Remembrance Day 2019: Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium

Yesterday I heard two presenters say that Remembrance Day is not to be confused with Veteran’s Day.  Armistice Day is on 11 November and is also known as Remembrance Day. It marks the day World War One ended, at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918. A two-minute silence is held at 11am to remember the people who have died in wars.

Like everyone else, I am disappointed that the Don Cherry fiasco stole so much from the highlights of a beautiful day remembering those soldiers in our families and in our Nation who offered the ultimate sacrifice in past wars, Afghanistan and because of selfless service.

I was really pleased about attending the commemoration at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium this year and taking in the various rituals, but indoors, while cozy warm.  Last year, we headed to the cenotaph downtown and it got a bit cold at times, although it was also an amazing experience.  Next year, the field of crosses.

The seats were assigned, as we arrived.  This created a sense of calm and order.  Beautiful music was provided by the HMCS Tecumseh Band along with Jeanette Embree, Detachment Commander, CF Recruiting Center, Director of Music, Royal Canadian Navy Reserve.  What a lovely repertoire.

I thought about my Dad while singing this hymn.  I used to sit next to Mom in the Protestant Chapel pews while Dad directed or sang in the choir.  I felt them beside me yesterday…and I felt surrounded by my family, many who have served.  My Great Uncle Joseph Gallant gave the ultimate sacrifice, as did my Great Grandfather John Moors.  This hymn was a perfect one to bring everyone home to me.

While we were prompted to save our applause until the very end of the laying of the wreaths, two of our Veterans from the Colonel Belcher caused our hearts to stir and we broke into wild applause.  I cried my face off at these points in the service, as well as during the Last Post.  Our friend, Helena, laid a wreath on behalf of the Alberta Retired Teachers.  We were very proud of her for representing us.

After the commemorative service, and as we were leaving, I noticed that Ralph MacLean, the 97 year old Veteran who had served with Canadians in Hong Kong in 1941.  Please follow the link and listen to his story on the Memory Project.  Through various circumstances and very quickly, I connected with Ralph’s son, daughter and grandson, author of Forgiveness, author Mark Sakamoto.  

I won’t soon forget the kind hearts of Ralph’s family.

I had the opportunity to exchange quite a number of stories with Ralph and I feel that it was a huge blessing to meet him.  I will be visiting him at the Colonel Belcher.

As I took my evening walk, slow around the circle because Max is ailing badly, I took in the beauty of the day, my friendships with Janet and Pat, my children, the freedoms I enjoy.  I thought about my family and their huge military connections.  I contemplated including their photographs here…but, I’m leaving the images of their faces and my research in my heart.  I’ll leave it all up to peace…the sky…the river.  I will always Remember.

 

 

Imaginairium: Wordfest 2019

The days are getting crisp…things are going to sleep for the winter.  I’m not writing as much, but I AM reading.  When this weather arrives, it’s wonderful to curl up and read.  In preparation for Wordfest, I read Birth House for the second time and loved it just a much or more than the first.

Birth House by Ami McKay is right up there among my favourite books.  I’ve read a lot of books by this time and so, there can never be a favourite, but there are heaps of favourites.  I couldn’t afford the time or the money for a lot of sessions at Wordfest’s annual event, however, I made certain to register for two of the sessions where Ami would be speaking and I purchased her most recent book, a memoir, Daughter of Family G.

The first session was delightful, a Cabinet of Curiosities, and featured a number of writers including Ami.  These authors each brought a single object to share, an item that connected with their books, process or lives.  It was an intriguing grouping, covering a big array of topics and styles of writing.  I picked up a few books that night.

Anthony De Sa shared a GI Joe camo jacket.  He shared a heartfelt story that I will not soon forget about Christmas at home and a loving gesture from his mother.  I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place.  Anthony is writer of Children of the Moon.  This is now in my collection and I am looking forward to reading it.  Eloquent!

Marina Endicott shared her first Greek book.  It was a book that her Greek Teacher gave to her.  “Wherever you go, there you find your teacher’.  Her teacher, she shared, was her first home.

Cecil Foster writes for his grandmother.  His talismans are ideas.  As he writes, he takes pause and contemplates what might make his grandmother laugh or what might make her cry.  The material, he described, doesn’t really matter.  The idea matters.  He lifted a glass at the conclusion of his presentation and made a toast to his grandmother.  His most recent book is on my ‘to read’ list, They Call Me George.

