Fisherman of My Heart
At one time, to attempt transforming our story into words would have been to devalue the mystery and the beauty, like tearing petals from their stem. But time has passed, and already my memories are fading. As I once did with the roses he gifted me—hanging them to dry, preserving their color—I will now do with those days.
A spark flared. Like a fleck of gold on a riverbed, it settled in my being. I pilgrimaged across Spain on foot, and the spark did not blow out. I was swept into the vortex of Boston, and it did not blow out. I returned to the gusty prairies of Saskatchewan, and was surprised to discover that the spark still remained, no less fervent than on the day it was born.
I knew I was called to Prince Edward Island.
And I heard a murmuring voice, soft but bright, suggesting the possibility that he was there, the one whose name I longed to know and whose heart I longed to hold, but whose very existence I doubted. Maybe he who would hold my heart—this heart crafted for simplicity—could not be found anywhere but in that simple place. The Gentle Island.
I had ever been a timid child, afraid to step beyond the nest, let alone fly to the far reaches of my country—and yet I did. Somehow, I bore the strength, the desire, to unfurl my wings, wave goodbye to everyone I loved, and sail to a ragged crescent on the map, a place I knew no more than its people. But I did know I would always wonder what might have been if I let my doubts tackle me back to earth.
I set foot not in a patchwork postcard but in a frozen Narnia. Swiftly, I found myself nursing disillusionment with cups of tea and calls home. Greeted by many kind faces, but none that could possibly be his, I realized the love I had hoped to find here may not come as I had envisioned—not in a bare-armed fisherman who adored the chuckling sea, but in deep-anchored friendship.
When the snow melted into lupins, I became the child I never was: bold, vivacious, hungry for risk. My friends and I slept to the melody of the sea and roamed to the cries of the gulls. I discovered that the freedom of dreams can penetrate the fabric of reality—and I danced in a sun-and-sea-colored dress. My heart became swollen with God’s joy and peace, with honeyed sunlight and the salty breeze; His name was etched in every branch of driftwood, every slice of sandstone. I no longer desired to search for another’s name. My life was warm and green, cool and blue, an effervescent drink bubbling in my nose, sand tinkling through my toes. Freedom. What more did I need than this?
I was about to leap into my next adventure when the fisherman cast his net and captured my heart. I fell gently to a gentle man on the Gentle Island, even as I gasped, the scales at last falling from my eyes. This man, like Peter, was not a fisher of fish but of men, of the truth embedded in every heart. He was nothing like the image I had carried with me to the island, not who I had thought I wanted—but everything I needed. He revealed my own heart to me. As I saw myself as I am, so too did I see him. And that image—that graven image that had become an idol—was shattered.
Blasting through star-crested waves, I found him racing at my side. We drank the wind together—I, a poet, and he, a philosopher. Like a key and a lock, I realized that two people need not be same to become one. My heart, bursting with God’s golden goodness, spilled into his heart. And that spark, forgotten but not smothered, rose to the surface and escaped my being to whirl into the sky and merge with his spark; we created a beacon in the night. We knew we must protect this gift, this fire that could rage beyond control just as easily as it could be suffocated. And our love grew.
As I write, I am rocking in a chair, cocooned in the stillness of a home where love is safe. When I first came to the island, I remember sitting in a rocking chair much like this and writing about what might come to pass. Strange, that only once I let go of my hope to find him did my fisherman come to me.
Father says we are flowers in God’s garden, every man and woman unique. I once believed I was a thistle—untouchable, better left alone. But I cannot be alone; I must be touched.
Walking what is called El Camino, through the moors of France and the hills of Spain, I discovered loneliness. Mistake me not, I had known I would suffer on this pilgrimage, a pilgrimage as much through my soul as through Europe, but I had not expected my suffering to take this form. I carried within me a crushing ache to be held. Not the ordinary ache of every woman who desires to find herself in warm, manly arms—no, I needed an embrace that would say, simply, You are not alone.
