Reading in Covid Times

Oh my goodness! I am not going to write individual reviews for the books that I’ve read during this pandemic (so far), not for Goodreads or for any other reason because generally, I’ve not been pleased with the selection thus far.

I was reading Hope Matters by Lee Maracle, Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter when all of this began.  I know this because our March book discussion was canceled at Fish Creek Library.  This was all new and at that point I think I shrugged my shoulders and thought this would be over before we knew it and that all would go on as usual.  But now, all these weeks later, I realize how blessed I was in our group.  I miss the group very much.

When I began Hope Matters, I was really excited about it, but as I read further in, I struggled and I came up against a lot of walls.  Poetry is a tricky genre for people, generally, and this writing I found difficult to tunnel into.  I think that there needs to be a hook for the reader of poetry.  I am not saying the book is strong or weak.  I’m just saying that something about me would not let the words in.  If you’ve read the book, let me know your thoughts.

The Parcel by Anosh Irani was sitting on my bookshelf.  I purchased it while attending the last Wordfest event, here in Calgary.  This is a powerful and essential read.  It was a solid piece of writing that evoked a great deal of emotion and brought social consciousness to the forefront as I read.  I had heard similar stories before.  I think, also, that movies and Hollywood has given us a picture of what life is like in Bombay.  However, I feel that this author, having his own life rooted in Bombay, gave the reader an authentic experience of the subject.

My heart went out to the protagonist, Madhu.  I entered into her life and felt her exasperation.  While I’m grateful for having read this book, I must warn other readers that this is a dark story and it is very sad.  It pulled me down.  I thought to myself, at the time, “Lady, you need to find something a little lighter for these times.”  As these types of novels typically are, this is a story of redemption.  I recommend…but, with a warning.  This author is talented and honest.  You will like his writing.

I decided to read the next book that was on the list for our Book Discussion in April.  The book was also on the Canada Reads list, From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle.  Bravo to Jesse Thistle who gives us this powerful memoir, a story of human strength and an inspiration to anyone who feels that life has dealt them a very difficult hand.  The writing is good. But, a little voice kept needling me…”Why don’t you tackle some light reading, Kath?”  These books, while eventually reaching the resilience of the human spirit, are so darned sad, for the most part.

From Goodreads, 

In this heartwarming and heartbreaking memoir, Jesse Thistle writes honestly and fearlessly about his painful experiences with abuse, uncovering the truth about his parents, and how he found his way back into the circle of his Indigenous culture and family through education.

An eloquent exploration of what it means to live in a world surrounded by prejudice and racism and to be cast adrift, From the Ashes is, in the end, about how love and support can help one find happiness despite the odds.

On my friend, Hollee’s, recommendation, I next read Starlight by Richard Wagamese, published after his death and with the support of his estate.  I loved this book…the protagonist was a wildlife photographer living on a beautiful piece of land.  Here, he intervenes in the protection of Emmy and Winnie.  It is written with such eloquence and heart that I was so totally engaged.  As I was running out of pages, however, I became disarmed because I felt that the ending was not going to be tied up comfortably for me…and it wasn’t.  I highly recommend this book.  It didn’t have the same impact on me as the other books I had read to this point of the pandemic experience, and beginning in March.

It was at this point that I picked up The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood.  Because Atwood was my first born’s favourite author during high school and beyond, at some point I decided that I would read all of Atwood’s writing in order to understand my daughter a little more.  Isn’t it funny that I think that might happen through books?  Erin was my BIG reader in the day.  I couldn’t keep her stocked in L.M. Montgomery books when she was younger.  She read them all.  And I haven’t.

