Category Archives: Head

Arts and Sciences

Last week was the end of DOXA fest here in Vancouver and, while I’d planned on putting up a little post about it while it was still on, I happily spent all my spare time casting shadows in the flickering light of the projectors at the Cinematheque and the Vancity Theatre watching intensely beautiful and, sometimes scientifically themed documentaries.

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In the well-planned variety of films chosen this year, I saw men driven mad by probable government agents feeding them stories of aliens so as to distract them from the stealth bomber testing they’d observed, a wordless scenes of a life and death in a rural Brazilian village, doom metal from the apocalyptic landscape of post-financial-crisis Las Vegas, and astronomers peering up from the Atacama desert in to the past life of stars while old ladies searched the sand with small shovels for the bones of their loved ones taken from them during the ‘disappearances’ common under Pinochet’s rule.

The theme of the festival – secrets and lies – ran through all these films. But something else surfaced from within the stories of the people and the places on screen. Something linking science to art. Through the science most of us are exposed to today, we know so much about the way the world works. Whether it be tourism, astrophotography, animal husbandry, or government atrocities, there’s a reality that can be studied and documented.

What I felt was being captured in the festival – the art of it – was the showcase of how individual’s emotions fit into the documentable reality, and, more importantly, how they sometimes don’t. The resulting pictures are of sorrow, longing, and misplaced happiness and how people fit their own emotional lives into the reality of the world.

Not too long ago I saw another kind of artistic capture of something from the world of science in the photography of Rose-Lynn Fisher and especially in her studies of human tears. I won’t copy the images here, but her site has a series of pictures which capture the differences of tears between persons and between feelings. I was especially struck by an image called “Tears of change” where a large, squared rather solid-looking crystal is surrounded by a sea of shattered wavy ripples. Each image is unique and I’m sure connected to the person’s thoughts and feelings at the time the tears were shed.

So now I wonder if this is the role of the artist – to capture the emotional life of a being’s living reality. How much of this reality is based in our surroundings, our situation? How much of that situation does the artist need to show in order to help the viewer understand the emotion? The documentary format is, of course, the ideal platform for the kind of presentation that provides that context.

In the images of tears, we have to wonder about the person’s situation based on the title of each image. This is powerful too – in order to identify the situation that could have caused the tears, we look inward to an experience of our own we could conjure. Something our reality has included that made us cry similar tears.

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‘Chain Letter’, or ‘the one where I talk about my writing process’

One of the finest human interactions is that simple, thrilling moment when you share a secret. A memory, an aspiration, your true opinions, a thought you’ve kept to yourself. You blurt the out sometimes. Others you keep forever. For me, secrets typically crawl out slowly like new roots that grow and turning past obstacles seeking nutriment. They live just under the surface.

When asked recently by a good friend and storyteller, Selena Chambers, to discuss writing as part of an unfolding chain letter style response to a question writer’s often put off, I began to think about the root system of my secrets. In this post, I’ve tried to unfurl what’s hidden and to share a little about the process of digging the secret things up and handing them over at the surface.

1) What am I working on? Followers of this blog know that I’m a transplant. First from the Midwest to the South and, more recently, from the South to up to True North, or Vancouver, British Columbia. When you move, there’s lots of anticipation about what will happen to you there. I anticipated all kinds of thing, but never how much of my thinking would turn to comparison and exploration here. My writing, both on and off line, centers around defining the concept of home now that I live somewhere dramatically different.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? This blog seems to be capturing the change in scenery that I’m used to reading about once it’s been lived through. As in, what I’m trying to do here is to keep a record of how things around me change – how I’m changing – as it’s happening. I’m trying to be an observer of what I would otherwise come back to in ten years and describe to you as something that happened to me in the past.

3) Why do I write what I do? This particular project happened as mechanism for helping me figure out what I was noticing around me. The place I was in, new trees, new climate, new people, plastic shoes, all these things felt a little too whirl-wind-y. Taking those experiences down, photographing them, and logging them here has helped me to identify what it was that I liked about this new place I live. Instead of random ideas floating around me, I’ve used this place to grab them as a would a butterfly with a net. To examine them rather than simply ‘look’.

4) How does my writing process work? I’m a journalist by training, so I write about things I have actually seen, but I am cultivating the imagination at the same time. It’s this second part that alludes me most. I would argue that if – like me – you can’t answer this question in a straight-forward manner, then you aren’t treating writing as work. If you can answer it, then I’d argue that you shouldn’t, because you’ve found a way to wrangle down fleeting thoughts, to gather the wandering herds of imagination. No matter how close to the surface that gets, it should stay a secret. So far, I’ve found myself between these two places – there’s a bit of a process, but I could be better to define it for myself, not for others.

One thing that’s true about the writing process is that it depends entirely on reading. Lately I must admit that I’ve been absorbing all sorts of paper-based reading material from Lacan lectures to a wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest identification manual to a novels about an old man in Guernesey. When my hands aren’t full of paper, I’ve been finding real pleasure looking around brainpickings.org which always has great, often literary posts. And, if you’re in the mood for reading material, do stop over at selenachambers.wordpress.com – the author of which has inspired some of my most excellent real-life moments and – happily – this post.

 

 

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Bathtub Scholar

Ever notice how our facination with hobbies tends to move and circulate? You take up a new hobby and spend loads of time exploring whatever new  thing you’re interested in, but then you circle back around to something you knew from before. Something that used to take up your Sunday evenings. Something you and your oldest friends have in common because that’s what bound you up all that long ago. With me the thing that I come back to always seems to be digesting books.

Newer distractions took up most of last year, but since Christmas I’m back to an old habit – reading. Last year I knit a dozen hats, made dinner almost every night, started to play the ukulele, tried to learn computer programming language, painted, and hung around in a park. This year, my hands have been full of paper including that of Simon Schama’s “Landscape and Memory” which is a curious recounting of man’s history with the natural landscape.

His argument seems to be that we need to understand how much of our consciousness is based in the landscape around us and that we need to interact with the land in order to understand our culture. Beyond something to anchor ourselves, the landscape makes us who we are. He starts in the forests of Poland recounting the various tribes and villages that used to run wild – and manage the wild – in the woods. Then it was on to the discussion of the great English oak and the tree’s impact of what it means to “be English”. But the forest’s natural state is doomed to the greed of man, just as it is in in America and in Germany, and the book chronicles all those who have tried to possess and control it. I’ve only finished the chapter on the woods, but will be spending a good bit of tub time with the other subjects to come including stone and, fittingly, water.

Reading in the water.

Going to read about the water in the water.

