Magic!

I’ve always used the word loosely.  No incantations…nothing showing up out of a top hat.  It’s a way of being…a choice to live in delight…even when, like today, a 2 liter jug of eggnog spills out on the kitchen floor, just minutes before having to rush out the door.  I’ve made an effort now and then to explain…but, it is too much about the un-explainable.

Yesterday, I painted with Grade Ones…tree ornaments…I thought these would be cool with a bit of an aluminum foil embellishment added.  I still paint with kids around the city, every opportunity I get, but have stopped writing so much about it.  Holding a brush is an important action…it’s something important enough to become familiar…to practice…to enjoy.  I like to paint with kids.

Every darned day that I am a guest teacher in someone’s classroom, I am absolutely blown away by the mountain of responsibility and creativity that is observable in just moments of being in that someone’s learning environment.  I am in awe of the magic of the teaching experience, interaction and output, both by teachers and by their students.

I usually go over to the window first and open the blinds.  I like to see how the light changes things.  I also have the time to reflect, something that teachers who are steeped in their careers don’t always have enough opportunity to do.  I like to reflect about the spaces where I find myself enjoying, exploring and filling with hard work.

Yesterday, Amber generously shared her students (little guys) with me.  Grade One!  Wow!  All I can remember about grade one is my coat hook and the fact that my brother ran so fast the first day of school, I felt really really panicked about catching up.  I remember a man walking about the school yard, at a point, raising a hand bell high in the air and shooing us into the building.  I still, to this day, want to call him Mr. Cannon.

I haven’t asked permission (now I have), but would like to share a couple of images I snapped while the students went up to the music room for their very first time.

Just look at these…tell me what you think.

Beautiful. Right?

The students were full of energy, but we enjoyed our time together and really engaged the process of chalk drawing and painting.  (There was no white in the supply cupboard so…I used yellow to brighten some of the colour…but, tints are just so lovely!) The students were very attentive as we went forward and I’ve captured a few little images of their work and their journal responses.  Magic.  And yes!  Could be an Easter Egg…could be a kite…could be an ornament!  In the ‘end’, it is about the means…and NOT the END!  The experience of painting is wondrous.  There!  You heard it from me!

I asked the students if they might do a journal entry about their experience and the resulting pieces were pretty amazing.  Lucas told me he didn’t want me to photograph the following drawing until he had finished the light coming from the window.

 

 

Today, I left my paint bucket out in the car.  I thought I’d meet Jen’s Grade Six students before committing to an art experience in paint, this afternoon.  I wasn’t with them for ten minutes and I knew that they would enjoy and respond well with paint.  Mayhaps it was the fact that the first wondrous thing I noticed, after looking out the window…were these!

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Gorgeous, Jen!!  Wowsah!

I decided that I’d use the very same lesson that I did with the Grade Ones.  As I delivered my lesson about tempera paint, I could have heard a pin drop.  The students were totally engaged and I was pretty grateful.  Nice people.  So, as I publish the next photos, I was wondering if my readers are able to notice the differences, schematically.

The past two days have been blessing days.

And, this evening…

Nigel left me a note.  I’m over the moon about it.  I treasured him years ago…and treasure his contact now.

Dear Kathleen,
I will always remember you as “Mrs H”. I don’t know if you remember me, but you taught me grade 7 art some years ago. I have been searching for you for some time, but it is only appropriate that I should find you now, as I am about to embark on a new adventure; teaching art. Would you be interested in a get together and perhaps imparting some of your wisdom to me?
—N
What a beautiful exchange was had…looking forward to many inspiring conversations about art education with this new arts educator!

Joane Cardinal-Schubert: The Writing on the Wall

I came into the house, after visiting the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary, yesterday, and looked deeply at the painting by Joane Cardinal-Schubert that my then-partner and I bought on December 7, 1995 from the Master’s Art Gallery. It wasn’t as though we could ever afford to collect art, but, we were determined to collect art…we were always buying something and we did it in a disciplined way because each month we made an allocation of a specific amount of money toward our art budget.  A lot of people at the time, and still today, don’t realize that they can invest in art over time.  Ordinary people don’t have access to a budget that covers the entire value of many of the pieces that they grow to love.  This is how I was able to be a collector.

But…about yesterday…

After seeing the amazing retrospective, The Writing on the Wall,  I couldn’t help but see Joane’s work differently.  Appropriate that on December 1st of 2017, I should enjoy all of this and more.

