Saturday, December 31, 2016

A tradition of keeping non-traditional traditions

The end of the year -- a time for thought, evaluation, and maybe reconsideration of things that may no longer be of value.

This Christmas I've been quietly examining some of the holiday traditions we practise here in the 'tree fort' behind the cedars.

Bottom-line is I'm pretty much a traditionalist, even if some of those traditions are a bit non-traditional or at least not conventional ones.

As an example, our Christmas Eve tradition means that quite a few people -- family and friends -- come over for a big supper. The menu has remained fixed for decades: Swedish meatballs with egg noodles. And no, we're not Swedish. Nor is anyone in the circle of diners who gather around the table that night. There's a story behind the meatballs, of course, but because everyone in the vicinity of the table groans if I even begin to mention it, know that you too shall be spared this retelling.

The Christmas tradition includes way too many sweets, with baking starting days before the big event. Most of these are confections I make every year -- butter tarts, cinnamon cookies, chocolate-dipped apricots (that have been soaking in brandy since November).

There's even tradition with these, as the butter tart recipe was given to me by my former mother-in-law and the formula for the cookies came down from my Grampa Jim. He was a baker in a hospital and the surviving recipe is one that's been cut down from the mammoth proportions he needed for the hundreds he made. The apricots, though I've made them for many years, carry less mystique. I'm pretty sure I found those in a Woman's Day or Family Circle, magazines where I often took quiet refuge when my kids were growing up. (And I'll admit to some surprise that both of these publications still exist, perhaps providing inspiration or escape to some other harried mother.)

One tradition I've always tried to carry on (besides making a donation to the food bank) is to ensure that everyone in the family gets a toy for Christmas -- this despite the fact that all of us are now 'too old' for toys.

This year, my kids saw to it that this tradition applied to me, with both of them giving me a fantastic toy -- my very own Lego. It's one of those spectacular 'idea sets' -- the Yellow Submarine, complete with four Beatles and a Jeremy. It took a while to assemble the 550 or so pieces, but the time was so relaxing, I loved every minute. It helped that the parts were divided into five bags, complete with warning to not open the next bag until all the bits from the previous one had been used. Reviews of the set make it look like just about everyone who got one of these has had fun with it.

So, what did I learn from playing with Lego? Probably the most valuable part of the gift was that it forced me to 'play' at something with no consequence whatsoever. And maybe the best part of that experience was that looking at the finished submarine still makes me smile, maybe even makes my shoulders go down a little bit. So maybe the tradition I most want to add to my list of non-traditional traditions is the resolve to do something mindless more often, to remember the importance of play.
And with that I say, On to the new year!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

On with the light!

Yesterday marked the Solstice -- the first official day of winter for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere. For the rest of the planet, it's now officially summer, and time to crank up the barbie, not the furnace.

It also would have (should have) been Frank Zappa's 76th birthday. A friend recently sent me a link to a bizarre performance of Frank playing a bicycle as part of one of his fantastic compositions.

But even more bizarre than making music on a bicycle is the raft of 'fake news' we've seen of late. Yesterday's example was a widely circulated story that apparently had no scientific basis, claiming that this year's solstice would bring "the longest night in 500 years." While the hyperbolic nature of the headline should have been enough to raise caution flags, many sources (including plenty of supposedly trustworthy news sites), gave it a prominent spot in their coverage of the changing of the season. I can only hope the announcement that solar energy is now cheaper than wind power isn't another such made-up story.

I suppose 'fake news' is merely an offshoot of the term that's been deemed by the Oxford Dictionary as word of the year: post-truth. That word may indeed be all-too-relevant for the times in which we live, though I'm more inclined to go with Merriam-Webster's word for the year: surreal.

Who was it -- supposedly the ancient Chinese -- who gave us the curse: May you live in surreal times.

Or, if that doesn't sound quite right, let's choose a blessing instead: Let there be light -- and let there be solar power to provide it.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Wintry thoughts

This was the view out the back door this morning. Fresh snow adding its weight to the snow that's been here for a week or so already. It's a far cry from the way the same space looks during the summer, verdant with all those salad fixin's.

