How to Make a Summer

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Each morning, my husband and I sit in our favoured places in the living room, sipping our respective cups of coffee with cream and green tea, the kids fully immersed in intense dragon battles. He’ll look at me through blasts of dragon fire and when there is a lull in the roar, he’ll ask “when does school start up again?”

It’s a hopeful question, and a useless one. They’re here, all three of them, every day. How will we get through the summer? Just by getting through. One day at a time. Tuesdays and Thursdays we go to the pool. Every morning we walk to the pond near our house and throw rocks. There may be more rock throwing later in the day at the river. There are car naps, and french fries, and mosquito bitten ankles. Yesterday, there were wild strawberries.

At work the other night, someone tipped me off to a strawberry patch accessible from town, so on Wednesday after our lunch, we loaded into the truck and drove to town, drove all the way to the end of Front street and parked under the slide, where every August the mud bog is held. As we got out of the truck, I could see the strawberry plants spread out in a mat over the hillside, amoung soapberry bushes, golden rod, plantain and the odd raspberry cane. The kids ranged over the patch, grazing. Colm, who wouldn’t eat fruit if I paid him, brought the berries to me one at a time to drop into the container I’d brought. We’re late in the season or this particular patch has already been picked clean, because the berries were sparse. I let Charlie eat what we’d collected, gone in two fistfuls.

I want to be the person who fills her freezer with wild berries each summer, lines her pantry with jewel-toned jars of preserves.  But truthfully, I find gathering wild berries to be tedious. They are so small: a good sized wild strawberry isn’t even as big as the tip of my pinky finger. Whenever I do pick wild berries, I can’t help but think of the Han people who have lived here and gathered here for thousands of years. Of the devotion they must have had to picking wild produce as it ripened. It’s not for me. I’m content to graze and to let the kids do the same. The berries are a tart burst of flavour, best enjoyed in the sun that brings them to fullness.

The kids went to bed last night with their mouths and fingers still berry-stained. Today is a pool day, maybe a rocks-in-river day. Now that we know what it’s like to have a kid in school, having three at home seems impossible, like filling a pail with tiny berries. But we get through it, one day at a time, and I try to make them about more than just “another one down”, if that makes any sense.

I’m not writing much, I am working more and the days are busy in other ways. It feels like I can’t fit it all in without letting something slip. It’s always the writing that slips. I have notes and half-poems started in my journal. I think about poems. I’ve been trying to read some poetry every day (to do that I’ve let slip the Trump-Russia fiasco and I gotta tell ya, it feels really good). I imagine that some day I’ll have it all figured out: work, family, writing, myself, so delicately balanced that even the seasons changing can’t throw it off. More likely, life will continue to be one day at a time, dragon fights and berry stained fingers and poems jotted down in between it all, each day never quite the same.

Life Lately

It feels like this summer is flying by. My parents arrived on the 18th and between spending time with them and work (did I mention I took on a second serving job?) life is busy. Here’s a quick update for you, with pictures!

It’s been hot and dry and some lightning made for a few very smokey days. We had forest fires burning all around us, with the closest being just 21 km from town. That one was something like 5 km away from a historic site, Dredge #4: the fire crews had it surrounded with sprinklers just in case. Between the efforts of the fire crews and a few days of rain, all the fires are out.

Last Thursday, I read alongside U.K. based poet Chrys Salt at Alchemy Cafe here in Dawson City. This is my third time reading in public, but my first time as something of a feature. My name was on the posters and every time I saw one of them around town I felt like a total imposter. But we had a great turnout, twenty to twenty five I think. Chrys was fabulous: her background is in theater, and it certainly shows in her readings. She was captivating, and I feel like I learned a lot watching her read. I read for ten minutes to a much appreciated, very warm reception. At the end a few people asked where they could find more of my work, and as I wrote my website address on scraps of paper, I wished for business cards. I think I secretly (not so secret anymore?) love an audience!

Other highlights of the last week: a walk through Orchid Acres, a spot in West Dawson where thousands of spotted lady’s slipper orchids grow together in the forest, and a private tour through the Bear Creek compound just outside of Dawson. This was the headquarters for all of the dredging activity that happened in this region up until the 60’s. Everything there is pretty much untouched since the day they ceased operations: it was fascinating!

