A Walk at Beaverhill Lake

Every summer, my friend Tom and I find a place to walk and enjoy the natural world. Last year, it was Newfoundland, but we don’t usually stray so far afield. This year we decided on the bird sanctuary near Tofield, just east of Edmonton.
It’s a short drive, as far as Alberta drives go, and we find the entrance to the sanctuary around noon. We pass through two gates and park in a farmer’s field to begin our walk. The rain has been absolutely incessant this summer, and this is one of the few sunny days in more than a week.
Good shoes, rain gear, and water are necessary on such a walk, but bugspray is essential in these woods. We follow what appears to be an old car track. The sun is out, and the trees are thick to either side of the path. We tramp along, me with my white cane and Tom with his walking stick. We talk, at first about the woods, the sound of the wind in the trees, and that we expected to hear more birds. We soon begin talking about books—books we’ve read, books we are reading
We walk for maybe two kilometres until we come to the bird observatory. Tents are set up to one side of the building, which turns out to be a group of teens enjoying a week of birding at the sanctuary.
Inside, we meet a lovely young woman who works at the observatory. She explains the work they do, showing us into what looks like a living room, where a whole crew is gathering for lunch. Apparently, the observatory has already started its fall migration banding program.
It’s a relief to be inside and away from the mosquitoes, but we don’t stay. We get some directions: they tell us the summer rains have flooded the paths nearer Beaverhill Lake, but we can take another path out to Lister Lake where we will find a rise that overlooks the marsh. And off we go.
***
We pass another set of birders on our way—this small group led by another young woman who stops to say hello. We ask about the practice of netting and banding small birds, and she explains how it’s done and how records are kept. No gloves and sharp beaks means sore hands and fingers for these birders.
As we get closer to Lister Lake, the path shows more evidence of flooding—the mud and water here is deep enough to lose a boot if we’re not careful. We have to move off the path, which is now under water, and make our way through the bush that crowds either side.
Eventually, we come to a low hill that overlooks the lake. Its more a marsh than a lake—crowded with cattails and bulrushes, with bits of open water among the reeds. We stop and listen. A deep silence underpins the sounds of the marsh—bird calls, the splashing of ducks, and the rattle of reeds in the breeze. The silence of this land has a quality, a shape left by retreating glaciers and countless days of sun and rain and snow. And this is, in part, what we came here to find, and what we will take with us when we leave.

Caledonia on My Mind

In August of 2015, I made my first trip to Scotland with my youngest daughter. She was moving to the UK on a working/visa, and I went along to experience my ancestral home and visit Oxford, the home of two of my literary heroes, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.
Our first day in Glasgow, I wrote:
“August 16, 2015: I’m not sure what I was expecting on coming here. I was expecting to feel as though I was in a strange place. It doesn’t feel strange at all—different, but not strange.”
We spent five days in Glasgow that first trip. We stayed in an Air BnB on Queen Margret Drive, just above North Star, a small café run by a lovely couple. Every morning, I went down to the café and got coffee. I would stand outside the flat, having my coffee and smoking, while the life of the street passed by.
I wrote several pieces on that and subsequent trips to Scotland, including Encountering the Literary, A Visit to Hadrian’s Wall, and the Glasgow Connection to Harry Potter. And, of course, there are always Scottish castles.
I have been a father now longer than I’ve been anything else in my life. It’s a parent’s job to guide his or her children, but my children have guided me on adventures where I might not have gone on my own. It’s my youngest I have to thank for my Caledonian connection.

From the Blog Archive, Visiting New Zealand

Our Edmonton summer is reminding me of a New Zealand winter, save for the longer evenings. Here are some highlights from my trip to New Zealand’s North Island with my daughter last year.

• We both love waterfalls, so we stopped to visit Hunua Falls, not far outside of Auckland.

• My daughter had the idea to visit some caves. I’ve never gone caving before, and going more than a hundred metres underground in the Ruakuri Caves near Waitomo was an amazing, if slightly unnerving experience.
These caves are limestone, and when they collapse, after a hundred thousand years or so, they create deep gorges, where it’s also fun to walk and crawl.

• And, of course, we had to visit Hobbiton—one more time, ending up at the Green Dragon Inn, which is a great way to end the tour of Peter Jackson’s Shire.

