A Broader Experience

My friend, Wendy, used to delight in really unusual words.  I enjoyed the fact that sometimes, late in the evening, a word would show up in my text messages.  It might be absquatulate or blatherskite.    

I never really understood until now, what a wonderful thing that was…that my friend shared words with me in the night.

(Weird blog post alert…go no further if you are in the mood, more, to tune into Netflix.)

Lately I’ve been having a very narrowing experience that has turned out to be exquisitely broadening at the very same time.  About art, these last ten years, I’ve said that my visual world and sensory interests have become very specific…it’s as though my visual world is in close-up and while shrinking, has become utterly complex.  This started happening as it related to the act of walking. (circling the same pond every day for almost six years/walking a loop at the river every day for the past two.)

It was right about that same time, that I started taking photographs.  Until that time, I had never had an interest.  I think I was wanting to capture a moment.  Birds became a part of that experience, simply because I would find myself standing still in front of a landmark; a bush or a tree; and I would analyse, in a very sensory way, the impact of light, atmosphere, sound, the smell on the air…and from a concentrated state, I would see more than what I anticipated…a Bald Eagle gazing down at me, from mere meters away, water dripping off a branch, a bright yellow bird flitting through low brush.  In standing still, my world expanded.

I guess I first noticed this while spending time with Mom during her journey with Alzheimer’s disease. To give an example,  I remember once leaving a lady’s wear shop, Pennington’s, after an hour of shopping with Mom.  Once stepping through an inside door and into the entrance way and before moving on through the outside door to go to the car, Mom stopped.  I stood behind her, hoping that no other customers would either leave or expect to enter.  I gave her time.  I looked at her face.  Her head was tilted back and her eyes were closed.  I asked, almost in a whisper, “Mom, why have you stopped?”  She said, “Listen.”  It was then that I stopped rustling the packages weighing down my arms and stood still.  There was a very quiet but constant hum of air pushing its way from a vent above our heads…had I not stopped, taken pause, I would not have shared that moment.  After a short while, Mom just moved on.

When the events of my life, over months and even years, became very focused…it seemed that the world continued to bustle as usual…rushing…filling…overflowing and moving on.  All the while, my own focused days became slower.  They became extremely sharp- edged.  They became very specific.

These recent days… for example.

Since mid January, there is a particular rhythm to my days.  I know that particular rhythm through the events that occur, predictably, around the clock.  I find myself in the very same place at any particular hour.  Some times it feels as though I am reliving time.  Some would liken it to deja vu. The name plates beside the doors change, but the events do not.

It was a day like every other except that one of the temporary name plates read, Milton Born With a Tooth.  I drifted past because, well, a person just doesn’t stop in front of some one else’s door and I was, after all, in the rhythm of my schedule, the very same that I had lived the day before.  But, Milton’s name stuck with me.  Didn’t his life somehow intersect with mine?  YES!  I’ve written, over time, about my love for the river.  This passion began while living in the University of Lethbridge residence, perched on the edge of the Oldman River in southern Alberta.  Graduating with my degree in 1977, I had established a connection with the river that would, as it turned out, never be broken.  It was in the mid 80s, here in Calgary, that I became engaged with the group, the Friends of the Oldman River as Ralph Klein’s government seemed to be pressing ahead with the construction of a dam that would, in my view, impact our indigenous brothers and sisters, the environment and encroach horribly on species native to the region.  I was appalled.

Oldman at Maycroft Crossing

Well, Milton Born With a Tooth and the Lonefighters Society were angry too!  Imagine that, all these years later, I should find myself bringing my books and my scrapbooks to share with Milton Born With a Tooth?  That I’d be visiting with Milton…his family members…during such a sacred time as this.

At this point, my readers are asking themselves, ‘how is this connected to your subject, Kath?’  Remember, please, my original premise…that in the workings of my narrowing life, my experience is broadening.

Yesterday I attended a marvelous book discussion at the Fish Creek Library. The book, Separation Anxiety, by Miji Campbell was easily read in the week following our February book discussion. I’m smitten by this group of women… so smart, fun and accepting. While my days are very overwhelming, generally, and while I need to be very responsible and engaged as a caregiver, I will move sun and moon in order to carve out time for this book discussion group.

