August 26, 2012

The Lofty and the Lowly

It’s been an eventful couple of weeks. First, there were all the tasks we set out for ourselves for the first week of our summer break.  Then, having dealt with them all, we did, in the end, make a short escape from routine.  We left the house and parent responsibilities to Nora and the meal prep people and took five days to camp our way up to Banff.  The last time either of us had been up that way was when we were kids so we figured it was time to revisit.  And of course it was wonderful.  We both love road trips so to be on the road again, just driving and watching the scenery roll by, coffee in hand and music on the radio, was just the balm we needed.

Years ago, when we were working out at Wood’s Lodge in Mammoth Lakes, we met an older guy on a hike one afternoon. There we were, surrounded by the singular splendour of the High Sierras yet when he asked where we were from and we told him British Columbia, Canada, he nodded his head reverently and said:  “Ah, now that’s God’s country!”.  I’d say he was right.  Driving through chunks of the province as we did this time (although we did stick our toes into Alberta for half a day or so), we realized how varied BC really is.  And how beautiful.  There’s so much here: ocean and mists and whales, rolling hills sweeping into desert grass country, the orchard and wine country of the Okanagan, dense evergreen forests surrounded by jutting incredible mountains...

Ok, I realize I’m sounding like a spokesperson for Tourism BC here and no, they're not paying me to sing these praises (though really, if there was a job to be had, who knows…) but that's because I also realize this province we live in is spectacular and we’re lucky to be here. It’s way too easy to dream of places far away and ignore what’s right here just because it’s exactly that, right here. God knows, I’m guilty of that too often. But taking the time to look around and breathe in the air of the near-at-hand was pretty much the best thing we could have done this time around and it was a wonderful trip.  

In as much as we could, given we were headed to a major tourist draw, we tried to stay away from tourist hot spots.  And for good reason. We had to squelch feelings of anger and annoyance after we arrived at a place called Natural Bridge, in Yoho National Park. The Kicking Horse river has cut it's way through solid rock there, to leave a limestone bridge from one bank to the other while the river still pounds its way underneath in full force and power. The spray and storm of rapid water crashing over rocks is fantastic. It's the kind of place where you can remember how insignificant you are. Given the chance, that is.

Sadly, we got there at the very minute three tour buses spewed forth dozens of Nikon-toting foreigners who burst onto the scene in wild herd fashion and a cacophony of chatter and began snapping pictures. And no, not of the actual natural awesomeness of the place as much as of each other. We stood by waiting for two solid minutes as one woman posed, model-style, at the tip of the main look-out point while three other women, each with an identical looking camera, took her picture over and over and over. When she left and we finally had our chance just to stand there and breathe in the spray, some other guy asked Roland to move because he was inside his photo frame and the guy didn't want him there.  Seriously, did these people even see how magnificent the place was or did they just see it as backdrop for their camera-smiles?  Anyway, deep breath...

We also spent one hellish half hour looking for parking at Lake Louise because we really couldn't not go see it, but it was definitely one of the low points of the trip. The place was swarming with people. There was, in case anyone got bored just trying to absorb the scenery, even a guy slapping at a guitar and bleating out some dreadful song, guitar case open for donations. Gads! Don't get me wrong, as the wife of someone who used to busk on occasion once upon a time, I'm partial to street musicians.  But the operative word is musician.  This guy was far from being that.  Possibly, the busloads of picture-snapping visitors saw the guy as an enhancement of their experience there, maybe even as a photo opportunity, a sort of only in Canada moment. We sure didn't and got the hell out of there fast.

Other than this, the trip was beyond reproach. The campsites we found were all great, we were lucky enough to sit on an empty beach and watch the meteor shower on the first night, and we met enough good people along the way to restore our faith in travellers. And, not least by any means, the scenery was pure soul-food.  Here is a very inadequate sampling of some of the sights.  But there's really no way to do full justice:

This is (I think) around Boston Bar, BC and at the start of our trip.  We both took pictures here because there was a certain mood...

The three pictures above are from a hike we took at the Illecillewaet campground at Glacier National Park.  The middle picture shows the meeting of the Illecillewaet River and the Asulkan Brook. I love the visible distinction of colour in the water.

 These three are from the Johnson Canyon area in the Banff National Park.  The first two are from a hike up to two waterfalls and the third is a mountain meadow further up in the same area.

 And about 25 kilometres outside of Banff.  First, a lookout onto the Bow river and then Castle Mountain.  Apt name.

We got back to home sweet home with our heads screwed on a bit differently and still carrying, inside us, some of the inner peace we found along the way. Just as well because it didn't take long for reality to slap us awake. On the first day back the fridge broke down. It's not a very old one but it's been grumbling a bit lately and on Saturday the capacitor relay blew. Of course I haven't got a clue what that is but Roland did, and he also knew how to fix it and I was, yet again, immensely grateful I chose a man who is not only a thinker but a handyman. Except the replacement part place wasn’t open until Monday so, after I’d already washed and put away the cooler, we had to haul it out,  fill it with ice again, and hope the milk didn't turn. And, as if that wasn't enough excitement for our homecoming, the dog got sick.

I took him for a walk on Saturday and, instead of his usual solid "offering" there was a stream of what looked like crimson paint.  No scooping the poop when it runs out and seeps into the ground. I can joke about it now because after a visit to the vet and some expensive medication he's now back to normal but, at the time, it was beyond alarming. For the first couple of days of his sickness he didn't eat, not even his favourite things, yet we got up for a couple of mornings to puddles of bloody goo on the kitchen floor tile.  

To add to the angst, the vet wouldn't look us in the eye when he saw us. That seemed like a bad sign. He prodded and poked, took a temperature, asked a bunch of questions, said something about a tumour or "mass" and gave us some antibiotics to try, warning us he didn't think they'd do much because it didn't look like an infection. He suggested we need to consider our next step. Thankfully, it didn't come to that.  

