All the Bears Sing — Reviews
“…we meet street people living rough in the bush, we meet middle-aged housewives in small-town bars, and teen-aged girls in summer bus stations… I think I can even include poetry in the mix as from time to time the language dances and pirouettes…”
~ Cherie Thiessen, BC Magazine
“…don’t expect the cultivated, ideologically approved fiction that gets nominated for the usual CanLit awards…“Unclipped” and “Into the Silverthrone Caldera” depict the shattering side of (bush) accidents when horrendous accidents destroy everything utterly. Macy’s stories are written in simple style and told with surprising effect from male and female p.o.v.”
~ Trevor Carolan, BC Bookworld
“Harold Macy is a campfire at a wilderness hideout with a neat stack of cordwood nearby above a creek where the bears sing. These are stories worth gathering to hear told by a storyteller whose heart is as big, wild, and mysterious as the world he tells about. Macy bullshits with the best. What a joy.”
~ Matthew Rader, author of What I Want to Tell Goes Like This and Ghosthawk
“Beyond Yuquot, in deep woods where small trailers huddle against the weather, in battered trucks patrolling for fire, above the winter estuaries where swans fly low, these stories take the reader into lives and dramas rich with meaning. Harold Macy’s eye is true and clear. The stories in All the Bears Sing are beautifully attentive and original, surprisingly tender. This is a book to keep close, to read with care.”
~ Theresa Kishkan, author of Blue Portugal & Other Essays
“Readers who enjoy tales of living and working in the BC woods and in small Coastal communities will find much to appreciate in Harold Macy’s collection of 23 tales and stories. Macy writes out of experience; he writes what he’s clearly observed of places and people; he invites readers to experience both isolation and community, so as to share in the losses and the affirmations that sustain the lives he so much values.
The title story, ‘All the Bears Sing,’ while one of the shortest sketches in the book, clearly conveys the flavour of the collection. It asks what you hear when you walk in the forest: how does the wind through the pines differ from the wind in the aspens? How does the sound of bears ‘at play’ — away from human interference — shape our understanding of their behaviour and our own, illuminate our values perhaps? The sound of ‘party boys’ in the woods is made to seem more dangerous than the sounds of animals in the wild, and as one detailed observation follows another, the reader senses how Macy distinguishes between the ‘presence’ that sun and forest bring to our lives and the ‘absence’ that is shaped by ‘clearing.’ The morality of ecological respect is never far away.
Macy early affirms that you can find sensibility even where you don’t expect it, and phrases such as the ‘feral fraternity of misfits’ tell you of the character of the people that absorb him. Those who leave for the Coast generally find a way back; those who stick it out among stumps and clearings find companionship and confirmation. More often than not, the lonely find help when needed: ‘the kindness of strangers’ is a recurrent motif, amply dramatized in sketch after sketch. Not that there aren’t disruptions — fire being one, loss a second, the presumptions of city people being a third — but even the guy with a nice car and nice city shoes can expect empathy as well as judgment, if he deserves it. Macy knows the vernacular of the country, and he uses it to effect; he also knows what ‘correct’ language sounds like, and what its impact is when it’s used to diminish and demean.
Portraying the natural world, Macy writes with a gift for ordinary eloquence, as when he speaks of a ‘community on the edge of public order’ or follows a logging crew through ‘a steep kilometre of sheltered forest,’ or finds in the midst of ‘wilderness’ a place for magic, a ‘sacred’ place that is inaccessible elsewhere: the rough does not exclude the spirit. Even as one of his characters is short-tempered, recovering from a fall, his inner sensitivity reveals itself. This is a world where the ‘bareback corduroy sea’ at once endangers and lifts those who kayak over it. It’s a world where even ‘the squeal of lonely, tired springs’ at the Princeton Hotel can offer comfort to the firefighter, and where gelignite and Victoria’s gardens can both be talked about with equanimity. It’s a world where the winter swans can rise from the foothills, then head ‘down to the beach to follow the retreating tide, claiming eyebrows of gravel and the feast of rich seaweed.’
