The (Once and Future?) Drought

Here are precipitation (i.e. rain) amounts for my garden for the past several months:

August (up to & including the 27th): 1 millimeter

July: 16 mm (which is a bit more than 0.6 inches)

June: 4 mm

May: 2 mm

The really atypical numbers there are the ones for May and June. Normal rainfall amounts for those months are closer to 20 mm, or almost an inch. Add to that the warm winter of 2014-2015, which resulted in low snowpacks in the mountains of British Columbia, and you have the Drought of 2015.

Not that it has affected this small garden very much. In fact, things here are more or less normal for late August — tired and messy in spots, not bad in others. With asters preparing to bloom, and the good old mulleins and delphiniums putting forth their second efforts, things generally look better than they have in other Augusts.

 

Dependable mullein with second flush of bloom

Dependable mullein with second flush of bloom

 

Delphiniums

Delphiniums

 

The reservoir from which the area gets its drinking water was enlarged some years ago, after much controversy. This has proved a real boon, because we have not gone beyond Stage 1 watering restrictions (which are pretty mild) since the summer of 2001. It’s like having a giant rain barrel in the Sooke Hills. Other areas, however, have not fared so well: the Sunshine Coast (well-named, except the sunshine comes in liquid form much of the year) was under Stage 4 watering restrictions for several weeks. That meant no outdoor water use at all. Only certified farmers could water anything. Some gardeners resorted to lugging bath and laundry water in buckets to keep plants alive.

Other effects of the warm winter and dry spring: low river levels and high water temperatures (bad for salmon), depleted reservoirs, brown lawns, dead shrubs, stressed trees, high water bills (mine for April through July was $224 Cdn), stressed farmers and grumpy gardeners.

The drought finally broke on August 28th. We have had more rain in the past four days than in the entire preceding four months. This may be an early start to the fall-winter rainy season, but a return to warm and sunny is likely in September.

The big questions are: how much snow in the mountains this winter? And what about El Nino? It has been predicted to be a “monster,” although this may be media dramatics. Then there’s the “Blob” — a huge area of warmer-than-normal water in the eastern Pacific. Lately it’s reported to have split into two smaller blobs, but no one knows what the combined effect of Blob + El Nino might be.

One thing does seem clear — the trend here is toward warmer, drier summers. It seems weird to have company in my perennial frets about drought. Usually when it comes to summers, it’s a chorus of “More, hotter, longer!” Maybe fears are developing that the California drought is creeping north. In any case, local and provincial governments are making noises about adapting and preparing. Cities are rethinking their choices for street trees and wondering about developing standards for grey water systems and cisterns in new houses. Gardeners may be thinking about cisterns and giant water tanks as well.

With plentiful water from the hose, this has been another good year for tomatoes after a whole string of bad years from 2010 through 2013.

Tomatoes and Echinops

Tomatoes and Echinops

Hopefully, sad scenes such as this won’t become more common.

Mostly dead Erysimum "Bowles Mauve"

Mostly dead Erysimum “Bowles Mauve”

 

Ending on that hopeful note…

Colchicums

Colchicums

Local Author Book Review #6: When The Stars Are Right by Scott R. Jones

WTSAR_313px

The subtitle of this book could just as easily be A Rhapsody On Themes Of H.P. Lovecraft.

While reading the first few chapters, my biggest problem was trying to figure out what it is: serious literary criticism, parody, philosophy, humour or a weird amalgam of them all?

One thing it isn’t, I soon realized, is any kind of explication or critique of H.P. Lovecraft. Scott Jones makes this clear from the get-go: We thank him [Lovecraft] for his art, then, and acknowledge the suffering that produced it, even as we leave the man (a random confluence of flesh and foibles, if ever there was one) in the ground.

Jones doesn’t think much of HPL, referring to him more than once as “malnourished,” as though this aspect of the Old Gentleman’s life extended to his personality and creative abilities. But Jones has a lot of time for HPL’s creations, especially Cthulhu. “Look, Howard,” he says, “you’ve made some pretty nice things here — Yog-Sothoth, Chthulu, R’lyeh, the Necronomicon — just leave them to me. Go away, eat some beans, write a few letters, while I play with your toys.”

