Posts Tagged ‘Nature’

This space has been very quiet lately, and there is the happy reason why, as mid-September brought a rare chance to get away from work and the farm for a few weeks, and with that escape, a time away from the computer.

My husband and I are, as some of you already know, the proud possessors of a 1971 Triumph Spitfire (among a number of other vintage “project cars”, of which the less said perhaps the better, the old sports car interest being something of a joint secret life which we try to keep a low profile about, as it bemuses most of our friends) and once in a while we go all out and take her for a serious run.

Abandoning numerous pressing projects, we took part in a 3-day vintage sports car rally which started in Kelowna, progressed through southern interior B.C.’s Monashee Mountains, and ended southwest of Kamloops at the Quilchena Hotel on the Douglas Lake Ranch.

We had a well-timed breakdown on travel-to-the-rally-start day, and with the aid of a serendipitous series of exceedingly helpful old-British-car buffs and an early morning mechanical session in our hotel parking lot, we got Baby put back together again. That out of her system, she ran like a charm for the next 3 days, bringing us home again after better than 1000 miles of top-down driving under mostly sunny skies.

Sometimes things are better than anticipated. This trip was one of those. It was utterly perfect.

One of my favourite views - looking out over the Spitfire bonnet. The only better place is behind the wheel! Here we are heading towards Vernon, B.C., on Day 1 of a vintage car rally we participated in September 19-21.

One of my favourite views – looking out over the Spitfire bonnet. The only better place is behind the wheel. Here we are heading down the highway towards Vernon, B.C., on Day 1 of our 3-day rally. On the other side of Vernon we head off into the mountains, onto frequently narrow, highly scenic, beautifully curve-filled rural roads – perfect for our treasured cars to show off what they were really built for. Completely frivolous creations, but a whole lot of fun.

Day 3, with our Spit in the foreground as we all converge for a final meet-up and meal before going our separate ways.

Day 3, with our Spit in the foreground in the parking area of Douglas Lake Ranch’s historic Quilchena Hotel as we all begin to converge for a final meet-up and meal before going our separate ways, to points throughout B.C, with a few hardy souls heading home to Alberta and down into Washington State. (This is less than a third of the group – sadly I did not get a shot of all of us together – and it was a nicely eclectic group, with our working-class, 4-cylinder Spitfire on the lower end of the sports car hierarchy and a stunning 1955 Jaguar – red car, 5th in line – representing the posher end of the scale.)

We made it home, hastily parked the Spit without giving her the usual post-run wash-and-brush-up, and spent the next day frantically packing up our old camper in order to take our daughter on the trip to the ocean we’d promised her in the spring. “C’mon, let’s do this, it may be my last trip with you,” she kept saying, piling on a bit of the kids-all-grown-up angst on our parental heads, and though it was rather odd being a trio in the camper instead of a quartet – her older brother, now mostly moved out, came home and kindly farm-sat for us – it ended up being a very pleasant trip.

The weather had turned, bringing wind, cool weather, and rain, but we forged on regardless, and though we came home rather more exhausted than when we left, we’re glad we made the effort.

Beach walks, conversation, peaceful evenings, books. We then left the ocean more or less behind, and spent a day in Victoria, where we took in the Swedish History Museum’s touring Viking exhibit at the Royal B.C. Museum, and joined the tourist throng queuing for chocolates at the venerable Rogers Family confectionary store, before heading for the ferry line-up, and the long trek home.

It was great fun to get away, but it feels very good to be back. All of our projects are here still waiting for us – darn! – why couldn’t those have done themselves while we were gone?! – but we’re all the happier for our two weeks away.

And here are some photos from the trip, a very small sampling of where we went and what we saw.

The next post will be back to books – the pile of to-be-talked-about has grown to ridiculous proportions. I think a round-up post or two may be in order.

Pacific Ocean at Long Beach, western side of Vancouver Island. Next landfall, Japan.

Pacific Ocean at Long Beach, western side of Vancouver Island. Next landfall, Japan.

A storm just passed, and the setting sun appears briefly.

Same stretch of beach. A storm has just passed, and the setting sun appears briefly. The swell is immense; we are being very careful, as the day before another beach walker was almost swept away by a rogue wave.

Pink sea urchins, tide pool, upper Long Beach. No sea stars, though the rocks show grazed areas where they were abundant on all of our previous visits to this particular group of rocks and pools, a sad disappointment. Over 95% of the sea star population between Alaska and California has suddenly died off since late winter, 2014, due to a suspected viral disease thought to be exacerbated by warmer-than-usual ocean temperatures.

