That Summer at Squitty Bay

Excerpt, A Killing at Easter Hill, a serialized novella by Alex Rose

That morning we met Miro, the caretaker who lived in the cabin one cove over. He must have been briefed by the colonel because he was friendly and accommodating from the first, helping us move in and get the babies settled.

Miro seemed to understand we had come to the island to rest, to get away from people all July and August. But by the end of the first week, we had questions about the colonel’s log home, about the property and best place to fish. As if on cue Miro would appear, his Mannlicher-Schoenauer bolt-action rifle in hand.

He knew we were curious about the rifle and said he used it to hunt wild sheep and deer that lived on the island.

Over the summer we heard rumours about Miro: that he had been a Czech freedom fighter, that he was an expert marksman and that the colonel hired him as a warning to the drug dealers who grew marijuana in the fields across the road. (The islanders tell the story of how one dealer, who after betraying his family, had been strapped to the engine block of a rusting car and pushed off the cliff and into Johnstone Strait. Police divers never did find the corpse.)

That summer at Squitty Bay, it was fine and hot. While Beatrice worked on her manuscript, I hiked and swam with the children and learned to fish for salmon and rock cod.

One afternoon on a bluff looking across the strait to Mount Washington, I fell asleep to wake up with the sense a rifle sight was aimed at my head.

Miro invited me to go hunting. We followed the rocky trail across the granite shale at the base of the cliff before heading back up another trail, one groomed by wild sheep and Fallow deer. Weeds broke into blossom in the heat of the afternoon. Miro waved me into a kneeling position behind a favourite tree stand. He loaded one bullet into the chamber before passing me his rifle. I was to kill the animal with a single bullet into its “boiler room,” the heart and lungs.

Sometime later a Fallow deer wandered into the clearing.

I took the shot but missed. The bullet ricocheted off a rock. The deer leapt up and bolted into the scrub.

Next afternoon, Miro arrived with a rack of wild lamb; we cooked it over an open fire — with fresh rosemary and tomatoes and beans from the colonel’s garden.

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Foul Bay Rambler

Excerpt, A Killing at Easter Hill, a serialized novel by Alex Rose

We met Tal in journalism school and he was just the thing for it. Short, pugnacious, he was a revving engine of  a man with a shock of blonde hair falling into his face.

Tal had gone to an elite prep school and was a close reader — devouring the books we loved but on a level deeper — and employing a convoluted academic theory to investigate construals of truth — actually his longing for a kind of innocence and transcendence beyond the profane world he claimed we live in.

Finn Slough is a tiny Fraser River fishing community located at the south end of No. 4 Road in Richmond, B.C. Lee Bacchus image

He was a great talker, our Samuel Taylor. Tal knew every lyric of Astral Weeks, every Eliot Christian reference and — in our heaviest rotation — all smut and scandal of Larkin, Joyce and Ginsberg. On long rambles through the crunch of Vancouver’s leafy West Side we chortled at Pynchon’s world of paranoia, sex, conspiracies and shadowy government agencies so persuasive that, under Tal’s tutelage, we began to see such signs and signifiers everywhere.

Tal had written a paper on Lawrence and surprised us by saying the poems were better than the famous prose. Tal hammered home the Lawrence dictum that ours is essentially a tragic age — so we refuse to take it tragically.

But life intervenes. I introduced Tal to Florian and he was smitten instantly. He fell hard, his world turned aslant. Florian had inherited heaven’s graces and then some. Tall and handsome — a Byronic crown of curly black hair — all the girls and more than a few of the boys clamoured for the pleasure of his company; the mystery, the wit and inclusive humour that could turn cruel for no reason whatsoever. (Combing though a psychoanalytic dictionary, we chanced upon an entry that described Florian’s seductive personality — but were never able to find it again).

In Florian’s company Tal turned coquette and suitor — despite himself, despite his intellectual rigour. A man in love unknowing, he turned silly and fey — turning up at Florian’s flat at Alma and 2nd unannounced, every and all hours. 

Flattered at first and amused by Tal’s exculpations, Florian soon enough began diluting the experience making Tal ever more determined in wounded pursuit. 

One Saturday morning, I was witness to a humbling contumelious. I came up the stairs to hear Tal whining, begging for comfort, for Florian’s approbation. ‘I’m fat,’ he sobbed.

Florian had turned his back, a slim silhouette looking down into the street.

‘What can I do?  Look at my fat,’ grabbing at a great loose gut spilling out over his belt. ‘Help me, Florian — please.’

‘You are fat. Too fucking fat. And a vexation to my spirit,” said Florian, holding the door. 

‘Don’t  you understand you’re not my problem.’

