These pieces are a heart's tribute to a place. No map will point to this place or take notice of its existence. For the lawyers who drew up the deed, for tax collectors, for Canada Post, what we purchased was a space not a place - a space between other spaces, filling in a gap in a jig-saw puzzle of property identification numbers and co-ordinates, not a place with slopes and fields and alder patches, a house, barn, and outbuildings, and more than a century of history before we came here. A small place of some 70 acres “more or less,” in southern New Brunswick, in the Maritime Provinces of Canada, this has been our home for more than 30 years, and its particularities, which drew us when we first set eyes on it, still contain wonders. Real places can only be known by heart.
For the last 25 of the years we have lived here I have written a weekly column for our local newspaper. Much of the material in the chapters that follow is drawn from those columns. Originally called “A Letter from Home” because I thought of the pieces as an appealing alternative to the letters I should have written (but didn’t) to those of our children by then away at school, the weekly attempt to chronicle the little events that are the heart of what we call ‘daily life’ has, as the years have flown away, become a series of bench-marks or surveyor’s stakes to record the contours of that life, its dreaming hills and fertile valleys, icy chasms and swift-flowing streams.
We did not always live here. Coming to Canada from the States in 1962 to do graduate work at the Pontifical Institute of Mediæval Studies in Toronto, I eventually found myself teaching Mediæval English at the University. In 1972, during a year's sabbatical in England, working in the Duke Humfrey Room of the old Bodleian Library in Oxford, my intellectual world wrinkled like a distant scene viewed through a heat-haze and transformed itself. The texts I was working with, I began to see, were not literature in the sense of that word we are accustomed to. They all pointed to a truth that lay beyond themselves, a truth that could not be expressed in so many words but could only be approached by using all the resources of language to move beyond language and the confines of the material world language knows. And the truth they were pointing to was neither emotional nor sentimental; it had the clarity, the precision, the hardness, of a diamond.
When, on another sabbatical, we came down to this farm we had purchased as a summer get-away, although I did not admit it even to myself, I had left the University behind. There was no way to follow the signs without walking the path. And so I applied for ordination as an Anglican priest and served in a small parish for some years and taught part-time for various colleges in the area. The years were occasionally glorious and sometimes terrible in about equal proportions, but it is only gradually, in the passage of years with their bright moments and dark, that we have the chance to know life itself and its hidden sources.