the home project

kids, start saving your pennies for a trip to PEI, Extreme Adventure-style.

oh, you might think a Saturday afternoon of old-fashioned races with Nannie and Anne of Green Gables is rather ho-hum. you might think you’re too cool for that.

watch and learn. first, pick an ancient potato sack. get in it. line up with the afore-mentioned Anne of Green Gables and your unsuspecting Nannie. do NOT forget your sunglasses.

also, do NOT forget to begin hopping when Anne shouts GO! and everybody bounces away.

there you go. hippity hop.

now, the real key to Extreme Adventure Antique Sack-Racing is to avoid hopping in a straight line. get out in the lead ahead of Nannie, kids. then hop directly in front of her. do not worry when she knocks your hat off. you won’t be able to see, admittedly, but rest assured, Mummy is capturing it all on camera. and Nannie is quite a sight.

also rest assured poor Nannie will do anything to avoid hurting your precious self, including going down like a tonne of bricks in a decrepit sack and twisting her poor ankle.

note Anne of Green Gables hopping by in the background, barely batting an eyelash. make no mistake, kids, Stone Cold Anne is in it to win it. and who knew Nannie had such delicate ligaments?

she should be FINE by September, though. don’t worry your pretty little heads. and try not to gawk as you hop on by, kiddo, leaving poor Nannie in the dust. also, respect your elders. stop looking so gleeful.

and for heaven’s sake, don’t stick your tongue out at Nannie as you cross the finish line before her. even if Anne of Green Gables IS cheering you on.

gawd, my mother’s a good sport. and the doctors say she’ll be walking just fine before we know it. but i think next year when looking for some vacation fun we’re gonna play it safe and go with some nice go-Karts or roller coasters or something. these pastoral, old-fashioned amusements are too rich for our blood.

what are YOU doing for summer family fun?

it’s Friday night, July, and we’re in the backyard with visiting friends. a warm evening, for here, but settling into dampness as the sun slides off into deep blue.

he comes out with a sweater on, a plain grey knit crewneck, roomy and soft. mine.

one of the oldest items of clothing i still own, sleeves beginning to fray at the edges. it has a slit up the back where his father accidentally sliced it once: it was at the top of the box, the favoured one, last thing packed. we had just moved back to Canada, and Dave’s dad was eager to show off the sharpness of his Swiss Army knife.

no matter. it was a decade old, even then. it still keeps out most of the mosquitoes.

that sweater has been more places than most members of my family. i bought it by mail order when i lived north of the Arctic Circle, that first long black winter when the sun disappeared for months. my body was small but i did not know it. i ordered a large. it came big enough for two of me; the perfect sweatshirt, only dressier.

i wore it that summer, home in the Maritimes to visit, when we stopped at a friend’s cottage. my boyfriend’s buddy, younger, still in college. i hadn’t met him before. i didn’t see him again for a year. then he lived in another country for two: he grew up somewhere along the way. another year later, and our respective worlds dissolved and then collided.

there would not be another shot taken of just the two of us for five more years. but here we are, the first night we met, in July of 1996. fifteen years. a blink, or three.

there is a rock wall behind us, and water in front. you cannot see either, particularly. but i see them, as i see the one who took the photo, the one between us and the water. the one we smiled at, without guile. so much water to cross. so much left behind.

yet we still own both the sweaters that we’re wearing in this photo. Dave’s has fared worse than my own: what remains is a faded, mostly shredded collection of holes, like a child’s blankie loved too long. we still have the guitar. neither pair of jeans was long for this world.

i didn’t know, that summer night fifteen years ago, how the story turned out. it would have been too complicated to look in the eye, anyway. yet i stare at the photo looking for clues, for signs, talismans. do we fit together, like tectonic plates at right angles, waiting to be aligned? or is it all just chaos and choice and sheer luck, and hold tight to the shreds you’ve been granted? even if they do occasionally break into Whitney Houston songs in dead spite?