In some ways, I suppose such a "Christmasy view" should put me into a bright and cheery holiday mood. In other ways, I'll admit, it depresses me. The negative effect comes when I think about the homeless, all too many of whom surround us. Where do they go when the weather's like this?

And even more depressing is the numbers that keep rolling in with just about every day's news, how many more overdoses can there be in a single night?

The fentanyl crisis has led me to a longer piece of writing -- one I'm still working on, one I'm hoping may find a broader audience than this little blog, one that might even help change things for the better. While words seem to be the only defence I have against any of these horrific situations, there are certainly too many days when words are nowhere near enough.

Yet I'm not sure what I can do beyond seeking words. And where to look for them, but to the garden -- even in winter -- for encouragement and inspiration.

Especially to the hardiest green, the kale. A lesson in survival, to be sure.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

To market, to market...

Today was the last day for the local Farmers' Market -- at least for 2016. Because it's December, there wasn't much available in the way of produce, but the vendors made up for that with trinkets, crafts and a huge assortment of baked goods. There were also plenty of jars of jam, jelly and juice -- the traditional preserves resulting from summer's bounty.

I was lucky enough to get there just in time to get the last dozen eggs from my faithful supplier. She's kind enough to come into town during the winter so we don't have to resort to store-bought (tired) ones.
The marketplace (indoor this time of year) was festive, with people buying poinsettias and extending early Merry Christmas wishes to each other.

Even for a humbugger like me, the carols (unlike the annoyingly tinny ones at the mall), played on an accordion, helped set the tone of neighbourly warmth.

The ritual of the farmers' market is an example of community at its best. Come May, when it's back outside, we'll be there Sunday mornings -- even if not 'to buy a fat pig.' And as always, while we go about choosing our fruit and vegies we'll chat and hug and laugh with each other, recognizing that even if we don't live next door each other, we're neighbours.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Anniversaries and observations

It was 75 years ago that the attack on Pearl Harbor took place. And this week, the world might have moved a few steps closer to peace. Baby steps, I suppose they might have to be called. Still. Even small progress always seems worth noting.

In summer President Obama visited Hiroshima. Now Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting Pearl Harbor. Although neither man is apologizing for sins of the past, Abe did say, "We must never repeat the tragedy of the war" and made a commitment to that stance.

Now if the U.S. could make a similar commitment, perhaps the rest of the world would fall into line with that kind of thinking. How's that for an early Christmas wish?

As for the photo of the man in uniform, it's one I've posted on this blog of mine before. Nonetheless, it's important enough that I'm putting it up there again. It's my dad. And today's the day he would have been 98. In uniform on account of events all those years ago at Pearl Harbor, the day he would have been turning 23.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Yet another pipeline

Only I'm not about to protest this particular pipeline, as its purpose is innocent. It's not for transporting oil or the dreaded bitumen. Instead it's to transport water.

The city has determined that some of the pipes in our neighbourhood are aging and in need of being replaced. So that's what they're doing -- digging a ditch and taking out the old ones, replacing them with new ones. The project goes all the way up our street and around the corner for now.

Water. Without it, we wouldn't be here at all.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

When is a promise not a promise?

When it's a political lie.

I had misgivings about Justin Trudeau's promises last May when announcements about the Kinder Morgan project started leaking out (sort of like a pipeline or a tanker might?).

I don't think I'm the only one who remembers that he said, "Governments may be able to issue permits, but only communities can grant permission." If you consider the massive protest that took place barely over a week ago, it's clear that the community has not given its permission.

Today's news conference contained a surprise that almost no one was expecting. Maybe waiting until December 19th, as had been the previous understanding, would have seen any announcements overshadowed by pronouncements scheduled to come from the US Electoral College. It seems more likely that this was just some smelly little political game of see-saw meant to keep everybody happy. Sort of.

This nasty surprise bombshell sends an undeniable message. Yes, we need to go back to the mountain, even if it means as it did two years ago, that we'll be standing in the rain.

And if that doesn't work, come the next election, I think we'll all be warier of buying anyone's promises, even if they're coming from a guy who once seemed worth believing.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The joys of being a generalist

I've never been very good at restricting myself to any single discipline. Maybe that word 'discipline' still carries too many negative connotations. Or maybe I simply prefer to live a free-range sort of life.

