Thursday, December 21, 2023

Fairhaven


Fairhaven Village is Bellingham’s historic neighborhood. This week the Fairhaven community grieves the loss of its oldest commercial building in a fire. The Terminal Building was home to the Harris Avenue CafĂ© and Tony’s Coffee.

 

I’m part of the Fairhaven community because we share a dog. The last time I went into the coffee shop in the Terminal Building, Bear waited on the sidewalk while I ordered my usual: “Americano to go, four shots, black, 16 ounce cup with extra room because I’m walking my dog.” The barista looked outside and asked, “Is your dog Bear? I used to work across the street at Acme, and I miss him.”


Bellingham is blessed with an amazing network of trails. If I got to choose the route, we would stick to the waterfront or go through the woods. I’m a writer, so I like to commune with nature while dictating to my watch. 


But Bear is a people person. In particular, Bear is a people-with-treats-and-hugs person. Several welcoming businesses in Fairhaven keep dog treats behind the counter. Bear has calculated the shortest route to each such establishment. (If they’re closed, Bear insists on being compensated with something from my backpack.) Trading treats for hugs has become the highlight of many Fairhaven folks’ day. At Acme Ice Cream, the dyed-haired baristas have taught Bear to shake hands. At Village Books, Bear can count on Nathan for the best back scratches. On busy retail days, Bear’s contribution to the ambience can close a sale. On quiet days, there’s time for every lonely dog person to get a personal cuddle. 

 

Then Bear shakes his hair as if humans have cooties, and prepares to move on. As Heather at Acme said the other day, “I know you’ve got your other spots, Bear.”

This fall we expanded our treat-seeking itinerary. Bellingham residents who live in the neighborhoods around Fairhaven all receive copies of Southside Living, a glossy local real estate magazine. A recent article with the headline “Meet Skylar, a Fairhaven Regular” described one dog’s foraging route. Bear and I were already familiar with Village Books, Acme Ice Cream, and the Woods Coffee outpost in Boulevard Park. But we hadn’t heard about some of the other treat-offering businesses that Skylar regularly visits, including the toy store down the street. On our next walk through Fairhaven, Bear stopped by to introduce himself to the toy sellers. 

 

It turned out to be fake news – they politely directed us next door to Bay to Baker Trading Company. This made Bear think we’re supposed to stop at every shop on the block. But he quickly figured out which door had treats behind it. Now whenever we leave Acme, Bear drags me straight down the street to Bay to Baker. At each Fairhaven location, Bear offers all the loving craved by the various dog-starved baristas, bookstore clerks, and college students we encounter. But it’s the treats that bring him back.  



Long walks with Bear help me think clearly enough to get my work done. It’s been a challenging year. This summer we averaged over nine miles a day. During the darkest time of year we’re down to six miles a day. But this week we welcome Christmas, the solstice, and the return of light and hope. 

 

In addition to walking along the seawall in Vancouver or on other trails in Bellingham, this year Bear and I have walked along the Boardwalk connecting Fairhaven and Boulevard Park almost every day. Bear thinks it’s because the Boardwalk links the supply of treats in Fairhaven to his friends at Woods Coffee. Bear is a dog. 

 

Boulevard Park has always been my favorite spot in Bellingham, with its rocky beach and spectacular view of Canada, the Olympic Mountains, and the San Juan Islands. Nowadays our path takes us past the spot where the city has poured concrete for a bench donated in honor of Henry King, the genial homeless man who used to sit near there. Henry always saved food to share with Bear. He and my brother Doug Leishman both died this spring. Every day I walk along the waterfront with Bear and think of them fondly.  



Bear’s favorite spot in Bellingham is nearby, at the south end of the Boardwalk. We learned about the kitchen door at the Chrysalis Inn from the Southside Living article revealing Skylar’s secret pirate treasure map. It’s already become Bear’s dream destination. Nevertheless, this stop on our Fairhaven pilgrimage is bittersweet because Bear can’t count on a treat every time.

