The Accidental Jungle by J.G. Smith — Vancouver Architect Writes & Illustrates Children’s Book

The Accidental Jungle, Story & illustrations by J.G. Smith c2018, 48 pp. ISBN 978-0-9917481-4-3 

Review by Marilyn Aldworth, District Librarian, North Vancouver School Board

This beautifully illustrated story is simply told but with a few important messages conveyed through the actions of Pascal, a six-year-old boy. Colourful pen & ink drawings are alternated with wallpaper pages on a background of split-leaf philodendron that are appropriate to the theme of nature. 

Pascal and his young, single mother, attracted to an apartment because of the low-rent, move into a dilapidated flat that has been vacant for years. Yet, with true grit and determination they clean it up so it becomes cheerful and bright. Even though Pascal considers it a palace compared to their previous lodging, a dingy basement suite, he feels the lack of a nice green, outdoor space. 

Lo and behold, one day Pascal steps onto the rusty old fire escape and discovers a walled courtyard that is filled with amazing and exotic plants (due to the fact that the cranky landlord dumped all the previous tenant's beloved plants off the fire escape into the empty courtyard). Somehow with neglect but a lot of good growing conditions the plants thrived and grew, some of them stretched 12 feet high to form a dense canopy. This is what Pascal called "An Accidental Jungle", and it became his own private jungle

This urban jungle becomes Pascal's escape from his lonely life and from his schoolyard bullies who torment him on a daily basis. He built himself a tree house, and when he was hungry he could simply pick a banana or a guava from the trees. Still he was constantly taunted and teased at school by the bullies who made fun of his second-hand clothes and his small size. Every day he wondered what nasty new tricks his tormentors had waiting for him.

A parallel story was happening across the city in an old zoo, but the subject was an old lion. The lion, like Pascal was solitary and also taunted and treated badly by schoolboys who threw rocks and litter into his lion pit. One late night the lion managed to escape due to a lightning bolt that brought down a tree that allowed the lion to walk out to freedom. 

The lion sniffs his way through the city to the "accidental jungle" and after being treated kindly and nicely fed by Pascal, they become friends. Pascal names the lion, Louie, and it turns out that when the bullies chase Pascal home, it is Louie who makes sure that they will never bother Pascal again. 

Of course, this cozy little duo of lion and boy can't continue because the zoo director is searching for Louie. When Louie is discovered, the kindly zoo director is amazed at their happy coexistence. Mr. Smith, the director, is so impressed with Pascal's courage and his kindness to Louie that he asks Pascal to come and work with him at the zoo, and to help make the zoo a better place, especially for Louie.

This is a fine read-aloud for primary-aged children, particularly those who may be facing some adversity in their lives. This story reminds me of the well-known classic children's story, The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. 

The 42-page, soft-cover book targets children ages six to 11, but parents and grandparents will enjoy reading it to younger children as well.

To order copies of the book please visit the Facebook page, The Accidental Jungle. Retail price is $18.

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Death in the Salish Sea – Demise of the Wild Chinook

‘Coast-wide, we’ve fished our wild chinook near to nothing. Now we’re fighting for the scraps.

Ten years ago I wrote the book, Who Killed the Grand Banks? But before going to press I insisted the publisher add one chapter: ‘Are wild Pacific salmon doomed to go the way of the Grand Banks cod?’

Yes, it turns out, when it comes to chinook, our magnificent, iconic salmon. One decade on, here in the Salish Sea, wild chinook have been fished to near extinction. This, despite the efforts of federal scientists, a series of independent reports — each more shrill in tone — and the introduction of the federal government’s Wild Salmon Policy in 2005.

But that policy — heralded by politicians and touted by a cadre of public relations specialists — has failed utterly. According to recent research by Simon Fraser University, chinook populations have plummeted in the 10 years since the policy came into effect.

Many have studied the Pacific salmon fishery over the years. Report after report warn: chinook stocks are collapsing. Such reports also result in an oh-so predictable blame game. ‘User groups’ from the commercial and sport fish industries point fingers squarely at the other. ‘Not me.’

