Beyond Remembering

Listening to Fleetwood Mac’s When I See You Again, as I type.

I wrote away to Amazon for Beyond Remembering: The collected poems of Al Purdy before driving east, the morning of my mother’s birth day,  July 27.  Since then, I’ve been pouring through the poetry and visiting the places that Canada’s poet, Al Purdy, visited and sometimes thought and wrote about.  I heard Eurithe’s strong voice over the telephone, positive and supportive and carried to me all the way from Sidney, British Columbia.  Al’s wife gave me the generous permission to use bits of Al’s poetry in my paintings, all produced in my studio bedroom, generously offered to me by my loving father his summer.

I’m still working on small panels and told myself they would be completed by September 1 and I will hold myself to that and I will rest for September, taking in the new autumn air and visit my brother and sister in Ottawa before I drive west to Calgary.

If you haven’t had a connection with Al Purdy’s writing, do give yourself that opportunity some time, when it’s right.  The summer of 2013 was the right time for me.  I had picked up George Bowering’s book about his friend, Al, his writing…and I became suddenly, profoundly connected…not just with Al Purdy’s writing, but also George Bowering’s writing and more than before, Margaret Atwood’s.  I was excited by Al’s connection to my all-time favourite author, Margaret Laurence, and went in search of correspondences between the two and poems where he wrote about her…even to the point of the description he gave in one of his poems of his writing space and the images of both Gabrielle Roy and Margaret Laurence that hung there, on his wall.

Yes…I became a fan.  George Bowering co-authored a book with Jean Baird, The Heart Does Break: Canadian Writers on Grief and Mourning.  Drowning in a dark pool of grief for my mother, all of these beautiful circumstances, all surfacing through poetry, writing and literature, gave me a nudge into my personal journey of grief.  I have to say that tentatively, visually, my relationship with the folk of the Gorilla House (you know who you are) and then the Rumble House in Calgary, also provided a string to my practice.  But, I have to face it, for years, I’ve been broken and not particularly functioning on any level as an artist.  I painted in my head and pulled off these two hour blast outs every Wednesday night.  I was happy to let go of them at auction on the same night because I was suffering too much to want to hold on.

Somehow, I knew that this summer I had to create a segue into my practice of painting.  I had unloaded all of the furniture and other stuff that I had pushed into my studio space, as a physical way of avoiding painting.  I finished projects that were created as a way of distracting me from the fear, the incapacitation and the flat out avoidance of canvas or panel or paint.

And so I find myself here, painting the shape of Purdy’s words, in as much as I can over a period of four weeks.  I am sitting here crying as I type.  Dad isn’t home.  Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks…singing to me through the single speaker.  And…I feel good to be in the act of painting again.  A bit illustrative in nature, I don’t necessarily believe that this is the direction my work is going…but, it is the beginning of the direction and for that, I’m grateful.  It makes sense that I should begin in this beautiful, lush, humid, Victorian city of Belleville, on the edge of the Bay of Quinte…not far from Purdy’s resting place and his little A Frame on Roblin Lake.  I know that when I get home, I already have a ‘shitload’ of content from a pond that I love, that will give me a subject for my winter’s exploration.

I will add the poems, a bit at a time, to this post…I really need to get back to those small panels I mentioned.  After all, it’s the 28th of August.

Mom, I love you.  I love you with all of my heart.   Something about what I’ve painted this summer is about you…home…Canada…experience that is the very most mundane…things in the day-to-day that all too often go unnoticed.   Painting again, with joy…not pain…is home for me.

Thanks to Mary and Pat…two friends back in Calgary, who tentatively asked…and supported my journey of grief as it related to my painting.  Thanks to Pricilla.  You know why.  Thanks to my Dad, who feeds me.

The paintings can be seen, thanks to the generous opportunity given by Lisa Morris and Peter Paylor at Artists and Artisans: Studio and Gallery on Front Street, show beginning on Thursday, September 6, with a bit of a sha-bang on the 11th from 2-4 and with the potential of after hours viewing any time.  I hope some of you can see these.

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From the poem, May 23, 1980 in the collection, Beyond Remembering…the final stanza.

I have grown old

but these words remain

tell her for me

because it’s very important

tell her for me

there will come one May night

of every year that she’s alive

when the whole world smells of lilacs.

