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!

DSC_0476GorgeousDSC_0475

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.

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.

DSC_0267

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

singing and group 4 Two

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…

singing

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.

DSC_0254

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

 

Wordfest and Meeting Kyo

Sitting behind me in the Big Secret Theater, this afternoon, Beth stood and as we were both putting on our coats, asked, “Did you see the Into the Quiet session this morning?”

I responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

From there, I went on about how I had read the book by Kyo Maclear, Birds Art Life in early spring…February…and she shuffled through her phone to show me a photograph that she had posted to all of her friends in April.

This is Beth’s photograph and it speaks quite loudly of the magic found in the pages of Kyo’s book.

Kyo

Beth and I, I felt, had an immediate connection as she shared the utter joy of watching birds at her feeder and about the fact that she wishes to gift her friends this book.  I utterly agree about the magic of this writing and heartily recommend it to others.

I booked my tickets for two sessions only this year at Wordfest, and both because Kyo Maclear was a panelist.  One was titled In the Quiet and the other, Bionic Women Writers. I had no intentions of picking up any other book, but brought Kyo’s in my purse so that I would take opportunity for a signing and maybe a short conversation.

The following photographs are a tad (understated) unfocused…but, that’s okay, right?

IMG_20171014_100610_807[1]

Snipped directly out of the Wordfest archives…no sense in me writing all of the biographical details again…will just link back.  That’s alright, right?

Stories of solitude, difference, survival, and winter. Listen as these four authors share their books about what it means to be alone, but not necessarily lonely, in the modern world. This event is hosted by Jeremy Klaszus.

First of all, the host, Jeremy, was fantastic!  Follow THIS LINK to read a little about Jeremy.  The flow to the panel was spectacular.  In fact, I have to say that I felt this was the most magical session I have attended for its connection.

I haven’t read anything by Michael Finkel, but he has interviewed and written about Christopher Knight.  I purchased my own copy of The Stranger in the Woods, after hearing a very provocative reading and interesting panel discussion on solitude.  I have respect for Michael’s approach to research on this one and his respect for the process.

The Stranger in the Woods (Michael Finkel)

Many people dream of escaping modern life, but most will never act on it. The Stranger in the Woods is the remarkable true story of a man who lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years, making this dream a reality not out of anger at the world, but simply because he preferred to live on his own.

This is a gripping story of survival that asks fundamental questions about solitude, community and what makes a good life, and a deeply moving portrait of a man who was determined to live his own way, and succeeded.

This next one gave me shivers.  Reading from his chapter, The Failing Body, I was captivated, based on personal experience as it relates to my own loved ones and their health.  I think that all of the authors reached deeply into my heart this morning because for the past ten years, while still surrounded by my loved ones and friends, I am in a constant relationship to/with solitude.  The title of Michael’s book, i A Singular Life in a Crowded World will most likely support a lot of my views on life and love and time and presence.  I had a lovely chat with Michael at book signing time.  It meant a lot to me that even in this case, he was completely present to me.

Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World (Michael Harris)

The capacity to be truly alone is one of life’s subtlest skills. Real solitude allows us to reflect and recharge, improving our relationships with ourselves and, paradoxically, with others. Today, though, the zeitgeist embraces sharing like never before. Fueled by our dependence on social media, we have created an ecosystem of obsessive distraction that dangerously undervalues solitude. Harris examines why our experience of solitude has become so impoverished, and how we may grow to love it again in our digital landscape.

Kyo’s contributions to the panel discussion, as well as her selected readings, continued to support my true connection with the lessons that are written down into the pages of her book and lived out during her time journeying with a bird-watching musician, Jack Breakfast, in the city of Toronto.  An awesome read!  Do it!

Birds Art Life (Kyo Maclear)

In 2012, Maclear met a local Toronto musician with a captivating side passion — he had recently lost his heart to birds. Curious about what prompted this young urban artist to suddenly embrace nature, Kyo decided to follow him for a year and find out.

Intimate and philosophical, moving with ease between the granular and the grand, this touching memoir is about disconnection — how our passions can buckle under the demands and emotions of daily life — and about reconnection: how the act of seeking passion and beauty in small ways can lead us to discover our most satisfying life.

Clea Roberts, living on the edge of Whitehorse, Yukon…on an acreage that opens up to a huge expanse of forest, shared three poems that caused me to shiver in my seat.  The images were so exact, the phrasing was so perfect…I am so grateful that tonight I am able to hold the book, Auguries.  Not only were the readings beautiful, but the substance of what Clea had to say.  I was moved by her perceptions…about wood burning…about the dark river’s edge.  Moving!

