The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys

Yes!  I’m getting caught up on my reviews…hardly reviews…but, posting a bit of feedback, for my own records.

A brief aside:  I’ve had a hit on my blog from Bangladesh this morning.  These things amaze me and I often do not notice, unless I am busy writing something as I am this morning.  I look outside at the blue-white day and am grateful for the steaming hot coffee on my desk and my dog, Max, who curls up at my feet.

I was with Hollee in the bookstore this summer when I saw a book titled The River by Helen Humphreys.  It was filled with maps and archives and bits of observation…all things that I relish about life these days. When I leafed through it, I knew that I wanted to read it some time…but, buying a book wasn’t in my budget, not at that time.  Now, these months later, I still have not purchased or read that book, but have read two other Humphreys books that found themselves on the very generous discount shelves of a book store, one is The Evening Chorus and the other, Coventry.

The Evening Chorus was of particular interest to me because the protagonist, James Hunter, who through unfortunate events, found himself a POW during the second World War and ends up keeping his connection with normalcy through the daily observations of a nest of Redstarts.  In the back Author’s Notes, one actually reads that while this is a book of fiction, it is connected with three historical and documented events.  I love history, and so, of course, this would interest me.   So, underpinnings to the novel include 1. There was a Wellington bomber that went down in the Ashdown Forest during World War II. 2. There was a German prison camp Kommandant who shared a family of Cedar Waxwings with a prisoner.  3. John Buxton was a wartime birdwatcher who wrote a book about the Redstart.  I could only dream to have a copy of his book.

I’ve discovered that I’m a detail lady and this book describes, very carefully, the challenges faced by James Hunter and his peers in the POW camp, the struggles of family back home and the simple act of documenting, writing about and drawing, daily observations of a family of Redstarts.  Retired and self-directed, I am blessed daily with the experiences of ‘slowing down’ time by entering into a process of observing nature.  I surround the words, ‘slowing down’, with single quotation marks because it is my intention that by entering into that process of observation of nature, time will slow, but in actuality, three hours can go by very quickly as I become immersed.

The fact that I share some of the rituals of the protagonist, I was very at home with this book.  Helen Humphreys is generous, lyrical and authentic in her portrayal of the motivation of characters throughout.

A terrific read and at a great price…but then, historical fiction is my favourite.

The Evening Chorus, when all is said and done, is a formally conventional but for the most part satisfying yarn; a quiet novel about a calamitous event whose most trenchant passages show the cast of Humphreys’s poet’s eye: “The song of the redstart begins as a melody and ends in dissonance, as though the song itself comes undone in the process of singing it, finishing up with all the right notes presented in the completely wrong order.”

Emily Donaldson is a freelance critic and editor.

The Evening Chorus

 

IMG_1277

Passing Through: Frank’s Flats

…not to be confused with Frank Lake.

Observed today….a pair of Ring-necked Ducks, not to be confused with the Lesser Scaups that I’ve seen during nesting season. Another first time identification for me.

IMG_1224IMG_1214IMG_1213

Also, passing through, two very shy Hooded Mergansers (I may be incorrect on this identification)  The males are very spectacularly coloured…these two are the cinnamon colour of the females or possibly juveniles…hard to get anywhere near this couple, especially with Max on umbilical.  I would appreciate the help of others on this identification.

IMG_1197

The following photograph gave me the most reference material I could capture…

IMG_1211

There remains, a single Pied Billed Grebe…don’t know why this one hasn’t headed out.  Very elusive and likes to go under at the first sight of me…I’m determined to get close enough to see the light in his eyeballs at some point.

IMG_1263

Anomaly at Frank’s Flats

IMG_1185IMG_1184

I shouldn’t always apologize for my photographs.  I’m not in the business of circling a single pond for the possibility of becoming a photographer, but I would like it if the images were focused.  I am walking daily, however, in order to document what I feel, see, hear and experience.  I am there to learn and to discover through all of my observations.

Well, today, I saw one single male Northern Pintail duck on the pond.  While a very common bird, I have never seen one and I’m always excited to spot a new species. I find it funny that I’ve observed such a variety this autumn and usually solitary male birds.  Please enjoy the link to the Northern Pintail that I have provided.  It doesn’t get much better than Audubon!

