the day after

at the book prizes

Last night was the B.C. Book Prizes gala. I was glad to be there, glad to be nominated for a prize, though I didn’t “win”. (Here’s the link to the winning titles!) It was lovely to see old friends, meet some new people, and to realize again what a vital literary community we have in this province on the far edge of the country, west of the Rocky Mountains. People put so much effort into the event, from the jurors (and how nice it was to spend a bit of time with Jean Barman, a historian I believe to be a national treasure) to the organizing committee to the librarians, booksellers, and everyone else who gathered to honour the nominated writers.

I want to commend my own publisher, Mona Fertig, at Mother Tongue Publishing. She is so supportive, so enthusiastic, and she runs her business out of an old heritage house near Ganges on Salt Spring Island. She celebrates the unsung artists of our province, the writers who are working in forms not part of the best-seller culture, and she insists on their importance. Not “instead of” but “as well as”. It’s harder to do this work, I know, with financial constraints and reluctance on the part of much of the media to embrace what might not seem popular. Last night Mona was her bounteous generous self and I was glad to be there for the reception and dinner as well as the awards ceremony for the opportunity to share a glass or two of wine and to know that my book, Euclid’s Orchard, was possible because of her encouragement, her faith.

the day before the B.C. Book Prizes

Euclid's Orchard_cover Final

Last night I read at the Gibsons Library and engaged in a conversation with Dick Harrison, dear friend and fine scholar. I had one of those moments, after people had made generous comments or asked interesting questions, when I realized that I’d written the book I’d hoped to write, one that weaves family stories into a larger pattern of natural, cultural, and regional history. Someone said at the end that the one word they (well, it was she) would use was “textured”. And yes, that was at least one of my intentions.

But it’s a quiet book. The writing doesn’t exactly ignite fireworks. I’m not apologizing. I believe that the world needs all kinds of books and I hope that the quiet ones can continue to find a place in the literary conversation. The ones that notice the plants and birds (right now there’s an orange-crowned warbler on the rugosa rose out the window!), record the dailiness of lives, ask us to remember the ordinary people who made us. Ask us to listen as the coyotes sing in the woods beyond the house, to birdsong on a May morning.

Tomorrow is the Gala for the B.C. Book Prizes awards. If you visit this site frequently, then you know that Euclid’s Orchard has been nomination for the Hubert Evans Award. I don’t have any expectations regarding the award. I do believe that it’s an honour to know that a jury read all the non-fiction books published in B.C. in 2017 and included mine among their top 5. I’ll pack my glad rags, cross Howe Sound on the ferry, and go to the reception and dinner, then sit among the well-wishers as the awards are given out in the big ballroom at the Pinnacle Hotel in Vancouver. It’s a chance to celebrate the vital writing and publishing community in this province and I’m happy to be part of it. And what a thrill to be in this company for the past two months.

Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize

Supported by the BC Teachers’ Federation

Dead Reckoning: How I Came to Meet the Man Who Murdered My Father
by Carys Cragg
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press

When Carys Cragg was eleven, her father, a respected doctor, was brutally murdered in his own home by an intruder. Twenty years later, and despite the reservations of her family and friends, she decides to contact his murderer in prison, and the two correspond for a period of two years. She learns of his horrific childhood, and the reasons he lied about the murder; in turn, he learns about the man he killed. She mines his letters for clues about the past before agreeing to meet him in person, when she learns startling new information about the crime.

Carys Cragg is an instructor in Child, Family & Community Studies at Douglas College. Her personal essays and reviews have appeared in such venues as The Globe & Mail and The Tyee.

» More

Euclid’s Orchard & Other Essays
by Theresa Kishkan
Publisher: Mother Tongue Publishing

In her new collection of essays Kishkan unravels an intricately patterned algorithm of cross-species madrigal, horticulture, and love. Opening with ‘Herakleitos on the Yalakom,’ a turbulent homage to her father, and ending in ‘Euclid’s Orchard,’ amidst bees and coyotes, her touchstones of natural history and family mythology are re-aligned and mortared with metaphysics and math. Along the way her signature lyricism of place and home sings us from her grandparents’ first homestead near Drumheller via an actual ‘Poignant Mountain’ of her girlhood to her beloved home on the Sechelt Peninsula in BC.

Theresa Kishkan is the author of thirteen books of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. She has been a finalist for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and won the Edna Staebler Personal Essay Prize.

» More

Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition
by Paul Watson
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

In a masterful work of history and contemporary reporting, journalist Paul Watson tells the full story of the Franklin Expedition: Sir John Franklin and his crew setting off from England in search of the fabled Northwest Passage; the hazards they encountered and the reasons they were forced to abandon ship after getting stuck in the ice hundreds of miles from the nearest outpost of Western civilization; and the dozens of search expeditions over more than 160 years, which collectively have been called “the most extensive, expensive, perverse, and ill-starred . . . manhunt in history.”

Paul Watson earned three National Newspaper Awards for foreign reporting and photography, the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography, and the 2006 Hal Boyle Award from the Overseas Press Club of America.

