Celebrating the Solstice in Cedar

Solstice on Vancouver Island seemed like a good idea so I headed down to stay with dear friend Maggie in Cedar, south of Nanaimo. The first few days were typical October Island weather (except that it was now summer …). We took in the Cedar Farmer’s Market in its field outside the Crow and Gate Pub on Yellowpoint. After spending time in the north, I am always amazed at how green and lush everything on the south coast is and how many beautiful colourful flowers there are. So, of course, I had to take pictures of almost every flower I saw:

Since it was a bit of a gloomy Sunday, we decided to do an art, lavender, and labyrinth road trip down the coast. The first stop was the garden and studio of a glass artist whose name escapes me, formerly the Barton and Leier Gallery, a lovely, eccentric collection of sculpture, junk, rusted vehicles, glass, and greenery.

This place would be wonderful as a film backdrop, a scavenger hunt venue, or to play hide and seek in the dusk.

Buddhas gaze out serenly from all corners of the landscape.

The artist was not immediately visible so we just peeked into the shop to see his glass wares, before heading off down the road.

There are several artists and artisans in this neck of the woods and at this moment, I can’t remember their names, but the next studio we visited was full of colourful abstract mandala-like images, as well as painted furniture.

Thinking that the Damali Lavender Farm and Vineyard was “just down the road”, we drove south from Yellowpoint, intending to walk the Damali labyrinth and do a little wine tasting. Damali turned out to be a little further down the road than we thought, south of Duncan near Cowichan Bay, but it was a nice drive on a not-too-busy highway.

Wine-tasting is offered in the wooden house (above) every day in the summer and it was lovely to stroll through all the many varieties of lavender growing here.

I had no idea that lavender came in different varieties, but as you can see the colours and flowers are slightly different from one species to the next.

Although the farm was not huge it took us a bit of time to find the labyrinth. I had thought it would be made of lavender hedges, but it was a smallish Cretan-style labyrinth simply etched in the grass at the edge of the property.

It was so great to spend some time with Janet, also staying with Maggie for a bit; the three of us sampled the Damali wine wares and left with a box full of vintage grape.

A bit peckish after wine-sampling, we headed down into Cowichan Bay (which I’d never been to before) for a snack.

Although very grey and socked in with clouds, the Bay was still beautiful.

The solar piece de resistance was to be the Cedar Keep Labyrinth walk on Tuesday night at 9:24 pm, the exact moment of the solstice, according to the internet-who-knows-all. But, in order for that to happen, we had to clean the path of its organic debris and get rid of the tall weeds impeding the way. Janet took on the task of removing the weeds, while Maggie and I brushed the path free of weeds, pinecones, and other assorted plant material that had wafted down on to it over the months.

Maggie’s labyrinth is a full size Chartres-style path which takes about 15 minutes to walk each way, so there was a fair bit of real estate to clear.

Its centre contains a cement pool, now empty, and a large ceramic pot with plant, next to which is a meditation bench on which to sit while contemplating the universe and its mysteries.

After spending some time clearing away debris, we spent the afternoon, now warm and sunny, painting in preparation for the solstice evening. It was lovely to see good Nanaimo friends Janice, Libby, and Colleen (and get in a round of bridge which I’m missing up here in the north country) who made the treck out to Cedar in the afternoon and I’m sorry to have missed some of you good people on this trip!

I decided to do a couple of small landscapes which I would consign, with good wishes for the coming year, to the solstice bonfire that night.

Janet staked out a shady position under the Japanese maple to execute a watercolour of the flowers in Maggie’s front yard.

We were so happy that it was warm, sunny, and dry finally. The late afternoon had a golden glow as the sun shone through the filtering canopy of the trees onto the cleared path.

As the sun started to set, we gathered supplies for the backyard altar and bonfire; Skye and Sara spent a few moments executing some yoga moves while waiting for the branches to catch fire.

The shed behind me in the picture above, through which the final loop of the labyrinth passes, contains the remnants of my mannequin collection, with random arms and legs and torsos occupying cast-off furniture, a silent chorus of spirits to cheer us on our way. While Maggie, Janet, and I spent some time lighting the labyrinth and mannequin shed with candles, Sara and Skye tended the bonfire.

I consigned one of my small painting to the flames and watched as it slowly crumbled up and dissolved, leaving only some small blue spotted remains behind.

I had brought some of my small coloured LED lights down with me which I hung on the central tree. We enjoyed the warmth of the fire as we waited for the appointed moment and at 9:12 we each set off around the labyrinth, aiming to end up in the middle for a toast at 9:24.

As the sun continued to sink, we toasted the solstice, the new year, and feminine energy.

