Uncharted Canada and US press release

Set in Western Canada, Award-Winning Novel Shows
How a Widower Seeking a Fresh Purpose
Nudges His Way from Darkness into the Light;
Story also Reveals the Challenges Faced by the Profoundly Deaf

Graeme Connell’s latest novel offers a fresh and poignant take on life after grief. In Uncharted, Connell introduces a widower who, with help from God, concerned friends, and beautiful blue asters, finds fresh purpose and love.

Set largely in Calgary’s Fish Creek Provincial Park and the Rocky Mountains, this novel of hope, patience, and faith reveals how, by engaging in the lives of neighbors, friends, and chance encounters, life can change for the better.

The protagonist of Uncharted is Brewster McWhirtle, whose life has been spiraling downward ever since his wife, Melanie, was killed a year earlier. Without a reason to get out of bed each day, Brewster wonders if he can find meaning in the botanical project he and Melanie once pursued together. With help from a selfless park ranger, Brewster finally begins taking excruciatingly difficult baby steps toward a new life.

After gifting Melanie’s flower shop to a loyal longtime employee, Brewster tentatively moves into uncharted territory. Unexpectedly, he meets Clotilde, an extraordinary botanical artist who is also profoundly deaf.

Brewster continues to take solace in nature even as he becomes intertwined with a family dealing with devastating personal challenges. As he slowly learns to lean on his reawakened faith, he discovers that even within an uncharted life, Jesus is always there, just like the wildflowers his wife adored.

Connell comments, “Life is pretty complex, and we only have the moment we are in to step forward. Uncharted encourages people to engage with others.”

For Connell’s efforts, Uncharted received the Bronze Medal for fiction at the Independent Publisher 2017 Illumination Awards.

“Connell’s book does not pretend there is a quick and easy prescription for grief. He does not prematurely bring a new romance into Brewster’s life to fix his problem. Rather he works through the struggle sensitively and realistically. Only as Brewster returns to wholeness is he able to move on to the next exciting chapter of his life. The author’s knowledge of human nature, his unusual familiarity with the wild foliage of his beloved western Canada, and his great ability to develop a story has produced an enjoyable and unique book unlike the usual romance novel.” ~ Reader Review by Margee Dyck

Author: Graeme Connell is a former journalist and public relations writer whose career has taken him from his native New Zealand to Antarctica, Fiji Islands, Canada, and the United States. Uncharted is his second novel. His first novel, Finding Dermot, was published in 2014, three years after his memoir Tide Cracks and Sastrugi: An Antarctic Adventure of 1968–69 was published.

Publisher: Westbow Press; Category: Fiction; Hard Cover: 978-1512751444, $US35.95; Soft Cover: 978-1512751437, $US19.95; eBook: 978-1512751420, $US2.95.  Availability:  Chapters.indigo.ca, amazon.com, amazon.ca, BN.com, abebooks.com, fishpond.com and Online Stores Worldwide

Itinerant Uncharted goes Mediterranean

Uncharted travels and one of the first readers was Barb Radu Sprenger, mostly of Calgary, who, with husband Con, spends much of the year sailing (www.sailbigsky.com) in Mediterranean and Europeans waters. Space is limited on a boat so Barb chose a Kindle version.
Uncharted travels and one of the first readers was Barb Radu Sprenger, mostly of Calgary, who, with husband Con, spends much of the year sailing (www.sailbigsky.com) in Mediterranean and Europeans waters. Space is limited on a boat so Barb chose a Kindle version. Her review appears on amazon.ca.

Hello Fellow Travellers:

This week I was asked what prompted me to write Uncharted. Funnily enough I did not have a ready answer.

I had the notion to write a new novel and I came up with the idea that I could create a story around Alberta wildflowers and somehow work into the manuscript the challenges a deaf person finds in everyday life.  The inspiration and motivation developed from there.

I spent a lot of time walking the pathways of Fish Creek Provincial Park and decided that Calgary and that very present urban park could make an interesting setting.

Lois and I have enjoyed many hours wandering around Kananaskis and Waterton parks looking for wildflowers, an enjoyable pursuit that kinda had its roots in Lois taking part in an annual wildflower count in Fort McMurray back in the late 70s and early 80s. Lois’ twin brother, an ardent amateur botanist, fostered our interest and we became hooked with hunting down the colourful and fascinating inhabitants of the forest floor.

So why the deaf woman, I was asked. I had the very real and distinct pleasure of employing a profoundly deaf press operator in my decade of print shop ownership. His view of life in a silent world enabled me to see life from a different angle and I felt compelled to have a character show the challenges faced by those who can see but cannot hear, who can speak but cannot hear.

Cornerstone Marketplace at the First Alliance Church in Calgary carries Uncharted and my earlier novel Finding Dermot. (Check www.facecalgary.com for store hours)
Cornerstone Marketplace at the First Alliance Church in Calgary carries Uncharted and my earlier novel Finding Dermot. (Check www.faccalgary.com for store hours)

Just to get you going, this is the synopsis of my novel:

“A grieving widower is found barely alive in a snowstorm, but wants to be left alone to die. After being saved, he struggles to go on with his life but becomes involved in a wildflower book project with the parks department in honour of his late wife. He works closely on the project with a botanic artist who’s deaf and finds himself attracted to her. A disagreement regarding the book sees the artist refuse to work with the widower, but slowly they repair their friendship. The book is published and the widower finds the strength to move on with his life, with the possibility of a new relationship with the artist.”

Email me (graemekc@telus.net) for a copy of Uncharted (softcover or ebook). The book is available in all the online bookstores around the world. More about the book can be found at www.graemeconnellbooks.com.

 

Uncharted in 2017



img_8055img_8058Here’s the start of a new adventure. My new novel Uncharted has been off on some fascinating excursions since it’s Fall publication.  I’ll share these over the next few weeks as we head towards spring. I reckon it’ll break any midwinter blahs and put me into getting Brandon’s Bicycle ready for publication.

The story always begins at the computer. Wrong. It begins with the right coffee and I’m truly fortunate to have access to ROAST Coffee and Tea Co at Bragg Creek, near Calgary. Best beans, best roast and Nez truly makes sure I have a ready supply. With coffee at hand the computer keys accept my imagination and blunt finger tips. Roll on 2017 and the stories we find. Email me (graemekc@telus.net) for a copy of Uncharted (softcover or ebook). The book is available in all the online bookstores around the world.

 

Market Time

img_1191

Lois and I look forward to seeing you at Midtown Mosaic 11th Annual Fine Art Show and Sale Fri. Sept 30th and Sat. Oct. 1st Presented by St. Stephen’s Anglican Church 1121 – 14th Avenue SW, Calgary T2R 0P3.

I will be offering my new novel Uncharted and Lois has a new selection of paintings — acrylic, watercolour and dry media.

Fri. Sept 20th: 6:00 – 9:30 PM. Art show and sale, artists in attendance, live music, wine & cheese reception plus a silent auction. Funds raised from the Silent Auction will go to support Kids Cancer Care, Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter and the St. Stephen’s Rector’s Discretionary Fund. Opening ceremonies 7 PM with special guests.

Sat. Oct. 1st: 10 a.m. – 3 PM. Art show and sale, artists in attendance, children’s activities. A Deli lunch will be available at our Midtown Café. Free parking at Connaught School, 11th St and 12th Ave. Street parking around St. Stephen’s on 14th Ave. 11st and 12th St. Calgary Transit stops nearby.

 

Flower hunting

This is the time of the year we are out and about searching for wildflowers. This season we have stayed close to home focussed on updating photographs of  Calgary’s Fish Creek Provincial Park treasures. My new novel Uncharted is with publisher WestBow Press and I predict it will be on the market in August. A key part of the story hinges on the wildflowers that can be found in this amazing urban park. I’m assembling a pictorial companion for the novel featuring the flowers mentioned in the story. There’s a trick to finding some of the flowers. Simple? You need someone along who can see them and Lois is an expert. I’m not sure how she does it. Must be something to do with the eye of an artist and colour. “Just look for a change in colour and you’ll see them.” Ok, but sorry does not work for me. Undergrowth

Take a look at this picture.

In here is a pale coralroot, just off the pathway between Shannon Terrace at the west end of the park and Bebo Grove (24th Street SW). Can you see it?

There’s a dark patch in the centre of the picture. Then to left of this there’s a slight yellow change of colour. It’s tiny at about 7 o’clock.

And here’s what it looks like. A beauty!

Pale coralroot

 

 

A bookends week

Ya gotta love these bookend weeks especially like the one we’ve just experienced. It’s been a week that we had no idea how it was going to turn out.

The week began last Sunday when we got the call around noon that our eldest granddaughter was on her way to the hospital to deliver her first child. Around 6pm our daughter Rachel called to say that Veronica and Ray were the proud parents of a healthy boy. For us, wee George is great grandson number two, just six months after our first. We got to visit him a few hours after he got home on Tuesday.

Great gramma Lois with George Philip Fukuda, the latest addition to our ever expanding family.
Great gramma Lois with George Philip Fukuda, the latest addition to our ever expanding family.

The next event for me was the delivery by Artist Lois of a reference map for a new novel I’ve created. Brandon’s Bicycle is now in its second draft and I was very fortunate to have Lois work with my squiggles and create a map of the Hamlet of Outside (you’ll have to stay tuned on that story till at least late summer).

The next highlight came Thursday when my editor returned  the manuscript for Uncharted, my second novel now just weeks away from being in the publisher’s hands.

Friday was the climax of the week when Lois and I celebrated our 55th wedding anniversary. We reckon that’s pretty darn cool.

The right hand bookend is Sunday to celebrate the 19th birthday of grand daughter Beth.

 

A garden scriptorium

I’m sure that somewhere deep inside, my DNA will show two uninspiring attributes that might confound the people who dig into these sorts of things, you know, examine what makes a person tick. I wonder if that double helix would show hidden codes for procrastination and vacillation. I look at the blood that seeps out of a deep scratch on my hand: the procrastinator says it will stop oozing soon; the vacillator says should I put a band aid on that, or what about clean it first and coat it with an antiseptic cream.

So here I am in 2016. Six weeks have passed. I’m waiting, thinking about restarting work on my new novel, which incidentally is 50,000 words written and needs a thorough rewrite to flesh out the good bits and abandon the not-so-good bits.
Where the P and the V of my DNA fit into this is simple. Do I wait for the copy-edit of my work-in-progress Uncharted to return from my editor and get that out of the way so to speak, or do I get back to my garden scriptorium and do the work Brandon’s Bicycle is crying out for.
See what I mean.

Summer View
Summer View

Then there’s the self-made promise to get on with the job of updating a website and making it jolly-well interesting. It’s about time I talked about the person who has upgraded the site and made it look that much better.
So here goes. This is a start. The sun shines here in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It is mid February and I’m out in the garden scriptorium.

At 54 Years

Just one week ago, April 8, Lois and I enjoyed a magical day in a magical place — our 54th wedding anniversary at Chateau Lake Louise. A vivid blue sky, windless, and the charm and fascination of a Banff National Park wonder through the past century or so. It’s been many years since we had the pleasure of actually staying in the upscale chateau, the price always being beyond our reach. But when I made quiet mutterings about just a hotel in the area somewhere daughter Rachel suggested we use our Aeroplan points. And so it happened and it was easier to achieve than an airline booking.

Roll on 55 years. I always get a thrill to wake up each day with Lois beside me. It never dims and her sleepy “good morning sweetheart” sets me up for the day.

Anniversary surprise was the discovery of this fellow, a Clark's Nutcracker with a long beak he can wield like a pickaxe!
Anniversary surprise was the discovery of this fellow, a Clark’s Nutcracker with a long beak he can wield like a pickaxe!

Chateau from centre lake

And Into His Arms

Kaye Donovan in her role as Eliza Doolittle in the Grande Prairie Little Theatre production of My Fair Lady in 1975.
Kaye Donovan in her role as Eliza Doolittle in the Grande Prairie Little Theatre production of My Fair Lady in 1975.

Forty-five years ago I arrived in Grande Prairie, Alberta, with my wife Lois and three young daughters, newly minted immigrants in an amazing new land of different customs and patterns of speech. We’d left our job in the Fiji Islands with money in the bank, enough to get us started. Our nest egg dwindled as Canada devalued its dollar in mid flight, the newspaper I was to work at as a journalist in Prince George BC folded the day after we arrived. Lois fell very ill and our resources were spent on a motel bill until we were rescued and given a place to live till I found work.

That job was with the Daily Herald Tribune in Grande Prairie. We arrived and within a day or so met an amazing family. They loaned us money, they shared their food, they bought us groceries, they embraced us. We weathered many storms together, we enjoyed many highs. We became like one big family, always welcome at their house to feast on toast and cheese. Simple and loving. They were Aunty Kaye and Uncle Grahame to our daughters. We were Aunty Lois and Unkie Graeme to theirs. It’s always been that way.

We went camping together, fishing, built bonfires, cross country skied, enjoyed the thrills of amateur theatre and epic stage productions. Money was always short in both our families but we found wonder living in a small Peace Country city.

