Monday, August 21, 2017

Solar Eclipse.













For weeks we have been bombarded with “Its coming” messages on the media so naturally we decided not to pay it much attention. Only when the bright clear morning darkened dramatically did we wander out into the weird light and very dark blue sky and see that every gap in the tree branches was acting as a lens, casting crescent shaped spots of sunlight on the ground. This for us was a 90 percent eclipse and it lasted but a brief time but was a reminder that our busy normal lives are still subject to larger forces: the sun not to be taken for granted, the moon still able to intrude into the sun's business and our own in dramatic fashion.






Thursday, August 10, 2017

Meeting at Last


 ....its intense reality with love
 and wonder, this lonely rock.
'Oh, Lovely Rock' by Robinson Jeffers

Chopping wood today,
down below the rocky ridge, 
I looked up and saw it.

The slanting sun 
through the cold, clear air,
green ferns and grey rock.

Just taking a break,
warming my hands,
easing my back.

Lichen blotched,
cracked and riven,
enduring grey rock.

Looking down at me here,
but for millions of years,
always changing and on the move.

Islands, ferns, wind voices, roaring surf,
creatures crawling out of the mud.
 Flowers, the calls of the first birds.

Once, long before that, free as air,
ash drifting on the wind
from endless volcanoes.

Falling lightly on ocean,
down to the bottom,
covering coral reefs.

Traveller across the Pacific
compacting, twisting, hardening,
eventually here.

Worn down, covered in moss,
cracked and broken,
surrounded by trees.

Here am I, 
looking at you looking at me. 
Meeting at last, oh lovely rock.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Field of Change




Walking among the plants on this slope in mid summer it would be easy to not notice them at all; simply a sea of grasses we wade through and leave a thin wake where we have brushed them aside. We focus instead on views of mountains and seacoast, or we are preoccupied with inner thoughts. To actually look down at our feet is a big step, to observe that grasses are really but one element in what once was a farmer's field.

In parts of this field with deeper, moister ground the grasses are still tall and of one community, but high on this slope above the sea the moisture is long gone from the thin soil. Specialist plants well adapted to these particular conditions have gathered: plantains with their yellow flowers and white puff balls, Queen Anne's lace, thistles, brambles, daisies, hawthorns. All the plants that do not make good eating and have deep roots and ways of shrivelling up and waiting for rain to return in the Fall.

This assemblage of plant life has taken over once the farmer departed, and it is reassuring somehow that nature has such a range of possibilities once humans stop forcing their opinions about the use of the land. Once over a hundred years ago this would have been deep forest laboriously cleared away for fields and one can now see the trees encroaching once more from the edges, sending lone individuals ahead into the most favourable pockets of soil. How the ground must contain roots pushing into the clearing, how the air must be full of seeds seeking a place to take root. Every living thing relentlessly seeking light , moisture and soil, juggling for a place to live.

We wander on, find a definite path over the hill to the main farm road, and forget about this field. We turn to other things, but here, still plain to see for those that look, is written among the grasses a complicated history of evolution, the continuing story written by the most successful, the most adaptable to change. Thistles, weeds, hardy trees and brambles, holding the soil together until the forest takes it back completely once more.



Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sailing lessons




















For one week we had three of our grandchildren staying with us and taking basic sailing lessons down in the bay. Each morning I would drive them to the yacht club and pick the up again in the afternoon. The first day they learned what the boom was, as for all of them it hit them regularly. BOOM! The second day too, BOOM!

Concerned that they might get put off, one morning I set up the table fan, made a simple little boat with a sail and demonstrated that there were certain times when that pesky boom could get them. DUCK!

On the morning drive I would give them quizzes on boat parts to keep them entertained and if the truth be known, give them an edge in class. I really wanted them to shine and finish their week self- satisfied and confident.

Near the end, parents and such were invited to the dock to watch the students sail around the harbour in their little dinghies.
 It was a pleasure to see their concentrating looks in the afternoon sea breeze. Back and forth, round the buoys, with me recording the event with a telephoto lens.

Time to pack up, put the masts, sails and booms, the rudders and centreboards away. And of all the things we saw that afternoon that made us proud it was the way our kids pitched in, helped others and did final checks. And here I had thought it was succeeding at sailing that was important.







