achel is standing on the steps of the family home, “Cliff-Side,” screaming, “Come away Grandpa, Come away!”
The old man stands parallel to the edge of the cliff. He is bending down to retrieve a small object from the ground. Then, after successfully recovering the object, attempts to step sideways, away from the imminent danger; from the swirling mouth of the sea below and the insistent lightning above. He sways a little towards the precipice, his long frame only a foggy shadow, his beard a thick, drooping mass from the end of his chin and the relentless rain pelting against his sodden cloak.
Rachel’s heart shudders.
He takes a few steps away from the edge of the cliff. He carefully places the object in a pocket inside his cloak. He then looks down at his soggy beard. He wrings it forcefully between his fingers releasing the dirty water onto the ground, as grandma would wring a dirty mop into the wash bucket. Then he moves his faltering feet towards the house. Before he reaches the step where Rachel stands, he takes the item from his cloak pocket. As he looks up at Rachel, she sees he is wearing a small pair of wire-rimmed, yellow-green tinted glasses. They hang over the edge of his nose and his eyes above which are a deeper, more intense green than the glasses, are clearly speaking to her. Watch me now my child, they seem to be saying. He then turns and faces the crackling sky, the wind, and the rumbling trees. He mumbles a few words Rachel can’t make out. The wind halts suddenly. Then the sky’s mesmerizing network of electrical waves fizzle into nothingness. The rain drains to a few miserable drops running down Rachel’s neck and puddling into her dress. The fog lifts to reveal a patch of thin blue below the emerging milky clouds. A potent silence then, as in the aftermath of a prayer. God’s creation about to renew itself and perhaps needing to ponder how to begin this important task.
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Passengers are scattered across the large room. Near the top of the wall, a small window is open midway across the room. An afternoon breeze drifts lazily through the window, carrying with it, a whiff of warm late summer air and beyond a chilly stillness from the Thompson river. A pretty dark-haired girl in a bonnet, a long dress and thin coat sits alone on the bench by the far corner wall. She is reading a book and occasionally glances at her watch. A silver ring glints on the middle finger of her left hand.
Brothers, Henry and Arthur, and two younger boys, bustle through the swinging door of the station hauling their cases and bags. Arthur ducks his head through the doorway and then trips over his bag. Henry reaches out a hand to help but Arthur pushes him away. Henry steps back and laughs, brushing a dark lock of hair away from his forehead and grins slyly at his brother
“Ur ye looking at that lass across the room then Arthur?” sneers Stewy. “Better watch where those feet are steppin’ or the pretty lasses will nae be comin’ your way.”
“Ah-ah. Stop yer jaggering then. The door rise is ju-just too low for the likes a’ me is a-all.”
Fred chimes in. “He havin’ his knickers in a knot for the lassies alright.”
Fred chortles. “That stutterin’ will nae help ‘im either.”
“Ah. Shut yer gobs! Henry points toward the benches. What are you doing standin’ around the door? Go park y’ butts ye’ willy nits.”
The boys scramble over each other and their belongings in their haste to be the first to the long straight-backed bench in the middle of the room.
Henry stays by the door, peering through a nearby window. The light breeze from the high window wafts a slightly dank smell from the river. The mountains overhead are mostly treeless, but peaceful in their barrenness.
“I wonder what that yellow carpet-like stuff is, growing on the mountain’s surface. I be bettin’ the summer sun il’ burn down from those bare mountains on the town. Not much growin’ in hills t’ take in the heat. Wheat fields in the valley where we be workin’ must be baskin’ in heat an’ ripe for harvest.
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A fairy tale type story about a girl and a magical shell, and the friends she meets.
Iona lived on a lonely island where a baked mud and grass hut was her only shelter. Two smiling dolphins brought her fish and kelp each morning. She plucked fruit and drank sweet juices from the two mango trees that flourished on the small island. She did not want for anything.
Iona felt her life to be without beginning or end. She sat by the shore and spoke out over the waves to the sky or mist or a squawking jay, not caring about who listened.
“My life is as mysterious and fathomless as the depths of the ocean. I don’t know why I am here all alone. I am one with the sand and the sea but who am I?” She felt her destiny to be connected in some way to the endless ocean. She could not say this out loud however, as it bewildered her.
One morning as Iona was waiting for the dolphins, she picked a mango for breakfast. She spied a silver conch beneath one of the mango trees. One end of the shell was narrow with a curved indentation, which she blew into.
As she blew, the shell made an irritated, squawking sound as bits of sand flew from the mouthpiece. She tried again and this time out came a joyful tune.
I can’t believe this. It’s as if it’s making music just for me.
Soon Iona could play the most beautiful tunes with little effort. Sometimes at twilight when the moon was rising and the tide rolling in, she would dance along the shoreline to the hypnotic music she created by blowing into this strange shell. Her long hair, as thick and tangled as seaweed and her tattered dress leapt and spun about in the cool ocean breeze, as if they too were answering the call of the haunting music and the endless ocean. She danced far into the night until she dropped exhausted on the sand, and the conch fell from her hand.
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Review by Rita Joan Dozlaw, poet and regular contributor to The Big Edition, Kamloops:
The Heron on the cover called to me from the coffee table top. Who can resist picking up a little book of poems? I’m glad I picked this one up; for, the visions in its stanzas and verses took me on an intriguing sentimental path.
Exquisite encaustic artwork illustrated the pieces enhancing reflections on the past.
It was a toss-up as to my favorites.
And then, like a finale, the back cover collage of the book’s mysterious illustrations melded into a colourfully poetic mosaic.
Cover to cover, my imagination was whetted for a re-read.
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