Today though Aunty Kaye passed into the arms of Jesus, the place she always wanted to be and to meet up again with her son Harry, tragically killed many years ago in a highway accident.

Kaye has given us her infectious laughter, amazing optimism and love of Jesus Christ and her family. So we grieve and yet rejoice.

 

 

Mind Over Matter

Where is the Mind? This question was posed by Wendy Mesley on the CBC National the other night to Toronto psychologist Dr Norman Doidge during a discussion on whether the brain can be rewired.

Their brain interview was supported by pictures of a confusing array of pathways and cells, and all brain type stuff that would make a telephone technician cry. I didn’t quite catch the good specialist’s reply so my take is that there is no definitive answer.

The question stays. Where is the Mind?

Sitting in the spring sunshine just-a-thinking.
Sitting in the spring sunshine just-a-thinking.

Maybe it’s not really in the body. Are we as humans matched like computers to a cloud accessible from anywhere? Did Apple and Microsoft et al borrow that singular independent (even vertical) technology to push us to share Minds (horizontal). That leads me to say that I’m of two Minds about that.

If we declare that a person is out of his/her Mind maybe it’s a case of a lost hands-free remote device.

The Mind boggles at the suggestion of where it might be. I’ve looked at all the charts, examined my body, looked in the mirror and so on but cannot locate anything marked Mind.

We say he/she, has changed his/her Mind. But I do not find Minds listed in any Canadian Tire catalogue. If the Mind is located in the brain then surely we’d see bandaged heads in the halls of power, like parliament and the legislatures of this country. I hear all the time of how these elected folk change their Mind. Leads me to believe there must a secret vault of Minds somewhere accessible only by a few.

Put your Mind at rest, I’m told. But where? To put the Mind somewhere demands that I know where the Mind is to begin with so I can put it. I recall my mother often saying she’d give me a piece of her Mind but to the best of my knowledge I never received it unless it was disguised as that whack on my ear.

My wife tells me she can read my Mind. Ha. If I can’t read it how can she?

I’ve heard a daughter tell me how single-minded her child is which leads me to think maybe some lucky people do have two Minds and that you can change from one to the other like changing gears in the car.

When I say I’ve a Mind to do this or that do I assume I have more than one?

I overheard a parent in the mall the other day saying she had a good Mind to ground her son. Good Mind didn’t sound good to me. Bad Mind perhaps?

The squeaker comes when I reach that day of being dead and buried. What happens to the Mind? Does it flee with the soul? Where to? I’ve yet to find that one out.

A plane goes down tragically somewhere and the search is on for the black box. When I go down, hmmm well there is no black box. It’s gone, a case of matter without Mind.

Oh, and one last thing, I’ve been told I have to Mind my Ps and Qs. Now I have to find them.

Ted Harrison — an artist remembered

ted

Ted Harrison, the artist behind the brush of those very distinctive, vibrant paintings of Canada’s Yukon Territory died last week in Victoria BC. To me, Ted was as colourful as his paintings. I met him in 1971 in Whitehorse soon after my move there to take up as editor of the tri weekly Whitehorse Star. We had a good friendship and I encouraged him to produce cartoons for the newspaper, a task he shared with some of his secondary school students. I’m not sure if this cartoon was a shot at me ( a New Zealander) but it was part of the fun as the amazing and entrepreneurial Star owners Bob and Rusty Erlam owned a dog team which I ran for them in the 1972 Sourdough Rendezvous (15 miles each day for three days). Ted was one man who helped me through a tough time  when booze and ego clashed, almost destroying my marriage. So when I see a Harrison painting, I recall his quiet advice, and heady laughter, and how he tried to get that English voice of his around Te Kauwhata, the name of a school he taught at in New Zealand prior to settling in the Yukon. He was a bright spark in my life. Thanks Ted.

(As for the sled dog race? I finished in the middle of the pack somewhere on aggregate times. The first day out eventual winner Wilfred Charlie from Old Crow suffered a broken sled. We loaned him our Erlam-designed racing sled and I used our training sled. You’d think I was totally bonkers if I told you what the temperature was!)

 

 

Finding Dermot

It’s that time of year every two years when the tiny town of Whangamomona, New Zealand, hosts its annual bust out — Republic Day for lots of genuine Kiwi fun. Whangamomona is central to my novel Finding Dermot. And the key part of the historic town is the Whangamomona Hotel (whangamomonahotel.co.nz) now 103 years old. Wonderful place in a magic part of this world. I love it there, midway along the Forgotten World Highway. Beautiful rugged country and spectacular native bush. Put it on your to do list and while you’re at it buy a copy of Finding Dermot, worldwide at any online book store or at the BookStop Gallery in New Plymouth, New Zealand, or Owl’s Nest Books in Calgary, AB, Canada.

Have fun! It’s midsummer somewhere!

Whanga

 

 

Making 2015 a writing year

At first I thought it was a bit pretentious announcing myself as an author on my new business cards. At first I figured Writer would do but then I’ve been a writer for some 56 years. With the release of my novel Finding Dermot just a year after Tide Cracks and Sastrugi, an account of my tales of adventure in Antarctica, author seemed appropriate.

So that’s how I describe myself. Author. A second novel is in the works and now that we’ve turned the corner on a new year I have to quit procrastinating and get the jolly thing written. I’ve really spent too much time these past few months messing around on research. It’s now time to let it go and let the words come.

To get a start I headed up to the Lodge at Kananaskis  this past weekend to get a bit of a recharge and focus on what has to be done. It worked. The first night over dinner I had a really good free-wheeling discussion with my favourite pal Lois and came up with several scenes which will propel me through the missing middle section of the book. That night I spent a lot of awake time staring at the ceiling, talking with my characters. Saturday I drafted the new scenes into notes and began writing.

I tell you I came home charged and energized. Amazing what a change of scenery can do, even though it was too cold to do anything else but write and read and chatter. There’s a bit of tension attached to this part of the book. A sort of tipping point incorporating an argument between the two main characters.  And all over a photograph of a fascinating, hard-to-find, wild orchid we know as a striped coralroot. My protagonist is adamant that the plant must be photographed in Fish Creek Provincial Park here in Calgary. It can’t be just a stock photo he’s shot in another location. This results in a big hissy fit and the two collaborators part company until….but maybe I should’t say much more just yet.

While I’m working on this novel why not make sure your friends know about Finding Dermot and Tide Cracks. You’ll find them in the online stores and here in Calgary Owls Nest Books carries them on the shelf.

 

Merry Christmas

Couple of hours ago I took part in an incredible time of Christmas celebration at our Westside Kings Church here in Calgary, Alberta. It was the first of four services at our church building, an old curling rink, quonset hut style. Maybe 800 attended from the very small to the, ahem, a little older. Three more services were to follow. A busy time.  It was simply an opportunity for the generations to gather, and we sang popular classics as well as the traditional hymns. We reflected on Jesus Christ as the light of there world, of hope and new beginnings.

For me the clincher came with the end of service singing of Silent Night, candles and all. It’s the song that always gets me and has done so for the past 46 years.  It is a vivid memory of hundreds of men standing in a quonset hut at the US McMurdo Sound base in Antarctica. The song ended an all faiths service and although not immediate it took root and the Christian life became my life some six years later.

Christ does give us a new beginning, a hope in the future and the faith to overcome. I know it is tough for some and I think especially of a former colleague who, with his teenage children, face their first Christmas without their wife and mother. She died just a few weeks back after a harrowing eight month hospitalization.

May the very spirit of Christmas invade your home and life today.

Peace.

Blown Away

What a tremendous evening!

Calgary’s Owl’s Nest Books was standing room only last night for the third bi-annual Taste of Local Authors evening, Organized by author Randy McCharles and Owl’s co-owners Michael and Susan Hare.

Nine authors presented and read from their recently published books. For two hours people listened (three sets of three five minute reads), and mingled to the music of Calgary singer songwriter Vanessa Cardui.

For me, it was an evening to treasure, being among new-found like-minded friends. Guests came to me and chatted about my Antarctic experience and the two books I’ve written since — a memoir (Tide Cracks and Sastrugi) and a novel (Finding Dermot).

My fellow authors were Jodi McIsaac, Al Onia, Mahrie  G Reid, Nola Sarina, Randy McCharles, Eileen Bell, Gary Renshaw and Sherile Reilly.

Owl’s Nest is a place where readers can connect with books. And I have the distinct feeling that Michael has sampled every book the store carries. Earlier this week he moderated a book clubs evening at the Jewish Community Centre book week and highlighted 11 books (including Finding Dermot). The bookstore is located in the Britannia Shopping Plaza at 815a 49 Avenue SW Calgary. (www.owlsnestbooks.com). The store also features Owlets, an amazing children’s bookstore.

Mingling time
Mingling time
My turn at the mic.
My turn at the mic.
Vanessa Cardui entertains
Vanessa Cardui entertains

 

Excited

Okay, so right now I’m a little excited as Thursday approaches when I give  a five minute presentation at Calgary’s Owl’s Nest Books. I’m just one of nine local authors taking part in an evening for readers to hear what local authors are writing about. It promises to be a fun evening and Randy McCharles has arranged musical interludes between sets.

Starts at 7 pm and you’ll find this wonderful bookstore at Britannia, close to 50th Avenue and Elbow Drive SW.

I started this week Sunday listening to city author Daniel Goodwin’s talk about his first novel Sons and Daughters. The event  kicked off  the Jewish Community Centre’s (JCC) book week. This soft-spoken man read  from his book and spoke of its background. I bought a copy and look forward to reading it.

Last night I participated in the JCC’s book club evening  moderated by Michael Hare, co-owner  of Owls Nest. He reviewed several books and invited me to share  a bit about  my novel Finding Dermot. 

The JCC book week is a fabulous event and showcases great writing and the variety of happenings found at the busy centre located opposite Glenmore Landing on 90th Avenue SW.

A Taste of Local Authors

One of my private rants, mostly in the shower, is where and how to find and read the excellent books being produced locally in Calgary and in Alberta and really where to find Canadian authors and their terrific stories.  Well, here’s one Calgary event that will satisfy all like-minded readers.  Nine authors in one place at Owls Nest Books in Britannia on Elbow Drive  and 50th Ave SW. This bookstore hosts local authors throughout the year and is a should be store for all book buyers in the city.

Check this event out. It promises to be a delightful evening.

7:00 Music (social interlude)poster
7:10 Michael Hare & Randy McCharles: Welcome
7:15 (set 1) Jodi McIsaac
(set 1) Al Onia
(set 1) Mahrie G. Reid
7:30 Music (social interlude)
7:45 (set 2) Nola Sarina
(set 2) Randy McCharles
(set 2) Eileen Bell
8:00 Music: (social interlude)
8:15 (set 3) Gary Renshaw
(set 3) Sherile Reilly
(set 3) Graeme Connell
8:30 Music: (social interlude)
8:45 Randy McCharles & Michael Hare : Thank you
8:50 Music (social interlude)
9:00 End

Dermot’s Domain

I was blown away this morning when I opened my iPhone to see a Facebook reference

Magnificent beaches in the heart of New Plymouth.
Magnificent beaches in the heart of New Plymouth.

from my nephew in New Plymouth, New  Zealand.  Antony Thorpe simply said “Our backyard … anyone want to come for a visit!”

What followed was an inspiring  You Tube (experienceoz.com.au/nz-top-10) piece on the top 10 New Zealand destinations.

It’s No 1 that got my attention — Taranaki is not only the province I grew up in but also the centerpoint of much of the Finding Dermot story, my recent novel.

“Both wild and rugged, spectacular and historically influential, the Taranaki region checks all the boxes as far as nature and variety of landscape are concerned — with the mountain the cherry on the top of the sightseeing sundae.”

Pukekura Park, blocks from the downtown core.
Pukekura Park, blocks from the downtown core.
A midsummer view of 2518 metre Mt Taranaki which reigns over all, hiking and adventuring all summer, ski and alpine activity during the winter snows.
A midsummer view of 2518 metre Mt Taranaki which reigns over all, hiking and adventuring all summer, ski and alpine activity during the winter snows.
Hub of the hill country, Whangamomona.
Hub of the hill country, Whangamomona.

Very encouraging. A key character in Dermot is Blossom O’Sage who spends much of her New Zealand time in the main city of New Plymouth on her quest to find the out of sight Dermot Strongman. Her journey takes her to Whangamomona in the rugged hill country on the eastern rim of this adventurous region.

Grrrr day

This is a grrrr day for me in Calgary. The sun is shining and I’ve not hit the keyboard in three days to work on the new book. After such a euphoric  four-five days at Strawberry Creek Lodge near Edmonton last weekend my word count slumped badly in the face of all the stuff that piled up during my writer’s escape. On top of that we’re busy preparing for the Midtown Mosaic art and book exhibition this weekend.

Lois draw

 

Lois has now finalized her artwork and has a great selection available at modest prices. My two books Tide Cracks and Sastrugi and Finding Dermot are boxed and we’ve designed a new stand to go with the changed decor in the church venue.