» More

The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land, Rebuilding the Economy
by Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson
Publisher: James Lorimer and Company Ltd., Publishers

Manuel and Derrickson offer an illuminating vision of what Canada and Canadians need for true reconciliation. They show how governments are attempting to reconcile with Indigenous Peoples without touching the basic colonial structures that dominate and distort the relationship. They review the current state of land claims, tackle the persistence of racism among non-Indigenous people and institutions, celebrate Indigenous Rights Movements while decrying the role of government-funded organizations like the Assembly of First Nations, and document the federal government’s disregard for the substance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples while claiming to implement it. These circumstances amount to what they see as a false reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.

Arthur Manuel was a widely respected Indigenous leader and activist from the Secwépemc Nation. He was known internationally, having advocated for Indigenous rights and struggles at the United Nations, The Hague, and the World Trade Organization.

Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson served as Chief of the Westbank First Nation from 1976 to 1986 and from 1998 to 2000. He was made Grand Chief by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs in 2012.

» More

The Sacred Herb / The Devil’s Weed
by Andrew Struthers
Publisher: New Star Books

The Sacred Herb / The Devil’s Weed is informative and even enlightening, but above all, it’s a hilarious look at a humble plant that has entertained, inspired, and occasionally terrified so many for so long. One side of this double paperback answers all your questions about the world’s most misunderstood plant, from how “the bikers of the Stone Age” spread it across Europe to why it makes music sound better. The other side is a non-stop trip as Struthers weaves together true stories, collected from 100 friends, of marijuana-inspired misadventures.

Andrew Struthers is the author of Around the World on Minimum Wage (2014), The Last Voyage of the Loch Ryan (2004), and The Green Shadow (1995). His films include The Magic Salmon, TigerBomb: A Symphony in Dynamite, and Spiders on Drugs.

» More


“What song might lure a child from the deck of a small boat…”

first day of spring

First day of spring, and it’s grey. But last night we went to have dinner with our friends on Oyster Bay and it was like so many dinners we’ve had over the 32 years of our friendship. Arriving before the sun went down to a bay filled with goldeneyes, buffleheads. The whoosh of the tide. The smell of woodsmoke as we gathered by the fire to drink a glass of champagne (because they invited us, 4 of us, to celebrate my recent nomination for a B.C. Book Prize!). Looking out the window at the crazy roof of the old part of the house—we were in the newer part—anyway, the old part of the house that was originally a floating camp kitchen where high tides wash under the floor, pulled up onto land in the 1930s or 40s and shored up with logs, I said to one friend, “This is the world we hoped to find when we moved here in 1982.” A place my old friend Charles Lillard described so beautifully in “Closing Down Kah Shakes Creek”:

This is an old west where a secret cove with an old house
is called history, a raven cackling on a limb, mythology.

We ate oysters collected earlier in the day from the beach (and there was a bucket full of them waiting for us to take home at the end of the evening), prawns, a delicious side of perfect salmon, and finished with lemon meringue pie. Champagne, and French chardonnay tasting of wet stones. A vase of snowdrops on the table set with my friend’s family Meissen, brought home from her mother’s house after her mother’s long life ended. Everything so beautiful and cherished.

I want to record these times because when we’re gone, will anyone remember that a house sat at the edge of a bay and 6 friends ate a feast pulled from its waters? That we talked of poetry and art (two of my friends are painters), of our children who are all making their way in the larger world but who all knew this house in their childhoods, swam off its generous rocks?

I wrote a novel about this bay after a series of dreams about a man in a small boat. A Man In A Distant Field is set in the salt meadows at the end of the bay where creeks find their way down to it from Mount Hallowell.

Past the watery thickets of eel-grass streaming over the surface of the bay, past the reeds where nests were concealed, past the tiny cove where Declan had stumbled upon Rose digging for clams with a stick shaped like a bird’s claw. There were sandy areas punctuated with oysters, the small Olympics that tasted sweet when you pried their shells open and drank them back like nectar, and there were rocks encrusted with the bigger Pacifics brought from Japan. The man who’d given Declan passage up the coast had told him that he was growing the big oysters on the beach in front of his homestead, hoping to market them to the steamships; he brought boxes of seed by boat from Vancouver, his young son responsible for keeping the boxes damp. “If it’s a high sea,” the man had said, “I tie a rope around his middle so he doesn’t wash overboard.” Declan imagined them coming up from the strait in wild seas on their boat with the boxes of oyster seed, the child tethered to the wheelhouse while the father steered a straight course for home. He heard the echoes of Odysseus resisting the song of the Sirens, lashed to the mast, while his men rowed past the pretty music. What song might lure a child from the deck of a small boat heading north to Pender Harbour into the dark waters of Georgia Strait?

I think it might be the song we hear that draws us back to dinners on Oyster Bay, talking of poetry and children, and all around us, the scent of woodsmoke, of salt.

“…will the voices come to us again?”

Euclid’s arrival at Mona’s place

This morning the B.C. Book Prizes announced the 2018 shortlists and I am so thrilled to see Euclid’s Orchard nominated for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize.

