A Word is a Shore
Spring, you say to me, and in the word are crocuses surfacing in an abandoned field, the Canada-Canada call of the white-throated sparrow, the first dandelion smiling from the pavement. Spring is airing out bedcovers in a fragrant maritime wind, taking a deep breath and releasing the funk of a long, long winter. It’s the promise of growth. My spring isn’t your spring, but the word itself is a gathering space, each of us having our particular markers and memories.
Sea, I say, and we do the same. My neighbour leaves his house daily at 5:30 am to put his boat in the water. I think of the hundreds of kilometres of far-flung beaches I’ve walked over the years, a kayak I took along the shores of St. Margaret’s Bay, a bucket I carried for capelin at Middle Cove, NL and the road I once followed to the edge of the Arctic in Cambridge Bay to find the grave of a shaman. Here in Nova Scotia, it’s not uncommon for people to dip into the bone-piercing cold of the sea on New Year’s Day. We each know sea.
A word is a shore. We meet on those shores.
Books, too, are shores. As readers and writers, we travel shorelines of meaning we create and recreate, a miraculous space where words and worlds come alive.
The last two years have seemed to last a decade: we’ve endured wave after wave of virus, leashed and loosened freedoms, loneliness, anxieties, screen fatigue, losses and heartbreak, worries about our children, about health, money and the future. We’ve lived our lives on hold, hearing “your call is important to us” over the background din of climate catastrophe, political machinations, profound grief and global conflict.
And still we write and we read. And read and write some more. Book sales are up; publishers and their readers are embracing a wider range of approaches to storytelling and richer voices to tell them. If we tell ourselves stories in order to live, as Joan Didion said, the ‘we’ must also include the unfamiliar, the muted, the rarely heard, the once-erased. We dig deep into the past to know its stories, learn its lessons and to rewrite the future. Regardless of our age or background, reading and writing teach us empathy and compassion, both of which the world needs more than ever.
Virginia Woolf described fiction as “a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.” I think of poetry as the pen’s atomic energy. Short stories, plays, graphic narratives, youth and children’s literature buoy us, engage us, roil and nourish our imagination, fire the possibilities of being human. Writing and reading spark wonder. How can we not continue to turn to stories for solace and for celebration?
Atlantic Canadian writing has always been full of heart, salt, grit and soul. And joy. A word is a shore. A book is one, too. Or perhaps words and shores are portals to endless horizons. Boats to carry us away. Spacecraft? Yes. Or sea glass treasures we hold up to the light, reflecting all we are and can be, or—wait—what if, perhaps— ?