i don’t know. i do know that the friends who visited us this weekend would have seen a pair perhaps not so different from the two in this photo. older, yes. more distracted. but still at these odd right angles, distinct and yet easy in each others’ company. his hair is still longer than mine. there is often a drink in his hand. he holds the guitar more, lately.

i want to peer into the scree at the bottom of the magic teacup and conjure a picture fifteen years hence. gray hair, a few more pounds: that matters not. what i want you to tell me is that the picture will still look, somehow, like this one.

i will save the grey sweater, and see.

are there first photos of you and the one(s) you love(d)? what do they tell you of what came true?

we don’t call her princess. but when her little feet get weary in the Canada Day Parade, he treats her like one.

happy long summer weekend, North America. we’re up to our ears in real princes & princesses here in PEI. hope you’ve got your feet up just like Posey.

it is late on a Sunday night and i’m beached on the couch, weary and bloated and wracked with mild – if transient – anxiety about the state of the world and my place in it. business as usual, with hormones.

Dave Skypes me from the other room, on the other side of the French doors. we are all about intimate and romantic forms of communication in this house.

he asks if i want to learn to play a new board game.

if there is a signal that human mammals employ to suggest receptiveness to the learning of new things – like lady baboons employing their swollen behinds – i am NOT giving off even the tiniest whiff of that signal. i am, rather, giving off the Jabba the Hut signal, the one that screams STAND BACK!!! FURTHER!!! AND MAKE NO MENTION OF NEW OR COMPETITIVE OR CONFUSING ENDEAVOURS!!!

Dave is undeterred. he is thinking about board games, not about me. he enters my lair.

i give him The Look. the raised eyebrow one, the one that suggests that actually, playing a board game would be far too much for my poor beleaguered soul to bear on this particular evening and LEARNING a NEW board game would be just beyond.

a fresh hell. an affront. a dangerous game.

he is oblivious: he has board game on the brain. he is a Labrador Retriever with a stick. board game? he smiles brightly. i glare at him.

board game?
we played the board game, in the end. i won. it was little consolation.

once Dave has set his fancy to something, there is little one can do to curb the hurtling missile of his enthusiasm. except wait. his attention span is short, but it is mighty. like a freight train. his is an addictive personality for the passing whim.

seven or eight years ago, he bought a domain name: he’d coined the word in a short story he’d written not long before, when short stories were his thing: the addictite is the person who is, more or less, addicted to the process of becoming addicted. to the new. to the fresh. to the unknown. an enthusiast writ large.

then he got a new idea and…yeh…forgot about the domain.

but last weekend he resurrected it. he’d mastered the last of the three culinary goals he’d set for himself when we moved back to Canada and things like ovens and BBQs came within our reach again: turkeys, roast beef, and ribs.

we had ribs on Saturday. back ribs, the fat ones, all lip-smackin’ and good. they were glorious: you could cut ’em with a butter knife. and now you can read about them at, and try ’em for yourselves.

and he can return to the recipe when the Next Big Thing comes along and makes him forget he ever met such a thing as pork.

The Next Big Thing, of course, never takes long.

today he wants a chainsaw. and i am afeared.

this is how it starts, people. this is yesterday, amidst the mosquitoes and overgrowth at our new cottage-land-to-be. you see that look on his face? the zoning in? the zealot’s focus? the wheels turning? yeh, that’s what it always looks like.

you can see Posey is beginning to look more like me every day. ;)

dear Internetz, this is your moment. while he still has toes. bring your chainsaws, and your protective Kevlar pants, and whatever other Village People costumes suit your fancy. or at least your advice. should a grown man with all his digits and an acre to clear buy his own chainsaw?

come quick. before he decides he needs a backhoe too.



i wake at three-something because i feel him leave the bed, and i wrest the earplugs from my ears. Posey. she has been waking regularly lately, a froth of nightmares of bats and cows. he comforts her. i am awake anyway, so i go in, pull quilts up around small chins.

