Getting a little bit goofy here with some dog poems.  Many thanks to my daughter, Lyse, who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia whose sharp observations are reflected in the two “chapters” of  My Daughter Sings of Nova Scotia.

My Daughter Sings of Nova Scotia


Last night’s moon poured silver on the ocean;
At sunrise, sea glows golden where the fog hangs back.
Frosty air delicious in the mouth and throat.
Dog is heaving to eject
A surfeit of fresh spring grass.
Hork! Hork! Hork! Three tiny, glowing puffs of steam –
So beautiful!



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Old Dog

My old dog,
belly full of breakfast,
walks in the tall grass,
looking for a place to poop.
Decides instead to roll and back-scratch.
She’s on a side-hill.
Tries to roll up-slope.
It won’t stick.
Two, three times she tries before she quits.
I swear she looked around
to make sure no one was watching.

I know the feeling.
Hot-damn! Some dang fool has tilted the world!
But the truth is,
distracted and full of shit,
we are easily confused.

(July, 2001)


Earth Day


This sketch was made from the roof of our house looking across Saanich Inlet to Mill Bay. From this vantage point, above the level where we spend most of our time, you might feel more an observer than a participant. That was the situation for the first poem, Beautiful Blue, written in the aftermath of the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 that caused huge damage and loss of life in the Bay of Bengal  ( northern Indian Ocean). A high-ranking Catholic bishop spoke at an international memorial service and his words of acceptance and respect for our beautiful blue planet inspired the poem.

Beautiful Blue

Beautiful Blue,
spinning through a night of stars,
bathed in light, constantly becoming.
The past is locked into your bones
where we can read the warnings in the hills,
though the future is hidden from our view
and will be what it will be,
permutations trailing to cold nothing,
or perhaps rebirth.
Either way.

And we who are of you,
born of light and water,
we are changing, too.
We have strewn our triumphs and our terrors on your surface
and your deeps;
they are part of your becoming as your changes fall upon us.
So be it.

Do we dream that we can choose
‘tween fading as we wrangle in the trash for scraps
or joining voices,
singing our time into the pulsing stars?
Oh beautiful, how beautiful, most Beautiful Blue!

(January 2005)


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Anjou pears from our orchard ripening in our garage. They either make it to the table or the compost heap but either way their elements remain in circulation.  Earth Lover arrived about the time of  the death of Stan Rogers (1983) when it seemed that all of Hamilton, Ontario was in a state of agitated mourning over the heroic singer and his heroic demise. Stan’s death released my song-writing.

Earth Lover

When roots and tendrils
marry these bones to the cool dark
where the slow seep of autumn rains
tells the seasons’ turning,
put your ear to the ground as the first snow falls.
You may hear the fading of a tune,
wild and Celtic,
a bramble of pale fiddle notes on thorns.
The melting flakes are tears I did not shed while living;
The wind in fir-tops, songs I did not sing.
I returned to my earth lover,
surrendered to her ultimate embrace,
once more the wanderer among the dancing stars.

(November, 1983)


Good Times

teach it to the crows

The above cartoon illustrates “The Official Community Polka”, a throw-away song I wrote some time ago about Official Community Plans.  The planning process is the important business of negotiating a public agreement as to how a municipality will evolve to meet changing needs while protecting its core values. Part of the process in “normal times” involves face-to-face gatherings of municipal officials, planners, consultants and citizens to express desires, share information etc. 

All three Saanich Peninsula municipalities (North Saanich, Central Saanich and the town of Sidney) are in the process of reviewing their Official Community Plans and will doubtless have to rejig their public consultations and the plans to deal with the baleful intrusion of  COVD-19. 

I wanted to offer a couple of light-hearted poems about community celebrations – the ones we are used to – before it fully dawned on me that it may be a while before we can strengthen community bonds by such face-to-face gatherings. These light-hearted poems have thus obtained some ironic “bite” due to the changed circumstances. The post-pandemic normal could  be different from the one we have taken for granted previously but we can work to make it equally rich in community living. I’m not gving up on the Official Community Polka.

The first poem, “Red Shirt and Purple Pants Dance the Blues” recounts a “Music in the Bay”  summer evening in Brentwood Bay, BC.

The second poem is inspired by a story from a friend who mentored a feisty black kid who ventured one day that his ambition was to become the “first black  President of China”.


Red Shirt and Purple Pants Dance the Blues

Red Shirt and Purple Pants they dance the blues,
intent upon each other and the song.
Late sun through the trees
dapples the grass where the breeze
writes its random music for its pleasure.
A crawling baby arches, head upside-down,
peers backwards through his legs.
Mother smiles and we are pleased.
But Red Shirt and Purple Pants play dancing shoes
and keep their time to soulful blues .

