Tuesday, May 7, 2013


 Spring, as we have all been whining, has been extraordinarily reluctant this year.  This has left many of us in Saskatchewan disoriented, as we look out the window at 8 p.m.--and we know it's 8 because we feel that dinner has settled and that we're end-of-day tired--to see it still light outside and the blue hour coming down on snow.  I've been aware that the trees are reluctant to bud, the grass cautious about extending some green into the grey-brown lawns (are they also greyer and browner than normal?), because normally I am watching these changes as my poor students write their final exams.

So I've found myself watching the shadows on my walls.  I suppose in some way this is like saying that I'm watching the light.  But the shadow of branches with a bird at my feeder or the shadows of tangled branches on my kitchen walls have been, perhaps, a reaction to this spring's spare beauty--a beauty almost reluctant to arrive, but unable to stop itself.  There have been lots of butterflies in my back yard, but I lose them as the fly into the sun and can more easily watch their shadows.

There have been other shadows.  Saturday was Angela Oxman's funeral, and since her death two weeks ago, I have been aware of how she is a shadow:  how I think about her delight in spring and in her garden, how I realize that she should be out in that  lovely slanting end-of-day light to see what has ventured up, to admire the green shoots, maybe even admire the tenacity of this plant, that shrub, these bulbs, their determination to reach for sunshine when the earth itself it still cold.  Or I will think about her nurse's take-charge belief in life, and realize that this lives on only in our memories of her.  It is up to us to continue to carry her in the world, something I suspect her dear husband, who kept her home to the end, and her sons will do with aplomb and devotion.  

Maybe this is something about death that you only learn intuitively when you lose someone very close to you, someone whom you know so intimately that in a crowd you see their gestures out of the corner of your eye, hear their favourite expressions, see their world view right alongside yours as you consider a problem.  It's been difficult for me to explain, but my parents are more present than they were when my father was an unspeaking old man who could only take my hand or lean his head into my shoulder, or than when my mother was made completely unfamiliar (well, not completely) by her fury at losing reason, her ability to think, her grip on reality--a fury she hurled at everyone around her since she couldn't aim it at that abstract thing--time--that was stealing it. Now they come back as small joyous fireworks in phrases or memories that, over time, come as close to a mental hologram of them as it's possible to get.  For all that they are shadowy, it's the light they give off that surprises.  

Sunday night, Bill and I took our first long walk of this spring, both of us with our cameras, because they somehow help us pay attention to what's around us.  The trees have finally begun to bud, two weeks late by my estimate.  The blackbirds are back by the creek, the mourning doves' wings are whistling in my back yard, their sad coos lifted out of sadness by the light and warmth.  The robins' songs twine into my work room, where I don't mind being a little cool if it comes with birdsong.  Much of what is around us is dominated by the shadows of last fall and winter,  but the light is unmistakable.

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