Lund retreat 2007

Lund Retreat Autumn 2007 (1)

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Jan drops me off at the San Luis Obispo airport at 5:00 A.M. She says, “have a good time, that’s what you’re going for.” Nothing to see in the dark, I meditate. Waiting for connection to Vancouver in San Francisco airport I browse the bookstore. So many new titles. “Books have a short shelf life,” said rueful Ruth in her lecture a couple of weeks ago, consoling me, since it’s less true of true of hers than of mine. I’m immersed in her first novel, My Year of Meats, which is still selling all over the world, in many languages.

The cheapest low cholesterol breakfast I can find near the gate is vegetable sushi—freshly made behind the counter by a Japanese chef. On the two-hour Vancouver flight the buildup toward the novel’s ending alternates hilarity and horror.

Outside the Main Terminal in Vancouver Airport, I see Peter and Margaret back from a trip to New York, dashing toward the shuttle to the South Terminal I’m about to get on. We’ll fly up the coast together. No need to rent a car or take a cab or hitchhike the twenty miles from the Powell River airport to Lund.

As we ascend from grey rainy Vancouver above the middle of the Georgia Strait, the weather turns bright, the slant light of October golden even at midday. Looking out the window Peter and I identify archipelagos we’ve kayaked and mountains we’ve climbed. We eat lunch at Renee’s, the expatriate French chef who runs a little dive on Marine Ave. I have carrot ginger soup and fresh baguette, a lunch you’d love in Paris, and buy two more frozen soups and a chicken asparagus lasagna for provisions.

On the way north Peter stops at an organic farm in Wildwood, run by a sparkle-eyed grey haired woman in gum boots who grew up in Lund and says she took art lessons from one of the owners of the Marx farm before it got that name in the seventies. I buy goats milk in a square glass bottle—creamy but cholesterol-free—and little pear shaped tomatoes, still on the vine this late. We talk about the government crackdown on small farmers who no longer are allowed to slaughter meat without installing million dollar facilities. Pat, who’s supplied us with organic beef, pork, lamb and poultry from her farm across the road for decades, has been harassed by helicopters over her place counting the number of turkeys she raises and by men in suits presenting her with ever more onerous regulations. L. says she’d be better off growing pot or brewing up meth.

Slowing down to the posted fifteen miles per hour on the Reserve, Peter says you can hear the birds rioting over the salmon run. Despite jetlag from their trip, he turns off into the village, where he has taught Medical Terminology and now massages the elders. In thirty seven years I’d never gone down that road. He stops on a small bridge close to the mouth of the creek, shadowed by glowing golden leaved alders.

I see the large fish with ragged fins and peeling skins straining upstream to complete the final stage of their destined pilgrimage, finding the spawning grounds of their birth to lay and fertilize eggs and die.

Down at the mouth of the creek, ducks and gulls, three eagles and two dogs are feasting on white ones lying in eddies on their sides and backs, still gasping. The shore is littered with garbage and vomit.

At Peter and Margaret’s house, we unload their baggage and switch mine to Peter’s Tracker for the trip out to Lund. We take a mountain bike he lends me which should fulfill my transportation needs. He invites me to pick chard in his bluff top garden. I mention the irony of the government’s program to wipe out small meat producing farms while promoting the horrors of industrial feedlots and slaughterhouses I’m reading about in Ruth’s book. Peter says that his daughter, whom he just visited, works for one of those hog processing plants near Brandon Manitoba, where her husband is stationed in the Canadian Army. Her job is in the office importing and housing foreign laborers. She once took a partial tour of the facility, but said she didn’t like it.

Though carrying only a pack, I feel like a bridegroom crossing the threshold of Knoll House. Twelve years we’ve had this place and I’ve been here thirteen times, but each time the entry feels sacramental. The southern face is warm from the sun, which shines with a brilliance on the water only bearable to look at for seconds. The high peaked ceiling makes the upstairs like a mosque or a teepee.

I walk the bluff trail to visit the rocks I’ve thought about since summer. Mushrooms and moss are radiant.

Back in the house, I notice a bad smell in the bathroom—sweet and rotten. Sniffing around the toilet and sink yields no culprit. The baits that Jan placed in August are still around only lightly nibbled. No mouse or rat turds but dead carpenter ants strewn on the kitchen floor.

The house chills fast after sunset, temperature in the forties. I light the cast iron wood heater we bought from one of the renters years ago and try to learn its wishes. Open ash door and upper baffle to start up; once fully ignited close door, lower baffle and open lower draft; when the house warms up, shut lower draft and leave screw draft open. It needs only one log every few hours to keep going.

The ceiling fan upstairs on low reverse pushes down the heat. Thanks again, John, the uncommunicative philosopher-carpenter who built this house.

During evening meditation a vibration like someone walking up the stairs or tiny earthquakes.

The food I bought at Renee’s is forgotten in Margaret’s car. I feast on the gorp and fruitnut bread Jan packed for me, and feel her presence in the newly furnished interior. Margaret calls to say the lost groceries will be delivered by Peter U. on his way home from town where he’s at dog-training class. Here alone, I’m still provided for.