Previously, I read Bluebeard’s Egg, a collection of Atwood short stories and really really enjoyed those!  I also sailed through The Handmaid’s Tale….maybe every one does.  But when it came to The Robber Bride…oh, my!  I crashed into a wall.  This book felt somehow surreal and it amplified my mood surrounding the epidemic that we were learning to endure at the very same time.  In this book, Zenia exercises such power over three different characters; Toni, Charise and Roz, that I felt a huge frustration at their naivety.  I was absorbed by certain sections where Atwood explores the particular motivations of her characters, but as a whole, it was just a really hard read.  After the book, I read various reviews and discovered that the author intended all sorts of connections to be made about the 60s feminist movement and a review of this writing even compares it to the grisly tale of the Brothers Grimm.  I found the book to be too raw in its subject.  It made me squirm. I haven’t decided which of Atwood’s books I will tackle next, but having used three weeks (WHAT??) to read this one, I thought I’d look for something ‘mindless’.  On this one, consider yourselves warned.

I enjoyed Ken Follett’s first trilogy back in the day, so I looked at my collection of Follett books on my shelf and chose one that dealt with the theft of a virus (NO, I’M NOT KIDDING) called Whiteout.  Sheesh!!  This one is one that you will whiz through.  It is mindless.  There’s a bit of a romance.  There is a series of cheesy good guy bad guy stuff happen in a very bad storm.  I really did give this one a try…finished it in three evenings, but it wouldn’t be one I’d recommend.  Goodreads mentions that it has startling twists.  Hmmm….I would beg to differ.

Onward and outward…in search of the five star pandemic novel, I saw plastered all over social media, a book title of interest to me, A Life Without Water by Marci Bolden.  Not only that, but the reviews were over-the-top, positive.

Sorry, guys.  This was a let down.  Another three evening read, A Life Without Water feels like the writing is diluted.  There is flavour, but it’s so weak that it’s disappointing.  While the premise might provide opportunity for a good story, I think that the writing has to really power up.  Amazon says...An unputdownable, heart-breaking, but ultimately uplifting story about the power of forgiveness. 

No. Don’t do it!

Again, Hollee posted something about this book, You Are an Artist by Sarah Urist Green.  I ordered it that day through Amazon and really like this book.  I highly recommend!

I think this book would provide some creative connection for high school students and for adults, spending time at home. It provides unusual approaches to making art in your own spaces and in your own communities.

My readers knew that eventually it would come to this, right?  Of course I’ve picked up my Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds identification book!  This morning, for the first time, in my neighbourhood, I saw a Thrush.  This was a very cool experience!  I also received a photograph in my messages from a friend who snapped a photo of a beautiful yellow and orange bird that she saw in Carburn Park yesterday!  I knew what it was!!  Seven years later, I’m very excited about identifying birds.  Get yourself a Bird Identification book!

My sister gifted me the Atlas of Breeding Birds of Alberta…also, highly recommend.

Last night, I opened a page turner.  I’m already heart broken for the protagonist, little six-year old Kya, in the book, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, but the syntax, description and opening up of the story are eloquent.  Thank goodness!  I’m living in hope that I’m now on the right track for the remainder of my pandemic reading.  I’d love you to let me know what books you are picking up through these times.  Leave me a message.  There was a great little CBC program on just after lunch today, asking folks what they’re watching on television…what they’re reading…what they’re listening to.  All good questions.  Again, I’m coming from a place of privilege, that I should have the time and ability to read.  I’m always grateful.

 

 

Evicted!

After so many years of watching the House Sparrows nest in the vent across from my kitchen window, Northern Flickers are being spotted there consistently and poor Mr. is sitting over on my fence, crying the blues!  I feel sad…but, I guess this is nature at its most interesting.  I am amazed that these two, especially Mr. Sparrow, fought so long and hard.  At some point who wouldn’t surrender to this particular beak?  Not certain that the Flickers will raise young in this location.  It may be a mere hiding-hole, but we shall see.  I haven’t seen Mr. Sparrow at the vent opening since yesterday morning, so I would say, “he’s evicted”!  It’s been four days since I’ve seen Mrs. Sparrow, so I’m thinking that during the first days of encroachment, she abandoned her nest.  All nesting materials are to be found on the ground outside of that vent.

Happier Days, although the weather was brutal! March 11, 2018

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Determination on April 18

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Equally determined!IMG_6283

April 23

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April 24 morning…the last time I saw Mr. at his window.

