Daily Archives: December 3, 2009

Winter Writers’ Series, Tofino, November 27-30

Having gone from the Hamilton/Burlington evening straight to the airport, and having passed a short night, Graeme Gibson and I were off to Vancouver very early Friday morning. Alma Lee and Barry Auger met our late plane, and we rushed over to the south terminal and hopped onto a small Orca prop plane. The weather was bright and clear – the first such day they’d had for a month – so everyone was happy.

Once at the tiny Tofino airport (west coast of Vancouver Island, maps, pix, much more at: http://www.tofino-bc.com/ and also  http://www.tofinotime.com), we were shuttled to  the spectacular Wickanninish Inn, right on Chesterman Beach. I was first in this area – which also has Long Beach and Wreck Beach – back at the end of the sixties, as the hippies and their driftwood shelters were dwindling, and as the road to the Victoria shore was being built. Then, in the early 70s, Graeme and I stayed in the old Wickaninnish, which burned down shortly afterwards. Dr. Howard McDiarmid and his family – long residents of Tofino and this beach area, and instrumental in creating Pacific Rim National Park — liked the name so much that they used it for the new Inn, established in 1996. (See the pictures for a view of the beach, Graeme and I hadn’t been back to the beaches and Tofino. for a while, and were amazed at the many changes.

One of the first things we heard was that Tofino’s Peter Devries had just won the international Cold Water Surfing Championship, against steep odds and stiff competition, amid the rolling breakers we could see right from our window. Everyone was excited about that!

( http://www.netsurfingsport.com/index.php/surf/news/375-tofinos-peter-devries-wins-cold-water-classic.html)

We weren’t there to surf, however – surprised? — but to participate in the Winter Writers’ Series, which has now been going on in Tofino for  a couple of years. The presiding genii are Alma Lee, who gathers the writers together – she knows many, as she was the first Executive Director of the Writers’ Union of Canada, and then founded the Vancouver Writers and Readers Festival; Dorothy Baert of Wildside Booksellers (and sea kayaking, and espresso bar featuring Karma Vancouver-Island-roasted organic coffee, (http://www.karmacoffee.com/);  Gloria Lorie of the Canadian Tourist Commission; and Charles McDiarmid, Director of the Wickanninish Inn (www.wickinn.com) . The Wick had special Winter Writers’ Series packages, Gloria leant support, Dorothy was chief go-to for the open-to-the-public event on Saturday, and then there was more…

Our suite was just as you’d hope: surf pounding, ravens croaking, Cocoa Camino organic chocolate bars and Café Pangoa in our room; and much fine carving everywhere around. (www.levelground.com/cafe_pangoa) The weekend kicked off with a Wicki reception for their guests and the writers  (we behaved ourselves, mostly); followed by an exceptional dinner at the Pointe Restaurant, hosted by Gloria. On Saturday, after a walk through the rich coastal rainforest woods past Henry’s carving cabin, we went to the public reading, held at the Tin Wis (Calm Waters), (http://www.tinwis.com/), a resort on Clayoquot Nation land. This event was a fundraiser for the Raincoast Educational Society, where it was standing room only, and sometimes sitting-on-the-floor room. Graeme did his slideshow & talk of The Bedside Book of Beasts, and Alma Lee helped me open my session by joining in a singing of “The Holy Weeds,”for which she’d been practicing for a week. The audience was warm and attentive, and asked a lot of very good questions.

Chef Margot Bodchon put together some very inventive canapés, using local ingredients and incorporating Native traditions. Here are their names:

Organic Buckwheat  & Roasted Root Vegetable Crepes with Cold-Smoked Pacific Wild Salmon & Cream Cheese

Baby Fried Bread with Hot Smoked Alder Wild Salmon and Parsnip & Potato Purée

Sundried Blueberry, Cherry, & White Chocolate Scones with Organic Chevre and Wild Berry Compote

Dutch Chocolate & Organic Espresso Mini Devils Cakes with Fresh Strawberries & Cream

Sweet Bannock and Lemon Chantilly Cream

Local Wines

Everything was delicious! This is why you gain weight on tours! Which we did, despite the long walk on the starfish-spangled beach that we took afterwards.

On Sunday, the day began with a brunch at Charles McDiarmid’s family’s house/cottage, built right on the rocks with the surf swirling up… The Winckaninnish chefs and staff prepared a tableful of treats, including more luscious cold-smoked salmon, home-made jams, local cheeses, a delicious quiche-like item… relaxing on front of the cozy fire, we were very spoiled. Then we all talked about writing, and told war stories from the early days of the Union, and wandered verbally hither and thither, into and out of the thickets of politics, animal behaviour, writing practices…  This session, we were told, was a popular item, and Charles – never having done it before – plans to repeat it. Coming up: Yann Martel and his wife Alice Kuipers, February 21-23, 2010;  Joseph and Amanda Boyden, October 2010.

At eleven o’clock, Graeme and I put on the gumboots and slickers provided by the Wick (“rain forest” = rain), and set out with the wildlife biologists: Bob Hansen, Peter Clarkson, and Adrienne Mason, of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. They took us to the calm side of the peninsula, an area of mud flats and eel grass, where we watched several thousand ducks, some shorebirds, and a slightly menacing eagle. We heard some stellar wildlife tales, reminisced about the days of fire and forest rangers, and talked about many things… Why did 9 million salmon just suddenly disappear this fall? Why don’t people get it that scraping off the sea floor is creating the equivalent of a desert down there and will result in a severe dearth of fish? More: local wolves are becoming almost marine — swimming in the ocean, digging clams, eating river otters. Cougars are appearing near towns because the replanting of clear-cut forests produces a cover so dense that deer cannot browse, and as they move into more open spaces, their predators follow. (Do not run alone in cougar country. You look like prey.)

