Monday, December 31, 2012

A somewhat raggedy year end

So, what kind of year was 2012 for you? Google’s doodle for today provides a starting point for clicking on all kinds of events from the year. Without Google, who would have known that June 6th was the 79th anniversary of the first drive-in movie? They’ve even given us a review of theyear, complete with a spot for adding your resolution for 2013.

For us here at the home of the big limb, it was the Year of the Houseguest. We had people staying with us nearly every month this year. From Alberta, Ontario, even Australia. Luckily, our little house is good at expanding to meet whatever needs we might have.

Work-wise, almost enough progress was made. Guest spots at the Inaugural Cascadia Poetry Festival and at City Council in Surrey were some of the highlights.

Travel was focused on our part of the world, with ventures into Washington State and our own Gulf Islands. A personal highlight (and the most hopeful story of the year) was getting to see the progress made at the Elwha Dam site in Washington State. Imagine, un-building a dam to reinstate habitat for salmon!

So, why the photo of the raggedy Canadian flag?

On too many fronts it seems our country is in trouble – mainly as a result of actions taken by the increasingly frightening Harper regime, er, government.

What used to be known as the Navigable Waters Protection Act serves as just one example. Where waterways used to be protected, as of this fall, most no longer are. Even as the need grows more urgent, standards for safeguarding the environmental keep getting weaker. 

And while we get less protection for environment, we get more prisons, more prisoners, more offenses requiring minimum sentences.

And though there is apparently money for prisons, cultural and heritage institutions get cutbacks. The National Library and Archives, the CBC.

No more Gun Registry, despite recent events in the US which suggest that having such safeguards in place might be a very good idea. After all, the registry came about after our own mass shooting, the one at L’EcolePolytechnique on December 6, 1989. 

And the scariest part in all these scenarios is the fact that so much of it is being done without a shred of public debate. 

Luckily we have grassroots organizations such as Lead Now and Change.Org Avaaz and Idle No More. Maybe through using tools such as these (and perhaps even donating to them), we can continue having some positive effects.  

So, not exactly a resolution, more of a wish. What I’d like most for 2013 would be finding some way to convince this government to remember who they are supposed to be here for – us. Because I can't imagine what shreds of sane governance might be left if we really have to wait for the next election in 2015. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

And to all a good night!

It looks a bit like Santa has landed in Hawaii -- all those orchids flirting with him. That's not quite the case. It's just that this year our Mos Craciun finds himself windowside, on our 'plants' table. By luck, all three orchids are in bloom. Even the African violet is still blossoming.
Tonight's supper will be the traditional (for our family, at least) Swedish meatballs, though no, we're not Swedish. They just taste good.
Whatever the holiday traditions at your house may be, I hope that you'll enjoy celebrating in the company of those you love and who love you.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Face it. It's been a dark week. All those little coffins. Senseless.
But tonight, while most of us in this part of the world are sleeping, the solstice will occur. Once again, the sun will appear to turn that proverbial corner in the sky, bringing us a little more light each day as we move again towards summer.
Inspiring even more hope than moving towards the light and warmth that the changing seasons bring is the belief that we are moving towards social transformation. I'm envisioning 2013 as the year when we too will 'turn that proverbial corner' and begin to see the light about how each of us can help bring about the changes that need to be made. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12 - 12 - 12

I've always loved 12 -- the number, that is. I even have a poem about it, explaining some of my reasons for admiring it the way I do. 

I also never understood how a number as beautifully elegant as 12 could, when multiplied by itself, result in a number known by such a disgusting term as ‘gross’. Who dreamed up that one?

But if today’s date isn’t beautiful enough in itself, I took the photo above earlier today – a lovely day expressing itself in an early display of spring, a hedge of bursting-into-blossom golden broom. 

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Han-Shan Project

Yesterday was yet another magical day in the forest. Thanks to poet Susan McCaslin, McLellan Park has been transformed into a gallery of poems.  

She took inspiration for her idea from Han-Shan, a 9th century Chinese poet who lived as a hermit

I strolled through, snapping photos of selected works (and words) that were hanging from branches or gently tied around trunks. As I wandered amidst the quiet, I couldn’t help but think that even the trees must be pleased by the efforts that have been made to protect this special place.

The project – and its cause – to preserve the McLellan Park forest has been picked up by the press, including Canada's national newspaper, the Globe and Mail. Poems and notes of support continue to arrive in McCaslin’s inbox.

Among the many poems posted (about 200), the closing stanza in a piece from Australian poet Ilka Blue Nelson stands out as saying so much about what this cause represents.
A tree stands
In memory of a time
Before greed forested the world. 
Monday night will be the meeting at which the Township of Langley’s council decides the forest’s fate. To keep apprised of news about the forest, visit WOLF's blog

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Salish Sea-change

Today is the day that new laws in Washington state come into effect.