 

Mosaic 2014

 

We’re looking forward to it this year. All the pews have been removed to create a really nice open space. We haven’t seen it yet but by all accounts it will make for a grand exhibit this year.

Maybe we’ll see you there. Lots of great exhibits from Calgary’s many artists.

Strawberry (Re)Treat

LodgeGotta love a place like this. Faraway and outta sight. No television, no internet, no distractions. Bliss.

I’m coming back to earth from a terrific and enervating Writers’ Guild of Alberta (WGA) writers’ retreat. During the four nights and five days I was lost in the utter fascination of adding words and creating word pictures for the new novel under construction. The working title for the new book is Wildflowers. There were only seven of us at the Strawberry Creek Lodge, southwest of Edmonton,  Alberta. This was self-directed so each of us selected our favourite places for writing and getting on with our individual projects. We kept to our rooms and emerged for contemplative walks through the trees or meals at  8 am, Noon and 6pm. At the outset we declared quiet. There’s something to be said for this monastic time out: the focus was our work, our sustenance came at the clang of the cowbell, and our surprise came at the glorious spread Brenda put before us.

This was a first time for me at such an event. It was my deliberate, desperate attempt to get words on the page. I loved it. I love this writing game. The creation of a story. I achieved more in those four days than I have all summer.

Our final evening together, Saturday, we grouped around the big red brick fireplace in the centre of the magnificent log lodge and listened as each of us read from what we were creating, a play, poetry, novels. Feedback for each of us was positive and encouraging. I felt privileged and humbled to be in such company.

The lodge is owned by the Rudy Wiebe family and has been used by the WGA for retreats since the mid-1980s. The only sounds in this setting above Strawberry Creek are the occasional yipping of coyotes,  the chickadees, nuthatches, and jays at the feeder and the wind whispering through the yellowing aspens. Could there be a finer setting.

Rudy and his wife Tena visited on Saturday. We saw Tena in the kitchen with Brenda, new cookies were manufactured. Rudy was outside in the cool air fixing this and that. He came to me and asked for a copy of my Finding Dermot. “Let’s swap,” he said.”One of mine for yours.” It was done. He also took a copy of Tide Cracks and Sastrugi and I came home with two of his previous books. Lois had kept the clipping from the Saturday Calgary Herald which profiled Rudy’s new novel Come Back.

InukshukMy task now is to keep focus and concentration and to move Wildflowers to its climax. The lessons of Strawberry Creek live on.

 

 

Book signing and art

I’ll be signing my books Finding Dermot and Tide Cracks and Sastrugi at the Midtown Mosaic art and book show. This is a diverse exhibition of local talented artisans in a neat venue we’ve participated in the past few years. Renovations to remove the pews and update the lighting will make this a very pleasant place. Lois will have some new work to exhibit, including small framed colour pencil originals in her Beach Studies series.  It’s a very interesting collection.

Mosaic 2014

 

Pathway advice

Showy asters brighten the pathway
Showy asters brighten the pathway.

I was out walking in the rain along my favourite pathway yesterday beside the reservoir and quietly figured I’d make a radical change to the novel-in-progress. How about  I go with the first person voice? Sure, it would mean changing the chapters already laid down in draft. Back at the keyboard I tried it out with the chapter I’m working on. It was a delight.

Later, in the wee dark hours of the morning, I had time to reflect a little deeper on several other factors in what I wanted to achieve with Wildflowers (working title). Today I checked on a few references relating to the first person voice versus the third person narrative and now believe I should stick to how the story has evolved to date. After all, it is coming together, my characters are talking to me and such a change might take me away from my outline. In other words I see this sudden leap as a distraction.

That said, I’m will continue to nurture the idea as having experimented, albeit briefly, I sense merit. I’ll see how the story progresses, how the tension rises and falls and above all how the reader will be engaged.

Maybe when I head out on my walk along the path today, something else will ambush my brain. I did not have these flights of fancy with either Blossom or Dermot in Finding Dermot as they were firmly in control of the story. I have to allow my new characters the same freedom!

 

A foster robin

We have a new resident at our place — a baby robin!

Lois first found him on Friday safely semi submerged under the portulaca plant in a pot near the front door. She heard a peeping noise and he looked out at her. Lois captured that on her camera and we thought little more of him.

In the flower pot under a portulaca
In the flower pot under a portulaca

Saturday we found him under the onions in the back garden.

Shelter in the onion patch
Shelter in the onion patch

But now we wonder how he got there as the back garden is surrounded by a six foot high white vinyl fence. Well, we’re glad he’s in the back yard as he’s quite safe there as no cats are present or visiting.  For a bit he sheltered under the raspberries but the noisy sparrows must have been too much for him and he hopped/fluttered to the wood pile.

The poor little guy...where is his underside covering?
The poor little guy…where is his underside covering?

He’s been there ever since with Mom and or Dad dropping in every now and then to give him a feed.

Roosting on the trellis at the wood pile.
Roosting on the trellis at the wood pile.

He certainly does not seem to be under any sort of stress but we keep our distance.

My pictures were captured with a 500mm telephone lens.

A parent watches from the overhead aspen, a beak full of grubs.
A parent watches from the overhead aspen, a beak full of grubs.

Going postal!

I sent a copy of Finding Dermot to Toronto earlier this week and continue in my amazement as to how Canada Post seems to have shot itself in the foot.

Slow post (within six business days) cost me  a princely $15.86 , made up of  $12.37 for the book, 0.93 for fuel surcharge ??, and $1.80 G/S (claims to be an oversized charge, but from what?). Ok so that’s $15.10 but tucked further down the 15-inch long receipt  I see  GST at 0.76 .

The way my mind works if the book sells for $25 it is not very economic for an author to use Canada Post to distribute books.  For who in their right mind will meet the mailing cost as the cost of the book immediately balloons to $40 or so (The standard bookstore margin for a book is 40%. Dice out cost to print, editors, designers etc and yep, you are so right, the author writes and creates a story just for the love of it. And that’s why I write!)

From Calgary, a few weeks back sending the book in exactly the same packaging and weight to Vancouver and  US destinations  at the same postal outlet cost $10 and change. Sending to the UK the price was $18.75 and to Olds,  Alberta, (just 95 km and one hour north of Calgary) $11.87.

And while I’m on to Mr Post I thought I read somewhere a while back that to improve Canada Post profitability, mail carriers would be equipped with small vans to deliver both mail and small parcels in a more efficient manner. Sounded good. Though in my small suburban enclave I’ve counted three or four different little postal vans. Doesn’t sound efficient to me.

What worries me more than anything is that postal services will continue to erode and an essential service in the grip of a total monopoly will fade into history.

 

Aha, a new path!

Pathways are an attraction. We hit one the other day Wasa pathwhile camping at the Wasa Lake Provincial campground in British Columbia. To us it was definitely in the never-seen-before-I-wonder-where-it-goes type of trail. No map to guide us, only the safety of knowing we were in a provincial park and confident that in these places pathways usually travel around a forested perimeter. Besides we’d already seen good keen walkers survive the trail and return unscathed. And we’d watched the youngsters on their bicycles zoom by.
Five minutes on to the path this is what we found. Well, that’s just what I need. A good walk and bit of an upper as well plus a view at the top. The trail wound its way round and up the hill. Lots of climbing in the shelter of the pine trees, lots of quiet thoughts about the new novel I’m writing and what my main characters might think of a place like this. Around every turn there was something new, whether IMG_6109a flower in its final stages of summer bloom, the way pine cones IMG_6112had cascaded into piles around the unidentified and thoroughly dried plants. Perhaps I’d think in terms of a large lily leaf. HoneysuckleHoneysuckle berries have turned their yellow and red alongside the dry and dusty pathway. New growth pines are flourishing  in the tinder dry clutter. A gentle breeze keeps our temperatures moderate and benches here and there provided a thankful rest at strategic viewpoints of the lake. We meet others doing the up and over  three kilometre path. Our ears pick up on Canada’s diversity, Spanish, French, Asian, European languages but the universal smile and “hi, great day” is acknowledged by all.  At the top we can look down on the lake and the colour of all who enjoy the hot sunny day. Boats, water skiers, tubers, wake boarders, swimmers young and old playing at the shore.  Denny, one of the characters in my novel Finding Dermot, finds beauty and peace in the pathways he’s created in his own private kiwi conservation project in a remote part of New Zealand.

IMG_6111A pathway, always leading somewhere and showing something, like this tree clearer’s artistic stumps at a fallen pines. Neat eh!

IMG_6113

 

 

Trumpeting the Trumpeter

Swan2The recent news that the Trumpeter swan is off the endangered list came as bright spot on our horizon. Let’s not forget though that this largest swan in the world remains on Canada’s take-care-of-me list. This magnificent bird has rebounded from near extinction in the early 1900s. It has been a long slow recovery but all good news.

The Trumpeter is kinda special to Lois and I. We’d never heard of it until we immigrated in 1970 and settled in the Alberta Peace Country City of Grande Prairie. The County of Grande Prairie has many lakes and sloughs which attract the Trumpeter for the nesting season. The county has spent a great deal of effort over the years to protect the bird and preserve these breeding lakes. The community unofficially adopted the bird in the 1930s and when the town gained city status (1958) the trumpeter was soon chosen as the city crest in 1960 and remains in use today.

Swan3So when we arrived in the Swan City we were fascinated and my work has a photo-journalist at the Daily Herald Tribune (DHT) spurred my interest. I befriended Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) conservation staff and as a newspaper we did what we could to keep awareness of the swan at the forefront. Our family interest was well beyond occupation. It was personal. Grande Prairie’s focus.

My old boss and former DHT editor, Bill Scott, recently wrote in his newspaper column Pot Pourri  that the swan sculpture that became the city emblem celebrated its 50th anniversary this past June.  The iconic bird continues to reside happily in Jubilee Park, 10ft high, a model of a young bird stretching its wings. The swan was everywhere in the city and I recall interviewing aspiring Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed at the White Swan Motel. The statue graced collector teaspoons and other souvenirs and the city was in the habit of giving out statuettes to visiting dignitaries.

TrumpetLois created this beautiful painting of Trumpeter cygnets which I captured on a lake out in the county. The CWS confided their location to me and a friend loaned me a Folboat (a collapsible kayak) to float  through the reeds into the lake and get the following pictures which appeared in the DHT.

Swan6

Swan5

 

 

 

 

 

Swan4

 

 

Swan1

 

 

 

 

 

These black and white shots were taken during a banding trip with the CWS in the mid 70s. Using an airboat, the CWS guys would come up alongside a cygnet scoop it up and head to the shore to weigh, measure and band. The day I was out with them was cool and raining.  This was in the pre computer and digital picture age. I processed and printed my film at the DHT darkroom.

Lois worked as an artist at the Department of Education regional office and used  her drawing for the cover of a reading manual.booster2

The Chamber of Commerce developed a trade coin promotion: local artist Robert Guest created the front side Trumpeter and Lois’ historical drawing was among those by Robert to grace the reverse.

Brian Wilson and Bob McFarlane hired me on as editor of their weekly newspaper Grande Prairie Booster while I recovered from a nervous breakdown and we had Lois design the masthead. I wrote a column in that paper Roamin’ Round and a paragraph of the June 30, 1976 edition read:

Testing Eggs:

“Called in at the Canadian Wildlife Service office in Edmonton during a visit last week and found biologist Bryan Kemper and his team cutting up Trumpeter swan eggs collected during a survey week in Grande Prairie this summer. About eight eggs had been collected and were taken from nests last month, well after the hatching period. Kemper said eggs had never been taken or examined so the abandoned, unhatched eggs provided a good opportunity for analysis. The CWS will have the contents of the eggs and shells examined for several points including mercury levels and such things as pesticides. The researchers also want to try and find out why the eggs did not mature for of the eight collected only one produced a fully developed embryo.”

Habitat protection, reintroduction programs, sanctuaries, greater awareness and a ban on hunting have helped bring the Trumpeter back from near extinction to a healthier population of around 16,000. An adult bird can be around 25lb, five feet or so long and with a wingspan of six to eight feet.

Booster

 

Fresh Front

August 1 and we have a nice new entry to our house.  The gaillardias are showing signs of Front doorwear out in the fields and gardens but they are now alive, well  and permanent at our place.

Sunshine and rain, ice and snow, heat and cold took their toll on the painted panels we had gracing the  front door for the past few years. We were faced with the challenge of sanding to bare wood with Lois creating new art in situ or we could just get some new plywood and build on. So that’s the course we took and Lois had the flexibility of painting whenever and wherever over New Panelthe past couple of weeks. The weather has been just great so much of her effort was spent outside in the garden surroundings. Rather appropriate for what she was creating, brushstroke by brushstroke.

Each panel is approx 18 inch by 83 inches. And of course with the new artwork we just had to have a new mailbox  so I put one together from the pieces left over from the sheet of plywood. It is very simple, great artwork but there is a nice surprise on the inside lid for our mail person, newspaper delivery and anyone else who drops something off.Mailbox

Must be the heat

With Calgary into the mid-30s temperatures today the grand daughters (aided and abetted by their mother) decided this was a day for the septuagenarians to try out the Skyline Luge at the city’s Winsport Olympic Park.

