how many generations of bears

blue eddy

I don’t think I’ve ever been a linear thinker. Instead my thoughts tend to spiral, not in an anxious way (though sometimes this happens of course) but in a way that can be exhilarating, creative, intuitive. Something enters my thinking and it turns and spirals, sometimes outwardly and sometimes towards an inner centre. I’m used to it and I depend on certain patterns as a way to find my own way through puzzles or new territory. And old territory too. Last night I was reading in my bed when I heard clattering outside. At first I thought maybe John had gone out to do something but no, it wasn’t him, because he was watching television. Maybe it was the cat? Or wait. Maybe it was a bear on the upper deck. I’d fertilized the potted roses with Salish soil, a kind of fishy compost. When I looked out the windows in the sunroom, I saw two bears, a sow and this year’s cub.

At the foot of the stairs, John was saying, I think there’s something outside, and yes, I said, it’s bears. He came upstairs to take a look and I went downstairs to shoo them away. Opening the door to the little deck where our hot-tub is, I saw the mum looking into the greenhouse and the cub right by her heels, both of them so beautiful, their coats dark and glossy. She paused for a moment and we made eye contact. Go, I said to her. I had a camera but the light wasn’t good and she wasn’t hanging around. She must have made some indication to the cub who skooted up the pretty fir just beyond the greenhouse while she headed down the lane leading to the vegetable garden and the woods beyond.

the bear's tree

I could hear the cub squealing a little as it held onto the trunk for dear life and the mum growling to it to get down and come with her. I guess she realized I wasn’t going to follow her.

So that was the evening’s drama. They’d been in the woodshed and had upset a bucket, investigated the barbecue on which steelhead fillets had been grilled last week. John always burns off the bits of skin afterwards but maybe there was still a little scent of fish. The cat was terrified and hid behind the washing machine.

When I returned to bed, I began to think about bears. If their average life span is 18-20 years (though they can live longer than that), and we’ve been here for 40 years, then how many generations have we known? The earliest bears who were just passing through, the ones that came later for the orchard fruit, the one that broke into the garden to eat cabbages, the ones who broke the garden gate not once but twice, the ones that drag out the empty cans we used to keep garbage in (and last night’s bear did that so she’s obviously a return visitor), the mother with twins who lingered just beyond my study window and sent both cubs up a tree where they climbed very high and squealed like babies,the one that topples the compost boxes just because it can, the one who climbed the pergola over the sundeck in search of grapes that had already been picked (so it had been here before), the ones that come for crabapples in autumn and eat themselves silly, the whole spiral of their visits and departures, the heart of the spiral curled in like the conclusion of a story.

They have very sophisticated memory maps of food sources, can remember food sourced at least 10 years in the past, and given the number of years we’ve lived here, that the crabapple tree with its sour scabby fruits has been productive, that there was once the possibility of garbage though not for decades, I suspect we are part of the map shared among them, information passed down like family stories. Our histories turn and spiral like the routes to ancient shrines where the bear mother was worshipped, kept alive in the night sky for guidance in her incarnation as Ursa Major, light for the cosmic hunt. A couple of years ago, in December, I focused my binoculars on Ursa Minor, hoping to see the Great Conjunction. Did I? Maybe. But I remember how beautiful the tail of the young bear was in that dark sky, pulled longer by the force of the swing of the god who threw it to the sky.

Yesterday at a garden centre in Sechelt, I found a plant I’d never seen before, Allium senescens “Blue Eddy”, a spiral ornamental onion. In its pot, the foliage swirls like the rapids in the Thompson River, the Jaws of Death, the Cauldron, where I remember our inflated raft turning in the eddies, the blue eddies, water swirling, dry air, fish under us on their way to Adams River, to the Deadman River, bears along the route, the sky at night dense with stars, and when I plant the allium, this will also be part of its leafy spirals, a mother bear pausing to sniff it, a cub at her heels.

