Serendipity?

Today marks the beginning of another week and I anticipate holding my first grand baby in my arms.

On August 11,  I decided I wanted to celebrate my daughter’s rite of passage and be with her in a calm and supportive environment as she moves into the last days of her pregnancy.  I stopped, with purpose, at the grocery store in order to choose some white carnations and baby’s breath.  My father, as a ritual, would stop in to a store on his way home from work and bring my mother carnations.  Sometimes they were red. Sometimes they were white.  And sometimes they were a combination of both.  I wanted to call into our prayer circle,  my mother, grandmothers and the matriarchs of my son-in-law, as well.  During the blessing, I told the story of the carnations, placed in the center of our prayer circle.  Here they are, here. (My son-in-law snapped this photograph for me yesterday morning,  August 12, because I had a “Facebook Memory: This happened four years ago” photograph pop up on my Timeline and my mouth dropped.)

White Carnations August 11, 2017

My father sent me this bouquet on August 12, 2013, the summer my beautiful mother passed away.  Here is the photograph I took of those flowers four years ago.

White Carnations August 12, 2013

Hmmm….perhaps, just serendipity?  The hairs stood up on the back of my neck.  Mom, you are always with me and I know that you will be with us all as we take this wonderful journey over the coming week.  I love you.

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.

Thoughts on Social Media Shouting Fests

I was thinking about something today.  Why am I learning  (most times) to keep my fingers off of the key board when I feel very passionate about some of the issues regularly posted on Social Media?  My track record is that I’ve slid into ‘confrontation’ very easily in life (since being in high school) because I felt that confronting an issue was profoundly important to give voice to my thoughts on issues.  I thought that by vocalizing, and usually emotionally, I had the ability to change the perception of the other or convince them that the way that they were viewing an issue was ‘wrong’ or just plain weird.

p1070881

It’s taken many years…sixty one of them…to figure out that it is not necessary to vocalize, in order to make an impact or to solve a problem.  There are just some things that one is powerless to change.  It is healthy, instead, to empower oneself through action that is productive and meaningful.

It is possible to create change in the world by more consistently being an exemplar for others around issues and doing so with some humility and grace.

Recently, I found an all-encompassing article about what can sometimes happen in marriages that are strained or not working because of communication styles.  When two people, who see an issue differently, have a shouting brawl, are they able to solve the problem at hand?  When a couple is in a perpetual state of silence, are matters being resolved?  If it interests you, please click on the link below because I think that meekness is a fundamental quality that would be effective in dealing with the huge heap of problems that seem to be facing human beings today.

Regarding our view of history and decisions that are made for us, rather than with us, we will always find people with strong beliefs, taking polar opposite positions.  It is human nature.  Democracy is built on the belief that all people have the freedom to express these points of view.  What, I suppose, we might want to work on is how we express these.

Social media has created another layer of communication in our lives.  Its access and simplicity provides the opportunity for us to speak, without thoughtfulness and to send words that do not represent our most productive, kind or professional selves.  There, our words represent ourselves for all time.  No pulling them back.  We need to weigh and measure what that might mean.  An intellectual, Marshall McLuhan, once surmised, it is at these times that, the medium becomes the message.  I think that we are daily, in the sad position of falling into this trap.

Discussions about Donald Trump as President, the visit of celebrities to profess their views on Environmental Issues, whether or not Global Warming is a scientific fact, the responsibilities that fall on Canadians to take account of past mistakes where our Indigenous peoples are concerned, Rachel Notley and the NDP Government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the treatment of women in modern society, Rape, Foreign Policy and military intervention, Syria and Rwanda before, fossil fuels, exploration of the North, the status of wildlife the world over, to name but a few…listen folks…there is much to talk about, but without having productive conversations about the issues, how can we possibly be the creative productive problem solvers that this planet requires?

While Kevin Thomas’s points in the following segment of his essay may address a style of communication in marriage, a person can really apply this to any matter where human beings are concerned in an engaging and helpful conversation.

From Kevin A. Thomas’s personal blog, the Warning: Rocky Times Ahead

The end to apathy is not aggression; it’s meekness.

Meekness communicates that one still cares about the marriage. It announces “I’m still here.” It shows concern for the other person. It reveals a vulnerability and welcomes the other person to reciprocate.

Meekness reigns in the aggressive and it provokes the apathetic.

For some, meekness would say “stop yelling.”

For many, meekness would say, “start talking.”

Wonder if you operate with meekness? Consider the following questions:

 

Reflecting

I’m sorting things out, in order to spend time with my father in the east.  The Christmas cards for 2015 are in the mail.  Doctors appointments, Max’s grooming, the vehicle checks and household chores are now being tackled.  The past week has meant a lot of beautiful indoor time with booming thunder storms every afternoon.  I feel like I’m on a retreat because the house is so quiet…just Max and me.  I can eat popcorn whenever I want.  In the evening, a glass of red wine.  Last night, I baked salmon in parchment paper…fresh lemon squeezed over the beautiful pink meat.  Every ritual seems lovely and intentional.

For the most part, it’s been productive and satisfying.

