Painting With Kids Outdoors on a Windy Day!

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

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

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

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

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

Food Narratives and Traditions: Pierogi

It was the second year that I had the opportunity to work alongside Michael, a friend who grew up in the tradition of his mother making Perogies, spelled Pierogi (for those who really know what they are doing).  Last time, we took the project on in my little U shaped kitchen and this year, in the far more organized kitchen in Michael’s home, edging the bike path where, at this time of year, tall trees are clothed in glorious colour.

I am very grateful for the experience and feel like I really did get into the groove of the pinching and such.  I tried to be a support back-up person for Michael who moved through the kitchen rolling and boiling and pinching as though a well choreographed machine.  We stopped about half way through our shared experience to sit and sample the goods and they were delicious, but this only after whipping downtown to see if we could pick up a batch of miniature books on the topic of the 94 calls to action, resulting from the Truth and Reconciliation process.  I explained to Michael that I really wanted to make certain that each person who attended this years THANKS-giving feast would leave with one. No such luck! We arrived at the stroke of 4:14 when the Native Counselling Center closed at 4:00.  Drat!

Back to our culinary experience…

These tasty treats will be shared around with many friends and family members over the coming days and I really hope that Michael and I can make Pierogi as an annual event.  Good music, cold drinking water and much activity makes for strong friendships.  Working side by side in the kitchen is a great way to really get to know your friends!  Highly recommend!

(Thanks to Ellinor for the sour cream!)

Amounts for a single batch…divided and rolled a third at a time, after a half hour rest in a plastic bag.

5 level cups of flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup cold milk
1 cup hot water (not boiling hot)

Whisk together your wet ingredients and then add your flour gradually.

Fillings this year… and we think we made approximately 30 dozen of these little gems because we worked up three batches in all.

#1 Potato, cheddar, homemade pickled peppers

#2 Mushroom, leek, truffle oil and dill

#3 Potato, cheddar and green onion

Thank you, Micheal, for your generous heart.

 

Music to Fill a Heart: Folk Fest Thursday, July 27, 2017

I haven’t updated my blog for most of the summer.  Sometimes life just carries you to places you didn’t expect.  It’s been one of those types of summers.  I purchased my Early Bird Folk Festival tickets months in advance of the event.  It was probably a good thing because otherwise, I wouldn’t have treated myself with so much going on at the home front.  In the end, I attended the entire weekend, with the support of my family and with coverage for dog walking and other responsibilities.  Max is always a factor in my planning.

It was July 27.  It was my mother’s birthday.  I remember taking my mother down to the the island, many years ago.  We sat on a bench and shared an ice cream cone. I thought a lot about Mom that evening. I ended up closer to the entrance than any previous Thursday night and had some lovely conversation with my line mates as we waited for gates to open.  I chatted with a family group and also met a gentleman who is married to a lady from Souris, PEI, so we had some time to chat about the Cheveries, as she has her family of origin in that line.

Oh, yeah…and I found this guy, in line.  (and yes…we need to get the programs in place NOW, in regards to homeless Veterans.  I’m with you on that, readers.)

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My first and most favourite food of the weekend…a Mediterranean plate, paired with an ice cold lemonade.  Thursday evening entailed no fly sheets, a simple cozy blanket for sitting.

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Thursday night saw me plunking my butt down at the Main Stage the entire time.  I ended up very close to the music.  I felt breath and peace and music sink into me, as for the first time, this summer, I truly relaxed.  My favourite discovery was the 5:30 performance by Dawes!  Why haven’t I heard Dawes before?  What???

Immediately, the song writing touched me and I related to the music at a heart level.  I’m going to post, not one, but two videos, here.

Ripped off, directly from the Folk Festival website…this biography.

“California in the ‘70s saw the rise of the singer songwriter scene, where musicians threw off the yoke of ye olde folk songs to try their hands at new, more personal creations that melded the personal, the political and the heartfelt. California roots rock band Dawes ably carries that musical torch, even recording their first album live to analog tape in a studio in Laurel Canyon. If you need a recipe for Dawes’s sound, imagine poignant and melodic songs, heartfelt lyrics, sweet harmonies mixed together in a package that’s just a little rough around the edges.