we slip back into the warmth of bed. i wrap myself around his back, and try to convince my pingpong brain to ignore the fact that my biggest school presentation of the year is in a few short hours. or that i should still be reading.

we drift. i only realize i’ve fallen asleep when a child pads in an hour later and interrupts a dream. i am blurry, confused. Oscar. Oscar? strange. he crawls in beside me and i move to accommodate. his curly head fits under my chin, and sleep drags like a tugboat.

oblivi….oh shit.

he is retching, shielding his mouth with small hands.

the capacity of the parental body to go from 0 to 60 on the adrenalin-o-meter – even and especially from the desperate fog of sleep – is a blessing and a curse. it is the reason my own quilt is still vomit-free this fair morning. it is also the reason i can no longer sleep without earplugs, because my poor body has been conditioned to flood with cortisol at any bump in the night.

success. we clear the gauntlet of items-that-require-heavy-washing-or-dry-cleaning if spewed upon, and make it to the toilet. i send Dave back to bed, because when Father’s Day falls on the day before your partner’s biggest school presentation of the year and also is the first Father’s Day her father is without his father, well, you get to go bbq at your in-laws’ and that’s as fancy as your day gets.

but the gift of sleep from 4:30 to 6am? a price above rubies, right?

he can’t say i never gave him nothin’.

and yet when i find myself curled on the futon in the guest room with my clammy son, a bucket beside us, him snoring away and occasionally retching; me reading a critique of Butler and Foucault’s failure to account for the materiality of discourse by nightlight and wondering if my own guts aren’t a little iffy, my mind wanders to Dave in the next room and i remember how the light of almost-dawn used to find us still awake under oh-so-different circumstances and i send up a tiny song of mourning for what will not come again, those easy days we took for granted. and i whisper at the wall, in his direction, hey you. i remember.

and i add, i hope you are sleeping. Happy Father’s Day.

and this afternoon i present my thesis project in draft. a three hour meeting. wish me luck. send coffee.


when he hung the baby swing on the one branch in our backyard that could possibly be trusted with a swing, it seemed that summers yawned out ahead of us before we’d have to grapple with the fact that the playhouse – fondly referred to as the “babyhouse” since the August before Posey was born, when Dave & his dad built it by hand and Oscar appointed it the home-to-be of his incoming baby sister – sits way too close.

the trajectory of branch to baby house results in a nice resounding thwack of shoes hitting shingles. if child is safely esconced in the plastic bucket of a baby swing, all good. the fact that under the swing is a large unmoveable wooden garden box matters not. the rope is short. the child is contained. all is well.

but when the baby stretches and her big brother decides he too wants to careen through the air and thwack the baby house with his feet? on the long ropes of a big kid swing? there is possibly a safety issue in the making. there are possibly big THWACKS in the making. the prospect of falls begins to look ugly.

we bought a big kid swing anyway. sometimes you have to try something to figure it out.

there was much anticipation.  it was shortly thereafter followed by cries of great disappointment, because we discovered we were quite right, and there is nowhere safe to hang a big kid swing in our yard. the swing came down fifteen minutes after it went up.

but this is not a story about swings.


we had a strange afternoon, yesterday.

when it is the first truly sunny warm afternoon of the summer and you have already reduced your preschoolers to tears with the giving and taking of big-kid swings, it can be wise to cut your losses. we got out of the yard, headed to the park and took a little walk in the woods. the children were happy. they were so happy, meandering through the thin little forest paths looking for pinecones and elusive chipmunks that they totally missed the man and the woman and the baby who blew by us as we emerged near the ballfield.

i missed them too, at first. i mean, i saw them, moved a little because he was walking so quickly, but i didn’t see them, except to register that he was tall and lean and her hair was blond and the baby was wearing something white, maybe a dress. i didn’t see their faces.

but as they passed us, me last in our little trundling foursome, she called out to the baby he was carrying. something in her voice made my spine shudder.

her words were benign. she spoke the baby’s name, said Mommy’s right here, it’s okay, honey.

