Keirartworks's Blog

hmmm. hmmm? Observations, actions and connection points through art.


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Hamilton Residency 8: Manifesto #1

Loud country music/talk radio and potty-mouthed men clear as a bell up through the floorboards, Mychael Danna’s soundtrack for Life of Pi here in this room – amazing how Danna wins.

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In collaboration, of course, with my golden chair and my 1956 singer, my cello and all the love in the world all over the walls: drawings of old doorknobs, rusted chains, chain link and barbed-wire fences, train tracks in one point perspective over what appears to be spirit goats, female weight lifters and scrooge-like, chicken-like nature spirits.

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It is in this context that I dip back into my beloved “Theories of Modern Art” (1968, UC Press), purchased while in art school in the eighties, and find rich thoughts about art written by futurists, cubists, fauvists, expressionists, impressionists. Thrilling as always to read articles written by Klee, Kandinsky and Marc, as published in Der Blaue Reiter. This time I want more. I want to read what women artists felt, thought and wrote.

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It is apparent that, for the 1968 editors of my long-beloved book, women artists didn’t write anything even footnote-worthy. Really? Sigh.

I set my jaw and dig through journal articles, 1st 2nd and 3rd wave feminist literature, new studies of historic groups of women painters (…the Beaver Hall Group developed no manifesto? You’ve got to be kidding…).  Eventually I’m led to Kate Deepwell’s 2014  Feminist Art Manifestos: An Anthology (available only on Kindle).

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In the first intro paragraph, Deepwell defines the term “manifesto”:

A political programme, a declaration, a definitive statement of belief. Neither institutional mission statement, nor religious dogma; neither a poem, or a book.  As a form of literature, manifestos occupy a specific place in the history of public discourse as a means to communicate radical ideas.

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I realize that I’m new at this, at least in this lifetime. So I’ll sit with the idea for a while, and trust the process of crafting a credible, rooted manifesto, distilled from my experience and, like an arrow, aimed at where I intend to go.

In this moment I suspect it has something to do with my ability to listen. To pay attention to what’s in the negative space.

more to follow…

 


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Hamilton Residency 5: connections

Three things that are good: 1 the cast iron legs are back on the black studio table that david sereda gave me ten years ago (what is IN that heavy heavy thing, ds?), 2. I have a new kettle and all the equipment to french press the coffee that fuels my morning write, and 3. Sun is melting the cold clamp of arctic crunch that has been squeezing the air out of us all this past week.

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Oh yes, and the walls of this room I will read, sleep and write in for the next month are painted a cheerful, many-varied naples yellow. Makes me smile, though I’m not able to articulate why in this moment. Something about the subtle effects of ongoing displacement…

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I am happy beyond telling to move into the space that will house me and my work for the next three years at Cotton Factory.  SH242 is now my studio – just down the hall from the residency space I have been working in since December 1. Both spaces sing the clear bell-tone of time and permission to grow beyond what I can currently imagine. GO! They ring, each time I walk into the building.

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As I emerge from my anticipated mid-residency slump I can see that new artistic directions have appeared in the Hamilton-inspired work. The drawings and painting are very much in their ugly stage, but I can see where they’re going, and I’m happy. They answer for me both my inspiration and sorrow over the state of some old broken places here, which have been buried under the effects of neglect for too long. Signs of renewal are there though, if you look, like grass growing through the pavement in an old industrial yard. Growth and fertility after decades as a desert.

Anticipated date for the Cotton Factory residency artists’ talk are Tuesday February 26, 6:30pm. I will confirm this on all social media, and Hamilton Arts Council will also announce – stay tuned, and I hope you can come. These talks and the work will be provocative, insightful and good for long-term conversation chewiness.

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I continue to research, listen and plan these collaborative co-missioned portraits which are the vehicle that got me to Hamilton and through this residency. I had no idea how the complexity of this show and book would challenge my abilities and experience. The work is complex and exciting – well worth enough time to do us all justice.

I turned the corner this week, from struggle to clarity when Ashley the fabric artist two studios down gave me her huge canvas. She had laboured to draw the geometric pattern for the seed of life over the entire surface, then lugged the thing around for two years. I accepted her work as a starting point for more exploration from me – a first collaboration in the Cotton Factory –  and realized it is the painting of my own ‘becoming’, effectively making me the ninth person represented in the Portraits show. A door opened, then, into what connects all of us in this experiment. I’m writing through each morning to find my articulation of it, but it’s there now; I can feel it.