Just after snapping these two photographs, a train thundered to the west of me.  The Pintail took off, circled the pond and then headed south across the debacle that is the South West Ring Road, likely to the larger water body to the south.  Grateful for this siting.

The Poems of Clea Roberts

The poetry of Clea Roberts has been a source of great inspiration since attending a Wordfest session, Into the Quiet, this year.  Every poem is an elegant string of words, sparse but potent.  I am left, after reading, with a sense of wonderment about this world of ours.

Because of the immediacy of social media, I have been able to access other people’s travel, adventure and world exploration over months and years…Nepal, Venice, Spain, Croatia, Haida Gwaii.  I get the sense of how vast our life experiences can be…to eat seafood in Japan, observe the art of the masters in far off galleries, stand at the top of the Empire State building.  I enjoy all of this very much.  It all comes into my home, while I sit in my pyjamas at the keyboard, with my cup of coffee on the desk, to my right.

However, nothing moves me more than these poems.  Because somewhere in these images, lies the remembrance of camping with my parents, the smell of woodfires burning, the soft conversations as neighbours drift off to sleep.  The childhood listening.

It was some years ago that I spent time observing this schematic, the scale of the universe.  I realized even before encountering this illustration that just as there are so many more places to explore beyond our own communities, there are a multitude of places to visit in our own intimate surroundings, and to go deeper still, there are internal landscapes to explore.  The universe offers so many compelling and endless possibilities for discovery that it is an easy thing to become fascinated with the world that lives even on the petals of a flower.

The poems of Clea Roberts take me to that beautiful intimate place of connection in a much smaller place, full of limitless possibilities.

In the meantime, for two weeks, I have been observing a single Horned Grebe on a pond, hoping to capture a just one focused photograph.  I have watched muskrats frantically building winter homes in the cattails on the north side of the fence while bulldozers plow and reshape former dwellings.  I see miracles every evening as the sun begins to set.

IMG_1156IMG_1147IMG_1135

One poem to share this morning…from Auguries by Clea Roberts

If Suddenly My Dreams Are Premonitions

There is music or
there is snow falling
on the white-tailed deer.

They strip the ash berries
with precise, needful tugs.

There is music or
there is the gliding silence
between their hoofbeats
as the wind changes.

An introduction is made.
A small part of me
goes with them.

 

What it is Now

As I head out to the pond with Max…thought I would post a bit of a flash back.  I found a wee video in my archive, that I had made in 2011, the first year I began picking litter at this location and got into the ritual of circling the pond.  Beneath the video, some photographs taken during the past week.

The drainage of the pond began and the people I spoke with promised that lots of volume would be left for the healthy fledging of the young birds.  The project was stopped for a day so that the biologist who worked for the contractor could assess my concerns regarding the nests and the fledge.  Readers, look at the following photographs and tell me about volume.

IMG_9866IMG_9863

IMG_0868IMG_0831IMG_0911

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
― Henry David ThoreauWalden: Or, Life in the Woods

The Right to be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier

IMG_0899

I didn’t buy the book at Wordfest 2015.  I was short on money at the time.  So, what’s new?

I was pretty excited as I drove out to Mount Royal University that day!  I was going to be meeting up with my sister-in-law, Karen.  She had driven into town to enjoy some of the Wordfest events and because of her extensive time in the north, she was more than familiar with the topics of this particular book.  She had worked with our neighbours to the north.  She had lived with our neighbours to the north.  She held a wealth of knowledge within her, but stuff that we had never really made opportunity to speak about.  I, on the other hand, was dumber than door nails about the challenges of the north.  Like most Canadians, living in the south, we don’t know about what we don’t see.  Out of sight-out of mind.  It’s shameful, really.  I feel shame.

Today, however, as part and parcel of my own journey of truth, I feel I have had a very generous introduction to the topic through the book, The Right to be Cold, and can now build upon knowledge that exists within me, however scant that knowledge might be. If the Globe and Mail can refer to this book as ‘revelatory’, so can I!  And it was! To gain any insights about the wrongs of the past and sadly, the present, is to liberate ones self.  It is only in educating myself about these mistakes that I can go forward to make change happen within me and in the outside world.