Sunday, July 16, 2017

I am Shiva

There are stories in all religions about the gods walking among us in disguise. Here is a true one of my own.



I am Shiva


Beside the road going South,
thumb out, a young woman with
multi-coloured hair and bags of stuff.
Where are you headed I say cautiously,
as she opens my car door.
She replies, Wherever you are going.
and hops in.


I find that she is ferry bound,
back to the city and her gardening work.
We chat about things vaguely,
trees and fields zoom by, and then
she allows as how she writes...
- a journal, poems - but not going so well.
Oh, I write poems too, I say.
Recite me some, she replies.


I laugh and say that I don't recite,
and so we have broken the ice
and then speak of the loneliness of being,
about who we are - observers, travellers through life.
How seldom we meet our true companions along the way.



At the ferry dock she hops out again,
sticks her paw back in for a shake.
I am Shiva, she says, you made my day.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Storm Tossed





When  I am far away on the stormy ocean tossed
               ( Canada's 150th anniversary)

 The bowsprit pokes high into the night sky,
 and my schooner heels lee rail under as she
 slides away from the punch of yet another breaking wave.
This dangerous dance, day after day,
She has never missed a beat,
So far.

Far away from home, two hundred miles off Australia's east coast,
I sit on night watch and listen to my daughter's music on the headphones
while our wooden boat lies hove too in chaotic seas.
Gusting to forty knots, the terrific din of wind and waves, 
but inside my head, is the 'Great Big Sea' singing of a schooner 
like mine running before a storm in the North Atlantic.

Back home on a West Coast island, the other side of Canada
 seemed so distant it could have been on another planet. 
Here now, I listen to 'Farewell to Nova Scotia'
and hug the whole darn country, from coast to coast to coast
 as my schooner is “on the stormy ocean tossed”.

I am thinking about all those musicians who created the songs
that are singing in my ears and about the complicated step by step process 
whereby this country itself came to be:  the French and British nation
 builders who fought over land that rightfully belonged to others,
the railways that spanned the continent, that brought settlers flooding in, 
refugees themselves from poverty and oppression, seeking a new life.

Even this traditionally designed schooner has a long history behind her.
I imagine all those nameless East Coast fishermen who stood on deck
in gales like this and watched how their boats swam among the waves,
as they thought through the design of the next schooner they would build 
 to weather every storm and bring them safely home.


I stand to scan the horizon for shipping, experience the full force of the gale once again
and then settle back to music and musing about that Canada far around the curve of the earth.
We take so much for granted, our web of roads and railways, communities, health and education,
 our system of government and all those who have sacrificed their own lives to build and preserve it.
Like my ship, built carefully of many pieces from a design developed and refined over time, 
we have a country that with constant care will carry us and future generations safely home.

The wind direction has shifted at last and the moon breaks through the racing clouds. 
A few more hours of bone breaking seas and soon by morning's light we will hoist more sail,
 cast the lashing loose from the wheel and continue our voyage westward.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Our arrival on this planet

I wrote this after seeing a photograph of a friend's father in RAF uniform during WWII. It made me think how obvious our lives seem, seen from our present day perspective, and yet how chancy it all was. My own father fought in WWI, was badly wounded in Palestine and could easily have died there out in the desert sand. What then, finished before I began.

Up in the night sky the sound of aircraft, somewhere over the fields the sound of Ack-Ack and falling bombs, but in the upstairs bedroom Becky was struggling to give birth. There was nurse Bodkin as usual, but sitting in the chair under the low thatched roof there was a different doctor, a young and unsure fellow, because the regular man had been killed, drowned, during the Dunkirk evacuation. This was wartime Britain, 1942, and I was slow to venture down the birth canal. It must have felt safer to stay, given the circumstances.

