Grasping summer’s tail

Riding my bike along Marine Avenue in the mid-August heat, grateful for any breeze the ride can generate, I’m enchanted by the rich smell of ripening blackberries rising from the impenetrable thorns covering the steep slopes down to the beach. Crickets have begun chirping in the early evening and sunset is now around eight o’clock, the brilliant show shifting south as the month dwindles away.

This feeling of something racing to its finish is reflected in the garden, wilting even as the tomatoes ripen and the peppers turn colour. Deadheading nasturtiums becomes pointless – the ground is littered with their seed pods. It’s been so hot, the grass crunches under summer-toughened feet and even the fledgling crow jumps right into the bird bath. The occasional duck flies along the waterfront, returned from wherever it nested.

Contained within the sorrow of summer ending is the hopefulness the turn in the season traditionally brings. A sense of beginning again as children return to school in their new clothes on their new bodies, new backpacks full of fresh starts. Excitement, yes, and apprehension. For the teachers too.


After a couple of years of homeschooling, both our boys, Dan (L) and Mike, started elementary school together in 1987.



Septembers at what was then called Northwest Community College in Smithers saw me organizing activities to welcome new students, to make them feel comfortable and supported. Many were returning to school after years away. Many had lost work, lost partners, lost something that sent them to school, a strategy for overcoming that loss. And for some, their last school memory was of failure. So we worked hard to soothe that fear and, instead, celebrate their hope for a new beginning.

As we’ve all said a hundred times, this Covid 19 year is different. Uncertainty, fear and sometimes chaos. In late May, when wild roses bloomed along that same Marine Avenue bike ride, all the kids were at home with parents struggling to find a way to make both schooling and work continue. The older students Zoomed to develop creative graduation celebrations. It was also a time of hope and kindness.

Even if travel plans, weddings, and funerals were cancelled, we were flattening the curve. We had the summer to relax a little, to forget a little. A summer of building installations on the beach, of hiking shaded trails, of watching birds fledge. Of wearing masks to dish out ice cream to families desperate for an outing. Backyard gatherings, chairs suitably spaced. Those chairs moving closer together as the numbers continued to fall. All of us hoping that by fall, that season of new beginnings, we might have at least a semblance of a plan.

But it’s changed again. As the nastiness in the American presidential campaign heats up along with our own Covid 19 stats, our patience and kindness shrink. People rail against cars with out-of-province or American plates. We question the number of American boats sailing up the coast. We’re all tired of the daily decisions Covid 19 requires: masks or not, visits or not, travel or not, work, if it’s there.

But it’s especially tough for parents and their children facing a September of uncertainty. Some can manage keeping kids at home and safer. Others can’t. And for those teachers returning to the classroom, it’s the toughest of all. You know the kids need you, your own and those who will be returning to school.

Here is one strategy Perry Rath, an art teacher at Smithers Secondary School with three young children of his own, plans to use.





Got my selection of Back-to-School masks. I think they suit an art teacher, and will be part of my series of precautions to keep myself, my family, my community safe. I’m very wary and unconvinced of the BC govt’s plan for returning to the classroom, yet I also value my connections and support of youth, especially during this time. So I will adapt as needed … and hope and help for sensible approaches to prevail. There are many vulnerable people we need to think of. Baby Yoda Protect!


How can we help? As a grandmother, I echo the sentiments of Luanne Armstrong, a writer from the Kootenays.


As a grandparent, I am just as worried as the rest of the country about kids going back to school. But I have no “opinion” about it. I see my job as supporting my children and grandchildren in whatever way I can, in whatever decisions they make. But that is a very difficult place for me since I am far from a passive person and am used to thinking hard about educating myself about most things … but this such a tough decision for everyone, parents, children, teachers, I feel all I can do is be absolutely as kind and supportive as I can manage.

Yes, nightfall is coming earlier. But a few days ago it brought the most dazzling display – great flashes of lightning in the southern sky and phosphorescence in the water, sparks of fairy dust as we swam in the dark.

Be kind, be calm, stay safe.

Gordon Harvey – tenacity and transience

When we first arrived in Driftwood Canyon, Gordon Harvey had just died (December 1976) but his house, a shed, a bathhouse and a log barn were still standing.

Stories about Katherine, Peavine and their son Gordon Harvey are layered into Driftwood history. Peavine had a claim on Harvey Mountain (named after him) and any hikers going up the Harvey Mountain Road trail passes by the remnants of his cabin at one of the switchbacks. Gordon, in his memoir below, speaks of his father’s booming voice and real estate savvy. Wet’suwet’en stories speak of how he used that voice to intimidate them during the years when they were being steadily evicted from their homesites along the Bulkley Road (now the Telkwa-Moricetown Highroad).

Katherine played piano at many parties and was known to be pretty feisty. Some say the way she heated her house burned down three of them – if you’ve ever tried to saw logs into woodstove-sized lengths with a swede saw, you’ll understand her preference for opening the door to the woodbox, shoving in one end of a log, leaving the door open and just pushing it further in as it burned.