ursa major and minor

a scold of jays

pumpkin seeds

I’ve been reading lately about crows and their gift-giving. When birds bond with the people who help them, either by rescuing them, feeding them regularly, or other acts of interspecies kindness, the birds will bring gifts. I saw a photograph of two pine branches, each of them with a metal pull-tab from a can threaded onto the stems, a gift from a crow that a woman had been feeding regularly. There are other stories of elastic bands, little pieces of ceramic, coins. I feed birds regularly. I have a winter feeder (I can’t keep it up from April to November because of bears) and when I go out in the morning to fill it with seeds, sometimes the chickadees are so excited they will land on my wrists as I’m filling the turret. If I’m late, they come to the window sill above my kitchen sink and perch on it, looking in until I notice them. But the main relationship I have with birds is the one I cherish with the Steller’s jays. Almost every morning they arrive as soon as I turn the light on in the kitchen and make the fire. One appears, then another. Some mornings there are 5. I wish I could say I can tell them apart. I can’t, really, though in the fall I know the juveniles because they don’t yet have the lovely blue eyebrows of the adults. All through the 1st year of the pandemic, when we didn’t see anyone apart from masked cashiers in the grocery store and the masked lifeguards at the pool, I was so grateful for the company of jays. They’re cheerful, not exactly patient, and often quite curious. Sometimes I’d see one by the sliding glass doors leading from the kitchen to the deck where I feed them. Maybe it was simply waiting for food but I’d watch it peering in, looking around, its head cocked quizzically. When we have coffee on the upper deck on early summer mornings after our lake swim, we hear them chirring in the trees, watching us. Yes, they’re probably wanting seeds but they’re also engaging with us in a way that robins or hummingbirds don’t. Yesterday I was working in the greenhouse and two jays were in the big firs near me. They made a soft churring sound, not the call for food, but something else. Like other corvids, they are monogamous and they form long-term bonds with their mates. If I could tell them apart, I’d know which couples were which. The collective noun for a group of them? A band, or a party, or a scold. I don’t like any of those but I can’t think of anything better right now. Once I was sitting on the deck, listening to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sing Handel. Maybe it was “As with rosy steps the morn” from Theodora, one of my favourite arias, and if I can’t remember exactly, it doesn’t matter. Because I noticed the jays were listening too. They were quiet in the trees, heads tilting to the music. No yelling for seeds or pushing each other off the deck railings. Just listening. We listened together. Remembering that, I think of Hafiz.

Build a House for men and birds.
Sit with them and play music.
For a day, for just one day,
talk about that which disturbs no one
and bring some peace,
my friend,
into your beautiful eyes.

I can’t say the Steller’s jays bring me tangible gifts. No coins or scraps of cloth or tokens. But their company, their attention? It’s enough.

rural publishing

just arrived

The small literary novella imprint that Anik See and I run, Fish Gotta Swim Editions, is a continuing source of delight. Our fourth title, pictured above, arrived from the printer last evening. I’d been expecting the shipment all week, either by finding a card in my mailbox saying there were boxes to pick up at the post office or by hearing a courier van come up the driveway. When deliveries are via the latter, there’s usually a phone call first, someone parked in the lower driveway, wondering how to find me. Our neighbours use our lower drive to access their properties on Sakinaw Lake and when they’re not there, they have a locked gate at the point that our property becomes theirs. Because of complicated zoning, we share a street number, although technically ours is the actual number and their addresses have an A, B, or C suffix. Couriers never understand this subtlety and so once they arrive at the post with our number on it, they call. And we tell them how to find us. Last evening I heard a vehicle spinning its wheels on the turn in our actual driveway, the area with coarse gravel — we know to accelerate at just the right time to make the turn. I watched from the window as the headlights at the turn disappeared back down the driveway and then I heard the vehicle try again, faster this time. It was our neighbour. They’d come up to their house from another house they own elsewhere, just for a night or two, and the gate was open for an hour while they did some errands. When they returned, they found two heavy boxes by their front door. One of them was bringing the boxes to me, to whom they were clearly addressed, with my telephone number right on the label. This is rural publishing. In the past couriers have left parcels for us at the hardware store in Madeira Park, at the gas station 15 minutes away, and a couple of times they left packages for us at Harbour Publishing. Go figure. Luckily the Harbour Publishing owners are our friends and they called us with some amusement to let us know where we could find our delivery.