The band’s founders are brothers Griffin and Taylor Goldsmith, so they come by the sweet sibling vocals honestly. Turns out the band’s name is part of their family roots. Dawes is Taylor’s middle name, inherited from his grandad who really liked the idea of keeping the connection and introduced them to two of their favourite artists, Bob Wills and Hank Williams. Dawes mines five albums worth of originals and occasionally serve as the backing band of their old friend and collaborator Bright Eyes (Connor Oberst). And they spread their modern take on ‘70s music, touring folk and rock festivals in the U.S., building a loyal audience for their distinct brand of indie California folk rock.
ER”

 

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A highlight for me was musician, Duane Betts, son of Dickey Betts, who joins Dawes with their touring band.  Mouth dropping guitar interludes absolutely blew me away!  A great experience in music!

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Choir! Choir! Choir!  was entertaining at 6:45, but honestly, Calgary, I would have liked to see more participation.  This makes me laugh, as I see the teacher-heart spring up.  We did a poor version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.  It sounded nothing like the version I’ve posted, here.  I did move right up to the front and gave it my best effort, as you can all imagine.  We didn’t have Rufus Wainwright with us, but you get the idea.

 

An academic study into the effects of collective singing at one Mideast protest found that it helped the group vent negative emotions, strengthen solidarity, foster hope and experience spiritual transcendence. That’s also a typical review of a Choir! Choir! Choir! experience.

And it is an experience, more than a show or a gig. Choir! started as a weekly event at Clinton’s Tavern in Toronto, where anyone with $5 and any skill level could show up and sing along. As word and YouTube videos spread, they begin taking the experience on the road. The onstage setup is simple: usually, just an acoustic guitarist and somebody waving their arms (the conductor). The audience does the heavy lifting. No audition required: Choir! leaders hand out lyric sheets, divide the group into highs, middles and lows, teach the harmonies — and then a radio staple by Tragically Hip, Rihanna or a ’90s grunge band becomes a beautifully shared moment. Hope, solidarity and spiritual transcendence are often outcomes of a great Folk Fest stage, but never quite like this, where the magic emanates from all of you.

JM”

Up next was Coeur de pirate.  She has the pipes!  I was watching her perform through the eyes of my friend, Denise and I thought a lot about our friendship throughout the performance.  A beautiful and animated performer, she blew us all away.  It was at this point that I connected with friend, Jane, who happened to be hanging with all three of her kids and families.  I feel so blessed to have joined them on their tarp for this set.

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Billy Bragg and Joe Henry performed next.  It was difficult to separate the opinions of others regarding Billy Bragg and my experience of this music.  He is looked at like authentic ranchers would view a Rhinestone Cowboy…a bit of a star who doesn’t suffer the actual realities of hard working people.  However, I have to tell you, I was really impressed by the music.  I am nostalgic when I think of trains and this was the general drift of this set.  Joe Henry and Billy Bragg have been collaborators on a project that, I think, archives a history of music as it relates to the American Train.  I guess one would argue that this is an appropriation, of sorts.  I say this, simply, because its a subject that comes up a lot.

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I enjoyed my first night of music listening minus some parking shenanigans….so began folk festival 2017.

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.

Wild Stone Heart and Other Matters

Hours, days, and weeks pass without writing, as I plow my way through matters of the heart.  Today, however, I feel an impetus to put down a layer of words.  It comes from a tree huggin’ place, from my utter respect for nature and for pain at watching consumption impact absolutely everything.  I am one of those consumers.  It’s not as though my ideas have transitioned much, into action.  For example, I do not live off grid.  I drive a car.  While I don’t buy a lot of stuff, I get my adult children Kinder-Surprise eggs at Easter time….that sort of thing.  This isn’t intended to be a defensive post or a judgmental post.  I simply want to archive my observations of today.

Last night, I finished another chapter of Wild Stone Heart: An Apprentice in the Fields by Sharon Butala.  I usually don’t write a review on a book until I finish it…and honestly, I’m quite a bit behind in that activity, as well…but, this book bears a lot of weight on my heart as I continue the act of circumnavigating a single pond environment every day.  I’m now moving into my seventh year.  Butala writes about her personal relationship to and with a Saskatchewan field, what it teaches her and how it calls her to grow in knowledge, understanding and spiritual depth.  This morning, her words reached into a corner of my heart.