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Vocabulary Lesson

Sometimes I get to feeling like an underaged grandmother. This modern world and all it’s trendy concepts and mash-ups has a way of putting me directly in touch with my further eighty-year-old self – you know, the one where I get to grumble out loud without consequences and tell people I think their ideas are dumb without consequence. Even though I’m closer in age to a 15-year old than to my grandmother, I don’t know what a bitcoin is and I don’t want my eyeglasses to tell me whether or not I’m about to have a heart attack or look at buzzfeed posts about the some-number-of-things that something or another. I want to shop at thrift stores and have to take out  shoulder pads from 80s blazers and bake things with whole wheat flour and read books made out of paper.

I do, however, want to see people act better do nice things for themselves and the other creatures on this planet so, when I learned about two new words that, on first glance, sounded like the kind of thing that normally makes me shudder, I had to admit maybe new, buzzworthy concepts aren’t always all bad. The words? Flexitarian and rewilding.

The first one I think I am. Having spent the last ten years going on and off a completely vegetarian diet, I’ve landed somewhere comfortably on the side of vegetables but without the commitment. ‘Flexitarians‘ eat soup made from chicken stock, sometimes grill up some hotdogs, and maybe grab fish tacos once in a while. What they don’t do is have meat every meal, or even every week. That’s important for all the right reasons – health, the environment, your wallet, the ocean, animal rights – and it’s more realistic for people than straight-up vegetarianism might be. There’s plenty of reasons, obviously and obviously, to become a vegetarian, but most people still eat loads of meat so I thought this was a pretty neat concept. Maybe even a starter kit for self-improvement though food choices. I wouldn’t be a true flexitarian unless I asked you to try it, but I do draw the line just before proselytizing most times.

A flexitarian's dinner.

A flexitarian’s dinner.

The other word that’s interesting is ‘rewilding’. I heard this first on one of those radio interviews you catch the end of but don’t remember what station or who was speaking. Then I read about this group who wants to see Europe return to a more wild state. My muddled memory of that radio piece plus what I’ve learned since spells a case for returning (at least parts of) the world as much as possible to the wilderness. And more so than just to an environment similar to the one we had before the industrial revolution – these guys want to return things to the actual open wildness that was before people. This is interesting to me because it seems a drift from the conservation ideas I have come to know as a 21st century human. Not just ‘let’s recycle and eat locally’ but ‘let’s tear down these old buildings and let the trees grow back’.

So the chant is to reintroduce wolves and grizzly bears, connect huge tracks of land  to other huge tracks of land in a way that follows how animals move naturally, and let’s get people back to working the land in harmony with the natural world. Coppicing and harvesting, rather than bulldozing and fertilizing. These people are thinking big and that I can respect. With news like scallop die offs and rhino extinction, it’s probably time for some renegade action in addition to all those re-suable water bottles we’re so proud of here on the west coast.

I’ll still probably keep avoiding facebook games and a new cell phone for as long as mine still works, but I’m happy to have been exposed to some pretty cool new ideas. Good to take your attention away from re-stitch these shoulder seams, I suppose, no matter your age.

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Snow Falling on a Blog Break

February draws to a close and I realize that, without my realizing it, 2014 has started off with a bit of a blog break, but a lovely little snowstorm this  past weekend reminded me of how much I do  miss sharing things with you, dear readers.

This winter has been a cruel one for most of North America – including my home town in Florida – but here in Vancouver things have been thankfully forgiving. Sunshine makes it into at least a few afternoons each week and, while the wind is cold, the irises and witch hazel are already in bloom and the rain hasn’t gripped with the strength it had last year.

That said, last weekend in rolled a wonderful little snow storm that, in true Vancouver fashion, dusted us for a few days then quietly slipped away. Not, however, before letting me take a few little snapshots of a cold, white evening layered with all the eerie loveliness of the woods in winter.

Cedars with just enough snow to show off their architecture.

Cedars with just enough snow to show off their architecture.

Snow clouds catching city light.

Snow clouds catching city light.

It’s a shame that house things and work  has let two months slip by already with me barely keeping up, but I  hope to see you again more frequently soon. In the meantime, keep warm out there everyone, wherever you are!

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The Differences

Dear Readers. I have ventured far from home and have neglected this space in favor of Florida. This holiday, I sunk into a deep relaxation unlike any I’ve known. I went home. The other home and, for the first time in a long time, settled in.

The holidays are always a bit emotional, especially for those of us who live far from those we love, but this year all of that was hidden under the extended time we had to be there. The weeks wrapped me in the contentment of an old quilt and was strong enough to give me time meditating on the differences.

Things are different down in America, down South, and in Florida. People talk differently, dress differently, spend their time differently. As far as I can tell, it’s these differences that make us like or not like something. ‘I’m glad to be here because here people do this or that thing. I like this or that thing better that that other thing from over there.’ Does that make ‘here’ better? More ‘my speed’? I was on this idea so much that I made a list.

Junebugs, pick up trucks, state roads, and styrofoam. Lizards, restaurant inside gas stations, spanish moss, trailers, sandy feet. Screen doors, coolers, creeks, cypress knees, and sensor lights. Saying ‘hi’ to everyone you pass. Waving with your first to fingers to people you pass while driving a car. Vegetables cooked in salt water. Drive through liquor stores. Parking lots. Sweet tea in a to-go cup. Wind chimes. Sand dunes. Woods with floors lined in pine straw.

Then I thought that is this very desire – the need to classify differences – that should be avoided. These things, the strange things, or, in my case, familiar things, are not all there is.  Can we not turn our sensitivities, our perceptions, to what we have in common instead? Would we even want to?

Today, back in Vancouver in the rain and the grey, I’ll make a little promise to look instead  for commonality. The noise of the water on the shore, flip flops, people who like boats. Sea gulls and sunburns to come. My list so far is short, but I’m working on it. Perhaps this will ease the sickness for the homes I have and, if I’m lucky, maybe those I’ll have in the future.

 

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Responsibility, and an Otter.

A couple of weeks ago in a conversation with my sister, she told me that she and a friend of ours had been talking about me living in a big city. The friend asked how I was getting along. My sister’s answer wasn’t a yes or no – she told our friend that, since moving to Vancouver, I’ve developed a ridiculous number of hobbies. No way, I said. But then I counted.

Knitting, painting, exercise (yes, it counts), wool spinning, blog writing, other kinds of writing, cooking regularly (yes, I think this counts too), photography, Twitter, amateur film historian research, meditation, jewelry making, dedicated reggae music fan, cake eating, and altering my own clothes. That’s fifteen new hobbies. Oh wait, I forgot volunteer work. So sixteen, which is a little ridiculous.

