The not-so-Common Loon

At one time it would prickle the back of my neck — an eerie wail from out of the dark somewhere on the lake. Now it’s the first thing I listen for each time we arrive. The call of our Loons.


Our rustic little cabin is situated on a very small unpopulated lake in BC’s Cariboo country. Loons are territorial, and in the sixty-plus years of my summer and autumn visits, only once have I seen more than the one pair on the lake. That was decades ago, and I wondered at the time if the other pair were adults or juveniles, but they were never close enough for a photo, even with my zoom lens. Every year since then there have been just these two, piercing the lake’s solitude with their haunting calls.

Until this summer. One evening early in August I heard the familiar wails and warbles … a clamouring of assorted calls coming from the creek mouth just below our cabin. Thinking there might be a chance of some closer photos, I crept down the path to the shore just in time to see a whole group of loons moving out onto the lake — six of them!

I apologize for the shaky video, but I was shaking myself!

One seemed to be a slightly different colour, but the rest were alike, and I wondered once again if some were juveniles. Once away from the creek mouth, they drifted, circled and flapped, their various tremolo and yodelling sounds suggesting concern over an intruder. Then they slowly paired off and dispersed. I didn’t see them together again.


There’s a mystique associated with loons. They are often featured in First Nations myths and art, and associated with legends of the North. I have a modest collection of them in assorted forms that range from a switch plate cover to candle holders, paintings, and sculptures, including a wood carving. They intrigue me!

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I’ve learned a number of facts about them:

  • they are larger and longer-bodied than a Mallard Duck, but smaller and shorter-necked than a Canada Goose;
  • unlike most avians, they have solid bones rather than hollow ones, which assist them in diving and staying as deep as sixty metres underwater for several minutes;
  • because of the placement of their legs far back on their bodies, they are clumsy on land but efficient in water and air;
  • they require a relatively long distance to gain momentum when taking off, and when landing will skim the surface on their bellies to slow down;
  • during migration they may fly for hundreds of kilometres at up to 120 kilometres per hour;
  • they produce a variety of vocalizations, but there are four main types of calls: the tremolo, the yodel, the wail, and the hoot. Each one communicates a distinct message.

I could get carried away with Loon trivia, but I’d better not. If you’d like to know more, Living Bird Magazine has a good article on loons reprinted on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website: Spirit of the North, the Common Loon. The Cornell site also has additional information.

What does this have to do with my writing? Not much, except perhaps to point out that when doing research for a story, I need to put boundaries on the time I spend doing it! Interesting tidbits can lead to more and more online exploration, until I’ve spent too many hours and collected far more information than I need.

How about you? Are you a disciplined researcher, or do you sometimes get lost in the collection of data, too?


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(Judging by the grey bill, a juvenile Common Loon … I think!)

Limitless Imagination

Focused on homework, my visiting granddaughter was unaware that her imaginative head gear was beguiling. The oversized maple leaf was one of her ‘finds’ during an earlier walk with her sister and Grampa.


She brought home other leaves, wrapped around the stems of wildflowers to create formal little nosegays, but this one she plunked on her head and wore unselfconsciously through the homework session that followed the walk. It was the only prop she needed to be a studious pixie princess.

Where does imagination come from? A Popular Science article explains it this way:

Cognitive scientists hypothesize that our ability to imagine, to come up with mental images and creative new ideas, is the result of something called a “mental workplace,” a neural network that likely coordinates activity across multiple regions of the brain.”

Personally, I’m convinced the ‘mental workplace’ can be stimulated to even greater productivity by exposure to various forms of art, such as the written word, colours, sounds, shapes and textures.

Leo Tolstoy believed, every work of art causes the receiver to enter into a certain kind of relationship both with him who produced, or is producing, the art, and with all those who, simultaneously, previously, or subsequently, receive the same artistic impression…

The feelings with which the artist infects others may be most various — very strong or very weak, very important or very insignificant, very bad or very good: feelings of love for one’s own country, self-devotion and submission to fate or to God expressed in a drama, raptures of lovers described in a novel, feelings of voluptuousness expressed in a picture, courage expressed in a triumphal march, merriment evoked by a dance, humor evoked by a funny story, the feeling of quietness transmitted by an evening landscape or by a lullaby, or the feeling of admiration evoked by a beautiful arabesque — it is all art.

I’m not sure I fully understand how art and imagination are linked, but I believe that most children who from infancy are exposed to music and books, and who are motivated by parental example and encouragement to explore artistic realms beyond their experience, are more likely to be successful in self-expression and academic achievement.

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Julia Cameron understood the value of stimulating imagination by going on ‘artist’s dates’, taking time to refuel, and rediscover creativity. Our ‘mental workplace’ needs an environment that is conducive to empowering its potential, and unleashing its limitless capacity. If we want our stories to ‘infect others’, we must first experience the necessary emotions and images, and then be able to convey them as textual art on the page. We must constantly nourish our imaginations.

My granddaughters don’t seem to have a problem with that, but it’s an endless challenge for me!

Do you view your writing as art? How do you enrich it to be its imaginative best?

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From the Archives: The Music of Words

A couple years ago I showed you this incredibly heavy box of music that was sitting in the middle of my kitchen. It represented over a decade of choral music collected by one of our church accompanists. In the same way as I hoard books, she hoards music, and for the same reason – it speaks to her.

She needed to downsize and was returning a portion of her collection. While I sorted through the six hundred-or-so octavos and several music books, I couldn’t ignore other similarities.

Notes build phrases of melody that blend into harmony, creating music that sings in my heart.

Letters become words and sentences, and grow into stories that beguile my imagination.

Both transport me to a new place. The creativity required to produce the best form of both is art, and originates somewhere deep within. When it is well done, it impacts those who listen… and read.