I’ve decided that my pond study will wrap up the morning of Mom’s birthday, July 27.  I’ve walked the circumference of the pond at Frank’s Flats every day since October 13,2015 with the intention of taking a single Instagram photograph of a single location, a bush that grows at the pond’s edge.  I have seen it through the seasons and watched how light changes everything.  I’ve developed rituals around these observations, recording, writing captions, creating mental sketches and noting the changes in the animals and vegetation as time passes.  I’ve much reference material now and in the autumn, I want to create a response to all of it.  I’ve had some faithful followers as, for most of the experiment up until July, I’ve documented on social media (Facebook) as well.

Bush October 9, 2015Bush February 16, 2016 1056 beauty, warmth, timeBush December 1 2015 1129 the water burps blue skies up above everyone's in loveBush Dec 25, 2015 Merry Christmas Beautiful light the hawk is perchd in the evergreen

IMG_20160707_101936

 

Yesterday, at the pond, I observed the only two Ruddy duck babes, alongside Mom.  The teen-aged Coots and Grebes are now taking diving lessons and doing so very successfully.  Mr. and Mrs. everything are swimming further and further from their youngsters, although the teens still cry out helplessly and give chase, not wanting to be separated from, at the very least, their source of food.  With the horrendous amount of rain recently, I fear that the Ruddy ducks’ nests have been drowned…the two babies that I observed, came to be only days before the first thunderstorms hit, so I’m guessing all of the other mothers were sitting at that time.  I’ll see.

I think that flying lessons are beginning…I notice that the adult Coots, while remaining on the water, are flapping hard and traveling on the surface.

While I stopped putting out seed at my feeders (as a way of settling down the vole and mouse populations), I got emotional when I realized that Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow, in the vent across from my kitchen window, were trying one more time to nest.  The children are crying ravenously with each entrance to the vent from Mr. or Mrs.  I just need to see this family have a successful season, after two former attempts.

IMG_9671IMG_9672IMG_9673IMG_9675IMG_9677IMG_9681

The crows are big raiders in this neighbourhood these days, as those adults also struggle to feed their demanding young.

IMG_4333

As I reflect upon the last while, I continue to feel gratitude…especially for the lessons of nature and of solitude.  I like slowing things down.  I’ve been particularly inspired by a poem by Al Purdy, titled Detail and so I will post it here, along side a few photographs that I snapped yesterday.  In 1981, when doctoral work was typed on typewriters…Elizabeth Jane Douglas wrote a thesis titled the Mechanics of Being Alive: Major Themes in Poetry and Prose of Al Purdy.  This absolutely impacts my past year’s ‘work’ and ‘reflection’.

Al Purdy Abstract

IMG_9537IMG_9543IMG_9554

 

all winter long
… the apples clung
in spite of hurricane winds
sometimes with caps of snow
little golden bells
·         ·         ·
For some reason I must remember
and think of the leafless tree
and its fermented fruit
one week late in January
when the wind blew down the sun
and earth shook like a cold room
no one could live in
with zero weather
soundless golden bells
alone in the storm

(Beyond Remembering 135-36)
Al Purdy The Season of Man
Al Purdy the season of man 2
And then, there are those of us who believe that beyond this, there is so much more.  But for now, I leave this reflection.  I have a border collie, eager to run in the green wet grass.
Prayers for Billy and his family and for little Taliyah Marsman and her mother and their family.

Of Brutality and Tenderness

This is a post, of the sort, that I rarely write.  It will try to express, from my deepest heart, my own sense of conflict in a world that, with passing years, becomes more clearly hostile or as is explored by The Little Prince, in my favourite grown-up book, uninhabitable.

The Geographer

Within the context of this hostility, I seek out tender and beautiful moments so that I might share, as much as I can, positivity, without politicizing or pontificating or professing my own views so as to be delicate with my social media readers.  Well, today, I’m going to deliberately confront, for no better reason than to get things off my chest.  It will not matter because the world will continue to be inhabited by, according to Chapter 16 of St. Exupery’s The Little Prince…

The Earth is not just an ordinary planet! One can count, there, 111 kings (not forgetting, to be sure, the Negro kings among them), 7000 geographers, 900,000 businessmen, 7,500,000 tipplers, 311,000,000 conceited men–that is to say, about 2,000,000,000 grown-ups.

To give you an idea of the size of the Earth, I will tell you that before the invention of electricity it was necessary to maintain, over the whole of the six continents, a veritable army of 462,511 lamplighters for the street lamps.

Seen from a slight distance, that would make a splendid spectacle. The movements of this army would be regulated like those of the ballet in the opera. First would come the turn of the lamplighters of New Zealand and Australia. Having set their lamps alight, these would go off to sleep. Next, the lamplighters of China and Siberia would enter for their steps in the dance, and then they too would be waved back into the wings. After that would come the turn of the lamplighters of Russia and the Indies; then those of Africa and Europe; then those of South America; then those of South America; then those of North America. And never would they make a mistake in the order of their entry upon the stage. It would be magnificent.

Only the man who was in charge of the single lamp at the North Pole, and his colleague who was responsible for the single lamp at the South Pole–only these two would live free from toil and care: they would be busy twice a year.

I am sitting, this morning, watching two nests, two eagles, both sitting on two eggs, miles separating them…one in New Jersey, the other in Iowa.  Today or tomorrow, chicks will emerge and the miracle of life will begin…the obstacles, the weather, the natural abilities to thwart and maneuver around all of the various hazards that will daunt the juveniles and then one day if they manage, find them as adult eagles.  To watch live cameras would not be possible at one time in history.  It is a wonder that I am able to enjoy this privilege and I do not take that lightly.