After admitting she had a point, I though about why I’ve become so active given that I think my actual real favorite thing to do is drink coffee, read and then take a nap. I’ve landed on the idea that I think it comes down to responsibility.

What I mean by that is, I’m afraid I’m responsible only to myself. I don’t have any kids and I’m something like four thousand miles from family or friends who’ve been around long enough to have earned the right to be disappointed in me if I screw up. You know, the people with the highest standards. Maybe I got it from them and have carried it here, but somehow I’ve wound up being pretty strict.

This has turned into one of those thoughts that keeps slithering its way back into my head – when I leave this place, if  we move away, I’ll have to report out. ‘What have you done?’  ‘What have you to show for this?’ myself will ask.

As a thirty year old person, this is supposed to be a regular part of my day, right? Pick up some mushrooms for dinner, run by the bank on the way to work, contemplate the meaning of existence, fold the laundry. Or, wait. Is that what your twenties were for? Ever since that conversation with my sister, I’ve been upset by the triteness and complication of what I assumed would be my explanation of my time here. Last night, while I stood holding a net  in a little cage built around a plastic tank with a blue tarp to keep out the rain, I think I found a simple answer – future me can say, ‘When I lived in Vancouver, I helped take care of a sea otter that someone shot’.

I don’t know how much you know about sea otters, so I’ll spare the biology lesson in favor of summary: they are furry, they float, they eat shelled things, and they are obsessed with grooming hair that, not so long ago, was coveted enough that people killed nearly all of them. Apparently, if you too like to eat shelled things, you might consider them a pest. Somebody near Tofino did and, for reasons I don’t understand, shot him which  blinded him, tore up his  flipper, and left him unable to feed himself.  He’s still got some shrapnel (is that the right word? I don’t know a lot about guns, obviously) in his head.

You can read about Walter, or Wally, here on the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue site. These are the people you call when you’re out on the beach and you see an emaciated sea otter with bloody flippers. It’s where, in my apparently frenzied onslaught of acquiring new hobbies, I started volunteering. Over the summer, I grind up fish for baby seals to eat, clean buckets of salmon oil, scrub dog kennels turned seal carriers. On a couple of chilly November nights, I help watch over a blind and underweight sea otter and net the shells and shrimp he drops because he can’t see them.

While I didn’t expect it, this kind of thing fills me with a nerdy sense of purpose that I normally try to minimize. The kind of person who talks about that one good thing they did one time is not the sort of person I intend to sound like. I didn’t plan on a once-a-week volunteer gig becoming something major. I did it because I was bored and afraid that my whole adventure might coming to nothing.

I’m sure the person who hurt the otter didn’t plan that out either. I’d bet it was a joke, or perhaps something that happened faster than you can think through. Maybe the person was angry, or pressured by something else. Or maybe that person is terrible. If we go with my fear that the only responsibility we hold is to ourselves, I guess none of that matters at all.

So, when I come home from watching the otter, I knit. A lot. And I spend loads of time looking at foodgawker. I’m probably going to watch five movies this week. If I make it to the art supply store, I’ll get a couple of canvases and paint pictures of birds while I watch movies. Maybe it’s all a coping mechanism, like my sister thought (in kindness, mind you – she and I both are small town girls and getting lost in a world like this is easy).

But from now on, if I get to feeling silly for entertaining myself here, I’m going to remember that sea otter and the people who are spending thousands of hours and dollars (turns out he likes to eat expensive shellfish) to help a furry critter that won’t get to see again and probably won’t return to a wild ocean. Perhaps if I help out I’ll have something to show for Vancouver – I’ll have taken a little responsibility back from someone who I think showed very little of their own. Maybe this makes it so that I’ll get to be responsible for more than just me.

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Impending Gloom

So, at the risk of sounding like one of those people who creates a problem and then complains about it, the time has arrived where things outside turn, as my favorite Irish buddy would say, ‘a bit grim’.

This will be, I think, our third winter here in Vancouver. I say ‘I think’ because it might actually be our fourth. At this point, Vancouver and I are in that steady phase of a relationship, not yet five years in but longer than two, where time has started to pass in unrecognizable ways. The kind where, when the time is actually counted up, you don’t feel like what’s happened in your life matches the resulting number. It feels a bit like when you are dating someone for longer than you normally do. On most days it’s nice – things have gotten comfortable, you know each other pretty well and can hang around happily without doing much. Then there’s the days when you see that lingering weird thing about the person that you don’t much like. Maybe they have an anger problem. Maybe they have smelly feet.

With me and Vancouver, it’s this:

Impending gloom.

Impending gloom.

Last week you were so nice with your warm sun and views of a mountain. Today you are grey. And I mean one-hundred percent grey. Grey skies, grey buildings, grey piles of soaked leaves all over the sidewalk. Grey.

Here’s the part where I’m complaining about something I caused myself. Who doesn’t understand that this is stuff of which the Pacific Southwest (or Northwest, depending on your perspective) is made? Who doubts the power of a literal rainforest to produce days and days and days of clouds and light rain? Who moves to British Columbia without a rain coat? That’s right, an idiot. From Florida.

This year, I’m determined not to fall victim to the gloomy bubble that is the sky above me and not to spend months complaining about it. How then will a sunbathing, flip-flop wearing, jean-shorts making girl like me combat impending gloom blues? Well, after some number of years, I can tell you it starts with a sunny breakfast.

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Thank goodness for my local grocery store owner who maintains a perpetual supply of grapefruits.

It also takes lots of candles, evenings with cool tunes on CITR or the turntable, puzzles, coffee at any hour, rain boots, fresh flowers, breaking up dark hours after diner with a walk up the street at Delany’s for hot chocolate, knitting, hockey, poutine, a sketchbook.

These will be the core strategies of my plan, but I’m open to additional research, suggestions, and, above all, not complaining. Happy grey days, Vancouver. Happy winter to us all.

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Summer, according to my phone.

Recently, I was asked what thing about people bothered me the most – as in, did I have an irrational fear of the elderly or an instant dislike of people who perpetually told you the gritty details of their health problems. It was one of those things that you can only talk about with close friends, but we all have ‘peves’ with each other and it makes for pretty good fun to identify the minimally terrible and often hilarious things about your friends that you so enjoy.

One of the things we didn’t bring up was over-use of cell phones that seems to have become socially acceptable. It’s a practice of mine that I don’t use my phone when I’m talking to, sitting with, or generally in the same area as someone I know. Right next to hand written letters, I think people sharing time with each other is one of the greatest things about friendship and family. These days, so many conversations between two or more humans is perpetually stopped or distracted by looks into pockets or screen-based chats. Hopefully this is a trend that will die out as we realize how rude we are being to each other. Not trying to sound like a bossy old lady, but one can only hope.

