Doors Open YYC!

I’m feeling a little reflective tonight.  And once reflective, I write.  It’s what happens.  I’m close enough to enjoying the deposit of my pension into my bank account, as well, that I stopped off and bought myself a bottle of wine, so I’m sipping a glass, gratefully…and that also causes me to write.  I anticipate that very soon my go-to medium will be paint…but for tonight, this is awesome.

As for the reflection…

When someone gets physically ill, friends swoop in to help.  Sometimes meals are prepared or sometimes a person drops in for a visit.  There is evidence of injury or illness and it is apparent that that someone might need support.  The last while, I’ve suffered a different sort of illness…I’ve had a lot of struggle and as yet, I don’t even know how to describe it.  But, I’ve not been well.  I don’t think that the people I encounter in my day can even see it.  It rides beneath the surface, though, of pretty much everything.

But, enough of that…

What I want to do through this writing is to acknowledge one person who sat with me through this time….there were others and I am so grateful to them…but tonight, I want to write about Pat.  For one, I know she will read this post.  Not many will.  That’s okay.  In 2005, I began to write on a whim…never guessing that 13 years later, I would still be doing this.  I didn’t set up a blog with the intention of being read, but rather for a place to write.

About Patricia…Pat has this remarkable way of loving others…of genuinely caring for them.  Her love is not of the sentimental variety, but rather that of a reliable friend. Her friendship is not easy to describe, but as a single woman in a sometimes-tough world, I’ve been able to now track back through years where Pat has been a support to me.  She has never abandoned me.  It’s as though, at times, I’m sitting on a chair in the center of a room, with my nose cut off….everyone else is thinking it’s weird or ugly or distasteful and so they pull away…but, not Pat.  She’s there.  She’s staring right at my face, where my nose once was, and she is caring and kind and present…present, when many others face outward and away from me.  I wanted to begin this writing, about Doors Open YYC…by announcing my gratitude for Pat.

Her kindness has appeared in a package of home made cookies, wrapped up…just enough for my son and me.  It has been in the form of invitations, even when I could not muster up the means to respond or accept or sometimes, to get out.  It has been in the chatty drives…chats about everything but the big grey cloud that seems to hover over me. Like the cut off nose, Pat chooses to look through the grey cloud…I know she can see it, but it is such a relief to have the darkness pushed away with the gentle stories of a friend.  There are countless acts of kindness that I could mention, but suffice it to say that I aspire to be more like Pat in the world.  I will always be appreciative of Pat’s generous heart.

Recently I received one of Pat’s invitations via e-mail,  to do a day of Doors Open YYC.  I would have Pat all to myself and I thought, “What could be more wonderful?”  And so we went…

…and I enjoyed every moment!

On our list of destinations…Aleppo Soap  , the Calgary Buddhist Temple and Fiasco Gelato.  As I reflect upon the magic of the day, I have to say that the three locations we visited this year, were all about healing, kindness and strength of character.

First stop, Aleppo Soap is a business established and grown successfully by Syrian newcomers.

“Before Sabouni fled Syria, his soap factory was destroyed. His family spent time in Jordan before coming to Canada, where he tried to start the business again, but it wasn’t a success.

Now, he’s grateful he, his wife, and four children — his youngest son was born in Canada last year — have a chance for a fresh start.

“The Canadians come to support us, make me so happy … I want to say thank you Canada because I am grateful because it gives me and my family a new chance,” he said.”

We enjoyed a lovely tour of the soap factory and Pat and I both purchased some products afterwards.  The soap is so exceptionally beautiful.  There was, in the context of Aleppo, pride, generosity and hospitality.  I was so happy to see this venue well-attended by Calgarians.  I am in awe of the courage and hard work of the folk who have manifested their vision here in Canada.

 

Next, we headed for the Bridgeland area and enjoyed the hospitality of a Buddhist Priest at the Calgary Buddhist Temple.  Again, we were given a brief history and a simple explanation of the rituals, bell ringing and chants.  I found the temple to be very beautiful in its simplicity.  Those responsible for the tour were very generous with their time and reflections.

“The Jodo Shinshu school of Buddhism was founded by Shinran, a monk who lived in Japan in the 13th century. Jodo Shinshu means “true essence of Pure Land Buddhism” (or, literally: Jodo, meaning Pure Land or realm; Shin, meaning True; and Shu, meaning religion).”

Finally, we headed for Fiasco Gelato!  This was a very popular tour!  Fiasco Gelato is a story all on its own!  I was amazed by this place and really suggest that if you haven’t made a stop at the store, that you do!  What a positive approach to business.  Things haven’t come easy for the visionaries behind this place, but they have persisted and have created an amazing place…a great product…and a community-engaged enterprise. They have built something that matters!

“Fiasco is built on empowerment, innovation, forward thinking, strong relationships, passion, and the best customer experience. We are people focused and so little of what we do here day to day has to do with our product and more about doing great work and making people happy. We are here to do things differently, think differently and challenge the norm. We want people to be the best versions of themselves and think in terms of work and life blending together rather than segregating from each other.”

All three venues explored by Pat and I were places that nourish the spirit and sooth the soul.  The day could not have been better!  As I dipped into my container of Passionfruit Lemonade Gelato last evening, I was thinking back on how blessed we are in our city…how blessed I am.  I hope that every person who feels weary or sad or overcome with difficulties, grief or illness will find, in their lives, some one who is kind.  I have that in my life.

 

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It has been a cool and wet few days in Calgary, even to the point where we received a skiff of snow in September!  I was cautioned that I had no room remaining on my cell phone, so yesterday I downloaded from my album onto my desktop hard drive.  The thing about downloaded photographs is that I was, once again, reminded that life has sped by, filled to the brim, even in the most simple or dark circumstances.  There is so much that I haven’t written about or recorded.