 

It’s a trick of lighting. Behind the glass door a long hall leads to the kitchen. Although we can see everything happening inside, Bear’s friends usually can’t see him unless they happen to be on their way to grab something from the walk-in fridge next to the exit. Bear is patient. But some days we need to move on without a restaurant treat.

 

Bear would say it’s worth the wait. Even the gourmet dog treats at Acme can’t compete, let along ordinary Milk-Bone® biscuits. One time the busboy brought out a huge piece of applewood-smoked bacon. (I would have eaten it myself, but he insisted on cuddling with Bear until the bacon was all gone.) Most days Bear gets generous chunks of chicken breast that didn’t make it into someone’s Caesar salad. 

 

Usually one of the dog-friendly kitchen workers emerges from the walk-in refrigerator with a handful of tender chicken. Occasionally they’ll bring out the whole plastic tub from the fridge. The first time I saw the treat tub, it was labeled with an expiration date and the name “Skylar.” But Bear has been busy exerting his charm. Now the tub just says “Woof!”


Postscript

This morning after I finished this essay and posted it to my blog, Bear and I walked to Fairhaven. Bear said hi to his friends at Village Books and Bay to Baker Trading Company. At Acme Ice Cream, Maddie’s farewell was similar to her co-worker Heather’s:  “Go see your other friends, Bear!”

 

Bear’s next stop after Fairhaven, Chrysallis Inn, is near the top of the Taylor Dock, where the Boardwalk begins. Before Bear started getting chicken at the kitchen door, this little park used to be one of our regular water stops. (Now Bear prefers to wait until the shelter on the Boardwalk, so he can cleanse his palate after his Caesar salad.) Even before we learned about Skylar’s secret stash at the Inn, Bear was already hanging out with the kitchen staff during their smoke break.

 

Today a couple of busboys on break called Bear over to say hi. Just as I was saying “We should have texted the kitchen to let them know Bear was on his way,” one of Bear’s favorite treat-boys came out the door – a piece of chicken breast in one hand, and an unlit cigarette in the other.

 





Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Hopefully


Last year my one of my children told me they identified as nonbinary. I’m that kind of a father.

 

They also said “Rosalind” felt like “too girly” a name. So at school this year they went by the nickname “Lynn.” In the meantime, because they still haven’t picked a new permanent name, I have a free pass using “Rosalind” at home. (They said old people can only handle so much change.)



When I was looking at baby names long ago, “Rosalind” seemed like a name that said “strong woman” – with shout outs to Shakespeare and Auntie Mame. But I remember how uncomfortable my child felt sitting in the audience at As You Like It five years ago when everyone kept referring to the main character with their name. Of course, Rosalind cross dresses for most of the play....



I have seen anti-trans headlines many times before. 

 

As Co-Chair of the Federation of statewide LGBT advocacy organizations during the 1990s, I was among the voices loudly insisting on full inclusion for trans voices and trans issues in our advocacy. There will aways be whispered (and often shouted) temptations to leave some folks behind. Instead, I’m proud to have been part of welcoming communities and organizations for the last thirty years. 



Trans journalist Evan Urquhart recently published a chilling essay in Slate under the headline “Many Queers Can’t Bring Themselves to Face the Emotion They’re Really Feeling Right Now. We Must.” According to Urquhart, “the word for what we’re feeling right now is ‘despair’: 

 

I first had the idea to write a piece about despair more than a year ago. Let me leave you with the knowledge that none of this was unexpected. For many in the queer community, we’ve moved well past the point of fearing something might happen, and on to figuring out how we’re going live through this. Our despair is grounded in grim acceptance and practicality. We are learning that life goes on after you accept the fact that no help is coming, and you’ve been left alone to defy or defend or escape, or just bear witness.

 

It is 2023, and I weep to see children used as punching bags by evil politicians and the Republican Party. But I refuse to despair.















Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Fathers and Brothers

My brother Doug Leishman died on April 25, 2023 after enduring spine cancer for the last six years. Doug asked that each of his brothers speak at his memorial. This is what I shared at the Mormon church in Bellingham on May 16, 2023.


I’m grateful for this opportunity to meet together as Doug’s family and friends. Gatherings of our extended family always have one very obvious impact on me and many other Leishmans, including Doug. After listening to everyone’s stories, I forget how to pronounce my own last name. It will take several days to switch back from Lishman to Leashman.

 

Leishman is an ancient Scottish surname. It’s been pronounced the same way for hundreds of years, since before Shakespeare and the King James Bible. But our branch of the family met the Mormon missionaries in Scotland during the 1850s. They sailed across the ocean and walked across the prairie. When they reached Utah, Brigham Young sent them north to settle Wellsville, in Cache Valley. They became a peculiar people, and developed a peculiar dialect. “Roof” became “ruff.” “Creek” became “crick.” And “Leishman” became “Lishman.” That’s how my brothers and I grew up pronouncing our last name.

 

When I began my professional career, I made a conscious choice to introduce myself as “Roger Leishman.” Just like I don’t say “crick.” But we don’t make a big deal about pronunciation, and respond politely to anyone regardless of how they say our name. Except for “Leischman,” of course.

 

Like Doug, on days like today we are all “Lishmans.”


When Kyla posted the announcement on Facebook letting folks know Doug had died, I was moved by the outpouring of comments. Three or four repeated words stood out:  “Nerd.” “Smart.” And “funny.” I realized that’s what the comments would say for all four Leishman brothers.

 

Folks often remark on how much we resemble each other and both our parents, but they struggle to put their finger on the specific similarity. Folks would say we are even more similar in our personalities. Especially my sisters-in-law, and our children.


There are differences. Yes, we’re all nerds, but Doug is the Dungeons & Dragons nerd. We’re all funny – but Doug is the master of sarcasm.



On the wall at my parent’s house there is a framed series of pictures of the four Leishman Brothers. The same series of photos hangs on the wall in my living room. They were taken a few years ago near Lake Whatcom. It was the only time when the brothers, parents, and grandchildren were all in the same place at the same time. So we hired a photographer. 

 

There are four pictures in this series. In the first picture Roger, Doug, Brian, and Warren are all smiling appropriately for the camera.

 

In the second picture, Doug has a quiet grin. He is sticking his finger into Warren’s ear.


In the third picture, Warren has his finger in my ear, and everyone is grinning.

 

In the fourth picture, the brothers have all burst into laughter. 

 

If you look close, you can see differences between the Leishman Brothers. Warren went bald early. I’ll always be the oldest, and the gay one. And as Brian is quick to point out, he is the tallest brother.

 

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to drive to Kamloops with my parents. Doug looked about the same as the last time I’d visited:  lying in a hospital bed on his stomach in the corner of the living room, surrounded by his children and grandchildren. Before we drove back to Bellingham, I reached in for a goodbye hug. I was struck by how thick and curly Doug’s hair had gotten. And still so dark. 

 

Technically, I am now the least bald Leishman brother, and Warren is the least grey. But I think we should retire the hair titles with Doug as champion.



Gatherings like this are important because we can help each other remember the real Doug.


I often find it a challenge to recall stories from the past without a picture or something to remind me. Faces are especially hard. Last month when my parents called to let me know Doug had died, I lay in bed weeping because I couldn’t remember what Doug looked like before cancer.

 

Doug spent the last few years of his life being seen from a strange angle. Spine cancer prevented him from walking or lying on his back, so we only saw him lying on his stomach. That’s how I noticed his dark curly hair.

 

I knew if I got out of bed and walk into the living room, the pictures on the wall would help me remember laughing together with Doug. But I wanted to conjure the memories on my own. Eventually I was blessed to remember two images of the real Doug.


