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

Wenjack by Joseph Boyden

It continues to be my goal to read the books of as many indigenous authors as possible this year…and to read content that will increase my knowledge, leading to better understanding of issues related to our Canadian indigenous peoples.  I have a desire in my heart to be a part of the mechanism that contributes to change, following a formal Truth and Reconciliation process.  The formal process is a mere stepping stone…the work, by all Canadians, is yet to be done.

I am grateful to have connected with author, Sable Sweetgrass, through an on line book club that Sable established and then on to a group book circle at the Forest Lawn Public Library once a month, with the gathering, Chapters and Chat, sponsored by the Aboriginal Pride and 12 Community Safety Initiative and led by Michelle Robinson.  Books offer inroads to powerful ways of viewing the world and understanding, whether non fiction, fiction, theater or poetry.  We owe it to ourselves to become educated.

This month’s read, Wenjack by Joseph Boyden, was selected as much for the weight of issues surrounding its author as for any other reason.  We decided we really wanted to have an honest discussion about appropriation of content.

The aesthetic of the book is beautiful…lovely paper, interesting and welcoming format, gorgeous illustrations and attractive associations with the natural world.  Based on the historical events of a young boy, Chanie who, in fact, was forced into a residential school system and as a result, died,  the discussion about the issues surrounding the writing of the book became a many layered, and at times painful, conversation.

I was unaware of Joseph Boyden’s reputation as an author, given that this was the first time I have picked up one of his books. Highly successful and recognized as an award winning author, Boyden’s connections with indigenous culture and appropriation of indigenous narratives has been called into question in various ways over many years.  His response has been anything but straight forward and the topic has been explored all over the internet.  An example of one such article can be found in the National Post.

I love books and I love the act of reading and it is for me to be discerning around my selection. As a visual artist, I have had to consider ethical boundaries as I explore certain topics in my paintings and it is important that appropriation is considered as I set up these boundaries.  While I am not fond of censorship, I do think, as artists, there is something refreshing about being true to our own stories.  I found our shared discussion circle to be invaluable as it contributed to expanded knowledge, in a very thoughtful way.

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The Women Who Raised Me by Victoria Rowell

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Last evening, I had the chance to hang out and chill with my sister-friends.  Thanks, Darlene.  The only disappointment was that Wendy wasn’t with us.  It was the intention to hop right into the hot tub, but, as per usual, the snacks came out and the conversation began.  It doesn’t matter how often we see one another, there is lots to say.

Being with friends is a very healing experience.  There is much that is revealed by getting ideas out of heads and hearts and hearing the perspectives of women you completely trust because of the years that you have shared.

I thought that since this got me thinking about my long-time friends, I would share a book that I read early in October.  It’s a good one.  I’m big on reading Memoirs.  Not everyone is keen on that genre.  If, however, you wish to read a book that has a heart warming component, this is one you might want to consider.

Victoria Rowell shares with the reader, sometimes-complicated, but always-treasured relationships with women who ‘raised her’.  I think that we all have teachers and friends and extended family who have supported us and certainly we know the beautiful thing that is a relationship with a mother or a sister or an aunt…but, for reasons out of her control, Victoria’s mother could not be in the picture that was her life, not to a deeply nurturing extent.  This book is about the women who stepped up.

I am blessed to belong to several circles of friends.  While I am not a part of a traditional family of my own (with a life partner), I have been deeply blessed by the friendship of women in my life (sure, and a few guys, too…you know who you are).  While I would have liked it to work out that I had a life partner who would be a help mate and spiritual companion, I have learned that life offers us a richness in ‘other’ forms of relationship if we are receptive to those invitations.

Of this book, I particularly enjoyed the opening chapters where Victoria lays down the tracks of her life by introducing us to the history of her family.  I think that we are all rooted in stories and her stories were fascinating. Matters of fostering and adoption live at the core of this memoir. While I typically go for more complex writing, this one flowed nicely and made me feel happy for the women in my life.

You might enjoy, The Women Who Raised Me by Victoria Rowell.  3 1/2 out of 5 as Goodreads ratings go.

“Do not look around thee to discover other men’s ruling principles, but look straight to this, to what nature leads thee, both the universal nature through the things which happen to thee, and thy own nature through the acts which must be done by thee. But every being ought to do that which is according to its constitution; and all other things have been constituted for the sake of rational beings, just as among irrational things the inferior for the sake of the superior, but the rational for the sake of one another.”

Marcus Aurelius

Laurel Crescent Little Free Library and Little Gallery OPENING DAY!

I always feel proud of Wendy Lees and the magical events/experiences she creates. Today was no exception as the Laurel Crescent Little Free Library and Little Gallery enjoyed its opening with a large draw of neighbours, family and friends.  The festivities were marked with warm buttered popcorn, lemonade, heart shaped cookies, painting, bubbles and chalk drawing.  What an amazing community feel!