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Our new projected culmination date is mid-spring, enough time to make give this project the arc it requires. In the meantime, the nine of us populate the new studio space at Cotton Factory – just us. When I’m in that room I feel as though I sit in the midst of a copse of eight other mixed-species trees. Watching and listening to their stories, observing my own, there, antennae stretched to pick up warmth – between this one’s experience and that one’s observations.

I sit still and fully present as I did at the cabin this summer, to seek connections and patterns in the complexities that connect us all as humans, us Nine. They are subtle, but they are there.

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And finally, O, Faretheewell, Emerald Street at Barton, where I’ve stayed for a month. Glad to have landed safely in your arms, glad to have listened to your complicated and often dark stories, as they came through my window each night. Glad to lock your door for the last time, too.

The next tenant is a medical student from overseas who will also be there for a month. Hope he doesn’t slip on the steps and land in a puddle, as I did.

Happy February, all!

 

 


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Hamilton Residency 4: rhythm

The overwhelm subsides into a kind of rhythm as I begin to understand what my new job is; what feels unfamiliar but is actually okay.

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As the illusion clears – of pitfalls and boobytraps at every misstep – I can see that the floor I walk on every day is sturdy, reliable… and beautiful. The walls are well built and practical, the beams and posts resilient and strong. Built to carry workers, materials; to support dreams of steady slow progress in reward for daily, hourly persistence.

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So many have carried their private stories through here, many more will do so, now that this factory has been so lovingly snatched from the jaws of disuse and abandonment, launched like a ship into the ocean of now.

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The big building loves industry and honest work; I can feel it.

I imagine, self-indulgently, that it loves the current industry more than the one that built it, and to some extent Hamilton, in 1901. These bricks were laid, these beams milled and bought thanks to the labour of slaves from the south who laboured daily in cotton fields barns and shipyards. A different daily, hourly persistence from that of the workers who laboured here. Did the industrialists ‘own’ them too, I wonder.

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The Portrait Project grows, here.

In the research process I hold careful space for the stories of what I now call ‘my eight’. I am quietly astonished, again and again, at this meeting place of diversity in story and self awareness, and how each disclosure connects, through my own experiences and oh so gently to another from someone else.

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They are strangers to one another, my Eight, but they are all here in the studio with me now, as I listen again to what I’ve been shown and told, and form the larger story that is ours together. From this I will make eight pieces that each speak to the other across difference. I’ve never felt more challenged by a visual art project, have never welcomed a challenge more than I do now.  So many languages to learn; listening is good work.

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I’m grateful to have been able to extend my stay by finding permanent studio space here, at the marvellous Cotton Factory in Hamilton. Not only will this give me the time to do justice to these portraits and my Eight, but also to build strong ties with the people who work here. A new kind of family.

 

 


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Hamilton Residency 3

My new middle name is Curiosity.  Like a little kid, mouth open: wow. huh? how come? really? Wow, really. Who?

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Strangely, it feels like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, living my brand new daily life in an arts hub in the old rather broken, semi-forgotten industrial sector of this big city where my Grandmother raised her children. Memory cells light up each night with twenty new names and connections, emails fly out daily from my computer to people I’ve just met, or want to meet. The work on the walls of my studio changes before my eyes as I try things I’ve never tried, make mistakes I’ve never made, sort through which ones to keep and which to release.

There’s a lot of trust in the air.

I’m deeply aware of my solitude, my autonomy, and grateful beyond measure for the opportunity to stretch myself well beyond what has become comfortable. In the sixth day of the first full -time week I’ve lived here, I can feel my thinking, my painting, my writing and my awareness shift as old belief systems dissolve. There are seven weeks left of this residency, and every one of them is glowing with promise.

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From school to studio; books to paint. It’s a complex shift in awareness and perception, I find.  The road from left to right brain is populated with circus performers and street musicians, frequented by students seeking their masters of illusion, lined with bright market tents full of tempting diversionary tactics. You quickly discover that only tourists stop at these, that it’s important to stay mindful and moving forward.

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It has taken a while to sort out who actually lives here, in the space between things predictably linear and things … shaped and sounded differently.  I’m finding that this right brain work is more about releasing what I think I know than applying any learned structure and experience to what I do, since the objective is to change and expand my understanding of what’s possible.