Anyway, the fourth title, the beautiful Susanna Hall, Her Book, by Jennifer Falkner, arrived unexpectedly via the neighbour last night. It was a funny moment, except it almost wasn’t. If the neighbours hadn’t used the door where the boxes were left — and they have a big house, with several entrances — and returned to their other home, then who knows when we might have put 2 and 2 together to possibly make 4: the 4th title. I received the printer proof about a month ago and Anik and I had a Zoom meeting, her in Dordrecht and me in the kitchen here, to go over the fine details of the production to make sure that everything was as it should be. Some tiny adjustments had to be made and they were and now the books are ready to go out into the world, some to the patient author, and some to people who ordered after receiving our newsletter in early April. You can subscribe to it if you’re interested. Go to our website — — and just fill out the form at the ordering/contact page. Read about Susanna Hall, Her Book at the Books page and by all means order one. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

It’s a lovely spring evening here after a day of clouds and rain. A hummingbird keeps hovering at my window. A pileated woodpecker is hammering down towards the lake. I’m going to take a copy of this wonderful novella up to my bed to read. I’ve read it several times, as an initial submission to our press, as a document sent back and forth to Jen for edits and small changes, as a designed book block, and then as a printer proof. But tonight it will be the book itself, with its elegant French flaps and the beautiful cover (designed by Anik, using an illustration from Elizabeth Blackwell’s Curious Herbal, an 18th century gathering of botanical cuts of plants used in the practice of physick) and Jen’s excellent writing. I know I will enjoy it immensely and I think others will too.

on the 64th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine…

citrus curd

…I made citrus curd. First thing, though, I looked at the news. It wasn’t good. I sat by the fire with my first cup of coffee and cried a little. The jays were arriving for their breakfast and looked kind of quizzical. Why wasn’t I bringing out sunflower seeds? Even after I scattered seed on the ground for the towhees and left little heaps on the posts, the jays were still puzzled.


I cried some more and then shaped the dough that had been rising all night for the oven. By the time John came down, I’d finished with tears and was thinking about the lunch I’d make tomorrow for friends. Steelhead tacos with blood-orange salsa. Whipped cream folded into the curd (made with Meyer lemons and calamondins from the little trees in my sunroom) for mousse, and a rhubarb compote to dollop on top. When I opened the door to the greenhouse, the scent of tomato plants and warm soil. A bee followed me in, eager for geraniums.

On the 64th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I thought about the brief reading I will do tonight, via Zoom, with 3 other authors celebrating books from the University of Alberta Press, wondering if the passage I’ve chosen is the right one. There’s a lot of choose from in this book—essays about colour, about family history, about aging, rivers, injury, love, wine—but I’ve decided to honour the country my grandfather left in 1907 and where Kishkans can still be found in the village he was born it. It’s a long way from the cities currently under fire but I think of it, and them, hourly.

In my house, there is fresh bread on the counter, a bowl of delicious citrus curd, and a saucepan of rhubarb compote, flavoured with candied ginger, is cooling on the stove. This morning I cried for the country my grandfather left. We crossed the Prut River to drive to his village, a river mentioned by Herodotus, and I am hoping for a happy ending.

Nearby, the Prut River made its own sweet music, starlight and moonshine and winged insects hovering. I had never seen lamps in graveyards and now dream of their light.

redux: cedar smoke

Note: this post is 2 years old. We didn’t know how the years would unfold and if we had, would we have done things differently? (I think I would still bake cinnamon buns even if it was the last day of the world.)

cinnamon buns

This morning I was drinking my coffee in bed, window open, when I smelled cedar smoke. No surprise. John made a fire when he went downstairs and the smoke rising from the chimney found my window, encouraged by a very light breeze. It’s one of my favourite smells. I’m reminded of warmth (remembering the old adage about firewood, that you are warmed 3 times: by cutting it, splitting it, and burning it), of winter mornings when my children would eat their breakfasts by the fire before heading off to the school bus, of our relative comfort here in our isolated house.