Solstices happen twice a year – in June and December. The June Solstice happens around June 21 (June 20 in our location), when the sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Cancer.  Solstice comes from the Latin words sol, meaning sun, and sistere, meaning to come to a stop or stand still. On the day of the June Solstice, the sun reaches its northernmost position, as seen from the earth. At that moment, its zenith does not move north or south as during most other days of the year, but it stands still at the Tropic of Cancer. It then reverses its direction and starts moving south again. (https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/facts-about-june-solstice.html)

The solstice is a day of deep historical and cultural significance. Solstice celebrations were a highlight of the pre-Christian calendar, and bonfires, maypole dances and courtship rituals linger on in many countries as holdovers from Europe’s pagan past.

In Canada Aboriginal Day coincides with the summer solstice. It was selected in 1996 after the Assembly of First Nations called for a day to unite and celebrate native cultures. The date had meaning because aboriginal societies traditionally marked the summer solstice one way or another. The Seminole of Oklahoma and New Mexico’s Zuni perform corn dances — for rain and the bounty of maize, bean and squash crops. Similarly, Mohawks do Wainodayo, a dance for ripe strawberries, a fruit believed to renew the spirit. The Dakota hold annual sun dances in North Dakota around the summer solstice, which has been a long tradition of many First Nations from the central North American plains region. (CBC website)

While we did not do a corn dance or courtship ritual, we feasted on fruit, bread, chicken, and bread next to the crackling fire.

We finished off the evening with a marshmallow roast over the fire. Good times!

To read my post on the building of Maggie’s labyrinth, click here.  To read about my solstice installation while an artist-in-residence in Ibrahimpasa, Turkey, click here. To see photos of that installation, click here.To read about our Solstice Nevruz labyrinth walk in 2014 at Barb’s place, click here.

To see more photos, click here.

Spring? … Maybe

Right now it’s about 10 degrees above and feels like Spring is here; however, we have been warned that, from the time when it first seems like Spring, there will be 6 snowfalls until Spring actually and completely arrives. It’s definitely thawing, though; the snow is melting, huge ponds are forming everywhere, mud is proliferating, and dust is blowing – freshet!

Here are a couple of photos from the beginning of March when it was still deepest winter; snow on the ground and cold with the wind chill factor.

On Ty’s week off we headed out to Charlie Lake again, to take one last walk on the still-frozen, beautiful white snow-surfaced lake. On our way down to the water we saw the tracks of a snowshoe hare being chased by a predator of some kind – fox? cougar? quien sabe?

Once again, as before, we were the only ones out there; the sound of us marching along breaking through the icy crust started to worry me as I wondered whether the ice was thin enough for us to break through into the icy cold water below.

We survived the walk, although Ty was quite bushed and had to have a little rest … haha.

We have been very busy at the studio this month; several shows are upcoming in this area for the Flying Colours Artist Association and everyone was trying to get work finished for display.

Mary did a couple of classes on linocut with stencils and brought in an abundance of beautiful coloured stencils, papers, and other odds and ends to make prints with.

A really fascinating thing we participated in on March 3 was the annual Rod and Gun Club Fundraising Dinner and Auction. This was an experience totally out of my usual sphere and much of it made me feel quite queasy.

Where the art gallery auction had only taken up half the Pomeroy Hotel ballroom, the Rod and Gun Club took up the entire space, with a huge amount of stuff related to the catching and killing of animals: a silent auction, a regular auction, bucket draws, door prizes … And I must say, the buffet dinner was expansive and excellent.

Lots of guns, including junior rifle sets for the kids; butchering equipment, shooting tables, big boys toys for chasing and transporting game, clothing, guiding packages, and the like. Also, art work by members of the Flying Colours.

Below, a volunteer is holding one of Sandy’s donated paintings aloft for bidding. I was absolutely amazed at the amount of money being spent; the bids on everything were huge – they must have raised tens of thousands of dollars, maybe a hundred thousand dollars, putting the art auction haul to shame. It’s too bad that folks can’t get as exited about art work as they do about guns and animal hunts … Charlie told us that Fort St John has the highest number of millionaires per capita in BC and perhaps in all of Canada, 4.75 per 100 people – who knew?

Somewhere around the first week of March the days became longer quite abruptly. Rather than getting light at 9:30 am, it now gets light around 6.

While it was still cold, Ty had to wear two hats rather than just one. Here he puts his woolen touque over his BC Hydro camoflague cap.

Here I am at Fish Creek Urban Forest, the last time I wore my snow suit. I have to say that I am pretty happy not to have to wear the ol’ snow suit again this year!

Irene Gut, below, is an encaustic artist who was preparing some pieces for inclusion in the North Peace Gallery’s Points of View show coming up in a week.

She uses a small iron to paint with, rubbing tiny chunks of coloured beeswax onto its surface, then runnning the iron over a smooth plasticised paper to create her works.

The coloured chunks of wax look like candies.

I have not made prints for quite a few years but I got inspired by Mary’s demos to make a mixed-media linocut for the print exchange on the theme of Our Home and Native Land. Ten artists are participating and the show is travelling around to several galleries in the Peace region of BC and Alberta. At the end, we will each get a portfolio of 10 works from the other participating artists.

I made a linocut of flowers, printed on origami paper collaged onto a collograph support, in progress above.