The nests have taught me much over the past five years.  Moments at the nest have been both gratifying and horrifying. At one point, a chick, still like a wriggling worm with nothing but fuzz on its squirming body, managed to back out and under the tallest railings at the outside perimeter of the nest, and plummeted to the ground below, this after the tedious and daunting 35 days of incubation and the endless tending from both of its parents, once hatched.  In another circumstance, at the Hornby Island nest, a chick was caught up in the talon of its own parent who could not free that helpless bird, and eventually, having to leave the nest for sustenance, returned without the little babe.  This is how brutal life can be.

I have watched the spring birds, with amazement and horror this year. At my back yard feeder, I have watched dozens of male sparrows, harass and brutalize a single female.  A loud raucous noise, screaming, the female batting her wings fast and furiously while the males peck one another, pushing into her body.  She gets as close to the ground as she can, but they persist.  She is allowed no where near the feeder either, as the males take positions of domination.  I can only call these acts, in human terms, acts of rape and aggression.  I have seen it again and again.

I have watched two male mallards gliding in the water alongside a female; the males looking magical…bright green iridescent head feathers, brilliant orange feet paddling them smoothly through the water; the females, much smaller and dull brown.  Inevitably the wild shake of action and the loud forced honking sounds begin and the female lifts out of the water, one male furiously beating his wings a short distance at her back.  They circle the pond, over and over again, the male in wild pursuit. The female is driven into exhaustion. The energy explodes at the pond, the other male seeming to care less of the goings on on the blue spring air.

The pond is edged in human plastic…the life of the pond is choked as it swallows up our branded cups and cutlery.  One big plastic bag wraps itself around the bull rushes, the willow, the dogwood, the natural grasses and ties itself in a knot so that the pond can no longer breath.  The prairie dogs drag the styrofoam chips into their tunnels, warm insulation for the coming winter, where in spring, their kittens will be born.  The coyotes, the osprey, the herons, the field mice are all of no consequence.

At the pond, I am a witness and there are many lessons for me.

Sometimes, as a species, we believe that we are free of such traumas.  There is a false sense that we are ‘apart’ and that even if all of this and these pass, we will go on.  We do not believe, not really, that we are getting sick and that we are dying.  We believe that if our water supply is gone, if our ice caps melt, if we cut down all of our forests and milk the earth dry of her minerals and her oil supply, that we will somehow be free of any great consequence.  We do not believe that we have responsibility for any of the brutality that befalls the planet or other human beings.  Until some hellish consequence befalls us, we are not really linked to our own mortality.  As a people we become faithless, believing that religion radicalizes people and is the essence of all that fails us. Instead, humanity becomes disconnected from mother, source, creator, force, the divine, God…and aimlessly consumes like a rabid dog, everything and if it proves beneficial, every one.

The robust access to media and news, leads us to images that profoundly shock us.  I can only post one example, but one can find similarly distressing visuals surrounding ALL species…the indiscriminate poaching of animals, the inhumane practices in the farming of animals that we consume, the over fishing of our oceans and the devastating harvesting of the fruits of the 140 million year old Borneo rain forests; these to name only a few of my present day concerns.

Minke Whales

Here

Our headlines tell the story of a radicalized world, one that expresses the insane reality of a humanity that casts away ‘the other’ and looks to fulfill an insatiable and personal/collective appetite for whatever serves to pleasure. At the same time as we preach equality and inclusion, we, who have so much, do little to provide for the basic human needs required for a basic existence in other parts of the world or in our own communities. At the same time that we profess inclusion, we feel the only way to live a satisfying life is to be disconnected from spiritual practice and religion, abhorring and publicly attacking those who have not chosen a similar path.

We have counseling for our own traumas and money to spend on frivolous things, but sometimes forget that the world over, children are struggling to care for dying parents and parents are holding dying children in their arms, most often as the result of the greedy intentions of others. (this is where people ask if I am driving a car…this is where I put my own comforts into question)  We negotiate our way blindly through our lives, and think that there is no end to the luxury of it all.

It is not simply in nature that we see male dominance over the female gender. (and let us not forget the exceptions…I really don’t want to piss anyone off)   Recent news has caused me to feel resentful, as I thoughtfully consider issues around narratives of domestic violence and rape. In 2016…it is a difficult thing to understand how humanity can take the position it does, one that continues to victimize the victim, one that can go so far as to mock. As a result of trauma, years later, a victim may hear, “Get over that victim-role!”

Best written by a smart friend of mine, one of those remarkable men in my life,

“It does not inspire confidence in our species that there is an epidemic of people (mostly men) who are so narcissistic that violation in pursuit of gratification is commonplace, with seemingly tacit acceptance.”

Refugees flee in desperation due to political and social turmoil and war, entire families absorbing the trauma of losing their lives as they knew them. Issues of exploitation of women, the impoverished, children; unemployment, a lack of affordable housing, homelessness, respect for people suffering debilitating disease and disabilities of every variety, respect for the dying…all matters of concern sometimes leading to brutal circumstances.  It is all so overwhelming, that humanity becomes numb to the shear enormity of it all.  For this suffering, the remedy seems to be to self medicate, whether that be in the depths of a screen, alcohol, drugs, sex, narcissism…experiencing life on the surface seems much better than feeling things deeply.  It is easy to experience hopelessness.