Originating in New Zealand in 1985, the summer luge track runs alongside the Olympic track (1988). It twists and turns for 1.8 kilometres down the hill. It drops over 100 metres and is billed as the world longest luge track.

I gotta say it’s a blast. Go as fast or as slow as you like on the single seater wheeled sled. Speed is controlled by the steering arm.  What amazed us  was the very young age of some of the lugers. One little guy had to have a spell just to rest his arms. Others zipped past so fast I wondered how they could make the turns on the gravity track.

Chairlift to the top under sunny blue skies.
Chairlift to the top under sunny blue skies.
Instruction before the run down. How to steer and how to go and stop.
Instruction before the run down. How to steer and how to go and stop.
Whew! Gramma in the chutes at the end of her second ride!
Whee! Gramma in the chutes at the end of her second ride!

Along the path

Well, there I was out on the pathway today and saw Paddlewheelersomething that wasn’t new but really where I spotted it was new to me. The sight of Heritage Park’s paddle wheeler S.S. Moyie near the southern shore of the Glenmore reservoir lake caught my attention. Usually the vessel cruises over closer to Heritage Park.

I mentioned yesterday pathways reveal things and I thought back to our adventures in the Yukon Territory some 42 years ago. (golly, that long ago!) when we marvelled over the S.S.Tutshi paddle-wheeler in dry dock at Carcross. That vessel  was built in 1917 and restored about the time we were there. Sadly this queen of romantic Yukon history  was lost to fire in 1990. Remnants remain today.  The steamboat had such a big impact on us that we named our dog Tutshi. Sadly, he died too. Other examples of the steamboat era remain at Whitehorse (S.S. Klondike), Dawson City (S.S. Keno) and original and real S.S. Moyie at Kaslo in BC.

With that memory of today’s pathway I thought about the treasures we find in books. Take my novel Finding Dermot for instance. That story takes the reader from Canada to a magnificent city in New Zealand (New Plymouth) with its surf beaches, mountain and great bush walks, to one of the remotest villages in the country (Whangamomona) as well as a frozen winter in Antarctica’s truly wonderful and remote Wright Dry Valley and Lake Vanda. I weaved the story of Dermot and his strange adventure around those places.

The novel is available in all the online bookstores around the world in hard cover, paperback and ebook versions.

Pick up a copy, travel and enjoy the stroll along the reader’s “pathway.”

 

Pathways

photo-2I’ve decided I have a fascination of pathways, trails and tracks especially through forested areas, through parks, besides streams, up hills wherever.

It’s not so much the open air, exercise thing. You see a pathway leads to somewhere and I’m curious enough to want to know what’s at the end, or even if there is an end. It doesn’t matter how often I walk the same pathway for every trip is different. It might be the flowers, the breezes, the birds or no birds, maybe a duck, the colour of the leaves, a caterpillar crossing, or the peaceful interrupt of other walkers, young moms with strollers, seniors with a cane, joggers or even cyclists. Some folk smile, some folk greet and others look the other way.  There are days when I don’t see a soul and others when the pathway seems extra busy.

Today I figured a pathway is like reading a book, open the cover and head on in and see where the writer takes you, an adventure in itself.

Then again, a pathway is akin to life itself. Who knows what is round the next bend, where the trail goes or who you’ll meet in the next kilometre or two? Explore the urban landscape and delight in where the trail leads.

 

 

Adventurers — Part 3

“Whether it be a movie about a rat who pursues his dream to become a chef (Ratatouille), or a quixotic idea to change my relationship with food, or just a desire at the age of 60 to inject some passion into my life, I was ready for an adventure.”

So writes Bob Foulkes of Vancouver in his book Adventures with Knives. Surviving 1000 hours in Culinary School (French Apple Press).  Also available through Chapters.

I recently reconnected with Bob, a  former colleague and true pal, only to discover that he’s fully embraced an adventurous life and published a couple of books about what he’s been up to since our paths last crossed some 13 years ago.  This month we exchanged books. My Tide Cracks and Sastrugi for his first book Adventures with Knives  and my Finding Dermot for his Off The Couch and Out The Door.  Bob has become the consummate adventurer and he talks about his journey in a very easy and thoroughly engaging style. He’s a pro writer from a similar career to myself.Foulkes

Knives is difficult to lay aside for such mundane things as shaving or eating lunch. It goes really well though with coffee and leads the reader into the inner world of chefdom, the training, the discipline and the amazing advantages of cooking from scratch.  I learned about French cooking, presentation and style. All the while there’s the ever present dangers of contamination and yes, what about those knives. “We are five-thumbed, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing incompetents when we try to duplication his (chef’s) demonstration. I am paying sizeable chunks of money to be told how to cut a carrot  to look like a little football… but I’m determined. The knife isn’t the problem.”

For several evenings after supper Lois and I would have Bob readings and laughed aloud as we worked through his 1000 hours of culinary school.

Knives is an fun read of a man’s adventure into the world of a student in a place we all know — the kitchen.

 

 

It’s Fun Being A Dad.

I wrote this in my weekly column in June 1981 while Publisher of Alberta’s Fort McMurray TODAY daily newspaper. It just came to light this week as we were ratting through a box of old papers. It brought a big smile as I recalled these heady days and compared with today, 33 years later. Our daughters are now older than I was when I wrote it! They are true treasures and valued friends.

* * *

 It’s great fun being a dad. But man, can you get yourself into a lot of hot water as the kids put you through their paces. There are hearty laughs, hearty aches and peaceful moments of joy with lots of good memories.
I think that, if in five years time I find myself on the open job market one qualification, on my resume might be: we raised three daughters.
How many potential employers would recognize that as a talent? Very few probably, because they don’t know the individual players of our team in this sparkling prime time life series.
Back in the early days of our marriage I remember my wife and I, as a very young couple, deciding that children would be a good addition to our lives; that we should enter the realm of parenthood young and “grow up with our kids.”
Great idea. Trouble is somewhere along the way there was a switch.
They are now growing up with us.
Now and again the girls in my life get a little ahead of the greying, balding dude who sits at the end of the dinner table providing off-the-cuff lectures at will on just about any subject dealing with tumultuous teenage times.
The Redhead is now far from home but she left her mark on the family nest.
Quaint phrases like: “Oh, Father…” (very disgustedly); “Yes, father…(very tiredly); “We know, Father…” (very condescendingly); “Uh huh, father…” (let’s-avoid-a-lecture tone); “You’re impossible, Father…” (very matter of factly); “Ohhh, Dads…” (very loving I want something tone); “Okey dokey Dads…” (very agreeable, something’s up tone); and just plain “Father…” (bossingly); “Father…” (questioningly) and “Father…” (dumbly).
It was her who passed on to her younger sisters techniques for avoiding what she herself titled “Dad’s Lectures.” These include hair washing, showering, convenient telephone calls, (are these prearranged?) flapping eyelids, a sudden desire to help their mother or clean their room, and just plain stomping off.
The Redhead also passed down the areas in which she considered her father to be famous in. In offbeat moods of teenage authority she would decide that her father possessed qualities that might outfit him for every profession and trade imaginable. Very flattering, possibly but unfortunately the dear child has inherited a touch of cynicism from somewhere that her dad is really just a gentle old windbag.
And so, after helping her through the period of life where child departs and adult emerges you would think this dad would be an “expert” on teenage daughters.
Not on your Nellie.
It compounds.
New ground has to be broken. The playing field is different. The same authoritative gestures no longer apply. This time we have a very strong willed and determined lass who is a master (sorry, mistress) of the faceoff.
She also has a streak not so apparent in the first edition: her father is not the only man in her life.
Rats!
How do you deal with dating daughters? Avoid hassles? Keep the lines of communication open? Avoid the generation gap? No matter how much you understand you just don’t understand.
And when it comes down to the wire very often it is dad who has to change and the child (sorry, daughter) who has to understand. Let go dad, I often remind myself.
A new vocabulary and phrase book is being written. It includes words like curfew and party and phrases like time out and time in. How are you travelling? Who are you going with? Why don’t you stay in tonight? Is it necessary to study together? Is your rnakeup on properly?
I find that it is almost necessary to make appointments to keep in touch (best done when she is wandering around the house in a cowboy hat). A parent has to change here. No longer can a dad assume that his daughter will be ready, willing and able to go wherever the family goes. You have to datebook these events well in advance.
A teenage girl’s calendar can be very full. There is school and its extracurricular activities; a part-time job, socializing with the guys and the gals; time flies for them. It is a whirl and you get exhausted just watching them. Whew! How do they keep up?
The week becomes a hi, bye, nice to see ya time. Dad looks forward to the weekend to have some time with the teenagers, like a gentle bit of cross-country skiing. But for the daughter there is much to do. . . busy, busy, busy.
How often does she chirrup, with a big smile “sorry Dads, have to run, maybe later or tomorrow. . . I have to go now.”
And she is gone. You smile. Inwardly you admire. Eyes glaze to watch a spirited young life on the move. You know the heart inside that child …you know the work that has gone into that young plant and you know it will bloom.
Which brings me to the third girl. First year as a teenager and a bundle of fun who is showing all the signs of a good education from the earlier editions plus, funnily enough, the production of her own copy of “How to Handle Dad”.
This particular book is not to be found in any bookstore. Otherwise I might have been tempted to buy it in the hope that I might be just one step ahead of the third and final edition.
The young miss has a list of telephone callers that would boggle even the tycooniest of business tycoons. She can receive more calls in an evening than all the rest of the family put together, plus the neighbors probably. And some of the perishers just don’t know when to quit calling.
And who had the bright idea of buying her a cassette recorder for Christmas, forgetting in that moment of weakness that teenyboppers like their music at a decibel rating that would freak any audiologist. They also like it on all the time and they cannot fathom why the oldies turn purple every time they turn up their favorite ditty.
And at this age there is the room. Good for a laugh (better not let your mother get into your room), good for a cry (when mother gets into the room), and good for asserting the responsibilities of parenthood (you can go when your room is done).
Teenagers lead us through all sorts of things. I remember the women’s editor of the newspaper I worked for in the Fiji Islands a few years back saying: “The time you spend and what you teach your child in the first seven is the most important part of their lives. You’ll reap rewards for these efforts later in life.
I have to go along with that, as far as girls are concerned anyway. Once a child reaches teenagedom it becomes a matter of guidance, love and friendship.
And I thank God for entrusting three girls to my care. You laugh with them, cry with them, get frustrated with them and love ’em in spite of everything.
It is fun being a dad.

 

Adventurers — Part 2

And now, in the words of Wendy Mesley (CBC National, Sunday) for story number two.  Barb Radu Sprenger is a person I had the pleasure of working with in my Mobil Canada days back in the early 90s. Her energy helped stimulate public affairs activities to keep our various communities informed. Radu

Now her real life adventure is sailing with her husband Con on their  15 metre cutter-rigged sloop Big Sky (www.sailbigsky.com). As of today they’re sailing up the Spanish coast and could be in Valencia as I write.

Barb details all of this adventure in her memoir Sailing Through Life (it’s on amazon.ca) in which she outlines those stages from the sudden and unexpected death of her husband Larry to her peripatetic lifestyle of the past seven years or so covering more than 51 countries over five continents. It’s the RV life under sail.

It is a very engaging and honest story of what Barb terms the unshakeable bond between human spirits. For many of us life on the ocean is something of dreams. Barb and Con bring it to life, not only the lifestyle, but also how they maintain their strong family links back in Calgary, Alberta.

Stay tuned for Adventurers — Part 3 in a couple of days.

Adventurers — Part 1

I fully intended to start this three part piece a few days back but I’ve been totally absorbed in a new book which I’ll profile in Adventurers Part 3.

I love adventure and it doesn’t have to be the physical go-to-far-places variety either. Adventures can be close at hand and one person who is moving her adventure into the brighter atmosphere year by year is Kim Staflund of Calgary who just a few short years ago wrote three books and launched her own fully supported self publishing company — Polished Publishing Group . I first met Kim when she called at my print shop to order some business cards for her fledgling enterprise. We’ve remained good friends and I used her company to publish my first book Tide Cracks and Sastrugi. And what an adventure that was for me into the  heady and complex world of publishing. Kim, thoroughly experienced in the business, led the way as project manager and I ended up with a very satisfactory book (yes, of adventure) that contained 130 pictures (some colour), and a wonderful index. It has sold around the world. Kim’s expertise takes a book through all the regular processes one would encounter with any traditional publisher.a5393464d79f728d35f0bced4601ed39_56wf_gq4k

Now she has produced How to Publish A Book In Canada. It takes a new author through all the steps and outlines the meanings publish speak: from editing, designing, indexing and marketing. It is an easy and friendly read, thoroughly informative and above all encouraging.

Coming in August is How To Publish A Best Selling Book  the”international” version with international copyright information written by an entertainment/intellectual property attorney out of Orange County. It also has much more detailed content regarding online selling, the various types of review copies, and the different types of editing.

