Newfoundland dog

Waves and winter sun at South Beach

West Coast Visit

The final week of November seemed like a good time for a quick visit to the west coast of Vancouver Island, a magical realm that includes the villages of Tofino and Ucluelet, and between them the Pacific National Park Reserve. I had hoped to go last July, but that didn’t work out.

Late November isn’t as warm as July, but it was just as bright and sunny, with nippy nights and daytime temperatures reaching 8 C (46 F). Amazingly, there wasn’t much wind, which meant no wind chill.

Nelly the Newfoundland dog
Our dog Nelly, ready for a walk on the beach
Totem pole near the Kwisitis Visitor Centre
Totem pole near the Kwisitis Visitor Centre and trails to South Beach and Florencia Bay.
On the boardwalk, Nuu-chah-nulth Trail to Florencia Bay
The Nuu-chah-nulth Trail to Florencia Bay is 2 km of boardwalk, with lots of stairs and a few places where boards are missing or shaky. Much better than slogging through mud, though!
Deer fern (Blechnum spicant)
Deer fern (Blechnum spicant)
A tapestry of plants near the boardwalk: lichen (?), salal, cedar seedlings, etc.
A tapestry of plants seen from the boardwalk.
South Beach, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
South Beach, which has fine gravel (or coarse sand) and is one of the best places for wave-watching.
Breaking waves at South Beach
Waves like these.
Waves and rippled sand at Cox Bay, near Tofino
Waves at Cox Bay near Tofino. This is a popular beach with surfers, year round. There were quite a few people out surfing while we were there. The horizon right here is a breaking wave!
Rocks, trees, and sand, south end Cox Bay
Rocks, trees, and sand at the north end of Cox Bay. At high tide, waves roar through that gap!
Nelly the beach dog at Florencia Bay
Nelly at Florencia Bay, intent on picnic food.
Path to sunset at Pettinger Point near Tofino
Path to the perfect sunset viewing spot at Pettinger Point near Cox Bay.
Sunset seen from Pettinger Point, Nov. 27, 2019.
Tropical colours, but the temperature was about 5 C (41 F)
Afterglow through trees
Wintry afterglow through the trees.

For professional quality photos of the Tofino area, including lots of wildlife, especially eagles and bears, visit Wayne Barnes’s blog at: https://tofinophotography.wordpress.com/

Retread #4: Hey, There’s That Dog Again!

Continuing the “retreads,” posts from my archives, here’s one from July 2014. It was read by only one person on its first outing, as far as I can tell. And this was before a dog joined our household. Now, with four retreads, I have enough wheels for a vehicle. Oh wait — I might need a spare.

Our dog, Nelly the Newfoundland, at Genoa Bay in January 2019.

I’m a big fan of Gary Larson’s Far Side and rue the day he stopped drawing those bizarre and wickedly funny cartoons. One of my favourites shows a couple of typical Larson cows discovered in the act of drawing a meat chart of a human figure. The caption reads: Farmer Brown froze in his tracks; the cows stared wide-eyed back at him. Somewhere, off in the distance, a dog barked.

I recently read a review of a book I’m reading — Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven — taking the author to task for ending a scene with the “ultimate cliche” of a dog barking in the distance.

I googled the phrase, wondering just how much of a cliche it could be. A 2010 article in Slate listed authors from James Joyce to Jodi Picoult who have put variations on this barking dog into their novels. Kurt Vonnegut used it consciously as a kind of leitmotiv in Slaughterhouse Five.

Side note: compiling this information is a lot easier now that ebooks can be searched for particular words or phrases. I’m betting the average reader would hardly notice these recurrent dogs (except as they are used in Slaughterhouse Five, where they are meant to be noticed).

Eventually, an uneasy feeling crept into my ruminations. Could there be — oh, surely not! — a barking dog somewhere in the Herbert West Series, written by one A. Driscoll? I pulled up the books on Adobe Reader and searched on “dog.” And there it was, in Islands of the Gulf Volume 2, The Treasure. Young Herbert West, during an awkward “date” with a girl called Violet, hears a dog barking in the distance when he should be carried away with the thrill of kissing Violet.