Then Peter produced some stratospheric butter tarts made by revered Sobo Resturant (http://www.sobo.ca/main.html) baker, Jennifer Scott – see picture of them – and we ate them up, gaining yet more weight. Then Peter presented each of us with a very special Bird Band. Graeme’s was EH, a very Canadian call sign, eh? Mine was FO. Peter said he had been considering FU, but he had already used that on another occasion, attached to an actual bird. I think he gave me FO because he had a bunch in mind that he was kind of hoping I might say that to, sometime. Or maybe because of the sad fate befalling most of the human race in. As I often tell people, writers get to be spokespersons because they don’t have jobs as such, and therefore can’t get fired.

I put the FO band on my binocular strap, where it remains, awaiting deployment.

That evening – after Graeme and I and Alma and Barry and Dorothy had snorkelled up the SoBo’s picnic brought by Dorothy – I dreamt of a cougar-protection collar. Cougars typically jump on you from behind and go for the place where neck joins shoulder, so the collar would stand up around the neck like a sort of vampire-cape collar or old Mephistopheles outfit, and it would have shoulder and neck padding, and light but strong reinforcement, like the spider/goat thread produced by the hybrid splice in Montreal. With it, you’d wear a mask on the back of your head, like the ones recommended for tiger country.

I told this to Bob today, on the phone. He said it wasn’t a bad idea, and that local First Nations lore had it that if attacked by a cougar you should lie down (thus protecting the back of the neck) and keep your eyes open and looking at the cougar. I offer my collar-backward-face combo to anyone who wants to test-drive it. Not a mass-market item, but for local craftspeople, hey! Maybe a roaring business! As it were.

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Hamilton/Burlington Amid the Flowers

On Thursday, November 26, Graeme Gibson and I were driven through the gloaming by Intrepid Driver, who braved traffic to get us to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Hamilton. We spent a bit of time fumbling around in the dark before locating the bright new building where the event was to take place — a presentation by the two of us for the two of Them: booksellers Richard Bachman of A Different Drummer in Burlington, and Bryan Prince of Bryan Prince Booksellers in Hamilton. This double act by Richard and Bryan is an old tradition. We used to do it in a grand elderly theatre in Hamilton, now closed, alas. Both gentlemen are slightly older, but just as elegant as always; Bryan was just back from India, and was sporting excellent waxed moustaches.

No sooner were we backstage than they had us hard at work signing books, with seconds-long pauses to gobble up the tasty vegetarian food provided. Then off we went, Graeme with The Bedside Book of Beasts, me with YOTF, with a full house cheering us on — and then a lively Question Period.

Here is a Flickr steam made by a photographer fan. On it you can read that I was not as boring and tedious as he’d expected, which I guess is progress…

Ms Atwood Snaps the Crowd

Among the photos at the top, you can find a wonderful album — Grace Mark’s album, as envisioned and put together by a fan. It has swatches of Grace’s fabrics, her buttons, her hair (!), and many another memento taken from Alias Grace. This album was a gift to me, and I am now enjoying it.

You never know what you might find in Hamilton/Burlington!

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Guelph: Something Completely Different!

On Tuesday, November 24, I set out with Ashley Dunn of McClelland and Stewart for Guelph, Ontario, where something completely different was awaiting us. It was The God’s Gardeners of Guelph, presented by The Bookshelf, one of the great independants (Doug and Barb Minett, props.), at Norfolk United Church.

Turns out that the God’s Gardeners had established a branch of their religion in Guelph, not an unlikely place, as it was first known for its Agricultural College. The Evening Choir welcomed us with their angel-voiced “Oh Lord You Know Our Foolishness,” with music composed by their very own Eve Nine (Sue Smith, who composed the music for all of the Evening Choir hymns: (“Guelph’s own Sue Smith is a singer/songwriter, performer and teacher.  She spent 10 years as part of acclaimed vocal trio The Bird Sisters and is a co-founder of the Hillside Festival.  Her wonderful debut solo album I’m So was released in 2006.”)

Then Adam Fifteen (Michael Doeleschell) preached the Saint Euell Day sermon, the Choir sang “Holy Weeds,” and Adam Fifteen asked the Oracle to read from her Book of Prophecy. (That would be The Year of the Flood…and me gping around saying it isn’t necessarily a prophecy, it doesn’t have to be that way, etc. Oh well.) Adam Fifteen then read from the Mole Day sermon, the Evening Choir sang the Bright Wings hymn, and three new Gardener initiates come forward from the audience and asked the Oracle their questions. (Which the Oracle answered as best she could!)

The evening concluded with Adam Fifteen hoping for the best and the Evening Choir singing “The Earth Forgives,” in joyful though pensive tune, led by Sue on the piano. Then the Oracle — rather uncharacteristically for Oracles, usually they just go into trances and writhe — signed books. No writhing, sorry!

A pleasure for me was the presence of Jennie and Colin Wiebe, who, some years ago when they were just kids, spent a couple of summers on Meadowlark Farm on Pelee Island, doing — unbeknownst to themselves, and even to me, at the time — some early modelling for the God’s Gardeners. Not only did they do the botanicals and the bee-keeping, but they also sang beautifully.

Altogether it was great fun and well thought-through. Thank you, God’s Gardeners of Guelph, and when next I’m there I expect to see all those front lawns dug up and replaced with native-species edible weeds…

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Sudbury, Part 3: RegreenORama

Now up at  Globe blog http://bit.ly/AQA8x

If Sudbury can, so can Harper eh? Where’s his green shoots?

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