For Hilary Newitt Brown 1909-2007 and Virginia Woolf 1882-1941
fir and cedar forests guard the orchard,
apples are over now, nuts fall in mossy grass
shaken by slender strands of a once fierce
wind exhausted from the resistance
of grey stone slabs shaping the bay below
where the rhythm of waves
rises and falls in constant cataracts.
I set out to the bay to watch the storm
my pockets filled with hazelnuts
my hands roll them and caress their
intimate brownness together with comradely warmth
I veer away from the grey breaking waves where
stones, small and smooth, lie under my feet in millions
their glacial history would chill my fingers
their weight would strain the fabric of my coat.
Virginia must have had cold hands already
when she set out on her final walk
alone towards the Ouse
she had a literary bond a meeting
of minds in print with my friend Hilary
a nurturer of trees, fruit, flowers and people
who died after the fullest of lives at ninety-eight.
I wonder if Virginia might have found peace
from her torments on this small island
-a peaceful place so close to paradise-
and walked these shores with stalking herons,
streaming pipers and a companion
like Hilary, soothed by warm nuts
in deep pockets as they talked about their work
and ideas for social change.
would she have chosen life
and returned to the orchard for more
refusing as I do now the unforgiving waters
to leave them to fulfill their Sisyphus task
dragging and shifting centuries of stone.
know that the relentless power of
water and wind can kill or create.
Hilary wrote “Women must Choose” in 1937 (Gollancz, UK) which Virginia Woolf quotes in “Three Guineas” (Hogarth Press, 1938). Both books have been described as feminist and anti-fascist. Hilary and her husband immigrated to Hornby Island, BC, Canada in 1937 fearing a fascist victory in Europe. They never left. Hilary was an environmental, peace, and community activist there for 70 years, living on the beautiful property which became, as a result of her initiative and generosity, the Heron Rocks Friendship Centre.