Archive for the ‘My World’ Category

I kept writing and rewriting this post, and it just wouldn’t come together.

Delete it all, condense and post the darned thing. No more funk. Here we go.

As many of you know, I live in central British Columbia, Canada. Smack dab in the middle of the region known as the Cariboo-Chilcotin. The Fraser River flows past my door. We are surrounded by forest on all sides. Beautiful forest, miles and miles of it, millions of acres of it. And it’s been really, really dry.

Now a bunch of it is on fire.

A month ago, July 7, this started up in my neighbourhood. This picture was taken from the upper hillside of our farm, an hour or so after a dry lightning storm passed through our region, sparking over a hundred forest fires, including these two.

The good news is that in four weeks these two particular fires have basically burned parallel to our river, above the escarpment, and joined up to form a united “complex”, as the forest service wildfire people call it.

Topography has been in our favour, as have been the prevailing winds. Fireguards have been built around some of the more troublesome bits, air support has quenched worrisome flareups. While anything could still happen given the right extremes of hot weather and strong wind – or another lightning storm – for now we’re looking good.

That tragically can’t be said for a lot of the rest of our region. Many of the other fires are bigger and angrier, and they are raging along out of control, being beat back here and there by the efforts of thousands of professional firefighters, logging crews, farmers and ranchers and First Nations “fire warriors”. Whole communities have been mass evacuated, major highways closed. Life for many is standing still as they wait things out far from the flames and the dense, stinking smoke; others are very much on the front line, fighting to save their homes and those of their neighbours.

People we know have lost their beloved houses; some have had hair’s breadth escapes from personal disaster. So much has been consumed!

This is utterly personal. The fire map looks like a guidebook to places we’ve lived in, wandered through, known and very much loved. We’re in a state of quiet grieving for the changes to our special places, while knowing that for others the loss is much more immediate and tangible. Survivor’s guilt lurks in the corner of one’s mind.

So there it is. Summer of 2017. One to remember, and it’s far from over yet.

I’ll leave you with a lighter note, book related.

When the smoke plumes on July 7 billowed ever higher, and a further investigation from a higher point revealed us to be surrounded by a total of six big smokes and numerous little ones, we made haste to develop a get-out-quick plan. We rounded up our pets, discussed a strategy for the farm creatures, and threw together some crucial belongings.

This done, we looked around to see what precious things we should save, if worst came to worst. Photo albums were obvious; these were packed up and stacked by the door. Computer back-up drives, cameras. My daughter collected her writings and her artwork. “Are you going to take any books?” she asked me, as I dithered between peering out at the status of our personal smoke plumes and checking and rechecking the forest service’s wildfire alert web page.

Where would one even start, in a personal library consisting of thousands of books?

It was easier than you’d think, and perhaps odder.

I must report that in the case of natural disaster, my most treasured possessions to be salvaged from flood or fire apparently consist of the four earliest (and exceedingly hard to come by) novels by my beloved Margery Sharp. (And my mother’s wedding ring.)

I’ve now had a month to mull over that book list, and it has remained exactly the same. In the meantime I’ve unpacked and re-read all four, and kept them handy, just in case. I might just add several more…

Onward we go, looking over our shoulders but basically getting on with things, feeling a bit like we’re living in the eye – or at least on the edge! –  of a fiery hurricane.

We sure could use some rain.

 

 

 

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Greetings, everyone. Hope you all had a lovely spring. Ours went past in a flash, and here we are staring summer down. My goodness, the years certainly don’t go by any slower as one ages, do they?

As many of you know, I operate a small perennial plant nursery, and May and June this year were our very busiest ever in the twenty-plus years I’ve been doing this. It became evident early on that something had to give, and I prioritized severely, meaning that a.) The Blog, and b.) Housekeeping, and c.) Weeding, fell completely by the wayside.

Fellow gardeners will understand my mixed feelings at seeing this lovely but forboding vignette in my perennial border!

With a bit of headway now made in addressing the two-month-long neglect of the last two, I am feeling an increasingly urgent pull to get back into writing-about-reading mode. I did keep reading through my long blog silence, though my progress was often in pages per day versus chapters. No book-a-day, that’s for sure!

