Sanding rough edges / by Jessica Hunter

And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been. - Rilke

It’s August, my favourite month of the year, although, I am biased because it’s my birthday month. 10 days ago I turned 29, clouds passed through the sun with a light breeze. I wore a grey striped cotton A-line dress and felt a little bit older. It’s the age of the edge, with all the youth of my twenties and the hope of the anchoring thirties. I’ve heard in your thirties you care less about what others think and settle into your own skin a bit more. I must say I’m looking forward to that if it’s true. This edge feels tipsy and scary, thrilling and intoxicating from this high up. I’m dizzy over it all.

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August is both celebration and mourning. We’re enjoying the last really warm relaxing days of the season while also saying our goodbyes to lighter days, preparing for the beginnings of September. The air is cooler at dawn and dusk. My sandals are replaced with loafers and a light wool sweater is always on hand for those unexpected changes in temperature. I don’t mind it though. I can feel the cooler air beckoning me into something new but I struggle to put words or shape to what it is.

We’re currently in limbo. Waiting. 

“Are you a lake peeer?” asks my friend as we swim out to deep water. “Oh totally, it’s the best,” I reply with a laugh. This is the conversation of true friendship. Treading water I keep my body moving and afloat until I can bring myself to begin swimming towards the earth again. Tiring myself out as my limbs move languidly, pushing through the heavy liquid - out of breath and refreshed - I sleep so soundly after a day in the water.

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Maybe it’s all the years of school that has my internal clock set to September as the new-year, or maybe it’s just that I get really reflective after another trip around the sun - probably the latter. I usually feel a sense of anticipation mixed with anxiety about all that hasn’t been accomplished. It’s renewal and remorse jumbled together.

As I write this, Leonard Cohen’s New Skin For The Old Ceremony, chimes in the background… “lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me”

Wedding season's been full of elegance and romance, each bouquet bursting with the bride's personality.  I've enjoyed designing these natural details for each one and, surprisingly, it hasn't been as frazzled as I thought. I think it’s because they’ve been spaced out nicely with time in between for summer leisure and home projects, although, I’ve neglected my back garden this year. I didn’t plant vegetables, unless you count the basil and tomatoes that managed to fight through last winter and return. The morning glory has taken over regardless of how many hours I spend plucking out its seedlings and the moths have started eating away at the roses. It frustrates me that I didn’t take a butterfly net to these decay driven creatures before I started noticing their damage. Everything seems overgrown and un-kept.

I remind myself, all is not lost. My birthday gift was a family front-yard landscaping project. Since its beautification I’ve been working away at restoring an old door to replace the one we currently have out front. The door is probably as old as our house, donated to us from our neighbours because it was literally covered in shit. I could smell the putrid faeces as I scraped the layers of hot, bubbling paint off the surface, but underneath was this gorgeous buttery finish. With sore backs, sweat, blood, tears, dancing and dinner parties we are pouring love into our lot, making this home more of a haven as each day passes. I'm learning that these efforts are worth it. 

I’ve been making time for silliness lately. I think I lost some of my silly along the way to adulthood and it makes me sad when I think about it too much. I like that part of myself, the one that tries headstands in parks with strangers, car dances in traffic because I’ve just got to move or convinces her husband to graffiti the back shed late at night after a argument as a way of calling a truce.

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Sim said to me recently while driving up to cottage country, “we need to get our home in order.” I responded, “yeah, like our renovations, we need to sort that out.” He replied, “no our HOME. US. “ We were talking about kids (not because we’re having them, but because we might someday and I love a good plan). It got me thinking about how we are family now. This is my immediate tribe. him, the cats, myself, but it’s as if we’re still not quite there. We still have ourselves lingering in the families and communities we left to form our own, while trying to integrate ourselves into a new community. This tethering together takes patience and that comes with the passage of time.

