A Virtual Visit

Fifty years ago (Fifty! How did that happen?) a school friend and I discovered a marvellous place, quite literally in our back yards. Well, somewhat beyond our actual back yards. We started out at the house my family lived in then, an old, rambling and somewhat decrepit place we were renting while my parents built our new house nearby. With bottles of water and apples as provisions, we crossed a hayfield behind the house and entered a wood in which vanilla-leaf plants were in bloom (it was May).

We emerged from the wood onto a road leading uphill, following it to where it turned away in a switchback. Leading in the opposite direction was one of those magical little nameless roads — two wheel-tracks with plants growing down the middle. It led uphill too, taking its time.

After several kilometers and one or two steep climbs, we came to a place typical of the southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia — a hillside sparsely treed with Douglas firs and arbutus, and scattered clumps of juniper, hairy manzanita, and bearberry. Moss was abundant on the rocky outcrops and cliffs, with licorice ferns growing from it. The place was completely natural but looked landscaped. No, more than that — it looked magical, as though inhabited by nature spirits. And indeed, we heard an unfamiliar sound at times, a distant, rhythmic wheezing, like someone sawing wood with a hand saw. I now suspect it was made by male grouse flapping their wings as part of their spring courtship routines. Every now and then, we heard the strident double whistle of a pheasant, but we never saw anyone else there, either human nor animal.

I can’t remember how many expeditions we made to this delightful place. At least three, but probably no more than half a dozen. By June, my annual pollen allergy (which has since vanished, one of the benefits of growing older) made outdoor activities miserable. Then summertime holidays and activities took over, and for whatever other reason, we never went back.

I’ve made a couple of tourist-type trips to that island in the past few decades, showing the sights to visiting friends, but until now haven’t made a systematic search for this special place. Recently, I revisited the area by way of Google Maps and Street View, zooming in on the locale, navigating by names of roads I remembered, finally switching to satellite and Street View. I followed various roads, floating along like a ghost, turning this way and that, looking for the familiar.

It was a weird and dreamlike experience, and ultimately not satisfying.
Although invisible, I couldn’t trespass on private property or go beyond the point where the car with the cameras stopped. Any number of inviting little roads had to remain unexplored. Frustrating but compelling. Eventually I stumbled on a photo someone had taken that looked a lot like the terrain I remembered.

Now I’m planning a real life visit. It’s not that far from where I live, and would make a pleasant day trip. I’m telling myself to temper my expectations for such a sentimental journey. Because what I really wanted to do on my virtual visit was to zoom in, press a button, and be back there, half a century ago, a child of twelve or thirteen, enchanted by the beauty I had discovered. But the eyes and brain are different now, shaped by the experiences of fifty years, and that means any new experience will be different as well.

Image from Pixabay

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February 2019 snow in back garden, on lilac and white climbing rose

Oh no! Snow!

I suppose it had to happen. After my post listing everything in bloom in my garden, winter made an unmistakable appearance here this week.

Snow in back garden February 2019
Unmistakably snow

We’ve had a few below freezing days (just below, but for us that’s cold) and icy winds. I’ve been pouring hot water into the bird bath and keeping the hummingbird feeder from freezing.

Winter honeysuckle with snow February 2019
Winter honeysuckle + snow


There isn’t much you can do about weather. The bird feeders are topped up, some tender plants covered up, and there’s a fire in the fireplace. Spring is on hold.

Garden Notes: Blooms and Birds

It’s hard to get excited about the garden in January, but February is really the start of spring here on southern Vancouver Island. Even in a mild winter such as this one, though, cold and snow aren’t out of the question until the end of March. I see a 30% chance of snow flurries predicted for us later this week.

For the past few weeks, I’ve done some pruning projects — apple tree, magnolia and hollies. The most challenging was the hollies, since it involved both ladder-climbing and prickles. Even the clumsy and ill-designed pole pruner was useful for holly branches near the tops of the 20-foot-tall bushes. Then came the painful process of gathering up the prunings and lugging them to the growing brush pile.

