June 12-15, 2010:

This past four days has been a time of contrasts. A couple of days of rain, then a few of sun, then wind, then. . .well, you get the picture. Plus errands to do with laundry and garden stuff, rescuing a young blackbird who’d gotten in the house and was desperately trying to get out through the mullioned windows of the Great Hall. Paying bills, balancing a check book and a cheque book.

And as well, I have had times of utter aloneness, then dinner with Bob and Debby, dinner with Claire and crew, my friend Anne Morrison stopping over for a cuppa, tea at Janie Douglas’ with Pam Robertson who used to be a neighbor and remains a friend.

Read a good (not great) mystery quickly (a page turner) and reading friend Mira Bartok’s memoir and savoring it slowly. The first was for plot and movement, the other for its glorious writing and a startling story–she might as well have been raised by wolves. It would have been kinder and they more sane and generous.

The writing has been equally contrasting. I have gotten to 14,000 words on the novel Snow in Summer done, though am not at the stage to know whether it’s any good. Had to write an extra poem plus nonfiction material for Bug Off because Jason mis-identified one of the pictures as a stink bug. Wrote a very silly poem for the Miss Rumphius challenge. Worked on rewriting my part of the Sarah chapter for Girls’ Bible. Dealt with stuff on several of the How Do Dinos books.

However, most of the days have been spent on the novel, revising and re-inventing as I go. Some parts I like, others make me shudder and wonder what has ever convinced me I could write. And I know that, too, will pass as I find a better way to say what I meant to say–though I do like the opening part. Here’s a bit. I know there is still fiddling to be done:

I have an old black-and-white photograph on my wall of all the things Papa loved. Its edges are curling and brown. In those days in the upper hollers of West Virginia, we didn’t have cameras that could take a picture in color. I have no idea who took that photograph but I do know how it came into my hands. Miss Nancy gave it to me years after this story happened. Long after.

In the photograph, the mountains stand side by side, stiff and unyielding, like brothers who have given up talking to one another. Those mountains held bears, and coon, turkeys and partridge, as well as squirrels and greasy groundhogs that all make fine eating. “Nature’s larder,” Papa called it. And he kept that larder neat and clean. These days, though, with the strip mining and the clear cutting of trees, nothing is like it was then. There’s some good in that and a lot of not so good, too.

The snow in the picture stands knee-deep on the mountainsides. Knee-deep, that is, for a man. For a child, it is much higher.

Staring straight ahead, Papa is walking along the wintry track, oblivious of the softly- falling snow or the five-year old girl beside him, reaching out to touch his cold fingers. Miss Nancy, who had been at school with Papa, was a woman with a kind face and a kinder heart—though one cannot quite get that from the picture. She strides along on the child’s other side and it is she who is holding my right hand, cradling it in hers.

Behind us comes a long line of our neighbors, somber as their clothes. They stare ahead as if what is to come is at least as awful as what is behind. These are the folk who had known me since before I was born. Some of them even knew Papa before he was born. Kinfolk if not particular kind folk. The ones who sit on the front porch and gossip. Storying, they called it. Our lives and our stories entwined.

Ahead of us is a flat bed cart, drawn by four big black horses with crow feathers twisted in their manes. They are being led along the track by Preacher Morton, his tall black hat spotted by the snow. We are walking in the horses’ hoof prints, or the ruts made by the wheels of the cart.

On the flat bed, in a pine box, lies Mama, cold and distant with the dead baby in her arms. I knew that because I kissed them before the box’s top had been nailed down. There are tears like black stains, running down my cheeks for I must have rubbed my eyes many times in the long walk up the mountain towards the graveyard, and it looks as if the crow feathers had been used to paint streaks under my eyes. There are no tear stains on Papa’s face. If there are any on Miss Nancy’s, I can’t tell for she is not looking up at the camera but down at me.

In that photograph, on that mountain ridge, heading towards the graveyard, were all the things Papa loved then.

And later.

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