In the meantime, I must admit that I remain undecided about the addition of phone cameras into our lives. While I’m certainly no professional, I have appreciated photography since I was given access to my dad’s old 35mm Cannon with detachable lenses when I was eight or maybe twelve. Seeing the working mechanisms of a little dark place that made printed copies of things that otherwise exist only in memory made me want to take pictures, study photographer’s styles and techniques, and generally appreciate thoughtful and interesting documentation of the world.

Perhaps mistakenly, I often don’t carry a camera these days because I can rely on my phone to take snapshots. This brings me back round to the over-use issue and, like I said, I actually don’t know where I stand on this. Yesterday, I purposefully didn’t bring a camera or my phone to the release of a hand full of Harbor Seals that I had helped care for as a volunteer at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Center. This was the annual volunteer-led release where the people who have helped feed and clean and grow and heal get to carry cages down to the water and release now-healthy seals. The beach is usually cluttered with friends and family and yesterday was no exception. The dry beach where we were was pretty shallow and everyone was standing as close as they could almost piled on top of each other. Amidst the crowded bodies, all arm were up and out; everyone was ready with their phone cameras.

What I’m afraid of is that this sort of photography removes us from the moments we are experiencing. There’s no zoom on those things, after all, so we must push our way to the front and sometimes get so close that we loose the perspective of a regular camera man – one where you take the whole scene into account, where the background matters too.

On the way home, I looked though the things I had photographed this summer and found another layer to the argument – I had not remembered several of the events documented with a quick snap, or should I say finger press, of the camera phone. For this, spy-camera-sized and instantly obtainable photo ability, I guess I’ll have to say I’m glad. But I still think we should put phones down more often and really look around, listen to each other, and try to remember the events of our lives. Here are a few that, thanks to having the phone,  I’ll remember from this summer.

My first 'swim' in BC waters. Can you believe it took so long?

My first ‘swim’ in BC waters. Can you believe it took so long?

Weird things downtown.

Weird things downtown.

That afternoon we went to a neat forest on the riverside with some good friends.

That afternoon we went to a neat forest on the riverside with some good friends.

Neon.

Neon.

Wine and sunshine.

Wine and sunshine.

Cute street scenes.

Cute street scenes.

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes!

Jorts!

Jorts!

A day at the pool in Stanley Park.

A day at the pool in Stanley Park.

Visits to a muddy border.

Visits to a muddy border.

A picnic at Green College.

A picnic at Green College.

A paperweight at the Vancouver archives embellished with the humor of an antiquarian.

A paperweight at the Vancouver archives embellished with the humor of an antiquarian.

Finding this map of what Coal Harbor was going to look like once.

Finding this map of what Coal Harbor was going to look like once.

The plan I made for my Green Streets garden.

The plan I made for my Green Streets garden.

The walkway into the Anthropology museum.

Appreciating the walkway into the Anthropology museum.

Finding a view of the fireworks form our bedroom window.

Finding a view of the fireworks form our bedroom window.

Meeting this guy.

Meeting this guy.

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Looking up

One of the best things about fall in Vancouver is the weird little sunny days that creep up out of the rain. On these days, the grey blanket of October’s sky gets pulled back like a cover too thick for a early fall sleep and we get thin, wisps of clouds that remind us the sky is still blue. Here’s to looking up!

In the day.

In the day.

In the evening.

In the evening.

At sunset.

At sunset.

And, to carry in the night.

And, to carry us into the night.

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The Woods Down Another South – dispatches from Kerrisdale

Vancouver is a funny place in that a five mile difference in your address can feel like another city all together. From here, the south end of the city, we’re halfway to the southern parks we like, but don’t visit as often. The traffic or the early sunsets of winter, which keep us closer to home most times, have temporarily released their hinderance, so we’ve lately been walking in Pacific Spirit, romping in the low tide at Iona Island, and visiting the bottom end of the Fraser.

Pacific Spirit feel like a silent sister across the water to Stanley Park, which I know much better. It’s bigger, lots bigger, so people seem more spread out. The woods have a left-alone feeling and it’s so quiet. The only creatures I’ve seen so far have been slugs taking advantage of the wetter days. There’s a pleasant lack of tourist attractions making the people traffic minimal – we’ve bumped into  the occasional guys on bikes or joggers, but the walking trails are pretty empty.

There was a nice little moment the other day when we came across a guy walking a big black dog. We were walking south and they were both standing for a long time in a path that cut across and out to the west. They didn’t really move as long as it took us to see them from before the crossing, navigate the fencing to keep bikes out, and cross back into the deeper forest on the other side. The sun was coming down through the hole in the trees the path. I don’t know if was the beauty of the orange blaze  of sunset or something else all together, but the way they were both stopped in contemplation, no cell phones, no companion to speak to, made a lovely little scene.

Iona I have visited many times both to look for birds or just to be in a different landscape for a while. A big, flat place, the island has a long beach at low tide and is free of forest for the most part. The muddy flats look almost alien compared to the rocky beaches I’ve come to know. There are also neat little rolling meadows covered in grasses and moss. Interesting ducks or reed-dwelling birds can be found on the lakes and the little alder (I think) thicket at the back end of the park has a feeling like little fairies could be living under the leaves and branches.

The other neat thing nearby is the bottom end of the Fraser River. Over the summer we visited it further north and east, so it’s neat to see where the water ends up. There’s a little park that follows it along the opposite shore from Iona with an old grey-wood board walk and lots of people brining playful dogs down to the beach. While the criss-crossing trails of the other parks in town are lovely, it’s nice here because there’s only the one place to walk along the river. The other evening, we watched the tide pulling out long grasses from the shallow places under the walkway and the sun going down over the water.

We’re also close to VanDussen and we caught the rare plant sale there last week. It was a neat little scene, but I knew precious little about what I was looking at. I did recognize some tropical plants and also the native Gary Oak, but the flats of tiny-leafed berries and succulents were like little black cups of  mystery. I’ve been reading on one seller’s site and hope to better understand the beauty of these specimens by next year’s sale. By then, we’ll be back home in the West End, so will have to make more of a trek. Somethings, it seems from our short stay in a different kind of south, are worth the journey.

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Dispatches from Kerrsidale

One of the biggest changes moving to Vancouver brought for us was life in an apartment. Each of us had previously in apartments, technically, but the buildings were more like town houses and the highest floor I ever occupied was the second one.