Don’t read this book expecting to find out much about Howard P. Lovecraft. It isn’t about him. It’s about things that happened in Scott R. Jones’s brain after reading Lovecraft and a lot of other stuff. Everything went into that cranial Mixmaster and out came R’lyehian spirituality.

So what is “R’lyehian spirituality?” According to Jones, it’s a lifelong quest for the Black Gnosis (a wonderful phrase, that you won’t find in HPL, by the way). And what is the Black Gnosis, you ask? It’s the realization in the fullest sense that “when all is madness, there is no madness.” It is a knowledge, deeply felt and internalized, not of That Which Is, but of That Which Is Not; a profoundly instinctual apprehension of the liminal spaces, in-between-ness and porosity of the world, of the Unknown.

In making his argument, Jones often slips in key words and phrases from HPL — the very title of his book is one, along with others, such as: serene and primal, placid island of ignorance, non-Euclidean, tittering, vigintillions, strange aeons, and, of course, the Three-Lobed Burning Eye. They serve as props and springboards to the Spaces Between, and to R’lyeh. Jones gets pretty lyrical about R’lyeh. The chapter on that Dreaming City, and the one on Cthulhu, the Lord of Dreams, are the most poetic parts of the book.

At the same time, When the Stars Are Right in many paragraphs reads like an academic thesis. Where else would you find words like asemic, oneiric, telluric and entheogenic? Jones sprinkles these proofs of an extensive vocabulary throughout the book. Looking up their meanings can be regarded as an educational bonus, albeit an irritating one.

It’s clear that Jones professes to be a R’lyehian. One chapter describes an event intended to invoke the Black Gnosis, performed on an August night at a location just a few kilometers from my home here in the city of Victoria. (And indeed, in 2010 I myself attended H.P. Lovecraft’s 120th Birthday Celebration and Cthulhu-riffic Cabaret, organized and hosted by Scott Jones). I even wrote a blog post about it. R’lyehians, Jones says, are subtle folks. They may carry some beliefs in their craniums that many would find bizarre, but those craniums are, more often than not, topped with groomed and barbered hair, and the bodies they’re attached to are clad in perfectly normal garments. R’lyehians dwell among us, but don’t flaunt it. (I’m not sure if I find that disturbing or reassuring).

Anyone who cracks this book but is put off by the weirdness emanating from it, or merely by Jones’s excessive enthusiasm for obscure words, should read the Afterword before giving up: “Yes, Meridian, There Is A Great Cthulhu.” For Scott Jones is a husband and father. The book is dedicated to his daughter Meridian, who came into the world just after he finished the first draft. In the Afterword, he offers her some advice about how to deal with fear. It’s a (mostly) sincere and even touching wrap-up for the book.

My rating: 7 out of 10 stars.

A copy of When The Stars Are Right is available in the Emerging Local Authors Collection at the Greater Victoria Public Library.

 

 

 

 

Happy 125th, H. P. Lovecraft!

Today, August 20th, 2015 (it’s only 7 p.m. here on the west coast of Canada, folks) is Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s 125th birthday.

HPL in what appears to be a library reminiscent of the one at Miskatonic University

HPL in what appears to be a library reminiscent of the one at Miskatonic University

It just happens that my next Local Author Book Review (#6) will be of a Lovecraft-themed book. Look for it in the next week or so.

Local Author Book Review #5: A Beautiful Heist by Kim Foster

I’m happy to say I’ve returned to reading and reviewing some of the 174 books in the Emerging Local Authors Collection at the Greater Victoria Public Library.

Fifth in the series is A Beautiful Heist by Kim Foster.

a_beautiful_heist_cover

Cat Montgomery is a professional jewel thief. She loves her job and is very good at it. The agency that employs her is hinting she’s ready to move up to elite status. But things get complicated. First, the IRS comes after Cat, threatening to empty her Swiss bank account. Then she’s offered a challenging job that would solve her money problems — recovering a rare and marvelous Faberge egg stolen from the Romanovs — except she has to work freelance, deceiving her employer and risking her career. On top of everything else, FBI Agent Jack Barlow, the guy who dumped her and broke her heart, shows up again — along with a new girlfriend.

