Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Pink posies at Van Dusen Gardens

A wonderful spring walk at the Van Dusen featured a lot of pink. Besides the poker plants, pink dogwood and pink pond lilies, I saw pink roses, pink hawthorn and pink peonies.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Looking forward to Canadian Writers' Summit in Toronto

This year, CCWWP has joined forces with a dozen writing associations to create a super conference at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre. The Book Summit kicks off Thursday June 16. The rest of the weekend will involve sessions on professional development, public lectures, policy discussions and more. Keynote speakers include Lawrence Hill. Maybe see you there?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Southbank -- the fifth season

No, it's not a sitcom or mini-series. It's a writing program. Held at Surrey City Centre Library, Southbank is a summer sister of The Writer's Studio. I'm thrilled to be entering my fifth season as a mentor there. Met my group yesterday; we'll have a great time.

Also looking forward to working with colleagues Claire de Boer and Renee Sarojini Saklikar. We've been Southbank mentors since the beginning.

Renee is Surrey's first Poet Laureate, and Claire is a specialist in developing writing skills and projects through Journalling.

As for me, I'm sending my novel synopsis and chapter outline to my editor today. About to start the final draft of The Habit of Secrecy, a historical novel set in contemporary Camrose and Edmonton, as well as wartime London and Bletchley Park.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Country living in Cloverdale

Meeting an old friend for coffee, I was so busy looking on the wrong side of Highway 10 that I drove right by the place of rendezvous.

Stopped to ask at Stampede Tack and Western Wear. The girl behind the counter was helpful. She clumped outside in her cowboy boots and pointed to the coffee shop across the street.

I just had to pause and photograph these faux horses. They contribute a je ne sais quoi to the atmosphere in Cloverdale, home of the rodeo.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh

Image from Amazon UK

Amitav Ghosh's 19th century historical novel Flood of Fire is now an audiobook. I was delighted to have this wonderful tale along on a recent road trip. Want to learn about the history of the sepoys before the Indian mutiny, or how the opium trade enriched the British East India Company and foreign merchants as it was moved by the shipload between Calcutta and Canton? Unsure how Hong Kong came into British hands? Read or listen to the Ibis Trilogy, and learn.

The major unresolved dramatic questions from the previous two novels also come to a head in this third volume. Will Pauline and Zachary get together? As he dallies with his brutal employer's wife, this possibility appears remote.

Will Raja Neel finally be reunited with his young son? This too, seems unlikely, after the boy wheedles himself aboard the Ibis, Hong Kong bound, and ends up as a piper in a military regiment.

Ghosh's earlier volumes, Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke were impressive creations. This final volume is just as richly rewarding.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Habaneros take artistic licence with iconic image of Che

The iconic image of Che Guevara is familiar, but what's that bar across his face?

As Max Smart would say, would you believe it's a chrome trim piece on an old Buick door? There. Now you know, isn't it suddenly obvious there's a door handle in the upper left?

This was one of Scott MacEachern's photos of historic Havana. Taken in 2015, these were recently on display downstairs at the Central Branch of the Vancouver Public Library.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cave and Basin Hotsprings in Banff

In 1883, the CPR railway construction workers who came across the Cave and Basin hotsprings must have thought they were in Paradise. Who'd have expected hot baths?

The people of the Stoney Nation used this as a ceremonial place. They dropped into the cave on ropes and gathered in a circle in the pool to sing, drum, pray and receive blessings from the Creator.

However, the railway workers' discovery drew attention from private investors who scented tourist dollars. This led to the eventual creation of Banff National Park, the first in Canada. By 1890, Banff had over six hundred homes and half a dozen hotels. Meanwhile, the Belvederes, a health spa, had been created at the hotsprings. The mineral water was touted as a cure for a variety of ills.

The elegant bathing pool built here was used for many years, in spite of a unique challenge: no metal but gold can withstand the corrosive effects of the hydrogen sulfide in the water, so rust was a serious problem. Now the Cave and Basin hotsprings is closed to protect the water from contamination by humans. It's home to an endangered heat-loving creature, the Banff Springs snail. The hot pools are also home to the thermophylic one-celled blue-green algae, a plant that's predates the dinosaurs. It forms odd-looking microbial mats, as seen in the left picture below.