Pink sea anemones, tide pool, upper Long Beach. No sea stars, though the rocks show grazed areas where they were abundant on all of our previous visits to this particular group of rocks and pools, a sad disappointment. Over 95% of the sea star population between Alaska and California has suddenly died off since late winter, 2014, due to a suspected viral disease thought to be exacerbated by warmer-than-usual ocean temperatures.

Empty beaches, just us and the birds most days...a storm system out at sea has just passed, leaving the wave danger rating at extreme, and keeping the hardy wet-suited surfers who generally frequent these shores holed up in their various retreats.

More empty beaches, just us and the birds most days…a major storm system out at sea has just passed, leaving the wave danger rating at extreme, and keeping the hardy wet-suited surfers who generally frequent these shores holed up in their various retreats.

Finally the waves subside enough for some surfer action. This brave soul was up a few times, but never for long. Hard work for a few moments of catching the wave!

Finally, several days after the highest storm surges of the year to date, the waves subside enough for some surfer action. This brave soul was up a few times, but never for long. Awfully hard work for a few moments of catching the wave!

Misty morning sunrise.

Misty morning sunrise.

Blue heron, low tide.

Blue heron, low tide.

As inland dwellers, this sort of thing leaves us thrilled to the core: what an incredibly rich thing is the sea!

As inland dwellers, this sort of thing leaves us thrilled to the core: what an incredibly rich thing is the sea!

And then there's wonderful stuff like this: urchins and anemones at Ucluelet.

And then there’s wonderful stuff like this: urchins and anemones at Ucluelet.

Sea isles off Ucluelet, seen from a viewpoint on the Wild Pacific Walking Trail.

Sea isles off Ucluelet. Rather makes one dream of setting up a hermitage on one of those to escape the woes of the human world…or, thinking a little harder of the lack of arable land for even a wee garden, and the constant rain and sea roar, maybe not…

Mildly eerie but decidedly cheery: dwellers in the rainforest at Tofino Botanical Garden.

Mildly eerie but decidedly cheery: dwellers in the rainforest at Tofino Botanical Garden.

Heading down island, into some welcome sunshine, which lights up the evening waves at French Beach, near Jordan River. We sat on the rocks in the sunset and watched three sea otters frolicking in the kelp beds as the tide turned and started rolling in.

Heading down island, into some welcome sunshine, which lit up the evening waves at French Beach, near Jordan River. We sat on the rocks in the sunset and watched three sea otters frolicking in the kelp beds as the tide turned and started rolling in.

Into the city, to do the tourist thing in Victoria, our province's capitol city. Totem poles in Thunderbird Park, with the stately Victorian Empress Hotel in the background.

Into the city, to do the tourist thing in Victoria, our province’s capitol. Totem poles in Thunderbird Park, with the stately Victorian-era Empress Hotel in the background.

City botanizing: fall-blooming cyclamen in a quiet corner of Victoria's Beacon Hill Park.

City botanizing: fall-blooming cyclamen in a quiet corner of Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park.

 

Read Full Post »

 

I have operated a small specialty plant nursery from our farm for many years, but this year am thrilled to be taking a sabbatical from that occupation, which means I get to look around and get a proper taste of spring. Earlier in the month we travelled to Vancouver for a look at the spring flowers there, and I fell head over heels in love with the many magnolias which rivalled the lovely cherry blossoms which were our initial and “official” quest.

I’d never seen these before in their full glory, as we are ourselves much too far north (being situated close to the centre of the province) for magnolia trees to survive, let alone thrive as those on the coast obviously do.

Too lovely not to share, so here are a few I captured with my camera. Much more spectacular in real life, by the way, as those of you in milder climes will no doubt already know.

Happy Spring!

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Read Full Post »

Pine cone, exact species unknown. UBC Botanical Garden, February 26, 2014.

Pine cone, exact species unknown. UBC Botanical Garden, February 26, 2014.

 

The next three books in my series of Round-Up posts all involve some sort of autobiographical experiences, though they are presented in different ways. Gavin Maxwell’s Harpoon Venture is self-critical and hyper-realistic; Rosemary Taylor’s Harem Scare’m goes for the gently self-mocking humorous approach, while W.H. Davies’ The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp is in the nature of a unemotionally-documented saga, told in the plainest of language by a man looking backwards down the years at his unconventional and occasionally dramatic vagabond (quite literally) days.