Awarded to the author(s) of the best original work of literary non-fiction. Topics such as philosophy, politics, biography, history, belles lettres, etc. Quality of research and writing along with insight and originality are major considerations in the judging of this prize. (from the Book Prizes website)

I’ve always admired Hubert Evans. When John and I first moved to the Sechelt Peninsula, Hubert was still alive, living at Roberts Creek. I met him once and told him how much I loved his Mist on the River and O Time In Your Flight. In the way that these things happen in small places, his granddaughter, a nurse at the hospital in Sechelt, helped to deliver my son Brendan. Brendan, for those of you who’ve read Euclid’s Orchard, is the mathematician who inspired the title essay. When my publisher Mona Fertig and I were making decisions on images for the book, I had to call on Brendan several times to help with something I had in mind: a photograph of a tree in our old orchard with Euclid’s algorithm hanging over it like mist. Another layer of meaning. I remember my relief when Mona sent a photograph of the spread for that essay, relief that both Brendan’s work and the wonderful eye of designer Setareh Ashrafologhalai helped to bring my vision alive.


My other children are in these pages too. Son Forrest, a historian, helped with the work of decoding a whole complicated knot of information about a squatters’ community in Drumheller in the early 20th century, the first place my grandmother lived when she came to Canada. My daughter Angelica is always the first person I ask about classical texts (she has an M.A. in Greek and Roman Studies and can read Latin with an impressive fluency). And my husband John, well, he makes so much of what I do possible. The beautiful young women who are the mothers of my grandchildren are also in these pages, entering the family story with grace and humour.

I dedicated Euclid’s Orchard to those grandchildren and my late parents. They bracket my specific time on earth and the stories in my book are theirs. Ours. No one knows when they might need to know something and when I was undergoing medical tests in the fall of 2016, I needed to know how the pieces of particular family stories fit together, both within our own ecology and also the larger picture. How a squatters’ community on the banks of the Red Deer River echoed much of the immigrant experience, the languages of loss and grief and deprivation. How a child dazzled by patterns and numbers might grow up in a family of dreamers and poets and how a mother might try to parse the meaning of those patterns late in life. How letters might be written to the dead.

Migratory, like monarchs, we find our own urgent way to a place where the sun and earth greet us, give us rest.We find our place among wild plants on a roadside, we hear beetles and the lazy drone of bees. If we sit on the grass and let the dry wind ruffle our hair, will the voices come to us again? — from “West of the 4th Meridian: A Libretto for Migrating Voices”

my hands are full

In April, 2008, I travelled to a number of small communities along the Yellowhead Highway and beyond as part of a book tour for authors shortlisted for B.C. Book Prizes. (My collection of personal essays, Phantom Limb, had been nominated for the Hubert Evans Award.) I particularly remember the drive to Kitimat where Mary Novik and I spent time with high school kids in the afternoon and then, before the evening reading at Book Masters, Bryan Pike (the amazing organizer and driver for the tour) took us out to the Haisla village of Kitamaat for dinner at Sea Masters. The restaurant was right on the edge of Douglas Channel and we sat by a window and ate wonderful food — crab cakes with mango salsa, snapper,  halibut: food taken from the waters we looked out on. Pristine waters, alive with seabirds, mists, and seals near the shore.

It was a sublime experience. I’ve often thought of that channel, particularly now that the news is full of the federal government’s go-ahead to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal which would bring bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to Kitimat where it would then be taken to offshore markets by supertankers navigating the wild waters of our western coast. I’m not an economist nor a energy expert nor a captain of any kind of industry apart from my home and garden. But I’m a citizen and I don’t believe this project is sound. I recall the terrible days following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in 1989. The giant tanker ran into Bligh Reef, releasing up to 750,000 barrels of crude oil into those pristine waters. This was an accident that “couldn’t happen” — statistically, at least. But it did. I remember the photographs of seabirds, sea and river otters, seals, orcas, all covered in oil and dying. The long-term damage and losses were catastrophic — think of the communities dependent on those resources: the mussel and clam beds, the herring and salmon runs, the eel-grass beds providing nurseries for little organisms.  All these years later, crude oil continues to be a problem in soils and sands.

So the petitions are circulating and I’ve signed one: And I’ll do whatever I can to make sure that this pipeline doesn’t progress any further than it already has.

But I was delighted to learn that the Gitga’at First Nations have come up with a plan. “Made of multicolour yarn and decorated with family keepsakes and mementos including baby pictures and fishing floats with written messages on them, the chain will stretch from Hawkesbury Island to Hartley Bay, a distance of 11,544 feet.”

It doesn’t surprise me that women are protesting with yarn and old skills. I sometimes think we meditate with our hands, we come to solutions by feeling our way through problems, loneliness, grief, hardship, and traumas by immersing our hands in the materials of creation. And while I’ve been listening to news of this yarn blockade, I’ve been meditating myself, knitting a blanket for my first grandchild, due in July. The connection between keeping a newborn baby warm and safe and protecting the place I love so dearly is as clear as anything I know.