I wanted to do something new this time to celebrate the visit of all my children and their partners, and my lovely grandbaby Kelly. Maybe a boat trip up Princess Louisa Inlet? Possible, certainly, but expensive for the 9 of us. And 5 hours, maybe not the best idea for a year-old baby in summer. And everyone has been swimming in Ruby Lake, going down two or three times a day to plunge into its familiar waters, so leaving our place for 5 hours or more (in order to get to the marina, etc. and then get home again) wasn’t ideal. Well, what about lunch out, at a restaurant on Jervis Inlet, with the most wonderful view on earth? John was willing to treat us all so we got into our convoy of cars and headed to Egmont.

And it was completely wonderful. A table on a covered deck overhung with wisteria (a bit like home), jugs of beer from the Townsite Brewing Company in Powell River, cold white wine from New Zealand, and fabulous food — newly-shucked oysters with little dishes of garnish, bowls of mussels and clams in a winey tomato broth, burgers (beef and steelhead), a pulled-lamb sandwich, a clubhouse sandwich of albacore tuna, salads…Kelly loved the ice cream that came with her parents’ Campfire S’Mores — chocolate terrine, marshmallow fluff, a graham cracker crumble. And oh, the view…

Tomorrow night, a party here of local friends who’ve known our kids all their lives (pretty much). A beautiful sockeye salmon to barbeque, some chickens to roast early with tarragon, lamb to stuff with pistachios and lots of garlic. 2 desserts are on the freezer already — chocolate cake, a marbled chocolate/hazelnut cheesecake — and there are Klein Lake Trail blackberries in the fridge to make into galettes in the morning. We’d hoped to have what Manon calls “firecamp” but there’s a campfire ban in our district right now, due to months of drought, so it’s a good thing a few of us had the Campfire S’Mores at lunch today.

the inlet

at dinner

At dinner tonight — homemade pizza with various toppings (including pesto from my garden basil, arugula — ditto — kale — ditto –cream, prosciutto, Sicilian sausage with fennel, buffalo mozzarella from Fairburn Farm water buffalo on Vancouver Island, grana padano) — and lots of beer and light white wine (because it’s so hot!), I thought, looking around the table, that the people I love best of all those I’ve ever known on earth were there (though it made me lonesome too for my brothers and parents). A moment worth waiting for. A moment I’ve waited for all my life.

all of themEveryone else has gone down to Ruby Lake for a swim and I’m here listening for sounds from my grandbaby Kelly who is sleeping in the room which was originally two rooms — tiny ones where her father, his brother, and sister slept — and which was knocked into one larger room. And who dreamed, all those years ago, when teenagers filled the back of the house, that they would return with babies (one born, one due in October), and one with a gentle intelligent Persian boyfriend? Manon said that her baby kicked away the whole time she swam in the lake this afternoon and I thought, Of course he did. His father loved this lake from the same point in his own development! They’ll return soon for a blackberry crisp and ice cream and maybe a sundowner of Connemara single malt out on the deck while the bats fly low and bears walk the lower trail with their own offspring close behind them.

“Every living thing will have its share…”

today's bread

I made bread today because my children are coming and home means many things and bread is certainly one of them. My mother made bread all the years of my childhood, 10 or 12 loaves a week, and all the years my children lived here, I made most of our family’s bread. As many times as I make the dough, knead it, shape it, bake it, I am always moved by that most sacred transformation of wheat and water (and a little sourdough starter) to loaves to nourish us and sustain us. Tonight we’ll make a meal of it, with cheese and smoked salmon, some chicken liver mousse, olives (which you can see behind the loaves), wine of course, and a platter of garden tomatoes, dressed with olive oil and basil.

…life itself
will have the shape of bread,
deep and simple,
immeasurable and pure.
Every living thing
will have its share
of soil and life,
and the bread we eat each morning,
everyone’s daily bread,
will be hallowed
and sacred…

–Pablo Neruda

I wish it was true that every living thing could have its share. One of the tragedies our species hasn’t been able to take seriously enough to solve — the plenty, the abundance (in my own kitchen), and the scarcity in other places. You’d think a civilization that took such things as space travel and automated cars seriously could also work out how to feed the hungry among us.

