wild kingdom

•September 19, 2018 • 2 Comments


Yesterday I was working on the garden fence, trying to create a lattice of sticks against the length of mesh that elk or deer (or both) keep breaking down to get to the garden. It was warm and quiet. Then I noticed a black bear about 20 feet away, ambling up from the little pool below the crabapple tree.

All day that bear hung around. It sat in the water and fished out fallen crabapples. Then it climbed the tree and ate as many scabby crabs as it could.

prince of the apple towns

It made us a little nervous. When we yelled at it to get lost, it very mildly watched us. When I banged on a pot lid with a metal spoon, it didn’t move. After dinner (which we ate on the deck, because it was the first sunny day in ages and winter’s coming…), I went upstairs and after 20 minutes or so John called up that he’d opened the door to go outside and the bear was at the bottom of the steps by our sliding doors.

I think this is a two-year old, last year’s yearling whose mum encouraged it up onto our upper deck (using the stairs, if you please) to drag away some tiny tomato plants and claw a little mason bee house down from the wall.

The mum—this bear’s mum?—was in the old orchard last night, with one of the twins she began the summer with. When I spotted her and showed John, she raced into the woods, cub at her tail. She at least knows that it’s not good to hang around the humans. It almost never ends well, particularly for bears. (I did call the conservation officer this morning and left a message. Many years ago we had a problem bear and the officer brought the trap—it looked like a culvert on wheels, with a sturdy door that springs shut when a bear enters, tempted by the bait of fish smeared with peanut butter. We were told the bears got one free ride to new territory and as that bear didn’t return, we hope he learned his lesson.) We don’t leave out garbage. Our kitchen garbage—and there isn’t much of it because I shop with the knowledge that we are responsible for taking our own garbage to the landfill so I choose stuff that can be reused or recycled—goes to a container in a closed shed. We do pick our fruit but those crabapples are growing on a huge old tree (it came as a young tree from John’s mum nearly 40 years ago) and we can’t reach them. We leave them for the grouse, who love them, and every few years a bear will climb and eat and then leave. This one has outstayed its welcome. That picture at the top of this post? It’s the bear, just now. I took the photograph and then it stretched out for a nap on the warm ground.


novellas for a rainy day

•September 16, 2018 • Leave a Comment

rainy day friends

It’s raining, a lovely soft sound on the roof. A perfect day to curl up with a novella, or three. In that spirit, I’m offering my three novellas—Inishbream, Patrin, and Winter Wren—for $45. (That’s a paltry $15 per title! But I’m only offering them as a trio.) I’ll ship for free in Canada. Other places? We can talk!

On my Books page, you can read about the individual titles. And here’s a little sample of rainy writing from each of them:

Listen. There were weeks when the sun refused us. At first I thought I could never live in such a place, but then I learned the sweetness of the Irish mist, how it enveloped you and numbed you to any real action or consequence. And you wandered in it, your hair jewelled, and you let yourself drift in great imaginings, where the ruined castle on the coast was made whole and you lived there, where the beached hooker* was yours and you mended it.

—from Inishbream (Goose Lane Editions, 2001)

My grandmother told me once that her father had worn a cloak, a loden cloak, given him by a man who’d bought some of the copper pots. It repelled both wind and rain. Sometimes he’d open it to allow two or three of his children to shelter within, she said. We sat under trees while the rain poured down, and it was our own tent, warmed by our father’s body.

—from Patrin (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2015)

Where am I, where am I? Again, she woke and tried to orient herself in the new room. Curtains, no—the fogginess was because it was raining outside and she couldn’t see farther than the window. Her room was a cube of wood and glass. In the bed she had been born in, she leaned forward and watched drops of water slowly find their way down the glass to the sill. The trees dripped. The cabin was cold and she put off the moment when she would push away the eiderdown and rush to the woodstove to start the morning’s fire.

Winter Wren (Fish Gotta Swim Editions, 2016)

*The Galway hooker (Irish: húicéir) is a traditional fishing boat used in Galway Bay off the west coast of Ireland.

behind the woodshed

•September 14, 2018 • Leave a Comment

It wasn’t these ones but their cousins almost certainly. And that bull? They’re around a 1000 pounds.