Because I was thinking of comfort, I decided to make cinnamon buns. I had sour milk to use up and although my yeast supply is running a little low, I have baked enough over the past 40 years to know that one can use less yeast if one is willing to wait.

While the dough was rising on the slate hearth, I did other things. I’m tweaking an essay collection in hope of finding a publisher for it, I’m coddling along seedlings in my sunroom, waiting for the right time to plant them out, and they need daily water, I’m also finding my way into new work, and this means lots of reading. What am I reading? Anything I can find about the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. I was going to write about this anyway because of family losses but the timing? It gives me shivers to think of the correspondences between the past and now. While I waited for the dough to rise, I did my tasks.

Yesterday I read a remarkable essay by the remarkable Rebecca Solnit: “On Letting Go of Certainty In a Story That Never Ends”. Sometimes the right thing comes along at exactly the right moment. The moment when you are feeling sad or impatient or fearful of what the future might bring. You remember your children coming up from the school bus at the end of the day and you’d made cinnamon buns for them as an after-school snack. The fire was warm and suddenly the house was loud with their voices. The house is not loud now. There is still cedar smoke and the cinnamon buns are out of the oven, glazed and delicious. I don’t know when I’ll see the people I love most again. You don’t either. None of us knows. But as Rebecca Solnit says, the waiting is our task now. She writes of the sturdy durability of stories during this time of uncertainty, particularly the stories in which difficult tasks are performed by old women, sisters, young orphans, abandoned children, and an assortment of small but courageous animals.

Those tasks and ordeals and quests mirror the difficulty of the task of becoming faced by the young in real life and the powers that most of us have, alliance, persistence, resistance, innovation.

A series of text messages back and forth from my children in response to the picture I sent them of the cinnamon buns fresh from the oven. I wish you were here, I told them, and they wrote back to say, We never got icing on the buns when we were little! Or, You always left raisins out of some of them, remember? (because at least two thought of raisins as a punishment, one of them reminded me, not a treat…). Memory is selective. What I remember as pleasure is someone else’s annoyance. Or disappointment. But it’s what we need, I think, to help us keep to the task at hand, which is waiting.

We are in the middle and the end is not in sight. We are waiting, which is among most people’s least favorite thing to do, when it means noticing that you have taken up residence in not knowing. We are in terra incognita, which is where we always are anyway, but usually we have a milder case of it…

This unknown place where we find ourselves is also full of reminders of what we’ve always cherished. We need to remember. We need to keep some things sacred even as the yeast runs out, the numbers rise, the rumours of new waves of infections begin to unsettle us again. Remember how we laughed and argued and how a pan of cinnamon buns disappeared just like that as we crowded around the fire and the cedar burned, sending its incense to the sky like a wish.

“in the meadow of life beyond a river where the dead walk” (Virginia Woolf)


One of those weekends where there was sun, rain, wind, often within the same half hour. But lots of usable hours, for weeding, for planting out cabbage seedlings, pricking out the second lot of tomatoes (the first lot having been eaten by the cat and then thrown up), putting tubs of salad greens up in their place on the second storey deck, in a corner which doesn’t get daylong heat in summer. When it rained, I came inside to try to work out how to back the quilt top I finished 2 weeks ago. I thought I was going to use a length of dupioni silk but I didn’t have enough. (The top kind of got away on me. I hadn’t expected it to be so large. I was “building” units based on the framing, 42 years ago, of our kitchen, and one led to another to another.) I have some sheets I dyed a few years ago and haven’t found a use for. The one I like, shown just above this paragraph, isn’t big enough. But I realized in laying it out with the quilt top that I could easily turn it on its side and then stitch a length from another sheet, Same dye, different results. Today I’ll do that and then baste the top, batting (I stocked up on this the last–the only— time I went to Vancouver, so I won’t have to cobble together the batting from offcut and remnants) and back with long stitches of thread I can’t use for anything else. (The thread gets snipped out once the quilting is finished and I don’t want to waste otherwise useful thread.)