Next week I hope to have a book review for you, if I can manage to squeeze in some reading time and finish my book! Hope your summer is fun. xo

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Spotted Lady Slipper Orchids
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Forest walks
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Midnight Sunsets
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Smoke in the valley
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Me and Chrys Salt at the Alchemy
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Safety first!

 

Dawson Daily News Print and Publishing Festival

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If spring is a slow burn, summer is a bright flash in the pan, and we are right into it: days without rain, the ground dry, a thin and persistent layer of dust settled on everything. It’s hot and busy as locals hustle to make their money, plant their crops, and take in the weddings, concerts and festivals happening almost every weekend.

Last night was the beginning of the Print and Publishing Festival, which was once a symposium held at the same time as the Riverside Arts Fest, in August. Now, all grown up, it is a 5 day festival featuring readings, workshops, lectures, demos, and printmaking. I’m excited to be hosting a spoken word open mic in honour of the festival, tonight at The Westminster Hotel. If you’re in town, I hope you’ll come have a listen or maybe even share your words with us. I’ll be reading 3 new poems and trying to keep a lid on the raging impostor syndrome that’s reared its ugly head in the past few days. Wish me luck!

Sprung

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Last night, around 2 am, I was woken by the sound of banging on our shed. Coming out of sleep, it sounded like Paul was trying, unsuccessfully, to get in. Why doesn’t he just open the door, I thought in my haze. Then I came fully awake, and could hear him snoring softly in bed.

A bear, then.

I shook Paul awake, quietly so as not to wake the kids, and asked him to go downstairs and lock our front door. It opens out, but with the new handle we installed recently, a bear could potentially swing it open. A bear in the house is one of my greatest fears. I sometimes lie awake in bed, wondering what I’d do if a bear got in. Could it climb the stairs to the loft? What then? Could we jump out the window? Where would we go from there? I’d have to run back in to get the keys to the truck.

Stop. It will never happen.

Back to last night, and Paul and I standing in the kitchen with a flashlight, peering out into the rare darkness, watching the shadow of a big black bear lumber away from the shed and barbeque, in the direction of the garbage cans; heard the bear find the cans, knock them over, the “wildlife proof” lids no match for a bear’s strength; watched the bear lope off behind the shed towards the woods, dragging a bag of garbage with it.

Everything was quiet again. We went back to bed. What else is there to do? The bears are awake, curious and hungry. They’re not just a problem at our place in the bush: they are sighted in town, too, and on the hiking trails that surround town. As I drift off to sleep, I wish for a dog. I think about how the garbage cans are right by the outhouse, and of how I had to pee. If I’d woken with that urge just 20 minutes sooner, I might have encountered the bear in the yard, in the dark. Another of my greatest fears. Stash bear spray in outhouse. Learn to use a gun. Get a dog.

I’d intended to write about summer unfolding, and then a bear happened. It’s too good a story not to share!

The leaves are all coming out now: what was a buzz of new-green has become a roar. Wild lupin and bluebells push up from from the soil; the crocuses have already bloomed.

The ice has gone out on the river, and the ferry that carries people across has gone back in the water. Soon, the first tour buses will roll into town, covered in dust, off-loading people who will walk around town in matching jackets, all wearing name tags, standing in the middle of the road to take pictures of decrepit heritage buildings. They will creep past the bar, most too afraid to step foot in the local watering hole. The braver ones will find out we don’t bite and it is, in fact, the best time you can have in town. (But I’m biased).

I said I wouldn’t plant a big garden but of course I am busily getting all four of the beds ready, turning the soil, adding in sheep manure, digging out the grass that overtook two beds the summer we were in Ontario. In another week, I’ll plant potatoes, bush beans, sweet peas, radishes and lettuce. This weekend is the Gold Show, a mining trade show that has grown to include much more than mining: the local nursery, and the one from Whitehorse, will set up with bedding plants and herb and vegetable starts. I’ll buy flats of flowers and plant my pots the first week of June, hoping we don’t get a late frost.

We spend more and more time outdoors these days. Like with plants grown indoors from seed, I harden my children off, leaving them outside a bit longer each day until they can tolerate the elements, the change of atmosphere. They “help” me in the garden, or we kick a ball around or we walk in the woods. With bear spray. Singing loudly.