Looking out the window as I washed dishes, I saw a golden rump and a darker body behind the woodshed. An elk calf, half-grown, eating the suckers from the base of the Kwanzan cherry. I quietly went to the utility room window, the one opening directly to the little deck beside the tree. Five more elk, adults, pulling at boughs, a huge cow—was she actually inside the vegetable garden? Something had come the previous night and nipped all the new growth on the kale plants that had already been grazed by elk (these elk?) while we were away in Ottawa a week earlier. And a week before that, grazed by the blacktail doe that comes every year with her fawns, yearlings last year, twins this year. My heart sank. But I opened the door and rushed out, shouting. The sound of huge bodies crashing into the woods, more than 5 (that was only what I could see), and everywhere the smell of them, like horses.

Why bother, I thought. Why bother trying to grow anything.





a birthday (spirit)

•September 13, 2018 • 2 Comments

She was spirited at 3 and 30 years later, she hasn’t lost any of it. The happiest of birthdays to my daughter Angelica.

birthday girl

Your daily French reminder.

•September 12, 2018 • 10 Comments

Mostly I like the dailiness of my life. Sure, there are boring times but mostly there’s stuff to do that gives me a sense of purpose. My writing. My garden. My family. Quilts. Friendships. The work I do with my fellow organizers of the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival.

Yesterday was not one of those days. I was in a deep funk over the garden, wondering how to cope with the latest round of damage done by marauding ungulates. Elk this time. When we returned from Ottawa last Tuesday, I immediately knew that animals had broken into the garden. What is usually a green tangle was…bare. I couldn’t look so waited until the next morning.  For more than 30 years, we’ve relied on a fence of 8 foot high black deer-proof mesh. It works. Or has worked. I think the theory is that animals don’t see it and bump up against it, which freaks them out. Ours is strung tightly on 12 foot lengths of rebar sunk into the ground. Sinking sounds, well, easy. And it wasn’t easy because the ground is hardpan. When we rebuilt the garden in 2013 after our septic field needed work, we built boxes of recycled cedar boards and most of the beds are framed this way. Some are long barrows — the raspberry beds, for example. There are paths (that are also the lines of the field so that we can get to any potential problems without having to dig up the whole garden). I think of my vegetable garden as its own place. There’s an apple tree, many roses, lilies, perennials, and lively populations of snakes, tree frogs, some long-toed salamanders, butterflies, bees, and of course pests—slugs, woodbugs, wasps (and I only think of them as pests late in the season; when I watch them early in summer, scouring scale insects and aphids off the roses and other plants, I’m glad to have them there). A few weeks ago, we were in the kitchen and saw a doe coming up from the old orchard with her twins and John said (fatal last words), Well, at least they can’t get into the garden. 8 minutes later I was at an upstairs window and I saw the fawns on the driveway and the doe eating kale plants inside the garden. I raced out and chased her out, her escape route being to simply crash through the mesh. I could see that she got in by pushing underneath the gate. In 8 minutes she’d done a lot of damage. She ate bean vines, a lot of the kale, nibbled the squash plants, and feasted on the arugula. We repaired the section of fence she’d pulled down as she escaped and put a heavy section of old cedar railing against the gate to fortify it. (It made getting in and out a bit of a weightlifting session but no matter.)

I did have a sense of foreboding as we came home last week. It’s been so dry and the woods are parched. The garden is watered regularly and word was obviously out that there was lush greenery to be had by simply pushing through the mesh. And the next morning I went out to see that raspberry leaves, apple boughs, all the kale, the winter lettuce and squash, the lilies, everything green and succulent, had been eaten. Tell-tale scats everywhere so there was no mistaking it was elk.

Last night I dreamed of the garden and its current state. I dreamed of Donald Trump ordering people—mostly children—onto trains going to a terrible concentration camp (I don’t even want to type the name). I dreamed of our water gone bad. Yesterday, after the heaviest rainfall we’ve ever had here, I was running a bath when suddenly black water gushed out of the tap. For a few hours that was the situation, though the water was brown, then slightly discoloured, no longer black. We have a well, a deep well drilled into granite and dependent on underground aquifer; the water never changes. We wondered if our 37 years of good luck with our water had come to an end. But this morning things look better. We have some theories and time will tell if we’re right. Keep your fingers crossed?

In the night I was awake worrying about all these things. The elk, the water, the state of the world. When I realized it was morning, I didn’t want to get up. What for? At some point I need to figure out what to do about the garden. Chain-link fence? 10 feet high? Expensive. And so much work.