Al Purdy

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Threads in our Tapestries

One of the last things Ramona said to me before we shared our last hug and she headed out in search of 401 east, was that we’ve always been a thread in the tapestries of our lives and it is so true.  We have stories that go back to this time…

RamonaRamona and I spent two evenings and a full day of magic yesterday and of course, I had to post a wee tribute to that in the form of a blog post.  I haven’t a lot of words, because in some strange way I feel drained…elated…reflective and so, more than anything I take pause.  I’m replaying the song that she mentioned on our morning wake up yesterday morning.

I took Ramona on a magical trip into the county, as far as Sandbanks Provincial Park, the beach and the dunes, with stops including downtown Belleville, Oeno outdoor sculpture Gardens and Gallery, Ameliasburgh for cemetery walking and museum gawking, Picton for lunch and wandering and, of course, a stop for a Reid’s icecream cone.  I am grateful to remember Ramona as one of those people who was formative in my vision of who I wanted to become in life and how I wanted to get there.  Ramona has humility although she has accomplished such great things. Given service with the Peace Corp in Chile, Peru and Guyana, Ramona knows what, of life, is valuable and has a healthy relationship with ‘stuff’. She is smart about almost everything.  She treasures those who are in her life and is positive, supportive and empathetic.  Ramona is the light that comes into a grey day and washes everything with hope.  Not perfect, she has used her imperfections, struggles and sorrow, to throw trouble on its head.  Ramona rises to the surface.  I want to never take any of this for granted.  I have been so fortunate.

Our day was touched by Monarch butterflies and heart felt stories, everywhere we went.

IMG_0755IMG_0764 IMG_0774 IMG_0780 IMG_0783IMG_0767 The cemetery edges on a conservation area…lovely scene…very pastoral.  It was a dry summer as is evidenced by the vegetation.  If I have the time, I’ll place a mum here, before I head east…I placed an acorn on Al Purdy’s stone.  I’m grateful for the way that his poetry has inspired so much painting this summer!IMG_0770 IMG_20160826_114603848The Ameliasburgh Museum….Ramona and I figured on so many ways that we might make it more accessible to visitors.  We would do a bit of a redo and that had us giggling and analyzing throughout our wander. Honey cans and apiary stuff…I DID feel grateful that the citizens have been gathering and preserving history.

IMG_0785 IMG_0786 IMG_0787Wool and fibers…of course, I always have an interest in such as this. IMG_0793

IMG_0788Church archives and objects from a number of local churches. IMG_0789 IMG_0790Down at the cemetery, we met some very friendly people who were direct descendants of the Roblin family and they shared the art events that were coming up at the county over the long weekend.   IMG_0794 IMG_0795 IMG_0796 Of course…the old school house!IMG_0797 IMG_0798 IMG_20160826_121517345_HDR IMG_20160826_121727636Oeno…

IMG_0805 IMG_0804 IMG_20160826_125411020 IMG_20160826_125404478_HDR IMG_20160826_125525271 IMG_20160826_125134559 IMG_20160826_125059528IMG_0800 IMG_0801IMG_0799 IMG_20160826_125006354IMG_20160826_130559737 IMG_20160826_125530387IMG_0813 IMG_0814 IMG_0817 IMG_20160826_125658030IMG_0807 IMG_0808 IMG_0810 IMG_0812 IMG_0820 IMG_0819 IMG_0821 IMG_20160826_130955334After Oeno, we were famished and so high tailed it to Picton where we found a lunch spot that made up our desired menu for us…more stories…more easing into the day and two satisfied tummies.  A little shop and then off we headed for Sandbanks.

IMG_0823 IMG_0824 IMG_0828 IMG_0831 Wormwood or Artemnisia, the natural provision for Absinthe.IMG_0834 IMG_0837 IMG_0839Milkweed… IMG_0841 Wild grapes…IMG_0843 We’ve walked Lake Michigan together…now, Lake Ontario!IMG_20160826_145741773 IMG_20160826_145715993 IMG_20160826_155039307I’ll post the Ramona-ready-to-drive-off photo, when I’m feeling less emotional about it, tomorrow.  I love that girl!