Let nature take its course.”, said the doctor, crossing his fingers. No, now we must help, thought the nurse, but of course she could not take command when a doctor was present. Eventually out I popped, but that was not the end, because I had my brother, someone I had been close to for many months, waiting in line. The doctor dithered some more, the nurse insisted at last, but baby number two was dead on arrival. Another wartime casualty.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Along the Shore















Full of blossom, the fruit tree clings to a rocky cleft along the shores of Ruckle Park, here on Saltspring Island. I have seen its parent tree go from youth to maturity to dead and gone, a stick lying haphazardly among the sandstone rocks, and have watched its offspring struggle to grow and survive summer droughts and the cold, salt-spray filled months of many winters. Here now it puts out a million flowers beside the sea. I choose to photograph it within its natural setting rather than produce yet another 'blossom' image. It is its life's struggle that is important about this particular tree, its rightful place along the shore.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Walking into Nature. ( with the Trail and Nature Club)







Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the label of things and discovering the remarkable world around you.
'Photography and the Art of Seeing' Freeman Patterson


We took a walk with a difference the other day. A leader who walked behind, choose your own path, lots of time, walk individually, meet you at the big stump for lunch.




As leader, I was presenting a workshop in photography as a way of seeing and recording nature more acutely, and that included finding one's own path.
We tend to assume that a study of nature includes observing, recording and communicating in a scientific manner – kinds of rocks, flora and fauna etc. and that is a powerful way of understanding the world, but I added a First Nations perspective as well, that for thousands of years along this coast people understood the deeper meanings through stories passed down orally: this piece of coastline, a water spirit curled up against the living land. The rich and fecund place of the inter-tidal zone.








At our big stump noon stop I reviewed the ideas I had introduced earlier about photography; angle of view, selecting and organizing what will be within the frame, the intensity and direction of the sun and so on. I demonstrated as I went and encouraging others to have a go. Later, as we walked along the coastline to complete our loop around a part of Ruckle Park I encouraged everyone to think and write about their experience later as a way of cementing their perceptions in the same way as they had taken photographs to both explore and record this natural world.


 * these are cell phone images. 








Saturday, April 8, 2017

Spring IS sprung.



It has been creeping steadily along for some time,but after several return-to-sender interludes of winter we were not believing deep down. Now we are in the mist of new leaves, froggy choruses in  ponds surrounded by yellow swamp flowers. A new beginning, here we go again.






Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Walking Miss Poppy



I was dog sitting for a while the other day and took Anne's border collie Poppy for a walk. It was an interesting experience to walk with a well behaved, intelligent young dog who was obviously enraptured by the scents and sounds of early Spring.

Humans are so sight oriented, it takes a pig farm nearby to engage our olfactory senses, but Poppy was experiencing her life principally in that way. Oh, oh, oh, she said as her nose poked deep into a twiggy hollow beside a water filled ditch. What is that, as she listened to a red winged blackbird, trying to catch its scent to really understand.



I found I was listening as well as seeing: a watch-quail calling from a blackberry vine perch, the first robins, the sheep in the fields, the wind in the trees. I watched Poppy's nose twitch to a passing scent, how she lurched from side to side trying to stay in the flow of fascinating smells along the road side. I understood today why humans and dogs have such a long history of co-evolution, their senses complement each other. This morning, thanks to Poppy, I experienced Spring in multiple dimensions.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Sittin' on my Boat in the Bay


A dramatic monologue, this is my window into the often lonely and dangerous lives lead by people who do not, for whatever reasons, find a secure place in our society. Having lived on board my own boat at anchor in the winter it was not hard to picture this situation or for that matter to reach for the extremes of my own character to fit this anonymous boat person, 'hanging on 'til morning's light'.
In reality, he is a part of all of us, a background anxiety we try to ignore. How close we are, a pay cheque or two maybe, from loosing our place on the economic ladder and ending up, rejected, confused and defiant, on the street or on the beach.

         Sittin' on my Boat in the Bay

Sittin' here resting my bones
and this loneliness won't leave me alone.
(Sittin' on)'The dock of the Bay.' Otis Redding



A cold Nor'-Wester is screamin' tonight,
Got my fore-hatch duct-taped down tight.
The wood stove is warm, but I'm still damp and cold.
I pray my anchor holds 'til morning's light.



My dear old boat, I got you for a dollar,
Found a cheap foam mattress, cooking stuff.
Free as a bird from paying rent.
You may roll and buck, but you are all I got.



Out in the bay, in spray-filled fear,
dream boats like mine are barely clear
Of one final steep dive, or broke on the beach
Where I would drift and be lucky to reach.