I have been circling the same pond ecosystem every day for six years now.  Every day, I see something remarkable.  Some days I have a camera.  Some days I don’t.  Often, even if I have the proper tools with me, I choose not to snap a photograph, claiming all of the beauty for me alone.  In fact, recently, I’ve done a lot of that.  I’ve gifted myself the time for all of it…for me.  It doesn’t have to be photographed, blogged about or even written about…I walk with it…pause with it and it has been a crucial part of my healing.  It is my daily prayer.

Nature provides me with a sense of time and light and continuity.  Only weeks ago, male Red-winged Blackbirds were in chorus along the pond’s edge, nestled in the cattails, brilliant red wings on showy display.  Then, the females became visible.  Air combat broke out as the males became territorial.  They fought curious and hungry crows and even dive-bombed humans who walked or ran along the trail.  Soon, the loud chirping of hungry voices deep at the base of the cattails and not an adult Blackbird without a beak filled with dragonflies and mayflies.  Days later, clumsy juveniles tried balancing on chain link fence or on the tips of cat tails, falling and tripping through the pond environment, Mom and Dad, watching closely from a short distance away.  And now…only a few linger back.  The population has shrunk in a matter of days.  Yesterday, only two sightings of males and a single female.  And inside, I feel a sadness and a great gratitude, for what summer has meant at the pond.

The Red-necked Grebes have done well.  There was only a single loss, from what I can tell, out of six successful nests.  At the most easily viewed nest, four eggs hatched and four youngsters hung out for almost a week, when one was lost.  The American Coots have increased vastly in numbers.  Ruddy duck females are still swimming in formation, with eight and ten little ones tagging behind.  Geese in great numbers and the juveniles have been batting their wings, like crazy, while swimming on the pond, preparing for huge and harrowing flights in the autumn.

A single male Kingfisher was sighted just recently, always a little late in the season, but I’ve seen a Kingfisher here for the last three years, at this time.  I like to imagine that it’s the same bird, stopping by.

Every day is different and spectacular at the pond.

Yesterday, I looked up from the path and saw three of the most majestic bucks and five female does, edging a particularly busy four lanes of traffic on the west bound lanes of 22X-now-Stoney Trail.  The bucks, in the lead, were casing out the situation as they wished to take the females south and across this horrible maze of fencing (all types), asphalt and construction machinery.  I waited with my mouth opened wide, uttering, out loud, my fears.  It was my instinct to grab for my phone…who would I call?

With that, the three bucks, made huge leaps and bounded onto the highway, the does following…traffic lurched to a halt.  Car horns, in symphony, went off.  It all lasted about two minutes.  One of the females,  in utter terror, bounded back and disappeared into the shrubs on this side of the highway.  I swore.  I yelled, “You stupid assholes!”  I was left feeling angry and frightened for our brothers and sisters; wildlife.  I thought of the wild fires blazing west of us.  I thought of the bears that are being so hemmed in by humankind at the height of berry season.  I thought of the hundreds of gulls and crows, together, flying overhead…east…changing migration patterns.  I was left feeling very sad and very helpless.

Leaving the pond that day, I took a different route, seeking out some answer about where the deer had gone, but I was cut off by a barricade of cranes and plows.  I wondered what would happen to the female, separated from her tribe.  I came home, driving under the two osprey nests built precariously on the signage for ‘Deerfoot’ Trail.  What’s to be done about all of this?  Has it all gone too far?

What is left for me is to experience, document and remember.  In the meantime I pray for the inspired thinking of developers, biologists, scientists of every variety.  I pray that the next generation goes forward with clarity, knowledge and determination.  Our generation, I think, has made a mess of things.

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday’s Birds: April 28, 2017

Calgary weather has been less than cooperative, this past week, for anyone trying to grab a photograph of birds.  Rain and snow and biting wind. What happens with grey skies and water and birds?  Everything becomes soft-edged.  New birds making their appearances:  Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Night Heron, Eared Grebe, several more pairs of Red-necked Grebes, many Red-Winged Blackbirds, Wigeons, many more Redheads, Lesser Scaups and Coots.  The pond is alive with activity.  The Common Mergansers feel the most regal and demanding of attention.

It amazes me that in a single pond ecosystem, over six years, I’ve learned and experienced so much!

Yesterday, after teaching grade twos for the day, Max and I enjoyed short breaks in the clouds and hope for a blue sky today.  At one point, a very cold wind and system blew in, but left just as quickly.  I was finally able to get close to a focused image of the Grebe.