************

harpoon venture lyons press gavin maxwellHarpoon Venture by Gavin Maxwell ~1952. This edition: Lyons Press, 1996. Introduction by Stephen J. Bodio. Softcover. ISBN: 1-58574-370-4. 304 pages.

My rating: 8/10

If you have read Gavin Maxwell’s memoirs of his life with pet otters and other various creatures, Ring of Bright Water, Raven Seek Thy Brother, and The House of Elrig, you will recall his passing references to his several immediately post-WW II years spent hunting basking sharks off the Isle of Soay, in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, close to the Isle of Skye.

This book, Maxwell’s first, details the doomed venture from its first conception during a bombing raid in the 1940 Battle of Britain blitz, when Gavin Maxwell determined that if he survived the war, he would

“…buy an island in the Hebrides and retire there for life; no airplanes, no bombs, no commanding officers, no rusty dannert wire…”

Two years later Gavin Maxwell was serving with Special Forces and stationed in northwest Scotland, when he joined a friend for a yacht trip during their leave and first came across the small, steep-hilled Isle of Soay. After spending two hours roaming the island, Maxwell had determined to make his dream a reality; he would buy it, establish a local industry, and spend his days in peaceful usefulness, looked up to as a local benefactor, the “laird”, in fact.

Needless to say, such utopian dreams were to prove to be too good to be true. The industry Maxwell decided upon was the establishment of a basking shark fishery, to chase down, harpoon and render into useful products the massive, plankton-eating basking sharks, which can reach weights of over 5 tons. These sharks contain huge livers which were at the time in great demand for their oil content, but Maxwell’s scheme involved a factory which would process all of the parts of the fish – skin which could be turned to leather, flesh which could be marketed as “sail-fish”, fins to be dried and sent to China as aphrodisiacs, cartilage and bones to be used to produce glue – the list of possibilities was endless.

It took almost four years for Maxwell’s enterprise to bankrupt itself; he never really recovered from the loss of his personal fortune which he had sunk into the project; he lost Soay and embarked upon a vagabond lifestyle of travelling and writing, which resulted in the acquisition while in the marshes of Iraq of the first of the famous otters.

But this was before that, and fascinating it is all on its own merits, though the brutal details of the process of hunting, harpooning and killing the basking sharks may be queasy-making to those readers of delicate sensibilities. Somehow the narrative manages to transcend the sordid details, leaving one with a portrait of a brilliantly intelligent, highly observant and sensitive yet deeply self-destructive man, who frequently made some very bad decisions, and only sometimes took responsibility for them. My final impression is of a book of intense experiences delicately observed and lyrically depicted.

A wonderful review of the book is here: Desperate Reader: Gavin Maxwell’s Harpoon at a Venture

One hint: Avoid the Lyons Press edition, pictured above. For some odd reason it leaves out all of the photographs – over seventy in number – which are referenced throughout the text, giving a rather surreal experience to the reader as Maxwell has continually linked his written narrative to the photos, and without them one is left completely at a loss as to what is being referred to.

Second-hand copies of  earlier editions of this book are readily available, generally titled Harpoon at a Venture, so go for one of those instead of the 1996 Lyons reprint.

harem scare'm rosemary taylor 001Harem Scare’m by Rosemary Taylor ~ 1951. This edition: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1951. Illustrations by Paul Galdone. Hardcover. 246 pages.

My rating: 6.5/10

This was another one of those happy-chance stumble-upon books. I had read and written about Rosemary Taylor’s Arizona childhood memoir Chicken Every Sunday back in 2012, and then, just recently in March 2014 had received a comment on my post, which brought Taylor to mind again. Only a day or two later what should I notice among the tattered hodge-podge of old cookbooks and automotive repair manuals at a local antiques emporium, but “Rosemary Taylor” on the spine of a book. And here it is. Isn’t random promising-book-discovery a wonderful thing?!

Written in the early 1950s, Harem Scare’m is Rosemary’s account of her time as a young, aspiring writer in the early 1920s, when she was travelling with a friend in Europe on a break from her first job as an assistant dean of women at Stanford University.

In the process of “getting cultured”, Rosemary temporarily parts with her travelling companion and journeys solo to Madrid, with a week among the pictures in the Prado her goal. The train trip starts out well, but is soon to go sideways…

So there I sat, the future dean of women, dressed in the brown coat and tight-fitting white felt hat I’d bought at such a bargain in a little shop in Paris, wearing no make-up – I didn’t approve of make-up – my legs encased in lisle stockings, my shoes stout and sensible, and on my nose big horn-rimmed glasses, for I was, and am, very near-sighted. A prim and proper young lady, attending strictly to her own business, definitely not provocative, definitely not the type to invite any attention, welcome or unwelcome. Or so I thought.