Others cite a litany of reasons for the collapse: habitat destruction, climate change, rising water temperatures in salt and freshwater, seals, hatcheries, aquaculture, and more.

What’s really going on? Overfishing, that’s what.

For more then a century, we fished wild chinook stocks long and hard. Little wonder then, by the early 1990s, came calamitous collapse. Stocks fell to such low levels (less than one-tenth of historic levels, where they remain). Today, what’s left of the sport fishery relies largely almost exclusively on artificial fish, pumped out of hatcheries.

As documented in my Grand Banks book: there were many contributing factors in the extinction of the East Coast cod, yes, but the primary cause was overfishing as a resource was turned into an industry: the relentless industrial vacuuming of the ocean floor by Canada’s own inshore trawl fleet — torqued and subsidized at every turn by governments in St. John’s and Ottawa.

By 1992, came an unprecedented ecological disaster to rival any other — the Amazon rain forest notwithstanding — in modern history.

This shameful made-in-Canada plunder was part human greed, part stupidity, part wilful ignorance. Today, the Grand Banks cod collapse is rightly studied as an ecological fail at universities and research centres around the world.

Now, here in the Salish Sea, another ecological collapse. Canada’s disgrace, Pacific version.

This fall, in a series of essays, Walhachin Press contributors Stephen Hume and Misty MacDuffee will explore aspects of the collapse. Another essay will look at potential solutions including turning the Salish Sea into a no-fish zone for chinook salmon.

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Curve of Time

This photo of the vessel, Curve of Time, was taken in Powell River in Aug. 2018. The 85-foot trawler was originally christened Moby Dick and used by Greenpeace in its eco-war against international whalers. The vessel has since been rechristened and is now chartered out to kayakers and researchers.

Muriel Wylie Blanchet’s pre-World War Two memoir, The Curve of Time, was first published 50 years ago.

Now in its fifteenth printing, the perpetual non-fiction bestseller, tells the dramatic story of a mother and her five children as they explored the coast in a 25-foot boat. The latest iteration has an introduction by Timothy Egan of the New York Times.

Allie Rose photos

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Review by Chris Rose: A Shit Storm of Racism, Pain and Violence — White Boy Sees Life through an Indigenous Lens

Obliteration, a novel

by BC Mitchell

Walhachin Press

159 pp (paper)

$18.75

Discussions of racism, isolation, boredom, addiction and a general distrust of academic thought that permeate northern Canada are never included in glossy tourism brochures promoting the nation’s understandably wild beauty with its stunning images of cathedral-like mountains.

Obliteration, a novel by BC Mitchell, smashes through the glowing tourism mantra and forces us, Canadians and visitors alike, to confront a different sort of nation, one where pain, and the expectation of more, dominates an unrelenting land, one short step away from disaster.

Centered in a small north Ontario town, as dreary as it is forgettable, the story focuses on Ben Thompson, a white teenager who prefers spending time away from the dominant settler society even if a merciless environment includes wolves and bears and hunger and, always, the possibility of serious injury or death.

And why not? He is bullied at school and his low-life father physically and sexually abuses him at home, when he’s not passed out drunk, just like many of the neighbouring Ojibwa aboriginals.

The racism is upfront, personal and unavoidable. “Constable Dan Parker made it known around town he didn’t like Indians. He’d once kneed an Indian twice his age and half his size in the gut, then broke his nose. Just for hanging around the liquor store. Just for being Indian.”

But Ben increasingly begins to see life through an indigenous prism, and it is a better world than the grim suffering at home. He has a generous spirit and plans for at least the immediate future and has the determination to not be left behind, like just another drunken loser — aboriginal or white — on the side of a snowy road leading to nowhere.

Mitchell makes the reader like his protagonist, beginning with the first sentence: “Ben Thompson wasn’t going to leave a man to die in a snow bank.”

By his own admission, Ben “was a square peg in a round hole” and experienced the divided loyalties separating two distinct cultures.

