By Chance Alone by Max Eisen

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

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

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

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

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

This was a truly remarkable book.

St. John Fine Arts School Late 1980s

School reunions make me feel a tad anxious.  I’ve attended my own ten year high school reunion, as well as my 20th, but because I was a student who viewed herself always on ‘the fringe’ and not one who fell into the ‘popular’ category, I felt hesitant and unsure.

The best part of my ten year class reunion was sitting in the hotel hot tub with former ‘speechie’ and friend, Jeff Marshall, and talking and laughing an entire evening away.

Meeting up with people I’ve not seen for a number of years and people I never knew to begin with, can make me squirm.

Yesterday’s event was a little different.  This one had nothing to do with my life as a student and more to do with a group of students gathering to celebrate their friendship of almost 30 years.

It was lovely that former students of St. John Fine Arts School put their heads together and arranged for a reunion.  While the group that decided to attend did not represent all of my students over those years, it was a fun mix.

Before I headed out to the event, I dug through my memorabilia, but came up short as, somewhere along the line, I finally let go of some student art work and writing that had traveled with me for so many years.  I DID find some bits here and there and headed out to Gwen’s place in Chestermere, the only teacher from those years, to attend.

Most wonderful was being greeted at the door by Amanda.  Amanda, it turns out, was also one of my students, daughter to Camille, who I taught at St. John’s.  What a beautiful experience.

Thanks to Gwen and her partner, Dave, for hosting!  And thank you to all who contributed such lovely items to the pot luck.  And finally, thank you for the generous welcome and inclusion.  It was a very fun event.  I DID miss a lot of the beautiful people who were a part of my life 30 years ago in the school…colleagues who really inspired me, students who taught me to have compassion and understanding and to value creativity and even parent volunteers who were so helpful and so much a part of every classroom.  From those years, I have lost friends, Dorothy MacInnis and Pat Campbell.

A blitz of images here…past and present.

Dear World: An End of Year Performance at the University Theater

Kite Flying home made kites every year for Pentecost…an event every year for almost 20 years of my teaching career.

In the day, when paper was allowed attached to walls…decorating.

The River: An Integration of Art, Music, Drama and Movement

Science Fair

An Integration: Do You Know What a Dragon Looks Like?

The Girls by Emma Cline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Machine Without Horses by Helen Humphreys

…a late wake up time for me this morning, but I’ve decided to begin the day with a quick book review.  I haven’t reviewed my reading for months now, so, over the coming weeks, I might write one here and there, as I’m at the easel and don’t want to steal too much writing time from that.  I do love writing.  And it relaxes me, all the while giving me the same fearful moments as  I stare at the blank pages as I have when I tremble before a blank panel in the studio.

I have read Helen Humphreys before and thoroughly enjoy her connections with history…such an interesting measure of history and fiction that I have no troubles labeling her writing style as very unique.  While there are some reviews that say that this novel is unresolved, I beg to differ.  This is one of my favourite reads of summer.  It’s a quick read, although this review says that the first half will slow you down, but with the caveat that if the reader takes an interest in the craft of writing, this section might be just as magical as the second.  I am this person.

The book is titled, Machine Without Horses, a somewhat deceiving title, but it will make sense for the reader in time.  Oh, never mind…I’ll offer my readers the literal meaning to start.

Given my time at the river, I’ve been speaking with the fly fishermen and others about their fishing rituals, this past summer.  One evening I had a particularly interesting chat with a young man who shared his enthusiasm for fly dressing.  When I met him he was stooped over with a small screen, capturing the nymphs or larvae of the flies and bugs that were seen hovering above the water and the vegetation that particular evening.  Once identified, then he would make his selection from his collection.  He shared these with me.

I told him about what I had learned about the fine art of fly dressing while reading the book, Machine Without Horses and he was intrigued.  The novel is based on a Scottish protagonist and historical crafts person, Megan Boyd who gained a magical love and ability for salmon fly-dressing.  She worked tirelessly at the craft for some sixty years.  Megan provides the basis for the novel, but the means in which Humphreys writes this character is fascinating to me.

I hope that my young nephew, Jake, reads this post as he has tackled fly-dressing and I’m curious, now, if he continues to do this.  Here are a few of Megan Boyd’s flies.

