Canada was every bit as beautiful as Kunihito Uchiwara dreamed it would be. Kind Mrs. Murray and her family were well-meaning, but without a poetic bone in their bodies. They did not tell him how the queer rusty shores would spark his imagination nor did they think to say how the small dales of wildflowers would make his heart positively ache. That was all very likely because their souls were stout, untroubled, and immune to flights of fancy.
However Kunihito had manners enough not to comment on the sad lack of information. He did not have the heart to tell them that seeing a church in Canada was not very much different than seeing a Western-style church in south Japan or that church politics was rather the same as village politics. What he gained on the journey fed his soul, but it was in form of moonrises over gentle Canadian hills and hearing the chirrups of foreign insects and not in prayer meetings.
Nothing prepared him for Emily Byrd Starr.
On the way to New Moon farm (how thrilling to think of a farm with its own poetic name!)with his gracious missionary hosts to meet their Canadian cousins Kunihito doubted the afternoon would be anything but ordinary tea taking. However upon arrival there was a slight commotion about cake ingredients and Kunihito was quickly introduced to the young lady of the house. He and said young lady were shooed out of doors and told to take a turn in the garden while the culinary calamity was attended to.
Miss Emily Starr of the Murrays gave him a cool appraisal betrayed only by the barely discernable twitch of her brow. Equally distant was her brusque tour of the New Moon lands. Kunihito was under the impression that Miss Starr had not been informed of her cousins' visit.
He did not trust his English or his Western manners to salvage the situation with any sort of grace so they continued their promenade in near silence until Emily stopped short.
“Oh,” her night-colored eyes widened then swiftly shuttered as they walked up a grassy knoll.
Kunihito followed her gaze and was similarly arrested by the sight of a short twisted pine tree seeming to keep watch over a little knot of lupins and lilies. His fingers itched for a brush and paper. The words of a poem dropped into his heart as a rain rippled a pond's surface. What calligraphy style would best capture the scene before him?
Miss Starr's fingers were likewise twitching and Kunihito finally mustered up the courage, the audacity to ask “Poem or painting?”
“I beg pardon, sir?” The cool mask was nearly reasserted.
“Sometimes one's fingers are greedy for a pen,” a blush began to tint Kunihito's cheeks as though he were a boy again. “I wished for paper and imagined you had a similar wish upon your countenance. My apologies.”
“You imagined correctly, Mr. Uchiwara,” said Miss Starr.
If his imagination was correct twice then he fancied that her tone was warmer now. Not the heat of the sun in summer, but of precious embers in winter that begged one to come closer. Kunihito was not audacious enough to presume that tone was an invitation. That did not mean of course that he did not cherish it.
The silence that fell upon them after that was companionable rather than ill-fitting. Back at the threshold of the New Moon farmhouse Miss Starr finally answered, “Poem, Mr. Uchiwara.”
Kunihito had never before been so distracted as he was during that afternoon tea. He had ten thousand things he wanted to ask Miss Starr and another ten thousand to tell her in return. A fellow poet was rare in small circle of acquaintance and even more dear across the ocean.
Much to his surprise at the end of the visit it was inferred that he would be welcomed by the inhabitants of New Moon should he found spare time in his itinerary. Indeed there was time that summer.
No one needed to know that the pages of his travel diary began to fill up with records of their conversations, fragments of poems – both hers and his - , as well as a very faithful description of New Moon. It wasn’t very long after meeting that they began to sit in Jimmy’s garden, getting their fingers stained with ink as they scribbled down all the things that came to mind.
She was the first to hear his dream of wanting to write a modern novel (which was a very different thing from a traditional tale in Japanese he explained). He was the rare soul that was told of Wind Woman.
Emily was rather gratified to hear about the honoring of the spirits and the concept of kami.
“It satisfies my soul to hear it,” she confessed one clouded twlight. “English lacks so many words for certain truths. It's not as though you can't see them in paintings or sense them in a book. Lacking words for them makes it rather difficult to explain to others.”
Kunhito started to understand what it was like to be dizzy with delight. Emily's appreciation of the world was a brighter, more splendored thing than any love confession he'd ever known.
“I am certain you have words in English that we do not in Japanese though we may have the same feeling,” he said. “I look forward to learning them.”
To say that neither of them gave a thought to a more than a summer of language exploration was a lie.
Kunihito was not imagining the far-off wistfulness in Emily's eyes that much he knew.
Had he poorer manners he might have told her what kind of kimono might suit her or that he would show her gardens beloved by poets and emperors for centuries. There were promises not seemly to give quickly, to make lightly.
“In Japanese,” he said suddenly one afternoon in Jimmy's garden. “We do not say 'to keep a promise' or 'to make a promise.'”
“What then do you do to your poor promises?” teased Emily.
“We guard them. We protect them. We defend them. They are treasures.”
Emily nodded, he fancied in understanding.
“If I were to create a promise between myself and another I would defend it all I had.”
She squeezed his hand. He hardly breathed.
“Were more people diligent about how they forge their promises the world would be happier perhaps.”
Her eyes held the shards of something shattered. Kunihito was astounded how fast, how fiercely he hated the person that broken an important promise to Emily and the guilt she felt over breaking a promise to another.
They didn't speak of promises again.
Not in so many words.
He made a gift of a small carved agate frog a few nights later.
“The word for frog sounds like the word for 'to return',” Kunihito said by way of explanation. “A frog can mean a wish for good fortune to return to you or the intention to return safely to somewhere important.”
Tracing the curves of the little figure Emily closed her eyes and smiled.