Lately when it comes to my personal blog, I’ve been following the first half of Ernest Hemingway’s advice well. However, I’ve not been delivering so much on the second part of his advice to “Live it up so you can write it down.” In autumn though, along with the brisker mornings and cooler nights comes a clarity of thought. Just as the harvest comes in and the golden and red leaves tinge to brown and fall to the ground, your thoughts mature and the old baggage fades to black.
Where I live in Okanagan wine country for many that means the real work begins. I’ll see less of my winemaker friends for a while as they divine those precious grapes into that magic elixir of BC wine we love. I use the word “divine” consciously. It’s not that I think the process just happens rather I appreciate that it takes much more than science to make exceptional wine. The best winemakers are a mix of agrarian, chemist and artist and wear the eccentricities of each in an amusing and delicious symphony. Occasionally I have had the privilege of joining some of the winemakers I know best in the harvest, the crush or some other part of the process when my schedule meshes with theirs. So, I know there’s sweat equity, long hours, sacrifice, a mess on the floor and sometimes heartache that goes into it.
It’s much the same for me as a writer. My grapes are experiences, ideas or people’s stories that I want to share. There is a process of growth which varies grape to grape before I can harvest them. Even then as I try to make something special – my wines are words – hard as I strive, some are better than others. Oh, and if you ever saw my office, you’d know there’s a mess on the floor in this labour, too! In my case, that mess is paper, books and research and it’s on the floor, desk and shelves as well. Let me explain there’s a saying that “a tidy office is a sign of a frightened mind” and clearly there’s no fear in my thinking!
Thank heavens I live where there are seasons. I feel the change within. It has been a busy season of frolicking on winery tours, reaping the knowledge of others in the Okanagan Food and Wine Writers Workshop, savouring amazing cuisine, golfing an array of courses, hiking new trails, biking pleasant pathways, swimming and scuba diving unspoiled waters and the list goes on and on. Amid all that joy has been deep sadness such as the death of some family and friends. Now it is autumn and I am ready to deal with the best and worst of it all.
Tears come easily as I slip back into my routine of neighbourhood walks. My dear friend and neighbour, Claire Festel, only accompanies me in spirit now. From our first meeting, our discussions revolved around our writing. Knowing her made me a better writer. Along with the talented local author Michelle Barker, she had the idea to form our own writing practice in the style of Natalie Goldberg and I jumped at the opportunity. We often smiled that it became a “group of seven” and we were so fortunate that each and every member brought a special talent and approach that strengthened all of us. My dear and long-time friends Aggie Stevens and Sonni Bone embraced the concept and I also got to know two more remarkable writers, Norma Hill and Louise Devaux.
As a Canadian, being part of a “group of seven” holds special meaning. Quoting http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/group-of-seven/ as a reference: “The Group of Seven was founded in 1920 as an organization of self-proclaimed modern artists. With their bright colours, tactile paint handling, and simple yet dynamic forms, the Group of Seven transfigured the Canadian Shield, the dense, northern boreal forest, and endless lakes, into a transcendent, spiritual force.” It was our goal to take that sensibility to improve our writing. Through our practice, I know I found inspiration and a deeper friendship of kindred spirits.
In the end, as Claire’s breast cancer revealed her multiple myeloma and it then gave rise to colon cancer and further complications, our writing practice went into hiatus. Still we walked regularly as our routine morphed into a protocol of Claire phoning me to say she was up for a walk and was I available? I was available as much as possible. Although I knew her condition was terminal, I did not think for a minute that she’d be gone so soon. I didn’t wait for her call as much to be a support to her as to selfishly want as much time together as possible. Yes, I served as listener as she processed the enormity of what she was going through, however, to the last day, we discussed our writing. In this post, I won’t go into the dignity and optimism of her approach to her cancer. Instead I’ll refer you to read Claire’s blog at www.clairefestel.com to let her telling of it enlighten you of her inner fortitude.
She died June 9, 2014 and while my husband and I attended her celebration of life and I said a few words that day, it’s only now that I am truly mourning her. Her husband Ed joined Mark and me for Thanksgiving dinner and we had a great evening. Ed had just returned from another memorial for her held up in Whitehorse, Yukon where they had lived for many years. In advance of Ed’s arrival, I have to admit I worried a little that I would be too emotional because we hadn’t seen too much of him lately. Then I realized either way it would be okay. It is the season to give thanks and to accept that summer is over.
In another post, I’ll talk more of our walks. How we both loved nature and how their dog Yukon was such an important part of the routine. I’ll share how much she loved Ed, her whole family and all of her friends. How we’d laugh at goofy moments and occasionally take snacks for the neighbours’ horses. I’ll talk of what a privilege it was to get to know some of her sisters, brother and extended family. I might even share some of the darker moments when she was terrified by new and aggressive dogs in our hood, when she scolded me now and again, and the melancholy day Mark drove Ed to Kelowna to send Yukon back north. For now, it’s just stage one in my “grape” crush. I’ll shed another tear or two, and embrace my autumn (Claire-ity) clarity.