So that’s story of a real life adventurer. Kim now has 13 titles in her online bookstore, including Tide Cracks and Sastrugi.

Check out the extremely full and informative website at www.polishedpublishinggroup.com.

New residents

I was supposed to have coffee with Calgary publisher Kim Staflund (www.polishedpublishinggroup.com) this Wrenmorning but a violent flu bug prompted me to bail. Instead I sat in the sun nursing my misery and watched a variety of birdlife wrestle for time at the feeder. Over by the lane fence I saw a couple of house wrens scratching around near the woodpile and amongst the daffodils for brunch of any insect they fancied. Instead of the coffee I entertained myself with my camera and 300mm lens to capture a couple making a new home for themselves in the most colourful of birdhouses, a recent addition to our garden. We first noticed the wrens on Thursday checking for possible new digs and today’s efforts and constant presence seems to indicate they might be part our enjoyment this summer. We hope so. The birdhouse is the creation and brainchild of my sister Fiona who enjoys life near Sooke on Vancouver Island. Check out her creations at llennoc Studio (www.fionaconnell.info).

 

A couple of hours later…definitely setting up housewrenstick

 

A little bit of sunshine. . .

Tundra Haskap Berry

In between all the rain and snow we’ve been having lately here in Calgary it’s wonderful to take a hike round the garden and see all the spring surprises. We had a great sunny day yesterday and what is the result?
Green leaves on some trees, and even flowers such as this Tundra Haskap Berry. What’s more interesting to watch is Lois walking around her gardens minutely examining the dirt for any new sign of a plant or bulb.  Lots and lots of “look at this”, “did you see this one?” Ohh, look at the flowers this is going to have…”

Springtime in the Rockies!

Spring surprises

This is a good time over at our place, re-exploring the hidden delights of a garden emerging from the ravages of a long winter, clearing last Fall’s leaves and the remains of last year’s plants. Lois gets a real surprise when she finds the bulbs poking their green tips out through the dirt and then we get a thrill checking for new growth on the bushes and trees. After a happy and satisfying couple of days messing around before the next lot of precipitation, here’s a sampling of what we have found.

Rhubarb
Rhubarb

 

Soon, a host of golden daffodils
Soon, a host of golden daffodils
Tulips
Tulips
Tulip
Tulip
Tundra Haskap berry (also honeyberry)
Tundra Haskap berry (also honeyberry)
Japanese peony
Japanese peony
Our blooming crocus
Our blooming crocus
Sedum
Sedum

 

Easter Sunday gifts!

This year I’ve been particularly keen to scratch around in the detritus of last year’s garden to check progress of the prairie crocus, the flower that heralds the arrival of spring. Here it is, April 20, 2014, showing through in the front and sunny garden of our southwest Calgary, Canada, home. Saturday it was covered in snow. Cheers, a very welcome sight.
crocus2
And just a rock away, this pansy shows its face to the blue sky.
Violet

As it was and now is

Today is a major one around our place, a biggie, a milestone we’re quite proud of. Our wedding anniversary and this is number 53. It’s a number that might be hard to get your head around and one I never envisaged at vows time way back in 1961. But, by the grace of God, here we are still laughing, still enjoying each other’s company and always looking for that next adventure. Lois and I have rolled through the ups and downs, defeats and disappointments and come through to what is really a remarkable time of life. For a giggle today I show this picture of us as newlyweds ready to fly off on our honeymoon to a beach at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. Note the grass runway, ability to pose with our baggage right under the nose of our plane, a New Zealand Airways DC3. Fun, eh. That was in New Plymouth, at what we know as the old airport with a terminal building a mere corrugated iron lean to attached to a wartime hangar. There’s more of the story in my book Tide Cracks and Sastrugi and how Lois fared on her first flight, dressed in her lovely red skirt and hat!
Honeymoon

Writer’s what?

Writer’s block comes easy when you’re immersed in sunshine, sand and the surf of many beaches. I’ve just returned back to my snowy Calgary, Canada, home after a wonderful month in that amazing place of former years, New Zealand. Yep, it was terrific. With Lois’ sister and brother we had a wee road trip up and around the Coromandel Peninsula sampling beaches and meat pies. Then a great three weeks around “our” Taranaki province coastline and hinterland.
A major part of the trip was business: to publicize and launch my novel Finding Dermot. The book is now available in two bookstores there, The BookStop Gallery (www.bookstop.co.nz)in New Plymouth, a central setting of the novel, and Adventure Books (www.adventurebooks.co.nz) in Oamaru in the South Island.
We also drove the Forgotten World Highway once more, revisiting Whangamomona, another key location for the story.

The BookStop Gallery owner, Les Marshall, did a great job with a window display of both my books.
The BookStop owner Les Marshall did a great job with a window display of both my books.

A further further display right inside the street entry.
A further further display right inside the street entry.
The local newspaper Midweeker ran a nice article profiling the book and publicizing the launch.
The local newspaper Midweeker ran a nice article profiling the book and publicizing the launch.

About that picture

We’re told that a picture is worth a thousand words. Last week I watched as Lois, with a mighty flourish, added the one-thousandth piece into her 2014 version of her start-the-year-with-a-jigsaw project.

Polar BearOn and off, some days with sustained effort, Polar Bear and her cub slowly took shape. It was not easy. Each piece seemed to have a random shape the colour differences were challenging. It definitely took her artist’s eye and patience to complete. I did get to add a couple of pieces though, but that was two days before the run to the finish line.

I’ll stick to my words. The artist in the family can keep the picture. Her dogged determination to complete the puzzle was very valuable to me as I begin the march into a new novel. While she’s been sifting through the pieces of her puzzle, I’ve been contacting people and sifting through what I need to get started on my new project. It’s one thing to have an idea but to me it has to find some sort of shape before I hit the keyboard. Slowly the characters come to mind and the word picture I start with begins to take on form and colour. I have most of it together now but I’m still musing on the finish. What will the last line be? I like to have that written down somewhere. To me it’s like setting out on a journey. We know the starting point but where on the map will the story end up. I like to have that settled and then if change is needed as the characters dictate I can at least come up with a good reason to let them have their own way.

 

When a writer crumbles. . .

When a writer crumbles, eat ice cream. That’s what happened at our place this morning. I got up early at 6 am just to get some gems (a New Zealand style muffin) into the oven for a great, heart-warming breakfast with coffee before heading off to church. All went well, the research was done, the mixture made and, to add a variation to the mixture poured the mix into a muffin tray instead of the gem tray; looking good, and into the oven. I watched, my wife watched. They rose, they bubbled. . . and sank!

No nice fluffy muffins this day. What a sad looking tray I pulled from the oven. Perhaps my little loaf like gems didn’t like being put in a muffin tray. The mixture had slopped over the sides of the tray. It had glued up and stunk up the bottom of the oven. Nasty.

Was this the last time I’d attempt such a feat, to cook a fancy and fresh breakfast? The artistic one came and looked. Few words were exchanged. She scooped the cooked mess from the parchment baking cups while I produced the cafe lattes. By the time I got to the table she had a dish of warm blueberries and a bowl of ice-cream alongside the brown crumbled mess. Once again, I ate like a king.

I wondered where I’d gone wrong and reread the recipe. Oh-oh. My early morning eyes, glasses notwithstanding, I’d mixed a couple of lines and added a cup of brown sugar instead of half a cup.

It reminds me of writing, of what happens when we overstate and how easy it is to mess up a paragraph. It also showed, that with a few warm blueberries and ice cream we can make the changes and allow the reader to find merit in the gems.

Bohemian skies

Roost

 

Just look at these beauties! Bohemian waxwings. For a couple of days now we’ve seen huge flocks of these vagrants in the trees round about our place and yesterday they came close enough in the sunny warm skies to hear their trills and the zip of their wings as they whirled around sitting on every available branch. Then some mysterious fellow in the midst of their group decides to move on and up and around they go again, active and full of fun.

Spruce birds

Let’s Read

I love books.

Books take me to places I’ve never dreamed of. Books expose me to new ideas. Books entertain and excite me. Books give me knowledge and understanding. Books, well books are let’s face it treasures in a hard (or soft) cover. They glow in the subconscious. Find a comfy chair, open a book and enjoy a chemical-free tonic for the knock-downs of life.

Yep, I love books and the people who write them.

I met a lot of folk at our sales booth at a Christmas Marketplace last November that was visited by more than 60,000 over three three-day weekends. Sadly, in discussion over my novel Finding Dermot I made the comment in a post at the time “…interesting to chat with the number of people who said they did not read, those who preferred ebooks, and the number who said they did not read fiction.” I can now add to that the people who have told me they do not have time to read.

So you can see I was totally blown away in the spend-up to Christmas when I visited (several times) my favourite bookstore here in Calgary to find extra long lineups at the checkouts. Books were literally flying off the shelves at a rate I’ve not noticed in the past.

As an author, this was so very encouraging. It means I keep going, start that new book, bring a fresh story to print, paint the pictures with words, allow the characters to speak for themselves and in doing so allow life to breathe a new perspective.

 

 

 

 

01-01-2014

Ice formDay one. And we’re off and running. Christmas has been celebrated, birthdays done and we sail  headlong and fast into a brand new year. Well, where did the last one go? Where will this one take us?

The grandchildren were over yesterday and one of them read The Serenity Prayer which I keep on my desk.

“Why don’t we say or know the rest of that prayer?” she asked. “It’s pretty good.

Many, many people know and have found new direction in the first four lines.

“God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.”

The next lines gave my grand daughter new thought:

“Living one day at a time;

Enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.”

And so it goes. With that in mind it is all we can do, one day at a time. I wrote, completed and published a novel in 2013. I plan to produce another this year. Finding Dermot (see Books) is off and running. I wonder how that will sell. I’m impressed and humbled by the comments I’m receiving. The question now is can I do it again. Check me out on 31-12-2014.

All the best for this neat new year. It started at our place with fresh snow overnight and bright blue skies.

(The full version and the original version of Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer can be found at www.prayerfoundation.org)

 

Surprise visitor

BobcatLFWe’re not too sure whether this fellow had much to do with Santa’s visit to our place but boy were we surprised! We’d loaded the Jeep with food and gifts and were heading to the first stop of the day, a family breakfast. It’s our neat tradition on Christmas Day. What used to be around 6 am with small children is now 9 am with teenagers! As we passed the lane behind the house I spotted this critter just staring and watching us. A never-seen-before bobcat (a member of the lynx family) in the neighbourhood. Lois grabbed her camera and got this shot while I scrambled out, gently moved to the rear, opened the hatch door and retrieved my small camera from the pile. Bobcat sat and watched.

Bobcat1 I focused and he moved off towards our fence, leaped up and posed long enough for me to get one picture before bouncing off my white fence into the neighbour’s back yard. I raced into our yard hoping I’d get another chance. But no, he’d gone.

What a great start to the day!


That evening we
enjoyed a smaller family gathering around the dinner table. And that’s where I cajoled family and friends into trying out the Christmas plum pudding. I pulled it steaming from the warm-up pot. It dropped beautifully out of the bowl. Man, did it look and smell good. Underneath each slice I tucked a boiled and cling-wrapped loonie, a 2013 version of the small coins my mother used to mix into the pudding. Homemade ice-cream provided

Plum pudding

the final touch and we all tucked in, some more enthusiastic than others. Their reward for attempting this dessert was the loonie and the laughter we shared.

I think we agreed that my Christmas pudding would be a one off. But the nice thing is we did it.

Health and blessings as we wind out this year and face into 2014.

How silently. . .

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

A song for the season we’ve just passed through. I like this arrangement by Sarah McLachlan on her Christmas CD Wintersong.

Ready, set. . .

ChristmasRemember when as perhaps five or six year olds we were into the waitingest day of the year, when hours dragged and dragged and bed times had to come and the longest of nights endured as we waited, hoping, wishing, that Santa would lay a long expected treasure under the tree?

For me in sunny New Zealand it was getting through a hot summer’s night and looking forward to whatever the kindly gent we knew as Father Christmas might lay that special something at the foot of the bed; the agony of the wait and the thrill of that unexpected thing. In those post WWII days it might be an orange and a big new book. Further gains of the practical type would come later at the family gathering in the living room.

For 2013, the treasure lies in our extended family get togethers Christmas Eve, Christmas breakfast and Christmas dinner. We’ll enjoy the smiles and thrills as grandchildren rip apart their unexpected gifts. We’ve been through the prep, the buy, the wrap and determined the strategies. Countdown has begun. The music and songs of the season carry us through the intervening hours.

The other day, after weeks of muttering about it, we knuckled down here at out place and cooked a traditional Christmas pudding, something that has not been at our table for many a-year. Termed out of vogue by some, too rich by others, we thought it novel this year to give it a go. We steam cooked the pudding for a good six hours and it’ll get another plus two hours warmup before serving with a goodly dollop of homemade ice-cream. Mmmm! I’m having trouble waiting. Will it be as I remember the hours my mother put into the manufacture of this dessert. I’ll let you know.

Merry Christmas!

