Lou Allin and Moonscape to Paradise?
|Lou Allin and her dogs|
Moonscape to Paradise?
Canada is known for its pristine, jaw-dropping scenery, but one place has been a national joke: the moonscape around Sudbury, the Nickel Capital. At the opposite end of the country lies Paradise, aka Vancouver Island. They’re more alike than you’d think. I moved from one to the other with the same goal: to bring these places to life in fiction.
I knew nothing about Sudbury in 1977 when I jumped at a job offer. Lumbering had started in the 1880s. Discovery of nickel brought open-pit roasting followed by sixty years of acid rain. With no trees or ground cover, soil melted off the bare land, and the rocks darkened into a black wasteland the size of Manhattan. Clear blue lakes became too acid to sustain life. Then in 1972, the Superstack (1247 feet) was built to scrub the air pollution. The entire community, business, students, government and private citizens began a monumental re-greening extending into the twenty-first century. Thanks to a cocktail of “rye (grass) on the rocks” and twenty million hardy pine seedlings, when I left in 2006, the core was green again. The city received an award from the Earthsummit in Rio.
I conveyed the chronicle, warts and all: Northern Winters are Murder, Blackflies are Murder, Bush Poodles are Murder, Murder, Eh? and Memories are Murder. My readers said, “It sounds so beautiful. I want to visit.”
Then I moved to Vancouver Island. “Welcome to Paradise,” the realtor said. Instead of a temperate-rainforest wilderness, I found a country under siege.
Those in the cities or on the picturesque coast don’t realize the extent of the clear-cutting. The island has been logged several times in most areas over the last hundred and fifty years, but replanting has hidden that fact. Now the timber companies have found ways to transmute scarred land to pure gold. In a shameful backroom deal, they convinced the government to let them convert cutting leases into real estate at a million an acre. They became panderers, not stewards.
By the time islanders woke up, vast swathes of land had been sold, and subdivisions were being planned without even roads or water infrastructure. A few places were bought back at high cost, such as the picturesque Potholes area in Sooke. However, the surfing territory and hills around Jordan River may be dotted with hundreds of vacation cabins. And the Chinese appetite for raw logs and pulpwood sends armies of trucks each month speeding along the southern shore, loaded with timber barely twenty years old. Even worse, instead of being milled on the island for added value, the logs are shipped raw.
Douglas firs and cedar are among the largest trees on the planet. Blessed by rainfall, they have found the optimal growing conditions here. Trees of girths up to thirty feet, alive before Columbus sailed, should be left for future generations who don’t want to visit a tree museum. Imported tourists could be a far more lucrative and moral way to conserve our precious resources. Trees have become our ivory and chainsaws our poachers.
Sadly, most people never see this destruction unless they travel inland or fly over. The entire island is an expanding patchwork quilt. Very little effort is being made to replant.
My new series, And on the Surface Die and She Felt No Pain, never forgets the devastation a few metres beyond the narrowing margins. Lead character, RMCP Corporal Holly Martin, has the sight of Washington State across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to remind her that she lives on an island. That means ferries, beaches, and finite space. The first book ended with a century typhoon. The second was framed by a forest fire.
As century farms become condos, one giant housing development threatens, from Victoria to Port Renfrew, then north to Port Hardy and across to Port Alberni and Tofino. Where the magical island once was self-sufficient, now it’s on life support. Stop the ferries for one week, and we all would subsist on blackberries, eggs, and apples. The island used to provide 95% of its food, not today’s 5%.
I’d say that the island has lost its vision, but it never had one. The beauty and resources were taken for granted. Groups such as The Land Conservancy and Dogwood Initiative are trying to marshal public opinion as one crisis after another arises, including oil tankers circling the island. Will this path be reversed in time or will Vancouver Island become another moonscape, paradise lost because of those who loved it to death?
If setting is important to you, start a library of reference books or websites on the history, geography, geology, botany, and zoology of your region. Don’t forget the stars, too. Each part of the Earth sees a different sky, changing over the seasons. I also keep a plant diary, when they flower and when they offer their fruit. Mystery readers like to learn while they’re entertained. Even locals tell me, “I never knew that.” But remember to space it out to avoid “infodumps.” What you may find fascinating might bore others in large chunks. I love mushrooms, but when I read a manuscript with ten straight pages on the subject, I had to turn the page.
Born in Toronto, Lou Allin grew up in Cleveland. She received a PhD in English Renaissance Literature and spent three decades in Northern Ontario as a professor of English.
With a cottage on a frozen lake as her inspiration, she started her Belle Palmer series, featuring a realtor and her German shepherd, beginning with Northern Winters Are Murder.
Lou has moved to Canada’s Caribbean, Vancouver Island, with Friday the mini-poodle and Zodie and Zia the border collies, overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Her island series stars RCMP corporal Holly Martin: And on the Surface Die, She Felt No Pain and the upcoming Twilight is Not Good for Maidens.
Lou’s standalones are A Little Learning is a Murderous Thing (set in Michigan) and Man Corn Murders (Utah). That Dog Won’t Hunt is designed to appeal to reluctant adult readers. Watch for Contingency Plan in the same series.