In the first half of the book, we meet a writer who has come upon the obituary of Mary Boyd.  From the first spark, we learn what motivates the writer (fictional writer?  Helen?  who knows?) to tackle this subject.  The reader becomes an observer of the writer’s process as she develops characters, events and setting.  It is all so fascinating.  As a huge relief, the reader then moves into the historical fiction with greater insight/knowledge about the narrative that unfolds. I’m leaving the synopsis just like this because I don’t wish to introduce you to any bits other than the protagonist and perhaps to say that the setting in Scotland…the atmosphere…the ocean views…and the rivers captivated me.

I think that this is a great little book and highly recommend.  I know. I know.  I certainly don’t have the same tastes in books as many of my friends, but give this one a try.  I’m linking up to the other reviews I might have written on Helen Humphrey’s books.  I may have my friend, Hollee Card, to credit for discovering this author and picked up my first book of hers, Coventry, in a second hand book store.  Other novels were read by the same author, but not reviewed.  One of the most aesthetically written books on my shelf is The River by Helen Humphreys.  I also encourage you, if you romanticize about place, as I do, to pick this one up.

Coventry by Helen Humphreys

The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys

 

 

Belted Kingfisher

Autumn means chasing this guy around, trying to grab a focused photograph.  Some people play football.  This is my sport.  I could spend hours listening for him and then high-tailing it to his next location.  He plays catch-me-if-you-can and I can be heard in the woods, laughing out loud.  If anyone else was around they would wonder.  First, readers, take note of the Belted Kingfisher’s interesting sound.

Twice in the past two days, the Kingfisher has taken a place of importance, the high Y branch of the Bald Eagle family’s favourite tree.  First time, both Juveniles went at him.  I think that perhaps the Kingfisher was consuming a meal and the young eagles get pretty scrappy with the food of other river hunters.  Next time, the Sub Adult flew in, I suppose just to claim her dominance.

My visuals are all very unfocused, but I’m logging these here as a part of my birder journals.  This morning, in the fog, I also watched an Osprey dive, almost vertically, off of a tree and pounce upon a young Cormorant as he fished.  Life on the river is a bit of a dog-eat-dog world.  When I returned home, I saw that I got an unfocused capture of the Osprey leaving the tree.

The two juvenile Bald Eagles swooped into the scene, evicting the Kingfisher from prime territory.

He arrived at my side of the river, for only moments and I snapped this photograph, directly into the light.

Another visit to the river, and again, he chose prime branches.  Are you kidding?

In she swooped…and look, where the little guy ended up!

This morning, in the fog.

Life carries on, in all forms, at the river, but very different from only weeks ago.  The Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are in greater numbers, as are the White Breasted Nuthatches.  The Northern Flickers swoosh down and up onto the Elms.  This afternoon, the subdued landscape was broken by a huge frenzy of vocalizations of coyotes on the island and the howls were returned in unison by the coyotes on this side of the river.  It was absolutely magical!

Osprey taking a dive, not for a fish, but for the Cormorant catching the fish! (Horrible photo alert!)

Juvenile Cormorant.  Doug Newman pointed out one time that some Cormorant species have bright blue eyes in this stage.  This is the best that I’ve been able to capture that.

And, what exactly is this?  Has this wee babe been abandoned by Mom?  What is it?

The elegance of the young American Robins, at this time, fills my heart, whenever I see them.

This past week might have been impacted by bad-weather days, but nature continues to amaze me, regardless.

The female Mallard keeps her kids in line.

I will continue to attempt a good capture of the Belted Kingfisher during the coming week.

BUMP!

The Beltline Urban Murals Project provided several offerings over the past few days.  My friend, Pat, and I participated in a tour that introduced us to the murals in east locations of the Beltline. We will have to see the murals to the west on our own. The weather was cooperative at the outset, but then we just got really hit with rain.  It’s interesting though, Pat and I never really get hung up about things when we are taking in an event of interest.  We just have fun.

Click on the blue links for artist biographies.  This is the third annual BUMP event to be held in Calgary.

Our meet-up was at the historic McHugh House.

First stop was Luke Ramsey’s work at Alpha House.  Luke is out of Powell River, B.C.

