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I am back from two weeks in Quebec, Canada - time mostly spent in the deep Northern woods of Quebec's Laurentians where lakes and hiking/ ski trails are as common as deer and dragonflies; and everywhere there's the smell of pine. The weather teetered madly between 30 C and 12 C some days, but my family went Nordic, and took even the colder plunges into lac Labelle's clean cold waters.

When it rained, we lit fires in the cottage with its panoramic view of the lake and hills, and read, talked, and played Scrabble, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Risk. Mostly we were vegetarians, and thus the BBQs were often vegetative in nature, but my mother presided over the cooking, which was uniformly superb.  I confess to trying every Quebec snack available, from poutine, to Joe Louis cakes.

I gained a few pounds.  It was a joyous and all-too-brief time together.  I was glad to see my five year old godson, Alex, especially.  His smile and humour delight me. While I read during these weeks (excellent work by Mark Ford, John Banville and Joseph O'Neill, among others), poetry and writing was peripheral - the incontestable priority of nature, so encompassing, was refreshing and moving to me. I loved seeing the chipmunks, wild ducks, hawks, deer, fish, and other beasts in their habitat.

Being well-fed, clothed, and warmed by fire, among those we loved best, able to share stories and hope, even as the young and old among us face challenges, we could count our blessings, but also sense, beyond our small lot, the fragility and terrors of the age, including the deaths in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, and beyond; and the death of tormented souls like Robin Williams, whose work in Good Will Hunting, and The Dead Poet's Society, was so inspiring and humane.  So it was a full fortnight, of discussions about depression, war, peace, environmental degradation and what we can do, memories of childhood - concerns about teaching, autism, publishing, but also kayaking, biking, walking, running, swimming, and being out in the air and the sun and the mist and under the stars.

I love my family, and my Quebec home every much.  I miss them terribly when away from them, as I must be for years at time often. I have made Britain a second home, and have some good friends here, but Quebec evokes very primal, fragile feelings, of love, and what was lost, and gained. Time never felt so full of import - just being together was enough - and I was reminded of the late wise poems of Wallace Stevens, who knew the value of a home amid the natural world, in the gathering darkness.
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