Macy is at his best when evoking these moments: the experiences that have sharpened his eye have led to vivid glimpses of people and places. Less effective, I think, are the occasional narratives that attempt to shape dramatic scenes, as in the rendering of the trumpeter swan sketch as a love story, or in the longest story, ‘Overburdened,’ about geological exploration and the power of resistance. In his ‘Acknowledgements’ page, Macy thanks his editors for help in ‘polishing my rambling syntax’ and recognizing the need to ‘drown my kittens’ (a riff on Samuel Johnson’s celebrated advice, ‘Wherever you meet with a passage that you think is particularly fine, cut it out.’).
Sometimes a reader might wish for a little more streamlining, as in the first paragraph of the first story, in which early summer storms ‘frolicked a hellish two-step across the forested steeps,’ trailing fire up to a ‘jungle that has rarely felt this devil’s lick,’ steeps that had earlier experienced a drought that had ‘parched the forests into corn-flakes’ but now were dealing with a ‘swath of thunderbolts,’ an ‘umbilical’ power line, and ‘an angry swarm’ near a ‘blustery’ lake. If this overburden of adjectives dismays, read on: the book is far more engaging than its opening. I’d suggest starting almost anywhere else: each of the subsequent sketches is sharper and more alive.”
~ W.H. New The British Columbia Review, formerly The Ormsby Review
“All the Bears Sing is the third collection of stories by Harold Macy and reflects his maturity and experience as a writer. As his biographical information states, Macy was a silviculturist (among his several other jobs in British Columbia’s forest industry). His stories, with their vernacular and tangible imagery, offer evidence of his work history. While some of Macy’s stories are like poetic vignettes about the natural world, offering phrases like “the earth lay hollow in its thirst” (11), many narratives are about labour, a theme common to the poems of Tom Wayman and to Gary Geddes’s “Falsework,” a poem about the collapse of Vancouver’s Second Narrows Bridge in 1958. And, like Geddes’s “ Falsework,” which John Gilmore praises for its vivid, visceral, and even “primal” images – images that “hook right into those gut-wrenching sensations: falling, entrapment, drowning, suffocation” (book cover) – Macy’s narratives are spiked with tension. Their startling grotesque elements and surprise endings elicit out-loud responses. One example is “Into the Silverthrone Caldera,” a narrative about logging on a steep mountain slope. The first few stories appear to be based on Macy’s life experiences, but the collection is not entirely autobiographical. That expectation is shattered when we realize that the next few are narrated by a young girl living in a northern rural community, by a mother and wife, and by a grandmother, respectively, and we realize that many of these stories are pure fiction. Some are sad, some end with relief or happiness; however, all of them offer profound insights into common personal experiences and plights. With wit and wisdom, Macy alludes to cultural transformations and periods and to social problems, and, while he is at times a bit didactic, he reflects on human foibles without cynicism or derision; rather, he writes with compassion about the misfits, outcasts, and recluses who live in logging and mining towns. In “Delta Charlie,” he shows understanding for the less-than-fortunate who “live on abandoned road allowances, bush camps and common lands throughout the province – victims of a collapsing primary economy poorly replaced by McJobs and seasonal service or retail work” (70). While we may have heard about such people, Macy’s stories help us feel what it is like to be them.
The collection of stories is deftly ordered. Right from the start, we encounter the exquisiteness of Macy’s writing with sentence after sentence containing alluring metaphors, and the stories that follow wholly satisfy the expectations formed by first impressions. A few, like “The Sweet-Talking Ladies in the White Trailer” and “Beyond Yuquot,” are short poetic vignettes. “Lipstick” is very short but packs a punch in a few words. Rare are the stories that elicit gasps or laughter: “Lipstick” and “House, Waving Good-bye,” which is a lengthy and deep narrative, are two of them. “Overburdened” is the longest story in the collection. It is dense with coastal geological information that is, perhaps, further evidence of Macy’s “off-the-grid” employment. The story is a page-turner, yet it ends with the satisfying reassurance that humanity and justice are still in our midst. Any more information than this will spoil the surprises. Just read it!”
~ Shirley McDonald, University of British Columbia Okanagan
San Josef — Reviews
“In August 1898, Clayton Monroe, sixty-some years old, is looking for a place of refuge. On the run from the law in the States, Monroe leaves Seattle for Victoria, Canada. Arriving in Victoria, he shoots his pistol in public and is ordered by a judge to leave the city. Monroe boards a steamship and heads for San Josef, a small town on the northeast side of Vancouver Island. A portion of the island is inhabited by a small colony of primarily Danish immigrants, working the land with the promise of government subsidies that would help attract other settlers to the island.