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Often the return to people and conversation is a shock. I’m happy to be reading the reader’s edition of Carl Jung’s Red Book (2009, Shamdasani, Ed.), which is providing some context for the conscious choice to enter transformative space, and be changed by it. A good ‘bridge’ book, as is Once Upon a Time, a short history of Fairy Tale (Warner, 2014), and The Heart of a Peacock, a collection of short pieces by Emily Carr.

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It’s been useful, occasionally, to dip into Art Lessons, Meditations of the Creative Life (2003, Haynes), or a bit of Emerson. Also to shut the whole thing down, go sit in a big chair at the Jackson Square cinema, eat popcorn and watch Aquaman.

Art heals, writes Sean McNiff. I agree, wholeheartedly. Nature heals too.

Now I’m surrounded by human nature, not my beloved lake and forest from last summer, and we humans are complex. Thank you Nora Bateson, for this 8 minute video, which inspires me to make my own, about what art work makes possible.

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In this place of broken sidewalks and boarded up warehouses we grow art, like sprouts push up asphalt. Slowly, bit by bit, but as surely as the sun rises in the east, artists take places like this and clean up old toxic abandoned soil, growing impossible things in impossible places because it is their nature to do so.

It is a reclaiming of health; I’m grateful to be part of the process.

 

 

 


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Springboards

All ten portraits but one large one, spoken for. Incredible, since the Portraits Project arose out of the Hamilton Arts Council’s Cotton Factory Residency offer, announced only eight weeks ago. In the meantime, seven gigs in three different cities, 3,000 km and six different family Christmas gatherings. In the most recent meantime, Westley the Bernese Mountain dog and I become fast holiday friends…

…and the snow falls, then melts, then falls again in Grey County, Ontario, Canada.

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As I watch it fall I find myself in wonder at how time can compress and stretch, how it can split as it did this past December into many parallel timelines, each one as full of healing moments as with tasks, events and connections. I’m not the only one whose life went this way – folks every place I’ve been have their own version of crazy and wonder-filled weeks.

What a world to pause in, here. As Westley snores on the floor beside me and Fezick the fighting fish soaks up the music I play (how does that sound from inside a fishbowl?!?), the snow falls like sifted fragments of memory.

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I think about the marvel that was Wassail, at Heartwood Hall, three days before Christmas, and one day after a solstice evening of reading & music with Anne Michaels and david sereda in Toronto. Never has there been a better entrance into the holiday season – poetry and song so gracefully offered in a tiny, mid-metropolis church, then the next night a hall packed full of voices raised in full-throated song  – both breathtakingly beautiful and boisterous (some downright badassery by the Wassailors).

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Thank you, Anne Michaels, for your language and your strength; I continue to be guided by who and how you are in these complex times. david sereda for your love, your sincere and powerful intention, and your true voice for and of the world. Thank you J Scott Irvine for sponsoring Wassail – it was important and valuable to many, as you are important and valuable – to many. I am honoured to call you friend.

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Thank you Kim Dutfield, Tessa Snider, Jim Howitt and Ted Stewart, for showing up to the Wassail workshops and dreaming up impossible, improbable and brilliant versions of songs we all know – and manifesting them beautifully in performance. Thank you Coco Love Alcorn for being exactly right, for knowing just what to do, for your great soul.

Thank you Tyler Wagler for your excellent voice, your beautiful guitar, and your fine, fine sensibilities in music and in life. The sound of your laughter is up there in my top 20 favourite things – it’s always worth hearing what you are finding hilarious in this world.

Thank you Christopher McGruer, for your perfectly toned rendition of Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales; thank you Lauren Best, poet laureate of Owen Sound, for your buckets & sticks, and being game enough to join us on the last possible day.

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Thank you Suze Laporte and Mary Flynn for tolerating my annoyingly list-driven parallel selves through the months of November and December. You have been so so generous with your space and time, and I could not have done without your help.

Thank you family, thank you all the full-throated singers, thank you Heartwood Hall, Nathan Wagler and dear Lisa Koop – I’ll talk chicken with you anytime.

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I promised to write about my patreon site (now up and running, but no, you’ll have to wait just a bit more for the link) and how to climb on board with the arts projects in my world, but that post will have to wait until after this one.

This post is about good friends, gratitude, springboards.

When I was in gymnastics as a kid we called it a vault – or maybe that was the action, I don’t remember. You run full tilt, then leap and land hard on the wider end. It compresses then releases, lifting you in a kind of explosion, up and through the known laws of gravity.