The nearby Banff Upper Hotsprings is now the destination of choice for those who want to get themselves in hot water. I had the good fortune to have a soak there with my lovely daughter.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Three Valley Gap

Three Valley Gap is located on the limpid shore of the lake that is also named for place where three valleys meet.

The Chateau is luxurious, and the faux Ghost Town on the property shows visitors how life was lived here in the 1800s. Over time, the family that runs this concern has assembled old buildings from the area, even including a Roundhouse.

Travelling towards Banff recently, I stopped for lunch in the lakeside cafe. In the Ladies' I made a uniquely pleasing discovery: a baby change table with a nice soft cushion!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Old man's beard

As children, my brother and I stuck this hairy lichen on our faces as "beards."

When we couldn't find the black variety, we used the green stuff. It's official name is Usnea. The common name is Old Man's Beard.

At the time, we were unaware that lichen had medicinal properties. According to Tara Rose, the lichen usnea, really a "marriage" of fungus and algae, has been valued as a healing plant for three millenia.

It was used in ancient Greece, Egypt and China to treat infections. A natural gauze for covering a wound, it has anti-microbial properties that help stave off infection. Some claims have been made for its efficacy as an anti-parasitic as well.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Linguistic change shows up on the rail fence

A rural ranch land fence rail is not where I expected to find evidence of linguistic change, but that's where I saw this interesting tidbit:

"Horses@large," says the hand scribbled sign on a looseleaf page taped to the bar. "Keep gate closed." The ranch is near Clearwater.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Sheep shearing demo at Surrey Library in Cloverdale

Last Saturday at the Surrey Museum in Cloverdale, I had the rare chance to watch a professional shear a sheep.

Martin is wearing his special anti-slip shearing shoes, but the sheep has managed to slide off the demo board. It can't be easy to keep a sheep calm as you turn on the clippers. The shearer starts with the belly and turns the animal as needed so he gets the fleece off in a single piece.

Before he clips away the less valuable belly wool and rolls the fleece, it resembles a coat that somebody just took off.

In the traditional Australian song we sang as children, the sheep were sheared by hand. Sheep shearing competitions provided exciting entertainment.

"Click go the shears, boys, click click click..."


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Idyllic hilltop lamb farm and B & B

Aveley Alpine Lamb is an idyllic hilltop ranch near Vavenby. The B & B is a cosy cabin, but only for the intrepid traveller. There's cold running water and a stove to heat it on, but no indoor plumbing facilities.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Lilac laden Vavenby and Birch Island

On a drive through central BC, I passed a sign for the town of Vavenby. On a whim, I turned off to explore the side road. By a one lane bridge across a small river, I asked a boy with a dog if there was a coffee shop in town. "I don't think so," he said.

I crossed the bridge anyway, and drove up the mountain to visit a sheep farm cum Bed & Breakfast, then came back by way of another tiny town called Birch Island. Both places were full of lilacs at the peak of their bloom.

Facts I learned: Vavenby was meant to be called Navenby, after an English village in Lincolnshire. Unfortunately, due to somebody's bad handwriting, the name was recorded as Vavenby, and nobody bothered to change it.

The settlement of Birch Island, which held its centennial in 2015, was named by Sarah Holt, the only woman living in the area a century ago when the first passenger train came through.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Raft River rising

On a recent journey, the muddy Raft River, tributary of the North Thompson, evoked the June spring floods of my childhood on the Skeena. My brother and I used to rush down to the bridge each day to see the rising water and throw in sticks to watch the river carry them downstream.

The Raft River is part time home to four important salmon species: the Sockeye, Coho, and Chinook. All these important food fish must swim up the province's major salmon rivers, then their tributaries, in order to reach their home streams where they hatched. There, journey over, they spawn and die.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Blossom, bear, butterfly

The road down from Wells Gray Park provided some delightful sights. Wild cherry blossoms leaned over the lip of a precipitous drop, and a bear browsed by the road. And when I parked at Spahats Canyon to look at the waterfall, a butterfly landed on my windshield. Love the open road.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The spectacular Wells Gray Park has many waterfalls

High up in Wells Gray Park, the Murtle River drops in stages over plateaus formed in three stages from hardened lava. Helmcken Falls is one of six waterfalls on this river.