Just recently, an inspiring priest in our parish, shared this talk.  For me, Holy Thursday represents that moment where life flips from brutality to tenderness and the Easter Triduum, in its complete journey similarly encompasses both.  I’ve always felt this way, it’s just that, this year, I feel like I need to articulate it somehow.  These are desperate times.

I want to, therefore, return to the premise of this writing.  And that is, that despite the brutality,  there is such tenderness in this life and living.  There is hope to be discovered in the quiet and profound intimacy of nature.  For me, there is grace, also, to be found in a long and abiding journey of faith, in my case, in the context of the Catholic church.  This journey has been marked by periods of gut wrenching pain, but anchored in an enduring personal determination,  I negotiated through the darkness and into light.

Tenderness is to be discovered in the penetrating love of mothers.  At the nest, unceasing and true to their instinctual calling, the mother remains a protector.  And generally, so it is with our species.

Decorah Mom March 24 eastern time 156

At the nest, one sees the absolute and determined protective instincts of adults for their offspring.  And within the human experience, we also see hearts that reach out in protection of others.  A few true life examples that came to mind for me over my own Easter Triduum experience…the suffering…sacrifice…dying to self…service…community of support and love…resurrection and light…

Mark and Carmen Vazquez-Mackay have, for weeks now, along with their son, spent Sunday afternoons playing with Syrian children, newcomers to our big city.  They have made an effort to allay fears and to show families who have escaped huge hostility in their own homeland, that they are welcomed and safe.  I think that this is an expression of human tenderness.

SIRIAN LOVE report #3
Today’s group was small…only 7 kids around the age of 8. Many of the families are transitioning to their first homes in Canada, so they couldn’t participate. On our walk to the park, a few of the boys fought to be the ones who held my hand for the walk; I wish I had 6 hands this morning. One boy in particular was wanting much of my attention. He is definitely a leader who keeps all the boys in check. When we were leaving the park, he yelled “No, no, no” and refused to leave. Made me happy to know the positive effect Carmen and I are having, but sad that I can’t give him more time. It took 5 minutes to pry him off the playground. When I gave my departing high-fives to the kids, this boy followed it up by blowing me a kiss…sic

Mark V

Wendy is the visionary who breathed life into create!   create! in the East Village offers free, drop-in, inclusive creative programming to all residents of the East Village. Sessions run 4 times each week.  The diverse group of people who gather and create and communicate with one another is such an absolute testament to the inclusive nature of humanity when the very best of love and concern shines through.  There is nothing like it.  To find yourself in a place where you are validated by the mere act of entering into the dance of creation is to be richly blessed and exemplifies what it means to receive tenderness.

create W

Hollee, L’Arche Canada’s National Leader, supports the vision of Jean Vanier who has committed his lifetime and inspires others to care for and tend to the human heart, no matter how lonely or isolated that heart might be.  L’Arche was founded in 1964 by Canadian humanitarian and social visionary, Jean Vanier. Distressed by the institutionalization and the isolation and loneliness of people with intellectual disabilities, Jean Vanier invited two men from an institution to live with him in a small house.

In L’Arche, people who have intellectual disabilities and those who come to assist share life and daytime activities together in family-like settings that are integrated into local neighbourhoods. L’Arche in Canada has nearly 200 homes and workshops or day programs. These are grouped into what L’Arche calls ”communities.” There are 29 communities of L’Arche located across Canada from Cape Breton to Vancouver Island. L’Arche communities are open and welcoming of neighbours and friends and often engage in various collaborations at the local level.

In a seeming brutal world, there are those who make the invitation to others to ‘belong’ regardless of differences and prejudices.  It is possible to see the world with tenderness and to nurture her…all species…the land…the oceans and one another.

Given hours that I have spent in hospitals, sitting next to loved ones who are in pain or who are fading in health and life…I have seen the very worst and the very best of humanity.  The tenderness and compassion that comes with Personal Support Workers and nursing staff, Daycare Workers and those who choose to lovingly care for our aging populations, women and men who are sometimes completely helpless and suffering with memory loss, is to be greatly commended.  While in this lifetime, these responsibilities do not appear to be valued, these expressions of care and professionalism, are crucial to our healthy formation as a people.  Bravo to those who choose patience and kindness and for environments that honour tenderness before productivity and quick delivery of service.

Blessed are those who advocate for our planet…those who research and study, observe and document, diligently fight for the humane treatment and protection of the myriad of species we share this planet with.  Theirs is important work.  There are countless individuals who take in stray animals and tend to their woundedness.  There are organizations that take on very specialized mandates in protecting our forests, waterways and our resources.  There are those who fight for the cause of other human beings who are struggling, in our city and globally.

Ramona, my high school bestie, has just returned from serving with the Peace Corp in Guyana and before that, Peru.  Her photographs over these several years and her brief stories have sometimes made me cry; I am so proud of her service and her contribution to the education and well being of others.  Ramona’s heart has always been filled with tenderness and sincere care for others.  No time for ‘selfies’, this lady is captured in photographs in the ‘belly’ of life and living.  I love her so much!

Ramona

Ramona 2

Sweet Christina, who I’ve watched grow from dream-filled teenager to smart creative woman, decided to take on a mission.  She just decided she was going to do something meaningful and so readers discover, Slum Runners!

Slum Runners is a grassroots organization working toward the creation of sustainable community-run bases that address the widely unmet needs of: education, sanitation, access to clean drinking water and affordable food. We aim to develop access to these basic resources within urban slums.