After his parents’ death, Gordon continued to live on the family property, another one of the valley’s eccentric bachelors. He told his family’s story in Bulkley Valley Stories, published in 1973.

Memories of Driftwood Canyon

My father, C.G. Harvey, arrive in Hazelton in 1907 where he entered the hotel business. He was one of the “Big Three” with “Black Jack” McDonell and Jack Sealy. He was also engaged in the land promotion business. Happy Turner wrote: “he was a good one to spy out the land and in no time, was on speaking terms with every section post in the district. He is still pushing in a tunnel on Harvey Mountain with a true prospector’s optimism.” He located, for Jack  Sealy, a large ranch in the Driftwood Creek area, which is now the even larger Bill Morris ranch. [This has since been split into several properties.]

Prior to coming to the Valley, he prospected in the Kootenays, California, Mexico and the Yukon.

My mother was born in London in 1882. In 1908, she came to  Canada, working in the law office of R. B. Bennett who was M.P. for Calgary West and later Prime Minister of Canada. On she moved to Vancouver and then north to Prince Rupert and up the Skeena by river boat to Hazelton. There she worked in the office of District Mining Recorder, S.H. Hoskins, father of the retired Ford dealer, Os Hoskins.

In 1912, she and my father were married and carried on the hotel operation until 1914. Then that summer they rode horseback to Smithers with me, their six month old son, strapped to the saddle.  When we reached the Sealy Ranch, the young foreman, Bill Kirton, recently arrived from England, took us by wagon over a rough mining road to our property on Harvey Mountain – on the way to Silver King basin. Sometime later dad broke his leg at the mine and we found him in the cabin administering his own first aid. He had taken apart a section of stovepipe and was using it as a cast. We pulled him out on a hand sleigh to receive medical help.

My mother and dad carried on mining operations under the most primitive conditions with hand drill, shovel and wheelbarrow. I worked in our mine when I was eleven. They stuck with what he described as the only “mine in the Babines” – others were only prospects.

How did my father get the name “Peavine Harvey”?

On one occasion, he was preparing exhibits of Bulkley Valley produce for the PNE at Vancouver. Included was a sheaf of our famous timothy hay and some wild huckleberries.

The night before he left, some “friends” stole into his hotel room and made some changes. In place of timothy, they put in a bundle of local peavine hay and replaced the berries with a box of rabbit manure. He didn’t discover it until he arrived at the PNE in Vancouver.

“Peavine” Harvey will be remembered for his booming voice – he was hard of hearing! A stenographer who worked for the Government Agent, Mr. Bryant, said the whole building vibrated when Peavine greeted the staff in the office. My mother, a bit of a woman about five feet tall, was an accomplished musician. She played background music on the piano for the silent movies, run by Wiggs O’Neill and held in the old town hall. We kids used to sit on hard wooden benches to view the weekly Tarzan cliffhanger.

I went to Driftwood school where Edna Vickers, 19, taught us. I was quite in love with her and informed my parents I’d be marrying her when I grew up. I  hadn’t figured on Roland Sykes beating my time – she walked out of my life when I was 13. In August ’72, they were back in Driftwood where many of us students had a reunion.

Gordon donated the land for the park.

Driftwood Canyon now has electricity – I paid my first bill in January, ’73. If you follow Babine Road to Sealy’s corner and turn west you will see a sign by the old school that reads, “Fossils”.  About two miles up, you enter a provincial park, “Driftwood Canyon Park”, which includes the fossil beds, crown land above it and the virgin wilderness to Silver King Basin. I have owned the original “Peavine” Harvey homestead since my father’s death in 1945. I have my private park, called “Lone Pine Park” whose visitors book contains five thousand names of people who seek the quiet beauty of Driftwood Canyon.



Ten years ago, visual artist Perry Rath and I (with the wonderful help of Dorothy  Giesbrecht) collaborated to make the weather from the west, a collection of my poems and his paintings. The paintings, many of which came from his In the Skin of This Land series, layer paint, photographs, maps and other texture to create an image that reflects the complexity of the ways we inhabit the land.

Perry’s partner, Taisa Jenne, lived with her family just up the road from us for many years and so he came to know Driftwood Creek and the Babine Mountains from the first days he arrived here.

Right at the turn onto road to the Jenne house stood the remnants of the Harvey home – a tumbling down barn and a tilting bathhouse. Using the old photograph from our collection and one of his own taken at the time, layering paint over topographical maps, Perry made Driftwood Vestige.


When BC Parks gave Driftwood  Canyon Provincial Park a facelift, designer Tom Grasmeyer created some beautiful interpretive signs along the path to the fossil beds. One of those signs acknowledged the ways in which the creek and the canyon have been a source of inspiration for many of us. Posted on a platform above the creek, it includes an image of this painting and one of the many poems I’ve written after a walk along the creek:

still waters

under the heel of its turn
the creek
digs a hole
swallows turbulence

the current does not diminish across its surface
but some aspen leaves
september golden
and spiral

how much
I wonder
does depth
slow you down

if the creek and leaves are right

a few cool seconds to linger
over the intricate arrangement of creekbright stones
submerged in water’s endless exhalation

                                                                       one breath singing in the long song to the sea

The creek is vibrant reminder of both transience and tenacity. The Harvey house is long gone and the old log barn has finally fallen. No more space for timothy or tractors. No more room for pirate treasure hideouts. By the time this summer’s grass is fully grown, it will have all but vanished.


