Crosses and headstones dating back to the middle eighteen hundreds cluster, serving as grave markers in the St. Louis Roman Catholic Mission cemetery in Fort Vermilion’s North Settlement (the north side of the Peace River, a settlement that has become known as Butter town). In the center of the cemetery a full-length cross leans against a tree. Not only does this cross provide visual reminder and echo of Christ’s words, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23-24),” but it serves as reminder that at Life’s end the cross will be put down and put away.
Parker Palmer has a poem about that part of Life, ‘When Death Comes.’
When Death Comes – Parker Palmer
When death comes
Like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited the world.
Quote to Inspire – “Moralists who love photographs always hope that words will save the picture. … In fact, words do speak louder than pictures. Captions do tend to override the evidence of our eyes; but no caption can permanently restrict or secure a picture’s meaning. What the moralists are demanding from a photograph is that it do what no photograph can ever do – speak.” – Susan Sontag, ‘On Photography’
For Ivan, who took an enormous, enjoyable squeeze out of Life … a blessing from many to accompany your passing. Ivan passed away in Penticton, BC last week at the age of 74 leaving behind many good friends and family. The words are that of John O’Donohue but the sentiment and blessing contained within them are shared and offered by many.
I pray that you will have the blessing
Of being consoled and sure about your death.
May you know in your soul
There is no need to be afraid.
When your time comes, may you have
Every blessing and strength you need.
May there be a beautiful welcome for you
In the home you are going to.
You are not going somewhere strange,
Merely back to the home you have never left.
May you live with compassion
And transfigure everything
Negative within and about you.
When you come to die,
May it be after a long life.
May you be tranquil
Among those who care for you.
May your going be sheltered
And your welcome assured.
May your soul smile
In the embrace
Of your Anam Cara (that radiant source of wisdom, that link between the human and the divine).
~ Entering Death, To Bless the Space Between Us (A Book of Blessings), John O’Donohue
A teacher’s year end contains the drift and blur of one week’s movement into another, the flex and flux within a sea of ever-changing tasks – it can be a time with little demarcation of days and weeks; there’s only more and more and more of school until that one morning when you wake up to find void in all that’s made up your previous ten months vocation. You note absence of routine, absence of schedule and absence of bells. From frenetic to calm and then to taking hold of your life – the first two weeks are hardest in this transition. It’s the initial unwind and decompression from the year you’ve lead students through, a time to settle in, settle down and a time to settle upon summer plans. But, we’re not there yet. Now, teachers count number of sleeps until school is done. Now, teachers whet their appetite for summer with barbecues and games of golf. Now, few teachers are reading books of interest. Many are marking assignments and tests late into the evening. Many are thinking through how best to help students review for finals. All are working through how to balance what has been taught against what remains to be taught within the time left. Those teachers with experience have managed time well, met all curriculum outcomes and are turning their focus to helping students conclude their year well – helping them to recognize what they’ve achieved and to anchor this self-knowledge within their self-esteem.
Within a few weeks, staff will cluster at year-end dinners and barbecues; they too will be looking at all their year has held – the successes and the challenges; and they’ll work to put issues to bed and leave them behind in the year that was. Already, we’ve held an awards night, a night celebrating staff’s years of service to students as well as recognizing notable within jurisdiction school achievements. Of all the times in the school year, this time, this month of June highlights the busyness of planning and of culmination; we’re heading toward threshold. Student behaviour is at its most extreme in June, something more significant than the student behaviour we see in December’s anticipation of Christmas. Warmer weather, extended hours of sunlight and the approaching end of what’s been normal for students through ten months, all can serve to escalate things in the worst of ways for students – fighting, skipping, withdrawal from school. It’s June. It’s that critical month in teaching when it’s so important to hold fast to your goals that lead students to their year end and yours. And, it is about each student. June is the month that contains the final moments in a year of transformation for adolescents. In June, the cocoon rattles and shakes, eventually bursting upon the threshold of that moment in which a school year and grade concludes and students are set free into their summer and their next year’s endeavor. It’s a birthing process.
Photography – the images presented here are ones in which I’m investigating what can be done with macro photography. The initial set of images are those taken in and around farming equipment on display at the High Level Museum. The others come from locations in Fort Vermilion, Alberta – an old building (to be demolished), grave markers at the Anglican cemetery and dandelions outside the cemetery.
Curious Quotes – (1) “Nothing isolates one person from another person as the species of their perception.” – Boris Pasternak; (2) “Stress is a perverted relationship to time.” – John O’Donohue
Quotes to Inspire – (1) “I never question what to do, it tells me what to do. The photographs make themselves with my help.” – Ruth Bernhard (2) “It pleases me to take amateur photographs of my garden, and it pleases my garden to make my photographs look professional.” – Robert Brault
Listening to – Can’t You Hear Me Knocking (Rolling Stones), California Sun (The Rivieras), Let It All Hang Out (The Hombres), Louie Louie (The Kingsmen), Pink Cadillac (Bruce Springsteen), Sultans of Swing (Dire Straits) and Back in the Saddle (Aerosmith).
