Reverence, diligence, duty

Hazard, Home 
by Christine Lowther

Qualicum Beach: Caitlin Press, 2024
$20.00 / 9781773861241

Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore


Home, if there happens to be one remaining for birds, trees, and people, to all of which Christine Lowther pays tribute in her poetry, can be a hazard.

Crows can “gang up on a fledgling robin, / tear it to pieces”; trees are uprooted to create parking lots and bike paths; and “whole peoples” have been shunted “onto fragments of land.” 

The phrase “hazard, home” appears in a poem with that title whose second stanza reads: “Room is made for martens when time hollows a hemlock: / the arborists’ hazard, home to more scufflers and singers. / It’s the dying that reinvigorates; roosts, rests, hidden shelters, / clinging of bat claw under flap of loose bark.”

Lowther (Born Out of This) takes note of the many birds that build a home in dying trees such as “cavity nesters: Chickadees.     Wrens.     Tree Swallows.”

She also writes a manifesto, “To the Trees,” advising them to “fling your killers’ chainsaws from their / unworthy graspers!” 

Author Christine Lowther

Lowther, a former Tofino Poet Laureate, has lived there since 1992. She points out in her Notes that “there was no townsite at Tofino until white settlers” arrived. “The closest Indigenous village sites remain at Opitsat, Echachist, and Hesowista (spellings vary). But a cliff at Tofino’s western-most position makes a handy lookout, or guard post: Načiks. There was always a Tlaoquiaht guard at Načiks. Longhouses stood at its base.” Kwisaqs is the name sometimes used for the part of Tofino facing north, toward Opitsat. “But in general,” Lowther writes, “all of Tofino is Načiks to the Tlaoquiaht, Ahousaht, and Hesquiaht peoples.”

“Dear Ocean” in Waters, the first section of the book, describes the poet’s home:

a floating shack held in place by polypropylene lassos,

styrofoam billets, barge-hull, cookstove-anchor and cleats.
I paddle your surface in an unpoetic craft, dented and scratched . . .

Lowther explains in her Notes that Surfrider Canada “is lobbying governments at all levels to ban this type of dock flotation” (i.e. Styrofoam, as it’s a hazard to the ocean). In an aquatic environment Styrofoam breaks down “into tiny balls of EPS, or expanded polystyrene–the crumbly, chemical laden foam used for dock floats, packaging and more.”

The Styrofoam, not purchased by Lowther in the first place, could be replaced with air-filled billets that would be very expensive. In the meantime, she prevents leaks and even carries out “guerrilla mending at other floating establishments.” 

While there are names and terms weekend hikers may not know (some bird names, for example), Lowther, immersed in the wildness of Vancouver Island’s west coast, offers “Not knowing is a state of being to work with” in “Listen From.” In “Identify,” she writes:

Together we’ll make a game of trying
to identify rustles and squeaks
without aid of any app.

There’s a reverence in the poems noted above. The pieces in Hazard, Home are also wake-up calls as well as calls to action or “reconciliAction” as Lowther puts it in “Canadian Patch Job,” which begins— 

We are the country that shunted whole peoples
onto fragments of their land,
took away their children, outlawed their culture…

The land is given a voice in “Flash Mob: My Name is Not District Lot 114,” which declares, “As a complex and expert symbionment of reciprocities, I am biodiverse.” It goes on to describe air, wetland, night sky, water courses, frogs, salamanders, songbirds, woodpeckers, kingfishers, dippers, salal, and trees.” (The term “symbionment” is from an essay, “Solastalgia and the New Mourning” by Glenn Albrecht.)

Lowther has also composed a “To-Do List for Town Tree Protectors.” The piece offers advice: write to local newsrooms, councils, and developers; make “inventory lists of significant trees”; and agree to research “other small towns’ tree protection bylaws.” 

The poem continues—“Stay on top of emotions, climb a trunk to cry on. Funnel despair into a raging poem / & keep your smile steady for every meeting with authorities or fallers.”

It’s a good idea to “funnel despair into a raging poem,” whether from personal wounds or the general disregard for trees and all who live in and around them. “Poetic expression,” as Lowther has remarked in her memoir of essays, Born Out of This, “continues to signify repair, restoration and growth.”

In “To Do in ƛaʔuukwiiʔatḥ Ha’huulthii: the tourism brochure,” she also has pointers for tourists to Tofino Načiks or Kwisaqs: 

Allow yourself to be pierced
by salmonberry thorns.
Bleed onto roots, into moss.
Let this place both mesmerize
and alert you. Leave only your cells
on its bark. Bathe in the bioluminescence.

Drawings by Beth Wilks, Lowther’s sister, are beautiful renderings in coloured pencil and metallic ink of birds including the Anna’s Hummingbird (Sah Sen) on the cover. The monochromatic drawings add some intricate lightness to the book as do some of the terms used and credited to Robert MacFarlane’s glossary in his environmental “word hoard,” Landmarks. 

“Hummadruz” is a poem named for “a noise in the air that you can’t identify, or a sound in the landscape whose source is unlocatable.” Later, in the section titled Sučas–Land Holders (Trees), one poem—“Alders I”—references some forestry terms such as “whip” and “starveling.” And “brokeneck,” which is a tree “whose main stem has been snapped by the wind.”

Lowther treads lightly on her chosen home. She always pays attention and learns names; in “Common Loon” she lets us know, “I wish you could see the loon dive down; / it’s the prettiest thing in the world.” In “Nearly Grown” we see her tiptoe at times on her “floor’s creaky seams” so as not to disturb the juvenile mergansers as “they preen and rest on the log / or re-enter the water….” 

The poet writes about privilege in a poem with that title. She gives hope to “The Child” in a poem that was “twigged” by “Early Winters,” written by Pat Lowther, her late mother.

In an earlier published poem “Nuučaańuł (Nuu-cha-nulth), Good Advice,” the speaker mentions that she has been advised to “decolonize my mind” and “take in the language of the place / I’ve made my home.” Lowther continues to do that with the help of Giselle and Levi Martin, in particular, as teachers of the Nuu-cha-nulth language she thanks in her Acknowledgements. We can only learn from and be inspired by Lowther’s passionate example.


Mary Ann Moore

Mary Ann Moore is a poet, writer, and writing mentor who lives on the unceded lands of the Snuneymuxw First Nation in Nanaimo. Her full-length book of poetry is Fishing for Mermaids (Leaf Press, 2014) and she has a new chapbook of poems called Mending (house of appleton). Moore leads writing circles and has two writing resources: Writing to Map Your Spiritual Journey (International Association for Journal Writing) and Writing Home: A Whole Life Practice (Flying Mermaids Studio). She writes a blog here. [Editor’s note: Mary Ann Moore has also reviewed books by Jude Neale and Nicholas Jennings, Yvonne Blomer and DC Reid, Marita Dachsel and Nancy Lee (eds.) Lisa Ahier, with Susan Musgrave, Stephen Collis (ed.), Maria Coffey, Lorna Crozier, Katherine Palmer Gordon, and Donna McCart Sharkey & Arleen Paré for BCR.]


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-25: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an online book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

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