Gentle Giants

Gentle giantsLogin today and I can’t believe I haven’t posted anything in this long. I’m still visiting the forest, more so lately, and the writing continues, less so in the last few life-changing weeks.
Today I thought I’d check on the tree that fell over the creek in the wind storm about a week ago.

Tree over creet

One of the Saanich workmen, a tall strong looking fellow stopped, 2 metres away, and asked how I was doing. He was of course referring to our collective health and mandatory social distancing. He said he was depressed. He couldn’t even ride to work in the same vehicle as his co-workers. I asked him if coming to work in the forest helped. He didn’t answer directly but proceeded to tell me they’d removed a lot of debris, cut up the trunk of the tree that had fallen into the creek, and set up some screens to prevent more run off and keep the creek moving. As he related the details of his day, his demeanour was energetic and thoughtful. And then a younger co-worker came along and relieved the older gentleman of his pic and shovel, unfortunately not keeping his distance. We parted telling each other to stay safe and healthy. A moment’s brief connection between two people feeling the impact of what we are all living through, and sharing our concern for the creek and forest. Trees fall into the creek in windstorms. Gentle giants remain, and watch over the two-legged ones trying to protect it.

There is a lot more traffic both on the peripheral trails and deep in the challenging ones. As this sacred place exhales what we need to breathe in, give each other space, take care with your pets, and be kind.

Natural painted nails

Seeing through the fog

Sometimes with hiking, as with writing, I have to remind myself that I don’t have to aim for the top of the mountain everyday. And that I don’t have to see through the fog. What is right in front of me is enough.

lone arbutus top of Little Mt Doug

I haven’t been up ‘little’ Mt Doug for over a year, maybe more. I’ve been preoccupied with taking the steep south face to the top of Mt Doug–the bigger–or taking the more familiar vehicle road because it is so handily gated off until noon for walkers only.

The hike up to little Mt Doug has always been one of my favourite paths, with its mossy plateaus and of course the lichen ladies.

lichen ladies

As usual, a few dogs about. Some recognized me, others barked. The fog covered the entire view below and I could hear the fog horn in the distance. The colours this year are especially vivid and there are some changes in the paths with fencing in place to decrease traffic and erosion. After a warmer than usual start to October, today the air was cool and I wore gloves, but they soon found their way to my pockets.

Walking and hiking for me has always been a time of opening up and letting go, a time away from writing and an opportunity to just ‘be’ in the landscape. Sometimes a word or line that has challenged me will present itself more clearly, sometimes I just breathe. Today, I reminded myself, whether writing or hiking, to keep an eye on my path. There may be surprises ahead. You never know when a door might open.

little door in the woods

Also, much less chance of twisting an ankle.







When is a manuscript finished?

Does a manuscript become a novel when someone finally picks it off a store bookshelf? When is a writer through with changing the colour of a character’s eyes, or sending them off to the outback, or possibly removing them from the story line entirely?

I believe it was Joni Mitchell who once said she could never listen to her songs because she always heard things she wished she’d done differently, and at a writers’ festival, Alistair MacLeod, one of Canada’s best loved writers, said that his manuscripts had to be torn from his hands.

Recently, I read somewhere that a manuscript is complete when you’ve given it all that you possibly could, when the story is finished within you. For now, that is the point that I have reached. Over five years of writing and re-writing, fermenting, thinking, re-writing, changing the colour of a character’s eyes, sending them down new roads.

Time to see what other readers think.

Time for a walk in the mountain. Morning fog is setting in, the leaves are changing colour, and I need to breathe some forest air.



Where do all the Jack O’Lanterns Go?

Everyone has arrived for this year’s party. Catch them soon.

Gail Kirkpatrick

One of the seasonal pleasures of Mt. Doug forest is the post October 31st display of Jack O’Lanterns. From the entrance of Mt. Doug Park for about a half mile along the road, carved pumpkins have escaped the compost heap and joined in numbers for a few more glorious days of display.

If, as the web states, these lanterns were “named after the phenomenon of strange lights flashing over peat bogs,” how appropriate that these fruits have reached this destination of soggy leaves and mossy paths.

Enjoy this site in the next few days, as it will soon magically disappear. Perhaps one night the pumpkins gathering together as one to renew the forest floor.

View original post

Spring on Mt. Doug


Like the flowers, I am finding my way back to the mountain. This Easter hike led me to the blooming skunk cabbage, a path and view I had forgotten about, and to a place where rocks define a space. Curious about the rocks in this setting; I’ll try and find out more.

Similarly, in searching for a publisher for the long work (to my mind it will only be a novel when it is published and in book stores) there have been a few discoveries––a few inconsistent rejections, kind personal publisher emails, ‘we like it, but aren’t sure it fits with our list.’ Like the mountain hiking, this pursuit is leading me along some interesting paths. Rejection is hard, but keep believing in the work. Keep the long view in mind.