 

Day 2 Moose Jaw to Winnipeg

Max and I spent the morning wandering around a part of Moose Jaw that found me a bit emotional at times, places where my father had been as a high school student.  The city is seeing a lot of construction this summer.  It looks like they are replacing a lot of pipe on the residential streets, but I was able to walk most places.  Another hot and sunny day!

First, I headed for Moose Jaw Tech, now called Peacock Collegiate.  I thought about Dad and his sports, shop, choral and political activities as I made way around the lot.

John Moose Jaw Tech

My Dad: Moose Jaw Tech

My Dad: Moose Jaw Tech

Tech High School Moose JawThe above photo was in Dad’s old scrap book from his high school days.  I notice that there are full banks of windows on the sides of the building.

I love the warmth of the brick and can only imagine the stories those beautiful walls would tell, given the chance.  The first thing I did was walk around the track; this, after deciding not to sneak in one of the doors propped open by summer a summer work team.

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Not far from the school and back on Main Street, was Zion United Church.  This is an amazing piece of architecture and I imagine that the songs and performances of many years are contained there, still, absorbed by the granite foundation and powerful structure.

IMG_0148 IMG_0149 IMG_0150 IMG_0151 IMG_0152 IMG_0153 IMG_0154The next stop was Dad’s former home, 562 Ominica Street.  I looked at the trees and even the stump that remained from a former tree.  I wondered what it would have been like with my relations, so young, living in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

IMG_0160 IMG_0159 IMG_0158 IMG_0157 IMG_0156Other places that I was drawn to photograph included some of the wall murals related to the soft ball teams and St. Andrew’s United Church…after this, Max and I were on our way to Winnipeg!  (Had we not had a time change, I was going to be heading north to Margaret Laurence’s home, Neepawa, Manitoba…but it will wait for the East-West Migration!)

IMG_0144 IMG_0145 IMG_0146 IMG_0139 IMG_0140I followed signs and turned off the highway, just before entering onto the ring road to the Motor 6 Hotel, just short of Assiniboia Downs.  While making it impossible for a Angela-Rylan visit, it was such a dog-friendly and economical venue.  I was super happy with the decision.  Max and I bunkered down and I consumed my second dinner of Italian meats on bunwiches with hot pickles and cheeses and my token glass of wine.  The furnishings included a small banquet, also perfect for painting.

IMG_0161IMG_0294 IMG_0298For my Purdy Postcard of the trip, I chose a few lines that were just perfect for the highway hotel…also, I felt such gratitude for the many miles of activated sky and the changing shrub vegetation.  Nothing is more wonderful than watching the landscape evolve on a long cross country drive!

 

 

Reflecting

I’m sorting things out, in order to spend time with my father in the east.  The Christmas cards for 2015 are in the mail.  Doctors appointments, Max’s grooming, the vehicle checks and household chores are now being tackled.  The past week has meant a lot of beautiful indoor time with booming thunder storms every afternoon.  I feel like I’m on a retreat because the house is so quiet…just Max and me.  I can eat popcorn whenever I want.  In the evening, a glass of red wine.  Last night, I baked salmon in parchment paper…fresh lemon squeezed over the beautiful pink meat.  Every ritual seems lovely and intentional.

For the most part, it’s been productive and satisfying.

I’ve decided that my pond study will wrap up the morning of Mom’s birthday, July 27.  I’ve walked the circumference of the pond at Frank’s Flats every day since October 13,2015 with the intention of taking a single Instagram photograph of a single location, a bush that grows at the pond’s edge.  I have seen it through the seasons and watched how light changes everything.  I’ve developed rituals around these observations, recording, writing captions, creating mental sketches and noting the changes in the animals and vegetation as time passes.  I’ve much reference material now and in the autumn, I want to create a response to all of it.  I’ve had some faithful followers as, for most of the experiment up until July, I’ve documented on social media (Facebook) as well.

Bush October 9, 2015Bush February 16, 2016 1056 beauty, warmth, timeBush December 1 2015 1129 the water burps blue skies up above everyone's in loveBush Dec 25, 2015 Merry Christmas Beautiful light the hawk is perchd in the evergreen

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Yesterday, at the pond, I observed the only two Ruddy duck babes, alongside Mom.  The teen-aged Coots and Grebes are now taking diving lessons and doing so very successfully.  Mr. and Mrs. everything are swimming further and further from their youngsters, although the teens still cry out helplessly and give chase, not wanting to be separated from, at the very least, their source of food.  With the horrendous amount of rain recently, I fear that the Ruddy ducks’ nests have been drowned…the two babies that I observed, came to be only days before the first thunderstorms hit, so I’m guessing all of the other mothers were sitting at that time.  I’ll see.

