What Elephants Know by Eric Dinerstein

This was another one for the throne room…this does not mean that books in the bathroom are any less interesting than ones on my bedside table or ones next to the red couch, it just means that I choose a different genre and always something a little less cerebral than my preferred reading, fiction or non-fiction.

Another second-hand-book-find, What Elephants Know ended up next to my other books about elephants.  I liked that Jane Goodall wrote a quick recommendation.  “You will be fascinated, angered, and charmed in turn by this beautifully written story.”

Dr. Eric Dinerstein is the Director of the Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions Program at RESOLVE and so I was very interested in the fact that he wrote a novel and I anticipated that the book would be written from a unique and knowledgeable perspective.

This was a lovely book that I’d recommend for students grade five to grade seven.  It was a quick read that left me thinking about the vulnerability of our wildlife and ecosystems.  The protagonist, Nandu, is a beautiful character who, through his young life, teaches about the numerous impacts made upon these, while exposing the reader to the vulnerability of humanity, as well.

I think this would be a wonderful book to read aloud to students.  It is refreshing to find a book that is culturally diverse and can open eyes and hearts to a different human experience.  Grade three students, in their study of India, may really benefit from this story.  Nandu’s relationships with his female elephant, Devi Kali and with the plants and other animals of the Borderlands are described beautifully.

This is a two evening (10 potty visits) read for an adult.  I recommend doing a quick review of the book before sharing with your students/children so that you know the sensitive topics that will come along.  Give it a go.

What Elephants Know

 

 

It’s All a State of Mind

I haven’t had an easy time of it the past while.  I am grateful to those who haven’t minimized my feelings during this particularly rough patch.  I am grateful for those who have shown genuine concern and unconditional love and support.  I’m grateful for those who asked.  I am grateful for those who haven’t questioned what I needed to do.  I’ve missed writing.  I’ve missed painting.  But, I’ve really enjoyed sitting still in the woods and watching the birds.  I’ve enjoyed watching the river and the pond.  The river has always taught me how dramatically everything can change.  The little critters that eek out survival on the river teach me that, in fact, life is just as brutal as it is beautiful.  Treasure the moments.  Don’t cave in the least little bit to the challenges…it only takes a moment of hesitation on the fight and you can be a goner.

The state of things in the U.S.A. and the exposure to the media via the news and social media have, in part, impacted my mind set.  While it’s not the whole picture, it certainly did not assist in a feeling of hopefulness or optimism.  Through this impact, I’ve become very mindful of supporting the Canadian economy in my purchases and spending.  And, I will continue to do so.

However, I wavered in one regard.  The only way that I would have the opportunity to see my high school bestie before she left her volunteer position at Big Hole National Battlefield in Montana for her home in Michigan, was to travel across THAT border.  My heart ached to be with Ramona, so, setting all of my concerns and worries and sadness aside, I got up one day and decided to go.

There is something inherently magical about road trips and I am no stranger to doing road trips on my own, but this time, I even left my beautiful and loyal companion, Max, behind.  This was the second time in 12 years that we were separated.  I think I heard him barking, “POOP HEAD!!”, as I pulled out of my spot in front of the house and headed for Magrath.

My Auntie Ruth doesn’t mind me hanging out with her and I really like her company.  You want a Wild Cherry icecream cone?  Of course!  You haven’t got milk or bread?  Let’s go!  It’s been a while since you saw your sister?  Heh, hop in the car!!

Driving on roads that I used to share with my grandfather…evening light…canola fields…magic!

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I cut across from Claresholm to Barons on my trips…this time, got stuck going 30 kms and hour behind a line-painter. What a hoot.

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I’m not so great with selfies…but, Auntie Ruth was willing, so the effort was well-worth it.

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Ms. Independent at 92 years of age.

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I adore these two women. I’m grateful that they are in my life. I treasure every moment. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my recorder with me because we had such a great yack and many more memories of family were shared.

I didn’t sleep well that night, so was up and on the highway at around 6 the next morning.  I filled my travel mug with hot coffee and topped up the gas $1.28 and headed east for Raymond.  I love early-morning driving.  The journey continues in Road Tripping.

Loretta

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The elevator repair has gone on a tad longer than expected.  Wendy Lees and her band of creatives from create! at the Golden Age Club, have spent some time relocated to another space while renovations and such were taking place, but…now, back at home in the Golden Age Venue, the elevator is still not fixed.  “Soon”, everyone hopes.

Sometimes when I read what people struggle with or what they take issue with, I have a tricky time feeling empathy.  Sometimes we are each ‘devastated’ by such benign issues and so in order to withhold judgment of ourselves and the other, it is important to consider each issue as it relates to current conditions/variables.  An example: We can celebrate that Target closing down can be a problem for someone because this means…their health is good…they live in a warm home…they have the food and water they require and they likely have family and friends for company and support.  They ALSO have the cash in their pockets to go shopping.  But let’s simply look at the very first…GOOD HEALTH.

