All the Bears Sing — Reviews

All the Bears Sing book cover“…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

San Josef - a novel by Harold Macy“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 Four Storey Forest book by Harold Macy“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