Well, dang!

So really — what’s going on here? Why do so many writers, including quite a few highly-regarded ones, make this barking dog an accessory to scenes in their novels? In my case, it was unconscious. I lived the scene as I wrote it, and I heard that dog. Revisiting this scene in the course of multiple revisions of the text, I never considered deleting the dog.

That Larson cartoon is a parody of the Moment of Crisis, as when Farmer Brown realizes those cows are Up To Something Serious. Even while laughing at the cartoon, I was reminded of similar moments in various novels, where a terrifying realization breaks upon the protagonist. They know I’m a fake. He’s planning to kill me. Those things aren’t human.  Here, the barking dog is more than a filler; it’s a reminder of the ordinary world in which the terrible thing is happening, highlighting the contrast between the mundane and the terrible.

If you find a barking dog in a piece of your writing, put out the dog and reread the paragraph. If its fine without the dog, leave it out. If a necessary tinge of poignancy is missing sans dog, let it back in.

Things other than dogs may serve the same purpose if the presence of a dog is either implausible in the situation or the writer is dutifully trying to avoid cliches. Consider the following:

A bird sang far away, and another replied, nearby.

A little breeze stirred the curtains.

A moth bumped against the lampshade.

A burst of laughter erupted from the street.

A siren wailed in the distance. (This one may be just as common as the dog).

On the other hand, the barking dog may be seen as a secret detail that unites a diversity of writers. William Faulkner, Jackie Collins, Chuck Palahniuk, Stephen King and Henning Mankell are all members of the Order of the Barking Dog. So am I.

Cartoon image from:
https://www.commonsenseevaluation.com/2016/01/21/cartoon-of-the-day-farmer-brown/

Uplands Park vista

A Walk in the Park

One of the final days of summer 2018 was perfect for a walk in Uplands Park with The Dog (otherwise known as Nelly the Newfoundland).

Nelly the Newfoundland in Uplands Park

Nelly wondering why I’m falling behind

 

This park is surrounded by suburbia, but it’s big enough that you can imagine yourself miles from a house or paved street. Technically, it’s an example of southern Vancouver Island’s vanishing Garry Oak meadow ecosystem, but in reality it’s probably way different from 150 years or more ago. In past times, the native peoples of the area cleared out brush by doing regular burns. This preserved the open meadows where camas bulbs (an important food source) were harvested. Now, with zillion dollar homes close by, there is great resistance to any suggestion of burning, no matter how controlled.

Setting all that aside, here are a few close-ups of plants and rocks that caught my eye as we walked to the shore at nearby Cattle Point. Despite its overgrown state, this is a special place. In spring, a multitude of wildflowers blooms, but I appreciate the rich and muted shades of late summer.

 

Nootka rose Rosa nutkana fall foliage near boat launch ramp Cattle Point

Foliage of the native Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana)

 

Eroded volcanic bedrock with lichen, Cattle Point

Eroded volcanic rock with yellow lichens at Cattle Point

 

Beach grass at Cattle Point

Beach grass, rocks, and water at Cattle Point

 

Boulder with lichen near Cattle Point

Boulder with lichens in withered grass

 

 

 

 

Retirement: Week 1

April Fool’s Day. Is this a good day on which to begin something new, I wonder. Retirement, maybe? Quite possibly, since it’s viewed as a transition from Productive Person to Old Fool Fogey.

For the first month or so, I have no definite plan. The idea is to do whatever I feel like, with plenty of little rests between bursts of activity.

Day 1: the Spouse, the Dog and I went on a small ramble in East Sooke Park, one of the more scenic spots in a region that abounds in such spots. The Dog met a puppy that wanted to play and obliged politely, much to the puppy’s owner’s delight. Other highlights of the walk were a small beach of coarse sand and small pebbles, sightings of Erythroniums and Fairy Slipper Orchids in bloom, and the distinctive foliage of Rattlesnake Plantains (not in bloom). On the way back to the parking lot, the Dog was in her element, bouncing through a rather muddy field. A surprising amount of soil came home with us, leading to muttering about “spending my retirement cleaning up after that Dog.”