but the baby was not crying.

and the woman’s voice was raw adrenalin.

i suddenly realized the intensity of their pace and body language. i suddenly realized that a group of men were hustling past us, in direct pursuit. the baby looked back at us, her head resting on the shoulder of the man i assume to be her father. she was being carried away. her mother kept pace, her words soothing, her tone a raw, pleading alarm.

i looked at Dave, who had clued in earlier than i, his body tensed. my ears caught the words of one of the men passing, who was clearly speaking to 911, reporting an abduction. we paused, both of us.

the human brain can do amazing things in moments of stress, even vicarious stress. i looked at Dave and saw him through a prism of three lenses, all the space of a heartbeat.

one saw immediate and practical potentiality: he is fast. he could help.

one noted his actual – and perhaps more practical – choice of actions, and approved: he is solidly and gently ushering the children away from the spectacle.

the third lens, though, was the complicated one, the one that made my breath catch with the gravity of what i spend my days blithely ignoring. he is my children’s father and i am more vulnerable to him than to anyone else on earth.

we are a relational species, we humans, none of us an island. we are webbed to each other by choice and by circumstance. you could say that when i chose Dave, i knew him well, in all his flaws and glory. i chose him after five years of knowing him: it was by far the most deliberate choice i have made in my life. but no choice – no matter how deliberate – is ever made with full knowledge. sometimes you have to try something to figure it out.

what makes he & i so different from the two who passed us in the midst of their crisis, their unfolding judgement of Solomon?

most of us, if we are lucky, have our choices of partner or fellow parent turn out mostly benign. the people to whom we give this enormous trust may turn out to be imperfect, but still…mostly worthy. if we are lucky.

it is easy to say i trust Dave with my life. and still, staring at the retreating backs of those two parents in the woods yesterday, i was shell-shocked by the evidence of how much trust that really is, and how fragile.

we have lived through upheaval and loss and mundanity together. do i believe he will ever grab the children and run? no. nor would i. i would, genuinely, bet my life on these two facts.

it just hadn’t occurred to me before that i do so every day.

i remember realizing, in the broody angst of my teens, that traffic is an enormous dance, a game remarkable not for its occasional breakdowns and tragedies but for the massive compliance it usually manages to exact. to  we enter it daily, fastening ourselves and our loved ones into our little metal boxes, all of us more or less simultaneously performing the rituals and observances that keep us on our respective sides of the roads and the stop signs and the oncoming headlights and thus alive. on a dark road late at night, we may entertain fantasies of playing chicken, but we almost never swerve the wheel.

somewhere, yesterday, in that triad that must once have been a couple and some sort of family, whose story i do not claim to know, somebody swerved the wheel.

i stood frozen on the little path, as the father and baby and mother rounded the corner out of my sight and into the cleavage between whatever they might have been before that moment and whatever the law will leave when it is finished with them. the four men in pursuit began to run. there but for fortune, i whispered.

the police car arrived as we left the park. lights, but no siren. i hoped that meant that the men who pursued them had stopped him, that the situation was contained, that the mother’s voice no longer sounds like it did, primal and terrified.

our children were oblivious. we came home. we looked at pictures from the morning. Oscar noted plaintively how happy he’d looked on the big kid swing. thwack.

i agreed. he noted that he hadn’t hurt himself. i agreed. then i explained that if he did fall, or if Posey fell, it’s just not a smart place for Mummy & Daddy to have a swing like that. i explained that Daddy had committed to finding a new place for the big kid swing. he pouted.

i asked him if Daddy usually does what he promises. Oscar nodded. Posey echoed.

and then i took a deep breath and wished, that the two of them will be so easy and so lucky in their trust, all their days. that they will not swerve. that they will not be caught in anyone’s oncoming traffic.

mommy & Posey watching by o&poecormier
mommy & Posey watching, a photo by o&poecormier on Flickr.

long before my grandfather died, i stole my childhood photo album from his house.