Ancient auguries, Clea explained, were the result of knowledge/insights gained by the practice of ancient seers, drawing imaginary grids in a part of the sky and then observing the birds that moved in and out of that particular space, their numbers, their behaviours…

I feel as though all of these writers touched upon a bit of my heart that holds on so tightly to my mother…her memory…the responsibility I feel to keep her alive in other loved ones’ memories.  Grief is a journey that must be allowed.

Just this morning, I looked down at the socks that I put on my feet.  At my mother’s passing four years ago, while packing, I rolled up all of my mother’s socks and brought them home to Calgary.  They had been snipped at the ankles by my father, with scissors.  My mother’s ankles were swollen.  Of a bag load of socks, after four years, there are only two pair remaining.  I speak to my mother when I put my socks on in the morning…most mornings they are not, any longer, her socks.  Something in Clea’s poems brought my mother’s socks to mind…something that Kyo said…the look in Michael Harris’s eyes…and the words that Michael Fickel wrote into his book for me to find later.

I can’t write about the session titled Bionic Women Writers at the moment…about seeing Melanie…about any of it.  I just have to step back for a little while.  Maybe pour a glass of wine.  Maybe Skype with my father.  James has taken Max for a walk.

Auguries (Clea Roberts)

Whether speaking of erotic love, domestic life, spiritual wilderness or family entanglements, the poems of Auguries, the much-anticipated second collection from Yukon poet Clea Roberts, are saturated with their northern landscape. With poems like single larches, each in an immense white plain spare and clean, their exactness startling and arresting, Roberts showcases her sensitivity and skill in this profound collection.

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In the end, I was thrilled with all of the authors in both sessions.  Must reads…for sure…Bionic Women Writers…and other perceptions to come.

 

The Boy and Me: Nature-ing

*ALERT:  This post ended up much longer than I anticipated…but, beautiful places, so make sure that you scroll down to the photographs!

This summer, I stayed around town.  There are still so many places I haven’t been…and, there are also beautiful places that I want to return to again and again.  I know that there are a lot of people who put up their noses about Calgary.  But, for me, Calgary is home and the access we have to genuinely wonderful experiences is right at our fingertips, should we wish to partake.  Because of the circumstances of early summer, I had opportunity to do a little bit of exploring with my son.  Before they disappear into the dark hole that is my desktop photo archive, I’m going to bring these snippets up to the surface.  And then, I’m heading out to the pond with Max.

McKinnon Flats.

“Archaeologists of Lifeways of Canada Limited have been contracted by Alberta Culture and Tourism to find out about early settlement at McKinnon Flats.  They’re part of Culture and Tourism’s three-year Post-Flood Investigation Program, which was initiated to record the effects of the June 2013 southern Alberta flood on archaeological and palaeontological sites along rivers such as the Bow, Highwood, Sheep and Kananaskis.  As a result of the program, 100 new archaeological sites were identified and additional information was gathered at 87 sites that had been recorded prior to the flood.  Many of these sites were found eroding from the riverbanks, with some in need of investigation before they disappeared entirely.

The McKinnon Flats site is one of these locations. Although it had been previously recorded in 1971, no-one realized that it contained deeply buried cultural deposits.  As a result of the 2013 flood, however, a ten metre strip from the front of the site’s river terrace was removed, leaving a 400 metre exposure in the river bank that contained cultural evidence. This evidence included broken bison bone, large stone choppers and rock that had been heated and cracked in a fire. Among the eroding finds were the remains of a boiling pit that had probably been used to cook meat and process bone marrow in a skin-lined pit dug in the ground.  Evidence of the pit was found in the form of almost 100 heated “fire-broken” rocks that were eroding from one of the riverbank exposures. Between the time the pit was observed in 2014 and the site was excavated in 2016, however, all evidence has been completely eroded.”

It was at this location that my son and I did a beautiful-weather-day hike and shared in a Spoloumbo’s picnic sandwich on the river bank.  A spectacular day!

Frank Lake

Frank Lake is located in the foothills fescue prairie ecoregion. The lake is a hemi-marsh, which means it roughly has the same area of open water as there is emergent vegetation. Vegetation includes mostly hardstem bulrushsago pondweedRichardson’s pondweed, and northern waterfmilfoil. The lake and its surrounding upland areas attracts many species of birds. Waterfowl and shorebirds and other birds use the lake for staging during migration, and nesting. Some birds that can be seen here include: tundra swantrumpeter swanCanada goosenorthern pintailFranklin’s gullring-billed gullCalifornia gullcommon ternshort-eared owleared grebemarbled godwitlong-billed dowitcherblack-crowned night-heron, and black-necked stiltBirdwatching is a popular activity.

