Tuesday, December 22, 2015

July 20, 1981

The stories only grow in the telling
They cannot but be sweeter every night
The songs can only grow in the singing
Those who've kept their promises bright.

Each time around, remember the singer
And drink to the angels who were there
And don't forget the magic of the sidemen
Who fed delight or laid the sorrows bare.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Sunday School and more Part 2

    After his discharge, my father became a logger. We moved to an island sixty miles north of Vancouver, where he first worked for a small outfit, and then he bought a horse, a power saw and some land and worked until the policies of the tug-boat operators put him out of business in the fall of 1947. There was no Sunday school on the island, but the teacher of my one room school gave me an introduction to grammar that was probably as important as anything else to my training as a writer, and during times when my mother was ill or away, I learned to cook, I also taught my five-year old brother to read before he went to school.
    By November my mother and smallest brother and myself were back in town, living in an uncle's basement apartment. I changed schools, of course, and after Christmas, by which time my father and middle brother had come down, there was not enough room in the basement suite for me, so I went to live out the rest of the year with my father's sister, in another part of Vancouver. Sunday school was sporadic at best, but I was much impressed by my grade seven teacher and finished the year at the head of the class. There was a girl in that class, a blonde who sat up at the front, whose mother took an axe to her, not quite killing her, but damaging her spine for life.
    By the time I was to start grade eight, and barely in time, Central Mortgage and Housing had finished some of the five hundred veteran's rental houses it was building at the corner of Boundary Road and the Lougheed Highway. I had been set up to live with a family near my uncle's, but the new construction gave us a house of our own. We moved into acres of dirt and lumber and carpenters' equipment but we were all under one roof and I enrolled in a school that gave me another first rate teacher. My father had been for some months working for what was then the B.C. Electric Company.
    We lived at Renfrew Heights, among the streets named for generals and battles of the two wars, for eight years. Again I headed the class, actually a class-and-a-half, of eighth-graders, and living within hiking or easy bicycle distance from my father's parents and the church where I had been dedicated, I sometimes went to Sunday school, although somewhere in grade eight or nine I decided that Christ, rather than dying on the cross, should have been rescued by the fifth cavalry, as in the movies. I also found it difficult to believe that Jesus, had He come in our time, would have drunk coffee instead of wine and I was frightened by the suggestion that the best young Christians were those who went to Africa. For years, though, I faithfully read and thoroughly enjoyed the weekly "Northern Messenger" my grandparents gave me for my birthday.
    In grade eight, also, I joined a scout troop sponsored by the Salvation Army. In grade nine or ten, I became an army cadet, in a corps, both boys and girls, where there were a lot of Catholics, and one of my best friends in the scout troop and all through high school was a much loved and very well brought up boy from a Salvation Army family. In grade nine I tied another boy for academic honours, at Britannia High, but after that, involved in scouts, cadets, my friends and a refusal to let studying interfere with my leisure reading, I had to be content with a lesser status, until the end of grade twelve. Scholarship money was involved at that point, so I studies hard enough to get the top average again, although I was a long way from the provincial winner achievement.
    In the spring of grade eleven, reading Hemingway I did not understand, I realized that I was to be a writer. I had spent the autumn of that year thinking about Royal Roads military college and had also begun to think about the law, so the thought of writing was awesome. A little earlier than that insight, I was also deeply moved by a folk music single on the radio, with consequences, for all my campfire singing, I could not have imagined at the time.
    By the end of grade twelve, through some overwhelming meditations, I knew that I was to be a Christian writer, and not only a novelist, but that I would have to write an autobiography. In the fall of my grade twelve year, on a hunting trip with my father and grandfather, I had experienced at least three distinct encounters with the Holy Spirit, each one more telling than the last, and throughout that year I found myself paying genuine attention to the words of the Lord's Prayer as we recited it every morning in our home class room. I was unrequited in love twice that year, quite profoundly, I thought, and I made the unforgettable discovery, in the high school library, of my next home, the campus newspaper of the University of British Columbia.
    That year the Ubyssey editor was Joe Schlesinger, now a CBC broadcaster. The paper was as iconoclastic as ever, and to me, wonderfully funny. I knew it was the place for me when I went on to UBC, although I suspected even then that a lot of my friends and relatives would think my choice indolent and even dangerous to my future and my virtue.
