My phone is in Kingston, 200 km of driving sleet and transport trucks ago.

I travel through this with my daughter from my aunt to my niece. There’s a rightness to the timing.

Bill Reid's Orca
Bill Reid’s Orca

In the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau I find a plug upstairs after the cafe closes.  There’s a bench with cushions so I cross my legs and balance the laptop as I would find centre and lift my paddle in a canoe. Then I write, staring at horizon.

There’s a curve in the tail of Bill Reid’s Orca that keeps him suspended in the air, impossible and alive.

My paddle-calloused fingers type,

I intend…

2001- a painting from a show called Sea Hear, in which I tried once again to paint music
a photo of  ‘Play’ from a 2001 show Sea Hear, in which I tried with all my heart to paint music. My daughter, at 5, chose all the imagery for this one, especially the orcas.

Weightless I am, suspended in the air like this massive hunter whale.  Out of my element, on purpose:  I intend.

I am above the Ottawa River which looks drugged into surrender by the ritual, annual, comforting January cold, across from the Parliament buildings where Justin son of Pierre sits with renewed and informed vigour as our head of state.

They built the beautiful, flower-shaped, buttressed library on the river side, away from the possibility of attack.  Those Statesmen, their advisors, their Wives.  Some of them in came and chose and made it so in ways I can respect.

Bell1, 2015, 20" x 24", mixed media (acrylic) on canvas.
Bell1, 2015, 20″ x 24″, mixed media (acrylic) on canvas.

I think about my Scots ancestors who fled here two generations & eight generations ago to look for a horizon they could aim for, for once.  I think about now and La Loche and four people dead like lightning, like an arrow to what we need to see and be accountable for.  I think about Idle No More, about Truth and Reconciliation.

I can barely remember the last specific, technical idea I had about music or painting – these old old ideas are far stronger.

'Black'. 2014, 36x36, acrylic on dyed cotton.
‘Black’. 2014, 36×36, acrylic on dyed cotton.

I intend.

To take the next precious decade of my life to examine and build a good answer to these things I wonder and care about, more every day.

My thinking fingers have written this:

We are all a product of our own small community that overlaps in myriad ways with larger ones like the Internet, like a city, a collective, a field, an orchestra, a band, large or small.  I’ve come to believe over this small span of years that each is an ecosystem that thrives according to the strength of it’s connectedness.

I’ve found also that few connectors are stronger than the making of good music. As a painter who also writes and performs regularly as a vocalist/cellist…

…I have experienced this time and time again: visual art and writing connect us more deeply to ourselves but music connects us, through ourselves, to others. One might say that community music is like mycelium – a connective tissue that can convey a supportive ‘nutrient’ through the system to everyone who requires it….

photo by Robbin McGregor, bee-keeper
photo by Robbin McGregor, bee-keeper

The timing is right.  I will get my Master’s degree at Laurier, in Community Music.

Like the impossibly suspended whale, like a Rebel, I will pay for this with the proceeds from my paintings.  They will be on paper and canvas, in watercolour, ink and oil.  They will sing.


Find a door you like, one that calls change to you.  Then you go through and in.

I got up from writing to answer the knocking at my front door, wondering if I’d have to speak federal election with someone I’d never met, or if my neighbour needed a hand.


There was no one there, save for a couple walking down the street.  When I looked down to the stoop I found a walnut, still wrapped in its green ball.  As I picked it up I saw a black squirrel staring at me from the driveway.

He looked so ready and willing and …waiting.  I rolled the walnut across and over the porch and down to the pavement to him.

He caught it, with a little squeak of … glee?  And rolled it under my car.

I looked at the couple, who’d stopped in their tracks – yes they saw that.


For a moment all the bustle and think of Human was interrupted by the bustle and gather of Squirrel, and we played “Roll the Walnut”.

Smile.  Pause.

I closed the front door and got back to work.

when we lay our backs against this wall and stayed perfectly still, we could hear this moss - it has a sound - peaceful, and deep and damp
this moss has a sound – peaceful, and deep and damp

I remember walking through the trail at Skinner’s Bluff one fine September day, so happy to be breathing in the beauty and wilderness there that clock-time ceased to exist.

taken September 27th, 5pm.
taken September 27th, 5pm.

Dusk came and I was still hours away from where I’d parked. Since the forest there stretches for 2000 acres, my only safe option was to spend the night somewhere close to the trail and make my way back in the morning light, lest I wander off-trail in the dark and get lost.  This was just fine with me – permission to sleep in the forest on a warm, late-summer night?  Yes please.

My story happened before cellphones and I had no camera with me.  This pic is from the Lion's Head trail, nearby and equally as beautiful
My story happened before cellphones and I had no camera with me. This pic is from the Lion’s Head trail, nearby and equally as beautiful

I nosed around the trail until I found a deep mossy place where the limestone was flat-topped and lined with crevices.  I just sat, then lay there under the twilight oaks and maples, listening to the birds sing the sun down, watching rich colour seep away into many-toned grey.  It was warm and smelled like rich earth – I had nowhere else to be, no one to report to, I was completely at peace.


There was a point at which it became so dark that I could not see my hand 6 inches in front of my face. I closed my eyes and let the night sounds whisper me to sleep.  A most profoundly restful night, unlike any other before or since.

Decades later I can imagine myself back to that bed when I need to ease up on my stress pedal.

reference for 2 paintings I'm doing for a Chinese New Year show this month - due Tuesday I believe
reference for 2 paintings I’m doing for a Chinese New Year show this month – due Tuesday I believe

This is one of those times – I find myself seeking the negative space around work.

This is not easy – these times for me are an enormous canvas full of tasks – each its own image, each a local colour.  If I blur my vision I see busy: texture and contrast and detail layered over another surface stuffed with older but similar images, which obscures yet another layer.  Each goal and its’ tasks, job and its’ timelines has its own curve, its own insistence upon priority.  A Pollock but with much less grace.

From a distance all of it becomes less fragmented, less like wallpaper, and more like a background for one simple image.  I’ll hold onto that thought.  Perhaps, in-between things I will stretch my huge canvases so they’re ready for the epiphany that will come.

This is a huge canvas that has served as the 'catcher of drips' on my studio wall for the past six years. it will become four huge paintings - each with five years of painting drips embedded
This is a huge canvas that has served as the ‘catcher of drips’ on my studio wall for the past six years. it will become four huge paintings – each with five years of painting drips embedded

This post has taken a day to write, bit by bit.

In between the writing bits I’ve made 30 placemats, moved a dresser from country to town, visited briefly with dear friends, started the design of a short intermediate course in art, built five sets of notecards, done some necessary administration, annoyed my daughter (lovingly) and consumed 1.5 litres of blueberry juice.