It was great to see the MLA for Calgary-Glenmore, Ms. Anam Kazim (ND) and to see her engaged and genuine support, as well as Lakeview Community Association’s President, Geoffrey Vanderburg out and about, meeting the neighbours on Laurel Crescent.

I brought my contribution to the Little Library since this was a bit of an historical event for the neighbourhood.

Glad to celebrate this event with you, dear friend, and congratulations.  We honour what you do for community building throughout Calgary, Wendy.

Deafening by Frances Itani

On the recommendation of a friend back here in Calgary, one of the books I read while visiting my father in Belleville, Ontario was Deafening by Frances Itani.  With a regional setting of Deseronto, Belleville, the railway and the surrounding area, upon completing the book, of course, I had to go and visit the places.  Itani’s novel, placed during World War I, is exquisite.  A Winner of a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, I was captivated and motored through this one at warp speed.

Grania, the protagonist, emerges from a bout of scarlet fever as a child, deaf.  The novel evokes a real sense of what language means.  As stated in the Goodread’s summary,

“A magnificent tale of love and war, Deafening is finally an ode to language-how it can console, imprison, and liberate, and how it alone can bridge vast chasms of geography and experience.”

In published reviews, it appears that a lot of readers lost interest as Grania becomes involved with Jim. I think the author is successful in steering clear of sentimentality and introduces Jim as a device to talk to the reader about war, its impact on the small community and how the concepts of lost communication express a similarity with loss of hearing.

At the conclusion of this book, I thought this was my favourite book of all time…but, you know and I know, this is just until the next one!

My father humoured me and visited the grounds of Belleville’s Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf with me and I went, on another day, to Deseronto in order to document some of the places mentioned in the book. Why?  Just because I could.

The school for the deaf has a beautiful campus including several stately brick buildings and wonderfully groomed grounds.

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Deseronto…

The places of Canada…driving driving driving…remind me of the blessings of our common narratives.  Everywhere, windows are boarded up, mostly in small towns and names are written, as are profanities on the baked painted surfaces of what used to be animated corner stores and bakeries and churches…places where people gathered, all working to get through hard winters and humid summers.

Deseronto captures all of it.  The tea rooms and antiques, the post office, the docks…

I am grateful to have seemed to step into a book.

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Post Office Deseronto

Post Office Deseronto

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St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church Deseronto

St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church Deseronto

I strongly recommend Deafening by Frances Itani.

 

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.

CBC Calgary Reads Big Book Sale

I’m pretty pumped about finding eleven solid ‘reads’ at the CBC Big Book Sale.  For going on four weeks, I’ve been down for the count with some hack and honk virus and reading is right up my alley right now.  I’ve been avoiding gatherings and sticking to time on my own as much as possible.  There’s nothing wrong with that sometimes.  Anyway, here are my treasures, a mere $4.00 a piece.

First, I picked up the first book of Ken Follett’s Century trilogy.  It’s been a long time since I read Follett, having thoroughly enjoyed his first Trilogy.  I’ve heard good things about this one also, so looking forward to propping this big baby up in bed very soon!

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E. Annie Proulx is one of my favourite writers and I spotted one that I haven’t read, That Old Ace in the Hole.  I’d have to agree with this; Prize–winner Proulx imparts this information with such minute accuracy that it’s like seeing a painting up close and magnified, with each tiny brush stroke lovingly emphasized. One grows quite fond of the characters so beset by nature, fate and bizarre accidents, especially old Ace Crouch, a lifelong repairer of windmills, who represents the joke that the title promises.

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Complicated, Iris Murdoch became of interest to me when I saw the movie, Iris.  The fact that she suffered Alzheimer’s disease made her story so special.  Words meant everything to Iris, in her life.  Her husband, John Bayley, also a writer, was dedicated to Iris Murdoch in the most amazing way.  When I remember his part in her life, I think of my father.  I found The Green Knight at the Big Book Sale.

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I absolutely treasure Timothy Findley’s writing and consider them some of my favourites!  If you haven’t read Findley, please do!  I was happy to find hidden amid all of the more popular things in the ‘General’ section,  a novella, You Went Away.  Excited for this.  Timothy Findley’s female characters are forever-compelling.

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I’ve met Karsten on at least two or three occasions and heard him speak twice.  He wrote and filmed Being Caribou, a book and documentary that inspired me and my growth as a human being.  I heard him speak of this Walking the Big Wild, but had never picked it up.  Whoot!  Another great and hidden gem!