Strait of Juan de Fuca through arbutus

Strait of Juan de Fuca through arbutus


Backyard lilac

In Greek Mythology, Pan, the god connected to fields, fertility and spring, was smitten by the beauty of Syringa. To escape his advances, Syringa turned herself into the flower we have come to know as the lilac.

Lilacs are often available around Mothers’ Day. You may love their pungent aroma or send them to a far corner of the house after a day, but their lush and majestic totality in a vase cannot be denied.

Rochester, New York is the lilac capital of the world hosting a two-week long Lilac Festival each spring. Highland Park in Rochester contains over 500 varieties in 1200 lilac bushes over 155 acres. Spokane, Washington also calls itself a lilac city. It hosts a lilac parade and festival.

If you want to smell or bathe in the fragrance of this flower, Pacific sells French Lilac deodorants, soaps, and perfumes, and many will be familiar with Avon’s French Lilac bubble bath. Many handcrafted olive oil soaps also mix lilac into their base.

Growing Lilacs

The Syringa (the Lilac’s botanical name) is a hardy deciduous needing sun and well-drained, preferably alkaline soil. They are easy to grow and easily thrive. Remove flower heads from newly planted lilacs and deadhead them for the first few years. The plants are upright when young, spreading into a bushy shrub. Plan your lilac bushes for edging, privacy, and fragrance.

Lilac leaves are heart shaped and green with flowers that can be white, pink, or deep purple. Their time of blooming is said to indicate an early or late spring. I think this is an early spring on the West Coast.

White lilac

Lilac Trivia

Purple lilacs symbolize first love, while white lilacs are said to represent youthful innocence. The Lilac is also the flower of wedding anniversary number eight.

The following books contain Lilac in the title:

Under the Lilac by Louisa May Alcott, White Lilacs by Carolyn Meyer, The Lilac Tree by Helen Dunmore, The Lilac Lady by Ruth Alberta Brown, and Lilac Moon by Sharon Butala.

Lilac movies:

Lilac Time– 1928 and The Lilac Domino-1937

Famous lilac paintings:

Marc Chagall’s Lovers in the Lilacs and Lilac Bush by van Gogh

In One Rainy Wish, Jimi Hendrix wrote about a dream being “misty blue and lilac too.”

The lilac is related to a class of anti-diabetic drugs, Martha Stewart has a lilac named after her, there is a Lilac Street in London, and on a recent episode of House lilacs attracting bees were related to a patient’s complicated diagnosis.

Lilac Superstition

There is some superstition surrounding the lilac. The idea that lilacs bring bad luck may have originated in the belief that fairies were once associated with the lilac tree, and if brought inside, fairies could disrupt the household. The way to keep fairies away, though, is to hang a wind chime, so they say.

The white/pink lilac I planted many years ago under the shade of a Japanese maple is now over eight feet tall, and one of the purple shrubs did not bloom last year, so I think these can be fussy as well.



A version of the above first appeared in Suite101.


No Regrets on Mt. Doug

The past few months I’ve been neglecting facets of my life while I focus on people and situations that require my full care and attention. In other words, consciously and unconsciously, I have set priorities, because my human body and mind has only so much life energy to expend.

I’ve neglected my writing and my walks in these woods. Luckily, I can see this mountain from my window, and even when I can’t be in it, I can look toward its green and rocky back and, however brief, the sight of it in the sun or through the fog puts me at peace.

But yesterday the sunshine called and just like that, I slipped on my hiking boots and took to the deep forest.

Spring is awakening here.


I ran into one of the Friends of Mt. Doug and he gave me a brief update. Perhaps because of that, reminders of the important work being carried out by so many people caught my attention and mingled with drifting thoughts.


Due to the flooding of an area east of Shelbourne and the harm to trees, a tributary to drain off the water has been dug. Here you can also see a replanting of native species and a notice that when you are here to mind where you set your foot.


Someone I was once very close to suddenly passed away in January and I did not find out until this past week. This kind and talented man, whom I had not seen in decades, found me through these words. He told me how proud he was of me and several emails passed between us in 2012.

I was busy with editing and sending out my manuscript and my correspondence with him dwindled and then stopped. These past few days, I’ve been thinking about neglect, wondering if my connection with another human being came up short.

We carry on with our busy lives and sometimes we just aren’t able to give 100% to our families, every friend, our health, our communities, our work. When our attention needs to focus on the immediate, we can miss other things going on around us and afterwards, in hindsight, foolishly pass judgment. I thought about that this week as I mourned.

The woods are a good place to take grief. Happy memories, the past cloaked in music, words, and unique shared moments arrived amongst the new blossoms.