One way this open-ended set of interests pays off is that it's nearly impossible to be bored. And since I've come home from my retreat, with all the levels of catch-up that;s entailed, the days certainly been filled in an almost wild range of ways.

Thursday night was another in our local literary series, Readings by the Salish Sea, with the distinguished guest Anosh Irani reading from his latest novel, The Parcel.

The book is no easy read. Not because the writing is difficult to understand. If anything, the scenes he creates are all too clear. But the unpleasantness of 'breaking in' a young girl to a life of prostitution is distasteful, to be sure. Still, it's writing that's brave and, despite the topic, beautiful.

In addition to reading, he was generous in answering questions from the audience.

If you're wondering why there are paintings behind him, it's because the event was held in a gallery, one currently featuring the work of Vojislav Morosan, an artist who meticulously documented so many local scenes. Considering how fast so many of these vistas are changing (thank you, high-rise developers), it's a good thing we have these paintings as reminders.

As for the rest of the weekend, it's been another fit-for-a-generalist mix, one that included a visit to the megalithic Cineplex in Langley. Despite the fact that I'm a Harry Potter fan -- I own (and have read) all of the books and have seen all the films, more than once -- the newest offering from J.K. Rowling was a letdown. Even Eddie Redmayne seemed flat in his role as the admittedly somewhat-wimpy character he played. From minute to minute, I wasn't sure whether he was going to transform into the Danish Girl or maybe Stephen Hawking.

I'll admit that part of last night's entertainment, Bad Grandpa, was quite a few notches lower, though I'll also admit that I laughed so  hard I cried.

When a show comes on with this many warnings, you know there's bound to be more than a few politically-incorrect elements.

As for today, I'm doing yet another two very different things.

First, I'm heading to a pottery show, where I'm hoping I might find a special something as a Christmas gift. After that I'm joining (at half-time) a group of friends who still celebrate the Grey Cup.

And if all of this doesn't qualify me as a generalist, I don't know what might.

This unwillingness to declare a pigeon-holed category of interest once cost me a pretty decent book reviewing gig. But do I have regrets over that? Not a chance, especially as once that editor changed, I was back on the roster.

Even my degree attests to who I am: Bachelor of General Studies. For now at least, curiosity remains my guiding star.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Springtime in November

I know. I should know better than to make any such cheery proclamations. It’s just that when the weather is perfect (perfect enough to spend the morning in my deck chair, reading and sipping at coffee), it’s something to celebrate.

I’m also celebrating my annual writing retreat. It’s a time I anticipate with pleasure, not only for the uninterrupted writing time, but for the evenings of camaraderie among close friends.

This year’s setting is new to us, in a pastoral setting on North Pender Island. The sheep are far enough away that I don’t ever hear them. As for the chickens (and crows), they’re another matter. But being natural sounds, they’re never a disturbance.

There are several indicators that despite the sunny hours, it isn’t really spring, just some lucky autumn breaks before colder weather arrives. One of those indicators is this year’s bounteous supply of apples. We’ve been invited to help ourselves to them, so the forager in me has taken advantage of that. I’ve harvested two different varieties – and they’re waiting in bags for when I depart.

When I leave here I know that I’ll be leaving with more than apples. As I always do at the end of a retreat, I’ll come away refreshed and renewed – and I hope ready to face the many changes we are all bound to experience over the coming months.

I plan to do my best to keep some of these sunny images in mind, trusting that they will carry me through whatever dark times may be ahead.

As for now, I’m glad that I’ve come back indoors, as I can hear the start of yet another round of the inevitable November rains. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Seeking wisdom

Kurt Vonnegut was born on November 11th, 1922.

One of my long-held traditions was to write a letter to him on that day.

He never replied to any of those letters (heck, I don't even know whether any of them reached him), but I kept up the tradition for many years. Much, I suppose, the way I keep this little blog. Sending words out into the universe without knowing whether they might ever connect with anyone.

In light of all that's occurred this week, I'm writing to him again. I just wish that this time, he'd be able to respond, as I'm sure we could use some of his wise advice.

