January 23, 2011 at 12:01 pm (Uncategorized)

I’m a slave for a tight colour palate, and living now, as I do, on the edge of the wilderness, I’m free to enjoy winter for what it is. I take long, lonely walks through trails in these woods, through fresh snow, grey sky, and a soft gradient of browns: earth, branch, bole, briar, stone, wren. I come home and strip off my warm things, pace the wood floors which, to me, feel long and narrow, like a ship, moving always between kettle and chair, kettle and chair. I measure these months of solitude by the teacup. I go to my fish counter and back, up hills, up the same long road, past churches and houses, an old orphanage, tangles of trees and the beauty of brambles, past crossroads and on highways. I sell my wares and do my work and I come back, downhill in the cold. I wash in and out, my own tide, pulled by a moon that I feel always and so rarely touch.


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Too Many Crows.

October 27, 2010 at 10:46 pm (crossroads, crows, life! a lover!, Uncategorized)

In the European mythologies of which I am fond, the land is often personified, deified, implored or commanded or feared, as a horse spirit. Horses are not native here, though. The First Nations words used to describe horses all seem to translate as, “it’s something like a cross between a dog and an elk.” Instead, in the moments in which I speak to the land and hope to hear some mysterious rustle in the underbrush to answer me, I think of the deer that my family saw when I was small and we went for a walk in the woods on midwinter. It stayed still, and we were so silent that we barely dared breathe, and we watched one another from a distance so close that, small though I was, I could have reached to touch its nose. It was the truest form of reverence I’d yet known. I think of the bones of a buck, marked by beak of crow and tooth of fox, that I found scattered in the woods one year ago. The land here is silent and skittish, hidden everywhere, caught only in glimpses before bounding off, or crashing into your car at a high speed.

Three things, of late, have been happening.

My partner and I keep marvelling to discover that we’ve both managed to fall in love with someone who is actually good for us. How unusual. She’ll be moving closer to me in June, once her children are done with school for the year, and getting them here is a task which feels monumental and difficult, and like a truly worthwhile and romantic endeavour.

I’m being sent to a store far outside of the city, a sort of civilised fishmonger missionary to the savage and untaught. A promotion should be forthcoming, and once that is made official, I’ll have to move there. I’ve been saying for some time that I’d like to get out of the city, and, unsurprisingly, the prospect of actually doing so terrifies me. The bicycle ride from the train station to the store, however, is magnificent: trees dressed in their high autumn finery, streams bangled with bridges, crows cawing and white tail glancing at me coyly over their shoulders.

My lover and I have a mutual former partner, someone whom we both loved and love dearly. They no longer speak, and he and I speak infrequently, but I think that we have all been having one another’s dreams. Old scars throb. In quiet moments when we are alone, we feel one another tugging, wondering, waiting silent and invisible in a corner somewhere. There are threads of longing and hope and uncertainty and rage that pull at my chest, that tangle across the world. I’m not normally particularly psychic, but the three of us are becoming increasingly noisy.

So I surround myself with the bones of that buck when I work. Skull and antlers, coccyx and vertebrae and ribs, mark the boundaries of the real world. A trance often feels like something I chase, something I seek. This last time, before I thought I’d found the correct slumped ritual posture of the moment, I felt myself to be surrounded immediately by Too Many Crows. Too Many to see beyond, there was only the black of eye and feather and wing, innumerable black, staring eyes, filling the sky and the earth, keeping only the distance technically required by a small circle of bones. I continued in my usual methods of seeking, thinking the ritual best not broken, wanting to see how the Too Many Crows reacted. They followed. Under water, under ground, they followed. I flew and they gave chase too quickly, moving not like the gliding carrion seekers that they are, but fleet as thought. All of these small crows were one large crow, cells in an infinite body. I chased and they swallowed and kept flying, and their belly was the size of my circle. I thought of Cerridwen, and chose not to have been swallowed, but to find myself riding them, possessing them while they possessed me. There is meaning in this, simultaneously elusive and obvious as a crack in the windshield and a dent in the hood of your car.

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October 5, 2010 at 2:23 pm (crows, fishmongering, Uncategorized)

In recent years, the drain connected to the moat at the head of my cutting blocks has gone a bit finicky. My night crew has, too. So I’m expected not to leave them much of a mess, and not to allow things to collect in the moat. It isn’t easy for me, however. How am I to know what I have accomplished in a day if I can’t judge the size of the pile of bones and guts, fins and heads that have collected in piles around me and my knife? Bah.

fish bones

The fish that I can’t afford aren’t really things that I miss. Of course I could steal a bite of them whenever I like while I work, but for the most part I don’t. Those meaty and mild things are, I think, a little boring. I like the earthier, cheaper fish: trout, catfish, salmon, bluefish, mackerel. However, those fussier fish do serve their purpose. They make an excellent stock. I’ve never yet thrown out Chilean sea bass bones without feeling a little guilty for the buttery, rich stock they could have made. So last week I collected the Chilean bones, as well as halibut and bronzino bones, in one of the tubs in which our fish is shipped to us. I simmered them at home with salt, pepper, onion, carrot, celery and garden herbs until the cartilage weakened and the bones abandoned one another. It seems so wasteful that I ever buy vegetable stock, that I don’t do this weekly with the things that I could carry home for free, rather than hauling to the dumpster at the end of the night. And what sort of a crow would I be, what sort of great, great grandchild of the rag and bone men if I left bones so often uneaten?

Last week I used my stock to make a risotto with shrimp and scallops and crab meat. Today I’m making another with Chilean bones again, and with mild, juicy, wild Chinook salmon bones. By late afternoon it should be an Icelandic fish soup.

If you should happen to be in Philadelphia, I ought to mention that as we usually throw them out, if you call ahead to request that we save them our fish bones are free for the taking. A day’s notice makes it more likely that you’ll get what you want if you had something specific in mind, but a sufficient pile of bones of some sort can be saved within a couple of hours.

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