I’ve written about Joane over the years…

Here and

Here and 

Here

I just went upstairs and snapped a couple of photographs…the first, the painting that greets me each day as I enter my home, Protectors of Dreams.

And next, the book that I purchased as it relates to Joane’s narratives about the various works…and her practice.  I’m so looking forward to reading this.

The exhibit was so powerful that it hit me in the gut.  I sat down at every opportunity to process the messages of the work and to take it into my spirit.  I read every wall plaque and words, as best as I could, on every painting.  I’m just going to post the images and spare a great commentary.

Joane fought tirelessly against the building of the Old Man Dam and we reconnected once again in Maycroft, as well as at the Masters Art Gallery, for another exhibit.  At that show, she took the time to chat and to sign my poster, collected back in the fundraising days of the Friends of the Old Man meetings.

Joane came to visit with my students in 1980, right before I took them down for their tour of the Glenbow Museum.  During those years, I worked very hard developing curriculum for urban Metis and Indigenous students in my care. Our School District was aware that there were huge gaps in content for these students and that generally, many were struggling with attendance and performance on standardized tests.  Visits from Elders and people like Joane created a sense of role modeling that my students could not get from me. She showed them slides on a slide projector of her sweat lodge images.  All these years later, I will never forget her generous heart and her painful remembrances.  Yesterday, I felt my hand in hers. I am forever-grateful for our connection.

Tomorrow, I attend a friend’s funeral service.  One piece that really touched my heart was this one, Remembering My Dreambed…I stood before it and thought of my friend’s battle with cancer.

Remembering My Dreambed Joane Cardinal-Schubert 1985 recollections of invasive medical procedures related to cancer treatment.

Below…Homage to Small Boy: Where Were You In July, Hercules? 1985, Joane Cardinal-Schubert.  The colour is not near true…the blue is the most amazing ultramarine blue, in this piece.

Letters to Emily Carr…birch bark letters.  I loved reading the words…

The Lesson Joane Cardinal-Schubert

Detail


Where the Truth is Written – Usually first installed 1991 Joane Cardinal-Schubert

I have not yet included all of my references, but again, Max needs his walk.  I need to pull the decorations from out of the basement.  The roast needs to get into the slow cooker.  I want to end with a bit of music.  Last night, a friend and I attended A Tribe Called Red.  I want to insert the images here.

Photo Credit: Michael Collett

Photo Credit: Michael Collett

Photo Credit: Michael Collett

It was such a powerful experience.  The visuals, the dance and the music combined to speak deeply to the heart.  I feel changed.

Often during the evening, I thought about Thomas King’s book, An Inconvenient Indian.  I think that the stereotypes and misunderstandings about our Indigenous peoples were captured in the form of these artistic creations performed by A Tribe Called Red.

Powerfully executed…authentically created…thank you.

Coventry by Helen Humphreys

These are sad times. (hold that thought…lol)

I picked up the book, Coventry, and had it read in an afternoon.  I love it when an afternoon of leisurely everything allows for me to pick up a book, curl up under the wool blanket that Leah gifted me, and read.  At 175 pages of elegantly flowing prose, I highly recommend this one, as we move toward Remembrance Day 2017.

In 2015 I sat, gobsmacked when I watched the evening news…one historical/ancient site or artifact after another looted, destroyed and left in ruins by Isis.   We don’t talk about it very much anymore, but the destruction in Khorsabad as well as the revered sites of Nineveh, Nimrud and Hatra – (designated or nominated to be UNESCO World Heritage sites) – were attacked and left in shambles by the caliphate.

This book creates, for the reader, an image of what it was really like during the Blitz.  This particular novel, an historical fiction, deals with the event on November 14, 1940 when Coventry Cathedral was destroyed.  The story is told through the experiences of two females; Harriet and Maeve.  There are some excellent reviews on line about this book and I have arrived at some similar thoughts on events, especially.  For one, without posting a spoiler, there is a significant event that I felt was unnecessary to the flow of the narrative.  You will know the moment when you come to it.

Second to that, I was somewhat disappointed that Humphreys did not create a stronger relationship between the two protagonists.  I think that Humphreys writes such beautiful characters that it would have been very satisfying to delve more into their connection and build a stronger relationship.