Although, who knows, he might just go along with the down-home homely advice offered in the sign.

And yes, I wrote some of those letters long enough ago that I used a typewriter, thus the likely now-jarring font:

Dear Mr Vonnegut, 

If you were alive, you'd be turning 94. A somewhat creaky age, I suspect. Not an impossible age, but one where I expect that you'd be slowing down. Nonetheless an age when your sense of wisdom would likely be keener than ever. 

Quite a few of us have had our world upended this week. We were expecting one thing to happen, but instead the opposite occurred. 

The reactions I've heard about have included crying (in all its various manifestations, from tears streaming in shocked silence to tears accompanied by sobbing and even shrieking), vomiting, or going to bed and pulling up the covers. 

Apparently so many Americans wanted to know how to emigrate to Canada that our government's immigration website crashed.  

Then yesterday, the president-elect met with the current president of the US, Barack Obama, a fellow I'm sure you've heard about even as far as Tralfamadore or wherever it is that you might now be. 

If the news cameras can be trusted anymore, the new guy came away from that meeting looking a lot like the kid who's been taken to the firehall (I know how you loved firehalls and fire engines) after being caught playing with matches. Sobered right up. Or, to put it in Bondian terms, "shaken, not stirred." *

The only positive spin I can manage on this is that it's just part of the cycle of big change that's been coming for such a long time. Again, I look to thoughts Tralfamadorian as I do my best to come to an acceptance of the reality of now. 

One of your writer-colleagues, Toni Morrison, offered some good advice: "This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. This is how civilizations heal."

To that, I imagine you would wholeheartedly agree. After all, doesn't that pretty much sum up how you spent your life here on this little blue planet?

It's Remembrance Day here in Canada, Veterans Day in the US, so I turned on the radio a few minutes ago -- just in time for the moment of silence. Thankfully, that's not a sound one gets very often on the CBC. 

Several speakers then offered remembrance and, as is always the case, in both official languages, French and English. But this year, they added something I didn't remember hearing before, another speaker offered these in a First Nation tongue. Yes. A time for healing. Hallelujah

Which brings to mind one other bit of news. A very cool fellow should have arrived in your zone last night. His name is Leonard. I expect the two of you should find plenty to talk about. 

Best cheers, as always,


* Explanation of this phrase brings to mind another of your works, Cat's Cradle, with its exploration of the properties of ice, a fascination held in what we call 'real life' by your brother, Bernard

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

There are walls, and then there are walls...

This is a wall.

This is a wall with ivy on it.

This is a wall covered with colourful autumny leaves,

It's a wall, yes -- one that provides a bit of privacy,

but isn't a wall that encloses anything.

Maybe it's the only kind of wall anyone should need.

On this morning (or should that be mourning?), I can't help but notice the numbers at the bottom of my computer's screen: 09/11/2016. It seems indeed like quite another kind of 9/11.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Less than a week to go...

This photo is from an ad for tissues that I spotted in a SkyTrain station downtown. The way things are going it seems appropriate.

I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised at the way this race is turning into a dead heat. When we travelled through the western U.S. this September there were so many Trump signs I don't think I could have counted them all if I'd wanted to.

And though I did see one (yes, just one) sign in support of 'Hillary' (and yes, with her first name only), the only 'Clinton' sign I saw was this one, approaching in the distance on the freeway outside of Clinton, Montana.

The town is home to not only the annual Testicle Festival, but today is their Annual Festival of the Dead Group Art Show.

As to which of these cultural events might be more appropriate in light of electioneering and these particular candidates, well, you'll have to be the one to decide.

Monday, October 31, 2016


My girlfriend Cheri is famous for the way she decorates (over-decorates?) for holidays, especially Halloween.

The photo is her bathroom -- not the scene of any dastardly crime -- just the result of her decorating.

As for our house, we're less committed. Still, this is one of the two jack o'lanterns ready to greet any trick-or-treaters who might make it up our walkway tonight.