March 19th is “compost day” this year — the one day per year the municipality picks up twigs, branches, roots, and other garden by-products. Otherwise, we have to lug that stuff to the municipal yard ourselves. It’s always an adventure because the “yard” is a rather confined space at the top of a steep little hill. It can be a challenge to jockey around all the other vehicles and people who just want to dispose of stuff and get out as quickly as possible. In terms of disposal, right now is the best time for major pruning projects, although plants such as lilacs, Oregon grape, and ceanothus have to wait until blooming is finished in June or so. No doubt I’ll then post a complaint about the Oregon grapes (which are almost as bad as hollies to prune).

Iris unguicularis in bloom
Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis)

There really is a lot blooming now, even in the middle of winter: snowdrops (some are already finished, in fact), yellow crocuses, Algerian iris (a mass of startling lavender-coloured flowers near the front steps), the small purple Iris reticulata, rosemary, hellebores (Corsican and Oriental), winter jasmine, winter honeysuckle, Japanese quince, spurge laurel (its Latin name, Daphne laureola, is much more elegant), and dark purple sweet violets. Indoors, a scarlet amaryllis is at its dramatic best, especially gratifying as it’s a repeat performance.

scarlet amaryllis
Amaryllis

I’ve seen some posts recently about counting birds. Here some folks do a Christmas bird count, for which there are guidelines and procedures. I’ve never managed to participate, but since I put up feeders in the back garden a few years ago, I now have a good idea of who visits them. The “regulars” in winter are dark-eyed juncos, house finches, chestnut-backed chickadees, bushtits, several different kinds of sparrows (white-crowned, golden-crowned, fox, and house), rufous-sided towhees, starlings, and northern flickers. Occasionally a red-breasted nuthatch shows up, and I’ve seen both a male and a female downy woodpecker. We haven’t had any Steller’s jays this winter; last year there were a lot of them around here, screeching and going after suet. Their beautiful blue colour makes up for their unmelodious voices.

Anna’s hummingbirds are year-round residents and several visit the hummingbird feeder many times a day. So do chickadees and bushtits at times, much to the dismay of the hummingbirds. American robins don’t care for either seed or suet, but they pretty much cleaned all the berries off the cotoneaster a few weeks ago (and then pooped orange pulp all over the car in the driveway).

Anna’s hummingbird

I’ve heard Bewick’s wrens making their buzzing and bubbling sounds in shrubs, and occasionally I hear one or another practicing his spring song. The male hummingbirds are doing their parabolic dives that produce a sharp whistle through the tail feathers, and chasing each other around while making sizzling sounds. Crows sometimes knock chunks out of the suet (much to the delight of juncos and sparrows on the ground below). Gulls, bald eagles, and ravens cruise by far above. Altogether, there’s a lot of bird activity around here.

And I admit all the photos for this post are from former years. The plants and birds look the same, so why not reuse them?
One of these days I should learn how to take decent photos of birds.

blog, stars, eastern north america, northern south america, blue, purple, green

Maxed Out Blogger!

I’ve been blogging since May of 2010. Almost a decade! For the first few years, I was pretty much talking to myself. Since 2015, I have observed a steady increase in numbers of likes, comments, and follows, probably because I’ve done a fair bit of liking, commenting, and following myself. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

I’ve decided, for what it’s worth, to document my blogging practices, as much for my own benefit as anyone else’s.

I’m now following 117 blogs, and sometimes I’m overwhelmed. My policy, as per my About page, is that every time someone whose blog I’m not already following likes a post, I visit that blog and read a few posts and/or the blogger’s About page, if they have one. When one of my posts gets a few dozen likes (which is great!), it can be hard to keep up. Posting only once or twice a week allows more time to react and respond.

Likes. If I “like” a post, that means I’ve read it and actually (surprise!) liked it, or, in the case of reblogs, the intent behind reblogging it. If I decide not to read a post, I just leave. I don’t use the “like” button to just to say “I was here.”

Comments. I don’t always comment, even on posts I like. Sometimes I can’t think of anything worthwhile to say, especially when there are already a lot of comments and mine would say the same thing. I’m in the Pacific time zone, so I’m usually a latecomer to posts written by folks east of me. And sometimes I start to comment, but a little voice asks me if I really want to say that. I’ve learned to obey that voice, especially if it’s late and I’m tired. Better not toss off a remark that might be misinterpreted and unintentionally offend or puzzle someone.
I always reply to comments on my posts.