Mount Royal always stumps me, in terms of locating absolutely anything.  It isn’t as simple as the posted maps convey.  I wandered for quite some time before coming upon the theater where Sheila Watt-Cloutier would be speaking.  The people who gathered seemed casual and friendly, calling out to one another.  It turns out that some people were connected through the story and through the north.  I felt like a blank slate…pretty excited.  When Karen settled in next to me, she quietly told me about some of the people in the room.  Embraces were shared.

I want my readers to read this book.  There are chapters within these pages that overwhelm the reader with unfamiliar acronyms (NGO, POP, ICC, KSB, INC, CAIPAP, UNEP and so on…), but if possible,  move beyond these to understand the huge complexities faced by our northern neighbours as they work tirelessly to advocate for safety and health for their families and future generations. Also, pay close attention to the work that has been happening in the past…the voices that have reached out desperately on behalf of human beings, voices that, like the author’s, spoke always from the heart and out of concern for the other.

I can not imagine what it would be like to be so impacted by colonization, industry, and ignorance that my identity, culture and even the health of the foods I ate were at risk.  There is a dark history in our country.  And while it seems too late to be educated and make a difference, we have no choice.  For the Inuit people to lose their way of life is for us to lose what is distinct about our Nation.  I grieve.  I grieve because while I am typing these sentences, years have gone by since the writing of Watt-Cloutier’s book…and the exponential loss of the ice is going on at this very moment.

The Right to be Cold is written in the memoir genre, a form of writing that consistently appeals to me.  I found the narratives about Sheila’s early years very powerful.  As my readers know me fairly well, there were tears in many places.  Yes, at times, I had to put the book down.  The writer does not, however, write from a place of victim.  In fact, I think it is important to her that we not place the story of the north in the context of a victimized people.  Instead, she speaks from a place of strength and hard work and strong belief.

I was blessed, a short while ago, to attend an exhibit at the Glenbow Museum titled North of Ordinary: The Arctic Photographs of Geraldine and Douglas Moodie.  Those photographs did for me what Sheila Watt-Cloutier did with words.  We have sacrificed much by not caring for the north…the ice and snow…and the animals and people who needed to be heard.  In fact, sometimes I think that we, as people of the south, cared more for the animals of the north than the people.  And…isn’t that just crazy?

There was a bench where I could sit down.  I felt the breath knocked out of me.  I felt the truth, like a blow to my gut.  I compared the images captured by the Moodies with the current news stories published about the north…suicides among the youth, housing crisis and melting ice.  It wasn’t many years ago that I heard a teacher who had worked up at Cross Lake, Manitoba say something like…”I don’t get why, when there is fresh fish to be caught, that the people would go pay such huge prices and buy processed fish sticks from the store?”  Read this book!

When I was a little girl sitting in a DND school, I learned about the ‘Eskimos’.  I drew pictures of igloos and harpooning.  But, I was given no context.  Along the way, I was given nothing.  I guess the most magical truth that I received was from my father who had a thirteen month long period away from home.  We lived in Ste. Sylvestre, in Quebec, at the time.  It was in the late 1950s.  My father brought us stories and experiences.  Apart from that, I knew nothing about the north.

IMG_20170520_161058_015

Studio portraits, above, taken by the Moodies.

We have stolen a pristine and health-filled life from the people of the north.  We have tried to take away all of their traditions, culture and ways of being.

Photos taken by my father’s old camera…

0005_###0006_###0011_###

I’ve poured myself another coffee…never really got writing about Sheila’s talk that morning at Mount Royal.  She was inspiring.  She was light-hearted.  She was serious.  Sheila has impacted me and opened up my heart, with the writing of this book.  As an author, she has connected me to the narrative that is our north country and to the fine citizens that have made the north their home over time and forever.

I was grateful to Wordfest for hosting Sheila and I was grateful to have my sister-friend, Karen, sitting next to me.  Here is a little capture of Karen alongside her longtime friend, Sally Luttmer.