Summer here goes by in a flash: it is packed full of festivals, Saturday markets, friends, picnics, camping, and work. I try to slow down, savor each day. I hope you do the same!

Putting Myself in the Way

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When I first came to Dawson City twelve (!) years ago, I was struck by the different birds I saw. A sparrow wasn’t just a plain old sparrow anymore: it had a bold black and white striped head, and a beautiful song belted out from tree tops. Ducks were more than just mallards. Tiny, bright yellow birds flitted among the willows. I felt a desire to know them, to name them, and so my love of bird watching began. I got myself a field guide and a better pair of binoculars, and over the following five or six years, I became a bit of a bird lady.

I used to spend an afternoon sitting on a sandy spot of riverbank, my binoculars in hand. I watched the bank swallows skim bugs; watched a common merganser teach her ducklings how to dive; once saw a bald eagle defend its catch from gulls. Hikes to the Moosehide Slide, or on the trails in Tombstone Park, always included my binoculars, swinging around my neck. I started writing a bird column for The Klondike Sun, and friends would come to me with their bird queries: “What’s this little brown bird I see at my feeder? The one with the stripes?” Bird watching was a part of how I came to define myself; when people saw an interesting bird, they thought of me.

On a trip to Mexico, weeks pregnant with Aedan, my friends and I went on a bird watching tour. We rose at dawn to be collected by our guide, and went out on a boat in a mangrove swamp. We saw something like fifty different species of bird that morning. Four or five different herons, frigate birds, cormorants, ibis, scarlet tanager, vermilion flycatcher, to name just a few. It was one of my last great bird outings, before having kids.

After having kids, birdwatching was one of the first things to go.

It’s hard to wear binoculars with a sleeping infant carried on your chest. And toddlers are not known for being quiet, or sitting in one spot for hours so mama can watch the birds. I let it go, like I did writing, reading, and hiking. I wasn’t sure if or when I’d pick it up again; a casualty of the intense early years of parenting, I suppose.

Lately though, like the other passions I let fall by the wayside, I feel an eagerness to get back to it. These past few weeks, with the spring migrants making their way through, I’ve had some exciting incidental sightings: a sharp tailed grouse displaying in our yard, its wings held out to the sides, thrumming; a bald eagle gliding over the driveway where we were playing; ducks, so many and varied ducks in the ponds we pass on our drive to town. The ducks were the tipping point for me. I just could not stand that I didn’t know them, that I couldn’t name them. I decided then and there to put myself in the way of bird watching again.

I’ve been putting myself in the way of poetry again, too, looking for poems just as I look for birds. Making sure to read some poetry every day. Committing to working on new poems, to writing down the ideas and lines that come to me, following different threads like I follow a bird sighted in my binoculars. In the past month or so, I’ve organized a poetry reading with Whitehorse poet Joanna Lilley. I’ve read at an open mic and have committed to read at two more in the coming months. I’m working on some poems to complete the chapbook manuscript I’ve been thinking of for the last year. If I let my vision go soft-focus, if I leap just a second before thinking, I find that I’m pulled in the direction of poetry, of a writing life.

Two days ago, out for a walk in the woods with Colm and Charlotte, what I think was a boreal owl flew over head, a pair of robins in pursuit. I wanted a closer look, but of course, I didn’t have my binoculars with me. The following day, as we got ready for our walk, I took my binocs off the hook by the door. I dusted off the glass, and slung them around my neck. Where we rested, while the kids threw rocks, I watched a yellow rumped warbler move from tree to tree, spotted a say’s phoebe (a bird I’d never seen before). It was exhilarating! It struck me how easy it is to pick up again. How easy it is, now that I don’t have to wear all the babies, to take the binoculars with me. How easy it is to sit and observe not just my kids, but the birds, too. I just have to open myself to it, to the birds all around me, the inspiration all around me.

To practice birdwatching, poetry, running, whatever it is, requires effort and discipline, yes. It is a choosing, every time, to do that thing over not doing it. But I’m also learning that it’s a matter of repositioning, if that makes sense, like an adjustment a chiropractor would make, so that things align again. The more I do this, choose these things, the more I put myself in the way of my passions, the easier it will be to get swept away by them.