MosiaCanada 150–Over But Not Forgotten

The Muskoxen

(My personal favourite – Muskoxen – an offering from the Northwest Territories. I could almost feel his grassy hair blowing in the breeze.)

MosiaCanada, a signature event of Canada’s 150 celebrations in the Ottawa/Gatineau area, was our countries biggest horticultural event.

Lise Cormier, head of Mosaicultures Internationales of Montreal, instrumental in bringing this event to life, says, “Canada is space and this is really a place for imagination.” So true!

The Canadian Horse

(The Canadian Horse – New Brunswick)

I had the great pleasure to visit this installation, a tribute to our country’s history and its founding peoples, in late September when the temperature soared to the mid-30’s -uncharacteristic for that time of year.

Bill Reid's Killer Whale 2

(Bill Reid’s Killer Whale – British Columbia)

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My son, Doug, and I strolled over the bridge from downtown Ottawa to Jacques-Cartier park in Gatineau, with incredible views of Canada’s Parliament Buildings the whole way.

View of Parliament Hill

Once in the park, we marvelled at the incredible pieces of mosiculture artwork arrayed around a winding one-kilometre path through the park. Though I felt somewhat wilted due to the heat, the plants were fresh and trimmed to exquisite form with a multiple of gardeners snipping away in the shadows.

The Drum Dancer

(Another favourite – The Drum Dancer – Nunavat)

The pieces combined three different art expressions – sculpture for the structure, a palette of colour and horticulture as the medium to create a living, ever changing form. Each piece consisted entirely of annual plants, most chosen for colourful, season-long foliage instead of flowers, grown in soil sandwiched between layers of a geotextile supported by metal frames and watered by internal irrigation systems.

The Puffins

(The Puffins – Newfoundland and Labrador)

Ahead of the June 30th opening, almost 100 gardeners – some from the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Beijing, which sent pieces to celebrate Canada’s birthday – were at work installing what would total over three million plants of 80 different varieties.

Blessing of the Good Dragon

(Blessing of the Good Omen Dragon – Beijing)

A horticulture friendship between Canada with Shanghai and Beijing led to coloured works of art that delighted the eye.

Celebration of the Nine Lions

(Joyful Celebration of the Nine Lions – Shanghai)

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The biggest sculpture was a 15-metre tour-de-force – Mother Earth: The Legend of Aataentsic.

Mother Earth

Mother Earth sits in contemplation with her gentle face of silvery grey santolina and long hair of tumbling sweet potato vine and purple petunias. Water pours from her car-sized palm, where a bird alights to drink, into a shimmering pool below.

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MosiaCanada 150 closed on Oct. 15th after more than 1.3 million visitors took in the sheer delight of living mosiculture. I am so happy to count myself among those who wandered in wonder.

The Lobster Fisherman

(The Lobster Fisherman – Nova Scotia)

Catching Up

Marigold magic

In bygone days when money was tight, we used to talk about getting ahead. No sooner would we feel like extra cash was on hand than an unexpected expense would loom on the horizon. We came to believe that anticipating the moment we would get ahead was a harbinger of disaster. Lately, the idea of catching up begins to feel somewhat the same.

I’ve been home for almost three weeks from a month of travel right after the regular busy summer schedule of visitors and gardening. And the summer did seem busy! With an ever-expanding garden, bears in the fruit trees, replacing our wood-burning stove, contemplating the purchase of a new vehicle and planning to reroof a section of the cabin – we were hopping.

Moving in the new stove

New roof

September is not usually a month I would choose for travelling. But with the garden produce at a steady trickle rather than a tidal wave due to cool weather and rain early in the season, I risked it. Of course, the garden took off the minute I was out the door. Bruce was kept busy with freezing blackberries and green beans and eating ten plus tomatoes a day.

Since my return, canning has been priority number one. Jars of dilly beans, stewed tomatoes, salsa, green tomato chutney, blackberry jam and relish have made their way to the pantry. And we have been enjoying the harvest with multiple veggie selections at every meal – green beans, squash, carrots, potatoes, the last of the cucumbers and zucchini as well as fresh parsley and basil.

