Photos in and around Saint John

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say it’s not the end

after the rain
Of all days, if there ever was a time to feel sorrow, this is it. The most sombre day in the Christian calendar, Good Friday, this is the day we realize the depth of our failure as a human race.

We have failed to protect our environment, and our children. We have failed to be at peace with our neighbours, and to share our wealth and our food. We have failed to grow, to learn, to stretch, to reach our potential, to live a full life. We have failed to count to 10, to let well enough alone. We have failed to learn the lessons of our past, and to prepare for the future. We have failed to see, to hear, and to speak.

Those of us who attended church today heard a story of betrayal and pain, manipulation and meanness, taunting and tragedy. The thought that the ruthless and jealous and narrow-minded and prejudiced could win (and do win still) is maddening. I feel a surge of rage, a deep well of anger and sorrow stirring within me when I hear this story, because there are so many other stories that happen in the world around me that end (or seem to end) in frustration and weeping. It’s the earthquake in Haiti and the oil spill in Louisiana and the tsunami in Japan. It’s war and poverty and greed. It’s unfair.

And I am implicated. I am in the wrong just as often, or as easily, as I sit in the wings and gnash my teeth. Perhaps the worst agony is knowing that I’m powerless. Or knowing that I would also run away. Like Peter, not wanting to be seen, but unable to turn away. Not wanting to be tarred with the same brush, fleeing the accusing voice, the cowardice in my own heart.

And so the cock crows. The bell tolls. The darkness falls, and we are left alone with our fear and our failure.

[this is not how I want the story to end. so let it continue. let us continue to hope.]

Photo taken April 17, 2011


taste this

taste this

It’s that first whiff as a wave of wood smoke wafts by your nose. It’s the lawn chairs pulled out from the back of the garage, now waiting on the patio. It’s the surprising warmth of the sun in the late afternoon. It’s the pile of brush heaped into the portable firepit, spitting sparks and sinking into coals and ash. It’s all of this that draws me outdoors, out into the fresh spring air.

That’s when the bag of marshmallows emerges, and last summer’s marshmallow sticks are pulled from their hiding place. The stick ends are whittled clean, and the familiar ritual begins. Bundled against the chilling breeze, we lean into the warmth of the fire as we meditatively twirl our marshmallows over the hot coals. Smoke tendrils spiral upwards as the white-coated sweets turn brown and pocked with heat. I lift the perfectly toasted marshmallow to my mouth. Mmm.

Photo taken on April 10, 2011


nosy neighbours

nosy neighbours

I’ve been walking to work lately, most days. I take the neighbourhood route, avoiding the busy road until the winding residential streets run out. I walk in the cool of the morning, on the sunny side of the street, past quiet houses, and listen to the birds sing. Sometimes I see other people out walking their dogs, or jogging.

I arrive at work, where the spot I used to park has been taken over by roofers, and the rest of the parking lot has been removed by the construction crew working on a large building project. We are surrounded by drilling, thumping, hammering, blasting, and digging. Sometimes we can hardly get out the door for the cement trucks, dumptrucks or other heavy equipment moving in and out of the construction site. Yet people still manage to arrive, anyway, for art classes and gallery openings, workshops and meetings.

Then I walk home again, and when I reach the quiet streets of my neighbourhood, I see kids playing in backyards and cars pulling into driveways. And people are out walking dogs and jogging. And sometimes these two yappy dogs are out in their front yard, watching, ready to scold or gossip or at least make a lot of noise as I walk past, smiling.

Photo taken on March 31, 2011


spring has sprung

spring has sprung

I’ve been waiting for this, for the tiny patch of purple here, the splash of golden yellow there, for the crocus and scilla and hyacinth, the johnny jump-up and colt’s foot, the first flowers of spring.

It’s not easy to find flowers in our neighbourhood, as the deer have been brazen, nibbling the tender new growth as soon as it emerges. There are hoofprints in our flower beds at the front of the house, and signs that the deer have been leaping the fence to empty our bird feeder at the back. Some people put human hair around their tender plants to discourage deer, and others cover their beds with tangles of wire and fencing. Many people seem to have given up; they have no flowers at all.

