Thursday, December 20, 2012

Oops! I did it again . . .

I’ve been avoiding the Yellowknife Public Library’s semi-annual book sale for the past couple of years. If you could see the library loft in my little house, you’d know why. Books crammed onto the shelves in an unseemly manner, books out of spilling out of Rubbermaid containers on the floor, books stacked on the floor, without benefit of Rubbermaid containers . . . you get the idea.

The library sale always starts on a Thursday night at 6 p.m., and then runs for the next couple of days. It costs five dollars to get into the Thursday night event, so only hard-core bibliophiles show up. As fate would have it, I was working late on the Thursday of the book sale, held earlier this month, and was walking past the City Centre Mall at 6 p.m. What to do, but make my way to the library floor?

There were already a dozen people searching the tables when I showed up. I am particularly interested in northern books, so was making my way to their usual location at the far side of the room. It turned out that the northern section had been relocated, but I noticed a well-known Yellowknife book hunter investigating some oversized volumes nearby. I figured that if the table had caught his interest, the pickin’s must be good. I sidled on over, said hello, and scanned the offerings.

Hallelujah! A copy of The Nahanni Portfolio, a beautiful coffee table book by Pat and Rosemary Keough, long out of print. I grabbed it.

The Nahanni, for those of you who are unaware, is a particularly beautiful area of the Northwest Territories.

I asked one of the organizers the whereabouts of the northern books and was re-directed to the other side of the room. She warned me that the selection was not very big this time. Be that as it may, I was relieved that no one was shovelling books into a cardboard box, as I have seen at 6:05 p.m. on other Thursday night previews.

I was perusing the selection when the organizer, who was standing nearby, blurted out: “The Nahanni Portfolio! Good score!”

A young man had just been turning away from the northern table. He stopped. His head snapped toward me and he zeroed in on the book I was carrying. He gasped. “Where’d you get that?”

I pointed toward the oversized table. He couldn’t take his eyes off the book. “I lived in the Nahanni for many years,” he said. “I have every book ever published about the Nahanni. Except that one.”

As a fellow seeker, I understand the pain of seeing your Holy Grail of books hovering just beyond your grasp. A kind, generous person would have handed it across the table and relieved the poor man’s suffering. Instead, I advised him to check out

“It’s an online marketplace for used books. You can probably find a copy there.”

His gaze lingered on The Nahanni Portfolio a moment longer, and then he turned away.

It was tricky searching the northern books while keeping a tight grip on The Nahanni Portfolio. It’s a heavy tome, but I didn’t want to set it down for fear others might think it was up for grabs. Most of the books on the northern table were about people who had gone hunting with the Inuit early in the last century. There was also a copy of Yellowknife, by Ray Price and Sunrise on the Mackenzie by Dick Turner, which criticizes the Berger Inquiry. I wanted to be selective, given the book-crowding problem at my house. Giddy from my previous score and unable to make a decision, I took them all, along with a book on weather shamanism. Oops. This is why I try to avoid the book sale.

I paid sixteen dollars for eight books. Now the problem was how to get them home. I walk to work, and my backpack can only hold so much. Fortunately, I was wearing my parka, which has two big pockets, so I stuffed a couple of books in each, and the rest went in the backpack. Walking for a half-hour in the cold and dark, weighed down by twelve pounds of books, is not my idea of a good time but you do what you have to do.

I looked up when I got home, and copies of The Nahanni Portfolio are listed. Canadian bookstores set the prices pretty high, but there appear to be a couple of good copies in the U.S. for a reasonable cost. So buddy, if you’re reading this, check it out. I do understand, after all.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christmas book sale and signing

Many thanks to the Yellowknife Book Cellar and NorthWords NWT for organizing the third annual Christmas book sale and signing, held this very afternoon. As always, it was a great opportunity to meet with local authors - and more importantly, local readers - pick up some books, and have them signed.

I was seated with Randy Freeman (photo above), author of Stories from Yellowknife a collection of historical snippets about our fair city. Randy used to have a popular weekly history column on CBC radio, which was the genesis of the book. He is planning a series of books with tales from across the North, and many of us are waiting for the next installment.

I also picked up Bill Braden's new book, The Evolution of Canada's Arctic Ice Road: On Good Ice, Lifeline to Gold, Diamonds and the Future. It includes Bill's most excellent photography, so I am looking forward to reading it.