In the summer this is an ideal life,
Jigging for fish in a throwaway skiff,
beach-combing along the shore.
No working for a living, no responsibility.



Had a dog for company, drowned last week.
Fell overboard, couldn't fish him out.
Its a tough old life out here on the bay,
Survival of the fittest, no place for the weak.


Others living this rough life on the sea,
They ain't no friends. You'd think so, eh?
No thievin', from each other,
Parties on shore, that kind a ting?



For my freedom I left my life on the land,
Used to sell cars, life insurance, anything.
Now in winter winds I'm stuck all day long,
Sittin' on my boat in the bay.



Shore folks say get a job, join up again,
I bin there ya see, you don' fool me.
A mug's game: warm house, car,
Wife and kids. Bound hand and foot!



I'm a lone wolf and proud to be one,
Ain't got nothin' to tie me but my boat.
If this storm keeps up I won't have that,
But then, without my life, I won't need one.





Monday, January 30, 2017

Shadows

Yesterday several people were shot down in an attack on a mosque in Eastern Canada. This seemed a good time to present this poem that discusses how human beings come to do such things  - the shadows of our own human nature.
 The long quote from Beowulf, one of the first Anglo-Saxon poems from a thousand years ago shows how old these fears are. The mere is not far from here, where we are right now, in the present.

                               Shadows

 That mere is not far,
as miles are measured.
About it there broods
a forest of fir trees frosted with mist.
Hedges of wood-roots hem in the water
where each evening fireglow flickers
forth on the flood, a sinister sight.
That pool is unplumbed by wits of the wise;
but the heath-striding hart hunted by hounds,
the strong-antlered stag seeking a thicket,
running for cover, would rather be killed
than bed on its bank. It is no pleasant place
where water-struck waves are whipped into clouds,
surging and storming, swept by the winds,
until Heaven is hidden and the skies weep.
                                             Beowulf

Not far from here a forgotten pond is becoming tangled by encroaching vegetation.
Now at dusk, it is covered by alder and willow leaves that first drift to the still surface, pause and then whisper down to darkness.
The shadowed water is shrouding its face, but for an instant we are dazzled by a last glare of reflecting sunlight.

A deep mere, black and stagnant. We uneasily slide our eyes aside toward sunset's golden benediction.
We sense weirdness here, a place where we will surely be dragged under if we should wander astray.
There have always been places like this that fill us with dread.
We follow our fears, hood our eyes and pass by on the other side.

Strangers too: strange voices, strange clothing and face coverings. We shun them, close our minds,
harden our hearts and pass them by on the other side.

These are old, old, human instincts,
Fear of the dark, of the unfamiliar and of what we do not understand.
They still whisper danger to our inner ear.
The shadows of our own human nature.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

We are Bananas

              

You are bananas!”, we have heard this said before,
often casually, sometimes offensively... “Yeah, whatever”,
we reply and never give a thought to actual bananas.


There are many wild bananas still living natural lives.
They wake up in the morning just like you and me,
but they never have a job, just blend in with the rainforest.

Some were selected though, forced into conformity:
programmed, groomed for production.
They must produce every day. We know these ones.

They have been planted in organized rows all over hillsides and valleys
in tropical places. Bananas are an export crop.
In plastic bags, in bunches, driven to our supermarkets.

In the wind, banana leaves still wave wildly, their green arms
thrashing all over a sprayed landscape, once the home
of monkeys and jaguars, toucans, forests, people ....

Green bananas cling frightened together.
They will not be peeled or eaten until they ripen.
Being not useful yet preserves their lives for a little while.

Every morning I slice banana on my cereal
without a thought of relationship.
Oh, so sorry, bananas.



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Winter Solstice, Our lady of the Forest

Dec 21st is the Winter Solstice when the days begin to get longer and Spring cannot be so far away ( here on the West Coast). I have related Christmas to the older solstice celebrating Saturnalia of the Romans in this poem and the Madonna statue to the even older Egyptian beliefs that lead to the worship of the mother of Christ - the bringer of the light of the world. The more things change the more they stay the same.
Despite knowing the background of our lady of the forest and seeing her wrapped in Christmas lights, I can still make the intuitive leap, feel the truth of that other reality and benefit from my step off the road, down that narrow trail and into the forest.