I’ve read several books since spring and would really like to update my reviews, even if they are sparse.  So, that will likely still happen.  But, for today, I feel my thoughts are incredibly influenced by the book I am presently reading, H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.  It is my new favourite book.  I am profoundly moved by it and I’m hanging on every word.

As a result of this reading, I want to post a few photographs from recent walks at the Bow River.  Yesterday, Max and I headed out in the rain.

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When the earth is wet, there is such a rich and beautiful aroma that surrounds me while passing through the woods and beside the river.  I am at a loss for words to describe this because any description would not do the experience justice.  Also, there is a hush, apart from the drops of rain coming down from the tree canopy…it is a mystical silence…peaceful, even though I know that the entire landscape is vibrating with life in hiding.

Yesterday, stepping about in tall overgrowth, Max and I took pause…listened.  I heard a hollow clomping sound on round river stone, just to our right.  Uncertain, we remained still.  I held my breath and listened.  Max was alert.  I was alert.  A few more steps.  Stop.  A few more. Stop.  When once we began again, with a great explosion, a young deer sprung out and wildly flew deep into the trees.  Max erupted into a fit of barking and it felt like everything around us woke up!

I watched the juvenile Bald Eagle, an Osprey, a Hawk, Cormorants and Pelicans all struggle to find sustenance.  It was so amazing to watch the dynamic and to appreciate the effort involved.  At a point, the Bald Eagle, displaying his remarkable wingspan, swooped down upon an American Pelican.  He is not yet adept at his hunting and is frequently cutting corners by having others do his work for him.  Similarly, he dove into a gathering of Cormorants, investigating the possibility that there might be food among the opportunists.

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The Osprey, tucked secretly in the dark shadows of trees, swooped out aggressively, in order to give chase to the Hawk…crying out desperately as he flew so fast that I couldn’t identify him.  He had shared the east side of the river with me for a while, tearing into the hedges and thick shrubs and sage, likely in pursuit of rabbits and other small animals.  There was never a chance to get a good photograph.

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The Bald Eagle juvenile was looking intently from his low perch,  at these Killdeer…there were scores of them across the river from me.  If you’ve heard a single Killdeer, you may understand why the Bald Eagle is drawn to a location where twenty…maybe thirty…are calling out.

Can you spot two in the photograph below?

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Can you spot the Osprey here?

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I have watched the eagles for a little over a year now…given Michael’s prompting to leave the pond during the rip and tear of the Southwest Ring Road development.  I am so grateful for the life I have been able to observe at this location and for the healing experience this daily walk has begun in me.  As I write this post, I am feeling very blessed for a whole lot of reasons.  I hope that if my readers feel sometimes that life, like a sweater, is unraveling, one source of divine life and love can be found in an intimate relationship with nature.  I know that it’s helped me.  Here are a few other moments with the raptors this year.

 

 

I have been blessed by my walks at the river this weekend…I keep saying to myself, through winter, I don’t want to forget the purple.  I don’t want to forget the gold and red.  I will carry it with me.

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The Plot Thickens

As I looked out my kitchen window, yesterday afternoon, I observed new developments.  Dad Sparrow had been evicted days prior as I watched a male Northern Flicker move into town every morning for weeks.  In fact, now I realize that little Mrs. is the little girl that hit my window one night during a snow storm, having likely left the nest under duress at the time.  Mr. has been alone ever since, having determinedly defended the nest for about five days.  Finally, he abandoned the warm space for a place on my fence, barking unhappily ever since.

First nesters before the bad winter storms hit.  They had been collecting nesting materials for a week when this portrait was taken.

Early April storms and I gathered this wee lady into a warm towel and brought her into the house.  She had been sitting in the shelter of my bird feeder for two days and had hit my window in the night of the second day.  I found her, with beak buried in snow at the base of my fence.  By morning, she had passed.Mr. remained vigilant at the nest until you-know-who showed up and you’ve all been privy to my long winded blah blah about the eviction.

Well, yesterday, new developments.

First I noticed a male House Sparrow prior to heading for the river.  This was definitely our Mr. Perhaps the male Northern Flicker was gone and disinterested in the site.

When I returned home…this.

Was our fellow trying again?  Had he found another Mrs.?  For days he had been wailing on the fence wall.

Not long after…HE’S BACK!

Time passes….and on April 27, we have a new couple shopping for real estate…quite unaware that the villain has gone hunting for the ladies…again.  No nesting materials were brought in, but a lot of analysis was being made.  She is a pretty little thing.

New Mr. has quite a slicked back look compared to Mr. #1 who I have since photographed on the fence, while this insanely handsome young man decides that he is strong enough and determined enough to steal this place from the Flicker.

Poor sad sack…an older and more experienced fellow, but without a Mrs. and without the will to take the pecking of a Northern Flicker. 

Mr. and Mrs. work painstakingly at gathering nesting materials all morning of April 28, just to have this guy show up and tell the whole bunch of them that he’s got this property in hand.  (at the time of this photograph, New Mrs. is inside the vent…I’ll bet she’s shaking in her boots.  She flew out right behind him. As the Northern Flicker takes a place on my roof, the two of them make a statement about their intentions…and so, the plot continues. Oh!  The struggle for a place in the world!  The pain is real!

 

The Struggle is Real

Winter is oppressive this year.  I consider myself to be fond of all seasons, including winter, but as the snowbanks grow, I am in awe of the challenges this weather brings.  I have begun my journey of Lenten observances, but my Nativity display is still parked on the front yard, with no hope of being wedged out of the snow until some of it disappears.  I would guess that the accumulation is somewhere around the three foot mark at this point.

