January 19, 2020

I wasn’t going to write today, but here I am, a glass of Malbec to my right, and so much to think about.

Today would have been my brother’s 66th birthday. I turn 65 in May. He and I were so very close. It pains me that we didn’t share as much in our later years. He became a private man. Still, we made time to share good meals with friends. We enjoyed live music together. We were both very proud of our city. I love all of the growing-up memories of John. He was sometimes rebellious. He was robust. He was quite a live wire. I like the memories of him grilling steaks and burgers. He knew what he was doing there.

I have been thinking about John all week. Birthdays celebrated with families are so special. He should be here to celebrate with us. Now, he is ‘with us in spirit’. That’s something people say…but words like that just crack open my heart and cause it to bleed, all over again. I feel bad for people who try to make just the right remarks when you’ve lost someone you deeply love. I’ve often been one of those people. Let’s face it, there are no really helpful words. Best to just say ‘I’m sorry’. I don’t blame or judge people for things that they’ve tried to say. I know that their intentions are good. Grief does weird unbelievable things to a person. There’s no real understanding it. I miss John, though, every day…just as I miss my mother.

Family went out for lunch together. I liked being with John’s son. We were ‘hospice buddies’ and call ourselves that to this day. There’s no way that one can know what that experience is like until one might find themselves living it. I take a moment as I’m typing and lift a prayer for families who are in the midst of all of this. I take a moment and pray for the beautiful hearts who give palliative and then hospice care…and the nurses…the doctors. A tear drops.

Our family was the very best through the pain of losing John. If family does work. We did our best work through that time.

My grandson broke out into a lively version of happy birthday when he received his vanilla ice cream on dry ice. He even got the part about ‘Uncle Johnny’. His timing was impeccable. A Moxie’s lunch to celebrate my brother was the perfect choice.

From the lunch and our good-byes, I had to head right for the river. For one thing, the temperature was steadily moving up and was -11 when I pulled up in front of the house. I can clear my head at the river. Through John’s last months, I always felt uplifted while at the river’s edge, even on particularly difficult days.

I first walked along the bank in a north west direction. Across from me, the beauty and tranquility of deer and geese. After five days of -30 to -40 temperatures and a bad wind chill, it seemed that all of nature was breathing deeply in and breathing deeply out. Such a lovely thing. Interestingly enough, in the icy times of winter, I always notice that the deer consume the geese droppings. Such was the case today. Vegetation must be minimal by now and what better way to consume some nutrition! Nature cares for itself in so many different ways.

Once heading south on the path, I experienced the most remarkable moment! In a flash, a coyote rushed out of the tall grass and a deer bound into the frozen river. The coyote lurched to a stop on the very edge of the ice. I was frozen…couldn’t move…didn’t even think about capturing the moment on my camera. Too late, I recorded the deer’s challenging swim and its exit from the cold water. I watched until it found its way, some distance, up onto the bank. It wobbled on the ice and then bolted for the cover of the brush.

I was relieved but remember pausing to wonder how all of the beautiful creatures that inhabit the river valley manage to eek out a living.

Continuing on my hike, I was mindful that the coyotes are hungry. I figured that if one coyote came out of the brush, there were others. They work diligently together in order to eat, especially in these circumstances of frigid temperatures. Above me, to the left, I saw two. Do you want to observe a coyote? Listen for the Corvids (Magpies, Crows and Ravens) because all follow close behind the predators.

Sure enough.

I was pleased to observe this young beauty consuming something. It was either a rabbit or a pheasant. I could hear the pheasants articulating in the high brush as I made my way south. Looking closer, a Raven decided to peck away at the carcass.

Around this time, I bumped into Lloyd. I really can’t believe the distance he walks down in this same spot, in fact, he goes so far as to cross the ice to the island almost every day. He asked, in his jovial way, ‘Why he hadn’t seen me lately?’ And I told him that apart from one day during the deep freeze I came down to make my typical observations. He walked with me as far as the beaver dam. Together, we looked at the reflections on the smooth pond ice. He told me a story of skating ponds in his childhood….such magic! Walking, I told him about the incident with the deer. We parted ways. As he left, he said, “I hope you spot your eagles”.

