Catherine Jackson: EarnestGirl Chronicles


Mulch and Memory

The Geography of Home

The time has shifted, the darkness has settled close. It is night-dark by the time I’ve finished boiling water for the afternoon tea. The leaves, which just last week made a gorgeous glow over Vancouver’s streets and parks are now gathering in gutters and empty wading pools where they will collect washed-away worms and grit until spring. 

I grew up on the other end of Canada, where fall was a crisp affair with rosy cheeks and glowing maple trees gone Group Of Seven picturesque. Here in the West, fall is a shrug. If we are lucky, the leaves flame yellow and orange for a week or so and then slip from the trees after a few pewter-coloured rainy afternoons. 

Fall in the East is sweaters and scarves. I remember scuffing home along leaf-littered streets, flinging chestnut grenades and armloads of orange and red confetti. 

Fall in the West is rubber boots and rain jackets. Toddlers zipped into vinyl all-in-one slickers turn slow happy circles in boot-high puddles. They hop and splash and look for all the world like fallen fruits: grapes, apples, watermelons bobbing merrily in the water. 

I rake leaves and feel homesick for the bright fall I knew growing up. My West Coast child's very earliest vocabulary included words for rainy days. As I stoop and swing, I think about the geography of home - the landscape which is imprinted on our sense memories, the one which rises unbidden and whispers your own past back to you. What will she remember of this? 

Gathering armloads of leaves, smelling their furtive mushroomy damp along with the tang of fern and moss and yearlong green, I pause and gloat for a moment about the lack of snow. Tamping down the leaves in the compost, watching the gathering dusk settle in the rododendron, along cedar hedges and in the nooks of nearby mountains I wonder if just maybe the West Coast's dark autumn might make a perfect mulch for the growing of memories. 

Autumn Scene by Tom Thompson