Friday, July 10, 2015

This blog is moving!

Actually, this blog has already moved! I've created my own web page, which features the Rainforest Writer blog and copied the latest post, "Busy as a beaver revisited" to it, to get things started.

I hope you will visit the new blog at:
And also that you will subscribe. There is a "Follow" button at the top of the righthand column, underneath the big header photo. Click on that and it will ask for your email address. The theory is that the site will automatically send you an email to notify you when there's a new post.

I will leave this blog up, at least for a few months, in case anyone wants to refer to an old post.

Hey, see you over the road!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

busy as a beaver revisited

A reader commented on my June 24, 2015 post “Busy as a Beaver.” She said, “And what of the – possibly rural – myth that beavers have to keep gnawing on wood because if they stopped, their teeth would keep growing until one sad day, they'd have to slurp their food through a straw? Dear Researcher, can you please dig deep to find the answer?”

I dug deep and found more information (much of it originally from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Notebook Series) about Castor canadensis than you would ever want to know, unless you’re a wildlife researcher. This is hardly surprising, since it was the lucrative trade in beaver pelts that caused the exploration and development of Canada and the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 17th century. In 1975 the beaver was made the official emblem of Canada, the highest award ever bestowed on a rodent.

But the beaver earned that award. Between the years 1853 and 1877, the Hudson Bay Company harvested over 3 million beaver to sell in England. Beaver fur was in demand because it  is so warm and soft. The outer layer consists of long glossy guard hairs, while the underneath fur is short, dense and fine. It’s quite likely the beaver would have become extinct, but for the fact that beaver hats in Europe became less fashionable than silk hats. 

And now for the teeth: as with all rodents, a beaver’s teeth do grow continually during its life. The teeth are self-sharpening because of a hard orange enamel on the outer side and a softer inner side that wears more slowly. This wear pattern creates a chisel shape. The outer enamel is orange because iron has replaced calcium. This makes them unusually strong. They also have lips that can close behind their front teeth, allowing them to cut and chew wood below the water’s surface.

But I was not able to find out what would happen if a beaver had no wood to gnaw. I don’t think the situation would ever arise. Even if the beaver didn’t cut down trees, it has a vegetarian diet of woody plants and bark from branches to exercise its teeth on. And nobody can slurp bark and plants through a straw, so there’s no possibility of that happening. Unless, of course, some amiable human creates a combination blender/saw mill that provides lazy beavers with a kind of pre-digested pablum.

The beaver is a fascinating animal and if you want to read about it much more detail, go to this web site:

One last bit of interesting information: the beaver’s tail is broad, black, scaly, and flat, about a foot long and six inches wide. It is used as a rudder while swimming, as a third leg while standing upright, as a lever when dragging branches, as a warning signal when slapped on the water, and as a place for the body to store fat for the winter. It is said to taste very good, and at one time was considered a delicacy.

Well, a beaver hat to keep the ears warm, and beaver tail for lunch...what more could one ask for?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

exploring history

One of the challenges of editing science fiction, which is one of the things I’m doing right now,  is that you have to understand the terms and processes the writer talks about. If you don’t know what the writer is talking about, it’s impossible to know whether s/he is constructing sentences properly or whether the plot makes sense.

I don’t mind the challenge because I’ve always liked learning. But my mind is in overdrive, catching up on all the science I didn’t get in high school. My research files contain titles such as Asteroids, Antimatter, and Kinetic Energy. The high school I went to was very small and the school district couldn’t afford more than the basics. The school itself  had only four rooms and my Grade 12 class had only six pupils. We did get a biology course where we were supposed to dissect frogs, but I don’t remember doing that. And I don’t want to.

One book I’ve read wasn’t really necessary, but I enjoyed it and can wholeheartedly recommend it. That’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari, and it was published about 2011. No, it’s not science, but history. I read it because I wanted to get a perspective on the human race. The Big Bang happened 13.5 billion years ago. Planet Earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago. Humans evolved a measly 2.5 million years ago and we didn’t learn to talk until 70,000 years ago. And look at all the trouble we’ve caused in that brief period of time!

I never liked history in school because we had to learn kings and queens and dates of battles, and I couldn’t see any point to it. I still can’t. But I liked Mr. Harari’s book very much. It’s written clearly and with a sense of humor. And, anyway, there’s not going to be a test, right?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

go belly up

This means being dead, broke, hopelessly failed or otherwise “done,” and is based on the idea of a dead animal found lying on its back, with its belly facing up, or a fish floating to the surface belly up when it dies. The phrase is used to describe almost any kind of negative scenario.