But first, the reading of some Eric Carle.  We read the lovely book, A Very Tiny Seed…but, I spoke to the students about my memories of A Very Hungry Caterpillar.  (same story, really) A book about how one transforms, changes, grows…

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The birds…

I chose to photograph the female goose who has settled into a particularly public place because she was so different, from the back,  from the male and looks as though she’s ready to burst!  I continue to make efforts to get closer to the Buffleheads, Goldeneyes and Common Mergansers, but they are all camera shy.

Today’s Birds: April 18, 2017

I’m just so disappointed that I can’t share with my readers, images of the Buffleheads doing their courting dances at Frank’s Flats.  However, I never steer clear of the act of documenting the same subject again and again, whether it’s in paint, poetry or photographs.  I think in revisiting content,  you grow to know it more.

So, today…a few more images of the Mallards and the Blackbirds.  It was a glorious day at the the pond…a cool spring day.  Watch those ant hills!  They are awake and actively moving…you want to be wearing your rubber boots!

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Today’s Birds: April 11, 2017

Frank’s Flats 10:00 am

No fewer than thirty male Goldeneyes today and not a single good photograph! Regardless, it was a wonderful experience watching them dance around the few females (not an accurate count because there were also a large number of Common Mergansers in the mix).

There were more male Lesser Scaups today, but I could only identify two females.  Also, more Redheads.  It was a great morning at Frank’s Flats, with the water looking mercurial due to the atmosphere of soft cloud over sun.  For some reason the mud was stirred up along the water’s edge, sort of a strange phenomena.  Geese followed me for the entire circumference of the pond, like a flotilla of approval.  “Just thought we’d keep our eye on you.”

First siting of a Coot for the season and an enjoyable time watching trees full of Common Starlings.

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Max and I begin every morning, stopping to watch the nesting Merlins.  Today, this guy was enjoying watching me.

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The courting action for the Red Winged Blackbirds is in full swing!

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This was a beauty.

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Stick?  Max’s ACL has healed adequately enough, I let him go for a bit of a run on the flats and leash him up once we are edging the pond so as not to disturb the nesting birds.

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Starlings wrapped around tree branches, everywhere.  Once and awhile they would lift off…amazing stuff, this nature-thing!

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Wanted to pick up on some markings.  This wasn’t a bad zoom.

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Not perfectly focused, but the camouflaging on the Northern Flicker is so amazing…had to post.

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There’s a single Wigeon in this picture.  Can you spot it?  I’m so sad that I didn’t get some comical shots of the Goldeneyes today.

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Still trying for a clear photo of the Scaups.

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Two gents with their lady-friend….three more males were just out of this frame.

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I think it snowed a bit last night…would that have caused this weird phenomena?

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Redheads romancing.  Lovely birds and a little less wary of me.

Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear

I was down at Shelf Life books, listening to a wonderful double book launch by  German Rodrigues and J. Pablo Ortiz.  It was a very unique evening of spanish language literature, celebrating the launch of German Rodriguez’s The Time Between His Eyes (El tiempo entre sus ojos) and J. Pablo Ortiz’s Open Sea (De mar abierto). It was an excellent event and I was happy to reconnect with Pablo and to hang with his partner and my longtime friend, Brian. After the reading, I set about looking for the book, Birds Art Life because I had heard an interview about it and knew that it would affirm my experience of the pond, the discovery of birds and the resulting experience of art-making.

It was a bit of a search, but before I left, a copy of the book fell into my hands.

Very linear in my approach to books, I finished the McCullers title, before snapping up this beautiful object of my obsession.

I rushed through my earlier two reviews, books I’ve read in the past month, so that I could get to this recommendation, Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear.  In this book, I found something kindred to everything I have become in retirement and in the past six years of loving a single ecosystem, a pond environment within the boundaries of the City of Calgary.

I kept putting the book down, and lifting off of the sofa or my bed or the bench out in the back yard, in order to pace and whoot and say, out loud, “YES!”  Since reading The Diviners so many years ago, I have not had such physical reactions to what I am reading.

Here is an extract from the book that speaks of my philosophy and experience, very clearly.

