Just back from a walk over by Sakinaw Lake where I said to John, as we came to the turn in the road near Haskins Creek, “Let’s just check to see if there are coho yet.” I wasn’t expecting any — last year we saw the first few fish around December 15 and some years there are fish into the New Year. But yes, there were coho, beautiful in their mating colours; we saw one couple and then perhaps 6 individuals, including a quick young jack. Because of recent heavy rainfalls, the water is quite turbid. But there’s lots of it and we watched one male coho leap up from one pool to the next, the grace of it so lovely I had to brush tears from my eyes. Tomorrow I’ll try to remember to carry a camera and will post a photograph here.

Home and away

Sometimes when I’m driving down the Sunshine Coast Highway, I look over to Vancouver Island with a deep sense of homesickness. That long spine of blue mountains, the lights of Nanaimo if I’m driving at night. . . I grew up in Victoria and spent my early adult years there as well, in between periods of living on Crete, in London, and on a small island off the west coast of Ireland. John and I bought our land near Sakinaw Lake in 1980 and built our house and since then, this has been my home. I love it dearly. But there’s something about the Island that continues to tug at my heart.

I’m home now after a brief trip to the Island for a series of readings which Colleen Kitts, the publicist at Goose Lane Editions dubbed “The Autumn Leaves Tour”. It was a wonderful few days. John and I enjoyed reading our work in Nanaimo, Sidney, Duncan, and Campbell River. It was great to see some old friends and meet a few new ones as well. Yesterday morning we were welcomed to Coho Books in Campbell River where Pirkko had tea and coffee ready as well as homemade cookies. Wicker chairs in a circle, a table displaying our books, a friendly dog wandering from person to person: it doesn’t get much better.

Wild November storms meant that our plan to return home via the Comox-Powell River ferry had to abandoned – the scheduled crossings were cancelled or delayed. (This is the best route back for us from the north Island.) So we drove down to Departure Bay and waited for two hours there. Our own Horseshoe Bay-Langdale ferry was on time and we arrived home at 9:30 last night to discover that the power was out. Thank goodness for a woodstove and candles.

What I remember about the past few days: having coffee with Gary Geddes and Ann Eriksson in Horseshoe Bay and continuing our conversation on the ferry across the Strait of Georgia on Tuesday morning; the architecture of Garry oaks on Rockland Avenue; views across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Gonzales Hill; touring Ross Bay Villa with Angelica, followed by pizza at the fabulous Pizzeria Prima Strada in Cook Street Village, baked before our eyes in a wood-burning oven; looking at the lights of Mill Bay from John and Pauline Holdstock’s cosy dining room and realizing it was almost the same view I’d loved 35 years ago when I lived at Yarrow Point; the enchanting streets of Duncan, all the windows draped with Christmas lights and looking like something out of an old movie; the friendly librarians who greeted us and provided venues for our readings.

“Do you have a book called Mnemonic?”

We’re in Courtenay to see family members and to walk the Puntledge River trail. Tomorrow we read at Coho Books in Campbell River and then we’ll take the ferry home.  Today we were in the Laughing Oyster Books to get tickets for a play tonight and I heard a woman say to the bookstore clerk, “Do you have a book called Mnemonic? I’ve got the spelling here…” and she opened her notebook, spelling the title aloud. I watched as the clerk found my book on the shelf and handed it to the customer. “I wrote that,” I said, proudly. A lovely moment! Of course the customer asked to have her copy signed and then another woman working in the store brought out a copy she’d put aside for a sister-in-law who makes baskets (there’s a section of basket-making in “Pinus ponderosa: A Serious Waltz”) and I signed that one too!


How time passes. That’s a phrase that occurs quite often in Mnemonic: A Book of Trees. How it passes without us even knowing. Yesterday John and I spent some hours with our daughter Angelica who lives here in Victoria where we’ve stayed for two nights while reading from our new books. Angelica works for the Land Conservancy so we visited some of the properties where projects she’s involved with are underway. She took us to Gonzales Observatory, a weather station built in 1912, where volunteers have been working on an oilcloth for the entrance hall of Ross Bay Villa, another TLC property. The oilcloth, designed by Simone Vogel-Horridge, is going to be stunning. She is a conservator who has done a lot of work at Ross BayVilla, a cottage built in 1865 and in the throes of restoration by TLC.