Follows. I don’t routinely follow everyone who follows my blog. I know some bloggers assume their follow will result in a follow back. Sorry, no. I’ll visit and read a post or two, and maybe like them, but the only reason I follow a blog is because something about it — the content or the writing style — interests me. When I follow a blog, it’s with the intention to read all new posts on it. I sometimes wonder at some of the bloggers who follow me; they seem to have nothing in common with me at all. But then, life is full of small mysteries.

Not mysterious at all are a few things I find discouraging. They pretty much guarantee my quick departure from a blog. First of all, gifs. I hate ’em; they make reading almost impossible. I can read around the occasional gif if the subject of a post is interesting, but if someone has studded their post with snippets of people yelling, jumping, twitching, dancing, or collapsing, I’m outta there. Second: popups offering newsletters or deals of some sort. Nope, I’m not coughing up my email address, especially if the popup appears before I’ve had a chance to read anything. Third: the prospect of a daily deluge of posts. I already follow a few high-volume blogs, and hesitate to take on another, unless the posts are super short and/or riveting. A flood of posts means either a s**tload of email notifications to delete or a Reader that needs to be triaged — OK, let’s read this one; no, not that one, maybe that one, not that one… It adds to the fatigue factor.

Griping aside, I’m happy to see lots of visits, likes, and comments. I’ve “met” many delightful and eloquent bloggers in the past near-decade. I’ve learned stuff, I’ve been appalled, delighted, and enlightened. I have blogger pals all over the world. I’m looking forward to another decade.

Image from Pixabay

“I Need to Move to a Different Planet” Redux

Experimenting with Press This, I dredged up one of my old posts that had no “likes.” The stats tell me some people read it, but no one liked it. If you read it, you may guess the reason. I was grumpier and more opinionated back in 2011.

Image from Pixabay

OK, this isn’t about gardening, and not really about writing either, but… I knew this would happen — eventually a post like this would show up in this pure and simple blog.

Continue reading at: I Need to Move to a Different Planet | Audrey Driscoll’s Blog

creepy portrait zombie book

Zombie Books

Some say ebooks are immortal. That’s one of the wonderful things about them. Self-pubbed authors don’t have to worry that their publisher will decide to take their books out of print, to be remaindered and (gulp) pulped. Books going “OP” is just a quaint remnant of the bad old trad-pub-or-nothing era. Now, ebooks and POD print books exist as files on servers, not paper volumes produced by a complicated process involving heavy machinery. Books now can remain in “print” and available to readers forever.

That’s great, but what about the books no one wants, no one reads, no one even looks at? There they sit, unvisited clumps of electronic blips, not dead but not alive either. Unlike print books, they can’t even be used as decor or carved up into paper sculptures. In some cases, even their authors have abandoned them, giving up on whatever hopes they had as self-published authors. Those books are immortal, but effectively dead.

Books need brains, the brains of readers to take in their words, to engage with their narratives, to visualize the stories they embody. To think about their meanings, and to talk about them with others.

It’s sad to think that a portion of the enormous output of self-published authors in the last decade may languish undiscovered and unwanted. Millions of new books are born every year. How many of them will end up as zombies? More to the point, must it be this way? Do some books just deserve obscurity? How can we as authors ensure that our book babies live on in the minds of readers, rather than shambling into virtual graveyards?

cemetery, gravestones

Images courtesy of Pixabay; “digital brain” image by A. Driscoll using Canva, with elements from Pixabay and Canva.

gargoyle grumpy

The Irascible Indie. Part 5, Confessions of a Non-Marketer

The Irascible Indie is back! She’s emerged from her dark and dusty corner (coughing and sneezing), insisting she must opine on that perpetual bugbear: MARKETING

I’ve just reread four blog posts from 2015, written by my grumpy alter ego, the Irascible Indie. They are mild rants about various aspects of being a self-published (aka “indie”) author. I was actually quite impressed with how well-written readable they are. Anyone who’s interested can find them here:

And now, here are the Irascible One’s views on marketing…

Not a day passes without at least one blog post popping into my reader about marketing — lists of tips and tricks, how-to articles, and stern warnings that failure to market means failure as an author. Marketing is the bitter pill you must swallow after the thrill of pressing the “publish” button.