The creativity represented by all this music staggers me. Each song is unique and represents hours, days, months or maybe even years of the composer’s time. More significant is the piece of its creator’s soul that is embedded in the reality of each.

Composing words and music are both forms of writing, totally different, and yet so very much the same.


If you are a writer, do you find your creativity spills over into other forms of art?

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Graphics by digitalart


#wipMadness Day 26: Making Your Mark

One of my favourite sights and sounds at our remote cabin is of the loons. There is always one or two pair of Common Loons there, and soon after we arrive every summer and fall we are greeted by their unique call. My fascination with loons has grown since first encountering them when my parents took me there as a child over sixty years ago. As a result, I’ve also developed quite a collection of loon items — carvings, glassware, sculptures, and this delightful watercolour painting, commissioned by my hubby as a surprise gift for me. The artist is a member of our church, Elizabeth Hancock.

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I remember her saying how it had taken her some time to decide on how she wanted to depict the subject … that loons are so often shown swimming, with or without a baby, and she preferred to paint something more distinctive.

The result is unique and beautiful, and holds a place of honour on our living room wall.


Liz’s signature tells anyone who views this painting that she is its creator — she designed its story and chose how she would tell it within the context of its watercolour medium.

Writers do much the same as they pen their stories in text. Names on title pages and book covers announce to readers that the words tell a unique version of a particular story … one drawn from the author’s imagination and soul.

For both writer and artist, once released into the world, the creation and the creator’s mark become a part of history, forever inseparable. Wow! Maybe that’s why passion has to be such an integral part of the process.

As you create this week, I hope you’ll feel the passion, the inspiration and also the responsibility as you strive to make your special mark!


This is the last Thursday of #wipMadness, so this is my final contribution to our month of writing-reading-blogging madness. There are just five days left in the countdown to its end and to the day when we’ll all have to take stock of our month’s achievements. Make each one count, fellow Wipsters! And don’t forget to check in tomorrow with Tonette.


(If you’re in the Maple Ridge, BC area and would like to see more of Liz Hancock’s work, you might enjoy ‘The Art Studio Tour’ on Mother’s Day weekend. Check it out here!)

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There are collections, and then there are Collections

Pottery Mug

Mug brought back from Israel by my hubby in 1980

I’m not a hoarder, but I do like to collect things. Certain things. Like pottery. I had to sort through an outrageous number of pottery mugs recently, deciding which ones could be culled (to make room for more, of course).

In addition to mugs, I have pottery serving bowls, plates, casseroles, sauce dishes, jugs, vases and more. Not a huge number of items (except for the mugs), but enough to fill a few shelves and decorate the space atop our kitchen cabinets.

There are specific features that draw me to a piece. In mugs it’s the feel of the cup as I cradle it in my hands. Filled with coffee, it needs to feel right in my grip. ‘Right’ is a relative thing, I know, and now that I have arthritis in my hands, one criterion is that the handle be large enough to accommodate at least three of my fingers.

I also collect rocks.

Rock Collection

The criteria for them are similar to what I use to choose my mugs — stones need to hold meaning for me and feel ‘right’ in my hand. I have agates from the shore of Haida Gwaii, a stone from a roadside in Mexico, a piece of volcanic lava from northern BC, and  several more picked up as mementos of other places of significance. Many stones in my collection are ordinary-looking ones collected during walks along ocean, lake and river shorelines.

Rocky Beach

That’s about the extent of my collections. Well, it is if you don’t count all the Loons that appear around here, or all the snowflakes among our Christmas ornaments… but that’s different. No, really. It is. Everyone has a collection of special Christmas ornaments, don’t they?

One kind of collection has never appealled much to me, and that’s a collection of short stories. I’m not a big fan of reading short stories to start with, because once I get hooked by a plot and its characters, I want a long term relationship — hundreds of pages, please. I admit to having written a few shorts, but it was more as an exercise than as a chosen genre.

I believe writing good short stories is more difficult than writing good novels, simply because the writer must accomplish all the same things as in a novel, but with many less words. Nobel prize winner Alice Munro is said to have perfected the art of writing short stories. She always intended to write novels, but never found large enough chunks of time to do so. When she attempted them, they always ended up fragmenting into something shorter. I admit to not reading many of them. I intend to remedy that, not because I want to read short stories but because I think I ought to read hers. I’m curious about her writing. There are a number of her stories published online and I may start with them.

Last Christmas I read A Log Cabin Christmas because among its stories there was one written by Jane Kirkpatrick and I’m particularly fond of her writing. Others of my cyberfriends have joined up to produce two collections of Christmas novellas this year —  Hope for the Holidays Historical Collection  and Hope for the Holidays Contemporary Collectionand I’ll be reading those, too. Hey, don’t be calling me inconsistent. Like snowflake ornaments, Christmas collections are different!

Do you have a preference when it comes to the length of your fiction? What do you see as the pros and cons of collections?

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Dealing With Our Limitations

Grumbling is a constitutional right, isn’t it? Everyone complains occasionally. It might be about the weather, the stack of month-end bills, or a mother-in-law’s upcoming visit. Some people don’t like their lot in life, or they don’t feel they get the breaks they deserve. Or they may justifiably resent having to deal with more serious problems, like illness, or incapacitation, or unemployment.

I can think of many reasons why people are discontent, but there are people who have a legitimate cause to complain… and don’t. In her weekend blog post Ann Voskamp included the following video of a KING-TV interview. It blew me away!



We can’t always manage to do what we wish? The message is: find something else that we can do and then get on with it.

From now on, whenever I bemoan my trivial limitations, the remarkable Paul Smith will come to mind.

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