 Next stop was Lacey and Layla’s work.  They are out of Edmonton and Montreal.  I like the focus of their work.

Pat can be seen jay walking in the next photograph.  She is going to let me know (again) that she doesn’t like her photo taken.

This mural was a new addition to the line up and it was a really fun stop as two artists were working on this alley mural as we approached.  I believe the gentleman is RUNT. It can’t be easy painting that rough stucco surface with brushes.  I’m also guessing that this wall was in bad shape upon the outset!

As we left, I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the old ad. art work on the adjacent building.

This piece is going to be amazing and will cover the expanse of this wall.  It is based on a study done of buffalo hides and is connected with research at Blackfoot Crossing.  Typically, Guido Van Helten produces works that include large monochrome portraits, so this is a little different.  I’m excited to see this one finished.  

At this point, the rain was coming down.  Kevin Ledo’s work will take your breath away.  It is truly amazing.

The work of FATS is about freedom.  I like the vertical format of this one.  By this time, I was getting wet.  My umbrella was sitting in the back seat of my car, quite some distance away by this time.

From this point forward, I lost track of the artist’s work and will have to spend some time researching a wee bit.  I’m thinking that this one was completed by an ol’ Gorilla House friend of mine, Adam Zhu.  In fact, I own one of his pieces as commissioned in the day.  I’ll go take a look at his website.  Yuppers!  Congratulations, Adam!  Beautiful work!!

Mateusz Naperialski created a mural in close proximity to several others.  This little section was absolutely beautiful and the art was like eye candy.  I was really feeling for the organizers and events folks, as well as the DJs who were closing out the event.  What a time to have so much rain!

Labrona’s work created a beautiful welcome into the celebration area, fixed with fire pits, strung lights and spray paint demonstrations and participation.  So fun!  Food trucks are down there and I’m sure that the music is still playing.

Reza Nik’s bright yellow created a brilliant conclusion to our BUMP experience.  This is an event that is now on my radar and I will be attending in future.  Congratulations to all participants.  I’m thrilled that our city is energizing the visual.  It’s so important to all of us.

Pat, that was a good one, right??

Now, to curl up with some Netflix.

Crows Fly Over Main Street

My daughter spent quite some time living in Vancouver.  For some reason I always put up a bit of a wall when the possibility of traveling there was considered.  I’ve had a friend living there for decades.  And then, Bobbie moved there.  But, I always felt some fears around its density, compactness or some unnamed unknown.  A drunk person poured an entire glass of beer down my back at a Dave Matthew’s concert in Rogers Arena one night, years ago, and the same night, I stayed in an Otto Rogers themed room. That sums up my experience of Vancouver, until recently.

On the afternoon and evening of August 20, 2019, I had opportunity to walk and see a touch of what my daughter experienced.  While I never did get to the water’s edge, I did walk a stretch of Main Street and visited one of her work places, a shop called, Front and Co.  I’ve snapped a few photographs of places along the way.  One has to admit that the vegetation is lush in Vancouver and varied.  I tried to capture that as well.

In the evening, we gathered to feast and to toast Bob.  One beautiful friend of the family delivered ‘Bob Likes Thai Food’ for dinner and another brought flowers and wine.  As we sat, sharing stories, a huge murder of  crows flew over our heads…a movement that is repeated each evening, like clockwork, over the house.  I was overcome with the magic of this, the sounds of it and will never forget it.

When it was pitch black, we walked and talked our way to the neighbouring cemetery.  There, we opened up a blanket and sat down, overlooking the lights of Vancouver.  We talked until the early hours of morning about absolutely everything, but mostly Bob.

I snapped a photograph of sculpture in the Vancouver air terminal before leaving.

I’ve recently had another dear friend move to Vancouver.  I have family in Comox.  Vancouver, I’ll be back!

Days and Art at Vancouver General Hospital

I dread flying. (The fears stem from multiple days on a cross-country flight in a single engine Cessna…but, that’s another story.)

When I heard that one of my best friends, spiritual guides and artist-buddies was moving at warp speed toward death (as we all are), I had to fly.  It is with gratitude for a few people and circumstances and timing that I write these words down.  Everything lined up so that I could be with Bobbie.  Bob and I shared over twenty years of friendship and he inspired such rich and wonderful magic in my life.  It was an unwritten pact of sorts that led me to his bedside and into the wonderful circle of his family.