    I expected a great deal from the university and the student paper, and in neither, at that point, was I disappointed. Ubyssey has often been called the best journalism school in Canada, whether it is or not I neither know nor care, but I know that her basement offices were the best possible place for me to be at that time, and , as I was by then a mystic, I knew that God knew it too. For the next six years, the university was my city and the Ubyssey was my house in that city. I never felt the need to join a Greek letter fraternity, or any other club, for that matter, and I felt sorry for people without the talent to belong to the intellectual fraternity I knew.
    But as interesting as the university was, and the company at the Ubyssey, I was restless by November, and one rainy Sunday afternoon I fought my way through a severe case of nerves to write the first few paragraphs of my first novel. It was write or start to go backwards, I was convinced, and though I had very little of the experience I needed for the novel I was writing, I had not read the Saturday Evening Post for nothing. I knew what the "public" wanted, and I wanted to see if I could give it to them.
    The discovery that I could write was the same kind of thing as the discovery that I could read, and it also taught me something I have never forgotten, that a certain kind of ennui and self-disgust means that it is time to learn a new art or science, or take up bringing some old dream into reality. When I say that I learned that I could write I mean that I found out that I could plot, create characters that were distinct from each other, roll out dialogue in quantity. Exposition was difficult, and I knew that I was a poor substitute for de Maupassant or Ring Lardner, but I had also realized that the happy boy that I had almost always been would have to keep writing, when the mood was on him, to become a happy man. I had started out my journalism career as a hunt -and-peck man, in the accepted tradition of reporters, but as a rising novelist I started teaching myself to touch-type.
    I wrote steadily through the winter dark, damp coastal winter and remained in love with the university, although I was enough of a conservative, living ten miles away from the campus, to decline joining in the effigy burning of Bertie McCormack. Geography was not the only factor; I was not sure that I wanted to be a radical. By February the book was half-finished and I as dry of inspiration. After all, my book was a romance, hand-guns, dope-smuggling and marine disasters. My own romance was still in my imagination, my guns had all been military rifles or .22's in the woods, the only thing I knew about dope was that some kid in the neighbourhood used it and that a student I knew had found some once in a coast freighter's heating system, and my sailing record, with small craft only, was impeccable.
    What also happened with my novel, though, was a student named Sandy Ross, now famous as a journalist, who arrived at the Ubyssey offices with a remarkable gift for writing satirical songs and playing them on the ukulele. My adventurous inventions felt a little silly, and I was fascinated by someone being able to get so much music out of half-a-dozen chords and a five dollar instrument. I had not known much music theory, although both my mother and father sang well, and I knew nothing of chords. In my novel, the hero had played the guitar, and in writing that, I was somewhat resentful that I did not know how.
    Sandy also knew some blues, and I became committed forever to folk music. I bought a five-dollar wonder, made of plastic, and a chord book. I think the first song I learned, plunking away in the bedroom, was "Casey Jones". For the rest of the academic year learning music replaced writing fiction. I had an inkling that it might be years before I dared show my writing to anyone, whereas being able to perform and contribute with my ukulele was only months away. Even if no one wanted my music, I loved making it. God was there, as he had been in my father's discipline, my grandfather's quiet tenderness, the wonder of the wilderness, and the solitude of my typewriter.
    I was still a movie buff, and somewhat prejudiced against live theatre, but I went, by myself to the Players' Club performance of "The Barret's of Wimple Street", and had to respect it. I had no conception of my own guardian angel, nor anyone else's for that matter, but it was probably that creature of my future wife's who sent me. I realized that I would one day like to try some acting, but although I had found music a safe place to reveal my emotions, I was not so sure about the stage.
    I had finished my cadet days as regimental sergeant-major and thoroughly enjoyed two full summers at the Vernon camp for cadets from Albera and B.C., so I joined the UBC detachment of the Canadian Officers' Training Corps. As joining the Ubyssey had alienated some of my high school friends a little, so my belonging to the COTC puzzled some of my Ubyssey cronies, but I was determined to spread myself as wide as possible. Moreover, although my story-teller's ambitions may have preferred a job in a logging camp or a fish-boat, that was not as secure as the guaranteed summer in an army camp. Another side of the writer, of course, was moved by the chance to go back to the Picton area of part of my childhood, for my corps was anti-aircraft, and the training ground at Point Petrie was still in operation.
