Believed by many to be one of the finest poets of his generation, Patrick Lane is also a passionate gardener. He lives on Vancouver Island, a place of uncommon beauty, where the climate is mild, the air is soft, and the growing season lasts nearly all year long.
Lane has gardened for as long as he can remember, and sees his garden’s life as intertwined with his own. And when he gave up drinking, after years of addiction, he found solace and healing in tending to his yard. In this exquisitely written memoir, he relates stories of his hard early life in the context of the landscape he’s created. As he observes the seasonal changes, a plant or a bird or the way a tree bends in the wind brings to mind an episode from his storied past.
Lane writes evocative descriptions of the animals, birds, insects, and plants that are his garden, and of the relationship he has to them all. Accompany Lane as he wanders his garden, where botanical “madeleines” release in him a flood of memory.
About the author
Patrick Lane, considered by most writers and critics to be one of Canada's finest poets, was born in 1939 in Nelson, BC. He grew up in the Kootenay and Okanagan regions of the BC Interior, primarily in Vernon. He came to Vancouver and co-founded a small press, Very Stone House, with bill bissett and Seymour Mayne. He then drifted extensively throughout North and South America. He worked at a variety of jobs, from labourer to industrial accountant, but much of his life was spent as a poet. He was also the father of five children and grandfather of nine. He won nearly every literary prize in Canada, from the Governor General's Literary Award to the Canadian Authors Association Award to the Dorothy Livesay Prize. In 2014, he became an Officer of the Order of Canada, an honour that recognizes a lifetime of achievement and merit of a high degree. His poetry and fiction have been widely anthologized and translated into many languages. His more recent books include Witness: Selected Poems 1962-2010 (Harbour Publishing, 2010), The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane (Harbour Publishing, 2011), Washita (Harbour Publishing, 2014; shortlisted for the 2015 Governor General's Literary Award), Deep River Night (McClelland & Stewart, 2018) and a posthumous collection, The Quiet in Me (Harbour Publishing, 2022). Lane spent the later part of his life in Victoria, BC, with his wife, the poet Lorna Crozier. He died in 2019.
- Winner, British Columbia's National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
- Nominated, Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction
Excerpt: There Is A Season: A Memoir (by (author) Patrick Lane)
“If what we know is what resembles us, what we know is a garden.”
I stood alone among yellow glacier lilies and the windflowers of spring, the western anemone, their petals frail disks of trembling clotted cream. I was a boy and the mountain ridge I’d climbed was only a half-hour hike from the back door of my home. In the east the blue peaks of the Monashee Range rose up against the Selkirks and beyond them the far Rockies and the plains. I had wandered that morning among sheltered coulees and rocky hills and, finally resting, stared out at the paling distance.
The high hills and mountains were my solitary land and I hiked the trails year-round. The days were all one to me back then, and the scuffed pad of a cougar’s track in the wet clay of Six-Mile Creek in summer was no less wondrous than the spread toes of a coyote’s paw print in a fringe of January snow on the BX Ranch where he had braced to leap upon a vole or scurrying mouse who had come lucklessly into the thin winter sun.
There were black bears and the occasional cougar or bobcat in those hills, but when I saw one I felt awe, not fear. Even then I knew what a blessing an animal was. Any creature’s appearance was a gift the wilderness gave me. The animals of the backcountry were unused to humans in those days and they stepped around me as much as I did them. Sometimes a cougar would take a lamb or two in the spring from some flock and then the game warden would walk his dogs into the hills to track the big cat down. He hated killing cougars.
Often he would take me along on those trips; why, I don’t know. Perhaps he felt sorry for me or perhaps my father asked him to in the hope it would make me a man. Gazing at a cougar lolling on a high limb of a ponderosa pine above Lumby while the cougar dogs slung their howls from the foot of the tree at the flick of its black-tipped tail was to look at a god. I watched from the back of an old white horse as Mr. Frisbee pulled his Winchester from beside his saddle and brought the cougar down with a single shot. The cougar falling from the sky was my first huge death.
I remember touching the rough blond hair of a dead cat’s nape, the curve of its long yellow incisors, and the dead ball of its eye as it stared sightless through me to the fading sun. These deaths drew me toward a compassion I didn’t fully understand. All I knew was that such sentiments were not spoken of among men or boys. Feeling deeply about something was never shown.
