Armistice Day 2020

“Find the cost of freedom buried in the ground.
Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down.”*

In the north of France, 200km south-east of Dieppe and 100km north-east of Paris lies the Commune of Compiègne. In the heart of Compiègne, nestled on the north bank of the Oise River is the village of Le Francport.  There, at 5:45 a.m. on 11th November 1918, the most famous Armistice in history was signed by the Allies and Germany.

‘Though the Great War officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28th June 1919, the armistice signalled a cease-fire – on land, in the air and at sea – ending the war to end all wars on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Ever since, that day has been revered by all Allied Nations as Armistice day. 

Every year on November 11th, at 11:00 in the morning, we pause. We stand and observe two minutes of silence. Poems are recited, prayers are offered and we remember. This solemn memorialization of the horrors that occurred on the Western Front honours our armed forces, particularly the brave souls who made the ultimate sacrifice. 

North Americans choose, variously, to refer to this date as Remembrance Day (Canada), Veterans Day (USA) and Poppy Day (both countries) but in the other Allied Nations it is, and will always be Armistice Day.

Inside the west entrance of Westminster Abbey (located between St. Margaret and Victoria Streets, London), an area known as The Chapel of the Holy, is the most famous grave in the world – The Unknown Warrior. No one has ever known whether the remains are of a soldier, a sailor or an airman, indeed whether he was British or a member of the Commonwealth, none of which truly matter.  The significance is that this warrior, these remains are emblematic of the enormous number of men and women who gave their lives in the First World War. I cannot visit this site without being overcome by emotion. 

This tomb inspired another, more recent tradition associated with Armistice Day – the laying of poppies following the ceremonies. This ritual is widely believed to have been started by The Dean of Westminster; as he exited the Abbey following an Armistice service, he removed the poppy from his robes, gently placed it on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior and offered a brief prayer before walking out.

This most poignant practice has become a visually stunning and emotional tradition following the National Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa. Unlike the one at Westminster Abbey, the Canadian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is outside, in front of the National War Memorial in Confederation Square.  Following the ceremony each year, thousands of Canadians in attendance remove their poppies and place them on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before leaving.

Cam and I have lots of traditions – some big and some small. I love our traditions and how committed we are to each one.  Traditions remind me of the years that have passed; that history is always very important and meaningful to me.  

All traditions began – at one time or another – as someone’s idea, and our idea was a new way to honour our dads and their service in WWII.  Our inspiration was The Dean of Westminster and the laying of poppies.  Ours is a small, intimate ritual, an opportunity for a private remembrance that feels especially appropriate in this year of isolation:

We take a walk along a favourite trail to the Poppy Tree where we add our two poppies to those already mounted.

These woods are the very epitome of tranquility and our walk along the trail is the perfect opportunity for some introspection, for each of us to remember our dads and their tales of the war (‘though, as with most Vets, there weren’t many of those).  Our hike is a peaceful interlude that allows us, encourages us, to focus on the meaning of Armistice Day and the essence of our new tradition.  

Each of us tacks our poppy onto the tree, expanding a little, the row of poppies.  I think our dads would both like this new tradition and be a wee bit chuffed that we honour them so.  Our mums would be satisfied that we’ve not forgotten.  

“Find the cost of freedom buried in the ground.
Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down.”*

‘Til next time, y’all…

*Stephen Arthur Stills, performed by Crosby Stills Nash and Young (1970).
Listen to “Find The Cost Of Freedom

Happiness is…

Friends who know all your flaws and love you anyway.

Big weekend in our home.  Birthday weekend.  Cam celebrated a birthday that might have involved some combination of the numbers six and twelve. 

November birthdays are often cold, snowy even. Parties are indoors, gathered ‘round a roaring fire, toes stretched towards its warmth.  They’re seldom gulf stream temperate, big cloud blue sky*, get your butt outdoors celebrations, but this year…  

This year!

Friday was the big day and it was a golf day.  A perfectly warm, sunny, breezeless 17℃ day meant for enjoyment and indulgence with the nicest of friends.  And a good score.  Then home for a favourite supper, decadent coconut cream pie (in lieu of cake which is not at all his favourite), cards, pressies, phone call wishes and a sweet, relaxing evening.  

Cam is a gentleman with very few, and very simple wants.  He asks for nothing, expects nothing and is happily content with the smallest of gestures.  It makes wanting and trying to please him all the more enjoyable.  

Then, Saturday, two dear old friends stopped by for a physically distanced, driveway visit which extended Cam’s celebration and made him feel very special.  

