On every holiday we’ve taken, there comes a time, usually midway through the trip, when I think to myself, “I wish I was at home.” Maybe I’m missing the comfort of lying on our couch with a book instead of on a hotel bed planning the next day’s excursions. Or longing for a plate of homemade macaroni instead of more tapas. Or walking with Lynn instead of jostling among foreigners on a congested sidewalk.
A lot of you must feel the same way given how often people asked Magellan and I, after we’d been away this spring for more than eleven weeks in the southwestern US, “Did you miss home?”
I know, I was surprised too.
I expected to miss our family, yoga classes, friends, cherry blossoms, magnolia flowers, our bed (especially as the one in our Airtop measures four feet wide), the convenience of our kitchen…
(Although after a week or two of outdoor showers, I missed a bath so much that we transferred to an “accessible” room at a hotel because it had a tub. And I did miss having time to read.)
So why, on this trip, didn’t we miss home?
For me, it was transactions with beauty.
Naturally you’d expect us to have transactions with beauty in places like Mesa Verde, Chaco, Canyon de Chelly, Cedar Mesa…
Finding petroglyphs and pictographs created by the Ancient Puebloans.
Seeing the Super Bloom of wildflowers.
But I didn’t expect a blogspot called Transactions with Beauty would become such a source of comfort, kinship and inspiration.
Its author, the poet, novelist and photographer Shawna Lemay, writes from the suburbs of Edmonton. A few years ago, Lynn told me about Shawna’s previous blog, Calm Things and I’ve been a subscriber ever since.
I’d save Shawna’s postings, reading them in my camp chair with a glass of wine when I had a few quiet moments before dinner, a salad resting on the table, vegetables waiting for a last touch, Magellan tending the barbecue. An appetizer of soul food. Rereading them in the last light of day, a nightcap of warmth.
The first of Shawna’s blogs that I saved was from March 31, A Recognition of Need. In it, she quotes a most intriguing question, one that Magellan and I had fun composing answers to on daylong hiking trails in canyons of sienna or on slickrock, creamy in colour with streaks of baby blue, dusty rose and pale lemon.
If right now, you were to write the story of your life, what would the first sentence be?
Another one I kept is All the Ways of Being a Writer. A particular sentence of hers that resonated with me applies not just to writing but to any life’s work, to cooking dinner, even to finding the best route to Flagstaff.
We are all just trying our best with whatever materials we have at hand.
Perhaps seeing Shawna’s gorgeous photographs of flowers in her Dream post was the reason I didn’t miss Vancouver’s cherry blossom season or the flowering of daffodils and narcissus on our back deck.
I also saved And She’s Home. “She” is Chloe, Shawna and her husband Robert’s only daughter, home after her first year away. This quote reminded me of how I felt when Lynn left for Toronto to do her Master’s and a few decades later when Clare went off to the University of King’s College in Halifax.
I would have those moments where I’d feel like I had the wind knocked out of me when I remembered how far away she was.
When talking to Lynn while we were away, she’d tell us about the dreary downpour of rain deluging Vancouver and how lucky we were to be away. In contrast, every day we awakened to a world of light—strong, bright, relentless. Every day we were out in the open exploring the spare beauty of desert landscapes, returning to the small comforts of our simple life on the road feeling intensely alive—a “lightness of being.” (“We were too busy to miss home,” says Magellan. And of course phone calls, emails, knowing we’d see Liz and Mike and Teresa and Paul in person and your comments on our blog brightened our days.) Shawna quoted these words from the writer Clarice Lispector in the last post of hers that I saved during our trip: Light is an Invitation to Happiness:
…everything acquires a kind of halo which is not imaginary: it comes from the splendor of the almost mathematical light emanating from people and things. One starts to feel that everything in existence—whether people or things—breathes and exhales the subtle light of energy. The world’s truth is impalpable.
Lemay, Shawna. Asking. Woodstock, Ontario: Seraphim Editions, 2014. Divided into four parts: Conversations, Writing Prompts, It Must Have Been Weird and Conventions of Ekphrasis, Asking will have you asking yourself how you can alight your world with more ordinary beauty.
Lemay, Shawna. Hive, A Forgery. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012. In elusive poetic prose intermingled with artists’ quotations, Shawna draws a portrait of the artistic process by imagining the life of a woman who forges paintings, giving thanks to the hive, “to what recurs and takes hold of us and makes something of us that no one can see but is what makes us come alive, and hum and flower and flutter.” To discover her other books that I haven’t yet read, go to Shawna’s author site.