The first memory was from the spine floor at Vancouver General Hospital. A year and a half ago, Doug was paralyzed by a new tumor in his neck. He was airlifted from Kamloops to Vancouver, where two separate teams of surgeons worked from both front and back, removing the cancer and reconstructing his vertebrae. Doug spent the next hundred days at VGH.

 

I sing in Vancouver Men’s Chorus, which rehearses on Wednesday evenings. Each week I would drive up early and spend time in Doug’s room. He was propped up on his back in a hospital bed. It’s the only time in the last few years when I got to look Doug in the face. It also gave me the opportunity to sit down and spend hours talking with my brother, sometimes with other family and sometimes just the two of us.

 

We discussed our challenges living with cancer and with PTSD. But mostly I remember sitting together face to face with Doug, and talking about what it means to be a father.



Spine cancer targets the parts of the body that signal pain. In addition to dealing with Doug’s underlying symptoms, his healthcare team always focused on making him comfortable. Greedy pharmaceutical companies and irresponsible doctors have created the terrible opioid epidemic that is ravaging our communities. But modern opioids are also miracle drugs that make it possible to endure to the end.

 

While Doug was at Vancouver General, three separate teams were responsible for the opioids in his IV drip, his pillbox, and the little pump installed in his chest. I happened to be visiting the hospital when the pain management teams realized not only were they not communicating clearly with each other, but they were using three incompatible measurements to track dosages. One team would give Doug enough medicine for him to sit up all the way for a meal. After a few minutes they would have to crank the bed back down for him to rest, which would react with the medicine from the other teams. Sometimes Doug would overdose. And then they would start over.

 

While visiting the hospital, I also observed the laborious process of putting Doug in a wheelchair. I listened to presentations about grueling rehabilitation programs at inconveniently located facilities. 

 

After more than three months at VGH, Doug was finally stable enough to leave the spine floor and return home. When I visited Kamloops with my parents a few months later, there was no sign of the elaborate rehabilitation programs we’d heard about at the hospital. Instead, Doug used every ounce of his energy to spend as much time as possible with his family. His world was tiny:  a bed in a corner of a living room. But Doug’s world was as large as eternity because he was at the center of his family.



As I lay in bed last month grieving, I remembered a second image of Doug, from a couple of summers ago. It was the height of the pandemic. Nothing was harder for our family than the Canadian border being closed for the first time since the War of 1812. Doug was stuck in a bed in Kamloops, and my parents and I were stuck in the States. 

 

Like everything else, the Mormon temples closed. But by a miraculous convergence of circumstances, Katie and Christian were able to get married in my parents’ backyard in the strangest Mormon wedding ever. I will always remember the last time I ever saw Doug walking:  he staggered down the aisle, holding on to his daughter, the happiest man and the proudest father in the world.

 

Besides “nerd,” “smart,” and “funny,” the other words Doug’s friends repeatedly used to describe him on Facebook were “family” and “father.” Fatherhood is at the center of all my brother’s lives. That is the great gift our parents and now Doug and Kyla have given to each of the “Lishmans.” 


Church policies and meeting schedules come and go, but the fundamentals are eternal, like the familiar slogan “Families are forever.” I recognize “forever” is way too long for some families. But not for us. 

 

When I was young, the president of the church was David O. McKay. He delivered a similar message, but with more words in it:  “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” (It was the Mad Man era – our ad slogans were longer than my kids’ generation, just like our attention spans.)

 

My brother Doug lived a successful life when it comes to what really matters. I hope we can all remember and be inspired by Doug’s example.



Douglas Todd Leishman
1967-2023
 





Thursday, March 16, 2023

Henry


Last month the kids came home from walking the dogs and told me “Your homeless friend says hi.”

For the last few years Bear and I have walked along the waterfront Boardwalk almost every day. Usually we’d run into Henry, sitting on his bench with his backpack and sleeping bag. In mild weather he’d put out baseball cards next to his donation cup. He’d offer bread or chips to the birds, and always save some for Bear. 