Walking the Big Wild is the story of Karsten Heuer’s extraordinary 18-month journey of hiking, sking, and paddling across 2100 miles of mountains, forests, and rivers from Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming to the Canadian Yukon. Accompanied by occasional human companions and a remarkable border collie named Webster, Heuer encountered immense challenges: storms, avalanches, floods, and grizzlies. At the end of the journey, Heuer proved that there is nearly continuous wilderness that can support wildlife along the length of the Rockies-and is salvageable if the right decisions are made now.

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I picked this one up out of interest in the topic and the geographies of the north…quite intrigued by this one as its format includes both poetry and prose, a sincere concern for the ice.  Looking forward to reading Enduring Dreams: An Exploration of Arctic Landscape by John Moss.

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As I gazed upon the options in the Visual Arts and Photography section, I felt as though I was looking at my own collection at times.  This one, Female Gazes, stood out because it is beautifully illustrated with concise autobiographic material on each of 75 female artists.  Fun!

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If you’ve read any Nick Bantock books, you would know that Barbara Hodgson, another Vancouver writer, has a similar approach of writing mythologies along side amazing collage and visual images.  I don’t have this little treasure, and given my travels with daughter Erin, back packing from Palermo, Sicily all the way up to Venice, Italy, this will be a gem!

With its genius for art and culture, there is no country in the world as wonderfully civilized (and civilizing) as Italy. But seething below this surface is a long and shadowy history of corruption, cruelty, and the generally bizarre. For centuries it has been overrun by waves of invaders, all contributing their own questionable bits of culture, and all wantonly adding to the confusion. So, how is a poor visitor supposed to make sense of this anarchic place? Co-creator of the cult favorite Paris Out of Hand, Barbara Hodgson has neatly brushed away the chaos and assembled an eclectic treasury of forgotten and overlooked oddities: long-lost popes, bloodthirsty mercenaries, tempestuous artists, and inexplicable follies. Italy Out of Hand is not a traditional guidebook, with hotel addresses and hours of operation. Rather, it is an idiosyncratic tour of a country that is too overwhelming and extravagant for most of us to comprehend without a little guidance. Illustrated with an equally eclectic selection of photographs, portraits, and art, Italy Out of Hand is the perfect companion for those who like their truths to be stranger than fiction.

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If you listen to CBC radio at all, you will be familiar with Thomas King.  I enjoyed several seasons of his Dead Dog Cafe series.  He is a consummate story teller!  I was so happy to find this little treasure.  Tom King has a way of using tongue-in-cheek humour to get to the heart of painful histories.

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I’m not familiar with this author, but the topic was of interest to me.  I was thinking of artist, Bev Tosh’s series of War Brides.  An historical fiction, I think this will be appealing to me.

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I did really well finding these books at the sale.  I hope my Calgary readers have a chance to get out to make their own selections over this weekend.  Happy reading!

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

 

One of the ‘engines of life is faith’.  In my opinion, this premise is core to Martel’s writing. Yann Martel consistently negotiates his way through this theme in his books, instead of avoiding it completely, which seems to be the norm in our world today.

This was one of the loveliest books I’ve read in a long time.  The shape/form of the book comes to the reader in three chunks; Homeless, Homeward and Home.  When I began to read chunk two, I said to myself, “HUH?” (I am not one of those who reads reviews first or who even reads the bits that appear on the book jacket.) With no transition from the seeming novella of chunk one, I didn’t ‘get’ what was happening.  I just decided to ‘go with it’.  I literally wept at the conclusion of chunk three.  Beauty.  Place. Home. Companionship. Family. Faith. Adventure and the human wanderings of our hearts.  All of these are themes of this book – part fantasy – part so real that it causes the heart to ache.

I fell in love with the landscapes…so clearly written, that in the evening, I wanted to return to the same places.

I was intrigued by the artifacts; Father Ulisses’ diary…the unusual crucifix…the workings of the four cylinder Renault.

The symbols and characters are, for me, very allegorical.  I think that my readers might agree that this device is used consistently, also, in The Life of Pi.  Martel’s imagery moves so far beyond metaphor.  One has to take the time to search their own sense of meaning and life, in order to really appreciate this book.  Since this is my practice all of the time, it comes naturally.

For some readers, the detailed description of the ‘magical’ autopsy, may provoke some upsetting feelings or sense of disbelief, but for me, this, in chunk 2, was imperative.  It is interesting that, most recently, a lot of my reading is helping me with and through my grief story.  This one, truly, was the most helpful to me to this point.  Perhaps it is the fact that it appeals to the artistic side of me and taps upon the wounded part of my imagination.  Loss does amazing things.

Finally, the relationship between Odo and Peter in the Home section, chunk 3, found me both laughing and crying throughout.  I DID feel HOME in this chapter.