 It. Was. Bliss.  And so, so much fun! Our bubble is just us two; Janie and Tommy will never know how much that visit meant. All four of us are a little bit different but also the same in every way that matters. We love these sweet people and are so thankful for them.

Their hearts are 24k gold and even though we rarely get to see each other, Jane and Tom are those friends who’re always within reach; whenever we’ve needed them they’ve been a consistent, steadying presence, offering honest advice and capable assistance.  It’s reassuring to know they’re always on Team Perrault –  even if they are hours away. Isn’t it great to have those people in your life?

Happiness is…

A new pair of warm, soft, gaily patterned, hand-knit socks!

It was Cam’s birthday but I got the pressie!  Janie surprised me with a pair of socks she’d made, in the sweetest of canvas bags (emblazoned with “stop wishing, start doing”) and I was positively giddy with delight!

I’ve already found the perfect use for the bag:  It now holds all the pens/highlighters/pencils/erasers/post-its/clips/elastics/etc. that formerly resided on the bottom of my tote bag, strewn in such a manner as to be impossible to ever find the very thing that is most needed at the time.  As for the gorgeous socks, I’ll be wearing them on Wednesday (for luck!) when I see Dr. Aasheim!  

Happiness is… 

Having kind, thoughtful, loyal friends! 

True-blue, life-long friends make this life so worth living – having people around that love us for who we are, care about us, make us giggle, and make a point to reach out to us.

’Til next time, y’all…

*Megan Giddings, from her novel Lakewood.

Sweet 16!

16℃ in November – bliss! Beautiful sunshine, not a cloud in the sky, the lagoon as smooth as glass and wildlife galore. Today was the nicest possible fall day. I walked and walked and walked and took hundreds of pictures. I do believe I’m about the tiredest one in Cobourg this evening so I’m going to let the pictures tell most of my story.  

Not five minutes after entering the park I had my first sweet happy of the day. Meet Herbie (‘cause he’s a Herbivore, y’all):

Two minutes later I found Hissing Sid sunning himself on the road. He’s a bit lumpy – he seems to have just polished off his mousy lunch:

As I unpacked and settled on a picnic table at the lagoon, a lone duck crossed Presqu’ile Bay, heading for the sandbar:

“Aaah!  This is what I’m talking about!”

Siesta time.  Little does he know he’s about to be interrupted by a very rude Gull:

There were quite a few Ladybugs buzzing about and lots of Dragon and Damsel flies at the lagoon today:

Littered on all the roadways are caterpillars – please drive carefully to protect these future butterflies and moths!

Unintentionally, of course, I startled some Buffleheads on Presqu’ile Bay:

There were swans and ducks galore in the marsh:

Did you know?

Chickadees eat the seeds from Cattails. At this time of year, the rushes are bursting and the Chickadees are flitting from rush to rush to eat their fill.  If you’re trying to teach your kiddos about nature, wildlife and birdlife, this is an excellent coaching and observing opportunity for the whole family.  Any marsh full of reeds (not phragmites) will fit the bill:

My day at Presqu’ile today was perfection. There are more days of this splendid weather yet to come this week. I encourage you to pack up your kiddos, your lunch, your canteens, a camera, a picnic blanket and notebooks and head over to Presqu’ile for some outdoor autumn activity.

‘Til next time, y’all…

The Foul Rag and Bone Shop of Trump’s Heart*

Parents of 545 children separated at the US border cannot be found!

On Wednesday news outlets the world over exploded with this headline and waves of incredulity, anger and revulsion rippled across our planet. How could this happen? How could this happen in one of the richest, most technologically well-equipped nations in the world? How could this happen in a democratic, supposedly just society? 

Eight days ago, and it has plagued my every moment ever since. The cold brutality and enormity of this story have tormented me to the very core of my soul.  

So, how did this begin?  I’ve done a lot of reading, I’ve gathered a lot of information. I’m loathe to describe my findings as facts due to all the misdirection, revised information and outright lies coming from the US Administration, but:

Kowtowing to his xenophobic and racist base, Trump implemented a zero-tolerance Immigration Policy for illegal aliens. The Family Separation stratagem was meant to further deter illegal border crossings.

This brutal policy was put into effect and enforced by top-level government officials (Cabinet members).

Two key players in the plan:

Jeff Sessions (then A.G.):  “We need to take away children.” and “If care about kids, don’t bring them in. Won’t give amnesty to people with kids.” Based upon documents provided to the court. “An illegal alien,” he said, “should not get a free pass just because he or she crosses the border illegally with a child.”

