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.

 

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.

 

Download

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.