for Joshua and Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

This is an introduction to two books in a single post, both written by Richard Wagamese.  I read for Joshua: An Ojibway Father Teaches his Son before Medicine Walk.  for Joshua was most definitely a father’s passionate message to his son, delivered with a sense of urgency throughout.  Biographical, this book was a potent read, nailed down with so much trauma that, at times, I felt as though I couldn’t breath.  Confessional in nature, Wagamese dug deep into his personal journey with pain, fear and addiction.  Have you ever put a book down so that you could digest or ‘get over’ a chapter?  for Joshua did this to me.

In this book, Wagamese walked with his son in a very metaphorical way…through the pages of a book.  A lifetime of suffering informed these pages and eventually led to a sense of redemption. Steeped in his Ojibway culture, Richard Wagamese experienced a sense of hope through the intimate experiences of a lifetime of struggle.  To some degree, I wondered if he was anticipating an ‘ending’ and I felt an urgency about the honest confrontation of a life lived with determination.

As a contrast,  Medicine Walk was narrative in style, but dealt with the same concerns of pain, fear and addiction.  This book needs to become required reading within the curriculum for high school literature.  I felt, as I read, that this book encompasses so many of the issues facing Indigenous peoples in contemporary society.  While reading from a place of privilege, I thought that the writer gently handed me the lessons of his people and the impact of colonial dominance on the individual.

I don’t know if my readers would agree, but sometimes I think that literature can teach us more.  We connect with a single character and develop a relationship with/to them.  That character can teach us lessons that even an aggressive in-your-face angry person can not teach.  This ‘settler’ requires an opportunity to question, wonder and take in new information…books provide this opportunity.

I think that these two books are partners to one another…one is raw and visceral and the other offers safety and distance, with the very same lessons contained.  From Penguin Random House Canada…this,

“One of the finest novels of the year.” (Vancouver Sun) By the celebrated author of Canada Reads finalist Indian Horse, this is an unforgettable journey of a father and son, set in dramatic landscape of the BC Interior…
     Franklin Starlight is called to visit his father, Eldon. He’s sixteen years old and has had the most fleeting of relationships with the man. The rare moments they’ve shared haunt and trouble Frank, but he answers the call, a son’s duty to a father. What ensues is a journey through the rugged and beautiful back country, and a journey into the past, as the two men push forward to Eldon’s end. From a poverty-stricken childhood, to the Korean War, and later the derelict houses of mill towns, Eldon relates both the desolate moments of his life and a time of redemption and love, and in doing so offers Frank a history he has never known, the father he has never had, and a connection to himself he never expected.
     A novel about love, friendship, courage, and the idea that the land has within it powers of healing, Medicine Walk reveals the ultimate goodness of its characters and offers a deeply moving and redemptive conclusion. Wagamese’s writing soars and his insight and compassion are matched by his gift of communicating these to the reader.

If my readers are open and can be gentle with themselves, these books are invaluable.  Medicine Walk left me in tears during several passages.  Franklin Starlight is a profound character.  Richard Wagamese has left us with powerful gifts through his writing.  I am grateful.

What Elephants Know by Eric Dinerstein

This was another one for the throne room…this does not mean that books in the bathroom are any less interesting than ones on my bedside table or ones next to the red couch, it just means that I choose a different genre and always something a little less cerebral than my preferred reading, fiction or non-fiction.

Another second-hand-book-find, What Elephants Know ended up next to my other books about elephants.  I liked that Jane Goodall wrote a quick recommendation.  “You will be fascinated, angered, and charmed in turn by this beautifully written story.”

Dr. Eric Dinerstein is the Director of the Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions Program at RESOLVE and so I was very interested in the fact that he wrote a novel and I anticipated that the book would be written from a unique and knowledgeable perspective.

This was a lovely book that I’d recommend for students grade five to grade seven.  It was a quick read that left me thinking about the vulnerability of our wildlife and ecosystems.  The protagonist, Nandu, is a beautiful character who, through his young life, teaches about the numerous impacts made upon these, while exposing the reader to the vulnerability of humanity, as well.

I think this would be a wonderful book to read aloud to students.  It is refreshing to find a book that is culturally diverse and can open eyes and hearts to a different human experience.  Grade three students, in their study of India, may really benefit from this story.  Nandu’s relationships with his female elephant, Devi Kali and with the plants and other animals of the Borderlands are described beautifully.

This is a two evening (10 potty visits) read for an adult.  I recommend doing a quick review of the book before sharing with your students/children so that you know the sensitive topics that will come along.  Give it a go.