Carolyn is hard at work on her moose painting for the Points of View show, based on Miep’s wildlife photography, opening at the North Peace Gallery next Friday night. This moose, inspired by one of Miep’s photos, appears in quite a few works to be displayed.

We still walk along the trail north of town; just recently these condo buildings have risen from the dirt; they follow on the same design as the one we occupy; however, they are selling for considerably less than ours was going for a year ago. Such is the economy here, very dependent on the fortunes of oil and gas.

Another day, another art work … Here are a couple of my works in progress; above linocuts on origami paper and below, digital images collaged onto wooden cradle boxes.

The piece below isn’t finished yet but so far it is textured acrylic paint and collage on wood, featuring endangered birds of the Peace region and Miep’s Canada Goose photo, made small and colour-manipulated.

My home workspace is getting more and more crowded; somehow, things always seem to get out of my control and proliferate – will have to have a purge one of these days. But putting the card table in was an excellent idea so now I can work on pieces while standing – I get very tired of so much sitting!

Ty and I took a walk last weekend out along the Eastern Bypass Trail, its concrete length mercifully free of most snow and ice. My hiking boots, very warm for the dead of winter, unfortunately have very slippery soles so I have to tread extremely carefully on the still-remaining slick pockets of snow and ice.

Sandra, freshly arrived home from a month in Australia, invited me to come with her and some friends out for a hike to the Hudson’s Hope steam vents west of Fort St John. We set off about 8 in the morning for the 2 hour trip up into the Rocky Mountain foothills past Hudson’s Hope on a beautiful sunny and relatively balmy day.

On the way out we stopped at a rest area to take some photos of the Peace River Valley, soon to be inundated by the Site C dam. Fog was lying low across the river; before coming here, I had no idea that rivers could be foggy. We stopped somewhere along the way to pick up Sandra’s friend Debra, who lives with her husband in a large wooden-beamed cabin and riverside acreage far from the madding crowd. Ross hunts and collects antlers, into which he will be carving various scenes.

Along with their main house, Debra and Ross also have a wooden cabin, currently occupied by a friend and her dog.

Our route took us up past the WAC Bennett dam, seen below (this dam created one of the largest lakes in BC, Williston, the expanse of white in the middle of the image below) and onto a logging road up the mountain.

After pulling over to the side of the road, we strapped on snowshoes, just in case we needed them on the way back if the snow had melted too much to hike the trail.

The valley is beautiful and it was very nice to see some mountains once again.

The trail to the steam vents is marked in spots, although I’m not sure I would have been able to find it on my own. Much larger coniferous trees occupy this area, along with some larger aspen.

A covering of about 4 inches of snow still obscured the trail, making it quite slippery to traverse in spots; below Dora is navigating down a muddy trench.

One we emerged from the forested area, the land dropped off to the Peace River canyon. The ground was quite green, with a variety of green, orange, and yellow mosses and small groundcover.

To get down to the steam vents requires picking one’s way along a steep, narrow track that hairpins down the hillside. I made my way very carefully in my heavy boots, putting one hand on the hillside for support. I definitely did not want to trip over my feet and roll down over the cliff!

In 1793 before settlers reached the Hudson’s Hope area, Alexander Mackenzie explored the Peace River and described this geothermal area with its ever-emitting steam coming from burning underground coal seams in his journals. These steam vents reminded me of the Chimera ever-burning hilltop flames that we visited in Olympos, Turkey.

The two doggies who accompanied the group plagued us for food, always on the lookout for any dropped morsel. I was a bit worried that one of them would go over the edge in their excitement but luckily that did not happen.

The view was spectacular!

I’m not sure how long the hike is; it took us about 2 hours to hike in and a bit longer to hike out again. I was very tired after about an hour of the trip back and struggled a bit with my heavy pack and heavy boots, each one feeling like it added ten pounds to my feet. Sandra and Debra very kindly helped me out by carrying my pack and snowshoes for the last little bit. By the time I got home, I was exhausted and collapsed on the couch almost senseless. But what a great day it was!

Below is an example of some of the media things I am doing for Community Bridge, a wooden plaque with a collage thanking one of our sponsors for their support of our 2016 Haunted House. I have created four of these plaques so far – fun.

Here’s another (not very good) photo of what the plaques look like:

See more photos here.

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for a Wonderful New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone! Although winter only began Dec 22 or so, we have been in the depths of it since the first snow here on Sept 30. A white Christmas and New Year’s Eve here in FSJ! I have had enough snowy landscape to last me a lifetime!

Finally, it looks like the condo building just behind us in the Hudson development (FSJ’s second underground parking is its claim to fame) is just about finished – the men, trucks, and machines that have crawled over this bit of ground since we’ve been here have slowly disappeared, leaving a few trailers and metal fences behind.

Behold Ty’s Hydro truck plugged in; when the mercury dipped to -32 the electrical cord was deployed to the outlet outside our front door.

You can just see the end of the cord glowing faintly in the dark – this picture was taken at about 9:20 am one morning.