We, on the other hand, are planning a bountiful crop of flowers, herbs and vegetables. My partner has been poring over seed catalogues and garden advice for months, charting hours of sunlight and drawing beds and borders. We have tiny kohlrabi and calendula seedlings up already, with many more expected to follow soon. And, yes, plants die, they fall prey to fungus and pests, drought and deer, but — this is my philosophy — if you plant generously, there will be enough for the pests, the deer, and you. And perhaps you will discover a patch of carrots miraculously untouched by worms, or a basketful of beans, or a pocket of perfect golden flowers to make you stop, and smile, and marvel at the persistence and bounty of life.

Photo taken on April 3, 2011


good night, grandmother moon

good night, super moon

The moon was amazing on Saturday night. I had invited friends over to help me celebrate my birthday, and as the moon rose, we crowded to the front window, marvelling at how full it seemed. This was a “super moon”, when the moon is the closest to earth in its orbit and full at the same time. This phenomenon happens only about every 18 years.

As NASA explains here, “Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon’s orbit. It is an ellipse with one side (perigee) about 50,000 km closer to Earth than the other (apogee). Nearby perigee moons are about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than lesser moons that occur on the apogee side of the Moon’s orbit.”

On Sunday morning, I woke early, and saw the moon bright and clear in the western sky. I put my long lens on the camera and headed outdoors — well bundled up against the cold — to watch the moon. I’m amazed how well I could see the geography of it; the pits and craters scarring the surface were sharp even without the camera. After watching and taking photos for a while, I went inside to warm up, then headed out again half-an-hour later as the moon was setting.

As I watch the moon set this morning, it still looks full and round and yellow in the pre-dawn light. It still looks familiar and mysterious and wise, a distant companion keeping watch. Good night, grandmother moon.

Photo taken on March 20, 2011


garden party

garden party

I’m glad spring doesn’t wait until the snow is gone. It doesn’t wait for the solstice, the calendar, the ideal configuration of the earth and the moon or the planets in their courses. It doesn’t even wait for the detritus of autumn leaves and mulch to be removed. Spring is ready at any opportunity — it rushes in from every direction as soon as winter turns its back. And all of a sudden (or so it seems), everything is growing again.

In our front flower bed, a bevy of bulbs are busy pushing their green shoots into the air. There’s a whole crowd of them now, the same shape and height, growing taller and stronger as the day itself grows longer and warmer. I imagine them greeting each other as they emerge from their winter hibernation. Hello neighbour, lovely day, how did you enjoy your vacation, nice to be out in the fresh air, watch out for those deer… The garden, the field, the forest is full of the soft murmur of leaf and frond, seed and shoot.

Yesterday, we marked St. Patrick’s Day with the wearing of the green. The natural world is right in sync, emerging to celebrate the first garden party of the year.

Photo taken on March 17, 2011


between dreams and waking

madrugada

Sometimes when I’m on the verge of waking, I linger on the edge of sleep, reluctant to relinquish that moment of possibility between dreaming and consciousness. In this moment, I feel anticipation and hope, I sense that something good might happen when the day begins. The closest word I can find to describe it is “madrugada”, a Spanish word meaning dawn or daybreak, or more literally, the hour before sunrise.

On many mornings, when I open my eyes and wake up, this moment vanishes; routine and responsibility rush in, and I push my dreams aside. But if I wake up early, in that hour (or two) before sunrise, I don’t have to rush into the day. I can sit for a moment and think about my day, my dreams, my desires, my disappointments. In the quiet of this madrugada, I can listen to God and be open to my heart. And I find that if I start the morning with stillness, I am better organized, better prepared, and better balanced as I head into my day.

As I look toward the future (now that I’ve passed the long-anticipated 50th birthday milestone), I realize it is this awareness of each day that is becoming most valuable to me. As much as I enjoy getting “stuff”, acquisition is not my goal; neither is career climbing or travel or fame. None of this will ever give me any satisfaction unless I know who I am, unless I can be whole and at peace in that moment between dreams and waking.