And I did read some marvelous things. Sadly they are mostly a bit of a blur, so I have that as an excuse to re-read them all in future, and talk about them then. Best to start fresh with July’s reads, I think.

Thanks to the Dean Street Press “Furrowed Middlebrow” imprint, I’ve made the acquaintance of some long out-of-print writers, and most engaging I’ve found them all to be. Ursula Orange, for example. After acquiring the three newly reprinted DSP-FM titles of hers, Begin Again, Tom Tiddler’s Ground, and Company in the Evening, I treated myself to a well-worn first edition (1945) of Portrait of Adrian, which I’m just finishing up. I do believe that will be the subject of my next post.

In the meantime, wishing all a very happy summer, with time to seek out some cool shade and a comfortable chair, and sink into a pleasurable book.

And of course, seeing that it’s July 1st, happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians!

Though I must acknowledge that this year the holiday seems a bit fraught with angst regarding a variety of societal concerns, which I won’t get into here, merely to mention that the buzz phrases of the current discussion are “tradition of colonialism” and “indigenous experience”.  Big serious topics, and I give them a nod, though I won’t be going any deeper than the most superficial referencing in this particular forum.

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Looking for spring? Go south!

The end of March, and the snow lingers on… The vista in our neck of the woods a week or so ago.

Spring is coming hard this year. It‘s still below zero almost every night, there’s an awful lot of ice on the riverbank and piled up on the sandbars, and there are still a few snowbanks in the shady spots. Nary a bit of green on any tree, though there are burgeoning leaf buds on the lilacs and cottonwood trees.

What’s a yearning-for-spring gardener to do, then, but to throw an overnight bag in the car, summon a travelling companion, and head out on a little horticultural road trip?!

Using the excuse of a plant show and sale put on by a garden club we belong to (long distance, as it were), we headed off to Vancouver – seven non-stop hours by car away – for a whirlwind round of visiting the two major botanical gardens, hobnobbing with fellow botanists, admiring the spectacular specimens in the plant show, and (of course!) spending far too much money on new-to-us plants.

Oh, and we did hit a few used book stores, too. With predictable results.

Back home now, with heads full of garden dreams, and a stack of potentially wonderful reading material to fill up the few extra minutes between our very late evening meals and lights-out.

The posting silence lately can be blamed squarely on the season. Good intentions galore, and some interesting things piling up on the “must deal with” stack, but I just can’t focus…

Shall try harder.

As recompense for the recent blog silence, here are a very few glimpses of what we saw on our recent travels. It’s spring down south!

The most beautiful Pasque Flowers I’ve ever yet seen – Pulsatilla grandiflora, University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, Vancouver, B.C., March 31, 2017.

Our native Skunk Cabbage, Lysichiton americanus. None showing here yet, but in full exotic bloom in warmer climes. UBC Botanical Garden, March 31, 2017.

Too tender for our region, but a high point of spring coastal visits – glorious magnolias at UBC, March 31, 2017.

Rose-like Camellias bloom in the mild coastal rain. Van Dusen Botanical Garden, Vancouver, B.C., April 1, 2017.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

We are still very much in the grip of winter here, but spring is just around the corner. Not that many weeks until flowers appear again…

It’s almost over in this time zone, but I wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you spent it with someone you love. Or doing something you enjoy – that counts too!

Magnolia heart, Vancouver, B.C., April 2016.

Magnolia heart, Vancouver, B.C., April 2016.

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The Charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo by Richard Caton Woodville

The Charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo, by Richard Caton Woodville

Surfacing from a major word processing project having to do with the upcoming regional performing arts festival in which I am deeply and happily involved, and thinking that I really would rather be reading than writing.

Or, if writing, then writing about books, versus schedules, and ad copy, and begging letters asking for money, and also begging emails for things people promised me weeks ago and which still aren’t here, and eloquent explanations regarding a very clear (we thought) syllabus. So why did I think this year would be any different?!

Ah, well, it will be fun in the long run, when the participants hit the stage, and my role will mostly consist of sitting back and taking it all in, with snippets of frantic activity here and there. This particular deadline was met, and I have a little breathing space before the Next Big Thing is due, so I hope to be back in this forum for a bit.