The remainder of the walk was very peaceful. I thought that I might discover more deer, given that the stressed white tail flew out from this side of the river, but no sightings. Several beautifully large and articulating Ravens flew amongst the bare branches. All was magical. Then, as if from nowhere, the young Eagle appeared. I haven’t captured any really clear photographs, but I would guess that it was either one of the one year olds from last summer’s nest, or a two year old. Its colouring is getting to be mottled. One thing for certain, it wasn’t the Huntress, one that I expected to see. A Raven flew in and gave this youngster some company for a short while. Dad was no where to be seen.

This day was a beautiful day. Again, it reinforced the fact that life is filled to the brim with both beauty and brutality. We have no choice but to take it all and in whatever ways it makes its way to us. We can control the ways that we respond, but apart from that, we should always keep a Plan B in our back pockets.

Arriving back to the car, I cranked up the heat and checked my messages. Doug sent a link to a marvelous series of photographs. I think that the images exemplify everything I believe about nature, life and the wonder of it all.

If you have a chance, take a look.

Here at home, safe and warm, a friend from the river, fired off a message to me. I was eating from a hot bowl of stew at the time. The message was about a deer that was wounded and down, just beneath 130th Ave. She met Lloyd while out on her hike (love my network of river friends) and thought that this deer was possibly the character from my narrative. I will never know. Initially, I thought, by description, the deer was above the bank, but as the information became more clear, I learned that this deer is wounded and is out on the ice tonight. It would be an impossible thing for anyone to assist it tonight, impossible to keep it from its suffering. While this is upsetting to me and to my friends, we have sometimes no choice but to accept what we can’t control. I’m hoping that the coyotes/eagles are able to make good use of its sacrifice.

This, it turns out, was quite a day. Blessings to those of you who have sent wishes today. Blessings on my father.

The Clam Chowder Feast

Sidebar: To read up on how to make Rapure, see the post titled Comfort Food From the East.

Wendy Lees said it best…

“It took ages to coordinate our schedules but we finally all made it to the very inviting and interesting home of Kath for a delicious clam chowder feast, visit with Max, studio tour, and big catch up!

Along with the chowder, Kath treated us to Rappie, a traditional Acadian dish she recalled from her childhood. It’s made with shredded potatoes and fatty pork – yum! Tammy and Jas brought homemade pickles, spring flowers and a canned treat. Karen brought Red River bread she’d made, and we enjoyed Christmas baking brought all the way from Nova Scotia by Stephen made by his mom, Betty. Oh, and I didn’t get the memo about drinking at noon being OK but Lauraine brought vino from the Rockyridge growing region in Calgary’s NW.  Steven made the very same selection!

What a tasty and heartfelt meal. My only quibble with our gathering was there just wasn’t enough time to visit thoroughly with every one of these wonderful people ❤️”

I’m posting Karen’s bread recipe here.  It’s amazing! Red River Bread Photo Credit: Wendy Lees.

Red River Bread
Recipe
2 cups water
3/4 cup red river cereal
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup molasses
2 teaspoon salt
1 Teaspoon Sugar
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 package dry yeast (fast rising works great)
4 1/2 cups flour

Combine 2 cups water in pan with cereal. Boil then simmer 5 mins or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and add butter, molasses and salt. Cool completely.

Dissolve sugar in lukewarm water. Sprinkle yeast and proof for 10 minutes.

Combine yeast with cooled cereal mixture.

Using a wooden spoon mix in all of the flour to make a stiff dough.

Turn dough onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Form a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl, covering the whole ball with grease. Cover with wrap and let rise (can use oven to proof) for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until ball doubles in size.

Punch down dough. Turn onto floured surface and knead until smooth. Divide dough in half and shape into loaf pans. 8×4
Cover and let rise for about and hour. Then bake at 375 F. 30-35 mins.
Loaves will be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom of the pan.
Remove from pan and let cool. Enjoy!

Tammy and Wendy, Stephen and Steven and Lauraine, brought yummy things.  I wasn’t archiving at the time,  but, my buddies were.  The following two photographs, though, were mine taken this morning. The next time you pickle, Tammy, I want to be there.  They got eaten tooo fast for a photograph!

