Roderick Haig-Brown is one of my heroes as an articulate naturalist and effective human being. Roderick’s novels, Starbuck Valley Winter and Saltwater Summer, inspired me as a boy; Saltwater Summer is a story about learning responsibility the hard way; I wanted to be a fisherman like its heroes, Don and Tubby. These books nudged me towards my career as an environmental scientist.
E.J. Hughes’ moody paintings of the Vancouver Island of my boyhood evoke admiration of E.J.’s mastery of form and feeling and nostalgia for a time that seemed to be bathed in golden light. It was September sunlight on Hornby Island that told me it was time to come back home.
Takao Tanabe is another fine artist inspired by the landscapes of British Columbia. My poem was written after visiting a 2005 retrospective exhibition of his work at the Greater Victoria Art Gallery. Tanabe’s huge canvasses depicting waterways and prairies viewed from eye level made me catch my breath. I wanted to walk or paddle deep into them.
I include a tribute to one of my university mentors, Professor R. Rodriguez who taught me and my engineering classmates the rudiments of differential and integral calculus. Under his instruction calculus emerged as a graceful, elegant, endlessly useful tool. Professor Rodriguez was also a discerning collector of Canadian paintings and several significant paintings were donated from his collection to the Vancouver Art Gallery.
To Roderick Haig-Brown and E.J. Hughes
At bay’s end where the little river flows
the mud-flats are policed by crows,
clams crowd thickly in the ooze,
and you can moor a wooden boat
in brackish flow inimical to worms.
Among the drift pushed high by ancient storms
wild roses strew their sharp perfume.
beyond, two cows, an old horse,
rows of spuds and peas,
a small and weather-beaten house,
scattering of sheds
and wood smoke trailing from a fire of slash.
The valley folds among the dark green hills.
High above the trees
the snow hangs on ‘till summer blooms.
It’s there, Roderick,
the Starbuck Valley and Saltwater of my boyhood
I dreamed across my schoolbooks to the window,
where west wind blew through broom and fir.
And it’s here, E.J.
in your deliberate dreaming pictures,
I re-imagine my life.
(October, 2005, revised March 2014)
Homage to Takao Tanabe
We were walking to the gallery on a clear winter day
past old houses, bare roses, frosty grass,
a corner of the city not given to commerce or display
but to the settled life of order and continuity,
cold leaf mould, woodsmoke, coffee in our noses,
slow-moving cars, young mothers with prams,
late morning walkers with scarves and gloves.
Lauren, your mentor, has painted these:
city houses, refuges on snowy streets
in the glow of the late afternoon as the workday ended
and the dweller, homebound, dreamed of shelter, warmth and supper.
But you, Tanabe, took his other path
beyond his monuments of mountains
to footing on planes of prairies or of oceans with smooth horizons
where the weather is seen far off
and the distance can be gauged in terms of footsteps or paddle-strokes.
Here, on the geopotential from which your measure is taken
and that of hills, coulees, islands, gravel bars beyond,
you have registered the space and silence in which it is possible to discern and maybe enter
the world’s breathing.
(December, 2005, revised February 2016)
To R. R.
When I was an upstart boy
you taught us with your spare white drawings,
the cadence of your Spanish voice,
the consolidations of Newton and Leibnitz.
They told how the simple logic of the small
could sum to show the secrets of the circle,
the silken weaving of the sinusoid.
Your pleasure in such elegance bore me to
humility before the revelations of the great.
With the gleaming tools you laid before us
I hacked away at simple problems.
These gave me leisure to explore
pleasure conveyed by marks upon a neutral ground,
the deft approximations of a loaded brush – the rush
of admiration when confronted by the struggles of the gifted.
Sixty years on, I stand before a canvas full of light and wonder,
and I note that you admired it, too
but gave it freely as you did those lessons long ago.
The crude calculus of mortality
warns you may be gone as I approach the edge,
smiling at the symmetry of this our latest meeting.