Elf has arrived

ElfThe Christmas Elf has arrived at our place. The weather has warmed from the frigids of the past week and southern sun finds it way into the corners of our living spaces. More snow will follow the flurries of the morning. Elf toils happily as she pulls her boxes from the cupboard under the stairs and the big unpack begins. She giggles and smiles to herself, lost in the world of Christmas as she carefully pulls the wrapping from each ornament, recalling the where and how it was acquired. Within the next few days these memories and symbols will be spread throughout, the lights will be up and flickering, Nativity tableaus will have their place and the tree will be adorned with homemade, handmade and friend made and given articles of the season. Elf knows the story behind each piece, many of which have travelled the globe with us over the years. These ornaments, baubles and what-have-you bring the tales and people of Christmases past into new focus as we quietly walk through this happiest of seasons. Family, friends and memories. I’m fortunate to have an Elf who finds love and laughter under the stairs every year.

Recovery

imageThe graders have just been by our place and done their thing in swooping the snow piles into the kerbside following the blizzard earlier in the week.  I watched out the window as first one and then another bladed their way by our frontage. I groaned when I saw the pile of traffic-hardened snow lumps  and ice pile up in a nice hill right across the entry to the driveway. Blast, I muttered, best I get out there right away and remove before it all hardens with the cool night temperatures, or if I have to get the car out in a hurry. Swaddled in clothing fit for the -20 or so temps I started carving into the hillock with the snow shovel just as the grader returned. I stepped back and the young driver lowered his blade into the pile and with one scoop cleaned the entry for me. I’m a lucky man! In return in went down the street a bit and cleaned off the hillock where the bus stops to let people on and off.

The snow business is just one more step in the recovery this week from the Spruce Meadows Christmas Marketplace. We did well overall with Tide Cracks and Sastrugi continuing to sell well, surpassing the Finding Dermot, the new book!

People seemed to prefer the real life adventures as opposed to the fictional, even though we emphasized the settings were real. Interesting to chat with the number of people who said they did not read, those who preferred ebooks, and the number who said they did not read fiction.

My task now is to get a few characters together and see where they want to take “the next book.” Feedback from early Dermot readers is very encouraging for this first edition print run. The global print on demand and ebook second edition is currently in layout and design at the publishers.

 

Christmas market

BoothWe’re into the final three days of hectic activity at Calgary’s Spruce Meadows Christmas Marketplace.  For the third year running Lois and I have a booth selling my books and Lois’ artistic creations — penguin calendars, framed penguin art prints, and yes, penguin book bags.

My two books have sold well the first two weekends of this fabulous marketplace which boasts more than 275 exhibitors spread throughout a variety of halls and kiosks. My first book Tide Cracks and Sastrugi: An Antarctic Summer in 1968-1969 continues to sell remarkably well and the new book, my novel Finding Dermot attracts attention for both personal reading and gift-giving. I’m thrilled at the attention our little booth gets and the large number of happy buyers who continue into the market with a book in their bag.

Hidden Antarctic Secrets

I’ve been really fascinated by the news coming out of Antarctica these past couple of weeks as Russian scientists announce progress on their drilling project over the past couple of decades — to drill through four kilometres of compressed ice at the coldest point on earth to breach the hidden and mysterious waters of Lake Vostok. Continue reading Hidden Antarctic Secrets

Busy Distractions

The headline is a bit of an oxymoron. A distraction can make you busy, but if you are busy you are not distracted. That’s it for whimsy today. I’m keen to let you know about the folks down at Ashland Creek Press (www.AshlandCreekPress.com) , in southern Oregon. One of the owners has fallen in love again with the venerable workhorse of yore: the typewriter and there’s a very tongue in cheek video on his blog. I loved it.

Without the typewriter I wonder how my careers might have gone. But then, after 28 years with a portable, I’ve since recorded 26 years with the development of the computer. But over in the corner  of my office is my much-loved green machine: a Hermes 3000 I spent the rent money on in the mid-60s. For me, it was the best and last of a line of portables I’d owned since I began life as a young journalist at 17. Continue reading Busy Distractions

Diggers away!

Whew. Coupla days later and the diggers, waterworks and roadworks experts have all gone from outside my window. Life comes back to normal in this corner of the world. Our water main is repaired and my curiosity satisfied. Perhaps now I can get back to what I’m supposed to be doing: writing. Continue reading Diggers away!

Little distractions

Well, I dunno. Today was supposed to be a bit of a landmark. I’d promised myself that I’d start in earnest in creating a new book. This time a novel about a fellow who gets stranded in a Dry Valley in Antarctica for a long and dark winter. What occurs during those months and his life after is the stuff of my imagination.

I’ve actually got the opening down as well as a few lines into the first chapter. I’ve keyed in a bit of a synopsis so I know where I might go. I’ve brushed up on the technical aspects of Scrivener, my marvellous writing program, downed two cups of coffee this morning, played around with email and checked out a couple of New Zealand penguin websites. Still I procrastinate, on this, the first dedicated day of “real effort.”  Continue reading Little distractions

A Very Windy Finale

Cold, the cold reminiscent of my Antarctic travels welcomed the happy crowds to this Spruce Meadows Christmas Marketplace a week ago. Today though, the final and sixth day of Christmas gift buying, opened with 40mph warm winds tossing the artificial hedges here and there and sending stock from the outdoor booths flying across the courtyard.

Christmas shoppers came early and within the hour of opening we’d sold our first book of the day. A happy rumble flooded through our barn as people moved from checking out the reindeer at the entrance (yep, all with the famous names given by Santa) through our booths to the next hall. The merry mood was enhanced further by choral singers swinging through singing the songs of the season. Continue reading A Very Windy Finale

A New Vocation


It was – 24 degrees with a very chilling wind blowing. Light snow was falling. Yep, just the right sort of day to sit in a well decorated stable selling a book about Antarctic adventures. That was last weekend. Today, just a week later, Lois and I are back here again at the wonderful Spruce Meadows Christmas Marketplace to sell Tide Cracks and Sastrugi from our 144 sq ft booth (ummm, horse stall).

It’s a very interesting space to hibernate for a few days.  We’ve been doing our Christmas shopping here for several years but this is our first venture into having our very own sales booth. It is an amazing experience and a whole new community, most of whom are selling their own creations — images, child videos, coolers, jewellery, knitted goods and so on.

Continue reading A New Vocation

The presses are rolling

Ya-a-a-a-y. T’is done and the presses are rolling. I might be feeling just a wee bit excited right now. There were  many times this summer when I thought Tide Cracks and Sastrugi would never make it. I got distraught and frustrated. Thanks to the encouragement of good friends and family , an inspiring editor and an on target publisher, books are being being printed and bound. I picked up the test batch today and all looks good. Nice thing too, is that I already have orders.

My publisher has set up a couple of  launch signings: Cafe Books at Canmore, Alberta on November 12, 1-3 pm and Chapters Chinnok store on Macleod Trail SW, Calgary, on November 20, 1-3pm.

I have captured a booth as Old Antarctic Explorer in Reindeer Alley at The famous Spruce Meadows Christmas Marketplace over two weekends, November 18-20 and November 25-27.

I’m trying to get to grips with social media and got a redial surprise the other day when I added LinkedIn to my iPhone. I found this recommendation from the book’s indexer Tia Leschke: “I indexed Graeme’s book Tide Cracks and Sastrugi: An Antarctic Summer of 1968-69. I think this was the most interesting book I’ve indexed so far. I went right along with him as I worked (from the comfort of my desk). I had to stop myself from getting lost in the story and forgetting to index.”

Coupla tech specs:  the book is 7 inches by 10 inches, contains 290 pages, something like 130 pictures including about 100 colour pages.

Centennial year on the ice

Ready to launch, me with the rollaway banner we';ve created for the book launch and signings in November.

This is the beginning of October. But lets hike back 100 years and imagine the tension around two expedition camps — Framheim at the Bay of Whales on the eastern edge of the Barrier ice  and Terra Nova at Cape Evans on the western side of Ross Island in McMurdo Sound. At Framheim, the Norwegian Roald Amundsen was champing at the bit wanting to begin his run at the South Pole. At Cape Evans, the British Captain Robert Scott was methodically preparing his teams (ponies and motor toboggans) for his quest to reach the South Pole . Each party wanted to be first.

The challenge between these two expeditions has defined south polar history. Amundsen and his team returned victorious. Scott and his men succumbed in their tent in a bitter Antarctic blizzard, just 12 miles short of a plentiful supply depot. Earlier, and filled with disappointment, Scott diaried at the Pole:  “Great God! this is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without reward of priority.” Amundsen had beaten the Brits by some 34 days.

When Amundsen first saw the sun in late August after the long polar night, he was itching to get underway, believing that Spring would be something akin to his Arctic adventures. The Antarctic really does not have those shoulder Spring and Fall seasons.  It’s either sun or no sun.  He hung around Framheim and believing warmer temperatures were coming headed out on September 8 in something like -41degC. The mercury went the other way, plummeting to -57degC. On September 12, his team headed back home quickly but it did cost them a few dogs and almost the lives of a couple of his men.

The Norwegians waited till October 19 ( NZST time) before finally pointing their dog teams south to the Pole.

Meanwhile, over at Cape Evans, Scott and his men continued preparing their ponies and testing motor toboggans. The motor group left on October 24 and the ponies headed south on November 1. At this point Amundsen was already some 300 km ahead.

Fast forward 57 years to the 1968-69 New Zealand Antarctic Research Programme when October  was also an important month for my colleagues and I. In a year of economic restraint, our task was to assemble a tractor train and head northwest on the frozen surface of McMurdo Sound to the dry Wright Valley with materials to assemble New Zealand’s first mainland Antarctic winter over station. We billed ourselves as the last of the great tractor trains — a 12-year-old Tucker Sno-Cat and a D4 Caterpillar bulldozer each pulling three sledges, and two track-fitted Ferguson farm tractors, each hauling a rubber tired trailer.

This remarkable event is highlighted in my book Tide Cracks and Sastrugi: An Antarctic summer of 1968-69 which will be available through Amazon.com and others in late November. Copies will be printed here in Calgary and available through graemekc@telus.net. The B&W version sells for $25 CAD and the colour $35 CAD.

As the northern hemisphere slowly wraps up for winter, the southern hemisphere opens up to summer. It ‘s the same on the continent of Antarctica. But this year holds special significance  as a centennial year to reflect on those who pioneered the way.

Independent slacker

My WordPress log reminds me of how many days it has been since I last posted something to this blog (ouch!). For those who at one time may have followed progress on my book, I apologize for the procrastination. Having joined the ranks of the independent to self publish my book, I became involved in a process that started to consume me. I also found that the warm sunshine of our northern summer was an easy distraction and an escape from the tedium of process and organization in publishing a book.

Self publishing is not simply a case of writing, slapping in a couple of pictures and heading to the local print shop to get a few copies of the greatest manuscript since Somerset Maugham.

My book, Tide Cracks and Sastrugi: An Antarctic summer of 1968-69, is in the final stages before printing. Getting to this point followed a well defined trail laid out so patiently by my publisher Kim of Polished Publishing Group (PPG).When I thought I was near the end of the writing part, I sent it to my editor and she worked it, then worked me over to get it right and to make the script into what it is. Sheila’s builds and suggestions were amazing and she extracted much new material from the hidden places of my brain to complete a story of a very personal journey. She found in me linkages which would build value into the story.

Her valued advice meant I spent many a Spring day on major rewrites. This preceded whittling about a thousand photographs down to the handful that could be incorporated into the book. Because the book deals with just one small life on the frozen Antarctic desert at the end of the first decade of modern exploration, I really considered my old photographs necessary to illustrate the conditions of the time. That winnowing of a memorable collection took some time and while I started out at a limit of 80 pictures, I ended up with 130. PPG’s designer John proved to be a terrific ally in putting visual sense between the covers. I love his cover design and the treatment he has given Tide Cracks.

The back (left) and front cover

From weeks in the design phase, the book passed to another in the PPG team, Tia whom I now regard as Indexer Supremo. I was excited about the results of her work, the depth and cross referencing outclasses the content of the book!  Before this, I hadn’t recognized the art and expertise involved in indexing. To me an index was always something at the end of the book. I didn’t have a clue as to how it got there and was very relieved to know that this was an activity I would not have to sweat through.

With the index added, the book headed to the Print on Demand folk for a hard copy. When that returned to the publisher, it was Jen’s turn. She is a professional proofreader, combing through the text with fresh eyes and a fresh approach to ensure the book meets a totally professional standard.

Her changes are now being incorporated and in about a week I will get to see my first hard copy. I’m excited. I’ll get one last read through before signing off with the Publisher and receiving the files for printing.

I promise I’ll be back in a few days with an update.

CHRISTCHURCH, A GRIEVING CITY

Grieve with the people of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Devastation and tragedy are all around.

Pray for those who have lost family and friends

Pray for those still trapped in the rubble

Pray for the rescuers, for the medical teams, for the welfare teams.

This beautiful city and its people are crushed and hurting.