I came upstairs this morning, put on the coffee and then decided to sit and finish reading I Am Woman: A Native Perspective on Sociology and Feminism by Lee Maracle.  Outside, the snow was coming down steadily and there was evidence that it had been piling up all night long.  Maxman was okay to chill out with me and we both eased into morning, without any attachment to screens at all.

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By 10:30, the book was finished and I felt completely depleted.  Interesting that in the very last section, titled, Last Words, Maracle stated that most readers would have stopped by that point.  I had hung in…decompressing at times, but certainly interested in the honest approach to dealing with the topics that other writers might easily skirt around.  It was a difficult book, heart-breaking in so many ways…only 140 pages, compact, intense but, most important for understanding.

I continue to be very moved by the journey and history of my indigenous brothers and sisters.  With this reading, I received new revelations to the struggles…for women, especially.

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This morning, the snow became a wall for me, insurmountable, while carrying the weight of the contents of this book.  I thought that getting down to the Bow River might create respite from my own thoughts.  Instead, I encountered the desperation of hungry animals.

My eyes seem to be wide open when I am at the river’s edge.  I feel blessed that way.

The first thing I noticed was the gobble gobble sound of a male pheasant as he valiantly took flight, gliding quite a distance from the hill across from me.  A scattering of snow and a coyote bounded from that same location, toward me and Max.  I hadn’t even left the parking lot, at this point, and already  spotted the female pheasant in a neighbouring shrub.  She was going no where!

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I was pretty certain that this coyote was one that I’ve been observing lately, easily identified by an evident limp and a mangy coat. As the weeks of bitter cold continue, a generous food source, in the way of mice, voles and such is becoming very challenging.  The predators are looking gaunt.

Stepping onto the trail, into the deep woods, and along the dark turquoise river, I noticed canine tracks in the fresh snow, unaccompanied by any human presence.  I looked down at Max and told him, “Let’s go another route today, Max.”  As I took pause and looked up, there, only a few meters away, stood one of the juvenile Bald Eagles about half way up a tree.  His back was hunched and covered in a transparent blanket of snow.  As Max and I moved to go around his territory, he took flight, his huge wings opening up directly above us.  Having taken the more traveled route, it wasn’t far and we met two of our friends, both intensely engaged in something else.

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It took Max a short while to respond.  I think he was curious, more than anything.  But, out of nowhere, he let out a wild and crazy barking-frenzy and in response, nine deer took flight and bounded across the landscape.  It all happened so fast that I didn’t have opportunity to react.  The coyotes followed the deer, without hesitation.

A moment’s pause and then, slowly and methodically, three other deer appeared.  I have a sense that these are the younger three and that the adults had reacted to Max’s barking.  Is that possible?  Dunno…  Tentatively, these guys carried on in the direction of the action.  Max and I headed north on the river.

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I wondered about there even being a possibility that coyotes might feed on deer during the winter.  I suppose if one were to fall ill or if the coyotes worked together, their clever approach to community-hunting might provide for a meal of venison.  I just know that in the cold and the snow, I felt compassion for all…the pheasant, the eagle, the deer and the coyotes.

For years, I’ve logged on to a Live Eagle Cam at Duke Farms.  I’ve just recently seen that a second egg has been laid at the nest.  Last year, surprisingly, no eagles nested in that location.  Tonight, the camera is capturing an adult sitting on the nest in a horrible snow storm…

The Struggle is Real.  Please take a moment and check in.

The Visions of Emma Blau by Ursula Hegi

I cranked up Bruce Cockburn’s Bone on Bone this morning, washed up the stack of dishes sitting in the bottom of the sink and thought about the possibilities of the day.  The words of a meditation that was sent to my mail box was sitting with me, “For Bonaventure, the perfection of God and God’s creation is quite simply a full circle, and to be perfect the circle must and will complete itself.”  Bruce Cockburn’s words to Looking and Waiting.

looking and waiting — it’s what I do
scanning the skies for a beacon from you
shapes on the curtain, but no clear view
of you

you’re a warm bright window lighting up the rain
I catch a glimpse of the glow but I still remain
outside where the shadows pool and bleed
chimney silhouettes semaphore in a code I cannot read

looking and waiting — it’s what I do
scanning the skies for a beacon from you
shapes on the curtain, but no clear view
of you

you’re like the leaves that come down from the trees
a suggestion of a springtime to be
crunching underfoot outlined in frost
full of promise for the return of something lost

looking and waiting — it’s what I do
scanning the skies for a beacon from you
shapes on the curtain, but no clear viewv of you

looking and waiting — it’s what I do

Having recently suffered the loss of a friend…having written yesterday about being a grandmother…I do firmly believe that the Alpha and Omega bring us to a place in our journey where there is no distinction, anymore, between the two.  The circle.

What does any of this have to do with Ursula Hegi’s novel, The Vision of Emma Blau?  Previously, I have read Stones From the River and Floating in my Mother’s Palm and in my mind, the same themes are fundamental to all three books.

In Hegi’s writing, there is an unbelievable attention paid to the development of the pysche for each character.  It is as though she builds each person from the inside-out.  We know all of their fears and motivations, their crushing blows to the soul, before we know how this, then, is expressed through the events of the narrative.  If the reader is an empath, this is a deepening experience and the reading becomes rich and heart-rending.  Some of my friends would put the book down for this very reason.