I’ve read – or attempted to read – some supremely crappy things this past week or ten days, and some slightly ho-hum things, and a few gloriously engaging things.

A quick listing, more to keep my memory straight than for any other reason. these are all (or should have been) Century books, so slightly expanded discussions shall follow, with a separate post for each book.

Let’s see…

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer. 1937. This is the book Georgette Heyer often said she was proudest of, and I can see why. It contains a meticulously researched depiction of the Battle of Waterloo which deserves all of the good things scholarly critics have said about it over the years. There is  – of course! – a love story, but it is secondary to the heart-rendingly realistic historical stuff. Well done, indeed.

Introduction to Sally by Elizabeth von Arnim. 1926. Oh joy! Oh bliss! What a sweet romp of a thing. I loved it. What happens when an unbelievably beautiful girl is born into a modestly situated, working class, strictly God-fearing family, unable to fathom how best to protect their jewel of a child from the increasingly lecherous gaze of every man who sees her? By marrying her off, of course, to the first man who offers for her, thereby shifting the responsibility to other shoulders. Beauty as burden is the theme of this little novel, with a dash of reluctant Eliza Doolittle-ism thrown in.

The Prelude to Adventure by Hugh Walpole. 1912. A Cambridge undergraduate accidentally kills a despised fellow student in a moment of righteous rage, all unwitnessed, except by God, wherein lies the key to the tale, as Olva Dune struggles mightily with his conscience and his newly wakened awareness of a Higher Power. Things are complicated by his confession to a religion-addled compatriot, and even more so by his falling in love. Much inner dialogue, and a rather odd non-resolution at the end. Often referred to as a psychological drama, and that does sum it up as well as anything. Not a murder mystery in the traditional sense of the word, which is what it is also occasionally described as. One of Walpole’s more obscure early works, uneven here and there, and more than slightly morbid, but nonetheless diverting to an acceptable degree.

Little G by E.M. Channon. 1936. A charming summer-set fluff piece about a misogynistic Cambridge mathematics don falling all unwillingly into love. There is tennis, and much drinking of tea in shady gardens, and long country walks. There are roses, and a flower show. There are cats. This one made me happy, and my inner cynic turned away and let me enjoy it to the utmost. A keeper.

How Firm a Foundation by Patrick Dennis. 1968. A naive English teacher is roped into a job tutoring a millionaire’s lackwit children, and finds himself deeply involved in a tax dodge involving the making of an unplanned “art film”. Patrick Dennis of course was the author of Auntie Mame, and there are glimmers of that happy satire here, but the splashes of cheerful vulgarity which rather enhanced Mame and The Joyful Season are poured on here by the bucketful. It sounded promising. It doesn’t work. This thing stinks.

Bitter Heritage by Margaret Pedler. 1928. A hugely predictable melodrama about a young woman whose father has disgraced himself, and by association her, by a massive financial gamble with other people’s money which failed. His subsequent suicide makes things even worse. Never mind, our tumbled-down heroine impresses everyone by her plucky cheerfulness and finds herself bumped back up into posh society, but not without some overblown drama and much talk of blackened names. A period piece, one might safely say.

Seems to me I’m missing something, but I think I’ve got most of them pinned down.

Back soon!

Okay, back the next morning, to add the two I forgot.

Wonder Cruise by Ursula Bloom. 1934. An orphaned daughter of the vicarage, left destitute as is the tradition in these sorts of things, finds herself living in London under the thumb of a bullying older brother. She manages to attain independence through a secretarial job, but  begins to find that the daily grind is just that, with a long bleak vista a years-all-the-same stretching ahead, until a chance sweepstake win triggers a personal reinvention. The usual sequence of events occurs, with the eventual finding of true love. Absolutely predictable, but decently readable. Ursula Bloom was a stupendously prolific B-list writer (over 500 published works; more on that in my “proper” review) but she did know how to turn a phrase. Sexual awakening is a great part the theme here, stated in those very words. The tiniest bit unexpected for a popular novel from 1934, but then again, not really, when one considers what else was going on in the actual and literary world at the time.