What Elephants Know

 

 

Of Song and Water by Joseph Coulson

I picked the book, Of Song and Water off a shelf at a second hand shop.  I loved the title.  That was my sole reason for choosing it.  Quickly running my fingers through the pages, I decided it would be placed in what my father used to call ‘the throne room’.  You got it?  Something about the size of the font.  And…it seemed like it wouldn’t be a need-to-think-deeply sort of book.

In the end, this turned out to be a remarkable story, a book where music could be experienced through the written word and where colour could be heard.

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As happens with similar narratives, I was seduced by the intimate disclosures revealed on this family line.  Coleman’s life, love of music and connection with water were woven through memory and the life of his father, Dorian. Given my years living on the edge of Georgian Bay, I also found the setting of the Great Lakes to be nostalgic in its description.  I’ve not spent time in Chicago or Detroit, but I can imagine these places, based on movies, media and books.

This review is my favourite and expresses my sense of the book.

“Joseph Coulson’s second novel, Of Song and Water, concerns a jazz musician coming to endings: a career on the skids because of hands that can no longer make the chords he needs; a boat, falling apart and weighted with memories of his father, and of his father’s father before him (both men casting long shadows); a divorce; a former love he walked away from for his music; and a daughter preparing to leave for school.”

Throughout the writing, there is evidence of an intimate understanding of Jazz…and sections that describe Otis and others in performance, are rich with the detail and process of the genre.

I am very happy that I came upon this book, quite by accident.  It was a rich and generous piece of writing.  There were many surprising moments for me.  Again, I like the intimacy of language and I am a kook about description.  This wouldn’t be a book for everyone, but really appealed to my taste.

“Coulson moves fluidly between the past and the present, and the novel is ultimately quiet, affecting and redemptive.”

Of Song and Water

 

 

 

 

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Okay…so, I’ve been really bad about archiving my reading or even rating books on Goodreads, a habit I wanted to get into for some unknown reason.  In my 60s, I have no explanations for what I choose to do or how I prioritize.  I hope that I come to some clarity on that when I begin reading, along with my sister-friend Karen, The Spirituality of Age: A Seeker’s Guide to Growing Older by Robert L. Weber, Ph.D and Carol Orsborn, Ph.D.  There has to be SOME sort of explanation for my present state of mind and the strange rituals that guide my life right now.

I’m going to begin by reviewing my most recently-completed book…I qualify this because I had three going at the same time.  The Naturalist by Alissa York is still waiting on my bedside table…40 pages left to go on that one.

H is for Hawk is my most recent ‘favourite’ book.  I fall in love with a lot of books, but seriously, this one closely follows The Diviners by Margaret Laurence, as a book that will impact me for a very long time.  The reviews seem to be mostly-positive…but, this wasn’t my experience at my Calgary Public Library book discussion!

For reasons that I won’t go into, I left the book discussion group I attended for over a year at the Forest Lawn Library.  Quickly, I went in search of something else and found the group at the Fish Creek Library.  I already had the title on my book shelf, surrendered by my daughter when she put it down on the dining table and said, “This is just a strange book…you can read it if you want.”  So, I fired my way through H is for Hawk, completing it in five nights and two day-time sessions.  It was/is breathtaking

I really enjoyed the book discussion and I’m very happy with how that discussion was moderated as well as how respectful the conversation was.  Yeah!  Only two of us enjoyed the book, while the majority found it a real chore to read.

I realized, during my reading of the book, that the writer, at the loss of her father, lived a similar journey of grief to my own.  She was circling her pond, metaphorically-speaking, just as I was at the loss of my mother.  I have very-much entered into nature more deeply as a strategy of coping during these past five years.  Everything that Macdonald wrote about her experience resonated with me.  I found it refreshing to see someone so exacting about her response to the Goshawk, Mable…her relationship to/with the landscape…her withdrawal from human connection and her obsession with history, books and the hunt.  I found her book liberating.

Given the complexity of the book, I will read it again and likely, again…it would be very arrogant to think that I could contain its power in a simple post here.  I strongly recommend the book, although I wouldn’t recommend it to some of my besties as they know what sort of books I adore and they are not usually things that would appear on their own favourite book lists.  I don’t know.  Suffice it to say, that I found it to be delicious.  The author is a beautiful writer.

H is for Hawk

Creator: Camilla Cerea Information extracted from IPTC Photo Metadata

 

Alberta Culture Days in Claresholm!

