Machine Without Horses by Helen Humphreys

…a late wake up time for me this morning, but I’ve decided to begin the day with a quick book review.  I haven’t reviewed my reading for months now, so, over the coming weeks, I might write one here and there, as I’m at the easel and don’t want to steal too much writing time from that.  I do love writing.  And it relaxes me, all the while giving me the same fearful moments as  I stare at the blank pages as I have when I tremble before a blank panel in the studio.

I have read Helen Humphreys before and thoroughly enjoy her connections with history…such an interesting measure of history and fiction that I have no troubles labeling her writing style as very unique.  While there are some reviews that say that this novel is unresolved, I beg to differ.  This is one of my favourite reads of summer.  It’s a quick read, although this review says that the first half will slow you down, but with the caveat that if the reader takes an interest in the craft of writing, this section might be just as magical as the second.  I am this person.

The book is titled, Machine Without Horses, a somewhat deceiving title, but it will make sense for the reader in time.  Oh, never mind…I’ll offer my readers the literal meaning to start.

Given my time at the river, I’ve been speaking with the fly fishermen and others about their fishing rituals, this past summer.  One evening I had a particularly interesting chat with a young man who shared his enthusiasm for fly dressing.  When I met him he was stooped over with a small screen, capturing the nymphs or larvae of the flies and bugs that were seen hovering above the water and the vegetation that particular evening.  Once identified, then he would make his selection from his collection.  He shared these with me.

I told him about what I had learned about the fine art of fly dressing while reading the book, Machine Without Horses and he was intrigued.  The novel is based on a Scottish protagonist and historical crafts person, Megan Boyd who gained a magical love and ability for salmon fly-dressing.  She worked tirelessly at the craft for some sixty years.  Megan provides the basis for the novel, but the means in which Humphreys writes this character is fascinating to me.

I hope that my young nephew, Jake, reads this post as he has tackled fly-dressing and I’m curious, now, if he continues to do this.  Here are a few of Megan Boyd’s flies.

In the first half of the book, we meet a writer who has come upon the obituary of Mary Boyd.  From the first spark, we learn what motivates the writer (fictional writer?  Helen?  who knows?) to tackle this subject.  The reader becomes an observer of the writer’s process as she develops characters, events and setting.  It is all so fascinating.  As a huge relief, the reader then moves into the historical fiction with greater insight/knowledge about the narrative that unfolds. I’m leaving the synopsis just like this because I don’t wish to introduce you to any bits other than the protagonist and perhaps to say that the setting in Scotland…the atmosphere…the ocean views…and the rivers captivated me.

I think that this is a great little book and highly recommend.  I know. I know.  I certainly don’t have the same tastes in books as many of my friends, but give this one a try.  I’m linking up to the other reviews I might have written on Helen Humphrey’s books.  I may have my friend, Hollee Card, to credit for discovering this author and picked up my first book of hers, Coventry, in a second hand book store.  Other novels were read by the same author, but not reviewed.  One of the most aesthetically written books on my shelf is The River by Helen Humphreys.  I also encourage you, if you romanticize about place, as I do, to pick this one up.

Coventry by Helen Humphreys

The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys



A Champion for Susanna Moodie

I wrote at length a few summers ago about Susanna Moodie.  Staying on east Bridge Street in Belleville, Ontario, it only made sense then and because I have returned under sad circumstances, it also makes sense that I continue my exploration of her writing and her place in Canadian history.  Recently, it just so happened that I met author and historian, Gerry Boyce, as he was doing some yard work at the front of his house.  We engaged in a rich conversation about the surrounding area and the fact that he had, the day before, completed his index for another book.

When I explained to Mr. Boyce my interest in Susanna Moodie, he went on to share with me about the refurbishments made upon her monument over the last several years.  He also told me that the entire marble base had been replaced by the Campbell Monument Company and that he believed the original to be in their yard somewhere.

So, yes!  Of course I went to meet Gary Foster of Campbell Monuments and he and I walked out to the yard, together, to view the original monument base.  Now, the thing is, this beautiful reminder of an earlier day, can not continue to exist as a discard, but rather, needs to be displayed in a place of importance somewhere in the city…perhaps at the front of the library or in a public gathering space.  In whatever capacity, I hope to be a champion for this cause.  I was remarkably touched to meet Gerry Boyce.  He is generous in his sharing of history and I think that sort of generosity is to be admired.