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The morning after we finished the front garden I went outside to water it. I noticed a spider hanging in its web between the spirea and hydrangea bush. I needed to move the spirea and knew I’d have to destroy its webbed home. My tearful reaction was ridiculous with the amount of times I’ve killed spiders, but this seemed awful. All that weaving and spinning, only to be eradicated.  I knew it wasn’t about the spider. As I watched it scurry under the hydrangea leaf, hiding out thinking I couldn’t see it, I peeled its home apart. This broke me. Some days, if I’m honest, I’m terrified of this happening to us, somehow that this web I’ve been tending to for years now will be destroyed.  I don’t let this paralyze me though, I keep on, honouring these scary moments by constantly creating, building our home, making it a safe and welcoming place full of warmth, letting our love and dedication have the last word.

I haven’t been carrying around my phone or camera as much lately. It’s been nice just to be where I am and with the people I love. I like to collect snippets as they pass but they’re not my memories, they're a two-dimensional snap. My memories are more visceral, full of the scents, textures and unseen exchanges. I think lately I need to be reminded that these passing moments are still real even if they aren’t documented, that as I stretch myself to reach for an impression, I’m no longer entirely there. I want to trust that I can hold these precious days in my heart and mind just as they are. That’s what our time in the woods was about for me. I sat on the rocks by the water’s edge, smelling the fire burning in the distance mixed with oak, pine, fir, dogwood and mildew moss.

I carried Sim’s Grampa’s ceramic mug with me everywhere I went, like a caffeine-infused security blanket, it became a comfort by my side while I filled my days pouring over pages of a book. I go on nature walks and collect water lilies to decorate our camping table. Sim makes a rope swing, performs back flips, discovers a dead dragon fly, while he drifts in and out of the water at all hours of the day. The woods do the speaking during the day while we all enjoy the solitude of ourselves and in the evenings we grill zucchini, mushrooms, peppers with olive oil, garlic and lemon drizzle. We pass wine and chill beers for later. We share questions, stories, philosophies, laughter and marshmallows around the fire. Our summer season is fleeting, we make the most of it while it's here, carpe diem is our mantra. 

This past wedding I had to hide the flowers in the basement. One for temperature control and two because Hobbes was getting high on the lisianthus, destroying every one he could get his little pink paws on. My mom (who has been assisting me all summer; I have loved this time so much) was brining arrangements up from the basement the morning of the wedding to begin packing the car, my basement is basically the place I want no one to go, packed with boxes of unsorted belongings, Sim’s tools and anything else we can’t find a place for. It’s a disaster down there, but as my mom reminded me later, “this is grassroots Jess, it’s where it all starts, in a cool disorganized basement.”

The juxtaposition of the elegant flowers against a backdrop of insanity on cement seemed fitting; it was something I would have captured if I had been carrying my camera around. Instead, I took it in, noting the place they once laid as I lifted the vase, looking around at the disorganized piles of basement belongings. (Since I wrote this Sim has been cleaning out the basement, re-organizing and installing shelving units. He’s a real life Lego/Janga systemizing King, way better at that stuff than I am, my book shelves pile up in T-shapes. )

I’ve thought about what my mom said since then, how this is the beginning. Start small and grow from there. I have to remind myself of this when I get discouraged or confused about what I’m doing with my life. This is what dreams are made of - basement flowers. I didn't anticipate this life I'm living now, that I'd be running a floral design business or own a home in Hamilton. I didn't know that I'd work on weddings when years ago I despised the entire idea. I definitely didn't think I'd like it. I didn't know I'd be such a nester or that I could fall in love the way I have. I didn't know that I'd meet the people I have and become a better, happy version of myself because of them.  There is so much we think we know, but we don't and this gives me hope. It pushes me to surrender, to remain open. Regardless of where A FINE MEDLEY is heading or where we are going, we are here now, becoming, and it’s these days that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

 As I sand away the rough surfaces of the door, sweat seeping off my brow, I can feel my insides smooth themselves out too and I feel lucky to be playing at this life, like I won a lottery ticket of talents and loved ones. I also know that nothing truly excellent gets built when everything is easy. I know this is a gift, the times of struggle and harmony. I have nothing but gratitude for it all, and I look forward to this next year full of things that have never been.