Thursday, October 13, 2016

The song my paddle sings

Be strong, O paddle! Be brave, canoe!
The restless waves, you must plunge into.
Reel, reel,
On your trembling keel,
But never a fear my craft will feel.

We've raced the rapid; we're far ahead;
The river slips through its silent bed.
Sway, sway,
As the bubbles spray
And fall in tinkling tunes away.

And up on the hills against the sky,
A fir tree rocks its lullaby.
Swings, swings,
its emerald wings,
Swelling the song my paddle sings.

( partial quote)
E. Pauline Johnson ( 1862 – 1913 )

Pauline Johnson was a Canadian poet who lived over one hundred years ago. She was also a Metis, and had the heritage of two peoples from which to draw upon in her life and poetry. Even so, her writing like others of her time, would become lost in the rush that came later. More cerebral and more stylish modern writers have all but obliterated her from present day awareness. She had something though that we miss today, and this poem appeals to me in a direct and visceral way.

It seems very simple, the rhymes obvious, and the thoughts expressed seem suited to an unsophisticated mind. But then she calls it “the song my paddle sings” and taken as a song, where simplicity of expression, repetition, and appeal to emotion are important elements, it works extremely well. In fact it has been set to music.

The poem appeals to me because it concerns itself with a canoe and a rushing river within a Canadian setting. It speaks to my own lifelong experiences. It expresses old fashioned virtues like bravery and love of the land that are still Canadian qualities, buried though they may be by the busy city life most of us endure today.

I attended the burial of an old friend the other day and this poem came unexpectedly to mind. Like all good works of art there are layers of meaning involved which can open for us at times like these. I read it in that context as the turmoil of death, the racing rapids, followed by the calmer passage down the river and the gentle song of the landscape to see her on her way. Perhaps its clarity of expression leaves it open for readers to find their own feelings between its lines.

I imagine Pauline paddling her canoe in Lost Lagoon, which is now overshadowed by the city of Vancouver, and chanting the verses aloud as she created the story-path she was paddling down. The dip of the paddle, the ripple of the water, the great red sunset across the straits to the west. The call of the loon, the call of her ancestors at this magical hour. The song her paddle sings.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Walking through the distant past

Ebbing tide in the Booth Canal

  • The greatest beauty is organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty of the universe- Love that ,not man apart from that.     Robinson Jeffers.

The walking group has zigzagged down the wooded slopes near Vesuvius and are now beginning a walk along the beach towards Booth Canal, that long muddy tidal channel that fills part of the low valley that overlays the fault line separating the middle from the northern part of Saltspring Island. We are walking on thin, straight lines of almost vertically tilted shale beds which are themselves littered with sandstone and granite boulders. How interesting, but like most of our landforms, how complicated to understand let alone explain to non-geological walkers.

The Booth Canal

The foreign rocks and gravel are easiest to explain as remnants from glacial times or as sandstone from higher up falling down the steep slopes as the cliffs eroded. The sandstones are beautifully sea-sculpted in their turn and in some are the swirling marks from their own genesis on wave-marked ancient beaches. It is impossible to truly grasp how ancient all this for a species like our own that has lived for such a blink of geological time.

A sandstone boulder sit atop the beds of slate.

And those lines of shale we prance so blithely over and which formed originally in muddy layers beneath a sea many miles away from their present place of residence. How did horizontal layers get tilted up like this? What forces crumpled them up like layers of cardboard pushed from both ends? Possibly one need only look to the collision of island bits that formed the Booth Canal valley, but then nearly all of our province has been formed from stray bits and pieces of islands, and Vancouver Island, the Strait of Georgia and the Coast Mountains are a larger series of similar humps and hollows, layers of twisted and eroded rock.

We stop for lunch.

Its a lovely day for a walk, the sun is breaking through and huge cumulus clouds tower up into the blue above us, but we stop once more at a cliff face which shows the tilted rock beds off beautifully. And 'beautiful' is an appropriate response that can live comfortably alongside all this rock history. Too much geology and too little love can skew our minds. What we instinctively feel with our hearts will serve us well along with the science of the world.