The drive to Frank Lake was very relaxing, as was the walk on well-worn pathways.  Along the way, we only met two other people, so it really did give me the sense of getting away from the city and relaxing into nature.  Highly recommend!  Not to be confused with my daily pond walking at Frank’s Flats.

Nose Hill Park

I really want to get out to hike all of the pathways from all directions to the top of Nose Hill Park.  It is such a spiritually charged place!  It’s always been on my bucket list, but, living in the deep south of the city, I had to drive there, with intention and finally it happened!

The Leighton Center...I always take friends and family here.  Most of all, because of the huge dramatic view.  I feel the best of everything that is foothills living, when I visit the Leighton Center.  On this visit, I enjoyed the appearance of several Mountain Blue Birds.  I felt really excited about that.  The smoke from the growing forest fires to the west began to cloak the mountains in the distance.

Ptarmigan Cirque

Pretty much an annual hike…breathtaking for its pretty immediate views…a place to take visitors to Calgary because of the expedient pleasure in the mountains, with very little exertion.

Custom Woolen Mills

On this particular day, I had convinced my young adult children to drive out to the Dancing Goats farm, just a short distance from the Woolen Mills.  I thought that we would be able to visit the goat farm, but, was mistaken.  In fact, the owners were in the city dropping off product to a number of retail locations.  I spoke with one of them on the telephone, from the small town of Acme.

Instead, we ended up taking country roads to go to the Custom Woolen Mills.  I was happy that Ruthie was in the gift shop, so I got a wee visit with her and had a chance to take my daughter and son into the mill.  I feel so connected to the place.  I love it more and more every time I make the drive.

I also met the Artist in Residency…an amazing artist and knitter…I’ll just have to go back into my writing and figure out her name.

 

It appears that I had some amazing experiences this past summer, most of them shared with Cayley and James.  I realize that in this process of “Falling Out of Order”, there was an awful lot going on.  But, for this lovely Thanksgiving afternoon, and with a pond walk and a large plate of turkey leftovers under my belt, I realize that it is time that I settle down to mark some narrative writings by grade four and five students.

Whenever I go through the process of archiving the experiences I enjoy in surrounding areas of Calgary, I realize how blessed I am. Yes.  It’s possible to travel the world over.  But, sometime it’s a blessing to realize what treasures lie very close to you, treasures to be uncovered.  Today, I feel grateful.

Painting With Kids Outdoors on a Windy Day!

As I continue with my “My Life Falls Out of Order” series of posts…I still find little nuggets in my archives about teaching, music, nature and art moments that I wish to put in some form of reflection.

Not much to say about this one that the photographs won’t explain, but, it all began with good intentions.  When the weather is nice and the year is grinding to a close, it’s nice to get students outdoors as much as is possible.  These experiences can be based on curriculum; you just need to think it through.

So, of course, I head outside to paint.  There is a tradition of painting landscape called en plein air…if good for the Impressionists, why not for children?  Any grade…

When painting a mural, it is the teacher’s greatest responsibility to share with students the idea behind collaboration and elevation of the group’s efforts over the familiar experience of elevating the self.  Well before a project such as a group mural, lessons need to focus on the personality of line quality and the very specialization of mark making.  In a group mural, it is explained, it is important to share your marks in a variety of locations.  This will lead to a more successful piece, in that Unity will be accomplished through the weaving of many personal approaches to colour, design and line.

And…when the wind blows, just revise the initial plan.  Don’t get sad about a splatter, enjoy the impact of elements upon the collective result.

Lost on Range Roads!

Alright…so, I threw my meatballs together and when they were piping hot, packed up my wine glass and my bottle and my meatballs and headed for Custom Woolen Mills.  There was a big accident south bound on highway 2…I did a bit of a rubber neck there, but once that was long gone, I couldn’t believe it when I kept driving north on the highway, past the Carstairs turn off.  For a moment, there was panic…I didn’t want to really drive so far as the Didsbury exchange, but, finally resigned myself to going north for a bit and finding my way back to the mills on country roads.  When I go on a road trip, I find it so relaxing.  There is nothing better than enjoying the landscape and the wide open sky of Alberta.