The falls was named by Premier Richard McBride to honour R.S. Helmcken, a Hudson's Bay Company doctor who helped to get BC into the Canadian Confederation in 1871. However, although the doctor lived to 95, he never saw the falls.

Though the width is a narrow 75 metres, the vertical drop of Helmcken Falls is 141 metres, more than two and a half times the height of Niagara. 

It was early May when I took this photo; snow is still visible on the heavily shaded rocks in the gorge.

Wells Gray Park boasts 39 named waterfalls, and many others that have never been given names.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Dawson Falls in Wells Gray Park

The volcanic and glacial sculpturing of Wells Gray began over 200 million years ago.

Dawson Falls, seen below and right, is approachable by a trail. One excellent viewpoint gives a full view of the falls from downriver. The other leads to the top of the falls; from there the mist can be felt on the face.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Spahats Canyon, seen and unseen

The entrance to the high remote Wells Gray Park is from Clearwater on Highway 5. Pyramid Mountain is a tuya, a volcano that erupts under ice during a period of glaciation.

The journey into high country begins with three bridges. Each crosses a canyon so deep that the bottom is invisible from the highway, even from the roadside viewpoints.

The first drop of Spahats Falls (left) is about 60 metres, and a second drop, invisible from the viewing area, brings the total to 73, which is 20 metres higher than Niagara.

Spahats Canyon (below) is too deep and steep for the bottom to be visible from the well fenced viewing area. However, the falls can be heard and the river seen if the observer stands at the top of the closed canyon.

Three visible layers of volcanic rock were laid down in the canyon walls half a million years ago.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Journaling with Claire De Boer at Canadian Authors Vancouver

Last night Claire De Boer was the guest speaker at Canadian Authors Vancouver. After studying originally in the United Kingdom, Claire emigrated to Canada. She is a mentor at Southbank Writers' Program in Surrey and a certified Journal Therapist.

She also writes and edits for SheLoves magazine and teaches journaling for personal development and for memoir writing.

Memoir, says Claire, is a difficult genre to write, and is quite distinct from journaling. Yet keeping a journal is a practice that helps the memoirist uncover the universal themes that move a story beyond its mundane details.

When we allow the pen "to dance across the page" in a journal nobody else will read, we free ourselves from the critical editor and are able to access great material from the subconscious, which is 90% of our minds.

Claire recommended many techniques for the practice of unbridled expression. She also interacted warmly with the audience as she listed her suggestions and then solicited the experience of audience members to various kinds of structured journal keeping.

For those who get stuck when faced with a blank journal page, Claire recommends springboards. These are sentences that can be kept handy for moments when we feel uncertain of what to write. For example, we may want to ask ourselves, "What do I want to overcome?" Or perhaps "What do I need today?" Using the springboard starter "If I spoke my truth, what would I say?" can uncover things we need to learn about ourselves, and help us face conflict and negative feelings.

Another method is to use a dialogue format. There are plenty of choices available; we can write both sides of a dialogue between self and other, self and self, or even self and God.

Longhand is preferable for journaling, she advises. Something magical happens when the hand moves steadily across the page, never lifting until the writing exercise has come to completion, and what needed to be uncovered has appeared in writing.

A moment of stillness is also useful before plunging into the exercise. We may choose to meditate, do yoga or simply breathe deeply. Ask a question and the answer will come.

For a would-be memoirist, journaling can uncover challenging emotions that a writer must face in order to finish the project. It raises awareness of these emotions and helps the writer handle them, and ultimately use them to create a text that will engage the emotions of readers.

Journaling can also help a memoir writer uncover and work with the "stepping stone moments" we all have in our lives. These crucial experiences change us deeply at the core, and are different for different people. Besides obvious life events like marriage or the birth of a child, stepping stone moments may include seemingly small events like hearing someone say something that makes a deep and lasting impression. For a memoirist, knowing what these moments are helps to structure the individual story in a way that others can relate to, giving it universal appeal.

Having the courage to be vulnerable can also help others, even when this is not our intent. Claire used quotations from famous journal keepers to illustrate how this daily practice can deep our lives. For William Stafford, it meant each event of his life "recognized itself, and passed into meaning." Cheryl Strayed said of her popular memoir Wild, "it was my job to make it about other people."

