We barrel down the barely-road at hyper speed. Suspension strains against the dips and ruts of the country trail — twigs snap under tire as we go. A fallen tree branch blocks the road, and our driver works to remove it. I myself sit in the warm vehicle, fighting car sickness and excitement for the weekend.
We press on. I recall the hours prior, battling the winter storm for control on the highway, making our way past its reach and into the Northern territory. It feels strange that the city should see such a storm while this country lies still.
Cold silence surrounds us as we park the truck outside the cabin and prepare ourselves to unload. I take a step toward the lake to breathe in the bracing air, to marvel at the snow drifts like dunes atop the lake’s sheet of ice. The moon and stars shine brilliant above this place, lending a luminous quality to the landscape (to the naked eye). We get to work.
One brings dry wood into the box and lights the stove — warmth is priority. Another sets up the beds, retrieves the blankets, tends to other utilitarian things. A third ignites the grill and prepares the food for supper, which is long overdue. And then there’s me, moving back-and-forth at pace, dragging our things into the cabin to keep them safe and warm.
I don’t think there is anything quite as good as this. Food prepared well to sate the hunger that has built from the day. Beer and whiskey to steel the body against the cold. A wood-burning stove filling the air with its hardy scent and natural heat. And good friends to spend good times with, huddled together around a table, playing games and being jovial against the winter beyond the pane.
I haven’t written in a while, but it’s a small reward for the hard work that I’ve put in. I finished National Novel Writing Month strong with just over 50,000 words — a winner for 2021! It’s a really strange feeling to have accomplished something like this.
On the one hand I question whether I’ve really done anything at all. I have a manuscript, yes, though it is still unfinished. Even so, where will it go? What will it do? What is its destiny? I have no way of knowing these things, though perhaps that is not the point — maybe it has a life of its own, a journey of its own, and I must let it be as it will be and merely shepherd it through each little step.
On the other hand, I’ve done this incredible thing and proven to myself that it is possible. It has given me insight into myself — my work habits, my limits and strengths — and has evidentially improved my creative writing abilities. And because of it I have been able to inhabit a little world of my own creation.
The struggle, moving forward, will be to drive it home. Yes I’ve finished the 50,000 word goal, yet the story remains unfinished. And once it is, there is the task of rewriting large elements of it, copy editing, finding the exact right phrasing for every single line. It will be a task, to be sure…
In the morning we wake with the sun. The first thing we do is add wood to the fire and relieve ourselves behind the cabin. Coffee is prepared in a decades old percolator — the wait is only somewhat worth it, though hot coffee on a cold morning is a blessed sensation. Breakfast is a hodgepodge of eggs, toast, bananas, and V8. Refueled and ready to go, we set out for the day.
Two of us test the ice with an electric auger, trekking out perhaps 50 meters to set-up for ice fishing. The remaining two of us head out along the trail, passed the gate onto public land, to look for deer-sign, muzzle-loaded rifle slung on shoulder.
My friend points out a frozen marsh to the right, suggests that the deer might rest there and then travel across the path into the valley below. Almost by design, as we whisper these wisdoms between us, a doe leaps across lazily from bush to brush. Then a fawn. And another. We are not prepared, so no blood is shed, but we crouch still like tightly-wound catapults ready to be released. Eventually we relax the tension in our bodies and begin again down the trail.
He points out many deer tracks at the path’s intersection. He shows me how the path sits atop three valleys, each with good lines of sight and tall pines on the edges for setting deer stands. He shows me the things that the deer prefer to eat. We spot a stand set-up on public land. We get close and notice that it is vacant — probably a bow hunter’s spot. My friend runs me through hunting etiquette; the do’s and don’t’s of public land protocol. There’s a general attitude of solitude when existing in this environment. A oneness with nature, and nobody else.
We split up at a point and I head back to the cabin. I take the opportunity to walk slowly, to pause often, listening closely to the tree-sounds and the air-sounds. I keep my eyes peeled for wildlife — a squirrel loudly chatters in a tree beside me. As I near the shore I see the ice-house. A lonely structure in a field of ice. I also look inland to find the other cabins — mysteries to me still — which stand like brooding reminders of my own imagination.
I find myself returning to these little moments in appreciation, to remember. Remembering is as much a conscious act as it is an automatic thing. Remembering takes patience and care. I’m thinking now of Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959). The film insists on remembering as an action, because memories will inevitably fade. The grief of this fading can make the passage of time seem devastating, with death the ultimate seal.
The film deals in love and grief, grief and love. The grief for Hiroshima, the grief for a killed love. The love for someone found, someone lost. But at it’s core it is an anxious film — anxious for forgetting the feeling that grief brings. The feeling that love turned to grief produces. The ultimate anxiety is in the repetition of acts which destroy love, or life, like in Hiroshima.
gloria jean watkins (bell hooks) passed away yesterday, 15 December 2021. I had not read the news until later, or perhaps it was this morning. Thus it is almost like a kind of destiny that I had watched this film on the day of her death, because her writing (especially that concerned with love and grief) brings Hiroshima, Mon Amour into contemporaneity like a bullet train.
“The practice of love offers no place of safety. We risk loss, hurt, pain. We risk being acted upon by forces outside our control.” — bell hooks
Grief is love, for it is the feeling of a love lost. To feel grief is to feel love, to attune ourselves to what love means, to how it affects us. And love and grief can be for many things. Not just lovers, but friends, family, places, times, spaces…in 2020 there was a collective grieving, an ongoing grieving, which I think we have yet to acknowledge and are still coming to terms with.
And in art, when we write, these processes exist too. Remember, forget. Love, grief. Life and death. It can make the work difficult, but meaningful, and ultimately the art is for the artist. It is an act of remembering itself, of discovering itself and producing itself, all in an effort for the artist to find who they are, what their strengths and limits are, what moves us through time and space…
I appreciate everyone who reads these, and I appreciate everyone who’s supported me in my pursuits both creatively and professionally. I am especially grateful for my undeservedly large and diverse group of friends — I count myself among the wealthiest people because of you.
Now back at it, round two. Time to finish this novel or whatever it is, and time to keep-up the blogging. The break is over, I am rested.
*Buy me a beer by following the URL below — no pressure, of course, but it would be much appreciated!