I discovered, through the book, that my ‘SPARK’ bird, was a sparrow, more precise, Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow, some eight years ago.  Hardly romantic or colourful, strange that my true attraction to birds was discovered looking out from my kitchen window, across at the open vent of my neighbour’s kitchen…several nesting seasons…widowing…lost youngsters…and determination through all sorts of weather conditions.  I began to watch. I took out the camera, for the first time, to take photographs of sparrows.

Kath's Canon Male Sparrow Emptying Nest July 7 2015 006

From that kitchen place, my exploring began at a pond environment that I call Frank’s Flats, named after a homeless man who most evenings, watched me gather up litter into a bag a day for several years.  He drank six beer in the time it took me to fill a bag with plastics, straws, newspaper flyers and other human garbage.  He chatted with me, thanked me and visited at the end of most evenings, as I put my collection into the bin, near his viewing spot.

I think that the first time I really noticed the birds, I was drawn to the red winged black birds because of their determined mating calls.

Facebook 40 Male Blackbird

My experience of the pond has, since discovering birds, coyotes and little field mice, become magical.  The lessons I have learned about compassion, care, art and writing, have been many and profound.  I am so grateful for the number of stories and discoveries that come my way because I am always looking for the little miracles.

Kath's Canon, September 22, 2015 early aft Frank's Flats Heron 038

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Kath's Canon September 2, 2015 Osprey, Franks, Stinky Max 062Kath's Canon August 29, 2015 Osprey, Hawk, Kingfisher 141

If you are looking for a way to deepen your experience of life and living, pick up this book.  It is a treasure and my new favourite!  It contains countless references to other writers, thinkers and artists…book titles…and the author’s connections with her own story.  I hope that my readers will discover urban nature and hold on to the power of that experience.

Today at the pond…

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The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

When one thinks of good literature…beautiful writing…one can include the title, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by writer, Carson McCullers.  At the young age of twenty-three, McCullers took on this project.  I reflect back on myself at the age of twenty-three; young mother of one, struggling in a turbulent marriage and I can hardly imagine sitting down to write a powerfully inspiring novel.  Carson McCullers did.

To be honest, I would never have picked up the novel, given the title.  It sounds to be a bit of a cliche and looking back on my life and the significant events that mark transition, loss and accomplishment, I managed to steer clear of this one, up until now.  It sat on my book shelf, having been picked up along the way, as a second hand cast off.  Upon reading it a couple of weeks ago, the title now makes perfect sense and represents the content as much as any other could.

As one pours over the many reviews given to this book, it is difficult to articulate those qualities that make it so successful, just because there are so many.  I decided to write about just a couple and to simply recommend the novel to those who haven’t read it yet or those who read it a very long time ago.

Categorized as Southern Gothic, it is a novel that captures that particular flavour that one might find in To Kill a Mockingbird or A Street Car Named Desire.

 

McCullers’ use of language is elegant and it is consistently supportive of character development from beginning to end.  The reader comes to know, in the most intimate way, the characters who live ordinary/extraordinary lives in this small mill town in the south.  As if under a microscope, we observe their motivations, thoughts and ‘hearts’ from their introduction to the very end.

From the book, Without a Map: A Memoir by Meredith Hall, this…

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Oprah Winfrey offers a thorough book study section on her website for any of my readers who are considering taking on this one with a book club.  I highly recommend.  Included is a visual map and character links in order to explore, deeply, the motivations of each of the ‘lonely hearted’.  You can find the schematic and links here.

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Every one of these characters holds lessons for the reader and given Meredith Hall’s brave confession at the end of the quote shared earlier in this post, I will confess that I, too, am a lonely hunter.  Now, don’t be worried about me.  I think that there is much that is ‘unspoken’ in each of us.  Yes, I have faith.  Yes, I have a beautiful life, as do the written characters of this novel.  However, there is loneliness, even in the most social and ‘connected’ beings.  I think that McCullers’ characters are very brave and for a whole number of reasons.  At completion of the novel, one is left with the revelation of one’s own courage to face the day-to-day issues of living.

I find John Singer to be central to the themes explored in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.  We meet him, along with Spiros Antonapoulos, very early in the novel.  The fact that he is mute, and that others rely on him for his good counsel, is essential to the theme development.  I think that the fact that his advice is really only fleeting and that he is left to seemingly absorb the personal narratives of others, is very significant and sometimes painful.

Since reading this, with respect and care, I highly recommend the novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.  You will find yourself or someone you love, written inside the pages.

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