This particular story takes us on a journey with Stefan Blau, a protagonist who teaches us as much about his lineage in the past as in the future, all the way forward to Emma.   Hegi writes this story’s beginning in the same fictional town as this reader encountered in both Stones From the River and Floating in my Mother’s Palm.  About this, I dig to learn more about the author and where better, but on Oprah.com…

About the Author
“When I came to this country as an 18-year old,” Hegi reflects, “I found that Americans of my generation knew more about the Holocaust than I did. When I was growing up, you could not ask about it; it was absolutely taboo. We grew up with the silence.” For this reason, when people asked Ursula Hegi where she was from, she used to wish she could answer Norway or Holland. Hegi soon discovered that it was impossible to leave behind one’s origins. “The older I got, the more I realized that I am inescapably encumbered with the heritage of my country’s history.”

While her first two books, Intrusions, and Unlearned Pleasures and Other Stories, were set in the U.S., it was with her third book, Floating in My Mother’s Palm, that Hegi took the important step of exploring her conflict over her cultural identity. As she explains: “My own acute discomfort at being German is very much at the core of my writing.”

In Floating in My Mother’s Palm, Hegi first introduces readers to the inhabitants of Burgdorf, a fictional German town loosely based on her hometown during the 1950s. With her “prequel,” Stones from the River, Hegi extends her portrayal of Burgdorf’s characters, and the exploration of her own heritage, by including the several decades preceding World War II and its immediate aftermath.

Stones from the River is Hegi’s attempt to understand the silence of towns throughout Germany that tolerated persecution of Jews during the war and enabled a community to quiet its conscience once the truths of the Holocaust were revealed. Hegi immersed herself in historical material on the Holocaust to write the book. “It was an important part of my journey, of integrating the past within myself.” She also asked to interview her aged godmother about the period, who, to her surprise, complied. Hegi is pleased that Stones from the River will be published in Germany next year.

She is currently at work on another Burgdorf-based novel, The Passion of Emma Blau, and a nonfiction work, Tearing the Silence: On Being German in America.

The winner of numerous honors and awards, including an NEA fellowship and five PEN syndicated fiction awards, Hegi is an Associate Professor at Eastern Washington University where she teaches creative writing and contemporary literature. She lives near Spokane, Washington with her partner Gordon Gagliano and has two sons, ages 21 and 24.

To arrive at Emma Blau, readers must find themselves in the ‘magical’ creation of Wasserburg in New Hampshire.  The settings, with their intricate detail and description, come alive for readers and their beauty and mystery somehow create relief from the painful loss within the family, the separation, the hard work and the challenges of being German in a small community before, during and after World War II.

Of such experience of disconnection, Hegi writes, “To detect rot is often impossible in its early stages,” German-American novelist Ursula Hegi warns in “The Vision of Emma Blau.” “It starts beneath lush surfaces, spreading its sweet-nasty pulp, tainting memories and convictions. It entangles. Justifies.” 

It is a marvel how Hegi gets us to America.  We do the ocean crossing with Stefan.  We anticipate the marriages, the losses.  We sometimes feel bitter about what seem to be selfish dreams. His Wasserburg becomes an opulent return to the best of Germany, on the humble and wild setting of the American countryside.  Hegi writes about the ‘real’, not the imagined.  Wasserburg becomes a living, breathing presence that evolves over a century and with Emma, Stefan’s grand daughter’s birth, becomes an extension of her very soul.

If one is not concerned with ‘spoilers’ and doesn’t mind a lot of injected advertisements, this is my favourite review on the book.  If you take on this book, I’d suggest beginning with one of the other two; they have become known loosely as the Burgdorf Cycle.  I would also like to hear from my readers about how you feel about dear Helene Montag, a female character who is insanely frustrating.

This book was intended to be my ‘escapist’ novel over the Christmas holiday, but it turned out to be another connection with the abhorrent racism that lurks in the muck of the human spirit…just another expression of the same.IMG_3748

Inscription inside my second-hand book copy of Stones From the River by Ursula Hegi…love books that include an inscription…this one, perfectly, a sister to her brother, Gabe.

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And my own writing in the front cover of Floating in my Mother’s Palm by Ursula Hegi.

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The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of The Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

This is a quick post.  I read Michael Finkel’s book, The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit in two evenings…it was more an experience, than anything.  Written about Christopher Knight, a man who at the age of twenty slipped into a thick wood and didn’t have a conversation with another human being for thirty years, this book is an unusual narrative, with moments of real revelation. I was fascinated by the story and throughout, couldn’t really come to terms with a mixture of emotions…revulsion, sadness, envy or curiosity (of the ambulance-chaser sort).

Honestly, I think it is the most interesting thing that Christopher Knight and the family that knew him, opened up to Michael Finkel enough for him to collect the content for this writing.  So, the process of research and respectful communication of this content was just as fascinating to me and generously included.

I had read, a long time ago, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.  I suppose one could make comparisons between the two books.  However, I think that Christopher Knight’s methodical approach to stealing food and supplies is what, ultimately, kept him alive over decades and in the end, led to his capture.  Enduring isolation of the northern Alaskan wilderness, Christopher Johnson McCandless was in true ‘survival’ mode, leading to the eventual and mysterious loss of his life, probably four months after disappearing.  It was obvious, in reading both, that there were motivations to disconnect from society, but both men did that in very different ways.

From Goodreads, I’ve lifted these words.  I like that Michael Finkel responded to the reader…

I haven’t read this but not likely to. The mere fact that he stole from people that worked hard for what they had…the fact that for 27 years this community in Maine lived in fear because of these unsolved burglaries that he committed is beyond shameful. He didn’t live off the grid. He lived off of other people who worked for a living. “He survived by his wits and courage” ?? No. I don’t think so.