Our first place here was on the 19th floor and the entire place could probably have fit into the living room of the last Florida  house. The apartment we live in now is a bit bigger, but there’s still an elevator and it’s definitely cramped by my former understanding of living space.

That said, you probably don’t need all that stuff you have – small spaces force you to think about what’s important and I’ve grown to really enjoy the little place we now call home. For the next little while, I get to test that out cause we’re house sitting an actual house in Kerrisdale.

My immediate review of the neighborhood – no big park, no beach. The houses in Vancouver have all been built out almost to the property lines, so not much of a yard either. It is quiet and the houses are all really cute with features like rounded doors, angled porch stoops, and second floor bay windows. It’s also nice to not know exactly where the other person is because, unlike our apartment, there’s more than just one other place to be in a house. The other day it took us nearly a whole minute to find each other in here.

There’s also a hangout kitchen. For anyone like me who has been living in a galley-kitchen apartment lately, I’ll explain. A hangout kitchen more than just a kitchen big enough for people to be in at the same time someone is cooking. It’s a kitchen so inviting and spacious and functional that it is actually the best room in the house.

Other changes -the garbage has to get sorted, the windows have to be locked, and when you walk at night you can see into the separated homes of neighboring families.

We’re also closer to the south end of things now, so I’m hoping to do some exploration of this end of town. Southlands, Boundry Bay, Iona Island are all just a few minutes away now, so, while I will miss the beach, I’ll be happy to see what there is to see from this end. And, when we return to our little apartment, perhaps we can learn to squish back together into a small space again.

 

 

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Touch Wood

In Florida, pines are the predominant trees. Specifically Slash Pine, Sand Pine and Scrub Pine in the place where I grew up. These trees have a lot of strength in what’s called ‘heartwood’. This means their centers are tougher than rot and, often, tougher than fire. You’ll see the heartwood of a fallen pine still strong and silvery years after the bark and inner layers have sunk back into the Earth. It’s prized as firewood because it burns slow and steady. While the trees grow skinny and scraggly, the heartwood bends in the winds off the Gulf shaping the trees near the shore into strange, back-bent shapes that make little hide-a-ways and branches good for sitting.  Grown up in planted lines, the heartwood reaches up straight and high and hosts tuffs of needles only at the very top. Walking in planted pines as a little kid I used to think these were tall, and they are for their landscape. Now I live here and I’ve met the likes of Douglas Fir and Giant Red Cedar and it turns out I don’t know so much about tall.

These true west coast giants don’t compare to the trees back home aside from their both having bark and needles and roots. Almost nothing else is recognizable. Standing under a Sequoia is like being invited to look behind the curtain of time and remember the ghosts of the forrest as they were hundreds, even thousands of years ago. They almost breathe they are so large. Around them, the woods are often quiet. The woods are big here and animals are spread out.  No packs of Blue Jays or Cardinals to cheep cheep and, if there are little birds, they flit and fly two hundred feet up above you.

The other difference is that many of the trees here aren’t supported by their heartwood, which is why you can walk into the bellies some of them.  Stanley Park is famous for a photo of Victorian-era people standing on the big old shell of a tree that’s left near Prospect Point. It’s got a triangular opening, like the slit of a a tight skirt, and you can walk right into the tree’s empty innards. The heartwood dies here and rots back into the earth in piles of red sawdust gathered by the outside bark layers holding up giants.

Some of this is grandness is visible at the current sculpture exhibition at VanDusen Botanical Gardens which lasts through the end of September. The exhibit, called Touch Wood, is a collection of wood sculptures by a dozen or so B.C. artists placed in obvious and not-so-obvious places through the garden. Here where the woods are so different from the kind I know and where the trees have had such an important role in the lives of the people here, it’s really a beautiful way to get to know these trees better.

We’ve been to the Garden a few times since this exhibit opened, but the other night we arrived just in time to catch that lovely twilight hour just before they closed. Summer’s end is near, visible not only in the cooling of the air around us each evening, but also in the reduced hours many of Vancouver’s attractions are about to envoke. In these few snapshots of carvings made from big, empty trees taken on one of the last late evenings for VanDusen this year will be one of a few different ways I’ll say farewell to another summer in a land of empty trees.

Nine Sentinels by Brent Comber

Nine Sentinels by Brent Comber. In this sculpture, you can stand where the heartwood should be.

Shattered Sphere also by Brent Comber

Shattered Sphere also by Brent Comber

Ghost Salmon by Paul Burke

Ghost Salmon by Paul Burke

close up of the Nine Sentinels

close up of the Nine Sentinels

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30 Cakes (14/30)

I don’t know if you’ve been around since December, but it was in that month that I had a certain auto-versary. Rather than being filled with dread, the actual day of my 30th came and went riding on a pleasant sense of accomplishment. I decided it would be appropriate to continue the celebration and what better way to do that than to fill this year with 30 cakes.

Unfortunately it’s already the end of August and I’m falling behind. With the “heat” of summer (it’s Vancouver, but things are still pretty saucy out there) it’s just been too much to crank up the oven or encourage the desire for heavy-duty deserts. What to do? A little cool cheesecake seemed spot on, as they say.

Does this count as one or three?

Does this count as one or three?

Number 14 came in a set of three. I don’t know what it is about cheesecake that yields so popularly to sampler flavors – I have and always will prefer ‘plain’. Consumed in in the true spirit of things (with one bite of each to start) this little plate made a nice afternoon break from work the other day at a coffee shop around the corner. It even came with a kinda crazy sharp fork so hooray for that.

Now I just have to make sure I’m happy with my decision to count this as one and not three. Oh, and eat way more cake in the next few weeks! Anyone have a fun summer cake recipe to share? I’m thinking something fruity for number 15.

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Bowl of Sunshine

Here we sit at the height of summer.

Here we sit at the height of summer.

In the last few weeks, Okanagan Valley peaches have been making their way into grocery stores here in Vancouver and I couldn’t be happier or more impressed. When we lived in Tallahassee, we were never far from famous Georgia peaches. Spotting one of those makeshift farm stands under a tailgating-style tent on the side of some dusty road almost always warranted a stop for berries, watermelons, and peaches.

Up here, the peaches are adorned with ‘organic’ and ‘local’ stickers, which wouldn’t have seemed appropriate at all back home. They also lack the warmth of the ones you’d bite into under 90 degree blazing sunshine who’s orange color seemed to hold onto the sun itself. They did grow under a similar sun, though, and they are so incredibly delicious.

This morning’s bowl of peaches, just as sweet as you could imagine, brings me thoughts of those hot summers even under today’s cloudy skies. Thanks for that, peaches. And please do stay a while.