Sandhill cranes (Grus Canadensis)

joan's sandhill cranesIt’s that time of year again – wild onions on the south-facing hillsides, black bears in the anthills, white-crowned sparrows cleaning up under the bird feeder, the snow gone leaving the garden’s soil dark and expectant. A shiver of expectation, a momentary clarity before the tumult that explodes when the long days of spring bring everything rushing to fruition.

 Oh  yes, there are geese honking, ducks flapping wildly to stay aloft, but it’s when we hear that wild noise way up high, see the spiraling flocks rising and rising in the thermals, then we know it’s spring.

another dan crane (600x400)The Bulkley Valley is on the interior flyway for cranes heading from California to Alaska to nest. They pass in the thousands, resting in hay fields, in grain fields, beside lakes and swamps to feed before continuing north. They are stupendous, ancient creatures that link us to a primordial past with a fossil record that goes back at least 2.5 million years.

This poem is from the weather from the west, my 2007 collaboration with visual artist Perry Rath.

Sandhill cranes

dan's crane 2Their cries at night –

the sound snags on difficult angles comes out bent – torn metal screech sparking in the darkness overhead

In the morning standing sideways in a field stripped of barley –

thousands of them – like gods they have descended all unaware

dan's crane 3 Dazed we finally drive away –

their clamouring the bright memory of barley in the sun

  Thanks to Joan Patriquin and Dan  Shervill for the photographs.

A wonderful community

group with sheila

Shafted: A Mystery launch at the Smithers Art Gallery, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014

In his song, Well May the World Go, Pete Seeger says, “Find a part of the world that you really like and stick to it.” Sometimes it’s tempting to move south, to go back to the coast, to start somewhere completely new. But not last Friday evening when we gathered to celebrate the launch of my latest book, Shafted: A Mystery.

It was so warm, we opened every window and door in the art gallery. Forests to the south and east were on fire and the main highway was closed. People were stocking up on gas and groceries, worried about cell phone service and hydro lines.

When the back country is burning, setting out chairs for a book launch feels frivolous. As people walk out into the warm evening, the sky tinged with smoke, they are worried about the mountain goats living on the mountain that’s on fire, the cattle that graze in the bush, the travellers who can’t get home. We all know someone who’s fighting the spread of flames through the dead pines: dispatching, dropping fire retardant, struggling through the smoke, hauling hoses, cutting firebreaks. People are talking about it as they come in the door. A few drops of rain splatter the sidewalk and we all feel hopeful.

Friends are the first to arrive, bringing plates of beautiful snacks. Karen sets out cherry tarts made with her own cherries; Tonja has made amazing pinwheel sandwiches; Vigil has a dish of bruschetta; Kim brings cinnamon bread. Gail has food and flowers. Pat, as always, takes pictures. A bright punch fills a glass bowl and soon people are drinking and eating and visiting. Dorothy’s cello thrums deep notes below the voices.

perry and dorothy

Dorothy Giesbrecht and Perry Rath

A book launch in a town where you’ve lived for years, a town where the novel you’re launching is set, and a town with gardens full of food and flowers, is a wonderful thing. I love the conversations with people as they bring me books to sign: some are close friends, some are acquaintances I’ve known since I moved here, some are people I haven’t talked to in years. Newcomers. Visitors.

sheila and the haines

Peter Haines, Sheila, and Paulie Haines

richard, mike and harry 1

Mike Shervill, Richard Overstall and Harry Kruisselbrink

It’s wonderful to read aloud something you’ve written in solitude, to hear people fall silent, become attentive, enter into a story and laugh in recognition of a time, a place, a feeling that is home. It is wonderful to be able thank the people who helped bring the book together in a room filled with their friends and acquaintances.

But what goes deeper than that is the sound of a room full of people on a Friday evening telling each other their own stories, sharing their news, making plans, offering to help, making suggestions, hugging and laughing—in other words, doing many of the things that knit a community together.

Writers want their work to contain something of the universal, we want it to speak to people who don’t know us or where we live. But it is a great privilege to have created a sense of a place, a time, and people that in some small way reflect a community back to itself, a community you call home.

sheila and lynn

Sheila Peters and Lynn Shervill


We talk as we wash the glasses, sweep the floor and pack away the tables and chairs. These are good friends who have done worked together for years. In small towns, you have to create the events you want to attend. We have become skilled at this, we move in and out of groups that form and dissolve around issues, creative processes and political action, sometimes all at once. We ebb and flow with and among each other.



We consider ourselves lucky. We ‘ve found a place we love and we’re sticking with it.