Did Erebus ‘rock the world’?

My book, 10 Ships That Rocked the World, is now available in Korean since rights have been sold to a publisher in that country. I hope that means many more young readers will learn about the ships that focused the world’s attention on momentous and influential events throughout history.

While compiling a list of ships to be included in this book, Erebus came to mind, but only in the context of the Franklin Expedition, and it was felt that topic had been well covered already in the school curriculum. However, I was unaware of the earlier and extensive history of Erebus….until I recently read Michael Palin’s 2018 book, Erebus, The Story of a Ship. His writing chronicles the successful scientific expeditions of the British ship to the Antarctic, beginning in 1839, under command of James Clark Ross. Along with her companion ship, Terror, Erebus sailed further south than any ship had ever done while her crew mapped the coastline and determined that Antarctica was actually a continent, not merely a group of ice-covered islands.

Those earlier years of Erebus are fascinating to read about in view of the extreme conditions in which those explorers had to operate, and how well the sturdy ship performed. We miss all that detail and intrigue if we only see Erebus in the context of her Arctic fate. In fact, her reputation as a vessel worthy of polar exploration recommended her for the 1845 Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage. Palin writes about that too, but the bulk of his book deals with the Antarctic adventures. Read Franklin’s Lost Ship (John Geiger and Alanna Mitchell, 2015) for its engrossing tale of the Arctic misadventure and discovery of the wreck.

In 10 Ships That Rocked the World (2015), you’ll find a brief mention of Erebus in Chapter 5. As I worked through the final drafts, amazing news of the discovery of the resting place of Erebus hit the media in the fall of 2014. I was able to include the link to the story of the Civil War submarine, H.L.Hunley, with a reference to how submersible technology inspired the sonar imaging equipment that eventually located the sunken Erebus in the Arctic Ocean’s Queen Maud Gulf.

Christmas Bird Count Prize

Another CBC is ‘in the books’ after our recent December day of observations along the shore of Shuswap Lake opposite Salmon Arm. Our section is about 25 km long including a few side roads, Herald Provincial Park and the Margaret Falls trail (now finally reopened after extensive repairs due to a washout a couple of years ago).

Margaret Falls Trail along Reinecker Creek

Besides driving, we walk parts of the side roads, and trek through the park closed to vehicle access in the winter. Even with plenty of conifers, shoreline and the bubbling Reinecker Creek that empties into Shuswap Lake, it seems off that we rarely come across any birds to add to our list here. Golden-crowned Kinglets are the most likely, at play among the cedar branches. In past years, American Dippers foraged up at the falls, and a Townsend’s Solitaire would be a fine prize. We haven’t seen either of them lately.

We’d collected the usual suspects—Black-capped Chickadees, Red-shafted Flickers, Common Goldeneye, Horned Grebe—but really wanted a Bald Eagle to boost our species numbers. Alas, we’d reached the end of the trail with no such sighting. On the way back between Canoe Point and Bastion Ranch, a small white tuft caught my eye: Bingo! A Northern Pygmy Owl, sitting there calm as you please as if waiting to be counted.

Only a few hundred metres farther along, we stopped again to admire an elegant Raven perched beside the road. And what should fly into the same small tree, but a Hairy Woodpecker. A productive section of the road for sure!

We finished without an eagle, but managed to collect 40 species that day.

My umbrella…

It’s been a rainy autumn in my home area of BC. That means plenty of days when I could use my umbrella. Since rainy days are dreary, I bought an umbrella that is far from dull. It depicts Claude Monet’s 1886 Impressionist painting, Woman with an Umbrella, alight with the yellows, greens and blues of a sunny day. Why make gloomy days more dingy with a plain, boring, dark umbrella? It would be like carrying the rain cloud with you!

More attracted to Realism for its close observation of detail, I’m not a devoted fan of Impressionism. But I do enjoy the light and color of the natural images and the sensory effect of fleeting glimpses of detail. It’s cheery, especially for an umbrella, offering the feeling that brighter skies are only moments away.

I’ve had many compliments on that umbrella. I respond that it is probably the only ‘Monet’ I’ll ever have. So I was delighted to have the chance to visit Giverny, Monet’s home and garden near Paris this spring. I’d see the actual inspiration for his work, with maybe a chance to own another ‘Monet’.

The gardens at Giverny are popular, so the pathways that wove through the acreage around ponds and over bridges were filled with visitors. But it was a quiet pilgrimage, everyone enjoying the profusion of colors and artistic landscape design that Monet created. I was surprised to find so many of the same flowers that I’ve planted at home…


Lunaria….Honesty….Money Plant

One plant, lunaria, grown for its papery silver seed pods was one of my dad’s favorites. The other names he told me—honesty, money plant—are the ones I remember best.

This shop sold umbrellas….much like mine. The main gift shop was awash with souvenir items all depicting favorite Monet images. I now own a Water Lilies mouse pad; it is at my fingertips all day, recalling the enjoyable tour of a springtime garden that inspired one artist’s legacy…and an umbrella that lifts my mood every rainy day.

A journey to Canadian War Memorials

A marker found in many of the war cemeteries

Another Remembrance Day is on the horizon. Each year at this time, the sacrifices of so many in decades past, as well as in recent years, is brought back to mind with images and stories. I’m glad the stories of veterans’ experiences have been collected and archived to help keep this aspect of our history alive. As I’ve watched the televised ceremonies from war memorials both in Canada and in Europe, I’ve often thought how much more meaningful it would be to visit some of them, to stand on the actual sites of battles and see how they are commemorated.

Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, near Ypres, Belgium

So the 75th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2019 was the perfect excuse to visit the historic Second World War sites where so many Canadian soldiers gave their lives for our freedom. We chose an escorted motor coach tour of cemeteries and associated memorials and museums around Normandy, and, with the relative proximity and abundance of First World War cemeteries such as the iconic Vimy Ridge Memorial, into the Ypres Salient as well.

But would it be a sad or morbid journey, in view of the tens of thousands of graves that dot the Normandy countryside and beyond? In fact, it was a tangible affirmation of all that I’d read, both nonfiction and historical fiction, of the depth of loss in that dark time. Hard to imagine, though, the lush green farmland and tidy villages we drove through as, twice, a killing field. Seeing first hand the serene, carefully tended resting places where white gravestones stood in recognition showed me the degree of homage that continues to be paid to the Allied liberators of Europe. It elevated my appreciation of the value of their sacrifice to my own and future generations. Every Canadian should see these sites, not only to remember personal ancestors but also to realize why such catastrophic events must never be repeated.

My brief article with photos about this tour is posted at https://guide2travel.ca/2019/10/a-journey-of-remembrance-to-canadian-war-memorials/

Katie and Gulliver

Katie waited for Gulliver’s familiar, raucous wake-up call. Instead, she heard sparrows arguing in the bushes beside the cottages. She heard fishing boats chug away in the morning mist. She heard wavelets slurp-slop under the wooden docks. She didn’t hear Gulliver.

“Maybe he missed the ferry,” Dad teased.

“Bet he found a new girlfriend,” said Uncle Ralph.

Katie pushed the cereal around in her bowl. “He’s not coming.”

“Wait and see,” Dad said, and Uncle Ralph agreed.

My short story, “Katie and Gulliver”, has been published in the July/August issue of Cricket Magazine. I’ve had quite a long association with this US literary publication, one of the best markets for the children’s short stories I love to write; they’ve published 9 of them since 1992.

Katie has grown to love a distinctive one-legged gull that turns up whenever she visits Uncle Ralph’s seaside resort. Gulliver has arrived every summer since Katie was a baby, keeping an eye on her and alerting her dad and uncle to hazards she encountered. Now ten, Katie watches and waits until the last day of holidays. But this summer….no Gulliver. Her decision to search for him outside the protected harbor almost ends badly. Except, it seems, Gulliver is still her guardian angel…

This story explores the special connection that sometimes exists between humans and animals, and how that bond endures. It may border on fantasy, depending on what you choose to believe. But it was inspired by reality: a visit to an RV park along BC’s Sunshine Coast over 20 years ago.


The lively setting was the catalyst: the campground occupied a terraced slope on the shore of a rocky harbour.


Small sailboats chased the wind,  sea birds circled, salty smells wafted from seaweeds tangled in driftwood and the tide gave up, then took back curious treasures.

While shorebirds searched the sand and rocks, or gulls screamed overhead, there was no one-legged gull that I recall. He flew into my imagination as I looked for a central theme, a way to connect Katie’s coming-of-age closely with nature.      But, who knows, maybe there is a Gulliver out there. For sure, the human-animal bond exists. If you read my story, I hope the setting and characters come to life for you….and then let your imagination do the rest.




Showy visitors

Since I am part of the Save Shuswap Songbirds committee, I’m always watching  for birds that fit the description of ‘songbird’ — a small perching bird that sings well. Called passerines, they belong to the order Passeriformes. Various kinds comprise nearly half of all the world’s 10,000 bird species. A suborder, oscines, are the award-winning songsters. Passerines share a physical characteristic of having three toes pointing forward, and one backward which assists with grasping a perch.

One example, this western tanager, is a woodland songbird found in western North America. We often see them in spring and fall in the tall cedars behind the house. British Columbia is within its breeding territory so it may nest nearby. Its song is a bit like that of a robin with a scratchy throat. Its brilliant colors are reminiscent of tropical birds, so it is a treasured sighting here – and even moreso when it this visible.

While we are on the subject of toes, here’s something different: it’s a pileated woodpecker that is called a ‘near-passerine’. Although it also inhabits woodlands, like other woodpeckers it has zygodactyl feet. That means four toes with the first and fourth facing backward and the second and third facing forward. Better for gripping and climbing tree trunks, it seems.


It might not come to mind when thinking of a songbird, as its clarion voice could hardly be described as melodious. Seen on and off all year around this area, it arrived one day to clean out the suet from my feeder.

Saving for a snowy day…

Our winter finally arrived last week with below normal temperatures. Some snow, although we escaped the big storms that have hit the coast, and the extreme cold and winds of the prairies. (Note to self: no regrets about moving west of the mountains!). Feel sorry for the birds at this time of year, so I try to keep the feeder filled. Although I’ve wondered why they have ignored the super-abundance of mountain ash berries in the neighborhood…including on our own tree that has fruit for the first time in its 10 years. Today, I think I know the answer.

Could it be they’ve been saving this nutritious food supply for a ‘snowy’ day? Yesterday morning in bright sunshine, huge flocks of Bohemian waxwings and a couple of dozen robins began swirling around the berry-bearing trees in every yard along the street. They descended on a small one growing wild on our front bank and within half an hour, had stripped it bare. I think they’ve dined on other food for months, using the berries as insurance against the hungry days of late winter. Smart plan, and maybe we can recall this strategy to help forecast future, late season, cold spells.

Bohemian waxwings and robins

One special visitor showed up with the robins: a varied thrush. It is similar in appearance to its robin cousins, but has a black breast-band, orange eyebrow and wingbars. Often solitary, it will flock with robins when foraging for berries. And it will be one of the earlier spring birds I’ll hear calling—a strong single note—from a high perch.

The snow continues to drift down. My walk around the block was a brisk one. And the mountain ash outside my window is bare. But hopefully all those birds are fluffed up, digesting a fine meal.