Okay, I admit it. I have a skeptical attitude toward marketing. As soon as I see certain words — SEO, clickthroughs, keywords, analytics — I get that uh-oh feeling. After reading multiple posts about picking the right keywords and other magic formulas to romance “the algorithms,” I’m left with the feeling that the authors of those posts live in a different universe. Their screenshots (which are hard on my eyeballs) do not resemble anything I see when I try to follow their instructions.

Reading about marketing makes me feel like a kid forced to wear a scratchy woollen sweater — you know, the kind that drives you crazy and makes you want to scream and stomp your feet. It’s itchy! I hate it!

Not good enough? Okay, let’s take a look at my reasons and figure out if there’s anything to them besides a contrarian attitude.

Reason #1 I hate advertising. I’ve perfected techniques to ignore ads, both in real life and online. I don’t want to inflict ads on anyone but enemies. Besides, ads cost money. Why should I pay someone to say “Buy my book!” for me?

Reason #2 I don’t want to be responsible for anyone’s personal info, especially now. Look how Google and Facebook messed up with that. I’m not going there. And I don’t want to send emails that are disguised “Buy my book!” pleas to people who trusted me with their addresses.

Reason #3 What could I possibly say in a newsletter that I’m not saying right here in my blog? I’d rather spend my time writing stories, novels, and blog posts than trying to manufacture stuff for which someone would be happy to exchange their email address. And too many newsletters are offered via annoying popups. (A popup, by the way, pretty much guarantees that I’ll never sign up for a newsletter.)

Popups are about as desirable as junk mail.

Reason #4 Advertising is expensive, and not always effective. We authors (wannabees, aspiring, self-published, and indie) are a huge market for legitimate and bogus services alike. Even with a budget and plan for advertising, you need to sift through all the options, recognize the scams as such, and figure out how to leverage use the legitimate ones optimally. Unless you get it right, your ROI is likely to be poor. (See, I can throw jargon around too!) Don’t get sucked into believing that liberal applications of cash will do the trick.

Reason #5 Getting reviews to improve sales is a tricky business.  For one thing, it’s too easy to offend the Mighty ‘Zon. You can’t buy reviews (not that I would), you can’t exchange books for reviews, you can’t do review swaps with other authors, reviews have to include disclaimers, etc. Even an honest mistake can result in reviews being pulled, reviewers losing their privileges, authors losing their Amazon accounts — forever. And then there’s the torturous process of finding reviewers. In my random visits to book bloggers’ Review Policy pages, I inevitably see variations on the “No longer accepting books for review” theme. Natural, organic reviews from real readers are the best, but they can be few and far between, and an author has no direct control over that process.

Reason #6 Marketing isn’t simple. That’s why trad publishers used to have staff for it. For this indie author, there are too many options, too much advice, too many services with cutesy names and acronyms. It’s all a blur, and the prospect of figuring out what might work is dizzying. I’d rather be writing, or reading. (Hell, I’d rather be cleaning the bathroom.) The answer, of course, is to select one or two of the least daunting strategies, take small steps, and refuse to be overwhelmed by the flood of advice. And keep an eye on your expectations.

There’s an idea floating around that authors who don’t embrace marketing aren’t as hard-working and “savvy” as they should be. They don’t treat their writing as a business, so they deserve to fail. I resist these labels. I’ve happily put my energy into writing, editing, book descriptions, formatting, cover design, and presenting information about my books on my blog and elsewhere. Patience is my middle name (well, not really, but you know what I mean). I’ve whittled my expectations into elegantly slender shapes. If that’s not enough, so be it.

And yes, having said all this, I know enough not to whine about my sales!

Thank you, Irascible Indie, for your views on marketing. Now, back to your dusty niche, leaving me with a nice target to wear on my blog. I’ll relay any comments to you, including those that try to change your mind (such as it is). Bring ’em on!

Target-like image. I love those colours!

Gargoyle and “target” images courtesy of Pixabay

Call for Submissions: Fears of a Clown

Here’s a call for submissions with a rather interesting theme. Be sure to click on the link in Dave’s post for details. You might also want to read his follow-up post about how he came up with the idea.

Davetopia

Toward the end of last year, Misha Burnett challenged the Nasty, Brutish, and Short writing group to each compile and release an anthology this year. As Fauxpocalypse, a project he conceived, marked the start of my career as a professional author, it felt right to not only accept but dive in. So, I’m issuing a call for short stories.