The other thing I did on the weekend was to re-read The Occasions, a novella I finished just at the beginning of the pandemic, one that follows in the footsteps of Mrs. Dalloway. I wrote about it here. I’d sort of forgotten I’d written it but then, putting some broken bits of wood into the circle of stones we use as an outdoor fireplace in summer, I remembered. In the novella people are gathered at the fire for the maybe the last 1/3 of the story. It’s set here, mostly, though the characters aren’t us really. I mean, there are resemblances but there are more of them and there are significant differences. Some of those who come to the party are now dead. They hover in the smoke of the fire. Someone else is preparing for death. One of the children is a cellist. I can’t say that any of mine are musicians, though Forrest can claim rousing pieces on washboard, comb, and a mournful trombone as part of his repertoire of accomplishments. Another is an architect. You see what I mean. But reading it made me sort of wistful for Before Times, when we would often have summer parties. The epigraph for The Occasions is from Mrs. Dalloway:

A sparrow perched on the railing opposite chirped Septimus, Septimus, four or five times over and went on, drawing its notes out, to sing freshly and piercingly in Greek words how there is no crime and, joined by another sparrow, they sang in voices prolonged and piercing in Greek words, from trees in the meadow of life beyond a river where the dead walk, how there is no death.

I want those times again. Sockeye salmon on the barbecue, salads, an array of desserts, a bowl of whipped cream, flowers, wine chilling in the big galvanized tub, mosquitoes (even mosquitoes) biting my ankles as the coals glow in the circle of stones. I want dogs racing around, someone telling jokes, another singing, and I want to hear owls, as the character in the novella hear them, right by the garden. Some of us will be sitting on the long cedar log, slices taken from it by a guy with a portable mill years and years ago, and some of us will be stretched out on a quilt backed with indigo cotton, watching for shooting stars.

a Friday miscellany


Because I make note of things in different areas of my website, some of you might have missed the little saga of photos and words detailing the making of a keepsake to celebrate the publication of my book, Blue Portugal & Other Essays, due out in a week or two from the University of Alberta Press. If you buy a copy of my book, either through your local bookseller, an online source, or from the Press itself (though you will have pay shipping, I think, if you order from the website), then I will mail you a keepsake while they last. Half of the 80 John printed on our Chandler & Price platen press, which I then embellished with hand-dyed indigo cotton and akoya buttons sewn on with red silk thread, anyway, half of them have already been mailed or delivered to Talewind Books in Sechelt and Earthfair Store in Madeira Park (they will tuck keepsakes into the books they sell while quantities last). So if you intend to purchase Blue Portugal, let me know and I will send you a keepsake, providing I still have them here.


The other news is that Fish Gotta Swim Edition’s 4th title is due from the printer any day now. Jennifer Falkner’s Susanna Hall, Her Book is a really wonderful novella, set in 1643 in Stratford-on-Avon, over a period of 3 days. Susanna Hall is the elder daughter of William Shakespeare, the widow of physician John Hall, and a gifted herbalist and healer herself. The novella is part diary, part ghost story, part 17th c. receipt book, beautifully written, and full of surprises. Visit the website for more information on this novella, our earlier titles, and to order.

Susanna Hall cover promo copy

and maybe starlight

evening visitors

Just before 5 a.m. I woke out of a dream where a bear was coming through the trees at the edge of our land, suddenly as large as life in front of me. It was surprised to find me there and of course I was surprised too. Though perhaps I shouldn’t be. The bears are awake after a cold winter and although I haven’t seen one yet, I know I will, maybe sooner rather than later. Was it a bear who dragged the bird feeder down from the Kwanzan cherry late last week? Probably it was, though there was no trace of it when we came out early to go for a swim. No scat. No ripe scent in the morning air.

One year, about this time, we watched a sow moving down the bank into the old orchard, twin cubs in her wake. They nosed around, eating soft grass. In spring, when we walk up on the mountain behind us, we often find boulders overturned by bears for the ants and grubs hidden away from the light. The bears in the photo are a mother and a mostly-grown cub, probably about to be sent off on its own so that the mother can mate again.

