Summer Morn

Is there anything so magical as a summer morning, my imaginary friend? Energy and optimism, the sheer sensuality of the glory of the day…the high spirit of pleasure, sweetness of sun caress, all things reaching for the sky…The forest as I walked in it this morning pulsing with life as the growing things revel in an abundance of light and warmth. Birds have perfected their morning chorus to a veritable orchestra, and last night’s rain shower has left its fresh, invigorating scent and a few lingering drops to moisten my skin. The loveliness of rain drops as I push through brushy fronds; total immersion in my idea of paradise.
I am one who loves my country’s four seasons, and I believe that autumn is my favourite time of year. This summer, though, hints at glorious days of perfect beauty – or perhaps this is merely my reaction to the end of a long winter and much-delayed spring.Days of perfect beauty may be rare enough;here is one to carry in my heart, to thrill with each and every moment, and to share with you. Beauty, I wish you.

Summer Morning, AJ Casson

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Spirit of Snow I Wish You

Photograph by MJC, Vancouver Island

Photograph by MJC, Vancouver Island

Snow blankets Vancouver Island these past couple days…this can’t be said to be unusual, though it is a bit of a rarity here. The pattern of our winds mean mild, wet winters for the most part – oh, we have had our share of winter’s wetness already, though the first official day of winter is yet to arrive. Yes, the snow is a welcome relief from the grey, lowering clouds of past weeks. I don’t really mean to write about the weather, my imaginary friend, though I am intrigued by the fact that it seems to dominate the lives of town dwellers in ways that seem curious. We are, after all, mostly well-sheltered, not to mention moving about in our cozy vehicles. But even I, who spend several hours each day outside in the mountains or forest, even I have not been immune to the weeping skies.

The first pleasure is the lovely stillness, the quiet hush that is perhaps the greatest loveliness of snow. Snow softens the tired ugliness of city, and clothes the banal landscape of suburbia in marvelous draperies. The evergreens look particularly gorgeous; branches gracefully bending under weight of white. Beautiful lines and swirls and evocative shapes are everywhere, yet the quietude is most striking. Of course, part of the physical property of snow is to mute sound, and no doubt there is less traffic about in the land of few snow tires. But this quietude seems to invite us to go deeper into that mystery…

Even as I snowshoed through gently falling flakes and gathering twilight, the world about me was lit softly by the expanse of white reflecting everywhere, and back up into the sky…only a day or two earlier I would not have been able to find my way so sure-footedly at dusk. So this light, this quality of reflected brightness is another loveliness I welcome.
Winter comes: under cover of snow warmth the land busies itself with the tasks of the quiet time, the inner time, the time to root deeply to bring next year’s harvest to fruition. Another turn in the wheel of the year awaits: the snow invites us to revel in the quiet and reflection that sustains and nourishes us, that prepares us for the growing time. May you have a little snow this season, in spirit if not on the ground.

Who Are You? Can You Remember?

I sit in my favourite, ancient chair to write this afternoon, my imaginary friend – I have been away from it for a rather long time. It is a pleasure to envelop myself in its comfort, and naturally I have a cup of “Kick Ass” coffee to enhance the moment, not to mention the sun streaming in my windows. My morning hike sparkled with this oh-so-welcome sun after too many days of rain; a lovely lunch; the familiar motions of making cookies and enjoying the sugary smells…a day of simple content.

The best part of my day, however, has been the discovery of a marvelous book: The Elegance Of The Hedgehog, by Muriel Barber. One of those books in which one meets a ‘kindred spirit’, to invoke Anne of Green Gables – well, one of those books in which you meet yourself, maybe. I shall whole-heartedly recommend this novel, though it is certainly not my intent to write a book review…indeed, I am only halfway through the thing. Wanting to prolong the sheer enjoyment as long as I can – is it not exquisite to find such a book? Movie? Music? Art?

There is a remark in the book that perhaps we write to find ourselves, and I am moved by this, in the context of the story… The very literate, cultured, articulate, and intelligent concierge of a Parisian apartment building who endeavours to appear stupid and morose to the buildings’ wealthy residents, understanding that this is their assumption of who she is…and who troubles to look beyond their assumptions? One or two do, of course – ah, but I am just getting to that part! In any event, another of the characters writes to meet herself, she says, to move beyond those assumptions of the shallow and preoccupied she is surrounded by.

What is profoundly moving about this, I suppose, is that we are all the ‘victims’ of assumptions by the people we encounter in any given day – that the way we dress, where we work (or not), what kind of car we drive (or not), where we live, in what restaurants or stores or galleries or museums we are found in – any one of these details, taken singly, is enough for someone, somewhere to form an assumption of us that may have no bearing in reality. When I say victim, I mean this: at best, any or all of these details describe a minute piece of us, the most trivial and the most superficial aspect of us, indeed. Why does this matter?

