What Comes to Mind at the River

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

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

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

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

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

Wolf

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The land reacts to our presence when we belong

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

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

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

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

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

 Promises shape who we are, what we will become –

we pray.

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

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

Feral hearts wander – oblivious to fences of human design.

 Survival embodies existence but – does not define it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Memories permit us to speak of things –

our heart tends to in the night.

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

Caribou 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Sister by Barbara Gowdy

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

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

Gowdy

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

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

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

Intelligent?  Enthralling?

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

Oh!  What a disappointment.

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

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

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

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

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

Some comments from her own website…

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Poems of Clea Roberts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If Suddenly My Dreams Are Premonitions

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

They strip the ash berries
with precise, needful tugs.

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

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

 

Postcards of the Great War

As a part of researching my family, there are just a few archival items that have been passed along in our family and some of those are a little worse for wear.  There are two postcards, written by my Great Grandfather John Moors addressed to his son, my Grandfather John Moors.  One is in my auntie’s possession and the other is in my father’s possession.  The first one is known as a silk, easily identifiable because of the stitched front side.

Background and production

Embroidered silk postcards do not all date from the First World War – they were used for sentimental greetings in France before 1914. First exhibited in 1900, they continued to be manufactured until the 1950s. Production peaked during the 1914-18 war, as the format proved especially popular with British soldiers.  The hand-embroidery is thought to have been carried out in domestic houses as ‘out-work’ by civilians in France and Belgium, and in the UK by Belgian refugees. The designs were repeatedly embroidered on rolls of silk.  These were then sent to cities (mainly Paris) for cutting up, final assembly and distribution, in what was probably at that stage a factory operation.

The silk that we have in our family is now behind glass.  I apologize for the glare as it did impact the photograph, but it is great to have a digital image and to be able to share its contents with my family.

John Moors Post Card from Auntie Eleanor's House

On the backside…lovely words…a father to his son.  John asks for mailing information for Walter and George.  I’m pleased that I have placed both of them in this photograph prior to heading overseas.  He writes very much as my grandfather spoke, with a bit of formality.  I reach across time and space to give him my love.  This is August 2016, mid ocean.  My Great Grandfather died, while a patient, during the bombing of Etaples Canada Hospital on May 19, 1918.

Post Card John Moors 11

Walter and George both appear in the 40th Field Battery photo taken at Camp Borden.  I don’t know if my Great Grandfather had any opportunity to reconnect with them.  They both survived the war, though there are several references that put their military units at such locations as Vimy and Passchendaele.

R Walter Haddow 4th fr lft 2nd row frm back

My Great Uncle Walter…

Walter haddow 40th field battery

My Great Uncle George…

George Haddoe 1915 40th Field Battery

The second postcard was more simple issue, sent as my Great Grandfather was returning to the war, after a leave in Paris.  It’s strange, but this object is a real treasure, in my mind.  When one thinks about letters or postcards, there is an intimate relationship between the hand, the eye, and the heart…these two items were held in the hands of my relation.  Quite amazing that they have managed to move through the passage of time!

A couple of things I wonder…

…if my Grandfather sent his father letters.

…if anyone has a photograph of my Great Grandfather in uniform.  As far as I know, the photograph that appears at the bottom of this post is the only one in existence.  This is also a digital image.

I am forever-grateful for these two postcards, the last one post marked March of 1918, two months prior to John’s death.

Front Side Post Card John Moors

John Moors Postcard

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Where I Live Now by Sharon Butala

It was 1996 when I received the gift of Perfection of the Morning from a friend.  Sharyn had grown to mean so much to me over the years, having taught my children and worked along side me for the strength of Fine Arts in Education.  Her gift was a blessing and I began to list Sharon Butala as one of my favourite authors.  I felt Butala’s work really move my life forward in positive and meaningful ways.  Interesting that yesterday, when I looked over my shoulder from the front of the crowded room at the Fish Creek CPL, I should see Sharyn sitting in the back row.

The book on the program for readings and discussion was Sharon Butala’s Where I Live Now.  I was flanked on either side by two dear friends, Pat on one side and Denise on the other.  I had never met the author and was beyond excited, packing up all of my books for Sharon’s generous signing before the session began.  Because Denise knows Sharon personally, it felt as though I was sitting down next to a friend when she sat in the front row, with my stack in front of her.