Regret does not heal or feed the soul, and as I walked this morning, the forest seemed to take away what I do not need. This is not a solipsistic conjuring of mine own, analyzing away regret or renegotiating time and neglect. To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, nature is medicinal. The trees sway above, a woodpecker picks over yonder, the mud squishes underfoot, the sunshine accentuates the green moss, I breathe in mushrooms, and I come away renewed.

The least amount of work in this place will help protect and sustain it.




And however brief our genuine care and attention to one another may be, it can be powerful and long lasting.

Thank you mb and Rest in Peace.



October Endings and Beginnings

Spring is my favorite month, and many days these past few weeks have felt like March. There are new shoots of perennials poking their heads through the old growth, as I take down the garden and plant bulbs. I haven’t spent much time on the mountain, but yesterday was too beautiful a day to miss––bright, crisp, cool.

As with writing goals, sometimes the path is difficult to see.


I didn’t go looking for them, but there was a crazy abundance of mushrooms everywhere. I used to pick and eat wild mushrooms as a kid, but none of the ones I saw resemble those. I suppose one day I should make a point of consulting an expert on whether or not any of those in Mt. Doug are edible and also why they grow where they do.


These posts try to connect my writing life to the woods where I hike. Some observations may be products of my own imaginings, but in my wanderings and encounters with this mountain, I sometimes have insights that I can apply to my writing life.

I’ve started to shop my novel around to agents and publishers. I even received my first rejection. What next? Can I figure out where the path is leading despite the heavy leaves? Is that one lone mushroom in the woods like my own work waiting to be discovered?

Lone mushroom


Sidney, BC Literary Festival––Big Deal

Many of us are gearing up for our annual trip across the water from Victoria to the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival in late October. Six days with some 80 events and over 100 national and international writers is word glut for the literary consumer. It is a costly venture when you add up ferry, hotel, food, tickets, books, and let’s not forget the wine they sell at some of the venues.

Lat year’s reinstated Victoria Writers’ Festival, as well as the ones on Denman Island and in Campbell River, come around once a year, but for Sharon Hope and Wendy Picken this just isn’t enough, and they took up the idea of bringing back a literary festival to Sidney, BC.

‘There hadn’t been a festival in Sidney for seven years and readings at the Red Brick Café ceased about three years ago, despite the events always being well attended,’ Sharon says. ‘We wanted a grassroots movement that would involve avid readers, librarians, teachers, writers, supporters of literacy, and business people. We also wanted to feature youth and reach out to educators.’

Sharon is a retired forest ecologist with publications in major scientific journals and two non-fiction publications, and Wendy brings her talents as an artist to the design of posters and other promotional material, but where to start to convince the local literati to participate. Sidney has given itself the moniker Book Town, but there have been no recent opportunities to celebrate local authors while at the same time benefiting local merchants. With no seed money in the initial stages, one of the other challenges was to anticipate how much they could potentially raise and how to tailor the scope of the festival accordingly.

Every author she spoke to immediately said yes. (Although that is not a complete surprise, as there are few opportunities here for writers to present their work.) The festival has received grants from the Town of Sidney and the Capital Regional District. Local businesses donated items for silent auction, offered venues and promotions, as well as website design, and they also received support as members of the Peninsula Community Arts Council. Each of the fundraisers, since the first on April 26 with Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane, sold out, and to their surprise, the silent auction and fundraisers have raised enough money to cover all of their costs.

‘Creating the magic synergy of readers and audience is really what the festival is about. Budding writers and avid readers always grasp opportunities to meet their favorite authors who may have inspired or moved them through their work. We wanted to create an intimate atmosphere with a number of smaller venues, the opportunities for individuals to talk to the authors one to one in quieter settings, and to ask questions.’

Authors will also have the opportunity to talk to each other through a potluck dinner, which the festival hopes will nurture a comfortable easy relationship of authors to the audience.

It is too soon to project the economic benefits that this festival may generate through participants taking in restaurants and shops or by buying books, or if Sidney will enlarge its image as Book Town. The impact on the cultural community and the social benefits of inclusion, supporting youth, pride of participation and accomplishment by way of the written word are not easily measurable. More obvious is that readers gain insight and perspective on writers, their personalities, and how they write. Writers get to mingle with their peers, show their appreciation to readers, and of course sell their books. And, as anyone who has gone to Granville Island for the week’s festivities will tell you, it’s just a lot of fun.

I suppose Sharon and Wendy hope that fans of Arthur Black, Mark Zuehlke, Sylvia Olsen, and Patrick Lane, to name a few, will cross the waters from the Mainland to take in the Sidney Literary Festival, stroll the streets of this quiet little town, and leave a few dollars on this side of Georgia Strait. Their theme, ‘Authors at Home,’ proposes something for everyone, and as the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival has done for years, brings authors, youth, and educators together in workshops and contests.

For now they are happy to report that tickets are selling well and their eight-member board is already tossing around ideas for next year’s event. Not bad for two women who set about to create a writers’ festival in their hometown.