Where we live, bears are part of our wild community. Their lives are adjacent to ours, mostly compatible with ours, or ours with them, because they were here first. We’re the interlopers. Mostly I love to see them passing through. Sometimes a young one will repeatedly tear apart the compost boxes and then I’m less happy about it. For the past two years, a bear has busted one of the garden gates to get into the vegetable garden but then it’s left again without doing any damage. Maybe just curious? If you pay attention, you learn how to stay away from situations that might be dangerous. (Many years ago I wrote an essay about this process of attention.) We keep our garbage in a shed after an incident more than 20 years ago when a bear became a problem after it discovered foil that had been wrapped salmon for the barbeque. I no longer use foil on the barbeque because I think that even a shed door would not be a deterrent. If we cook fish, John scrapes and burns off every remnant.

Yesterday we stopped at Brickers to pick up some cider and to have lunch on our way back from errands in the little town down the Coast. John’s not much of a cider drinker but I love it and sometimes I have a gift card courtesy of one of my children. It’s a good place to have lunch when grandchildren are visiting because there’s lots of seating outside, at picnic tables around an old woodstove, and a big area where the little kids can run. The food’s really good too. A proper ploughman’s lunch with good ham cut from the bone, crusty bread, mature cheddar, Brie, pickle, mustard, etc. and a west coast ploughman’s plate, with a fillet of home-smoked salmon and a tangle of shredded apple, capers, the cheeses, coarse mustard. The graphics on the bottles are wonderful.

campfire cider

The bear on the bottle of Brickers Original reminds me of autumn, when bears always climb the old crabapple tree to feast on the small scabby fruit. Up and down, branches cracking under their weight. This guy spent most of a week in the tree, taking his ease in the little pond where he’d bobbed for the crabs that had already dropped.


The other bottle of cider is West Coast Scotch. The description says, “BC fresh pressed apples fermented dry and then aged for 5 months in Ardbeg scotch barrels. Ardbeg, from Islay in Scotland, is famous for its peaty and smoky flavours and this cider represents that with abundance. Hugely peaty on the nose with a light salty finish, this cider is designed to be a sipper…” I don’t know how much of this is true yet. I love Ardbeg, love the Islay single malts with their riff of seaweed and peat smoke (reminding me of the turf fires I burned when I lived in Ireland). I’m saving this bottle for a summer campfire, a few of us around it, bears and owls in the woods, the old stories of boulders on Mount Hallowell, scats in the berry patches, a sow and her twins ambling down to the trees we planted in the early days of our residence here, and maybe starlight. As Gary Snyder wrote of bears, “As for me I am a child of the god of the mountains.” Me too.

this year's orchard family


P.S. P.S. One of these guys must’ve heard me saying that I hadn’t seen a bear yet this year. In the wee hours this morning, one of them raided the bins where we keep old wire, vacuum bags filled with dust, and paint rags until we have enough to pay a visit to the dump, usually twice a year. Absolutely nothing to eat! It dragged stuff out and then wandered around for a bit. I was moving some plants from greenhouse to deck when I noticed this by the fig tree…


“the future had slipped into the present” (Jessie Greengrass)


As I write this on a rainy Monday morning, I am listening to “Become River” by the extraordinary composer John Luther Adams. I’ve written about him before. His composition “Become Ocean” is one of my favourite pieces of music, holding within it both the beauty and power of the world’s oceans but also the dark presence of the climate emergency. Alex Ross, who writes about music for the New Yorker, says this about “Become Ocean”:

The title comes from lines that John Cage wrote in tribute to the music of his colleague Lou Harrison: “Listening to it we become ocean.” There are also environmental implications, as Adams indicates in a brief, bleak note in the score: “Life on this earth first emerged from the sea. As the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans find ourselves facing the prospect that once again we may quite literally become ocean.” A onetime conservation activist who moved to Alaska in the nineteen-seventies, Adams has witnessed the effects of climate change at close range, and his music often reflects what he has seen. The 2007 orchestral work “Dark Waves,” among others, evokes mighty, natural processes through the accumulation of gradually shifting patterns. “Become Ocean” is his most ambitious effort in this vein: its three huge crescendos, evenly spaced over the three-quarter-hour span, suggest a tidal surge washing over all barriers.

