Barely a few hours after my return to Halifax from Ontario, an email arrives in my Inbox.
It’s from Donna Morrissey, and the complete message is captured in the two-word subject line: “you home???”
I laugh out loud, because geez, I love her emails. Short and concise, the last round we’d shared was a fix-up attempt for me, similarly brief and to the point.
Subject Line: “question…”
Body Copy: “Do you have a boyfriend?”
That email exchange had panned out into another adventure entirely, story to come when I circle back round to romance in a future post, Part 3 of The Kiss.
Donna is a new friend, and I lost no time responding to her message, brevity and cut to the chase in mind.
Me: “Yes mam.”
Donna: “Grand. We can go this evening??
Me: “Kayaking? Yes! It’s nice out! Time? Place?”
Donna: “Come around 6.30 or 7.00. That’s when the light is best.”
Suddenly, the mountain of return-home laundry didn’t seem so onerous, while other discoveries, such as my plants hanging limply after a week of no watering, and the fridge, which I’d left full being empty of food and drink, well, they were no longer annoyances.
How could anything possibly miff me? This morning, I’d left Toronto to fly home, and this evening, I had a welcome home treat to look forward to, kayaking on a lake with a new friend.
How Donna and I met…
Last year, I signed up for one of Donna’s writer workshops. A well-known fiction author, she has seven books to her credit, with her most recent, The Fortunate Brother, slated to hit bookshops this summer.
About twenty-five people attended that workshop, and I think every one of us was captivated by Donna’s Newfoundland accent, refreshing candour, and obvious joie de vivre, evident in her generous, unedited storytelling and frequent, easy laughter. I don’t think she stopped smiling for six hours, and I’m talking real smiling, the kind that crinkles the corners of the eyes.
And then, there was her actual workshop, on Archetypes. I was stupefied at how, less than an hour into it, I realized what she was teaching me was going to improve my writing immeasurably.
Hmmm…. Accomplished. Interesting. Intelligent. Self-aware. Bingo for me, uh oh for Donna, though she had yet to know this.
Stalker that I am, perpetually on the friend hunt not to mention a bit of an author groupie, I mentally added Donna to my friend hit list by the day’s end.
A week after the workshop, I put my intentions into action, crafting an email to let her know how much I enjoyed it. I also slipped in an introduction to me, along with the idea that, maybe, we might meet sometime down the road for chit-chat.
With a small gulp and quick aside to my ‘here’s hoping’ wish, I clicked Send.
By February, I wore her down, and we met for dinner. It was at that dinner that she promised to take me kayaking in the spring, and it seemed the time had come to make good on that promise.
Donna’s home is on William’s Lake, one of the many fresh water lakes on the peninsula, and less than fifteen minutes after leaving my house, I arrive.
Wood sided, like most houses in Halifax, her home is painted a jolly colour. It’s a rich, deep green, a subtle notch away from a quintessential forest green. The house blends into the landscape, a simultaneous, yet aestheic complement to the trees, hostas and lush bushes growing along its walk and in its gardens. I reach the door and press the bell.
The door swings open, and there she is. It is only when I see her that I realize though we’ve been emailing often enough, it’s been months since the second workshop I’d attended, which is when I saw her last.
Hellos. How are yous. And then, lickety split, we are both on the lake, each in a kayak, paddling the indigo water. Donna is in front of me, but I can hear talking, and occasionally, she turns her head back to see how I’m faring.
I’m in her partner Rick’s kayak. It’s bigger than any kayak I’ve been in, and it takes me a while to get my rhythm. While I’m figuring it all out, I seem to be dumping water inside the vessel and onto my jeans with each lift of the paddle. Though my legs are soon soaked, it’s okay. The water is warm.
Not long into our paddling, Donna points her finger ahead, and calls back to me.
“There’s a loon over there. Do you see it?”
Following her finger, I squint my eyes to locate it. Though I’m not completely convinced what I spy in the distance is the loon, the delight in knowing I am in close proximity to one makes me smile.