Caught in a storm, abandoned at sea, I was tossed violently about by my own humanity. Everything dark: the horizon, the waters below.
But I know how You work, Beloved. You guide every ship into Your harbour. And so I waited, waited to be saved.
I will still cry when I remember how You saved me. It was in the town called O’Cebreiro, above green valleys too stunning to fathom, that You sent twelve apostles across my path, as if I were a blind man in ancient times. I suppose I was, because it was not until later, as I sat in the cathedral at my journey’s end, that You lifted the veil and I understood the loneliness. I cried my heart out.
The hurting is for the healing, because Your consolation is so very, very sweet.
No one will ever understand how much I loved my boys (as I secretly called them). They sang, and my soul was filled; we laughed, and the fellowship of pilgrims was forged; and finally, I was held, the ache melting away. You knew, O God, I needed them. You knew all along, but waited . . . because You knew I also needed the loneliness.
I am not a thistle. Father whispered in my ear that I am lavender, purple like the thistle, but sweet and sensitive. I think I believe him. Yes, I think I do, because I would endure the storm again, if only You would console me as You did on the Way to Santiago.
The Wash Bucket
He laughs at me, because I refuse to wear shoes in summer. I can’t merely walk upon the earth, I need to feel it—in all its textures. Moss and dirt, rock and root. He tells me I will never have soft, pink feet. I tell him callouses serve me better.
Sometimes he joins me, shedding socks and shoes, to walk through the pasture at dusk. Alas, it isn’t the serene scene you are imagining—no, he whines the whole while about thistles. I like to trot ahead, dance around the horses. “Callouses,” I crow.
Afterward, we enter our warm cabin—a beacon in the dark, a haven in these wild woods—and he drags the wash bucket into the kitchen. I set a stool on either side while he fills the bucket from the tap, then squeeze apple-scented soap into the hot, swirling water and watch the foam grow. When he turns the tap off, he wiggles his eyebrows at me and bends to roll up his pants. I roll up mine. “Thistles are worth this,” he’ll say as he sits on his stool and sinks his feet into the water with a sigh. We fit our knees together like puzzle pieces, sometimes hold hands. If the day was good, we’ll reminisce or look ahead. If the day was hard, we rest our foreheads together and do not move or speak.
On those evenings when he chickens out and walks through the pasture in his shoes, still he will sit with me later, his big, clean feet in the bucket. “You are worth this,” he’ll say.
Every time I smell apple, my heart sighs for summer.
Overnight, I am made captive to boots when snow trespasses onto our land. I’ll clunk my way through the woods, touching the trees, wondering how long this winter will be, when the color will return. I do not despise the white blanket that never fails to fall—I begrudgingly admit its beauty—I only wish it were as warm as the quilts in the cabin. Or the water that my love will fill the wash bucket with on those evenings—sometimes even the mornings—when I can’t stand the cold anymore.
We’ll sit, knees interlocked, and he’ll murmur words I need to hear, words from a song my father wrote many years ago: “Can’t see the stars without the darkness. Can’t feel the warmth without being in the cold.”
Tenderly, he’ll gaze at me, stirring my heart. And then suddenly he is splashing suds onto my clothes. I’ve learned to be on my guard when he looks at me like that. At least when our feet are in the wash bucket.
I imagine there will come a day—when the tiny loaf baking in my womb is ready to come out—that we will not have much time to enjoy our ritual. I think then, once there are too many dirty feet wanting to feel the hot water, the bucket will be set in the corner. But then it will become the cache to hold many a hand-carved staff. Or the bows my children have fashioned from young branches, bent to their will. Or umbrellas that are rarely used, because my children, like me, prefer to feel the rain on their faces.
Yes, no matter how rusted or dented it may become, I think the wash bucket will always have a place in this home, even if not to soak feet. But that will never stop me from running barefoot into summer.
