In Celebration of Trees

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This is one of the best blogs I’ve seen. Nick Rowan (he even has a tree name) is the Treeographer. He’s also a traveller, woodworker, and a wonderful writer.

The Treeographer is my attempt to bring my enthusiasm for trees to others – not by evoking guilt or pity, but rather by celebrating the interlacing history of man and tree.

Farley and Me

Farley Mowat and I go back a long way. I didn’t know him personally but his stories taught me much of what I knew about the Canadian north when I was a kid. He was the quintessential Canadian writer, not just because he wrote about Canada, but because, like the land, his stories held, and continue to hold, such power. And he was from my time. When he mentions Eric the Red and Leif the Lucky, I smile. Those were the Vikings that fascinated me in third grade, when the bottom half of our notebooks were lined and the top left blank for a pencil sketch of the explorers. Long before Ragnar Lothbrok. It was a time when authors (white males) wrote with omniscient (godlike) viewpoints and felt no need for political correctness because it didn’t yet exist.

Lost in the Barrens


I spent the last few days reading myself to sleep with Lost in the Barrens. This is the book that teachers recommend to boys who don’t read, for within its pages lie adventures they will never experience any other way. I don’t know for sure, but I’ll bet that Gary Paulsen of Hatchet fame found Farley Mowat’s books when he was a kid.

Written in 1956, Lost in the Barrens was the third book Farley published, and it won the Governor General’s Award. This “survival story” details the adventures of an orphaned Toronto boy named Jamie Macnair and his Cree friend Awasin, who go hunting caribou with the Chipewyans and end up lost and fighting for their lives in the land of their tribal enemies, the Eskimos.

The two sixteen-year-old boys ride out a six-month mythic hero’s journey where they are tested step by step and page by page. They encounter:

  • rapids that destroy their canoe, matches, and most possessions
  • a stonehouse grave with Viking treasures (Farley tells its tale later in The Curse of the Viking Grave, 1967)
  • physical injuries and starvation
  • the sight of 250,000 caribou moving in long files down the valley and later an epic hunt
  • winter in the barrens and a blizzard that nearly kills them both
  • wild animals that they tame (a fawn and two lost sled dogs) and some that they don’t (wolverines and wolves)
  • snowblindness (the White Fire) that nearly drives them mad

At its heart is Awasin’s wisdom and Farley’s theme: “if you fight against the spirits of the north you will always lose.” Its echo resounds as the boys arrive home: “always travel with the forces of the land and never fight against them.”

The Forces of the Land.

I grew up in southern Ontario not far from where Farley spent his final days and some blue moons, the land calls me. I don’t know if it’s ancestral memory, karmic echoes, or simply the allure of home, but this land draws me like lodestone. A kind of madness ensues and I find myself on pricing Kawartha cottages where I went to university, or sorting through faded black and whites, or just visualizing the fields and trails where I rode my horse in Pickering.

SCAN0125My memories are forged on the flora and fauna of what I grew up calling the Eastern Woodlands. I understand the way of the land there; know the names of all the trees and plants; can still smell the odour of wax-pressed fall leaves and crave the sugar bush; remember the purple trillium, and the enormous oaks and elms that shaded us from summer sun so we could read beneath their boughs. And though I’ve lived in British Columbia for two decades I’ve never lost the lure of the lakeside cabin in the bush.

cabin in the bush

Like Yeats and Thoreau I long to cast off the city and “live deliberately” — until I think about mosquitoes and black flies, -30 Celsius and a metre of snow, and remember just how deliberate that is.

But still it calls. And, in part, I owe that calling to Farley Mowat.

Farley died in 2014 at the age of 92. He was still writing. Maclean’s magazine wrote such a stunning salute to Farley at the time of his death that I can only point the way.

In his hand he held a tiny sea shell, so old that when Awasin took it, it crumbled into dust between his fingers.

Jamie looked out over the broad valley to the dim blue line of the hills to the east. He spoke with awe. “Thousands, maybe a million years ago, this must have been one huge ocean, ” he said. “And these hills were just islands in it.”

Awasin was not surprised as Jamie expected him to be. “There’s a Cree legend about that,” he replied. “It tells of a time when the whole northern plains were all water and the water was filled with strange monsters.”


Wilderness Dweller

This woman, Chris Czajkowski, is one of my heroes. For thirty years, she’s lived off the grid alone in the wilderness with dogs for company, built her own cabins, and written her books. I thought of Chris tonight as I was reading Farley Mowatt’s classic, Lost in the Barrens. I saw her present at Sechelt Writer’s Festival years ago, and I wondered how she survived the raging forest fires this summer.
2017 10 17 Chris Czajkowski_0Here you can read her experience living through the wildfires in northern BC.

I see she has a book tour in BC this fall.  If you can make it to any of her readings or presentations, please come out and support this amazing woman.