An optimistic Spanish porter appears to think that Miss Taylor is very provocative, and as she fights him off with determination she is vastly relieved by the entry into her compartment of a one-eyed man, who turns out to be a fellow American, one Floyd Gibbons. The name sounds vaguely familiar to Rosemary, and she is grateful for Mr. Gibbons’ large and protective presence for the remainder of her trip. Floyd, who is of course the Floyd Gibbons, intrepid and well-known war correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, is on his way to Morocco, to cover the events of the Second Moroccan War, the long drawn out series of clashes between the Spanish and French forces with the Moroccans, also known as the Rif War.

Floyd takes quite a liking to the naïve young Rosemary, especially when he learns that she is corresponding with her hometown newspaper, the Tucson Citizen, and has just received a princely $5 for a recent article. Why not come with me to Morocco, he asks her teasingly? You can get the woman’s-eye view of things there, maybe get an interview in the local sultan’s harem…

Well, as things turned out, Rosemary did go to Morocco with Floyd, joining a bevy of other war correspondents, and she did get an interview in a harem, which she wrote up for the Citizen. She also found herself in many unexpected places, which she writes about with self-effacing good humour and occasional passionate poignancy.

Rosemary tries very hard to keep the tone light throughout, and though this makes for a not-very-deep but entertaining read, one sometimes feels like she is leaving a lot of interesting stuff out, by deciding to go for the laugh every time, which is why I couldn’t in good conscience rate it much higher.

Rather fascinating stuff, though, with much scope for further investigation. I’ll certainly be paying attention the next time I come across Floyd Gibbons’ name; he sounds like a very interesting personality indeed, and Rosemary Taylor’s depiction of him in Harem Scare’m is affectionate and appealing.

the autobiography of a super-tramp w h davies other

Not my personal copy, but a much later edition with an apt cover photo.

The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by W.H. Davies ~ 1908. This edition: Jonathan Cape, 1933. Introduction by George Bernard Shaw. Hardcover. 304 pages.

My rating: 9/10

There’s a lot in this book, reminiscences of a long and event-filled life, by a sometimes less-than-sympathetic narrator, whose deadpan delivery takes some getting used to, but is worth putting up with for the vivid picture the book gives of a very unconventional attitude and way of living.

I suspect this is the most well-known of the three books in this grouping, being still in print over a century after its first publication, so I won’t go into too much detail.

Born in Wales in 1871, William Henry Davies was raised by his maternal grandparents, and from childhood showed a reluctance to follow in the expected path of others of his class and circumstance. Unable to settle into steady work, Davies abandoned his apprenticeship with a picture-frame maker and instead took to the roads, living on income derived from temporary work, a small income from a legacy, and eventually outright begging.

Davies was fascinated with North America, and eventually made it to the United States, where he joined a loosely connected tribe of “professional” hoboes who travelled the country by stealing rides in and on top of boxcars. They fed themselves on the charity of housewives and by taking on odd jobs, picking fruit, working as seasonal laborers and such. Davies was able to extensively travel throughout the States, and he crossed the Atlantic to and from England numerous times by working of his passage on cattle boats. His foray into Canada on the way to the Klondike gold rush ended horribly when he slipped while attempting to jump a train in Ontario, losing his foot and crushing his right leg, which was eventually amputated at the knee.

Returning to England sporting a wooden peg leg, Davies turned his attention to writing poetry, as he had always been a great reader and secret writer through his vagabond years. Living in charity rooms and living off of his grandmother’s legacy, Davies wrote and wrote and wrote, eventually paying to have his verses printed and attempting to sell them door to door. He met with small success, but kept on, until a series of lucky coincidences brought his poetry into the public eye, where it was received with enthusiasm for its universal themes and sincere tone.

George Bernard Shaw was shown the manuscript of this book, and by his patronage secured Davies a very favourable publishing deal, and the rest is history. Davies ended his days in England hobnobbing with the literary aristocracy of the time, a far cry from the days of stealing garments off of backyard clotheslines and dodging railroad cops.

This memoir is stunning in the scope of its content, and in its unapologetic tone. Davies makes few excuses for his choice of lifestyle and where it took him; he was a keen observer of his companions of the road and the book is full of fascinating portraits of unconventional people and the even stranger events they were involved in.