Donning my orange shirt, I got Max out for a quick walk on city sidewalks, dropped him home to a delicious breakfast (yeah, right?) and hopped in the car for a road trip to Claresholm, Alberta.  My friend-descendants of British Home Children were gathering for a display opportunity in the Claresholm Exhibition Hall and I really wanted to join them.  Yesterday was the first National British Home Child Day and I felt very pleased for the recognition and the remembrances that were shared yesterday by descendants who had grown up with mystery, secrets and shame around their ancestry.  I think that the disconnect from any roots at all is likely the most upsetting aspect of growing up in home child culture…very few children ever found solace in a relationship with siblings or Mom or Dad.  There was a helplessness there, a disconnect and a sense of true abandonment, often in powerlessness against abuse of all sorts.

In Canada, so many years later, families are hard at work, trying to unearth unspoken histories and share narratives that have been revealed via contact with the people who continue to house the files and reports on our ancestral family.  At a price and with great patience, piece by piece, we are all discovering who our people were, though most will discover that, at a point, the information will drop off.  Never did our ancestors show up on a Canadian census unless they were working as domestics in very wealthy homes.  I know that I have not found my great grandfather on any binding document between ages 13 and 21.  Those eight years are gone, although the families under which he was employed are well-documented in the foot prints of time.

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On a lighter note, I was so pleased to find Bruce and Connie, Hazel and John gathered before a beautiful display.  Hazel worked very hard to establish our representation at the open house and I have much gratitude for her efforts and her lovely display.  I appreciate that Bruce collected both Connie and John for the afternoon drive on such a cold and blustery day.  And I thank Bruce for the lovely addition to our Western Canadian collection, the poster featuring our new logo.  Excellent.

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Although I have other photographs of my four friends, I enjoy the fact that John Vallance’s true personality is showing through here and that Connie is taking it all in.  If any of you would like a more formal photograph for your files, just contact me.

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The woman who did the physical work here…and a visionary for BHC in the west, our Hazel Perrier.

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The program that the Claresholm museum hosted was fabulous!  I want to thank the town and its people who extended their hospitality.  I know that it was a cold and grey day, but the events and the people created a warm and happy experience for all in attendance.  I really enjoyed the sincere presentation/words and hoop dance performed by Sandra Lamouche. Due to lighting, very few of my photographs give justice to her performance and I hope that my readers will take a look at her website.

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At a point, Bruce, Connie and I went for a cup of tea in a neighbouring restaurant and we enjoyed a very yummy lunch.  It was nice to catch up with Bruce and Connie.  They are great people and I am so happy that they are in my life, with a common interest of family research and history.  I also had the opportunity to wander both the exhibition hall and the museum.  There is nothing like a focused wander through a museum, especially one with an RCAF display!  I enjoyed conversations with two ‘hookers’ who produce amazing works in the tradition of East Coast hooking and a lady who descends from family in Norway.  Very interesting stories and generous contributions!

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When I pulled out of my parking spot to head home at 4:30, I could still hear the ringing of beautiful music coming out of the concert tent.  Today was a perfect day and I’m grateful for the opportunity to enjoy another Alberta Culture Day.

Remember…please…Leave NO CHILD BEHIND!

Hazel, John, Kath, Bruce, Connie

 

Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage

My friend, Pat, has an astonishing way of discovering new and wonderful places to visit around Calgary.  My tendency is to always say “YES” when an invitation comes my way from Pat because, in the end, I learn something new and see something fascinating.  So, when I received an e mail to travel south to Nanton and to see the Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage, I was keen.  Included in the experience would be a lovely and reasonably-priced brunch served up by Brown’s Catering and live music under a tent (although we all agreed the musician of the day might have turned down the mic…just a little).  As well, we then strolled about and admired the gardens and the buildings.  Delightful!

We could not have had a nicer day…a huge open sky and golden canola fields in full bloom created a backdrop of magic. The drive was filled with our usual enthusiastic banter and that always makes the miles fly by.  Gail, Mary, Pat and I embraced the visit and the views.  It was an exceptional time.  I’ve been digging myself out of a period of sadness, despondency and disconnect.  I am grateful for dear friends who have stuck with me through the malady, and anticipate, as I do, better days.  What can be more healing than amazing sky, flowers and forever-friendship. Thank you, Pat.

Click on individual photographs, in order to have a better look.

 

Thanks to Gail who hosted a further debrief at her home in High River.  I appreciate the hospitality and it was so wonderful to see you again.