There were times while reading when I had tears,…such devastation during a single event in our collective history!  Yet, as I look at what events are taking place in our world today…and just what a fragile peace remains in so many parts of the world, I find myself, almost daily, wondering why human beings have not learned from past mistakes.   An article that deals successfully with this very topic and the elegizing of literary content is written by Adam Haslett in a New York Times piece.

Dianne, on Goodreads, writes…

A new author for me and one in whose writing I quickly fell in love. Her sentences are so fluid, her words almost lulling, just wonderful. This provides a sharp contrast to the heartfelt descriptions of the bombing and destruction of Coventry during WWII. Can goods bursting, windows shattering, broken glass raining down, potatoes rolling on the now crooked floor, a man shaving one minute but gone the next, people running through the streets with metal pots on their heads, and of course houses no longer standing, piles of rubble and the bodies laying wherever they fell. The Cathedral which was the town’s pride and joy would be the only Cathedral in Britain to be destroyed during the war.

We inhabit such a beautiful planet.  It is difficult to consider the destruction that is caused by humanity.  I did not know about Coventry until reading this book.  Highly recommend this one.

A link to an excellent interview with the author.

Coventry

What Comes to Mind at the River

Reading and then meeting Kyo MacLear affirmed, for me, everything that’s been formulating inside me the past several years…about birding, art, nature and life.  Many things have formed me into this person who shows up at the Bow River around 10 on a winter’s morning, taking pause above the river and observing wildlife.

My friends and family wonder and ask…mostly not asking anymore, “What are you painting?  Why don’t you paint?”  and at those questions, I can only sit with who I am and be grateful for the grace of anything and everything that led me to this place where I find myself.  As I drove up from the parking spot this morning, I just kept saying, aloud, “I love my life. I love my life.”

I will paint again.  But, the truth is…painting was a lot about ego.  It was a lot about around-the-clock commitment.  It was about trying to balance full time work, raising children and keeping it all together.  My stomach sometimes hurt as deadlines for shows approached.  I was terrified in front of blank canvases.  I couldn’t assert myself with dealers, set boundaries or say what I needed.  I didn’t have money to buy those outfits that seem to be required if you are an artist, especially a female artist. Painting had lost its magic and so, when I paint again, it will be profound because it will be for all the right reasons, not for all the wrong reasons.

Doris McCarthy said, “Paint every day.”  I think more about her as days go by, without painting, than anyone.  She explained how those muscles work.  She explained how time also rushes by. Doris was my friend and she gave me a lot of strength. I think about Doris when I know that I will physically paint again.

Now…did the painting really stop?  I argue, “No”.  I have been intensely researching my next body of work for years now…having painted about 15 panels related to a Covenant series, I then began to connect again with the landscape.  It just happened.  It happened at the reading of two poems, the first,  The Wolf Between the Trees by George Bowering.  I used his poem, with permission, embedded in the poem along with a cup full of ash…remains of personal papers I had burned in the studio.  This is the painting…

Wolf

 

and secondly, a tribute poem written by Paulette Dube for the Caribou.  I’m including her words, here.  I hope you will read them.

In the new days, magic was on the surface of things, the shine of it all, quick and bright and fast as new rivers.

 Now Rivers winds Under Earth, has to be convinced, to play her deep song, entreated , to show herself.

 The Celts call these « thin places », where the other side is so close, the veil shivers your arms as you reach through.

 The First People travelled (sic) these sacred pieces of earth, to think on things in the presence of Creator.

 I know them as mountains.  I see them with my spirit eyes, walk them with blood and bone legs.  They teach, as clear as bird song or scolding squirrel lesson, bracing as clean water through moss.

 This alpine terrain is grey onion paper, thin as ash.  Feet must be wide to avoid lace-like flower and moss, spider web and lichen.        Be mindful.

 The Creator’s ear is earth as we do not see it.  Make joyous noise if you want to be herd.  Get yourself a song and string from bone to bone, a home of light and wind.

 She moves.  She feels her calf, inside, taking nourishment from her own bones and teeth.  The calf moves (as my son once did)  deep in the dreaming place.  The cow’s thickening body keeps the Small one warm, keeps him from hunger, keeps her     moving.

 Born where the dark forest gives way to lake, loon’s perfect call – silver sharp tremolo – traces the surface of this morning sky :  clear as mountain water scythes the earth.

 Loon calls from the lake face, that voice – shapes my form-    coming through the trees.