The Flying Colours Artists Association had a lovely Christmas potluck out at the Charlie Lake studio, complete with hot apple cider and baked salmon.

And art-making, including this beautiful landscape linocut by Mike:

And this painting of the surrounding fields by Sandy:

Here is a view of our neck of the woods from a slight hilly rise one evening on a walk:

I have been working on a small landscape painting for a while now; usually I am very impatient and end up creating something that I’m not very happy with but I have been picking away at this piece for a few minutes a day for a while now (and it is not finished yet).

Below are two of my digital images that were the original source material for the painting; they began as infrared photos of Charlie Lake, which I then manipulated, mutating the colour and adding ghost trees from Angkor Thom.

We have been enjoying Ty’s week off, taking advantage of the good weather to walk many places around the area. Christmas Day saw us heading out to Beatton Park and the frozen Charlie Lake.

On the way we pass the Wuthridge Quarry, one of Ty’s work sites.

We wanted to take a look at the toboganning site but no one was there when we arrived.

The lake has been frozen for months, and now the ice is deep enough for people to venture onto it. Although evidence of snow mobiles cutting across the ice was there in the form of tracks heading off to the horizon,

we were the only ones on the lake this day.

Snow to a depth of about a foot covers the lake and neither of us was light enough to glide over the surface without breaking through the crust of snow, making the walk a bit of a slog.

We finally made it to a place with a break in the trees and steps up to the road from which we could return to the park.

Since Ty unexpectedly was given Christmas Day off, he was able to join us at Eliza and Edward’s place for a wonderful dinner and celebration, with handmake Christmas crackers and flaming pudding.

On Boxing Day we saw our first moose; it was racing across the field near the College and dipped into the woods as I was trying to take some pictures of it.

Unfortunately, all you can see is its out-of-focus back end disappearing into the trees.

Although we thought that we had purchased enough cold weather gear for the season, Ty needed another pair of snow pants and a balaclava for those times when the extreme cold snow suit is just a bit too warm. Here I am wearing the balaclava for our walk in Fish Creek Urban Forest.

The creek is frozen so we walked along it, enjoying the sound of snow crunching and the small trickle of water running through frozen channels.

One evening we drove around town checking out all the Christmas lights.

This place, on 244th St on the ridge north of the city, is FSJ’s best-decorated house:

Rolling around the circular driveway reminded me of our visits to the Christmas train in Stanley Park.

Yesterday we walked the solar system with Venus, heading into the woods north west of the city.

Ty regaled me with advice about how to avoid “widowmakers”, as in the photo below, those precariously-perched dead trees which can come down unexpectedly, if you’ve been unfortunate enough to camp  beneath one, killing you while you sleep, or, if you’ve stopped under one, killing you while you gaze around oblivious to the danger.

To make his point, he kicked one such tree, bringing it down across the trail, while at the same time one of its branches sprang back and hit him in the forehead, leaving him with a small bloody contusion – point made!

We passed by an old International truck graveyard, with several rusted snow-covered 1940s and 50s vehicles abandoned among the trees.

Ty encouraged me to execute a snow angel – I obliged.

And I will leave you with a few photos of creativity in action to see out 2016!

Here is another painting I’ve started – who knows what it will evolve into:

Happy New Year, one and all!

And, now having experienced a real cold winter, a piece from the New Yorker mag – I can relate:

PREWRITTEN EXCUSES FOR CANCELLING PLANS THIS WINTER

“Sorry, I can’t attend your _____ because my glasses will fog up when I enter and I won’t be able to see and, for a few seconds, I’ll look like a big loser who doesn’t have any friends, until I use my finger as a mini windshield wiper. Then my glasses will be smudgy for the rest of the night, and I really can’t have that. You understand.

I can’t make it out tonight because my face is so cold that I can no longer tell whether or not I have snot dripping from my nose. Oh wait, I just touched my glove to my upper-lip area and, yes—snot. I have to go right home to think about how gross I am for the rest of the night.

I don’t think I can go to your _____ because the invitation indicated that the dress code was “festive,” so I’ll be expected to take off my new coat. I can’t. It’s a very nice down alternative and it is my only protection against the frozen horrors of the world.

I must skip your _____. My lips are so chapped that I look like one of those creepy little kids with permanent fruit-punch lip. Instead of going out, I must get into bed and apply Chapstick for a full hour.

I know I checked “going” on the Facebook invite you sent out for your _____, but I was under nine blankets in bed when I did that. Unfortunately, I just went down the block to buy toilet paper, and I must revise my R.S.V.P. to “absolutely no way in hell.”

I can’t go to your _____ tonight because I have crippling seasonal depression. I know that if I left the house, I’d likely feel a little less depressed, but what if I went through the whole hassle of pulling my jeans over my long johns, trying to tame my crazy hair-static, and schlepping all the way to Bushwick to see you, and then I didn’t feel better? I would resent you, and I don’t know if our friendship could take that strain. So, in order to be a good friend, I can’t see you tonight.