I slipped in to the room and on to one of the last remaining chairs, just as the moderator was making introductory remarks and introducing the author, Miji Campbell. Her face was open and the feeling in the room was relaxed and welcoming. In the corner, there was a display of very nostalgic items that resonated for me and captured easily, my own narrative as a little girl, growing up in post war/cold war Canada. There was a Barbie Doll case… A Midge doll… some old black and white photographs.

The book discussion was remarkable.  There were interesting questions and engaging responses from the author.  I listened with great interest as the relationship between mothers and their daughters was discussed, topics of birth order, mental health, anxiety and the stigma attached to treatments for such anxiety or even the act of seeking out treatments. The conversation was a real exploration of wellness, a topic that I dearly need to explore right now, but struggle to set aside time for such reflection.

As I was listening, completely engaged, my mind began to piece together wee bits of information that Miji was sharing, connections that had not been made by me while reading the book.  It was as though a light went off when, suddenly, I realized that for years, I had taught with Miji’s mother.  And even more startling was that I was good friends with her oldest sister through my University experience.  At the conclusion of the afternoon activity, I sprung out to the neighbouring Safeway store, in order to access the ATM machine and fly back to the room where I could purchase my own copy of the book and have it signed by Miji.  As I drove home, I wondered about the various layers of this reading that were intended just for me…also, I pondered what messages I was supposed to connect with through the reading and the characters, who were people very much alive in my imagination and in my memory.

Miji’s cousin, Hughe, took video rather than photo, but I am grateful that he captured our meeting!

I think that in sitting in the stillness, I notice more.  I notice the shift in weather, the changes in people, flavours, reactions.  I make new associations.

This morning, I received a brief text message from a friend.  I think it was comprised of fewer than seven words.  But, the words were potent and remarkable and they gifted me with a daytime of support and love.  How easy it might have been, given my past engagement with schedules, events and social media, that I might not have ever realized just how much power a message has…to heal…to wound…to break…to mend.

On Friday morning, I folded clothes and put them away, created just a little bit of order in my seeming chaotic life, these days.  I relished the folding…the simple pleasure of the uniformity of it…the way the order gave me a sense of space and breath.

On Saturday, I went for a drive outside of the route that has become my routine.  I was on sensory overload.   Has this ever happened to you?  There was almost too much to take in.  What an amazing and complex world we live in!  For every vehicle on the highway…a life living…a complex human being, overflowing with challenges, joy, questions, family, self-awareness, belief…open sky…melting ice on the water…stones kicked up…tires spinning…a huge machine beneath me.

Revelation is an act of noticing and being fully conscious to your life.  The protagonist, young Douglas Spaulding, of Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury was the one who taught me that specific lesson.  I want to come back to the revelations of these past months when my world stops shrinking and begins to grow again; when I am in my life as a player more than an observer.  I am wanting to remember that I am grateful, but not in a self-help-book-kind-of-way, but in a really authentic sort of way.    I think it is an important thing to see the beauty in the enormity of the sadness/challenges that face today’s human family.  I think that it is not so much about hope, but about presence.  When I am fully present, I am open to delight, surprise and revelation.

In the meantime, send one another messages.  Create a care package for some one who never anticipates receiving anything at all in the mail.  Place a treasure on someone’s front door step.  Bake cookies.  It all counts for magic in the end.

 

Surprise #3: Ian Tyson

I saw this Legend perform ‘back in the day’, when I was a bit of an activist as a member of the Friends to the Oldman River Society.  A beautiful artist and friend, Joane Cardinal Schubert, created the image used on the poster advertising a great musical and political event at the edge of Maycroft Crossing back in 1989.  Ian Tyson, along with people like Andy Russell and the Chiefs of the surrounding Nations, gathered along with thousands of Albertans to persuade the Government of Canada that construction of a dam would be of great environmental impact on this river. From The Art Gallery of Calgary’s catalogue for the Calgary Collects Exhibit in the Fall of 2011, this…