 The land reacts to our presence when we belong

 Noise of a sow grizzly and her two cubs.  To each a place, to each, a means of prayer and play.  To each, the necessary silence.

 Sacred whorl of grey and brown, blow open the gate.  Allow a wild glimpse of self.

 When you descend to leaf litter, feathered legs and all, you are an angel – touching Earth.

 The engine that is me, hears the song that is you…

 …coming together is a song I cannot bear for long.  Satiated by my own irregular rythmes.

 Promises shape who we are, what we will become –

we pray.

 His brow is unfurrowed.  Streamlined, he walks the wind, easily.

 Healing is water over stones, wind over grass, gaits – fearless.

Feral hearts wander – oblivious to fences of human design.

 Survival embodies existence but – does not define it.

 He moves through sunlight to scrub, deliberate – elemental – muscle.

 Hummingbird hears colour – Coyote knows crack in a leaf is direction – Bear walks trail made of wind.

 If Humans could once again divine the essential – would we find home ?

 A candle in a church is a thing of beauty – a flame in the wilderness is a miracle.

 Find something big to pit against – to throw loneliness into –  Amid bone, snow and stone –   caribou.  The precious, the delicate of design – we live here.

 Fire and earth – water and air – there is no room for anger.

 Memories permit us to speak of things –

our heart tends to in the night.

The resulting painting, upon hearing this poem is posted below.  The words to the poem are written into the painting.  It was at this punctuation mark in my life, at this painting and the other, that I realized my painting would always be about ‘place’.

Caribou 3

So, as an artist, what I’ve been doing ever since is sorting that out….the surface, the paint, collage, text, subject matter.  It might take a lifetime to make sense of it.  I don’t know.  But, in the meantime, I am energized and interested and creative and LOOK!  I write!

Everything I’ve been doing, in the sorting,  has made for this wondrous life of mine.  It’s taken me out into the landscape.  It’s caused me to notice more.  It’s manufactured poems, paintings, photographs and connected me with videographer, Liam of Beam Media and the photographer,  Jack Breakfast.

And this morning, I met Doug Newman.  It was after two cups of coffee at home and after two posts about books that I have read that I headed out into the cold with Max man.  The roads were bad, so I decided to get us down to a parking lot that edges the Bow River and to explore the first wintry day on the river.  There was only one other car in the lot…a man speaking on his telephone.  Max and I headed out.

This is what I wrote once back inside the car…and after snapping four photos on my cell phone…and after turning up the heat and settling in with CKUA.

I didn’t bring a camera with me, but hiked the edge of the Bow River this morning. I watched a Bald Eagle fish, its wings, so powerful. Three times, it landed on tree tops to the left of me, by 200 meters. The geese, exhausted and resting, lifted off of the dark water, along with the cacophony of gulls each time the eagle dove toward the water. Two deer swam, gracefully, from this side and shook off like wet dogs, once arriving on the shore across from me. A perfect morning.

From an interview with Kyo MacLear, writer of Birds, Art, Life… this…

Q: In the book there’s a list, the “Pantheon of Smallness,” in which you compare items such as blackbirds and Rembrandt’s etching. Equating the arts with nature was deliberate, no?

A: It was. It was also a bit playful. I wanted the readers to come in and fill in their own ideas. The Pantheon of Smallness was a way of thinking about smallness differently. Sometimes we make small things, sometimes there are small bird songs, but it can have an enormous impact. Sometimes you have to whisper to be heard. Our culture is very much one of “bigging it up,” always upping the noise level in order to produce a louder signal. What you see in the bird world is sometimes that the smallest tweet can actually pierce through the cacophony in a different way. That became a metaphor for thinking about art. Emily Dickinson did quite miniature work that had a very profound, almost epic, impact, culturally speaking.

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While typing that paragraph, I saw the gentleman leave his car, carrying a camera and sporting a huge lens.  I watched, discreetly, as he took photographs.  I saw him pan as geese took flight.  I saw him quietly observe for quite a long time.  Finally, as he turned to get back into his vehicle, I rolled down my window and we began to chat.

It turns out that Doug also posts photographs to Alberta Birds.  We introduced ourselves to one another and I began to ask him questions about photography, equipment and we shared some of our ‘bird’ moments.  It is such a pleasure to discover another birder along the quiet pathways of my every day.  It was nice to experience his enthusiasm and his excitement.  He opened up his photograph of a goose taking flight and I was in awe of the detail and the strength captured in that single image.

