Saturday, 31 March 2018

Keep Singing

In my last blog, I wrote that this week I would blog about why people travel. But then I realized it would be Easter Sunday when I posted, and that calls for a different kind of reflection.  The other topic will wait.

Easter Morning Alleluia
Four years ago, on impulse, I created a crow piece to celebrate Easter – a raucous, mouth-wide-open squawking crow to celebrate a sublime and sacred event. In my blog that Sunday, I wrote about heart songs – we all have a song in our heart that becomes loud and glad when we are doing what gives us joy. Even the crow! The crow, and all of us, too, for that matter, were created to sing the song that only we can sing.

In that blog, I wrote, “It takes courage to follow the song in our hearts, and especially to believe in the song when it is being drowned out by other noises. Today is Easter Sunday, the day that rings out with songs of joy. Whatever your spiritual persuasion, you can still be stirred by the universal message of the Easter story. It’s all about having a heartsong and the courage to follow it. The Creator had a heartsong and acted on it. Creation – the world we live in and all that it contains, including us  – is the result of that song. The thing deep within us that makes our heart sing is the best of us, it is who we are meant to be..

When the song within us was lost, Courage stepped up and in love, did the hard thing to restore the music. The message of Easter is that the song planted within us cannot die. The name of the song is Love, and love is stronger than death.”

Well. I loved my “Easter Morning Alleluia” piece and all that it said to me, but when it was put on display in a show, it sold. That’s good news, but I no longer have it to hang on the wall. So now (Friday) I feel the urge to create another work of art. The song in my heart is a bit muted, but working on a new piece, I’m sure, will raise the volume.

The piece I envision is based on something I experienced in California when we were on vacation. We had been driving most of the day on busy interstate and state highways in California, and discovered to our consternation that many California drivers are rude beyond reckoning, zig-zagging in and out of traffic, cutting you off, flashing their lights, even when you are going over the speed limit in the center lane. We zoomed by non-stop commercial districts, chains of cheap motels, golden arches, one mall morphing into another. It was totally nerve-racking. And then we got to our turn-off, a much quieter road that would be leading to our destination, a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

It took only a few minutes for our racing hearts to notice the peace. Rolling hills, dotted with cattle and bare-branched oak trees, bathed us in a balm of pastoral beauty. We caught our breath, let the tension leak out of us, and gradually tuned into the song in our hearts. Those trees had their own song – to my eyes, they were dancing, their twisted limbs silhouetted against the sky, going this way and that, as though expressing joy.*xIBtQEYaAIoYd8WLSwIBYqQ0Rbeuw/
That week, wherever we traveled on the country roads, we saw them over and over again. No photo can capture the sense of joy I felt traveling through that pastoral beauty, but the scenes are lodged in my heart.

It’s Easter joy, made manifest through Creation, and I’m wishing it for you. 

I’ve started the piece, but realize there’s lots of work to be done, lots of experimenting if it is to say what I want it to say. Maybe, next Easter, I’ll be able to post the completed work.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

The Joys of Poking Around

After four long days of driving, we settled into our first digs in Sedona, Arizona. We’d been urged to go there by friends – “It’s so beautiful,” they said. And it is: red rock canyons, clear blue skies, amazing sunsets.

 And hotels. Lots and lots of hotels. And condos and time shares. Golf courses, helicopter rides, guided tours.  Fancy restaurants. And, of course, tourists!

I have become a bit jaded when it comes to travelling. After our 2015 trip to France, while walking through big and small towns, I sometimes felt like I was walking through a theme park staged just for us. So much of our world is turning to tourism as a lucrative industry to replace the small businesses that have been wiped out by the big boys of commerce. They need to find ways to make a living, so they turn to B&Bs, special attractions, cafes and souvenir shops for their income. They spruce up the village square, polish the big church bell, put potted red geraniums everywhere, and voila! Wherever you look, you find another postcard-worthy scene. It’s great for a while, but then you begin to wonder, “What’s life like here when the lights go out on the tourists?”  When you decide to find out, you stop being a tourist and become a traveller.

The life that goes on after the tourists go home is the part I like most about travelling. You can find it if you engage in the activity of poking around. When you are poking around, you don’t know what you will find, but often it is what sticks in your mind and what gives you stories to tell.

For instance, when we were poking around in Hawaii a few years ago, we came across a local farmer’s market. The farmers were selling big bunches of basil and bags of macadamia nuts for dirt cheap. The cottage we’d rented had a food-processor and some empty jars, and we had bought some good olive oil and garlic. What else could I do but make macadamia nut pesto? We had enough for several good pasta meals, plus a bottle I froze and packed in my suitcase. If you poke around, it’s what you get as a souvenir instead of the wall plaque featuring a hula dancer and a palm tree.

So in Sedona, when we passed a farmer’s market in the parking lot of local shopping center, we stopped and poked around, bought organic salad fixings, and had a lovely meal at our rented home, a trailer parked in someone’s 1 acre yard.

We also chatted with the owner and learned lots about the vicinity. We visited the local artists’ cooperative and learned about the thriving art community there.

Inspiration for another art piece?