Rod J. Rosenstein (then Deputy A.G.): Based upon documents provided to the court, he instructed his prosecutors that “it does not matter how young the children are” (what????) and “Government lawyers should not refuse to prosecute cases simply because the children are barely more than infants”.

It’s unspeakably sad and utterly gobsmacking to me that Despot Donald was able to find two such willing—enthusiastic, even—henchmen to do his dirty work, something they had to have known was, at the very least, morally wrong.  This has nothing to do with national security. It is the abominable torment and tyranny of a bully.

At the second presidential debate:

When specifically questioned by Ms. Welker (who was utterly brilliant, non?) Despot Donald claimed that all of the separated children are “well taken care of” “in facilities that are so clean”.  Ooooph!  Where to begin…  The facilities are abandoned warehouses, divided into cages by high chain-link fencing. Most of these detention centres are operated by private (for-profit) companies earning top dollar whilst providing only the absolute minimum care to keep the kiddos alive. 

The court report that kicked this particular anthill states that lawyers are unable to find the parents of 545 children who were separated at the border by the Trump administration.  In this era of digital records, how on earth do you lose the parents of 545 children? How were they not, as a matter of course, of accounting even, reunited with their kiddos before being deported? Who was in charge of that piece of the puzzle? Who failed to do their job? When questioned about this debacle at the debate, Despot Donald said “We’re trying very hard” with which he seemed entirely comfortable and satisfied.

The worst of a very bad situation:

A Pulitzer Prize winning reporter obtained an audio tape of the caged children crying for their mamas and it would break your heart. Mine shattered into thousands of shards whilst listening to it.  I have not included the link because it is unspeakably awful and nightmare-inducing, but if you do want to listen, it is not at all hard to find.

Although it is only one of the puzzle pieces, listening to the recording was palpable, perceptual and emotional proof of the magnitude of catastrophe created by Despot Donald’s “zero tolerance” policy.

The Foul Rag and Bone Shop of Trump’s Heart

Despot Donald has blown through an entire encyclopedia of crimes and wrongdoings:  Racism, sexism, misogyny, lies and xenophobia. There is an outstanding tenable accusation of rape. He failed—spectacularly—to plan for and protect against the coronavirus. He authorized the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protestors.

Even so, I feel sure that all non-sociopathic people with firing synapses would agree that all these sins pale in comparison to the inexcusable treatment of those poor immigrant children who he has indoctrinated to his personal brand of cruelty.

Illegal immigration in the United States may or may not be the serious problem portrayed by Despot Donald. It is absolutely not the level of exigency that would necessitate or justify the separation from their parents, caging and detention of terrified young children.

“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is probably the most well-known and most often quoted phrase from the Declaration of Independence. The phrase gives three examples of unalienable rights which the Declaration says have been given to all humans by their creator, and which governments are created to protect. All humans.  Not just American humans. Even the 545 children who are, because of US governmental policy, without homes, without parents, without liberty and with no opportunity to pursue happiness. Arguably without life, at least a life worth living.

’Til next time, y’all…

*W.B. (William Butler) Yeats, “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” from Last Poems (page 515) in The Collected Poems, University of Oxford Press.  Full text:

The Circus Animals’ Desertion

I

I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last being but a broken man
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.

II

What can I but enumerate old themes,
First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;
But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his fairy bride.

And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
`The Countess Cathleen’ was the name I gave it,
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love.

And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;
Heart mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love
And not those things that they were emblems of.

III

Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

(Both images from “Struggling to Survive” series.)

Come away to Honahlee…

We can frolic and play in the autumn mist in that land by the sea.*

Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Moving” was the first album I ever owned. It was bought for a single song, “Puff The Magic Dragon” and I very nearly wore it out.  A beloved favourite that I listened to again this week.

This trip down memory lane, revisiting some of my childhood favourites, was some much-needed escapism resulting from all the horrific news, the setbacks and surprises thrown at me. It was delightful to feel that fantastical magnificence of my childhood imagination again.

Mr. Lipton captured that sense of expansiveness perfectly in his poem about Puff, which eventually became the lyrics for Peter Yarrow’s charming song.  

Escapism? I’m meant to be writing about those 545 pathetic young souls. Have been trying ever since the story broke last week. I keep mulling over my own privileged childhood, trying to recall anything that terrified me. Truly, I was so well-loved and protected that fear was nearly non-existent in my wee world. Fire is about the only horror I can remember – which is far from the same realm as being dragged from the arms of one’s parents, the only people who’d ever loved them. Safety, security, protection, kindness, confidence, freedom and love – all gone in the few quick seconds it would have taken to separate the families. Now add to that a language barrier between the tiny children and their captors. Can you imagine how you’d have felt at that age?  I cannot.  Can you imagine how you’d feel if it happened to your children?  I cannot.  So escapism, then, with my friend, Puff. 