Photo display I made, in order to acknowledge my family.

Thank you, Jas and Tammy for the springtime flowers!  So beautiful when it’s -40 outdoors.

Check out the jar of pickles in the photograph, below.  This one must be Tammy’s shot.  I’m sorry I didn’t get an image of the plate of baked goodies Stephen and Steven shared.  Oh man!  So good!

The photo journal above is a collection of photographs taken by Wendy and Tammy.  We always have so many laughs when we gather.  I’m grateful for all of you!  Being with friends and sharing conversation/food/beverages and/or live music/dancing is so life-giving.

Please take note of Max (I snapped that one), only an hour after the lunch…completely played out!

The Year of the Mugwump

It was 1973 and I was fresh out of High School. Somewhere in my archives, this morning, once receiving a message from a Lethbridge friend, I found, without too much looking, a copy of the University paper, the Meliorist. I laughed out loud as I read the profiles for our Mugwump Party. And guess what? We got in! I served my first year as part of the student council. This is where I met dear friend, artist and intellectual, Phil. I wanted to publish bits of this quickly and move on to the list of things to do for today.

How would I describe my importance to Mugwump, as I look back?

First Year Votes
Female Votes
No Fear of Speaking
Opinionated
Also, Easily Influenced

As I look at the profiles of these folk, I still feel very proud of these gentlemen. They DID influence me and my thinking about a lot of matters. It was through 73-77 that I formulated values and ideas that I still hold. The U of L was a perfect fit for me. I know that Phil continues to be a very strong artist (I own one of his wonderful pieces) and an involved activist. I wonder what the others have been up to.

Before I leave this…a few more gems.

While Coming Across Flower Paintings…

…I thought of Pauline.

She comes to mind often. Her humus recipe surfaced the other day.

I wonder if she reached out to our friend, Bobby, upon his arrival. A few more photos were tucked into albums today.

Ed, Bobby and I headed out to see Pauline, our inspiring University professor, who lived perched above Kootenay Lake in Argenta. This was in 1996-97 and I was on Sabbatical. We got lots of sketching/painting done. We slept under the driftwood shelter on the beach. It was the weekend that my friend, Lynn Kierzek, died. While I slept, I wore a painting vest that Lynn crocheted. I still have that vest.

The border collie found in the photo is not Max Man or Laurie Dog…that’s Pauline’s dog. I felt right at home. I love the memory of this time away from the city, of conversations shared along the drive. We picked up a rose bush for Pauline in Cranbrook and planted it while in Argenta. We also purchased a bottle of spice that she needed, in a small grocery shop in Coleman.

May Bobby and Pauline rest in peace and may perpetual light shine upon them.

Archive Your Work!

As I sort and toss, a practice that seems to be going on forever, I am getting to the end (I THINK) and I might have some valuable advice to give to young artists.  I may not have a hope in Hades of ever really getting my art on a roll, but for you young sprouts, now that you live in a digitized world, please try to keep a record of your progress.  Second to that, take quality photographs.

An artist who really inspires me with his practice is Mark Dicey, on Instagram. @paddlecoffin If you don’t follow his work, he is absolutely breathtakingly amazing.

Part of this revisit, just last week, included digitizing my grade nine-eleven sketchbook from 52 years ago!  Cough! Sputter! It’s never too late, right?

Today, I came upon a white envelope filled with some very poor quality glossy photos of some flower paintings I did for a Tribute Show for my parents.  The subjects were all based on their country gardens in Frankford, Ontario.  It was an exhibit dating back a lot of years, hosted by the West End Galleries in their Edmonton location. (I have that date in my art archives somewhere.)  I remember, at the time, hearing other artists poo poo painting flowers, as a subject.  One person gave me permission and that was Ed Bader.  Thank you, Ed.  At the time, I was painting my own series of poppies as a response to losing two former students to a tragic car accident.  Ed pulled together a series of books featuring a number of very significant paintings created by important historical artists, dealing with the subject of flowers.  He was covering for another teacher at ACAD back in 1997.

This morning, I took photographs with my phone of some of the these teeny photographs.  Now, I can toss them as I’ve got a bit of a record.  As more flower paintings/sketches surface, I will post them here.  If you paint flowers, I give you permission.  There are a myriad of subjects for art and through any subject, you can address the ideas that are floating around in your head.  It’s all valid, representational or not.  Make art…and keep a record of it.