A mid-city scene as I saw it just a couple of weeks ago. What now?

Gateway to Antarctica 2

One of the final “Antarctic” places to visit before we left Christchurch, the New Zealand gateway to the south, was the city’s Botanic Gardens. And on a beautiful, very hot and sunny Sunday afternoon we picnicked on the lawn with family and friends before heading into an adjoining gallery of the Canterbury Museum to view a remarkable touring exhibition of  pioneer photographs from what is known simply as the Royal Collection.

First off though, the gardens housed a Magnetic Observatory  established in 1901 to assist Captain Robert Falcon Scott with his magnetic surveys in Antarctica. It was used by other early explorers and operated at the Gardens until 1969 when it was moved further outside the city. Since the 1957-58 International Geophysical Year this observatory as well as observatories at Scott Base and Apia, Samoa, (now operated by the Samoan government) provide real-time magnetic data to International Data Centres.

The Royal Exhibition, known as the Heart of the Great Alone, was magnificent.Lois and I toured around the photographic displays of works by Herbert Ponting from the Scott’s British Antarctic  Expedition of 1910-1913 and the Frank Hurley  photographs from Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Imperial Transantarctic Expedition.  There was also lots of memorabilia on display too. It was an interesting piece of time travel for me, having walked in a few of their footsteps around McMurdo Sound. At first I thought it was a bit ho-hum and I was a little disappointed until I realized I have been close to these pictures, stories and records for a number of years and had seen or read pretty well all of it. For Lois though, and others, it was a very focussed look at the trials and tribulations of early Antarctic explorers and the legacy they left for those that followed in the latter part of last century to today.

We missed the adjoining Antarctic Museum within the Canterbury Museum this visit having made a thorough tour just two years ago. The city has deep relationships with all disciplines in Antarctica and this had added to the cultural and economic  wealth.

Before leaving New Zealand we visited with Old Antarctic Explorers and families in Auckland including Robin Foubister (pictured) leader of my 1968-69 New Zealand Antarctic Research Program.

To cap the whole New Zealand trip off Robin took us out to a gannet colony at Muriwai. Like the gannets, we too are migratory– they go to Australia after the breeding season while we headed back to our home in winter Canada.

Gateway to Antarctica

Ooops! Yesterday I ended my blog with ‘Next: Back to Antarctica‘. I realized somewhere in the middle of the night that this could be misconstrued as meaning I was actually heading back down to the ice. How I wish! The line only meant that I was heading back to the book I am pulling together of my little adventures the summer of 1968-69. As far as the writing is concerned I am what you might say finished — some 70,000 words. Now the hard part is happening, following on the suggestions and amendments by my terrific editor (Sheila Bender of www.writingitreal.com).

But, back to my trip to New Zealand last month. We headed down to Christchurch which is the seat of all things Antarctic as far as I am concerned for it is there where Antarctic history has lived for  more than 100 years, from Captain Robert Scott’s Discovery expedition of 1901. Both Scott and Ernest Shackleton used the adjoining Port of Lyttelton as their final staging point before heading south to the Ross Sea and McMurdo Sound. In 2008 the fellows I had the privilege to be with for the New Zealand Antarctic Research Programme in 1968-69 held a first ever 40th reunion in Christchurch. It was a grand event and many of us have maintained contact ever since. We were certainly a merry band of intrepid explorers. Having reached my present stage in writing my book I wanted to catch up with the folks at Antarctica New Zealand, the government entity that looks after the country’s south polar activities. In my day this used to be known as the Antarctic Division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and was located in Wellington.

Lois meets up with a "scientist" in a Visitor Centre display.

Since the early 70s the group has been  located in Christchurch at the International Antarctic Centre close to the airport, the departure and logistics point for all US, Italian and NZ flights to McMurdo Sound. Next door is the fascinating Antarctic Visitors Centre, dubbed the modern shop window for Antarctica (www.iceberg.co.nz). It sports an Antarctic storm (clothing provided), offers educational programmes, live penguins and polar research displays. It is a fun and informative place to visit (and the cafeteria sells great coffee!). So while I was over at the offices, Lois, her twin brother and sister-in-law enjoyed the attractions. I had the experience of a small earthquake while they had the experience of  4-D extreme theatre.

The Visitor Centre Hagglund tourist thrill

Lois and her sister in law Robin had a thrilling ride in a Hagglund snow vehicle. Her summary was one of excitement but she was glad she didn’t know where or what the driver would do. “It was like a roller coaster,” she said. “We went up and up and then o-o-ver.” It was just as well she sat up front and enjoyed the front seat excitement as the vehicle splashed into a water hazard and floated!

It was just a wee taste of Antarctic travel.

(Next: Farewell to New Zealand)

Back In Boots

My feet are back in boots. Once again I tread the ice, snow and slush with sealed up feet. Its what happens when winter is all around. Yet, just two weeks ago my bare tootsies felt the wonderful (ouch) heat of ironsands beaches and the delightful rush of seawater smoothing over them as the waves rippled up the shore. I could gently wiggles my toes and feel my feet sink into the sand. Ahhh, that has to be something close to bliss.
Lois and I have just returned to our Canada home after 16 glorious days in New Zealand, the land of our birth and early life. For me, most of the journey was about business, to catch up with Antarctic contacts and friends to get this book of mine completed. In between and along the way we delighted in the company of family and friends. The bonus in all this was ample sunshine, sunburn, the beach, little clothing, semi-shod feet and a neato tan which is slowly slipping down the drain now. In the time we were there we only struck one bad day of very high winds and rain which caused a bit of destruction in some parts of the country known to us as Aotearoa –the land of the long white cloud.
Before we headed to Christchurch and the International Antarctic Centre we explored our old hometown of New Plymouth, a deep sea port on the west coast of the North Island. What a delightful place this old colonial settlement has become. We have been back many times over the years but this is the first time in more than a decade that we have ventured south in their mid-summer. Great ingenuity, foresight, creativity and initiative have transformed our town into one of the nicest places you could hope to visit. Trees and color have replaced tramlines and powerlines. Walkways, open green space, gardens and bridges have replaced the railway yards in the centre downtown. The changes over the past 40 odd years are dramatic. I wanted to spend a lot more time there but airline scheduling around aeropoints at this time of the year meant they were in charge of the dates. Still, in coming months we will amass another round for another summertime visit.
The first thing we did was to shed travelling clothing from minus 30 here to the plus 25 or so there. In shorts, a tee and runners we headed to the coastal walkway which stretches a magnificent 14 kilometres or so from the port through suburbs and the centre of town to beaches on the northern side of the district. The city has truly capitalized on this mostly rocky seaside frontage. The nice thing is the concrete walkway follows the terrain up down and around. It is open to the sea for the full enjoyment of being close to the waves. It is truly a walkers, joggers, cyclists, paradise. And it is accessible from almost anywhere along its length.

Now this is what I call a bridge. The Te Rewa Rewa bridge along the coastal walkway. Reminiscent of a breaking wave or even a whale skeleton, this fantastic structure was, designed, built and funded by local contractors and fabricators in conjunction with the District Council. Like the walkway, it is an award winner. And in the background, Mt Taranaki, at 8260 ft it crowns and majestically rules the province.

(Next: back to Antarctica)

Peace, quiet, focus

This was one of those get-clear-of-the-fray, get-a-little-adventurous times. I left the city and headed south and west to one of my favorite places in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. It was a beautiful drive south with clear blue skies and sunshine. Temperature around zero  getting to as high as 9c as I headed west to the Highwood Pass. Here, in our little A-frame camper, I’m getting the fix I need and renewed oomph to get on with The Book. I’ve been at the keyboard for a couple of hours and the temperature is dropping, the skies are clouding and by the time I get to go home I suspect I’ll see a snow flurry or two. I wanted peace and quiet and a fresh outlook and I have it here, about 120km out of the city surrounded by snow-capped mountains, the silent spruce forests and naked aspen along the river. There’s a bit of snow on the ground, a sign that winter is slowly closing in. The stream is still chuckling over the rocks and ice crystals lace the banks, slowly broadening towards the middle. The wind has dropped but there is still enough breeze to chill the fingers and nose.  I am snug and warm in my den on wheels. It has a small propane furnace to chase the cold. Coffee on the stove, baked beans and toast for lunch.

This afternoon I cleared my head of accumulated junk and found renewed interest in piecing a story together of my mid-1900s life in Antarctica, the opposite end of the globe from my home here in Canada.

Highwood River Valley, Alberta, Canada

I’m armed with the notes and suggestions from my mentor and friend and professional editor Sheila Bender (www.writingitreal.com) who lives in Port Townsend, WA. Her first edit calls me to reach deeper into the memory tank to keep reader interest. This is the tough part of writing and at the same time the most satisfying. I see Sheila’s recommendations adding vitality and life to my rambling prose. I am excited at what I’m doing. The tough part if keeping focus and staying with. In the past few weeks Lois has been encouraging me to get on with it and get with the program. My response has been well, I am thinking about it…trying to recall stuff in my personal life that will add the interest Sheila suggests.

Today has been great and given me the kick I needed. Now I want to get back to the city before dark.  I may get another couple of trips out here before the real snow flies. Thankfully, the signs I had earlier in the day have blown away. The skies have cleared and I’ll have a great drive home. It is beautiful country. When this valley does get the full winter snow, it will be closed to human traffic till the Spring, leaving the meadows and the solitude to the resident population of bear, moose, deer, cougar, mountain sheep and the like. They will get to enjoy a winter of peace and quiet.

A Prayer for Christchurch

Well, I sure am sad. After spending the past couple of days reviewing all that is unfolding in Christchurch, New Zealand, in the aftermath of a monstrous earthquake, I am humbled by the power of people as they dust off and set to getting their city right again.

We are so thankful that no-one has been seriously hurt in this big shakeup but it is mindblowing to review the destruction in this very beautiful place on Planet Earth.

Christchurch is the garden city and second largest city in New Zealand. I have never lived there but have visited often, the most recent being two years ago for my New Zealand Antarctic Research Program 1968-69 reunion.

A plaque in the sidewalk recognizing the efforts of the New Zealand men and women who have worked in Antarctica over the 50 years from 1957 to 2007.

For more than a 100 years now the city has been the jumping off point to polar expeditions heading to McMurdo Sound. It continues to be the staging point for deployment of US personnel, supplies and equipment and therefore will hold a special place in the hearts of many around the globe.

It is very sad to see the wonderful architecture being ripped to the ground as crews remove battered, shredded buildings in the call for safety.  Workers and volunteers are tired after days of tough work, long hours and the psychological battle to stay chipper in spite of the more than 100 aftershocks. Businesses overnight have been simply wiped out. What shape and color is recovery?

My first visit to Christchurch was to compete in the 1958 New Zealand Surf Lifesaving Championships. For me as a teenage surfie it was a wonderful experience even though my key event was washed out due to very rough sea conditions. Forty-two years ago I journeyed through Christchurch on my way to a summer on the ice.

My career has taken me to the city many times in the intervening years and Lois and I are scheduled to make our next visit in January to attend a Royal Exhibition of historic Antarctic photography.

I am thankful that my Christchurch friends are safe and well and they took time away from the drama around them to send me and other international pals a note.

I can but pray for the city and its people and for strength for those who toil to make a difference.

Couple websites worth noting are:

www.tvnz.co.nz

www.stuff.co.nz

Christchurch the Garden City.

Antarctica 100 years ago

My grand daughter announced in public the other day that she had not read a fresh blog for a while. It has been a week or two or more and the ultimate excuse comes down to summertime and chasing the sun across western Canada to the sea. That completed, there’s the post vacation lethargy and a renewed and refreshed urge to the book completed.

Well, the good news is that my manuscript is now winging its way courtesy of Canada Post to my editor/mentor for editorial evaluation. The fees have been paid and now I wait. I wake each day and wonder aloud to my wife “has she got it yet?” The vacuum of wait. I expect to hear back from her sometime early September. So, wait with me.

I have mentioned Adrian Raeside, the Canadian cartoonist (The Other Coast) who last year published his book  Return to Antarctica, the story of his grandfather and great uncles who accompanied Robert Falcon Scott on his final expedition to the south polar region. It is a telling story and a very good read of courage and survival taken from the diaries of the men who were there through unimaginable hardship. It is a wonder any of them came home at all.

Adrian has a related project on the go and you might like to take a boo at his video

A Midwinterish Tale

The tradition amongst many OAEs (Old Antarctic Explorers) I have the pleasure of knowing is to celebrate in a convivial manner the shortest (midwinter) day of the year. And this year as June 21 rolled around I was hardly in a position to wing my way to New Zealand to join in festivities with some of my colleagues of 1968-69. It may seem strange but in all my association with things south polar I have never had the pleasure of attending such an erstwhile gathering. This is mainly due to the fact that soon after leaving the ice in 1969 we scattered. Some remained in New Zealand while others departed for global pursuits in such places as Australia, the US, South Africa, and the UK. Me? I found my path to the Fiji Islands from where I emigrated to Canada two years later. Add in marriages, children and careers, and contacts (no internet or email, remember) disappeared into the polar night.

