The nine short stories and essays in Life: Joys and Challenges reflect, in author Ethel M. Devlin’s words, a “snapshot of the cycle of life.” They are simple, slice-of-life tales, generally centered on family, children and pets and feature upbeat endings.
Devlin’s at her best in the first-person piece “The Pasture,” a recollection of her efforts in 1944 to find a keepsake to take from the family farm after poor crops, drought, wind and dust force the family to sell. In her search, she encounters prairie dogs, the family’s Jersey cow, Strawberry, and a bird feigning a broken wing to lure her from its nest of young. She watches her dog chase a gopher and hears a meadowlark’s song. But she finds no fitting keepsake — except those sights and sounds of nature.
“Each place and creature of nature had imprinted itself indelibly on my soul,” she writes. “They awaken when I’m reminded of my years on the farm in Saskatchewan.”
Another tale recounts a neighbor and his grandson’s efforts to rid her attic of squirrels. There’s a tale of a 14-year-old Gitxsan Nation Youth’s preparation with his grandfather for a vision quest and an essay on the significance of the sweat bath by Native Canadians, also known as First Nations. A journalistic piece details the history and import of Chilliwack, British Columbia’s water supply, the Sardis-Vedder Aquifer — “Chilliwack’s most awesome feature and its greatest potential problem.”
The writing is clear and concise, always with a kindly, even maternal eye. Life: Joys and Challenges seems to have been written with the intent of passing local lore and family tales to family and friends, though others might enjoy its gentle, human touch. If so, Devlin has accomplished her task with grace and heart.
Also available as an ebook.