Scary, thrilling, unnerving, or weird stories featuring clowns; but ones where the clown isn’t the thing that’s scary, where there’s something worse. Full details here: davidjhiggins.wordpress.com/submission-calls/call-for-submissions-fears-of-a-clown/

The Barker Beckons
©Jack LawrenceCC BY 2.0

If you know someone else who might be interested in submitting, please pass the details on.

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Twelve Truths About Gardening

I’ve been a gardener for thirty-five years, during which I’ve learned a few things. These thoughts recur regularly as I work in the garden, so I decided to write them down, in case other gardeners may find them helpful.

One

When in doubt, clip the lawn edges. Nothing spruces up a garden (at least the lawn-plus-perennial-beds kind) faster than this. Even a “yard” with a lawn and a few sad shrubs can be made to look like a garden in the making by defining some edges and fluffing up bare soil. Spreading compost around is the finishing touch.

Back garden beds, freshly edged. (This was in 2010. Sadly it doesn’t look this good now.)

Two

Before stepping into a bed or planting, decide exactly where to put your feet. Those size 8s can snap and squash innocent plants. Pick spots where they’ll do the least damage, both to plants and your body, especially if you need to hold a position while tying, digging, or pruning. Balancing on one foot while twisting yourself into a pretzel shape is not recommended.

Three

In summer-dry places, delay watering as long as you can, to encourage plants to grow deep roots. Once you do start watering, make a schedule and water each area regularly, abiding by local watering restrictions. Keep a record of what area was watered and when.

Four

Learn how to deadhead the plants in your garden and do it regularly. Deadheading extends bloom time and prevents excessive self-seeding. It also forces you to pay attention to the forms and structures of your plants.

Results of a heavy deadheading session

Five

Learn how to propagate plants from seed, cuttings, and divisions. These are cheap ways to increase desirable plants, and doing this stuff is a great way to really know plants, way more than buying nursery-grown specimens.

tomato seedlings
Tomato seedlings

Six

Learn how to prune. It’s not brain surgery (since plants don’t have brains, and you do). If in doubt, cut less. You can always cut more, but once you’ve cut something, you can’t stick it back on. When in doubt, stop, look, and think.

Pruning tools

Seven

If a newly-acquired perennial or shrub shows suckering or vigorously spreading tendencies (I’m looking at you, Mahonia aquifolium!), decide right away if that’s okay with you. If not, either remove the plant and get rid of it, or make an effective management plan. Hoping the plant will change its ways isn’t an option.

Mahonia aquifolium “prunings,” up to 8 feet long!

Eight

Don’t try to change your garden into something it isn’t. You’re stuck with the fundamentals (climate, soil, topography), so you may as well live with them. If you’re determined to turn your sandy seaside garden into a mountain meadow, be prepared to labour endlessly. (Gardening involves enough labour as it is.)

Nine

Accept that the garden will change, no matter what you do, and not always as you intend. That 2010 picture at the beginning of the post is a good reminder of this truth. Some plants will die out and others will thrive. Not always the ones you want, of course.

The Path Behind the Pond

Ten

Don’t believe all the advice you read, even this post books and articles by writers you esteem. Every garden is different, and gardening is a hands-on business. Learn by doing. On the other hand, reading about other gardeners’ thoughts and experiences can be a comfort and a joy.

Eleven

Keep in mind that your garden is a place in which to engage in gardening (i.e., digging, planting, weeding, deadheading, edging, watering, and gazing in wonder). It’s not a status symbol, contest, or race. But your garden is also a home for various creatures — birds, squirrels, insects, etc. Think about that before making drastic changes, such as tree removal.

Surprisingly Elegant Arugula Flowers

Twelve

Cultivate the habit of noticing beauty, no matter what happens in your garden. Even in the bleakest, deadest, driest seasons, even after the windstorm, there’s something beautiful to be seen. You just have to find it and recognize it.

Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) and Lychnis coronaria foliage.

She Who Comes Forth free on Smashwords for 24 hours

Your TBR pile isn’t complete without this “paranormal page-turner” set in Luxor, Egypt. And the ebook is free, at the Smashwords store only, for the next 24 hours only, as the Smashwords End of Year Sale winds up.

Follow this link to get the book for free. The opportunity is yours until midnight Pacific Standard Time on January 1st, 2019.