Imagine in your walking that you come upon a local cemetery, one you know well because it’s where your family has been buried through the ages. Imagine also that it’s getting to be a crowded place and that the sexton (gravedigger) has need to prepare a new grave. You’ve been away. So, you chat to catch-up on the news. The sexton’s efforts bring forth the skull of someone known to you and your family. The sexton is able to provide narrative about that skull and the soul which inhabited it – tales of good, mainly the good and memorable that connects to you. It’s the skull of someone known to you as a child and your memories tumble forth in your mind’s chatter. Your curiosity interrupts you. You know this region well. Your conversation shifts to the newly needed plot and for whom it is being prepared. Someone’s died. Someone you have known. That’s pretty much how young Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play comes upon Ophelia’s death, the death of a young lady from court that Hamlet should perhaps have wedded. There’s regret. Hamlet finds that she’s brought about her own end – likely from the confusion and obscurity relating to his intentions towards her. Her death is part of something bigger that’s happening, the unraveling and exposure of the truth.
Globally, the play is about addressing abusive power and control and is as much about organizational wrongdoing as it is about personal or individual wrongdoing. The plot seeks to confirm wrongdoing and to set things right from the top down and doing so requires elaborate and subtle means of addressing wrongs. People get hurt along the way, most notably those who surround the throne; by the end of the play Ophelia’s father, Polonnius, dies as does her brother, Laertes.
Death and change have been a part of Life in the past few weeks. In some ways it seems we are left reeling or perhaps numb in moving on from what’s been at play. In other ways the lesson to take away is that change does occur and it’s needed if Life and Lives are to improve. Hamlet, the sexton, Yoric (Hamlet Senior’s jester), Ophelia and the funeral come to mind with these photos of grave markers. It astounds me to consider what any of these Lives (as represented by these grave markers) has been comprised of, even only those lives memorialized by rock within these photos. Each Life has seen the bad and good in our history. Each have been at play within history. And, each has found a way to make a go of living Life. I am struck by how often the cross is representative of the Life that has been lived.
Listening to – Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds perform Gravedigger, then its Anna Begins by the Counting Crows and You Might Die Trying by the Dave Matthews Band; Coldplay’s What If and Jack Johnson’s Rodeo Clowns also have featured in this evening’s listening.
Quote to Inspire – “A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.” – Ansel Adams
Within a busy week opportunity for travel along former routes of home permits departure from the whirring, buzzing, routinized rhythm and press of town Life. An hour upon the road gathers me to others and I listen and we talk, good, informing chatter. The gathering, done, permits time beyond meeting to slow down and attend to what I see in that dusky golden hour of half-light. My look-round occurs through the lens attached to my Canon 60D. At the Anglican Cemetery in Fort Vermilion, Alberta I begin; many of the grave markers are granite headstones. Others, painted or stained wooden crosses, seem more temporary. Perhaps maintenance of this tentative grave marker highlights practice in looking after those who have gone before us.
I point my car northward toward High Level. My drive from home out to Fort Vermilion has given me windshield time, time to look out from my car’s windows and to note the snowless earth that is warming, thawing and drying. As we move into summer, hours of sunlight will extend backward into earlier mornings and forward into later evenings. Summer solstice will see the sun dip below the horizon at 11:45 p.m. and reappear at 2:30 a.m., the time between being a protracted period of half-light that photographers refer to as their golden hour when the intensity of light drops off and the quality of light and what is lit changes. At its darkest, there will be a gray eeriness. Tonight, I’ve been able to catch cattails within our current golden hour (at about 9:45 p.m. the sun has just dipped below the horizon). Shallow depth of field permits focus and highlight of subject and the generalization of shapes that pattern into the background.
Listening to – two female voices; first, seeing Aimee Mann within my iTunes catalogue sparked curiosity toward her work with Til Tuesday – I’ve purchased two different versions of Voices Carry. Then, in relation to psalm 23, I was curious as to whether or not Sarah Masen was able to have her album, The Dreamlife of Angels, made available through iTunes. It’s been about ten years since Stocki first played it on Rhythm and Soul; at the time, a major record deal was not in the offing. But, now her album is something I’ve just found and it’s about time. Sarah is an intelligent lyricist; her song The Valley references psalm 23, making you think, and a curiously interesting tune called Hope is worth the listen. What else – The Five Blind Boys of Alabama will feature at Edmonton’s Winspear Centre along with Over the Rhine on June 10th. Good schtuff … if you’re to take it in.
