this is not a review: there is a season, by patrick lane

 
I can’t lie. Nor do I think I ought to. On reading the first chapter of Patrick Lane’s There is a Season I felt mostly annoyed. I didn’t think I’d make it to page fifty, which is my official limit…[page 100 is my un-official limit]. If I haven’t engaged in a book by then I close it and move along.

I can’t say what it was that bothered me, I just couldn’t get with the rhythm, I wasn’t paying attention.

When this happens, and despite the accompanying crankiness, something about the book occasionally compels me onward and prevents me from slamming it shut. This was not the case here. I walked away muttering about how I wasn’t in the mood for epiphanies in the form of raindrops. But the next day I picked it up again. It was a library copy so nothing would have been simpler than to take it back from whence it came—but those raindrops had gotten into my head and when I opened it up the second time to some random page, I read this:

“I don’t know why I confuse myself in the world when all I need to do is spend a few moments in this gentle space.”

I kept reading, pages and passages in no particular order.

“I measure friendship by those who are the friends of spiders and those who are not.”

“The drenched garden glows like the womb must to an unborn child.”

“What I call silence is not the absence of sound but the presence of the garden when it is not weighted down by traffic noise and talk.”

“My quest has always been to find what I could not leave.”

“A green frog does not sit on a red geranium unless he’s gone a little mad.”

“There are times I want to be in the second or third person… It’s simpler to be a fiction.”

“We break our path when fear tells us to live.”

** 

And then I started again, at the beginning.

—It’s springtime in the Okanagan and the author is a boy. We meet him as he stands “… among yellow glacier lilies and…windflowers…the western anemone, their petals frail disks of trembling clotted cream.”

This is the opening. What, exactly, about that is cranky-making?? I’ll tell you what: nothing. Whatever my initial reading mood was, I’m thrilled it passed.

It’s a book about a garden in flux and the man who is putting it [and his life] to rights; about the connection of man to nature. Of an ornamental tree, he says “Their leaves funnel the rain, and the water runs down one leaf, falls to the next and the next, miniature waterfalls in a stream until the last and outer leaf drops the water where the feeder roots drink.”

It’s a book of poetry in the form of prose. Or vice versa. It’s a meditation. You read it slowly, and maybe that’s what was wrong on my first attempt. My speed setting was off.

“That is beauty, to stop a moment and watch the endless play of light on water and stone and see how the living things of the garden come to drink or just to gaze as I do now at the surface of the pond.”

The book is also about sobriety although drinking is rarely mentioned. It’s Lane’s senses that are sober for the first time in forty-five years and so the reader is privy to the perspective of not only a great poet, but of someone who’s been issued a set of fresh eyes, ears, skin and taste buds.

“The drenched garden glows like the womb must to an unborn child.”

51aac9pD90L__SX200_There are many references to rain and mist and dew, pools of water, as if the booze has been replaced by more useful forms of liquid, ones that help him think—and remember—more clearly.

The book is divided between the present day Victoria garden and the past: childhood, parents, marriage, failures, joy, sadness and one especially incredible scene where he returns with his now elderly, unemotional and extremely reluctant mother to the old homestead; it’s near the end of the book and is one of the best passages I’ve read anywhere for its power to convey, essentially, a whole world, the now and the then, in a few sentences. Perfectly placed.

I’ve since returned the library copy.
And purchased one of my own.

savoury sentences from several sources — part 1

 

“A single moment, a day, can shift into something profound by the reading of a single perfect sentence at the perfect time.” ~ Matilda Magtree, aka me

“The boy was said to be a cousin of Kathleen Burnham and was up from New Hampshire, working at the sawmill, though he was no bigger and looked no older than an adolescent sugar maple.” ~ from Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout (Random House. 2008)

“Physical pain, like a poultice, has a way of drawing out what is hidden in the heart.” ~ from the essay ‘A Container of Light’, by Lisa Martin-Demoor, TNQ, Fall 2011

“What passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic ancestors.” ~ from Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Loewen (The New Press, 1995)

“She sits at the edge of the narrow cot, neatly made and covered tautly with a white embroidered blanket, the kind that, if you run your hand over it with your eyes closed, feels like a skin disease, tiny white embroidered circles that pop up like pimples.” ~ from ‘A Well-Imagined Life’, in the collection Can You Wave Bye Bye, Baby?, by Elyse Gasco (McClelland & Stewart, 2001)

“It was the kind of party where no one ate the chicken skin.” ~ from The Forgotten Waltz, by Anne Enright (McClelland & Stewart, 2011)

“Because she is ten years old under an open blue sky, because there is not reason ever to arrive anywhere, because she has never felt exactly this way before—this loose in the world, this capable of escape.” ~ from The Juliet Stories, by Carrie Snyder (House of Anansi, 2012)

“Jake and I grew up without a mother, which wasn’t that bad, although we ate a lot of boiled peas.” ~ from the story ‘After Summer’, by Alice Peterson (The Journey Prize Stories,  2007)

“It was no more than a peep, the sound you might make if a butterfly lands on your hand.” ~ from the story ‘A Bolt of White Cloth’, by Leon Rooke

“There’s aggression even in the way they kiss each other so flagrantly, like they’re trying to suck the other’s gums out, like an old horse chasing a lost scrap of ginger nut biscuit down the palm of your hand and up your sleeve.” ~ from Malarky, by Anakana Schofield(Biblioasis, 2012)

 

savoury sentences, part 2

because it’s sunday

“…Wake early one Sunday and smell the person sleeping next to you. Do it. Lean over. The inside of the neck will do, just below the ear. Take a deep breath. The knowledge of this scent is lodged in the deepest part of your brain.

“Breathe deeply, if only to remind yourself of why you are where you are, doing what you’re doing.

“Now go into the kitchen. Throw two eggs into a bowl with a cup of milk and a cup of flour. Add a quarter teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of melted butter. Mix until smooth, but don’t overdo it.

“Pour the batter into buttered muffin tins, filling the cups no more than half-full. Put the tins in a cold oven. Turn on the heat to 450F. After fifteen minutes, turn the oven down to 340F. Wait for fifteen minutes more.

“This recipe comes from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham. It’s an important book, with clear recipes and much new thinking. For example, prior to Marion, popovers, were always started in a hot oven. This is a small thing, but one which changed my life.

“While you’re changing yours, make some coffee and squeeze a couple of oranges. Do want you want with a pear or a pineapple. Get a tray ready to take back to bed.

“Now open the oven. It will make you smile. They don’t call these things popovers for nothing. They look like little domes, golden brown and slightly crispy on the outside.”

~From Comfort me with Apples, by Joe Fiorito (McClelland & Stewart, 2000)

(p.s. If you like this, here’s more from the same book.)