Loretta told me that she didn’t mind me telling her story. I explained that she’s just so inspired me this week, that I wanted to try to capture that inspiration in a post!  Loretta is a woman who has such a positive attitude about her life and is willing to do almost anything in order to express her creativity, whatever form that might take. All is done with a sense of humour.  Over time, Loretta has suffered six different strokes, but the fact that this has impeded movement and function on her right hand side, has not stopped her from being a dancer with MoMo Dance Theatre or making paintings, mosaics and recently, papier mache! (That’s Loretta on the left.)

MoMoOn Tuesday, I was witness to Loretta’s climb of the stairs to arrive at our papier mache experience and I have to say that her determination caused something more than awe in me.  I guess that’s why I’m writing.

?????????? ??????????She began her bowl project, with enthusiasm…and with the use of her left hand only. By the time that the class had ended, she had applied three layers of Handel’s Messiah, in strips, to her form and with some assistance from me, applied a pedestal stand as well.  We all gave one another hugs good-bye after our clean-up and one last cookie. :0)

As the story continues, Loretta came into the Golden Age Club yesterday, thinking that it was art day…looked at the stairs…and said to herself, “I just can’t do it.”  She went home, she said, and had a good cry (at this point in the story, we embraced) because she really really wanted to paint her bowl.

Well…if she didn’t run into Michael at some point in the afternoon and she told him that she couldn’t get up to create!  He gave her the news that, in fact, it was scheduled for Friday…TODAY!!   Loretta made it up those stairs again, to her waiting project and created spectacular transparent layers of paint!

I cherish my friends at Create! and every one of us also has a story.  Each participant (I include myself here) in the experience is vulnerable in their own way, but we carry on, especially cherishing good health and creative experiences that find us sharing positivity, good laughs, support and friendship.  Thank you to Georgie, Michael, Brian, Marian, Patruch (can’t say it…can’t spell it…and he knows it!), Tony, Joanne, Patrick, Leslie, Nicole, Margaret and Loretta…and our other Loretta.   Charcoal sketching with Gary next week!

??????????DSC_1931 DSC_1930 ?????????? ?????????? ?????????? ?????????? ?????????? ??????????We missed you, Wendy…but you reveal yourself even when you’re not in the room with us.  See you soon! ?????????? ?????????? DSC_1912 ?????????? ?????????? ??????????

 

Cursive handwriting…an art of the past?

I’ve always been in awe of illuminated manuscripts and beautiful script.

JesseTree Illuminated Manuscript

stone.tifI think that cursive handwriting is an aesthetic that will be sorely missed if it goes the way of the past.  A frustration, I’m sure, for anyone who lacked fine motor skills in life; keyboarding would have been a benefit to many.  However, there’s a particular kind of nostalgia that comes with the practice of handwriting/penmanship/cursive…both positive and negative. The discussion is a current one where education is concerned.  I just thought I’d reflect on my own practice of cursive as it relates to my schooling and life.

I learned to print first, but very soon after, learned cursive.  This is a note written in 1964.  I was in grade three. (the poem…dumb!)

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In grades five and six, we were required to own an old-school fountain pen and had our own ink well stored in the top corner of our desk.  We were given lessons on how to maintain our pens, how to blot our writing as we went along and generally, how to form our letters in a very controlled manner.  I wrote many reports and stories using this tool and in looking through my little stack this afternoon, think there is something very beautiful about the predictable text.

 

??????????In University, I didn’t have access to a typewriter for the first couple of years and so I wrote out my papers in a sort of calligraphy.  I always felt slightly at a disadvantage to people who had more money.  I understand how students feel when they don’t have access to computers at home.

??????????When I boarded with Larry and Nina in the city,  I used Nina’s typewriter.  What a world of difference that made!  When I am a guest teacher with students in today’s schools, they always marvel at my stories about learning keyboarding on a typewriter…how they were used…changing ribbons…back spacing and making corrections.  These are stories of a not-so-distant past.

??????????At some point, my non-slanted cursive became slanted.  I don’t know what that’s about?  It felt like it was somehow aligned with the moment when I took my maiden name back.  At this point, text became a part of my art and even appeared on my walls.

P1050785Christmas Card 2Mueller Art Folder 012I think that cursive handwriting carries a great deal of our personality and when I receive cards or letters in the post, I immediately recognize and respond to the writing on the front of the envelope.  My heart still skips a beat when I encounter a note or something written inside the front cover of a book and the script is in my mother’s handwriting.

Cursive is beautiful.  I hope that it isn’t lost to us.