After Rain

It’s the title of one of the late P.K. Page’s poems, a favourite of mine, her and the poem. I knew her in Victoria when I was a girl, a young poet looking for a model, I guess. And she was such a good one. I hear her reading this poem as I read it now, her elegant voice, her beautiful hands holding her book. This was the poem I thought of in the night when I woke to hear rain on our blue roof. There was a brief shower the other day and a more convincing one in the night. Still not enough rain for these aching woods, the gardens, the creeks and rivers and reservoirs. But welcome, all the same.

I loved walking around my garden this morning and see the moisture on the leaves,

salad days

the shoulders of the tomatoes.

princes in waitingA little rain after months of intense heat — I picked a colander of tomatoes and then went back for these three, as lovely as a still-life:

we three kings

I wonder if we’d appreciate that sound of rain if we’d heard it in March, unrelenting, or a patch of salad greens if it hadn’t taken a fair bit of cultivation to have them ready for the table. I think of how absence makes the heart not just fonder but it provides the template for what’s to come (I’m anticipating the arrival of all my children and their partners and treasured grandbaby Kelly next week). What dry stones look like in a creek bed you cross in winter, one careful foot at a time as the waters rush around you. The blackberries earlier this week, their laden canes the same ones that latticed the trail bare in autumn. The sound of loons this morning after a run of quiet dawns.

And choir me too to keep my heart a size

larger than seeing, unseduced by eath

bright glimpse of beauty striking like a bell,

so that the whole may toll,

its meaning shine

clear of the myriad images that still —

do what I will — encumber its pure line.

— P.K. Page, from “After Rain”

red in tooth and claw

I’ve always loved tree frogs. They remind me of jewels, such a beautiful green — when they’re green; sometimes they’re brown or as it turns out grey when they’re tucked behind the umbrella nest of paper wasps (Polistes spp.). In an earlier post, I said I thought that one of the several who live on the upper deck had actually eaten the caretaker wasps of the two nests in a little corner where the sunroom meets the exterior wall of John’s study. And cleaned out the cells of the larvae too. There’s still an active nest above the door to the sunroom —

P1120142but for how long? Today there were two frogs on a tomato pot, resting (or digesting) behind some of the leaves. Just now I was watering another deck and this little frog climbed out of the wicker planter where nicotiana is growing:

killer frogIs it just coincidence that the paper wasp nest by the sliding doors out to that deck is empty? Hmmm.

When the vines began to climb the side of our houses, the Rosa canina, the trumpet vine, the honeysuckle, the wisteria from John’s grandmother’s garden in Suffolk, we woke early on spring mornings to the sound of tree frogs (these are Pseudacris regilla). At first we heard just one. We called him Luciano because he had such a big voice. Then we realized there were more so we called him — them — The Tenors. One night I got up to pee and while I was washing my hands, I saw that one was clinging to the mirror above the sink — this was before we kept the sunroom door closed, before the weasel came in and raced around the house, before the cat brought a huge garter snake into our bedroom where we found it curled and frightened in a corner below some bookshelves, before the mice, before the bats came in to hang from the curtain rod and then fly around in the night like something out of a horror film. Anyway, there was one on the mirror and as I gently coaxed it into my hand to take outdoors, I asked it if it was my prince. (I didn’t kiss it.)

It’s hard to think of them in quite the same way now that I know, or at least suspect, they terrorize the paper wasps. But then, wait, I’ve changed my mind about the paper wasps over the years. I’ve realized they’re not aggressive (though they can sting, if threatened), that they are good pollinators, and I’ve watched them clean my roses and other plants of aphids, scale insects, and other pests. They’re quite elegant, with their long legs and slim bodies. I’ve learned that they all have very distinctive faces and a highly-evolved ability to recognize the facial differences of each other. So the more you know about something, the more you are likely to appreciate its unique place in the ecosystem.

The more you know about something — that my beloved little princes are not as benign as I’ve always thought? Exactly.

following the hum

Most days I spend a fair bit of time in my garden. There’s watering, transplanting, weeding (though not much of that, alas), staking, deadheading, and most of this is done in a kind of dreamy state. I am there, in that place, almost out of my self. Or more deeply into myself, is perhaps more accurate. Some days I don’t know where the natural world begins or ends because I am deeply embedded in it, my hands heavy with soil, pollen all over my arms and shoulders when I stake tomatoes or reach among the beans to coax tendrils to cling to their poles.