‘stole’ is perhaps too strong a word. i laid my claim to the psychedelic satin-covered relic, waved it in front of my grandfather, asked if i could take it home. he was gracious. or rather, he laughed and said, “well, i’m not looking at it!”

honesty. it rids your house of clutter.

i was the eldest grandchild. seven of the eight of us were born before my grandmother died in 1988, but it was me and my cousin Angela, born in 1972 and ’73, on whom my grandmother lavished the largesse of her documentary attentions. two matching albums, each with a garish cover, captioned in her handwriting. in each shot, i am labelled the full and complete “Bonnie Elaine.”

in most of the photo albums of my childhood, there are only a couple of pictures of my mother and i together.

the majority are scratchy snapshots, square and white-rimmed, with a seventies patina Instagram would die for. they follow a pattern. child – generally trussed up in finery – stands perched in front of adult – equally awkwardly trussed up in finery, frequently with a Christmas colour scheme. both smile. my mother’s smile is determined, mine distracted. in one, her hand gently but firmly grips the square jut of my chin and points my face to the camera.

i think of myself as having always been a ham, a camera hog. but that came later. only in the photos that my mother snapped when i wasn’t looking do i recognize myself and the shape of our lives then.

that small child alone, bent over her drawing, tongue sticking out? i was in the kitchen with my mother, drawing while the dishes got washed. i filled pastel pages of newsprint with characters, worlds, stories. i was not alone. we were there together. there are simply no pictures to testify.

it is hard to capture a twosome without a third around.

but in this album retrieved from my grandfather’s cupboard, i found another version of my earliest days. the pictures are mostly black & white, my father’s experimental eye evident behind the lens. me in my mother’s arms, shot after shot, a sticky-out-eared infant and a young woman i barely recognize. my mother is twenty-three. her hair hangs long and black. within the year, i know, she will have cut it short forever, and the gray will start, taking over by the time she reaches thirty. within the year my father will be gone, and there will be no more random shots of mother and child.

it was his mother who kept them, and i wonder at the heartache and family politics behind that innocent orange- and pink-covered photo album.

i tell stories and take pictures because i need them, somehow. the blog, #thehomeproject, the flickr account with its 3000+ photos of the mundanities of our children’s passing days…they are the tools by which i reflect my world back to myself. the art makes it real. the reflection allows me to see.

Dave teases me that i cannot pass a mirror without looking at myself. it’s true, almost. but i am looking for myself more than at. not vanity, but confirmation. i am here. i am in this skin. this is what they see when they look at me. and i nod and step off again into the strange sea of living, in which i flounder blind.

whether my children will ever want or need these glorified digital photo albums, i do not know. a part of me hopes they will somehow be solid enough in themselves to weather their days without needing them reflected back, diffracted out. maybe they will.

a part of me wants that for them.

but just in case, i store away for all of us these random shots. here we are, me & Posey, watching Oscar in his first gymnastics show. this is my daughter on my knee. this is my face in my fortieth year. these are the lines and the spots and the tired eyes of my adulthood. this is my tongue sticking out as i concentrate, just like when i was a kid.

we were here together.

just in case they need to know. just in case i do.

what do you document? keep? look to?

i’ve never been in theatre, even if my mother used to call me dramatic. daily. but i was once – like most seventeen-year-olds of the human species – utterly and pretentiously enamoured of all things dark and mysterious and deliciously supernatural.

so when i was seventeen and my high school English class took up Macbeth and the fresh-faced student teacher told us that real actors always referred to it as “The Scottish Play” because there was A CURSE on the title itself, well! i secretly swore right then and there that i would ne’er speak aloud the dreaded syllables for fear of appearing like an ignorant sot.

of course, i then promptly went out into the world and found lots of other ways to appear an ignorant sot. ahem.