Response from Michael Finkel: “Hello. I’m the journalist who wrote this book. Chris Knight — the hermit — is not portrayed, not for a page, as some sort of angelic hero in the book. Knight himself did not want to be portrayed that way. He confessed to 1,000 break-ins, one of the most extensive burglary cases in U.S. history. He tormented people. But — he also never physically harmed anyone, never carried a weapon, never stole anything of great monetary value, never shattered a window or kicked down a door. He had a wildly unusual idea for how to live, and he lived in a way radically different from any other human you will ever encounter, and he has an awesome and daunting brain — he is, I feel certain, a genius — and he has insights into modern society and solitude and the meaning of life that you will find nowhere else. “Take the good with the bad,” Knight told me, when speaking of how he should be portrayed in my book, and I did. I firmly believe that in the good are some incredible insights, and in the bad is a fascinating true-crime tale. And please note — Knight is receiving no money from this project. A summer camp for children and adults with mental and physical disabilities (The Pine Tree Camp), from which Knight frequently stole, will instead be receiving donations.”

Having read the book, I am glad to encounter this response, as it does represent the book very well.   I felt, at times, compassion for Christopher Knight, wondering what feelings and experiences within him, motivated such a disappearance and disconnect from his life.

As Calgary suffers such a bitterly cold winter, I also truly engaged the stories of survival that involved planning and revising a nest/camp.  The description of winter, alone, is enough to keep me from ever wondering about doing this same thing!

Christopher Knight told this story, as much as Michael Finkel did.  If my readers enjoy adventure or are taken by very unusual characters, this is the book for you.

It was good to meet Michael Finkel and to have him expand upon the narratives that connected him to his character.

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Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris

I’m struggling with writing lately…it’s been so long since I’ve posted to my blog and yet so many amazing experiences have come and gone.  Something that is keeping me from the comfort of writing is that the past six months or so I have had a number of ‘floaters’ appear in my vision; first the left eye, then the right, and now the little squiggles have moved in my left.  It’s as though my brain is constantly having to edit out these obstructions to my vision and looking at a screen just makes it worse.  A symptom of aging, the eye specialists have assured me that, as yet, the retinas are not involved.  As a visual person, this has been disconcerting and I suppose I could write an entire piece about that, alone, but I’m here to write about Solitude.

I met Michael Harris at Wordfest.  The particular session I attended impacted me so much that I ended up purchasing books from each of the four authors and am happy to say that Christmas vacation was the perfect time to curl up and read them all, as well as others from my book shelf.  I had a very intense reading period through the holiday and I spent most of that time alone, eating a little too much chocolate.

I found the book, Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World, compelling.   If you troll the internet, you will see that reviews are either very positive OR are insistent that this is a book written for ‘old people’.  So mayhaps ONLY BOOMERS will like this book.  I disagree!  I think some very discerning and weary millennials are suffering the backlash of ‘real’ disconnection.

I am one of the ‘old people’ who, in retrospect, feel concern for the gradual erosion of our time alone, our sense of creativity and playfulness, our disassociation with ‘uncomfortable-ness’ and our loss of ‘written’ language’ and mark-making.  The past few years, I have become a part of a very odd little subset of humanity…people who watch birds…people who photograph birds…and in my encounters with them, I see a particular kind of desperation to connect with the innate need for genuine solitude and as a result, genuine connection.

Solitude (shortening the title for a matter of expediency) was a book that suited my constantly-inquiring mind and opened up some revelation about the current state of the human family inhabiting this earth.  From what I can see, in my very small sampling of that earth, the author is right on!  This was one of the most invigorating reads that I’ve enjoyed in a long time…well, since reading Kyo Maclear’s  Birds, Art Life and that wasn’t too long ago.

For the first many pages/chapters…I read, turning pages, while curled under a blanket on the red couch.  But it wasn’t long and I pulled out a highlighter.  My review will take the shape of the posting of some of the views that align with mine.  Here are some of my highlighted bits…please, don’t let these bits keep you from reading the entire book!

Do I get a thumbs up for this? (laughing, as I type)

Having driven the 401 so many times, all by myself, with Max, the chapter where Michael Harris explored our reliance on Google Maps and a GPS really spoke to me.  I’m ‘that lady’, out there, with paper maps and slipping in and out of small towns along the way.  I’ve been lost and I’ve gotten off the highway, using the wrong exit.  Those experiences created some initial panic at times but, in the end, I found my way.  I met new people.  I saw surprising things.

These past years, since retirement, I’ve been circling a pond…I’ve been exploring my city…I’ve been traveling Canada by road.  I’ve been traveling inward and seeing magnificent worlds.  It is a different sort of travel…not better or worse than international travel.  The only thing about my sort of travel is that people don’t ask about it.  There is no sort of admiration or public support for my kind of travel.  While one person may see a pyramid, I might be seeing this. The same wonder is to be had…the same awe.

Reading!!  When a person shares something on a social media site, how many people ‘really’ read it, from beginning to end?  I agree with the following insight.If you have not yet read Rebecca Solnit’s A History of Walking…please do.  She is another one of my favourite authors, currently.
Ah….the lost act of letter-writing!  While my Christmas cards have yet to be written, I do try to write letters with intent and it always feels wonderful to put things in the post box. I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandson and solitude.  It’s natural when you’re a Gramma for the first time.

I really treasure the ideas captured in this book.  I hope that my readers will enjoy it as much.

In the meantime, I will continue to nurture and enjoy my solitude.  It has left me, recently, being honest about not enjoying large group events where I must mingle.  It helps me admit my enjoyment of being alone and apart, as well as helps me understand why I enjoy small group visits so much.

 

The Oil Man and the Sea: Navigating the Northern Gateway by Arno Kopecky

At a point, I got myself out of sync on the reading selections for the Aboriginal Pride with 12CSI reading list.  It all began at the reading of Clearing the Plains.  I haven’t reviewed this book yet because, honestly, I still have a chapter to go. (Intense)  This one should be required reading for every post secondary student…but, more on that another time!