Call and response:
Wind buffets; sun-splashes scatter and regroup.
Baby invents; and people laugh.
Singer lays down a twisted line;
guitar riffs a bent comment,
A graceful summer evening spent
while Red Shirt moves with attitude and stops…
creates the space…
Into which…
Purple Pants twirls in complement.
It’s perfect,
this dance,
these blues.

(November, 2013)


The First Black President of China

The kid says to me
With complete conviction
What he plans to be when he grows up.
He plans to be selected as
The First Black President of China.
The kid don’t say a lot,
so when he makes a statement
I know he’s thinking hard
and it’s my turn to figure out
what that could mean.

We know there’s schemers everywhere,
ambitions big as countries,
eyes as cold as daggers..
But if folks knew what’s in that small boy’s mind
They’d go for him for sure.
‘cause he’d declare in proper Chinese Style
“Take day off – go to beach!”

And folks would frolic in the water,
share their ice cream,
sit together and watch the sun set rosy.
Lovers would find each other,
dreaming of birthdays.

Next morning, tasks resumed and light of heart,
our old rock keeps spinning off in space
while the First Black President of China
smiles benignly on its precious load
of life, sweet life.

(November 2014)



The Moon Pulls Us All



full moon at sunrise

A waning moon with in the clear western skies these last few days put me in mind of the above January 2008 photo I took of the full moon setting over Mill Bay. This is a good time to post some moon poems.  “Full Moon at Sunrise” was inspired by a bitterly cold ride to work on a February, 1980 morning in Hamilton, Ontario. The bay referred to in the poem is Hamilton Harbour located at the west end of Lake Ontario.

Full Moon At Sunrise

Full moon at sunrise,
frosty dawn with new ice on the bay.
north wind sifts down cold,
chill armloads of silver straw.

The moon slides westward,
caught out late,
her magic lying carelessly about.

In this bitter cold I could believe
this sequence might go either way;
the moon return, the sun retire,
as if one day, the moon and winter
could disavow their need for fire.

(February 1980)


I Hold My Hands Out to You, Moon

I hold my hands out to you, moon,
pale butter on a plate of pearl,
my would-be lover turning home.
No thought to grasp and pull you in,
but morning rush of admiration!

(February 2019)


The Moon Pulls Us All

September morning with fog banks on the inlet,
the tide low and glistening,
a thin moon rides its noon-time,
alabaster on a faded silk.
The eye divines the roundness of its self-absorption.
moon round earth, earth round sun,
the harmony known to Newton and his ciphers,
Magellan and his astrolabe.

Yet the moon pulls us all.
The spheres bulge and ripple; the waters surge and sink.
In them and of them, the Orcas plunge,
sporting their moonstruck bodies
where our boat is carried by the flood.

At sunset, a slim woman rises shining from the sea,
shakes her long hair in the golden light
and jewelled spheres of water fly away
like stars.

(September 2005)






Easter Sunday


Easter Among the Birds

In the cool still air
that wraps us all in cleanliness
the birds call from all around
witnessing the rising sun.
I mimic their varied voices and with them say
“A new day! A new day!”

The man we know as “Saviour”
said as much before the others shut him down.
The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand each new day
to those who rise and leave their wrongs
in the wreckage of the past.

Step outside,
let the chill air wash you clean.
Engage your rusty voices – they need use.
And join the wise and simple birds,
“A new day! A new day!”

(April 21, 2019)


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Oh Let Our Prayers be Music

Plum tree searches sunward,
Each shoot a prayer for space and light.

Here, we celebrate all living,
Effulgent blooming from a distant centre,
Yet disciplined by horizon’s line,
Reminder of that which grounds us to the earth

Upon this holy matrix our dreams and cares
In seeming isolation we affix.
Yet they are bonded to the whole and in their numbers shape it.

As wind through trees, oh let our prayers be music,
Our dissonances brief,
Resolving to a rich amen.

(April 2006)



Coquihalla River


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In the 90’s I began writing short prose pieces about what I felt were significant personal experiences. I had no clear idea  as to what purpose these writings might fulfil other than augmenting my enjoyment of stringing words together. These are not stripped down like poems but they might come from the same places.

Coquihalla River (Summer 1945?)

