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Last year, now.

It was a complex spring last year, coloured by the peaceful death of a beloved man. Dad passed in the middle of the night on the 29th, the day before I presented my Masters capstone. I heard a train whistle, Mom texted ten minutes later.

The stream that runs beside the farmhouse where my Mom lives, last year on April 28

The leaves must have been budding, but I wasn’t watching for them. I remember only swans, shiftings, transformations, releases, openings. Ten days later I would sit myself down in the first of many airplanes for a solo trip to Dublin, Lyon, Tuscany, Florence, Edinburgh.

Last year, through my back window

I passed a grand piano in the Brussels airport on my way to the loading gate, wondered at the way we travel, now. So many of us on the move, and no time to play the piano.

The way we travelled, once. Could any of us have imagined this spring.

Brussels Airport, May 2019

I’m happy to say that the seven trumpeter swans I saw in Feb 2019, exhausted on a northbound highway, are all well. They are the central metaphor for the story I presented for my masters capstone, which has now morphed into a tale of transformation about these times we are in now.

I belong to a group of people who share photos and news of trumpeters in Ontario – all of them the result of a successful reintroduction program based in Burlington. There are now thousands of these swans naturalized here, where for 100 years there had been none. One of the greatest joys of this self-isolated spring has been seeing photos of these beautiful birds with their new crop of fuzzy grey cygnets.

The loons are back, too, where they have nested along the quiet shore I know in southern Georgian Bay. Quieter now that the holidayers are not playing with jet skis. The water is high and playful, the sunlight strong and bright through still leafless trees. I stay in my little cabin there while delivering masks to friends and family in my old community of 25 years. Grateful to be in a place that exists outside of human economics, politics, trauma and grief, outside of what we call time. There’s a blissfully poor wifi signal there.

The masks project continues to teach me. Online ordering from small family businesses is possible and preferred. The new Heavy Duty Singer I picked up curbside from the little place that has serviced all my machines comes with tech and service support that the ones you buy from Amazon or Walmart don’t have. She sells me all of her elastic and I can text for advice any time, imagine that. The elastic and batik quilting fabric I order from a little BC company comes with a call from Kevin the owner, who is charging his cost just to keep things going. I tell him about the loons.

It turns out that the masks are better used and valued if they are made and given in neighbourhoods, by neighbours. So I make kits now to send out to people who have sewing machines. People who order two get extras to give to others they know who are high risk.

I’m working more slowly now, steady like a tortoise while also attending to my other work. The orders still come in. Metro workers here have been told they must wear the plastic face shields now, or cloth masks if they can get them somewhere… I’ll make what I can, send out kits, put together a fun how-to video and post it online.

The fact is that for the foreseeable future we are in a world now where mask wearing will be like seatbelts in a car – perhaps not regulated by law, but acknowledged as a sensible and respectful way to be among other humans who could be high risk. I believe it’s possible to do this cheerfully.

Here on the twenty-ninth of April 2020, leaves are emerging from buds on the trees. Like a faint golden green glow on the top of the old giants in Gage Park – a new breathing of air that is freer from chem trails and just generally cleaner than it was a year ago.

A train chugs by through the houses with a bell, but without a whistle. I think of the peace my dad found and surrendered to, a year ago. There is so much to be grateful for, even in these times.

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Cabin Stories 2020: the lake

March 31, Hamilton, Ontario

As I drive through the rain from there to here I see rainbow auras over everything – trees, fields, barns, mailboxes, road. It’s good to be out, to be in that odd state of stillness and movement that is distance driving. The trip north does its work – gets me out of the loop of statistics and analyses – death curves, stock market dives, lists of and check-ins with people I love, scrabble with strangers who can’t sleep, either.

I’m glad I have a chainsaw, though using it exhausts me. I have named her Catharsis.

Glad I have a woodstove too, that the cabin is small enough to heat in a moment, that there’s hardly any wifi there to speak of.

In the new day there I am content to go down and open up the bothy (without touching anything but the door handle, which I clean) for family to use when they come, in ones and twos. I sit on a rock and throw other rocks back into the lake that pushed them onto the deck, into the firepit, over the stone steps down. One rock at a time, each of them different.

