In 1942 my nana, Isabelle Christie MacNaughton ("Buddie" to her friends), published a book of poems titled, "Wood Fires." Printed by the local Chronicle Publishing Company (home of the local newspaper, "The Oliver Chronicle") the book's proceeds went to the Red Cross during World War II. Apart from loving the work because it's my nana's words and an important part of our family history and mythology, I love it because it's a beautiful window into the life of a young woman growing up in the South Okanagan. The poems would have been written primarily at the Grey Sage Ranch, just south of Okanagan Falls in the 1930's and 40's, and they are very much place-based and read like a beautifully rendered painting of an Okanagan hill side. The prose is often innocent, naive, longing, whimsical and sweet. It is also mournful, some being written following the death of my nana's brother, Bob, who was shot down during a bombing run over Germany. In short it is from a different time and place, but one I still recognize whenever I visit home.
The book's unabashed love affair with the wilderness, and the prospect of sharing that love with a kindred spirit, foreshadowed my nana's marriage to my grandad, Carleton MacNaughton, a local naturalist who was just as in love with the hills and critters as she was. The life stories they wrote together brought the hills to life for me, a child of the 80's and early 90's, and sparked my own curiosity and love for nature.
As part of this site's "poetry" section, I'm planning to republish my nana's poems here in the coming weeks and months, bringing a little slice of early Okanagan life, as interpreted by Buddie MacNaughton, to the digital age.
The first poem shares the book's title, "Wood Fires."
All the singing fire spirits, Gypsies of the sun, Play upon our kindly hearth When the day is done---
The pine song and alder son, The wind song and rain, Gathered through the laughing years Sound for us again.
Trees have lived in loveliness, How could they but bring Happiness that's longing still In a heart to sing?