I love my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys

Yes!  I’m getting caught up on my reviews…hardly reviews…but, posting a bit of feedback, for my own records.

A brief aside:  I’ve had a hit on my blog from Bangladesh this morning.  These things amaze me and I often do not notice, unless I am busy writing something as I am this morning.  I look outside at the blue-white day and am grateful for the steaming hot coffee on my desk and my dog, Max, who curls up at my feet.

I was with Hollee in the bookstore this summer when I saw a book titled The River by Helen Humphreys.  It was filled with maps and archives and bits of observation…all things that I relish about life these days. When I leafed through it, I knew that I wanted to read it some time…but, buying a book wasn’t in my budget, not at that time.  Now, these months later, I still have not purchased or read that book, but have read two other Humphreys books that found themselves on the very generous discount shelves of a book store, one is The Evening Chorus and the other, Coventry.

The Evening Chorus was of particular interest to me because the protagonist, James Hunter, who through unfortunate events, found himself a POW during the second World War and ends up keeping his connection with normalcy through the daily observations of a nest of Redstarts.  In the back Author’s Notes, one actually reads that while this is a book of fiction, it is connected with three historical and documented events.  I love history, and so, of course, this would interest me.   So, underpinnings to the novel include 1. There was a Wellington bomber that went down in the Ashdown Forest during World War II. 2. There was a German prison camp Kommandant who shared a family of Cedar Waxwings with a prisoner.  3. John Buxton was a wartime birdwatcher who wrote a book about the Redstart.  I could only dream to have a copy of his book.

I’ve discovered that I’m a detail lady and this book describes, very carefully, the challenges faced by James Hunter and his peers in the POW camp, the struggles of family back home and the simple act of documenting, writing about and drawing, daily observations of a family of Redstarts.  Retired and self-directed, I am blessed daily with the experiences of ‘slowing down’ time by entering into a process of observing nature.  I surround the words, ‘slowing down’, with single quotation marks because it is my intention that by entering into that process of observation of nature, time will slow, but in actuality, three hours can go by very quickly as I become immersed.

The fact that I share some of the rituals of the protagonist, I was very at home with this book.  Helen Humphreys is generous, lyrical and authentic in her portrayal of the motivation of characters throughout.

A terrific read and at a great price…but then, historical fiction is my favourite.

The Evening Chorus, when all is said and done, is a formally conventional but for the most part satisfying yarn; a quiet novel about a calamitous event whose most trenchant passages show the cast of Humphreys’s poet’s eye: “The song of the redstart begins as a melody and ends in dissonance, as though the song itself comes undone in the process of singing it, finishing up with all the right notes presented in the completely wrong order.”

Emily Donaldson is a freelance critic and editor.

The Evening Chorus

 

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Little Sister by Barbara Gowdy

A couple of months ago, I scanned the book store shelves for something that I might not ordinarily read.  I’ve tried as much as I can to read Indigenous authors and content since before January of 2017, but thought, for variety, I would mix it up a little.  I was taking on a lot of sadness and anxiety around the topics that I had been reading, in both fiction and non-fiction.  I went into Chapters-Indigo that day, looking for some relief.  Hmmm….

Firstly, I DO look for Canadian authors and most times, female Canadian authors.  I hadn’t read anything by Babara Gowdy to this point and she has been nominated for all of the correct prizes.  That particular day, no fewer than three shelves were lined with Little Sister and so I picked up one of the copies in hard copy and read the descriptor.  And YES, I was attracted to the image on the cover.

Gowdy

Right away, the writing is described as “Fearless, inventive, and dazzling.” by Heather O’Neill, author of The Lonely Hearts Hotel.  Who is Heather O’Neill, anyway?

Hmmm…the word “existential” appears on the back of the jacket.  Can that be good?

I pulled up the Globe and Mail review on my phone.

Intelligent?  Enthralling?

As I read the descriptor I thought that, for certain, this book would pull me out of my comfort zone and possibly create some overlap with my past interest in Ray Bradbury and also Anne Rice.  I thought, “Come on, Kath…give it a whirl.”

Oh!  What a disappointment.

