Wednesday, July 27, 2016

From word to image.

In the purity of the morning, I understand how much more there is to the world than meets the eye, I see that the world fails to dissolve into myth and dream only because one wills it not to. Now I begin to understand the meaning of that vision, Now I see the truth of it.”
'The perfection of the Morning' Sharon Butala

First published in 1994, I found this paperback at home and decided to re-read it. In the years that it sat on our bookshelf my own life experiences have brought me closer to understanding these final words of a thoughtful book. Sharon writes of things that we all at least vaguely intuit but she finds the words to express them - the role of the writer and of the arts in general. So easy to read, and, I would think, so challenging to express in words.

She writes of her life on a ranch near Eastend, Saskatchewan, a dry, wide open landscape, and of her struggles to grasp its true reality. A reality that for her is wider and deeper than its surface appearance of rocks and grasses.

The paintings I include were a co-operative effort between myself and two of my grandchildren ( 7and 4) and which were surely influenced by my reading of 'The Perfection of the Morning'. When they asked if I would 'teach them watercolours' I decided that I would do just that rather than take the easy way and simply let them mess around. It was tricky to guide their brush strokes and other technical matters but satisfying for all concerned. In a visual medium we were learning to conjure up a landscape that Sharon had written about so sensitively.


Courage”. he said, and pointed towards the land,
This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon”.
'The Lotus Eaters' Tennyson

My bamboo brush was loaded with what I had thought to be dark blue, but a broad sweep across the white paper told even my colour challenged eyes that this was really a wine colour. OK, I thought and used the remaining twist of the brush's hairs to draw in an island. A few more dabs of colour, a distant galley and I had stumbled into a page from Homer and his 'wine dark sea'. Ulysses, on his torturous way home from Troy has been storm blown beyond the known bounds of the world and while his crew cowers in fear and trembling he sights land by morning's light, tells them to have courage, there is land to leeward. That of the Lotus Eaters, it turns out and the beginning of a new adventure.

I remember telling Homer's story to an acquaintance some years ago who like the crew was in despair with no obvious passage through her life's travails. Sometimes we all need to turn to face into the future and say to ourselves 'courage', because no matter how faintly it shows itself there is something new on the horizon. No matter how dire things may seem this is not the end but a new dawn, a new beginning.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Clouds: looking at life from both sides now

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
                And feather canyons everywhere......
    Joni Mitchell. Both Sides, Now

The chatty CBC weather person in Vancouver mentions that she can see interesting clouds through her office tower window – like popped corn. I hop outside and look up. Sure enough there are puffy balls of white and grey across my tree-narrowed upward view.

A sea of clouds scattered evenly across a blue sky. How insubstantial, a crowd of wanderers melding and breaking apart, drifting with the breeze. What is the subject? Just this forming and changing, always changing, in transition.
My life and yours.

Stieglitz took a series of cloud photographs in the 1920s he called 'Equivalents'.
You might wish to google this if you are interested in photography.

When I am far away on the stormy ocean tossed

It is busy in Ganges, our local town, with visitors celebrating Canada Day, July 1st. Here is a memory from our Pacific voyages about what Canada means for me.

At last the moon shows beneath the clouds, a sign that the long gale is coming to
 an end and we can resume our voyage to Australia. It took us a whole
 24 hours of sailing to make up the distance
 we had lost while hove to and drifting slowly back to New Caledonia.

We are four hundred miles off the east coast of Australia, the wind is gusting to forty knots and our schooner is hove-to in chaotic seas. This is the forth day of this gale and we are more than ready to move on to the end of our long voyage across the Pacific from our home in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia. I sit on my night watch, wedged into the cockpit, listen to my daughter Anne's music on the headphones and watch our big traditional gaff-rigged schooner poke her bowsprit high into the dark sky, heel lee rail under and slide away from the punch of the next breaking wave. She has been performing this dangerous dance for what seems like forever and has never missed a beat. So far.

Perhaps it is the music that sets my mind to wandering, a collection of tunes from 'Great Big Sea' about the 'Bluenose', the Myra River, about a vessel like mine running before a gale in the Atlantic, but I begin to think what it really means to be Canadian. Those songs are from the other side of the continent from my home, but like most wanderers I have a larger view of my country than I would have back on my island. There I might feel that Toronto was on the far side of the moon and Halifax in another orbit altogether, but now, hanging on until morning’s light, I am deeply touched by 'Farewell to Nova Scotia' singing in my ears.

The wind direction has shifted at last and is rapidly building a wicked cross sea. The regular wave pattern is now broken and chopped and this presents a new challenge. Our schooner staggers, looses her stride, smacks her broad stern hard down on the back of a wave and then shrugs, finds a new furrow in the seascape and carries on. I think of all those nameless east-coast fishermen from the past who stood on deck in seas like these and observed carefully how their schooners swam among the waves. They thought about how they would improve the design of the next boat they would build, perhaps a little flatter curve to the turn of the bilge, a steeper run to the stern. Slowly the design evolved that is keeping my ship and family safe from harm. ``Good old boat!``, I give the deck a pat just as a slosh of warm salt water trickles down my neck. I stand to check for shipping, catch the full roar of wind in rigging and crash of waves and then settle back to the music in my ears.

I am thinking about that country of mine far back around the curve of the earth: about those things we pretty much take for granted; our communities, our system of government, our social programs that reach out to support all of us; even those obvious things like the railways that were built for us by preceding generations. They were built by people like that nameless fisherman, like the creators of the music now playing in my ears. Step by step, piece by piece, like designing and building a boat, a lot of dedicated folk pouring out their lives to build a better country. A fair and generous community that we could be proud of, that could ride out storms and carry us and future generations safely home.

At last the moon breaks through the clouds and the wind is definitely easing. A few more difficult hours of bone shaking seas and by morning’s light we will hoist our sails again and resume our voyage westward.