More About Anne

After posting the call for submissions to “All Things Anne,” I decided to hunt around to see how people are responding to Anne these days. I didn’t have to look far.
Bear in mind, L. M. Montgomery published Anne of Green Gables in 1908. At the time, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the Liberals formed the government of Canada; as provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan were just three years-old; and a loaf of bread, if you didn’t make it yourself, would cost you around five cents. Anne has had over a century to filter her way through the imaginations of thousands of readers. Here are some responses to Anne that are worth checking out.
Ann Foster writes, “The Forgotten History of Anne of Green Gables” on the occasion of season two of Anne with an E on Netflix;
Samantha Ellis, from The Guardian, writes, “Ten Things Anne of Green Gables Taught Me;”
And, if you’re a dedicated #AnneFan, then you might want to consider reading or writing some Anne of Green Gables fanfic.
Finally, check out this video of a visit to Green Gables Heritage Place on Prince Edward Island—always, always worth a trip. When you visit, one of the first things they explain is that Anne—spoiler alert—is a fictional character. Enjoy!

A Call for Anne Submissions

Gilbert reached across the aisle, picked up the end of Anne’s long red braid, held it out at arm’s length and said in a piercing whisper:
“Carrots! Carrots!”
Then Anne looked at him with a vengeance! She did more than look. She sprang to her feet, her bright fancies fallen into cureless ruin. She flashed one indignant glance at Gilbert from eyes whose angry sparkle was swiftly quenched in equally angry tears.
“You mean, hateful boy!” she exclaimed passionately. “How dare you!”
And then thwack! Anne had brought her slate down on Gilbert’s head and cracked it slate not head clear across.
Avonlea school always enjoyed a scene. This was an especially enjoyable one. Everybody said “Oh” in horrified delight. Diana gasped. Ruby Gillis, who was inclined to be hysterical, began to Cry.
(Montgomery, L. M. Anne of Green Gables. Chapter XV, “A Tempest in the School Teapot.”)

This iconic scene in which Anne Shirley smashes her slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head is burned into the minds of Anne fans everywhere. I love Anne, and I’m attached to the books—just not in quite the same way as I’m attached to other books or other authors.
However, I was interested and delighted to see a call for submissions to the summer edition of Eastern Iowa Review: All Things Anne.
For Anne fans everywhere, this is your chance to indulge in fan fiction, poetry, nonfiction, or anything else related to Anne. You will have to visit the site for more details, but you have until September 30 to submit.
I’ve never written fan fiction, but I’ve thought about it. If I were to write about Anne, I might do something like Anne and robots, or Anne of Green Gables on Mars. But I probably won’t—maybe—I don’t know.
I’ve visited Prince Edward Island many times—it’s a lovely, picturesque place, full of friendly, interesting people. And I can’t overstate the friendliness of PEI. People there go far out of their way to help me when I visit. I once had a guy abandon his lunch and car—keys in the ignition and music playing—to walk me more than a block to the bank. He even came inside to make sure I found the ATM.
Last time I visited, one of the hotel staff walked me several blocks to the place where I caught the Hippo, an amphibious vehicle that tours downtown Charlottetown and the Charlottetown harbour. The only other time I encountered someone from a hotel who was that helpful was in Portland, Oregon, another fabulous place to visit.
So if I were to write about Anne, I might write about how the island itself has become a place of pilgrimage for Anne fans, of how you can visit those places Lucy Maud lived as a child and woman before her marriage that took her away to Ontario; or of how the people of the island have something of a love/hate relationship with Anne Shirley, as she has become inextricably part of the island economy. Regardless of what I do or don’t do, such a call is an excuse to revisit the books once again and think about Anne Shirley and the island with the generous heart.

From the Blog Archive, Visiting the Rock

I was in a coffee shop on Vancouver Island in April. I was wearing a t-shirt I bought at Cape Spear. Two women came up to me and asked if I was from Newfoundland. I’m not, but they were, and they very quickly started telling me about their home on Newfoundland’s Avalon peninsula. These women spoke of their home with a warmth I don’t often hear.
One of the most memorable trips I took last year was to Newfoundland with my friend Tom Wharton. We flew to Halifax, then took the ferry from Sydney, Cape Breton, over to Newfoundland. You can read the post here. Then there was the North Atlantic off Cape Spear—something I won’t soon forget. I’m looking forward to a return visit to the Rock. If you want a book that captures this part of the world, check out Sweetland by Michael Crummey. It’s an awesome read.