Cell October 19, 2015 Bush Wordfest Thanksgiving 045Cell October 19, 2015 Bush Wordfest Thanksgiving 043

….okay, well, I just had a long Skype session with Karen and thank goodness because the writing of this post had become very difficult.  I’ve settled…deciding to conclude this post with a quote and a short thought of my own.

“Everything is connected. Connectivity is going to be the key to addressing these issues, like contaminants and climate change. They’re not just about contaminants on your plate. They’re not just about the ice depleting. They’re about the issue of humanity. What we do every day – whether you live in Mexico, the United States, Russia, China … can have a very negative impact on an entire way of life for an entire people far away from that source.” Sheila Watt-Cloutier

I’m going to end with an image.

On August 26, 2017 my grandson, Steven, came into this world.  It is a powerful and natural thing that he breast feeds and that his Mommy, for now, is his whole world.  It should be that this is the very safest place for my grandson to be, and it is.  Imagine, then, the sad fact that in the north, this generous and natural relationship should be, in fact, dangerous to the infant population, in that country foods have, over generations, been tainted with POPs at a level far greater than we can know or understand.  The peoples living in the north are struggling for their children and their children’s children.  We must contribute to their hope and to their futures.  We must be a strong force, where we can, in their right to be cold!

Book discussion happened with Aboriginal Pride with 12CSI Chapters and Chat.  Photographs below credited to Michelle Robinson…woman who has opened my eyes to more than you know!

 

 

Grades 4 and 5 Discover Charles Pachter

…any excuse to tell the students about my memories of Expo ’67!

My teacher, Mr. Mackay, arranged a billeted field trip from DND Hornell Heights in North Bay, Ontario, to Montreal, Quebec to wander for a whole day at Expo.  With no money in our pockets for rides and such, we covered a vast distance on foot, taking in at least five different Pavilions.  I remember being in awe most of the time.  It turns out that Canada’s artist, Charles Pachter, along with Alexander Calder, was hired to work on the sculptural representations of Canada.

In his book,The History of Canada Series: The Best Place To Be: Expo ’67 And Its Time by John Lownsbrough,

Lownsborough shares the following archive…

All this aside, given that this is Canada’s 150th year…I thought it fun to share with the students what was happening in the world, 50 years ago.  To begin with, their eyes told me that they imagined a dinosaur was speaking before them…chatting away about what I was doing at the age of 12, with my teacher, my own grade five class and in the city of Montreal.  I shared during the Reflection component of the lesson, Charles Pachter’s website and his short biography.  We talked about moose, the Queen of England, satire, and simplicity of form.  I showed a few of Pachter’s works, in order to lead into a depiction lesson, followed by a painted composition.

These were the pieces of art that I shared with the students and that we spoke about, in terms of the subject matter and the arrangement of very simple forms in the composition.

Some vocabulary…satire, silhouette, flat space…

Dressage by Charles Pachter painted in 1988

NONE Charles Pachter art__ Uploaded by: Goffin, Peter

Brink by Charles PachterMoose Crossing by Charles Pachter
Bay Watch by Charles Pachter

As we viewed the works, we had a discussion about iconic Canadian animals.  I asked the students if they had ever seen the combination of coloured stripes that appears in the background of Bay Watch.  Someone mentioned a blanket.  So, for a few short minutes, I spoke about the wool blankets that were made and sold by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

The students went to the chalk board and listed animals that they wished to explore in silhouette.  I think that caribou, moose and deer were unpopular because of the challenge of the antlers and thin legs, but, there were still several students that took on the challenge.

Level II (grades 3 and 4)
REFLECTION
APPRECIATION: Students will interpret artworks literally.
A. Contextual information (geographical,
historical, biographical, cultural) may be
needed to understand works of art.

DEPICTION
ACTIONS AND VIEWPOINTS: Students will select appropriate references for depicting.
B. Drawing strategies, such as gesture to capture action, contour to study important edges and massing to show bulk or weight, are helpful in depicting animate forms.

COMPOSITION:
Component 7 EMPHASIS: Students will create emphasis by the treatment of forms and qualities.
A. The centre of interest can be made prominent by contrasting its size, shape, colour or texture from the other parts of the composition.

