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Russell Wangersky: Five wonders

"The first few stars appear, and then quickly the sky is ablaze with the millions…"
"The first few stars appear, and then quickly the sky is ablaze with the millions…"

Five, like the outstretched fingers on your hand, thumb to pinkie.


Russell Wangersky
Russell Wangersky


One, for sunset on desert mountains out through a dim barroom window, watching the descending gradient of colours, the pink and the orange and then the velvet blue, until finally the mountains are like flat, black matte felt against the barely brighter sky, and three dimensions have been pushed and pulled and stretched flat into just two. Depth has been pushed out by shadow.

The first few stars appear, and then quickly the sky is ablaze with the millions, the fine far distant dim ones, the sharp glassy large ones, the Milky Way like a purple-white brushstroke left uncompleted, even scattered satellites bending along their long consistent curves, and suddenly you have the opportunity to connect any dots and in so doing, create absolutely anything you want.

Two, for finishing a big job, for sweeping up the sawdust and the paint chips, for throwing the wood scraps into the box for kindling, for washing the brushes, for the tools dropped clattering back into the right drawers and the extension cord wrapped in even loops around your arm — the span of the wire circle always the distance from your palm to your elbow. Smelling the thin fine smell of spruce or pine, returning the saw blade on the table saw to the meditative 0-degree vertical, leaving the spirit level resting flat with its always-demanding bubble precisely and perfectly in the middle. There will be more: maybe next time, it will be the sweet alchemy of concrete, the way you pull the float across the surface and the smoothing liquid rises to flatten the surface. Or it will be the lockstep order of bricks and mortar, pointing and repointing.

This Christmas, I want to find simpler things. Daily.

Three, for the smell of the barrens in late, late fall, mere seconds before winter, when the leaves are gone, the trees have already been sleeved once with ice, and when the last three colours left are red, beige-yellow and grey-brown. When the smell of peat rules, when decay is king, when the leftover blueberries cling dark and raisin-esque to the knuckled fingers of the otherwise-bare bushes. And it is cold, the worming wet cold, the bone-fingering cold that can’t been explained to someone who’s never lived by the ocean, but that they will recognize the very first time they feel it, and shiver with you whenever you talk about it again. There will be rain, and later, the prickle of fingers and toes warming again. When you remember both how the wind can breathe metallic, and how to tuck your chin down into your coat collar.

Four, for the sound of water. In the eavestrough, in the downspout, in rills and gullies and running over rocks in a stream in the mathematical, geographical low point in a field between hills. At a box falls on a river, at the point where river course meets earth fault, even the sound, the glassy lurp, of a single drop falling from the mouth of the tap into a full bathtub. Sometimes, fishing in summer, I’ve fallen asleep on a finger of riverside sun-struck sand and gravel, the sound of the water disordered and yet musical.

Five, for being boxed in the house by the season’s first snowstorm, drifts running rampant up the street outside, cars hunkered down in driveways. The luff of a gust of snow-filled wind — three beats — against the side of the house, the fire in the stove flickering, beaten down for a moment as the chimney moans. A curtain of coarse snow slips along the corner of the house, and I hear its whispered sibilance. Across the street, a small evergreen, not even three feet high and decorated with all-red lights, is slowly being subsumed into drift, the now-hidden snow-covered bulbs glowing pink against the snow. Out of reach. Disconnected. Part of me knows I’ll have to shovel. Part of me doesn’t care, as long as the snow doesn’t stop.

This Christmas, I want to find simpler things. Daily. I want to stay out of reach. I want to shed instant communication, helpless rancour, the dark distant electronic complaints that gnaw away at everything good. I want us all to stop pouring poison into each others’ ears, our eyes, and out our mouths and fingertips.

Five fingers. Unclench a fist, reveal a hand. Talk to my face. With your face.

Next year, we can do better. Be bigger. Next year, we can all try to shed spite and maybe find some peace.

This. This, I wish.


Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky.

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