Coventry by Helen Humphreys

These are sad times. (hold that thought…lol)

I picked up the book, Coventry, and had it read in an afternoon.  I love it when an afternoon of leisurely everything allows for me to pick up a book, curl up under the wool blanket that Leah gifted me, and read.  At 175 pages of elegantly flowing prose, I highly recommend this one, as we move toward Remembrance Day 2017.

In 2015 I sat, gobsmacked when I watched the evening news…one historical/ancient site or artifact after another looted, destroyed and left in ruins by Isis.   We don’t talk about it very much anymore, but the destruction in Khorsabad as well as the revered sites of Nineveh, Nimrud and Hatra – (designated or nominated to be UNESCO World Heritage sites) – were attacked and left in shambles by the caliphate.

This book creates, for the reader, an image of what it was really like during the Blitz.  This particular novel, an historical fiction, deals with the event on November 14, 1940 when Coventry Cathedral was destroyed.  The story is told through the experiences of two females; Harriet and Maeve.  There are some excellent reviews on line about this book and I have arrived at some similar thoughts on events, especially.  For one, without posting a spoiler, there is a significant event that I felt was unnecessary to the flow of the narrative.  You will know the moment when you come to it.

Second to that, I was somewhat disappointed that Humphreys did not create a stronger relationship between the two protagonists.  I think that Humphreys writes such beautiful characters that it would have been very satisfying to delve more into their connection and build a stronger relationship.

There were times while reading when I had tears,…such devastation during a single event in our collective history!  Yet, as I look at what events are taking place in our world today…and just what a fragile peace remains in so many parts of the world, I find myself, almost daily, wondering why human beings have not learned from past mistakes.   An article that deals successfully with this very topic and the elegizing of literary content is written by Adam Haslett in a New York Times piece.

Dianne, on Goodreads, writes…

A new author for me and one in whose writing I quickly fell in love. Her sentences are so fluid, her words almost lulling, just wonderful. This provides a sharp contrast to the heartfelt descriptions of the bombing and destruction of Coventry during WWII. Can goods bursting, windows shattering, broken glass raining down, potatoes rolling on the now crooked floor, a man shaving one minute but gone the next, people running through the streets with metal pots on their heads, and of course houses no longer standing, piles of rubble and the bodies laying wherever they fell. The Cathedral which was the town’s pride and joy would be the only Cathedral in Britain to be destroyed during the war.

We inhabit such a beautiful planet.  It is difficult to consider the destruction that is caused by humanity.  I did not know about Coventry until reading this book.  Highly recommend this one.

A link to an excellent interview with the author.

Coventry

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys

Yes!  I’m getting caught up on my reviews…hardly reviews…but, posting a bit of feedback, for my own records.

A brief aside:  I’ve had a hit on my blog from Bangladesh this morning.  These things amaze me and I often do not notice, unless I am busy writing something as I am this morning.  I look outside at the blue-white day and am grateful for the steaming hot coffee on my desk and my dog, Max, who curls up at my feet.

I was with Hollee in the bookstore this summer when I saw a book titled The River by Helen Humphreys.  It was filled with maps and archives and bits of observation…all things that I relish about life these days. When I leafed through it, I knew that I wanted to read it some time…but, buying a book wasn’t in my budget, not at that time.  Now, these months later, I still have not purchased or read that book, but have read two other Humphreys books that found themselves on the very generous discount shelves of a book store, one is The Evening Chorus and the other, Coventry.

The Evening Chorus was of particular interest to me because the protagonist, James Hunter, who through unfortunate events, found himself a POW during the second World War and ends up keeping his connection with normalcy through the daily observations of a nest of Redstarts.  In the back Author’s Notes, one actually reads that while this is a book of fiction, it is connected with three historical and documented events.  I love history, and so, of course, this would interest me.   So, underpinnings to the novel include 1. There was a Wellington bomber that went down in the Ashdown Forest during World War II. 2. There was a German prison camp Kommandant who shared a family of Cedar Waxwings with a prisoner.  3. John Buxton was a wartime birdwatcher who wrote a book about the Redstart.  I could only dream to have a copy of his book.

