The Art of Raking

Every day there are more leaves on the ground. The outlines of the garden are growing blurred under a patina of yellow, brown and muddled green. Time to get the rake out of the shed and wield it cleverly.

Leaves being assembled on the grass circle among perennial beds.

Leaves being assembled on the grass circle among perennial beds.

In a place like mine — a mosaic of paths, mixed beds and borders, and small sections of grass (usually known as “lawn”) — raking isn’t just a matter of applying the rake’s tines to the ground and stroking toward oneself. On grass and paths you can do that, but winkling leaves out from among herbaceous and woody plant stems and off groundcovers that range from tough (periwinkle) to fragile (moss) requires attention and a variety of techniques.

A delicate touch works best — don’t bear down hard on the rake, just feather along the surface to snag leaves without beating up the underlying plants. If there are accumulated layers of leaves, keep feathering until most are picked up. It’s all right to leave a few leaves behind; earthworms will take care of them over the winter. Concentrate on removing the heavy, wet leaf buildup that can cause rot. Agile wrist-flicks, turning the rake edgewise in narrow spots, using sideways moves when needed — raking requires a surprising range of arm and hand movements.

Getting leaves out from this kind of situation needs a bit of finesse with the rake.

Getting leaves out from this kind of situation needs a bit of finesse with the rake.

A lightweight rake that’s not too big works best. Bamboo rakes are very light, but I’ve read the ones available today aren’t as well made as in the past, and therefore not as durable. They are also pretty big. My rake of choice is an all-purpose hardware store model, nothing special, really. It’s more than thirty years old, with a wooden handle and metal head, now missing a few tines from each side.  I’ve been checking out rakes in stores lately, and will probably replace the old guy with a similar model that’s no heavier. I also have an all-metal rake whose width can be adjusted with a sliding device on the handle. It’s handy in tight spots or for scooping floating leaves from the pond surface, but is heavier than the wooden-handled dude, and not as well-balanced, so I don’t use it that often. For pond “raking,” a device made from a broom handle, wire coat hanger and a plastic onion bag works quite well, and is a lot lighter.

The Old Reliable is on the right, and the Adjustable on the left.

The Old Reliable is on the right, and the Adjustable on the left.

Leaves that are slightly damp are easier to manage than crackly-dry ones, which float around and are hard to corral. On paved surfaces, a surprisingly effective way to move big piles of leaves is to use feet and legs (encased in rubber boots, of course) in a kind of shuffling motion to push the leaves along. I regularly do this when I’m putting together the huge pile of leaves to be collected from the boulevard by the municipality. Really wet leaves are heavy and disgusting, so it’s best not to put off leaf management too long, at least in places that get a lot of rain in the autumn.

Raking for a couple of hours is pretty good exercise, especially for the upper body. And it’s a pleasant way to spend time in the autumn garden, especially on a nice day — almost sunny, almost warm, without wind. In my recent raking session, I also cut down old perennial stalks, yanked out some elderly rose campion plants, and thought about projects for next spring. In the end, I had tangible evidence of my industriousness in the form of a nice big pile of leaves awaiting removal to the compost heap, and without any of the noise-induced stress I imagine accompanies a session with a leaf-blower. (But then, I consider leaf-blowers to be abominations; maybe some get a feeling of power from the roar they emit).

A classic leaf pile.

A classic leaf pile.

Taking the rake around the garden is the last dance of the gardening year. Whether it’s a waltz, a samba or a tarantella depends on the quantity of leaves, the terrain being raked, and the gardener’s urgency to get the job done.


Celebrating Local Authors

Throughout October, the Greater Victoria Public Library (in Victoria, British Columbia) is making time and space available to authors who have contributed to its Emerging Local Authors Collection.

On Saturday, October 15th, I joined three other authors for a pleasant couple of hours at the Oak Bay Branch of GVPL to display copies of our books and meet members of the public.

Local authors and their books.

Local authors and their books.

Besides yours truly, the authors were:  Rian Everest, Nowick Gray and Keith M. Costain.

About a dozen people stopped to chat, look at books, ask about publishing and cover design. Between visits by the public, the four of us had some lively conversations about writing, publishing, and cover design. One copy of one book was purchased by a library patron, and at the end of the allocated time, we authors exchanged copies of our books.

In exchange for The Friendship of Mortals, I received the following:

The Opera Singer by Keith M. Costain.

Hunter’s Daughter by Nowick Gray.

The Tangerine Tigress by Rian Everest.

It’s my intention — articulated right here for all to see — to read these books and write reviews here on the blog, and on Goodreads.



And here’s the Herbert West Series in all its printed glory.


#BadMoonRising Day 14 The Friendship of Mortals by Audrey Driscoll #IndieAuthor #thriller #horror

I joined a stellar group of authors on Teri Polen’s blog this month, talking about our horror/supernatural themed books. Have a look at the other authors featured; your TBR piles are sure to grow!