One third of the world’s urban population lives in slums. This number is continuing to climb and the need for hubs providing these basic needs
are, and will be, both life enhancing and life saving.

Our project aims to develop a scalable model implementing natural design principles that incorporate traditional knowledge and modern-day innovation.

To date we envision robust earthen educational structures, rainwater harvesting, intensive urban food forestation and increased access to school supplies.

Our pilot project is scheduled to commence early in 2016 in the urban slum of Mukuru Kwa Ngenga, Nairobi, Kenya.

Christina

About this picture…

We started the Chinese year of the monkey with ZERO monkey business. Just dirty hands and straight faces!!! Today we dug our new small garden plot a foot deep into garbage, clay and actual boulders….that is the soil we have to work with 😳 BUT we did it! We’ve got a little lasagna bed starting. So proud of our growing environment club! Soon we’ll be ready to plant seeds. Oh! And when the kids came to class I asked them to get out all the compostable materials I had listed for them to bring and found 100’s of plastic straws mixed with mango peels and grass…I finally realised I had listed “hay/straw!” 😂😂😂

There is so much beauty and tenderness that rises out of the dark sludge of everything that ails…but, this post is becoming far too long.  If you’ve pushed on through all of it…I’ll summarize my thoughts here.

I am, in walking a single pond environment every day, learning lessons about the intimate beauty of an ofttimes struggling world. I’m capturing hope and light in the bubble of my heart and going home with it.

This Easter journey was a beautiful thing…it not only exposed much about the world that is brutal, (suicide bombings, disintegrating glaciers, Yemen murders of 16 people, four of them five members of the Missionaries of Charity)  but it brought to mind, everything that is glorious about life and peace (the tending and hatching of two eagle eggs over 37 days, the love shared between my children and my family members, my Dad, the laughter shared with students at school, my daily dog-walking and nature-watching).  This is what living means…all of it.  It is all by the grace of God.

Duke 812 March 27 2016 Feeding Easter Morning

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

 

One of the ‘engines of life is faith’.  In my opinion, this premise is core to Martel’s writing. Yann Martel consistently negotiates his way through this theme in his books, instead of avoiding it completely, which seems to be the norm in our world today.

This was one of the loveliest books I’ve read in a long time.  The shape/form of the book comes to the reader in three chunks; Homeless, Homeward and Home.  When I began to read chunk two, I said to myself, “HUH?” (I am not one of those who reads reviews first or who even reads the bits that appear on the book jacket.) With no transition from the seeming novella of chunk one, I didn’t ‘get’ what was happening.  I just decided to ‘go with it’.  I literally wept at the conclusion of chunk three.  Beauty.  Place. Home. Companionship. Family. Faith. Adventure and the human wanderings of our hearts.  All of these are themes of this book – part fantasy – part so real that it causes the heart to ache.

I fell in love with the landscapes…so clearly written, that in the evening, I wanted to return to the same places.

I was intrigued by the artifacts; Father Ulisses’ diary…the unusual crucifix…the workings of the four cylinder Renault.

The symbols and characters are, for me, very allegorical.  I think that my readers might agree that this device is used consistently, also, in The Life of Pi.  Martel’s imagery moves so far beyond metaphor.  One has to take the time to search their own sense of meaning and life, in order to really appreciate this book.  Since this is my practice all of the time, it comes naturally.

For some readers, the detailed description of the ‘magical’ autopsy, may provoke some upsetting feelings or sense of disbelief, but for me, this, in chunk 2, was imperative.  It is interesting that, most recently, a lot of my reading is helping me with and through my grief story.  This one, truly, was the most helpful to me to this point.  Perhaps it is the fact that it appeals to the artistic side of me and taps upon the wounded part of my imagination.  Loss does amazing things.

Finally, the relationship between Odo and Peter in the Home section, chunk 3, found me both laughing and crying throughout.  I DID feel HOME in this chapter.

I hope that my reading-friends will pick this one up and get back to me on your thoughts.  I’m looking forward to hearing Yann Martel at Wordfest this week.  I find his writing appeals to me.  Of his works, the only disappointment for me was in Self and my comments scratched in the front cover on November 14, 2012, simply say that the book was ‘tragic and in so many ways, for me, insincere.  Difficult in places and not humourous as the reviews present.’

A thorough review on “The High Mountains of Portugal”… and I agree, there are no spoilers reading reviews on this book because when you enter into the experience, it is sure to be your own.

It was a beautiful evening at the John Dutton Theater, listening to a great interview with Yann Martel and speaking with him for a short while, about grief.

Cell March 16, 2016 Yann Martel Franks Max 050

THE HIGH MOUNTAINS OF PORTUGAL -- cover

 

 

The Peel Project

My children are warm-hearted and inclusive.  Last night I was very excited to have been invited, very spontaneously, by Cayley, to the viewing of the documentary, The Peel, in the intimacy of The Blank Page studio.

It was Cayley who, 27 years ago, picked purple flowers for me, while surrounded by wolf willow, at the edge of the Oldman River at Maycroft Crossing.