We chatter about our lives. An essential part of these walks.

Where slate met Sandstone years ago and their love keeps them together still.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Viking voyages. Lief Erikson and the Wonder-shore

Many years ago I read a Nevil Shute book- 'An old Captivity'- that stuck in my mind. It involved Lief Ericson's voyage along a northern coast of the Americas before Columbus made his more famous crossing. The idea of a vast unexplored landscape and a viking ship sailing down the coast of what is now Labrador or Newfoundland really appealed to me. Having had the experience more recently of sailing into unknown territory ( to me, at least) and having new islands and coastlines hoist themselves above the horizon by the dawn's early light, I can revisit this old story and step even deeper into the feeling that Shute evoked and use that feeling to picture it.
More recent archaeology has shown that the Vikings were active traders along the arctic coast *and also travelled along the coast of and attempted to settle in Newfoundland at L'Anse aux Meadows. What appealed to me was the image of the ship sailing south along the 'wonder-shore' as named in the Icelandic Eriksaga.

They sailed away from land; then to the Vestribygd and to Bjarneyjar [the Bear Islands]. Thence they sailed away from Bjarneyjar with northerly winds. They were out at sea two half-days. Then they came to land, and rowed along it in boats, and explored it, and found there flat stones, many and so great that two men might well lie on them stretched on their backs with heel to heel. Polar-foxes were there in abundance. This land they gave name to, and called it Helluland [stone-land].
Then they sailed with northerly winds two half-days, and there was then land before them, and on it a great forest and many wild beasts. An island lay in the south-east off the land, and they found bears thereon, and called the island Bjarney [Bear Island]; but the mainland, where the forest was, they called Markland [forest-land]. Then, when two half-days were passed, they saw land, and sailed under it. There was a cape to which they came. They cruised along the land, leaving it on the starboard side. There was a harbourless coast-land, and long sandy strands. They went to the land in boats, and found the keel of a ship, and called the place Kjalarnes [Keelness]. They gave also name to the strands, calling them Furdustrandir [wonder-shore], because it was tedious to sail by them. Then the coast became indented with creeks, and they directed their ships along the shore. Wikipedia
I began a painting with no subject in mind at first but it soon formed into a long lonely beach which  brought the viking voyages to mind. To add a ship nosed into the shore was an obvious thing to do. Perhaps it was wrecked in the breakers and the keel was later found by Lief. What happened to that stranded crew? Did they wander off into a vast land and disappear? Imagine!

* Nat. Geo. Nov. 2012

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Is Colour photography naturally better than old fashioned monochrome ( black and white, mostly)

In the early days of photography this was not a question, monochrome was the only way, but it was not long until hand tinting came along to make the images more 'life-like'. Still and all there have been many great images made that have taken full advantage of black and white. Imagine Edward Weston in colour, or look at the difference between what Ansel Adams was able to achieve in his darkroom versus his uninspired lab-printed colour landscapes. Some of us see the world best in terms of its monochromatic potential.

Colour produces the closest imitation of the original subject matter and we can related easily and unthinkingly to a photograph of it. For many that is the supreme advantage of photography - it shows the world as we see it. Many would judge a painting by the same standards. Art in general then, by this measure, seems at its best to be a replication of reality, except that we have this nagging little thought that this cannot be true. 'We like what we know and know what we like' would seem good, obvious and so democratic, but if so how is it that many photographers refuse to supply simple two dimensional replications with a tool so well suited for doing just that? What are we trying so hard to communicate?

A monochrome photograph is a step away from a faithful rendition. We miss the familiar clues that colour provides. For those who seek a reasonable facsimile of reality however, it is still possible to recognize a subject even though we have to work a little harder. It is the thought that the viewer might benefit in some way from puzzling over an image that takes us closer to the 'art' part of photography. It turns out that we enjoy a visual challenge, take satisfaction from engaging with original forms of perception. We like wandering into new ways of thought. It turns out that behind every image lies an idea, great or small, and that is what we are really engaging with once we get past the original surface presentation.