(there was much i didn’t know when i was seventeen. including how much fun it can be to drop the word Macbeth loudly and repeatedly in front of theatrical persons of the young and sincerely serious sort: they get all quivery and smug in their superior knowledge. the fool is one of the finest roles written. they will learn.)

but the curse. ah, the curse. in the long social history surrounding Shakespeare, some nervous or controlling soul became convinced that real spells were being cast by the Weird Sisters, with their catchy “bubble, bubble, toil & trouble”. everybody loves a scandalous improbability, after all. and some productions of Macbeth went awry enough to support the idea that serious bad luck had been invoked. theatre companies, running on rather thin budgets, seem prone to bad luck.

thus, tradition holds that if the play is referred to by title in a theatre, there are cleansing rituals to be performed, most of which involve lines from other Shakespearean plays. who the god of this black magic is thought to be escapes me. possibly Titania, Queen of the Faeries? maybe Caliban?

anyhoo. The Scottish Play. for twenty-plus years, i’ve thought of the word “Macbeth” as a stand-in for all things unspeakable, for that which must not be invoked.

except, of course, it’s taken me years to be able to identify my own Macbeth, my personal doom-word, bringer of the almost comically predictable foul luck that inexplicably seems to leap up exactly when it is most inconvenient. or awkward. or guilt-inducing.

this year, i sorted it out.

it is Travel.

particularly, Conference Travel. as in, whenever one of us goes away the children inevitably fall ill or hurt themselves or stop sleeping or are eaten by the cat or whatnot. you know.

we probably bring the doom of Macbeth down on our own heads, i figured, by acknowledging our travel plans.

so this most recent trip of mine, which came hot on the heels of crazy busy-ness and for which i barely had time to pack anyway got very little anticipatory fanfare in our house. i had an academic conference four hours away. i noted only that i’d be nearby but not home for a few days. i did not speak the word “conference” aloud, and i threw salt over my shoulder whenever i even mentioned i’d be so much as out of the house.

i felt smug and happy and hopeful that Dave and the dear children would escape the curse this time. i had figured it out.

while away, i had the pleasure of seeing Macbeth in a fabulous park production put on by Bard in the Barracks and Theatre UNB.

then i called home. and i laughed and laughed. and thus, even though #thehomeproject is horribly late this week and this is rather an unconventional presentation, blatantly and happily plagiarizing from both Shakespeare and from Elsie & Norm’s MacBeth, well, hell, the show must go on.

The Dramatick Players doth present a Truthfull Accounte
The Curse Which Hangeth On the Cribbe, A Most WoeFul Tragedie
Which Striketh Whenever
One Adulte Doth Go AnyWhere Else.

A Play in Three Actes:


(with apologies to William Shakespeare, John-Christopher Wood, and all the literate people in the universe.)

Scene I: Odell Park, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. Absolutely no thunder and lightning in sight. Cue rain.

Enter three blogger friends, gathered for Congress of the Social Sciences & Humanities 2011 and a special production of The Scottish Play.

All three women wear the slightly wild look of adults who have been Too Busy but are momentarily freed of responsibilities. Two are far from home. Babysitter has been procured for local blogger’s child.

Each of these weird sisters wears rubber boots. One is sporting the same clothes she has worn for more than thirty hours, because Air Canada lost her luggage. All three are smiling. Also, wet.

When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning or in rain?

When the hurlyburly’s cold
When the conference work doth fold

That will be when we’re real old.

Where the place?

Upon the rise.

There to eat some whoopie pies.

Fair is foul and foul is fair
Air Canada lost my underwear.

Scene II: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada. The Crib Castle, or Bonnie & Dave’s house, where Bonnie is not, because she is cavorting with bloggers and academics in Fredericton, four hours away.

The house is littered, as after a great battle, with Fisher Price Little People. Enter two small children. The smaller has split her lip wide open.

What bloody child is that? She can report
As seemeth by her plight, of the revolt
The newest state.

That is my sister
Who like a good and hardy badger fought
‘Gainst our captivity. Also, the floor.

Doubtful I stood
Upon the chair. I look’d, listen’d
A drum, a drum,
MacBeth doth come!
Oh valiant Daddy
I am faint, my gashes cry for help.

