Feed a squirrel, become a squirrel.

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The continuing saga of a writing residency. Today: dinnertime hijinks and ensuring hilarity.

Upon on Sulphur mountain.

How can it already be day six?


Dinnertime conversation this evening: the devising of a theory that a curse lies over the valley that Banff sits in. If you feed the wildlife here, you become that wildlife. Feed a squirrel, become a squirrel. Feed one of the trail riding horses, doomed to become a horse yourself. Hence the posting of signs in Banff warning that feeding the wildlife is illegal. It’s not so much to protect the wildlife…it’s to protect tourists from turning into squirrels and elk. Also discussed: the Butterball turkey hotline, why all Canadian airports start with the letter Y and whether or not we should rename Canadian cities to match: Yalgary, Yoronto, Yancouver…and how we’d sound very Norwegian if we did.

The view a-horseback.

Man, I love mealtime at the Banff Centre.

Fred and Francis.

I went horseback riding with Fred this morning – out along the river and up into the hills on a guided tour. We had a really lovely time. Fred had a horse named Francis, and I rode a horse named Troy. When we got into the cab to go back to the Banff Centre, the driver asked us how the ride was. When I said that I had a horse named Troy, he said, “Oh, Troy! I love Troy! He’s such a great guy!”

Me and Troy.

Hence the first part of the dinnertime conversation, actually. Fred and I had been up to the gondola on Sulphur Mountain, and we’d heard a staff member lecturing a tourist about feeding the squirrels (rightly so – it’s illegal in the national park and clearly marked). The lecture was withering – I’d have been terribly upset if I’d been on the receiving end of this: “Sir, you have shortened the life of that squirrel.” So we were recounting this, along with the story of the cab driver who knew the horse…and reasoned that if you become a squirrel if you feed a squirrel, a cabbie named Troy must have fed a horse and, well…you see how it goes.


It’s one of those things where you kinda had to be there. Suffice it to say that we laughed so hard that we cried.


So here it is…the end of the day, and I’m back in my studio (a little sore from riding, but not too bad). I’ve got some writing to do to make up my daily goal – about two thousand words a day will see me finishing the novel by day eighteen, I think. I hope!

Upon on Sulphur mountain.

The meals:
Breakfast: eggs, bacon, Belgian waffle, yogurt, grapefruit, peaches, coffee, orange juice
Lunch: salmon sandwich with pickle, tomato and Swiss cheese, cottage cheese, broccoli salad
Dinner: salmon fillet in lemon butter sauce, jasmine rice, Caesar salad, broccoli with cheese, a dinner roll, cranberry juice mixed with club soda, hilarity

Chapters ten and eleven finished.

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The continuing saga of a writing residency, in which our heroine watches a pine marten instead of writing chapter twelve.

The pine marten.

Day five draws to a close. I spent almost all of it in the studio, working on chapters ten and eleven, and starting chapter twelve. This morning, the pine marten jogged by the studio, paused to look in, and galumphed off into the trees. They are the object of fascination for everybody in the colony – we talk about them at dinner, speculate on what they do during the day, and work with cameras on our desks so that we can try to get a picture of one as it goes racing by.

Pine marten!

I slept like a log last night – no doubt due to the trip to the Sulphur Mountain gondola with Fred yesterday afternoon. We’re going horseback riding tomorrow…his first time riding, too, and I really hope that he enjoys it.

Upon on Sulphur mountain.

As for me…I’m enjoying Banff, and especially the Banff Centre. I waited such a long time for this, and I’m so very happy that I’m here now. I feel like a writer. The novel – I’m feeling entirely comfortable calling it that now – feels real, and I really like the direction it’s taking. I feel content with the work I’m doing, and…to be honest, I feel really proud of it, too. This story that’s emerging, characters I care about…it’s just such a privilege to be able to say that it’s mine.

Upon on Sulphur mountain.

And that was the kind of day I had.

Upon on Sulphur mountain.

The meals:
Breakfast: bowl of cereal and coffee (trying not to overdo the bacon)
Lunch: more California rolls and a Happy Planet juice
Dinner: Teryaki beef, pasta primavera with feta cheese sprinkled on top, couscous, zucchini, chocolate orange cake and chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce, cranberry and club soda and a lot of water.

Can’t remember what day of the week it is.

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The continuing saga of a writing residency – now complete, but fondly remembered. In this chapter, the writer loses track of time, and climbs along the top of a mountain.


A wonderful thing has happened: several times today, I’ve forgotten the date and day of the week. I know the time – I wear a watch my father restored for me around my neck (a pendant watch from the 1918-era, and most likely worn by a nun). But I’ve had to stop and think: what day is it? Is it Tuesday? Monday? How many days do I have left?