This short post is a snapshot of the afternoon, not so much a personal book review, although as I’ve written on this blog since 2005, there are posts along the way that were impacted by my readings of Butala’s books…one being Wild Stone Heart and Other Matters.

Art to Adore

The Globe and Mail review, written by Alix Hawley, eloquently expresses…

For all that, Where I Live Now isn’t a map of grief’s progress in the mode of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, to which it refers several times. Butala’s quiet and unusual book is an excavation of the Prairies, rural life and, above all, herself. She declares: “With this memoir, I hereby claim forever my portion of that country whose many layers … still resonate in my imagination.” She also claims an archeological knowledge of her own soul, now that she is in her mid-70s, and the right to take us through it. We’re lucky to go along.

And that is how I felt yesterday…blessed…enriched…treated to a very special moment on a Sunday afternoon.  Sharon’s eyes lit up as she enthusiastically described her experiences on the ranch, her memories, transitions and disappointments. In good humoured and delightful fashion, she talked about the prizes of writing and the surprises of writing. Vulnerable, she spoke of loneliness, identity, and hope.  The topics in discussion were ones that often cross my mind as a 62 year old woman, single in the world.

I think that one of my favourite moments, related to the book, was the recollection of the special day when Sharon edged the top of a ridge, to look down and see her husband, Peter, sleeping in the grass in one of the fields…I felt as though she had let us in to a very private and pivotal moment in her experience.  I felt very touched by that.

I enjoy the company of my friends and treasured conversations with Denise, Pat and Sharyn.  What a lovely way to spend Sunday afternoon.  Thanks again, CPL.

Wordfest and Meeting Kyo

Sitting behind me in the Big Secret Theater, this afternoon, Beth stood and as we were both putting on our coats, asked, “Did you see the Into the Quiet session this morning?”

I responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

From there, I went on about how I had read the book by Kyo Maclear, Birds Art Life in early spring…February…and she shuffled through her phone to show me a photograph that she had posted to all of her friends in April.

This is Beth’s photograph and it speaks quite loudly of the magic found in the pages of Kyo’s book.

Kyo

Beth and I, I felt, had an immediate connection as she shared the utter joy of watching birds at her feeder and about the fact that she wishes to gift her friends this book.  I utterly agree about the magic of this writing and heartily recommend it to others.

I booked my tickets for two sessions only this year at Wordfest, and both because Kyo Maclear was a panelist.  One was titled In the Quiet and the other, Bionic Women Writers. I had no intentions of picking up any other book, but brought Kyo’s in my purse so that I would take opportunity for a signing and maybe a short conversation.

The following photographs are a tad (understated) unfocused…but, that’s okay, right?

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Snipped directly out of the Wordfest archives…no sense in me writing all of the biographical details again…will just link back.  That’s alright, right?

Stories of solitude, difference, survival, and winter. Listen as these four authors share their books about what it means to be alone, but not necessarily lonely, in the modern world. This event is hosted by Jeremy Klaszus.

First of all, the host, Jeremy, was fantastic!  Follow THIS LINK to read a little about Jeremy.  The flow to the panel was spectacular.  In fact, I have to say that I felt this was the most magical session I have attended for its connection.

I haven’t read anything by Michael Finkel, but he has interviewed and written about Christopher Knight.  I purchased my own copy of The Stranger in the Woods, after hearing a very provocative reading and interesting panel discussion on solitude.  I have respect for Michael’s approach to research on this one and his respect for the process.

The Stranger in the Woods (Michael Finkel)

Many people dream of escaping modern life, but most will never act on it. The Stranger in the Woods is the remarkable true story of a man who lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years, making this dream a reality not out of anger at the world, but simply because he preferred to live on his own.

This is a gripping story of survival that asks fundamental questions about solitude, community and what makes a good life, and a deeply moving portrait of a man who was determined to live his own way, and succeeded.

This next one gave me shivers.  Reading from his chapter, The Failing Body, I was captivated, based on personal experience as it relates to my own loved ones and their health.  I think that all of the authors reached deeply into my heart this morning because for the past ten years, while still surrounded by my loved ones and friends, I am in a constant relationship to/with solitude.  The title of Michael’s book, i A Singular Life in a Crowded World will most likely support a lot of my views on life and love and time and presence.  I had a lovely chat with Michael at book signing time.  It meant a lot to me that even in this case, he was completely present to me.

Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World (Michael Harris)

The capacity to be truly alone is one of life’s subtlest skills. Real solitude allows us to reflect and recharge, improving our relationships with ourselves and, paradoxically, with others. Today, though, the zeitgeist embraces sharing like never before. Fueled by our dependence on social media, we have created an ecosystem of obsessive distraction that dangerously undervalues solitude. Harris examines why our experience of solitude has become so impoverished, and how we may grow to love it again in our digital landscape.

Kyo’s contributions to the panel discussion, as well as her selected readings, continued to support my true connection with the lessons that are written down into the pages of her book and lived out during her time journeying with a bird-watching musician, Jack Breakfast, in the city of Toronto.  An awesome read!  Do it!

Birds Art Life (Kyo Maclear)

In 2012, Maclear met a local Toronto musician with a captivating side passion — he had recently lost his heart to birds. Curious about what prompted this young urban artist to suddenly embrace nature, Kyo decided to follow him for a year and find out.

Intimate and philosophical, moving with ease between the granular and the grand, this touching memoir is about disconnection — how our passions can buckle under the demands and emotions of daily life — and about reconnection: how the act of seeking passion and beauty in small ways can lead us to discover our most satisfying life.

Clea Roberts, living on the edge of Whitehorse, Yukon…on an acreage that opens up to a huge expanse of forest, shared three poems that caused me to shiver in my seat.  The images were so exact, the phrasing was so perfect…I am so grateful that tonight I am able to hold the book, Auguries.  Not only were the readings beautiful, but the substance of what Clea had to say.  I was moved by her perceptions…about wood burning…about the dark river’s edge.  Moving!

Ancient auguries, Clea explained, were the result of knowledge/insights gained by the practice of ancient seers, drawing imaginary grids in a part of the sky and then observing the birds that moved in and out of that particular space, their numbers, their behaviours…

I feel as though all of these writers touched upon a bit of my heart that holds on so tightly to my mother…her memory…the responsibility I feel to keep her alive in other loved ones’ memories.  Grief is a journey that must be allowed.

Just this morning, I looked down at the socks that I put on my feet.  At my mother’s passing four years ago, while packing, I rolled up all of my mother’s socks and brought them home to Calgary.  They had been snipped at the ankles by my father, with scissors.  My mother’s ankles were swollen.  Of a bag load of socks, after four years, there are only two pair remaining.  I speak to my mother when I put my socks on in the morning…most mornings they are not, any longer, her socks.  Something in Clea’s poems brought my mother’s socks to mind…something that Kyo said…the look in Michael Harris’s eyes…and the words that Michael Fickel wrote into his book for me to find later.

I can’t write about the session titled Bionic Women Writers at the moment…about seeing Melanie…about any of it.  I just have to step back for a little while.  Maybe pour a glass of wine.  Maybe Skype with my father.  James has taken Max for a walk.

Auguries (Clea Roberts)

Whether speaking of erotic love, domestic life, spiritual wilderness or family entanglements, the poems of Auguries, the much-anticipated second collection from Yukon poet Clea Roberts, are saturated with their northern landscape. With poems like single larches, each in an immense white plain spare and clean, their exactness startling and arresting, Roberts showcases her sensitivity and skill in this profound collection.

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In the end, I was thrilled with all of the authors in both sessions.  Must reads…for sure…Bionic Women Writers…and other perceptions to come.

 

The Back of The Turtle by Thomas King

I still had 100 pages to read when I drove north to the Forest Lawn Branch of the Calgary Public Library to participate in a reading circle with Aboriginal Pride with 12CSI.  These meetings are aptly titled, Chapters and Chat Meetings and the book up for discussion on my birthday was The Back of The Turtle by Thomas King.

I poured myself a hot cup of coffee and filled my plate with fresh vegetables, fruit and dip and made myself comfortable in a circle of, this month, ten people.  I was pleased to meet up with friend, Roberta, a writer I recently connected with at a Jazz event.

Michelle Robinson The Back of The Turtle

Photo Credit: Michelle Robinson (group leader and inspiration)

The meetings are always full of discussion and they ground themselves in truth and honesty.  Every person’s voice is heard respectfully and I find this process very powerful and helpful in my quest to understand and respect diversity in every aspect of life in contemporary society.  Some of the discussions that took place, this week, included science and the silencing of scientists, reconciliation and healing and the ‘Stereotypes in Toeshoes’, and a follow-up discussion about Joseph Boyden; his writing, self-identification and the CPL session of a couple of weeks ago.  A very interesting exchange of ideas.

