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Friday, December 25, 2009

May angels attend thee

this was one of the first pictures taken several years ago, when i bought my fabulous digital SLR camera.  taken at the annual christmas tree festival, in the small town where i lived at the time.  beautifully decorated trees are donated, and sold by silent auction, to raise funds for the palliative care facility at the local hospital.  a worthy cause, and a very pleasant event. 

my students and i would set up in a corner, and play christmas music for the event.  a pleasant gig. i confess to a little nostalgia.  the months before christmas were a blur this year, with none of it having to do with christmas, and not a single christmas gig all season.  my family drew names this year, so i did my christmas shopping in an hour, after i closed the ReStore @ noon on christmas eve, and before i went home to make tourtierre for the traditional family christmas eve feast.  tourtierre is a french-canadian meat pie, best known in quebec.  we have no connection to all of that -  i tried a recipe one christmas eve on  a whim, and we all loved it, so it became a family tradition.   i think the name drawing may become a regular thing too.... it was pleasant to  have just one gift to come up with. i hate shopping

merriest of christmases to friends in blogland.  may your christmas be one of peace and fulfillment, surrounded by those you love.  and may we all find new gifts and ways to give them, that we may leave the world a better place for having been here. 


Monday, December 14, 2009

When Flora met the Elephants

i have this artist friend, named Flora. i wrote a story about her a while ago.  there are many stories about Flora. she's a fascinating person with a fascinating background.  a gifted artist with a constantly questioning mind.   

Flora was also a teacher at that time. she taught classes in our local fine arts centre for years.  though she's highly proficient in many media, her greatest love is for clay - especially hand built, raku fired clay.   some of my most satisfying memories involve standing in the cool and dark of a northern summer evening, gazing up at the stars while warming to the red heat of an outdoor barrel kiln.  cautiously peeking in to see if the pieces inside were ready.... then fearfully grasping them with long tongs and plunging them in tubs of dry leaves, grass, newspapers - anything that would burn quickly - to smoulder and transform into magical irridescent and metallic  textural colors and bottomless blacks.  but that's another story.

on this particular September day, Flora was at the pottery studio waiting for a class to walk the several blocks down the street from the nearby elementary school, for their clay building class. it was an unusually warm day, for September in northern Alberta.  she was having a quick smoke out back, finding the inner stillness to face a room of 20 pre-adolescents.  there was a tennis court, enclosed by a chain link fence between her and the town's arena, across an alley.  

and between the tennis court and the arena was a teenage boy, with 2 elephants. one was standing, the other lying quietly on the grass. elephants, whether standing or lying down, are not what one normally expects to see in the alley behind the local arena in a northern Alberta town.    so, Flora, being blessed with an overabundance of curiosity, and no less nerve, dropped her cigarette to the ground, crushed it beneath her beat up tennis shoe to extinguish it, and took a stroll in their direction.   

approaching from the opposite direction - from inside the arena, was a man.  an agitated man.  by the time Flora was close enough to hear the conversation, the man and the teenaged boy were engaged in a heated argument. it went something like this.  

"..... that elephant a bath.  she's a mess.  can't i trust you to do one simple job without...."

at which point, the boy,  by now equally, if not more agitated, replied, reaching down to grasp the ear of the prone elephant, who was not in the least agitated. he shouted, "look at these ears!  do you see these enormous ears?  with ears this size, you'd think she'd hear me, but she doesn't. she won't LISTEN to me, Dad! i've been telling her to get up for half an hour and she IGNORES me, Dad!   

so, while the gentleman spoke firmly to the elephant, who immediately, though unhurriedly rose to her feet, Flora, masterfully stifling the grin that she feared would insult the boy, cleared her throat and waited for them to notice her.   

it was a circus, of course, that she'd not known was coming to town.  run by this family - father and mother, several teenaged sons, some aunts, uncles and cousins.   the elephant in question was called Bella, and she had her own ideas about how the universe should be run.   

Flora is an amazing teacher.  this means she is also a lifelong student.  she sees everything that happens around her as an opportunity to learn, and to teach.  having real, live elephants in back of the studio was something too good to miss, so she persuaded the gentleman in charge that she could bring the class of kids now arriving at her clay studio to meet the elephants.  he made it clear that the children must be inside the tennis court's chain link fence at all times. there could be no risk of injury to anyone on either side.  this was agreed on.  it amused Flora that the humans were to be in a cage, while the 'dangerous animals' were able to move freely outside of it.  