The sensation is like being propelled, higher than you could ever get on your own steam, by euphoria. During those long impossible moments in the air you can sumersault, twist in a pike, flip like a dolphin, and vault yourself onto and off the ‘horse’.  The landing can be tricky, but there’s always a padded cushion, a spotter, and a good sense of humour waiting there to soften it.

With good friends, and gratitude, you can defy the laws of gravity, and find ways to land well, with laughter. Thank you, and all my love to everyone for 2019. Lets do this one together.


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Artist statement: Hamilton Work

From two Artist’s talks given on November 24th in Owen Sound Ontario, about my upcoming collaborative portrait work.

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I feel a need to establish some background, to support the foreground of this talk…

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I remember staring at the flower in our Dundas garden for a long time before I drew it.

Mom asked me later how I knew how to do that.  I said, “The tulip taught me.”

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Fifty years and a few life changes later, I spend a summer alone in a twelve acre forest.

This time it’s the forest that teaches me about my work as an artist as well as a human: about learning to see what’s actually there, rather than what I believe to be there.

Dad and I went away and painted watercolour landscapes together every summer when I was in my early teens.  Bless you, parents, for that experience, which established a fierce joy in me for the act and sensibility of making art from life.

…which led me to art study in Toronto… which led me to wonder, “where are the women artists? There seemed to be only five of note in the last century, at least as of 1982 –

– Georgia O’Keefe, Emily Carr, Mary Pratt, Freida Kahlo…

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Käthe Kollwitz
Self Portrait, Hand at the Forehead
1910, published c 1946/48
Etching and drypoint

…and Käthe Kollwitz.  This is also the way I felt, then, in a visual art class full of posturing males who defended their haphazard final pieces (painted while drunk and stoned past the point of clarity the night before critique) with claims that they were examining abusive relationships with their mothers….  The (CIA- funded) gods of abstract expressionism were fully present in those years, in that studio.

I clung to the women artists, and to Ms. Carr in particular.

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She travelled on her own to Europe and England to study art. She was self-reflective and wrote good books. She had at various times a cabin in the woods, a tiny house on wheels, a good friend who was a monkey, and she told the men in the Group of Seven to Piss Off when they annoyed her.

While the neo expressionists were grandstanding in New York City, Ms. Carr said

“I must go home and go sketching in the woods. They still have something to say to me.” 

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thirty five years after painting class, I spend a summer alone in the forest.

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Is it ironic that this experience of isolation from humans gave me a new love and appreciation for humanity?

It took me a full five weeks of living alone in my cabin to slow myself down enough to hear the tree frogs, to observe the incremental changes in that place which have been happening steadily for 100 years and more. There was a great deal to see when I learned to slow down and pay attention.

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this mushroom was like a dessert plate with baleen whale gills.

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This cedar is over 100 years old, leaning out to cut the wind for those behind it

The forest teaches me to open and hold an empathetic connection to my chosen subject,  get the heck out of the way of what I’m looking at, and allow myself to be surprised.

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But of course the human world is not slow. There’s a great deal of change and stress in these times, for all of us. What to do? How will we keep ourselves and each other safe and sane, alive and aware, in the mess of these times?

Ms Carr whispers in my ear, points out what is happening to my kindling pile after a only year on the ground.

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… trees gather their nutrients and water via their roots. However, these roots need to be in direct contact with the soil surrounding them in order to take what they can. As such, the roots are limited in the number of nutrients and amount of water they are able to extract simply due to their size and reach. The mycorrhizae fungi act as root extenders. By attaching themselves within and around the tree roots, mycorrhizal are able to act as a transport system directly to your tree. This optimizes gathering of nutrients and water, which allows your tree to focus on growth in other areas apart from its roots.
By surrounding [a] tree’s roots the mycorrhizae also act as a first defense against toxins and potential disease. Not only do these helpful fungi bring nourishing food and water to [the] tree, they also provide a layer of protection! …
In truth, without the mycorrhizae, many trees and plants would not be capable of surviving. Roots alone are just not enough to feed … trees and plants on their own, they need additional assistance if they are to reach their full potential for growth. The mycorrhizae need your trees as well, without the trade of sugar and carbohydrates for water and nutrients, the mycorrhizae would be incapable of survival. (https://treedoctors.ca/mycorrhizae-a-tree%E2%80%99s-best-friend)

I’ve been thinking about this for some time, now.