The Power of Trees

Trees are powerful sentient beings who help mankind and ask for no reward, which is why this garden of trees is so fitting a memorial. Each tree in the Ringfinnan Garden of Remembrance grows for and bears the name of one firefighter or first responder lost during 9/11. There are 343 trees.

We visited the garden before we left Kinsale, Co Cork, Ireland in late July. Its creator, Kathleen Cait Murphy, was born in Kinsale but worked as a nurse for forty years in New York City at Lennox Hill Hospital. After 9/11, she decided to create the garden on her family land. It is dedicated to Father Mychal Judge, Chaplain in the New York Fire Department and personal friend of Kathleen. Though she lost her life to cancer on 29 March, 2011, the garden is still tended and is, in many ways, a tribute to the woman herself.


Wandering through the lines of trees, I read the names, ranks, and positions of those who perished. It is a sad and sombre place on a soft rise that reaches out over the countryside. Some trees cradle weatherworn shirts in their branches.  Faded ballcaps adorn the monument. Over the past sixteen years, many families and friends have made a pilgrimage to this sacred place where memories live through the power of the trees.


You can follow a map to the garden via Trip Advisor.

Thoreau’s September Moon

moon-1736608_1920What if one moon has come and gone with its world of poetry, its weird teachings, its oracular suggestions? So divine a creature, freighted with hints for me, and I not use her! One moon gone by unnoticed! Suppose you attend to the hints, to the suggestions, which the moon makes for one month,–commonly in vain,–will they not be very different from anything in literature or religion or philosophy?

Henry David Thoreau

7 Sept 1851

Egyptian Queen Nefertiti

via Photoshop Animation Reconstructs The Face Of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti

This is a fascinating post from Realm of History that offers us the faces of King Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti via facial reconstruction and photoshop animation. There are actually two videos. Click the link and scroll down to see a facial reconstruction of both the king and queen and read their story.


In this image (a reconstruction by Sven Geruschkat) Nefertiti is wearing a gold broad collar decorated with faience beads similar to the one the archaeologist discovers in my urban fantasy mystery, To Sleep with Stones. The writer also explains the political turmoil and chaos that Akhenaten created when he attempted to change the religious views of the people. My story concerns their daughter, Meritaten.

During the chaos, Meritaten flees Egypt and ends up in Scotland where she loses her gold broad collar. Twenty-five hundred years later, archaeologist Sorcha O’Hallorhan discovers it at the bottom of a well in Kilmartin Glen, a landscape rife with megaliths. Her discovery sets off a chain of events that ends in murder.

SORCHA FOUND IT IN THE MUD. Pried it from beneath a thin flat stone with tenderness and a trowel—a mud-encrusted, green-tinged, tangled mess. Dylan watched, so entranced he couldn’t breathe.

When she popped the trowel back in the faded caddy, she wore tied around her waist, he inhaled at last. Peeling off one glove, and then the other, she let them fall. As she cradled the object in her palm, her green eyes flickered as if it was speaking to her, and his mind flared again. Did she share his gift? Perhaps, have a talent for psychometry? Imagine holding a golden torque in your hand and seeing its tale unfold in cinematic brilliance. Imagine knowing whose head it adorned, where all it had travelled, and how many lives it had saved, or snuffed out.

She squatted, dipped her treasure reverently in a bucket of water; then cleansed it with her bare fingers. Sorcha was a renegade archaeologist who didn’t always follow procedure or stick to the grid. He usually admired that, but today it gave him shivers.

Kai stamped his foot like a nervous horse, and shone the torch. “Gold,” he murmured, with sly elation, and Dylan cringed, knowing he was considering the cash that could be made from the sale of such an artifact on the black market.

“Thank you, god,” she whispered, cupping it to her breast. It was just an expression—the only god she worshipped was fame. Sorcha O’Hallorhan was searching for archaeological connections between the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, where they currently stood, and a land twenty-five hundred miles southeast. Egypt. This artifact was quite possibly the connecting cord; the evidence she needed to prove a legend real and grasp that fame.

“Is it—?” asked Dylan.

“Aye lads.” She fondled the turquoise beads. Faience. Just like the beads that adorned the golden collar of King Tut. “I knew we’d find her.” She was Meritaten, eldest daughter of Egyptian King Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti. It was the stuff of story, and to prove it true would change the way the world viewed prehistory.

Kai reached out his large rough hand. He wanted to hold it.

But Sorcha drew back, slipped it in her vest pocket and began climbing the rope ladder.

They’d dug down nearly eighteen feet into a pre-Celtic holy well because Sorcha had a theory. People offered gifts to the guardians of holy wells; and sometimes too, they used them to hide things. At this depth, the team had already travelled back in time three millenniums, and unearthed a scattering of bronze axe heads, obsidian arrowheads, jet beads and pottery shards; the skull of an extinct great auk with its long curved bill still intact; the shed antlers of a stag; and sadly, a malformed infant. But that was nothing compared to this.