EXPRESSION
PAINTING:

Component 10 (iii) MEDIA AND TECHNIQUES:
Students will use media and techniques, with an emphasis on mixing media and perfecting techniques in drawing and painting.
-Use preliminary sketches as the basis for a painting, as well as painting directly.

Level III (grades 5 and 6)

REFLECTION
ANALYSIS: Students will study and analyze the individual character of natural objects or forms.
B. Natural forms can be examined for less visible characteristics.

DEPICTION
Component 4 MAIN FORMS AND
PROPORTIONS: Students will modify forms by abstraction, distortion and
other transformations.
I. Gridding can be used for systematically capturing or distorting the proportions of things.

COMPOSITION
Component 8 UNITY: Students will create unity by integrating the parts of a composition into the whole.
C. Transitions of colour, texture or tone relate the parts of a composition to a unified whole.


EXPRESSION
PAINTING:

Component 10 (iii) MEDIA AND TECHNIQUES:
Students will use media and techniques, with an emphasis on mixing media and perfecting techniques in drawing and painting.
-Use preliminary sketches as the basis for a painting, as well as painting directly.

Students grabbed their Chrome books and did a Google search for silhouettes of their selected iconic Canadian animals.  They were given a pre-gridded piece of 11 x 17 white bond paper for the purpose of depiction.  They were challenged to use ARBITRARY colour (not representative in the predictable sense of an object or location…for example a red sky)  Students did a bit of sketching and colouring on these studies in order to prepare for larger works.

The students were also asked to include the colours of the Hudson’s Bay blanket some where in their compositions.

Off they went to the races!

Next, large 18 x 24 paper was folded into 8 rectangles (in half both width and length and then lengthwise from each end, into the center), proportionally accurate with the 8 rectangles that were printed onto the 11 x 17 bond paper.  Students prepared their own coloured construction ground, on the back, by edging with masking tape. (avoid ripping edges), flipped the work and began to use the grid to make relationships as they enlarged their silhouette in chalk.

Paints were mixed, as is my typical method.  See former lessons under Teacher…and all went swimmingly.  It’s time for me to seek out a great Netflix program for this evening.  I’m sporting one heck of a head cold, but before I do, I’ll post a few of the photographs I caught of the process.

The months are closing on Canada 150.  I’m happy that I had time to spend with these grades 4 and 5 students.  They have been fantabulous!

Reflecting on Andy Goldsworthy With Grade Three

Back in June, I had the opportunity to teach grade three for Deb.  I created an experience that combined viewing, planning, and sculpting in nature and writing.  The students were over the moon with excitement and expressed some brilliant ideas.  I think I’ve written about a number of different ways that Andy Goldsworthy’s work has inspired my teaching…here’s one.

Grade Sevens built Goldsworthy-inspired sculpture over Easter holidays, documented their work and then wrote haiku poetry based on their sculptures in nature.

When I step into landscape of any variety, I am always hyper aware of the textures, light and the impact of one element upon another.  It really drives me as an individual in relationship with my natural world.  Andy Goldsworthy sculpture is very beautiful in its complexity and its consideration of natural contexts.  The manipulation of found materials is inspiring…the challenges seem impossible, but he finds solutions.

You may wish to try this type of project with your students, either in the spring or autumn, no matter the grade. Nice weather days are best.

I began by sharing a movie with the students.  There are several on YouTube.  Select something that is age appropriate, so, take the time to screen for yourself.  It is a good thing to learn about the artist so that you can support ideas/concepts and philosophy with the children, appropriate to age.

I asked each child to select a partner before we left the classroom. The students and I went out into the school yard and very automatically, they began their search for materials.  It was a lovely experience.  I photographed each sculpture as they completed it and once all were documented, we returned to the classroom.  There, I taught them the structure for a Cinquain and then they went to work responding to their sculptures, using words.  It is a magical experience when learning takes place despite anything you say as a teacher.  Inspire them.  Give them the tools and materials.  Then, watch that magic happen!  Congratulations, Grade threes!