I think that flying lessons are beginning…I notice that the adult Coots, while remaining on the water, are flapping hard and traveling on the surface.

While I stopped putting out seed at my feeders (as a way of settling down the vole and mouse populations), I got emotional when I realized that Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow, in the vent across from my kitchen window, were trying one more time to nest.  The children are crying ravenously with each entrance to the vent from Mr. or Mrs.  I just need to see this family have a successful season, after two former attempts.

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The crows are big raiders in this neighbourhood these days, as those adults also struggle to feed their demanding young.

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As I reflect upon the last while, I continue to feel gratitude…especially for the lessons of nature and of solitude.  I like slowing things down.  I’ve been particularly inspired by a poem by Al Purdy, titled Detail and so I will post it here, along side a few photographs that I snapped yesterday.  In 1981, when doctoral work was typed on typewriters…Elizabeth Jane Douglas wrote a thesis titled the Mechanics of Being Alive: Major Themes in Poetry and Prose of Al Purdy.  This absolutely impacts my past year’s ‘work’ and ‘reflection’.

Al Purdy Abstract

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all winter long
… the apples clung
in spite of hurricane winds
sometimes with caps of snow
little golden bells
·         ·         ·
For some reason I must remember
and think of the leafless tree
and its fermented fruit
one week late in January
when the wind blew down the sun
and earth shook like a cold room
no one could live in
with zero weather
soundless golden bells
alone in the storm

(Beyond Remembering 135-36)
Al Purdy The Season of Man
Al Purdy the season of man 2
And then, there are those of us who believe that beyond this, there is so much more.  But for now, I leave this reflection.  I have a border collie, eager to run in the green wet grass.
Prayers for Billy and his family and for little Taliyah Marsman and her mother and their family.

Thinking About Al Purdy

It’s -16…the sherry has been poured and it is not too early for Christmas oranges.  I sit down to the computer to write the second last post about summer. Dad agreed to take the drive to Ameliasburgh for the First Annual Al Purdy Picnic.  He knew that I wanted badly to be a part of the event at the A-Frame and so he attended with me.

We began at the community hall where we had our picnic lunch made by ‘the ladies’, a wonderful egg salad sandwich, cookie and lemonade as we leafed through Ameliasburgh history set out on the tables.  From there, we jumped on the shuttle bus and out to the A-Frame house edging on Roblin Lake.

From APAFA, this…

The A-frame house at the edge of Roblin Lake was built in 1957 by Al Purdy and his wife Eurithe, who had set aside $1200 dollars from CBC radio plays Al had written in Montreal. They bought a piece of land and a load of used buildings material from a structure being torn down in Belleville, then set to work, building from architect’s plans ordered from a popular magazine. As Al made clear in his autobiography, Reaching for the Beaufort Sea, in the first years they endured fierce cold and poverty and worry. “But Roblin Lake in summer, planting seeds and watching things grow; doing a marathon swim across the lake while Eurithe accompanied me in a rowboat; working at the house, making it grow into something that nearly matched the structure already in your mind. Owls came by night, whoo-whooing in a row of cedars above the house; blue herons stalked our shallows; muskrats splashed the shoreline; and I wrote poems.

Today, the Al Purdy A-Frame provides for a Writing Residency Program, a wonderful concept that has been and continues to be supported by a large number of interested individuals.

The John M. Parrott Art Gallery is housed in the Belleville Public Library.  Some time before the picnic, I had picked up a small stack of second hand books on one of my visits. One of those books, and a real treasure of mine now, is George Bowering’s 1970 book about his dear friend, Al Purdy.

Al Purdy by George Bowering Toronto Copp Clark 1970I read this analysis of Purdy’s poetry during long nights, struggling with grief at the loss of Mom.  As I read, I became more and more connected to the poet’s words.  I was really looking forward to walking through the landscape and home that had been a part of his writing.