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An Inward Season

Yesterday it took a literally astronomical event to get me out of the house. The Perseid meteor shower to be exact. For anything less, I simply couldn’t be bothered. Sunshine, warm weather, Saturday on the beach? Keep it. I am tired. A quick trip to a dark place I managed, but when I looked up last night I was more impressed by the thin cloud spread over our skies than by the few streaks of color bright enough to cut through. Even August is taking a break of summer it seems. I think it’s time to acknowledge that I am too.

Is it a case of being spread too thin? Have I fallen into the terribly predictable and cheap habit of saying I don’t have time for the things I like? Am I simply too hot and too surrounded by excited, happy people running around getting tans and having loud get-togethers in public places? Or is it that this is the time of year I have decided to rest all my resentment of the seasons upon?

In the place where I’m from, the weather doesn’t change that much through the year. Neither does the length of the lighted day. Sure it’s colder in February than in June, but you can still swim in some Februarys. Here, the seasons are strong. They pull people’s personalities this way or that. Try and find a sad looking person on the streets out there and you’ll be looking until the rain boots get taken out of the closet in October. But theirs is not a marathoner’s strength. The seasons here are sprinters.

Summer, with its 4 am bird call alarms and sunsets that stretch into the double digits of evening’s clock, feels like it’s over before we had time to adjust. Already the paths outsides are littered with  little dried up carcasses leaves that were new only last month. June’s broods of baby animals have broken out and can be seen lumbering around alone in the dark. Each morning feels measurably darker. On a walk at night, you already feel the cold sensation on your arms that makes you reach for a trusty sweater. Late August already approaches.

In this seemingly inward-facing season, perhaps these are the clues I’ve been missing; these are the turns of each day that I have been ignoring. Are the changes slipping past me upsetting my biology? Should I be storing some kind of energy for what I should know is coming? Soup recipes? Warm blankets? Puzzles and other things to do in the dark at 4 pm?

As I write, I hear thunder in the clouds outside. We will have showers today for only the second time since the end of June. Water will start to sweep the dried up leaves down towards the culverts and crevices. Summer isn’t over yet, but I can count on the day when the rain will return and remain for weeks. The wind will pull the petals from the flowers and we will bring our umbrellas. I will not get to see the Perseid this year as we will swing away from this place in the universe before the sky here clears. What I am I to do then besides adapt, adapt, adapt? Today I have a hope that I can begin from this place of acknowledging my ignorance since, after all, it’s this place from which I am so often able to find direction. Even under a clouded sky.

 

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Dye Job

I’ve had some crafty energy lately, but haven’t been successful at finding very practical outlets for it. What I really want to do is purchase a sewing machine (the one I already own  is in Florida, boo hoo!) and finally learn to use it properly.

I also thought about carving wood into chess pieces, finishing that quilt I promised to hand-stitch, or making seed bead bracelets. See? I’m all over the place.

Fortunately, there’s a few crafty places here in Vancouver to focus these kinds of episodes into actual, usable results. My favorite it called Dresssew and, yes, it does have two Ss.

Everybody loves Dressew because it sells literally everything you could ever need in the way of fabric (stacked to the ceiling), leather, costumes, buttons, zippers (there’s like four isles of zippers), yarn and knitting things, hats, sequins, and belt and purse making supplies.  Among other things. Many other things.

It’s also great because it has a vibe like it’s from another time. Take the fabric dye I got there, for example. It’s like I went there in a time machine. Price? 49 cents each.

Supplies from Dressew (a place hard to describe. Am I right, Vancouver peeps?)

Supplies from Dressew (A place that’s hard to describe. Am I right, Vancouver peeps?)

With that kind of deal I had to do some dyeing. Over the winter I joined some good buddies in a tie dye experiment, so I was sort of out of white items in need of funky color. What I did have was an old linen blouse that was getting a bit dingy. It’s in good shape and is still a good looking shirt, but I hardly wear it anymore because it just kinda looks old. As it seems to be one of those colors of the moment, I thought I’d try a dose of light pink to see if that made it into a more relevant summer shirt.

The process for dyeing is pretty simple but I’d suggest that you follow the packing instructions. Different materials take different dyes, well, differently, so it’s good to do a little research on the materials you’re using.

This particular dye claims to be able to color everything from dried flowers to plastic toys. Linen takes dye easily so I started in earnest.

First, you soak the material to be dyed. Do this right in the vessel in which the garment will be dyed. In this case, my bathroom sink. You can also use a big bowl or pot depending on what your dye needs (some of them need to be boiled, for example.) If you are using something that looks like you could eat out of it, it’s probably a good idea to keep that item somewhere else besides your kitchen afterwards. No one wants to eat noodles or whatever made in the fabric dyeing pot!

Soaking in cold water helps the dye distribute evenly when it's applied.

Wet the garment first.

Then you assemble your dyes. It’s good to have gloves for this because the dye is usually pretty powerful on your clothes, your skin, the carpet, the sink, you get the idea.

ingredients assembled.

Ingredients assembled.

This one needed both hot and cold water and salt to be stirred in a particular order. Do check your package instructions and follow as closely as possible. You also need to follow the guidelines for the weight of the fabric. For someone like myself (no scale, no real patience for measuring accurately) this can be tricky. I usually just opt for adding extra dye just to be safe.

For the next part, it’s really important that you can hang around for at least ten minutes and not be disturbed. Like I said about making risotto over on my kitchen adventures blog, this can be a good thing. How often in your life do you set aside 10, 20 or even five minutes to do one simple, meditative task? I find jobs like this a pleasure if I’ve taken the time to arrange things correctly. No phone, no guests, no distractions. My full attention on the one thing I’m doing at the moment.

You need to stir it for at least 10 minutes. Why? Because the dye needs to be distributed in your fabric evenly and you just can’t rush that.

Lots of stirring!

Lots of stirring!

Here’s the sink after about ten minutes of stirring with a metal spoon. The color looks good-awful here, doesn’t it? At this stage it’s hard to tell what the results will be. A little like dyeing your hair, the color you paint onto your locks isn’t what you wind up with. This is meant to rinse into a lovely light grape-fruity pink. Fingers crossed!

The next step is rinsing. This also takes a long time and is, again, really important. If you leave dye in the wet fabric, it will pool and cause all kinds of drip-dried color effects. If that’s what you’re into then go for it. For this, I want a even color so the rinsing took about 20 minutes.Hang your garment evenly (no we parts sticking to each other, no laying it over something with a ridge or bump like the bathtub wall – the color will pool around the edges leaving you with weird areas of darker color). You might find that it’s still dripping colored water. If that’s the case, take it down and rinse again.