The Slave of Silence by Fred M. White. 1906. A highly improbable romantic melodrama which was one of the most deeply boring things I’ve come across in recent years. A beautiful young woman is forced into an appalling marriage with a wealthy scoundrel in order to save her father from disgrace (he’s been speculating financially with other people’s money, yadda yadda yadda) and the vows are just pronounced when the wedding is interrupted by the announcement that Dear Dad has been found dead. Is she really married? Or not? And when the paternal body disappears before a postmortem can be performed, things become very convoluted indeed. A crippled criminal mastermind in a wheelchair, a couple of interchangeable Scotland Yard/Senior Army Officer investigative chaps, the true lover of our confused heroine wandering about in various disguises, doors conveniently left open while key plot points are being discussed by the bad guys…you name it, this thing has it. I’ll save you reading it. The baddest of the bad guys end up dead, and true love prevails. And our heroine ends up rich again (I think) because of some ruby mine or something in (possibly – I forget the exact place) Malaysia. Or Java? I dunno. A dull book by a rather interesting writer, and despite my “run away!” recommendation for this particular work, I think I will expand on Fred M. White. Old-style sci-fi “Doom of London” disaster novels ring any bells? Our Fred was the writer of those, and I must admit my curiosity is piqued.

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Looking ahead to the coming year.

Several weeks have raced past since my last post, and it’s not for lack of fantastic reading that I haven’t been posting.

Just life stuff. Busy, busy, busy.

What an off-kilter year this has been; I lost my balance somewhere in there, and haven’t quite centered myself yet. Me and how many others? A lot of us seem to be struggling emotionally and physically this year, sometimes with quietly resigned fortitude, sometimes with various degrees of desperation. It swings back and forth!

barn-kitty-winter

No picture of a Christmas tree, because it’s still very much out there somewhere on our hillside, but this post needs something, so here instead is a random snapshot of one of our ever-amusing, much beloved, barn/greenhouse cats, adorned with just a dash of seasonable snow.

I do believe I shall just reboot this whole blog year and start all afresh in January, with <drumroll> another wonderful, challenging, Century of Books project. I did this a few years ago – can it have been in 2014? – doesn’t seem like that long ago – and it was great fun.

I decided to do this in 2017 some months ago, and have been collecting likely prospects and stacking them up in neat piles on a “do not touch” bookshelf, which of course means that my housemates have been wildly pillaging my literary dragon’s trove. Mostly they put things back, though sometimes sans spine sticker with the pertinent year marked on it. It’s all good, because I have a master list. As long as the computer doesn’t crash, I’m smiling. (Okay, I’ll be backing things up tonight, now that I’ve tempted the cyber gods with that teaser.)

In any event, I have a glorious pile of things to read for January and beyond, and as a crucial part of the Century project involves writing a bit about everything one reads, posting should pick up a bit.

I fully intend to get back on here with a post or two before year’s end, but just in case I don’t, here is my heartfelt wish to all of you, friends and fellow readers near and far, for a peaceful and joyous holiday season, and an optimistic start to our coming new year.

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Everything melts
burns out:
lamp lampshade
the light itself
with no shade left

no world
belongs to you and you
belong
to no world

you are pulled
by rain and light
on roads coming
and going
from everywhere
to everywhere

Jaan Kaplinski, circa 1985

*******

Such a melancholy week we are having.

Several days ago one of my husband’s sisters died at much too young an age. Though her passing was expected – she had terminal cancer and had been in palliative care for the last two months  – we are all deeply sad for her, for this person was not ready or willing to leave her life, despite her terrible suffering, and that is perhaps the most dreadful thing of all.

“She died so angry,” one of her sisters said to me just a little while ago when she called to talk, and to cry.

We just never know what we will be asked to face, do we?

We step out blindly, day by day, trusting that there will be ground under our feet, or at least a not-too-hard place to fall. Sometimes the ground disappears, and then all that we have is courage as we try to make sense of where we are, and, if we are fortunate, hope, and at some point, ideally, the grace of acceptance.

Thank you to my friend Marijke for the poem, which I shared here. It seemed to fit the mood tonight, as we are quietly grieving, paying tribute in memory to a life which had its deep and fervent joys, as well as its final overwhelming darkness.

Onward, then, one step at a time.

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