And of course, my own book, The Ugly Truck and Dog Contest and Other Tales of Northern Life, was a part of the action. It was smack-dab in the middle of the book display (photo below).

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A bunch of happy authors

It's been a big literary weekend here in Yellowknife. The weekend started on Thursday evening, with the northern launch of Blood and Water, and science fiction anthology about the tussle over resources, set in the near future. Anthology editor Hayden Trenholm, a former (and still honourary)Yellowknifer was in town to read from the collection. It was a lovely evening, courtesy of the Yellowknife Book Cellar.

On Friday evening we launched Coming Home: Stories from the Northwest Territories, published by Great Plains Publications with funding from De Beers Canada, in conjunction with the NorthWords Writers Festival. You can see a number of the authors hamming it up in the photo above, along with contest judges Judy McLinton and John Mutford, NorthWords president David Malcolm and Judith Drinnan, the hard-working and ever-supportive owner of the Yellowknife Book Cellar.

On Saturday a whole whack of us drew inspiration from a workshop conducted by the accomplished and always entertaining Richard Van Camp. Saturday evening, Richard launched his tenth book, a short story collection called Godless but Loyal to Heaven. It's reportedly his darkest book to date. I was at the launch and have a copy, so guess I'll find out in due course.

There's nothing authors like better than to have their work published. It was a very good weekend.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book launch - a new northern anthology

If you're in Yellowknife this coming Friday, join us for the launch of Coming Home: Stories from the Northwest Territories. Published by Great Plains Publications with funding from De Beers, the anthology features new work by 17 NWT authors (including moi) and is the first contemporary collection of NWT stories.

The launch will be held at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre Cafe on November 16, from 7 to 9 p.m. The event will include readings, music, refreshments, book sales and signings. See you there!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dog Island 8 - My Homework

Darkness has descended upon Yellowknife, as it does in the fall. In some parts of the country – where it actually gets dark in the summer – people can occasionally enjoy a drive-in movie. Not an option in a place where the sun glares through your window at two o’clock in the morning.

But the midnight sun of our summer evenings is quickly fading as the inexorable march towards winter continues. Sometimes during this in-between period, if we are very, very lucky, a group of our local film buffs – members of that esoteric organization known as the Dog Island Floating Film Society – will stage Yellowknife’s answer to the drive-in movie.

A week ago Friday, a flotilla of boats – cabin cruisers, utility boats, canoes, kayaks, and – strangely enough – a floating dock, all gathered in the vicinity of Dog Island, out on Yellowknife Bay, to enjoy this year’s offering of films. A huge screen was set up in front of the houseboat anchored in front of Dog Island, while the organizers projected films from a tiny island (basically, a point of rock sticking up from Great Slave Lake) just in front.

There were a number of National Film Board shorts – carefully chosen by the society’s selection jury – along with local offerings about fish camps and the Aboriginal lifestyle. The crowd was enthusiastic, popcorn was distributed to the movie-goers’ boats from one of the local houseboats, people and dogs wanting to go from Point A to Point B to visit friends casually cut through the boats strung together. We had to ask a canoeist to paddle us over to the boat selling T-shirts. It’s a community thing.

It was all good. Until the rain started. Sadly, “Dog Island 8 – My Homework” was cut short by a deluge. The organizers, fearing damage to the rented AV equipment – not to mention electrocution – called it a night a little earlier than we had all hoped.

Many thanks to Terry, Aggie, Andrew and all the other folks who made it happen.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Join me at NorthWords!

The NorthWords Writers Festival starts this week. There's a great line up of writers presenting workshops, participating on panel discussions and reading from their work. I'll be participating in the following events.

Flash! Open Mike

Thursday, May 31, 2012

8:00 to 10:00 p.m.

Atrium, Greenstone Building


Fiction with Flare (readings)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Noon to 1:00 p.m.

Atrium, Greenstone Building


Signings with Sizzle

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Noon to 1:30 p.m.

Yellowknife Book Cellar


Why Fiction? Panel

Saturday, June 2, 2012

1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Explorer Hotel, Katimavik B


Check out the NorthWords schedule for a listing of all the events. It's going to be great!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The last ice bridge?

The snow has melted in Yellowknife, and the ice is starting to pull away from the shores of the big lake (Great Slave) and all the little lakes that dot the area.

