winter gifts at High Ground

I know Christmas is more than a month away but if you’re thinking about gifts, we can make it simpler for you by offering some of our own books, limited edition chapbooks, and broadsheets printed on our late 19th c. Chandler & Price platen press for sale during the season.

mud bottom

For example, John’s Mud Bottom (details here) is $35. If you buy a set of the Companions Series Broadsheets (also here), a folio of 12 letter press broadsheets including poems by Gillian Wigmore, Russell Thornton, and Maleea Acker written in reponse to other poems printed enface, priced at $150, then we will include a copy of Mud Bottom for free with your order.

winter books

For a selection of our books, including my Euclid’s Orchard, Winter Wren, The Age of Water Lilies, Inishbream, Patrin, A Man in a Distant Field, and Red Laredo Boots, and John’s crawlspace (winner of the 2012 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize), Forecast (Selected Early Poems: 1970-1990), and This Was the River. the deal is this: buy one at cover price and receive a second book of your choice for 50% off. We’ll happily inscribe the books. Postage will be charged at cost.

If there are other books you’re interested in or you see something on the High Ground page (including chapbooks, individual broadsheets, including Michael Ondaatje’s “Breeze”), please ask us. And if you think that background scarf on which the books recline is as ravishing as I think it is, visit Caroline Jonas’s website. (I recently ordered the scarf as an early Christmas gift from my husband because he won’t be able to shop this year!)

the decades


I looked out just now to see if there’s the first snow on the mountain because it feels cold enough down here. There isn’t yet, but I bet it’ll come by next week. I love the cold nights, stars, that beautiful scimitar moon in the mid-November dark sky.

I just made a (clumsy) linocut for this year’s Christmas card. A winter wren, with a slightly foreshortened beak and awkward legs. (The lino was brittle this year, even when warmed by the woodstove.) I’ve chosen a short passage from my novella, Winter Wren, and John will print later this week.

Every year I make a linocut and he sets type and prints a card. I remember the first one we created, in the basement of the house we rented in North Vancouver before moving here in December of 1982, after a year and a half of living first in a tent here, then the shell of our house while we made it comfortable enough to live in. That first card used some old wooden type that came with the press and we had enough to print just two words: LOVE&JOY, all in caps, with the beautiful ampersand.

How the years accumulate. I listened to Emmylou Harris while I worked on the lino and realized I’ve been one of her biggest fans, boots and all, since grade 11. 1972. But I don’t think I ever paid much attention to this beauty, the one that caught my heart this afternoon.

In a couple of weeks, we’ll go to Edmonton (speaking of cold) to spend time with our family there. Emails arrive, asking would we like to go for a sleigh ride on Whyte Avenue, would we like to go to an abbreviated Nutcracker (our grandchildren are 2 and 4), and what about a Dickens tea? I remember carving lino in the early year with an audience, my own children, young enough to be impressed by a small knife making images in a piece of lino warmed by the woodstove. Young enough to listen to any music I played, and yes, there was a lot of Emmylou Harris even then. I wanted to preserve time in the images I cut with my little box of tools. I still do. John’s been sorting the decades of Christmas cards to make sure we have a full collection for the High Ground Press archive and there they are—a house on a hill with a moon overhead; a cat in a window with a star by its ear; a tree by the front door; a gingerbread person; a snowflake; a pinecone; the two fish undulating under stars (the image Anik and I appropriated for our Fish Gotta Swim Editions pressmark); a fishing boat with bright lights on its rigging (inked in by hand); and more that I can’t remember right now.

Sometimes I forget what’s to come. In late summer, preserving fruit and vegetables, I forget that I’ll be here in the house on a cold day in November, wondering what might make a card image for this coming Christmas. Or that listening to a cd heard hundreds of times over the years, I’ll stop as Emmylou sings,

So blind I couldn’t see
How much she really meant to me
And that soon she would always be
On my mind, in my heart,
I was blind from the start

of stairs

Last night I dreamed of stairs. I was ascending, not descending, and it seemed the stairs went on forever. It was exhilarating but there was also a sense that I had no idea where I was going. I was afraid to look back but I knew I should try to remember everything that I was leaving as I climbed.

I think the dream came from seeing this pile of old cedar yesterday:

old stairs

John was splitting some rounds of fir and getting old lumber ready to cut into usable lengths for the woodstove and this pile represents the old stair treads he replaced a few weeks ago. The stairs are the ones that lead up from the grass on the east side of our house to the deck that wraps around two sides of the second storey  and serves as a roof for three bedrooms below it. Our bedroom opens into a sun-room and the sun-room opens onto the deck. It’s where I grow tomatoes against the warm south-facing walls and where we have our coffee each morning. There’s also a collection of potted roses and a Meyer lemon tree (this moves into the sun-room each winter and produces enough fruit for marmalade). We built this deck when we extended our house in 1990 to accommodate growing children and I think the stairs were built the next summer, in 1991. I remember Kate Braid coming for lunch (and also to sign copies of her poem “Concrete’s Coming” that John printed as part our High Ground Press poetry broadsheet series) and the two of them looking at the stringers, talking about the best way to bolt them to the house.

