Fly Me to the Moon

This week has been filled with the magic of flight, whether that is metaphoric or quite literal.  This is the time of the season when every variety of wee bird or raptor seems to be in flight training and this year’s observations are even more magical because this is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 space mission and the successful landing on the moon.

Here, a wee Northern Flicker, sound asleep OR knocked out on a paved pathway near the edge of the Bow River.  I thought he may have come to a sad ending, having likely fledged from a nearby tree, but, at my prompting, he stirred, panicked and disappeared into the wild flowers, a place that increased his possibilities, I’m sure.

Every new life is extremely vulnerable right now in the river environment and the adults of every species are doing phenomenal things, given the brutal thunder storms, hail and huge winds.  Finally, these past two days, we have had a reprieve from awful weather.

I was just 14 years old and living with my air force family on CFB Hornell Heights perched on a hill above North Bay, Ontario when the space program was initiating such wild adventures into the unknown.  That summer I would have just finished up my grade eight year with Mrs. Penner at Paul Davoud School and would be beginning grade nine at Widdifield in the city, the following autumn.  Mom would have already sewn me summer pop tops and jam jam shorts.  I was excited for time at the base swimming pool and my little sister would have been two years old.  We had a black and white television set and I would have been snipping out important news stories from the North Bay Nugget and pasting them into my scrap book. (some of them are featured below)

In my record box, (bright green floral vinyl), I had my single-play records including Revolution and I Want to Hold Your Hand by the Beatles.  It was the first summer that I would, under my brother’s chaperone, be allowed to attend Teen Town dances.

My entire family was excited about the Apollo Space Mission.

We watched the moon landing, together, on the television.  I remember the images.  I remember looking up at the moon that night, the silhouette of the huge lilac bush outside my window, and being afraid for those men, so far from home.  It was truly unbelievable.

Well, this past weekend, we shared in the memory of that experience, now 50 years ago.  On July 20, I read poetry and watched the second eaglet fledge.  For me, the day was a celebration of flight.

On the evening of July 19, there was a tremendous storm brewing.  I watched, with great amusement as Mr. and Mrs. both fed Jr. #1, the little guy that had fledged three days before.  He’s doing well, having flown across the river, and having practiced moving about to a variety of places.  Over those few days I was captivated by several close visits, as well as a variety of shenanigans across from me on the river. (most amusing being a middle-aged couple manning kayaks, one that capsized and the other that became grounded minutes before a huge deluge…the two, totally unaware of a family of three Bald Eagles feasting within meters of them).  The male Bald Eagle stared at the adult male with a look that made me laugh.  I’m posting some of my recent photos, here.

On July 20, 2019, I witnessed the fledge of Jr. #2.  I considered this a huge gift on such a special anniversary.

July 16, 2019 (a visit to the river with summer guests, Angela and Preston)

July 17, 2019 (Mom and Dad spent lots of time the first two days prompting Jr. #1 to get up higher.  The fledgling seems to ball, especially on Day 1 and the adults patiently convince him/her that they can be relied upon for food, for guidance and for presence.)

July 18, 2019

Meals on the run…sharing treats with Jr….I’m just so surprised that Mr. came directly to me.

July 19, 2020

Second Fledge and little buddy is the one located in the vertical tree. Junior #1 doesn’t like that the attention has moved away from him.

July 21, 2019

Three visits to the river.  On the second, I didn’t have my camera, but I did have the company of Deb Sharpe.  Together we watched the siblings reunited on the tree root across from us.  Jr. #1 had remained there throughout the night.  Mr. and Mrs. shared the big tree on my side of the river to watch the pair of youngsters.  It was just so beautiful.  The icing on the cake is that one of the adults soared with the Year-old Juvenile that made a visit as well, chasing him, first, out of the territory.

On my evening stroll, I listened to a bag piper sending out his beautiful songs to the river…

Other species have been evident and beautiful…and new songs have been sung.  I’ve watched, but not documented American Goldfinch and have really enjoyed the Grey Catbirds, Cedar Waxwings and Eastern Kingbirds.  I’ve also really had fun speaking with different people who enjoy my love for the river.

It is a remarkable thing that human beings have traveled into the far reaches of space through manned missions as well as through the use of technology that brings images and science back to us from Mars.  It is for us to celebrate the abilities of humanity to accomplish wondrous achievements such as this.  However, it is equally as important to recognize the charm and amazing intuitive lessons that are given by other species.  It is essential that we connect with this wonder so that we become better stewards of the magic.

I’m wrapping up this post with a song that my mother used to sing to me…among others…but, this one is a good one for this celebration.