Regardless, I attended the book clubs for those few months, as I am always so grateful for the fact that such excellent conversations occur and I learn so much.

The Oil Man and the Sea: Navigating the Northern Gateway by Arno Kopecky did not seem, by its title, to be anything I would ever consider picking up to read and yet, upon the recommendation by a book club member, I did.  While Arno Kopecky is not an Indigenous author, the book was suggested for its connection to numerous Indigenous activists, elders, fishermen and various people impacted by development and encroachment around the Northern Gateway.  This author introduced me to many of the issues surrounding the history and planning for transportation of product in a highly pristine and essential part of Canada.  One might argue that the narrative might be skewed, given that the writer is speaking from a non-indigenous voice, however, I feel that my personal journey addressing the Calls to Action involves a lot of discernment and listening..to many voices.  I have been living in a sort of fog all of these years, where it comes to this discourse.

45. We call upon the Government of Canada, on behalf of
all Canadians, to jointly develop with Aboriginal peoples
a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation to be issued by
the Crown. The proclamation would build on the Royal
Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaty of Niagara of 1764,
and reaffirm the nation-to-nation relationship between
Aboriginal peoples and the Crown. The proclamation
would include, but not be limited to, the following
commitments:

i. Repudiate concepts used to justify European
sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples such
as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.
ii. Adopt and implement the United Nations
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as
the framework for reconciliation.
iii. Renew or establish Treaty relationships based on
principles of mutual recognition, mutual respect,
and shared responsibility for maintaining those
relationships into the future.
iv. Reconcile Aboriginal and Crown constitutional
and legal orders to ensure that Aboriginal peoples
are full partners in Confederation, including the
recognition and integration of Indigenous laws and
legal traditions in negotiation and implementation
processes involving Treaties, land claims, and other
constructive agreements.

47. We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and
municipal governments to repudiate concepts used to
justify European sovereignty over Indigenous peoples
and lands, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra
nullius, and to reform those laws, government policies,
and litigation strategies that continue to rely on such
concepts.

This book is built for the adventurer and for the person who has a big appreciation for wild parts of Canada that, despite the challenges in favour of development, industry and encroachment, remains one of the few places that exemplify that particular MAGIC that comes with WILD.

My preamble…then, I’ll carry on about the book.  This next paragraph is from my gut…a simple formulation of my own feelings.  Yes.  I drive a car.  Yes. I purchase packaged items.  Don’t throw tomatoes.

The Canadian government has demonstrated tremendous determination to create/grow an economy built on the back of energy.  There is no way that Canadians see ‘everything that goes on’, given the vast and oft-isolated topographical regions of this country, our home.  What we don’t see, can’t bother us.  And yet, living in these far off places, our indigenous brothers and sisters are well-aware of the tapping out of resources, the destruction and the economic hardship resulting from the abandonment of industry as it becomes obsolete or sucked dry.  There are witnesses.

Documentation to some of this…check out Alan MacLean’s photos at this site.  Let’s just take a bit of a look at Alberta.

I’m just going to let you sit with those images.  I’ve been sitting with them, and all I have to say is that things are way out of control and so much about it has to do with economics and employment.  ‘Corporate’ Canada wants YOU!

Enough of a side-lined rant!

The book is a good one…it moves very quickly.  It isn’t a struggle and it is certainly not dark or apocalyptic.  Arno Kopecky and photographer Ilja Herb, take the reader on a magical journey (I felt like I was there) aboard a small sailing boat…well, is forty-one feet, small?  It seems small to me.  Neither of them had prior experience sailing.  So, one aspect of the book is the story of negotiating this boat through British Columbia’s central coast.  So, firstly, this would be considered an adventure book as in this part of our country, the inland passages are linked together by a dramatic network of fjords, islands and lush forested land masses interspersed with inlets.  I was enamoured by the descriptions of place throughout and feel as though I was introduced to the Great Bear Rainforest in a very honest way.

Second to this, I enjoyed the many personal narratives by the people and accounts about the people who, in several cases, gave these men safe harbour, assisted in repairs and often contributed to the content of the book through interviews.  Several participants have committed their lives to the protection of this land and water, knowing full well that this is likely the last great wilderness on earth.  The writer seemed naive at times, meeting such wise and dedicated individuals.

Third, I grew in my knowledge about the history and planning of Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway.  My knowledge now exceeds what I’ve picked up over news stories these last many years.  The book was generous in terms of presenting several different perspectives, as well.  I learned that the weather through this region is unpredictable and that the waters to be negotiated are prone to storms and crazy conditions.  It doesn’t take much for Canadians to realize the risk that such conditions pose to wildlife and environment.

The book was beautiful in its rich description of the land, the wildlife, the people and the waters.  I highly recommend this read.  As a result of this reading, I send out unlimited positive wishes regarding our human reliance on non-renewable energy sources and the almost obsessive willingness we have to challenge the delicate eco-systems of our nation, in order to continue down the same path, rather than pour that same energy into alternative solutions.

As of 2016, this… A look at the status of Northern Gateway and other major Canadian pipeline projects

January 2018…of course….lost revenue. 

What comes of all of it is that we need to challenge our thinking.  My readers are either extremely right on this issue OR extremely left…I think that the important thing is that we discern the various implications and decide what is most important to us.  This book revealed to me the physical nature of the rugged coastline, the past issues surrounding the use of oil tankers in even more benign waters…and the high potential for an ecological disaster.

My peeps, as captured by Michelle Robinson.  I love this lady…and I love her archive of photographs!  We were visited that night by APTN National News.

What Comes to Mind at the River

Reading and then meeting Kyo MacLear affirmed, for me, everything that’s been formulating inside me the past several years…about birding, art, nature and life.  Many things have formed me into this person who shows up at the Bow River around 10 on a winter’s morning, taking pause above the river and observing wildlife.