I write in the front cover of every book, once I’ve completed it.  This has been my practice ever since my cousin’s son came into my library space and asked, “Are you one of these people who collects books just to show off…how many of these have you actually read?”  Sometimes stories escape my memory, and so I began the practice of inscribing my brief thoughts on a title, in the case that one day (and I hope they do…for the most part) these books fall into the hands of other readers.  I love the physicality of books, and sadly enough, I find that most times that I go to the library, the titles I’m looking for are on hold for other readers.  I can wait weeks and weeks and I haven’t quite gotten into the swing of being organized that way.

As I open the front cover of Little Sisters…the inscription is sadly, negative.

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I’m not going to review the narrative…the characters are interesting, I guess.  I find the writing a bit superficial, lacking in depth, description or intrigue.  And yet, given that we all have our preferences,  there are countless reviews that are favourable and a lot of readers who loved this book…that’s just the nature of personal preference in reading.  I’m glad I took on a personal challenge to expand horizons and see what else is out there.  I never truly regret reading a book.  Every book generates new thought…the nature of the beast.

I’ll point you in the direction of another review for Little Sisters...the Globe and Mail is likely the strongest.  Here, you will see the book described as exploring empathy…also the relationships of sisters/daughters/mothers….I would agree, but I’ve read so many books that did better.  In order to deal authentically in the psyche, as a manifestation, in writing…it would take some kind of writer!

I’d be interested in seeing if any of my readers have a different experience of this book and/or if they have read other titles by the same author?

Some comments from her own website…

“For almost 30 years Barbara Gowdy has been cutting wildly surreal, sometimes hyperreal, paths into the kind of truth recognized with the heart as much as the mind… Little Sister is a supernatural domestic thriller and a crackling tour de force.  Thanks to Gowdy’s electric style and vision, the result is unforgettable.”
The Sunday New York Times

“Electrifying. Gowdy sucks readers into this suspenseful, supernatural story like a strong wind in a squall.”
Kirkus (starred review)

“Highly readable prose, an intriguing premise, and vivid storytelling.”
Quill and Quire (starred review)

“Gowdy’s new novel weaves an inventive, spellbinding tale of loss, regret, and redemption that takes a heartfelt look at what it means to be a mother, daughter, and sister.  A thrilling, captivating exploration of guilt, the female psyche, and the bonds of womanhood.”
Publisher’s Weekly

“Barbara Gowdy is a magical storyteller.  Little Sister is a gem, powered by Gowdy’s incredible fabulist imagination.”
BBC — “Must Reads”

 

Passing Through: Frank’s Flats

…not to be confused with Frank Lake.

Observed today….a pair of Ring-necked Ducks, not to be confused with the Lesser Scaups that I’ve seen during nesting season. Another first time identification for me.

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Also, passing through, two very shy Hooded Mergansers (I may be incorrect on this identification)  The males are very spectacularly coloured…these two are the cinnamon colour of the females or possibly juveniles…hard to get anywhere near this couple, especially with Max on umbilical.  I would appreciate the help of others on this identification.

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The following photograph gave me the most reference material I could capture…

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There remains, a single Pied Billed Grebe…don’t know why this one hasn’t headed out.  Very elusive and likes to go under at the first sight of me…I’m determined to get close enough to see the light in his eyeballs at some point.

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Gordon Lightfoot, After All These Years

There are no photographs that I can find (we probably didn’t own a camera), of the days when Dad, my brother John and I used to play the ukulele.  There are just so many tunes to play around the campfire on a ‘Uke’ but I remember them including Yellow BirdMichael Row The Boat AshoreDown In the Valley and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.

Dad got us interested in stringed instruments very early in our lives.

Christmas St. Sylvestre

 

Whenever we gathered with friends or went camping, we had sing-songs.  In fact, we grew up surrounded by music.  Our military life took us on many family road trips and Sunday drives and all of it involved singing a repertoire of folk songs, big band era music like Abba Dabba Honeymoon,  Moon River and Mack the Knife and funny songs like “One Man Went to Mow“, There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea...well, you get the idea.