As the familiar notes and voices drifted out of our speakers, I did feel again, at least momentarily, a fanciful, mythological delight in that pretend dragon.  Short-lived as it happens, because, of course, Jackie Paper (Puff’s friend) does grow up and grows out of his toy Puff and so leaves him behind. And in that moment I am back to those 545 tormented souls who will never grow out of their favourite toys, indeed will likely never see them again.  Innocence and playfulness – two things that should be essential, guaranteed elements of every childhood, both snatched away. The land called Honahlee gone forever.

I will finish the essay about the immigrant children.  I will.  I need to get over myself because my discomfort and angst are nothing compared to their daily feelings of abandonment, fear and anguish.  Or so I can only imagine.  

’Til next time, y’all…

Please have a listen; it’s one of the sweetest songs ever written:  Puff The Magic Dragon

More of this week’s escapism – please meet the oh-so-creatively named “Teddy” my first toy, who went everywhere with me (’til I was far too old, apparently):

*Music by Peter Yarrow, lyrics by Leonard Lipton.  In the fifty-seven years since Peter, Paul and Mary’s recording was released, “Puff, the Magic Dragon” has become entrenched in our pop-culture folklore and mythology. Full lyrics below. 

Puff the Magic Dragon

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honahlee.
Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal puff
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff, oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honahlee.
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honahlee.

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail.
Jackie kept a lookout perched on puff’s gigantic tail.
Noble kings and princes would bow whene’er they came.
Pirate ships would lower their flag when puff roared out his name, oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honahlee.
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honahlee.

A dragon lives forever but not so little boys.
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain.
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, puff could not be brave
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave, oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honahlee.
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honahlee.

Update: An Elegant Idea

Way back in August (which feels a lifetime ago to me) I wrote a post about the memorial tree planting programme at Presqu’ile Provincial Park:  An Elegant Idea This fundraiser is the brainchild of, and is offered by, The Friends of Presqu’ile Park, one of the hardest-working, most dedicated group of volunteers you’ll ever meet. Trees may be purchased in memory of a loved one, as a tribute to a person/team/organization or to commemorate any of life’s milestones.

I have purchased a tree of my own to honour my Auntie Pam who I wrote about here, earlier this month and it is my fervent wish that some of you will join me in helping to ensure that the splendour of the woods in Presqu’ile Park thrives for many years to come.” 

Yesterday was the Autumn Arbor day at Presqu’ile so we visited the park to plant the tree I bought for my Auntie Pam. This was definitely the sweet happy of my weekend. 

Cam at the marsh lookout deck.

It was another “big cloud, blue sky”* day and you just know those are my very favourites.  

When we arrived at the gatehouse we were directed to this year’s planting location which is in the “grassy island” between the marsh lookout deck and the camp office.  I could not possibly be happier with the site because I shall see our tree every time I go to the park—without even having to get out of my car, if I wish. 

The entire event was planned and coordinated by Mr. Phil McRae, head of the Friends’ Environmental Team and he had meticulously arranged every aspect of the day to guarantee our safety, comfort and convenience. No two families were scheduled to arrive at the same time to ensure easy physical distancing.  The moment we stepped out of our vehicle he gave us the warmest possible welcome and in that instant, every bit of apprehension evaporated. (To be honest, I was a little nervous about the whole thing when I awoke Saturday morning.  Needlessly so, as it happens…)

Phil and Don (and the top of our tree).

The planting was managed by Mr. Don Tyerman who is an absolute gem.  As head of the park’s Bio Team and a renown biodiversity specialist, it was Don’s responsibility to select the trees, decide on the planting area (based upon the park’s strategic plan) and organize his lads (“the muscle”) to dig the holes. That was the end of his obligation, yet he’d taken the time to prepare an interesting and informative presentation for each family scheduled to plant their tree.  He described the annual autumn seed collection process, the cleaning and planting of the seeds and he’d even brought some seedlings along to show off the work that is done by his team and his volunteers.  The seedlings were in 4” square pots and will be ready to be transplanted to larger pots in the nursery next spring. He’d also created signage for one of the previous year’s planting sites so guests could see how quickly the trees rise and spread (an obvious benefit of growing only native species).  