    Another of my ambitions, inspired in my last months of high school, was to get to know the thinking of the "left", which I knew I would find on the campus. Stalin had just died, and like any well-indoctrinated North American school-boy, I thought of the Soviets as the enemy, but I preferred peace to war, and I wanted to know how the enemy thought, through the minds of his sympathizers in my own country. I sought out students who were known members of the Communist party, or close to it, and found them all likable as individuals, but the one I became closest to, paradoxically enough, had earlier been drummed out of the National Federation of Labour Youth for speaking against the use of violence in the eventual chance of a leftest thrust for power.
    The only direct church influence throughout my first three years on the campus was an organization called The Older Boy's Parliament of British Columbia, The COTC, to allow students study time for Christmas exams, held no Monday night parades in December, and being no lover of exam swatting I was open to an old neighbourhood friend's invitation to drop in on the Monday night youth group. None of the other members of the group were university students. They all worked, and I was the only one with the time to attend the "Parliament" meetings that took place over four days between Christmas and New Year's. The minister of our local United Church was insistent that I go, probably stimulated by my pseudo-scientific attack on revelation that had turned up at a youth group discussion, and I loved gatherings. Furthermore, it suited my writer's intentions. It seemed a straight forward opportunity to keep in touch with organized Christianity, even if I felt that its comfort was too seductive for an aggressive young intellect that needed to learn about suffering.
    A much more important influence, actually, in helping me keep open the straight and narrow path was the generally affable policy of the university in regards to class attendance. The calendar very properly advised students that they could be denied the opportunity to write exams if they attended less than four-fifths of their lectures. Few professors enforced the rule. The university motto, "Tuum Est" after all, translated into "It's up to you". I had come to the campus with only two intentions, to learn to write, and to make good friends, some of which I hoped would remain such all my life. I took off class time to be with my friends, and perhaps even more important, I took off class time to be by myself to let my mind do something I did not really have a word for, although I might, with self-conscious laughter, have called it meditation. There was an activity in my mind which tried to make me think I was guilty for skipping classes, but I could never feel guilty, and even at exam time as I studied to make up the difference, I had no real regrets. Those leisurely hours, peculiarly mine, were perhaps my deepest moments of tranquil self-esteem, and in those first couple of years when the excitement of the campus were an overwhelming challenge to my love of the wilderness-as-paradise, they guaranteed me the same sense of contemplation the woods had given. In those hours I knew myself, and to the best of my limited instruction in spirituality, I knew God. This necessary knowledge is not always present in a university classroom, neither public, as I knew then, nor Catholic, as I came to learn some years later.
    In spite of my casual approach to classes I came out of my first year, with its maximum load of subjects, with a high second class average. I had the old twinges of puzzle as to why I was not up in the heights of the highest percentages, but I was not going to change my schedule of friends, writing, and reading as I wanted for a few moments of honour. Once in a while I would try out some extra study, as I thought of it, but never with any profit. My head could not accommodate something my heart denied.
    In my first year I think that there was only one clear cut inspiration which I rejected. The circumstances of the denial are significant, presenting clearly my state of mind at that time, and arguing considerable darkness for the future.
    It was my second direct refusal of Aristotle in six months, and I think it was much more vicious than the first one, for although the suggestion was the same - to give over my exaggerated trust in my own opinion - the reward offered at the second wooing was plainly much sweeter. My first rejection was from arrogance, my second from something even more insidious: false humility.
    I was also being moved to formally admit that I preferred virtue to vice, that I was a Christian and that in fact I preferred my religion organized, authoritative, and traditional. By the process know to mathematicians as reductio ad absurbam I had exhausted, I felt, the thought system of my university's skeptics, rationalists, and Freudian's and I was looking for an honest route back to some commitments I had been inspired to make before I left high school.
    Quite early in a book by Adler, sent to me by a friend, tone pleasant sunny morning, I ran into St. Thomas Aquinas and his philosophy of the passions, as related by Adler from a classroom anecdote. It seemed that St. Thomas had much to say about the primacy of love, and he was therefor my man of antiquity, which also meant, thanks to my suspicion of the moderns, that he was my chart for the future.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Recollections of my history with Sunday School and other matters circa late 1970s