Michael Christie’s new book, Greenwood, is also in my collection.  He shared with us the story of building his new home on Galiano Island and about how, during a huge storm on the family’s first days in the house, blew over a tree that crashed into the family Subaru.  He shared a slice/coin of the big branch that caused the destruction.  His reading caused me to weep.

A magnificent novel of inheritance, sacrifice, nature and love that takes its structure from the nested growth rings of a tree, Greenwood spans generations to tell the story of a family living and dying in the shadows cast by its own secrets. With this breathtaking feat of storytelling, Michael Christie masterfully reveals the tangled knot of lies, omissions and half-truths that exists at the root of every family’s origin story. (From McClelland ​​​​​​& Stewart)

Ami McKay shared something her mother/grandmother said, “All of the flowers that our blooming in our todays are to be enjoyed because of the seeds that were planted in our yesterdays.”

Terry Fallis was very animated and shared several items via Powerpoint imagery; his fountain pen collection, a framed image of Robertson Davies and an old typewriter that he keeps close by.

And finally, Anosh Irani shared a map of one district in Bombay.  His story and the poetic gifts that he shared that evening, were beautiful.  I purchased his book, The Parcel.

What a tremendous evening.  Thank you, Wordfest.

The next day, I had the opportunity to hear Ami McKay talk about her family, in detail, and her struggles and strength as both connect with her life.  The initial disease suffered by my brother was Colorectal Cancer and so I was very interested in what Ami shared about her family’s journey with Lynch Syndrome.  I really appreciated the time that Ami took with me personally as I found myself first in line to have my books signed by her.  This was an inspiring book talk and I am presently 100 pages in to the book, Daughter of Family G: A Memoir of Cancer Genes, Love and Fate

I met Aracely outside of the Memorial Branch library.  Aracely is the moderator for the book discussions that I enjoy at the Fish Creek Library once a month.  She is smart, fun and very generous.  She is also in love with reading!  I was swooped up by her enthusiasm and headed over to the Central Branch for the Humble the Poet presentation.  Am I ever glad I went!  Such a timely and inspiring talk!  While I didn’t purchase it that evening, I’ve added Things No One Else Can Teach Us, to my list.

Good to meet dear friends, Diane, Bill, Catherine and Bob, sitting directly behind me.

Wordfest never disappoints.  I hope that next year I have it in my schedule to take in even more of the book talks.  They open up the mind, the heart and put you in touch with other big time readers!  Thank you, Wordfest!

Autumn Mash Up

I am a single woman, in the last decades of my life, and sometimes I lay my head down on my pillow at the end of a busy day and wonder about being solitary in the world.  My life plays through my mind like a thin thread of film, projected on the dark wall across from me.  I am both in awe and fearful.  My life, alone, is a peaceful one.  Perhaps this is what was always meant to be.  But that acceptance and peace does not necessarily keep me from looking at the connection that others have in their partnered lives.

Autumn often causes this rerun, the movie of over sixty autumns that I can remember.  In every other autumn I would not have written the previous paragraph down, especially not in this format, perhaps in a private journal.  But, now, how does it really matter?

I remember a moment in a single engine Cessna, somewhere over Wisconsin.  We were flying north into Duluth when we got into difficulty and with time, our cloud ceiling was at 200 and then 100 and our pilot was requesting permission to land on a highway, the only visual reference we had.  Knowing that there were towers in the area and knowing that our pilot only had visual rating was frightening.  I clung to my then-partner’s hands, both of them.  Averting the first option, the wings bowed deeply sideways into the white cloud as we banked to go south and out of the fog/cloud.  When we came around,  the tree tops were an arm’s length from the plane’s belly.  I remember them as though it was yesterday.  They were conifers.  I kept saying, “The trees.  The trees.”  Not yelling and not particularly panicked.  This was a nightmare.  I had time to think, “I wonder how Mom and Dad will find me.”  I let go of my partner’s hand.  Instinctively I knew, ‘in the end I face this all alone.’

And I do.

Winter is coming.  A family of bald eagles has taught me much these past months but for several weeks, the juveniles have been distant, sent out of this territory to hunt, fish and find their own way.  The female came to some demise and is now gone.  The male has sheltered and fed the young.  A new sub adult has made herself known and has done multiple demonstrations for the juveniles.  She is a beautiful strong huntress.  The male has been close to her, but it seems that they are always in some wild discussion, resistant and yet set on a path.  Who knows what spring will bring.  It was only in the first snowfall that the youngsters returned to their nesting territory, bleating to the cold wind, about their fears and their challenges.  It was the day before yesterday’s snow that both the male and female arrived and consoled me with their familiar roosts in their favourite tree branches.  These beautiful raptors act as a unit, but live deeply their singular lives…it is what they must do to survive and for the species to survive.