The reunion I spoke of in an earlier post kinda reversed all that and now with the benefit of email the world has shrunk and I was able to wish all OAEs a great Midwinter Day, the celebration of which is obvious as the shortest then moves to the longest. For me, Lois and I went camping to celebrate…you’ve got it…the longest day when we can sit outside and read the newspaper at 10 o’clock at night, even though we are still waiting for that good hot Canadian prairie summer. Alister, our Welsh OAE, marked his longest day in the Cayman Islands by making sure everything was battened down for the start of the hurricane season. I even had the technology to send out an iPhone picture and message from our sunny Rockies campground!

The surprise we had  in that week was a visit from Bob, a high school chum of Lois and her twin brother Lynn. The visit was brief and we enjoyed the company of Bob and his wife Joy in our home and I got to relate a bit about what I am doing for this book. Lo and behold, Bob who has lived in Australia these past 30 years or more,  dropped into the conversation that he too had enjoyed the rigours of Antarctica during his years as a geology student at Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand. He’d had two trips south for short exploration forays into the Dry Valleys in 1963 and 1965. Following his 1963 trip he co-wrote a technical paper “An Ablation Rate For Lake Fryxell, Victoria Land, Antarctica.”

Lake Vanda in the Wright Dry Valley, Antarctica, 1968

Lake Fryxell is in the Taylor Valley, south of the Wright Valley. It has similar characteristics to Lake Vanda, the object of my team’s affections!

(a story continued)

Among the penguins

When folk visit my home, especially children, they often make a comment about the penguin souvenirs or pictures we have scattered around. Even the screen saver on this computer. The answer is always simple in that I became fascinated with the Adelie penguin after visiting Antarctica. It is hard not to be and most of the penguins of the craft variety date back to when our own children were growing and we developed a family passion for the little guys I’d had the good fortunate to see, hear and smell in their natural habitat.

When I returned home from my sojourn on the ice I brought with me beach towels featuring a very large penguin motif. These were favorites with our daughters. Who else had such a towel, at the beach or at the pool? They lasted a good many years before being reduced to car cleaning cloths.

Before going south, the only penguins we had seen were the Little Blue Penguins which frequented  beaches in New Zealand. There were always some around the offshore islands at our home city and occasionally they would find their ashore at night.

It was some weeks into my Antarctic adventure before I got up close and personal with the Adelie penguin, the iconic tuxedo clad fellow we are probably most familiar with, thanks to cartoonists around the world. My initial encounter came while on a field trip across the sea ice from Scott Base on Ross Island to Cape Evans, the site of Scott’s last expedition winter-over quarters.

We were happily trundling along in a SnoTrac when we came across a quintet tobogganing their way along the ice. They weren’t greatly fussed about us and in all likelihood had never seen a human before. I was ecstatic.  You could see their little pink clawed feet going nineteen to the dozen driving them forward at great speed. They stopped, stood up and proceeded to waddle on their way completely unconcerned about clicking cameras.

Adelie penguins at the Cape Royds rookery

A  few weeks later I had the good fortune to visit the Adelie rookery at Cape Royds, further up the Ross Island coast from Evans, and the location of Shackleton’s 1907 expedition. Wow! There were thousands around this little bay. It was nesting time and by just standing there the curious fellows came right up to me. Some  just looked longingly up at me and allowed me to “stroke” their head while another would come up and batter me round the legs with his wings. They sure were wonderful to watch. I was fascinated with their  game of pinching a stone from a nearby nest  and scurrying back to deposit the stone in their own nest.

There are only 17  different penguins in the world and all of them live in the southern hemisphere. The northernmost is the Galapagos Island penguin. Cartoonists would have us believe there are penguins in the Arctic. Sorry, the last time I looked Santa does not have any living with him at the North Pole.

(a continuing story)

Perspective from a tent

When  I started on this book writing adventure  it was really at the urging of my granddaughter Veronica coupled with a lifetime of  encouragement by Lois and our daughters. Apart from referring to the five month Antarctic adventure from time to time , it was one of those life events that was put in the “been there, done that” drawer.

I often wondered what sort of a story I had to tell and with the technology now available to me I figured that perhaps I could put a simple book together  using  mainly pictures and captions. This would be a story for the kids.

Things started that way but the whole project slowly took on a life of it’s own. When I exchanged a couple of chapters to a writing conference I attended as part of a cruise to Alaska, I received impartial  encouragement and an insistence that I should complete the book for  possibly a wider audience.

The conference was neat in that I was able to combine two, let’s say three, loves:  a cruise up the inside passage from Vancouver, Canada, to Alaskan ports, time out to get back to writing, and  a great adventure with my wife Lois

Today, somewhere around half way through the book, I have the opposite problem  in that its no longer a case of  what to include, but what to exclude. Ratting around in my boxes of stuff  these past few months has uncovered a heap of material to assess from notebooks, diary notes, news clippings, letters and photographs.

“Make sure it is your story,” is the repeated advice from one of my writing mentors. Her words are always in my head as I sit at the keyboard and allow the words to flow through my fingers to the screen.

These same words came from another direction this morning as I sat in church and listened to our pastor’s message. “Tell your story…”

Five months of an Antarctic adventure was the start of something deep down inside of me. For it was there that I first encountered the presence of something far bigger than anything I could imagine. It was there that I firmly placed my life and the future of my family in the hands of a God whom I did not know.  I lay in my sleeping bag in a tent on a glacier miles from anywhere and in the gasping moments between life and death made a plea to God for the care of my wife and daughters far, far away in New Zealand.

That “almost” from  carbon monoxide poisoning started a journey I live today celebrating  42 years since then of being on life’s deranged pathways.  Life is not a mathematical process, and I am happy with that, taking on each day as it comes, the mistakes and failings, the triumphs and victories and everything in between.

Now, back to the book….

(a continuing story)

An Antarctic husky

I was thumbing through some of my 1969 news releases and came across a short piece I wrote about Toby, a six-year-old Scott Base husky who died February 6 at the US Navy’s sick bay at McMurdo. In our time  on the ice we’d all pretty well grown to love the dogs we had there even though their major use in our year was recreational. The visiting film crews also loved them and would shoot hundreds of feet of film as the dog handlers put them through their paces.

Toby

Toby was a favorite but we had to call in the McMurdo medical officer Lieutenant-Comander Roger Case about 7.30pm to see if anything could be done for Toby who was in great pain. The dog had a great ambulance ride back to the sick bay. He was dosed with pain killers and given xrays.  In spite of the attention he got, Toby died around 2 am from a ruptured bowel and severe peritonitis.

Earlier we’d received a report of a dog wandering in the pressure ridges not far from our dog lines. Dog handler Noel Wilson went and rescued Toby. “That’s the first time he has ever slipped his collar, Noel said. “He must have known…”

Toby was frozen and  sent to the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch for a future life posing in the Hall of Antarctica.

I did not have a great deal to do with the dogs but it was enough to give me the opportunity to race a team in the 1972 Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous  in Whitehorse, Canada. I was editor of the Whitehorse Star at the time and owner Bob Erlam had a dog team. It kinda went with the territory. I became his dog handler and when not working on newspaper stuff I was out running the dogs. We entered the rendezvous event, a gruelling race over 15 miles each day for three days. Seemed like fun to me as we worked the team and myself to competition level during the winter. Come spring we were ready and Bob put a lot of effort into getting a smart lightweight race sled to replace our training sled. The first day was great. We ran well and finished in the middle of the pack of 28 starters. Not bad for a New Zealander. Race favorite Wilfred Charlie of Old Crow, Yukon, and a good friend of Bobs broke his sled. We gave him our racing sled so he could continue and I returned to running the training sled. Second day was freezing. We started in a -33C temperature with a  big wind which allowed the CBC to broadcast wind chill at something like -90C. Yep, it was cold. We ran hard and as fast as we could. and again finished in the middle of the pack.

A cold second day finish in the 1972 Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous

A good race but boy was I cold. My feet were blocks of ice and it took something like a couple of hours to thaw them out. It warmed for the third and final day and we had a good run though I had to bring one of the dogs home riding in the sled, a good photo op for the television boys. I think I finished about 14th on the aggregate and was thrilled. Wilfred Charlie won to great cheers all round.

(a continuing story)

A man and his valley

As with most people, I like surprises. And when that surprise is of my own making it is even more satisfying. Many years ago I put away a magazine for safekeeping. It contained an article very dear to what I am doing these days in writing a book of my Antarctic adventures 42 years ago.

A couple of weeks ago I found I needed more room to store my collection of National Geographic magazines. This meant a major revision of my bookshelves. Tucked there at one end was the “carefully stored”  Canadian Magazine of September 7, 1974.

This copy was an insert in the Edmonton Journal. The reason I kept it was because of the  five page spread on Canadian Sir Charles Wright, known to his friends as Silas in his days as a member of the famous Scott Antarctic Expedition of 1910.

Back in the 70s I held the notion that I would one day write a book of my adventures for the family. The Wright story would provide good background. Besides, I wanted to go visit him and talk about my adventures up and down that awesome valley of his name. The story would help. I did make contact with his family at the time but it was not till 1976 that I was able to travel out to Vancouver Island.  As a young immigrant family we just did not have  the funds for such an adventure. Sadly by the time we could travel on the grocery money Sir Charles had died.

Magazine feature of Canadian Sir Charles Wright

My personal interest in the story of this man from the heroic age of Antarctic exploration was because much of my work in 1968-69 related to New Zealand’s activity in the Wright Dry Valley. Wright himself was a member of Scott’s Western Party charged with mapping and naming certain landmarks in the area. The huge Taylor and Wright valleys cover roughly the same area as Great Salt Lake at 4500 sq kms and are are probably the driest deserts on earth. Silas Wright would have been one of the first people to ever venture into the area.

Silas and his fellow sledgers hauled everything on their backs. I had the advantage of motor transport and helicopters. We also had the advantage of radio contact with Scott Base.

Silas’ grandson Adrian Raeside has written a fascinating book Return to Antarctica, published last year. He wrote the book based on Sir Charles diaries as well as those of his great uncles Griffith Taylor and Sir Raymond Priestley, also members of the same expedition. The book added fresh depth to my knowledge of  early exploration in this most fascinating part of our planet.

And yes, it was Sir Charles Wright, Silas then, who discovered the bodies of Scott, Bowers and Wilson in their lonely grave  on the Barrier Ice.

(more to come)

Writing at the 49th

OK. So what does a wedding anniversary and writing a book have in common? Not a lot, except I used one event to achieve  some of the other. April 8 was a 49th anniversary for Lois and I and I had the bright idea of celebrating Number 49 at the 49th parallel.  For us that simply meant heading south from Calgary for  something like three hours to Waterton National Park — the northern half of the Glacier-Waterton Lakes International Peace Park straddling the Alberta-Montana border. I’ve loved that place ever since my first visit in the late 70s.

It’s quiet and it’s peaceful. At this time of the year there are not a lot of people around. There is no commercial activity in the village so you have to amuse yourself and eat at the only restaurant open during the winter months. The weather for the 3 1/2 days was a mix of snow, wind, rain, and wonderful sunshine, a bit like most of southern Alberta.

Happy Anniversary!

Arriving on the actual day of our wedding 49 years ago, we wandered the windy streets to the peace marker on the lake edge, hung Lois’ camera in a tree, set the timer and snapped a picture for posterity and to send to all the rellies and friends. We dined well afterwards and enjoyed the quiet comfort of our hotel room marvelling at the wind whipped snow swirling outside. We were well satisfied with our own conversation, sharing a crossword puzzle and reading our books.

All in all it was a fitting and quiet, isolated backdrop to the next part of our mini vacation — editing and polishing a couple of chapters on my Antarctic book.

I had a couple of chapters I wanted to complete to submit to a writers’ conference we are heading to this coming weekend in Port Townsend, Wa. Lois had already given me some very positive feedback and I used her good information and suggestions to re-edit and improve the manuscripts. Each chapter is approx 2500 words.

The conference is organized by Writing It Real (see links). We attended a similar conference a year ago. That was good fun with the bonus of being built into an Alaska cruise. I used a couple of chapters of the book for the group sessions and found the comments and suggestions from writers like myself to be especially stimulating and worthwhile. These folk talked from a reader’s point of view and once I incorporated that feedback found that it really changed the tone of my book and the information I was providing. The emphasis from them was that it was my story and I should lose the “journalist approach”. Good words, kinda tough though so I have endeavoured to find the middle ground.

Between exploring Waterton once again and finding new delights to photograph and talk about it was a stimulating weekend with much needed focus on a couple of difficult sections in the book-writing process. The scripts were emailed as soon as we got back to Calgary and now I look forward to new input and suggestions from the 12 writers in my group sessions and also from a one-on-one encounter with a member of the conference faculty (also a publisher).

Waterton was restful and enjoyable. I was able to write, think and enjoy a few days dedicated to a task that excites me  in the company of a person who continues to dazzle me each day with her smile, wit, wisdom and creative talents as an artist.

(Much more to come)