I’ve discovered that I’m a detail lady and this book describes, very carefully, the challenges faced by James Hunter and his peers in the POW camp, the struggles of family back home and the simple act of documenting, writing about and drawing, daily observations of a family of Redstarts.  Retired and self-directed, I am blessed daily with the experiences of ‘slowing down’ time by entering into a process of observing nature.  I surround the words, ‘slowing down’, with single quotation marks because it is my intention that by entering into that process of observation of nature, time will slow, but in actuality, three hours can go by very quickly as I become immersed.

The fact that I share some of the rituals of the protagonist, I was very at home with this book.  Helen Humphreys is generous, lyrical and authentic in her portrayal of the motivation of characters throughout.

A terrific read and at a great price…but then, historical fiction is my favourite.

The Evening Chorus, when all is said and done, is a formally conventional but for the most part satisfying yarn; a quiet novel about a calamitous event whose most trenchant passages show the cast of Humphreys’s poet’s eye: “The song of the redstart begins as a melody and ends in dissonance, as though the song itself comes undone in the process of singing it, finishing up with all the right notes presented in the completely wrong order.”

Emily Donaldson is a freelance critic and editor.

The Evening Chorus

 

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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.

 

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.

The Right to be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier

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I didn’t buy the book at Wordfest 2015.  I was short on money at the time.  So, what’s new?

I was pretty excited as I drove out to Mount Royal University that day!  I was going to be meeting up with my sister-in-law, Karen.  She had driven into town to enjoy some of the Wordfest events and because of her extensive time in the north, she was more than familiar with the topics of this particular book.  She had worked with our neighbours to the north.  She had lived with our neighbours to the north.  She held a wealth of knowledge within her, but stuff that we had never really made opportunity to speak about.  I, on the other hand, was dumber than door nails about the challenges of the north.  Like most Canadians, living in the south, we don’t know about what we don’t see.  Out of sight-out of mind.  It’s shameful, really.  I feel shame.

Today, however, as part and parcel of my own journey of truth, I feel I have had a very generous introduction to the topic through the book, The Right to be Cold, and can now build upon knowledge that exists within me, however scant that knowledge might be. If the Globe and Mail can refer to this book as ‘revelatory’, so can I!  And it was! To gain any insights about the wrongs of the past and sadly, the present, is to liberate ones self.  It is only in educating myself about these mistakes that I can go forward to make change happen within me and in the outside world.

Mount Royal always stumps me, in terms of locating absolutely anything.  It isn’t as simple as the posted maps convey.  I wandered for quite some time before coming upon the theater where Sheila Watt-Cloutier would be speaking.  The people who gathered seemed casual and friendly, calling out to one another.  It turns out that some people were connected through the story and through the north.  I felt like a blank slate…pretty excited.  When Karen settled in next to me, she quietly told me about some of the people in the room.  Embraces were shared.

I want my readers to read this book.  There are chapters within these pages that overwhelm the reader with unfamiliar acronyms (NGO, POP, ICC, KSB, INC, CAIPAP, UNEP and so on…), but if possible,  move beyond these to understand the huge complexities faced by our northern neighbours as they work tirelessly to advocate for safety and health for their families and future generations. Also, pay close attention to the work that has been happening in the past…the voices that have reached out desperately on behalf of human beings, voices that, like the author’s, spoke always from the heart and out of concern for the other.

I can not imagine what it would be like to be so impacted by colonization, industry, and ignorance that my identity, culture and even the health of the foods I ate were at risk.  There is a dark history in our country.  And while it seems too late to be educated and make a difference, we have no choice.  For the Inuit people to lose their way of life is for us to lose what is distinct about our Nation.  I grieve.  I grieve because while I am typing these sentences, years have gone by since the writing of Watt-Cloutier’s book…and the exponential loss of the ice is going on at this very moment.

The Right to be Cold is written in the memoir genre, a form of writing that consistently appeals to me.  I found the narratives about Sheila’s early years very powerful.  As my readers know me fairly well, there were tears in many places.  Yes, at times, I had to put the book down.  The writer does not, however, write from a place of victim.  In fact, I think it is important to her that we not place the story of the north in the context of a victimized people.  Instead, she speaks from a place of strength and hard work and strong belief.

I was blessed, a short while ago, to attend an exhibit at the Glenbow Museum titled North of Ordinary: The Arctic Photographs of Geraldine and Douglas Moodie.  Those photographs did for me what Sheila Watt-Cloutier did with words.  We have sacrificed much by not caring for the north…the ice and snow…and the animals and people who needed to be heard.  In fact, sometimes I think that we, as people of the south, cared more for the animals of the north than the people.  And…isn’t that just crazy?