 

Junior

The first eaglet fledged five days ago.  I made no siting of him yesterday or the day before and no vocalizations, so I was growing worried that he had come to some demise.  Last night, it poured rain…it’s just been that sort of summer.  If I wasn’t going to get out to Ptarmigan Cirque this morning with my guests from Louisiana (Preston and Angela) due to severe thunder storms, then I was going to get them down to the Bow River to hopefully site Mr. and Mrs.

Initially, we spotted Dad on the horizontal branch on the dead tree across the way.   It was pretty obvious it had been a rough night.  I took my guests south on the river to see if Mama was on this side in her favourite hang out.

Along the way, I pointed out the American Pelicans and the spot where the juvenile Northern Flickers had been eagerly waiting to fledge.

No Mrs.  Hmmm….I thought to myself, “Where can she be?”

I talked to Preston and Angela about skat…pointing out the coyote poop and its contents.  By this time, we were soaked to the knees, although the rain had stopped and there was just a sprinkle.  The colour and texture of mammal skat is very much impacted by what they have available for food.  Just yesterday I found some skat that contained a lot of animal content, likely rabbit fur and the dark colouring was reflective of old blood.  To me, this didn’t look so much like the coyote poop I most often observe on my circle.

The skat pictured below contains more berry content and a different texture.  This is what I generally think of as coyote skat.  I’m pretty certain that yesterday’s sampling (if you do a search, this will be confirmed) was Bobcat skat.

(I’m off topic, right?)  It my readers are out in nature a lot, it is important to be able to recognize or identify these clues so that  you are somewhat aware of what animals you are sharing space with at the time.  This can contribute to your safety in certain situations.  But moving on.

By the time we had done our circle and returned to the edge of the river, Mrs. was perched a short distance from Mr. but in an unusual spot for her…balancing on the top of one of the high branches of a tree across from us.  We watched both of them for some time and I was feeling very grateful that at the very least Preston was able to see the two adults that I blither on about constantly on social media.

The adults consistently stared downward and so Preston and I talked about what might have happened to the fledgling.  Given the silence, I believed that the youngster was at the very least injured, and at the worst, gone.  I got a big hug from Preston as we silently acknowledged that the first fledge had come to some sort of end and the adults were doing some grieving.   I took the lead as we carried on north along the very edge of the water.

As we came out of the tall grass and made our way onto the bike path, going south, I noticed through the trees that Mom was no longer there.  I shouted to the other two that I was going to walk ahead and go down to her roosting tree on our side to see if i could get them a better look.  As I came through the clearing and faced the water, my mouth must have fallen open as I saw the juvenile, with much grace and strength, fly directly for me….I shouted out, “He’s coming right into my arms!” And he alighted into a tree branch just above my head.

I was exuberant! (understatement)  Quickly, I readied my camera and started snapping.  Then, hurriedly, I surmised that he must have followed Mama and I shared that I was heading south on the river to see if I might see her in her favourite tree.  Dad remained aloof on the horizontal branch right across from us.

Before launching off, I quickly said to Preston, “I’m still not convinced that this is fledge #1…I will check the nest for Junior #2 once I’ve located Mom.

I rushed ahead and Preston and Angela followed, but when I got to the tree, no Mama.  From where I stood, Angela and Preston said, “Look.  Is that Mrs?”  I did a pivot and there in the tree neighbouring Junior, Mom sat and surveyed all.  Back we went.

At this point and after confirming that, indeed, Junior #2 was still  disgruntled and sitting on the nest across from us, in my private thoughts, I was thinking how grateful I was that we had such a private showing of these two raptors and that indeed, Junior #1 was safe.  I was also thinking how happy I was that we weren’t at Ptarmigan Cirque.

I was snapping photographs of the two when things became even more dramatic and Dad headed for his family.  Alighting shoulder to shoulder with the female, she became unbalanced and was knocked off, leaving Dad in her place.  She headed north over the water, a tad annoyed. (But that is me personifying the situation…AGAIN.)  The following photographs were taken by Preston or Angela.

Preston and Angela, with their phones at the ready, documented this bit of drama as I was just gawking at the goings-on, very much in disbelief.  What a wonderful experience.

After watching Dad track a fishing Osprey within his territory for some time, and after sharing our happiness with the experience, we headed home feeling pretty satisfied with our morning in nature.

At home, I whipped up some sausages, eggs and brown beans and toast and we shared in another coffee.  I’m so grateful that Junior is doing so well…thriving on the river.  I hope that they will make their way back to the island where their environment is less-traveled by human beings.  Some days I just feel that creation was made for my pleasure.  This was one of those days.