These photographs were taken over these few weeks of Autumn..in no particular order.  They capture the prayers and the beauty and the journey of a single woman in a very beautiful world.

 

What I Didn’t Photograph in an Hour

Max and I walked at the Bow River when the light was flat.  The sky was cool white-grey on warm white-grey and I thought that it was interesting that I could see one thick layer on top of the other and that there was no part of white that seemed transparent.  The sky was a panel of two colours, layered.  In front of the panel, brilliant white snowflakes fell, angled, to the ground.  The wind was bitter.  I pulled my hoodie up over my ears and hair and soon after, also the hood to my coat.  My cheeks were cold, but the wind was to my back, definitely pushing us from the north.  We were walking in a blizzard.  The landscape was softened in a white fog and the river was umber/ultramarine dark.

I stood still beside Lauren’s bench and looked at my phone.  A string of little bells had set off earlier and I knew that it was my daughter.  Some people write about things in very lengthy threads.  Some break their ideas into little bits and send them like jewels across time and space and through this abstract world of possibility and connection.  My daughter’s loving messages came to me…I typed, in return…

“Teachers earn their wage.”

“I’m worried about my eagles, especially the youngsters.”

“I’m booking off tomorrow.”

“I love you.”

She replied, “Love you too”

At her ‘love you too’  (and you likely won’t believe this), one of the juveniles, deepest umber and back etched in a layer of snow, flew directly in front of and past me, over the churning river, heading south on the cold wind, his wing span, forgotten.  Yesterday, in autumn, I saw both Dad and his new woman and that had given me a lot of peace.  I know that everything is natural to these raptors, but in my depth of gratitude for what pleasure they have brought to me, I am concerned, in the same way as a person is concerned for any creature that faces such a brutal winter.

Max spooked.  He and I saw the white-tail at the same time.  She thought she needed to bolt, but I assured her very quickly by moving Max and I the opposite direction and instantaneously averted my eyes and forced my excited dog to submit to me.  We walked closer to the water.

I found it interesting that the gulls were so active, weaving in and out of one another and skimming the surface of the water.  These gulls have a huge wing span.  And they seem very hardy, performing every sort of maneuver, often directly into the wind.  I stood still, very close to the river’s edge, and watched them.  Max nuzzled his snout deep into the cold snow, now and then, eating a bit.

While foot falls seemed swallowed by the snow and sounds were muffled, airplanes overhead were loud and interfered with the great mystery that is always lurking around each bend, the unknown, the hidden…waiting through every season, especially when a woman and her dog are alone, unremarkable, quiet.

My Canon was warm next to my chest and zipped under my winter jacket.  My phone rested in my right hand pocket.  I grabbed it and snapped three photographs of the distinctive textures of shrubs, still fully leaved, having lost the sense of autumn far too quickly.

A cacophony erupted from the east and over our heads, flew, in perfect formation and with winged concavity in synchronized motion, a huge number of Canada geese.  I would have snapped a photograph.  Such a beautiful pattern against the backdrop of our second big snow.  They strategically came to rest in the shallow channel of water that separates the small island from me.  A loud bit of sorting, their voices raised havoc on the river, the gulls, now, engaged in the mix up.

Once stepping into the deep woods, I turned my eyes upward in order to look for the dark form of the juvenile, but he did not reappear, so he must have gone beyond.  The snow pelted my face, not as much flakes as crystals.  I naturally opened my mouth.  I brought my face down, in gratitude, for having seen him at all.  The sky was turning a darker shade of grey and so I continued through the tall grass, now weighted down with snow and fallen across the worn path of summer.

Eastern starlings, many of them, lifted up and out of the golden brown canopy in unison, seeming alarmed but uncertain of where to alight.  It was as though they were of one mind…but, what part of that machine would decide/move/land and why would all of the others follow?  They disappeared.  I wondered if I had actually witnessed this.

Heading back on the groomed pathway and then once again, cutting through the trees, I saw her surrounded in the shrubs and wearing an aura or a crown of golden leaves.  Her eyes were deep black, dark pools of gentleness, her nose, just as dark.  I cautioned Max.  She stood perfectly still in an almost-grey silhouette.  I spoke assuring words for absolutely no reason until we had passed.