My friends and family wonder and ask…mostly not asking anymore, “What are you painting?  Why don’t you paint?”  and at those questions, I can only sit with who I am and be grateful for the grace of anything and everything that led me to this place where I find myself.  As I drove up from the parking spot this morning, I just kept saying, aloud, “I love my life. I love my life.”

I will paint again.  But, the truth is…painting was a lot about ego.  It was a lot about around-the-clock commitment.  It was about trying to balance full time work, raising children and keeping it all together.  My stomach sometimes hurt as deadlines for shows approached.  I was terrified in front of blank canvases.  I couldn’t assert myself with dealers, set boundaries or say what I needed.  I didn’t have money to buy those outfits that seem to be required if you are an artist, especially a female artist. Painting had lost its magic and so, when I paint again, it will be profound because it will be for all the right reasons, not for all the wrong reasons.

Doris McCarthy said, “Paint every day.”  I think more about her as days go by, without painting, than anyone.  She explained how those muscles work.  She explained how time also rushes by. Doris was my friend and she gave me a lot of strength. I think about Doris when I know that I will physically paint again.

Now…did the painting really stop?  I argue, “No”.  I have been intensely researching my next body of work for years now…having painted about 15 panels related to a Covenant series, I then began to connect again with the landscape.  It just happened.  It happened at the reading of two poems, the first,  The Wolf Between the Trees by George Bowering.  I used his poem, with permission, embedded in the poem along with a cup full of ash…remains of personal papers I had burned in the studio.  This is the painting…

Wolf

 

and secondly, a tribute poem written by Paulette Dube for the Caribou.  I’m including her words, here.  I hope you will read them.

In the new days, magic was on the surface of things, the shine of it all, quick and bright and fast as new rivers.

 Now Rivers winds Under Earth, has to be convinced, to play her deep song, entreated , to show herself.

 The Celts call these « thin places », where the other side is so close, the veil shivers your arms as you reach through.

 The First People travelled (sic) these sacred pieces of earth, to think on things in the presence of Creator.

 I know them as mountains.  I see them with my spirit eyes, walk them with blood and bone legs.  They teach, as clear as bird song or scolding squirrel lesson, bracing as clean water through moss.

 This alpine terrain is grey onion paper, thin as ash.  Feet must be wide to avoid lace-like flower and moss, spider web and lichen.        Be mindful.

 The Creator’s ear is earth as we do not see it.  Make joyous noise if you want to be herd.  Get yourself a song and string from bone to bone, a home of light and wind.

 She moves.  She feels her calf, inside, taking nourishment from her own bones and teeth.  The calf moves (as my son once did)  deep in the dreaming place.  The cow’s thickening body keeps the Small one warm, keeps him from hunger, keeps her     moving.

 Born where the dark forest gives way to lake, loon’s perfect call – silver sharp tremolo – traces the surface of this morning sky :  clear as mountain water scythes the earth.

 Loon calls from the lake face, that voice – shapes my form-    coming through the trees.

 The land reacts to our presence when we belong

 Noise of a sow grizzly and her two cubs.  To each a place, to each, a means of prayer and play.  To each, the necessary silence.

 Sacred whorl of grey and brown, blow open the gate.  Allow a wild glimpse of self.

 When you descend to leaf litter, feathered legs and all, you are an angel – touching Earth.

 The engine that is me, hears the song that is you…

 …coming together is a song I cannot bear for long.  Satiated by my own irregular rythmes.

 Promises shape who we are, what we will become –

we pray.

 His brow is unfurrowed.  Streamlined, he walks the wind, easily.

 Healing is water over stones, wind over grass, gaits – fearless.

Feral hearts wander – oblivious to fences of human design.

 Survival embodies existence but – does not define it.

 He moves through sunlight to scrub, deliberate – elemental – muscle.

 Hummingbird hears colour – Coyote knows crack in a leaf is direction – Bear walks trail made of wind.

 If Humans could once again divine the essential – would we find home ?

 A candle in a church is a thing of beauty – a flame in the wilderness is a miracle.

 Find something big to pit against – to throw loneliness into –  Amid bone, snow and stone –   caribou.  The precious, the delicate of design – we live here.

 Fire and earth – water and air – there is no room for anger.

 Memories permit us to speak of things –

our heart tends to in the night.

The resulting painting, upon hearing this poem is posted below.  The words to the poem are written into the painting.  It was at this punctuation mark in my life, at this painting and the other, that I realized my painting would always be about ‘place’.

Caribou 3

So, as an artist, what I’ve been doing ever since is sorting that out….the surface, the paint, collage, text, subject matter.  It might take a lifetime to make sense of it.  I don’t know.  But, in the meantime, I am energized and interested and creative and LOOK!  I write!

Everything I’ve been doing, in the sorting,  has made for this wondrous life of mine.  It’s taken me out into the landscape.  It’s caused me to notice more.  It’s manufactured poems, paintings, photographs and connected me with videographer, Liam of Beam Media and the photographer,  Jack Breakfast.

And this morning, I met Doug Newman.  It was after two cups of coffee at home and after two posts about books that I have read that I headed out into the cold with Max man.  The roads were bad, so I decided to get us down to a parking lot that edges the Bow River and to explore the first wintry day on the river.  There was only one other car in the lot…a man speaking on his telephone.  Max and I headed out.

This is what I wrote once back inside the car…and after snapping four photos on my cell phone…and after turning up the heat and settling in with CKUA.