 Last month, voters from that state took a stand on some (I believe) important issues -- same-sex marriage and marijuana laws.

The photo may be puzzling. I offer it only as a small indication of a different sort of attitude I've noticed down there. It's a picture I took on a ferry when we were travelling in Washington over the long weekend in November.

The run from Coupeville to Port Townsend isn't a long haul -- only about half-an-hour. Enough time to sort out a few pieces of a puzzle before heading back down to your car to drive off and go on your way.

The unfinished puzzle was just lying on the table and I couldn't resist. I couldn't walk past without matching up a couple of shapes. And then, like everyone else had before me, I left it for the next passerby to add to, or not.

And that's something I like. An atmosphere that allows me to do something if I want to.

The new marriage laws in Washington aren't telling me I have to marry someone of my own sex. Maybe that's why I love the approach in the wording of the proposal: Marriage for All.

Exactly. Why not be able to marry if you want to. 

And the new pot laws there don't force me to smoke up.

The thing that's so great is that if I want to do these things, I can. And, unlike in so many other places, I won't be arrested or sent to jail for having done so.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

The art of the book

One of the nicest things that happened this week was the reading and chapbook launch at the public library in North Delta. More than just a reading, as you can see from the photo, it was a celebration.

The event was the culmination of a workshop I led this fall on the topic of making a chapbook. It helped, of course, that it was such a terrific group -- 6 women and 2 men -- each writer with their own distinctive voice and style.

Although most of the books contained poetry (one was fiction, four linked short stories), the range of poems was remarkable -- from rhyming poems for kids with the words based on High Frequency Sight Words, to thoughtful reflections on family, the mundanities of daily life, the mysteries of defining one's relationship with God. One was inspired by the poems of Walt Whitman, and included several multi-media experiments.

One book was laminated (since it's for kids, good idea!), most were hand-sewn, though one was bound by a tidy row of black machine-stitching. Nice intersection of technologies! I especially liked the choice of colours offered in Zero to Sixty. It was hard to decide which one to pick. I was tempted to buy one of each.

Even though this workshop won't be repeated until fall of 2013, I'm already looking forward to it and wondering what surprises will result then.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Three score and ten

Seventy. If he hadn't died at 27, that's how old Jimi Hendrix would have been today.

The photos were taken at the shrine that is his gravesite, in Renton, Washington. Friends and I were taken there on a magical history tour last March, and when we left, all of us were buzzing, twanging our air guitars and singing Voodoo Chile (which my friend Paul likes to pronounce 'Voodoo Chili').

Paul then drove us further down the road, letting us know only that we were off to visit the graves of other luminaries. These sites turned out to be graves of the poet Denise Levertov and the memorable father-and-son, Bruce and Brandon Lee.

Then, while we were cruising the lanes of Lake View Cemetery on Seattle's Capitol Hill, what came on the radio, but Hendrix.

Here's a bit of a clip of what we heard that morning. Maybe not 'reverent' enough as cemetery music, but totally and completely appropriate.

Happy birthday, Jimi.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

I love my shirt

I love this shirt. Out of a closet overly full of this-and-that, it’s what I’d wear every day if I could. Once upon a time, there was even a song celebrating just such a beloved piece of clothing.

But aside from long-ago pop songs, why is it that I love it so much?

It’s soft. It feels good against my skin. It makes no demands in terms of fashion sense. It lets me feel like my normalest self, no pretension about being something or someone I’m not.

When it came into my life, it was nicely pre-worn. Broken in and not all like a brand-new thing, too stiff to hold me close the way I want a shirt to do. And the price was just right: free.

It came from one of my very favourite shops, the free store on Denman Island (second only to in my list of faves to the free store on Denman’s next door neighbour, Hornby Island). And how long ago was that? Nearly a decade ago, I am sure.

Despite the fact that the collar is severely frayed – in danger of removing itself from the body of the shirt altogether – or that the elbows are starting to go through, this remains my best and happiest-making piece of clothing.

Time to go shopping for a new shirt? Not on your life. Especially not with tomorrow being Buy Nothing Day.

For now, I plan to keep wearing my best shirt – as long and as carefully as I can.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A day on the bay

Late afternoon, early evening -- already nearly dark, after a perfect pre-winter day in Vancouver.

When I woke up this morning, it was six-barely-something and still full-on dark. But since I felt rested I put on the coffee and a lamp and started reading.

It wasn't too long before this happened.
How beautiful the dawn is
its slow stretch awaking
grey-eyed and soft, as if trying to remember
all the colours in the world
then placing them, one by each
their own leaf,

And maybe that's just what happens when you read Susan Musgrave too early in the day.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A cultural landmark

Earlier this month, I attended a Twisted Poets salon at Vancouver's Cafe Montmartre. Although it was a terrific event, featuring Diana Hayes and Taryn Hubbard, the evening was marred by the announcement that the venue would be closing by mid-month.