These images are all fuzzy/unfocused, cropped badly to replace their original wonky formats…likely bad colour…but, they are illusions of the originals and they make me happy.  I learned a lot painting these…and they are a mere sampling of the many works present in that show.  I wonder where they are now.

The Etching Leads Me Down the Rabbit Hole and I Arrive at Pam Marlen

We lived on Ferguson, just off of Fox Farm Road, in Great Falls.  The Marlens were our neighbours.  Charlie, a medical professional, was a big hunter.  I remember, at my age, thinking that was a pretty amazing thing, but really different.  My Dad and brothers were big fishermen, but they had never journeyed into that world.  As for Pam, she was a life-giving free spirit.  She exuded creative and fun-loving energy.  Our families shared many wonderful times.  A little younger than me, the Marlen kids; Jimmy, Chuck and Ann, were all sweet.

When I headed to Lethbridge for University and my family was moving east, my mother had my etching framed up professionally and I gave it to the Marlens as a gift.  I believe Mr. Winenger allowed me to take the copper plate home, and yet all these years later, I haven’t a print or the plate, but have only a strong recollection of both the process and the piece.

Searching for a photograph of the etching, led me to go deeper into the rabbit hole and there I found young Chuck’s tribute to his mother, eloquently written in 2017.  I tried leaving comments on his blog, but every time I clicked “POST COMMENT”, my words were eaten up and disappeared into who-knows-where.

I think that it is the fact that I haven’t been able to connect that has led me to this series of posts because today has been a day of nostalgia since coming upon the blog post about Pam.  Once, through University, I traveled by bus to Great Falls and visited Pam and Charlie.  I have also tucked away the gift of a Fanny Farmer cookbook they gave me as a wedding gift.  It is one of my treasures.

Young Charlie’s blog…

Art Studio Poster Explaining Pam Marlen’s Glass Bead Making Process

Today would be my mother’s 79th birthday, she passed away in 1997.

Pam Marlen ( Mary Pamela Smith) 1938-1997 Artist

I have very little of my Mother’s artwork, and if not for the kindness of my little brother sending me several items I would not have any.

As-well-as designing Passive Solar Houses, Gardens, and Landscaping – She also created amazing fused glass creations, pottery, glass beads, quilting, water colors, stained glass, and probably many other items I’m not remembering as I write this post.

She would even make the  unusual fun vests she would wear to events …

Back label on Pam Marlen’s ‘Buttons to Beads’ Self-Portrait

Much of my mother’s artwork was sold and anything left after her death was distributed amongst the family; therefore, the stunning Fused Glass pieces are owned by others, but I am very happy to have what might be one of my mother’s only artistic self-portraits.

Buttons to Beads Quilt with Glass Beads by Pam Marlen

Pam Marlen didn’t do anything normal, and if she was going to do a self-portrait of course it would be something unusual like combining Quilting & Glass Bead making to make the portrait of her making Glass Beads …

Paper that was pinned to Quilt – Houston National Quilt and Beads Showing

She also included herself playing with buttons as a child in the portrait …

Pam Marlen as Child Playing with Buttons

All of the Glass Beads attached to the quilt were made by Pam Marlen and they were sewn to the quilt using buttons on the back …

Back of Buttons to Beads Self-Portrait Quilt by Pam Marlen

My mother liked to save items that she didn’t feel were worth selling because there was an imperfection on those items… she didn’t save much but some items had imperfections she liked and would save them inside her studio, just for her own collection.

I’m not sure how many people knew about her ‘imperfection collection‘, but she and I talked about them once and it was fascinating how she liked something special about each one.

Fused Glass Examples in Background

A few years ago I found 2 new glass fusing/ceramic kilns for sale at a very good price and I purchased them … While my mother had taught me a little about fusing glass, I took a private ‘one-day’ class to refresh my memory.

Link to Post: Firebox-8 Kiln Height Extension

This Firebox-8 Kiln’s Temperature is Manually Controlled

Creating Fused Glass artwork is about predicting how it will look when finished semi-melting/fusing together … Thus, having no idea how to predict, I just overlapped interesting colors of broken glass into a pattern.