Dad also owned a beautiful Gibson guitar.  Nothing made me happier than listening to him sing songs, while playing that guitar.  There are no photographs of the Gibson, but I’m certain that my father and siblings remember it as though it was yesterday.  It was a family treasure.  Dad shared…

“I was given that beautiful Gibson from our neighbour across the street from us on Briar Hill Drive in Battle Creek, Michigan. I am sorry I cannot remember their names, but they were certainly good friends of ours throughout my tour there. He was a Lt.Col in the USAF Reserve and taught high school.  One of the humorous things I remember was Mom giving him a 1 quart and a 1 pint milk bottle that somehow came with us on the move. He was so excited since he would use them during his 2 hour course on Canada. That was the total length of time for their history of Canada.  Anyway he came over one day and had the Gibson with him. He told me that it had been owned by quite a famous country singer and was given to him. It honestly looked like it had just come from the factory it was such a beautiful instrument. I simply adored it and learned to play somewhat from a book.(just our usual camping songs.).”

Because of this inspiration around stringed instruments, when I got a regular summer job at The Deluxe restaurant in North Bay, Ontario, I decided to buy my very own guitar.  I spotted the one I wanted in a music shop window on Main Street and began saving up my tips.  By end of summer, I made the purchase of my Yamaha Classical guitar…something I decided on so that I could play with ease because of the give of the classical strings instead of the resistance of steal strings.  I’ve treasured that guitar for ever since.  Yes…it’s gone out with my own kids to campfires and parties…but, it hung in and makes a beautiful sound to this day.

At the day of my purchase, I also bought a song book of Gordon Lightfoot songs.  The thing about this particular book, the chord illustrations appeared above the appropriate words, so I figured, like my Dad before me, I could teach myself to play guitar.

From 1960 until 1963, Gordon Lightfoot became a household name in Canadian homes.  He was and still is a wonderful song writer…optimistic writing, surfacing during what came to be known as the Folk Revival (just before the huge movement of Beatles music across North America and the world.)  I wasn’t like my brother, John, who next door to me in Great Falls, Montana, in a neighbouring bedroom, played the Grateful Dead and Gregg Allman.  I was playing Dylan; Buffy Ste. Marie; Peter, Paul & Mary; The Mamas and the Papas, Pete Seeger and Gordon Lightfoot.

In the end, it turns out that my older brother, John, became a person I would always admire for his ability on guitar.  He had the ear for music and was a natural.  He felt the guitar and released its spirit, where I would be measured and predictable.  I think he spent some years playing at gigs as well, and given his home in Sault Ste. Marie, he moved towards a Bluegrass style.

Once I moved to Lethbridge and attended University, I continued to appreciate more mellow voices and music, enjoying Valdy, Bruce Cockburn, Bette Midler, Cat Stevens and Paul Williams.  Somewhere along the line, I bought myself a Three Dog Night album.  It seemed that I never really had a lot of money…still don’t…so accessing concerts and getting out for musical events didn’t really happen until I ‘grew up’.  I did, however, listen to other people’s music and so became exposed to a lot of Cabaret music in the day, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Peter Frampton and Grace Jones…on and on it went from there.

Summers and Christmases, traveling back home to share times with Mom and Dad, the guitars came out…and always there were sing-songs.  Mom always asked me to play and I did.

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singing and group 4

Family reunions brought together a large group of very talented people, many of them sharing guitar during the programs.  Cecil, Jo-Anne, my brother, John…Dad…

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Kath and John Reunion 1984

There have been a lot of back yard, under-the-tree sorts of moments…sitting in the stair well at the U of L, singing my heart out.  Living in residence was isolating at times.  The guitar filled lonely moments.

 

Gloria

Singing at weddings…oh my gosh, I’ll never forget not being able to find my beginning note during Lord of the Star Fields.  But things went well when I played and sang I Will and also For Baby.

Gloria's Weding

There was never the chance or the opportunity to pick up a Gordon Lightfoot ticket before this recent purchase.  But, long-story-short (fail)…last evening I had the chance to attend a concert where 78 year old Gordon Lightfoot came to Calgary, I felt, to sing just to me.  I purchased the ticket some time ago.  Without a partner, I’ve had years to practice not being shy about attending events on my own.  Strategically, when something comes up on my radar,  I pour over the seating maps for the venues and select the best single seat that I can find for that event.  Last night, I ended up in the second row of the Grey Eagle Casino Theater, with an unobstructed view of Lightfoot.  A father and teenaged daughter duo were sitting to my right.  I felt a bit sorry for the daughter because after every tune, the Dad would turn to her and say, “Did you like that one?”

To my left, two Ya Yas sat down just as the show began, a little envious of the cold gin and tonic that I was sipping, having arrived in time to access the bar line before the performance.

