the woods, studying and photographing plants and fungi. As it turns out, Sage has enthusiastically assumed the mantle of Botany Dog – a role which Sabrina held firmly for so many years. Between rain squalls, I cooked up a batch of bean soup which served as both lunch and dinner (see below). Spreading out a garbage bag on the soggy picnic table bench, I enjoyed lunch while surveying an extraordinarily large Tamarack (Larch tree to some of you) that stood nearby. Around dusk, some young teenagers from a campsite in another part of the park, began playing a game of chase among the trees near my site. I was playing fiddle at the time. I’m not quite sure of the intention of one teenaged boy, but he crawled toward the van in the growing gloom. I suppose he hoped to peer inside at me, but Sage had other ideas and hit the window with a horrific smack while roaring with such ferocity that it seemed she would happily crash through the glass to tear him limb from limb. I admit to some mirthful amusement as I watched the lad slip and fall, then bolt away in terror. This kind of thing happens more often than one might think – youngsters and even the odd adult approaching my van for unknown purpose when I am camped in developed campgrounds. It is one of the reasons that I greatly prefer camping in the boonies where most people give a wide berth to solitary vans, no doubt anticipating that the occupant might be some eccentric crazy poised to unleash the Hounds of Hell, or a musket full of buckshot if approached.

I shall endeavour to write more soon.

a hot bowl of bean soup on the soggy picnic table at Kouchibouguac

Written by bev wigney on September 30th, 2012

14 Responses to 'on fragility'

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  1. I love the writing and drawings over the Odyssey of Homer. The new story over the old story, modern journey over the ancient one. I hope your drive across the country is a good one, Bev. No more frozen chunks of flying mud or boats flying off their trailers…just beautiful vistas and clear skies all the way to Bisbee. Looking forward to your updates.

    robin andrea

    30 Sep 12 at 3:46 pm

  2. Bev, your trek has started with a wonderful revelation of your “true” self! I’m so glad Sage was there after all your searching; despite your self-reliance and enjoyment of your solitude, I think you need a good, reliable companion. I don’t think any of us realize how close to the edge we are, all of us; little things can cause our worlds to crash around us. But you have dealt with a calamity of enormous proportions and have demonstrated that, though very hard to do, one can emerge from it…never the same, but still strong.

    I loved reading about Sage’s ferociousness in frightening the teen; that kid may have learned a lesson only stark terror can teach!

    The soup looks delicious!


    30 Sep 12 at 3:50 pm

  3. Your inner odyssey now has to undergo an outer odyssey. I love that you are doing it. I’m sure you will feel more balanced at this journey’s end. psst: bean soup is my preferred meal before I play hockey. hugs and best wishes for a wonderful trip.


    30 Sep 12 at 4:46 pm

  4. robin – Thanks! Writing over The Odyssey is proving to be an interesting project. So funny how certain lines seem to apply when they appear in the text on a particular day!

    John – I think it is true that most of us don’t realize how close we are to the edge. I have been living on that edge and looking over the side into the blackness so much over the past few years. It has become a rather familiar landscape. Yes, you are right about how we are forever changed. That has been one of the most difficult parts of my experience – that I can never go back to that feeling of security that is the illusion that a good part of the population are able to maintain. It is both a blessing and a curse.

    Rodney – These long wanderings do leave me feeling more at peace. It has been a couple of years since I have spent an autumn slowly rambling alongfrom campsite to campsite. i look forward to the journey and the healing that will result. I will think of you the next time I dine on bean soup at my campsite!


    30 Sep 12 at 8:54 pm

  5. we’re bouncing from host to host, so our nomadism is different from yours – in our case it’s as if society has failed to buy us out by offering us some kind of fixed occupational position, so we’ve got no option than to wander for science and art and conservation – now we’re accommodating ourselves to the idiosyncracies of the different families we’re with for a few days each – a pale reflection of your changes, but perhaps similar in the kind, if not magnitude, of adjustments required.


