Archive for February, 2007

101 uses for used bottle caps

February 28, 2007

99. Mexican folk art cross honouring Frida Khalo

100. Miniature art magnets, pendants and broaches (these ones by me and my daughter)

101. Snowperson eyes

bottle caps

(I also like to use old rusty flattened bottle caps found on the road in collages. My daughter thinks I’m weird and pretends she doesn’t know me when I stop to pick them up.)

Note: the detail in the photos isn’t very good, so I wanted to point out that the penguin’s eyes are made with little gold beads, which I thought was pretty cool.

Serendipity and the perfect book

February 24, 2007

When I was in grade seven, I used to walk to the local library every Friday after school (about two miles) to drop off last week’s books and select the next week’s. The way I picked the books I wanted to borrow was to walk along the shelves of novels in the children’s section until a spine or cover jumped out at me. This method led me to discover some of my favourite books, including “The Court of the Stone Children” by Eleanor Cameron, “The Book of Three” by Lloyd Alexander (which led me to all of the Prydain Chronicles) and “False Dawn” by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (a graphic science fiction novel, which, as I pointed out to the librarian after I’d read it, definately did not belong in the children’s section).

More recently, this serendipitous selection habbit has led me to books such as “Prodigal Summer” by Barbara Kingslover, “The Mermaid Chair” by Sue Monk Kidd, “Blessed are the Cheesemakers” by Sarah-Kate Lynch (a title I couldn’t resist) and “Down the Rabbit Hole” by Peter Abrahams (a mystery, which I found in the adult section of the library, though it may have belonged in the children’s section, but could work in both, I think).  

There’s something magical about feeling the call of a previously unkown book, or discovering the perfect book by pure chance.

Today, I walked into Chapters, killing time between a dentist appointment and catching the bus home, and not intending to buy anything. I wandered idly down the middle of the store and into thebook cover children’s section, turned around, and there was a bright orange and red picture book: “The Company of Crows” by Marilyn Singer. Poems celebrating crows and gorgeous illustrations (by Linda Saport) full of crows! I hadn’t even known the book existed. Of course, I had to buy it.

The cover and the first inside illustration also reminded me of the haiku my friend Jean-Pierre recently added to the comments of my November “Call of the Wild” post:

Eyes are everywhere
Peering through the leaves and branches
In the rookery

Celebrating Chinese New Year

February 15, 2007

Since preparations have begun for the celebration of the Lunar New Year, I’d like to wish a happy new year to everyone! Gung Hay Fat Choy, if you speak Cantonese, or Gong Xi Fa Cai, if you speak Mandarin (wishing you happiness and prosperity).

Chinese New Year is a time for settling old debts and quarrels, cleaning away the dust and clutter of the past year, and making way for new or renewed prosperity, happiness and health. It’s a time for new clothes, family gatherings and food (especially food symbolic of good fortune and long life). It is also a festival that celebrates the coming of spring.

In honour of the occasion and all my friends who celebrate Chinese New Year, I made the artwork below with images of spring and good fortune (including flowers cut from “lucky money” envelopes, stems from “lucky paper,” cookie fortune leaves, and coins).

Chinese New Year collage

Also, I can’t resist giving a plug to my most recent novel, The Truth About Rats (and Dogs) (see the “My Books” page in the side bar for more info), which includes a Chinese New Year Celebration (I had a lot of fun researching this part of the book). To find out ten things I learned while doing this research, check out my post at cwillbc. And by the way, I just found out The Truth About Rats (and Dogs) has been nominated for the Atlantic Canada readers’ choice Hackmatack Award (for 2008)!

Bird brains and trickster tales

February 13, 2007

raven flyingZoologists often refer to ravens as the “brains of the bird world.” To the First Nations people of the northwest coast, Raven is the “Trickster,” a sometimes greedy, sometimes cunning, sometimes joke-playing figure, who tried to steal the sun and released the first humans from a clam shell. Bill Reid's ravenThe Trickster’s ordinary raven counterparts have similar traits. Among loggers of the westcoast, ravens are well-known as crafty lunch-stealers (who always know in which part of a bag a lunch is hidden and are expert at opening lunch boxes and zippers or sawing through canvas with their beaks) and have also been known to play tricks on humans.

My dad has worked in forests up and down the B.C. coast for the past fifty years (first as a timber cruiser, then as a log scaler) and has had many encounters with ravens. When CBC radio announced its “raven contest” a few weeks ago, honouring the birth date of Haida artist Bill Reid and calling for stories, poems and songs about ravens, I immediately called my dad. Here is the story I wrote, based on a couple of my dad’s real encounters with ravens in the Queen Charlotte Islands:

Last Laugh

The sun was just rising over the trees as a small motor boat made its way out to the log boom resting on the calm water of Juskatla Inlet. On shore, a raven called, the sound masked by the drone of the motor.

The boat tied up at one end of the boom, and two men climbed out, gripping the log with the spikes of their caulk boots and using their long scaling rules for balance. By the time the sun was well over the trees, the scalers had worked their way to the opposite end of the boom.

“Look at that,” one of the men called, as he straightened his back for a rest, beginning to think of lunch.

At the top of a tall cedar on the near shore, a raven let out a loud squawk, then dropped as if shot. The bird spiralled down while the men watched. At the last moment before hitting the ground, the raven swooped up, flew straight back to the top of the tree and did the stunt again.