Kath's Canon, March 2, 2016 Maycroft Archives 005

Kath's Canon, March 2, 2016 Maycroft Archives 008

I had missed the huge public viewings of the film the night before.  So, as I look back on last evening, I’m very grateful that I was able to curl up on a sofa and enjoy such remarkable vistas coming out of the Peel Watershed documentary and to enjoy, in part,  the narratives of the participants on this wondrous adventure.  I could not help but connect with the narratives, struggles and histories in the documentary, given my close connection with the Oldman Watershed in southern Alberta in the mid 1970s through the 1980s.

OldmanWatershed

First, to describe the Peel project, directly from the website, this…

The Peel is a multi-layered project bringing together film, the arts and sciences as a means of telling a uniquely Canadian story of art, adventure and Canadian identity. The Peel highlights the landscape, culture and wildlife of the Peel River Watershed (PRW) in Yukon/Northwest territories. This watershed is one of the last undeveloped watersheds left in Canada, spanning nearly 68,000km2 of intact arctic wilderness.  As of January 2014 71% was opened for economic development related to mining and oil exploration — that decision has been continuously fought.

There is something very interesting about aging…one collects a whole bunch of experiences that later, become reference points for others.  I’ve always treasured the words and stories of my elders…now, very slowly, I become the elder.  It makes me smile.  Life marches forward.  We are left with the photographs and the archives and the documentaries.

Surprisingly, as I sat down this morning and did a search of the internet for the steps that we took in defiance of the building of the Oldman River Dam, there was very little in the way of an ideological footprint (there have been a couple of books written, one newspaper archive and the mention of the Oldman River Expedition appears sparsely on a whole number of artists’ Curriculum Vitaes) and so I decided to dig up my own archives coming from the late 1980s.

First of all, SAAG in Lethbridge celebrated the works of the following artists in an exhibit, as a response to a shorter but similar journey down the Oldman River.

In the summer of 1990, a group of well-known artists in all media from across the country took part in a week-long rafting and camping expedition down the Oldman River, arriving in Lethbridge on Canada Day. This exhibition will document that trip by showing that the work was initiated by that experience. Participating Alberta artists are: Barbara Ballachey, Carroll Moppett, Stephen Hutchings, Jeffery Spalding, Janet Cardiff, Billy McCarroll, Catherine Burgess and others include Dan Hudson, Tim Zuck, Judith Schwarz, Toni Onley, Tak Tanabe, Terence Johnson, Robert Blake and Landon MacKenzie. Although the work in this exhibition is diverse in media and approach, it is unified in its tribute to the southern Alberta landscape. – See more at: http://www.saag.ca/art/exhibitions/0516-the-oldman-river-expedition-exhibition#sthash.Z0dUPaWF.dpuf

I continue to admire the work of several of these artists and have followed their careers and work with great interest.

While painting could not be my sole focus through this precise period of time, I had been painting the Oldman River as a subject for a number of years.  Nestled on the edge of the river, the University of Lethbridge had already been my home for four years at this point.  The river became an obsession with me for many years and I had spent countless days/hours exploring and dreaming in the coulees and at the river bottom.  When the politics became heated over all aspects of irrigation and development of a Dam on the Oldman, I was consumed and soon became a contributing member to the “Friends of the Oldman”.  My own grandfather, the owner of Magrath Wool, Card and Spinning Mill, had taken a position on the Oldman Planning Committee.

Grampa Moors 2

The number of connections I made and conversations I shared around the river, grew. I remember meeting and speaking with Joane Cardinal Schubert at the time.  It was an image of hers that became the poster for our legal and artistic struggle.

Joane Cardinal Schubert and the River 2

Joane Cardinal Schubert and the River I began painting a series titled Oldman on the Edge and continued to paint the river right into the 1990s.

Maycroft 3

I snapped some photographs from my albums this morning…as our family, like many others, headed out very early in the morning and drove from Calgary to Maycroft Crossing for a musical festival to raise funds and to voice opposition of the dam that was already in the works.  That day, I met Ian Tyson, Gordon Lightfoot, Andy Russell and Chief Crowshoe.

Kath's Canon, March 2, 2016 Maycroft Archives 010Kath's Canon, March 2, 2016 Maycroft Archives 009Kath's Canon, March 2, 2016 Maycroft Archives 013Kath's Canon, March 2, 2016 Maycroft Archives 001Kath's Canon, March 2, 2016 Maycroft Archives 007Kath's Canon, March 2, 2016 Maycroft Archives 006Kath's Canon, March 2, 2016 Maycroft Archives 003Kath's Canon, March 2, 2016 Maycroft Archives 004

Kath's Canon, March 2, 2016 Maycroft Archives 012

So…was it any wonder that I felt deeply about the documentary, The Peel, last evening?  I’m glad I had opportunity to talk with both Katie Green and Daniel J. Dirk for a short while.  I admire their attempts to integrate the power of the journey, their artistic practice and their strong desire to preserve, for future generations, this last remaining watershed in North America.  It’s crazy what has happened to our rivers, in the name of progress and in support of industry.  I understand their efforts to articulate what their journey on a portion of the Peel has come to mean to them.  I know that, given my own physical/emotional/psychological efforts on  a 31 day Outward Bound experience (white water and mountain climbing), what it means to try to ‘be an artist’ on a journey and how it must have been challenging for the artists on the Peel Project.

Reflecting back, again, on ‘my’ river…take a look at this…the land use…the cut lines.