For years, this has been THE place for the arts -- book launches, open mic events, jazz performances, even painters in action. Readers and musicians from across the continent have performed here.

Only now, as with so many good things, it's coming to an end.

Tomorrow's Bohemian Caress looks to be the farewell event. All we can hope is that the owner Ali (who has done sooooo much for local artists, especially practitioners of the often-forgotten literary arts) will be able to recoup one of these days and open a new place that's as welcoming as the Cafe Montmartre has been.

Raise a glass and read a poem.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012


That's the direction we need to be moving in. But for a minute, I need to go back, to a memory that feels relevant.

Four years ago yesterday, I flew into Chicago --  for a final visit with my mother, who was dying.

She'd been mostly bedridden for a number of years and for the course of a couple of elections hadn't been given the opportunity to vote.

But 2008 was different. When my sweet sister the Libran discovered our mother's non-voting predicament, she pushed her sleeves up, got the paperwork going, then got on a plane and delivered the ballot in person.

Our mother not only got to vote, she lived long enough to see her candidate elected. And oh my, did her eyes shine as her man was met by the cheering throngs in Grant Park.

And oh dear, did my sister's and my eyes shine as well as our 83-year-old mother lifted her arm in a victory fist-punch.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Beauty and Bounty

I had a hard time deciding what to call this post. Although it's mostly about the bounty we always seem to discover in the forest, I can't ever manage to ignore its beauty.

We lucked into a gorgeous afternoon -- the first without rain in several days and drove out to one of our favourite forest spots. I'd packed a lunch, so it felt very festive, a celebration of the beauty in this lingering autumn we've had.

September and October (at least the first half) were too dry for mushrooms. Then, the second half of the month had seemed too harshly wet to go out. So today, the 'Goldilocks' day seemed just right.

We didn't find a big batch, but succeeded in finding enough chanterelles to have a beautiful meal and still have a few for drying, so no complaints on that front.

The best treat of the day was seeing the salmon still heading upstream to spawn. The video is short, but indicates how feisty these fish are, despite all the miles they've already had to travel.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Even our poor little Jack o' lantern was drenched.

I guess the weather must have had something to do with such a low turnout of Trick-or-Treaters. We had the lowest number ever -- 10. And 4 of those were teenaged girls, spunky enough to have made themselves costumes. My fave? The one I couldn't guess right: a zebra. Stripey.

Maybe next year we'll have to get sexier with our pumpkin-carving. To see some real dazzlers, click here.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Forest on chopping – er, auction – block

This past June saw news that a forest near Fort Langley was set to be auctioned off. An area described by a real estate agent as 'heavily treed' and a 'blank canvas' has begun attracting the attention of more than environmentalists.

It felt almost miraculous the way the heavy rains of the past few days relented yesterday, as that was the afternoon when artists, musicians, writers, and even a dancer performed in the forest of McLellan Park.

The goal of the event was to raise awareness of both the beauty and the plight of the area. Twenty-five acres of forest that has been deemed one-of-a-kind biologically in British Columbia is set to be sold off to raise funds for a new Recreation Centre in Aldergrove.

A rec centre is a good thing -- certainly a cause with the public in mind. However, there has to be a better way to find the money to finance construction of a building.

Face it, in 40 years (or maybe less), the rec centre will need to be replaced. Isn't that about the lifespan of most of our public facilities? Then, where will the money for that construction be found?

If McLellan Park is left undisturbed, in 40 years the forest will only be grander. And at the rate trees are being chopped these days, think of how much more valuable such a preserve will be.

If you'd like to express your thoughts on this to those who can change the outcome of the current plan, write a message to Mayor and Council Members of the Township of Langley.

If you'd like to ask the provincial government to get in on protecting this site, contact Langley MLA, Rich Coleman (

And if you believe this is a matter the Feds should be concerned about -- after all, they claim to be all about heritage preservation -- contact the area's Member of Parliament, Mark Warawa (

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mashed Poetics 12.5

Last night 10 poets got together and presented poems they'd written in response to Stevie Ray Vaughan's music. The album we riffed off of was Texas Flood. And while it's obvious we didn't get to play along with Double Trouble, we had the next best thing, a tribute band that came together for the occasion, the Love Struck Babies. 

The band (Neil Miskin on drums, Clint "Father Goose" Wilson on bass, and Trevor -- Spillious the Ridiculous -- on lead guitar and vocals) had played in Saskatoon, the same gig only with different poets. 

Here's a YouTube presentation from the Saskatoon performance, that city's Mighty Mike McGee, offering his interpretation of "Lenny" the song I got to do in Vancouver. 