June 2013 028 June 2013 024 June 2013 026 June 2013 027July 26 2011 Susanna Moodie

114 Bridge Street July 25 2011 Susanna Moodie

Meeting Margaret Atwood


Pulling myself out of bed at the crack of dawn was not an easy thing to do on a day off, but I did it!  My contract has ended for the duration of the teacher’s convention and Family Day, but begins again on Tuesday.  This left me with the option, as a retired teacher/substitute, to attend or not.  I decided, without hesitation, to head down to hear Margaret Atwood, one of Canada’s icons…writer, teacher, environmental activist, advocate for women and all beings and inspiring speaker.

The crowd was in stitches…so perfect was her timing during the various narratives she shared.  Atwood sublimely drew us into sad tales of her ‘worst teacher’ and happy recollections of life with her mother and father.  My readers can find the short story Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother in her collection of twelve short stories, Bluebeard’s Egg.

Directly from Wikipedia, this…

Born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Atwood is the second of three children[5] of Margaret Dorothy (née Killam), a former dietitian and nutritionist, and Carl Edmund Atwood, an entomologist.[6] Due to her father’s ongoing research in forest entomology, Atwood spent much of her childhood in the backwoods of Northern Quebec and traveling back and forth between Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie, and Toronto. She did not attend school full-time until she was in grade 8. She became a voracious reader of literature, Dell pocketbook mysteries, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Canadian animal stories, and comic books. She attended Leaside High School in Leaside, Toronto, and graduated in 1957.[6]

Was Taught
How to pound in a nail
How to tie a trout fly
How to knit (a neighbour taught her this)
How to make a stink bomb
How to clean off a table
How to crochet
How to wax a maple leaf
How to use a rifle
Canoeing techniques
How to raise your temperature.
1812 overture
How mushrooms reproduce
How to dissect frogs
Medley from Oklahoma
Swearing in several languages
Many ways of committing murders (mystery reader from a young age)
The fact that everything is connected to everything


Nature Studies
How to light a fire
How to make a toad on a cake with icing
A literary survey Chaucer to TS Eliot
Grammar to engineering students
Classical Literature and American Romanticism



A very interesting and honest interview…


Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx

Bird Cloud 2

Just moments ago, I finished the book, Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx.  This was a memoir that spoke to my heart and I was very much invested in the book from its beginning.  This is NOT the reaction shared by so many critics with literary expertise, in fact, I found it an unusual thing that a review be entirely positive.

I think that the subject matter was appealing to me on many levels.  First, I liked the courage that Proulx modeled as she solicited the help of so many different people in order to build her architectural dream and new home in a very challenging landscape.  Bird Cloud is a location of extreme weather conditions, contributing to a sense of isolation.  Wyoming was such an awesome landscape and Proulx did not disappoint in terms of her description and research of the location.

Next, as so many others have shared, I feel as though I gained tremendous insight into who Annie Proulx is, not simply ‘the writer’, but also someone acutely interested in history and wildlife.  I relished her curiosity and felt excited, even at the countless failures in various steps of construction, whether it be deficiencies in the materials, suppliers and contractors or in the evidence of much after thought.

The book was most colourful as Proulx spoke of the historical relevance of the surrounding land and the nature of the those properties.  I was brought to tears while reading the last two chapters, “…all beaded, all earringed, wing feather bowstring sided…” and “A Year of Birds”.  Powerfully written, one is left with utmost respect for everything that ‘gets us here’.  I feel, not only, enlightened, but challenged to grow in both knowledge and understanding.

Regarding ‘the build’ at Bird Cloud, I felt compelled to shift some furnishings around tonight…think about my personal aesthetic…and in a very understated way, to consider links between beauty and function, new materials and old.  I think that ‘place’ is of utmost importance to all of us.

From page 169 of Bird Cloud, Annie Proulx tells us…

Curly, by David F. Barry, Template:Circa 1876.

Curly, by David F. Barry, Template:Circa 1876.

“Custer’s Crow scout, Curley, a survivor of the Battle of Greasy Grass, spoke in council in 1907 when pressure was on to sell part of the Crow Reservation to outsiders.  He said, ‘The soil you see is not ordinary soil.  It is the dust of the blood of the flesh and bones of our ancestors.  We fought and bled and died to keep other Indians from taking it and fought and bled and died, helping the whites.  You will have to dig through the surface before you can find the earth, as the upper portion is Crow.  The land as it is, is my blood, and my dead: it is consecrated, and I don’t want to give up any portion of it.'”