Photo taken on November 4, 2009


signs of spring

signs of spring

It feels like a miracle, the way the winter has all but disappeared. Barely more than a week ago, it seemed that the tall snowbanks and thick ice would never leave, but then the mild temperatures and rain arrived and washed most of it away. It’s hard to describe that sudden burst of joy I felt on seeing patches of bare garden already showing signs of life, how quickly the green shoots are starting to emerge!

As the spring solstice nears and the sap starts running, I feel my own energy level respond. I walked in the garden yesterday without a jacket, and it felt like such freedom. The birds are more plentiful, and more vocal, too; yesterday we heard a cardinal, and saw a small flock of red polls in the maple tree. Spring is arriving and I want to be outdoors; I want to revel in it.

There are changes in my own life, too. On Saturday, my partner and I played our first ever “gig”, a 30-minute program of harp & recorder while guests gathered for my aunt’s 95th birthday party. We had both worked hard to prepare the music and it showed; we actually sounded good, and — bonus — it was fun!

And tomorrow I will be celebrating my 50th birthday. This turning of the year is also a turning point in my life. I don’t know what to expect, or even what I’ll be doing in a few months, but I have a hunch that whatever happens next is going to be good!

Photo taken on February 21, 2011


construction is a season

construction is a season

I know it’s not spring yet, but look — patches of bare ground have appeared where ice-encrusted snowbanks once ruled, I can see a ring of grass around the maple tree, and, on the sunny side of the street, a sidewalk! This past weekend, the temperature soared to 9 degrees celcius and it rained (other places were not so lucky). We lost two-thirds of our snow. It feels like such a relief.

Along with the warming temperatures, other signs of spring:

  • a sleepy housefly was buzzing and bumbling around the kitchen at work
  • the goldfinches are beginning to yellow up
  • the cat actually wants to go outdoors
  • lost dog toys have suddenly turned up in the backyard, having been there all along

The construction project uptown has moved into a new phase of work, and the excavation for the new parking garage has begun. When I walked by the construction site yesterday, I smelled mud. Mud! Any day now, road crews will be out with fresh asphalt to start filling the huge potholes that plague the city streets.

The construction season has begun. Can spring be far behind?

Photo taken on February 24, 2011


living in a snow globe

living in a snow globe

I was browsing my winter photos the other day, and actually cringed when I found one with the comment, “Yay, the snow is back!” We’ve had so much snow this year, I can hardly believe I felt that way only a few short months ago. At the same time, I’m aware that all this snow will seem as unreal as a dream in another few months.

In the last few days, I’ve been walking around our property, making mental notes:

  • the snow is over the top of the driveway reflectors
  • look how it’s drifted right across the fence
  • it’s higher than the railing on the back stoop
  • the snowbanks along the road are taller than me.

Right now, we’re inside looking out at winter and wishing it will go away. But it will go away, and we’ll be outside looking into our memories, shaking our heads as we say to each other, “Do you remember all that snow we had last winter? It was up to here!”

Photo taken on February 28, 2011


tropical dreams

transparent

If plants had feelings — and who says they don’t? — they would feel very sad at being neglected in a dark corner of the house. You know they are feeling sad, because they literally droop with sadness, moping in the shadows, turning pale and dropping leaves, trying desperately to catch your attention.

And when you relent and place them in a sunny window, giving up your own sunny table to make your plants happy, oh my, what an improvement to their spirits and yours! You can almost see them purring with pleasure as they bask in the light, leaning in to the window as close as they dare and even sacrificing the tips of their leaves in quest of the sun’s life-giving rays.

And if plants had dreams — you know they do — they would dream of mountain slopes and steamy jungles, hot breezes and drenching rains, the call of parrots and the rainbow shimmer of butterfly wings, a tropical paradise where winter is banished forever.

Photo taken on January 20, 2011


winter, the continuing story

winter at the park 2

That combination of snow and rain on Friday night made for some horrible driving. I agree that the trees look really pretty.

I arrived home safely, but then managed to wedge the car into a snowbank, and with all that ice underneath, all the wheels could do was spin. I was so relieved when my partner remembered the old rug in the garage, and between the two of us, we managed to get it free again.

That high wall of snow and ice chunks left by the snowplow Saturday morning across our shared driveway made me want to cry. I almost cried again when our neighbour’s friend drove up with his plow to clear it.