I didn’t bring a camera with me, but hiked the edge of the Bow River this morning. I watched a Bald Eagle fish, its wings, so powerful. Three times, it landed on tree tops to the left of me, by 200 meters. The geese, exhausted and resting, lifted off of the dark water, along with the cacophony of gulls each time the eagle dove toward the water. Two deer swam, gracefully, from this side and shook off like wet dogs, once arriving on the shore across from me. A perfect morning.

From an interview with Kyo MacLear, writer of Birds, Art, Life… this…

Q: In the book there’s a list, the “Pantheon of Smallness,” in which you compare items such as blackbirds and Rembrandt’s etching. Equating the arts with nature was deliberate, no?

A: It was. It was also a bit playful. I wanted the readers to come in and fill in their own ideas. The Pantheon of Smallness was a way of thinking about smallness differently. Sometimes we make small things, sometimes there are small bird songs, but it can have an enormous impact. Sometimes you have to whisper to be heard. Our culture is very much one of “bigging it up,” always upping the noise level in order to produce a louder signal. What you see in the bird world is sometimes that the smallest tweet can actually pierce through the cacophony in a different way. That became a metaphor for thinking about art. Emily Dickinson did quite miniature work that had a very profound, almost epic, impact, culturally speaking.

DSC_0267

 

While typing that paragraph, I saw the gentleman leave his car, carrying a camera and sporting a huge lens.  I watched, discreetly, as he took photographs.  I saw him pan as geese took flight.  I saw him quietly observe for quite a long time.  Finally, as he turned to get back into his vehicle, I rolled down my window and we began to chat.

It turns out that Doug also posts photographs to Alberta Birds.  We introduced ourselves to one another and I began to ask him questions about photography, equipment and we shared some of our ‘bird’ moments.  It is such a pleasure to discover another birder along the quiet pathways of my every day.  It was nice to experience his enthusiasm and his excitement.  He opened up his photograph of a goose taking flight and I was in awe of the detail and the strength captured in that single image.

I love my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Sister by Barbara Gowdy

A couple of months ago, I scanned the book store shelves for something that I might not ordinarily read.  I’ve tried as much as I can to read Indigenous authors and content since before January of 2017, but thought, for variety, I would mix it up a little.  I was taking on a lot of sadness and anxiety around the topics that I had been reading, in both fiction and non-fiction.  I went into Chapters-Indigo that day, looking for some relief.  Hmmm….

Firstly, I DO look for Canadian authors and most times, female Canadian authors.  I hadn’t read anything by Babara Gowdy to this point and she has been nominated for all of the correct prizes.  That particular day, no fewer than three shelves were lined with Little Sister and so I picked up one of the copies in hard copy and read the descriptor.  And YES, I was attracted to the image on the cover.

Gowdy

Right away, the writing is described as “Fearless, inventive, and dazzling.” by Heather O’Neill, author of The Lonely Hearts Hotel.  Who is Heather O’Neill, anyway?

Hmmm…the word “existential” appears on the back of the jacket.  Can that be good?

I pulled up the Globe and Mail review on my phone.

Intelligent?  Enthralling?

As I read the descriptor I thought that, for certain, this book would pull me out of my comfort zone and possibly create some overlap with my past interest in Ray Bradbury and also Anne Rice.  I thought, “Come on, Kath…give it a whirl.”

Oh!  What a disappointment.

I write in the front cover of every book, once I’ve completed it.  This has been my practice ever since my cousin’s son came into my library space and asked, “Are you one of these people who collects books just to show off…how many of these have you actually read?”  Sometimes stories escape my memory, and so I began the practice of inscribing my brief thoughts on a title, in the case that one day (and I hope they do…for the most part) these books fall into the hands of other readers.  I love the physicality of books, and sadly enough, I find that most times that I go to the library, the titles I’m looking for are on hold for other readers.  I can wait weeks and weeks and I haven’t quite gotten into the swing of being organized that way.

As I open the front cover of Little Sisters…the inscription is sadly, negative.

IMG_1276

I’m not going to review the narrative…the characters are interesting, I guess.  I find the writing a bit superficial, lacking in depth, description or intrigue.  And yet, given that we all have our preferences,  there are countless reviews that are favourable and a lot of readers who loved this book…that’s just the nature of personal preference in reading.  I’m glad I took on a personal challenge to expand horizons and see what else is out there.  I never truly regret reading a book.  Every book generates new thought…the nature of the beast.

I’ll point you in the direction of another review for Little Sisters...the Globe and Mail is likely the strongest.  Here, you will see the book described as exploring empathy…also the relationships of sisters/daughters/mothers….I would agree, but I’ve read so many books that did better.  In order to deal authentically in the psyche, as a manifestation, in writing…it would take some kind of writer!

I’d be interested in seeing if any of my readers have a different experience of this book and/or if they have read other titles by the same author?

Some comments from her own website…

“For almost 30 years Barbara Gowdy has been cutting wildly surreal, sometimes hyperreal, paths into the kind of truth recognized with the heart as much as the mind… Little Sister is a supernatural domestic thriller and a crackling tour de force.  Thanks to Gowdy’s electric style and vision, the result is unforgettable.”
The Sunday New York Times

“Electrifying. Gowdy sucks readers into this suspenseful, supernatural story like a strong wind in a squall.”
Kirkus (starred review)

“Highly readable prose, an intriguing premise, and vivid storytelling.”
Quill and Quire (starred review)

“Gowdy’s new novel weaves an inventive, spellbinding tale of loss, regret, and redemption that takes a heartfelt look at what it means to be a mother, daughter, and sister.  A thrilling, captivating exploration of guilt, the female psyche, and the bonds of womanhood.”
Publisher’s Weekly

“Barbara Gowdy is a magical storyteller.  Little Sister is a gem, powered by Gowdy’s incredible fabulist imagination.”
BBC — “Must Reads”