Light was fading, but still there, as I headed east on whatever-its-called.  I knew that I needed to find the 791 to go south.  Hmmm…overshot that by a good 20 kms…but, not before my Spidey senses told me to go south anyway, on some range road or other…I asked myself, “How bad can it get?”  These range roads are all numbered…I’m sure I’ll zig zag my way there, eventually.  In the meantime, I enjoyed viewing a beautiful owl and many grazing deer, some with very large racks…I even considered pulling off for photo-moments, but thought, “No, you really have to get there…”  I spotted a sign for Linden somewhere on the way.  “Now, that sounds like some place I’ve heard about before…”  And on and on I went, feeling like Milo in his little car, lifted right out of the pages of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

Never mind…dangit…the sun was slipping down fast.  It might be that I have to do that thing I don’t like doing.  “I need to back track.”  Heading west, the sun was blinding, as it peeked out at eye level from behind the pink clouds.  I thought to myself, “Now, don’t race…watch your way…you can find that 791…just notice.”  And I did…some miles later, I turned east again and then just needed to hook up with 272.  That, too, was a little shaky….the cattle, munching away to the north of me seemed to be snickering.  But that was likely all in my imagination.  From a distance, on the narrow (soft) dirt road, I saw the familiar silhouette of the mill on the horizon…I saw the warm lights…and said out loud, “I’m home.”

Entering in to the mill, Ruth’s voice was reaching above everything.  The audience was spell bound.  Displays of woolen things were to the left.  Lots of people were knitting.  “I love this place.  I love the smell.”  At the edge of the display created with works by Artist-in-residence, Sylvia Olsen, sat a Golden Fleece wool blanket, brought as a gift to Fenn by my new friend, Leah.  I felt nothing but happiness about being at the mill, bathed in love.

I poured myself a glass of wine…rustled up a plate of pot luck food (nothing better) and snapped a few photographs.  This morning, as I think back, I’m grateful for life and love and friendship.  Thanks to all of the folks at the mill for hosting such a wonderful event.

Some of My Favourite People

Ascension Sunday was beautiful in so many ways.  Bishop Emeritus Frederick Henry was with us for the celebration of the Mass.  As much as being a part of this family has, at times, been a struggle, it feels as though I am home with my community when I share in the Mass with so many friends.  Sometimes in today’s world, we can be very MEcentric and I find that I am able to quiet that and really focus on ‘the other’ when I am in community. I sometimes wonder how the human family will look back on the world that we are creating and what our part in history will be.  I lifted prayers and offered up this Mass, in particular, for people in my life who have medical struggles and for my children.  From Mass, I stepped out into a gorgeous-weather day and decided to make my circle of the pond, with Max before anything else.

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I booked up the afternoon with a create! workshop at Wendy’s…a session co-delivered with Ruth Purves Smith, needle felting and wet felting, forgetting that I was also committed to attending Indigenous dance led by Jess McMann.  Sigh… I opted to head out to Lakeview, as I knew I planned to visit my YaYa at the Foothills Hospital afterwards.

The afternoon was glorious, back yard crafting with beautiful and engaged creatives. The birds were chirping and singing and bathing, all the while.  Ginger snaps and ice cold lemonade were served as we went about learning to make dryer balls, wet felting and creating lovely artworks.  A great way to spend the afternoon!  Thank you, Wendy and Ruth.

Not only is Ruth a huge advocate for the Custom Woolen Mills, she is a heart-filled musician and huge song writer and story teller!  I hang out with amazing people!

In conclusion, kits were put together and I was eager to get over to the hospital and my friend, to see if she would be able to try felting.

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It was a joy to watch my YaYa, sit outdoors in the shade of Foothills Hospital and manage some felting.  I will bring the project that she began along with me on my next visit and bit by bit, she can construct something beautiful.  Best she not poke her finger with one of those needles!  The day was so much brighter because I was able to hang out with her and to see the progress she has made in her healing.  Four months later, she is a strong and inspiring fighter!  Her husband is equally inspiring because he has been selfless and supportive through this very unique journey.  They are, together, an inspiring couple.

I spent the evening on my own…a little putzing in the garden…some more walking with Max…some texting with my daughter who had entered a song-writers competition.  She got to chat it up with one of my favourite Alberta song writers, Joe Nolan, and so I will aptly conclude this post with one of his tunes.

The day was a ‘Ballad of Some Sort”.  (Changed my mind…but, YouTube it!) Instead, River Ends. Both Ruth and Joe deliver music in wool socks.  I think song-writers who perform in sock feet are generally good people.

Thanks, Wendy Lees, for being a beautiful person!  Thanks to you, Ruth…for sharing the joy of creation with me, again.  Such warmth and generosity!