The Copper King Mansion

On our short list of things to do in Butte, Ramona and I took a tour of the home of William Andrew Clark, a spectacular building known as The Copper King Mansion.  We took a little sit in the back yard before touring and had a visit with one of the current residents of the house.

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The mansion is used as a bed & breakfast, as well as an opportunity to learn, through tours, about local mining history and architecture, but having read reviews on Trip Advisor, I get the idea that this duo-function sometimes makes the bed and breakfast operation a little awkward for guests.  I can’t imagine sleeping overnight in a place that houses so many ornate knick-knacks and has every surface covered with historical archives.  Apparently, the best time to use the space as a Bed & Breakfast is on the off-season because you would not have to abandon the space in order to accommodate tours.  I’m glad we were there for the tour.

I was most impressed by the wood and the architectural detail throughout the home, as well as the stories given about this family and their power and wealth, not just locally, but internationally.

The entryway.  With diffused lighting and no flash, some of these photos are sketchy, but my readers will get the idea.

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Hand-painted ceiling murals are original to the home.

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This is the shower.  Really?

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The top floor serves as a museum of a wide variety of contents.  One of these dresses was owned/worn by the original mistress of the house, but I’m forgetting which one.

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Spectacles served for eye exams…below.  Cool.

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Our tour guide…still relying on notes…ended up chilling about half way through the tour when she realized we were going to go easy on her. lol

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You can see that I took many photographs of things that we discovered in the top floor.  I really wondered about the collections of Catholic vestments and treasured items.  I wondered how they found themselves in this spot.  “After Clark and his second wife passed on, the mansion was inherited by Clark’s son, who liked to gamble. Uh Oh! The mansion was sold to an outside person, who sold all the existing furniture that was in the mansion. After becoming this owner’s private residence, the mansion was eventually sold to the Catholic church and it became a home for the town’s Catholic nuns, who turned part of the top floor into a chapel, in the rooms off the ballroom area. The nuns didn’t appreciate the fresco which was painted on the ceiling of the master bedroom, so they painted over it. The mansion was put back on the market when the nuns moved out some years later, and stood vacant for 3 years.”

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A penguin collection…of all things.

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A doll collection.

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This ‘fishing’ pattern of dishes was said to have been original to the Clark home.

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As we departed, our friend was busy picking out dandelions before the rain.

Apparently there is a renewed interest in the old mansion because of “a scandal over the fortune of reclusive mining heiress Huguette Clark.”

Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Mineral Museum in Butte

I have yet to complete my archive of events celebrated with Ramona in Montana this summer.  We headed into Butte, on our way to Boulder Hot Springs.  Back in the day, Ramona attended what is now called Montana Tech Campus.  Ramona can not possibly step into nature without stooping to pick up a rock.  I’m pretty much the same way.  So, with geology being one of our common passions, we ended up in the Mineral Museum.

Honestly, I haven’t seen anything like it.  And because my photographs hardly capture the space, I hope that my readers will visit the link provided above.  I took photographs of some of my favourites.

I remained very ‘present’ on the short campus walk, enjoying the feeling that I was sharing a space that was once home to my High School bestie.  This space was like an old friend to Ramona and she knew these treasures so well.  I’m grateful that she had a chance to share all of it with me.

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Don’t Give Up…

…without a fight.

Have you ever been put in a situation…or put yourself in a situation…where you lose control, completely.  You find yourself cornered/humiliated/vulnerable/speechless?  You lose your voice?  Loud voices are coming at you.  You see mouths moving and eyes wide open.  But, you really don’t hear a word that the voices are projecting.  You want to catch up on the conversation and what is happening, but you are so shocked that you’re NOT SAFE, that you are deemed useless, defenseless and feel only things in your body?  Oh. I’m sweating.  Oh, my heart is pounding.  Oh. Am I going to throw up?  Am I going to cry?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what is going on in a world where this is allowed to happen.  We become enraged when we remember these collective experiences happening historically, in the unbelievable and horrific impacts of colonization and slavery, of racist and immoral conduct in war.  (Presently watching the Netflix series on Vietnam, with my son.  Watch the entire series, beginning with French colonization…see what atrocities happened there.) We are shocked and freaked out when it happens on the world stage in the forum of politics, religion and foreign policy. (I can’t even name all such horrors.)

The strong prey on others.

The privilege of power; whether that is white or big or strong or conservative or educated or rich…the privilege of power is a demon in the face of building relationship or building community or building trust.