The last thing you need to do is clean up. Dye is obviously quite good at coloring up your things, so wipe it off counters, sinks, the floor, or anywhere else it might have landed in the process. I’ve had to bleach my counter tops after dyeing before and you might too. Stirring carefully will help, but this can be a bit messy!

The alternative to this process is to dye in your washing machine. This is easier in plenty of ways, but does require you to rinse the machine afterwards. I’d also not suggest it for machines with a lot of white plastic parts inside.

My last house in Florida had a machine with a stainless steel basin which made for a great dyeing vessel. Ours laundry situation here is a few machines shared among the building and I don’t want to initiate the bad karma that will almost certainly accompany leaving remnants of pink dye in the machine so my neighbors can ruin their laundry. It’s also a pay service so I’m happy to use my arms instead of my $2.00+ to achieve a newly-pinked shirt. If I were dying loads of things I might try to use the laundry machines. For one item, my own labor works just fine.

Whichever way you dye, it’s only really after your garment is dried that you can assess the results. Sometimes you might realize you want to dye the item again for a deeper color. Or, you might want to dye it again in another color for a blended effect. My grapefruit shirt ended up a nice, faded pink just in time for summer, my need to make something is somewhat quelled, and I don’t have to throw out something I can get more use from. Not bad for an afternoon’s work and a $1 investment.

 

 

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Dad Wisdom

Happy Father’s Day everyone. Rather than make a fuss of them today, I think they’d like it if we just remember to do things the way they taught us. In that spirit, here’s a list of things I learned from my Dad and a few other Dad’s I’ve come to know over the years.  We’re far away now but I feel closer to my Dad than ever; as I’ve gotten older I see that, as it turns out, he was right all along.

  • If a thing doesn’t work, it might be a good idea to start banging on it
  • Listen more than you talk
  • Be careful
  • Sorry people do sorry things
  • The more comfortable your couch, the more of your kid’s friends will end up sleeping on it
  • Take your time – whatever it is will take longer than you think
  • Keep in touch
  • You can always quit
  • Measure twice, cut once
  • Fires, trucks, forests, and tents can make almost everyone happy
  • Be nice to your mother
  • Making sure to be honest means you never have to lie
  • If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right

 

 

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Explore(r)

This afternoon the weather is perfect; a cool breeze, blue sky, and warm sun are wrapped around the city and it feels like the forecast might just have enough teeth for it to stay like this a while. I walked a while this afternoon and contemplated how it’s been a while since I’ve been anywhere else.  In the early spring I had a excellent trip up the West Coast but since then we’ve been city bound.

In thinking about where I haven’t gone lately, I return to the notion that travel defines us. A trip can shape our outlook on the year and keeps us looking forward to something in the months leading up to the departure. We decorate our spaces ‘here’ with our best pictures from ‘there’ and we repeat stories from places other than home because those are the stories that become our favorites.

I also thought about how it’s almost our third anniversary with Canada. I certainly define myself as a person “who travels” and hope to see more and do more with each passing year. But what does it mean to stay put? To move and stay and live in a place that’s foreign? How long do you have to be there before you stop being a tourist? Is it when you know how to get around? When you accumulate all the spices you’ll ever need in your new house? When you can know that this is going to be one of the best days of summer because you’ve seen a few now and you can tell?

What I landed is the idea that maybe the thing I want to be isn’t ‘traveler’ so much as it is ‘explorer’. Not so much about racking up miles or ticking off lists, but to come to know a place through time, through experiences. To choose your path home by finding the one last street you haven’t yet walked. To learn the names of native trees and the animals who live in the woods. To get to know the guy who runs the market and how to find a quiet place even downtown.

This is a different type of travel. It’s slower. It happens more in your head than in your feet or on your passport. It’s not the kind of thing that works really well for stories. You can’t really get by telling an acquaintance about that time you learned which color slug was the native species without making a weirdo of yourself. A few years gone, I know the slug and I have a few sunny days to remember. I can tell Canada that I know it a little. I think it will listen to me in a way it couldn’t if I were only here a week or even a month. I’m an explorer, I will say, and I will come to know at least this one little peninsula here at the edge of the world.

Little roads, close to home.

Little roads, close to home.

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30 Cakes (12/30)

In December I turned 30 and to celebrate one day of fun just didn’t seem appropriate. Maybe it’s all the hype with becoming a real adult. Maybe it’s just because I like baking new things. Either way, this year is the year of 30 Cakes.

Number 12 is a nutty adventure – Walnut with Cardamom butter cream.

Spicy, nutty number 12.

Spicy, nutty number 12.

It’s modeled after a recipe found in a baking book left here by a friend of mine who has moved on to more southern climes (Australia, actually, which is almost as south as you can get! ). I modified it a little by adding yogurt to the ground-walnut-based batter and cardamom to the icing a little at a time until I ended up with just a hint of flavor beyond delicious sweetened butter icing.

Made in a loaf pan, this is a tasty little cake that might just wind up as breakfast tomorrow too!

(Hey. You on Instagram? I promise I don’t just take photos of cake!)

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Museum of Anthropology

On a recent trip to the UBC area we made a little stop at the Museum of Anthropology to check out the visiting installation of art from Arabic artists. This is Vancouver’s first major exhibit of modern work from places like Iran and Turkey and we were curious to have a look. The exhibit, called Safar/Voyage (“voyage” being the word safar translated from Persian) and encompasses views on the world as seen through the eyes of modern middle easterners.

The exhibit is on now through mid September.

The exhibit is on now through mid September.

The works display an interaction with themes of tradition, border crossing, a sense of belonging, living with violence, and a search for identity. The pieces have clear messages hidden both within the physical forms of the art and also within the context of the visual elements.

What I found perhaps most interesting about the exhibit is that it includes so many different kinds of media. There are paintings, brass sculpture, video installations, photography, neon, and even a hand-woven carpet. I found the dramatic clash of media helped to tell the story of people seeking, journeying, finding, or, perhaps, not finding. I saw strength as well as sadness in most of the pieces – pride despite victimization, courage despite hopelessness.

Photos weren’t permitted but you can see some of the exhibit’s pieces online. A neat feature, but there’s reason enough to visit MOA just to interact with and appreciate the scale of the large instalation pieces or to spend a few moments with the photography and paintings.

