Much of what gets written down in books, talked about; the ideas we exchange during human interaction involve a central question: what’s this got to do with me?
During my MFA residency week, my mentor, Jane Silcott, mentioned a few times that she was fascinated by light. The way light moves and changes, bends or refracts. And on the one hand, I thought, light…hm – so what? And on the other hand, I thought me too, because I love light; I just hadn’t taken the time to properly think about it before and its relevance to my life.
In her book of memoirs, Everything Rustles, which is described on the back cover as “a debut collection of personal essays” in addition to looking at “the moments right now that shimmer and rustle around her,” Silcott explores “love, grief, uncertainty, longing, joy, desire, fury, and fear. Also wandering bears, marauding llamas, light and laundry rooms.” There it is again, that fascination with light. Now, when I read through her book, I wasn’t reading with an eye for light in mind and planning to write about it. But something about her light caught my eye. A scene comes to mind, something to the effect of Jane watching the light change from her porch and an annoyance at being disturbed by a family member for disrupting her peace. I can relate. I remember another essay, Natty Man, where the light is mentioned, “I’m enjoying the last bit of light sunny air when the natty man appeared.” and yet another, where the absence of light, the dark of night, causes her fear.
Flipping through the pages of Everything Rustles now, I come across, “What is it about morning light, the in-betweenness of it, that space between night and day?” in the essay Thereness. That question is tucked in there, just past the page in my book with the remnants of a dirty paw swipe left on it. I remember reading that particular essay sitting on the edge of the dock, listen to the happy cries of children splashing in the water, fending off puppy licks as I read about my mentor losing her father, the page swathed in heavy sunlight.
And so the light gets in, our stories blur and her words begin to take on meaning in my own life. And so it goes with stories well told.
After talking with Jane and reading her book, the question of light demanded to be answered.
After dinner last night, I found myself sitting by the edge of the dock, supported by my hands, legs crossed out in front of me, during that magical hour of dusk when the sun gets sleepy. I happened to glance over my shoulder. There, in the space between the boards of wood, was an illuminated support beam. And I thought, what a miracle the sun can reach its light all the way under there, while also thinking, this is my life, right now, and that the light could so ground me in it.
We bought a small kayak and I took it out for its first paddle to explore our lake. In doing so, I found the perfect pink granite rock that I could swim to later on. Not enshrouded by weeds or clam shells, perfectly inviting, and close by.
First thing the next morning, with goosebumps on my flesh, I suited up, moved my goggles in place, snapped on my flippers and aimed for the rock. I strive for an even stroke, a calm breath. One, two, three breathe, one two three breathe, one two three breathe and look where you’re going. Thirty minutes of swimming without rest is tiring and in a lake, somewhat disorienting, so I am grateful for the rock. As I swim there and back, there is the greyish blue-green of the water I look down on and the blinding light of the sun as I turn my head to the side quickly to breath. Darkness, darkness, light; darkness, darkness, light. I stop to get my bearings, look around. Scan the horizon for boats. We live on such a small lake, and I keep mainly to the shoreline, but I think of the cottage we stayed at in Muskoka a few summers ago, and the woman in the neighbouring cottage who paddled out in her kayak to paddle alongside me as I swam back across the land divide because, as she explained, “a woman was killed here by a boat last summer – please, never swim across alone.” In the bright morning sun, I can see clearly, no boats. I continue to cut through the water, and there it is – light – beams of it cutting through the dark water in front and below me with ease, diamonds, glittering along the surface. The light is all around me. I just need to open my eyes to see it.