When we landed, I took words of a highly-traveled friend, Hollee, to heart and pretended, to some degree, that I was Dora the Explorer.  I had some reservations about flying into Vancouver, not being familiar with the ‘big’ city at all.  I had flown into Vancouver with a friend many years ago in order to enjoy a Dave Matthew’s Band concert and the Art Gallery, but hadn’t ever found my way around on my own.  So, on the advice of Hollee, I took my time finding my way to the Canada Line, enjoying the beautiful art displayed throughout the airport.  Bob would have loved that I did this.

I successfully found my way to the Broadway/City Hall stop and then began my short walk to the hospital.

Peter met me at the elevator on the 16th floor of the Palliative Care Unit, after a convoluted wandering of the hospital, having thought I would find Bob on the eleventh floor. When I stepped around the corner and into Bob’s room, his arms extended and opened up to me.  The embrace of two old friends was delicious.  He uttered his delight and I parked my bag.  I knew that I would make this room my home for the coming days, although Bronwyn had graciously offered me a bed.

I write this post to celebrate the type of care and the environment where Bob spent his last days.  The Palliative Care unit was exceptional.  It was a comfortable space for both residents and families.  And there was art…everywhere!  Referred to as the VGH/ UBC Hospital Foundation Art Collection, the collection gave me the opportunity to disappear into various visual experiences throughout my stay.

“We are grateful to our donors for their contributions to this innovative program,” says Dr. Bev Spring, a physician with the Palliative Care Unit at VGH. “Art helps to create an atmosphere aesthetically and attitudinally where emotional and physical healing can happen. This is important for the heart and soul of the hospital – and the hearts and souls of those who find themselves on the giving or receiving end of care here: patients, their families and staff alike.”

I collected a series of photographs…none of them great, because I was so impressed.  I wasn’t in Vancouver for site seeing or for a vacation.  And yet, the space where my dear friend spent his last days was absolutely beautiful.  I’m so grateful for that.  This post is written in order to celebrate Bob’s life.  He held, in his imagination, such knowledge, practice and understanding of place, aesthetics and image-making.  This collection would have awed  him.

I sat through the wee hours of morning on August 20th and felt an overwhelming peace.  Of course, I was weary, but I was and am so grateful for the people who are in my circle.  I am so blessed.  Bob was a gentle and kind man.  His spirit lives.

 

Two!

You have a little story book that still sits next to the rocking chair in your room.  The words to the story say it all.  Steven.  Steven, I love you and you mean the world to me.  I hope that this year will see us sharing many adventures.  You are a blessing to your family.

I’ve a collection of photographs from your second birthday party at the lake.  And I have a photograph of you with your Uncle, reading one of your new library books.

Light and Cake

Happy Birthday, Nigel!!

I’m doing some back-peddling.  I’ve not been much for writing the past week or so, but I’m pulling out of the doldrums.  (Maybe because of the seven hours of sleep last night.)  I have no idea.  I’m just going with the ebb and flow.  I’m being grateful.  I began the day with a short Vimeo shared on social media by artist, Tim Schumm.  He’s been quite the adventurer in life and when I see his photographs, paintings and such, I feel a real connection with the more adventurous spirit that was my youth.

This is the video he shared.  If you have 16 minutes, watch it.  It made a difference for me today.

I felt a change inside at the conclusion of the movie.  I made a decision to be more patient and to be grateful.  Additionally, I decided to focus on kindness.  So, where yesterday, I felt a tad ‘flat’, today I gained purpose.  I also felt prepared to celebrate the lives of those who have died over the past few years without focusing on missing them.  And so, I feel as though today I was going somewhere instead of traveling nowhere…I felt, a little bit, as though I had left the doldrums.

And so, I sit to write…

Happy Birthday, Nigel!  August 23rd…and we are so grateful you were born!  Former student of mine, smart cookie, amazing chef, artiste-extraordinaire, husband to beautiful and big-hearted Angela, philosopher, literary scholar, gamer, connoisseur of music, all round good person….we are so grateful you were born!  This evening, I am celebrating our friendship.

Thank you, Angela, for the lovely barbecue in Nigel’s honour.