Source: Frances Carrington, My Army Life and the Fort Phil Kearny Massacre (Denver:Pruett Press, 1990), 314 cited in John D. McDermott, A Guide to the Indian Wars of the West (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998), 2.

I think that this is a thorough review of Bird Cloud and gives background that my response is lacking.  Enjoy!

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

My first ‘read’ of the New Year, The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb.

Wally Lamb

It was very random that I picked this one up…I had just finished Guy Vanderhaeghe’s collection of short stories, Man Descending.  Hard covered and 750+ pages, this one was tricky to read in bed (hard to hold up, if you know what I mean?), but Wally Lamb’s writing always strikes a chord with me.  I think that his writing is moving because he successfully cracks the psyche of his characters so that in some regards we feel his characters reflecting something back to us about ourselves.  When I read She’s Come Undone several years ago, I really wondered how a male writer could find his way inside a woman’s mind as he did.

It was quite by accident that I started reading a book that begins with a fictional school shooting in Littleton, Colorado, only weeks after the real shootings of Sandy Hook Elementary School of Newtown, Connecticut…shootings that again, appalled citizens everywhere.  As a result of this,  the unfolding of the writer’s initial incident impacted me greatly and in a parallel fashion, impacted Lamb’s characters.  Gritty and raw, the exploration of relationship, family, family secrets and fortitude all struck a chord with me.

While Lamb does not spill it out for us in any literal fashion, we feel that Caelum is coming to a deeper and more acute experience of faith as he encounters and journeys the stream of his own life story.

A complex web is woven with the threads of characters’ lives in this powerful story.  I have no hesitation recommending this book to my readers.

A bit of a full interview that you can enjoy at  In fact, this is a great list of interviews with authors.  Scroll to the bottom of the resource for a menu of the complete list.  You will find Wally Lamb there.

New Year Resolve by Mary Sarton

May Sarton (1912-1995)
At her death, May Sarton had written 53 books: 19 novels, 17 books of poetry, 15 nonfiction works including her acclaimed journals, 2 children’s books, a play, and some screenplays. I’ve tried to list first editions here, whenever possible, or at least to give the copyright date if I couldn’t find a complete reference to the first edition. Many newer editions of her works are also in print. I have sometimes listed multiple editions if the illustrations or supporting materials are different. For a comprehensive bibliography describing works by and about Sarton, see May Sarton: A Bibliography. (Annotated) by Lenora P. Blouin. Metuchen, New Jersey: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1978.

May Sarton wished that upon her death a fund would be established from the residue of her estate to provide scholarships for poets and historians of science. (Her father was a historian of science at Harvard.) The Sarton Fund has been established and is held under the auspices of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of which May Sarton was a member. The Sarton Estate recorded May Sarton’s memorial service, which may be ordered for a small sum that includes a donation to the fund.

To contact the Sarton Fund, write to:
Sarton Fund, c/o The American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Norton’s Woods, 136 Irving St., Cambridge, MA 02138.



New Year Resolve by May Saron

The time has come
To stop allowing the clutter
To clutter my mind
Like dirty snow,
Shove it off and find
Clear time, clear water.
Time for a change,
Let silence in like a cat
Who has sat at my door
Neither wild nor strange
Hoping for food from my store
And shivering on the mat.
Let silence in.
She will rarely mew,
She will sleep on my bed
And all I have ever been
Either false or true
Will live again in my head.
For it is now or not
As old age silts the stream,
To shove away the clutter,
To untie every knot,
To take the time to dream,
To come back to still water.

from The Silence Now – New and Uncollected Earlier Poems

Listen Here

Look at What the Light Did Now

Jen Hall came over to archive some work in the studio.  I’ve been really aching to get a couple of pieces out into the world, one inspired by a  poem by George Bowering (thank you, George)…
(a recent letter from George)
Hey, Kathleen,

I like your wolf in the snow
and I am glad that my words could have a part in it.
Hope to see them in the flesh, or charcoal, or whatever.
Well. Hope to say hello in person some time.
I am the way and the heavy.
George’s poetry is so powerful, that to have words of his sent to me via electronic mail also feels like poetry.

Thank you, George Bowering

and another by Paulette Dube (thank you);
Paulette shaped a heart-felt message for me as well, but it stays here, tucked in my heart.

Paulette’s Words Take Flight

…but, I didn’t want to send the paintings out of the studio until I had them photographed.  I’ve converted my old photo slides to digital recently and I realize that I used to tear out the door, often with wet paintings, in order to meet deadlines.  If I photographed my works, they were haphazard trapezoidal shapes of every variety; they were unfocused and they hardly qualified as an archive at all.  Here would be an example.