At the time of purchase, I’d chosen a deciduous tree and yesterday we had the privilege of choosing which type we wanted (a White Birch) and choosing any one of the pre-dug holes.  I chose one at the end of the front row—prime location, so I’ll never lose sight of our tree.   Decisions made, Phil sanitized the shovel handle for Cam, and allowed us the space, privacy and independence to quietly plant our own tree.  A sweet, unexpected honour.  Of note, should a tree be purchased by someone unable to do their own planting, Don and Phil were at the ready to offer assistance or even to complete the job.

Phil, Don, photographer? and Cam

It is difficult to tell from this picture but our Birch is about 170cm high.  I carried it to the hole, popped it in, and Cam filled in the hole with the dirt piled around it.  Almost effortless.

This day might easily have been dour but it was, in every respect, very pleasant. 

Sincere gratitude and respect for Don and Phil and their teams, all of whom worked like Trojans to make the dream of this day a reality.

My heartfelt hope is that this programme continues to be a great success for many years to come.  Between natural attrition and the decimation of the tree canopy by those dastardly Emerald Ash Borer beetles, and with no replacement planting funds available from the Ministry, we shall need masses of memorial tree plantings if we’re to rehabilitate our forest.

’Til next time, y’all…

*Megan Giddings, from her novel Lakewood.

This fallen Willow (natural attrition) is at this year’s planting site

Making Time To Create

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”
[Epictetus]

Our sense of self is essentially our private monastery, the most sacred facet of our being. For creatives, sense of self is fully informed by their art, which is at the core of their being. The soul is the reliquary for our creativity and authenticity which, for an artist, are one and the same.

A photography pal recently lamented that COVID-19 has upended his entire life. His necessary adjustments to pandemic life occupy too many hours of his day, most devastatingly preventing him from doing the type of location shooting he loves. As he spoke, I realized that so many of us are living in what feels like an absurd, irrational universe this year where it is difficult, if not impossible, to focus and act on our intentions. Even more than usual, we rarely have time for everything we want to accomplish.

“You rarely have time for everything you want in this life,
so you need to make choices.
And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”*

This contemporary proverb has been one of my most dependable touchstones. It is the embodiment of discernment. Of sound judgment. It calls into play the need for thoughtful self-determination, chance, personal boundaries, impulse control, conscience, curiosity and creativity—each of which represent both advantages and limitations.  

My friend, a chap considerably younger than me, wants desperately to chuck his current career to become a full-time professional photographer.  He has the skill, the gear and the passion.  Now, though, challenged by life obstacles many of which he created himself, his commitment needs fortification.

First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.

Part of what he has to do is set a rigid perimeter to protect his creative space; decide how and where to draw that proverbial line in the sand. Boundaries.   

Boundaries begin by saying no.  No is a categorical response requiring no qualifiers.  Of course, when it comes to family and close friends, it gets very tough to say, simply, no. Easier, perhaps, is Yes, but…

Yes, I would love to help, but I am only available on Wednesday; or

Yes, I would love to have coffee, but I am only available on Tuesday morning from 8:00 ’til 9:00; or

Yes, I would love to arrange a play date with your kiddos, but we are only available on Thursday after school from 3:00 ‘til 4:00; or

Yes, I would love you to come for a visit, but I am not free until Sunday afternoon.

Yes, but…

Those two words can be a miracle solution and have been for me on many an occasion.  However if, like me, you don’t think/respond well when put on the spot, or if you’re a people-pleaser and your go-to response is agreement, consider adopting a personal pause. Rather than yes, consider offering a completely noncommittal response, like, That sounds lovely, thank  you. I’ll have to give it some thought.  A polite, inoffensive response which allows time for retreat, for consideration. Opportunity to form a counteroffer that works for you, your schedule and your druthers. A pause!

Making Time To Create

First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.

Sleep Less Create More 

My friend is a wonderful artist.  She creates spectacularly beautiful pieces, some of which I am enormously privileged to have hanging in my home.  She recently told me she has begun the practice of rising an hour before everyone in her home, creating a quiet, inspirational environment, and drawing for an hour before the day begins.  If you, too, are struggling with time for your art, consider setting your alarm clock early; private, undisturbed, device-free time to be creative.  

Granted, we are not all morning people. If that’s you, perhaps consider carving your creative space out of the end of your day; a peaceful, artistic interlude before laying your head on your pillow. 

First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.

Seek Out An Ally 

Chiselling out a block of time where there was none before needs, more often than not, to be a team effort.  Ask for support from your team – whether that is your partner, family or roommates – get their buy-in; besides helping you to set aside some artistic time, you’ll need their cooperation in respecting this interlude. This may involve some negotiation, some sharing and trading of chores.  