The men shook their heads and laughed.

“Damn stupid bird.”

They were wrong.

 Later, back at the boat, hungry for the lunches they’d stashed safely in their gear bags, the men stopped and stared. The canvas bags sat in the bottom of the boat, flaps open, zippers gaping. A quick search revealed the lunches were gone.

On shore, two well-satisfied ravens cawed. In Juskatla, ravens always work in pairs.

* * *

log scaler
raven in tree

[Note: the raven photos were taken by my husband at Cowichan Bay, the carving is by Bill Reid and depicts the story of Raven releasing the first humans from a clam shell, the bottom left photo is of my dad scaling logs in 1962. To read the poem that won the CBC Raven contest go to:]

Haiku happens

February 11, 2007

I wasn’t sure if I should post this one, but here’s a haiku on how I came upon the first snow drops last year:

snowdrops in the grass

if not for scooping dog poop

would have gone unseen


(I like the way life can surprise us with beauty even in the most mundane and unpleasant moments — and throw those moments into new light.)

Note: I just realized this haiku sounds very similar to the raven haiku of a few posts ago. So much for originality (I guess it’s a repeating pattern in my life: constantly being surprised by the unexpected within the ordinary and marvelling at how easy it would have been to miss). . . . Did that make any sense?

First snow drops

February 9, 2007

snow dropspicking up garbage

in my yard, I discover

first blooming snow drops

Confessions of a bad birdwatcher

February 5, 2007

bird book coverI am a bad birdwatcher. This is a good thing, according to Simon Barnes, the author of How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher (Short Books 2004), a great book I recently discovered.

Barns says “I don’t go bird watching. I am birdwatching.” It’s simply part of who he is in the world. He notices birds. Anyone can do this. You don’t have to carry around any special equipment or even know the names of all the birds you see. If you can tell a car from a truck, you can tell a swan from a robin. And that’s enough.

Why bother? As Barnes says, “looking at birds is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Looking at birds is a key: it opens doors, and if you choose to go through them you find you enjoy life more and understand life better.”

Barnes tells the story of how he was walking to a London train station one day and paused to watch a bunch of house martins “whizzing round” a church steeple and catching flies in their beaks.

“And then it happened. Bam!”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw what he at first took to be a kestrel in the sky. It suddenly dropped like a thunderbolt into the crowd of martins, took one out, then vanished. Barnes stood on the street, looking up, “uttering incredulous obscenities and prayerful blasphemies.” It was a falcon (specifically, a hobby, but being able to identify it, says Barnes, was not necessary — only a bonus). Not a rare bird or a sighting that would make any headlines in birdwatching journals — “just a wonderful and wholly unexpected sight of a wonderful and wholly unexpected bird. . . a moment of perfect drama.”

Something similar happened to me several years ago when I was a student at York University in Toronoto. I was walking across campus after an Environemntal Studies class when my eye was caught by a movement above a roof-top crowded with pigeons. Something dropped out of the sky, hit the pigeons like an explosion, then was gone. A peregrine falcon. It was like a piece of a nature documentary playing out right in front of me.

I looked around quickly to see if anyone else had seen what I’d just seen. Out of the large group of students walking between buildings, only one other stood still and was excitedly looking around to see if anyone else had seen what he’d just seen. It was a guy from my class who knew birds. Our eyes connected.

“That was a peregrine falcon!” he called across the crowd (this is the only reason I knew for sure what type of bird it was). At that time the peregrine falcon was still on the endangered species list and had been almost wiped out a decade or so earlier due to the pesticide DDT. So, to see a peregrine falcon in action right here in the middle of the city was not only to witness a marvelous  moment of natural drama, but also to experience a sense of wonder and hope.

I haven’t seen a peregrine falcon since then (though I may have without knowing it), and most of my bird sightings are quite calm and ordinary ones (bush tits outside my kitchen window, crows, etc.), but somehow when I catch sight of a bird (especially one I’m not expecting), it’s like glimpsing magic in the world. “Enhanced enjoyment of the ordinary” is what Simon Barnes calls it.

Who needs drugs when you have birds?

[Note: below is a hummingbird at my sister’s feeder on southern Vancouver Island (during our December snowfall), juncos at a pine cone feeder in my backyard, and Sandhill cranes at the Riefel Bird sanctuary near where I live]


juncossandhill cranes

Potholes on the journey

February 2, 2007

Although I’ve confessed to liking birthdays, what I don’t like about getting old is the memory potholes. You know, you walk into a room and forget what it was you went in there to do, you forget the name of someone you work with, etc.

The other day, I went all the way to the downtown library to pick up a book I’d placed on hold. I got to the library, dropped off some books I’d finished with, found a chair to sit down and jot some notes about the next scene in my story, which I’d been thinking about on the way to the library, then I left. I got all the way home before realizing I hadn’t picked up the hold book. (Ironically, the book I forgot to pick up was “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” by Kim Edwards)

But I did take these photos by the Stadium Skytrain station. I liked the juxtaposition of the living trees against the built walls, but also the way the walls have a kind of organic look with their layers and colours, and the tree with the peeling bark has the look of a wall covered with peeling advertising posters.

green wall brick wall