Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Reflections on Cascadia

It’s been nearly a month since the Cascadia Poetry Festival in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Even though the concept of Cascadia has been part of me since the mid-’80s, this particular gathering made it real for me in a way I hadn’t quite believed before.

It felt like a gathering of the tribes – a coming-together with shared purpose and goals – one that extended well beyond the bounds of poetry.

During the first few days at home, I was often on the verge of tears. That’s how stirred my emotions were.

And this wasn’t simply because I wasn’t sure when I would next (if ever) see some of the friends who’d been in attendance, though that could certainly have played a part in my reaction.

It was more that my soul had been stirred by ideas that had been presented. Because it was a poetry festival, many of the ideas on the table focused on language. But the depth of the ideas – how some of the presenters linked language into the very bedrock of our region – this digging down somehow reached into me.

If I could put this into words, I would. Even with this much time, I still can’t express all that I want to. Regardless of that, the knowledge remains in me – or maybe it’s only the idea of the knowledge that seems to reside inside. 

And maybe these thoughts will stay there, just out of reach – it feels a bit like trying to put salt on the tail of the bird in the garden.

For now, I can only say, I plan to keep following that bird.

Postscript: This past weekend, while visiting the beach and lighthouse at Point No Point in Washington with friends, a man saw my shirt and recognized it, shouting as greeting, “Cascadia!” 

So no, it’s not just me. The dream is real. 

Tuesday, May 05, 2015


Yesterday marked 85 years for Nancy Drew books.

Since I still have a few of those old books from yesteryear (a term I’m pretty sure I first heard on The Lone Ranger) I decided to try reading one, The Hidden Staircase.

It turns out, not surprisingly, for a book published in 1930, to be full of words that have long gone out of use – and many beyond the predictable ‘roadster’ so often mentioned in Nancy Drew lore. Two easy examples are davenport and sofa. We know what they mean, but does anyone still use them?

Technology references nabbed my attention, as in this passage where she’s received a gift from a friend with a farm: “Nancy carried the chicken and the eggs to the kitchen and placed them in the electrical refrigerator.” Hard to think of a time less than a century ago when an icebox, complete with a block of the cold stuff delivered by the iceman was more the norm than an 'electrical refrigerator'.

Messages are sent via mail or the now-forgotten telegram. Entertainment consists of reading or conversation, or as Hannah Gruen (the Drews’ housekeeper) makes a special request, “Miss Nancy, if you don’t mind, I’ll go to a moving picture show…”  

Travel of any distance is by train. Not everyone has a phone in their home, say nothing of in their purse or pocket.

Less charming than these depictions of a seemingly more carefree life is that of the not-so-nice ‘negress’ who serves as the villain’s accomplice. Her speech is written out in a hideous dialect, supposedly a Southern accent and is riddled with poor grammar.

On the other hand, Nancy’s vocabulary – even descriptions of action involving her are bloated with inflated words: “So this was the home of Nathan Gombet, Nancy ruminated. She could not help but feel that the dark, uninviting aspect of the structure provided an abode singularly in keeping with the sinister character of its master.” Whew! And I read this when I was a kid?!

But even the ever-noble Nancy runs into trouble now and then – one might even call it prejudice, based on the fact that she’s female. When she tries to convince the sheriff that he must arrest the evil Gombet, he brushes her off, and only takes her seriously when she identifies herself as the daughter of attorney Carson Drew. That makes all the difference and sets him and his deputies into action. To her credit, Nancy’s reply to him is delivered “sarcastically.”

So, maybe there was more to those mysteries of hers than mere diversions for a rainy afternoon.

Yet even if she isn't always sneaking in feminist messages, it’s hard not be at least somewhat charmed by her, typified by this description: “Nancy Drew turned this question over in her mind as she sat propped up with pillows in a corner of the big davenport, the very picture of a pretty girl in a brown study over some knotty problem.” Oh, my, oh sigh. 

Saturday, May 02, 2015


Aside from that word's most obvious meaning -- related to a labyrinth or maze -- it also means convoluted or confusing. While the labyrinth in the image above is another in the mode of the traditional Chartres pattern, it is nowhere near as confusing to follow it as it is to find where I'm going here in the city of Nanaimo, B.C.

Many of the streets here have a change-of-name for no apparent reason. Comox Road becomes Bowen Road. Terminal Avenue becomes the Island Highway. Bastion appears to become Fitzwilliam before it transforms into Third. I guess this constant changing of name is just something one has to get used to.

I'm visiting the city for the third convergence of the Cascadia Poetry Festival, a celebration of a bio-region, of poetry, and I guess, of a west coast way of thinking.

Much of the festival is based at Vancouver Island University, a campus that mostly leaves me confounded. Even the parking lots seem tortuously convoluted. Still, the setting is gorgeous, especially now that so many springtime blossoms fill the air with their potpourri of scents.

But the main reason for my posting the labyrinth image is that today is the seventh annual World Labyrinth Day. Because not everyone has access to taking an actual walk in an outdoor labyrinth, several other opportunities are available online -- a virtual labyrinth walk and even patterns for making your own finger labyrinth.

And speaking of finger labyrinths, the Bethlehem Retreat Centre (here in Nanaimo, BC) has recently opened a finger labyrinth museum, an exhibit that's bound to show up soon among Nanaimo's widely varied tourist attractions.

In the meantime, I plan to stick with the convolutions of mind offered by poetry.