Erythronium in East Sooke Regional Park

Erythronium in East Sooke Regional Park

Day 2: in the garden, edging, mowing and raking the remains of the two small sections of lawn that are frequented by the Dog. I’m hoping the grass that remains is a specially tough variety that will persist. Otherwise, replacement with some sort of gravel and/or pavement will be necessary. Even in its ravaged state, it looks much better after the attention received.

Day 3: in the garden again, yanking out snowberry suckers from one of the perennial beds and wondering why I ever planted snowberry. Yes, it’s a native plant and drought-tolerant, but it sends roots and suckers all over the place. They come up in the middle of perennials such as asters, necessitating surgical probing and removal which is probably temporary. Note to self (and others): if ever creating a garden from scratch, avoid suckering plants. Snowberry isn’t the only one here with that sneaky and annoying tendency. There are also Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), common lilac and the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), also known locally as the Tree from Hell. It forms weird brain-like structures underground at considerable distance from the parent tree, from which grow clumps of suckers.

Gardening in progress! (Note the fork).

Gardening in progress! (Note the fork).

Day 4: grocery stores and banks. Tedious but necessary, and it’s a novelty to do this stuff on a Monday. Nice long nap in the afternoon.

Day 5: a cool showery day, perfect for distributing compost to various perennial beds. It’s verging on too late for this job, because plants have sprouted and leafed out to the point that one can’t just fling the compost around without worrying about crushing delicate new growth. So I deposit it unevenly and tell myself that as it’s absorbed into the soil, the benefits will trickle down, like wealth from rich to poor. (We’ll see about that).

Day 6: a morning walk with Spouse and Dog along the southward-facing bluffs by Dallas Road. Glorious day, cool enough that the sun feels good; not too windy. Dog wet and happy after romping in the waves; several walkers not happy about wet dog nose. Then back to the garden: potted up a couple of refugee plants, did some spontaneous weeding here and there, and removed a large foxglove plant that was impinging on a clump of asters and some feeble lilies. Foxgloves are another near-weed that does well here (and almost everywhere). This one was the standard magenta type, so no great asset. Away with it! Later: made some Root Beer Barbecue Sauce.

Day 7: another glorious summer-like day (will have to start watering soon, if this keeps up). Went downtown and acquired three books (A Song for Nettie Johnson by Gloria Sawai, The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, and — with reservations — The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt), and some tea (Murchie’s Raspberry and Ceylon Uva), courtesy of generous colleagues and coworkers. At home, stashed away items brought home from the office a week ago — photographs, pen-holders, three rocks (used to weigh down the pages of books being catalogued, or as paperweights) and scraps of paper with helpful or inspiring quotations.

Rocks & Quotes

The quotations: “Faith is the ability to live hopefully without answers.” (Mary Fisher, I’ll Not Go Quietly)

“You don’t want to sharpen the axe for your own execution,” and, “Uncommonness is a reason to prompt reflection and inquiry, not necessarily to exclude.” These two from cataloguer librarians, in posts to the Authorities and Cataloging (Autocat) email discussion list, which as a cataloguer I found to be an invaluable resource.

“Perhaps the greatest folly possible for a culture is to try to pass itself on by using principles of efficiency. When a culture is rich enough and inherently complex enough to afford redundancy of nurturers, but eliminates them as an extravagance or loses their cultural services through heedlessness of what is being lost, the consequence is self-inflicted cultural genocide.” (Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead).

And finally, “The world is full of possibilities. Things irretrievably lost may not be lost. Believe in yourself. Trust your intuition. Stick to what you know to be true. True stature comes from within. Turn grief into music.” (Linda Zuckerman, quoted in the Library of Congress Information Bulletin, volume 54, number 1 (January 9, 1995).

Forget-me-nots and Gentian

Forget-me-nots and Gentian