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.