Quote to Inspire – “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” -Ansel Adams
Epiphany is a term used to mean a moment in time in which a veil is drawn back and you see, realize or understand something that had until that moment been hidden or concealed from one’s awareness or understanding. At Thursday noon, my wife and daughter began a drive from High Level to Edmonton, Alberta what should be a nine-hour trek at the best of times. Along their drive, with spring’s first heating of the snow-covered earth condensation blown from the snow on the earth swirled up into the atmosphere coming down a second time in a near white-out blizzard causing my wife to stop only three hours into her journey at Peace River, Alberta. In a phone call from Peace River, she asked that I fly down to Edmonton so that I would be able to drive my daughter and her back. On Friday, they made it to Edmonton and I made it to Edmonton, and, for the first time, on Saturday, two events became epiphany for me as parent to my son and my daughter.
As parent among parents, in one day I witnessed my daughter and her ballet dance troupe win gold at the ‘Standing Ovations’ dance competition at Festival Place in Sherwood Park, Alberta; in her dance I caught my daughter’s confidence, grace and beauty in movement set to time and music. Later that same day, I had the pleasure of witnessing and hearing my son’s performance as bass singer among the University of Alberta’s Mixed Chorus in its 68th Annual Spring Concert at the Francis Winspear Centre for Music in Edmonton – the music was resonant, majestic and actual, something happening before me, something surrounding me. My son’s comment was in the order of singing with the chorus being so much better than … Church. Indeed, he may have found more of what Church is about within the experience of participating in choral harmony. My epiphany was not so much new understanding as it was about seeing and enjoying fruits of my labours. As a teacher, most times you will at best only read about former students’ achievements. As parent, my job on this particular Saturday was not to strive for something, nor was it to push or coax my children; my job was to sit still, open-out my awareness to my children and enjoy what my daughter and my son were able to achieve in performance and result and in terms of heart-felt impact.
My wife will own that I am the parent who’s brought music into the home that our children have been brought up in; but, what’s more the truth is that I’ve really been conduit to something my parents surrounded our family with in their home as did their parents before them. My father and my mother were both accomplished pianists, both able to perform, both passing on their enjoyment of music to their three boys – my two brothers and me. We did have my father and one brother with us for both events on Saturday. Mom, who passed away in May of 2005, would have delighted in what her grandchildren achieved in relation to music, dance and performance on Saturday. The images presented in these photos are of grave-markers, headstones and crosses that recall to memory lives of those whom are held in memory, those whose lives impacted us. My great grandmother is buried in this Edmonton cemetery.
Listening to: Neil Diamond’s Song Sung Blue, Porcupine Pie and Canta Libre from the Moods album, songs we grew up to, songs mom enjoyed.
Quote to Inspire – “All photographs are there to remind us of what we forget. In this – as in other ways – they are the opposite of paintings. Paintings record what the painter remembers. Because each one of us forgets different things, a photo more than a painting may change its meaning according to who is looking at it.” – John Berger
At sundown I found this boat, dragged to its rest among the trees; it lies on Vale Island in the industrial section of Hay River’s west channel that now caters to barges on the Great Slave Lake. The photograph may make the boat look smaller than it really is. From ground up to the boat’s keel is eight to ten feet and its length is about sixty feet. What has it been used to accomplish? Many things draw me to this photo – the juxtaposition of boat and plants, the juxtaposition of boat and telephone poles, a boat covered in snow, the colour, form and texture of the wood. The image draws highlight to the phrase, ‘coming apart at the seams.’ Possibly this phrase refers to the final demise of derelict boats and ships. As I look to the image, the final photograph I’ll consider today, it seems as though the boat sleeps under a blanket of snow.
Thank you to all bloggers who navigate regularly to ‘In My Back Pocket – Photography;’ thank you for the ‘likes’ and the ‘comments’. Good schtuff!!
Listening to a playlist while I walk tonight – U2’s Magnificent, Coldplay’s Yes, Radiohead’s All I Need, The Police’s Walking on the Moon, Kings of Leon’s Crawl, U2’s Moment of Surrender, David Bowie’s China Girl and U2’s Miracle Drug.
Quote to Inspire – “A lot of people think that when you have grand scenery, such as you have in Yosemite, that photography must be easy.” – Galen Rowell
The log built structure in the first black and white photograph is a Presbyterian Church on the back roads between Bezanson and Grande Prairie, Alberta. The other photographs are of a set of mailboxes that you’d find on back roads in rural Alberta, an economical means for both farmers and Canada Post to distribute the mail. Setting the Church and mailboxes in juxtaposition brings out core ideas of message and being in receipt of message; both seem to suggest that you have to get the message … work is involved, others are involved. Interesting ….
Listening to Honey and the Moon, from Joseph Arthur’s Redemption’s Son; the song reminds of Stocki’s Rhythm and Soul BBC Radio Ulster broadcast (Sundays at 1:00 p.m. – Alberta MST) in which I first heard Johnny Cash singing a Depeche Mode song – Personal Jesus, hill-billy-fied, on the American IV: The Man Comes Around album (the honky-tonk piano … caught my ear – totally good) … the other tune from this album receiving air-play is Johnny Cash singing Sting’s I Hung My Head.
Quote to Inspire – “We don’t take pictures with our cameras. We take them with our hearts and we take them with our minds, and the camera is nothing more than a tool.” – Arnold Newman