I know it’s your birthday, but I don’t care. It’s your own damn fault for being born in the middle of winter. Celebrate your birthday in October like a responsible human being.

I’m going to have to reschedule our _____ unless you’re willing to come to my home, and won’t make me change into something nicer than the four layers of Uniqlo Heattech long underwear I have on now. I promise that if you come here this time, I’ll go to you next time.

I know I promised that this time I would make the trek to your place for _____, but I lied. I’m not doing that.

New plan: let’s all just order Indian food by ourselves and Gchat each other from bed until it’s April. Cool? Cool.”

More pics here.

Spring Solstice Nevruz Celebration Labyrinth Walk

For our celebration of the Spring Solstice and Nevruz New Year, we laid out a labyrinth in Barb’s garage and illuminated it with LED, tea lights, and candles. We invited folks to join us in celebration by bringing a light source to add to the layout and walking the labyrinth.

While Ty and I worked on the drawing of the classical Cretan labyrinth on the garage floor, Doug and Barb laid out a candle and light path in the backyard.

Although we had diagrams, the labyrinth was trickier than I expected to design; since we did not have enough room for the entire seven circuit walk, we pared it down to five circuits instead.

But figuring out which way each circuit should turn took some careful thought and planning.

After drawing the circuit paths, I decorated the lines with flowers and LED lights while Ty set up the projector and computer equipment at the centre of the labyrinth to project a series of videos onto the garage doors.

At the appointed moment we all walked slowly along the lit grass path, entered the labyrinth, and walked its magical circuit, candles in hand, to the accompaniment of sound and moving video images that covered us in a therapeutic bath of changing colours.

About Nevruz:

Nowruz or Nevruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar. It is celebrated on the day of the astronomical Northward equinox, which usually occurs on March 21 or the previous/following day depending on where it is observed. The moment the sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year and families gather together to observe the rituals.

Nevruz has been celebrated by people from diverse ethnic communities and religious backgrounds for thousands of years. It is an ancient holiday based on astronomical calculations. Ancient night-sky observers were experts because it was essential to calculate when plants would appear, when a crop should be sown, and when the ceremonies customarily held on special dates such as the spring equinox should be carried out. Western historians believe that the festival originated with the Zoroastrians; the dates for the appearance of this monotheistic religion vary widely from after 330 BC to 6000 BC. However, the ancient Persians believed that this day was the first day of the New Year, hence NawRuz (naw, new; ruz, year) and this belief continues today.

One of the main concepts of Nevruz is the importance of light. It celebrates the victory of a god of light over the powers of darkness, a basic tenet in Zoroastrianism. Zoroaster is supposed to have preached in the royal court of Bactria that there were two forces in the world, good, associated with light, and evil, associated with darkness, and that they were in constant combat with each other. Since the Equinox represents the moment at which day and night are equal, the coming of spring heralds the triumph of light over darkness in the lengthening days. The early Zoroastrians believed that out of this cosmological battle came the origins of life and when the cycle of life began it was called the new day or Nevruz. The nature of the early Nevruz celebrations is unknown with the exception of lighting bonfires. Leaping across them would be part of a purification ritual in which everyone would be rid of their illnesses or bad luck. Rather than leaping over bonfires, or Barb’s fire pit, we lit candles and stepped over them for our ceremonial ritual.

See more pictures here.

At home on the Prairies

Ahhh Saskatoon – the prairies, big sky country. Four of us city gals headed to Central Canada for a long weekend of country fun at the farm. Around here the wheat and canola fields predominate; it’s easy to tell where the farm houses are because they’re the only places where there are small stands of trees in the vast expanse of waving grains. Around the perimeter of Tracey and Darrin’s farmyard they have mowed in the Taydar Trail, a grassy path encircling the homestead.

The fields here behind the Lumberman’s Curve are canola waiting to be gathered up by combine harvesters.

Along the trail are various bits of used and disused farm equipment, boat trailers, huge metal grain bins (I suggested that they be repurposed into above-ground swimming pools), a gigantic truck trailer, and hidden gopher holes.

The big red barn is over a hundred years old and used to store farm equipment and Darrin’s old 1970s Lincoln Continental, its smooth length a wee bit dusty from hibernation.

Of course, the first thing one thinks of when contemplating prairie life is water-skiing … not. But Tracey and Darrin are lucky enough to live only a few kilometeres away from Blackstrap Lake and the mighty Blackstrap Mountain (a tiny pimple on the landscape that formerly served as a ski hill where Darrin learned to zoom down the slopes as a child, whose facility is unfortunately now shuttered).

Darrin’s friend Phil, who lives at the lake, was kind enough to let us use his boat for the day to try water-skiing, an activity that I had tried precisely once previously in those long-ago days of youth up at Pender Harbour. I proved to be hopeless at it, not even able to get my water skis on. Tracey, on the other hand, was a natural; she gave an excellent display of superpower on the water – we were impressed.