What I’ve Dreamed
We live in country where bears are often spotted along the sage-green waters of our creek, just down the slope from where our cabin presides. But these sightings do not call for guns or hysteria; rather, my husband and I herd our kids out onto the front porch—creep, children, creep—and look on in wonder at the meek, black beasts that gather at water’s edge, swiping for fish. Until the baby squeals and scares off our oblivious friends, we can believe in harmony between man and creature.
I believe it is in simplicity that happiness is made ours. Yes, we like our kids happy, and if they must be dirty at the same time, by all means, show me those dusty faces.
When the mornings arrive cool and comfortable, I dole out hollow ice-cream pails. At first the kids moan, knowing what is coming, but once we have passed over the dense, warm needles beneath the pines to find the saskatoon bushes, and the picking has begun, they do not mind so much when I tell them they can eat every fifth berry. From there it’s all snorting laughter, purple-blue stains on the bottoms of our bare feet, melodramatic episodes with spiders and lazy bees, the spilling of precious reaping and its regathering, and sneaking off to the wild-strawberry patch not far away until my voice recalls the slacker. We work—and eat—until the gloaming begins to settle, and then we tromp back home with visions of sweet pie in our sun-dizzy heads.
Summertime launches the jellying of crabapples and the pickling of cucumbers. My shirtless boys wield hoes and the rototiller, and my girls with their free-flying hair crouch between the rows to harvest the beans. And while the little men tend to the chickens in the coop, safe from raccoons and our naughty dog, the little women awake when the sun is filtering pink through the evergreens to call in the cow—Benya—and milk out her bag in the barn. Supper is the accumulation of our efforts: churned butter on homemade bread, omelette, steamed carrots, and tart rhubarb juice.
When the afternoons settle on the farm like a steaming egg, the kids hop into their bathing suits and haul out the animal inflatables from the shed. Down the front lawn they go, skipping and tripping and yodeling. Once all have dared to break the cold surface with valiant, wiggling toes, the kids clamber into their craft and cruise off with the current until it spreads over a low spot and they’re forced to scramble up the banks and scurry back home to repeat the ride. I sit in the grass with a novel opened on my lap and half-watch them, but sometimes I join them. And sometimes their father hops into his trunks, infusing the kids with renewed stamina. They challenge him to race after race. It is rare that he refuses.
Autumn carries with it unpredictable weather. More than once we’ve been forced to pull the kids from their hot chocolate to hurry out into the night and harvest potatoes by moonlight, because a big storm is rolling in and will surely freeze the garden solid. Clutching canvas sacks under our arms, squinting into the swirling dirt and the glow of the tractor’s headlights, we are many hands digging. When the littlest of mine totters forth with a decaying squash, remembered in the ruins of frostbitten vines, this too is a sincere contribution.
Once the sacks are engorged and lumpy, we retreat to the warmth of the cabin. Clustering around the wood-stove with mugs waiting to be filled with re-heated hot chocolate, we listen to the wailing wind and exchange triumphant glances when white begins tinkling against the windows.
Winter sees us scraping the creek clean to bump along it in our skates, and loping around the pasture on the horses, our war banners nothing but the icy streamers of our breath. My husband takes the kids on treks through the forest to scare snowy owls from their perches and spy deer leaping over drifts. When the frozen months climax at Christmas, the kids open one present each on the eve of the Lord’s birth, and the next morning they dig into knitted stockings. Simple treasures, but they’re ogled and coveted until the novelty wears off.
And every night, once the kids are bedded in the loft, kissed and blessed by both parents, I sit down to my typewriter. Here is where the trials and joys of our life take new meaning within carefully moulded phrases and delicate poems. When my husband leans over me to read the fragments of our story, I swat him and tell him not until I’m finished. His response is a peck on the cheek and the impish grin I love.
But not all my etchings are fact; many of them are peeks into worlds undiscovered. All I’ve just told you happens to be one of those fictional pieces. It is what I’ve dreamed, what I’d want to give my children if ever it were possible.