These are the moments at the river.

This is a culmination of an hour, not snapping photographs.  This is how people used to remember.

Outline by Rachel Cusk

Recently, I’ve found myself in the enviable position of reading during the day, instead of just before bed.  Reading nicely places another narrative in my head and I no longer ruminate about absolutely everything that’s happening in my own life, right before bed.  Naturally a worrier, my own life used to keep me up at night.

One of the books I read last month was one of a trilogy by Rachel Cusk, Outline.  I’m presently reading the second, Transit.

The structure and approach to Cusk’s writing in Outline is fascinating.  I hesitate to recommend this book, however, given that it is such an interesting read.  My friends don’t necessarily like my take on ‘interesting’ reads.  I missed the book discussion on this one.  It was held at the Fish Creek Library.  I did, however, drop my notes off to the desk one day, hoping that my group would get my take on the read.  In the end, I learned that the notes didn’t get passed on to them.  But, I wasn’t surprised to learn that no one in my circle enjoyed the book.  I wasn’t surprised with that news.

A female writer boards a plane headed for Greece.  She will be conducting writing workshops shortly upon her arrival and also taking in a bit of sun.  What happens on the flight is that she meets that person sitting next to her…he’s like every other person you stand next to in line or the one who sits across from you in class.  He is the person who sits alone at a table in the restaurant where you are reading your book and eating a salad at the same time.  These people in our lives are like ‘outlines’…we have no context with them…but, what Rachel Cusk does is she creates their stories, generously building their motivations, passions and needs…their vulnerabilities and strengths.  The reader is witness to the building of each character.  It’s remarkable.

I am fascinated with the exercises that the protagonist creates for her classes and with the participants’ reactions/responses.  I suggest, strongly, that you give this book a chance.

A couple of moments particularly delighted me.  I am captivated when one of the writer’s students walks under an open window and hears a familiar piece of music…oh my…so wonderfully- described and so rich in meaning! (page 138).  In truth, from beginning to end the syntax and the description is refreshing and new.

Cusk’s writing is thought-provoking.

On page 245…

“She had sat there, she said, and thought about her own lifelong habit of explaining herself, and she thought about this power of silence, which put people out of one another’s reach.  Lately, since the incident – now that things had got harder to explain, and the explanations were harsher and bleaker – even her closest friends had started to tell her to stop talking about it, as though by talking about it she made it continue to exist.  Yet if people were silent about the things that had happened to them, was something not being betrayed, even if only the version of themselves that had experienced them?  It was never said of history, for instance, that it shouldn’t be talked about; on the contrary, in terms of history silence was forgetting, and it was the thing people feared most of all, when it was their own history that was at risk of being forgotten.  And history, really, was invisible, though its monuments still stood.  The making of the monuments was half of it, but the rest was interpretation.”

In Rachel’s writing, her characters speak…they talk about themselves and we know them like we can not know other characters in other writers’ books.

I see parallels between Outline and my repetitive painting of a single bush at the edge of a pond.  It is the atmosphere, surroundings, weather/season, even the time of day that fleshes out what the bush is.  In part, this is why I responded to this book as I did.  The character (writer) surfaces out of the development of everything around her.

By Chance Alone by Max Eisen

Last week, I read Canada Reads 2019 winner, By Chance Alone by Max Eisen.

While books about this time of our history are very sad and very dark, it is so important, as a part of our education, that we continue to share these narratives.  This book is particularly well-written, so steeped in an authentic voice, that it is rich and heart-breaking.

Given that I believe that the human spirit is rooted in love and compassion, I am reminded when I read such historical memoirs as this one, just how horrible and brutal human beings can be. There is an innate spirit of hatred that has surfaced throughout our human story.  If a person focuses too much upon this, it can be very traumatizing.  So many atrocities in the name of power, greed and difference.

I strongly recommend this book.  It has been Max Eisen’s life work to bring his family’s story to light.  It is historical and contributes to the documentation of the experience of this time.

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”

This was a truly remarkable book.

The Girls by Emma Cline

Straight from the inside cover, “Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction – and an indelible portrait of girls, and of the women they become.”

I disagree. I love reading because it gives me the opportunity to make my own judgments on writing and what I personally value and see as good writing. Throughout The Girls, there are moments of poetic writing (Page 137. I lay there, staring at the framed photo that hung over the bureau: a sand dune, rippling with mint grass. The ghoulish whorls of cobwebs in the corners.) lively description or a flash of insight about what makes girls ‘tick’. But as a story line, this novel feels very contrived, and obviously based on the Charles Manson narrative. Sometimes, frankly, that just gets old.