By the pricking of my thumbs
Something wicked this way comes.
To bed, anon.
We have scotch’d the snake, not kill’d it:
Macbeth is in the house.
Bad luck and bandaids shall be the order of our night.

Scene III: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada. The Crib Castle, the middle of the night.

Dave, bleary and nearing hopelessness at the children’s third waking in the course of the night, stumbles back towards his warm bed. He encounters a hallucinatory vision of Bonnie, who appears to be eating whoopie pies. He tries to fall into her arms but bumps painfully onto the floor, where he lies spent. A faint wail begins from the other room.

Is this my partner which I see before me?
Hand toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee,
I have thee not and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, blessed vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A partner of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the child-oppressed brain?

Yes. Thou art away.
They howl, and it is done; their cry invites me.
Hear it not, vision; for it is a knell
That summons me from heaven in to hell.

It cries ‘Sleep no more!’ to all the house:
‘Macbeth hath murder’d sleep, and therefore Cormier
Shall sleep no more; Dave shall sleep no more.’

So foul and fair a day I have not seen.

He rises, and exits, weeping.

(if, of course, this were a proper tragedy, the main character would die. but as the main character in this is the spectre of Macbeth-ish bad luck that haunts us whenever one of us goes away, and we do not seem to know how to kill that particular spectre, alas, the play ends here, with my most sincere apologies to exhausted Dave for his sleepless, bloody travails during my absence, and my thanks to my Fredericton friends and colleagues who made MY trip so (shhhhh) fun.)

((Posey’s lip is recovering nicely)).


portrait of a semi-urban childhood by o&poecormier

last week was all eulogies and elegies with a literary weekend to boot. a whirl.

now, i am spun out…a top fallen over. i want to hide in the corner awhile, collect dust.

but it is a holiday. children home. beds to strip, laundry to hang. walks to take, with two little bikes. one without pedals. one soon to lose its training wheels, but not yet.

we live in the middle of a small city, not quite the charming old downtown, but not quite a full-blown residential neighbourhood, either. we look out onto the corrugated tin of the liquor store. the bones of an apartment building are currently rising where the motorcycle chop shop used to sit, praise be. our neck of the woods is not fancy, but it is damned convenient. we are zoned mixed-use. if i should decide to open a hair salon or a tattoo parlour, it’ll be perfect.

we are one street over from the local Co-op. i came here as a kid with my grandmother, for King Cole tea and canned soup and jello parfaits. only this past winter did they renovate, leaving a nook in the parking lot where the first automatic doors i ever marvelled at now sit unused. this forty foot indent of asphalt is suddenly our own, untrafficked, enclosed almost on three sides. a personal pavement paradise, in the after-supper evenings when we take the kids to ride. or sit, if little legs get tired. Oscar rides alongside the row of concrete barriers, pretending to deliver milk. we admire the tags and graffiti left behind by those who claim the space after we are long abed.

Dave grew up on a dead-end road in a town of three hundred souls. when he bikes alone, he goes for the trail, the wilderness, a space of living things. someday, they will go with him.

for today, we make our tiny pilgrimages to the parking lot.

where did you learn to ride a bike? where do your kids ride? do you have public spaces that feel – in moments – like yours?

there is no photo for this story. you make your own picture: your hands in the dirt.

where are you? what do you see? what spreads out from the frame to ground you in a particular place and time?

this story is a knot, a tangle of earth and weeds and ashes and roots. a rhizome, it has no beginning and a hundred beginnings. if you tug gently to pull it from the dirt, it slides loose: hanging naked and exposed, sometimes it will make you believe you have captured it once and for all.

don’t believe. there is more, always more, beneath the surface.

we bid on land last night.

not the 73 acres from a few months back, with the raccoon-infested cabin.