The best thing about this book is the sinuous plot, full of good bad guys (like Cat) and bad good guys and others who switch from good to bad and back again, depending on the circumstances. Then there are the clothes and shoes. If your job is stealing stuff from the wealthy, you have to dress the part, and Cat does. It’s amazing what she can do while wearing an evening gown and stilettos. Watching her work is an education in precision tools, safe-cracking and high-tech gadgetry. Readers who would never dream of climbing tall buildings or jumping into black water get to share Cat’s daring feats and narrow escapes.

On the minus side, I sometimes thought there was too much going on. Cat’s family issues, for example, are a plot element I found annoying. All right — there has to be a good reason for Cat’s choice of profession, but her frequent pointless agonizing over her sister’s fate gets a bit tiresome. Her Dad’s disillusionment over his daughter’s career choice is understandable, but the cameo appearances by her Mom are distracting. Let’s face it — this is a caper story. Psychological nuances just get in the way.

The touches of romance, on the other hand, are a nice complement to the action sequences. At a museum security conference Cat becomes interested in sexy art thief Ethan, even as she carries a torch for Jack. Trying to figure out which one of them she might end up with adds a bit of extra spice to an already piquant story. Dan Brown-ish hints of ancient artifacts with mysterious powers provide depth and intrigue.

A Beautiful Heist is a fun, easy read — perfect for a lazy late summer weekend. My rating: 8 / 10.

Cat Montgomery’s adventures continue in A Magnificent Crime and A Brilliant Deception.

A Language Tree

Writers are perforce interested in language — the one in which they write, naturally, but also in languages generally, their origins and how they relate to one another. Here is a beautiful graphic illustrating that. It’s the work of Finnish-Swedish illustrator Minna Sundberg. The full version (and a lot more by Sundberg) can be found here.

language family tree_cropped

10 Reasons you stop writing your book and why to ignore them

Audrey Driscoll:

Helpful thoughts for any stalled writer, including me with my as-yet-untitled sequel to the Herbert West Series gathering dust (literally, because I write first drafts with pen on paper). Fall is coming; fewer distractions and more opportunities to get back to writing. Thanks Dylan!

Originally posted on Suffolk Scribblings:

Writers block copy

There isn’t a writer alive that hasn’t stopped writing, whether as a planned break or simply because they got out of the habit. It’s happened to me in the past and I’m sure it will happen again in the future. When it does, we often come up with excuses as to justify why we’ve stopped writing, but the majority of the time that’s all they are, excuses. The trick is recognising them for the lies they are and dealing with them. Here are the ten most common reasons people stop writing and why you should ignore them.

1 Your writing isn’t very good

You’ve just read back what you’ve been slaving over for the past few weeks/months and are horrified at how poor it is, so much so you’re questioning whether you’re a writer at all. I’ll let you into a little secret, every writer does this. OK, there may be a couple…

View original 1,175 more words

Writing Encouragement

Audrey Driscoll:

Writers, read this! And if you’ve seen it before, read it again. “Write scared” — I think I need to do that. Better than not writing at all.

Originally posted on Lynette Noni:

I love this! Let it be an encouragement for all the writers out there:

manifesto

(Sourced from The Writer’s Circle.)

View original

The Ex-Veg Patch

I used to have a vegetable garden. It occupied a space of about 15 by 25 feet across the path from two perennial beds. It was (and for that matter, still is) laid out in a pattern of diagonally bisected squares I had copied after reading an article about Rosemary Verey’s garden in England. (By the way, the triangular beds that result from this are the devil to dig and plant).

There is an apple tree (Yellow Transparent) almost but not quite in the centre of the back part of the patch. It’s surrounded by different kinds of mint, with a solitary clump of fennel to one side.  A triangle in the middle of the layout is occupied by plants of lavender, hyssop and thyme. Others host rue, oregano, echinacea and more mint, while one triangle is given over to a couple of rhubarb plants. Vegetables (tomatoes, spinach, chard, lettuce and peas) used to grow in the space that remained.

After a few years, I noticed that the tomato plants were smaller every year, and less productive. The soil was always dry. The obvious reason was the two Norway maples 20 feet to the west of the veg patch, and the Ailanthus (“Tree of Heaven”) to the north. These tough, pushy trees were sending roots into the patch and hogging the water and nutrients.