Cut & Broken Glass in Kiln before 1st Melting

After the first melting the instructor was very let down that the glass had cracked, but being my mother’s son I said, “Oh that makes it even more interesting, lets leave it and do the final melting to fuse it as is” …

Broken Slumped Glass that Broke and Re-Fused in Kiln

The final kiln firing softened the broken edges and created an interesting Fused Glass piece …  I placed it on my dresser and consider it the first of many of my own  ‘imperfection collection’ artwork pieces.

I imagine there will be many future Metal Castings to add to this collection 🙂

First Try and Glass Artwork on My Dresser

In addition to saving imperfect pieces, my mother also would create small pottery pieces that she could use to test out Pottery Glaze formulas …

Mini Glaze-Test Pottery Parts by Pam Marlen

It appears the items my little brother sent to me were part of a Green Glaze test and even these little items had her signature on the bottom.

While I only have test pottery pieces by my mother, I am proud to have those items because that is how I remember her – Always experimenting!!

Bottom of the Green Glaze
Formula Test Pottery by Pam Marlen

She signed all of her Pottery with a PM symbol  (Click images for larger view)

Pottery Signature on Test Glaze items by Pam Marlen

She had shelves of these small glaze-test pottery items in her studio …

A larger piece of pottery that was probably a Green Glaze-Test item

Mary Pamela Smith (Pam Marlen) was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma to E.R. and Mildred Smith on July 31, 1938.
She created most of her artwork in or near Great Falls, Montana.

This looks like a Bowl she used to test some Green Pottery Glaze

The pottery I remember the most as a child was a natural wash look as shown in the image below with hand-touched clay items added to pottery she had thrown on her potter’s wheel.

Natural Glaze with Clay Hard Artwork on Pottery

For years she would make pottery Christmas Ornaments and give them out to friends and family… Many times having us as kids help her.

Received photos of an items my mother made that I had not viewed before …

Hat made for Pat Erickson by Pam Marlen

Pat Erickson sent these photos to me of a hat my mother made for her …

If you enlarge the photo and look closely the bugs on the hat are glass beads.

Hat with Glass Bead Bugs made by Pam Marlen for Pat Erickson

Pat mentioned Pam Marlen made this hat for her birthday 🙂

Hat created by Pam Marlen with Painted leaves & Glass Bead Bugs

Thank You Pat for taking the time to send these photos!! 🙂

.   .   .

Pam Marlen had a stroke at age 58 in April of 1997 while giving a speech to get donations for the flood victims of the Grand Forks, North Dakota flood of 1997… passing away later in the year.

She lived an interesting life … and myself being a Star Trek fan it was almost surreal to come home to visit and learn her quilting group was asked to be extras in a movie directed by Leonard Nimoy… being very private director he would rarely talk to people on set; however, he would come over talk to my mother about quilting and other artistic items.

My mother met SPOCK …Too Cool!!

… MISS YOU MOM  

. . .

Old Photos of Charles J. Marlen Jr. … So when I lose them they can be found
online in a Google Search 🙂 CMR High School called Chuck Marlen

I think this photo was taken in about 1966

This photo looks to be about 1985 … Sometime during College

Sometime in the Late 1980s

 

Chillin’ in Hot Key West, Florida

Drysuit Scuba ‘Cold-Water’ Diving in Alaska

There *grin* … at least when I pass away, something will be online. *lol*

  CHEERS!! 

.  .  .

 

Remembrance Day 2019: Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium

Yesterday I heard two presenters say that Remembrance Day is not to be confused with Veteran’s Day.  Armistice Day is on 11 November and is also known as Remembrance Day. It marks the day World War One ended, at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918. A two-minute silence is held at 11am to remember the people who have died in wars.

Like everyone else, I am disappointed that the Don Cherry fiasco stole so much from the highlights of a beautiful day remembering those soldiers in our families and in our Nation who offered the ultimate sacrifice in past wars, Afghanistan and because of selfless service.