Mostly the critters out there ignore me. Sometimes I’ll be doing something and I’ll see a snake lying on the damp path and it won’t move until I’m almost on top of it. The deer too. The buck browsing clover the other day had to be directed, almost at arm’s length, to head into the woods, away from “our” garden. He’s perhaps the one nibbling the lower leaves from the Kwanzan cherry and he’s probably the one who regularly nips off the tender new rose leaves that push through the fence around the vegetable area. I can’t blame him. They’re delicious! And the bees are everywhere, almost unnoticed. I don’t bother them. They’ve never bothered me.

Today I listened to the humming of the bees as I hadn’t really before. I hear the hum, sure, it’s always there but mostly I hardly notice because it’s part of the texture of the day, like the ravens bickering in the woods or the drone of planes out over the Strait of Georgia. I water the tomatillos and it’s all around me. The cucumber boxes, which I water first thing — everywhere. I’ll follow the hum, I thought after lunch, and it will tell me something about what the bees truly love.

You’d think it would be this —


or these —

P1120144Look at those anthers! The stigmas! But no bees. I peered into the gorgeous squash blossoms and saw ants, not bees.

P1120150And I’m sure those plants receive their share of visits. But mostly it’s the flowers you hardly notice. The tiny yellow blooms on the tomatillos, volunteers I brought back from Forrest and Manon’s Ottawa garden when I was digging their vegetable bed in May. Wrapped in damp paper towel and put in a ziplock bag, they happily travelled home with me and are more than 6 feet tall now, loaded with both flowers and developing fruit. And as it turns out, bees.

P1120147I stood with the camera, trying to get them to hold still, but they purposefully moved from one flower to the next, burying their faces in the tiny open throats.

And they love the oregano, which I’ve let self-sow over the thirty-three years we’ve been here. It grows everywhere, doesn’t need water, smells like Greece when you brush against it on a path or even tiny clefts in the rocks. When you see it dense with bees, when you hear the humming as you bend to watch them at their work, you realize they are one of the foundations of our world. The Greeks knew this. They believed bees were a bridge between the human world and the divine. There’s no food we eat that doesn’t owe its existence (and ours) in some way to the work of bees. When I was researching the origins of mathematics for my essay, “Euclid’s Orchard”, I learned that Pythagoras attributed his long life — he lived to be nearly a hundred! — to a diet of honey.

Following the hum has me wanting to know more about our specific bees. A difficult but enticing task — I saw at least four kinds of bombus today and reading their names takes me to that dreamy state: orange-rumped, yellow-faced, bright yellow, red-belted, Sitka. A line of poetry, the beginnings of a whole meditation on origins, culture, social organization, military strategy, a recipe for mead, for meadow, for the music of their dance, the choreography of their lives, the elegance of their movement from one stem of oregano to the next. My mentor Pliny the Elder shares my interest, though of course he knows far more (and thinks he knows even more: he calls honey “the saliva of the stars”, fanciful but true?). And as for identification, he’s as useless as I am:

There are wild bees and bees found in woods; they have a bristling look and are much more easily stirred up, yet are noteworthy for their industry and application. There are two kinds of domesticated bees: the best is short and speckled and of a compact, round shape; the inferior kind is long and looks like a wasp, while the worst is hairy.


“Where shall we our breakfast take?”

Some surprises today as I watered and picked a salad for our dinner:

our supper

The first was where the tree frog was taking its rest, out of the direct sun. (You can see its back and lower legs just below the nest on the right.) What on earth was it doing tucked in behind two small paper wasp nests?

a frog's breakfast

See how grey it is? And no wasps, though they were certainly there yesterday. I was curious to know if frogs eat wasps and it turns out they do. I’m not sure this one ate the caretakers of these nests but maybe it made its breakfast of the pupae. I know it might seem odd to allow nests in an area where we spend a lot of time but these particular wasps are not very threatening. In early summer, while we drank our morning coffee very near this wall, they’d pass us as they built their nest and never once showed any interest in us. Not like yellow-jackets which are kind of annoying this summer (their populations are cyclical and this year there are a lot of them). The paper wasps feed on nectar but they bring back insects to feed their brood. Aphids, caterpillars, and even the scale insects off the leaves of my Meyer lemon. And the nests themselves are architecturally beautiful — the cells are so uniform and clean and the paper itself is a marvel.