It has been years since I’ve seen or heard a loon. The last time was probably on a camping trip in Killarney, Ontario, with my husband, my brother and nephew in tow. We’d portaged lake after lake, until we were far, far away from everyone and the only sounds to count on, not made by us, were the call of the loons.
Loons use four different calls to communicate with each other and their families: the tremolo—to signal danger; the wail—to connect with mates; the yodel—used by a male to defend its territory; and the hoot—for family members to locate each other and check in on well-being.
I know nothing as haunting, yet as soothing, as the lullaby of loons close by.
Donna and I do a round of the lake, exploring culverts, nooks and crannies, watching for rocks when we get close to the little islands dotting the middle of the lake or along its shores. Conversation lolls along easily and naturally, and we talk. We talk about all those things you talk about when you don’t know each other well, but you suspect you might like to. We talk of family and friends, ups and downs, and the ‘been there and done thats’ that have dragged, enticed or lured us along to where we are now in our lives.
“The smell of him on my pillow could make me high,” Donna says, when she tells me of falling in love with her partner, Rick.
When I’ve heard the story and have asked her a pile of questions, we lapse into a comfortable silence, and her kayak glides on ahead.
Alone with my thoughts, for the first time in a very long time, I let my own memories of love and being in love drift in. Was a time, not so long ago, that I could not allow myself to indulge in such memories. Too many mistakes. Too many wrong turns. Too many endings.
But on the lake, I twist my perspective around and remember not the endings, but the beginnings and middles, and that part was all pretty wonderful. Then, I pick up the pace of my paddling to catch up with Donna.
I know neither what time it is, nor how long we have been out on the lake, when Donna points her finger again and says, “There’s the house, if you’d like to go in. I’m going to see if I can find the loon’s nest.”
Surprised to find we are back at the beginning, I nod an assent and drag my paddle in the water on my left, turning the kayak in the direction of her house. I start to head back, but then I change my mind, plunging my paddle deep into the water on my right, holding it there to turn the kayak to the left and the heart of the lake. Soon, I am out in the middle again, near one of the islands, and I’ve lost Donna in my sightline.
I’ve my camera with me, and I pull it out and snap a photo, hoping I can cram in the look of the lake, the call of the loon, and the feeling I have inside, which I’m struggling to identify.
Skimming the water’s surface in the kayak, I look to the west where the sun is nearing the horizon, its reflection mirrored on the placid lake surface. It is less windy now, less choppy than it was earlier. And I remember this, that this is what it does on a lake, when the sun slips down at dusk or right before it reveals itself at dawn; it gets still.
After we’ve both returned to the house, after we’ve dragged the kayaks onto shore and flipped them over, after we’ve put the life jackets away, we return to the house, and Donna invites me in for tea and cookies.
In the kitchen, she fills the kettle with water, and while we wait for it to boil, she takes me to her writing room, where it all happens. She is a writer, a working writing, a writer with seven books, all with her name on each. I am honoured, but I don’t let on.
The room is beautiful, and I coin it a writing cave. Everything that might be needed is here. There is a desk, right in front of a big picture window that looks out into the yard, where she does her writing. There is a treadmill and a bit of work out equipment. On her bookshelf are copies of her novels, including those translated into other languages, for non-English readers. One book is particularly beautiful, the Japanese translation. We look at it together, turning the pages, admiring the quality of paper, the cover, and the artwork, so carefully drawn and unlike anything I have ever seen in a North American book.
“They should all be printed like this,” I say to Donna, and she nods in agreement.
I wonder to myself, an author-wanna-be, if having these books to look at is a comforting reminder of what had been accomplished, to help get through the days when the words might only eke out. It happens sometimes to me, days when writing feels laborious, when it just seems easier to throw on Netflix and call it a day. I can only imagine that, perhaps, she has those days too, but I don’t ask.
Later, when I’ve returned home, I peel off my still wet jeans, pull on my jammies, and tuck myself into bed. My thoughts are a pastiche of a peculiar day, begun in Toronto and ending in Halifax, in a tired, exhausted heap from a day of travel and and an evening of kayaking. But it’s that good kind of exhaustion, and I sleep the night through.