The immigrants include Rolfe and Anika Frederickson who, along with their young son, operate a general store in San Josef. When Monroe befriends a cook working for the local lumberjacks, he is introduced to the couple and finds a small shack that he now calls home. He hopes his seclusion will protect him from those who wish him harm.
In July 1899, Cyrus Walker, a freight wagon driver in Kansas, reads an article written in Seattle about a former bushwhacker named Clayton Monroe who, during the Civil War, killed his parents and raped his sisters. He immediately buys tickets to Seattle, seeking revenge.
This novel is about a man who has committed atrocities during the war and tries to seek redemption. Monroe is an old man with nightmares because of “the killing of widows and orphans.” Sometimes he just wants to have someone put a bullet in his back, but first he “needed a place unhounded to set things straight.”
“Descriptions of the landscape, especially Vancouver Island, permeate the story, which is rich in historical accuracy. The author paints a thorough picture of life on Vancouver Island at the turn of the 20th century.”
~ Jeff Westerhoff, Historical Novel Society
“San Josef does what novels do best — brings us in close to witness an unfolding drama (both personal and communal) that we can believe in.”
~ Jack Hodgins, CM, novelist, and recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence
“Reading Harold Macy’s book San Josef was a remarkable education for me. His book places the reader into life as it must have been lived in that remote area in 1898. With the use of resilient and colourful characters plus a compelling descriptive text, Macy’s novel takes the reader into a completely different world. The book holds your attention from the beginning — as every good story should.”
~ The Ormsby Review
“The characters are as complex as a spider’s web, the language poetic and the environment a tangible force.”
~ Paula Wild, author of Return of the Wolf, Conflict & Coexistence.
The Four Storey Forest: As Grow the Trees, So Too the Heart — Reviews
“The chances for success stack up in Harold Macy’s favour. He’s a forester who honed his craft during years as the resident forester at UBC Oyster River Research Farm. He operates a 400 hectare woodlot in the shadow of Mount Washington. There, he practices his beliefs, makes his mistakes, and harvests his joys. His faith and social consciousness are grounded in the Quaker and Mennonite peace traditions. His irreverence for convention is grounded in what he calls his hippie experience. His knowledge of political machinery comes from his time on the board of the regional district. And he’s friends with BC’s most revered writer, Jack Hodgins.
Now, Macy, who has been honing his writing skill for years, has written a book, The Four Storey Forest: As Grow the Trees, So too the Heart, published by the recently-established Poplar Press in Courtenay. Given his experience and training, Macy should, we’d expect, be able to write a book worth reading. He doesn’t disappoint. Without pretension or pomp, but rather with clarity, insight, skill and humour, Macy writes humbly in a lofty tradition.
The opening chapter presents the cycle of a year in the forest, echoing Roderick Haig-Brown’s Measure of the Year and Aldo Leopold’s classic A Sand County Almanac. The year begins for Macy with trumpeter swans passing low over his roof. “They overnight,” he says, “on the big wetlands near the base of the foothills and in the bleak dawn they commute noisily to the beach to forage and gossip, claiming eyebrows of gravel as the tide retreats.” In December, “The year ends with music and celebration at church and home. With candlelit children cheerfully singing, the smell of greenery in the house and the forest continuing to grow, we are blessed.” Macy loves the world, has eyes and heart to see it, and writerly skill to evoke it.
As well, the book’s title, The Four Storey Forest, evokes the spiritual tradition of environmentalist Wendell Berry’s A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979–1997. That book records Berry’s weekly restorative walks in his own forest.
Macy’s multi-layered forest refers to other things as well: the biological layers of the forest; the literary layers of the book including its fictional thread; and its spiritual dimensions moving upward, outward, forward, and inward.
The book ends with an appearance of the fictional Jacob, a Black Creek Mennonite who, as a boy, survived the great fire of 1938. He meets the real-life Macy in Macy’s forest, among trees planted by Jacob in 1942. He later blesses Macy, saying, “’What you are doing up there in the woods is good. It completes me.” What Macy has done in this book is good, working to complete us by helping us to live and giving us reasons to keep living.”
~ Trevor McMonagle — The Right Words Editing Ltd