The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp is written in a very calm, almost overly flat style, and can occasionally be rather hard going as climax after climax is related matter-of-factly in Davies’ sober voice, but his musings on why he is like he is and how he relates to the others he meets in his journeyings and his pithy commentary on social peculiarities make it compelling reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

the wonderful adventures of nils selma lagerlof 001The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf ~ 1906. This edition: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1950. Illustrated by H. Baumhauer. Hardcover. 294 pages.

My rating: 10/10

My biggest regret upon turning the last page of this book is that I did not discover it when my children were in the midst of the read-aloud years. They would have loved it, voraciously appreciative little listeners that they were.

It has everything – a magical transformation (as punishment for a misdeed), a quest for redemption, animals wild and tame, a deeply dastardly villain, continual and varied adventures, restrained amounts of sentimentality, and absolutely painless lectures on natural history, geography and Swedish folk legends.

Hey, homeschooling parents – take a look! The cross-curricular connections are many and quite brilliant. And I think it would be hugely enjoyable for the reader-alouder as well.

Fourteen-year-old farm boy Nils is beloved by his hard-working parents but also a huge disappointment to them. He neglects his chores, he lies, he torments the animals, and he dodges going to church. What will become of him, they sigh to each other in sorrow? Will he ever see the error of his ways?

Apparently not, but fate takes a hand when Nils offends the farmstead elf, who then transforms Nils into tiny elf-size himself. As Nils runs hither and yon about the farmyard in absolute distress, he realizes that he can now understand the language of the animals. They in turn are pleased to see that their tormentor has had his comeuppance, and let him know a few home truths about their views on his past behaviour.

Nils is at first shocked and resentful, but then as the true consequences of his fourteen years of misbehaviour become clear, he experiences something of an epiphany. “I am sorry!” he cries. “Please forgive me!” But the animals ignore his pleas.

As Nils mourns his sad fate, a flock of wild geese fly over, and the farm’s big white gander, stirred to wanderlust by their call, rouses himself up and prepares to take flight. Nils, with his newly aroused conscience, immediately grasps what a tragedy the loss of the gander would be for his parents, and leaps onto the gander’s back in an attempt to hold him back. The gander – very predictably, as we already know what is going to happen – manages to take flight with Nils on his back, and we are off on the wonderful adventures promised in the title.

This book is a marvelous series of dramatic vignettes, tied together by Nils’ desire to redeem himself so he may break the elf’s curse and be returned to human size, and by his acquisition of a mortal enemy who follows him over sea and land, Smirre Fox.

Even without an audience of enthralled young listeners, I found this book immensely appealing as a private read-to-my-adult-self story. Selma Lagerlöf avoid excessive sentimentality, and while she makes it obvious that Nils is being taught a lesson and that he is working towards repentance to his parents, to the animal world, and ultimately to God (for Nils’ previous neglect of religious observances), she never preaches. The morals are discussed, and then let go – the reader is given the respect by the author that he or she will “get it” without being pounded over the head by repetition. And Nils is believably far from perfect, even after his epiphany, and lapses from grace frequently, usually with bitter consequences to himself and to others, though occasionally an outside party will intervene just as things seem to be going most desperately awry.

Smirre Fox is a gloriously frightening villain, almost supernatural in his powers as he follows the flight of the wild geese, and the sense of danger that we feel for Nils and his companions is intensely real throughout.

This books transcends its origins – it is a very Swedish book, and I feared would be a bit unrelatable to the non-Scandinavian reader – and its age – it is well over one hundred years old – to be fresh and engaging. While there are the expected styles and attitudes of its era of writing, it is a very worthwhile read for anyone at all interested in the “fairy tale transformation” type of genre. This is decidedly a classic.

Oh, and the ending is not what one would expect, leaving us still in mid-air, as it were, though with some good clues as to the final resolution to Nils’ greater quest for redemption.

I loved this one, and will be saving it for my (at this point extremely hypothetical) grandchildren.

One last note. I would hesitate to give this to a youngish child to read to himself/herself. Though the interest level I anticipate would be from 5 or 6 years of age through the primary years, the text would be hard going for such a young reader, what with the general old-fashioned phrasings and grammar and the many Swedish place and character names and terms. There is a handy glossary of pronunciation in the back of the Dent edition, and it would be well to refer to that before starting on your read-aloud.

wonderful adventures of Nils selma lagerlof illustr h baumhauer 001

The illustrations in my 1950 Dent edition are by H. Baumhauer, and add a pleasant touch to the story. I would think that the variety of illustrators is vast, as this book has had countless editions over the past century, so it would be well worth the effort to investigate if possible before purchasing a copy to share with your child(ren)-in-question to make sure you find a nicely-illustrated one.