The great thing about having some one with you when you witness such as this, is that you can share in the joy.  I’m glad you were with me, Angela and Preston!  Oh!  And, Max!

 

Breakfast for Boobies at South Centre Mall

Amazing!!  How they pulled this pancake breakfast off, with the numbers who attended, I will never know!  I feel so proud of Calgary and the Stampede and everyone who pulls together to make these events happen.  Given the line up for the actually pink pancakes, I didn’t really cover the show, the children’s events or the various ‘pink’ inspired activities, but I took in the crowd and loved just how much my grandson can adapt and invent and create his own amusements in so many situations.  It was a fun morning and I’ve tried to capture this in photographs.

Bless all of those who are suffering cancer…breast cancer and any other…bless their families and friends who are in the overwhelming situation of watching their loved ones negotiate the decisions and the medical/emotional and physical war of fighting cancer.  I love you and have profound respect for your journey.  You have my respect.

Stetson’s Band

Nanny did the cue yesterday…Gramma’s turn today.

Food and entertainment…today, avocado slathered on pancake.  YUM!

Keeping good company, except for Gramma got into a wee confrontation with someone in line…a story to be told at a later date.

A lot of engaged participants.

Cowpokes

Then, the real fun began!  Trucks!

Tank! Tank!

Then, Steven sought out employment!

We couldn’t leave the area without visiting Fish Creek Library!

This other kid…a bit of a pain.

Cement Truck and Digger

Walking a fine line all over second floor Fish Creek Library.

Pancakes! HEEE HAW!!!

An awesome job, Stampede Caravan!

Douglas Square Breakfast

Free pancakes, live entertainment, pony rides and more for adults and kids.

When: 9 to 11 am
Where: Douglas Square — 11540 24th Street SE
Price: Free

This event was so much fun!  YAHOO!  A great one for children!  Lots of activities going on, including pony rides, Butterfield Acres petting zoo, rope making, sheep roping, the walk through of the Marine and Navy bus and so much more.  We were entertained by live music, marching band and Indigenous dancers including explanations for the grand entry, male fancy, female jingle and female fancy.  Excellent times and a great breakfast.  I didn’t get a snap of our food plates today because my eyes were on Steven who had his mouth dropping open most of the time, for all of the excitement.  Such an excellent morning!

No touch piggy.

Sitting in the driver’s seat…Marine and Navy recruitment bus.

Watching the big screen…navy ice breaker!

 

What a great morning.  The food, again, was excellent, this time including those lovely circular shaped sausages, juice boxes and yummy pancakes.  Scrambled eggs were also served.

Departing the site, Steven spotted a forklift, so we spent some time also perusing that. Great times with the Grandson!

John Frederick Vallance: Farewell, Friend

December 30, 1924 – Ayr, Scotland
June 24, 2019 – Calgary, Alberta

In June, we lost John Vallance.  I want to leave a brief account of his life, here, because John became a true friend to so many during his time in Calgary.  It was a blessing to share in the celebration of his life, along with daughter, Billie,  friends of the British Home Child Descendants group that loved John so much and the generous folks of Trinity Lodge.

John and I both ordered a big plate of beautiful liver and onions the day that I met him in Didsbury, Alberta.  There, along with Bruce,  many stories and much laughter were shared.  I knew we would be good friends.  John was still living in his own house at this time and sure wasn’t crazy about moving into Trinity Lodge.  He was, all his life, a strong and independent man.  It was going to be a transition.

It was at this first meeting that I had the chance to share my own family history with John, the story of my Great Grandfather John Moors.

I have linked to John’s history here.

Child Migrant John Vallance is now considered “the chief” of his family’s clan. But for 50 years he had no contact with his four younger brothers and sisters.  Here is John’s story and how the Empress of Austrailia was the start of a new life for him in Canada – (article as it appears in the Summer of 2003 “the Barnardo Guild Messenger”)

MY MOTHER, Nancy, died in late 1937 at the age of 34. My father John was a fireman on the London and Mildland Scottish Railroad in Ayr, Scotland.

At 12, I was the oldest of five children, with two sisters and two brothers.  In March 1938, a few months after my mother’s death, I was sent to the Barnardo’s home in Stepney, then later that year to Kingston and Bromborough. In April 1939 I was sent back to Stepney for a couple of months before being sent to Bognor. Then in July that year, just before war broke out, I departed for Canada aboard the Empress of Australia.