The benefit of having an ally goes far beyond easing the workload. Having unwavering support helps reduce stress which improves one’s sense of well-being, both of which improve the artistic process. Creativity is impossible without a relaxed, open heart and it’s so easy to relax and have an open heart when you feel loved and supported. I know this from personal experience.

First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.

Multitasking 

If nothing else works, consider piggybacking your creative time onto your business and home hours. At all times have your sketch pad, your blank music sheets, your camera, your journal, your notebook with you and during any lull, pull them out and get to work. Try to weave a little creativity into everything you’re already doing.

Making space in your life for creativity might not always be easy, indeed, you rarely have time for everything you want in this life so change your life.  Right now. Intentionally carve out time for art. Or music. Or photography. Or writing. Even if it’s only 30 minutes each day. Nurture that part of your soul. This is self-care in its most basic form.

’Til next time, y’all…

*Fred McFeely Rogers – Mister Rogers – was a musician, puppeteer, writer, minister and star of the television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood”.  It turns out, Mr. Rogers is also something of a modern-day oracle.

From deep in the quiet wood comes intrinsic maturation?

The coronavirus is again rampaging through Ontario, there appears to be no end to my isolation and living in a bubble of two, which is disappointing and makes me feel bowed down in heart*.

“Are you bowed down in heart?
Do you but hear the clashing discords and the din of life?
Then come away, come to the peaceful wood,
Here bathe your soul in silence.”*

“Deep in the Quiet Wood”* is one of my ten favourite poems and I’ve heeded its advice ever since my first reading. Whenever life becomes too hectic for my liking, or when the social and news media babel overwhelms, the quiet wood is the place where I recoup my emotional centre and my true north. Deep in the quiet wood, my soul bathed in silence, stress evaporates and a gentle calm takes over. 

For those of you who don’t do woods and forests, the relief it brings is a bit like being jangled awake in the middle of the night shattering an oh-so-sweet dream but then being able to gather together the threads of that dream whilst drifting back to sleep.

Recently I spent a day alone, hiking in the Northumberland forest, atop the Oak Ridges Moraine at Boyles Corner, in part of the area known as the Rice Lake Plains.

There are quite a few species that are either threatened or of special concern – amphibians, reptiles, birds and insects – that all strive to survive on the plains. They’re listed below. I keep a notebook of my sightings and, over the course of many visits, I’ve seen all but the ghost tiger beetle. My success is a product of persistence, patience, stillness and silence.  

“Listen! Now,
From out the palpitating solitude
Do you not catch, yet faint, elusive strains?
They are above, around, within you, everywhere.
Silently listen! Clear, and still more clear, they come.
They bubble up in rippling notes, and swell in singing tones.
Now let your soul run the whole gamut of the wondrous scale.”*

An entire day basking in the palpitating solitude; simply sitting, watching, shooting and writing – absorbing everything on offer. And listening! Hearing those elusive strains as they bubbled up in rippling notes all around me which, of course was mostly the rustling of the leaves and the wondrous scale of the avian choir in the tree canopy high above me. Honestly, I didn’t want the day to end. It was absolute bliss just being, for that sweet interlude, alive, alert and at peace.

The next day during a conversation with my oncologist and hematologist, he asked about my happiness and mental health; he was curious because he is the one who mandated my quarantine. I told him I was doing very well, thank you, and I happily described my day in the woods. Happily, that is, ’til I heard his response: “Your introversion has really increased during the pandemic.”

There are lots of terms I might use to describe myself, and have, but never introvert. To be honest, being one of only five frosh (only the very slightest of exaggerations, I promise) at UofT in 1975 who did not take Psych 101, I had to look up introversion. It doesn’t mean I’m shy. It doesn’t mean I’m socially anxious. It also doesn’t mean I’m a recluse despite my isolated and hermetic lifestyle these past seven months. The broad strokes are that introverts are strengthened and sustained by the hours they spend voluntarily sequestered and that, I concede, describes me to a tee: My serenity and composure are definitely tied to my time alone in the natural world – deep in the quiet wood. 

Most of us live somewhere in the middle of the spectrum that breaches ultimate extroversion with ultimate introversion – very few of us are either “capital E” extroverts or “capital I” introverts. But can our place on the spectrum change? Can we become more introverted as we age? Indeed yes, as it happens. The clinical term is “intrinsic maturation” which, it seems, simply means a gentle relaxation of our personalities as we get older, during that chapter of our lives when we feel less pressure to conform to societal expectations and perceived norms. It may well be that the coronavirus was the catalyst for my deepening introversion. Regardless, it seems that during the past seven months, somewhere deep in the quiet woods, I have intrinsically matured.