There was a bench where I could sit down.  I felt the breath knocked out of me.  I felt the truth, like a blow to my gut.  I compared the images captured by the Moodies with the current news stories published about the north…suicides among the youth, housing crisis and melting ice.  It wasn’t many years ago that I heard a teacher who had worked up at Cross Lake, Manitoba say something like…”I don’t get why, when there is fresh fish to be caught, that the people would go pay such huge prices and buy processed fish sticks from the store?”  Read this book!

When I was a little girl sitting in a DND school, I learned about the ‘Eskimos’.  I drew pictures of igloos and harpooning.  But, I was given no context.  Along the way, I was given nothing.  I guess the most magical truth that I received was from my father who had a thirteen month long period away from home.  We lived in Ste. Sylvestre, in Quebec, at the time.  It was in the late 1950s.  My father brought us stories and experiences.  Apart from that, I knew nothing about the north.

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Studio portraits, above, taken by the Moodies.

We have stolen a pristine and health-filled life from the people of the north.  We have tried to take away all of their traditions, culture and ways of being.

Photos taken by my father’s old camera…

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I’ve poured myself another coffee…never really got writing about Sheila’s talk that morning at Mount Royal.  She was inspiring.  She was light-hearted.  She was serious.  Sheila has impacted me and opened up my heart, with the writing of this book.  As an author, she has connected me to the narrative that is our north country and to the fine citizens that have made the north their home over time and forever.

I was grateful to Wordfest for hosting Sheila and I was grateful to have my sister-friend, Karen, sitting next to me.  Here is a little capture of Karen alongside her longtime friend, Sally Luttmer.

Cell October 19, 2015 Bush Wordfest Thanksgiving 045Cell October 19, 2015 Bush Wordfest Thanksgiving 043

….okay, well, I just had a long Skype session with Karen and thank goodness because the writing of this post had become very difficult.  I’ve settled…deciding to conclude this post with a quote and a short thought of my own.

“Everything is connected. Connectivity is going to be the key to addressing these issues, like contaminants and climate change. They’re not just about contaminants on your plate. They’re not just about the ice depleting. They’re about the issue of humanity. What we do every day – whether you live in Mexico, the United States, Russia, China … can have a very negative impact on an entire way of life for an entire people far away from that source.” Sheila Watt-Cloutier

I’m going to end with an image.

On August 26, 2017 my grandson, Steven, came into this world.  It is a powerful and natural thing that he breast feeds and that his Mommy, for now, is his whole world.  It should be that this is the very safest place for my grandson to be, and it is.  Imagine, then, the sad fact that in the north, this generous and natural relationship should be, in fact, dangerous to the infant population, in that country foods have, over generations, been tainted with POPs at a level far greater than we can know or understand.  The peoples living in the north are struggling for their children and their children’s children.  We must contribute to their hope and to their futures.  We must be a strong force, where we can, in their right to be cold!

Book discussion happened with Aboriginal Pride with 12CSI Chapters and Chat.  Photographs below credited to Michelle Robinson…woman who has opened my eyes to more than you know!

 

 

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.

 

My Life Falls Out of Order

I’ve left writing and art-ing and almost everything in order to tackle the new material of my life.  As a result, while surfacing out of the cave that has been my last several months, I don’t know where to begin.  I don’t think the events of my life are sequential any more…they will be presented here, slightly out of order.  Yes, since June, there continued to be art and music and reading and friendship and family, but archiving became the least of my concerns while I was rapidly stitching what had become a torn life, back together again. Family was and is my focus.  And so…this morning, I begin, with my difference.

I leave this post for a second and think about some pages I want to slip into this narrative.

I’ll begin with something small.  I am smiling here.

I took a guest teacher role one day in the spring.  During one of the classroom periods, I was to meet the young group of children in the library.  There, magic happened.  The librarian’s name has escaped me, but the library was/is housed in St. Boniface Elementary School.

The magic began with the reading, in amazing vocal expression and pacing, a book about snails.

The book was titled Snail Trail by Ruth Brown.  Hilarious!  And just look at the organization and the wee project created after this reading.  Snails!  A great idea for your elementary classroom!

The children moved seamlessly into their places at the round tables where they conducted the business of creating their own snail characters.

Other Snail books?  I’d love to hear your recommendations!

 

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