It’s been three hectic and crazy days. A week away from work at Propeller, even with online connectivity while I was in Ontario, has me running after my tail to catch up.
Wednesday is a non-Propeller working day, meant for writing. And I’d only barely started writing my post in the afternoon, though I’d vowed to start at 5am.
But, oh no. When my alarm went off, I’d swiped at the clock, knocking it to the floor and shutting it off in the process. And then I’d slept in until 6:30am.
I didn’t head out for my run until close to 8am, and once home, with general hygiene ministrations, I’d only managed to type out a single, paltry paragraph by 1:00pm. So then, figuring a change of scenery was in order, I’d packed up my bag. Of course, on my way to The Old Apothecary to do the writing, there was a stop at a thrift store or two. I finally made it to the Apothecary, but what seemed only minutes later, I was on my way back home for 6pm dinner at Edna, where I was to meet up with Susan for an important catch up after my week away.
It was going on 8:30pm by the time I got home and commanded myself back to keyboard. I procrastinated by pouring myself a scotch for company, and then I gave myself a sturdy lecture.
Hasn’t this been my dream, always and for all my life, to be a writer? Isn’t this infernal blog part of that dream? Practice for the book, per se?
And of couse, mid self-lecture, didn’t the ooglies set in, the voice booming in my head, “Karalee, following a dream at the advanced age of 55 is way too old to be an ingénue, and a bit on the young side to be a senior citizen sensation.”
Ironically, this is where the only thing to save me from despair is math. I have written 189,252 words since arriving in Halifax. If even half of them are semi-decent, whether or not I am published, surely number alone attests that I am a writer.
And with that mathematical confirmation, the words come, and I type.
When I am done, I send Donna an email to fact check. As usual, her response puts a smile on my face, and then some.
Me: “One of the books you showed me that was translated, with the beautiful cover and illustrations, was it Japanese or Chinese?”
Donna: “Japanese. You should’ve been on the water this evening, it was magical!!! Calm, black and then this soft mist rose up all around me and a shaft of light shone through it and I felt like I was in another world…..”
Wow. She is right. I recall where I was a year ago, and where I am now. This Halifax, it is another world, and it’s magical.
Done blog writing, I queue it up to post on Thursday, shut down my computer, collapse into bed bed, and turn out the light.
As I close my eyes and relax my mind, I forget all about writing. And then, it washes over me again, the feeling I had inside on Monday evening, when I’d kayaked into the centre of the lake. And with it comes what’s been alluding me—and I know what the feeling is all about.
It’s seven years ago, and I’m in love. I’m in Killarney, camping on a lake with my husband, just the two of us. We are sitting on a a flat rock, to the side of our campsite, listening to the loons call each other home for the night. After the sounds fade away, after some star-gazing, we turn in. My husband quickly falls into a peaceful sleep beside me. I wrap my arms around his back and curl into him for the night.
Yes. I’d had that same feeling then, on that camping trip. And I understand it now to be that which arrives when you feel you might finally be home, love and hope your steady companions and the faith that this time, it might all work out.
There is no prescribed time frame for how long it takes to get over love, no matter its quality. For three years, I’d declined anything that might be remotely connected to love or romance, to focus on getting past not just what had happened, but why it had happened.
So, it hadn’t worked out with my husband and me, and three years on, I’d let go of what was on that lake, and in the void, I’d felt happiness again, free and clear, for what might be. And I cannot explain how or why, from one moment to the next, everything shifted, but it had. Where I thought I was over everything, I now know that I am.
It’s quiet in my room. The bar across the street from the cave, The Seahorse, has no band thumping out bass and drums tonight, and the sirens I often hear are absent too.
In the stillness, as I wait for Halifax dreaming, my imagination brings me its beginnings, loud and clear, the I hear a loon, calling me home.
PS Visit Donna’s website to find out all about her books, if you don’t already know them. And, make sure you buy/read all her titles! You can find out more here: http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/authors/231980/donna-morrissey