Some time later Tal  and I worked the Monday night council beat at the New Westminster Columbian newspaper, a farm league for the big-city papers. Forty bucks a story.

It was a tawdry affair with bad flourecent lighting that helped hide the burned out lives hunched over cheap computer screens driven by a flickering orange curser. Hacks, liars and toadies toiled away while diminishing time before deadline became more and more valuable. Cursing, sarcasm and threats ruled the rim as the younger reporters — or those who still gave a shit about municipal politics — tried hard to believe they were professionals, not just scum.

I was updating a Port Moody sewerage story when Tal sidled up to my desk. Greying teeth, cascading dandruff, soiled gym socks and more than a whiff of failure.

‘What’s up? What’s your story?’ I asked.

‘Nada. No news from Surrey,’ Tal said.

‘Whoa.  You got to come up with something, buddy. A feature on the farmer’s market, the wrestling champ from Queensborough — the bore who collects classic cars, anything. The editors expect it. The game, you know.’

‘No. Nothing. Not any more,’ Tal said, storming out.

————-

After he was fired, Tal quit journalism and embraced his true calling — a kind of intellectual Christianity. And flacking for a non-demoninational charity he met and married a woman priest — an expert on Elaine Pagels — and moved to Foul Bay.

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Excerpt, A Killing at Easter Hill, a novella by Lars Kohesiv

Fifteen years ago they bought the bishopric near Lime Kiln Point on San Juan Island and have lived there ever since. Before retirement, Denise commuted every week to Seattle Medical Centre, where she worked as a psychiatric nurse. Monday to Friday she stayed at her mother’s home on Capitol Hill while Piers stayed on the island, working as a “mediation consultant.” (About his actual occupation there was an insistence of whispered innuendo — gigolo, grifter, con man — but here on the Coast with few real jobs, such talk is common enough.)

A tall man with close-set eyes who marched along in an exaggerated show of vigour, Piers was born in Argentina and came to the U.S. as a teenager. As an ice-breaker, he describes himself as “more Brit than the British.” He has the plummy accent down, using it to great effect when the local theatre stages My Fair Lady and Major Barbara. He was also elected councillor for the Islands Trust, coming alive in public Q & A sessions.

Over the years, the two built a working garden with fresh vegetables to get them through the year. A handsome border of flowers — each coming into bloom in sequence — completes the picture, alongside a maze of deer netting, de rigeur on all the Gulf Islands.

They also built a pond and, over time, stocked it with exotics such as Green Spotted Puffer fish, Sting Rays — all brightly-coloured, shimmering. Late in the afternoon, sipping gin and wine, they sat beside the pool, luxuriating in the pride of their accomplishment. 

But the fish proved easy picking for raccoons and herons. A series of nets and traps were deployed to thwart the marauders but were less than successful: the Blue heron with its dagger-like beak.

One day, as Denise came up the long driveway to the bishopric, she heard the blast of a shotgun. Pulling into the driveway, walking round back, she saw Piers standing by the pool, a dead heron in one hand, a smoking shotgun in the other, his face beet red and wreathed in triumph. As if in supplication, he held it up to her — that bleeding and broken thing. 

For the first time, Piers had killed for her. And they were both very happy indeed.

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Still Life with Apples

Oil on canvas

Walter Giesbrecht, 2011

Edouard Manet once called still life “the touchstone of painting.”

A still life, derived from the Dutch word stilleven, is a piece that features an arrangement of inanimate objects as its subject. Usually, these items are set on a table and often include organic objects like fruit and flowers and household items like glassware and textiles.

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“Game(s) On” – New Book by Tewanee Joseph

Ten years ago, as CEO of Four Host First Nations, Tewanee Joseph was widely credited with “putting an Indigenous face” on the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Since then, Indigenous stories have become integral to the daily news mix in Canada — with articles about pipeline protests, land and resource battles, missing and murdered Indigenous women and poisoned drinking water on reserves — as well as features on art, culture and politics.

In his new book, Game(s) On, Tewanee Joseph writes about the new inclusiveness dramatically reshaping Canadian society. Biracial — Maori father and Squamish Nation mother — the 46-year-old tells of his struggle to understand the forces that shaped him, growing up hard on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. And, how his love of lacrosse saved him and how he was protected at every turn by his mother.

His is a powerful book of self-discovery with illuminating insights into the problems not only of race and class, but of culture and ethnicity. Since his Olympic victory, Joseph — working in business, youth sports and education — has become an influential voice throughout this country. Feb. 2020 will mark the 10-year anniversary of the Four Host First Nations success. His book will be featured there.