We picnicked in a popular park which is packed on hot summer days by the locals. We found a Christmas shop where they carried some very unique nativities to add to our collection. All in a good day’s work of poking around.

There was a quilt shop down the street from our lodgings. Of course, I had to go see what I could see.

The caption says, "Waiting for Wife." He was, in the car, with his cell phone, playing games. 
“Have you visited our quilt show at the library?” asked the shop owner. Off we went to the library located in a residential part of town. (The RS was being exceptionally indulgent that day!) The quilt show was amazing (and free!).

The library was architecturally beautiful, but that wasn’t all.  “Have you visited our used bookstore next door?” asked the librarian.

Thousands of donated books lined the shelves in a building that used to be a Buddhist meditation centre, complete with golden mandalas painted on the walls. We walked away with guide books for the area, an Audubon bird book and a few novels for our down time. Score! And as a bonus, we glimpsed what happens in that town when the tourists go home. It’s a good place to visit, but also a great place to live.

We shared our next lodgings, a house in the desert about ½ hour out of Phoenix, with my sister and brother-in-law. Now there were four of us poking around. We walked the trails at a local conservation areas, and walked the sand roads in the neighbourhood. Sometimes, when you are poking around, you may not like what you see:

I signed up for a free class with a conservation officer and a professional photographer to learn how to take better pictures, and spent a morning with them and other locals learning a lot about the flora and fauna of the area.

Poking around is also how I got to make kumquat marmalade.  Beside the patio at our home, there was a kumquat tree loaded with tiny fruits. I googled Kumquat to find out more. It turns out the skin of these oranges is sweet, and the insides are sour. You eat the skin, and toss out the insides. 

It also turns out that you can make amazing marmalade out of them. So I did. It meant scouting out a local thrift shop to find some canning jars. The thrift stores Sue and I visited in our search were run by volunteers and we had lots of fun finding out what was happening. We even got invited to the Shrove Tuesday Pancake breakfast at the local church. The end result of our poking around: I’m down to my last of three jars of the most amazing marmalade I’ve ever tasted.

Okay, please understand: I’m not against tourism. I’m not against helicopter rides with spectacular views of the canyon you can only see if you get up in the air. We’ve done some of those kinds of things, too. I’m not against hotels and restaurants and lounging around the pool while soaking up warm rays – it may be just the thing to rejuvenate you. Different strokes for different folks. It all depends on what you want to get out of your vacation. I’ll blog more about that next week.

But for the RS and me this year, poking around was the best! And I have the kumquat marmalade to prove it.  

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Field Notes (Week 1)

I thought I’d have lots of time to blog when we were on our road trip. Not so. I learned (again) that a road trip is a time to observe and take notes, but all that info needs time to percolate. Now, a week after we are back, I'm ready to blog again.

These notes are from week one, when we were driving long days to get to our destination. You can learn a lot about a culture through observation, even through the window of our car when you're driving thousands of km. on the Interstate.

●    Three billboards about a mile apart: “Getting tired of knitting, Granny?” “We’ve got you covered.” “Stop in at xxx Casino and we’ll show you what fun is.” Another Casino urges you to “Celebrate the Great Indoors.”
●    Another billboard in the middle of nowhere, painted with lurid flames: “Lust will drive you down to HELL.” Whoa!
●    Cannabis is a big thing: “Need Weed? We got it. Call Cana King.” “The desert’s finest weed – 1st gram free.”Makes you wonder how many tokers are sharing the road with you.
●    Duelling billboards highlight the very serious situation of California’s water shortage, which is pitting farmers against environmentalists. “The Salton Sea Crisis is real.” “Save the Delta, stop the Canal.” And this:

Cell phone towers have proliferated – they are everywhere. Some disguise themselves as artistic statements. One looked like a jigsaw puzzle cross outside a church. But the strangest were the fake pine trees we named pinus cellphonicus – tall poles with fake pine branches sticking out of them in every direction. At first glance, I couldn't believe it, but when I googled the concept, I found out it's not just pines, but cacti, palm trees, name it, they're cell phone towers in disguise. Here's an example I found on a website -- the car was going too fast to get a good one for myself.

photo by Robert Voit on Amusing Planet.
 You can see more at this site: "Can you hear me now?" Absolutely, with all of that help out there!

We saw this:

That coffee has to be as black as tar, don’t you think?

Then we saw a big industrial building, with these words painted on its side: Firearms. Buy. Sell. Trade. Rent.  Ummm, rent? “I’d like to rent a gun, please. I’ll only need it for an hour or so, it’s a very small job.” We saw a Safari Park next door to the gun shop; perhaps the renter might just go and bag himself a giraffe or a tiger?

But the best signs we saw were at Slide Rock State Park north of Sedona, Arizona. The park features a creek that cascades down slippery rocks for about ½ mile and is a very popular swimming hole when the temperatures reach 110 in the shade.

At the park, there’s a concession/restaurant with an outdoor patio. From the patio roof hang signs advertising such things as postcards, ice cream, soft drinks, french fries etc. But if you’re on the inside, looking out, the back sides of the signs are painted with delightful slogans and sayings – good words to live by.  Better than a billboard any day.

Sometimes, the best things are just not standing right out in the open advertising themselves. You need to poke around to find them.