I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today on the topic of mystery settings, by mystery author Lou Allin.
Moonscape to Paradise and back?
Canada is known for its sea-to-sea-to-sea pristine, jaw-dropping scenery, but one place has been a national joke since World War One: the moonscape around Sudbury, the Nickel Capital. At the opposite end of the country, both geographically and environmentally, is Paradise, aka Vancouver Island. They’re more alike than you’d think.
I knew nothing about Sudbury in 1977 when I jumped at a job offer at the college. Surveying the core mining operations in Coniston and Copper Cliff, I saw the blackrock as vast as Manhattan which had earned it world-class shame for hosting the training astronauts on its barren hills. Lumbering, act one, had started in the 1880s. Discovery of nickel meant that the next decades brought open-pit roasting and then fifty years of acid rain. With no trees or ground cover, soil melted off the bare land, and the rocks darkened. Clear blue lakes became too acid to sustain life. Then in 1972, the Superstack (1247 feet high) was built to scrub the air pollution. Taking their cue, 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, that moonscape was green again. For its unprecedented comeback, the city received an award from the Earthsummit in Rio.
As a mystery author emissary, I did my part in the Belle Palmer series to convey the chronicle, warts and all. Every book traced the long and worthy journey, Northern Winters are Murder, Blackflies are Murder, Bush Poodles are Murder, Murder, Eh? even to the last, Memories are Murder, which involved the relocation of elk after an absence of eighty years. That Superstack was always puffing in the distance as my character drove from meteor-crater Lake Wanapitei into town. I mentioned the honeycomb of tunnels in that fortunate metal package delivered into the Cambrian Shield, tunnels which put together would make a path to Vancouver in distance. Little by little the Copper Cliff area returned to green, though it would never support trees taller than a hundred feet. Fish swam in the buffered lakes. I knew I had succeeded when readers from across Canada told me that they wanted to visit. “You make it sound so beautiful!” they said. My books even filled the shelves at the log cabin Visitor Centre.
I moved to the other end of the country to Vancouver Island. “Welcome to Paradise,” everyone said. Expecting to marvel at the temperate-rainforest wilderness, I found a country under siege.
Those who keep to the streets of Victoria and ferry across the picturesque straits don’t realize the dirty secret that is clear-cutting. Not that the island hasn’t been logged several times in most areas over the last hundred and fifty years. Now the timber companies now have found ways to transmute that scarred land to pure gold. In a recent backroom deal, they convinced the government to let them turn their cutting leases into real estate at a million an acre.
By the time islanders woke up, considerable damage was done. A few places were saved, such as the Potholes area in Sooke. However, the surfing territory around Jordan River and back into the hills may be dotted with hundreds of vacation cabins. The government squirms in the ironic position of having to buy back land from the timber companies who were to have served as stewards, not self-servers. Clayaquot Sound, once a clarion call for activism, is one again threatened with mining as well as logging. Where I live west of Victoria, hundreds of logging trucks speed by weekly, loaded with timber barely twenty years old as well as spindly pulpwood. Raw logs sail to China, hardly a value-added proposition.
Douglas firs and the holy mother cedar are among the largest trees on the planet. Blessed by rainfall, they have found the optimal growing conditions. Why can’t a tree over five feet in diameter, around when Columbus sailed, be left in threatened Avatar Grove 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 a poisonous patchwork quilt. My Holly Martin mysteries, And on the Surface Die and She Felt No Pain, rely heavily on setting and reveal the devastation a few metres beyond the narrowing margins. Is squandering a heritage a lesser crime than murder?
As century farms become condos, one giant housing development threatens, from Tofino to Port Hardy to Campbell River. 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. Now ships arrive in flotillas from South America with tasteless grapes and unripe avocados, burning diesel to pollute the air.
The island has lost its vision, or perhaps a hundred years ago it didn’t need one. Groups such as The Land Conservancy and Dogwood Initiative are trying to stem the tide and marshal public opinion. Will this evil path be reversed in time or will Vancouver Island become another moonscape, paradise lost because of those who loved it to death?
Food for thought, pardon the pun. Thank you Lou!
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.
You can also read my interview with Lou, released on 25th November.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).
The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with crime novelist Wayne Zurl – the two hundred and third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (my guests love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords (Amazon to follow).