I was really pleased about attending the commemoration at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium this year and taking in the various rituals, but indoors, while cozy warm.  Last year, we headed to the cenotaph downtown and it got a bit cold at times, although it was also an amazing experience.  Next year, the field of crosses.

The seats were assigned, as we arrived.  This created a sense of calm and order.  Beautiful music was provided by the HMCS Tecumseh Band along with Jeanette Embree, Detachment Commander, CF Recruiting Center, Director of Music, Royal Canadian Navy Reserve.  What a lovely repertoire.

I thought about my Dad while singing this hymn.  I used to sit next to Mom in the Protestant Chapel pews while Dad directed or sang in the choir.  I felt them beside me yesterday…and I felt surrounded by my family, many who have served.  My Great Uncle Joseph Gallant gave the ultimate sacrifice, as did my Great Grandfather John Moors.  This hymn was a perfect one to bring everyone home to me.

While we were prompted to save our applause until the very end of the laying of the wreaths, two of our Veterans from the Colonel Belcher caused our hearts to stir and we broke into wild applause.  I cried my face off at these points in the service, as well as during the Last Post.  Our friend, Helena, laid a wreath on behalf of the Alberta Retired Teachers.  We were very proud of her for representing us.

After the commemorative service, and as we were leaving, I noticed that Ralph MacLean, the 97 year old Veteran who had served with Canadians in Hong Kong in 1941.  Please follow the link and listen to his story on the Memory Project.  Through various circumstances and very quickly, I connected with Ralph’s son, daughter and grandson, author of Forgiveness, author Mark Sakamoto.  

I won’t soon forget the kind hearts of Ralph’s family.

I had the opportunity to exchange quite a number of stories with Ralph and I feel that it was a huge blessing to meet him.  I will be visiting him at the Colonel Belcher.

As I took my evening walk, slow around the circle because Max is ailing badly, I took in the beauty of the day, my friendships with Janet and Pat, my children, the freedoms I enjoy.  I thought about my family and their huge military connections.  I contemplated including their photographs here…but, I’m leaving the images of their faces and my research in my heart.  I’ll leave it all up to peace…the sky…the river.  I will always Remember.

 

 

St. John Fine Arts School Late 1980s

School reunions make me feel a tad anxious.  I’ve attended my own ten year high school reunion, as well as my 20th, but because I was a student who viewed herself always on ‘the fringe’ and not one who fell into the ‘popular’ category, I felt hesitant and unsure.

The best part of my ten year class reunion was sitting in the hotel hot tub with former ‘speechie’ and friend, Jeff Marshall, and talking and laughing an entire evening away.

Meeting up with people I’ve not seen for a number of years and people I never knew to begin with, can make me squirm.

Yesterday’s event was a little different.  This one had nothing to do with my life as a student and more to do with a group of students gathering to celebrate their friendship of almost 30 years.

It was lovely that former students of St. John Fine Arts School put their heads together and arranged for a reunion.  While the group that decided to attend did not represent all of my students over those years, it was a fun mix.

Before I headed out to the event, I dug through my memorabilia, but came up short as, somewhere along the line, I finally let go of some student art work and writing that had traveled with me for so many years.  I DID find some bits here and there and headed out to Gwen’s place in Chestermere, the only teacher from those years, to attend.

Most wonderful was being greeted at the door by Amanda.  Amanda, it turns out, was also one of my students, daughter to Camille, who I taught at St. John’s.  What a beautiful experience.

Thanks to Gwen and her partner, Dave, for hosting!  And thank you to all who contributed such lovely items to the pot luck.  And finally, thank you for the generous welcome and inclusion.  It was a very fun event.  I DID miss a lot of the beautiful people who were a part of my life 30 years ago in the school…colleagues who really inspired me, students who taught me to have compassion and understanding and to value creativity and even parent volunteers who were so helpful and so much a part of every classroom.  From those years, I have lost friends, Dorothy MacInnis and Pat Campbell.

A blitz of images here…past and present.

Dear World: An End of Year Performance at the University Theater

Kite Flying home made kites every year for Pentecost…an event every year for almost 20 years of my teaching career.

In the day, when paper was allowed attached to walls…decorating.

The River: An Integration of Art, Music, Drama and Movement

Science Fair

An Integration: Do You Know What a Dragon Looks Like?