IMG_20170615_102452_972IMG_20170615_102546_499IMG_20170615_102742_200IMG_20170615_103048_547IMG_20170615_103156_741IMG_20170615_103254_810IMG_20170615_103400_897IMG_20170615_103601_054

IMG_20170615_120030_292IMG_20170615_120331_042

IMG_20170615_103735_949IMG_20170615_103912_917IMG_20170615_104049_573IMG_20170615_104141_511IMG_20170615_104242_111

IMG_20170615_120132_699IMG_20170615_120301_875

IMG_20170615_104352_975

IMG_20170615_120500_040

 

IMG_20170615_104447_507IMG_20170615_115600_643IMG_20170615_120102_822IMG_20170615_120158_331

 

IMG_20170615_120600_750

Today’s Birds: May 13, 2017

I should be out gardening.  I am typically well ahead of the neighbours, but with owwies in the elbow this year, I’m lagging.  That doesn’t stop me from feeling fired up, however, as I listen to the sound of the neighbouring trimmers, lawnmowers and the stchhhh stchhhh of their sprinklers.

It’s pretty nice getting outside for long hikes, without the lawn work, I’ve got to say.

Here are today’s birds…all at Frank’s Flats.  I continue to hope that the pond on the other side of the chain link fence isn’t drained until the fledge happens.  We’ve a lot of nesting water birds at the moment.  We have one widowed Goose (female, I think), as well as a widowed Mallard (male).  They were hanging out together for quite a bit today. However, as I snapped a photograph, the Mallard flew out of frame.

No smiling at the pond these days!  If I smiled, I would eat my weight in bugs.  Must be the reason for the excitement on the water.  The gulls, laughing in a wild frenzy, are annoying the other birds.  The Yellow-headed Blackbirds seem to be pecking away in the huge batch of blooming dandelions.

IMG_5600

Giving me the Stare Down!

IMG_5613

Female Blackbird

IMG_5620

Female Blackbird

IMG_5632

Black Headed Gull

IMG_5633

More than a few…and Noisy!

IMG_5636

One of the Male Grebes Having a Float

IMG_5637

Overseeing his possibilities.

IMG_5646

Female Blackbirds checking out the Men. So many visible, while for weeks, the men were out there doing the soft shoe on the cat tails on their own.

IMG_5654

Cranky Pants

IMG_5659

Widowed Two Weeks Ago

IMG_5670

This must be my O’ Canada Photograph

IMG_5682

Looking Up

IMG_5686

Chain Link Fence and Wigeon

IMG_5687

Gadwells and Gull

IMG_5695

Savannah Sparrow

IMG_5710

Male Red-Winged Blackbird Giving a Shout

IMG_5700

One Photograph was edited today. Guess which one? (Not this one)

Today’s Birds: May 10, 2017

I took my camera to my birthday brunch, thinking I would snap some family photographs, but once there, I didn’t really think about taking photographs.  So, for today’s post, I won’t have any accompanying images.  Well, I can share this one.

IMG_20170507_122845

Today’s a good day.

Instead of going to Frank’s Flats, this morning, I decided to take Max over to Sikome Lake and check on the status of the female goose on the Osprey Platform.

She finally broke her brooding silence and was honking away and very active on her nest, after about four weeks of stoic waiting.  This could only mean one thing.  And, sure enough, before leaving, I witnessed the tiny bobbing heads of some of her offspring.  As a result, my own motherly defenses surfaced and I got on the phone as soon as I got home, feeling very powerless and somehow, invested.

First, the Fish Creek Park Conservation Officer (didn’t get his name) returned my call and answered all of my questions, patiently, but also, firmly.  I felt huge confidence after he made two things clear to me, 1. it is a criminal offence to mess with nesting birds or wildlife under Provincial jurisdiction and 2. Mother Goose is doing what is natural to her, or she wouldn’t be there.   So, after saying good-bye, I decided that I was going to let go of my fears and upset over the potential loss of life and to accept that all is happening as it was/is meant to be.

Second to this interaction, I received a lovely and informative letter via e mail from Alison Anaka, the Environmental Specialist for Enmax, the company that is responsible for the maintenance and establishment of almost twenty platforms around the city. Alison has given me permission to share her information with my readers…communication that might be appreciated by my friends living, here, in the deep south.