Books & Such


Today we welcome Audrey Driscoll to Bad Moon Rising!  Lovecraft fans will have a special interest in her book – and what’s even better is there are three more in this series!

The Friendship of Mortals ebook is currently FREE on Amazon and Smashwords!


Arkham, Massachusetts, 1910. Charles Milburn, a cataloguer in the Library of Miskatonic University, meets Herbert West, a medical student with compromised credentials.

Herbert West can restore the dead to life, he says, and he persuades Charles to be his assistant. Their secret experiments achieve success, but with a taint of disaster. Charles finds himself caught between the demands of his fascinating friend and his growing attraction to Alma Halsey, daughter of the Dean of Medicine.

In 1914 West joins the Canadian Army as a medical officer to pursue his grisly research on the battlefields of France. His letters to Charles reveal a disturbing mixture of cynicism and black humour. Left behind in Arkham…

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Potted Hostas near pond.

Rescue Plants

You hear a lot about rescue dogs these days, but what about rescue plants?

Near my garden shed I have a motley collection of pots containing unintended plants. They might be called rescues. One way or another, they were displaced from their original growing spots and ended up in pots. Some will be planted in new, hopefully appropriate, spots. Others are just marking time, subsisting in their pots until I plant them somewhere or, sadly, decide to dispatch them. (In the garden, one can’t have a 100% “no kill” policy).

The motley crew.

The motley crew.

Rescue plants arrive in a variety of ways.

Accidental cuttings. Convolvulus sabatius came from a bit broken off the main plant while poking around. It had flower buds so I put it in a vase for a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, it grew roots, so I potted it up. It’s always good to have a spare of this plant, because I nearly lost it a couple of times. The rose “Fragrant Cloud” came as a cut flower someone gave me years ago. I must have been so impressed with the scent and colour that I intentionally rooted it. Then there’s a possibly pink (it’s never bloomed) iris. A chunk of the rhizome was snapped off when a hose snagged it. Once potted, it grew a fan of leaves. I intend to plant it (in a better spot, of course) and see if it is indeed pink. The “Dusty Miller” type plant (don’t ask me for the botanical name) visible in the above picture must be another accident. The main plant is in a big pot near my front door; I have no idea why I rooted another one.

Volunteer seedlings. I grow my tomato plants in pots these days. It’s amazing what else sprouts in those pots, from seeds that come from who knows where. Well, in the case of the peach tree, it was a pit that ended up in the compost and so in the soil for the tomato plant. When the Cornus sericea (red osier dogwood) popped up, I thought it was a Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii), an attractive native tree that has been struggling with disease of late. Then there was the walnut that sprouted at the edge of one of the perennial beds. I know of no walnut trees in the neigbourhood, so a bird or other creature must have brought it some distance before dropping it. I foolishly dutifully potted up all of these tree seedlings, thinking they deserved a shot at life. Trouble is, I have no room for more trees on this overgrown patch of ground, and the volunteers, now saplings, struggle along in pots, except for the Cornus sericea, which has grown roots through its pot’s drain holes and is now solidly rooted right next to the house foundation. This shrub tends to sucker. Not good.

Experiments. I have a habit of picking up seeds of roadside or trail-side plants that look interesting. A few years ago I saw what proved to be great willow herb, Epilobium hirsutum, in bloom by the bike trail I used regularly. I had never seen this plant before, so made a point of collecting a few of the fluffy seed clusters. Seedlings resulted. By that time I had identified the plant and was aware of its designation as an “alien invasive” and a noxious weed in Washington State. So I’ve kept it a prisoner in a pot and really don’t know what to do with it, because it’s obviously not happy and is no ornament. Lilium columbianum, on the other hand, is a desirable native lily, with elegant small yellow flowers. I managed to sprout three seeds a couple of years ago. The seedlings actually resprouted this spring — one minute leaf apiece. Then they were discovered by tiny slugs. Valiant rescue efforts ensued. The tiny sprouts died down about midsummer. I’m hoping this was normal — summer dormancy, you know. I’m hoping it isn’t permanent.

Gifts. Over the years I’ve been given some brightly-coloured mixed lily bulbs — brassy yellow, screaming orange, deep red. I couldn’t see them blending into my perennial beds, somehow, so popped them into a couple of pots where they bloomed happily for several seasons. Then they started to dwindle. So this year, I turned all the little bulblets out of the original pots and transferred them to different pots with fresh soil, all the while wondering if I was wasting my time.

Intensive care.  Another lily, another story. After my potted “Stargazer” lilies bit the dust a few years ago, I bought something called simply “Oriental Lily” that vaguely resembled them, but wasn’t as good. In the way of lilies, it bloomed well for a while, then went downhill. So last week I did pretty much the same thing as with the gift lilies described above. The difference is that in this case, I hope for success. Another salvage project was the hostas in a bed recently invaded by rapacious Norway maple roots, whereupon the hostas went from flourishing to feeble. I rescued a few divisions before they faded out altogether, with the intention of re-establishing them someday. In the meantime, they are quite happy in their pots near the pond.