I was one of a party of 30 boys and girls (one of whom was called Mary Love) who arrived in Quebec a month later. We were taken to Barnardo’s head office in Toronto where we were farmed out to foster homes.  My foster parents were Mr. and Mrs. Walter Davies, an English couple who owned a mixed farm in Burgersville outside of Woodstock, Ontario.  The Davies had no children and were good to me. I learned all about farm life, and enjoyed this new phase of my upbringing.  My only regret was that I never went back to school to complete my education.

Early in 1941 I left the farm and went west to Assinobia, Saskatchewan, where I worked on a wheat farm and ranch for three years before following in my father’s footsteps and joining the Canadian Pacific Railroad as a fireman.  A year later I enlisted in the army, where I qualified as a paratrooper.

I spent 30 years in the Canadian Army, including spells in Korea, where I was a Platoon sergeant, and in Germany. Later I qualified as a marksman and trained pistol and rifle teams at the Royal Roads Miltary College in British Columbia. I was released from the army in June 1974.

While in the army, I married Elizabeth a wonderful lady from Brandon, Manitoba. We had four beautiful children, two boys and two girls.  Sadly Elizabeth died in 1997. But my children are all doing well now and I have three grandchildren. I live alone with my dog Buddie in Calgary.

After Elizabeth died, my daughter Candace encouraged me to try and find my sisters and brothers. I remembered how I had arrived in Canada all alone, with no one to say “Here, John. Here’s a nickle. Buy yourself an icecream.” It was a sad life in that way.

My daughter and I sent a letter to 10 Vallances living in Ayr, Scotland, whose details I had found in a book about the history of the Vallance family around the world.  Within 10 days, I discovered that I had one brother and one sister still alive, my sister Isa in Enlgland and one brother George in Tasmania. I phoned Isa, who was very surprised, as she thought I was dead. She is married with three daughters and lives in Yorkshire. She told me she was planning to visit George the following month and asked if I could fly to Tasmania for a reunion. I immediately said “yes”.

I arrived in Tasmania to find George in hospital undergoing a hip transplant. He has two sons and a daughter, all working for the Tasmanian government. We had a great reunion and made the front page of the local paper with the headline “Siblings reunited after fifty years”. I now have the family life I missed as a child.

I found out that my older brother Robert, had served in the Royal Navy during the war, then went back to work as a miner in Scotland and died of lung cancer. My sister Lily served with the Woman’s Land Army in England and Scotland during the war.  They both have families in Scotland who I later visited.  I also found out to my surprise that both Robert and George were in Barnardo’s homes before being sent to foster families together.

I am now considered the chief of the Vallance clan. As I never had the benefit of a proper education, I have created a college fund for each of my three grandchildren.  I now feel at peace with the world, and that I have done my duty as a good Canadian citizen. And I am still a Barnardo’s boy.

What an amazing human being with such a phenomenal history.  John’s friends and family shared amazing recollections of John as a young man, a father, a husband and a child growing up, separated from his family of origin through devastating circumstances.  John’s resilience and willingness to educate others was huge.

I’d like to give a special thank you to Hazel who has been a diligent worker for descendants of British Home Children here in Alberta, for without her efforts, I may have never met John.  Thank you, Hazel, not only for the beautiful quilt, but for your thoughtful initiatives in caring for our John.  He will be missed.

Claresholm, Alberta Heritage Days event.

John may you rest in peace and may perpetual light shine upon you.  To Billie and all family and friends, may you find strength for the coming days…

A Scottish piper accompanied the family.  Beautiful words were shared by John’s daughter and his grand son.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

Photo Credit: Hazel Perrier

John and dear friend, Bert.

John on his wedding day.


What a Difference a Day Can Make: 2019 at the Vent

Well, Mr. and Mrs. lost the first clutch to Northern Flickers competing for the nest early in the season.  This is the second year this has happened.

But, determined, the Sparrows laid down new nesting for a second clutch.  On Sunday, when I left town, I collected some documentation of the three little chumps that were voraciously eating and the determination of the adults that flew until sunset, feeding these little ones.

I returned Monday evening and couldn’t help but being hit with the complete silence at the kitchen window.  The little guys were in no way ready, with enough secondary feathers, to fledge, so their demise was likely due to the Corvid family that successfully fledged two juveniles just four days earlier.  The two juveniles have been so vocal and so needy. The adult crows have been determined, vigilant and doting parents (if crows can be parents).  In the end, I’m reminded of how brutal nature can be.  I also know clearly that life ends on a dime.  While we wait nine months for the birth of a child, we have no idea the time or the place when that life will end.  I don’t mean to be so ‘dark’  this morning, but I am very much aware of the immediacy of loss.  And, there is no way that we can prepare ourselves.

