— I’m at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The boys have already flown home, so I have an empty cabin returning to New York in September, all found, for which I can’t get my money back. Do you want it?
I did give it some thought before declining. New York. Some people I could see before flying home, but nothing to do that would warrant the travel emissions. I don’t absolutely refuse to fly these days, but I need more than that to get me on a plane.
— My wife is divorcing me. When I return I have to move out of the home we’ve shared for decades. I’ve rented a house. If I buy your flights home, would you and Miki help me move, and keep me company for a bit while I settle into the new place?
A liner to New York, help out a pal; this is P.G. Wodehouse territory. So we found ourselves in early September sailing from Southampton on the Queen Mary 2.
There’s a lot to like. I enjoyed watching the ocean swells from our balcony cabin, and writing at the desk inside. As a teenager my father served in the Merchant Navy and must have watched such long, slow swells. He later trained as a cook, and would have admired the quality and efficiency of the kitchens and the huge Britannia restaurant. And perhaps he would also have enjoyed the ship’s entertainment programme: talks, shows, classes in fencing, dancing… it’s legendary. But I struggled a bit myself. A week with two thousand mostly wealthy old white folk with nothing much to do, comparing over dinner their experiences cruising a world now eaten out by unbridled consumption. The delusion. The entitlement. The cognitive dissonance. And a thousand crew members, perhaps most from the Majority World, colonialism in miniature.
Entering New York harbour at dawn was spectacular, sliding under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, passing the Statue of Liberty, approaching the Battery and mooring by the old Brooklyn Navy Yards. And our destination in New Jersey a welcome surprise: plush, leafy suburbs; previously I’d seen little beside shopping malls and the New Jersey Turnpike.
First pilgrimage: to Paterson, NJ, home of William Carlos Williams. Like Leonard Bast in E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End (“a young man very familiar with the outside of books”) I have been too long content to know of authors instead of knowing them. Thank goodness I never as a young man discovered Williams. I might have persisted much longer with my scheme of becoming a poet. What a huge pleasure to discover him now! And visiting the Great Falls on the Passaic River, an invaluable aid to reading his long poem “Paterson”.
Miki flew home to shoot an assignment in Paris. I visited friends and colleagues in Manhattan, once again enjoyed working in the Rose Reading Room of the New York Public Library on 40th Street.
And conceived another pilgrimage to set against the travel emissions already baked in to my journey.
Overnight from New York to Chicago, IL; another two nights to Portland, OR; another train to Seattle, WA, then across Puget Sound to Canada.
Up the Hudson
Crossing North Dakota
Columbia River, Oregon
Leaving Portland, Oregon
And here I am on Vancouver Island, BC, in Canada’s Pacific north west, having crossed America by train. Yesterday 100km north in the rain to visit Cathedral Grove, never logged, ancient first-growth forest; a pitifully rare scrap of a mature ecosystem.
At Findhorn in 2019 a Canadian forester had told me how rare first-growth forest is. Europe has the Białowieża Forest straddling the Poland-Belarus border. British Columbia has some unlogged patches. But everything I’d ever thought of as forest is managed woodlands. When you walk into ancient forest, I heard, you can feel the intelligence.
And for some years, ancient forest has been the only item on my ‘bucket list’.
Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island, BC
Thanks to Jess Cran, Doug Yeager, Brooke Allen, Karolina Dmowska, Lisa Wylie, Ben in Seattle, and Bob & Diane Therriault for welcoming me in their homes.
Qualicum Beach, BC, 7.xi.23
Bob drove us on Wednesday up to Campbell River, where we took the ferry to Quadra Island, walked the shoreline a bit, bought poetry at Bonanza Books, then hiked Heriot Ridge with poets Robert Bringhurst & Jan Zwicky. A memory to prize.
Vancouver, BC, 10.xi.23