Green cherry tomato pickles                    Salsa

Blackberry jam

We did manage a wonderful Thanksgiving turkey dinner here with guests from around the lake. A squash custard, green beans, carrots, fresh salad greens dotted with cherry tomatoes, newly dug potatoes, parsley in the dressing – all from the garden – competed for attention on a turkey laden table. And we got in a trip down Island to have our generator serviced. It was a gorgeous day and we took a lovely walk down at the spit in Campbell River.

Campbell River spit

A very dry September and the early part of October has meant a slow start to our micro-hydro system but what a bonus for the last of the garden produce. To say nothing of our local foraging for chanterelle mushrooms. They are coming in so crisp and bright!

Chanterelle bounty

So, lately I am not feeling like Francis Guenette, author of the Crater Lake Series. I’ve hardly had a moment to consider writing! That brings me to something I’ve learned over the course of the last five years of writing, self-publishing, marketing and just plain living. The living part matters. I can’t bring all that I am to the writing if all that I am is a writer.

MosaiCanada 150

This morning I woke up with an idea for how book five will end. That’s progress. Soon all the garden will be laid to rest with late fall storms, all that can be consumed will have made its way through the door, the lights will be bright with excess power and I will be writing again. The ebb and flow of life continues. I won’t be caught up but I begin to think that catching up is not an ideal I need to pursue.

Squirrel on the deck

What’s Over the Top Great About Fall on the North Island

Blue fall skies

When it comes to the words – there’s no place like home – climate is definitely on my agenda. I was in Ottawa a couple of weeks ago and the temperature was in the mid-30’s. Wow! Not what I was expecting. I returned to High River, Alberta, in time to get my sweaters out and got home only just in front of the snow flying. So – what’s so great about fall on the North Island? Where do I start? How about with blue skies and great views.

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Fall colours and the flowers in the garden are still going strong.

Fall colours - Gold's Nine Bark

Fall flowers

Fall flowers 2

Fall flowers 3

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Pink Hydreangea

Our garden is still producing and now that I’ve caught up with pounds of tomatoes sitting everywhere, I can enjoy planning meals around all the wonderful fresh food we are picking daily.

Blackberries

Fall lettuce

Fall carrots

Today's produce pickings

And speaking of meal planning – solar cooking chicken thighs in homemade salsa today!

Salsa chicken thighs

Sun Oven

Best of all – no bugs to speak of, pleasant t-shirt weather and I can still dry clothes on the line. It’s all good.

Laundry on the line in Oct.

A Trip to Boldt Castle

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The Powerhouse with it’s flying stone arched bridge.

Moving from the prairies to central Canada on my annual visit with kids, I had the opportunity – with my son, Doug – to cruise the St. Lawrence and visit Heart Island. The boat part of our journey left from Rockport, Ontario. With blue skies and a pleasant river breeze, we made our way straight to Heart Island and Boldt Castle.

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Quoting from the Boldt Castle brochure: a visit to castle offers a glimpse into one of the most compelling love stories in history. At the turn-of-the-century, George C. Boldt, millionaire proprietor of the world-famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, set out to build a full-sized Rhineland Castle in Alexandria Bay, on picturesque Heart Island. The grandiose structure was to be a testament to his love for his wife, Louise.

 

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Beginning in 1900, the family spent four summers on nearby Wellesley Island while 300 workers, stonemasons, carpenters and artists fashioned the six story, 120-room castle, complete with tunnels, a powerhouse, Italian gardens, a drawbridge and a dovecote. Not a single expense or detail was spared.

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In 1904, tragedy struck. Boldt telegraphed the island and commanded the workers to immediately stop all construction. Louise had died suddenly. Boldt never returned to the island, leaving behind the structure as a monument to his love.