This one, I keep.

I’m not the same size or shape as the woman who lived in the cabin for six months, twenty months ago, and I feel the truth of this through my evening read. My work, that shifts and changes as the world does, calls me to shift and change with it, though I don’t yet know what shape it will take. So many of us, in this place of not yet knowing.

I sleep two nights in the lullaby of waves on shore and spring warblers, then leave through the morning thunderstorm. The deep healing balm of fire and ice and water and air and rock. The friendship of trees who know me well. These I bring away with me. I leave nuts for the critters.

Hamilton now, in another wet morning.

A radical re-write my Canada Council grant before the deadline next week. Studio work, albeit at a snail’s pace as I adjust to the tectonic shifts. Cards drawn and mailed to those I love, and those loved by others who have requested I write. Furniture shifted around to make this lovely rented place more work savvy.

In week three of self-isolation I’ve connected with people I know and love from each of my 5.5 decades of life – SUCH a joy. Our lives have shrunk to just US in our spaces, together while apart. It strikes me that we are all suddenly in the business of attending to what home is, and who we are, in it. And who we are not. It’s a rather tough lesson in trust. Faith, too.

Must be hell on the narcissists.

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The Stories come seeking

Stories that want to be told come in through the eastern window in the morning, or sometimes down onto the roof with the rain.

There’s a beautiful one that follows me everywhere I go now, about the water that washes the eastern shore on Georgian Bay and how that is like, and also not like the ocean that kisses and smashes and chortles the eastern shores of the Shetland Islands. This story is long like a river that runs deep then dives deeper, to run beneath the desert.

There’s another about trumpeter Swans who were many, then few, then gone for a hundred years, hunted into oblivion by europeans. Now the imprint of those wild ones on the land teaches the new, tame ones how to be who they are. The tame ones teach the humans to be …better.

There are the stories a Mother Tree whispers to me – the one that once grew right here, the beating heart of the great breathing forest that lived – lives! she says – along the flanks of Lake Ontario, sheltered by the arms of the limestone escarpment.

They come in the window and through the roof with pictures and sounds to show me. Listen. Can you hear this? Can you see how this is, how it connects with that? Look at this marvel! Listen.

And so I get to work, and write. Draw containments for these, paint them, sing them, play them.

I’ve just sent two applications in to Banff Centre for the Arts for month long residencies this year, timed after my commission work has been completed and distributed with love.

What I’ll build at the Banff residency is a visual language that matches the stories that come in, asking to be told. I’ll work with colour, water, gravity, resist, paper and time. The musical language will develop too – downstairs in the room I’ve made for it, in car rides between here and my cabin, and on the road between here and Banff this summer and early fall.

That Banff Centre will of course choose to invite me or not; I’ll know by May. If not Banff, then from a back yard studio in Vernon, or a cabin on Lake Superior. From the blue artist’s studio at the edge of the ocean in the Shetland Islands. Either way, the stories will be told, and I will find a visual and musical language for them. This is the road I’ve chosen.

I will need help. I can’t tell the stories the way they’re asking to be told, without readers, without input, without research and connection, without funding assistance. Without performance venues, walls to hang the work on, other artists to work with and pay with respect, audiences to sing the music with. Without a family of collaborators.

Become a Patron

This is a link to my Patreon site, where you’ll find some options for collaboration with me and these stories. Benefits, too, as sincere tokens of my appreciation and love. If you join me as a patron, I will take you with me on the road, into the studio, the residencies, the water, the forests. Your story will mingle and connect with these ones, and you will be included in the books, songs and paintings that will be made. You will have my rich and enduring gratitude and love.

Most of the content on this website will continue to be free. I’ve been writing here for ten years and many life changes, and I love the connection it provides. Please consider, though, that this space takes great time and effort to build, develop, evolve, enrich. If you feel inclined to support this, even for the cost of a good coffee every month, the space and the work I do will only get better.

I am and will continue to be eternally grateful for your collaboration and support. Nothing in this world happens in isolation; we’re all in this together.