I unpack and download the day’s photos. Peter U. drives up with the food. He announces joyfully that S and W are pregnant with his first grandchild. Since September’s arrival of theirs, Peter and Margaret exude confidence in the value of their lives, the goodness of creation. It’s what I feel when Joe and Amy and Ethan and Abel are present, especially here, or when I’m with Claire and Ian and Luke. Passing through the First Nations display in the Vancouver airport I read a caption for the Thunderbird sculpture: “my grandmother, the creator of the universe.” This sentiment of the grandchild mirrors ours: my grandchildren, the creation. In both directions, we’re one generation away from eternity.

I make the bed downstairs and get under the covers to read. This late, I cant finish the description of the slaughterhouse in My Year of Meats.

Lund Retreat Autumn 2007 (2)

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

The morning is dark and overcast, the house cold. I get up three hours later than usual. The bad smell in the bathroom is back. This time I look high rather than low and see a swatch of fur protruding through the insulation panels in the ceiling. After coffee and a new fire in the stove I return with pliers, lift the panel, clasp the dead mouse by the tail and cremate it.

Since I’m offline, no new input here today. Writing about yesterday, when nothing really happened, has already taken up six hours. If I were online, I’d be interrupted every few minutes.

I eat soup and empanada at Nancy’s bakery and bike back up the hill to M’s place. Since returning here a year ago after 21 years away, he lives alone in his trailer, works on his subdivision plans and his art. He seems healthy and happy, but how does he handle the solitude and lack of stimulation? The TV is on, next to his internet computer. We talk about old times.

Peddling up the steep driveway in the dark I meet neighbor Dick in his diesel pickup on the way to dump his compost for the bears down below the rock bluff. He tells me that our tenant last year showed him a photograph of a cougar sunning himself on the moss near the deck.

I meditate from 7:30 to 8:00, the silence of this place amplifying the static in my head. Usually it “settles down” for the last few minutes, but not now that I’m doing it twice a day in this perfect spiritual retreat. Nevertheless afterwards, I feel clearer and more optimistic than before. I read till ten, finishing My Year of Meats, carrying on a conversation with the author, as if she were the protagonist, Jane Takagi–a Japanese-American documentarian filmmaker. Though a DES child, Jane wants a baby and gets pregnant. Then loses it with a “missed abortion,” a form of miscarriage involving carrying a dead fetus for several weeks. That rare term awakened long-dormant dark personal memories.

The truest material for me in the book’s somewhat contrived denouement is expression of grief for this loss. All the happy endings—Jane’s career success, the defeat of the feedlot hormone conspiracy, Akiko’s pregnancy, her escape and welcome in America, the rekindling of Jane’s romance with Sloan—don’t mitigate its pain.

Lund Retreat Autumn 2007 (3)

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

This morning I wake up at a more decent time, drink coffee, meditate in a world of chaotic voices and impressions.  I microwave a bowl of the oatmeal left here by guests, and after fussing with the phone for a while manage to reach Jan. She tells me the doctor she saw in Santa Maria confirmed that the lump wasn’t a problem. Ian was just arriving in Halloween costume with Dennis. He said he missed me.

I find the red handled axe I bought at Canadian Tire this summer, gather some rounds of firewood scattered near the house and set up a chopping block. The first big round shows traces of previous efforts, is twisted in its grain, and has spongy outermost rings. Go slow, I tell myself, find the fine cracks, focus eyes where the blade should hit, angle the axe head with the grain. The first few blows are off and the blade buries itself in the soft tenacious outer rings. After about ten my aim improves, but the wood remains intact. After another ten, shoulders sore, I’m about to quit. Then with a loud crack a half inch gap opens across its diameter. My “yeah!” echoes through the woods. The next three rounds go quickly. Instead of asking to borrow a chainsaw or buying one or trying to get the old Homelite going, I roam past the perimeter of the clearing and find twenty or so rounds strewn in brushpiles. I throw them up on the road, carry them to the block and split enough to last for my stay. In the woodshed I separate three categories; kindling, starter wood and fuel.

I bike down the driveway. I have to dismount a few times to move the derailleur manually. It’s a thrill to speed down the curve toward Malaspina Farm. I find Peter working alongside Lucien, yarding out huge rounds of freshly cut alder that a faller had just taken down along his hydro line.

He tells me to borrow his bike which is smaller and better. We take his dog on a walk down a steep road to the edge of Okeover Arm, stopping at a lovely house, lawn and orchard with a landscaped stream winding through it to the shore. It reminds me of the stream on the Marx farm in winter rushing under the bridge and alongside the house.

We talk of children and grandchildren and my hopes to spend more time here with and without them and his hopes that S and W and their children will locate here at the completion of medical school. We come back to the house where Lucien is making lunch and Ronnie is coring and peeling apples for drying and adding to their homemade granola.

She’s recovering from the flu, but as animated as ever. She says, “Steven will know this,” and asks me a question about the proper ritual for unveiling a gravestone a year after her mother’s death. I have no idea, and I fail to link the question to the fact that today is Halloween, the day of the dead and of my father’s death. I do know that on such an anniversary it’s customary to light a Jahrzeit candle and say the Kaddish.