Yesterday this frog jumped out of this pot while I was watering the tomatoes. And it was deep green!


There was a cloud passing as I watered and when I looked up, I saw these ravens circling:

three ravens

I wonder if it’s a coincidence that they’ve arrived just a day after we were visited by a doe — I think the same doe who has been coming many mornings with her twins. But yesterday she only had one fawn. There are all kinds of reasons for a fawn to die young, the local coyote family being one…And maybe the ravens are hanging around for their share, “downe in yonder green field.” I love the Child ballads and found myself humming this one as I finished the watering.

There were three rauens sat on a tree,

They were as blacke as they might be.

With a downe, derrie, derrie, derrie, downe, downe.

The one of them said to his mate,
Where shall we our breakfast take?

Downe in yonder greene field,

There lies a Knight slain under his shield.

                              — Child 26

a year


Today is my granddaughter Kelly’s first birthday. A year ago, in the very small hours, her dad phoned to say she’d just been born. And I didn’t really sleep afterwards (and in truth, I hadn’t slept since his first call, to say that he and Cristen were at the hospital and that labour was well-underway…). I kept thinking of how a baby had entered our lives at a time when we were entirely ready for the pleasure and privilege of grandparenthood. We packed our bags in order to drive as quickly as possible to Edmonton to meet the baby, arranging to leave the morning after Kelly’s birth. And we spent her birthday watering, making sure that the garden would survive our high summer absence. We went to Francis Point for a swim and I gathered some shells to string on a small piece of driftwood. It seemed important to commemorate the day somehow. So every time I hear the shells in the wind, I think of that little girl.  We won’t see her today, except on Skype, but we were in Edmonton a few weeks ago, and Kelly will be travelling with her parents to spend some time with us the week after next. Her aunts and uncles will be here too and I think there might be a cake waiting. With one candle, to eat at the table under her shells.


“How to describe that music?”


I’ve returned the final (I hope!) proofs of my forthcoming novella, Patrin (Mother Tongue Publishing). Have proofed its beautiful cover, accepted a number of invitations to read from it this fall (will update my News and Events page shortly), and now can anticipate its arrival at the end of summer. This morning I thought about the music that serves as part of its soundtrack. Zurna and dauli, the wonderful double-reeded horn (often made of apricot wood) and double-headed drum at the heart of Balkan Romani music. (For more on this, here’s a link to a review I wrote of Bright Balkan Morning.) I listened to a lot of this music while writing Patrin and this morning I can hear it as I postpone heading outdoors to begin the watering…

How to describe that music? Some of it made me want to dance,
and certainly people danced; mostly men, as dancing was a particularly
male activity on Crete. The door stood open, and they moved
inside and out as though the two were the same place. Two zurnas
and a dauli, out under the vine. The sound filled the darkness
right down to the harbour where the water answered back. Some
songs I knew must be rebel songs for their ferocity, the way the
older men at the bar raised their fists and loudly sang the refrains.
But other songs, plangent and achingly lovely, entered my body
and made me feel intense sorrow—though I didn’t know what
to attach the sorrow to. Yiannis, beside me, told me that Nestor
brought the gypsy soul to Cretan music, played the zurna with a
gypsy inflection. The long quavering notes, rich with vibrato—the
other musicians stopped playing to listen. I was unused to wine,
and my glass kept being refilled. Piney, and sharp, it was a perfect
accompaniment to the salty cheese and the plates of small
fried fish, tomatoes coated with golden oil, dishes of olives, green
and black, some of them bitter and others as large and meaty as
chicken. Loaves of bread, heavy, dusty with flour. When we finally
found our way back to the flat, trailed by a few young men who
wanted to know, How do you make the reeds? How do you know
what to give to the drone player? Nestor told them, Tomorrow, ask
me tomorrow. I must take this young lady to her bed.

from Patrin