Yesterday, I finished the book, The Back of the Turtle, and thought I’d write a brief comment.  In the end, I’ve decided that this is a beautiful novel…an easy read…nothing too complex and yet, lovely, for its setting and its contemporary challenges to the reader.  The book moves easily back and forth between Dorian’s struggles as they unfold in the role of CEO for a BIG corporation and Gabriel’s struggles as they unfold for a ‘guilt-filled’ scientist in a formerly-idyllic and Eden-like setting named Samaritan Bay.  Even the turtles have gone.

Thomas King writes a novel that offers the reader inroads to a mythological place through a combination of Christian and indigenous narratives.  He warms the heart with such rich characters as Soldier and Sonny.  He describes an intricate and symbolic beacon of hope, eventually constructed on the beach.  It is a story of optimism, in the face of utter destruction.

I loved the very heart-breaking description of the mother turtle, the empty aquarium, the empty houses…

I liked the story of The Woman Who Fell from the Sky.  Donna Rosenberg has recorded anthologies of myths from all over the world.  Very little is published about her biographically.  I wanted to link up to a version of this myth so that my readers might enjoy.

I liked the book.

For next month, we are reading The Inconvenient Indian by the same author.

The Back of the Turtle

It’s Been This Kind of Day

I have to thank my new birder-friend, Bob, for his share of the story of Mrs. Shoveler on the Bird’s Calgary site, today.

I began writing on-line in 2005. In writing to an ‘imagined’ public, I discovered a public voice.  I learned to write about events that took place in my rather simple life in a way that could be explored and shared with any reader. There was a line that I refused to cross, a line that delved into the realm of the very personal.  I’ve enjoyed learning to narrate my life, while reigning in my voice to a degree.  In my head, I always remarked, “Only write what you feel anyone could read.”  I suppose the closest I ever came to crossing that line was at the loss of my mother.

I was in my father’s office, at the computer desk, the summer of her passing.  It was so bloody humid.  Dad tried to keep me from opening the windows because we had to have air conditioning or we were going to melt!  Whenever I would sit to write at the computer, I would secretly slide the window open to the right of me…in the night time, there was such stillness…not a breeze.  I remember writing this.

A lot of bloggers get weary of the process of writing after a while, but for some reason, I find the flow of evening-writing,  a wonderfully relaxing practice.  My initial story of Mrs. Shoveler and my effort to retrieve her from a small piece of open water achieved over 400 hits in an hour after publication.  I know.  I know.  I don’t really have a swollen head over this.  It’s not what the on-line crowd would call ‘going viral’, but, I was deeply touched that so many readers care about wildlife enough and in this case, a hen Northern Shoveler, that they would peruse the events that took place in the bitterly cold days of last December.  The follow-up story, involving the re-appearance of this dear bird, sent the numbers soaring yet again.

Well, today, with gratitude to Birds Calgary, more readers have visited and I’ve really enjoyed comments and messages and reactions.  So, readers, thank you for all of that.

This was my day…while Max and I played in snow and I met Abir again, after so long, and I made and enjoyed such a beautiful stew…while every thing was happening in my life, this is what was going on in the hum of the background.

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Writing on the Studio Wall

I have a long history of writing on walls.  But, what a friend recently told me is that Sharpie fades and will only last so long on drywall. (this explains why my affirmations, written on my bathroom wall in metallic gold pen, have begun to disappear)  So, as I looked at my studio walls, I DID realize that many of the original song lyrics and early writings of friends have begun to disappear.  I have documented these so that as they fade, they can be remembered as they become a part of the history of place.

I’ll begin with the most recent signing…that of my furnace tech, having just cleaned out my furnace and vents for this year.

If you do not see your writing on my wall, it is time for a studio visit!  Scout…looking for your writing. ;0)

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I need to change my filter more often.

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Annie Lennox: The Saddest Song I’ve Got (yup…sometimes when you’re painting, you feel sad and I would have been playing this CD while I painted, likely after I saw her playing a concert with Sting.)

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My oldest Kananaskis Country map plastered on the studio wall. I think about the mountains whenever I’m not in them. When I thought to, I recorded the odd hike…just so that I could remember the circumstance. Most times I forgot.

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Oh my gosh…winter hot dog roast at Sandy McNabb…that was a long time ago! I DID DO RAE GLACIER again!

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I didn’t keep this up…but, I thought it would be cool to list the new CDs that came into the studio. Don’t know what the Martha Stewart Wedding memo was about.