I am also very impacted by how the instinct of the Sparrows tells them how hard to work for the life of their youngsters.  I’m amazed by parents and their love.  While I never saw it in myself, I now know how hard I worked to keep my children well, even though my resources were always meager.  It can be unnerving when one witnesses parents who are failing their children.  Even in nature, this happens, but instinct tells the adults to nurture and tend, feed and water.  As detached as House Sparrows are from any emotional bond (I imagine) with the eggs and hatchlings, they certainly demonstrate commitment.  Today, I am sad for the empty nest.  I am also very mindful of lessons that the nest teaches me.

This morning, my prayers are specifically for those mothers and fathers who have lost children, through miscarriage or at birth, through illness or through tragic accident.  There is nothing that can be said about this but again and again, “I’m sorry”.  I can not imagine or know.  I was speaking to my Auntie Eleanor, yesterday.  Now in her nineties, still, when she speaks of my cousin Laura Lee who died as a child, she tears up.  When my Auntie Ruth speaks of her daughter, Linda, who passed as a young adult, she also wells up with tears.

Glad to see that Mama was feeding her little ones ants from my garden.

Dad fought so hard. Every time he went to the nest, he turned his back on the youngsters and was vigilant to protect them.

nvrlnd

Yesterday was a good day teaching grade six students. I mean it, the students were so beautiful and so eager to learn and relate and participate and help. I’m grateful that the day teaching was such a positive one.

My old boy Max and I hung out on the red couch for a bit after work and we both waited in anticipation for daughter, Cayley, to arrive and share in a Monday glass of wine with her mama. It’s always a blessing to chat with my kids and last evening I relished that I had two for end-of-day-catch-up. Oh, and Max!

After dinner, James and I headed down to Ramsay and nvrlnd, to enjoy the Jillian McKenna Project. Oh my! The trio was amazing! In fact, I want to write a poem today inspired by a piece that Jillian wrote…something about a meadow…and the Bow Valley Parkway. Sigh. Mayhaps I will write to her and inquire about the title. The following description was available on the invite. No idea who wrote it, so will link to the site. The piece gave me chills and today as I remember it, I feel the same way. This is the first time that a jazz piece has remained with me and so I want to celebrate it.

The Jillian McKenna project is a jazz-influenced group made up of some of the top established and up-and-coming Canadian musicians on today’s scene. Stretching what is possible in a standard jazz format, McKenna’s original music is rooted in jazz, pulling from different aspects of folk and world musics. With the Juno award winning Adrean Farrugia on piano alongside Mackenzie Read on the drums, this trio is quickly making a name for themselves throughout the country. Often using her voice as a fourth instrument, The Jillian McKenna Project is blurring genres and attracting listeners of all types.

Band members

Jillian McKenna – Bass
Adrean Farrugia – Piano
Mackenzie Read – Drums

nvrlnd is a bit of a magical place and, last evening, Carsten Rubeling was able to give some background as he toured the jazz show attendees through the art studios during intermission. Thanks, also, to Cory Nespor for his hospitality. I was captivated by the space, for the caliber of jazz, for the sense of community and for the obvious thoughtful management. Please read the linked article for the background on the nvrlnd project. My son and I have attended two events and have felt really happy with the experiences. I’m recommending nvrlnd to my readers.

I grabbed a number of business cards as I wandered past the studios. Such a variety of media and approaches. You can read about the artists, here.

Thanks to Kelly Isaak who allowed us to invade her space. Phenomenal work!

Also, Cory Nespor, thanks for opening your studio to us and if you are unhappy with the zillion photos I’ve posted here, please just let me know and I’ll pull them down. You are making magic!

Again, Carsten, thank you for your hospitality. Thank you for a venue where we can relish quality Jazz. Thanks for the wonderful casual space where artists of every kind can visit with one another and celebrate experiences. Thanks to my friend Steven for the invitation and for Wendy and Elena (possibly spelled wrong) for the connection. (Wendy, I’m taking care of your Stampede seat cushion.) Thank you, nvrlnd.

Losing Isabelle

*ALERT  this is a personal post.  If personal posts make you squirm, go no further.  While this post digresses at points, from its subject, this is what losing a person does to another.  Loss causes people to evaluate and re-evaluate mostly everything. Grief acknowledges in everyone, their humanity, both as it applies to the person who has died and as it does to the people left behind.

Since my brother died, this is what my family room work station looks like.