After our collective attempt to walk, or ski, on water, we headed to the beachside concession stand to consume the famed onion rings for which this place is known.

Since we’re all about the outdoor activities here on the prairies, the next item on our weekend agenda was biking the Meewasin Trail along the river that flows through the city.

After having rented our bikes at the Bike Doctor we rolled along Broadway and down to the trail that runs riverside.

One of the must-see trail stops is the University of Saskatchewan Sculpture Park, a collection of peculiar cement and metal creations that called out for climbing and crawling along.

This cement dragon boat proved to be a hit with the gang, as we imagined ourselves running victorious over the finish line.

There are several bridges over the river; we picked the very high railway bridge that required pushing the bikes up and down wooden staircases. Luckily one such staircase provided a trough that ran along its length, allowing us to put the bike wheels in a runner that eased its passage upwards.

A surprising sight for me was the flocks of white pelicans cruised over the water. Right near this weir is the rusted hulk of the Varsity Ski Jump, built in 1931, enjoyed for 43 years and dismantled in 1978. From here people could zoom down the shoot onto the frozen river. A nice stop along the east side of the river trail is the Mendel Art Gallery; too bad it’s going to be relocated to a not particularly nice spot further down the river soon.

Back at the ranch, across the street from the farm are two abandoned houses slowing sinking towards the grass, an odd sight against the horizon.

On the farm, Tracey explained to me, nothing is ever discarded; old houses, equipment, metal parts, and the like are saved, just in case they might prove useful again someday. Some obsolete stuff is repurposed into art objects, as in this example made by Tracey.

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the canola fields with a nip of wine and a soupcon of bug spray.

Tracey took us for a spin around the neighbourhood, including a visit to the Mennonite cemetery where some of Darrin’s relatives are resting.

And the Dundurn Community Labyrinth, a surprising find that is now unfortunately somewhat overgrown.

We also paid a visit to the local glass blowing studio, the Hot Shop run by a retired teacher and nurse. Al Hiebert was kind enough to show us around this enormous space where they do cold, warm, and hot glass, and also have space for wood and metal working. I have to confess that I was jealous of the incredible studio.

Interestingly, upstairs we came upon a nice stash of mannequins …

On the farm there was a tree … an apple tree, laden with fruit crying out for picking and eating … we obliged.

The final item on the farm activity agenda was metalwork, welding a metal sculpture for the Tradar Trail from the vast collection of metal bits stacked for reclamation. Darrin was kind enough to show me how to use a metal grinder and acetylene torch; I may look like I know what I’m doing but this would be a false impression …

After piling up the metal that we thought we’d use, the next morning was spent creating Frankie, the elephant-man.

As far as welding goes, Barb was a natural … me, not so much.

The amazingly ever-patient Darrin showed us how to arc weld; we discarded the first base for being too flimsy to hold our emerging metal creation. First the crossed legs, the the pelvis and ribcage …

then the ear-arms

and finally the nose and eyes were crafted. Frankie had emerged from the heap of metal.

Supplied with the final touch, a metal chain, our sculpture was then rolled across the lawn for placement on the trail.

Even Tango approves … a great time had by all.

See more pictures of farm fun here.

Fun in the snow on Cypress Mountain, Vancouver

The last few days in Vancouver have seen a deep covering of new snow on the mountains. From our balcony we can see the glittering peaks in the distance, and, heeding Cypress Mountain’s siren song of snow, we headed up for the first snow shoeing expedition of the season.

Since we’ve given up our car, the little red Modo car co-op Fiat transported us up the long winding road to the summit of Cypress and the access point for the mountain’s Nordic area.

Driving up the hill I was reminded of those long ago days when my father and I used to ride our bikes up this mountain and then come screaming back down again, hunched over the handlebars and flying without touching the brakes … those were the days of no fear.

We arrived on the hill just before nine in the morning, early enough to get a parking spot but not early enough to avoid the lineup for snow shoe rentals.

The mountain looked fabulous, glittering white, its peak just emerging from the deep blue shadows of early morning.

After suiting up, we headed off onto the green lower level snow shoe trails, walking through a towering forest of Seussian snow-covered trees whose branches curved and curled from the weight, sometimes releasing a flutter of flakes with a sigh.

The lower trails are very easy, but, as you can see from the first picture of this post, I did manage to fall over into a tree well … and I was completely sober. Made me realise how tricky it would be to get out of one of these if I’d been on a snow board.

I love it that the old Hollyburn Lodge is still going strong; this early in the morning it was still uncrowded. Later in the day it will be full of tired and hungry folk coming in from the cold for sustenance.

From Hollyburn Lodge, the trail to the upper reaches of the Nordic area rises more steeply. Glistening white branches made the trees look like some gigantic filigreed Queen Anne’s Lace blossoms against the incredible cerulean blue sky.

The colour of the sky was a blue so intense that it did not seem real – more like a Mediterranean sky than a Canadian one.

Although it had started to get a bit crowded down at the base area, by the time we reached the upper warming hut, the people had spread out across the mountain and we were able to get a spot on the benches outside to refuel.

