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.

Cedar Labyrinth

It was gray and blustery leaving Vancouver for the island, where I was heading to visit MM and walk the labyrinth that had been etched into her back yard. I found it interesting that energy giant Cenovus is advertising oil products and the Tar Sands on BC Ferries, asking us to check out the “whole story”…

We played six hours of hard core Chicago bridge for M’s birthday before heading out to Cedar, south of Nanaimo, for the labyrinth experience.

Here the birthday girl consults with Sona over her score card.

I was amazed to see that a huge labyrinth had been etched into the side of the property, fitting perfectly into the space between the gigantic trees on one side and the property line on the other.

Skye cut the lines into the ground with a shovel – must have been back-breaking work – and then lined them with pine cones, moss, rocks, shells, and other goodies which sometimes attract local raccoons who enjoy snuffling around in them and messing up the design. At the labyrinth’s centre is a concrete pond, now unfortunately empty of water but hopefully to be filled again in the not too distant future, and a bench for seated contemplation.

Gracing the roof line of the workshop is one of my old mannequin arms, beckoning to the sky.

The last loop of this 11 circuit 60 foot Chartres labyrinth goes through Siggi’s wooden shack, where plastic people greet the pilgrim and seats have kindly been arranged for rest.

Along the path are various small statues, including a smiling Buddha, a piggie, and an angel.

The neighbour dog was very curious about what we were doing, peering in at us through a hole in the fence.

Below is an image of the prototype with which the dimensions of the labyrinth were calculated – complex design!

The flight back was beautiful.

Below you can see Lost Lagoon and Stanley Park as we cruise in for a landing.

See more photos here.

Vancouver Spring

I love Vancouver in the Spring – all the beautiful blossoming trees, the big ships in the harbour,

the festivals … this post is for my sister Tracey in Dundurn, Saskatchewan, south of Saskatoon, where the snows have just begun to recede.

My bike commute to the bookstore, over the Burrard Bridge, still in the throes of earthquake remediation, and around Kits Point and down the new Cornwall bike lane in the process of being built, is wonderful. Although the pavement is constantly being torn up, and the route keeps changing, I still love it that I am able to get from our place downtown out to Banyen in twenty minutes, even with a stop at Kits Beach to take pictures.

The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival a couple of weeks ago saw a crowd gathered at the Burrard Sky Train Station to watch the Taicho Drummers, a group of young Japanese “big drummers” pounding the skins beneath the beautiful white cherry blossoms of Bentall Centre.

After that workout we were treated to haiku by the aspiring young actors of the Bard on the Beach theatre school led by Christopher Gaze.

I was a bit disappointed when they used the occasion to promote Bard rather than simply write some elegant Japanese-style poetry.

After leaving that spectacle, I stopped in at the Christ Church Cathedral, where I walked their portable labyrinth, a classical Chartres path painted onto a huge piece of canvas easily unrolled and laid out in the nave. Along with me, several other visitors took turns plying the curves in their stocking feet, shoes being a sacrilegious no-no here.

While rolling down Cornwall to work the other night, I stopped at the corner of Collingwood where homeowners have installed sheets of construction paper bearing haiku for the cherry blossom festival – wonderful under their carpet of flowering trees.

Christine, Barb, and I took in the Verses Festival of words semi-final of slam poetry, starring poets from across Canada, all competing for a chance to go to France for the World Championship Slam Poetry Finals.

The three of us were called upon to be judges, a triple-headed hydra of poetry afficionadodom, for Bout 6 at the Havana Theatre, a fascinating experience. I really enjoyed savouring the diversity of the poetic offerings.

Other than that, I am digging my work with seniors here, inspired by the fantastic exploits of the Kits skaters, some of whom are in their 90s and still skating, and the Barclay Manor painters, where I have had the opportunity of interacting with senior artists still going strong into their 8th decade – rock on!

Below I am working on gessoeing a huge canvas for a new painting; although I had imagined a 9 x 12 foot piece, technical issues (I don’t have a big enough wall) mean that I will have to cut it in half – bummer!

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.