I hope that my reading-friends will pick this one up and get back to me on your thoughts.  I’m looking forward to hearing Yann Martel at Wordfest this week.  I find his writing appeals to me.  Of his works, the only disappointment for me was in Self and my comments scratched in the front cover on November 14, 2012, simply say that the book was ‘tragic and in so many ways, for me, insincere.  Difficult in places and not humourous as the reviews present.’

A thorough review on “The High Mountains of Portugal”… and I agree, there are no spoilers reading reviews on this book because when you enter into the experience, it is sure to be your own.

It was a beautiful evening at the John Dutton Theater, listening to a great interview with Yann Martel and speaking with him for a short while, about grief.

Cell March 16, 2016 Yann Martel Franks Max 050

THE HIGH MOUNTAINS OF PORTUGAL -- cover

 

 

Take Pause and Read

When Max-Man was diagnosed with an ACL injury and it looked like we were going to be slowing life down for the summer, I went out and purchased two books; The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo and House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.  I thought since I would be in the house so much, dealing with plumbing and floor renovations, this afforded me a wonderful opportunity to nest and sort through the clutter.

Well, it turns out that House of Leaves is a VERY ‘heady’ book, more so than I am accustomed to reading and I’d say that I typically enjoy conceptual reading.  I had just finished The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje and the last book I could possibly be drawn to was something contemplative.  Besides, it was on July 2nd that I broke my foot.  The heat, the fracture and the House of Leaves were not a nice combination.  So, that one is tucked away on my book shelf for the short term…good winter reading.

Marie Kondo’s book is an easy quick read and is a great resource for making some quick decisions about a space and objects that give you joy.  Unfortunately, right now, I have stacks of categories in the works everywhere because I can no longer scoot and flit through my house with energy and instead, clump clomp around like a person in leg irons.  Everything, for now, is in slow motion.

Well, it turns out that books are coming to me via various angels and shared cups of tea and coffee gatherings.  This is a way that I will remember to love others who are similarly stuck at home.  I’ve had beautiful visits at the feast table and at the red kitchen table with friends from a whole number of contexts in my life.  Some have come by with pastries.  Some have come by with muffins and some with books.  I’m grateful.

Presently, I’m reading a fiction set in Newfoundland.  Sweetland by Michael Crummey is one of those books that moves seemlessly, without effort, and I feel cozy and wonderful when I pick the book up and disappear into the story.  My friends would still remark that this is a ‘downer’, but it is elegant and the words carry me away.

Thanks to those of you who have thought to bring me books or, as my father and sister-friend Ramona did, mail me books.  Reading causes a connection with other stories.  It is good to take your head away from what you think is an obstacle and to realize the huge situations others endure, even if those situations are purely fiction.

Kath's Canon Tea Parties and Books 002

Talk of word search puzzle books and the ‘correct’ way to circle your words.

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Receive something...give something away.  Grab bag of things sorted out of one of my categories...books.

Receive something…give something away. Grab bag of things sorted out of one of my categories…books.

I am blessed by family and friends.  I love you.

Whoever said…

“Social media is our ruination.”

Think again.

I was blessed some time ago to receive a private message from a student who is now grown up and wears a beard…someone who has lived some life.  I hadn’t heard a word from him for years, but these words, like magic, appeared.  If these were the last words I was to read on this earth, I would be blessed enough.  But, it seems that again and again, I am graced by these experiences.  And it is, I’m certain, because I live in a time when the words can be communicated.  I know how grateful I remain, as a 59 year old woman, for my teachers.

This is what he said…

“Ms. Moors, I wanted to send you a message saying thank you for all of the lessons and knowledge that you passed on to me. I started classes in Lethbridge this fall and I still use the “outline” for essays and papers that you taught me in grade 9. That has helped me so much and I can only imagine that it will continue to assist me throughout my life. You also facilitated a love of reading in me and I can not express my appreciation to you for that. I hope all is well with you and that you are healthy and happy. Thank you again for everything.”

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The Barr Brothers: Even the Darkness Has Arms

I was holding my breath

When the tightrope walker slipped into the moon glow
Saying all my children, follow me
MAYBE IT’S TIME TO GO

You can be cruel when you’re wise
You can be wise when you’re blue
And baby, if I have
Then I have for you

Bribing the jury to keep me in jail
Singing tea for the tiller man
And although I lie fantastically
This woman knows of my history
IT’S A MIRACLE I CAN SEE

You can be wrong when you’re right
Even when you’re right on cue
And if I die tonight
Then I die for you

All I know is they call me son
Great grandson and grandson
Great uncles and some relatives
That judge what I have done

Gonna make it right by you
Even if it’s all I do
And if it’s all I do
Then I do it for you

People have raised a whole lotta hell
About the water in the windmill
And although I stab chaotically
IT HURTS NO ONE BUT ME

EVEN THE DARKNESS HAS ARMS
But they ain’t got you
And baby, I have it
And I have you, too