We bundled up and took the dogs to the park yesterday, but it was so cold I wanted to turn around and go home again. But once we were in the shelter of the trees on the sunny side of the lake, it was warm again, and people were smiling, and the snow sparkled in the sun.

More snow is expected today, and more rain tonight. To be continued.

Photo taken on February 27, 2011


watching and waiting

neighbourhood watch

I used to wish I could be a cat, to have nothing more to worry about than whether to sleep, eat or play. I’d watch the family cat saunter from one cosy corner to another, leaping effortlessly to the back of the couch to watch out the window, tail twitching, then on to the floor to stretch luxuriously in a patch of warm sunlight. To our current cat, playtime is as important as sleep. As I write this, I can hear him chasing his foam jingly spool up and down stairs, the floor over my head resounding as he pounces and leaps and races across the room.

One of the things I admire most about cats is their ability to watch and wait, as patient as a rock (except when they think it’s meal time). Outdoors, they will do their watching from a hiding spot — a shaded blind under a bush or the back steps — but indoors they are bold, they know the window protects them and they do not hide their curiosity at the comings and goings of the world outside. Like these cats, I spend a lot of time looking out windows, watching the changing sky, the people walking by, the wind in the trees.

I used to think that a cat looking out the window was longing to be outside, but now I’m not so sure. Like me, they are watchers; they just want to see.

Photo taken on February 21, 2011


winter’s grip is not so tight

once upon a winter's night

The light is changing, I feel sure
that winter’s grip is not so tight
and twilight has a touch of warmth — no more
abrupt sunsets, the sun rudely diving behind the horizon
before evening arrives — now the day lingers, looking back,
drawing curtains of pale pink and indigo across the window of the sky.
The cold still creeps under cover of darkness, encasing the land in ice,
but morning comes early — impatient now to work its own miracles –
turning snow into slush, ice into water,
warming the sleeping world to life.

Photo taken on February 10, 2011


February fears

street scene

I’m been feeling down lately — and it’s just silly, because I’m really enjoying my job at the moment, and we went to the theatre and symphony and caught up with friends over the past week — but…

But…

  1. It’s February, and the sidewalks are horribly icy, but spring is coming in the sense that today’s snow will be mixed with rain and freezing rain (yuck).
  2. I have all but disappeared from my online communities (my apologies for not coming by to visit lately) due to total lack of inspiration.
  3. I haven’t even taken any photos for a week (this image taken two years ago shows Saint John looking almost exactly as it does today, icicles included).
  4. When I was reorganizing my desk a few weeks ago, I dropped my favourite lens, a 24mm prime. Fortunately the lens itself seems to be fine, but the autofocus is no longer working.
  5. My ankle sometimes still aches where I hurt it last fall.
  6. And, well, I’m going to be 50 next month. I’m not shy about claiming my age, but I am afraid of aging, I am afraid of not being able to walk, I am afraid of not being able to carry my camera wherever impulse takes me, I am afraid of not being able to see clearly.

Yes, I know these February blues will pass, that my petulant whining will magically disappear in the face of a new adventure or new accomplishment, or new month. I’ll be waiting.

Photo taken on February 25, 2009


where music and science meet

thank you for the music

On Saturday, we went to the theatre to see Copenhagen. This extraordinary play by Michael Frayn circles around a history-changing mid-war meeting between scientists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, and somehow manages to make sense of the inner life and behaviour of atoms and humans. It was a treat to be in the intimate atmosphere of a “theatre in the round”, enjoying the immediacy and challenge of an intelligent and emotionally charged drama.

At one point in the play, the characters talk about the visual trail left by particles in the cloud chamber, and I could suddenly picture exactly what they were talking about. We spent some time a few years ago watching the cloud chamber at the Ontario Science Centre and I even managed to take a few fuzzy photos; my observations are recorded in a old blog post here.

Looking at my photos of the cloud chamber and the photo of the piano above, I realize that the two subjects are strikingly similar. The piano strings catch the light, their vibrations create waves of sound. The particles moving at blinding speed through the cloud chamber leave behind a trail of water droplets, notes strung on an invisible staff of the elements. Music and light, particles and waves, sound and silence — it’s all connected somehow, everything is in motion. We don’t always see the trail of music as it travels invisibly through the air, but we see its effects, the way we all respond to its vibrations.