Hoping we get just enough visitors to make the evening fun, while still leaving some tasty leftovers for us.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Promises, promises

Last year, when Justin Trudeau and the Liberals were campaigning for office, one of their major promises was to change our method of electing Federal representatives. At that time, their clear commitment was that 2015 would be the last federal election based on first past the post results. Since then, as with some other of their promises, the focus seems to have shifted. Their website now seems to stress the importance of fairness in elections -- a noble cause, but one that appears to be a repositioning from the resolve they were so strong on last year.

British Columbia explored the possibilities for electoral reform over a decade ago. Sadly (mostly through an almost impossible set of guidelines), the referendum on the issue failed by a hair. But based on this experience, it seems that we in BC have almost a duty to speak out.

In efforts to move forward on the way we vote, the federal government struck a Special Committee on Electoral Reform, and representatives of this committee are holding town-hall type meetings, asking the public for input. Former Senator Pat Carney wrote about one of these meetings, held on Saturna Island, where she lives.

Although the meeting held in my area (nearby Cloverdale) didn't start off as casually as Carney's (with a potluck supper), it was much less formal in tone than this summer's gatherings for input on proposed pipelines, but then maybe the way we vote is more of a 'down-home' issue. After all, we still use paper ballots. Quaint perhaps, but there are no 'hanging chads' to argue about.

Even though it appeared that John Aldag, the Member of Parliament for Cloverdale and Langley City was hosting the event (I'll admit, I arrived a bit late), the Minister of Democratic Institutions (there's a title for ya!), Maryam Monsef, was clearly in charge, as she seemed to be taking up most of the first half-hour with her introductory remarks.

When my turn came, I related my history of voting in Canada -- quite a run -- which goes back to 1972. In all of those elections, my vote has counted exactly once, as that's how many times the person I've voted for actually got into office. Perhaps a less-determined person would stop bothering to vote.
And that single success was in a provincial election, not a federal one. Federally, I have never had 'my' candidate win a seat.

So, I suppose it was natural for my Member of Parliament to not be in attendance at yesterday's event. In correspondence she's sent (in reply to my question about where she stands on this issue) she's made it clear that her mind is made up. She's not in support of changing our electoral process in any way, at least not without an expensive referendum beforehand. So really, why would she need to come to hear what people might think? Arrogant? You might choose to think that, especially in light of the fact that a range of citizens, clearly not all Liberals, attended yesterday's gathering.

As for the overall progress (or lack thereof) on Trudeau's promises, much is still up in the air and about the best we can do is keep writing letters and, I suppose, keeping our fingers crossed.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Double-header plus

The weekend (and even both sides of it) contained some cool events. And although today sees the World Series getting rolling, neither of my 'double-headers' had anything to do with baseball. If they had, I certainly wouldn't have been included. When they passed out the jock gene, I seem to have been short-changed.

But I was fortunate enough to be included in two events this weekend that combined music and words. One was with the Lyric Singers of Surrey and was gloriously beautiful, if I do say so myself. The all-female choir managed to elicit chills from a number of us. 

The other event was part of an ongoing series called Mashed Poetics. It's a concept that sees a band (an always-awesome band, I must say) play the songs from one particular album. Saturday's event had the band in the guise of the Egg-Suckin' Dogs presenting Johnny Cash's album from 1968, At Folsom Prison. As for the band's name, their tradition is to take a temporary name from one of the songs on whichever album they're playing. Of all the response poems presented that night, the most powerful one came from RC Weslowki, with his piece on the 33,000 acres that were drained in the Fraser Valley during the 1920s. I'm sure that many in the audience hadn't been aware of this tragic resource theft from the First Nations People who lived there. 

As for the other sides of the weekend, Thursday was a double-header launch of books from Toronto's Quattro Press -- Susan McCaslin read from Painter, Poet, Mountain: After Cezanne, her homage to the artist. She was reading with Richard Osler, launching his collection, Hyaena Season. Although the work of the two poets couldn't have been more different, each brought my attention to topics I hadn't considered before. Osler with his tales from and about Africa, McCaslin with her sensitive interpretations of Cezanne's art and her pointing just how great an influence he was to the work of other artists. 