After lunch of two slices of bread and mustard—I turn down cheese and salami much to Peter’s disapproval—he drives to Lund to pick up the Globe and Mail for the word puzzle to which he’s addicted. At Nancy’s over coffee he tells me the story of Sacha and Wendy’s trick announcement of pregnancy by giving them an elaborately packaged giftbox with a positive pregnancy test stick inside.

Back at Knoll House I make a fire with my new wood. Jan calls and mentions mourning for Henry. I remember with shock.

The sun starts doing amazing things with the clouds behind Savary.

I go out on the deck and down to the bluff to take pictures.

I light the kerosene lamp for Henry, gather his pictures on my computer and read my account of his death on October 31 1995, my eulogy and my obituary.

I collect the pictures in my computer of other dead people I cared for and put them into an album. There are 11. Actually 10, since I find out a few days later that Terry K. is still alive.

Lund Retreat Autumn 2007 (4)

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

7:45 am

The light comes up slowly to reveal a clear sky. The wind has shifted to northerly, blowing the smoke from the bark burning in the stove down across the clearing. Carbon: burning cellulose, cutting down trees to make a view. No freedom from sin.

I slept better on the hard mattress in the small bedroom last night, except for the old teaching anxiety dreams just before wakeup: classes start today and I’m unprepared. It’s a relief to open eyes and remember I still have two months.

I switched beds also to close off the lower bedroom, which was draining heat from the rest of the house. The fuel was consumed, but there was no chill this morning. “Sticks in box, no more cold,” Ray Mungo’s mantra at Total Loss Farm in Vermont, Winter 1969. The basics of survival and satisfaction.

It took five minutes to start a fire, get the coffee going and draw a hot bath. All systems work. The enjoyments of simple and civilized. No car, internet, tv, radio, but yes, hot water, tight house, computer, and camera. I’m settling in.

The silence is like the blanket of warmth that envelops me when I go near the stove. I stop what I’m doing and snuggle in it. It’s heightened indoors by the discreet sounds of the house, flames in the stove, stove pipe pinging with temperature changes, the electric water heater or the pump switching on and off. Outdoors it’s the distant lap of waves, a raven’s croak, a car on the highway.

The extra dark coffee with goats milk has the thickness and taste of mocha. Sip slow.

The dawn is late and slow, lighting snow on the island peaks.

Frost, shoes sliding on the icy deck. The sky starts to overcast. Alterations of light and temperature mirror mood and desire.

Today what I want is to be inspired by this place to create.  Knoll House to be my muse, as it was in August when I was led to dig out the paired rocks, when the earth and the vegetation directed me to undress them and their glory was revealed, when they asked to be embellished with ferns and moss and they stood forth in splendor.

I step outside and am captured by the wide-eyed gaze of a doe. I return the stare, lock on her eyes, huge cupped ears, white-margined black tail.

I back up slowly to get the camera. Does this effort to appropriate the moment corrupt it or pay it tribute? The deer waits for me. Unfazed by the meretricious flash, she keeps grazing and then wanders off. “Coast Deer or Columbia Blacktail—Odocoileus hemionus. …a twigeater, browsing on Douglas fir, western red cedar, yew, blackberries, huckleberries and salal.” Nature West Coast p. 211

M comes up with his pickup and we load the canoe for a trip to the Ragged Islands. He hasn’t been in this boat, which he paid half for in 1974, for thirty years. It’s battered but still seaworthy. He paddles stern, weight too far back for the boat to balance stably and rusty on steering skills.

We piddle around the Lund Harbor and then head for Finn Bay against a stiff westerly breeze. We go through the little channel at Sevilla Island, and try to round the point into Thulin Passage but both agree it’s too dicey. Wind behind us, we coast back to Lund, the weather now again clear and brilliant.

We load the canoe into his truck and out onto the ramp in the sunshine come Carol P, and her daughter Cindy. Carol and I hug—she worked at the store during the seventies—and Cindy and I look at each other trying to place faces. Michael introduces me as Steven Marx of the Marx farm. She says I babysat for you. She’s nine years older than Joe. Most likely while we were doing the camp. Carol reminisces with Michael about the best of times, when he was chef in Lund and the restaurant was always full, even in the winter.

Michael parks the truck while I wait on the ramp, and comes walking down the hill with a tall man, whom I recognize as Don. We all retire to the pub. Don taught English in Powell River for 12 years, worked in a sawmill in Tahsis, then ran a school for troubled teenagers in Victoria. We schmooze for three beers. On the way home I propose to Michael that he be the cook for a dinner party on Saturday night at Knoll House, and that we go shopping on Friday. He agrees.

I come home and make myself supper—again Renee’s frozen lasagna and there’s still a portion left, along with local broccoli from the Lund store. Sounds like something living in the wall behind the couch where I sit. I doze off and am awakened by Peter U. delivering the bottle of whiskey I’d left in his car yesterday.

Speak to Joe on the phone. Tomorrow he goes to Hawaii for two weeks to build a barn with five members of his crew. He’s been working ten hour days the last three weeks. Amy’s business is dormant. They are under pressure. Appreciates our gift of Y membership. Voice is deep and sober.