In this series I have photographed colour images, but through my own personal colour-challenged way of seeing the world. While I do see colour it has no unquestioned pride of place over tone or texture, line or contrast. I like to find subjects that have some pattern or visual challenge and the colour should have a job to do and not simply spread itself lazily around. Whether the scene works best in colour or black and white is open for consideration so I have also created here monochrome versions to explore what works best. For me, one is not automatically better than the other, it depends on how well it communicates.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Darwin Revisited.

Darwin revisited.

A deer stands high on a rock bluff watching me wind my way slowly up a narrow wet trail. I feel watched as I walk deeper into the back-country of Ruckle Park and so when a falling branch crashes into the salal, just behind me I spin around with my eyes bugging out! Just a branch, but some part of me ( the scaredy-cat part) has said “Cougar!”

With my pack on my back and my camera tucked into the front of my rainjacket I am venturing out today into this rain-soaked mixed forest that has been a park for many years. There are the visible remains of big rotten stumps and the half hidden skid roads of old logging shows, but all has been repopulated by a younger forest growing in any spot available amid rocky knolls and swampy hollows. Young skinny and magnificently mature straight firs, stunted and twisted ones, cedars, big broadleaf maples,  alders, acres of understory salal and ocean spray. Still standing dead snags, uprooted tree trunks and broken bits are lying all around in the process of turning back into soil. This is a lush and tangled rainforest where a step off the path could get one lost (or gobbled up) in short order. And yet this living forest in all its wild complexity is very beautiful on this overcast September morning.

We are all familiar with Darwin's survival of the fittest - the fittest being not the strongest or smartest but the most adaptable to change – and certainly that is one way to understand the complexity of the landscape, but today I see something more nuanced. This whole community of flora and fauna exists through co-operation, through acting as one entity, not as one group pitted against another. Perhaps we have something to learn here, social Darwinism* understood through another lens.

*Social Darwinism  - An attempt to apply a biological theory to human cultures. Not a good idea. For example in Victorian Britain when the theory of survival of the fittest was first introduced it was co-opted to support ideas of racial, national and social superiority with a Victorian gentleman at the top of the evolutionary ladder, naturally.
It has been, and is still  being used in the world of business, politics, religion, etc. Just too convenient, even though the original theory did not apply to cultural matters at all.
Next time you hear a businessman talking about the race for the top or politicians talking about a whites only policy, or one particular religion being the right one for the country  you will be hearing social Darwinism alive and well.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

End of summer at Indian Point.

End of summer at Indian Point.

It seems only yesterday we were wishing for a break from summer heat but over the last few days we have abruptly transitioned into fall. Such a nice change to overcast skies and rain showers, but no doubt we will be wishing for sunshine soon enough.

The dry times caused a lot of trees to yellow and drop leaves prematurely so we have dry maple leaves littering the roads, paths, and blowing into our living room. This morning we had a break with pale, lemony, filtered sunlight and I decided to take my Nikon DSLR rather than the pocket camera and walk the shoreline at Indian Point with the intention of honing my photography skills.

Indian Point is just down the road, and I have walked and photographed here many times, but while the geography may be constant, the seasons change, the light changes, and I change and see new possibilities.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Candlestick Cove.


 In the stillness of a summer moonlit night, shadows define bright branches and sandstone beach rocks. The black sea sighs and mutters and leaves flicker with the passing of a fugitive breath of air.
In winter these islands show a cold and sometimes forbidding face but then we know where we stand. Here now, all is illusion that dances before our eyes, magic and spells.
A branch snaps and drifts to the ground. What was that? All our instincts say run but we are frozen on enchanted ground. Candlestick Cove.

I made this image using printer's ink rolled out on glass and then drawn into with reference to my sketch of Candlestick Cove at Nose Point, Saltspring island. I took a mono-print from the wet ink surface and then adjusted and modified it using a felt tip pen, ink washes and fine lines of white watercolour paint.

I was thinking about the many faces the Gulf Islands present to us, about the long history of First Nations among the islands, the short period of settler occupation and about my own spooky experiences while anchored in dark coves.