I probably spoke with Henry more often than anyone other than my family, particularly during the pandemic. On Friday he patted Bear and gave him a Fig Newton before sending us off to get the next treat at Village Books, with his usual “Go get ’em, Bear!”

On Sunday we saw news reports that the body of a man in his 40s with four gunshot wounds had washed ashore near the Boardwalk. Eleanor and I both worried it was Henry. Last night the police identified him as the victim.

Homelessness is an intractable social problem that seldom has a human face. Henry King was a real person – kind, friendly, and generous. Lux perpetua ei.



Monday, January 9, 2023

Starting Over

 

For New Year’s, we had the highest tides I’ve ever seen in Bellingham. For Christmas, we were snowed in by a freak ice storm. For solstice, I was trapped at home with covid. 

 

After a long hard year, Bear and I found ourselves surrounded by gloom and doom. But the end is finally in sight.


 

Hope comes more easily in springtime. Five and a half years ago, in May 2017, I emerged from the fog of PTSD and embarked on a couple of hopeful adventures. 

 

First, I filed a lawsuit against Ogden Murphy Wallace, PLLC. They’re the supposedly “independent” private investigators the State’s lawyers used to justify firing me from my position as general counsel to Western Washington University. Despite the impact of living with PTSD, I thought the Ogden Murphy Wallace lawsuit would let me use my legal skills to clear my professional reputation and protect my family.

 

Second, I started publishing essays on this blog. In Phase I of blogging, covering posts in 2017 and 2018, I took advantage of my newfound freedom from thirty years of writer’s block by exploring a variety of topics and styles. My favorite essays about family were “I Come From Good People” and “Sure of You.” My favorite essay about brains was “Inside Out.” My favourite essay about Showtune Night in Canada was “Six Degrees of Kristin Chenowith.” Thanks to the mysteries of Google’s algorithm, the three most viewed blog posts were “About My Yale Classmate Brett Kavanaugh,” “Thing 1 and Thing 2,” and “Fifty Shades of Green Gables.”


Phase II covered posts in 2019 and 2020. I got more ambitious about extended storytelling and the craft of writing. I published a week of “Rock Bottom Stories,” as well as other connected essays about topics like my dramatically improved mental health, various besetting plagues, and the comforts of dog ownership. For the first time I confronted my experiences as a gay man coming out of the closet at the height of the AIDS epidemic. And I wrote about the traumas and triggers I’d experienced while trying to shine a spotlight on dishonest government lawyers. 

Frankly I got carried away with that last topic. Sleazy lawyer stories were taking over the blog, like an oversized moon whose gravitational pull turns ordinary tides into tsunamis. When I looked at the statistics for 2020 I was aghast. I vowed I wouldnt start Phase III until I freed myself from the power of the Lawyer dark side. 

Over the last couple of years, most of my writing ended up in other places besides this blog. But I’m proud of the essays I published here as well, including deeper explorations of community, family, memory, and mental illness. By joining The Narrative Project, I learned about the craft of writing, story-telling through trauma, and finding a writer’s life and community. I assigned myself a graduate reading list in psychology and neuroscience. And I observed my thoughts and feelings through hours of mindfulness and loving kindness meditation. 

 

Along the way, I slowly learned to clear my head. I’m still oblivious to lots of important things, starting with everything social, particularly with the gays. But eventually I learned to think clearly by thinking like a writer, not a lawyer – at least, not like the kind of lawyer Attorney General Bob Ferguson would hire.



In November 2017, King County Superior Court Judge John Ruhl dismissed my claim against Ogden Murphy Wallace on a legal technicality.

 

It was important technicality. Washington law immunizes whistleblowers from liability for claims based on their communications to government agencies. One of the questions before the court in my case was whether whistleblower immunity applies to paid communications by government contractors, like Ogden Murphy Wallace’s supposedly “independent” investigation report attacking my character and competence. In August 2021, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that government contractors can’t be sued for injuries that are “directly based” on communications like the Ogden Murphy investigation report. 