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This boy has a big influence on me. He got over some addictions. He helped me recently.

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Alan put up some shelves in the studio when I first built it…now, that was a long time ago! It seems we reused wood. I painted it up and it looked great. I remember when the studio was empty.

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Pat, from the Ironwood, was out with another buddy. I was bugging him about the fact that when the move happened from the present day Blue’s Can, they took Mussels off the menu. We were drinking wine in the studio that evening. These things happen.

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My niece, Mandi, wrote beautiful words for me on the morning of my first born’s wedding…and it’s almost impossible to read them anymore. I treasure them and always will. I send her love, abundant love.

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Bee, my dancing partner, when there’s good Honky Tonk music playing, continuously shares hilarious bits of blah blah…usually, I write them down.

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Oh, good grief…weird stuff ends up hung on my studio wall, but, I am always prepared. Nothing’s worse than having to leave a painting, in order to floss your teeth…and times wasted looking for it.

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Oh my gosh…I was obsessed with getting large storage for my big canvases. Thank you to all my friends and family who had to listen to my musings on this subject and to the two men who eventually built them. I’ve been afraid that they are going to fall on me while I paint, ever since. lol

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Yes, I was this obsessed. To the right, a beautiful mosaic created by a Larche artist, a gift from Father Clair Watrin a zillion years ago.

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One view of the storage that I love so much.

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The other side…

 

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Chris and Clayton…former students. Every so often the kids come back to visit…they’re both grown up now. We don’t forget, though. Proud of both of these dudes.

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Broken hearted, I cut three travel journals up into little squares, when my trucker boyfriend dumped me over the telephone. (I may as well be honest). Chances are that if you’ve got one of my paintings since 2006, one of these squares is buried in your painting. I thought it would be good to send a bit of my heart out with each new piece…the nice thing to announce is that it barely hurts at all any more. This is what happens with broken heartedness.

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Awe…my cousin, Clayton, just before he headed out for a huge walk for the support the Kidney Foundation? Correct me, if I’m wrong, Clay. Karina and Clayton…a gift to share an evening with them.

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Jen Hall took the first and only ‘real’ portrait that I’ve had done of me…and Max…and she documented a few paintings for me. She’s awesome.

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I have a habit of picking up things in old frames, especially if they look like they were hung in some one’s kitchen for a zillion years…where mayhaps tea was served and ladies talked.

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I read stuff about our animal/bird/insect/plant species that are in trouble…I clip them here…I don’t want to forget. Some of these land in paintings…it all depends what I’m thinking about at the time.

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My son….he was my very young batman…he wanted to keep everyone safe and happy and calm. These are two of my favourite photos of him. The other one…well, you saw it earlier.  James and sister, Cayley, at Angel Glacier.

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Yeah…more journal squares…a piece from Ashleigh Bartlett’s workshop at Esker…more salvaged religious memorabilia from the second hand stores…a postcard of Tim Belliveau’s glass…my all time favourite glass artist.

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Book suggestions…words from my sister-in-law, Grace. Aaron, Angela and Wisdom visited me and took away my teaching table so that I would never, again, be tempted to teach in the studio, but instead, paint.

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Yes…my daughter’s wedding. Trying to remember neighbour’s names…

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Karina…beautiful. I wish more of my relations from Raymond and Lethbridge and Magrath would stop in for visits. Love them so much.

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Youngest person to visit my studio…Wisdom is growing up so fast. Love the Sponge Bob!

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Leaves of Grass: Walt Whitman Read it! WHEN the true poet comes, how shall we know him— By what clear token,—manners, language, dress? Or shall a voice from Heaven speak and show him: Him the swift healer of the Earth’s distress!

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Bill used to move my art…I loved him so much.

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Bill Webb…still painting luminous landscapes of the Livingston Range and winter roads. New adventures are happening for my dear friend.

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James Blunt…during heart wrenching moments in the studio.

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Margy…oh my gosh…how many times did we watch the music video and sing along with this tune??

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Bob Nelson…drove all the way from Helena and we went down to Knox and listened to acapella music. High school friend and talks about life, the world and Kant. I’m catching waves.

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I didn’t see this note about the scissors until today. Cayley, sorry that I wasn’t helpful. lol The scissors are hanging in the scissor place over there!