It is disconcerting to be told, especially at my age, that I have the introversion personality trait when, all along, I’d thought of myself as being more extroverted. It is also surprising to realize the veracity of such a casual, throw-away comment.  But the truth is inescapable.  It catches up to you every time, often when it is least expected.  

My truth is that the quiet, almost eremitic hours I spend in the forest, are sacred and essential – how I am able to find peace in this time of high anxiety. These sojourns change me and how I view my world, filling earth for me with heavenly peace. My truth is that such times are the product of intrinsic maturation.  Introversion.   

A friend recently asked me what, if anything, the pandemic had taught me about myself. I had no answer then. Now? I’d have a response that would surprise her as much as me.

‘Til next time, y’all…

*James Weldon Johnson

Deep in the Quiet Wood 

Are you bowed down in heart?
Do you but hear the clashing discords and the din of life?
Then come away, come to the peaceful wood,
Here bathe your soul in silence. Listen! Now,
From out the palpitating solitude
Do you not catch, yet faint, elusive strains?
They are above, around, within you, everywhere.
Silently listen! Clear, and still more clear, they come.
They bubble up in rippling notes, and swell in singing tones.
Now let your soul run the whole gamut of the wondrous scale
Until, responsive to the tonic chord,
It touches the diapason of God’s grand cathedral organ,
Filling earth for you with heavenly peace
And holy harmonies.

[J.W. Johnson]

Rice Lake Plains’ species that are threatened/of special concern:

Amphibians & Reptiles

Eastern hog-nosed snake (threatened)
Midland painted turtle (special concern)
Snapping turtle (special concern)
Spring peeper (chorus frog/tree frog)

Birds

Barn swallow (threatened)
Bobolink (threatened)
Common nighthawk (special concern)
Eastern meadowlark (threatened)
Eastern whip-poor-will (threatened)
Eastern wood-pewee (special concern)
Grasshopper sparrow (special concern)
Red-headed woodpecker (special concern)
Wood thrush (special concern)

Insects

Ghost tiger beetle (imperiled) – This one I’ve yet to find.
Mottled duskywing (endangered)
Monarch (special concern)

Public Defiance

The number of COVID-positives are on the rise again and as the numbers increase, so too does the anxiety that many of my friends are feeling. Folks are swamped with pandemic worries and they’re wondering what, if anything, they can do to benefit themselves and others.

WEAR. A. MASK.

Please, please wear a mask when you’re with other people!

Almost daily I almost (I’m always alert) bump into folks not wearing masks. Almost daily there are stories of anti-maskers on the news broadcasts and social media feeds. People from all parts of Canada, folks I know and probably people you know too, with diverse educational backgrounds, encompassing all socioeconomic variables, all refusing to wear a mask because it impinges on their freedoms. They’re proceeding “business as usual” in their daily lives, they’re gathering in groups with scant attention to physical distancing recommendations, walking the streets, carrying placards and chanting, all the while with no face coverings. They claim they’re demonstrating in support of their civil rights.

NO! Please don’t confuse these wilful acts of public defiance, of recalcitrance, with altruistic, humanitarian protests – that would be an insult to all the dedicated individuals who worked so hard to achieve social justice this summer. These are acts of rebellion, pure and simple born, perhaps, of pandemic boredom. Anti-maskers are provoking, no daring anyone and everyone to argue with them for the sport of defending a position they supposedly hold dear. This is an overt display of contempt for the medical officers of health, for the front-line medical workers and for the laws of our  government. Their petty remarks and constant whinging are an effrontery.

“Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”*

Protests are invaluable in the fight for racial equality and social justice, as we’ve seen this summer. BLM has used the art of the protest brilliantly, fuelling participation from musicians, athletes and, this weekend, actors at the Emmy Awards. They are to be lauded, one and all. I’m not against protesting, not one whit. I am opposed to perversity and spite.

“Ye cannot live for yourselves; a thousand fibres connect you with your fellow-men, and along those fibres, as along sympathetic threads, run your actions as causes, and return to you as effects.”**

Cause and effect. A concept Ontarians all Canadians need to personally drill down on in the days and weeks ahead if we’re again to flatten the curve. Never in our lifetime has it been more crucial to heed the Reverend Melvill’s admonition, to ask ourselves if our actions are for the benefit of ourselves or others, indeed if our actions pose a threat to others. We need to think for ourselves, and about others.

