Wednesday, December 23, 2009


My favorite books from 2009 -- no particular number of them in no particular order.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
I read a couple chapters in high school and always meant to go back for more.  When a copy of the book turned up under last year's Christmas tree -- thanks sister -- I prepared to tear through the pages in record time, but quickly found that I couldn't appreciate Dillard at high speed.  It took me weeks to read this book because I kept flipping back to favourite passages, then wondering off on my own thought adventures.  Beautiful.  Leisurely.  Provocative.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
I'm the last person I know to read this book.  It's amazing that no one let the end slip.  Of course the end is all important and I can't say much about the book without giving it away.  Read it.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marques
Earlier this year my sister and I formed an exclusive book club -- just us -- and this was our first pick.  We met downtown on several Sunday afternoons to talk about it, but found the design district and the capouccinos more compelling.  Thus ended our book club; but we both agree that this is one of the best stories we've ever read.  You have to suspend belief to read Marques because however real his world may seem at first glance, it's fantasy at the core.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


This year my journal is filled with more doodles than usual.  I use a MoleSkin notebook with blank pages -- simple and elegant.

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Monday, December 14, 2009


December snuck up on me and I didn't realize that advent had begun until it was too late. We're celebrating anyway, just a little behind schedule. Last night -- the third Sunday -- we lit our second candle. The first was lit three nights previous on a Thursday (oh no!) and perhaps this Wednesday or Thursday we'll lite another candle and be caught up for next Sunday.

Being behind doesn't bother me much. Life is busy and I'm pleased to be celebrating advent at all. Last night my husband and I settled on the couch, breathed the smell of a struck match, and took turns reading familiar Christmas passages from Isaiah and the gospels. We conteplated the flickering flames -- light in the darkness.

. . . the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord (Isaiah

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her
will be accomplished (Luke 1:45)
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I like Charlie Brown style trees -- trees that look like they were cut from a snowy wood.  Reality is less romantic.  This tree was cleared from under a major hydro line.  We selected it from a line up -- trees tossed up against a fence -- in the most desolate corner of the nursery, then lugged it unceremoniously past too-straight rows of cultured, cone-shaped trees and lashed it to the car roof.  For all that, it still has a wild spirit and, I think, wears its new accessories with flare.  

Monday, November 30, 2009

hour glass

I just turned the hour glass that A gave me as a birthday present. Sand as white and fine as salt pours in a line with speed and persistence – the tiniest cascade. At first the fallen grains scatter to the edges of the lower glass – a ring of time. Now they are a mountain -- a volcano, actually, with smooth sloping sides. Its perfect cone shifts from time to time under the accumulating layers of white crystal—earthquakes as regular as clockwork. Above, what was once a dimple in the sky is now a crater. Sand cascades. The crater deepens, grows more profound. Individual grains of sand cling by static to the glass. Are they afraid of the jump, the plunge? Or just the passage of time – the inevitable change that it brings as the sand in the glass, like everything, runs out?

I wonder what would happen if I broke the glass. The volcano would escape. The crater in the sky would collapse. The white dust of time would spill across my living room table, onto the floor where feet would track it across the house and grind it into the rug. Drafts would waft it like smoke. Individual grains would cling by static to books and plants and furniture. I’d be finding white sand in corners forever – an unending purgatory of dusting. Time would be free – or lost.

Inside the glass, the process begins again. The volcano grows in layers of fine sand. The crater dimples and empties. The geological work of epics is condensed, once again, into minutes, restarted by a simple motion – I turned the glass. It’s comforting. Sure. Contained. A decorative knick knack on my living room table.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Most of our mail, real mail, comes in long envelopes – the credit card bill, a charity mail-out. They’re starkly white and impersonal. I much prefer short, wide envelopes. My address on these is hand-scrawled across creamy paper and crowned with a real stamp. Fifty-four cents. Lick it and stick it. One of these appeared in the mailbox this week. My birthday has passed and the onslaught of Christmas cards has yet to begin, so I was perplexed.

This is what that creamy little envelope contained: A card from our Regional District and a packet of “Native Canadian Seeds” – both in thanks for the day my husband and I spent clearing noxious Broom bushes from a park. No disappointment. Those short envelopes always deliver. Next spring there will be less Broom in the park and Chocolate Lilies in my garden.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Winter in my neck of the woods means rain and sometimes, when I'm lucky, a wind storm. Earlier this week I woke to the proof positive signs that our winter wind has arrived. A fresh layer of pine needles blanketed the drive way and peppered the lawn, the sky was a monotonous grey -- exhausted -- but the most telling sign of all was in my dreams. I woke with the memory of wet branches clawing my headboard and my bed bobbing in a puddle; me tunnelling deep into the duvet, afraid to step out of bed and get my feet wet.

This afternoon it did it again -- wind and water. I was awake to savour it and photograph the wet library window.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

an artists' house

"I want to make it really an artists’ house – not precious, on the contrary nothing precious, but everything from the chairs to the pictures having character. "

Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo
About his Yellow house
September 9, 1888, Arles

My sister found this quotation while flipping through books at a store.  She's just in the process of setting up a new house.  She calls it the Empress Yellow Cottage, inspired by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, who also lived in a yellow house (though hers was a palace, not a cottage).  An empress and an artist -- my sister and her new yellow house are in auspicious company.  Her home will never be precious or trite.  She ties twigs around lamps and rescues battered chairs.  If that doesn't amount to character, what does?

Friday, November 13, 2009


I'm reading about Botticelli in the evenings. The book was a birthday gift from my mom in answer a request for "an art book about a specific artist". I hope the nature of that wish list item acquits me of any charges of art snobbery. I know nothing -- really nothing -- about art, but two summers ago I visited the Louvre.

That single day didn't change me. My heart beat normally; I experienced no difficulty breathing. The soreness of my feet from standing all day and doing the slow "museum walk" stands out strongly in my memory, but so does the Winged Victory. I strolled up and down the long halls of the Louvre with no pretensions -- a tourist with my purse strap looped securely across my chest and a point-and-shoot camera in my pocket. Surprising, even to myself, I wanted to linger before a favorite painting, sketchpad or journal in hand, or at very least, to know something of the style or significance of what I saw. That desire persists. My mom gave me an art book for my birthday and now I'm reading about Botticelli in the evenings.

This painting is called Fortitude.  It was, so my book tells me, painted to hang behind the judges' chairs in the Florentine Tribunal -- one of seven Virtues.  I still can't comment on technique or significance, but I think she's beautiful -- strong and maybe a little bit sad. 

Someday, when I travel to Florence, I'll wonder the halls of the Uffizi.  I'll pause, camera in hand, and say, "That's Botticelli's Fortitude.  Isn't she beautiful?"

Image copied from

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I'm watching for sparks -- gold-vermilion with life and beauty -- that burst unexpectedly from bleak embers. I want to trap them for a moment, encourage their brilliance with my breath, and bring a jar of them home to glow on my coffee table. This blog is the jar.

To give credit where credit is do, I'd like to begin my blogging advanture with a poem by G.M. Hopkins -- a Jesuit priest from the 1800's who knew a lot about trapping sparks. This poem describes the power and beauty of a windhover in flight and the even greater power and beauty of the bird's sudden "buckle" as it dives. The poem is inscribed "To Christ our Lord" who, like the windhover, achieved the hight of his brilliance and beauty in the moment of his buckle.

The Windhover
To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on a swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.