    30 Sep 12 at 11:12 pm

  6. fred – Agree about the similarities and how a semi-nomadic life requires certain adjustments – some physical but more importantly, in mindset. For me, it is the psychological part that is most difficult, but I think that is because I travel alone with my dog(s) so much of the time. There is not just the ever-present loss part to deal with, but also the feeling that I can’t screw up with anything while I am traveling alone as there is no back-up. A couple of times over the past four years, I became ill with some kind of respiratory virus and wondered what I would do if the condition worsened as I could barely function to take care of the dogs and myself and was too weary and feeling to sickly to drive. Problems seem magnified as I have to sort them out alone. I tell you, it is quite tiresome and often demoralizing. However, I suppose all serves to make me stronger and causes me to increase my problem solving capabilities — but at this stage in my life, I sometimes think, “Do I really need more of these kinds of lesson?” I think not. T’would be nice to be able to sit back and rest for awhile. I’m sure the two of you must be feeling much the same by now.

    bev wigney

    1 Oct 12 at 8:30 am

  7. Just a thank you, Bev! I wonder how many others are touched by, and look forward to your posts, but, as in my case, rarely leave comments. As different as you and I are, there are still elements of every post that speak to me so vividly, I find you in my thoughts, sometimes for days, after reading your words. I love the journal written over The Odyssey. I am glad you found Sage. Safe journey.

    Carol Carson

    1 Oct 12 at 1:05 pm

  8. Hi Bev

    Your sketches are just lovely. All the best on your journey.



    1 Oct 12 at 7:47 pm

  9. A very honest and touching post Bev. You feel vulnerable, but you are strong, intuitive and resilient. All the best in your travels.


    1 Oct 12 at 7:50 pm

  10. Lovely photos, I so envy your wanderings. And I so understand your apprehension when trekking on your own, the questions of who will take care of this and that should something happen to me? I try not to go there, it stifles the adventurous me so much when I do.

    I agree that time is not healing this wound. It is not the gaping gash that it once was, but it continues to ooze and always will fester. I never thought that this would be my life, but it is.
    Safe travels.


    4 Oct 12 at 10:39 am

  11. Thanks again, everyone. Carol, from the blog stats, I know that there are many who read the blog without commenting. I always hope that there is something here for everyone. Cathy, thanks for leaving your comment here. I’m sorry that you are also on a similar journey. Yes, quite right about how the gash is not what it was, but it is still there. I have often thought of this kind of grief being like a spike driven into the heartwood of a tree. It will always be there, but the tree carries on growing. The spike will always remain. Take care, bev.

    bev wigney

    6 Oct 12 at 4:01 am

  12. In my current quiet mode, I have been thinking often of you and your post on fragility and your current transition from being at your summer home in Nova Scotia to being at home on the road in the fall with Sabrina to being at home in Bisbee for the winter. I’m feeling fragile and in transition, too, with a curious sort of creative energy (strength) that isn’t yet about making anything. Wonderful to see your journal with both writing and drawing in the setting of the Odyssey. The bean soup looks delicious. My favorite simple hearty food lately is a cubed and steamed garnet yam, mashed with some coconut oil and a little bit of powdered ginger and salt. Great to know that you are playing your fiddle as you and Sabrina travel west and south this year.


    20 Oct 12 at 5:36 pm

  13. Must be more worn out than I realized. I wrote “Sabrina,” meaning to write “Sage.” Maybe still thinking about the image of Don and Sabrina up ahead of you and Sage on the long journey.


    22 Oct 12 at 9:03 am

  14. am – I frequently refer to Sage as Sabrina. I remember calling Sabrina Maggie for at least a year or two after Maggie’s death. In many ways, it seems that there is a continuity between the collies that have been part of my life. sorry to have taken so long to respond. I’ve been on the road for several weeks and it will be about another two weeks until I am at my winter home. The weather has been so cold in the southwest that we are at a motel tonight getting warmed up and caught up on email and blogging. take care. Bev


    11 Nov 12 at 8:12 pm

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