If you didn’t drop this class after enduring my stint as the rambling substitute teacher yesterday, I have the distinct pleasure of re-introducing the Plum Tree today.
I know what you’re thinking; having met the plum couple yesterday, why aren’t they presenting together today? I find dramatic foreshadowing almost unbearable, but as your narrator, want to reassure you.
It’s going to be OK in the end. If it isn’t OK, it isn’t yet the end.
So, let’s return to those two arching plum trees where I decide, on-the-spot and full of goosebumps, to make this place my new home.
Speaking of parents, I want to provide just a little additional backstory to my decision to come here. The reality is, goosebumps weren’t the only factor.
I’d journeyed to Cape Breton many times and was increasingly – and inexplicably- drawn to the west side of the island. People often asked why I was compelled to travel so far, so often, to visit such a little place.
I would smile, telling them in a matter-of-fact fashion that I’d clearly been stolen from The Rankin Family as an infant, and denied my rightful musical journey. If it eventually “came out” there was actually a “lost Rankin” I was definitely her.
I’d conclude my explanation as they laughed on cue, simply stating I’d been away too long and was finally going home.
When I told people I suspected I might be, could be or probably was a “lost Rankin” (the italics are mine) of course they assumed I was joking. Sometimes I would use the expression “distant Rankin” as this seemed more plausible, but I felt “lost” more probable.
They also instantly knew why I longed for Cape Breton. Because, ask any Canadian music-lover, The Rankin Family provides the world with musical shorthand about soul-truths in a language the non-musical can not speak.
Referencing these beloved Canadian musicians provided a short but super-effective cultural touchstone instantly illuminating the complexity of my longing for Cape Breton. I’d see a tide of understanding ebb across their faces, and in no time they were licking salt-water from their lips and tapping their toes.
But I’m only half-joking; a disclosure I’m somewhat hesitant to lay bare now that I live here. But it’s my truth, and to offer only half of it robs my life of it’s taste and it’s texture.
I have tested my “stolen as a baby” hypothesis repeatedly but now acknowledge there is surprisingly little supporting evidence to suggest I actually hang on their family tree. Despite a lifelong effort to cultivate some (any) musical talent, I have yet to sing even a measure of it, and last year’s attempt to become a step dancer yielded results that were out-of-step, at best. Surely, I couldn’t be both lost and cursed!
Finally, I have no evidence, to date, suggesting any of them are actively searching for me. Regardless, I am enjoying my new Ancestry.com membership, which includes public sharing of my results. Just in case. I’m not delusional, after all. One needs hard evidence and I’m all for relying on the facts.
Let me add this small additional detail though, which I also call a fact, before I conclude this short deviation from the primary story. It is not insignificant (to me) that upon my very first visit to the local eatery, owned and operated by their family, I was mistaken (ever so briefly) for a member of their family.
So, while I have reluctantly accepted my status as a not-Rankin, Fate still insists I travel Rankinville Road each day to reach the land, and I live on a river made famous in their much-loved song “The Mull River Shuffle.” I’m not sure I’m fond of Fate’s sense of humour, but I do so love a good plot twist. I knew neither when I stood under the trees that first time.
I’ll now take so us back to the Plum, so together we can arrive in that place where these two stories meet.
Within two months, I was carefully hand-cutting onto the land. Big equipment would eventually be needed, but this required gentle hands on the ground. Settlers had a home here 75 years ago and I wanted to find their driveway. If they built their home in this spot, there would be good reason for it, and I planned to follow their lead. I also hoped to find their well.
But first, I located those two plum trees.
These were not the single-trunked, straight-limbed trees I remembered – the kind you draw that represent trees, but aren’t actual trees. This tree, with multiple trunks and eyes on the back of her head, this was the many-armed Mother Tree.
We cleared encroaching bushes to give her room to stretch. We pruned dead limbs so she could breathe more deeply.
She and Father Tree were heavy with plums, despite a late June frost that killed the apple blossoms. Without kitchen facilities, I didn’t harvest the fruit but ate one or two each time I passed. And soon the entire working season had passed too.
I travelled to the desert last winter, leaving the land and the plums to sleep, but dreaming of returning to create a home I would share with others who also wanted to learn from the land.
Upon returning, I planted gardens beside them, adding compost around their roots. The tiny house site was levelled and prepared. Blooms set on both trees and they fruited as if it were their last chance to be parents, and they were determined to get it right.
When the tiny house frame finally arrived, it was a tense day, with the driver not being convinced it would pass through the trees. Having given birth twice, I knew it would, and it did. I’m learning to let instinct have the final word. I was relieved to finally have my window to the world right where I imagined it.
The plums were at their peak ripeness in mid-September, and this is where one story ends and another begins. This is often where many a story turns; at a peak.
Nova Scotia was about to be battered by Hurricane Dorian, and it was the first time I’d ever felt anxious about a storm.
My daughter was visiting, and we spent the day preparing for an inevitable loss of power. One could feel the air pressure change as the storm approached. I consulted the house builders to ensure the half-built house was secure. I was living at church annex, but when the winds also peaked, I insisted we move into the sanctuary, where I felt safer.
My daughter humoured me, but yet unwrinkled, didn’t quite grasp what wind might do. Despite the howling, we slept, and I accepted that Mother Nature would continue her work through the night even as I left my post.
When morning came, I wanted to go to the farm right away. The winds were still blowing, but the sky was clear. We had planned to make plum jam, so my daughter and I took bags to collect what we knew would be a bumper crop of wind-falls.
But what we discovered was that while we slept, the wind had caused Mother Plum herself to fall.
I don’t cry easily in front of others, but suspect my daughter may have felt the grief burst inside me. Not the polite, dab-your-eye grief one presents at a funeral home, but the snotty, wailing, flailing, crazy-eyed funeral-pyre grief that explodes in your heart and can’t find an exit.
Stoically, I circled the tree, moving about the branches, gently placing the little plums into a bag. Many had been flung, as if from an explosion, some metres away. Some clung to drooping branches. I might have tried to smile or look for a silver lining but I don’t think I managed.
I told you it would be ok in the end, but we aren’t quite there yet. Even as I write this memory four months later, I feel the heaviness of each plum I placed in that bag, and my heart heaves to see the picture of that tree on the ground.
But grief is like that. It requires we speak it more than once. To keep telling it’s story, so as to keep moving it through our bodies so it can be transformed and finally released.
And as grief would have it, a song visits my memory as I am writing this. A soul-gift, reminding me to feel. Not think, but feel. Even as I want so desperately to get to the “it’s all ok now” part of the story, I am asked to pause again, and say goodbye, Cape Breton style.
Is it a surprise that it is sung by The Rankin Family? I think not.
And before you listen, please remember.
It will all be ok in the end. If it doesn’t feel ok yet, it isn’t the end.
And just between you and me, that Mama Plum Tree isn’t finished telling her story.