A New Piece, Traveling Blind

By nature, I’m mostly a hobbit. However, like Bilbo Baggins, I do travel, sometimes more than I want. And I mostly travel alone, which means I rely on the kindness and assistance of people who work for airlines and in airports. And these people are amazing—helpful, good natured, efficient, and friendly. I couldn’t travel the way I do without them.
“Traveling Blind” is a nonfiction piece about getting there—where ever that is. I hope you find it funny, in a neurotic sort of way. The piece first appeared in Wanderlust Journal, and I want to thank Sarah Leamy for being interested enough to accept it for publication. Enjoy the piece, and make sure to check out the magazine.

A New Venue for Edmonton Writers

Next time you fly out of the Edmonton International Airport, check out the new Short Edition, short story dispenser. This project, conceived and organized by Edmonton writer #Jason Lee Norman, brings a range of Edmonton writers to a new venue in a new way.
If you want some stories or poems to read while you wait for your flight, you stand at the dispenser, make a selection, and the machine spits it out. I haven’t seen it in action, but apparently the dispenser works like an ATM. You will find a range of seventy-odd Edmonton writer’s from which to choose, including Jason Lee Norman, Thomas Trofimuk, Jessica Kluthe, and Don Perkins—and many, many more.
I have a piece in the machine as well, called “Superhero of the Supermarket.” Thank you to Jason for thinking of yet another way to promote Edmonton writers. His projects such as 40 Below and #yegwords Coffee Sleeves show his commitment to the city and its writers. Next time you check in for a flight, give yourself an extra few minutes, visit the dispenser, get yourself a couple of stories, and take a little of Edmonton with you.

A Ghost Walk on the University of Alberta Campus

I’ve always believed that ghosts haunted the University of Alberta campus. Last week, I found out I was right.
Last week, I went with some friends to take in the UofA ghost walk. We gathered in front of the Rutherford House on Saskatchewan Drive—a surprising forty people for a cool night in late October. Our guide stood on the steps of the house and outlined our walk. She told us about the house itself, Alexander Cameron Rutherford and his family who moved into the house in 1911. She encouraged us to visit the house, where, if you listen carefully, you can hear the ghost of a little boy and his ball who has haunted the second floor of the Rutherford House since the 1980s.
Our walk took us across campus to the Power Plant, where we learned about Dr. Carl Clarke, an early researcher into the oil sands, whose lab-coated ghost still wanders the building. We headed next to Pembina Hall on the west side of campus, where we learned about the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic in Edmonton, and the bodies that were temporarily piled in the basement of the building. Finally, we walked all the way BAC across campus to the Emily Murphy House, where our guide told us about Emily Murphy, the Famous Five, and the early days of Alberta politics. People say you can sometimes still see the ghost of Emily Murphy, and sometimes, you can hear the kettle whistling in the room that was once the kitchen.
There was much more to our walk, as it was a historical tour as well as ghost walk, and our guide had many stories about the early days of the UofA. You can find more stories about campus ghosts here.
I wouldn’t say I’m overly sensitive to ghosts. I’ve been inside Glamis Castle in Scotland, which is supposed to be one of the most haunted castles in the country, and I didn’t feel too bothered. One gets a sense of days long passed in such a place, but I never felt or heard anything specific.
But I’m still prepared to believe such stories. As I said, I’ve always thought the UofA had its ghosts. If you are in the Humanities Building at night, as people clear out of the building, you will begin to feel the oppressive silence of the place, like something pressing on your ears. You will start watching, listening, and looking around corners. And sometimes, if you turn quickly enough, you might…

September: A New Year, A New Look

September, for me, as it is for many, has always been the beginning of the year. Resolutions that come with September have more weight than those made in January. And they make more sense, too. Better to change your life in the fall, rather than in January when it’s thirty below.
I took a break from blogging over the summer. I needed the time to read, to write, and to be with family. I visited my daughter in Scotland, went to Lethbridge for a family funeral, visited family on Vancouver Island, and spent time with my eldest daughter who was home for a month from Australia. But the school year has begun, and my days are much more constrained: teaching, preparing classes, and marking will be the major features on my landscape for the next eight months.
I’ll eventually share some of what I encountered over the summer, but in the meantime, enjoy the new website, OfOtherWorlds.ca. It will be a work in progress for a while. I needed the break from blogging over the summer, but building the new site kept me busy—among other things. Such projects have, for me, a steep learning curve, and I swore often and vociferously as I figured it out.
But summer is always the best time for trying and learning new things. Apart from learning something about website design, I learned some painful lessons about writing and submitting short fiction; I sat on Hadrian’s Wall; I tried haggis in Edinburgh and deep-fried pickles at Taste of Edmonton.
I read and read, not as much as I wanted, and not as much as you’d think. One of my favourite summer reads was The Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I’m sure this series isn’t for everyone, but I was hooked before finishing the first book.
I hope you’ve had a summer that goes on feeding you as the days shorten into winter. For now, enjoy the fall. If you live in Edmonton, remember to get a look at the river valley, preferably from high up. The wash of muted colour with the river at its heart will remind you that that autumn, as brief as it can be in Edmonton, is a beautiful time of year.