“Sure, there was a lot of drinking on the reserve, but that was true anywhere in Matamiskamin. The Indians get a bad deal and that’s just the way it is . . . His hometown wasn’t a happy place, but he found happiness in the woods, lakes and rivers.”

As dysfunctional as Ben’s young life is, there are moments of reprieve and even hope. Against many odds, he wins an important and lucrative snowshoe race, overcomes, with the help of an attractive aboriginal woman, his sexual doubts, and lands a good summer camp job away from the catastrophe of home life.

Things continue to go wrong, however. He saves someone with a serious injury but loses his job at the camp. He goes on drunks with his aboriginal pals. The police are looking for him and put him in jail. His adopted indigenous grandmother, someone who has always been kind to him, dies.

“I always end up in shit no matter what I do,” laments Ben, not yet 17.

And he does.

Mitchell, a former journalist and communications manager for the BC Treaty Commission for 15 years, taps into his young life in a north Ontario town to tell us the remarkably sad story about Ben. He uses words sparingly in a crisp style reminiscent of a Hemingway short story.

Obliteration moves along quickly but it is a tough and uncomfortable read.

A Comox Valley resident, Mitchell never uses the word “reconciliation” in his novel. Perhaps he wrote Ben’s story long before reconciliation between First Nations and White Canadians recently became a national goal, a positive ideal after hundreds of years of needless and mean-spirited deaths, sexual assaults, land thefts and culture shaming.

Obliteration is Canada’s shit storm, and Mitchell should be applauded for unveiling a bit more of it.

Chris Rose is a former special projects editor at The Vancouver Sun

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Deo Gratias — Northern River. In Memory, Jennifer Lang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deo Gratias! Give thanks for a riverscape
of rock and plunge pools.

For souse holes uncounted, tightly coiled eddies and noisy cascades.
For the Nass River estuary itself where summer light glazes the mint-green surface.
Where the current coils and tightens.

Give thanks for the wind-whipped stands of cottonwood lining the braided valley all the way to Meziadin.
For the purple colour of the lava fields whose luminescence brightens the dull monochrome of rain season.

Deo Gratias. Give thanks.

Give thanks for the sound of the river in the switchbacks at Canyon City.
Give thanks for the long strands of eelgrass.
For the eelgrass combed straight by the current.

Give thanks for a changing view, as we stand to look from the boat, riverbank to riverbank, where the water falls in a hundred different ways.

Here, everything is as it is, one way or the other What does it all add up to, after all?
Deo Gratias.

Gary Fiegehen photo of the Nass River

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Souvenir: A Ramble ‘Round Fort Astoria

Early one September, we drove south to Astoria so that Uda could finish off her PhD on John Wilmot, (2nd Earl of Rochester), the notorious Restoration poet-libertine. A direct heir apparently lived on an apple co-op near Astoria, Uda said, and she hoped to track him down and set up an interview for the End Notes of her thesis. We found a boarding house off the Main Street and next day, Uda made her way to the local library.

That gave me time to amble about a tiny town that had been hit hard by the Great Recession. Shops and store fronts were shuttered and shut down. It was clear that municipal leaders had taken steps to remake and rebrand the place as a tourist hot spot: coffee shops with catchy names, fudge, taffy, burgers, post cards and souvenirs.

Because the docks here could not accommodate the huge cruise ships anchored in the bay, sailors ran tenders to and from the vessels all day long. As a result, a parade of gawking visitors came ashore to wander the streets along the waterfront. It was hot for September, the sun had a liquid effect, soporific; people sauntered at half speed while others splayed themselves out in the long grass of a downtown park.

Just off the main drag could be seen a line of derelict cars and trucks. These rusting hulks had died, were not worth fixing -- or the owners had run out of money -- and sat in the empty street because city hall didn't have the money to tow them away.

Fanciful perhaps, but the grille of a Ford truck brought to mind a line from Shelley's Ozymandias: "....wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command.'

"Nothing beside remains: round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare."

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