A Broader Experience

My friend, Wendy, used to delight in really unusual words.  I enjoyed the fact that sometimes, late in the evening, a word would show up in my text messages.  It might be absquatulate or blatherskite.    

I never really understood until now, what a wonderful thing that was…that my friend shared words with me in the night.

(Weird blog post alert…go no further if you are in the mood, more, to tune into Netflix.)

Lately I’ve been having a very narrowing experience that has turned out to be exquisitely broadening at the very same time.  About art, these last ten years, I’ve said that my visual world and sensory interests have become very specific…it’s as though my visual world is in close-up and while shrinking, has become utterly complex.  This started happening as it related to the act of walking. (circling the same pond every day for almost six years/walking a loop at the river every day for the past two.)

It was right about that same time, that I started taking photographs.  Until that time, I had never had an interest.  I think I was wanting to capture a moment.  Birds became a part of that experience, simply because I would find myself standing still in front of a landmark; a bush or a tree; and I would analyse, in a very sensory way, the impact of light, atmosphere, sound, the smell on the air…and from a concentrated state, I would see more than what I anticipated…a Bald Eagle gazing down at me, from mere meters away, water dripping off a branch, a bright yellow bird flitting through low brush.  In standing still, my world expanded.

I guess I first noticed this while spending time with Mom during her journey with Alzheimer’s disease. To give an example,  I remember once leaving a lady’s wear shop, Pennington’s, after an hour of shopping with Mom.  Once stepping through an inside door and into the entrance way and before moving on through the outside door to go to the car, Mom stopped.  I stood behind her, hoping that no other customers would either leave or expect to enter.  I gave her time.  I looked at her face.  Her head was tilted back and her eyes were closed.  I asked, almost in a whisper, “Mom, why have you stopped?”  She said, “Listen.”  It was then that I stopped rustling the packages weighing down my arms and stood still.  There was a very quiet but constant hum of air pushing its way from a vent above our heads…had I not stopped, taken pause, I would not have shared that moment.  After a short while, Mom just moved on.

When the events of my life, over months and even years, became very focused…it seemed that the world continued to bustle as usual…rushing…filling…overflowing and moving on.  All the while, my own focused days became slower.  They became extremely sharp- edged.  They became very specific.

These recent days… for example.

Since mid January, there is a particular rhythm to my days.  I know that particular rhythm through the events that occur, predictably, around the clock.  I find myself in the very same place at any particular hour.  Some times it feels as though I am reliving time.  Some would liken it to deja vu. The name plates beside the doors change, but the events do not.

It was a day like every other except that one of the temporary name plates read, Milton Born With a Tooth.  I drifted past because, well, a person just doesn’t stop in front of some one else’s door and I was, after all, in the rhythm of my schedule, the very same that I had lived the day before.  But, Milton’s name stuck with me.  Didn’t his life somehow intersect with mine?  YES!  I’ve written, over time, about my love for the river.  This passion began while living in the University of Lethbridge residence, perched on the edge of the Oldman River in southern Alberta.  Graduating with my degree in 1977, I had established a connection with the river that would, as it turned out, never be broken.  It was in the mid 80s, here in Calgary, that I became engaged with the group, the Friends of the Oldman River as Ralph Klein’s government seemed to be pressing ahead with the construction of a dam that would, in my view, impact our indigenous brothers and sisters, the environment and encroach horribly on species native to the region.  I was appalled.

Oldman at Maycroft Crossing

Well, Milton Born With a Tooth and the Lonefighters Society were angry too!  Imagine that, all these years later, I should find myself bringing my books and my scrapbooks to share with Milton Born With a Tooth?  That I’d be visiting with Milton…his family members…during such a sacred time as this.

At this point, my readers are asking themselves, ‘how is this connected to your subject, Kath?’  Remember, please, my original premise…that in the workings of my narrowing life, my experience is broadening.

Yesterday I attended a marvelous book discussion at the Fish Creek Library. The book, Separation Anxiety, by Miji Campbell was easily read in the week following our February book discussion. I’m smitten by this group of women… so smart, fun and accepting. While my days are very overwhelming, generally, and while I need to be very responsible and engaged as a caregiver, I will move sun and moon in order to carve out time for this book discussion group.