Read Full Post »

Down by the Fraser River, which forms the boundary of our small farm, New Year's Eve afternoon. A brief moment of peaceful beauty, soon to change...

Down by the Fraser River, which forms the boundary of our small farm, New Year’s Eve afternoon. A brief moment of peaceful beauty, soon to change…

The book reviews have been coming daily so far in January, and though this looks quite impressive, I hasten to reassure my readers that it will definitely not be the pattern of the year. January so far has been something of an anomaly, a time of stillness and a sort of tipping point for what is proving to be a transitional time in my life, in a smallish and positive way.

(And as some of you might remember from previous comments, we don’t have TV, so that time is freed up for dallying with books. At least an hour or two a day, if our friends’ TV watching habits are anything to go by.)

For the past twelve years I have been that most involved of maternal figures, a fully fledged dance mom, and it had looked like this would have been one of the busiest years yet in that regard, as it would have been my daughter’s “peak year”, the last fully dedicated to dancing before her graduation from high school and transition into the next stage in her life. After much agonizing, the decision was made in October to call it quits right now, a year early, as it were. No more long commutes to the dance studio in the city two and a half hours away, no more trips to Vancouver to visit her choreographer, no more sweating over solos and arranging for rehearsal sessions and cutting music and mulling over costumes, and most lovely of all, no more monthly tuition, choreo and fuel bills. We are suddenly free from the self-imposed tyranny of the dance world, and though there are definitely deep regrets for the many positive aspects of being a serious amateur dancer, we are both, she and I, rather enjoying the experience of going into the festival and competition season stress-free (for we are still both involved on an organizational and volunteer level in our local performing arts festival), and being able to look forward to being home in the springtime, instead of daily on the road to somewhere else.

For we’ve also decided to take a sabbatical from running our plant nursery this year, something we’ve done twice before in our twenty-one years of involvement in the business. Our personal perennial garden desperately needs a concerted year (or possibly two) of attention, something impossible to do when one is tied up in the greenhouse growing thousands of lovely little plants for other people’s gardens. The little propagation greenhouse, my 12-hours-a-day home in February-March-April-May, which has been yearly shored up and patched up and made to “make do”, is at last going to be replaced with something a bit bigger, much better built, and more comfortable to work in.

January 1st, 2014. Ice coming down the Fraser River has piled up a mile or so downstream, causing an ice dam and upstream flooding of our lower fields.

January 1st, 2014. Ice coming down the Fraser River has piled up a mile or so downstream, causing an ice dam and upstream flooding of our lower fields. This is looking north, as the river runs backwards in the main channel, on the other side of that ice pile mid-photo. I had to scoot out of the way, as my feet were about to get very wet!

And what with various family medical crises these past few years, including losing a family member to cancer, my mother’s serious fall in the summer and subsequent transition into a seniors’ care facility, and a flare-up of problems with my own two broken ankles which still refuse to work properly several years post-injury, it’s time for a healing year, emotionally and physically. Time to step back, and look inward for a bit.

Usually January 1st marks the time of taking a huge breath and diving into the combined maelstrom of dance festival preparation and concentrated seed starting and seedling care. Not this year. Not a single seed has been planted – heck, not a single seed order has been made! – and the dancer has cheerfully packed away her pointe shoes and has turned to drawing up ambitious garden plans instead. Under doctor’s paradoxical orders to both favor my ankles and exercise as much as possible, I’m attempting to do both by having some sitting down time every hour (which happily translates into reading time and computer time), and by using hiking poles when out and about, which is slightly awkward in that I am still learning how best to use manage my sticks properly when going up and down hills and on narrow paths. But the ankles are noticeably less painful at the end of the day, so maybe it’s working. One can hope!

We’re presently getting some work in on our still-not-finished self-built house, including a gorgeous set of floor-to-ceiling bookcases in a newly constructed hallway/office space which we are calling the “L Room”. “L” for its funny shape, and for “Library”, too! It’s coming along nicely, and when completed will house my working collection of plant books, as well as a goodly amount of “pleasure” reading, my old wooden desk, desktop computer and scanner/printer, filing cabinets and last but not least my piano. Which I hope will figure more prominently in my own near future, as once it is properly settled in I will be able to resume playing, at last in a quiet corner all of my very own. I’m inwardly tremendously excited, though I show an outer calm. 😉

It’s been a very good winter to be off the roads, as the weather has been rather frightful – lots of snow, and warmer temperatures turning everything to ice, and then snow again. We’ve shovelled our roof off four times so far – a record – to prevent ice buildup on the eaves, and this morning I see it could likely use it again. A few inches of fresh snow yesterday morning, followed by above-freezing temperatures and slushy rain in the afternoon, and this morning minus 6 Celsius. Lots of icicles.