We started out early from Vancouver in my Aunt Joanie’s car, my mother, my sister Jane and I, Aunt Joanie and Jill. It is one hundred miles up the Fraser Valley to Hope and in 1944, the two-lane road passes through the main streets of all the little farming towns, Langley, Abbotsford, Chilliwack. The Valley is wide near Vancouver and the mountains are distant. We travel on the south bank of the Fraser once we have crossed over the Patullo Bridge at New Westminster. Beyond Cloverdale we are squeezed in by mountains, and the road through lush and level fields is forced onto the flank of the mountains by the muddy and turbulent Fraser that now appears on the left hand side. Three hours have passed and we children are bored, but we revive briefly at the challenge of looking for feathery waterfalls plunging into the forest off the mountains on the right hand side. At lunchtime we arrive on a gravelly bench where the Fraser emerges from its canyon through the Coast Range in a sweeping bend to the south. The town of Hope is dusty with gravel roads, its streets shaded with river cottonwoods. There is a general store, two gas stations on the main road, a hardware store, a liquor store with shaded windows, a police station and two churches. The sun is high and bright. Dogs snooze in pools of shade under the cottonwoods.

We turn off the highway away from the big river and instantly raise a plume of dust behind the car. But the glare of the noon sun quickly softens as we enter the forest and the chalky smell of dust is replaced by the perfume of leaf mould and cedars. We cross the Coquihalla river on a one-lane timber bridge in the dappled shade of alders near its junction with the Fraser. The Coquihalla here is green, transparent with a muscled and writhing surface. The air has become cool. We find a lane of two tire tracks leading towards the river. Bushes rustle on the bottom of the car; leaves brush at the windows. The lane drops to the flood plain of the Coquihalla and we emerge into a clearing before a brown shingled cottage. The motor stops. We burst out of the cramped car, ready to run. But my Jane and I are transfixed by a noise we cannot identify, a roar like a March wind, but not like a big wind because it does not vary. It is steady, authoritative, and somehow strangely solitary, an endless monologue with no expectation of a reply. I look toward the sound but I cannot see clearly through the trees. I am aware of sun falling into the open a hundred yards away and in the opening, transient shards of white light.

Mum, Aunt Joanie and Jill think our apprehension is funny. They lead us to the river bank and we gaze across the brawling Coquihalla, sunlit against the black wall of Hope Mountain, light flashing from white rollers on green water, a blazing band of grey-white granite cobbles in the mid channel bar, the air full of noise and chaotic motion. I am thirsty. I ask for a drink. “Drink out of the river.” says Aunt Joanie. The idea is scary but irresistible. I am led to the water’s edge where the river plays more gently against rounded boulders. Aunt Joanie clutches my belt while I lean out on hands and knees towards the water. We are in the shade of cedars but a flickering green light shines from the river into my face. My hands are in the water. It is cold. Coached by Aunt Joanie, I lower my face to the surface. I see a trout flicker into the shadows. The river is the only sound I hear. For the first of a few precious times I have become something elemental, reduced to a simple clarity, a thirsty creature at the water’s edge. No water has ever tasted as clean or as lonely.

If  I were to rework this recounting  of my first powerful experience of awe as a poem, I would be tempted  to end it here at this climactic moment. I reveal now that the day held one more powerful experience for my sister Jane and I. Later that afternoon a freight train came through on the nearby Kettle Valley Line, heading up the steep grades of the Coquihalla Valley. It was powered by several steam locomotives, fully stoked, working hard and whistling as the train approached the canyon tunnels. In the narrow valley with multipe echos, the noise was overwhelming. The afternoon started with awe and ended with terror. 

My sister and I got over the terror in the next few days because the trains kept rumbling through and we knew about trains. The river took no notice and kept on with its private monologue night and day. My memory of primordial awe  remains vivid as do the memories of the many times we visited that cottage on the banks of the Coquihalla.  Roll on, Coquihalla, you are a beautiful river and your name is a pleasure to the tongue.




The Wisdom of Pets


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Sunday, April 5, 2020: Today the first Unitarian Church of Victoria presented an “isolation” service where leaders and congregation alike participated from their homes via the internet conferencing scheme, ZOOM. It was great, technically viable and full of content. One of the questions put out to the congregation with referenced to the pandemic was “Want do you find hard to let go of?” and a member replied with a strong, one-word answer “Expectations.” Oddly enough, the stuff I wanted to post today was about our pets, dogs and cats, creatures who live day-to-day with no expectations. That is one of the reasons we love them. Worry some when watching the 6 pm news these days but otherwise take your cues from the cat.


Enlightenment Behind the Travelodge

Between the roadway and the Travelodge,
a patch of grass made green by autumn rains.
An old man stands with his leashed dog.

A scrawny tree nearby
still holds golden leaves,
though many have fallen.

The man is struck by some arresting thought.
Perhaps he has been released
to the freedom of pure existence.

The dog is about to pee and is glad to be on grass.
Or the dog, having peed,
enjoys the lightness of the moment.
Either way, it claims the zone.