The coronavirus affects certain people much more acutely than others – the elderly, those with existing ailments, those with compromised immune systems and those having undergone Immunotherapy treatment. Each one of those souls depends upon the public’s perseverance, their commitment to responsible action and their adherence to public health recommendations. For those deemed most vulnerable, the wearing of masks – by everyone – is utterly essential – a life-and-death practice, if you will. They rely daily upon such dedication to cause. I know this because I’m one of them. ‘Though I am loathe to admit it, I find myself in that vulnerable demographic and I so badly need everyone to remember that we’re all connected by invisible threads and that along these sympathetic fibres, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.

I implore everyone to intentionally be of value to your family, friends and community by wearing a mask at all times when you’re with other people. Everyone’s cooperation and steadfastness is desperately needed. Right now! We all have a role to play during this pandemic and yes, most of us are unhappy with our lot, but this is not the time for complaining, revolt or despair. This is the time to ensure our actions are for the benefit of ourselves and others, to ensure our right actions run as causes and return to us as positive results.

’Til next time, y’all…

*J.R. Lewis

**Rev. Henry Melvill, 1798-1871. Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, Church of England. He graduated, St. John’s College, University of Cambridge: B.A. 1821, M.A. 1824, and B.D. 1836. Of note, the Bachelor of Divinity, the highest ranking bachelor’s degree, is the most senior academic achievement, superior to a doctorate.  

Rhapsody In Blue*

Someone Who Likes To Rock – Emendari

“The melody of that bitter-sweet pleasure settled into my heart;
my personal Rhapsody in Blue, if you will.”*

Sitting in Dad’s chair for the past ten evenings – relaxing, rocking and lulled by its calming to-and-fro motion – was utterly lovely but now the melody of that bitter-sweet pleasure is but a memory.

The thing about living in a very small house is that every square inch matters – there are none to spare. The footstool that contributed so much to the chair’s comfort seemed always to be in the way, a trip hazard even, located as it was (needed be) in the doorway to our den, one of the most-used portals in our home. 

Space is only part of the problem, in truth, the smallest bit. The chair is in desperate need of refurbishment – foam and upholstery – which is not in our budget now, nor in the foreseeable future. Though it pains me to admit, this is probably not the chair for me. I knew it was time for another audition but was loathe to tell my long-suffering gem.

Like ripping off the bandage, I blurted out my wish to exchange chairs just before lunchtime. Now yes, I do realize my timing was abominable – I’d have likely had a much better response had I waited ’til his tummy was full, but out it came and other than giving me “the look”, Cam dutifully arose and began the exchange… Downstairs first with the footstool and two cushions, back upstairs with the next candidate (which is über-heavy and awkward to carry), then downstairs again with the frame of the rocker. There was but one comment, at least there’s only one more chair you can try. My Cameron is:

Love,
friendship,
happiness,
consideration,
patience,
integrity,
graciousness,
kindness,
and today

Self-Control!

Chair number two is a smallish, compact perhaps, leather recliner that we purchased at the Hyde House in Acton about twenty-five years ago.  It is blue, chosen to match the two quilts that live on our bed in perpetuity, and was needed for Cam’s comfort when  he was on patient monitoring duty back in the good ol’ Toronto General Hospital days.  It seemed necessary that if he were to be confined to our bedroom for such long stretches of time, there at least ought to be a good-sized television and a comfortable chair in the bedroom.  Comfortable but trim enough to squeeze into the corner beside my nightstand and not be in the way. This chair fit the bill splendidly.

Although Cam used the chair so much during those long, arduous years, I’ve barely perched on it (probably just to put on a pair of socks at one time or another).  Our bedroom in this house doesn’t have room for a chair of any size so this baby blue was relegated to the family room in our basement. Hence the audition, with the highest of hopes that this cutie-pie will become my personal Rhapsody in Blue, if you will

Our former chaise de chamber couldn’t be more different from Cam’s armchair – in size, shape and colour – but it does have an edge over the rocker in that it is in mint condition. I gave it a quick test and it seemed soft and cosy.  It doesn’t rock and the dream of a matched set seems to have died on me, but this may prove to be a workable, painless and costless solution.  More to follow…

Til next time, y’all…

*G. Gershwin

Did you take piano lessons too?  At the RCM?  If so, did you also have to learn Mr. Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” preparatory to your grade nine exam?  I hated, HATED it then, but now it’s one of my favourites – I own several recordings by different beloved artists.  Despite modern digital recording technology, my very favourite remains Leonard Bernstein and the Columbia Symphony recorded in 1959 at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn.  Should you fancy a listen, please click on this link (then scroll down to the red “play” button):  Rhapsody In Blue