The treads needed replacing. The original wood came from a little mill on Trout Lake Road where the sawyer sold cedar 2x4s that were odd lengths and where we bought a lot of this cedar for decks, The roof that also served as a deck was once something called “torch-on” I think—heavy roofing felt applied to plywood—and we built decking over top, using rough cedar in sections that could be lifted to clean underneath. Those sections were so heavy to lift and eventually the torch-on needed to be replaced and the local roofers didn’t want to do it. So we replaced it with a membrane that is very durable and makes a good deck surface without the fuss of those moveable sections of cedar. Some of those sections were dismantled and used to frame garden boxes.

upper deck

But the stairs went on. I’ve gone up and down them thousands of times. There’s a Mme. Alfred Carriére rose growing up one set of railings. I’ve lugged buckets of soil up and down, bags of manure, compost, plants, chairs, pots of tomatoes and roses, and sometimes I’ve sat on the stairs because the sun had just come up and those cedar treads were the first place to warm up. Just beyond them is the copper beech tree where I scattered the ashes of my parents.

Last year when we were away in Alberta helping Brendan and Cristen build a deck of their own, the neighbour who was feeding the cat phoned to say that bears had come up the stairs to drag pots of tomatoes part-way down. This year I’m sort of waiting for the mama sow to remember and to guide her cubs up to try again. Weasels have come up the stairs and somehow a snake found its way up too.

There was something forlorn about the stack of old stairs by the woodshed. We’ll burn the wood; it won’t go to waste. But all the times I trusted their strength to take me up and down, to take my children, then my grandchildren up and down: was that why I dreamed of stairs rising and rising, take me to some unknown height?


The man who built the stairs (affectionately known to me as John) asked that I post a photograph of the new stairs.

new stairs

“Holding Arthur”

A few days after we’d arrived in Ottawa to meet our new grandson Arthur, we went to Toronto where we had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours at the Royal Ontario Museum’s Pompeii exhibit. And in the way these things do, the experience of seeing the remnants of that extraordinary city — both the timelessness and the vulnerability of human creation — fused in my husband’s imagination with the tender moments he had with his new grandson. He printed this broadsheet as a celebration of Arthur’s birth. I love the umber pillars (echoing the leaves), the birds, the memory of John cradling the sleeping baby and walking him, as he walked our babies when our rooms were still new and our lives were before us.

holding arthur

by hand

Yesterday we participated in the Alcuin Society’s Wayzgoose, held every two years in the Alice McKay Room of the Vancouver Public Library. It’s a fair, really, featuring the work of letterpress printers, book artists, papermakers, marblers, and others involved in one or another (or many) aspects of the book arts. We have a couple of old platen presses — a Chandler and Price and a smaller Adana — and we print poetry broadsides as well as ephemera. Our production has slowed down in recent years as we concentrate on our own writing (and somehow there just isn’t as much time, it seems, though where it goes is an ongoing mystery to me). We’ve printed wedding invitations (two weddings, both our sons, in 2012) and one little birth announcement (a poem John wrote for Kelly); I know there’s musing about a second birth announcement, for grandson Arthur, born 3 1/2 weeks ago. So although we’re not printing as much as we did in previous years, we go to the Wayzgoose to see what others are doing and to offer interested parties a chance to look at and even buy our backlist. We still have sets of our Companion Series, for example: we asked twelve Canadian poets to respond to a poem of their choice and we printed the two poems side by side. Here’s the prospectus (and if you are unable to zoom in on it and you’re interested in learning more about the series, just send me a note):


(The email address on this prospectus is an old one. If you are interested in learning more about the Companions broadsides, you can email me at the address provided on the Contacts link on the menu on the right-hand side of my home-page.)

It’s always so inspiring to see what others are doing. Phyllis Greenwood spent the day demonstrating the art of marbling paper. In the past I’ve bought sheets of her marbled paper and I keep thinking they’ll be perfect for a project — end papers for novellas, maybe? Or that essay series I hoped to publish under our High Ground imprint — chapbooks of single essays, printed digitally, but with letterpress covers. And marbled end-papers? Hmmm. (Again, where does the time go? Why haven’t I done this? Another of those dreams I wake in the night from and wonder why I don’t simply get to it.)

