As I have written more than once or twice in the past, photographs work like time machines for me. A moment’s glance and a whole scene, conversation, or even an entire day or week can be recreated. Today’s post involves some jumping around through time. If you will bear with me, I’ll explain where I’ve been and where I am now – body and mind – which as you might guess, don’t always inhabit the same sphere.
As you may recall, my last post contained an update on my travels. I have been in the southwest for a few weeks. My random wanderings are now ended and I am somewhat settled in Bisbee – about as settled as I ever am these days, which isn’t saying much.
Today is my birthday. It’s an event I no longer celebrate and acknowledge only as the anniversary of the definitive diagnosis of Don’s cancer. I was going to write something about that today, but then I went back and read the post that I wrote three years ago and thought, “Wow, this says it all and I can’t do any better.” By the way, the above image is of the birthday card which Don gave me during his stay at the hospital – as described in the above-linked post. I keep the original card safely stored in a filing cabinet at my home up north, but always carry a photocopy among my personal effects in the van during my travels.
There are a few things that I would like to write about today as I think they are worth saying. The first has to do with time. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know that I have something of a fascination with time. To me, it is a fluid medium that flows first one way and then another. In my mind’s eye, it’s like one vast ocean that laps upon one continent’s shore while simultaneously lapping upon another. Events and memories float within its swell, occasionally pushing up in one place and then some place else. As I have discovered over the years, there is no means to predict or control such appearances. They just happen. When they do, they can awaken powerful responses – some pleasant, while others might best be regarded as malevolent demons.
Back in September, I wrote about an annual hiking trip that Don and I made on our anniversary. While back home, I planned to do that hike. However, in spite of my best intentions, some poor weather and other obstacles prevented my hike. Although I am not much for omens, I decided that perhaps this wasn’t the year to repeat our hike alone. Instead, I returned to one of our other favourite places – one that always seemed magical in many ways. In the above photo, my van is parked in the meadow above a spot where we often launched our canoe. For those who remember my old Burning Silo nature blog, this is the site of the boiling rain which I wrote about and linked to a video clip back in this post. One thing that was not mentioned back in that post was that our visit was about the last of the good days before Don became too ill to leave the farm.
So, a day or two after our anniversary, Sage and I set out on a favourite old trail. It felt strange to be there alone without Don or Sabrina. As I watched Sage inspecting each object along the trail, I had to keep reminding myself that she had never been to this place and knew nothing of its history or importance to me. It’s a sensation that is with me almost constantly – this confusion over who was or wasn’t with me when I was here or there. Many times, I feel Don or Sabrina moving about on the periphery of my senses. In the past, I struggled to keep it all sorted out. Nowadays, I just let everyone come and go as I realize that it doesn’t much matter to anyone other than me.
Of course, I encountered many familiar sights during our circuit of the lake’s edge. I stopped to rest awhile at a spot where Don and I would sit and talk any time there was something troubling in our lives. It is a place where we could gaze across a peaceful bay to a little treed island with a large osprey’s nest atop a tall, slender snag. It still stands there, so I took this photo from about the usual place where we would have sat watching osprey come and go as they fed their young. On this day, the nest was abandoned for the season.
I also stopped to lay my hand upon the skin of one of the great Beech trees along the path. Unfortunately, much as the cool, smooth bark felt good beneath my palm, I looked about at the many fallen Beech now decaying on the forest floor – struck down by a disease specific to these trees. I recognized one beautiful giant that I last saw standing during my final hike on that trail a little over four years ago.
The sight of the dead Beech made me feel quite sad for all the losses – both personal and more universal – that have marked the past five years. Over time, I have come to understand what an impact such losses have had on my thoughts and outlook. I no longer regard anything as permanent or enduring. To me, life resembles something slippery and elusive – a thing that appears solid and tangible, but that glides quickly and easily through your fingers like a fish wriggling to return to the water. You may believe that it is yours for keeps, but that is only an illusion.
And so I ended my hike about the lake. I had brought a lunch and the fiddle along, so found a shady spot to sit beneath a gnarled apple tree that was probably part of an old orchard on the farm that is now returning to nature. I ate and played a few tunes in this place away from the ears of anyone other than Sage and the birds and insects that rustled and chirped about me. Five years on, I am still here – vastly changed, greatly worn, but at least marginally recognizable.