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For 73 years the castle remained eerily vacant, left to the mercy of the elements and the vandals. The Thousand Island Bridge Authority assumed ownership in 1977, determined to preserve Boldt Caste. From what I could see, they have been wildly successful!

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After two enchanting hours on Heart Island, we boarded our boat for a 40-minute cruise through some of the Thousand Islands. Stunning. Named millionaire row back in the day, some of the houses attest to the legacy of an era when the rich spent lavishly on their summer retreats.

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An island just big enough for a house!

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The Boldt Yacht House on Wellesley island.

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Wow!

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The shortest international bridge in the world. Halfway across this foot bridge, one crosses from Canada to the US.

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There you have it! A wonderful adventure on the St. Lawrence. If you visit Boldt Castle from Canada, remember to pack your passport. Heart Island is over the border into the US. And do go in September. The weather was great and the crowds were reasonable.

Issues of Plot

Chemanius murals - Guenette photo

I’ve been pondering issues of plot. I often describe my novels as character driven rather than plot driven. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to say my books have no plot.

I recently read a post on Writers Helping Writers that has me thinking – why the emphasis on character over plot? Guest poster Dario Ciriello quotes C.J. Cherryh, a multiple award-winning science fiction and fantasy author, defining plot. “… a webwork of tension-lines between characters and sets of characters. You pull one [line] and one yanks several characters. It’s not events [that drive plot]. It’s tensions.”

Okay – music to the ears of the writer of self-defined character driven novels! The tension between characters drives plot. A character driven novel with enough tension is by it’s very nature developing plot as it goes.

The Writer’s dictionary defines plot as the way an author structures a series of events into a story. Typically, an author works at organizing events in a way that will pique the reader’s interest. Usually events are not resolved until near the end of the story. “A good plot is one that has well-developed characters who are engaging in several conflicts.”

Literary devices website   describes the five main elements of a plot. Before I list their points and add my thoughts, remember that plots are often broken into sub-plots and maybe even sub-sub plots. The whole idea of the web works well for me.

1. The exposition or introduction – characters and settings are established. The conflict or main problem is put on the table. I usually think of getting all the players on the board.

2. Rising action – series of events build tension and increase conflict. Once all my characters are on the playing board, it is inevitable that they interact and create tensions.

3. Climax – main point of the plot. This is where all the tension has been leading. I often envision the climax as a set of waves. I might have three or so climaxes before the main one, each wave crashing on the shore of the story a bit harder than the last.

4. Falling action – the winding up of the story. With a character driven novel that creates tension between sets of characters, this is a challenging stage. All the loose ends need to tie up. Well, except for those I choose to leave open-ended.

5. Resolution – good or bad, up or down, happy or sad. Endings should be satisfying. That doesn’t necessarily mean the reader agrees with how everything went down. It’s more about knowing I did a good job of making the events believable. Given what I described and the characters I let the reader know – the story makes sense.

I’m going to keep considering the idea of plot. But for now, I’m going to keep doing what works for me – multiple characters, multiple points-of-view and character interactions driving untold tensions. Let me know what you think on the issue of plot.

Wildflowers in Chemanius - Guenette photo

A Visit to the Bar U Ranch – a National Historic Site.

Bar U

I had the treat of spending a few hours over the past long-weekend visiting the Bar U Ranch which is not far from High River, Alberta. My daughter, Kristen, and I had a great time listening to the Parks Canada guides, wending our way through the 100-year-old buildings and simply enjoying a pleasant day of mid-20-degree temperatures under a gorgeous blue prairie sky.

Bar U Ranch Entrance

The Bar U Ranch highlights a work culture celebrated nowhere else in Canada – cattle ranching and the changing role of the cowboy over time. The seven decades of history represented at the Bar U follows the progression of ranching from the time of the open range, through the early days of fencing in the prairie and on into the age of mechanization.

George Lane fights off wolves

The above photo depicts George Lane, a bigger than life character, fighting off wolves while working on the Bar U – a ranch he purchased in 1902. Lane is best remembered as one of the “Big Four” – ranchers who underwrote the first Calgary Stampede in 1912. Lane was also known for his world-renowned Percheron horses. In October of 1909, Bar U Percherons won almost every event they entered in the Seattle World’s Fair.