There are grand projects on display at the Wayzgoose, and smaller ones; and this time it was the smaller ones that spoke to me so clearly. Frances Hunter of Red Tower Bookworks had the most beautiful notebooks, all handbound, and many of them with covers of handmade or marbled papers. I bought several of the latter, though it was the former that intrigued me. She is making paper using invasive species — Daphne laureola, or spurge-laurel, gathered in the woods surrounding her home at Prospect Lake, near Victoria; and yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus). The Prospect Lake area is one I know well, having spent my teen years at nearby Royal Oak, and having ridden my horse many Sunday mornings out to Prospect Lake where old farms and the general store held stories of the colonial settlement of the Saanich peninsula. Frances is working on projects involving moths and their association with plants of the Garry oak meadows of the peninsula; readers of my book Mnemonic: A Book of Trees will know how dear those meadows are to my heart.

This morning I put two of the notebooks on my maple cutting board (that’s a strip of spalted maple you can see running down the heart of the board) and took their photographs. Somehow the notebooks speak to me of possibilities, their blank pages ready and willing.


saffron spine

“I grieve for the bend in the road and beyond”

There are places you pass through on travels and you dream of them ever after. Two years ago John and I were ambling through Boundary country in the southern Interior of B.C. and saw, on our map, a road meandering off the main highway and rejoining it further east. The Rock Creek-Bridesville Road — though we took it backwards, so to speak, leaving Highway 3 (the Crowsnest Highway) at Bridesville and driving the most magical route through pine forests, along soft gravel, through grassy meadows, past several peaceful farms where deer grazed among cattle and bluebirds sat on fenceposts watching us as we tried to take their portraits. There were wildflowers in glorious bloom, a young bobcat crossing the road in front of us, yellowheaded blackbirds calling across a marsh, and a sense that here was paradise.

Last week terrible wildfires swept through this area. I’m not sure if this particular road was affected — I’ve looked online, trying to find precise maps —  but many homes were burned in the Rock Creek area, campsites were evacuated at a moment’s notice, the highway was closed, and the news was full of stories of people setting their animals free before they had to flee their farms.

kins corner ranch

I think of that beautiful landscape, the Kettle River running through it, the ranches anchored by history and long occupation, the birds, dense stands of fir and pine, and everywhere the meadows, the scent of wildflowers. I hope for the best for all the people who lived there, many of them able now to return to find what was left of home after days in temporary shelters, fed by the people of Midway and Kelowna and other communities which opened their doors, and I remember a poem, not about this place exactly (you’ll note the references to ocean), but about how such landscapes enter memory and come to us unprovoked, in dreams:

A Bend in the Road

In a dream, a road leads to my new life.

I am riding a horse. Around the far bend

is a bay and by that, a house. I am planning

for food, a garden, an occupation.

My family has never occurred.

The ditches are bright with poppies and hawkweed.

I am thinking I have been here before,

in a dream, or not, but long ago, I remember

the fields of daffodils swept back

from the road in sunlight, the horse’s sweat

and the swish of its tail.

What I don’t know is the house.

There are visible boats, a pier,

the sweet smell of tar. When I wake

to find my children in my bed, a guest

in the downstairs room, blue cups on the counters,

no water in sight, the black horse dead

all these years, I grieve for the bend

in the road and beyond.

–from I Thought I Could See Africa (High Ground Press, 1991)

High Ground Press

The other evening, John had the honour of speaking at the Alcuin Society’s Annual General Meeting in Vancouver. His topic: “The Printing of Poetry, the Poetry of Printing”. In 1980, he went with a friend to Prince George in a rented van and brought home an ancient Chandler and Price platen press which became the basis of our High Ground Press. John’s idea was to print poetry broadsheets in limited editions and for 30 years he’s done this in the belief that “poems warrant singular lives in the light, no less contemplative (and as compelling) as their lives in books, voice or imagination.”

It was interesting for me to watch as he showed images of our print-shop,

our presses (for the C&P was joined by a small Adana from England a few summers ago),

and a couple of the broadsheets he’s printed. This one was part of our second series of broadsheets and the image isn’t particularly crisp but the poem, by Jan Zwicky, is beautiful and I love the design:

And this broadsheet is from our Companions Series, for which we asked Canadian poets to respond to a poem in the canon. Sue Wheeler chose a poem by Don McKay (who had a poem in an earlier series so the sense of companionship extends into our printing history as well as in this series…):

In Mnemonic: A Book of Trees, I write about the history of printing and type in an chapter about my grandfather’s origins in Bukovina, and I say this about John: “My husband labours in our print-shop over type, chases, ornaments, and the unwieldy nature of ink. There are far more convenient ways to transfer texts to paper, this suits his meditative nature, and mine too, for I love to think of the slow work of poetry finding its way to a broadsheet. Paper impressed with ink, like a kiss, a tattoo.”