Its most common use is in the world of enterprise, where many small businesses tend to fail in the first few years of operation, or large well-established companies surprise financial analysts by failing spectacularly. And so we say that a certain large firm, for example, “went belly up,” where the descriptive phrase serves to combine the element of surprise and failure.

In the more abstract uses of the phrase, the object may be a more nebulous effort like a social movement. Saying that a social movement has “gone belly up” generally implies that it has become less active or visible due to lower interest.

There is a similar phrase with a very different meaning that can also be reduced to the phrase “belly up.” The entire phrase is “belly up to the bar,” which means of course to get close to the bar in order to drink alcohol. Someone who wants to drink with someone in a bar might shorten their entreaty to the simple two word phrase.

So if I say to you, ‘shall we go belly up?’ I mean ‘let’s have a beer,’ not ‘let’s go broke.’ And that’s not a bad idea for Canada Day!

Monday, June 29, 2015

venturing into space

A friend replied to last week’s post, where I was puzzling over whether my book Green Blood Rising belongs in the science fiction category. She reminded me of its similarity to John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, and said that his book has always been classified as sci/fi. So I’m not going to worry about it any more. Not even a little bit!

I started to read science fiction a few years ago and found, as with fantasy, that some of it I love and some of it I hate. So far, I like Jack L. Chalker and some of Robert Heinlein and just bought a series of three by Jack Vance, who is, like the other two, an old hand at science fiction.

As for fantasy, which I’ve loved ever since I read Lord of the Rings, my all-time favorite author (which means I will read everything and anything she writes) is Sheri S. Tepper. Running a very close second is Ursula LeGuin. I like some of David Eddings’ work and I loved The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman. Another absolutely top-notch writer is Charles de Lint, a Canadian writer who lives in deepest Ontario. I loved his first two or three books, but he now writes mostly urban fantasy, which I don’t care for. The ‘fantasy’ is fine, but the ‘urban’ I can do without!

So, now that the Green Blood Rising series is done, I’m working on a science fiction story written by a scientist friend. I’m editing and rewriting and loving every minute of it because my friend does know how to tell a story. This project will take some time because the mass of material will probably translate into at least three books. The tentative series title is The Centuries. This is very definitely science fiction. Spaceships! Aliens! Moving planets! Buried cities!

And now I must get back to work. Or is that “spaced out”?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

busy as a beaver

Very industrious or hardworking, good at multitasking.

Several similar expressions exist: ‘busy as a bee,’ ‘busy as a one-armed paperhanger,’ ‘busy as Grand Central Station,’ ‘busy as a cat on a hot tin roof,’ ‘busy as popcorn on a skillet.’

I’d suggest that the phrase developed naturally from observing the beaver in action. It’s seen as extremely industrious, because of the way it constructs its own habitat. In order to build the elaborate dams and lodgings that beavers need to keep safe, they have to fall many trees by gnawing on them until they topple.

The phrase is an example of a type of “personification” or matching of humans to animals and vice versa.

As for me, I'm learning new software so I can put up my own web page, so I'm as busy as a beaver and a cat on a hot tin roof combined!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

and now for something completely different

It’s the summer solstice, an event I always celebrate, sometimes by hugging a Garry oak or an arbutus, two of the loveliest trees on this glorious northwest coast. This year I’m celebrating by riffing off Monty Python and starting something new.

As much as I love our funny, frustrating, and fascinating language and finding out where they came from, I also love the world of books and I have decided to make space for that on Sundays. Not to mention that I sometimes have opinions about a few other things, too!

Here’s a question I’ve been kicking around for some time now. When I published Green Blood Rising, the first book in my Green Blood Rising series, to Amazon and Smashwords, I had to choose a category for it. I chose ‘science fiction’ but I’m not sure that classification is accurate. 

The setting (a semi-rural area on Vancouver Island) and the characters are all realistic. No talking animals, no magic. No vampires, no zombies.

The only exception is the action of the trees. They acquire a much stronger electrical system and also begin to shoot up in all the places they flourished before humans took over so much of the planet. Therefore, they destroy roads, farms, and buildings. This creates utter disaster for my characters, but the action they take is realistic.

So, is it science fiction? Fantasy? Or simply a good story? 

This last question reminds me of a friend who likes to receive books for her birthday. When I ask her what categories she would prefer, she shrugs and says, “I don’t care. I just want a good story.”

I think that means I should read the book before I give it to her, but then, who can know whether ‘a good story’ is a phrase that means the same to both of us?