Such a wonderful thing…and such a luxury, too. It’s a sign that the writing is going well, yes…but more importantly, a sign that I’m slowly slipping into a state of relaxation. I slept well last night – well enough that I woke up in the middle of the night, as I often do, and thought that I was at home. Today Fred and I took the gondola up to the top of Sulphur mountain and walked along the boardwalk that goes to along the ridge to Sanson’s Peak. It was a lovely walk…a bit tiring, yes, and we’re both a little sunburned. But worth the trip, and it was lovely to have Fred’s company.

Fred and me!

Upon on Sulphur mountain.


The writing is going well. The novel is about a third of the the way done, and I’m making steady progress on it. If I’m able to keep working at the pace I am right now, I think there’s a very good chance that it will be finished by the time I leave.

Upon on Sulphur mountain.

Upon on Sulphur mountain.

And when I say ‘the pace I’m going at right now,’ I mean a leisurely, measured pace. It includes many trips to the deck to gaze at my miniature meadow, frequent breaks for meals, and time spent just watching the trees sway in the wind. Not surprisingly, I think, the novel seems to already have a number of references to the wind sighing through the trees. I’ll have to go back and do some editing when I’m done, I think.

Upon on Sulphur mountain.

These past few days have been wonderful. A lot of good food, a lot of looking at beautiful scenery and admiring how spiderwebs glint in the morning sun, and a lot of great writing.

Upon on Sulphur mountain.

I wish it could be like this always.

Upon on Sulphur mountain.

The meals:
Breakfast: bowl of cereal and some juice
Lunch: ham and cheese sandwich and chicken noodle soup, ice tea
Dinner: herb-encrusted brisket with port reduction, cauliflower, plain rice, pasta with cheese. Mousse for dessert. Lots of water and iced tea.

Banff Centre sweater.

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The continuing saga of a writing residency. The writer discusses a sweater and the frenzy to finish before departing for her time in the mountains.

In the last week before my trip to the Banff Centre, I was knitting madly – convinced that there would be cold enough weather to merit the need for a new Banff Centre sweater. And though it was quite warm the first week (almost to my dismay), the weather got progressively cooler and I was wearing the sweater before the residency was out.

Banff Centre sweater!

Fred and I went up the gondola to do the civilized hike along the mountain (a nice boardwalk, with stairs and handrails, and with many benches and places to stop and admire the scenery). It was entirely too hot to wear the sweater, but I took it with me. And I was bound and determined to get a picture of the sweater at the top of a mountain.

The Banff Centre sweater.

And I did. Behold: the Banff Centre sweater. Noro Kureyon, ten skeins (with about half a skein left over) knit on US 9 needles. . The pattern is my own, generated with Sweater Wizard and then tweaked a bit. It fit very nicely; I made the sleeves just a little bit long on purpose – I like it to cover over the little bump in the wrist. Worn up the side of a mountain, on a horseback riding trip, and in my studio. Very comfy!

Easy on the bacon.

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The continuing saga of a writing residency. The writer learns, to her dismay, that she cannot eat bacon like a twenty year old any more.


Though I learned last year, to my chagrin, that too much bacon can be too much of a good thing, I failed to learn that too much salad can also be too much for a good thing. So I was up rather late, and also rather early, and today has been kind of a sleepy day.


But one advantage to being up too early is that you get to see the morning rise in the mountains, and you can watch the sunshine slowly enter the miniature meadow behind your studio. And now, the end of the day, I’m feeling very tired but much better – and satisfied with the writing I did. No pine martens seen today (possibly because I thought I’d try to get a picture of one today – they are jolly, yes, but they appear to also be sneaky). There is a squirrel which seems to follow Leighton Artists’ Colony people around, cussing at the top of its squeaky little voice. It threw a pine cone at me last night. For reals. It tossed a pine cone at my head as I walked by and yelled at me until I was gone (probably something along the lines of ‘get off my lawn, you human!’).

Angry squirrel is angry.

The studio is lovely and quiet. The writing is going very well. The point of the colony, apparently, is to provide a ‘solitary retreat,’ and it’s very much that. There is the quiet crunch of gravel from the path as a colonist walks by to their studio, but we’re all quietly working on our projects and not interrupting each other. I’ve met Gabe the poet, and there is a filmmaker who has a studio and also is in the room next to mine (she’s very cool). But for the occasional glimpse of somebody walking to their studio, though, and the whistle of a tea kettle heard when I stepped out onto the deck with my cup of tea, I’d think it was just me and the angry squirrel.

A little bit of snow.

The funny thing is that long, long ago – when I was still a school girl (yes, long ago!) I had a private fantasy of a cabin in the woods. Granted, mine faced a lake with a mountain behind it, but this cabin – which faces a tiny meadow in the middle of pine and birch trees – is eerily similar to the one I had imagined for myself. The writer I thought I would someday become.


It’s not so often that wish-fulfillment is achieved.


The meals:
Breakfast: apple juice and yogurt (was feeling a bit iffy)
Lunch: California rolls and an orange soft drink (was starting to feel better)
Dinner: beef hamburger with white cheddar and bacon, fries, and Coke in a glass bottle (!) (feeling much better)

Reading Dorothea Brande’s ‘Becoming a Writer.’

