The days are getting thin as we near the close of the year. They lay bedraggled and worn in piles on my bed, ready to be sorted through, some kept for nostalgia’s sake but most thrown away. Empty the closet, wipe this slate clean, a new year in this same old life.
We drive for hours up the coast to Cape Breton. My brother and I in the back seat, again. Sharing earphones and watching a movie until his laptop dies. The clouds refuse to snow and the snowshoes and cross-country skies go unused. Naked birch trees crowd on hills reaching like many gnarled fingers to the impartial sky.
The land is stripped, nothing like the greenscape of my memory when L and I took a weekend getaway. Each road winds around a turn and there is our campground when we huddled together in a two-man tent, sock feet tangled, layered chest to chest, kissing to keep warm. The forest was lush, then, as we tramped through the undergrowth. The cliffs we hiked to and then perched on, watching the ocean below, pointing out the wildlife we imagined that we saw. Hands folded into hands. I don’t pretend to forget and my mother notices.
“This vacation must be a trip through nostalgia for you, huh?”
I nod and look out the window. Catch a raven taking flight from a sign post: another folksy cottage advertisement or homemade crafts. We stop at the leather worker’s where he had bought me a bracelet long since lost. A bell jingles our arrival and the same kindly lady greets us now that had then. I finger the same ring I did the year before and slip it onto the same finger; still doesn’t fit. I trail my fingertips over bags and belts. I try on a braided leather bracelet in a different colour from the one I lost and admire it for a moment before unsnapping it and hanging it back on its hook. My mother buys me two feet of purple leather lace and I wind it around my wrist, have my step-father tie a knot to keep it there, a reminder.
We hike new trails and spot moose tracks in the snow and antlers in every twisted branch from the corners of our eyes. I find a driftwood walking stick on the coastal path between salmon coloured rocks and take it home with me; something to lean on.
On our last night it snows, covering up all our tracks, all the places we’ve been. The trees are weighed down with promise, heavy with the changing year. Time the land whispers and then screams deafly into the wind, time. Soon, the snow will melt and the year will stumble forward with the click of a clock. Soon, I will have traced new memories on to the old and they won’t jump startling before my eyes like gashes in a smooth surface. These scratches and scars will overlap those and soon you will run your hands over me and I will be eroded.
Time the land murmurs to me encouragingly just below the crunching of my boots. I stop and cock my head to the side, listening hard.
“Why are you stopping?”
“I don’t know. I thought I heard something.”
We pause and then resume our march, the crunch, crunch, crunch through the snow. No rest for the weary; we’ve got miles to go.
We’ve got promises to keep and miles to go, miles to go before we sleep.
Lisa Hannigan – Lille (Live)