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April 25 Ousted and not happy about it.

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Home sweet home.

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Lost…and all the best nesting sites taken.  And where is Mrs.?

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s Birds: May 4, 2017

Over the past two days, ‘they’ve’ been draining the water from one of the smaller wetlands that neighbours the pond at Frank’s Flats.  I’ve been holding a bit of a grudge, given that, of course, multiple families of geese and waterfowl have already done their romancing and settled in.  Changes will be even more dramatic when the 22X (Stoney Trail) expansion requires ‘them’ to interfere with the wetlands on the west side of Macleod Trail.  I know. I know.  This infringement upon wildlife and plant life is a constant struggle as human beings lay down more and more pavement, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t cause a person grief as they are witness to the process.  Where are the advocates for wild life and who is listening?  I sometimes wonder.

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I met ‘a guy’ in one of those bright orange vests.  Don’t ask me his position.  It was a complicated title.  I just nodded.  He seemed interested that I pick litter and that I know anything at all about the wetlands.  He participates in the annual river clean up.  hmmm

He was out on that fine day, checking that everything was staked out and assured me that the remaining large trees would be coming down, but that on the first rip down, because of a specific time line and government regulations, as well as the distance from wetlands, they were required to leave the big ones for the sake of the ecosystem and the nesting birds.  I explained that the magpies and crows….murders of them…were so distraught that for days they gathered in a single tree, yelling at the land.  And yes…I did cry over the crows.

Due to the construction of a heavy duty drainage system last season, Enmax has not been able to properly maintain/facilitate the Osprey Platform on the Sikome Lake side.  As a result Mother Goose has been there for almost five weeks.  I’m thinking the goslings will either starve or fall off the platform.  In the meantime two pair of Osprey have had to take up residence on top of sign platforms both directions on the loud and dangerous roadway.   I don’t know how they will all manage.

Follow Up to This: The Fish Creek Conservation Officer returned my call,  inquiring about this.  I was assured of a couple of things.  First, it is offence to mess with wildlife in any form, in its natural circumstance in a Provincial Park.  Second, if a bird is nesting ANYWHERE, then this is natural to that bird.  This gentleman had a very calm voice and was telling me the facts.  At this point, I need to grow in acceptance of some of these circumstances where I make observations of birds/animals.

Nature will have to take it’s course.

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I know that for the entire extent of the Stoney Trail’s development, wildlife, wetlands and trees/natural plants have been impacted.  I know that I need to accept ‘progress’ here and in our beautiful park lands, including the Bow Valley Parkway.  It’s just that I don’t think the general population receives all of the information as some of these projects go ahead at warp speed and gather a momentum that becomes destructive and insensitive to a wilderness/natural environment that we, as citizens of Alberta, generally, treasure.

Maybe this is a cliche, but our human population needs to slow down.  Not good for economic climate? Tourism? Well…things to think about.

Today’s pelican…a senior, just like me.  On its own, but it took flight, just after this photo was taken…something about Max, I think.

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My friend, Julie, let me in on the very public location where Mrs. Great Horned Owl and her offspring are hanging out these days.  These owlets will likely fledge within the next week.  In the meantime, Max and I took pause, some distance away and watched.  Of course, I cried.  I was in awe that edging on a bike path, a mama could tend to her babes…so vulnerable, so strong, so absolutely magical.  We need to realize that the species we share this planet with require our advocacy.  We need to stop…and watch, learn and cherish.  This is my plea as I write tonight.

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Species that I have observed in the path of Stoney Trail development, presently.  The mammals; coyotes and deer, have already vacated the paths I take.

  1. Canada Geese
  2. Mallards
  3. Osprey
  4. Black-capped Night-heron
  5. Goldeneye
  6. Redheads
  7. 5 nesting pair of Grebes
  8. Common Mergansers
  9. Common Raven
  10. Red Winged Blackbirds
  11. American Wigeons
  12. Buffleheads
  13. Frogs like no other year