Joane Cardinal Schubert and the River

From Wikipedia…

“Russell also sometimes confronted environmental issues in the field, directly on the front lines. In 1977, for example, he was successful in persuading officials in British Columbia to reconsider plans to grant timber harvesting licences in the Akamina-Kishenina region, an area with which Russell was intimately familiar as a result of the decades he spent guiding and outfitting in the area.[23] While wilderness landscapes like the Akamina-Kishenina region were central to Russell’s writing and film making endeavours, he also directed some of his environmental advocacy to the rural working landscape he shared with his neighbours. For example, when Shell Canada in 1970 put forward an application to divert additional water from Drywood Creek, Russell monitored the proceedings to ensure than no more water was taken than necessary, and that the resulting effluent was properly treated.[24] In another instance, to draw attention to problems with the Government of Alberta’s use of sodium fluoroacetate as a predator control compound, he joined two of his ranching colleagues and assisted to gather ten poisoned and rotting coyote carcasses; these were then left on the grounds of the municipal office in Pincher Creek, Alberta, as part of a plan that drew public attention to the issue through prearranged media involvement.[25] Russell also involved himself in larger projects, including in the politically charged opposition to the construction of the Oldman River Dam in southwestern Alberta. He was a founding member of the Friends of the Oldman River and he participated in actions to oppose the dam project, most prominently as a speaker at musician Ian Tyson’s benefit concert held at Maycroft Crossing on June 12, 1989.[26]”

Maycroft 3Further to this, on the University of Lethbridge site

“Active resistance on the Oldman River Dam came from a group of Peigan Natives, the Peigan Lonefighters Society, who in August 1990 began to divert the river using an excavator to render the multi-million dollar dam useless.  The claim was simple, the government of Canada was intruding on sacred Native land, land owned by the Blackfoot Nations. According to Milton Born with a Tooth, “the Oldman River is located in Blackfoot Nation’s territory, something we have always taken as being within our own domain. We all grew up by the river, and that’s how the river has a personal attachment to myself and the people. So that’s what drove us to do what we did on August 3, to let the people know we still had this connection to the river.” Though resistance to the Oldman River Dam has been pacified in the past few years, Peigans still claim that reservior land is their own.

Another part of the controversy has to due with the environmentalists. The environmentalists call themselves, “Friends of the Oldman River Society.”  They formed in the early 1990’s, over the environmental concerns in the construction of the large scale Oldman River Dam. They note that the construction of the Oldman River Dam required an environmental assessment impact, and this was not conducted at all, by Ralph Klein’s government. An environmental assessment impact is a neccessity according to the “Navigable Waters Protection Act”, where it would be determined if its construction would have any notable environmental impacts on this region. The Friends of the Oldman River strongly felt that the construction of the Oldman River Dam, would severely alter and damage local riparian biomes, wildlife habitat, and aquatic life in down stream from the dam. A environmental impact assessment was later conducted by the government, and found the dam to have no significant environmental impact; but the Friends of the Oldman River Society amongst others regard it with much suspect.”

I had studied at the University of Lethbridge, perched on the edge of the Oldman River, and lived in residence there, so for four years, I had a huge relationship with the river.  Everything that Ian Tyson and Andy Russell stand/stood for, I felt deeply about.  And I guess that’s just never changed.  While I am faulted often for being a bit of a ‘bleeding heart’ in my family, I care very much for our environment and see, this many years later, what impact our choices as consumers have upon this wealth of land, water and air that we, as Canadians, often take for granted.

I’ve danced to this song many times over the years and to hear it on the night of the Flood Relief was a surprise.  Thank you, Ian, for your work on behalf of Albertans over all of these years.

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Where are you, Fred Stenson? Connecting with a photograph!

Homestead #39, Alberta Foothills, Highway 3, Fort Macleod, Alberta by Edward Burtynsky

Fred Stenson, author of The Trade, Lightning and The Great Karoo, chose an Edward Burtynsky photograph that feels the most nostalgic for me.  Given my love for south western Alberta and my forever-connection with the Oldman River, it only makes sense that this one, for me, is the charmer!  In fact, I got to weeping as I read Stenson’s narrative that was posted on the wall, next to the photograph, Homestead#39, Alberta Foothills Highway 3, Fort Macleod, Alberta.  He wrote at some length about Charcoal, a Blood Indian.  I remember reading Charcoal’s World by Hugh Dempsey during the university-years.  My tears, then, were tears of frustration at the sadness.  While this Burtynsky photograph is not so literal in its portrayal of a consumed land…I feel the same way as I look at it.  It remains a photograph of consumption if you think about it the way that Stenson has framed it.