    I was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on January 2,1936. The warnings of my arrival had interrupted the New Year's gathering at my grandmother Lamb's. My mother had to leave her turkey dinner to go to the Vancouver General Hospital. By the time I was born my father was back at work on the graveyard shift at Eburne Sawmills, at the foot of Boundary Road on the North Arm of the Fraser and he paid his first visit to me at the end of the shift, riding into the city centre on a fixed wheel racing bike. He pedalled something like ten miles in twenty minutes.
    My parents had been married in the Joyce Road Baptist church, in the Kingsway district, where both my father's parents and my mother's widowed mother were regular members of the congregation, so I was not baptized, but offered to God in a ceremony of dedication. This took place, I have been told, when I was about two. (ed. note: on the certificate the date was April 8, 1936, a piece of paper not in the authors possession at that time)
    By the time I was old enough to go to Sunday school my father joined the army. My mother and I lived with my Nana, as I called her, and it was she who took me to Sunday school and taught me my bedtime prayers.
    In the Baptist Sunday school, when I was five or six, I had a vision of Christ, Who told me that He was not only the strongest being in existence, bu also the most gentle. Our primary class was singing "Jesus Loves Me" at the time, and the Lord appeared in the white robe and character of the traditional teaching Messiah. His words were spoken to my understanding rather than my ears. If I remember correctly my father had gone to England by this time and I understood that Christ was telling me that He was filling his place. I took the vision for granted and told no one about it, and in fact I think I forgot about it until just a few years ago, although, as John of the Cross teaches, the experience left a permanent effect.
    I had been sent to a private kindergarten before I was three, for a few months, and in 1941 I was enrolled at Carleton School, at Kingsway and Joyce Road, just across the road from the movie theatre. From the beginning I seem to have found learning interesting and usually not too difficult. I liked school, although I often lived in fear of bullying in the younger years, realizing that I could read, part way through grade one, was perhaps my earliest intellectual thrill. That I could read the funny papers on my own was no less exciting than any natural event that had ever happened to me.
    In 1942, because of the Japanese scare, my mother and I started to move around the country. By April we were living on a small farm in the North Okanagan, just out of Falkland. That was not very satisfactory and by May we had moved into Falkland itself. When school was over my mother sent me back to my Nana for the summer. I was glad to see her and old friends of course, but I had also my life-long affection for the country-side and small towns and felt as if I had lived half a life-time of adventure.
    In the fall my father came back from overseas, an officer and instructor in anti-aircraft gunnery. We remained in Vancouver until February, at which time we moved to Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia, for there was an anti-aircraft site at the mouth of the entrance to Halifax.
    I was already a constant reader, and about to discover fairy tales, but I had ceased to become a constant Sunday school student. I distinctly remember, the winter I became eight, failing utterly to comprehend an afternoon lecture on the Trinity. We were three boys, sent off to a little Anglican gentleman. The afternoon was snowy, the bus-ride was a nuisance, the room was dark and cheerless, and I was no longer a stranger to sin.
    In the spring of 1944 my father was transferred to Point Petrie, on Lake Ontario. I lived the summer and fall in the farming town of Cherry Valley, a kind of Garden of Eden for small boys, and in November as my parents had moved again, I was enrolled in Albert College in Belleville, Ontario. The elementary schoolroom at the college was a wonderful supply of children's books. There was also a swimming pool that we used every night for an hour and a chapel we used every morning for twenty minutes or so. At Albert College I became an actor, taking the small boy lead in a Christmas play, and I was also punished along with a number of others, for shoplifting. The headmaster, over the shoplifting incident, I have always recalled as a type of Christian wisdom.
    But the college was too expensive, as it turned out, and in January, 1945, I caught the train once again, this time for Springfield, to live on a mixed farm with Uncle Frank who was actually a third cousin as old as my grandfather, just as kindly, and, with his wife, just as fond of church-going. I was once again taken to God's house, and one Sunday evening, as a result of knowing lots of answers to the questions the minister was throwing out for general response, was predicted to have a great ecclesiastical future.
    In May, as the war in Europe was dying, my father was transferred back to the West. My mother picked me up and we caught the train for Vernon, arriving at the height of the V-E celebration. I changed schools again and my mother got tougher about Sunday school, although the boy I lived beside was a willing and experienced partner in shoplifting and other minor banditries. I spent the summer on my native coast, with both sets of grandparents. And again there was Sunday school, and now church, but there was also an old sea-dog, schooner captain, and Arctic trader that my Nana had married. I went back to Vernon in the fall, and my father, now living with us regularly, put an end to the shoplifting.
    In October, just after the Okanagan pheasant season was over, and the salmon were spawning and dying in the coastal rivers, we moved back to the coast. My father had a few more months of duty to finish, as a defense counsel for soldiers charged with various military crimes. We moved into the huge upstairs of the house where my father had grown up and lived there until March. Again, there was Sunday school, and I discovered Zane Grey.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

April 1974

A book, or maybe two, a broken watch;
Some notes and a couple of scars for souvenirs;
Looking on my shelves, so little sign -
The friends of those days scattered with the years;
Yet my soul, which is the burden here
Of all the tale that lies before my hand,
Holds herself in awe of inner forms;
Rebirth of memory makes her understand.

Lady, Mother, Mistress of my life,
I feel your hand so sweetly on my brow
You know the joyful weight I've born so long
Do you give me leave to share it now?
Your hand stretched out so numbers all my years
That everywhere I turn, if I can wait
Your Spouse has commandeered my peace of mind
He bid me write, and what is worse, of Him
Having glorified His presence in my past
And raised my eyes from where they once were blind
He now requests , or so my soul suspects
Some accounting of His time with me
- A glorious but complicated task
I need your help to set the process free.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Lasqueti Island Part Two

    My father was in the Second War from the beginning until some months after the end. He joined as a private, or gunner, as he was called in the anti-aircraft and by the time the war was over he was an officer and gunnery instructor. He had started his military career with only a grade eight education, like so many young men whose teen-age years were the Depression years, and the army gave his natural intelligence a high school education. As one might expect of an artillery man, he was fascinated by mathematics and problem solving.
    When I was older, he was concerned that I appreciate trigonometry especially and his love for working out design problems and learning something new often made me wonder if he should have become a school teacher.
    Because of the war, we had moved about much more than most families. Between 1941 and 1946 I had changed schools ten times. With my father back in Canada in 1942 - the air war in Britain finished -  my mother was able to be near him. I moved with her, when that was possible, or was boarded out, but my little brother stayed in the West with another family until the summer of 1945. The important thing about the house at Lasqueti was that it was to be our first family home.
    In December 1945, when my second brother was born, we were staying at my grandparent's house in Burnaby. Their house was huge, with a three-quarters acre lot on which they raised most of their own food and three hundred chickens. It was the house - and miniature farm - that my father had grown up in. It had also been the scene of my first experience of the spirit of story telling. My grandfather Lamb was always an influence for good, and in my first memory of him as a story teller, he was an influence of the magic that I would later try to make my profession. Sitting on a couch covered with wolverine skins, within view of an antelope head high on the wall of that fourteen foot ceiling dining room, he told me some of his experiences in the Cariboo. As I said, it was magic, in my child's soul. partially because of the images of rivers and horses and wild animals and camping scenes; partially because my grandfather lived out of the Bible and most of the time prayed as he talked.
    So my grandparents' house just down the hill from the uncut acres of Central Park evergreens, was a good place to be, even if it meant going to Sunday School, but it was not our own home, nor did metropolitan Vancouver offer the kind of work my father wanted. He who had been an instructor, and in the months before his discharge a kind of defense counsel for soldiers charged with assorted offenses, in his heart of hearts wanted to go to work in the woods. He also wanted, after six years of army life, to be his own boss.
    In the beginning of January, I was ten. Sometime in February, I think it was, my Dad went away. A few weeks earlier, not long after my youngest brother was born, I remember my Dad telling me that he had found work as a logger, for a man who had a crew of eight or ten men. The trip my father took was to find us a place to live, and look over the island with a mind to the future.
    One night after supper, just after he returned, we stayed at the kitchen table to look at some plans he had drawn. These were of a houseboat he was designing for a home. He had no chart of this little island I had never heard of, but he drew a sketch of the part of the island that he had his eye on, showing us the little cove he would use as a booming ground. On the shore of the cove our houseboat, when it was built, would tie up. He knew the routes from there to the school, and in the meantime, until the houseboat was built, there was a house we could rent.
    We never did live in that houseboat, for it was never built, but my father's drawn plan, the sketch, and his details of the island's location and how we would get there started my imagination rolling. Lasqueti Island began as an adventure, which it was to remain all the time we were there, and ever afterward.
    A boy at school had spent summers on the island, and said there were salmon to be caught off the government wharf at False Bay. My father mentioned some of the people he had met - loggers, fishermen, even a few Indians. The house we were to live in until the houseboat could be built was big, standing in the middle of a field, and had a fireplace. There was a barn, and when he went to work for himself he would use a horse or two, so he was going to buy a horse. In Falkland, where my mother and I had lived for a few months when I was six, other people had horses. In Springfield, I lived on my Uncle Frank's farm and he had horses, but on Lasqueti Island we were to have horses of our very own! I had once walked a mile out of my way and got home from school much too late because of a grade two girl who deceived me into thinking there were horses at her house but now it was me who would have the horses.
    I was also to have a bicycle and that was just as exciting as the horses, for I did not even know at ten how to ride a bike. I had roller skates at six and learned to skate and ski in the Nova Scotia winter, but this was my first bike.
    I made a few discoveries before we left for the island. One was the western romances of Zane Grey, the other was my capacity for schoolwork. Like any other small boy, I had loved movie westerns. I had in fact become something of a purist, insisting that only the nineteenth century was the real West. The Roy Roger version, with airplanes, radios and automobiles was not real. Zane Grey, of course, was pure nineteenth century and his books were mine to go into whenever I pleased. I was no longer restricted to show times and the money it took to get in. When I got to Lasqueti, moreover, there was no theatre.
    The first Zane Grey I read was "Thunder Mountain", set in Idaho. The mountains of that book gave me visions and the rest of the ex-dentist's writings gave me consolation that was to last for years. Once I had seriously taken up the study of writers, Grey's unedited fantasies and horrendously stilted conversations became unreadable, but in those youthful years he provided me with magic. His writing had its fine moments - especially when he described the outdoors, and the epic themes of his plots could not fail to make a youngsters heart feel good to be alive.
    In moving schools so much I had not had the opportunity to assess my intelligence vis-a-vis that of other students. I simply enjoyed learning most of the time and did well enough to survive the changes. Being able to learn the lines for a lead in a Christmas play the year before was a confidence builder, and at the end of the year, in Vernon, I had come up with a good report and seemed to be among the top three students. Like most boys of nine, I had been much more interested in hitting home runs. I was not then, nor ever, much of a hitter. I had come a cropper, I thought, on an I.Q. test, and in the fall of grade five, did not seem to be doing so well. In Burnaby, however, the schoolroom felt interesting and I somehow picked up a few study habits. We stayed at my grandparents' house just long enough for me to pick up a report showing that I had headed the class.
    The household was proud of me, of course, and perhaps the news was taken as a good omen of the move to Lasqueti. In retrospect, though, it is not too hard to see the growing proof of my academic powers as one of the reasons why Providence was going to give us only two years on the island.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Recollective essay - Lasqueti Island

    Even as a teenager, I loved to tell stories about Lasqueti Island, where my father worked for almost two years as a logger, but I do not remember seriously thinking about writing about the island until I had met my wife. Very early in our courtship she had charmed me with stories of the town where she grew up, but she had at that time practiced only as a poet. She knew I was a hopeful story-teller even before I started my campaign for our marriage, and as I matched some of her adventures and learning experiences with accounts from my Island years - when I was ten and eleven - she insisted that I should one day write down these stories and the sooner the better.
    Shawn Harold was a great reader, and she knew that two years of island boyhood was a natural situation for a book, which she said she would very much like to read.
    I agreed, but the story of the island presented problems. To tell of individual adventures as they came spontaneously to mind was one thing; to knit them all together in a book was something else. I had a feeling that young writers were unable to do justice to their boyhood, that it was a province best kept for old age. The island had been, I thought, a truly wonderful experience for me, and I did not want to sell it short before I had reached the full use of my powers as a writer. There was also the reason of my mother's unhappiness with the island; she had been a city girl, much fonder of concerts and ballets than backwoods living, and I did not feel like dwelling on her bitter experiences before I had lived long enough to see them through some age acquired perspectives of my own. Finally, a book about a schoolboy on an island did not feel like a major work. I had a thirst, quite healthy, for plunging on into the moral issues of the university age and upward, and I also was driven, by books Shawn had bought for me just before we were married, to get to the sort of spiritual wisdom the great Carmelites write about. I did not see how writing about my childhood, at that point, would help me toward this goal.
    I promised a substitute. "When I sell a novel," I said, "I'll take you there and you can look the place over as long as you want." That would be good for research, of course, for the book I eventually would write. That I was going to sell a novel soon, of course, was something I did not know how to doubt.
    I did not sell two novels, as a matter-of-fact, but shortly after the second one was rejected Shawn got a job teaching school up the coast. The job was not on Lasqueti Island, which is sixty miles north of Vancouver, but at Alert Bay which is two hundred miles north of Vancouver!
    Leaving the city harbour at night, we passed Lasqueti in the dark, not seeing it, but in the spring, sailing down to the city so I could look at a job for myself, we did, see Lasqueti in daylight.
    I had studies the marine charts in the ship's hallways the night before and mad some simple calculations. I knew we could have a look at it if we got up early enough. As it was, we were up just in time, probably aided by the impossibility of us sleeping in when we insisted on sharing the bottom bunk. We were already abeam of the part of the island I had known as a boy before I was sure of where our ship was. I was able to point out Tucker Bay for sure, near where I went to school, and what I hoped was Marshall's Beach, where I had many of my holiday adventures.
    We were both excited, and with my habits of confusing the natural with the Divine, I was sure it was all a sign that we would soon be able to visit the island at our leisure. We were on the boat because I had a chance, I thought, at a job in the Kootenays. If I were to land the job, which would start in the fall, might it not be possible to arrange to spend part of the summer on the island?
    I did not get the job in the Kootenays; we went back up to Alert Bay via the Vancouver Island highway and we did not see Lasqueti again. At the end of the summer we went further north, up to Ocean Falls, where it was my turn to teach. To have spent the holiday on Lasqueti would have been impractical, as Shawn was due in July with our first born, and for a variety of other reasons, spiritual and physical, we needed to finish out our summer at Alert Bay.
    We have not yet gone to Lasqueti, and perhaps never shall. I did in fact revisit the island when I was fourteen, and that was a separate learning experience, but other places I have come to learn have always been more important. Realizing that, I have learned something of the power and purpose of memory.
    Perhaps we shall never visit the island, even though I have assumed that I would one day take my children there. It might be that they are supposed to accept a book instead of a visit, especially as they have already known a number of beaches and forests and glens of their own. We cannot go back to everything in the physical world except by way of the spirit, through which we can go back to everything more completely than time and change often permit. Even if we are permitted to go back physically, it has to be for the sake of the spirit. One must go to grow, as a man, as on went to grow as a child.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Untitled/ Ocean Falls

Running north from Port Vancouver
Plenty of gas to keep me far from home.
I'm not going back till I'm good and ready
No reason to stay and lots of cause to roam.

That old city did me good in its time
But she's not what I need any more
South-Easter blowing and a following tide
And something better to do all along the northern shore.

Guess I'll ramble round till they know I'm missing
And I can't say that they'll ever know I'm gone.
I was just about invisible in the last days
I wasn't sure I knew what was going down.

Ocean Falls

At one point they threatened to close the town.
The ancient pulp mill, everybody knows,
Grows obsolete, uneconomic, but now
That the government owns it, embarrassing
To let it ruin. Besides, in the long, lonely
Scarcely settled coastline, fat with fish
And rich with timber, where precious few
Have learned to farm, they need all the towns
The can get, simply to be civilized. From
Campbell River to Prince Rupert, except
For the smelter city of Kitimat, it's one, long,
Sparse string of villages. The fierce
Confinement of the fiords has something
To do with this primitive approach to civilization,
But that excuse won't quite wash clean
With men from Switzerland and Trondheim.
So, they say, technology bar the door against
The grizzly bear, and keep those logs competing
With the killer whale, and justify the raven's
Acclimatization to human garbage of a vaster
Sort than Indians could ever have imagined.
But I, as my photo album shows
Have personal reasons to see the old place stay:
Not only, as a poet, to forestall any more
"Deserted Villages", but because we lived there,
I and she - and love makes three -
While I learned to teach and was taught to pray,
And dwelt, while I studied history
With devotion, among a little corner
That was forever Europe.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Recollective essay circa 1977

    It was ten years ago, one evening after I had returned home from a visit to a contemplative convent, that I first began to think of using the events of meditation and mysticism as material for novels. I had gone to the convent to instruct an elderly nun, who loved music, how to play the ukulele, and in the course of our conversations she told me that neither she nor the sisters generally read novels. There was not enough theology in fiction, she said, to make such reading worth their time.
    I was at work on a novel at the time, rewriting the third version of a plot I had been developing, at intervals, for a dozen years or so. The manuscript was lying on the table where I had left it for the ukulele lesson, and when I picked it up again to continue work I knew I felt challenged to write fiction that would contain enough theology to make it worth the time of contemplative sisters.
    The challenge in fact seemed Providential, for I had been studying the classic writings on meditation and mysticism for almost as many years as I had tried to write novels and stories, and I always felt that my personal relationship with my writing was somewhat hamstrung by my avoidance, generally speaking, of the material that I had found so interesting. I spent quite a long time thinking about what the sister had said, quoting her to my wife for her opinion, and wondering how and when the new thoughts would affect my inspirations.
    The answer came very quickly, although not in the form of a new and hyper-spiritual plot, nor, at that time, in a radical revision of the story under way. I was within a few weeks called upon to write a long series of letters to a student contemplative and was not long afterwards drawn from my field of school teaching to that of counselling and spiritual direction. My researches of the contemplative life, it would seem, had only fairly begun, and if I were to acquire the understanding out of which to write satisfactory stories on the subject, I had much more work to do before I would be allowed to write about it.
    But not for the old sister. She said she would pray for my work, and always remembered me at the fourth station of the Cross, where Christs meets His mother, but she died before her bodily eyes could read any of the effects of her prayers. Besides that, in the years that have passed, the reading public for contemplative subjects has expanded much beyond the walls of convents - and not just because so many convents no longer have walls - but because the younger generation has of its own accord acquired a taste for these matters, and as that age group has moved this way, it has aroused the interest of generations ahead of it. The Maharishi and Thomas Merton have had their say, Zen Buddhism has a wide reading and it is probably that the meditative approach to religion has a larger following now than at any time since the sixteenth century. And it is more than a lip service kind of following. The past decade in North America alone has probably witnessed more individual revolts in the name of a meditative conscience than any simply economic or political movement would ever dream of inspiring. God is not dead, but what He has done is slaughter an enormous number of sacred cows, which, when they thought about it, were probably happy to die.
    Perhaps such a movement, for both its best and worst aspects, needs a chronicle, perhaps it also needs a story teller's introduction to the masters of the systematic writings.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


If life should take my legs, my happy legs,
As better men than I have had to bear,
I'd still know how to pray, I'd not despair.
The current that has long hummed through my bones
Would nonetheless be faithful, and its sparks
Would keep their spinning parley in its place.
I'd not be lonely, and no less unemployed
And yet from time to time I'd recollect
The freedom that two legs give every soul
And all the rocks and crannies explored.
This thinking makes me very glad again
To be, to be, so simply ordinary.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

February 22, 1978

Lent it is, and the prospects raise my wonder
Why, Lord, is the landscape black
These streets feel not sun but storms.

I do not like the look of houses
Always, in my strolls about;
Trees are faithful, flowers sometimes
But homes, with people in, or out,
Have sometimes too much devil in them
Hearths of heathen war with grace
The doors, which could not know I'm knocking
Slam with thunder in my face.

When all my songs are over,
Mother of minstrels, mother of men
Just let me rest my head on your heart again
You know I didn't do too well
But the fault was sure not yours
You would have given everything
If they'd opened up their doors.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Emily Carr

Emily Carr, I finally love you
Laughing bear has played his trick
At last I saw your list of wonders
A friend's persistence won the day.
I loved the stories but the painting
Long ago awoke no flame
Now I see the doors to open
And will tremble at your name.
Sorry for the long palaver
I don't know why I could not see
The coast in your eyes long in mine
But Laughing Bear has growled at me
His gentle back aglow with lessons
I laugh myself to take my place
Perhaps if I should be so lucky
You will lead me to his face.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Silvered Wings

Once I saw a flash of snipe
Or perhaps some other shore bird
A hundred, closely bunched
Race across a tide flat through the air.
Suddenly, as if by signal
Turned they wingward at the sun
And I saw a sheet of silver
Flashing earthward, catching me transfixed
Only God could give that signal
Thought I then and through the years recalled
The vision present, then the door
Swinging shut.

At times the vision of the seen
Was far too bright;
And the pain of beauty passing
Closed my heart, blustered shut
By the harsh cries of a half believing world.
Yet the hidden vaults were not forgot
And often open to my view;
Quite by surprise I would be caught
My soul would then fly up
And fall in silent tears.

Where hid that beauty?
Not in woman's eyes or in my books
And if in the forest why was it so secret
Not automatic yielding to my quest?
Something in their presence leaves me stammering
For the Beauty where I can rest eternal be.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


For Tim Lander

I roamed around the world to find
A place to give me peace of mind
But I ain't found anything as kind
As my home in the Kootenai mountains
Kootenai mountains strong and high.

Going back home to the Kootenays
Going to get my soul untied
I've been down in the city too long
I think my brains are getting fried.

Hang out my thumb on the old freeway
Flagged a truck in Manning Park
Make it through Osoyoos
Before the sky got dark.

Had to hang around in Greenwood
Met a poet in a bar
Back seat on a motor bike
Froze my jaw by Castlegar.

But I'm back home by the lake shore
And my friends all know I'm home
Hang Vancouver on the clothesline
Next time I'll go by phone.

Lent March 9, 1975

Lent it is, and silver March insists
In this month of memories of spring
That I set out to settle things within
And sort the thoughts that penance proper brings.

Lent it is and silver March returns,
And spring is breaking up the hills of snow.
The sun is growing stronger day by day
And I am thinking stronger as I know.

The time has come when all the hills and streams
Though they have been my friends and will again,
Deny me now and turn my feet away.
The time has come for me to challenge time
To make her stand in one surrendered place.
She must deliver up the treasure stored
She holds the mirror where I can paint my face.

And paint I must, my world can wait no more
My destiny has raised me up that other shore.

Do not decry my youth; my silent tongue
Knew not the words that summoned youthful fame.
If I wrote nothing more than common chat,
Give neither me, nor God, nor fate, the blame.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Navigators March 10/81

What they really seek, these navigators,
Is forever another horizon.
Our gentle God made earth to meet the sky,
And likewise sea, so we might search
The constant dream, and instantly
Discover our own destiny: that's death,
The singing shudder of the body at the soul.
Like mountain ridges on swooping plain,
The rise of the forest crown against the sky:
Where they meet our vision.
What they really seek, these navigators,
Is forever another horizon. Where the 
Mountain meets the sky, on a swooping plain
Stops against the clouds, or ocean's tide.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Coming of the Dawn

You came by and you knew my name
Trees in the forest fell in flame
Time, it stopped, and tides refused to run.
Mountains crumbled into dust
Towers fell in rings of rust
Wine in all my tumblers turned to blood.

Don't go out in the dark tonight
Don't go out in the pale moonlight
Talk with me till we see the dawn
All outside is dark and wild
The devil's hunting down a child
Stay here till the rising of the sun.

First I wept, then I moaned
A fire was burning in my bones
I wondered if I'd have it to be kind
I saw the tears you tried to hide
I felt the pain you kept inside
I knew I'd have to open up my mind.


I heard the wolves howl on your trail
I saw the knives and my blood ran pale
I sharpened up my swords and I threw the gauge
I kissed your eyes with a brother's care
I washed your feet and dried your hair
I barred the door against their howls of rage.


 Now you're fed and warm with wine
The firelight has eased your mind
You think you'll go into the night again,
But don't you hear that howling outside
They'd love to get this tiger's hide
And I'd have to guide you through the wind and the rain.