 

Our busy trial judge was so focused on the whistleblower statute that he overlooked my other claims against Ogden Murphy Wallace – the ones that weren’t based on any protected whistleblower communication, such as the investigators’ repeated lies about their contractual assignment. Unfortunately, everyone else in the legal process was also distracted by the shiny statutory construction bauble. I spent the next few years trapped in a Kafka-esque struggle to find a state tribunal that was interested in hearing how the State’s lawyers and investigators colluded in government contract procurement fraud, civil rights violations, and ongoing acts of concealment and obstruction. 

 

After losing my state court claim against the OMW Defendants in the trial court, then winning, then losing, then winning, then losing, I lost my original lawsuit for good in June 2022 when the Washington Supreme Court declined further review.


The most interesting event in my state court lawsuit occurred on October 20, 2017. The day before my response was due to Ogden Murphy Wallace’s whistleblower immunity motion, the defendants produced a suspicious document related to their investigation:  the only surviving copy of the 3/16/16 “Investigation Scope Email” from Ogden Murphy investigator Patrick Pearce to the State’s employment attorneys. This smoking gun email revealed I was the victim of a wrongful termination cover-up scheme involving senior lawyers at the AGO, including some of Bob Ferguson’s top lieutenants.

 

While my original lawsuit against Ogden Murphy wound its way through its doomed appeal, I began tracking down additional incriminating evidence through Public Records Act requests and administrative complaints. Unlike Ogden Murphy, I’m an actual whistleblower. Meanwhile, the State and its co-conspirators continued to execute their strategy of stonewalling, gaslighting, and spoliation.

 

The State refused to respond to my notice of claim and mediation invitation, and threated to sue me instead. So in April 2020, I filed another lawsuit in state court, this one against the Attorney General’s Office, the Governor’s Office, Western Washington University, and their corrupt employees. I was shocked when the State Defendants chose to remove all of my damage claims to federal court. I felt like Br’er Rabbit being thrown into the briar patch. Before I tried to repackage myself as an appellate lawyer and judicial candidate a few years ago, I spent two decades managing complex federal litigation at Bogle & Gates, the ACLU, and Davis Wright Tremaine. I’m much more comfortable litigating in federal rather than in state court.

 

However, it turned out removal was just another short-sighted stall tactic by the State’s lawyers. I didn’t realize cases in the Western District of Washington were paralyzed because our court had the most vacancies of any federal court in the country. After the rest of the baby boomer judges all retired, Judge Richard Jones and Judge Ricardo Martinez held down the fort alone for several years. Our Washington senators and the local legal community succeeding in preventing Donald Trump from making any judicial appointments to fill the vacancies. My lawsuit against the State slowed to a crawl as unfortunate collateral damage. We didn’t even have a trial date or a case schedule.


Once several Biden judges were confirmed, however, the federal court finally returned to a normal litigation schedule. The two-year delay gave me enough time to improve my mental health and to gather a mountain of incriminating evidence. On September 23, 2021, Judge Jones denied the State Defendants’ long-delayed motion to dismiss my claims. Instead, the judge granted my motion to file a detailed amended complaint that includes new damage claims against Ogden Murphy Wallace as well as against the Attorney General’s Office, the Governor’s Office, WWU, and their employees. 

 

It’s as if all the frustrations of my original state court lawsuit never happened. Now we’re on a regular federal court litigation schedule. This month we’re waiting for Judge Jones rulings on the State Defendants’ frivolous Third Motion to Dismiss (here’s my response and their reply) and the Ogden Murphy Wallace Defendants’ motion to dismiss some of my new claims (here’s my response and their reply). Depositions in the Federal Lawsuit are scheduled to begin in February, with a jury trial set for January 2024 in Seattle.