Road trippin’ on the Island

Now that I no longer have to commute weekly to Vancouver Island, and have had a year away from the ships, the BC Ferry trip aboard the SS Coastal Renaissance from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo on a sunny day is actually quite pleasant. Surprisingly, on this sunny day, the ferry wasn’t full, perhaps a testament to the hike in prices that’s driving away business these days.

Spending some time with a friend living in Cedar, a small community south of Nanaimo formerly a subdivision for Harmac Pulp and Paper mill workers, was lovely. Cedar’s quiet and beautiful on a sunny summer day; we decided to take advantage of the weather to do a road trip up island to the Milner Garden and Woodlands just outside Qualicum Beach. Our first stop was the Petroglyph Park in south Nanaimo just off the old highway. Here’s information on the Park from the BC Parks website:

The high concentration of prehistoric rock carvings is the main attraction at Petroglyph Provincial Park, located at the south end of Nanaimo. Visitors can get a glimpse back to a time more than 1,000 years ago, when First Nations peoples created these traditional carvings. This day-use park offers excellent viewing opportunities of these petroglyphs. Locations for rock art carvings were chosen carefully, and were almost always made at places of power or mystery – places where the forces of nature were believed to be especially strong. These areas are usually marked by natural features such as waterfalls, rock formations or caves, and most are near water.

A short walkway leads from the parking lot to an interpretive area with information boards that offer details about the history of the area and help to decipher the petroglyphs. The images – depicting everything from mystical wolf-like creatures to fish and human figures – were made for a variety of reasons, including territorial ownership and to commemorate special events among a people with no written language. The sandstone gallery of petroglyphs, located on a hill overlooking Nanaimo Harbour, is just a short distance from the interpretive area along the walkway. Concrete replica castings of the petroglyphs can be found in the main interpretation area.

Petroglyph Park is tiny – two hectares – and has a couple of huge sandstone rock formations, underneath which may be more First Nations artifacts.

Rolling up the highway, we stopped briefly at the McColl Fossil Centre on the campus at Vancouver Island University, my old stomping grounds. The Centre, a wooden pagoda-like structure, contains a gigantic Cretaceous Palm, according to Maggie, after whom the Centre is named, it is the biggest plant fossil in North America – very cool

On this day the Milner Gardens and Woodland was very quiet, just us, a few volunteers, and the local butterflies, birds, and dragonflies. Paths winding through a small old growth Douglas Fir forest lead down to the gardens and house, past the gift shop and pool, the latter currently being refurbished as a water feature which will look beautiful when it’s done.

At the moment, several pink water lilies are floating on its placid surface, attracting many brilliantly-coloured dragonflies. I love water features, water temples, water palaces – anything to do with water, plants, and sculpture. This pond would look beautiful at night with small candle-lit boats drifting over it …. perhaps one day.

A gigantic Chinese Dogwood tree covered in a blanket of white blossoms sits next to a labyrinth recently etched into the grass near the Milner house. While Maggie walked the labyrinth, I wandered around looking at the various small ponds and attendant statuary.

Inside the house a few folks were having tea on the premises where Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip and Princess Di once dined. One can see their enormous signatures in the guest book, Di’s scrawl and happy face graphic, written not too long before she died, taking up an entire page.

Here’s a link to more info about the Gardens, gifted to Vancouver Island University which runs them now.

Since we were in the area, our road trip concluded with a late lunch on the terrace at the Cuckoo Italian Restaurant at Coombs, famous for its rooftop goats (the town, not the restaurant). We had a excellent lunch, highly recommended, and I patted a sweet female goat hanging around near the restaurant’s fence.

I had no idea that goats have horizontal pupils – guess I’ve never been this close to one before …

Above is a view of the Gabriola ferry dock and the island beyond. “Have heads, will travel”: below is a picture of me with one of my head transport bags; packing my seven painted heads and mannequin parts aboard the ferry and bus for the return trip was amusing – many folks were quite interested and the quips were flying. After getting on the public bus at Horseshoe Bay and asking what the fare was, the driver said $2.75 for me but “What about that guy there?”, indicating the dummy in my bag – being told that the mannequin was a senior, he said, “Well, no charge then”.

See more photos here.