Monday was a presentation by the talented Stephen Collis who also has another new book, Once in Blockadia. He's been called "the most dangerous poet in Canada" but really, he may simply be the bravest, as he was one of the people arrested during the anti-Kinder Morgan protests on Burnaby Mountain. This event was supposed to be another double-header, but his scientist-colleague, an expert on climate change, had some unexpected problems that meant she couldn't. Nonetheless, even on his own, Stephen's presentation lived up to others in the series presented by SFU's Department of Humanities. 

With this much going on, some simple nights of solitude sound just about right. I might even end up veging out in front of some (dare I say) mindless baseball. (Go Cubs!)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

It's all about the arts

Or at least that was my take on this week's Creative City Summit held here in Surrey. And I was very proud to play a small role in events that were put on for benefit of the delegates.

As part of the celebrations, I was invited to read my 'Surrey poem' (the one the City commissioned me to write way back in 2012) at my local Arts Centre.

So that the guests would have something to take away, staff members made colourful maple-leaf-shaped pieces of pottery with "Semiahmoo Arts 2016" stamped into them.

And I -- well, I made chapbooks.

This was how my dining room table looked a couple of days ago -- covers (with individual stampings on each) lined up down its length, drying.

The pages had already been printed, so it was just a matter of folding them and folding coloured end pages.

After that, the task of binding each book -- with, I'll admit, the simplest of methods -- just an in-and-out, tied off with a knot.

But much more impressive than my short poem was the performance by local artist, Roxanne Charles. A member of the Semiahmoo First Nation and a Director on the board of Semiahmoo Arts, she performed a dance to the accompaniment of a very moving video presentation on the Lost and Missing Women.

The photo doesn't do justice to the costume she wore, one that she'd designed and made herself. I didn't dare turn on my flash during the performance, so you'll have to zoom in and use your imagination.

I'm pretty sure the delegates who were bused down to our arts event went away with a positive impression -- and hopefully, a better understanding of just how varied and complex our sprawling city really is.

As for my symbolic rendering of that varied complexity, I hope my finished chapbooks helped to illustrate the rainbow of diversity that is Surrey.

Monday, October 17, 2016


Last week's predictions of storms -- heavy rain and strong winds -- didn't turn out to be quite accurate. There was plenty of rain and wind, but it was nowhere near as widespread as had been forecast, nor were the winds as strong as we'd been told.

No doubt the family and friends of Shakir Salaam feel otherwise. He's the boy who was killed by a falling tree in a park near his school.

Everyone says he was a wonderful person. And to be the only one struck down by this storm can only make me shake my head and wonder. Where is the fairness when such things occur -- and to someone as young as he was?

When I came home today, I spotted the beautiful rose outside at one of my neighbour's. Its perfect beauty, still holding all those raindrops from the storm, seemed to demand a photograph.

The many contradictions in the world -- so much harshness and beauty -- beyond understanding, for sure, but nonetheless worth contemplating.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The calm before the storm

Or, maybe that should be 'the calm before the storms' as more than one sounds to be heading our way.

The rains began last night -- pounding hard against the roof -- and made me glad to be cozy in my bed.

But now, they're saying we need to be ready for high winds. Towards that end, the deck chairs have all been put away for the winter. The hanging baskets are no longer hanging.

This afternoon seemed like a great time for a quietly contemplative walk along nearby Crescent Beach. I'll admit I enjoyed being pretty much the only one there. If the weather had been better, that wouldn't have been the case.

But now, I'm crossing my fingers that those wind warnings we keep getting are at least somewhat 'overblown'.

Monday, October 10, 2016


...rhymes with attitude.

I'm not sure why I never noticed that before.

In fact, maybe the word 'gratitude' is a condensed form of 'great attitude'. And if that leaves a 't' missing in the word gratitude, I'm just going to think that it must have gone away to be part of the word 'turkey', an important part in this weekend's celebration of gratitude, Thanksgiving.

We had our big meal on Saturday night, and those wild mushrooms we picked the other day played an important role. The stuffing contained bits of chanterelles, while the angel's wings mushrooms (pictured above) joined some baby bok choy and peas in a soft-spoken stir-fry.

For family and friends -- and, of course, wild mushrooms -- I am grateful today.