These days I am flooded with fear about the future, what it holds for us as a species but more importantly (because we are only one of the estimated 8.7 million species that call the earth home), for our planet. It might go on. Will we? Do we deserve to? These are things I think about in the night when I can’t sleep. Yesterday I did what I always do this time of year: I planted seeds and transplanted hardy seedlings (begun a month ago, or two) into the garden. Purple sprouting broccoli, volunteers of perennial arugula, some cauliflower. I planted the peas out earlier in the week. I tidied the greenhouse and wondered how on earth to prune the little olive trees, where to plant the hardy pomegranate. Twenty years ago I would not have been thinking about olives or pomegranates but our climate has changed. Who can forget the heat dome last year, the one that claimed the lives of 600 people in British Columbia? Or the weather system known as an atmospheric river that caused extreme flooding, landslides, entire highway systems collapsed, loss of prime agricultural land in the Fraser Valley (along with huge numbers of farm animals who drowned in barns or flooded fields). The king tides. Or the fires: 8,700 square kilometers burned, driving people from their homes. The town of Lytton, at the confluence of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers, was completely destroyed. Imagine that for a moment. A vital community, one with a long history, Indigenous, settler, Chinese, the setting of Ethel Wilson’s gorgeous Hetty Dorval (and my own novella, The Weight of the Heart), burned to ash.

Over the past few days I read a compelling novel, The High House, by Jessie Greengrass. A small group of people in an isolated house on the edge of England are learning how to survive the unthinkable: the loss of a nearby village due to extreme flooding, with the ripples of climate events moving out into the larger world. These people are resourceful, in part because someone has made preparations for them, and in part because one of them has memory of previous floods, knows how to grow food to supplement what’s been hoarded for them, and provides practical advice and durable wisdom. One of the characters muses that floods had always happened elsewhere, far away, and one could feel sympathy but a kind of illusory confidence that surely it couldn’t come to that on one’s own doorstep.

The whole complicated system of modernity that had held us up, away from the earth, was crumbling, and we were becoming again what we had used to be: cold, and frightened of the weather, and frightened of the dark. Somehow, while we had all been busy, while we had been doing those small things that added up to living, the future had slipped into the present—and despite the fact that we had known that it would come, the overwhelming feeling, now that it was here, was of surprise…

The glaciers are melting, the rivers rising, already a fire in northwestern B.C. has closed a major highway, and what can we do but plant seeds and hope for the best? Try our best? We are waiting for the installation of a heat pump here, in part for its energy efficiency and in part to cope with the high temperatures that we are told to expect again this summer. Reading and thinking into the small hours of the night does no one any good and I can’t recommend it but in daylight, I can recommend the transporting beauty of John Luther Adams, his oceans and rivers and deserts transposed to violins, percussion, harps. Sit in a quiet room and listen. Let your heart slow to the watery sonorities of oceans and rivers, the distant thunder and bells and the dry vibrations of heatwaves. These are stories we might need when the future slips into the present. Listening, I am remembering the Thompson River as it winds below Walhachin, the air redolent with sage and dry earth, a few low junipers, their bark peeling away. Listening in my own high house, rain on the roof, Steller’s jays churring for their breakfast.

If you hear the Mississippi in Become River, I wouldn’t disabuse you of that notion. I’ve been a lifelong river rat; And the river I know best is the great Tanana river in central Alaska that feeds into the mighty Yukon. 
But from time to time, people will ask me, which ocean, which desert, which river, and my answer is always the same. 
Your ocean, your river, your desert. What I hope the music does is invite you into this beautiful, enveloping place, and for you have to your own journey, your own experience, your own float down the river, rather than me telling you a story about mine. (from