In a more original way, the recent movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood invites the viewer to look at the cult story differently. But, the book, The Girls, just doesn’t do that. Contrary to the book jacket, I find the writing predictable and dull, anything but spellbinding. Hmmm…I’m negative about this one, aren’t I?

The great thing about book discussions is that when a group of ten readers convenes to analyse a book, I can find endearing and positive elements to every book and I can look at different parts or even sometimes, the entire book, with new eyes. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a reader who reads to its conclusion, every book I start. The book discussion on this one, was excellent. Thank you to the book discussion group at Fish Creek Library.

Being a part of the library book discussions gives opportunity to read books that I might not select. I like the huge variety that comes up. Sometimes I’ve got two or even three books going at a time and this can lead me into distraction. This one was an easy read…readers, you could do it in a few evenings.

I suppose the big ‘idea’ in this book is an old question, in my mind, “What is it that causes young women to latch on to ‘bad’ people? What is the allure? The obsession? How do young women allow others to have such control or power over them?”

While I see moments in Cline’s writing that are generous and beautiful, this particular story feels empty and familiar. So, on this one, I disagree with the New Yorker. Laughing to myself, at writing that.

Fix It!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was that all about?”

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

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

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

 

For the Birds: Early Spring 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Broader Experience

My friend, Wendy, used to delight in really unusual words.  I enjoyed the fact that sometimes, late in the evening, a word would show up in my text messages.  It might be absquatulate or blatherskite.    

I never really understood until now, what a wonderful thing that was…that my friend shared words with me in the night.

(Weird blog post alert…go no further if you are in the mood, more, to tune into Netflix.)

Lately I’ve been having a very narrowing experience that has turned out to be exquisitely broadening at the very same time.  About art, these last ten years, I’ve said that my visual world and sensory interests have become very specific…it’s as though my visual world is in close-up and while shrinking, has become utterly complex.  This started happening as it related to the act of walking. (circling the same pond every day for almost six years/walking a loop at the river every day for the past two.)

It was right about that same time, that I started taking photographs.  Until that time, I had never had an interest.  I think I was wanting to capture a moment.  Birds became a part of that experience, simply because I would find myself standing still in front of a landmark; a bush or a tree; and I would analyse, in a very sensory way, the impact of light, atmosphere, sound, the smell on the air…and from a concentrated state, I would see more than what I anticipated…a Bald Eagle gazing down at me, from mere meters away, water dripping off a branch, a bright yellow bird flitting through low brush.  In standing still, my world expanded.

I guess I first noticed this while spending time with Mom during her journey with Alzheimer’s disease. To give an example,  I remember once leaving a lady’s wear shop, Pennington’s, after an hour of shopping with Mom.  Once stepping through an inside door and into the entrance way and before moving on through the outside door to go to the car, Mom stopped.  I stood behind her, hoping that no other customers would either leave or expect to enter.  I gave her time.  I looked at her face.  Her head was tilted back and her eyes were closed.  I asked, almost in a whisper, “Mom, why have you stopped?”  She said, “Listen.”  It was then that I stopped rustling the packages weighing down my arms and stood still.  There was a very quiet but constant hum of air pushing its way from a vent above our heads…had I not stopped, taken pause, I would not have shared that moment.  After a short while, Mom just moved on.

When the events of my life, over months and even years, became very focused…it seemed that the world continued to bustle as usual…rushing…filling…overflowing and moving on.  All the while, my own focused days became slower.  They became extremely sharp- edged.  They became very specific.

These recent days… for example.

Since mid January, there is a particular rhythm to my days.  I know that particular rhythm through the events that occur, predictably, around the clock.  I find myself in the very same place at any particular hour.  Some times it feels as though I am reliving time.  Some would liken it to deja vu. The name plates beside the doors change, but the events do not.

It was a day like every other except that one of the temporary name plates read, Milton Born With a Tooth.  I drifted past because, well, a person just doesn’t stop in front of some one else’s door and I was, after all, in the rhythm of my schedule, the very same that I had lived the day before.  But, Milton’s name stuck with me.  Didn’t his life somehow intersect with mine?  YES!  I’ve written, over time, about my love for the river.  This passion began while living in the University of Lethbridge residence, perched on the edge of the Oldman River in southern Alberta.  Graduating with my degree in 1977, I had established a connection with the river that would, as it turned out, never be broken.  It was in the mid 80s, here in Calgary, that I became engaged with the group, the Friends of the Oldman River as Ralph Klein’s government seemed to be pressing ahead with the construction of a dam that would, in my view, impact our indigenous brothers and sisters, the environment and encroach horribly on species native to the region.  I was appalled.