20 pre-teen kids spent an hour touching (through the chain link fence) stroking, smelling and listening to 2 elephants. first they talked to the boy, and his younger brother, who soon joined them. they watched them bathe Bella, asked them what it was like growing up in the circus.  when they got more confident, they pelted the boys' father, who was the circus ringmaster, with questions about the animals, how they were cared for, where they lived in the winter, what they ate, how they were trained....  and they learned more about elephants than they thought they'd ever want to know.  they were surprised to learn how important foot care is to an elephant's overall health.  a small foot injury can mean death to an elephant.  they learned about elephant families.  these two were mother and child, though both were adults.  they timidly touched the elephant's trunk and saw, from inches away, how dextrous and gentle it was.  they learned about the intelligence and faithfulness of elephants.  

and, best of all, they got to watch an elephant take a dump.   bombs the size of cantaloupes.  

so, after the kids had all been herded out and sent back to school without so much as opening a package of clay, Flora  pointed to a warm and most fragrant lump of steaming green. a monstrous elephant pellet.  she  asked the gentleman,

"what are you going to do with that?"

he gave her a strange, sideways glance, and replied, "I'm going to clean it up."

"Well, yes, but where are you going to put it?" 

"in the garbage bin over there"

"Can i have it? I'll clean it up."

another strange sideways look.  "sure, lady.  come on back after the show starts."

so, a few hours later, Flora wiped the clay from her hands as she stepped out back for a smoke.  she listened to the music and the swell of applause, as she went back inside for some big green garbage bags.  there was enough to fill several of them, but she had to use more. the stuff was too heavy to fill a bag with. she didn't to end up wearing it as she carried it to her van.   

Flora lives on a quarter section of land outside town.  country life was a lifelong dream of her husband, but it was a new experience for all of them.  they'd been joined on 'the farm' over the summer by a couple of sheep, a riding horse, and a big, friendly dog.  Flora had planted her first garden.  it hadn't done well.  from all the work she'd put into it, she'd harvested a few salads, a handful of peas, a few carrots the size of her little finger, and enough potatoes to las a week, tops.  the beans were a complete bust.   the farmer next door told her the soil was depleted. she needed to get some manure.  

Flora smiled as she lugged the bags from the van. well, had she EVER got some manure! She dumped the gift from the elephants around the garden, spread it a bit with the shovel still stuck in the ground in the corner of the remains of the pumpkin vines. well, maybe they were pumpkin vines. they hadn't produced anything resembling a pumpkin before the frost turned them to mush. then she went up the hill to the house, got on with things and gave not another thought to the garden till spring.  

the first snows came early that year.   and the snow just kept coming, month after month.  this was good, because the previous year had been very dry.  in spring things melted slowly. the thirsty earth took a long, slow, deep drink and there was hardly any runoff.  Flora noticed one warm spring evening as she drove up the drive on her way home from teaching, that the neighbor had been by with his cultivator and done the garden for her.  "i love living here," she thought.  we have the best neighbors. the leaves were just beginning to unfurl along the drive. she'd be planting the garden soon. maybe this weekend.  

the phone was ringing when she walked in the house.  it was Joe, the good neighbor.   

"thanks for doing the garden, Joe. it looks great. is it too early to plant the potatoes this weekend?"

"naw. should be fine. you're welcome.  that was one heckuva job, tilling your plot.  stunk to high heaven.  and there were these huge lumps of stuff. what did you put in there?  elephant s***t?"

then she remembered.  grinning from ear to ear, knowing full well he wouldn't believe her, she answered, "well, yeah!"

true story.  

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Our hands describe who we are

i have a thing about hands.  one day, i'd like to do a series of portraits of hands.... fresh, pudgy baby hands, gnarled and twisted century-old hands... and every variation between.  

so, i have this friend who's a photographer, and i asked him to take some pictures of me.  the thought was, i'll need something professional looking for a portfolio to leave here'n there, in hopes of getting some paying gigs in the city, now that i live here.  pleasant work, and on my list of things to accomplish - making a portion of my living through playing music as well as teaching it.  after all, i'm getting a bit old to be hauling refrigerators and couches around for a living.  much as i love the ReStore Manager job, i know it's either got to morph into something less physical or be replaced by something less physical fairly soon.  

and i have these 4 grown kids, raised by a mum who, when outside help was not forthcoming, said, "well, dammit, then i'll do it myself!"  so they take me pretty much for granted. it never occurs to them that i might ever need help with anything.  and that's o.k. mostly, because i'm pretty independent and i like it that way.... or at least i've become accustomed to it, so it feels normal.   

i take most of the family pictures ..... which means i'm seldom in them.   not a big deal for me; i'd rather look at pictures of them than pictures of me anyway.   but it occurred to me at about the time that i thought i'd better get a portfolio together, that there will come a day when i'm not around, and my kids won't have any decent pictures of me.   and they might be sorry about that.   we've decided to keep Christmas as down-to-earth and hype-free as we can this year, so i thought a nice gift might be a photo of their mum in a nice frame.  

and it's occurred to me that, much as we focus our attention on faces, it's hands that say so much about us, and to us.  it's the hands of a parent that comfort and nurture. that provide food and shelter, that write down the stories, draw the pictures and, in my case, make the music.  i'm tempted to give them a picture of my hands.   

not that i will, because i just don't think they'd get it.   but i'm tempted.