Famous Bar U Percherons

Bar U horses

The Bar U sits square in a space and time when Alberta becoming part of Canada was not a done deal. With the long-promised completion of national railroad spanning the breadth of our huge country, the incentives provided by the surveying and parceling out of prairie land and a good deal of PR, southern Alberta was settled and the United States was kept from land grabbing a huge swath of the Canadian prairie.

The life of a cowboy

The above quote caught my eye. In and out of the saddle for sixteen hour days, sleeping rough for untold nights with nothing but a bedroll to keep out the elements – not an easy life.

At its largest, the Bar U covered almost 158,000 acres. Over 10,000 cattle and 800 plus horses grazed on land controlled by the Bar U.

I was interested to visit this national historic site for a couple of reasons. Canada 150 Celebrations mean all our national parks are free of charge. Always a nice perk. I have become interested in the history of this area since my daughter and her family relocated here last year. Over the summer, I listened to a CBC podcast entitled: Heroes, Hustlers and Horsemen – history like you haven’t heard it before. These are whiskey-soaked, rough and tumble biographies about larger than life figures who shaped southern Alberta in the tumultuous late 1800s.

John Ware stamp

The last podcast in the series covered the life of John Ware, a former American slave who became a legendary cowboy and rancher in southern Alberta. His story was quite fascinating and mentions his time at the Bar U. In 1882, Tom Lynch, Bar U Ranch veteran cattle drover, hired on a few hands from Texas to help bring a large herd of cattle seven hundred miles up from Montana to Southern Alberta. John Ware was one of those Texans. In a rough world, Ware established himself with deeds rather than words. A man of legendary courage and strength, a skilled horseman with a straight forward honesty, he gained the respect of most everyone he met.

Bar U buildingsDo check out the podcast on John Ware and listen to the whole Heroes, Hustlers and Horsemen series.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to this National Historic Site. Canada has so much to offer to citizens and travellers alike. Have you visited any of our National Parks for the Canada 150 Celebrations? There’s still time. Go for it.

What Sort of Writer are You?

Little hummer takes a break

Recurring theme – someone asked me a question the other day: What are you working on now? I just stared. With a definite uncomfortable squirm in my chair, I responded, “Nothing.”

In another era, I wanted to be one of those women who had specific days when they did household tasks. You know the type – geez, you might be the type! Bathrooms on Monday, floors on Tuesday, dusting on Wednesday. I was more the madly try to clean up everything on the same day because company was coming woman. I could be seen running around in a state, dusting with one hand and pushing a wet rag with my foot over the dirty floor. Hoping for the best – cleaning with a lick and prayer, so to speak.

When I’m confronted with the question of what I’m currently working on and the answer is – nothing – I get a similar feeling. I want to be one of those writers who writes consistently. Like Stephen Leacock out in his boathouse every single day from eight until noon without fail. But I’m not. I’m the write until I drop and then fall into the doldrums believing that I will never write again type.

At the beginning of my master’s program, I read a book about writing your thesis or dissertation in fifteen minutes a day. It sounded wise but it was something I knew in my heart I could never accomplish.

My grandma used to say – You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. There is truth to the belief that one thing can’t be another no matter the effort put into transformation. I can no more write on a consistent and specific daily schedule than I could clean that way or create a dissertation in fifteen-minute blocks. It simply isn’t me.

When I’m not feeling uncomfortable with this state of affairs, I celebrate it. This is the fallow time. This is the gathering time. This is the time when impressions, ideas and connections incubate and grow until they burst forth in writing fury.

But there is still a part of me that feels like the sow’s ear and not the silk purse. What do you think? How do you manage your writing? Is it a daily, disciplined endeavour or is it an all out writing fury? And let me know how your garden is growing? Ours is doing not too bad Smile 

How is your garden growing