The obvious cure for this unhappy situation was removal of one or all of the trees. Tree removal, however, is costly and disruptive. The trees are still there and the vegetable patch is now the ex-vegetable patch. Self-sown quasi-weeds (campion, toadflax, echinops and mulleins) have moved in, along with plants I’ve moved there for lack of better places, such as spare echinaceas and a big mauve dahlia whose old spot had become inhospitable. I’ve also parked some potted delphiniums and lilies near the feeble (but intensely fragrant) rose “Fragrant Cloud,” which also lives in a pot.

Right now, despite the drought and possibly because of the hot summer, the ex-veg patch looks pretty good.

Potted Delphinium and potted "Stargazer" lily

Potted Delphinium and potted “Stargazer” lily

Transplanted mauve Dahlia and self-sown Echinops.

Transplanted mauve Dahlia and self-sown Echinops.

Second set of blooms on rose "Fragrant Cloud" and new growth on potted Delphinium.

Second set of blooms on rose “Fragrant Cloud” and new growth on potted Delphinium.

The Ex-Vegetable Patch today

The Ex-Vegetable Patch today

What about vegetables, you ask? Well, there are four potted tomatoes, along with all the other stuff. (Of course, tomatoes are technically fruits, but that’s OK).

 

The Elusive Review

Book reviews help both readers and writers. Readers are more likely to buy a book with many reviews, even when they’re not 100% favourable. Writers consequently are always trying to encourage their readers to post reviews online. Many bloggers write reviews, and thus are courted by review-seeking writers.

Read a book, write a review. If nothing else, it’s a way of sharing your thoughts about the books you read, helping other readers find good books.

But…

People who have no problems articulating their experiences with a lawnmower or a pair of pants become constricted when it comes to writing a Book Review. The very fact that this term exists makes it seem like a big deal. After all, no one talks about Pants Reviews. But the thought of writing a book review may bring back memories of the dreaded Book Report from school days.

So what is a book review, exactly?

One thing it isn’t is a critique. Readers who are also writers may confuse the two, because they belong to writers’ critique groups or serve as beta readers. In such situations one reads a manuscript and compiles suggestions as to how the author may improve the work — remove a character, change a scene or rewrite the whole thing in first person. I sometimes see “reviews” of this sort, most likely produced by writers or would-be writers.

A review should convey a reader’s experience of the book as written, the thoughts and impressions that arose while they were reading and after they finished. It’s not advice to the writer (too late for that), but a response from one who has partaken of the written offering.

Reviews may be formal or informal. Most of the reviews posted to the internet are short and informal, but those written for magazines, newspapers or book review blogs are longer and include certain elements: a brief (really brief) plot summary or description, followed by the reader’s impressions of the characters, the writing style and story arc. Formal reviews may provide comparisons with the author’s other works or with similar works by different authors. It’s common as well to see the reviewer’s idea as to what kinds of readers might appreciate the book — mystery lovers, aficionados of literary tomes, or people who like thrillers with nonstop action.

Informal reviews, purists would say, are not “reviews” at all, merely impressions or comments. In many cases that’s true, but brief comments are certainly better than none at all. The best time for a reader to post their impressions of a book is right after they finish reading it. Writers may take advantage of this by inserting suggestions to this effect right after “The End.” In ebooks, a link to the book’s page on Amazon, Goodreads or similar sites would be especially helpful.

Readers intimidated by the idea of Writing A Book Review may be encouraged by the idea that all they have to do is say whether they liked the book or not, and why. No plot summary is needed (in fact, reviews that consist largely of clunky rehashes of the plot are pretty much useless).

Here is a really short “review” I posted on Goodreads recently, of Smile Now, Cry Later by Paul MacDonald: “A bit of a different twist on the private-eye-by-accident theme, spiced up with lots of cynical humour about corporate culture. Definitely kept me reading to the end.” Most authors would be happy with a bunch of these.

Finally, a word about the negative review. Some readers refuse to write them, which is the safe course of (in)action. A thoughtful negative review is perfectly responsible, in my opinion. The crucial point is to say why you didn’t like the book. Silly plot? Flat characters? Too many flashbacks? “This book is a piece of crap,” is not a review, by any standard.

Thing is, reviews are 100% voluntary. Authors cannot compel their readers to write them. Sincere reviews — even negative ones — are freely given expressions of appreciation, and should be valued accordingly.

