Nicol and Kathryn
Two friends of ours, greyed after years on the Sunshine coast, lived in a tiny triangular house perched on a cliff overlooking a minuscule lake in the middle of an ocean of trees. Nicol and Kathryn, they were called; they were like a third set of grandparents to us. They seemed natural, fitting, inevitable: Sechelt without them would not have been half as lovely. Nicol was a fine sturdy man, in his late fifties, with a closely trimmed hoary-white beard, like a ship’s captain. He had lost the tip of his right thumb to a stray axe blade, and I (only eight at the time) admired him for the scar. Kathryn was a slender, angular, vibrant woman, of similar age, and very attached to her marvelous impressionistic paintings that she was always working on. Nicol was an amateur boat-builder; he had a decade’s project sitting on props in the front yard, a massive aluminum boat of his own design and construction, always waiting to be finished. Us being impressionable Christian kids, we immediately christened it “Nicol’s Ark.” As we became closer friends, Kathryn began to teach Amy and me how to paint and sketch, how to wrestle this rough, unnamed beauty onto flat paper and canvas. And Nicol would lead us on long walks that wound through the middle of nowhere and somehow always made it back to civilization, just after we were sure that we would have to bivouac and start sending up smoke signals. They were teachers: Nicol taught us to see the land, and Kathryn helped us capture it — a lesson that my sister and I have never forgotten. We loved them, those old people; and they loved us.
We moved to Washington about five years ago. It is beautiful, but it is not beautiful like the coast of Canada. It is dry, and rocky. We had mountains once, but now we have left them behind. We lived by deep woods, mysterious and fascinating to our young minds, but now our trees are sparer. Once an ocean ebbed in our backyard, and in exchange we now possess a small pond. I miss Nicol and Kathryn. But one thing has changed. We own our land. The mountains have shrunk into hills; but the hills are ours. The trees are not as wild; but that small copse is ours. The water is still, and the beaches are congregations of clattering reeds; but the pond is ours. Now that I have learned to love the land, I have land to care for. In the summer we cut back the ambitious grass, and in the autumn we burn the weeds out of the fields. In the winter we scissor through the white heavy linen of snowfall, shoveling our long driveway with deep, efficient Canadian snow scoops. And in the spring, our land buds again. I haven’t yet learned how much I have been given; but every time the tree swallows migrate back into their traditional nesting box, every time the perennial dandelions sprout in the backyard, every time the sun surfaces over the hills, every year the pines reach another branch into the eternal sky, I think I catch a glimpse.