Land use Oldman Watershed

I’m publishing a few pages that come out of a 2010 report on the Oldman Watershed…I think it touches on the history of a river and might give my readers something to think about.  I guess something that really touched my heart last night were Daniel’s words to me…and I paraphrase…

I guess even if our voices aren’t heard and we are unsuccessful in our efforts to create sustainability, where the watershed is concerned, we will have been defiant and stood in opposition.  Maybe that’s the best we can do sometimes.

2010 Oldman Watershed Report Preface

2010 Page 2

2010 Page 3

2010 Page 4

2010 Page 5

Aldo Leopold’s words ring true…

“We end, I think, at what might be called the standard paradox of the 20th century; our tools are better than we are, and grow better faster than we do.  They suffice to crack the atom, to command the tides.  But they do not suffice for the oldest task in human history; to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.”

Congratulations on the North American premiere The Peel, a free Art!Flicks documentary directed by Calder Cheverie and Anthony Wallace.  Congratulations to six artists; Aurora Darwin, Carleigh Baker, Anthony Wallace, Katie Green, Daniel J. Kirk and Callan Field.

 

 

Finding a Stash of Old Photos

I’ve written before about photography and how it’s changed.  It wasn’t always this way, a sort of obsession about recording ourselves, our food and our experiences.  Digital photography has changed how we see the world and how we see ourselves.  I had fun today because I found a small set of photographs from 1978, all taken with what was called an instant camera.  I couldn’t see the results until months after I returned home from my experience.  I picked up these and other photos, in slide format, from a drug store.  I didn’t know that I had purchased ‘slide film’.  Sigh…I know.  It’s different.

Outward Bound…an amazing and forever-memorable experience.  Here are a few photos.  I love that through the years and through the conversion of these to a few photographs, I have such fond and wondrous memories.

A three day solo…began with the construction of my shelter…a process I completed just as the sun went down.  I grabbed a quick photo of that moment…although I had no idea what the image would look like until some months later. No filters and no photo shop.

Outward Bound 1978 Saying Good Night to the SunIn the morning, I explored my neighbourhood after dusting off the spiders that were warming on the inside of my plastic lean-to.  A glorious home and a lovely rest after weeks of athletic training and climbing.  I had three lemon flavoured candies.  I decided to eat one each evening as a ritual.  Funny…but fasting is the very thing that busted the nerve of some of my peers.  It meant nothing to me to go without sustenance.  I wrote.  I warmed myself on the heat of that great boulder.

Outward Bound 1978 Solo Lean ToThe rock was beautiful beautiful granite…so different from climbing crumble.  This photo was taken just minutes before heading up my first chimney.  In looking back, I’m glad it captured the essence of the rock.

Outward Bound 1978 Before the Chimney 3Looking at the view…quite something.  Here, a view of Amphitheater Mountain in Washington State.  Quite a different sort of photograph than appears on-line today.

Outward Bound Amphiteater 1978 2Two of my lady-friends…I remember Sue is to the far right and Marianne in the middle.  We have reached a summit here.  Heck if I can remember the name of the mountain…we climbed 11 mountains to their summit in 31 days.

Outward Bound 1978 Summit I’ve shared this one before and I’ve written about it.  I’m glad that I located some others.  They make me smile, especially as I look down at this cast.

06-06-2011 5;15;38 PMIn my youth, I have very few photos…no selfies for this chick, but archives like this are enough.

Saturday Morning

The air was beautiful this morning.  After a hot cup of coffee and Max’s visit with the vet, we headed for Frank’s Flats.  Along the way, I noticed three other ‘pickers’, three men looking for revenue.  I also appreciate that there are some like-minded people who are, at the very least, keeping items like bottles and cans out of the landfill.  But, what I’d really like to see on a nice-weather-day, are families and individuals out picking litter.

I remember a long time ago, seeing these sorts of photos and documentaries and they changed the way I thought about my community environment.

Images like these ones brought to mind an interaction that I shared with students many times along the span of my thirty year teaching career.  If I asked a student to pick up a piece of litter off of the floor, the response was, “That isn’t my granola bar rapper.”  I got to thinking that we’re all like that.  We think that our responsibility to our environment is not to act as a collective.  (If I did not drop that waste, then I will judge the anonymous person who DID, but I will not pick it up.)  We need to, at some point, take positive movement forward as a collective.

It is fine and well to judge the citizens of China or other countries and continents, but we must begin to take a good look at our own nation, our cities and our neighbourhoods.  We use social media of every sort to stand in judgement of other places for their consumption and disgusting waste, but we are blinded by our own.

Just this morning, this is what I saw…

????????????????????“This is why I pay taxes.”

There’s a healthy attitude; don’t you think?

There is a very dangerous exercise that takes place because the status and amount of litter that is gathering along our road sides is becoming so grave.  There is no longer the person-power to pick all of this first and so the cities send out mowers to mow over the stuff, pulverizing it to the point that it becomes invisible to us, but ever so much more dangerous to our ecosystems.

I had to write from my experience today because I was just so broken by the sad state of a single park in a very huge city.  With head down, however, I found a man’s wallet today and dropped it off to the police station, where it was being claimed by its owner.  Little moments of goodness happen as I collect up one large bag of litter every single day.  I’m hoping that others might resolve to, on occasion, do the same.

Ending with a poem…and Max’s today-photograph.

Home

The young man,
arm around his girlfriend,
makes eye contact
and then steers
her in the opposite
direction.

Away from me.