I slipped in to the room and on to one of the last remaining chairs, just as the moderator was making introductory remarks and introducing the author, Miji Campbell. Her face was open and the feeling in the room was relaxed and welcoming. In the corner, there was a display of very nostalgic items that resonated for me and captured easily, my own narrative as a little girl, growing up in post war/cold war Canada. There was a Barbie Doll case… A Midge doll… some old black and white photographs.

The book discussion was remarkable.  There were interesting questions and engaging responses from the author.  I listened with great interest as the relationship between mothers and their daughters was discussed, topics of birth order, mental health, anxiety and the stigma attached to treatments for such anxiety or even the act of seeking out treatments. The conversation was a real exploration of wellness, a topic that I dearly need to explore right now, but struggle to set aside time for such reflection.

As I was listening, completely engaged, my mind began to piece together wee bits of information that Miji was sharing, connections that had not been made by me while reading the book.  It was as though a light went off when, suddenly, I realized that for years, I had taught with Miji’s mother.  And even more startling was that I was good friends with her oldest sister through my University experience.  At the conclusion of the afternoon activity, I sprung out to the neighbouring Safeway store, in order to access the ATM machine and fly back to the room where I could purchase my own copy of the book and have it signed by Miji.  As I drove home, I wondered about the various layers of this reading that were intended just for me…also, I pondered what messages I was supposed to connect with through the reading and the characters, who were people very much alive in my imagination and in my memory.

Miji’s cousin, Hughe, took video rather than photo, but I am grateful that he captured our meeting!

I think that in sitting in the stillness, I notice more.  I notice the shift in weather, the changes in people, flavours, reactions.  I make new associations.

This morning, I received a brief text message from a friend.  I think it was comprised of fewer than seven words.  But, the words were potent and remarkable and they gifted me with a daytime of support and love.  How easy it might have been, given my past engagement with schedules, events and social media, that I might not have ever realized just how much power a message has…to heal…to wound…to break…to mend.

On Friday morning, I folded clothes and put them away, created just a little bit of order in my seeming chaotic life, these days.  I relished the folding…the simple pleasure of the uniformity of it…the way the order gave me a sense of space and breath.

On Saturday, I went for a drive outside of the route that has become my routine.  I was on sensory overload.   Has this ever happened to you?  There was almost too much to take in.  What an amazing and complex world we live in!  For every vehicle on the highway…a life living…a complex human being, overflowing with challenges, joy, questions, family, self-awareness, belief…open sky…melting ice on the water…stones kicked up…tires spinning…a huge machine beneath me.

Revelation is an act of noticing and being fully conscious to your life.  The protagonist, young Douglas Spaulding, of Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury was the one who taught me that specific lesson.  I want to come back to the revelations of these past months when my world stops shrinking and begins to grow again; when I am in my life as a player more than an observer.  I am wanting to remember that I am grateful, but not in a self-help-book-kind-of-way, but in a really authentic sort of way.    I think it is an important thing to see the beauty in the enormity of the sadness/challenges that face today’s human family.  I think that it is not so much about hope, but about presence.  When I am fully present, I am open to delight, surprise and revelation.

In the meantime, send one another messages.  Create a care package for some one who never anticipates receiving anything at all in the mail.  Place a treasure on someone’s front door step.  Bake cookies.  It all counts for magic in the end.

 

A Morning at the River: March 4, 2019

Life is both brutal and beautiful.  It is impossible to sift out the bits, and take only the ‘good’ bits..  And while some contend that you can choose happiness, I beg to differ.  Life is about the entire spectrum of what life brings.  Some days, you just step out in faith.  Some days there is a bitterness that the warmth can not permeate, but you step out anyway.  This morning, was one of those for me.  And, look!  Mr. was waiting with a striking bunch of Magpies, with a brilliant blue sky as their backdrop.  Never before have I heard a Bald Eagle making sounds with the breaking of bones, much like you might here from a dog chowing down on a soup bone.  It was an amazing experience.

Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.

Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.

The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.

Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.

Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was live, awake, complete.

We look towards each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.

Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul’s gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.

Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.

When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.

May you continue to inspire us:

To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.

 

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