Our trek took us almost to the peak, as you can see from this sign.

We rested a bit at the top, watching the Nordic skiers zooming by us; one ambitious couple was pulling a trailer/sled on wheels inside which was their small child.

As we began our descent, the clouds started to roll up the hill from the ocean. Stopping once again at the warming hut on the way down, we fed the Whiskey Jacks living in the trees surrounding us.

Their feet felt funny on my palm – tiny and ticklish; strangely, there were not very many birds on the mountain this year. In past visits we have been swarmed by them – not this time.

See more pics here.

Autumn in Vancouver

Now that Winter is here I can only dream about the glorious Fall we had in Vancouver this year. Here’s the local wildlife enjoying a nibble at Beaver Lake in Stanley Park.

The pool at Second Beach has been left to the birds.

Drift on Main seems to be losing energy but I did enjoy seeing Julie McIntyre’s studio space where she’s working on some small-format mixed media prints.

I have been documenting the towers rising in our neighbourhood; this crane is building the condos where the old Cecil Hotel at the end of Granville Bridge used to be.

This gigantic tower is rising on Pacific Street across from George Wainborn Park, leaving us only a tiny sliver of False Creek water view.

November means the Eastside Culture Crawl, the vast annual cultural extravaganza in which hundreds of artists’ studios are open to the public for a three day art blitz. Torrie Groening’s new space at 832 Jackson is fabulous, an old church converted into studio, exhibition, and living spaces. I was surprised to see glasses exactly like mine in one of her large format images.

Torrie and Steven have done an amazing job of fixing up this building; it contains Torrie’s archive of prints, her equipment, and lots of room to work.

The huge rabbit warren that is 1000 Parker is always an art feast; here are a few samples of the smorgasbord on display: Christian Dahlberg’s neon photos,

Bluegrass music in the studio,

contemporary surrealist painting,

sculpture by David Robinson,

and green art, living plants displayed in frames and shadow boxes.

We watched a glass blowing demo at the Mergatroid Building, reminding me of my early ventures at this art in a garage studio in Dunbar, the products of which I still have on hand. Amazingly I managed not to set myself alight while working with the molten glass.

A hopeful sign adorns a locker in the Purple Thistle Art Cooperative studio.

Ty was beginning to lose steam at this point.

Apparently there is still a market for handprinted silkscreen T-shirts.

I was happy to catch up with my old friend Maggie Manning at the William and Clark studios.

Monika Blichar’s goth/comic art made me smile.

This fellow creates art from ordinary industrial wire, bending and working it to create sculptures and gigantic armatures for paper lanterns.

Wendy’s large-scale lotus paintings are serene and lovely.

Esther and Richard at 800 Hawks had some lively double-exposed photographs, woodcuts, and mixed media on mylar works on display in their great Strathcona studio.

Years and years ago I was involved in a life drawing class run by Richard out of the Carnegie Centre at Main and Hastings.

At the Razstone Studio on Powell street I enjoyed seeing Ken Clarke’s concrete sculptures of grotesques.

The Crawl is always a mixed bag of stuff but what a stimulating treat; I really love seeing what everyone is doing and the vibe generated by the thousands of artists and art buffs who support the annual event.

See more pictures here.

 

 

 

Mannequin and garden magic

While visiting my friend Lorrill for dinner with Maggie, and taking pictures of her lovely fall garden, I was musing about needing mannequin bodies and, lo and behold,  Lorrill took me next door where she’d seen some mannequins in a neighbour’s garage sale. Wow – major score. I acquired several bodies, one complete with a metal holder in place of its head, a beautiful old-time porcelain juvenile torso (with an optional red hat and blonde fright wig), and many arms, some with hands and some without. These will serve to create an pseudo-octopus and my five painted heads will give completion to the headless torsos. I am already in the planning stages of a Nanaimo mannequin shrine (to appear somewhere in the not-too-distant future).

Ty and I also moved two of my painted heads around Vancouver on the last sunny September weekend, from Davie Days to Coo Coo Coffee.

See more pictures here and here

Vancouver Island

This past week I went to the Celebration of Life for one of my Nanaimo friends, Donna Miles. Held at the German Club, a facility in a leafy valley near the waterfront, the service included a releasing of purple balloons with wish cards attached over the trees and into the infinite sky. Over the next few days I spent some time on the waterfront rocky beaches of the Cedar and Yellowpoint peninsulas, Cedar-by-the-Sea, Blue Heron, and Roberts Memorial, collecting driftwood and arbutus branches for a planned installation. The shoreline along here is rocky but beautiful; in spots, large purplish-brown jellyfish have washed ashore. This was a surprise to me –  I had no idea that jellyfish were present in these waters. Arbutus trees in all their gnarled beauty are plentiful here but it’s difficult to find windfall branches; I did manage to get some, which, along with the driftwood, I piled into my microcar and took back to the ranch.

See some pictures here.