An educator,
a professional,
I suppose I wore the cloak
of someone
living

on the margin.
A woman passes by quickly.
I bend down and pick
another Tim Horton’s cup.
Saturday morning latte.

Do you live in a house of brick?

When the wind stops blowing,
some can rebuild…
a home of cardboard,
pulling the Dorito bags and
the Granola packages in around them.

Tuck into endless
heaps of plastic bags.
Use them for a pillow.

The nesting ducks at the pond’s edge
can gracefully move
through water lined with
straws and cigarette packages.
The peregrines, when they return,
will fly, regal, over all.

It is all about someone else.
It is all about life being busy.
I’ve got only so much time on weekends.
The city needs to deal with the homeless.
The city needs to deal with the trash.
Give them fines.
Do something else.
If it doesn’t make you happy,
why are you doing it?

I’m not happy.  But, I’m going to do it.

DSC_2920??????????

??????????

User Groups: Community of Shawnessy, Bishop O’Byrne High School, South Fish Creek Recreational Center, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Jugo Juice, Wendy’s, Michael’s, Subway Sandwiches, Calgary Public Library

Today’s Pick offered up for Loretta Young, my beautiful friend.  Will always miss you, but my love is forever and travels with and around you.  Rest in Peace.

 

 

Mr. Man-Moth Flies In and Out of Rumble House

This post isn’t a tribute as much as it’s an expression of my heart felt sympathy for the loved ones who knew well, loved, shared experiences with, worked along side beautiful human beings who recently lost their lives, while making their way somewhere on blustery roads in Saskatchewan.  They lived, created, inspired…were fun and funny…sometimes despairing…sometimes challenged and challenging…I just feel sad that they are gone.

Among them, Michael Green.  Over the next long while, Calgarians will be discovering so many reasons why we miss him.  Some of this was felt at Rumble House last night, a visual arts space where artists of all walks can gather and paint with wild abandon.  As Larissa so eloquently shared last night, having struggled personally as a result of the High River floods…ones art is sometimes all that gets a person through the struggles.  “My art saved me.”  Enriquito has his story.  Dave has his story.  Frank has his story.

??????????

??????????

DSC_2450

I went to Rumble House with a bit of a heavy heart.  Earlier in the day I had seen an image that Frank shared on social media.  It was the image of the most spectacular and exotic moth.  I was thinking about the absence of beautiful beings and about what their journey must be once letting go of the body.  The body, through gravity, lives a part of its life grounded.  Beings interact with other beings through voice and touch and smell.  This is all so beautiful and I think that through such recent news as this, we are reminded to cherish the lives that engage us every day.  Look, with care, upon the work of others.  Value their creativity.

It is worth your while to read this poem in its entirety.  It’s lovely.  Thank you, Jess, for purchasing this piece at auction.  Thanks, Bruce and Enriquito.  Thanks for the image, Frank, and we miss you.  The moth struggles toward the light.

The poem, The Man-Moth by Elizabeth Bishop

Here, above,
cracks in the buildings are filled with battered moonlight.
The whole shadow of Man is only as big as his hat.
It lies at his feet like a circle for a doll to stand on,
and he makes an inverted pin, the point magnetized to the moon.
He does not see the moon; he observes only her vast properties,
feeling the queer light on his hands, neither warm nor cold,
of a temperature impossible to record in thermometers.
                     But when the Man-Moth
pays his rare, although occasional, visits to the surface,
the moon looks rather different to him. He emerges
from an opening under the edge of one of the sidewalks
and nervously begins to scale the faces of the buildings.
He thinks the moon is a small hole at the top of the sky,
proving the sky quite useless for protection.
He trembles, but must investigate as high as he can climb.
                     Up the façades,
his shadow dragging like a photographer’s cloth behind him
he climbs fearfully, thinking that this time he will manage
to push his small head through that round clean opening
and be forced through, as from a tube, in black scrolls on the light.
(Man, standing below him, has no such illusions.)
But what the Man-Moth fears most he must do, although
he fails, of course, and falls back scared but quite unhurt.
                     Then he returns
to the pale subways of cement he calls his home. He flits,
he flutters, and cannot get aboard the silent trains
fast enough to suit him. The doors close swiftly.
The Man-Moth always seats himself facing the wrong way
and the train starts at once at its full, terrible speed,
without a shift in gears or a gradation of any sort.
He cannot tell the rate at which he travels backwards.
                     Each night he must
be carried through artificial tunnels and dream recurrent dreams.
Just as the ties recur beneath his train, these underlie
his rushing brain. He does not dare look out the window,
for the third rail, the unbroken draught of poison,
runs there beside him. He regards it as a disease
he has inherited the susceptibility to. He has to keep
his hands in his pockets, as others must wear mufflers.
                     If you catch him,
hold up a flashlight to his eye. It’s all dark pupil,
an entire night itself, whose haired horizon tightens
as he stares back, and closes up the eye. Then from the lids
one tear, his only possession, like the bee’s sting, slips.
Slyly he palms it, and if you’re not paying attention
he’ll swallow it. However, if you watch, he’ll hand it over,
cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink.

 

Elizabeth Bishop, “The Man-Moth” from The Complete Poems 1926-1979. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. (because the Poetry Foundation provides for a share on Facebook and Twitter, I’m hoping this means that I may share the poem)

Source: The Complete Poems 1926-1979 (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1983)

 

DSC_2474 DSC_2473 ?????????? ??????????