Dad sat on a fallen tree with me…and I knew that it wasn’t his absolute favourite thing to do that day…but he did it with me.  He was there for me…and more than anything else, as I sit here writing on a winter’s eve’  this is what matters most.  We listened to poetry readings…heard a few speeches and a little bit of music in the company of great people and Al’s wife, Eurithe Purdy.  Then, without terrific pomp, we toured the little house…looked out onto the water…gazed up through the branches of trees and then we left.

Thank you to all of the organizers for welcoming us and for sharing with me, a piece of the magic.

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Roblin Lake

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Eurithe Purdy July 27 2013

Eurithe Purdy July 27 2013

P1110936 P1110940 P1110942 P1110944 P1110949 P1110952 P1110953 P1110955 P1110956 P1110957 P1110959 P1110961 P1110962 P1110963Since leaving Belleville, Dad has revisited Ameliasburgh and took a whole collection of photographs from his stop at the Museum/Library.  I am so blessed that we shared that time on Mom’s birthday.  I will never forget that afternoon.

Gorilla House LIVE ART: August 21, 2013

I’ve been stripping and sanding layers and layers of paint off of some second-hand finds, recently.  These were projects that I began some time ago and now, in order to make space to paint in my studio, I need to deal with this and these.  Given the beautiful sunshine and nice weather this week, I’ve been getting at this although some evenings it feels as though my hand and arm are still vibrating.

Yesterday afternoon I decided to have a bit of a snooze on the red couch to renew my spirit before heading to ‘the House’ to paint. I’ve been low about the loss of my Mom…the experience of grief comes and goes…deeply…more deeply…and sometimes just under the surface.  The last few days it’s been ‘more deeply’.  It didn’t surprise me that once asleep, I received the image of a bowl…I didn’t remember much else…just a bowl…darkness…and I knew that while I painted in the evening, I would have to paint a grey scale.  I also knew that something about this container had to do with my mother.

Max had to get out for his walk before I prepped and headed out.  Once at the mailbox, I discovered a package from my father…a stack of glossy photographs from his tour of the Ameilasburgh Historical Museum with his apartment-mates.  In July, Dad and I had attended the A-Frame event for the refurbishing of the Al Purdy residence and so Dad knew how much all of this poetry and ‘stuff’ mattered to me.  The glossies were appreciated and I knew that one of these would have to be included in the evening’s painting.

My painting these last few weeks has been directly connected to my mother; her life, her times and the lessons she gave me.  It’s also had a lot to do with the absence of her and the feeling that everything around me seems different because she isn’t here.  I feel as though poets and artists and musicians fill up a huge space in this life…emotionally, physically and spiritually.  Conceptually, I’m thinking about the space for their unwritten works…the paintings not painted and the music, not ever composed. Something to do with loss.

Listening to Myself

Al Purdy
From:   Beyond Remembering – The collected poems of Al Purdy. 2000.

see myself staggering through deep snow
lugging blocks of wood yesterday
an old man
almost falling from bodily weakness
— look down on myself from above
then front and both sides
white hair — wrinkled face and hands
it’s really not very surprising
that love spoken by my voice
should be when I am listening
ridiculous
yet there it is
a foolish old man with brain on fire
stumbling through the snow

— the loss of love
that comes to mean more
than the love itself
and how explain that?
— a still pool in the forest
that has ceased to reflect anything
except the past
— remains a sort of half-love
that is akin to kindness
and I am angry remembering
remembering the song of flesh
to flesh and bone to bone
the loss is better

A wee bit of collage in the bottom right has to do with a horse (or at closer inspection, a moose), surrounded by wolves…as it must be in nature…the way things work.  At some point…a space in the snow where the amazing animal once stands…the photograph captures the moment that waits on an edge.

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Of the three concepts shared with the artists at seven o’clock…the one that most connects with this painting is…dealing with the fear.

P1120331 P1120332 P1120333The figurative piece posted above is one I began at home, on my father’s balcony…it hasn’t been finished yet.  The non-objective piece…last night’s painting, generously purchased at auction by Brent for his friend, Trevor.  In speaking with Trevor after the battle, he shared his attraction to the painting…the simplicity, the interest in poetry (he has been connected with writing…poetry…lyrics) and the sense of the huge disc perhaps representing vinyl…It was fun to speak with him.  I share images of both pieces because I find the palette for both paintings to be similar in tone and feeling.

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Brent on the right and Trevor on the left. Painting: The Place For Unwritten Poetry

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