The Milk-Bone box contains treasures for a very special friend who was enduring invasive surgery at the same time as John was settling in at home, for as long as he could remain, as was his wish.  In tandem with these two life-jolting experiences, a dear friend of mine died, leaving me absolutely crushed.  Wendy was a huge strength for her circle of friends and for me and we were left, devastated. I continue to hold her husband and daughter in my quiet prayers.  I still have not posted that parcel.  It has, however, left the upstairs dining table, moved to the coffee table and then found its way here.

The photographs…well, I am meticulous about archiving and these are all that remain of the former stacks and stacks of loose photographs, a project in documentation that I began in 2007.  Apart from these, all photographs are sorted and stuck into over twenty albums containing archival paper.  All photographs, apart from those my readers see here, are documented.  Something about losing my oldest brother, set this chaos in motion.

Something clicked inside of me.  I don’t know if it was a click-on situation or a click-off situation, but, I’m just accepting what it has become.  A positive example is the switch that was turned on and found me back in my studio, painting.  And for this, I am very grateful.

Now, about losing Isabelle. (I am still ill-prepared to write a tribute for my brother, but one day, I will).  This is not a tribute to Isabelle as such, but a heartfelt response to the news that my first born has lost her Granny and I have lost a friend.

With the news about Isabelle’s death early on Thursday morning, I pulled the albums dated ‘late 1970s’ off of the shelf and I noticed an obvious absence of bric a brac or photographs.  This caused me an immediate sadness. I am left, in my mind, at least, experiencing loss (again) and want to reflect upon my time with Isabelle.  I find visual images really help me with that when I can not conjure up pictures in my head.  In this case, I have nothing to look at.

Through the loss of marriage and the pain of divorce, in anger and fear and incredible loss, it appears that I cut a chunk of my life away.  It looks very much like I did not have a camera, but I’m pretty certain I did.  If we look back at our lives, some of us selectively edit them, don’t we?  I think that is what is so interesting about memory.  We might, even to others, exaggerate a story of a memory that is particularly sharp within us.  Or, we might interpret the events in a slightly different way, forgetting related sadness or retelling in a way that might be more complimentary of our own behaviours.   Don’t we always, as characters in our own lives, wish to be viewed in best light?  Historical fiction is, by far, my favourite genre for just this reason.

One day I’ll write down the story about how I arrived at the place where I fell in love with and married Isabelle’s son.  Certainly, it is a story that even my dearest may not know.  But for this moment, and for the purpose of this reflection, I want to aim this ship toward the subject of Isabelle.

I have, in my belongings, only two photographs of Isabelle as I remember her in 1979.  I am sharing one of them here.

This photo is not, nor will it ever be framed and sitting on a mantel.  But, it represents a moment of complete and utter happiness, a wintry night in 1979.  And Isabelle was there.

She held concern for me and did her best to take care of me.  In those years, we had very little and with her first grandchild on the way, Isabelle would appear at the door to our basement suite and pad pad pad down the stairs, arms filled with bags of groceries.  She welcomed us to many beautiful meals and shared in her traditions of Christmas baking.

It was Isabelle who showed me how to buy vegetables in bulk and who canned with me at my small gas-burning stove.

Once we welcomed my daughter into our family, Isabelle was a remarkable Granny and their bond remained incredibly close right up until the late hours of June 5th.  I find myself writing and deleting/writing and deleting so many acts of love that Isabelle demonstrated along my journey.  I suppose I want to keep them close to my heart and alive in my own memory.

I am grateful that my daughter has always put her family first and equally treasures her husband’s family.  This is a quality to be deeply admired in today’s world.  Bonding with family creates a fabric of love that is strong and endures pain and hardship.

With the loss of my marriage, Isabelle continued to embrace me.  We were able to continue to visit and to share laughs.  I will always be grateful for that.  We were two women who loved my daughter with an insatiable love and that will never go away.

I am very sad for Isabelle’s loss.  I pray for her family at this time and for her dear friends who enjoyed her company over all of these years.  Isabelle will have lessons to teach me through the coming days.  I will watch for them.

The first of these lessons is to, even in your pain, keep those photographs.  Put them in the albums.  It is too late to write characters out of the script of your life.  Shut the covers of the album and tuck them away, but know that one day, these will matter to you.  And you will be filled with a wisdom that carries you beyond resentment.

The river’s high this time of year.

 

 

Fix It!

There’s nothing beautiful about this!  This situation is a symbol for all things that can ‘go wrong’. This is one of countless conundrums that can take over time, temperament and wallets, in the swoosh of a moment! This is the babysitter calling in sick early morning.  It is the tire that is flat after you’ve fixed the perfect lunch and feel that you’ve got life by the tail.  And in this case, it is the hoses on my thirty-year-old washing machine on delivery day!