Walhachin Press, the North Vancouver-based indie co-op, will publish the book. Alex Rose is providing editorial services.

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From the Archives: Excerpt, Peter Pearse’s ‘A Natural Selection’– best seller from Walhachin Press

Prologue

One crisp winter day in 1972, a light southeasterly rippled the Strait of Juan de Fuca as we made our run from Victoria in the Puffin, a sturdy cabin cruiser. We were comfortable if a bit crowded. Stacked about the deck and piled high in the wheelhouse was shooting gear — several shotguns, waders, food, several bottles and other supplies. Two dogs milled about the deck as the vessel rolled in a light chop. These were happy days indeed. Penny sat beside me and, together with her family, we were on our way. Our destination, somewhere in the fetch of that silver sea, was Sidney Island, the southernmost of Canada’s Gulf Island chain.

Mid-morning we nosed into the tiny wharf at the head of the lagoon and were met by Jack Todd in a Volkswagen bus with two more dogs. Chaos. People shouted introductions over the gunwale as we offloaded the baggage; too many hands at the mooring lines and too many dogs tumbling in circles over one another. But things were soon sorted out and our safari was bumping down the overgrown ruts of the island’s only road.

I was the outsider. Jack was the major owner of the island, having bought out nine of the original 10 members of a group of Victoria businessmen who, attracted by the island’s prolific flocks of brant, ducks and other waterfowl, had bought it whole in 1916 as a hunting retreat. The tenth interest, originally held by Penny’s grandfather, was now held by her father, Richard Wilson, mayor of Victoria at the time. Being a minority owner, Wilson was not much involved in the running of the island, but he usually took his family for a visit in December to find a Christmas tree. This year, my relationship with Penny having grown closer, I was invited to join the group – Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, Penny, and her brother David (“Wick”) a Victoria lawyer. 

Jack, an avid hunter, had proposed we augment our quest for a Christmas tree with duck hunting, and we had come prepared. But we were to gather first at the farmhouse halfway down the island to have coffee, warm up and get organized. The road took us through the forest and, being a forester, I was immediately struck by the vigorous canopy of Douglas fir second growth, with a remarkable variety of other conifers and hardwoods, including rare Garry oaks and our only native broadleaf evergreen and — my favourite — the stunning arbutus, with its rich orange bark and shiny green leaves in the middle of winter. The forest made a lasting impression on me. And does to this day. Including the arbutus trees that ring our house on the southeastern tip of the island; the orange bark the first thing we see each morning.

That day passed quickly. We idled at coffee, lunch and ducks, and as the sun dipped to the northwest horizon, we realized we had made no progress on the Christmas tree. A good Christmas tree is hard to find in a wild forest; most trees too big or too small, too scrawny or lopsided, and we had not given enough time and attention to finding a suitable one.

Nevertheless, there was one last pond at the south end of the island that Jack insisted we hunt. After that it was time for us to pack up. As Penny and I walked back toward the van, sharing our frustration about the lack of a Christmas tree, we suddenly came upon a perfect specimen. Alas, we had no axe or saw, having left them in the truck where our companions were now waiting for us. But this was our last chance, so after a brief assessment of our alternatives, Penny stood back. I raised my shotgun, fired, and the tree fell cleanly from its stump. When asked about our hunting success, we could now boast four mallards and a Christmas tree.

For more than a quarter of a century, we have been working on a dream: to turn Sidney Island into a self-sustaining conservation community.

My wife Penny and I built a home at Wymond Point, at the southernmost tip of the island. And, over the years, I have hiked every inch of the forest, played with grandchildren in the meadow and circumnavigated the lovely beaches that ring the island.

The place is in my blood now and I love it. But with that affection comes a daunting responsibility: to protect Sidney Island, to make it grow in a sustainable way. That means tough decisions for major challenges. In these pages I discuss some of those challenges and suggest some solutions going forward. But above all, I remain confident. At every turn, Sidney Islanders have proved themselves a creative, resourceful and dedicated crew.

I have been fortunate in my academic career: as a resource economist at the University of B.C., I chaired Royal Commissions on forestry, fisheries and water. Little did I know that, during my retirement, I would have to roll up my sleeves to apply those lessons learned — in my island work.

Now retired, I have time to walk the forests, chat with neighbours and read history. During the summer, I occasionally take visitors or neighbours on tours of the forest, which gives me great pleasure; as a young man I worked as a timber cruiser on Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands.

The Gulf Islands are famous for summer sun and sandy beaches. Less restful but more interesting, indeed thrilling, is the site of a southeast gale tearing at trees with a line of broken waves on the rocks below. Walking high on the ridge, Penny and I bear witness to the forces of nature that so define this special place.

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