We spent a sorrowful couple of days in memories of all the happy times we had with Frodo (three guesses on who chose that name and it wasn't me) while he slowly got better. Now, a mere week later, he's back to being the grumpy, food-obsessed, anti-social nasty little dog with a huge Napoleon complex which is his normal self. And, although we've done our share of complaining about him in the past eleven years and wistfully imagined how it might be to have a dog with a sweeter temperament, we've come through this episode to realize that although he is an evil little dog, he's our evil little dog. He's part of the family and we'd miss him. 

See, I wasn't kidding when I said the last couple of weeks were eventful. But, now that the fridge is fixed, and the dog is back to begging for treats, and I've got a folder-full of potential new print material to work with, it doesn't look so bad.  And, if anything, the lesson is that we (or maybe I) need to learn to appreciate what I've got, rather than wasting time in longing for what's on the other side of the fence.  

August 09, 2012

Seven Degrees of Completion

Yesterday morning I spent a good five minutes studying the incredible bloom on the plant we have in the bedroom.  And then I took a picture because I may turn it into a print.

I have no idea what the plant is called but it blooms often and in multiple clusters of flowers that fill the room with scent.  It's so perfect it almost looks fake and, yesterday, that's just what I needed to look at for a while. Some perfection.

Vacation time is here and as per prior resolve I spent Tuesday afternoon in my mother's room, sorting through and clearing clutter. Now there are two giant Rubbermaid bins full of miscellaneous sewing stuff sitting on the back porch waiting for a second sort and cull later today.  Yesterday, I needed to take a break from it because it turned out to be a bit more emotionally harrowing than I'd expected.  There I was, one minute dispassionately going through the miscellany, trying to find mates for lonely socks, and the next minute sobbing stupidly into my hands.  

My undoing were the random unfinished things I came across.  The stuff my mother had started working on, clearly with full intentions of seeing completion, and then never did: the skirt she was fixing the waistband on, pinned and ready to go, the sketches for a new jacket she planned to make, the notes about books she would look for in the library, the newspaper clippings about new films she'd watch.  All of that, suddenly halted forever in mid-swing as she now spends her days watching reruns of classic movies, all the while unaware she's seen them before.  It was as if time froze at a specific point yet she moved forward into an entirely different reality and only took a small part of herself with her.  It really wasn't that long ago she was still sketching and making notes and now she can't even write her name.

Along with my finding all these planned-for things came my realization of how her collection of "stuff" was so much like mine.  I have half-finished sewing projects in my closet and sketches for things I want to make, and lists of books and films I want to watch.  Not to mention all the ideas for new prints I hope to do "one day". How terrifying is that, unexpectedly coming face to face with how tenuous those plans and dreams can be? The whole room-sorting task really forced me to confront some things I'd prefer to be an ostrich about and it wasn't much of a leap from there to where I was feeling sorry for myself and the tears started rolling.  And then, in my head I heard the thing my dad always said when I was small and cried: don't cry, you'll pee less, and I felt even more sorry for myself then because he's got dementia too...  

I headed outside to get some sympathy from Roland but he was busy with a deck construction/repair project and fully in his "builderman" mode.  His sympathetic side was disengaged.  So I got a grip and packed up all the unfinished bits and pieces and threw them out and finished the job I started.  And then the truth hit me, that in living and growing and moving forward there'll always be something left uncompleted when the time for action is up. Something we didn't get to regardless of what the reason for the halt is.  Maybe the trick, then, is to try live life as fully as possible in order to keep the regrets over the yet-to-be-done to a minimum.  

And this is probably a pretty good place in this post to segue into the part about what a productive weekend I had, printmaking wise.  It really was marvellous.  So marvellous, in fact, that I finished the print I was working on.  I mean completely finished: signed, numbered, put away...the whole bit.  In one weekend!  This is a huge deal in my case because the print has six colours in it and I printed four of them over a mere two days and that, for me anyway, is unprecedented. The full irony here lies in the fact that I accomplished this with my new Akua inks, the inks that are supposed to be slow to dry.  

One of the main reasons I normally get only one colour down per week, and why it takes me so long to finish each print, is that I like each colour to be dry before I lay down the next one. With the my old inks, that meant waiting for at least one day and, since my only printing day is Sunday and I work most Mondays, I normally end up having to wait from one week to the next.  Unless I happen to have a Monday off with time to spare and can print two days in a row, but I could count all the times that happened on one hand.  Sounds crazy but that's the way it is.  

With this print, the first couple of colours dried really fast but I figured that was just because they were light, or thin, or something.  I fully expected to have to wait as the layers built up.  Imagine my surprise then, when I printed colour number three a week ago and it was, again, totally dry an hour later.  By this point I'd already hauled the press off of the kitchen table and packed all my stuff away and I didn't feel like hauling it all back out again. Plus there was weeding and raspberry picking to do. But I could have easily kept printing and that's just what I did do this past weekend. A great start to the vacation: two colours on Sunday and two on Monday, I felt like I was, at long last, a real printmaker.  Here's how the stages came together: 

I printed the yellow two weeks ago and the orange last weekend...

then this past Sunday I added in the sage green and

by the time I cleared the block for the next pass the print was dry and I was able to do the darker green.  

The last pass, this Monday, was the forest green.

Sunflowers - Reduction Linocut
7" x 9"  
varied edition of 10

I am totally enraptured with these new inks.  Why did I wait so long to try them???  I'd like to say a bit more about how the Akua inks compare to the Dan Smith ones I've been working with but I'll have to save that for the next post. This one's getting too long.  Plus, the detritus from my mother's room is calling me.