The single day that I don’t teach this week and it was my intention to paint in the studio and wait for the call about the delivery of my brand new washing machine.  This is the day I decided to visit the hospice for afternoon Thursday tea.  It is the day when I was starting my day with a poached egg and a piece of whole grain toast.  It is wild how perfectly we imagine our days.  Well, at least I do.

But sometimes…and not always…there is a challenge lurking around the corner.  It is the news that my loved one is going to die. I stare blankly at the doctor. I feel that I am being dangled helplessly over a giant precipice.

It is that full glass of Pepsi that I  perch on the counter.  I put the ice cube tray away. The popcorn is hot. I knock the glass over and on to the floor.  Broken glass and sticky bubbly, everywhere!  Ouch!

At the point when either event (or something far worse or something much more benign) happens, it is my choice as to how I respond.  My own responses are often surprising, but also, during a certain set of circumstances, perfectly predictable.

I thought it would be a simple thing to disconnect the hoses on my washing machine.  It’s hung in there for so long.  I’ve lived in the same place of 20 years and I’ve never turned off these valves, NOT ONCE.  So, with delivery to happen today, I decided to go to my laundry room and turn off the water and disconnect my hoses before bed last night.  I was already in my pajamas when this story unfolded.

It was 10:45 when I made my first clockwise turn.  I noticed for the first time ever that the handle for one of my ‘nipples’ (I’ve learned that this is what they are called) had broken off.  But, this is what the other one looked like after that clockwise turn.

Panic set in at this point.  As my readers might surmise, the next step was naturally to go to my tool box and to find a set of pliers.  Surely I could turn the nipples to the right, with pliers.  As I madly gripped the first nipple, the pliers slipped around the metal and nothing seemed to move.

I think I made my first cry out to the universe at this time.  It was 11:03. Trevor’s name appears in my cell phone contact list as THE PLUMBER.  So what if it was after eleven at night, right??  I texted Trevor in a wild breathlessness.   I don’t know what I thought he could do from the warmth of his bed.  I just needed a plumber-connect like one might need a psychologist-connect.

I took photos (these photos) and began to communicate a narrative of panic through the medium of text.  When I clicked SEND the photos whirred around and around and never did leave my phone, a feature of my phone/text/approach that is consistent with every other time that I am given one of these life situations.  I was given a message that I could try re-sending. Over time, I deleted the photos and settled back into a state of self-actualization. (At this point of writing I laugh out loud. I think that in the panic, choosing to write is a real stumbling block.  Couldn’t I be painting?  No. As this story continues to unravel for my readers, you will all see that presently I am in a holding pattern.  I can not paint while in a holding pattern.)  From Trevor, I learned that indeed, I needed to turn off the water.  And yes, the faucets should be turned clockwise.

Phone put down, I began to look for a water turn off valve.  I walked upstairs to my computer where I began watching Youtube videos about replacing washing machine hoses.  Oh my goodness.  There wasn’t a single set of valves that looked like those on my machine.  Click Click Click…minutes rolled by as I became saturated with too many ideas, too many calm confident male voices performing such ‘simple’ procedures on their washing machines.

Max, my border collie, looked on with a particular look.  I know he was quietly thinking, “I wish I could roll my eyes.”

I explored my house for all of its personal plumbing lessons.  If I didn’t know my pipes before, I think I do now.

By 11:50, I texted my friend, Wendy.  Her partner is a phenomenal fix-it guy.  But, again, what was I doing sending out SOS messages to my dear friends in the middle of the night?  Wendy is an amazing woman who is busy, with her fingers, hands and arms in so many things!  I thought, too late, ‘Wendy is probably sleeping.’

I went to bed, feeling exhausted and defeated, but not after having a chat with my son in the cold dank laundry room.   He made all of the right recommendations.  His first inclination was to ask for pliers in order to turn off the valves.  (I told him I couldn’t bear any more drama before sleep.)  The second suggestion he made was to turn the water off at the  main valve.  I told him, in my small voice, “Let’s just go to bed.”

This morning, at the crack of dawn, I left a phone message with Dan at Dr. Heat and Air.  I  thought it best to get calls out to all the perfectly wonderful guys in my life.  On my own, I have learned to rely on my village a little.  It’s taken time to feel confidence in doing that when in life, I always, in every circumstance, relied on myself.  Certainly, on days like this one, it is good to know really competent people in a variety of fields.  Beats GOOGLE all to heck.  While plumbing isn’t Dan’s expertise, he always gives me an ear and has wonderful recommendations.  Most important, he offers a voice of calmness and causes me to feel that I still have control and I can still solve problems.  He gave me that this morning, as well as another recommendation for a plumber.