(November 2018)




Cat in Sunlight on Christmas Day


Through the kitchen window
a fall of sunlight pools
across the patterned carpet
where the cat,
alert to all that changes,
sprawls among the radiant woven roses.

Shepherds, Magii, we are told,
followed light,
but hesitated at its edges,
fearful of what it could mean
to step forward from the shadows.

The old cat, enlightened fully,
purrs a while, then sleeps.





Acknowledgements: Roderick Haig-Brown, E.J. Hughes, Takao Tanabe, R. Restrepo



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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.

(January, 2016)


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Three Good Things



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This post is a small tribute to my partner of fifty-five years, Penny.  Most of you will have a mental  picture as she is today, trim, active, very much alive. The drawings bookending the trio of poems are from my sketchbooks of 1979 and 1980 when I was developing my drawing skills at the Dundas Valley School of Art.


Three Good Things

When I got home I told my wife
about the huckleberries growing from a stump
as I remembered them,
a boy at the edge of the woods.
The redness set among the pale green,
the easy way the berries roll into the outstretched hand,
and the taste on the tongue’s edge
of wildness calling deeper in the forest.
Oh I was young once!

I told he next, how later at the water’s edge
I looked west towards the mountain
as the sun rose hidden by a screen of cloud.
There in the raindrops of an idle shower
lingering on the giant’s shoulder, a patch of rainbow colour
that might have marked the place                                                                                           where Abraham unsheathed his knife
and was stayed.

And then, my stories told,
I looked at where my wife lay late abed,
tea at her elbow, papers on the floor,
reading glasses on the tip of her nose,
looking up at me and smiling,
the old cat sunk into the comforter
and purring like a worn-out fan.
I told you – three good things.

(July, 2007)


The Marmalade Years

When someone spreads the final blob
of dark and bitter marmalade
upon their morning toast,
perhaps they’ll think to find
the spattered book of recipes preserved,
and seek the page for Seville marmalade.
they’ll find the annotations and the log of jars
produced each year,
season after season,
reliable as snowdrops.
Or so it seemed.

But the snowdrops still appear
As oranges ripen.
Oh the sweetness of
The marmalade years!

(February 2014)


What could I Do?

This morning I was up early,
crept through our room gathering clothes
for Monday’s load of chores.

Arms full, I watched you sleep,
Tousled hair, your face relaxed,
in this soft light so beautiful.

I listened to your quiet breath then stole away.
What could I do with this rush of love
But make you pancakes?

(August 2019)


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Slash Fires

If “slash fire” rolls off your tongue
Like raindrops from a Woods jacket,
There’s every chance you wintered
once upon the Island.
There blokes with acreage and a cow or two
Hacked away at their wooded edges (plots)
after a day’s work in the clear-cuts
to scratch more pasture for the cows.
They sawed rough boards from the timber,
filled the shed with pitchy chunks,
gained more standing with the neighbours
strewn along the gravel roads.
As October’s drizzle slicked the leaves,
made creeks to sing and colours blaze
they’d set the heaps of slash afire.
Each lungful of the perfumed haze
told them they were breathing.

My wife’s Dad, the pilot,
proposed a bonding expedition.
He flew the two of us to Phantom Lake.
Ringed by jagged hills, there’s one way in or out.
The gap looks to the fjord below
where slash fires smoldered in the clearcut.
We fished awhile.
Wind changed and we did not see
the smoke rise to fill the gap.
The pilot dropped his rod and said, “Let’s go!”
It was already late.
Airborne, and fuel low,
we struggled in a circling climb
until we got above the smoke and waiting hills
to find a way to fuel
and chastened, make it home.

On Pat Bay, this spring,
some flimsy houses in a stand of firs
were all brought down
to bulldozed heaps of mangled lumber,
roots and stumps, the sawlogs set aside.
The rest is mud and realtors’ signs.
The slash will burn before the rains are gone.
Thick plumes of smoke will rise to meet the wind,
disperse among the houses on the Tseycum land,
the heron nests in alders standing by,
that familiar odour of the restless.

(April 7, 2015)




heron against orange sun

photo courtesy of Terry Venables


Heron Against Orange Sun

A stillness in the air like snow was coming,
early in the day but it’s too warm.
Dry for a month and months to go
before the quenching of the rains.

Something bad has happened.
The light’s all wrong.
The sun glows like melting steel
in Satan’s forge.

From places near and far
smoke has poured down to us
though valleys from the burning hills
where centuries of patient growth
are ashed in a short day.

Great bird so still
photographed against an orange sun,
in your ancient mind do you recall
this scent of fire?

You ask only for a little
and your wise wings could fly you there
while we are burdened with our taking,
questions and recriminations.