Bamfield: Boats, Birds and Music

If Bamfield, British Columbia ever decides to choose an official Town Bird, I would suggest the Swainson’s Thrush. In summer, the place resounds with their melodious song.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

Bamfield is a community of a couple hundred permanent residents on the far west coast of Vancouver Island. It occupies both sides of Bamfield Inlet, which divides the town into East and West Bamfield. The coastal rainforest comes down nearly to the water, providing a good habitat for the Swainson’s thrushes, who prefer closed-canopy forests. It’s all the human inhabitants can do to beat back the lush vegetation.

Part of the shore at East Bamfield, with forest close behind.

Part of the shore at East Bamfield, with forest close behind.

More of East Bamfield

More of East Bamfield

 

Plants take hold on just about anything

Plants take hold on just about anything

Anything at all...

Anything at all…

A row of charming old houses and shops lines the boardwalk along the shore of West Bamfield.

Souvenir shop along the boardwalk

Souvenir shop along the boardwalk

Many of the houses have attractive gardens.

Hydrangeas and roses along the boardwalk

Hydrangeas and roses along the boardwalk

Even the weeds are beautiful in their wild lushness.

Plants growing wild!

Plants growing wild!

Captivating sights are found around every corner.

West Bamfield boardwalk

One of the quirky features is the Cat Haven, a set of shelters for feral felines that were live-trapped, neutered or spayed, and then returned to live out their days in these charming cat houses. The population control process must have been very effective; we saw not one cat anywhere during our stay.

Part of the Cat Haven

Part of the Cat Haven

Self-explanatory!

The best reason for a trip to Bamfield in July is Music By The Sea, a unique music festival in a special place. The repertoire is classical and jazz, the musicians come from all over North America, and the venue is perfect — a small auditorium that’s part of the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre.

Music By The Sea concerts are held in the building with the scalloped roof.

Music By The Sea concerts are held in the building with the scalloped roof.

Imagine, if you will, wide windows overlooking ocean and islands, fronted by musicians plying their trade, playing chamber works by composers from J.S. Bach to Alexander von Zemlinsky, or improvising on tunes by Billy Strayhorn, Nat Adderley or Jay Livingston. Imagine mezzo-soprano Nan Hughes singing Debussy’s Ariettes oubliees, or pianist John Stetch reinterpreting “Never Let Me Go.” Then intermission on the balcony as the summer light slowly fades, and the Swainson’s thrushes call back and forth across Bamfield Inlet.

You can get to Bamfield by logging road from Port Alberni (a distance of fewer than 100 km or 60 miles, but it can seem a lot longer if you don’t have the right sort of vehicle and aren’t used to potholes, dust and huge logging trucks barreling along). Or you can take the Frances Barkley, a ship that carries passengers and freight, operated by Lady Rose Marine Services out of Port Alberni.

The Frances Barkley in Port Alberni

The Frances Barkley in Port Alberni

Side note: because the Frances Barkley departs at 8 in the morning, we spent the previous night at the Swept Away Inn, a conveniently located and unusual B&B that used to be a working tugboat, moored at the Port Alberni waterfront. Snug but comfortable quarters and an excellent breakfast.

The Swept Away Inn B&B

The Swept Away Inn B&B

A pleasant four hour cruise takes you down Alberni Inlet, where you will see fishing boats, log booms, forests, mountains, eagles and (if you’re lucky; we weren’t) whales.

Rain clouds shredding apart near the rainiest spot in North America (Henderson Lake)

Rain clouds shredding apart near the rainiest spot in North America (Henderson Lake)

If the boat makes a stop in the community of Kildonan, you will get to see Canada’s only floating post office…

Floating post office at Kildonan (and dog)

Floating post office at Kildonan (and dog)

…and a garden of plants growing out of old pilings.

Piling "garden"

Piling “garden”

On arrival in Bamfield, you get to watch cargo being unloaded using the ship’s crane, a fascinating operation. Then (if you’re doing the day trip), you get an hour and a half to explore the boardwalk, check out the general store and coffee shop, buy some ice cream, take some pictures. If you’re staying for a couple of days, you can take a water taxi to East Bamfield, or walk along a couple of kilometers of gravel road to Brady’s Beach, a typical lovely beach of the area, complete with sea stacks, grottoes and (almost) white sand.

Brady's Beach

Brady's Beach

Brady's Beach

All this and music too! Definitely a worthwhile trip.

 

 

 

 

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Julie Proudfoot is an Australian author.

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