From various clues, she knows there was once an oilcloth in the hall. This is a sample she developed.

A cloth will be laid under the oilcloth with a grid on it and each section of the grid can be purchased for ten dollars. John and I each bought a section and wrote  a message on it. I love to think that a hundred years from now, or longer, a team of conservators will uncover our few lines and wonder about us.

Both Gonzales Observatory and Ross Bay Villa are in the Fairfield neighbourhood of Victoria. My family lived in Fairfield when I was a child and I roamed those streets on my small blue bike. Readers of Mnemonic will recognize Ross Bay from the cemetery on its shore. How many times I passed the cottage where the oilcloth will grace the hall, how many times my mother took us to swim in Gonzales Bay. My parents lived in a ramshackle cabin above Gonzales Bay when they were first married in 1950. Photographs show my mum, young and pretty in a black bathing suit, with her first-born (my brother Dan), on the sand in front of the cabin. We looked down from the Observatory to that beach and for a moment I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or awake. That time had passed so quickly that I was now a mother myself, of a beautiful young woman who works in the very neighbourhood I knew so well as a child, and that my own mother passed into spirit exactly a year ago.

We read at the Vancouver Island Regional Library in Sidney last night, a lively audience coming out to listen and to ask questions and buy our books, supplied by Cliff from Tanners Books. Tonight it’s the Duncan branch. If you’re in that area, please come! We’d love to see you.

Damp Victoria

I’m sitting in our B&B on Rockland Avenue, listening  to cars sliding by in the rain. Last night John and I read at the library in Nanaimo to a small but lovely audience. That library reminded me of a ship, huge windows looking out over the harbour, early Christmas lights spangling the water and wet streets. We read alternately, having chosen work which used the same material — fire, building our house, pine-bark beetle damage in the Interior of B.C. — so that the audience got the sense of how two very different writers respond to similar themes. John had his show-and-tell — a large poster of one of Ernie Kroeger’s rubbings of pine-bark beetle tunnels (Ernie invited Canadian writers to “transcribe” these “texts” and John’s example, “Anthem”, is in his book, crawlspace). And I had my show-and-tell — a small basket woven of Ponderosa pine needles from favourite locations in the Interior, a process described in “Pinus ponderosa: A Serious Waltz” in Mnemonic: A Book of Trees. I passed the basket to the audience so they could see how it was made and each one of them sniffed it!

Before our reading in Nanaimo, we went for a walk at Pipers Lagoon. There were Garry oaks on the rocky point, a sign of home…(I was born on this Island and the oaks are one of my earliest memories of trees.)

Tonight we’re reading at the Vancouver Island Regional Library in Sidney at 7 p.m. Join us if you can!


I’m still basking in the warm glow of the launch for Mnemonic: A Book of Trees on Tuesday evening. I was competing with all-candidate meetings up and down the Coast but still was able to welcome 50 or 60 well-wishers who came to help me celebrate. Bev Shaw of Talewind Books set up her table with copies of Mnemonic and some of my other books as well and did a brisk business which is always gratifying. Dick Harrison came early to help with the sound system; Anne and Geoff Carr set up the kitchen as well as the chairs with John and our friend Liz Young who’d come from North Vancouver for the occasion. The kindness of friends!

I loved having the opportunity to read passages to the audience and to share something of the process of writing this book which took me both out of my comfort level and into new worlds. (Endnotes! Permissions! Bibliography according to Chicago Manuel of Style!) Some people had already read Mnemonic and asked interesting questions or made generous comments. Thank you all!

I’ll post a photograph of the crowd listening to the reading and one of John and me just after we’d arranged all the food on a table strewn with leaves.

Power of suggestion

We’d been invited to an event where we’d been promised canapes made with pine mushrooms. I promised, in return, some flatbreads with last week’s chanterelles and while the dough was rising, we went for a walk. How serendipitous, then, to find four pine mushrooms, in a place we’ve never found them before! At first, seeing the hump of white in the duff,  I thought they were white russulas but then saw the veil on two of the small ones  (the others were mature) and of course once you’ve smelled pine mushrooms — I always think of soy sauce — you can quite easily recognize that odour again.