    
 Our Lady of the Forest.

For Christmas she is floodlit at night.
         Just back from the main road,
         a modest statue 
       of our lady of the forest.
It is full daylight on this year's visit -
sun in the treetops 
         patterns of melting snow
       in the blue shadows.
I have to slide down a narrow trail,
         step between trees and over roots,
       to clearly recognize her waiting  
       in the shining green undergrowth.
At this time of year, the darkest
         she takes on a significance
       overlooked during brighter seasons.
       Bringer of the light.
I know this is a concrete reproduction,
         one copy of many, but well made.
       A believable young woman,
       Standing so seriously upon her pedestal.
For thousands of years, the mother.
         It takes me a leap to accept her blessing
       and return to the road,
         renewed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Negotiation

                       



With a nod of thanks to Good King Wenceslas, the Bible , James Joyce, Dickens and Robert Frost. ( and probably others....)

It has been below freezing since seems long ago,
And cool and crisp and even
could describe these particular dark, short, winter days.
Snow is general all over Saltspring Island:
Our driveway and roads are icy and difficult to negotiate,
The woods filled with that white stuff.
We feel frozen fingers despite the gloves.
Roll on Summer, we say, Humbug,
And watch the woodpile shrink
As we keep the fires burning hot.

How beautiful upon the mountain,
And upon the trees and bushes,
Are the traceries of white.
Blue shadows gather in inky pools
At the foot of snow-capped rocky ridges
And rays of sun, casting long yellow stripes,
Brightly peer through green, mossy trees.

How we choose to experience our lives is up to us.
Lets call a truce today and name it
Beautiful, but bloody cold!




















Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Indian Well

I started writing poetry a month ago, trying to find a formal pattern of language that could express ideas that came to me but sounded not quite right in prose. Of course in writing this poem about another culture I have reached for the long European tradition of holy wells, mostly forgotten too in our modern world.
The ink painting, I made some time past.

                               The Indian Well. 







Somewhere on this island,
A dark pool we call the Indian well,
Just back from the beach.

Our island is burdened with the material parts of our culture:
 Houses, roads, schools, churches, hospital .....
Our dominant ways of thinking - beliefs, ideas, imaginings - are here too.

Some old settler story perhaps,
Of native people coming in canoes from all up the coast
To visit this well, drink, take the living waters home.

Oh, we could simply drive down a side road today
And slash our way through the undergrowth to that rock-rimmed pool of water,
But that would not be the Indian well, not really.

If we paddled up the inlet by moonlight,
Pulled the canoe onto beach logs and walked naked into the shadows,
We might be getting close to the well, but not quite.

If we had lived a long time ago, and were one of the original tribes,
Then we would easily find it, the magical, curing water
Reflecting the trees overhead, the shadows of the people, the moon.













Sunday, November 20, 2016

The straight and narrow - a creative space






Sometimes it is useful to have a plan in mind, a framework within which to create. It seems counter intuitive, surely complete freedom is best for creative people, but in most cases creating a narrow path down which to venture leads to great things. A structure can form a focus for the mind and of the final product.





A poem these days need not rhyme, or have a steady beat and this can lead to work that, in its freedom, lacks all the other elements of poetry as well, like metaphor for example. Anyone creating music may well stray from historic forms, but at their peril if they walk away from all formal elements and work in a vacuum. Just so in the visual arts, if one is to wander down interesting trails and away from the historic forms of pictorial representation then one should have a very strong rationale to carry the day. Imagination usually requires a form within which to work and that also facilitates communication of ideas to others.





I am still pursuing photography in monochrome and decided today to also limit my photography to a specific theme - trees - their trunks and the texture of the bark, logs washing back and forth in the waves, a grove of oaks poised like dancers, or the twists and turns of arbutus..... I set up a narrow path, thought about composition and benefited from that limitation.





















Monday, November 14, 2016

Winter on the Coast






Leaves are gone, stark branches stand against the grey sky and shadows crouch behind tree trunks and bare humps of rock. Here is a time when colour clashes with the steely mood, shapes take on significance and monochrome comes into its own.