Photo taken on February 10, 2011


waiting for spring

waiting for spring

You don’t know what will trigger it, whether storms or stillness cause the shift. It could be as simple as water dripping from the end of a melting icicle, or the gradual realization that, yes, the days are getting longer at last! But when the longing for spring hits you, there’s no turning back.

I love Terra’s comment on my barbecue dreaming post, “I have been having the same feelings of longing and separation from the earth, the green, the smell of the dirt (or my own sweat!). I love winter but I am starting to really yearn bodily for the warmth of spring…”

At home, we’ve been talking about our plans for this year’s garden. My partner has ordered a whole slew of seeds, and I suddenly have the deep desire to plant something. Winter, yes it’s been a lovely visit, but it’s time to pack your bags. We’re waiting for spring to arrive.

Photo taken on February 5, 2011


the harp and other musical adventures

harp

Before we left Toronto, when we were imagining what we might miss most about the big city when we moved to the Maritimes, I decided to take harp lessons.

Now I’ve always loved the harp. I remember sitting entranced at a performance of the Jeunesse Musicales as the musicians introduced their instruments, and the harpist played the solo from Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers. But instead of harp lessons, I had piano lessons from the age of 6. I suppose a harp was out of the question — those concert harps cost more than a car.

Fast forward to 2006. There has been an explosion of interest in the harp, precipitated in part by the new popularity of the folk, or celtic harp. This is a much smaller instrument that uses levers instead of pedals to sharpen the strings for playing in different keys. They are much cheaper than cars, and a lot more portable than full-sized concert harps. I took lessons for a school year, 20 lessons in all, then I stopped. The harp rental and lessons were expensive, and at the time my passion for photography was eclipsing everything else.

But when we finally made the move to Saint John three years later, I bought a harp to bring with me. My partner bought a recorder. I’m not consistent at practicing, but the harp is beginning to sound pretty good, and the two of us are beginning to look for other people to play with, and maybe the occasional gig. We sat down and played with a violinist and another recorder player on Sunday. It was fun!

I would like to take more lessons, but it’s hard finding a harp teacher in this part of the country. So for now, I’ll focus on polishing what I know, and enjoying my beautiful harp.

Photo taken on October 23, 2009


barbecue dreaming

barbecue

I can’t believe the snow this year.
The snowdrifts are almost hip deep.
The snowbanks on each side of the driveway are over my head.

Can you remember the feel of grass between your toes?

Every day I have to bundle up.
I have so many layers to put on when I go out.
I have so many layers to take off when I come home.

Can you remember the sound of bees humming in the hot afternoon?

It’s impossible to go anywhere.
The sidewalks are deep with drifts, or too icy for safe walking.
The streets are slippery, the parking meters half-buried by snow.

Can you remember the smell of hamburgers cooking on the barbecue?

Photo taken on February 2, 2011


after the storm

after the storm

After the storm had blown through yesterday, we went through a walk through the quiet streets in our neighbourhood. As we walked, we admired the sculptured snowbanks piled high by plow, snowblower and shovel, and smoothed to softness by the wind.

Walkways and driveways had already been cleared in front of some houses, and others were deep in drifts. A dog ran out to greet us as we walked by; his owner was busy with the shovel in front of his house — you wouldn’t have known he was there except for the snow flying up over the high bank. Another man with a snowblower was working farther down the street, and I could hear the sound of an ice scraper behind a running car in a nearby driveway. A taxi drove by, taking the turns carefully.

There was still a nip in the wind, and the soft snow swirled from snowbank to snowbank as we followed the tire tracks through the snow. We returned home, our cheeks red from the cold, cleared the back steps once more, and hung our hats to dry over the mudroom heater.

Photo taken on February 2, 2011


storm of the century

heading home

A few snowflakes are spinning lazily through the air outside my window. I know from the weather forecast that this is just the beginning, the harbinger of a huge storm which has paralyzed portions of the U.S. from Texas to Maine. From what I’ve heard, the storm won’t be as severe here, although we are expecting heavy snow, with about 30 centimetres by tomorrow morning.