What a night!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Inspiration: moving forward

One of these years I plan to figure out a way to go to every day of the Vancouver Writers' Festival. Once again, I have had to be satisfied with a single day's outing. Still, the time proved to be very well spent.

The afternoon session, A Long Walk to Truth, explored two very different takes on what might be called family stories. Deni Y. Bechard's book looks into the relationship he had with his very non-traditional father -- a man who was, among other things, a bank robber.

The other presenter, Carol Shaben, wrote a book that was a long time in coming -- about a plane crash in which her father was one of only four survivors. The two writers' work seemed to complement each other, but that may have had something to do with the skill of moderator Kirk LaPointe.

Walking in the rain and exploring Granville Island were also part of my day. But for me the real 'meat' of the festival was an evening presentation on Women and Literature. Not the usual festival presentation -- generally focused on an author's current book -- this was a discussion of a topic that's often ignored despite its being the proverbial elephant in the room: gender equality in the literary arts.

Anne Giardini, who hosted the event, had a world's worth of talented women on stage with her. They included Kate Mosse, founder of the prestigious Orange Prize (now transformed into the Women's Prize for Fiction), Australia's Gail Jones, noted Canadian author and activist Susan Swan, and Vancouverite Gillian Jerome.

Thanks to Jerome's work with CWILA, some startling statistics revealed that although women publish more books than men, the state of reviewing doesn't reflect this. Mosse and Jones bore witness to the parallel (and dismal) situation in their countries.

The discussion, of course, was broader than mere statistics, ranging to the selection of judges for contests, marketing and cover art (with -- gasp -- the 'decapitated woman' too often depicted). It felt as if some of the old fires of early feminism were being re-ignited, with a conversation that was not only lively and entertaining, but pointed and stirring.

As for me, the first small step I plan to take is to sign on to the CBC's current Canada Reads invitation to nominate books for their annual contest -- and this year to ensure that the book I suggest is one that was written by a woman.

To note: If you plan to nominate a book for Canada Reads, the deadline for doing so is this Monday, October 22nd.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Beginning of Others...

The other day saw me posting about things ending. Today's news is thankfully, much brighter. The labyrinth at Kwomais Point Park is another step closer to completion.

Despite the rains, a troupe of dedicated volunteers came out to set a raft of native plants into the area around the labyrinth (and the mosaic near the buildings).

Afternoon saw a small literary event, with winners of Semiahmoo Arts 'Summery Writing Contest' introduced. The five winners read from their work and received their prizes.

Evening saw a far more elaborate event called INvision.

Dancers, actors, poets, drummers, a cellist, improv artists, a painter (who painted a wedding dress -- yes, she created a wild design on a once-boringly-white wedding dress) and even a didgeridoo player.

As if all that wasn't enough of a celebration for the labyrinth, as we left the hall, we were greeted by a troupe of fire dancers. Spectacular!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The End of Things

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. To celebrate, we spent the morning at a gorgeous little Par-3 golf course. The weather was perfect, the setting unbeatable. The only part that wasn't good was the fact that this was to be the final day of play at Aquadel.

Yet another victim of what we like to call progress, all 18 holes are set for demolition and development.

Only then, when we got home and read this morning's news, we discovered that two more recreational venues are set to close.

The Ridge Bowling Lanes, a long-established spot where old and young, disabled and able, gather to socialize, is one of the sites slated for the bulldozer. Accompanying it, of course, is the stalwart art-cinema, the Ridge Theatre. How will these be replaced? What else, with condos.

In addition, the Granville 7 Cinema has just announced that it will be closing early in November. Does this mean the Vancouver International Film Festival will be forced to end as well?

Truly, with all the people being gathered into condominiums for densified living, it's difficult to figure where they're supposed to go for entertainment.

All of this reminds me of when they paved over our local 'little golf course' so they could build a mega-mall, with Walmart. If they'd moved the mall just two blocks east (where land was -- and still is mostly undeveloped), all those people in the hundreds of new townhouses and condos would have some walking trails, a miniature golf, a driving range, and a lovely greenspace area that was once a gorgeous place to walk or have a place to play golf.

The end of things? The end of too many good ones, at least. Y'know, maybe those Mayans were onto something after all.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Red means...

Autumn leaves across North America seem to be serving as yet another indicator of climate change. Trees are showing off an especially spectacular range of colours this year. Apparently, it’s owing to a combination of the dry conditions so many parts of the continent have endured combined with unexpectedly warm temperatures.

But the paranoid (and often victorious) side of my brain comes up with yet another theory – one that at least offers an explanation for the unusually brilliant shades of red we’re seeing around here.

Mid-September saw an overzealous Surrey developer engage in a weekend clearcutting spree. Even though neighbours alerted officials, by the time anyone in authority arrived, the damage had been done, with more than double the permitted area of land cleared of trees, including a chunk of federally protected salmon habitat.

