“the spiral at its very heart”

•August 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Now that the launch date has been set for Euclid’s Orchard—September 8th, 7:00 p.m., at the Sechelt Public Library (desserts to follow reading!)—my husband John has just printed a little keepsake to hand out to those who buy books that evening (book sales courtesy of Bev Shaw at Talewind Books). If you think you recognize the spiral image, it’s because it’s the same one we used for one of our Christmas cards a few years ago. a linocut, created by me. I’m not an artist, obviously, but Euclid’s Orchard, particularly the title essay, has spirals (some of them featuring the golden or logarithmic spiral, though this isn’t one of those), so it seemed a good graphic element for this keepsake. Two runs through the press (the big Chandler & Price) because it’s two colours. For years I’d look out the blue-framed window at the north end of the kitchen and see him out in the print shop, leaning over the press or the table where newly-printed pages were drying and so it was nice to pause there again and see him. Because all the doors and windows are open, I could even hear the thumping of the press working away—it’s treadle-driven— and I thought of it as a pulse. A heart-beat, a printer placing paper against the friskets on the bed, bringing the inked type-filled chase down to the bed so that the type could meet the paper and impress itself into the fibers.

keepsake with linocut

Does it feel a little like we’re coming to the end of summer? I know there are weeks of it left but the weather has changed, the smoke’s gone, and there’s a cool thread running through the warm air. This coming weekend is the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival, something I’ve been involved with off and on for 13 seasons. It’s going to be a good one. We’re sold out and the excitement is high. Tonight is a dinner to welcome the musicians (who arrive early for rehearsals) and to thank their host families. I’ve made an apple galette and have picked a handful of nasturtiums to garnish it. The programme is spectacular this year, with many Canadian composers woven into each concert. The Harbour’s own mezzo-soprano, Rose-Ellen Nichols, is singing “Ships of the Night” from the Tobin Stokes opera Pauline; Rose-Ellen premiered the role with Vancouver City Opera and I’m looking forward to hearing her again. She’s part of our Rising Tide initiative where we invite young performers for an afternoon concert and it’s free (though with limited seating so only the first hundred people will be able to sit in the performance space, though others can sit on the grass outside).



•August 11, 2017 • 9 Comments

Yesterday my publisher Mona Fertig sent me photographs of the approval copy of Euclid’s Orchard. (It had just arrived at her house on Salt Spring Island and she knew I’d like to see how beautifully it turned out. The physical book, I mean.) And oh how lovely! The cover’s sky is particularly gorgeous, given our own grey haze, the result of fires burning all over British Columbia.


But it was the inner spread she also sent, the opening page of the title essay and the image I chose to take the reader into its world, that I am so happy with. It’s a Melba apple tree, in winter, in the orchard we planted so joyfully (and with a lot of hard work) back in the 1980s and then finally abandoned, with sorrow, a few years ago. The essay explores this and it also explores my attempt to decode some of the mathematical ideas so integral to my son Brendan’s life, both in his childhood and now as a math professor in Alberta. I wanted an image that was somehow proximate, that referenced history, pattern-making, botany, the relationships between quilting and Euclidean geometry, and the ghosts who hover in our lives—our younger selves, our ancestors, the disembodied voices of coyotes in the night, even Euclid of Alexandria himself, with his Elements and his proofs. Brendan was good-natured about helping me with so many things while I was writing this essay and his patience continued as I co-opted him to produce a Euclidian algorithm in various forms in the hope that one of them could be layered with the Melba apple tree in winter. Designer Setareh Ashrafologhalai worked her magic and voila!


Old moss and lichen, bare boughs, and the technique for finding the greatest common divisor of two integers. Magic.

mark your calendar

•August 9, 2017 • 4 Comments

I hope anyone on the Sechelt Peninsula will join me and Mother Tongue Publishing for this event! I look forward to seeing you there! More events to follow — see my News and Events page for details.

evite Euclids Orchard Sechelt jpg..jpg

the glass of water, redux

•August 9, 2017 • Leave a Comment

First posted July 6, 2015…

“There were little tables along the dusty paths set out in an absent-minded way; couples were sitting there quietly in the dark, talking in low voices, over glasses of water. The glass of water . . . everywhere I saw the glass of water. It became obsessional. I began to think of water as a new thing, a new vital element of life. Earth, air, fire, water. Right now water had become the cardinal element. Seeing lovers sitting there in the dark drinking water, sitting there in peace and quiet and talking in low tones, gave me a wonderful feeling about the Greek character. The dust, the heat, the poverty, the bareness, the containedness of the people, and the water everywhere in little tumblers standing between the quiet peaceful couples, gave me the feeling there something holy about the place . . .”