I should probably sign off. This quiet Sunday morning has left me feeling rather introspective, hence this rambling post. Both teens are sleeping in, and my husband is off at work. It’s snowing again, the dogs are sleeping in front of the woodstove, the bird feeders are topped up, my kitchen is relatively neat and tidy, and my plans for the day – a bit of paperwork, some puttering about in the construction zone, a bit of sanding, a bit of painting – are modest and manageable. An intriguing book is waiting for my attention as well, My Brilliant Career, by Miles Franklin. Teen angst in Australia, circa 1901.

Happy January, friends. A full fresh year stretches before us. I hope you are all feeling as optimistic as I am that it will bring good things, and that we will all have the inner resources to weather the inevitable storms as well.

Cheers!

January 2, 2014. Same spot as the idyllic picture at the top of the post, a short two days later, after the water has flooded the banks and receded, leaving much ice behind.

January 2, 2014. Same spot as the idyllic picture at the top of the post, a short two days later, after the water has flooded the banks and receded, leaving much ice behind.

Read Full Post »

land below the wind agnes newton keith

The edition pictured is the more recent reissue of the book. My own paperback copy is too tattered to share; I do need to replace it, as it’s one to keep and re-read.

Land Below the Wind by Agnes Newton Keith ~ 1939. This edition: MacFadden, 1964. Paperback. 270 pages.

My rating: 9/10

I do enjoy an interesting memoir, and, having read several of Agnes Newton Keith’s later accounts of an eventful life, namely Three Came Home (a description of Agnes Keith’s three years in a Japanese prison camp in Borneo with her husband and young son, 1942-45) and Bare Feet in the Palace (everyday and political doings in the Philippines, where her husband worked for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 1953-56), I have long been on the lookout for her first literary accomplishment, this worldwide bestseller, Land Below the Wind.

I was particularly interested in this memoir because Agnes Keith credits it with helping save her son’s life while in the prison camp in Borneo. The book had been translated into Japanese prior to the war, and the commandant of the camp had read it and greatly enjoyed it, apparently appreciating Agnes Keith’s favourable descriptions of the Asian world. He would occasionally call Agnes into his office and chat with her on things literary, rewarding her with treats for young George – a biscuit, a banana, and on at least one occasion medical supplies normally unavailable to the internees. For this she was labelled a “collaborator” by some of her fellow internees; In Three Came Home, Keith justifies her conciliatory attitude to the Japanese officers as doing the best she could to ensure the survival of her child. So I was rather curious as to what the appeal of Land Below the Wind was, to see what chord it might have struck which was strong enough to influence a prison camp overseer some years later.

Land Below the Wind is indeed a most readable and a happily positive book, a description of Agnes’ introduction to life as the wife of a British civil servant in then-North Borneo (now known as Sabah) in the 1930s, when that country, “seven days by steamer from Singapore and Hong Kong”, was a British Protectorate, and Harry Keith its Conservator of Forests and Director of Agriculture, a position he had already held for ten years when he brought his new American wife out to the tropics with him. After four years living and travelling in North Borneo, one of only twenty or so European women attached to the seventy or so European men in the North Borneo Civil Service (men were not permitted to marry until they had served eight years in their posting, which accounts for the disparity in numbers of the sexes) Agnes published this book, and it became an immediate bestseller, after winning the coveted Atlantic Monthly $5000 Prize for Best Non-Fiction book published in 1939.

The book is entrancing, certainly because of the descriptions of the local residents, the tropical surroundings, the native flora and fauna, and also for its gentle mocking of the delicate social structure built up around the Protectorate bureaucrats and their spouses and unspoken rules of etiquette.