And now the city’s ruling has come down against the developer – a tap on the wrist of just over $175,000 – and about $150,000 of that is a security deposit which will be returned if restoration work is completed in three years.

The actual fine for removing trees not covered in the original permit (the city says 14 extra trees were taken, the developer claims only 9) is only $25,400 – a pittance, and one that will surely be passed along to prospective home buyers. After all, such fines are often viewed as simply the ‘cost of doing business’.

But why, I wonder, is the fine so low? The City of Surrey’sTree bylaw specifies a fine ‘up to $10,000’ for each tree taken illegally. So why were these trees so grossly undervalued with fines levied at perhaps not even $2,000 each?

If this is how seriously Surrey takes its tree protection by-laws, it’s no wonder trees keep falling in the name of somebody’s definition of progress.

But oh yes, back to my theory about why the trees are turning such a bright red this year. It’s plain enough; they’re embarrassed by what’s happened – as should we all be.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Let's take the 'sub' out of suburban

My city, Surrey, BC, seems to be growing up. Frankly, it used to be considered almost the sub-basement of sub-urbia.

Lately, there've been more and more signs of its rising status. For one thing, it has an absolutely world class art gallery. Every month seems to see more and more cultural events taking place, especially my favourites, literary ones (see readings, to the right).

But the event that makes me proudest is the symposium that took place yesterday at the Surrey campus of Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

"Under-City: Writing the Suburban World" was an all-day symposium sponsored by the university's Creative Writing Department.

The day opened with a brief keynote by Diane Purvey, Dean of Arts. She said that she was "...excited by the energy this day represents." And she wasn't wrong.

The panels consisted of writers, publishers, art historians and my favourite "public intellectual", Michael Turner. Panelists in the photo are moderator Kevin Chong, poet Judy McInnes, writer (and Creative Writing Head at UFV) Andrea McPherson and Surrey writer Phinder Dulai.

The topics were engaging and thought-provoking. Best of all were the day's opportunities for networking and general exchange of ideas.

The only part I'm no longer sure of is the 'sub' prefix in suburbia. Somehow, its meaning (under) doesn't seem to fit, as these days Surrey seems to have come out into the light.

Because art -- in particular, the literary arts -- and along with it, a community of artists seems to be alive and well in Surrey. At last.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Books, beautiful books!

Because I'm getting ready to offer a workshop on chapbooks, I've been exploring as many ways as I can to make books that are beautiful. As part of the 'Outside the Box' fibre arts events taking place this month,   my local library sponsored a session on making tiny notebooks.

The presenter, Jo Yearsley, has won awards for her handmade books. The samples in the photo should convince you that she's earned these prizes. My favourite might be the travel journal she created. The six Scrabble letters (and Jo's trademark bag of tea) are such special touches. To get you in the mood for travel, the back cover holds a map.

To see even more of Jo's gorgeous creations, visit her website. You might even want to sign up for one of her kits or workshops.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Let's not go back

This week our Members of Parliament take on the almighty task of determining the moment when life begins. If you think that sounds presumptive, maybe even Godlike, I’m with you.

Yet our mostly Conservative Parliamentarians seem to believe that they, unlike the rest of us, have a hotline to Truth.

The physicians of Canada have suggested that the would-be legislation opens a back door to the recriminalization of abortion, an action that would leave Canadian women amongst the only women in what we like to think of as the ‘free world’ without the right to a safe abortion.

Remember, current laws don’t make abortion a procedure a woman must choose. Still, if someone determines the need for one, she is assured the security of a medical facility and doesn’t need to risk the horrors of back-room hotel room scrapings so many women were forced to endure less than 50 years ago.

If you’re brave enough to watch our elected officials parade their arrogance, tune in to the ongoing broadcast.

And if you haven’t already, please write to your MP, suggesting they get off this current high-horse and come back to where there’s plenty of down-to-Earth work that needs doing. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Offerings of the week

The pile above -- bits of stone and pine cones, fungus and tree branch -- was the collection of offerings left behind at the centre of Bethlehem Retreat Centre's labyrinth.

The various women in attendance over the week could often be seen walking the spiralling trail, seeking inspiration, inner peace or maybe just answers to questions.

I love the way our unplanned arrangement turned out. But then, that seems to be just another of those mysteries presented by the very idea of labyrinth-walking.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On retreat

Beside the lake, here at the Bethlehem Retreat Centre, the world is calm.

And that seems to be enough.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Another naked emperor?

Last year parliamentary page Brigette DePape walked down the aisle of Parliament and held a sign bearing those very words. She was fired from the position, but in turn was offered a job by Michael Moore’s organization. Clearly, she knows how to get a message out.

This past weekend, on the eve of Quebec’s provincial elections, a small airplane towed a banner advertising a website, Stephen Harper Nous Deteste [Stephen Harper Hates Us]. The RCMP are reported to have had the plane grounded.

The story doesn’t mention who exactly gave the order, or where it might have originated. It does appear though that the RCMP’s claim of the plane being in violation of Ottawa air space was likely false. But regardless of where the order originated, the action taken is one that doesn’t bode well for freedom of expression in Canada.

Earlier this week, I read an item that spoke to the dangers of having a leader with too much control. Best I can do is offer my own paraphrase: When leaders ensure that people cannot speak out against them, the fabric of that society is threatened, especially when that society is one that proclaims itself to be free and democratic.

I’m left wondering who might next have their voice muffled for daring to point out our emperor’s nakedness?

Saturday, September 01, 2012

More than the usual 'haircut'

As my blog profile notes, I live in a house that has trees all around it. In amongst the mostly Western Red cedars, there’s a tall and graceful hemlock and proudest of all, a Sitka spruce.

Yesterday, when the arborist came for the trees’ semi-annual haircut, the spruce got much more than its usual summer trim.

You see, our neighbourhood’s changing – from the settled-in place it’s felt like for the years that we’ve lived here. It’s been common enough practice for the not-so-old older homes (1970s vintage) to be gutted and renovated, but now it seems that’s no longer enough. Today’s new neighbours want the old homes gone, so the noisy crunch of bulldozers has become an all-too-common sound.

Sadly, for me – and for many of the longtime neighbours – the roar of bulldozers is now generally accompanied by the grinding of chain saws and shredders.

The property next to us has sold and plans for the new, bigger house mean that three large trees – a Douglas fir, a hemlock and another Sitka spruce – out on the lane will be going. Further, we understand that a large heritage oak will be drastically cut back, and our own majestic Sitka has had to be pruned along one side.

We’d alerted the new neighbour to our arborist’s arrival and invited him to observe with us what was going on. All seemed well enough while the cutting took place – we even let him suggest some branches higher up than originally planned.

Only then, about 20 minutes after the job was finished, the new neighbour came by with yet another request (not for me – he’d only discuss such lofty matters with my husband): that the branches needed to go back even further towards the trunk, and that more branches from higher up needed cutting.

Fortunately, it wasn’t just my husband who said no. The arborist stepped in, saying that he’d already taken more than had been planned. He further pointed out (because he knows the city bylaws) that plenty had been taken to comply with building regulations and that the tree could not sustain further cutting without causing damage.

The spruce remains standing tall, protecting us from sun and wind and weathers of all sorts, as do the three tall trees along the laneway. Still, it makes me nervous, every time I go out on an errand, fearful of what kind of damage I might find when I get home.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

How like a summer's day

Pandora’s Collective has done it again – pulled off an amazing day of poetry in the park. This year’s Summer Dreams Literary Arts Festival was held at Vancouver’s John Hendry Park at Trout Lake, and even the weather was perfect.

There were way too many performers (three stages, simultaneous events) to list, so I offer you a photo of the highly entertaining Al Mader. Pictured with one of his personalized, sort-of-musical musical instruments (another was a piece of driftwood that looked and ‘played’ like a saxophone), he’s entertaining us with his particular variety of spoken word.

Among his most memorable pieces was “Dead Man’s Pants” – about the treasures one can find at second-hand shops. Or, the one so many of us went away humming (it shared its tune with “Old Man River”), “Old Men’s Eyebrows” which yep, as you might have guessed, just keep on growin’…

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Summer happens

Too many lazy days this month, too many days with inconvenient or nonexistent online access. But hey, who needs an excuse to take a holiday?

Maybe now that the temps have started to cool, I'll be back where I belong, out on the big limb...

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Infamy does not equal fame

I’m tired of news stories telling me about guys who’ve gone amok and shot up a crowd of people they don’t even know. Even more so, I’m tired of hearing their names, seeing their faces.

I can’t help but think that too many commit their horrid crimes strictly for some sick chance at instant fame.

It used to be that fame required a certain amount of talent and took a number of years to achieve. Fame sometimes came only after one’s death – Emily Dickinson, Vincent Van Gogh.

But now, in our age of instant-everything, the opportunity for immediate fame seems to lie only a few rounds of ammo away.

Today, the 67th anniversary of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, seems a good day to remember victims. Simon Partington, Sarah de Vries, Jessica Ghawi – those names are more important to remember than the names of their murderers.

Maybe if we’d stop naming the perpetrators of crimes, not splashing their images all over the Internet, tv and print publications – maybe some of them wouldn’t bother taking their pathetic shots at unearned, ugly kinds of fame. Who knows, they might even decide to do something positive.

So, why the nasturtium as image for this particular rant? Ironically, in the language of flower-meanings, the nasturtium is symbol of victory in battle. But maybe remembering victims instead of perpetrators of crime would be a kind of victory.

The reds in this plant on my deck are so doggone wildly red, and their randomness amongst the paler blooms and greenery is not unlike the negative lottery that seems to determine today’s unsuspecting victims. And its straggly legs seem a good reminder of our interconnectedness with each other. If we take the time to look for it, even the simplest, most easy-to-grow summer flower can offer a kind of lesson worth considering.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Kitchen Olympics

Aside from hefting jugs of olive oil or the occasional bag of flour or rice, there isn't any weightlifting around here. As for any running records that might be getting broken, the aisles of the supermarket provide about the only track I'm seen racing around these days.

But Friday was another marathon of berry picking. A few errant raspberries made for an interesting warm-up pick -- more walking and looking than actual plucking. Still, I ended with a few pounds of fruit, enough to fill a 3-litre ice cream bucket.

The day's real bonanza was our beautiful BC blueberries. Big and fat and sweet, they rolled off the branch, plunking into the bucket like soft machine-gun rat-a-tats.

But then, what to do with them all? This is where the Olympian efforts kick in.

Freezing on trays is easy, not strenuous at all. Plenty are now in bags in the freezer for the winter. A sweatier endeavour turned out a batch of 25 blueberry tarts -- treats to take to a Saturday night party. The ones that wouldn't fit on the plate will make a nice dessert for Sunday's supper.

As for those Olympic rings, they and more of their buddies contributed their efforts to produce 10 jars of jam -- a nifty combination of blueberries and raspberries.

No medals awarded, but plenty of satisfaction, and even some Christmas gifts now ready for December.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Fireworks night in Vancouver

Ah, Vancouver, there are some things that are just sooo right about the place. One of those is the annual Celebration of Light.

People started filling the beaches early in the day, some even staking out their spots with mini-tents. By sunset, it looked as though every inch was occupied.

Even the bay was filled with boats full of onlookers.

Saturday's show was presented by Vietnam. The remaining shows, Wednesday and Saturday, will feature Brazil and Italy.

The video below provides a little sample. If your speakers are on high, be prepared for a blast!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Where it all began...

One hundred and fifteen years ago, Amelia Earhart was born in this room. No claims are made for this being the birthing bed, as the furniture in the Earhart house has mostly been replaced over the years. Still, standing in this room, with the sun shining in from the East, I suspect it might be quite a lot how it looked the day Amelia was born.

The window looks out over the Missouri River, a view that's mostly sky, a view I like to think might have inspired the young Amelia.

She spent much, though not all, of her growing-up time in this house, a home that's been converted to a museum in her honour. In the back yard, there's a re-creation of a wild-looking 'slide ride' she and her sister Pidge rigged up. So much for proper little turn-of-the-previous-century little ladies.

Today, Amelia is still in the news, as the TIGHAR research team has come to the end of its current search at the tiny island of Nikumaroro.

When my mother was dying, she told me that she was also interested in Amelia Earhart -- that she remembered as a little girl, listening to the radio at suppertime, for news of the famous woman flyer who was missing. So, I guess it's in my blood. Even when Amelia's gone from the radar of others, she'll remain one of my heroines, I am sure.

If you're quick about it, and click on Google today, you'll see that even they are observing Amelia's birthday.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Remembering Jack

Had he lived, Jack Layton would have turned 62 today.

The photo was taken at a fundraiser event -- a backyard barbecue where Jack visited and chatted with everyone in attendance.

What a far cry from the barbecue event I stopped in at on Saturday, one sponsored by my always-elusive Member of Parliament. He kept himself surrounded by such a phalanx of worshippers, it felt impossible to talk with him or even ask a question. The thinly disguised security guard hovered so relentlessly, I finally gave up and headed out on my errands. Such a difference from the event with Layton, so much higher a profile official than my local pretender-to-power.

Ontario poet Penn Kemp is editing a book of memories about Layton. Quattro Books has scheduled its publication for next spring. For info about how to submit to this anthology (before the end of August), click here.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A place of vision

I suppose it doesn’t look like much – a grassy bit of clearing in the woods. And right now, that’s pretty much all it is. But come autumn, this will be home to a place for inner vision, a labyrinth.

The setting, Surrey’s Kwomais Point Park, used to be a church campground. But, luckily for our community, when the church decided to close the camp, the city moved to acquire the land before it could get rezoned for pricey condos. For that, a loud hurrah, for meeting the needs of the people!

Now, in conjunction with two groups involved with hospice work -- one that's local and one from Vancouver -- the city is going to construct a labyrinth in the park.

The plans look great, as the large trees will be preserved and native plantings will be used to complement the setting. Best of all, the coils of the labyrinth will be wide enough to accommodate wheelchair users.