Over the years, the accumulation of semi-trailers in the parking lots of local stores was a sure sign that winter was about to start . . . and later, that it was about to end. Highway 3, which travels up from Alberta and curves around the west shore of Great Slave Lake to Yellowknife, crosses the Mackenzie River at Fort Providence. In the summer, the mighty Merv Hardie Ferry brings vehicles across the river; in the winter, vehicles make the crossing on an ice bridge. But twice a year, during freeze up and break up, the communities on the far side of the river (Fort Providence, Behchoko and Yellowknife) are cut off. This is problematic for people who want to drive in or out - if you don't make it across the ice bridge/ferry in time, you ain't going nowhere for a while. A northern phenomenon, the race for the ice bridge is featured in "Leaving Yellowknife," the final story in my book. (You'll have to pick up a copy if you want to know if my heroine makes it out in time.)

Hence the accumulation of semi-trailers in parking lots across Yellowknife, which house extra stock as store owners try to ensure they have enough stuff to carry us through until the traffic flows once again. The trucks also bring perishables up the highway from the Mackenzie River crossing, where the goods are flown over from the other side. Even so, there are a lot of gaps on store shelves at this point in the proceedings. By next fall, however, the Deh Cho Bridge could be finished, meaning that this could be the last ice crossing at the Mackenzie River. Stockpiling, empty store shelves, and racing for the last ferry of the season will all become a thing of the past. More convenient, for sure, but Yellowknife will feel a little less northern to me.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I'm on the slate for NorthWords 2012

I'm happy to say that I'll be participating in the NorthWords Writers Festival this year. Linden MacIntyre, a Giller Prize winning novelist and co-host of CBC’s Fifth Estate, will be headlining. Guests for the 2012 event include Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, along with authors Dawn Dumont and Margaret Macpherson. Northern writers Richard Van Camp, Jamie Bastedo, Annelies Pool - and more - will also be participating. Stay tuned for details!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Farewell to the ptarmigan

To all things there is a season, and one of the sad parts of the spring season in Yellowknife is bidding farewell to the ptarmigan.

It's been a great winter for ptarmis in these parts - thirty or forty have been making the rounds of the neighbourhood, going from bird feeder to bird feeder. In our backyard they've been grazing cheek by jowl with the LBBs (little brown birds), who are a fraction of their size. Sometimes they swoop in on the wing (a rare occurrence, given their preference for walking); more often they scurry across the street for a quick nosh at our place (see photo below of ptarmi in mid-scurry) before scuttling up the hill in our backyard, heading for their next port of call. They can really pound down the snow - it's like there's a ptarmigan superhighway along the side of our house.

I've spent hours watching them in the backyard, listening to their honks and squawks, tsk-tsking when the mean ones chase their compatriots away from patches of prime bird seed. I've hit the brakes while whipping around the corner in the vehicle, to find a flock of them nonchalantly gravelling in the middle of the road. Last Tuesday I walked out of the house for my morning hike to the office, and there was a row of them on the little hill across the street. One of them honked at me. I smiled and continued on my way. It was the last I saw of them.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Official photographer to the northern lights?

After years of believing I needed a high-end camera to capture the northern lights, it turns out that my little Panasonic will do the job with some patience and (preferably) a tripod.

We were out at Blachford Lake Lodge a few days ago, and it was not until the last night that the Director of Photography (Pierre) showed me the essential settings. I got the photo above by propping my camera on one of the deck railings at the lodge. Next time I'll be porting along a tripod. The quintessential aurora photo will be my next photographic Holy Grail - I'm still working on the perfect dog sled photo.

During daylight hours, I went on some of my favourite tromps - hiked the four-kilometre trail, and climbed the hill on the island across from the lodge. Here's a shot of the trail up to the top of the hill. A bit of a slog: some serious trail-breaking was required and the final push to the summit just about finished me. The reward was a great view of the lake and the lodge across the way.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Yay for the Long John Jamboree!

Good times at the inaugural Long John Jamboree, held in Yellowknife this weekend.

The festival was a combination of classic Yellowknife events, like the Ugly Truck and Dog contest (photo below), along with some soon-to-be classics like the Flaunt Your Skivvies Contest, which I sadly had to miss due to pressures of work.

The festival – like its predecessor, Caribou Carnival – suffered from some less-than-stellar weather. Yellowknifers are a stalwart bunch, however, and overcast skies and wind chill did not stop an impressive-sized crowd from lining up for the ever-popular Cabane à sucre (aka taffy on a stick) or snapping photos of thermal-clad can-can dancers, or the Terriers and Tiaras talent show for pooches.

Looking forward to next year.