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I’m slowly making my way through Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer (though not too slowly; it’s on loan from the library). It’s an advice book written in 1934, and though it can be a bit quirky – there’s some discussion about the coffee-drinking habits of writers that are amusing – it’s an interesting read.

What I found especially interesting, though, is Brande’s suggestion that writers should practice something she calls duplicity:

So, for a period, while the conception is useful to you, think of yourself as two-persons-in-one. There will be a prosaic, everyday, practical person to bear the brunt of the day’s encounters. It will have plenty of virtues to offset its stolidity; it must learn to be intelligently critical, detached, tolerant, while at the same time remembering that its first function it to provide suitable conditions for the artist-self. The other half of your dual nature may then be as sensitive, enthusiastic, and partisan as you like; only it will not drag those traits out into the workaday world. It distinctly will not be allowed, by the cherishing elderly side, to run the risk of being made miserable by trying to cope emotionally with situations which call only for reason, or of looking ludicrous to the un-indulgent observer.

The first advantage that will be gained by your innocent duplicity is that you will have erected a transparent barrier between you and the world, behind which you can grow into your artistic maturity at your own pace. The average person writes just too much and not quite enough to have any great opinion of an author’s life. It is unfortunate, but the unimaginative citizen finds something exquisitely funny about the idea that one aspires to make a name and a living by any such process as ‘stringing worlds together.’ He finds it presumptuous when an acquaintance announces that he has elected to give the world his opinion in writing, and punishes the presumption by merciless teasing. If you feel called upon to correct this unimaginative attitude you will have opportunities enough to keep you busy for a lifetime, but you will not – unless you have an extraordinary amount of energy – have much strength left for writing. The same plain man reacts as impulsively and naively to the successful writer. He is awestruck in his presence, but he is also very uncomfortable. Nothing but witchcraft, he seems to believe could have made another human being so wise in the ways of his kind. He will turn self-conscious, and act either untypically or refuse to act at all; and if you alarm him you will find yourself barred from one source of your material. This is a low piece of advice to give, but I give it without apology: keep still about your intentions, or you will startle your quarry.

Clearly Brande would approve of the quiet observation of fellow transit users and the unabashed listening in on conversations. I like that description of the ‘sectioning off’ of the self – I think there’s something to be said for being able to cope and flourish in the ‘workaday’ world. The reality of writing, I’m discovering, is that it is unlikely that it can be pursued without some kind of regular employment, and you can’t very well indulge the so-called artistic temperament during a staff meeting or in a cubicle. Nor should you. A time and place for everything, I think.

So I’m appreciative of the comments that Brande makes – and that she sees no conflict between the dual nature of the writer, and doesn’t believe that there should be. The rest of the book is hit and miss; some of what she says is useful, and some – like her suggestions on the kinds of typewriter and bond paper to buy – not so much. It is, after all, a self-help book. But a rather engaging one, at that.

If there was a bear, we’d call you.

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The continuing saga of a writing residency in the mountains. The writer speculates about wildlife just beyond the walls of her round cabin in the woods.

Sitting on the deck.

I’m still not sleeping quite as well as I’d like, but I think I’ll turn the corner on that in a day or two. I think I’ve finally made good friends with my studio. I’ve figured out where everything is, and today I dragged a chair and footstool out onto the deck to sit and read for a while (and write). I had a picnic lunch out there while the chickadees cheeped and flitted around. It’s heavenly.

The pine marten.

The pine martens seem to come out in the morning and again at night. I’ve seen several (or the same one a number of times). I’ve yet to get a decent picture of one, though. There’s a poet three studios down from here who says that he thinks that they seem to be jolly animals. They do look jolly: they don’t just run. They scamper and jump, climbing and hopping through the grass. I saw one scamper up a tree last night. I’ve been reading about them and it seems that they eat mice and voles and small birds…so it would seem that they are rather more murderous than they are jolly.

Pine marten!

Though I suppose you could be both.

The deck.

The writing is going well. Chapter eight is finished, and I’ll be at chapter nine by tomorrow. I may well work into the evening tonight. Security came by yesterday evening to check the fire extinguisher (beginning of the month is fire extinguisher checking time). I was a little startled to see them, and they apologized for it. I told them I thought they’d been coming to warn me about a bear.

“Oh, no,” they said. “If there was a bear, we’d call you. We wouldn’t come to your door.”



It’s a bit creepy to walk back to the main buildings after dark, and they’ve told me that I’m to call for an escort and carry a flashlight if I do. I mean, if there are jolly murderous pine martens out there, what else could be lurking in the bushes? Bloodthirsty squirrels?


The meals:
Breakfast: Belgian waffles, peaches and grapefruit, scrambled eggs, and coffee.
Lunch: egg sandwich, chips, pickles and a diet Coke (eaten outside while being watched by chickadees)
Dinner: roast leg of lamb in thyme au jus, fussili pasta with cheese and broccoli, salad; chocolate chip croissant pudding, mint tea.