Mom's writing

 

Gorilla House LIVE ART: May 22, 2013

An evening spent in conversation with Vincent Varga…wowsah!  This was a surprise.  I guess this was some sort of an artist’s profile experience at the Gorilla House.  I arrived as per usual sometime around six thirty.  The gorillas were sitting on the front step.  It was a grey evening, but the air was beautiful.  I was anticipating PAINTING because I had missed last week, pushed down into covers with a chest cold, and while I had good intentions around the studio this week, I ended up spending more time in the garden in the sunshine than anything else.

The guys told me that I was on film…”Go back to the bushes, they said.” Take TWO!  So funny.  I don’t know what I talked about while I painted, but I really truly didn’t shut up.  The thing was…I was super focused on what I wanted to paint about and so to have a conversation was likely going to distract a little from that.  Vincent, though, was a natural and his interview questions were endearing and brought up a lot of stuff for me.  As I left at the end of the evening I was thinking about a lot of things.

First: My intentions for the evening.

Earlier in the month, I wrote about an exceptional book written by Joseph Marshall III.  I know it’s had a huge impact on me and unless I can get some of it worked out of my system, I’m afraid I’m going to somehow ‘contain’ the content and I feel that I need to express it, not hold on to it.  The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn: A Lakota History is a book for everyone.

First Nations Artist, George Littlechild, has recently put me in touch with a huge archive of old photographs posted here.  When I saw an album posted of the Sicangu Lakota, I knew that I wished to portray one of the many people captured in the collection. When I heard the themes for the evening, I was especially happy because the third concept selected was pulled out of a BC comic strip, “struggle to defend himself and justify his place in the universe.”  GO!

I chose, out of a number of references, to use a photograph of Tacha Sinte Sapa (aka Black Tail Deer) the husband of Nite Win (aka Hip Woman) of the Oglala Lakota.  No date was available on the photograph and certainly, in the end, I did not capture much of a likeness.  I DO know however, that I am going to paint Black Tail Deer again.  I began, as I typically do when painting a portrait, by turning the image upside down.  In this way, I do not focus on capturing THAT likeness, but rather, focus on the forms of dark and light, this after writing out the last paragraph from Marshall’s book.

“True,” the grandfather replied, “but like all stories, it has a lesson.  You can be like the young man in my story who forgot where he came from.  Or you can choose never to forget who you are, and where you are from.”

While I painted, I talked to Vincent about my father…about endangered species…about rose hip tea and cactus berries…the gorilla house…about painting and recollections of small pots of oil paint, the smell of linseed oil.  It seems that I’ve had quite a history and Marshall’s words were coming to life in me as I painted.  I can not forget who I am.  I can not forget where I have been.  Notions of place, identity and memory permeate my work consistently.  It took talking about it to figure that out.

There were some wonderful conversations that circled my easel.  Thanks to all of the people who seem to care hugely about these same issues that concern me.

Thanks to Ryan for your generous purchase of this piece at auction.  It was a wonderful thing to learn afterwards that you are working with folk who are marginalized by their addictions and struggling to rise above them.  I mean it.  Phone me and I will deliver some volunteer art programs and do some portrait work with your gaggle!

Thanks to Jenn Arguin for archives.

Thanks to Vincent Varga, for expanding my heart.

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Tacha Sinte Sapa (aka Black Tail Deer) the husband of Nite Win (aka Hip Woman) of the Oglala Lakota

Ryan and Gabriel

Ryan and Gabriel

Ryan and Kath

Ryan and Kath

May 22 GHouse

Ryan lowers the veil.

Ryan lowers the veil.

Gorilla House LIVE ART: March 27, 2013

I went to paint with my community last night…not for the sake of an auction at the end of the evening, but as a way of working out my frustration at being here in the west while out east my Mom is sick and my Dad is worried.  I’m grateful to my sister and my daughter who are there as supports…grateful to my uncle who drove from Montreal to love and support…but still my heart aches to be there…so I painted.

I have captured a likeness of my mother at a young age, but recognize easily the bits that need to be perfected to give a truly accurate depiction.  S’ok though, because in two hours, the place I arrived at was a peaceful place.  In attendance, and greatly appreciated, were Clayton, Margy, Wendy and Jen….and with open arms and big hugs; Bassano, Jeff, boy-Morgan, Karen, Jess, Harold, Tamara, Andy, Bruce, Jeff, girl-Morgan and of course, Rich.  Oh yes, and there was one wee girl who observed from behind for much of the evening and finally approached.  Her hair was in a thick mass of curl.  She said sweetly, “If that lady had brown eyes, we would be twins.  I think I look like her and she’s beautiful.”   Great conversations were shared while painting and I thank the people who attended for the first time and the people who stopped to give me their thoughts on my process.  It was wonderful.

So, no, I did not paint the inspirations of the night…and I began upside down and then shifted to right side up during the last half hour.

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