Claire ended her presentation with a reading from a memoir she is currently working on.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Who wasn't there: Absent writers recognized at conference

As writers, we value free speech and do our best to protect this right for ourselves and other writers. At the recent CNFC conference at the Banff Centre, a chair was set aside in each room to display the photo of a writer who has suffered the pain of being silenced.

The PEN photo is Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega, who is serving 18 years because he called for freedom of expression and an end to torture in his native land.

Amnesty International has organized a campaign of protest against the unjust incarceration of a man who did nothing more than to publish his informed opinion on matters of great importance to all. It is now possible for interested individuals to show their support for this jailed journalist by signing the Amnesty petition online.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Who was there: CNFC conference at the Banff Centre

The recent conference of the Creative Nonfiction Collective, CNFC, was a blizzard of information, activity and fun.

Commonwealth Writers' Prize winner and photo journalist Deni Bechard discussed writers as citizens. He spoke of civilization's need to explore new ways of doing things. His writing topics range from the Gulabi Gang of women activists in India to the non-aggressive society of Bonobos in the Congo.

Another highlight Elly Danica. Her memoir, Don't: a Woman's Word (1989) encouraged other women to break their silence about abuse and incest. Even so, many conference delegates were unaware of Elly's work. Hal Wake was present to interview her; the two first met when Peter Gzowski had Danica on CBC Morningside when her groundbreaking book came out.

Camilla Gibb, first known for her fiction, discussed her 2015 memoir with essayist Susan Olding, and Beth Kaplan gave a great workshop on how to perform your work effectively. John Barton, editor of the venerable and respected Malahat Review, talked about the value of Canada's literary magazines and advised writers on the how to get their work placed there.

Ethnographer Wayde Davis, another thinker who believes we humans must change our outlooks and approaches, gave an evening lecture that was open to the public as well as to conference attendees. Davis, who is not against mining per se, spoke in a calm and factual manner about Red Chris mine. During the lecture, Davis showed slides of the stunningly beautiful and formerly pristine Sacred Headwaters of three of BC's great salmon rivers, the Skeena, the Nass, and the Stickine. The breathtaking beauty of this wilderness area made his talk all the more poignant.

Davis described the ill-informed and ill-starred decision-making process that has led to the opening of the mine on Todigan Mountain. This uniquely gorgeous natural landscape and wildlife habitat of the largest population of stone sheep in the world, as well as various endangered wild mammals habitat is about to be sacrificed to "resource extraction." This rash decision was made by people who had never visited the area. After BC taxpayers subsidized the enormous cost of hydro delivery to this remote part of the province, the government gave the contract to the mining company that was responsible for the disastrous and preventable toxic spill at Mount Polley in 2014. Things could be worse; the original idea was for several mines in the area; however only one has gone ahead.

Overall, this interesting and informative conference, run by a lively and devoted group of organizers, offered more sessions than one person could attend. A late highlight was the Literary Cabaret, which included a hilarious session of impromptu storytelling, was ably led by Annie, who hosts a similar event at Blue Metropolis in Montreal. And speaking of Montreal, that's where next year's conference will be held. I hope to be there.

As a first timer, I found CNFC Banff a great venue as well as a great conference. The rooms were airy and spacious, and there was even water (with real glasses!) and tissues on each table. As Beth Kaplan quipped, "in case I make you cry." Before the conference ended, Devyaneh Salzmann visited delegates to discuss changing programs and residencies at the Banff Centre.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Spring in the Rockies as the northern boreal burns

Last week as I drove home from Edmonton through Yellowhead Pass and Mount Robson Park, spring was putting on a brilliant show.

Meanwhile, tragically, huge swathes of boreal forest in northern BC and Alberta continued to burn, threatening Fort St. John and forcing 80,000 residents of Fort MacMurray to head south in convoy on the only road out of town, leaving behind the ashes of their burning homes.

Thankfully the weather has cooled slightly, making it easier for the firefighters to combat the blaze. I see this as one more reminder that whatever we're in, we're all in it together. Along with many others, I'm praying for the region to get rain.  

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Whyte hair is trendy

In Edmonton's hip neighbourhood of Old Strathcona, many business signs reveal a jaunty sense of humour. Last week these were on display in front of Whyte Avenue Hair Co.