A Visit to Hadrian’s Wall


If you love stories of King Arthur, or any books about Roman-Britain, you are likely to encounter a reference to Hadrian’s Wall. This is the wall the Romans built after Emperor Hadrian’s visit to Britain in 122 CE, to mark the northern border of the Empire. It ran nearly eighty miles, east to west, stood fifteen feet high—not including the parapet wall—and  marked by guard posts every mile or so.
We drove down from Glasgow to Carlyle, following the signs until we found the wall. We were in the middle of fields of grazing sheep, bordered by stone fences, and we parked by an after school care. Kids were running and playing games, and there was the wall—right across the road.
We crossed over and clambered onto the wall. It was only a couple of feet high at that point, and we walked along the broken stones of the top until it began to get higher. Farther along, we stopped to look at a squared-off section that was clearly one of the guard-posts punctuating the wall. We kept going and found a higher section where we could climb. We sat about ten feet up, talked and wondered about the soldiers who sat and watched on the wall. It must have been intensely boring for those men, standing and staring out over hills and woods, day and night, in wind and sun and rain, and wondering if the barbarians would ever come out of the north.
Much of the wall is now gone, and I wondered at first about the lack of fallen stones. It’s built of roughly squared stones, mudded together with a mixture of clay and who knows what. This wall has stood for nearly two thousand years, and you can imagine what the people thought who lived beside the wall ever since the Romans left. If they wanted to build a house, a pen for cattle or sheep, or even a church, they had a supply of building stones ready to hand.
After a while, we got back in the car and headed for the museum nearby. We  saw a couple of short videos about life as a Roman soldier on the frontier, and checked out the gear that was part of a Roman soldier’s kit: knives, spears, short swords, cooking pots, and the wooden frame to carry it all. We then drove farther on to see the fort at Vindolanda, a working archeological site with another museum attached. It was fascinating to learn about the fort and its history. Getting a close look at the range of artifacts from the site was fascinating as well, especially the alter to the weather god, Jupiter Dolichenus,, a four-foot carven stone alter, discovered at the site in 2009.
Visiting both the museum and Vindolanda was an education, but climbing over the ruins of Hadrian’s wall itself fired my imagination in a different way. More than the history of the fort and the wall, I thought about the people this wall was meant to keep out—the northern tribes, those people who occupied all of what we now know as Scotland. They must have come here, hunting parties on foot or horseback, only to see a wall being built across their land by the Latin-speaking intruders who would block the way into the south for the next two centuries.

Travels in Scotland and Encountering the Literary

As you travel through Scotland, it’s hard not to encounter literary types from the past. This last May, my daughter and I drove from Glasgow down to Dumfries. We wanted to see the Robbie Burns House. In spite of teaching English for a living—not to mention my Scottish heritage—I found I knew surprisingly little about Burns. I knew he was a poet, of course, but I didn’t realize he died so young—at the age of thirty-seven.
We found the house, a small two-story place just off a busy road in Dumfries. It had a large room downstairs, with a wide fireplace and alcove for possibly preparing food. Upstairs had two rooms, one with a small space, big enough to hold a desk where Burns wrote and worked. The man clearly loved women, as he had several illegitimate children, as well as a family with Jean Armour. The last few years of his life was spent working as an Excise Officer in Dumfries to support his family. Not quite the romantic picture of the Plowman Poet—save for maybe the illegitimate children. You can read more about his life here.

We walked up the street to the church where Burns is buried. It’s a mausoleum, a structure about the size of a garden shed, where Burns and Jean Armour are buried. Apparently, William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy visited Burns grave, which at that time was a simple stone, not befitting the romantic life and legacy of Burns. The mausoleum came later.
After leaving Dumfries, we looked for a place to picnic. We found a lovely spot in the Forest of Ae, a grassy spot beneath a tree, right next to a burn. We sat, had our lunch, listened to the cows across the road, and watched the dog-walkers and cyclists pass by.
We drove north the next day towards Inverness, passing through lovely countryside, open and hilly, with heather and gorse purpling the fields—the perfect place for romantically minded, heartbroken young men to wander in despair as they thought of their lost loves.
We made one longer stop on the way north—a place called The Hermitage, which is a park in Craigvinean Forest. The walk takes you through tall trees and down to the River Braan, a shallow, fast-flowing stream. Again, Wordsworth and Dorothy got there before us. As we wandered along the path, I thought about what it meant for me to walk such a path in the footsteps of people like Wordsworth and Dorothy, who saw these same sights nearly two hundred years before.