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Beautiful lady, Angela. And, I guess some sort of recommendation from Dylan. Dylan and Kristan, former students, have visited. But…it’s been a while. Both are doing inspiring and exciting things. I still have a JH self portrait in a portfolio for Kristan to pick up. lol

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Oh dear…I can’t read this. Can you? Please let me know…something about meditation…I can read “Remain Radiant”

REMAIN ‘RADIANT,’AS JOYCE PUT IT, IN THE FILTH OF THE WORLD.

The goal of life is to be a vehicle
for something higher.Keep your eye up there
between the pairs of opposites
watching your play in the world.Let the world be as it is
and learn to rock with the waves.Remain ‘radiant,’
as Joyce put it,
in the filth of the world.”~ Joseph Campbell, Excerpt From: “A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living.” Joseph Campbell Foundation, iBooks

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This young man…an accomplished and published photographer/journalist out of Toronto. Look for his stuff on cars…and his road trips! Proud of you, Clayton.

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My brother, owner of Cliff’s Chinook Charters out of Comox, wrote about the plight of the salmon. I love my brother…he knows how much I think about him. I caught a big one out there, while sharing a trip with my daughter and father.

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Leslie Champ, former student and amazing man! Christmas visit 2013. The little piece matted in purple, a piece of art created by student Katie McGreevy for me when I taught at St. John’s Fine Arts School…again, a zillion years ago. A couple pieces of my paint-by-number collection.

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I cherish Leslie’s words.

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Jen…another artist extraordinaire. A part of a powerhouse teaching team at AGC when it was before the boss woman went down in flames.

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Middle Child, daughter Cayley, is one of my two daughters. Both have taught me about courage. I could not have learned the lessons of courage in life, without them.

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Thank you.

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Rita, I miss you. You opened up so much discourse. You supported me.

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First born. I can’t type anything about her without getting teary. Such a warm, funny, organized, loving human being! Brave! Pam and Larry, that was a fun night! Such fun!

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“The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.” ― Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark

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lol You’re welcome, Larry.

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In two places.

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Jen, I miss you. A bit of a piece done with Asheigh Bartlett, as a response to work by Jack Bush.

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People leave me stones, shells and earth from places they have traveled…these came from Australia. Thank you, Bob.

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Natasha…former student studying art in Vancouver. Love you and so proud of you.

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Darwin stones.

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Prince Edward Island Sand…touch it every once and a while and my mother comes to mind.

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Shells and stones…Prince Edward Island. I get teary looking at these.

Bleasdell Boulder

This past summer, I learned just how genuinely accommodating my father can be.  I tend to have many over-riding passions; reading, writing, history, art and family history.  Once I connect with a story, some one else’s story, I tend to want to explore it for its details and for its nuances.  This is what happened when I read Francis Itani’s Deafening.  Because the book was so regional and because summer brought me smack dab in the middle of her setting, I had to explore that.

Similarly, after Dad and I attended the County Festival Player’s rendition of  A Splinter in the Heart, an adapted screenplay based on Al Purdy’s novel…I just had to look deeper.  The following summary, borrowed from and linked to Goodreads.

 Al Purdy’s only novel, A Splinter in the Heart, is an unforgettable coming-of-age story that unfolds against the real-life tragedy of what came to be known as the Trenton Disaster. Set in 1918, it tells the story of sixteen-year-old Patrick Cameron and the events that will change him – and the Ontario town in which he lives – forever. Over the course of one summer and fall, Patrick finds love with a girl whose betrayal he cannot foresee, confronts the death of his beloved grandfather, and comes to terms with a neighbourhood rival. All the while, his hometown of Trenton lives precariously in the shadow of a dynamite factory, a sinister reminder of the Great War, which brought such prosperity to the town. Vivid with character and event, and evocative of time and place, A Splinter in the Heart is a moving portrait of a young man’s journey into adulthood in an era of change.

My father generously agreed to take me to see the location of the old munitions factory and also to visit Bleasdell Boulder in one of the region’s conservation areas.  The erratic is mentioned as a place for romantic meetings between young people in the early 1900s and likely, even today.  Well researched, Al Purdy’s writing, especially his poetry, is linked to specific places right across Canada.  I had a very enjoyable time, visiting many of these places, structures and houses most times demolished or changed, but natural geography, remaining as he might have experienced in his own lifetime.

So, on a beautiful late summer day, Dad and I headed out for a short hike to the erratic, Bleasdell Boulder.  I discovered that my Dad takes strides, much like my paternal grandfather…long and fast.  I had quite a time staying up to him.  Thanks, Dad, for going exploring with me!

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