MOA also offers access to an amazing collection of cultural relics from all over the world. The central rooms display thousands of artifacts from clothing to tools to visual art and furniture in glass cases (allowing you to see the front, back and sides of the pieces). There are also drawers full of additional pieces in cabinets throughout these Multiversity Galleries. It feels a bit like you have been granted access to the museum’s behind-the-scenes catalog — a browsing system available there steers you to specific interests or you can just wander through shelves of masks, pottery, hair adornments and other objects by region or time period.

I always like looking into the restoration rooms that are restricted but offer a nice view into the world of preservation anyway.

Restoration, preservation.

Restoration, preservation.

A healthy collection of art and objects collected from in and around British Columbia is always on display as well as an incredible goruping of European ceramics. I am always intrigued to visit the totems in the Great Hall and, especially in the lovely May weather we’ve been having, sit outside near the Hida houses.

Tour guides will talk about the history of original settelers here and a little about the ethical issues that arise in the display of First Nations carvings and ceremonial artifacts. Not knowing very much of the cultural history of this area myself, I always try to tag along a tour for at least part of my visit and hear what I can. To see the impressive size and skill of the carvings begs for an understanding of where they once stood and what they were meant for. The glass and concrete of their current museum home seems at odds with the naturalness of the shapes. It also seems, for all it’s modern stregnth, unable to contain the spirit of the works even now.

photo(11)

Maybe just a visitor in the museum’s Great Hall.

 

 

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Picture Memory

At my grandfather’s house there are dusty cardboard boxes of photographs and trays full of haphazardly stacked slides. My mother keeps shelves of heavy albums with clear plastic covers in a cabinet in the room that used to be mine. I have SD cards full of digital backups wrapped in paper or in little plastic baggies scattered about my desk.

What do we have in common?

Those precious times when, while cleaning or reorganizing, we stumble across an image we’d entirely forgotten about.

photo

This morning I found this shot taken on Black Creek back home in Walton County at a spot where Turkey Vultures come to roost. The sunset was calling them back to skinny pine resting spots where they then squabbled over who would sit where for an hour or so into the darkness. The slow movement of black water mirrored their decent from sky soaring all of the hot afternoon.

The beauty of scavengers is sometimes hard to see. Those who feast on what’s left behind can leave the impression of desperation and depravity or remind us of images we’d just as soon turn away from. This particular evening, the happenstance of my being there when the group returned left me with none of those sad feelings. I’m happy to see this image again to be reminded of the peaceful smallness I did feel that night.

Later I learned that the similarity of vulture species found in the New World to those from the Old World is the result of what’s called convergent evolution. This means that these birds aren’t genetically linked to the older scavenger bird species that exist on other continents; they did not decent from birds that look like they would be their ancestors. The “daily life” similarities of the two groups (what they eat, how they look) arose entirely separately and, you might say, coincidentally. Speaking as a person transplanted, this offers the comfortable contemplation that certain things need doing (and certain animals will fill the holes) no matter our place in this world.

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Things to Love

slow your roll

When it’s time to slow your roll.

It might be because I kinda lost interest in fashion magazines last year, or maybe it’s that I’m perpetually trying to cut extraneous expenses, but somehow I missed the beginning of this roll on perfume thing.

I think it’s always been around, but I only caught on this last birthday when I was gifted a tube of Live in Love by a dear friend. It’s amazing but has gotten even more lovely lately as spring rolls in. The scent is like green trapped in a bottle – three quarters  fresh new leaves and the rest thick syrupy floral – and it’s become an absolute favorite.

I also recently acquired French Lilac from Pacifica in a tube. As a Florida girl, I knew lilac only as a color. It turns out that it’s the most wonderful and fleeting flower of spring. There are no less than five lilac trees that bloom in our neighborhood and you had better believe that I plan my walks around them when they bloom. It’s feminine and exotic (to me) and the blossoms only last a few weeks. It doesn’t quite capture the beauty of a fresh bloom, but since it’s available the other 50ish weeks of the year, I’ll take this version happily.

Portable, changeable and, perhaps best of all, small enough to work as a sample for something you might not want a whole bottle of all make roll on fragrance my new thing to love.

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Bathtub Scholar – “A Universal History of the Destruction of Books”

IMG_20130401_212203

“The Universal History of the Destruction of Books” by F. Baez is, simply, as sad as it sounds like it’s going to be. Written more like an encyclopedia than a typical pop history title, the author takes us painfully through the years listing instances of fear mongering, political maneuvering, back stabbing, deceit, religious tyranny, unfortunate accidents, and plain human foolishness that makes up the history of the lost written word.

Each instance is given but a cold retelling of events; the author’s lack of emotion in some instances reads like a coping mechanism developed after researching such a dark subject.

What have I’ve learned so far?

Mostly that humans seem to have always lacked recognition and respect for what should be preserved. A change in leadership? Everything from ‘before’ into the flames, if you please. New technology? Well, let’s just copy a few things over and throw out all that other old stuff. Or use them to light the laps (yes, this was the sad fate of many thousands of books).

Perhaps more interesting is the observed power of the written word that seems to permeate every culture, time, religion and political force–the book as a weapon. Since it’s inception, thee written word has been punished with more severity than a common criminal for its association with the ability to change us more than some of our leaders have thought acceptable. The fear is evident in the many instances of fiery ends that our books have faced and I’ve only read through the part on Early Christians.

I’ve been interested by the desire among humans to eat books in order to consume their knowledge that Baez lists. Sometimes done to protect a book, often in history this was seen as way to ‘ingest’ the knowledge contained within in a spiritual way.

Also interesting to read about are the major burnings outside the most commonly known ones (like the Library of Alexandria) including a massive effort to contain Christianity during its juvenile years. Sects like Euchites (proclaimers that the Devil could not be looked upon so harshly since he was, after all, a son of God)  and the Adamites (who wanted humans to return to their original, nude state) threatened to change the shape of the Church so their priests, and perhaps more importantly, their texts were burned.

Amidst the terrible accounts of, say, finding a catalogue of a long-ago-destroyed Ancient Greek library that details hundreds of titles we have simply never seen but now know to have once existed, there are also stories of great courage and beauty. My favorite so far is a story from a Swiss monastery where, in 926, one of the women had a terrible vision and buried the books from the library. A day later an attack came and the library was burned. The woman, Wiborda, lay mutilated and dying on the place where the books were buried. The first woman formally canonized Wiborda is the patron saint of bibliophiles.

I’ll end by quoting a deacon from Spain who was noted as shouting the following as he and his texts came before the flames: “The fire with which you threaten sacred letters will burn you in an act of justice!” As I read more (and save this book safely on my shelf… hopefully) I will certainly be looking for some possibly literal consequences of his curse.

 

 

 

 

 

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