It may or may not matter individually – many of the people we interact with daily are likely acquaintances or chance-met strangers, and presumably as individuals we have other, deeper relationships. It obviously matters very profoundly to a culture, though, in a million ways I shall not explicate, save this: the idea of being able to look at and acknowledge another human with openness and a smidgen of genuine curiosity is a great void in Western culture. That every time our eyes slide over someone…shiftless bum…teenage thug…bag lady…slotting them into a precut jigsaw puzzle, we lose a piece of our humanity. In case it is not evident, the jigsaw pieces of ‘attractive woman’, ‘powerful man’, ‘pretty girl’ (and so on…) are also dehumanizing…and not only to the objects of our gaze, but to ourselves.

Who are you, my imaginary friend? Maybe more importantly, who might you become? What vast longings and wellsprings of joy have been squeezed into the jigsaw shape someone else assigned, that you gamely try to fit within the puzzle?

canyouremember

Adventure…1,2,3…

My adventure has begun, though having said that, I must tell you I spent the day cleaning windows, that most prosaic of tasks. I find it a chore that allows for reflection, as house cleaning in general does for me, and it was good to take a day to do homey things and think things over.

I am at present some 600 kilometres from where I started, having had possibly the most enjoyable drive of my life. Including ferry travel I spent about nine hours on the road, but with no deadlines or schedules it was delightful to watch the stunning geography of British Columbia unfold, and to stop whenever and wherever I liked. From the lush forests and sparkling sea of Vancouver Island, to the epic thunderstorm in the mountains, to the semi-desert of the south Okanagan, it felt like a gorgeous film unwinding. Oh, I love this province!

I have been exploring the south Okanagan for a week or so, and for various reasons will be here a while longer. Although this is a familiar place I have managed to find some new landscapes most every day. I have hiked a few mountains, explored the unique forests (mostly Ponderosa Pine with grassland between relatively sparse tree cover), and visited a few eclectic little towns – and the sense of adventure is, in fact, deepening. Likely for the aforesaid reasons: no deadlines or schedules.

The sense of liberation is deep in my spirit, though it is a complexity to describe it…In essence, though, I am liberated from my old life, not yet having got to the new, and it is delicious, exhilarating, and frightening. It is also deeply thought-provoking: I carry my me-ness with me, along with my daily habits – what, exactly am I liberating myself from? I suppose it is a sense of not being satisfied, of searching for more.

By chance I find myself reading a book about the black migration out of the southern U.S., told both in general terms and from the intimate view of three particular families. The individuals telling their stories tell of their longing for the ‘better life”, though it is different for each of them, and while the material (better pay, owning a home) is a part of the generalized longing, really they are speaking of the inchoate and amorphous. And I fear that I, too, may need a book to explain what I go in search of.

Well, my imaginary friend, it shall unfold in these virtual pages much the same as my life, messy and unpredictably. But this sense and spirit and ethos of adventure is key, I think: to be open to the possibilities. To see every vista as through a lens, and to contemplate how the most artistic picture may be captured. To be awake to the wondrous. To drive the curvy highway with a five-speed stick shift, not on automatic…

This is where my journey has taken me thus far. And the view from the clean windows is delightful!

 

Photograph by Lentilcia

Photograph by Lentilcia

TV news? No thanks.

Breaking News! Well, perhaps that is a tad overstated, but please watch the story aired here.

Yes, go ahead, watch it again. Does it strike you that there is nothing newsworthy about it? It certainly struck me that way. Does it strike you that we still don’t know the story of what happened in the restaurant? It certainly struck me that way. Let’s recap the bare outlines of this purported news clip: a small restaurant owner asks a customer not to bring her children back, which apparently humiliates the customer, and then posts a picture to her business Facebook page. You can be forgiven, my imaginary friend, for wondering why this should warrant a ‘news’ story; why what is essentially a  private action should be given the full nighttime news treatment. And I do mean treatment… The reaction to this is thousands, yes thousands, of comments both on the restaurant’s Facebook page, and that of the TV station, most of which appear (I did not count) to be negative, vulgar, and threatening.

It is self-evident that all these commenters were not in the restaurant at the time this story unfolded, given their sheer numbers, so their comments – including threats to boycott the restaurant – are based completely on the ‘news’ story. It takes little effort to see the ‘hooks’ that have been built into the story: a restaurant owner that doesn’t like kids! A military mom whose husband is deployed, sob! How could anyone be so callous as to berate a military mom! The truth appears to have been lost in the edit, or perhaps the questions simply weren’t asked. Just off the top of my head, here are some questions that might have been asked: did the customer make any attempt to clean up after her kids, or to offer an apology? If she was humiliated, why did she cross-post the restaurant’s Facebook post to her own page? Did that have something to do with revenge? Was the owner respectful in her request to the customer in asking her not to bring her kids back? Was it really a confrontation?  Is there something more to this story?