Oldman at Maycroft Crossing

Well, Milton Born With a Tooth and the Lonefighters Society were angry too!  Imagine that, all these years later, I should find myself bringing my books and my scrapbooks to share with Milton Born With a Tooth?  That I’d be visiting with Milton…his family members…during such a sacred time as this.

At this point, my readers are asking themselves, ‘how is this connected to your subject, Kath?’  Remember, please, my original premise…that in the workings of my narrowing life, my experience is broadening.

Yesterday I attended a marvelous book discussion at the Fish Creek Library. The book, Separation Anxiety, by Miji Campbell was easily read in the week following our February book discussion. I’m smitten by this group of women… so smart, fun and accepting. While my days are very overwhelming, generally, and while I need to be very responsible and engaged as a caregiver, I will move sun and moon in order to carve out time for this book discussion group.

I slipped in to the room and on to one of the last remaining chairs, just as the moderator was making introductory remarks and introducing the author, Miji Campbell. Her face was open and the feeling in the room was relaxed and welcoming. In the corner, there was a display of very nostalgic items that resonated for me and captured easily, my own narrative as a little girl, growing up in post war/cold war Canada. There was a Barbie Doll case… A Midge doll… some old black and white photographs.

The book discussion was remarkable.  There were interesting questions and engaging responses from the author.  I listened with great interest as the relationship between mothers and their daughters was discussed, topics of birth order, mental health, anxiety and the stigma attached to treatments for such anxiety or even the act of seeking out treatments. The conversation was a real exploration of wellness, a topic that I dearly need to explore right now, but struggle to set aside time for such reflection.

As I was listening, completely engaged, my mind began to piece together wee bits of information that Miji was sharing, connections that had not been made by me while reading the book.  It was as though a light went off when, suddenly, I realized that for years, I had taught with Miji’s mother.  And even more startling was that I was good friends with her oldest sister through my University experience.  At the conclusion of the afternoon activity, I sprung out to the neighbouring Safeway store, in order to access the ATM machine and fly back to the room where I could purchase my own copy of the book and have it signed by Miji.  As I drove home, I wondered about the various layers of this reading that were intended just for me…also, I pondered what messages I was supposed to connect with through the reading and the characters, who were people very much alive in my imagination and in my memory.

Miji’s cousin, Hughe, took video rather than photo, but I am grateful that he captured our meeting!

I think that in sitting in the stillness, I notice more.  I notice the shift in weather, the changes in people, flavours, reactions.  I make new associations.

This morning, I received a brief text message from a friend.  I think it was comprised of fewer than seven words.  But, the words were potent and remarkable and they gifted me with a daytime of support and love.  How easy it might have been, given my past engagement with schedules, events and social media, that I might not have ever realized just how much power a message has…to heal…to wound…to break…to mend.

On Friday morning, I folded clothes and put them away, created just a little bit of order in my seeming chaotic life, these days.  I relished the folding…the simple pleasure of the uniformity of it…the way the order gave me a sense of space and breath.

On Saturday, I went for a drive outside of the route that has become my routine.  I was on sensory overload.   Has this ever happened to you?  There was almost too much to take in.  What an amazing and complex world we live in!  For every vehicle on the highway…a life living…a complex human being, overflowing with challenges, joy, questions, family, self-awareness, belief…open sky…melting ice on the water…stones kicked up…tires spinning…a huge machine beneath me.

Revelation is an act of noticing and being fully conscious to your life.  The protagonist, young Douglas Spaulding, of Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury was the one who taught me that specific lesson.  I want to come back to the revelations of these past months when my world stops shrinking and begins to grow again; when I am in my life as a player more than an observer.  I am wanting to remember that I am grateful, but not in a self-help-book-kind-of-way, but in a really authentic sort of way.    I think it is an important thing to see the beauty in the enormity of the sadness/challenges that face today’s human family.  I think that it is not so much about hope, but about presence.  When I am fully present, I am open to delight, surprise and revelation.

In the meantime, send one another messages.  Create a care package for some one who never anticipates receiving anything at all in the mail.  Place a treasure on someone’s front door step.  Bake cookies.  It all counts for magic in the end.