The second clutch of sparrows was attacked on the hottest day of summer.  It might have been a Magpie or a Crow.  I wasn’t home to see the events.  The Crow and the Magpie have youngsters to feed…their aggression is without thought for kindness, but for survival.  That’s the difference between human beings and Crows.  We can choose to communicate kindly, even in the face of conflict.  It is our moral imperative to do so.

Mr.  did not give up without a fight.  How do I know this?  Because his feathers show the scars of the attempt to protect his youngsters.  Mr. and Mrs. have grieved at the empty vent these past two days.

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I ask myself if I had stayed home from book club, would things have turned out differently.  Maybe not.

 

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I met Bruce during my years painting LIVE at Calgary’s Gorilla House.  Bruce was a fixture there because he settled into a studio where, every Wednesday night, I would go and have a short gab and look at his work in progress.  I never left his space without a belly laugh, although sometimes I had to sort out the kind of humour that was forever-floating around his space.  More than not, I was laughing at things that weren’t funny…it was the delivery that was stellar.  I think that Bruce is a bit of a wordsmith.  He plays with words and as a result you are left, most of the time, not knowing what the heck he is saying.  He is laughing all the while.

An example would be found on the banner of his own website.  The guy was born in Jamaica.  Who knew?  And his introduction reads like this…

Large Up, Mawga Bwoy!

 

What did I tell you? Right?

I wrote a short post about him in 2013 because he was celebrating a solo show at Gorilla House.  There was something so special about those years…painting together, sharing in long conversations and celebrating art, but especially art-making.

In 2015, I purchased a little piece by Bruce out of his studio.  I had seen Bruce’s funtastical art going out the door every Wednesday night at auction, for as long as I could remember, but the opportunity to bid and win hadn’t happened for me.  I loved this whimsical little piece, Think Outside the Fish.

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Do you know what you discover when someone is super funny?  You discover that maybe they’re a little shy…just like you are.  I think that’s the way with Bruce Robertson.  Over time, I’ve learned that I’m an introvert who is functioning as an extrovert…does that make sense?  I think that Bruce is just that way…however, we haven’t ever spoken about it, mostly because we’re feeling the same way. lol  But…none of that matters.  Let’s get on with the story.

This guy was born.

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To this family.

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And…it had come time to think about my Grandson’s first Christmas.  I’ve always been a collector of art and I wanted to set this young man on the path of also being a collector.  I thought if I was to commission an artist, who would it be?  Well…in pondering that magical world of the womb and the discoveries to be had once leaving that nest, I very much thought about a song that I enjoyed as I considered my first-born, Little Seahorse by Bruce Cockburn.

As well, Erin and Doug had made a playlist for Erin’s birthing day and in the collection was the Beatle’s tune, An Octopus’s Garden.  Second to that, in my Grandson’s first eight months, he has wound down for sleep time, reading the story, Raffi’s Baby Beluga, illustrated beautifully by Ashley Wolff.

Insert Music Here.

 

Putting all of this together, I wanted an artwork that reflected an undersea world that would include a portrait of my Grandson…something that would grow with him through every age…something that would be of modest size and might travel with him as his world becomes larger.

The artist for the job…Bruce Robertson!  I contacted Bruce, realizing full-well, that I knew very little about him, apart from the magical characters that he created in his work, his fearlessness and his inclusion of text.  I messaged him via his Instagram account, mgbrobertson.

HE SAID HE’D DO IT!  YEAH!!

We met in a grocery store parking lot…we exchanged hugs and I realized how perfect this man was.  I’m so excited that he helped make the magic for our sweetheart’s first Christmas.  I’m hoping that one day Bruce will take my grandson mountain biking (Who better to teach him about the trails?)…it would be such a fantastic manifestation of magic!  We’ll see how it all plays out.

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I’ve ripped off a screen shot of Bruce’s website’s ABOUT section.  I hope that if my readers need something amazing done…website? painting? collage? or if you want to discuss some other creative project, you will be in touch with him!  Bruce’s late interests are in 3D modelling and animation. A combination of software is used: After Effects, Photoshop, Blender 3D, Maxon Cinema 4D Lite, etc. Self-taught in Blender 3D and Cinema 4D Lite by taking online courses at uDemy.com.

Bruce has a child-like disposition and is trapped in a man’s body. Bruce can do awesome skids on his mountain bike. https://www.instagram.com/mgbrobertson/

Another good friend of ours, Red Dot’s photographer, Aaron McCullough, did the photograph.

Bruce home page website

Thank you, Bruce for being such a wonderful part of Christmas 2017!

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