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I felt that the performance last night was all about good song writing.  The lyrics, beautiful narratives, for the most part, were exquisite.  I was filled with admiration for this person…for a career of dedication, struggle, and sideways living-gone right.  I really listened to these lyrics for the first time and saw them as very positive.

I got teary at the point where Gordon Lightfoot began singing The Minstrel of the Dawn…and that continued until the end of the song. Many of his songs moved me, but this one, the most.

Lightfoot is good humoured about his abilities.  He has a great lead guitar that provides the thread of his former performances.  His voice is weaker than in the past, but has all of that quality that is endearing.  Some songs were performed as shorter versions of themselves, out of need to entertain the crowd with the ‘old familiars’, but Lightfoot performed his most recent writing in its entirety and with enthusiasm.  I was really impressed.

I can’t tell a lie.  As I listened, I thought about my Dad.  I thought about what a gift it must be (and I have some experience of this already) to be able to continue to delight in your talents after so many years.  Dad, at 86, is in a choir and continues to carry the magic of his Irish tenor voice whenever he interprets music.  I was impressed by Gordon Lightfoot last night and was moved in a remarkable way.  As we move into our later years, we need to do what we can to continue nurturing our gifts.  I’m posting a video here.  I hope you will take the time to listen to the interview and then, listen to the song.

Music is something we hold inside of us…like DNA.  The stories that we carry in us are, for the most part, bits and pieces of the music we have cherished in our lives.  Live music can never be underestimated for its impact on us.

Post Script: The Next Generation

 

Anomaly at Frank’s Flats

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I shouldn’t always apologize for my photographs.  I’m not in the business of circling a single pond for the possibility of becoming a photographer, but I would like it if the images were focused.  I am walking daily, however, in order to document what I feel, see, hear and experience.  I am there to learn and to discover through all of my observations.

Well, today, I saw one single male Northern Pintail duck on the pond.  While a very common bird, I have never seen one and I’m always excited to spot a new species. I find it funny that I’ve observed such a variety this autumn and usually solitary male birds.  Please enjoy the link to the Northern Pintail that I have provided.  It doesn’t get much better than Audubon!

Just after snapping these two photographs, a train thundered to the west of me.  The Pintail took off, circled the pond and then headed south across the debacle that is the South West Ring Road, likely to the larger water body to the south.  Grateful for this siting.

The Poems of Clea Roberts

The poetry of Clea Roberts has been a source of great inspiration since attending a Wordfest session, Into the Quiet, this year.  Every poem is an elegant string of words, sparse but potent.  I am left, after reading, with a sense of wonderment about this world of ours.

Because of the immediacy of social media, I have been able to access other people’s travel, adventure and world exploration over months and years…Nepal, Venice, Spain, Croatia, Haida Gwaii.  I get the sense of how vast our life experiences can be…to eat seafood in Japan, observe the art of the masters in far off galleries, stand at the top of the Empire State building.  I enjoy all of this very much.  It all comes into my home, while I sit in my pyjamas at the keyboard, with my cup of coffee on the desk, to my right.

However, nothing moves me more than these poems.  Because somewhere in these images, lies the remembrance of camping with my parents, the smell of woodfires burning, the soft conversations as neighbours drift off to sleep.  The childhood listening.

It was some years ago that I spent time observing this schematic, the scale of the universe.  I realized even before encountering this illustration that just as there are so many more places to explore beyond our own communities, there are a multitude of places to visit in our own intimate surroundings, and to go deeper still, there are internal landscapes to explore.  The universe offers so many compelling and endless possibilities for discovery that it is an easy thing to become fascinated with the world that lives even on the petals of a flower.

The poems of Clea Roberts take me to that beautiful intimate place of connection in a much smaller place, full of limitless possibilities.

In the meantime, for two weeks, I have been observing a single Horned Grebe on a pond, hoping to capture a just one focused photograph.  I have watched muskrats frantically building winter homes in the cattails on the north side of the fence while bulldozers plow and reshape former dwellings.  I see miracles every evening as the sun begins to set.

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One poem to share this morning…from Auguries by Clea Roberts

If Suddenly My Dreams Are Premonitions

There is music or
there is snow falling
on the white-tailed deer.

They strip the ash berries
with precise, needful tugs.

There is music or
there is the gliding silence
between their hoofbeats
as the wind changes.

An introduction is made.
A small part of me
goes with them.