I’m looking forward to being able to use this nearby site for quiet meditation. In amongst the trees, with a peekaboo view to the sea, it should provide much in the way of deep inward vision, and maybe even some creative inspiration.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Amelia Earhart, where did you go?

Today marks 75 years since the famous aviatrix disappeared. She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were nearly at the end of their around-the-world flight. But something went wrong.

Despite a huge search, they were never found.

But now, a team is setting out on an excursion that may support one of the many theories concerning her disappearance.

The group will explore the area surrounding Nikumaroru, a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific. It's a spot where it's believed her plane may have crashed.

Today's photo shows one of my favourite cups, one from Amelia's birthplace museum, which I visited in April of 2011. It also shows my chapbook of poems about her, poems that follow a route first planted in my brain by Arthur Kopit's play, Chamber Music. He places an Amelia Earhart character in an asylum, a plight I found impossible to resist.

I'm looking forward to following this story. With today's sophisticated methods of DNA testing, any remains that might be there could surely be identified.

Oddly, one story I've heard about Amelia is that she wasn't even on the plane for that fateful leg, but that she'd been replaced, as the ditch was planned -- all in an elaborate ruse that would permit the real Amelia to escape to a live of privacy. Far-fetched? Who can say.

Kopit turned 75 this year as well. Maybe it really is time for someone to settle the speculations once and for all. The expedition is scheduled to last for only ten days, so any answers they find will be showing up soon -- maybe even with some resolution in time for Amelia's birthday, July 24th.


Saturday, June 30, 2012

Half a league, half a league

When I woke up this morning, those words were galloping through my brain. I’ve been trying to finish a couple of poems that feature horses, so there was at least a seed of logic to the voice’s appearance. Then, over coffee, I found myself thinking about today’s date, so before long the phrase started translating itself into ‘half a year, half a year…’

Still, I knew I needed to be sure about the ‘half a league’ line, so I Googled it. Ah yes, of course – “Charge of the Light Brigade”. A further click, this time on Wikipedia, informed me that years after “Charge” had been written, Kipling wrote a poem that honoured the survivors of that dreadful encounter.

Yesterday, I met another survivor. No one from the Light Brigade, to be sure, but a man who’d been a POW in Asia during WWII.

It was one of those bump-into-a-person things, something I was led to on the strength of his personalized license plate. He was kind enough to not seem to mind talking with a stranger, a woman in a parking lot asking about the significance of the letters on his bumper.

I learned that he’s 92 (and still an imposing six feet – maybe more) but that when he’d been released from the camp he’d weighed only 68 pounds. Skeletal. He also told me that all the survivors had been told they’d never live past 50, that their bodies had been too damaged by the experience. Yet here he is, nearly twice times 50. So much for what ‘they’ know.

Kids are all warned these days about speaking with strangers. Even adults aren’t always responsive to a friendly hello. Maybe we’d all feel more secure – even happier – if we’d chance the occasional chat with a stranger. You might find your life a little richer for having taken the risk.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Solstice early, solstice celebrated

Readers of this blog will know I usually post something in observance of the Solstice. I often refer to the ‘sun angel’ who appears with first light on my front door. This year, I was caught a bit off guard by the longest day arriving a day earlier than I’d expected it, so wasn’t up to take that dawnish photo. Still, the afternoon sky held its own version, an image I like to think of as a ‘sky angel’.

As far as the technical aspects of Solstice go, others can explain it much more clearly (and more thoroughly) than I can. To learn more, click on this link to the brainiacs at National Geographic.

Because this longest day has also brought some very welcome (and needed) sun and warmth, I’m tossing in this little poem, part two of a triptych of mine.

Hope is

an orange balloon
tied onto a skinny wrist

ever so slightly


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Junuary at the Market

As much as I’d like to claim that term as one of my own invention, the word isn’t original. I spotted it in an article in the Vancouver Sun, part of their story about how this is turning into the coldest June on record.

I believe it. When I read the story, my sweater and I felt affirmed – maybe even a bit warmer – knowing that our chilliness wasn’t one of those ‘just-me’ things.
The White Rock Farmers’ Market is nearly always drafty, as it’s situated in a man-made wind tunnel, tucked in between some less-than-beloved high-rise buildings. The wind isn’t usually enough to deter shoppers, but it seemed that today’s combination of wet and cold did exactly that. I heard several vendors talking about how it was hardly worth opening their stall today. This was lucky for me, I suppose, as the baker was more much more willing than usual to let me quibble over the price of the bread and goodlets I wanted.

I’m hoping that this isn’t the kind of weather we need to get accustomed to. Still, I can’t help but think of that poem by bill bissett, the one that cautions: “summr starts in july ths yeer.” With Solstice arriving later in the week, I’ve got my fingers crossed for some sun and warmth – and soon.