Poor Quality 🙁

So now, I have no REAL history of what has come before, to even consider how all of that work influenced this.  See.  This is why I am excited that Jen came to the studio this morning.

Jen’s ‘Take’ on an one of my ‘old’ paintings.


Photo of taking Photos by Jen Hall

Little Wings and Feist
Hear it like a pounce upon a peak, oh
Look at what the light did now
Bear it like a bounce upon the beak, oh
Look at what the light did now
Land and water and bird or beast, oh
Look at what the light did now
Shiny little band or golden fleece, oh
Look at what the light did now
In my will I went ’til it’s wasted
Look at what the light did now
Taste the taste I taste ’til it’s tasted
Look at what the light did now
Bought it like a boast that burly beaming
Look at what the light did now
Got it like a ghost that girly gleaming
Look at what the light did now
Like a dead tree that’s dry and leaving
Look at what the light did now
Play it on me with grief and grieving
Look at what the light did now
I would finally fall to pieces
Look at what the light did now
We’ll meet soon as nephews… nieces
Look at what the light did now

Swann by Carol Shields

Swann by Carol Shields

I’m engrossed in the novel, Swann by Carol Shields and because I am, it is moving slowly.  I am eating up and treasuring every single word, especially where the character development is involved.  In fact, the characters are so real to me that one day I found myself doing an internet search for the poet, Mary Swann.  She is so elusive and Shields writes Mary’s life as an isolated woman in rural Canada, so believably.  Mary Swann is someone the reader wants to know, especially as bits and pieces of her memory disappear…a journal…a dictionary…a photograph.  For me these become symbols of her tragic and brutal ending.  What motivates Mary to write?  Where does she find the words?  Poignant.  Nostalgic.  I absolutely celebrate the act of turning on my reading light, pulling up the covers and spending time with a good book!

Maggie Kawalerczak reviews Swann here…I think she is ‘bang on’ with this particular review.  I chuckled as I read, In fact, if I may generalize, there is certain “Canadianness” to the material.  This, I believe to be an accurate assessment of this ‘mystery’.  I am consistently drawn to Canadian content and respond to regional settings (landscapes I know so well), the sorts of characters that reside in these settings and that particular style/expression of Canadian authors and their words.  What is that particularity?  The same goes for Canadian film, doesn’t it?

Mary Swann, herself, is an enigma.  I am captivated by this book!

114 Bridge Street West: July 25, 2011

Cayley in Susanna Moodie's Gardens: A Spiritual Experience

This afternoon, before heading south on the Via Rail, Cayley and I headed to the west hill and the former cottage of Susanna Moodie.  A beautiful…calming…peaceful experience.  History…family…and the tree’s witness came to mind.

Fountain Detail

I have just purchased the books, Belleville: A Popular History by Gerry Boyce and Sisters in Two Worlds: A Visual Biography of Susanna Moodie and Cathearine Parr Traill by Michael Peterman, so more details will follow as I learn and experience more.

114 Bridge Street: Front Entrance

Rock pathway laid down in a similar way as I have back at home.

Summer Discoveries on Bridge Street

I enjoy early Canadian writers and have a small collection on my book shelf at home, of Susanna Moodie’s writings and journal pages.  Equally as fascinating are the writings of her sister, Catherine Parr Trail.  Both women struggled initially with the harsh Canadian winters, but then grew to write very powerful reflections about their experiences, thus enlightening historians about the transition from the more gentile life of England and other places in Europe to the weather and stark reality of life in Canada.

Sometimes life’s little surprises are…well…surprising! It is when I am ‘going along’ noticing the simple things, that I end up having amazing revelations and am struck by that sort of magic that I hang onto forever.  It would seem that Susanna Moodie’s cottage was in Belleville, Ontario…on Bridge Street.  Presently, I am staying with my parents, just a block away!  For all I know, I have already featured her home in my Bridge Street Photo Essay.  We shall see!  In the meantime, I will try to find some words of Susanna’s to post here.

On the notion of memory…something I’ve been thinking about all of these photos later…

What a wonderful faculty is memory! — the most mysterious and inexplicable in the great riddle of life; that plastic tablet on which the Almighty registers with unerring fidelity the records of being, making it the depository of all our words, thoughts and deeds — this faithful witness against us for good or evil.
Susanna Moodie