Bike Commute 2009 Version

Summer is back here on the west coast, just in time for the new school year to start. It’s always harder to make the transition back when the weather is still good enough to be playing around and going to the beach. Anyway, I have fired up the bike commute once again for this Fall term. The waterproof panniers have come out of storage, the laptop computer is updated, and the bike wheels are pumped up.  Yesterday, I put the bike on the back of the little red machine and, by 7 am, was on the road for Nanaimo. I parked at the top secret location on Marine Drive in West Vancouver, the best deal going being free, and rode down to catch the 8:30 ferry with my bike fully loaded.

I’m not sure why, but the new super ferries have customer service announcements very similar to those used by the airlines (the old boot ferries never had any such announcements giving cheerful messages from the captain about the estimated time of arrival and other such details). Another new feature was a voice asking customers to see someone, can’t remember who, if they had any questions or concerns. I felt like going up and saying, “Yeah, I have a concern that the Ferries CEO David Hahn is making over a million dollars, of which over half a million is bonuses for who knows what. As a taxpayer who is already subsidising BC Ferries to the tune of 170 million last year, I’m concerned” … but I didn’t. GOL.

The ride up the hill was uneventful but sweaty; I was wearing both a fleece and a shell and the combination turned out to be too much for the climate. After a productive day in my office, I rolled down the Parkway highway to Cedar, a trip of about 20 km which took me an hour. This Fall I will be staying with my friend Maggie, who surprised me with a glass of wine and dinner on my arrival. She has a fantastic huge backyard full of lots of bits and pieces which will serve well as components of installations and I`m looking forward to exploring the possibilities of artwork on her premises.

The next morning I rode back to work along the alternative Holden Corso route, passing through Cedar farm country and over the Nanaimo River where I had to stop traffic to scoot two young turkeys back off the road where they had been in danger of getting squashed as they tried to navigate across the tarmac. Then along Cedar Road, up Tenth Avenue, along Bruce and up 5th to the University; the old Harewood Mall, a fixture on 5th and previously quite a depressing and depressed venue, has been gentrified in the six months that I have been gone from Nanaimo and is now called University Plaza … interesting. And one of the new stores in one of the new pseudo-post-modern-greek-temple-facade components of the mall is a drive-through Starbucks. Since I hadn’t been able to have my usual 3 giant cups of coffee in the morning, I rolled my bike through the drive through and grabbed an extra hot tall cappuccino which I sipped on my way up the hill.

Cruising back to Vancouver again on one of the old ferries sans helpful customer service announcements, I lay on top of a storage unit on the sun deck and enjoyed the beautiful heat and breeze as we made our way across Georgia Strait. Many boats were plying the waters on such a gorgeous day. After having ridden up the deadly hill from Horseshoe Bay, down Marine Drive and into the parking lot, I drove through West Van, famous for being Canada’s richest postal code, and noticed the stark contrast between it and the mid-Island from whence I’d come, Nanaimo not being one of Canada’s richest cities. Interestingly, West Vancouver had what must be one of Canada`s last remaining full service gas stations – I haven`t seen one of those here in many, many years. (As I passed it, I was reminded that all of Turkey`s gas stations are full service, in accord with what my Belgian friend Sophie called their “too many men for the job“ employment policy).

Since the ferry had been late, I arrived at the bridge right in the middle of rush hour and spent a hot half hour inching along Marine Drive onto Lion`s Gate as four lanes of traffic converged into one. While idling in line I looked at the signage trumpeting the BC government`s investment in highway infrastructure, with its oh-so-modest Gordo-driven slogan of “British Columbia: The best place on earth“. Well, what might be the “best place on earth“ for people with wealth and health, like the majority of those in Canada`s richest postal code, might not be so for the poor, drug-addicted, desperate “hungry ghosts“ who populate Vancouver`s cesspit of a downtown Eastside *… (Note: I was reminded recently by a friend who lives in WV that not everyone there is rich; many of the elderly are impoverished as they try to pay the taxes on the homes they`ve lived in their whole lives).

What would have been a horrendous crush of vehicles and noise of horns blaring in Turkey was here a slow, orderly procession onto the bridge. I couldn`t face the traffic on Georgia so I decided on a stately cruise through Stanley Park instead, where I saw the hulk remaining of our beautiful ancient hollow tree stricken in the terrible wind storms of a few years ago. Sitting surrounded with a fence and placards with pleas for donations to restore it, the skeleton of the tree made me very sad. So many old, wonderful trees were destroyed that year and their blasted and chain-sawed stumps and spirits remain in the forest there.

Overall, the bike commute was a success; I really enjoyed the ride into the University from Cedar especially – mostly very peaceful with not too much traffic. So far, so good.

*Note: Dr Gabor Mate, a Vancouver physician, writer and public speaker, has worked in the Downtown Eastside for many years and has recently published a book entitled In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. Dr Mate, before he became a doctor, was a teacher of English Literature at my high scool in North Vancouver. See an interview with Dr Mate here.

See a few pictures here.