Love Art in Calgary Tours

Wendy Lees

Ruth Purves Smith

 

 

IS-ness

Through the kind invitation of a dear friend, I ended up at the Calgary Catholic Retired Teachers Spring Luncheon at the Calgary Elk’s Club the day following my birthday. Thank you to Ruth, Pat and Emelia for the gracious planning.  I felt so blessed by the renewed connections and the warm embrace of the educators in my circle.  It was an absolutely magical afternoon.

Sitting on my right, was Joan.  In 1979, weeks after the birth of my first child, I took a bus from Lethbridge to Calgary, to interview with this person.  Little did I know, at that time, what a powerful inspiration Joan would become, in my teaching, but also in my way of seeing life and the world…visually…but, in so many other ways.

Last Tuesday…she gave me something more to think about….IS-NESS…the experience of being completely present in this moment.  It’s common to talk about the optimal state of ‘being’, living for this moment only.  There are many ‘gurus’ among us. “There is no past.  There can be no future.  There is only ‘now’.” These run the risk of becoming mere platitudes.  I think we all know what’s really going on…and it’s what the world is telling us is important, not what we know to be important. (sorry to be speaking for all of us here…maybe I’m wrong)

During my life, I’ve driven forward more than anything.  In youth, I thought that I needed more.  I set huge goals for myself. The wheels were in spin and forward I drove!  (when I type the word, DROVE,  an image comes up for me…a huge wind pressing at my face and the full weight of my body pushing against it). I dedicated myself to the work of that…the industry of that.  I taught full days, but didn’t wind down, painting well into the night and rising early in the morning.  I tasted what the FUTURE might be, but never really grasped it.

At some point, I opened the door, and rolled out of the speeding vehicle that was the life I had created and landed safely beside the freeway traveled by all of those around me. For the first time, I noticed what ‘other people’ were doing while I was painting, teaching and raising three children. I looked at my life through the rear view mirror and came to a lurching halt. I saw, for the first time, what it meant to stop….not to slow down, but to stop.

I am not writing this post, in judgement of my choices in youth.  If one looks at the accomplishments of ‘the greats’, one knows that their achievements came to be through commitment, dedication and mostly, sacrifice.  It is no wonder that I spent most of my life seeking success, recognition, accomplishment, production, money. These are the false promises of the human construct.

I am listening to Chris Cornell’s album, Higher Truth, as I type.  I just listened with a new ear to the song, Dead Wishes. While it is not for me to question why, at the age of 52, he took his life, it is for me to explore what it is in this human heart…every heart…that aches, struggles and seeks to be MORE.

One blessing of my life was to sit down with my children and gather for Sunday dinner; another, to seek to communicate and connect. I was rich for the opportunity to see, write, learn and experience art, music and performance…for the opportunity to be still with nature, make observations through all of my senses.  Joy came with walking my dogs, Max-man and Laurie-dog before him.  It came with sitting in the church when it was quiet.  Gratitude came with writing a poem. Magic was to hold my mother’s hand when she slept, warm under her blankets, her Buddy-dog curled into the circle of her back.  Freedom was and continues to be to turn on my favourite music and to paint in my studio, in the same way that the other might dance, with no one watching…for me alone.  IS-NESS….articulated by a dear friend.

(of course, I came home and looked through my documentation of years gone by…the photographs, mere snapshots of times shared…so much wisdom and joy contained in the flashes of light)

I was hired on with Calgary Catholic School District #1 in 1979.  My experiences for the following nine years at Holy Cross Elementary/Junior High were life changing.  This is where I learned the value of the person, above program.  To nurture a love for reading, learning, creating and self ultimately leads to enthusiasm for content, practice and consistent attendance.  I was blessed when opportunities in my career, led to both St. John Fine Art’s School and the Fine Art’s Center (in two different locations).  There, I met some of the most amazing people…educators who fearlessly impacted the district with the truth of the matter…and that is that experiences of art, music, drama and dance teach the brain in new ways, enhance all learning and create well-rounded human beings, prepared for a world that requires problem solving and new ways of seeing!  I went on to take everything I had learned to that point and participated in the opening of Cardinal Newman, a school in the deep south.  There, I continued to work as an advocate for the fine arts and to dream that they would be honoured within the curriculum.

In the following photographs, I’ve captured just a very small sampling of those educators, my mentors and friends. As Alberta is deliberating about and writing new curricula, I’m pleased to recall that I participated in the implementation of the art and drama curricula all those years ago.  It was wonderful to meet up again, with friends, and to share some stories…to speak of life and art and books and Is-ness.  Thank you.