Val's Book Reviews

Four Seasons by the Salish Sea: Discovering the Natural Wonders of Coastal Living

by Carolyn Redl, photography by Nancy Randall

Victoria: Heritage House Publishing, 2023
$32.95   /  9781772034479

Author Carolyn Redl has been fascinated with life along the Salish Sea ever since she moved to Vancouver Island from the prairies in the early 2000s.

As a teacher and creative writer, she made it her business to learn everything she could about the many wonders of that part of the world and then share it with others. This book Four Seasons by the Salish Sea is the result of her passion. It evolved over two decades of observations and discoveries throughout the four different seasons.

Carolyn Redl. Lillie Louise photo

Her curiosity for everything is infectious as she points out details we might not otherwise have noticed in this beautifully produced book. Her text is complimented by the outstanding photography of Nancy Randall who has always enjoyed photographing landscapes, animals, birds, and seaside panoramas in this area.

Redl’s preface immediately takes her readers into the scenic setting with which she has become obsessed with the words: “Sunshine glitters off the waters of the Salish Sea on mid-Vancouver Island, as my husband, Hans, and I lead our visitors to the shore.” On a crisp December day, they have been given permission to cross over a timber company’s land closed for business one weekend, in search of the dozens of California sea lions that, in her descriptive prose, are: “packed like fat, bulging sausages so close in some places that a person could hop from one back to the next without tumbling into the water.”

Later in her preface, Redl states that Four Seasons by the Salish Sea describes “contrasts between mainland and ocean-side living that occur, season after season. She insists this book is not simply a nature guide but rather a collection of her own observations of each season and the many changes she found in the watersheds of the Salish Sea which include the Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Hood Canal, Haro Strait, and the Gulf and Strait of Georgia. Her book which is part travelogue, part natural history, but mostly a memoir, is simply a magnificent adventure of her discoveries.

Englishman River Estuary in early spring. Nancy Randall photo

In spring her main interest becomes whether the herring have yet spawned. Redl is also fascinated by the eagles she spots and is on the lookout for “the savannah sparrows and meadowlarks of [her] childhood.” She is told that it is too early in the season for their early migration return from their watering grounds of the southern United States and Mexico.

Viewpoints with convenient benches. Nancy Randall photo

Summer pursuits include watching “the annual parade of cruise ships on their way to Alaska but ‘the seasons are not definitely demarcated’ yet.” Spring is reluctant to leave, and wildflowers are still blooming well into summer. At Neck Point Park, “we see fields of blue camas.” Many of these flowering delights are photographed by Nancy Randall including the Pacific dogwood, BC’s provincial flower. There are different birds, delightful beaches, and even breaching humpback whales to observe in summer.

Canada Geese in the fall. Nancy Randall photo

Fall arrives after all their summer visitors and mainland vacationers have come and gone. Redl and her husband have tidied up their garden for the year and have “frozen the last tomatoes. Planted garlic and fava beans.” She admires the serenading nuthatches, white-crowned sparrows, and house finches, but all “go silent when a Cooper’s Hawk swoops through the yard adjacent to the beach access.”

High waves of the Pacific. Nancy Randall photo
Redl’s words are complimented by the outstanding photography of Nancy Randall. She teaches for the University of Victoria’s Healthy Aging programs and VIU’s ElderCollege program.

In winter, Redl begins with the words: Through the trunks of Douglas-firs, whitecaps dance chaotically across the Strait of Georgia. Sea lions bark as they rhythmically submerge and emerge on their course northward.” As winter progresses, the book becomes more memoir than natural history with Redl’s thoughts about the place where they are now privileged to live and all the natural wonders they experience from coastal living. Enjoying these aspects of their life and being able to share some of it with their visitors is a special pleasure for her.

The entire book will delight Redl’s readers with a plethora of facts about the animals, fish, plants, parks, and communities of the Salish Sea as she becomes the guide through rain forests and numerous other fascinating areas. Her readers will feel they are seeing these wonders through her eyes. Although in her book the author celebrates this incredible part of the world with its moderate climate, she does not ignore the fact that there are also potential threats of earthquakes, water shortages, and the many challenges gardeners will face.

This is not necessarily a book you will read through from the first page to the last, but with its excellent index, you can reference many things that interest you. Redl’s excellent selection of relevant sources and websites are listed constructively to assist the reader with even more knowledge about all the areas bordered by the Salish Sea. A fascinating read!

Wild Pacific Trail panorama. Nancy Randall photo

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