I emailed Trevor the photographs.  I asked him for recommendations on name brands for good valves and asked if he would suggest any good ones.  I told him I’d keep him up to speed. (poor guy)

By this time, my friend Wendy was awake.  She sent me a calming message (as only Wendy can do) suggesting that, these challenges are tough.  (EMPATHY, right from the get-go)  Turns out she had put in a huge shift the day before, but that she would leave a message for her partner to contact me.

That brings us HERE.  I poured myself a cup of coffee and made a decision to ground myself.  I began this writing.

And since beginning this writing at around 9:30, Max barked at the front door. My dear friend and Wendy’s partner arrived, two wrenches in hand.  He was in the lowest level after giving Max’s rope a playful tug, two minutes later.  Five minutes after that, with water spraying a bit here and there, he completed the task and gave me directions for turning the water back on.  I stood in my tracks and wept, saying again and again, “Thank you.  Thank you.  It was so hard.  It was all so hard.”  A supportive hug and he was on his way to plant tomatoes and I was left standing, asking…

“What was that all about?”

Challenges are a part of life.  We can discover new things about ourselves by tackling them. We can connect with people through our challenges.  We can be creative and we can create.  Obstacles are not put in front of us as punishments or to make us stronger or even to teach us lessons.  Obstacles and challenges are just a part of what life is.  In the past twenty four hours I’ve learned a lot about washing machines, hoses and a little more about plumbing.

As my friend said, before leaving, “In the end, it’s just water.”

My washing machine has been broken since just a week before my brother’s diagnosis with Stage 4 Cancer.  The fact that a new washing machine will be here by evening causes me a strange bubbling up of emotion.  I know that John’s death and this story are not connected at all.  But, they feel connected.  It is ironic that it took so much energy, brain power and community support to get these hoses disconnected!

 

For the Birds: Early Spring 2019

I feel a bit of a cold coming on.  Max and I just returned from the river and I’ve had two pieces of toast slathered with peanut butter and raspberry jam and I’m presently sipping my third and last cup of coffee.

Before heading to the studio, I want to write a brief post to acknowledge just how beautiful it was to visit the river, in the rain.  Every day brings its shift in weather and atmosphere and every day brings to mind a different perspective, colour and life force.  I am just so grateful.

At the prompting of my friend, Nina Weaver, I read, with great attention, the first chapter of John’s gospel and I felt, as I read, that I am getting stronger over these difficult days.  Restorative yoga has been very beneficial to me, in the fact that daily, I am more conscious of breath…taking in healing and releasing suffering.  It’s a bit of a daily prayer for me now.  Life will always be different, without my brother’s booming voice being a part of it, but let’s face it, I carry him with me.  And so, today, I will bring him with me, into the studio to paint.

Watching the birds at the pond and now the river, is such a part of my mental, emotional and spiritual health.  I can not explain to my readers how entering into the watchfulness and presence of such vulnerable creatures is healing and even sustaining.  Focus moves away from self and ego and returns to the other…and to what is necessary to wholeness and health.  I am inspired every day.

Why did I decide to post today?  Well, I gain much through the act of writing, the practice of writing.  I don’t want to lose touch with that.  It was very hard to be caring for brother at the same time as my computer sunk like a stone.  Yes, I filled some journal pages and I wrote in the margins of my Bible, but writing didn’t feel as available through that period.  Writing allows my heartache to tumble out,  releasing a particular tension.  I don’t want to take the purchase of a laptop for granted, just as I never want to take the act of painting for granted again.

First to come in the spring, were the Magpies.  Then, the Canada Geese, the Mallards and the Common Goldeneyes.  At the same time, before snow left, the Robin’s song could be heard.  The House Sparrows gathered once again, in a flurry, at my back yard bird feeder.  European Starlings, Common Mergansers, Red Necked Grebes and more.  My friends at Frank Lake have photographed so many gorgeous birds.  At my river, I don’t see the American Avocets or the Stilts.  However, I have been amused and in love with interactions with these birds in the past.  I am very much about staying close to home these days; my energy is still quite low and  so, I certainly don’t look for places to go or things to do.  The next few photographs represent a few of the birds I’ve enjoyed this spring and ones that have built up the life force within me.

You may wish to click on the image to enlarge.  As well, here are two photographs of Mr. as he returned to the nest with a fish off of the Bow River.  For those of you know me, I don’t know how to pan, so the fact that I managed even two poorly focused images of Mr. in flight, is quite an accomplishment.  Have a beautiful day!