Friday, October 07, 2016


Wednesday was the golden day, and I'm just glad we were smart enough to get out into it while it was there, as Thursday turned rainy and blustery, with over 30,000 customers losing power last night.

We headed out into the valley and tromped around some of our favourite hiking spots, all the while keeping our eyes open for the ever-elusive wild mushrooms, and of course, paying attention for wildlife that might be around. Our whistles were put to good use, as I'd left the bell I usually wear at home. Although I've been teased and told that bears think a bell means 'dinner', I'll admit I feel more secure if I jingle when I'm hiking in the bush.

Plenty of fungi were apparent, so conditions were good, though there weren't a lot of the edible varieties. And yes, there was some evidence that others had had the same idea before we did, as we spotted the occasional stems where specimens had been cut. Unfortunately, there were also (too many) places where mushrooms appeared to have been uprooted. Sadly, they probably won't come up in those spots again.
Oddly, whenever we came across streams, the water looked vibrant and fresh, but there was no evidence of fish -- a concern to me, as this is the season when the salmon are generally spawning. They're usually in obvious abundance when we do our foraging hikes, clambering their way upstream to where they were born.

Still, the fresh air was nurturing enough to make the day feel like a success. And really, I'm sure we got enough mushrooms (three varieties) to play a role in our upcoming Thanksgiving feast.

When the days are as perfect as our 'golden' Wednesday was, it's important -- especially this time of year -- to grab it and do something outside.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016


I'll admit it isn't very often that I find myself inside a church. Although I suspect this has something to do with my spending waaay too many hours in one -- and on my knees -- last night's church experience held no such negatives.

It was a rehearsal night for an event I am thrilled to be a part of, "Call & Response: An Evening of Song and Poetry". As one of five poets participating in this, my job is to write a couple of poems, each of them in response to two of the choir's songs.

Listening to the Lyric Singers was downright thrilling. Their voices resonated through the church and seemed to rise up and into the night. It may well sound weird, but I definitely had chills during some of the songs -- and it wasn't from the temperature, but from the power of voices interlinked in harmonies.

I've learned that this church, Northwood United, even has a jazz vespers service. I'm sure it would be worth taking in.

Inspiring? You bet. Inspired enough to put in some more time on tweaking those response poems.

Friday, September 30, 2016

This month sped by!

The end of September, and it's hard to believe. But it probably felt as though it sped past because so much of the month was spent, on the road -- and mostly on roads with a speed limit of 80 mph (that's over 128 klicks).

If you want to come along on our road trip, you probably want to start at the beginning, back here.

I can only trust that October, though it might not be as adventure-filled, will move along at a little slower pace.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Books and readers and more

Word Vancouver is one of autumn's highlights for me. It used to be called Word on the Street, but the last few years have seen that title shortened. Yet even though the title has shortened, the event itself has lengthened and now runs from Wednesday through Sunday -- with events that are free of charge to the public.

The image above was from a book binding demonstration that saw a number of us standing, watching for about half an hour while a talented artisan demonstrated his craft. His precision and skill made my efforts at chapbook making feel pretty feeble. Still, I hope I may have learned a few things that will help me improve my own book making techniques.

But Word Vancouver isn't just about books. Much of it is about the people who write them, and on the Sunday, readings in the tents outside VPL run from 11 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon. I was happy to host two chapbook events, one featuring works from Leaf Press, the other from Ottawa's above/ground press.

One of the most adventurous presenters had to be Claudia Casper, She was reading from her latest book, The Mercy Journals, a dystopian vision of what our world might be like in the year 2047.

The worm costume was certainly one way of getting our attention, though I understand there is also a connection to the book. Yet another title on my pile of must-reads. Good thing it's nearly the end of endless sunny days and moving towards better weather for turning pages.

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Today marks this year's Autumnal Equinox the date when day and night are equal -- or, at these latitudes, about as close as they get. The berries, Oregon grape, are one of the season's markers. Although bitter, they are edible and are reputed to make a better than passable jelly.

Aside from paying attention to the edibles I might forage this time of year, I have a couple of cleaning rituals that go along with this event. Some years, like this one, I get a break and don't have to do these until the 22nd. Some years, the equinox occurs as early as the 20th. But it's just our crazy calendar that causes that, not nature.