–Henry Miller, from The Colossus of Maroussi

the glass of water

“The moon is just as bright as in my homeland”

•August 6, 2017 • 6 Comments

The eerie dark pink sun rising over Mt. Hallowell as we swim early mornings. The moon, almost the same colour in the dark trees, glowing as it passes the house. Smoke haze everywhere, the taste of it bitter at the back of the throat. My brother and his wife evacuated from their home in the Nazko valley. Always a mild anxiety as we look around, wonder about new fires, though the smoke comes from the Interior. No rain for weeks, none is forecast. I left laundry out for two days and when it came in, it smelled of fire, a dusting of fine grey particulate on the linen sheets.

But there are things to celebrate. John lifted the garlic and sorted it, letting it dry for a few days in a safe place (bears!), and then tying it to the rafters in the woodshed to cure for the winter. Next year I’ll plant more (I always say this) but I’m grateful for the beautiful heads of Red Russian, White Italian, and the gorgeous purple striped Metechi, from Kazakhstan.


I look forward to rain. We all do. And good news from the Nazko valley. In the meantime, I think of Du Fu and his brothers, though I know mine are safe:

Tonight we start the season of White Dew,
The moon is just as bright as in my homeland.
My brothers are spread all throughout the land,
No home to ask if they are living or dead.
The letters we send always go astray…

a small jug of sweet peas for their 67th anniversary

•August 4, 2017 • 2 Comments

sweet peas

It would have been the 67th anniversary of my parents today. They were married in Halifax not long after they met. Four children, many houses (my father was in the navy), many tea-chests opened in new places to discover that treasured items had been broken. Hockey games, Little League practice, hospital visits for tonsils, fire-cracker burns, a fractured pelvis from a horse accident (me), camping trips to places far and near, fishing rods propped against a wood pile. Readers of my forthcoming book will learn far more about our relationship than might be comfortable—like so many families, ours was complicated. But there are moments when you’ll see how much I loved them. Love them still. And am grateful for them meeting (it was a blind date), marrying, raising their children to care about the world.

When we returned that day from CFB Esquimalt with the stranger who was our father to our house on Eberts Street, my parents went into their bedroom and we were asked to leave them alone. I imagined my mother twirling for my father in her new suit and then the two of them hugging on the bed. Her Harris Tweed coat was hanging in the front closet, and I went in, closed the door from the inside, and put my arms into its satin-lined sleeves where I could smell my mother’s Avon underarm deodorant mingling with the wool. I was inside her coat, inside the embrace she was now sharing with my father. I was my mother, hidden from her children, the collar of the tweed coat rough against my neck.

(from “Tokens”, in Euclid’s Orchard)

mum and dad wedding day

it might have been her

•August 2, 2017 • 2 Comments

spring grass

It might have been this black bear sow, the one who came to our house with her yearling in spring, it might have been her who swam just before us. On our way down to the lake, fresh bear scats on the road, and on the sand, fresh tracks leading to the water, in, then out again and off into the woods. I could almost smell her. And when I entered the water, I thought of all the creatures who need cool water, particularly on these hot days when the smoke haze is thick and the creeks are dry. I have bowls of water around for the frogs and we have a funny little pool, created from an old claw-footed bathtub, where the tadpoles have already become this year’s tree-frogs. The bird-bath is full and grateful robins use it most days.

Yesterday the air was so close and hot that we closed all the windows, put on the fans, and tried to stay cool. This morning I’ve just gathered a big bowl of greens — new kale, old kale, lambs quarters, chicory, blood-red sorrel, arugula going to seed — for a pie and while the oven is on, I’ll roast a little organic hen with herbes de Provence and lemons. A watermelon gazpacho. By evening no one wants to cook.


The rain-barrels are almost empty and the Douglas firs are scarily brown. Not all of them, which has me thinking about water and its secret sources. We have a deep well, drilled into granite, and the water is pretty much the same year round. Cold, clear, and so far, there’s been lots of it. But no one should depend on anything staying the same; hence, the rain-barrels.

A few years ago, when we had 13 weeks without a drop of rain, I said I’d never complain about it again. During the wet winter, I kept my promise. And now I’m dreaming of it, dreaming of its sound on our metal roof. Here’s a beautiful little poem by Du Fu (712 – 770 A.D.). What he calls musk, I call the smell of Chablis — water on dry rock, flinty and delicious. Bring it on.

A slight rain comes, bathed in dawn light.
I hear it among treetop leaves before mist
Arrives. Soon it sprinkles the soil and,
Windblown, follows clouds away. Deepened

Colors grace thatch homes for a moment.
Flocks and herds of things wild glisten
Faintly. Then the scent of musk opens across
Half a mountain — and lingers on past noon.