There are really no words to describe professionals who consider this journalism, and the unthinking hordes that dutifully follow along and turn this into a muckraking scandal. The piece is nothing but gossip mongering, in my view, and I could leave it at that, except for two very salient reasons. First let me make it clear that I do not know the restaurant owner, nor the customer, nor do I even live in the same country. I happened to see this ‘news’ clip in my own Facebook news feed, and I simply couldn’t figure out why it should be news, though I quickly figured out it might have the potential to destroy a few peoples livelihoods. And when I investigated further, it became clear that there is a knee-jerk reaction to this story that paints an awful picture of the culture we live in. Consider this: a few days prior to this story, the restaurant was accepting donations for a back to school drive for needy children, which would seem to indicate a business owner that is a pretty good citizen. The point being that the TV station didn’t choose to run a story on this, why not? Or even a story on the hardships of running a small business, or the difficulties in being a military mom? They could have made this into a piece that truly reflected some of the agonies of living through these challenging times, instead of this worthless and harmful piece. Of shit.

In the final analysis, which is more harmful: the ‘journalists’ who troll Facebook looking for ‘news’ stories, or their viewers who dutifully follow along and perpetuate faux journalism by their failure to ask questions, or to demand in-depth stories? It is a rhetorical question, I suppose, but it is not rhetorical for those who face losing their livelihood. And it is not rhetorical for us, the citizens in free and democratic countries, for the very idea of democracy relies on informed citizenry. We are not being served by news outlets that both decide what we see, and how we see it. The way to change this is to start asking the questions that the news outlets are not asking, to demand that news is presented completely and without biased editing, to stop fomenting and spreading gossip masquerading as news. To begins acting as citizens worthy of freedom and democracy.

One final point: it has been suggested in a few Facebook comments I saw that this is a triumph of social media, in outing the restaurant owner – it is not. At best, through social media, this private incident would have been confined to a few hundred people, who might have talked it over and represented more than one side. No, it is a sad triumph of mainstream media that seeks to boost rapidly declining views, no matter what truth may be obscured in the process. And you might ask yourself, my imaginary friend, what else is being obscured by this same mainstream media, for your future in a democracy depends upon it.

Of Hobbits, Indirectly

The late-morning, low-hanging winter sun is streaming into my living room, and I am ensconced in my favourite chair savouring a third cup of fair trade coffee. Third cups are an indulgence reserved for days off! This day just beginning promises an oasis of relaxation, a grateful happiness – fleeting perhaps, but worth writing about for all that. Some treats in store for me – the library! Gifts from my brother, sister-in-law, kids, and kitties to open! Something special for dinner! Oh, and I am wearing my hair down, which is such a pleasure as it is rather tightly braided for work.

What I am most gratefully happy for is my family, who have come together in unexpected ways this past year. We live so far apart, but we have been able to enjoy each other’s wit and humour a few times this year, and make memorable stories. (Which are not for publication, most of them!) We are a memorable bunch.

Simple happiness is prosaic, is it not? At least in the telling – easier to write of the drama, and struggles, and large moments of life, or at least, thought by some to be more entertaining. My thoughts have wandered down this track since my pastimes over the holiday: first, to read again Tolkien’s “Lord Of The Rings” books, and then to watch the movie trilogy. I was saddened by some of the story changes in the movies, which perhaps reflects our cultural distrust of simple happiness. Or maybe, more accurately, our culture’s disdain of simple happiness when compared to ambition,  accomplishment, the accumulation of money and power…

This is not meant to be literary or film criticism, my imaginary friend, but rather my observations on the simple. Tolkien wrote marvellous and complex stories – which have their flaws – but I believe he celebrated the simple pleasures, simple happiness and contentment throughout his books in the evocation of the land of the Shire. The Shire is certainly emblematic of ordinary folk going about their ordinary business with contentment, and part of the over-riding theme of the books is this preservation of ordinary happiness. Of course, the movies are faced with the difficulty of compressing into a limited time space the events of the books – never the less, the movies certainly privilege the violent and horrific over the scenes and vignettes of the Shire and its people. I can’t say I enjoyed the movies much for this reason. In my readings of the books over the course of many years, always the Shire has been my beacon, my joy and delight, and my favourite place to come back to…

I do not think it makes for dramatic tellings or riveting stories, but I think my simple happiness and your simple happiness are the most important things in the world. Maybe, if we privileged and elevated the idea of simple happiness, more people would experience it, cultivate it, reverence it?

What do you think?