The hot tub gets fresh water, as does the Brita filter system in the kitchen. And sometimes, the cutlery drawer gets its grooves cleared too.

These traditions are partly my way of observing and honouring the change of seasons. They're also a sort of mnemonic device for a memory that doesn't always work as well as it used to, reminders that there are things I need to look after.

Maybe you have seasonal traditions as well. If you do, best wishes accomplishing them and going forward into a happy autumn, the season so many consider the most beautiful of all. It's a season that's not just beautiful to look at, but with its many arts events, it may well be the culturally richest time of year.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Homeward bound

We saw plenty of open range, with frequent warnings posted that livestock might be on the highway. Fortunately, we didn't encounter any critters on the road, though we saw plenty in the fields and on hillsides beside us: antelope, deer, elk, horses, and several varieties of cattle.

We also stopped at some inspiring and wonder-filled places along the way, one of them at the site of what's known as Custer's Last Stand, Little Big Horn.

It was very moving to see the number of grave markers there, especially those of the Indians who called the encounter the Battle of Greasy Grass.

The closer we got to home, the more we could see that the season had begun changing. While we'd had mostly summery temps, there'd been a few cool days, but the colours in the trees made it obvious that autumn was nearing.

Along with autumn approaching, I knew that my life was about to change again -- from the leisurely pace of poking my nose into new places and looking out the window as we cruised down the highways, to the sometimes-almost-frantic world of readings and workshops and deadlines.

But hey, after these wonderful adventures (and if you missed any of them, here's a link to the beginning of the trip), I think I'm ready -- to welcome autumn and to immerse myself in the many cultural activities closer to home.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Camping, with all the trimmings

Once we turned back towards home, we took some time for relaxing and stopped in a town that had caught our attention on the outbound trip, Deer Lodge, Montana. This was my morning view from bed, out the back window of The Rattler. Kind of made me want to stick around...

It's just a little bit of a town, but they've kept so much of their history, there's plenty to see and do.

You can visit the Old Montana Prison which has been converted into a museum.

The gift shop there is lots of fun, even for a non-shopper like me. Who knows, you might want to buy yourself a pair of the traditional striped prison garb. Despite their sad history, they look as though they'd make excellent pyjamas.

There's also an auto museum and a free-to-explore outdoor collection of classic rail cars.

But maybe my favourite attraction in town was the Olympic size swimming pool where I spent a vigorous half-hour (before they closed for the day) making up for some of the time I've spent sitting in the front seat of the RV as we sailed down the highways. And lucky me, aside from the lifeguard reading her book beside the pool, I was the only one there. Twelve feet deep and over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Might be reason enough to go back.

For now, I reckon I'm satisfied to get onto the road back home. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The wrong name

If you've seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, you'll be familiar with the site called Devils Tower. Driving there, you can see it from miles away. And while the draw for us wasn't as crazed as that portrayed by the characters in the film, the closer we got, the more exciting it felt.

When we got there, we spotted a few brave adventurers climbing high up on the rock (you have to look closely -- or else, click on the image to zoom in some), but settled for following the path on an easy walk, not much over a mile, around the base of the rock.

While we walked, we couldn't help noticing that some of the trees had bits of coloured cloth or medicine bundles placed on them. Signs cautioned walkers that these hold religious significance and are not to be disturbed or removed.

There's a bit of a story of how this rocky mountain got the name Devils Tower (including of how it lost its apostrophe -- somebody's typo), There's also more than one telling of how those 'claw marks' on its side came to be. If one can imagine them as really being the marks of a bear, that bear must have made a grizzly look like a miniature.

Considering the negative connotations of anything with 'devil' in its name, I'd like to hope that it won't be long from now when the site can be renamed. I like the idea of calling what the Lakota people did, Mato Tipila, or in English, 'Bear Lodge'.

We were lucky enough to get a campsite near the base of the mountain and the pink rays of dawn on the rock were awe-inspiring. The whole place truly felt like much too sacred a site to be stuck with the name Devils Tower. And while this was a wonderful place to camp, the next place was also great, but in quite another way.