In Sandakan there is a game played with visiting cards. Every married woman has a small card box with her name lettered on it, planted at the entrance to her garden path. Spiders and lizards live in this box and in the wet season a very small snake, so care must be taken in opening the door not to snap off the end of the lizard’s tail or flatten the snake in the hinge. At intervals, among the lizard’s droppings, if you remember to open the box, various cards will appear. These you scrutinize, forget about, and some days later find under the ash tray. You then disinter your own and husband’s cards, stealthily approach the friend’s card box, and offer a return sacrifice to his lizards. The rule as to who drops the first card is as mystifying and inexplicable as the use of a subjunctive clause, and I have never really understood either of them. The rule has something to do with the sex, length of domicile, and matrimonial alliances of the parties involved, but the whole thing is best enjoyed if regarded as a game. The really important rule is to remember that when calling on the person you should not meet him in the flesh.

Sometimes newcomers do not understand about this game, or play it with a different set of rules in the outer world from which they come. this creates an impasse in social relations, for not until the first round of cards can people meet in person. The impasse continues until someone quietly hands the newcomer a printed slip containing the laws of the Medes, the Persians, and the Game of Cards.

North Borneo in the 1930s was a very active place, with lots going on, and constant coming and going both throughout the countryside and to the various islands, and frequent contact with the “outside” world, but there was still enough “first contact” type experience within living memory to give the Europeans the thrill of realizing that their immediate predecessors, instead of being matter-of-factly greeted by the natives as just another lot of government officials, might well have perished under mysterious and tragic circumstances. This was, after all, a country where head-hunters had stalked the hills only a generation ago. People still occasionally disappeared without a trace, and there were corners of the jungle not yet penetrated by Europeans, where traditional culture presumably survived in isolated pockets.

Agnes Newton Keith plays down the Noble White Man and Backwards-and-Possibly-Scary Native scenario, except where to make a point about White Man’s attitudes (good and bad) and fundamental dependence on the good nature of their Native co-workers, fellow officials, and yes, servants and jungle guides and local shopkeepers and business owners. For its era, an even-minded account of life in a relatively newly colonized land, of course from the point of view of one of the colonizers.

An enjoyable book, and though I could easily go on, I will stop here. Agnes Newton Keith was an interesting woman and an accomplished writer, and I enjoy reading her for her sense of humour, readiness to criticize herself when she pulls a real bloomer, and for her deep appreciation and vibrant descriptions of the places she finds herself occupying, whether North Borneo government villa or prison camp grass hut. Good stuff.

Read Full Post »

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, everyone, no matter where you are!

Out yesterday with the camera to capture a glimpse of autumn in our part of the world – Cariboo-Chilcotin region – interior British Columbia, Canada.

In the nursery beds: Michaelmas daisies, lily and sea kale foliage for contrast. Hill Farm October 13, 2013.

In the nursery beds: Fall asters, with lily and sea kale foliage for contrast.
Hill Farm October 13, 2013.

Mountain ash.

Mountain ash.

Echinops ritro - Golbe Thistle - with Macleaya cordata - Plume Poppy - foliage in background.

Echinops ritro – Globe Thistle – with Macleaya cordata – Plume Poppy – foliage in background.

Italian prune plums - this year our small tree was loaded with fruit. Almost over now, but so sweet and worth the long wait for ripening!

Italian prune plums – this year our small tree was loaded with fruit. Almost over now, but so sweet and worth the long wait for ripening!

Cottonwood trees beside the Fraser River - our daily view from the edge of the garden.

Cottonwood trees beside the Fraser River – our daily view from the edge of the garden.

Last roses of summer... Label long lost - no idea which variety this is, but reliably gives us a few late blossoms.

Last roses of summer…
Label long lost – no idea which variety this is, but reliably gives us a few late blossoms.

Alcea rugosa - Russian Hollyhock - an endless bloomer, tall stalks reaching for the sky.

Alcea rugosa – Russian Hollyhock – an endless bloomer, tall stalks reaching for the sky.

Hosta leaves touched by frost - snapped a picture just before my daughter ruthlessly chopped them down - she's in full garden clean-up mode these days!

Hosta leaves touched by frost – snapped a picture just before my daughter ruthlessly chopped them down – she’s in full garden clean-up mode these days!

Bur Oak leaves.

Bur Oak leaves.

Velvet-textured and dramatically veined Italian petunia; the plants themselves are leggy and awkward at this time of the year, but the few late blossoms make up for it; a lingering reminder of summer now past.

Velvet-textured and dramatically veined Italian petunia; the plants themselves are leggy and awkward at this time of the year, but the few late blossoms make up for it; a lingering reminder of summer now past.

The horse chestnut can't decide which colour it wants to be, so it's trying a bit of everything.

The horse chestnut can’t decide which colour it wants to be, so it’s trying a bit of everything.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »