The Darling Buds – Marigold

When everything else has died

the marigolds are planted

their leaves too bitter for insects

or maybe they are supposed to be grown

with the crops to protect them

rather than being left

to bloom merrily

amongst the sick-sweet

stench of their rotting

companions

Marigold – Sorrow

Marigolds survive but make it impossible to forget those that did not. Every May, I do a series of poems based on Victorian flower meanings. Welcome to the Darling Buds.


For more tales of survival in the face of sorrow, my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, is available here. Its sequel, With Honor Intact, can be found here.

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From the Ashes

I drove through a wildfire once.

Wrong place, wrong time, wrong wind.

Got caught between the path of twin smoke spirals,

A small town in the middle of nowhere,

Long since evacuated.

The firemen escorted us through,

Not sure how we landed in the middle of an inferno,

Unknowing.

The truth being that there aren’t enough people

To warn all the travelers,

Mark all the roads,

In those northern places.

It was like a moonscape,

Once we cleared the smoke.

Trees, land, sky,

Distilled down to whitened ash,

Nothing left to rise again.

Later, later, later

The moonscape remained

But at the edge

The fireweed rose up

A victory

And a warning.

IMG_9821A flag planted, A battlefield remembered

So much of the North rises and lives on tales of tragedy and destruction.


For slightly less tragedy and some destruction, my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, is available here. Its sequel, With Honor Intact, can be found here.

The Taste of History

They are the roses of the dead.

The air around them tastes of spice and stories, forgotten and half-remembered.

No teacup roses, here.

The soil is too poor, the winters too hard, for fragility.

False or true.

These roses grew on the skeletons of dead dreams-

On abandoned barns and half-buried homesteads-

The remaining flash of colour once people and settlement passed.

History is a living, breathing creature.

It worms its way through the scars on the landscape,

Burrows into the ocean’s flotsam,

Rises out of the scent of feral flowers.

Words are a poor substitute for the world that was-

To understand what has passed,

It is important to close one’s eyes,

And taste the stories of abandoned gardens.

IMG_9769A delicacy carrying a hundred years in its scent

The weight of the past has the strangest bearers.


For more interaction of the past and the present, my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, is available here. Its sequel, With Honor Intact, can be found here.

Catch of the Day

On the cape of the island, you could grab the plate-sized crabs with your bare hands.

A little wading in the surf and you’d walk back out with enough to feed communities.

Of gulls and herons.

Of bears and men.

Crabs don’t come to the hand as quick anymore.

Most things don’t.

I’ll watch them sometimes, the ones who wade out and the ones who take a full operation out on the water.

Every year they come back with less for their efforts.

The crabs come and go.

So do the strangers who take their catch and leave.

The communities stay.

Still hungry.

IMG_2142The nets are often older than the crews

I think a lot about the way the shape of the north changes… and the way it remains the same.


For more reminisces on scarcity and abundance, feel free to check out my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, is available here. Its sequel, With Honor Intact, can be found here.

An Easy Spring

It froze last night.

It was a deep frost, lacing the newly budding leaves with a thin web of ice before vanishing under the anemic warmth of the sun.

Just north of here, there are places with no months that are frost-free.

Spring is deceptive.

Other lands, other landscapes, have easy boundaries between the cold and the warmth.

It is possible to measure, scientifically, the sun angle and the number of days from the Equinox and speak knowingly of whether winter has vanished.

Here, it is closer to magic, to the alchemical process of transmuting lead to gold.

Watch the caterpillars, the shadows of the mountains, the movement of air down the river valley-

Transmute these things into a calculus of still-born life, of a reminder of the knife’s edge we walk.

And still we grow.

Plants bursting forth, a hundred birds rising as a single mind, a single body.

The air buzzing with insects, with songs, with the thick smell of things growing and dying.

There is no freedom from the shadow of death.

Still the green things reach upwards.

No less beautiful for their dangerous struggle.

No less determined in their unfolding, in their relentless march towards life.

IMG_1775Green persists, even in the face of its destruction

I have the deepest respect for the ability of northern beings to keep living in the face of the challenges of their environments.


I am a lover of persistence both in life and in writing. If you would like to read more about persistence and the overcoming of impossible odds, you can read my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, here. Its sequel, With Honor Intact, is also available here.

 

Symbiosis

Somewhere cold, far back in the middle of nowhere, there was a single tree at the top of a granite ridge.

That tree was at least a hundred years and it was barely to my shoulders, so scarred and gnarled and twisted that it looked more dead than alive.

It lived.

It held grimly to the ground beneath it, every winter another chance to be uprooted by avalanche or by wind.

Other trees grew together, providing shelter and support.

There are few who can truly stand on their own and their scars are visible, long-lasting reminders of their efforts.

It’s hard to go alone.

In better climates, easier lands, solo living is not so exceptional, so strange and rare.

Here, everything is connected, a fine balance of support and destruction to carve out space and life.

Even a tree that stands alone has a network of life supporting its roots, depends on the death of passing wildlife for its nutrients.

The connections may not always be visible but they are there.

We can see them in the insects flitting from flower to flower.

In the scrub brush forming bulwarks against the wind.

In a single tree, its branches teeming with birds and insects, their sole bulwark against the oncoming storm.

IMG_1782If you can’t see the connections – look closer

Symbiosis is a difficult, amazing process to watch and understand. I have long been drawn to the various connections around me.


I love including symbiotic relationships of all kinds in my writing. To see more of them, you can read my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, over here. Its sequel, With Honor Intact, is now available here.

In All Things, Joy

The air sings still of the weekend’s snow, of colder, darker months, not yet forgotten.

Such a sharp edge for the cresting of the new.

Too soon, and the late frosts will stifle the birthing.

Too late, and the time for frantic growth will be cut short on the other side of the seasons.

It would be easy to see it as a cycle of fear, cold death chasing until it catches and swallows.

I look out now and see the lie in the trail of life before me.

We do not grow away from the cold, from the death that would drown us.

We grow upwards, outwards.

Not fleeing.

Chasing

Light, joy, love.

Those that grow do not cower from what-might-not -be.

Life is not for retraction, for burrowing back into the frozen earth.

Life is reaching, greedily grasping every breath of warmth, every ounce of joy.

For daring the frost, the snow, the unexpected, and shooting upwards-

Buds outstretched, furling into the sun.

 Upright LeafIn all things, joy. In all joy, hope.

The pursuit of joy has always served me better than the flight from fear.


For more of writing on joy and fear, both flight and pursuit, you can read my fantasy novel,The Guests of Honor. It is available here. The sequel, With Honor Intact, will be coming out on April 23, 2015.

Snowed Under

The thing with snow is that it returns.

The lull between storms is a deceptive deflection, designed to convince poor saps to free their spaces of obstruction, only to be filled once more by the following morning.

Snow makes a mockery of the power of civilization.

It chokes arteries of transport, smothers buildings, deftly eliminates power lines and pipe lines.

As I move with my flashlight through objects rendered useless in the absence of electricity, I am reminded again of the razor edge we live on here.

We live by the grace or the indifference of the land around us.

It is so frighteningly simple to pass from comfort to fear.

A night was all it took this time.

A single night’s worth of snow is beautiful, overwhelming, and deadly.

There have been injuries, potentially fatalities, although we will not know all of them until the weather is fully past.

I value this reminder.

I write of the importance of remembering the weather when writing not because I am a deranged meteorologist.

I write of the importance of weather because the winter lurks always in the background of these places, the burning drive beneath the skin.

IMG_7079A night’s worth of snow

For better or for worse, the land I live in has shaped my thoughts and ideas.


To see my version of the razor’s edge, you can read my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, which is available here.

Survival of the Fittest

Once, when I was very ill, I went hiking and was nearly eaten by eagles.

I was undergoing the slow, torturous process of re-building my muscles from a long illness. When I reached the limits of my endurance, I let my group go on ahead while I curled up by a pile of driftwood and fell asleep.

Animals recognize weakness.

My hiking partners called me the animal whisperer that year because we have never, before or since, seen that many predators at that close of range.

I knew better.

I woke, leaning against the burl of a large piece of driftwood, to find two eagles less than five feet above my head.

As I moved, trying to look larger and healthier than I was, I could see them debate whether I was worth the effort.

They left.

I have never been able to hear eagles since without remembering that moment, where I could so easily have crossed the line from threat to prey.

I love the wilderness, but I have no illusions as to how quickly roles shift, how easy it is to transition from control to chaos.

Threat is a difficult concept to provide in writing.

It is easy enough to create characters who have no real challenges, who face no real losses at any point in their path.

It is easy enough to forget that even the strongest can be laid low by single misstep and that those missteps are a vital part of any journey.

We are not always predator, not always prey.

Sometimes the survival of the fittest is the survival of an ill woman pretending to be larger than the predators above her.

IMGP0298It is easy to move from traveler to flotsam

I find it interesting to think about how quickly our fortunes can change.


For my own take on threats, fantastical and otherwise, my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor is available here.

 

In the Absence of Light

It does funny things to the head to spend too long in the dark.

While Robert Service is perhaps best known internationally for his poems “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee“, he also wrote a number of very dark, very grim pieces of poetry about life in both the Yukon and Paris. Even in his better known, more humourous pieces, there is an underlying tone that most people who live far enough North are always walking the knife’s edge of keeping themselves together.

Being without people can be dealt with.

Being cold can be dealt with.

Being without light for months on end…

It changes how you see things.

It was strange to me when I moved south as a student just how many people didn’t understand those undertones in Service’s poetry.

The effect of light and darkness is such a given where I grew up, such a fundamental undertone to how you think and plan, that it was strange to meet people who had no idea what it was like to leave school at 3:00 p.m. and be met by total darkness.

I think of this sometimes when I read.

I think that it is hard, even at the best of times, to write and understand someone who is living in a perpetually hostile world.

As much as I love the North, I suffer under no illusions that the landscape around me isn’t perpetually dangerous to the unprepared and the unobservant. This sinks into how I think, how I act, the fact that I always have survival gear in my car – something that seems ridiculous to someone used to fast access to emergency help.

It’s hard sometimes to survive in the dark.

There’s nothing wrong with writing this kind of mindset – many thrillers, fantasies and science fiction stories exist in worlds that are equally hostile.

The problem is that it is really hard to get inside the kind of mind that is necessary to survive in these kinds of environments if you haven’t experienced the situation yourself.

I come back to this time and time again, but it is hard to know what you don’t know.

Research helps.

Unfortunately, often I am thrown out of these stories because I can’t feel that ever-present tension lurking beneath the surface, the threat of imminent night forming the characters’ actions.

I would love more stories in science fiction and fantasy about hostile environments written from the perspective of people who have experienced them.

I would love more stories from people who look at these lines from “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”-

Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear
-and nod.
IMG_9987The moment between dark and light is hard to describe and impossible to capture
The odd pieces that make up Northern survival are some of my major interests. Please write more about them!

My own story is survival of a different kind, but light and dark still play their roles. If you would like to see for yourself, my fantasy novel,  The Guests of Honor, is available here.