It was on this day 35 years ago, in 1976, that Saint Johners experienced our “storm of the century”. The Groundhog Day Gale was completely unexpected. The day started calmly, with the temperature around the freezing mark and a light wind. The winds rose to more than 180 km per hour, causing a huge amount of damage across the city. Windows were smashed, telephone poles toppled, cars and sheds and airplanes were flipped and crushed. At high tide, the water rose over the low-lying parts of the city, and the hurricane-force wind carried the salt water for miles inland, causing electrical failures not only that day, but even months later. The gale was followed by days of bitter cold, which — combined with widespread power outages — sent many people to seek shelter. Miraculously, the only person killed was a man whose ice-fishing shack was blown across the river.

Already, outside my window, the few snowflakes have become a steady snowfall. On the internet I’m reading about the “snowpocalypse” in the States, and — on the other side of the world — a cyclone the size of New Zealand that is pounding northeastern Australia. It looks like many of us will see another storm to remember for years to come. But if it’s any consolation, I don’t think the groundhog will see his shadow today.

Photo taken on December 9, 2009


one is the loneliest number

bend

Today is the first of February, the loneliest month on the calendar. There are no holidays to look forward to as we shiver through another 28 days of winter. Of course Valentine’s Day brings its own particular warmth mid-month, but if you don’t have a Valentine, you are left out in the cold.

And there are a lot of lonely people out there. Sometimes you notice them, people who seem impossibly needy, or so brittle and afraid of being hurt that they’ve grown dragon scales. Other people seem quite ordinary, just like the neighbour across the street who you’ve always thought has got it all together, then in a chance conversation you discover she’s lonely, too. I’ve had a chance to talk with a lot of strangers lately, and in conversation — past complaint or concern — I’ve discovered that what many people really need is a friend.

This is in no way an attempt to belittle people’s legitimate complaints or concerns, worries and anxieties. I just feel compelled to point out how a little warmth and an understanding smile can really make someone’s day. I think February should be a month for friendship, not just romantic love, a time that we share some of our warmth and make this cold month a little less lonely.

Photo taken on February 21, 2009


where the sidewalk ends

where the sidewalk ends

My new job is a new beginning, but it’s also an ending. It’s an end to lazy mornings lounging in my pajamas, and mid-afternoon play sessions with the dogs. It’s an end to looking through employment ads and updating only the expense side of my balance sheet.

In the past week I’ve tried to absorb more information than is humanly possible to retain, began to bond with people who will soon be leaving, and learned some of the history of a place which is now in the midst of change. It was a mentally and emotionally exhausting week.

I am preparing for an undefined role in the difficult time of this workplace, at the moment in which everything seems to be in flux. Yet there is so much potential — it could turn out to be a really fascinating and fun job. But if this first week is any indication, I won’t be following a predictable pathway, I’ll be helping to clear a new one. Yikes!

Photo taken on January 30, 2011


the starling and me

starling

“Put brain in gear before opening mouth” — that’s what my dad used to tell me when I was younger. I was a chatterbox (do you remember the wooden phone on wheels?), always asking questions.

I still process out loud, but just as often I talk to myself silently. I’ve learned not to verbalize everything, so the inside of my head is filled to overflowing with talk and ideas, only some of which I manage to translate into action. For example, I’ve worked out what I want to say in my email reply, but sitting down and typing it becomes a chore because, in my mind, I’ve already replied and moved on. The moment I think of something should be the moment I do it, but I hesitate, and the moment is gone.

I think I could learn something from this starling, chattering away with her friends while she works, clambering on the suet cage, pecking at fallen seeds on the snow, talking and working at the same time. She has no baggage, no tasks untended, no projects piling up, no future plans. She lives in the moment, and she moves on.

If you’ve ever heard starlings perched outside your window, you’ll have heard their colourful language of bubbles, squeaks, catcalls and exclamations. They love to tell stories. I think if I ever get my brain examined (as people occasionally suggest), the brain surgeon would discover a flock of starlings chattering away inside my head.

Photo taken on January 27, 2011


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