But just now, opening my email, there was the message: Your daily French reminder. I’ve been trying to learn French so that I will be able to keep up with my two grandsons in Ottawa. The older one moves effortlessly between English and French. His Francophone grandmother graciously talks to me in English and I’d like to try to respond to her in French. I have the usual Canadian high school French but of course never used it. I can read French, simple texts at least, but have always felt self-conscious about my limited voabulary and terrible grammar. But I’m determined to become more fluent. And daily practice seems the best solution. Part of the dailiness I seem to need to be productive.


Meanwhile, John is in the kitchen (where I’m hoping the taps are running clear), preparing to tile the top of a free-standing counter area we had made for us and picked up on our way home from Ottawa. In a kitchen, things accumulate. In ours, a small convection oven and a well-used slow-cooker have kept company on a pine table under some windows across the kitchen from the actual work area. I had in mind a cupboard for that corner, with a surface safe enough for the little oven and other appliances. I wanted deep cupboards big enough for all the casserole dishes and so forth that are currently on some open shelves (so that they need to be washed every time I use them!). I kept looking in second-hand stores but nothing showed up. So we had a guy in Gibsons who makes beautiful furniture and entire kitchens (if you can afford them) make this piece to our specifications. We asked for the top to be plywood so that John could tile it with Mexican tiles given to us by friends who had some leftover when they built their house some years ago. The box of tiles has been waiting for the right project and this is it.


Something has shifted. Climate, political weather, how we treat one another on this planet, and even the habits of animals. When I was looking through photographs on the camera card, I saw one I took yesterday, as the monsoon was letting up (though before I ran a tap to see black water gushing out), and I think I want to keep it close for the next while.


This is the same window I looked out to see the doe in my garden. You can see the dead cedars Hydro will cut down this fall (victims of the drought) and mercifully you can’t see the ravaged condition of the garden. But that’s a rainbow, a small one, arching over my view.

Touch anywhere to begin

•September 5, 2018 • 2 Comments

Flying to Ottawa late last week, I kept seeing the message on the screen in front of my seat: Touch anywhere to begin, or press enter. When I fly, I almost never watch the movies but like to have the map so I can see where we are in relation to the land below us. Sometimes I look down to see mountains, tiny green lakes in clefts of rock, the scribble of rivers, quilted fields of Alberta and Saskatchewan, and clouds, lots of clouds. I read the New Yorker this time, drank water, wondered at the baby we were about to meet, our newest grandson Edmond. Touch anywhere to begin.

edmond reclining...

I began simply by looking at him when we came down the elevator to see his whole family waiting. His brother had cards for us, wild exuberant paintings. His parents had things planned: tea (with Manon’s mum Nicole) at the Billings Estate National Historic Site above the Rideau River (Forrest does exhibition development and research for a group of museums in the Ottawa area and this is one of those sites);

tea at the billings estate

some time at the Museum of Nature (where I couldn’t stop looking at the blue whale skeleton, its elegant vestigial fingers, wondering about deep time and how a body changes over the years. Press enter.);


swimming in the Madawaska River and in the pond at the Caldwell-Carver Conservation area near where Forrest and Manon live; walking the boardwalk at Mer Bleue and talking about frogs, muskrats (I startled one when I was leaning over the boardwalk to look at some bog rosemary), larches, and how one day the little boys might do this with their own children; eating delicious meals, including duck tacos the first night at Ola Cocina with its little tables set up on the sidewalk and lights strung through the trees. There was ice-cream and lots of stories and talking about time, if not exactly deep time, with Arthur at the Madawaska River. (Press enter.)

after our swim we talked about time

There were perfect moments. This one, for example:

a passle of passes

And others, not photographed. The feeling of Edmond’s fingers clutching mine as I held him under the grapes in the backyard. (Touch anywhere to begin.) Watching Arthur sing “Song of the Water Boatman” as his father read him that book at bedtime on our last night in Ottawa.

I didn’t take enough photographs. I wish I could show you what small boys look like when they’re sleeping in their car seats and you stop for ice cream in Almonte or how a face lights up when Grandma draws the faces in the windows of the school bus she has chalked onto the sidewalk outside Ola Cocina. Or three generations of Pass guys walking ahead on the boardwalk at Mer Bleue, their legs exactly the same skinny shape, leaning into each other, deep in conversation. I wish. I wish. Press enter.



•September 3, 2018 • Leave a Comment


Sometimes it’s good to realize your own size in relation to the largest animal on earth or in its waters. To stand under the skeleton of a blue whale, to look into the ribcage, to see the long bones of what look like fingers resting elegantly against the ribs is to hold in your mind the space between you and the ghost of this whale in a noisy room so far from the ocean.