I billed more hours of legal work in 2022 than any year since I was a young litigation associate – plus walking at least six miles a day with Bear to keep my head clear. I also had oral arguments in at least ten court hearings in 2022, which sets a personal record. The hearings were all in my Public Records Act case in state court, which is set for a bench trial before Judge Mary Sue Wilson on February 6-7, 2023, in Thurston County Superior Court. 

 

In 1972, Washington voters enacted the most transparent government accountability law in the nation. I’ve submitted dozens of requests to state and local agencies under the Public Records Act. With the sole exception of the Office of the Governor, each agency acknowledged my PRA requests within five days as required by the statute. In October 2020, I emailed the three public record requests to the Office of the Governor as directed by its webpage. The State’s email servers diverted my emails as “junk.” About the same time, the same thing happened with my emails to addressees at several other government agencies – apparently someone put my name and website on some kind of internet “no-fly” list. 

 

Sadly for the Governor’s Office, the Assistant Attorney General assigned to communicate with me on behalf of the State has a bad habit of ignoring my emails, regardless of whether they end up in his inbox or his junk folder. By the time his clients and his supervisors realized their lawyer dropped the ball, they’d already incurred millions of dollars in potential statutory penalties by delaying the Governor’s response to my public records requests for over a year.

 

Once again, the State and its lawyers refused to take responsibility, instead blaming me for their communication errors. So I filed a separate Public Records Act lawsuit against the Governor’s Office. We’re scheduled for a two-day bench trial in Olympia in February. Here’s my lawyer’s Opening Trial Brief.



In August 2021, the world seemed to be approaching the end of the covid pandemic. The Canadian border finally reopened, at least to visitors who uploaded their vaccination status and recent negative test results to an app. Vancouver Men’s Chorus began rehearsing, but only masked and in limited numbers. 

 

We also seemed to be approaching the end of my lawsuits against the State and Ogden Murphy Wallace. In the federal lawsuit, Judge Jones recognized my disability and granted the reasonable accommodation I requested. In my original state lawsuit, the Washington Supreme Court rejected Ogden Murphy Wallace’s claim that lawyers are above the law. 

 

However, we were actually far from the end – both with the coronavirus pandemic and with my efforts to hold the State and its lawyers accountable. It wasn’t even the beginning of the end. But as Winston Churchill would say, we finally reached the end of the beginning.



In 2021, two longtime members of Vancouver Men’s Chorus commissioned a new work by our resident accompanist and composer Dr. Stephen Smith. They wanted a song that would express the hope and joy the choir felt when we were finally able to sing together again after eighteen months of pandemic isolation and silence. Stephen chose to set to music an 1899 poem by Thomas Hardy. Hardy was one of those gloomy Victorian who looked at the bleak modern world and sighed, yet somehow managed to find hope. 

 

The original title of “The Darkling Thrush” was “The Century’s End.” Stephen arranged the four stanzas as a unison chant, then a two-part duet, then a trio, then with all four sections of the chorus in full harmony. Hardy’s poem begins in desolate twilight, with a storm approaching as “every spirt upon earth seemed fervourless as I.” Suddenly “a voice arose among the bleak twigs.” An ancient song thrush “chose to fling his soul upon the growing gloom.” In Stephen’s arrangement, the thrush’s song is a fiddler’s reel. In the wild, the male thrush uses his distinctive song to attract a mate in the dark.

 

In the folklore of the English countryside, the thrush is known as the bird who sings in the darkest hour. At the conclusion of Hardy’s poem, the narrator recognizes “there trembled through his happy good-night air / Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew / And I was unaware.” 

 

Even when the days get shorter and the nights get darker, we know the light will return. Let us begin the new year in kindness and hope.





March 2023 litigation update:


My lawsuit asserting claims against the Office of the Governor under the Public Records Act was set for trial on Monday, February 2, 2023. However, on the Friday before trial we learned we'd lost our slot to a three-week jury trial involving bull-goring injuries and cattle prod experts. Instead, we held our two-day bench trial on May 1-2, 2023. Closing arguments are scheduled for May 25, 2023.