Spares. Some plants are so useful it’s always good to have a few extras on hand. Lamium maculatum “Pink Pewter” is one of these. When I refurbished the Meconopsis bed a few weeks ago, where “Pink Pewter” was prospering, I saved some for future considerations.

Unrelated (but nifty) recent garden photos.

Trellis and witch hazel in fog

Trellis and witch hazel in fog.


Front garden and neighbouring trees in fog.

Front garden and neighbouring trees in fog.


Those asters again.

Those asters again.


Ailanthus leaves and rain drops in the pond.

Ailanthus leaves and rain drops in the pond.


Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) and Lychnis coronaria foliage.

Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) and Lychnis coronaria foliage.

The last dahlia bloom ("Bishop of Llandaff").

The last dahlia bloom (“Bishop of Llandaff”).






The Disembodied Brain

Recently I heard an interview on CBC Radio’s program “The Current,” with Dr. Michael Graziano, a professor of neuroscience at Princeton University. He believes it will be possible to live on after death as a digital copy of your brain. “We could create a second you, or at least a second brain that thinks it’s you, has your memories, your personality.”

This caught my attention for a number of reasons. Cheating death (sort of) is important to Herbert West, the main character of my novel The Friendship of Mortals. A disembodied brain is featured in one of H.P. Lovecraft’s best stories, “The Whisperer in Darkness.” And it sounded like the sort of idea I might like to quibble with.

Indeed, there is lots to quibble with in Dr. Graziano’s scenario. He suggests that once this technology is perfected (in a century or so), one’s early years would be like a larval stage. Real life would come after your brain is digitally copied, and the copy would live an idealized life in some sort of digital paradise. The physical you would live out its bodily existence and die in the old-fashioned way, leaving digital you to live on forever, possibly interacting by means of technology with living folks, including your descendants, and with other disembodied brains.

Well. Where to start? The most important problem with this scenario, it seems to me, is that the digital brain would have no autonomy. It would be at the mercy of whatever or whoever controls the technology that maintains its digital environment. If someone decides to delete you, what can you do? Same deal if the powers that be decide that you will be the lucky brain to undergo experiments, which may be uncomfortable or even agonizing. (Dr. Graziano did acknowledge something of the sort in the developmental stages of brain scanning technology). And what about power failures, computer crashes, data corruption and similar events? Here I’m reminded of a Far Side cartoon in which a janitor in a cryopreservation facility trips over and unplugs the power cord of the units in which hopeful individuals are being preserved for the future. Oops!

And what if the digital brain decides it’s had it with life and wants to commit suicide?

Another disturbing issue is whether there could be multiple copies of an individual brain? Suppose you have your brain copied at age 35, and then decide at age 50 that you have developed into a wiser, more copy-worthy individual. Do you have age 35 you deleted, or keep both of them going, possibly in different artificial environments? The possibility induces a slight dizziness, because it reminds me of having more than one copy of a work-in-progress — a big, complicated document full of tiny details. Keeping them straight and deciding which is the “real” one can be a nightmare. And novels aren’t as complex as the brains that create them.

I thought it was a telling point that when asked whether he would want to copy his own brain and live on as a disembodied, digital entity, Dr. Graziano said, in effect, “No way.”

Even if this isn’t an appealing possibility in real life, it does offer a rich variety of scenarios to explore in fiction. Think about it — you and your digital copy. How would you get along? What if there were more than two of you? What would life as a disembodied brain be like? What if such a brain wanted to get re-embodied somehow, or rebel against its technological overlords? The possibilities are endless. Writers of hard SF, humour, tragedy, even romance, could make something of this.

Featured image: By DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Created with Canva.


The Supplements Are Live!

The first three Supplements to the Herbert West Series are now available on Amazon.

These short pieces explore side-paths not pursued in the novels, or fill in chronological gaps.


Supplement 1. The Nexus

Supplement 1. The Nexus

Nearing the end of his long life, Miskatonic University professor Augustus Quarrington retraces the path to his entanglement with one of his most interesting – and dangerous – students: Herbert West.


Herbert West Series supplement 2

Herbert West Series supplement 2

Miskatonic University librarian Charles Milburn was Herbert West’s assistant and closest friend. He has already revealed much about their association in The Friendship of Mortals. But not everything. This is the part he left out.


Herbert West Series supplement 3

Herbert West Series supplement 3

Reformed necromancer Francis Dexter (formerly known as Herbert West) and his servant Andre Boudreau visit Luxor, Egypt in the year 1935. A climb up el-Qurn, the sacred mountain behind the Valley of the Kings, leads to an encounter with bandits, and with one who “was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh.”