If mycelium and mycorrhizae connect entire forest ecosystems by symbiotically extending the roots of each tree and plant, and in so doing also build healthy soil, what connects and nourishes us in human ecosystems?

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Of course, we know that Love connects us.  But what is the action of Love? How does it deliver nourishment and connect us across race, gender, politics, economics, AND ALSO back to natural ecosystems?

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If you can forgive my clumsy photoshop illustration… my theory is that Arts connect us, internally and externally:  Music, painting, poetry, story, film.

I think we’re often not aware of the extent, or the strength of these connections we share, through art. Maybe if we were we’d be more discerning with what we ‘consume’, and it’s effect.

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My work at the Cotton Factory residency December 1 to Feb 28 will be a mini-experiment in connection through art. Through collaborative ‘portraiture’ I will endeavour to build and grow a mini human ecosystem in which ten to twelve collaborators are connected through the work we do together, and the paintings I produce as the result of my artistic collaboration with them.

I invite you to consider becoming part of this little human ecosystem – who knows what we will discover together!

This post is already long. In the next post I will outline how to become involved, on whatever level you choose.  I salute the six people who have jumped in without hesitation to collaborate with me, and also all those who will jump in soon.

Hooray for art!!


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Cabin 21: Poets

It took this tree about 100 years to grow and I’m burning it, piece by piece, in four months. It was the one mature tree I cut down to make room for this cabin – a twinned birch, now half gone.

Every time I put a new log on the fire I’m aware of this – my territorial claim a year ago, my use of a once living thing to keep me warm. The math – our part in climate change.

Human in a place of trees. Over five months they have made peace with, and in me.

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This November forest song is not one I’ve ever heard so directly. I’m listening now because I can – my house is strong and warm, my belly full, and my heart (relatively) at ease. A sense of poignancy gives me added insight – in three weeks I’ll be making art work in an old cotton factory down by the dockyards in old industrial Hamilton, Ontario.

Which is nothing like here, at all.

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What a gift – to witness November here, day by day.  If leaves are like memory and wind like change they dance together, all around the cabin. Is the music then Time? Whatever it is, it feels dangerous, spins them faster and faster, past and beyond the known, remembered moments, the assurances, the conversations, the collaborations.

Birds are gone, toads buried, squirrels vanished. The trees twirl and bend and dip into swift certainty that all of what has happened here will soon be gone and buried, in snow.

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The young maple still gleaming gold against cedar green disappears in real time before my eyes, leaf by leaf.  Just branches like bones, now.

This morning I could see earth on the pathways, now, above has become below.  I walk on what lived in the sky above my head, three weeks ago.

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Branches like ribs, trunks like spines, but this feels nothing like death. There’s a beautiful economy to it, a paring down, a pulling in. I can feel the trees bowing with the wind, with infinite dignity to acknowledge what has been, to welcome what comes. Yes, they’re 100 years strong here, together. And yes, every winter some are unable to withstand the wind, and fall to the ground. Some fall into the arms of another.

I’m now part of the ecosystem here, so these still-aloft but fallen trees are the ones I bring my chainsaw to. These are the ones who will feed my fire, next year.

…which burns low, I notice.

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I’m thinking about this state we are all in, on some level. The state of becoming our older selves, while we shed the things that once were important. The gauge of this is perhaps that we notice things that were always there, but have never been apparent. The wonder of that.

I want this to be so – that the trees also gain a new viewpoint every year, as they reach their branches upward, and their roots down. They participate differently as they grow stronger, wider, steadier – they become protector trees, anchors for all the others.  Some grow more quickly, dominating the canopy in places so undergrowth doesn’t flourish – but these also have shorter lifespans and so build soil for the others.

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What do we do for one another, we who grow so quickly, take without asking, consume so much, are so afraid of dying?

I’ve just come out of a weekend of poets from across Canada who’ve met here  – impossibly and powerfully  – in some combination of truth and humour, compassion and rage these past fifteen years. Thank you, Words Aloud.

These are some who are not afraid, these poets, or at least they’ve found some good cathartic things to do with fear. These humans call us all out to a place of attention, honesty and grace. They walk along the edge of pain and find beauty there, dare to dance there, for all to see. They give us their compassion, their rage, their insight and their tricksiness, but most of all, they call us to our own depths with whispers of courage.

Truth to power. Grow beyond what you know. Find Love –  love Love.  Leap.

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Poets double-dare me to claim my becomings, to walk softly on what once lived above my head. To honour my future, whatever may come. I’ll take that dare.