But it is not the cougars or bobcats, the bears or rattlesnakes of that early wilderness I think of now. It is another early memory that stays in my mind. I was up in the Bluebush hills west of Kalamalka and Okanagan Lake. I had hiked back into the hills with a peanut butter and jam sandwich, two apples, and a water bottle in the army satchel my father had brought back from the Second World War. I took it with me whenever I hiked out for a day. I stood on a crest in a frothing meadow of glacier lilies and anemones, and their fragile beauty remains with me. It lives in the blood and muscle of me and I can still call it up and bring it into spirit.
Grasses, their stalks flattened and flung by the winter snow, lay like fallen hair upon the earth, and their new green spears caught the wind with frail hands. A mountain meadow and a boy in the long-ago of the last century. Did I know then it was a garden I looked out upon? Had I been asked I would not have understood the question. Garden? Wilderness? I gave the meadow no thought. Had someone asked me if what I saw was beautiful I would not have known what he meant. A boy is a boy and he is the place he inhabits. He is what surrounds him and the boy I was remains with me in the image of yellow lilies and creamy anemones among the grasses and scattered stones.
What was I, ten years old? A child, a stripling boy, but those mountains and deserts live in me still and when I go back into that country my heart surges with sudden blood. The past hurls itself at me at times. My bones remember the water and the stones. I grew my body from that mountain earth, and my cells remember the cactus and pines, the lilies and grasses. I am as much blessed as burdened by this.
It is such beauty that made me into a gardener. Perhaps by planting flowers and shrubs and trees I am trying to return to that earlier paradise. Yet finally, not. My garden today is another kind of paradise, and I am not the boy wandering in what another might call loneliness but to me was solitude.
What I do remember is squatting and building a small cairn of stones in the middle of the meadow. There was no death to cover over, no occasion to ritualize other than the day itself and the curious busyness of a boy. But, like all animals, I wanted to leave some mark that I had been there so others who followed would know of my passing. Perhaps the mound of stones is still there or perhaps it’s been kicked over by a deer or coyote or some other boy who pillaged the cairn to make his own curious mark. Perhaps the snow, ice, and wind have spilled it. Whether or not the cairn is gone, the stones remain like ghosts in my hands and that is enough.
Today, fifty-two years later, I am not in a mountain meadow in southern British Columbia. I am in my garden on Vancouver Island and it is early January in the first year of the new century. The sky is grey and the small drops of rainwater gathered on moss and fallen leaves glimmer like opals in the winter sun. In the declivities of grass, apples lie where they fell three months ago. Under the scrabbled branches of the apple tree a red-shafted flicker carves white flesh from a fallen fruit. He feeds on the slim bounty of the season and doesn’t fully trust the grass and moss I still call a lawn though each year I starve it, encouraging the mosses to flourish. The flicker’s claws are better suited to the bark of trees where he spends the day climbing patiently up the trunks in search of insects who have buried themselves in slits to sleep out the gloomy winter months.
"To enter this book is to enter a state of enchantment."
“A tour de force that will break your heart and put it back together again.”
“[A] brave and beautifully written account… The sheer richness and beauty of the language is one of the great pleasures to be found in this book.”
“Exquisite but terrifying.…There are passages in these chapters to savour like strains of Mozart.”
“Lane’s capacity for observing the details of nature on both grand and tiny scales is remarkable, and his highly sensuous descriptions often transport us into haunting regions of imagination.”
–Globe and Mail
“There are many surprises in this book, but the biggest one is that Lane is a nature writer on a level with Annie Dillard, Getel Ehrlich, and Barry Lopez … Lane’s writing is brilliant … This book is going to win many big prizes, and it will reward readers all the way through.”
–Winnipeg Free Press
“His lyric, seemingly effortless observations of living things drenched in light and water are mesmerizing. But like the hidden vodka bottles that surface in his garden like stones in a field, potent memories rupture the serene present.”
–Quill & Quire, starred review
“Patrick Lane is a naturalist, a poet, a fearless man and an honest writer. But this memoir is more than the hard summing up of a life spent half in hell. Lane has gone to his garden and fashioned a field guide to the human heart.”
–Joe Fiorito, author of The Closer We Are to Dying
“Patrick Lane has written one of the finest memoirs ever published in this country – and I suspect in any other.”
–David Adams Richard
Patrick Lane's There Is A Season is the best book I have read in a decade. Lane's profound meditations on gardens and his own hard life are wise and deeply moving. Here is a classic memoir, wrought in prose as beautiful as the natural world that is his obsession and salvation.
“There Is a Season is a masterpiece.”
“An achingly beautiful journey. . . . A pure gift to the reader.”
–Frances Itani, in the Washington Post