this is two small cottage lots, raw land, never built on. fallen birches white and rotting lay across the mossy, lumpy green of its old-growth floor. the place smells wild and salty, the sea air sharp over the green spring moss. the beach is littered with round hard rocks washed in from other shores. there are bunnies in the undergrowth of the old dune. one twitches his hindquarters at us. Posey is smitten, forever.

down a dirt track two or three minutes’ walk from the water, the lots themselves, loosely pinned. the corpses of the trees lay like porcupines, dead branches menacing at perpendicular angles. be careful! you could put an eye out! my hysteria comes mainly from lack of experience: what do i know of a place like this? i know only that small feet can trip: i grip the children as if they are greyhounds champing for release.

you could say it is him who hankers after land.

he longs for space, for a wide-open-ness i do not truly comprehend. i grew up in apartments. i am only, six years into house ownership, beginning to stop modulating my footsteps for the non-existent neighbours.

he is the gardener, the weed-warrior, the one who tackles the tangle of our side yard season after season. he grows seedlings that swell into tomatoes and pumpkins. i half-heartedly pluck, water the pansies, the cucumbers. in the dry heat of August, i am the long-haul salvation of thirsty plants. but i am no saviour: i am a stop-gap measure. his is the real work and energy out-of-doors. the prospect of clearing stumps makes him giddy.

i try to understand.

i dug one hole, one time: six years ago yesterday, my first Mother’s Day. Finn’s ashes under the tree in the backyard in the rain. just the one time. like all the strength i could ever muster for digging and growing was buried in that hole. done, before i started.

but do not be mistaken. that thread of the story is only one root. i will not clear stumps, perhaps, but this land is not for him.

i can tell you that i fear the dirt, that i do not like the worms wriggling from the shovel. true, without doubt. but there are counter-stories. Oscar and i rescued two worms the other morning, from the drying-out puddle on the way into preschool. i picked mine up and dropped him because my fingers feared the line between firmness and squish. i tried again, my fingers better readied for the soft live earnestness of the wiggling body. look, i said to my son, as if i carted worms about daily, he’s okay, it doesn’t hurt him. i didn’t add, look! my fingers haven’t withered off from touching him! i am a paragon of wise judgement. also, in that moment, amazement.

if they say yes to the land bid, maybe there will be more worms.

i say this with hope. i say this with trepidation and horror.

i hanker after the land for what it might change in me. for what it might teach my children. for the stories it might tell. the smell of earth that has never been landscaped. the patience of meandering along a rocky beach, watching the tide line. stars, maybe. bonfires.

some lost, misplaced part of me is a flaneur at heart, a wanderer of city streets, a dilettante observer of the human urban bustle. drop me mapless in the middle of Paris or Saigon and i would thrill, and walk, and find my wayless way without worry.

drop me in the middle of the woods and i’d begin writing my own obituary in my head.

but i wonder, at the stories of rocks and trees, at the possibility that somewhere under the surface there is some tendril of connection between pacing cobblestones and treading moss. i wonder if the built world and the one that precedes us are so divided. i wonder if Walter Benjamin, trudging on foot over Nazi-occupied mountains to Spain and his own suicide, found it possible to be a flaneur of rocks and flowers, an aesthete of worms.

i hanker to know, and so i hanker after the land.

he asks me, are you sure? are you sure you want this?

i imagine walking, walking, with only the smell of salt spray to guide me. i hear Oscar sing, the world’s largest rock collection! Posey peers between briars at a bunny. for a moment, i see my hands in cool dirt, and i do not cringe. in the same flash, i see the work of boarding up a place in fall, and the dead flies and the septic system and the hauling in laundry to town and all those hundred Cinderella tasks.

i nod.

all stories are part of the truth, and part lie. they are roots, pulled bare from the earth and left to dangle out of context, white and quivering.

he knows. he sees all that i do not say, the tangle of answers that cannot be unknotted. he hands me the pen and i sign and we wait to see what the answer will be.

what do your hands in the earth mean to you?

if they say yes to this land, people, shine up your hammers. you’re in for a barn-raising.




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