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
Change is in the air. A new year has dawned, we have turned our backs on regret and missed opportunity, and now we step forward into the future. At least, that’s our intention.
The future, of course, is always here in front of us, but sometimes it turns out to be just the past again, recycled and wearing new clothes. We think we are open to new possibility, but we don’t notice how our blinders of habit and prejudice show us only what we expect or want to see.
I have been reading Stuart McLean’s The Vinyl Cafe Notebooks, which I received for Christmas, and I was caught by an observation he makes about change. He describes how as a boy, for no particular reason, he stopped eating eggs, and “as is the way with these things, behaviour became belief, and eventually I came to believe I hated eggs.” Then someone he admired mentioned how much they liked fried eggs, and Stuart discovered he liked them too. He started eating eggs again, just like that. He concludes: “We have the desire to change hardwired into our systems. And maybe our capacity is greater than we think. All it takes is a little courage…”
If we think of change as something small, something simple and everyday like that egg, then it doesn’t seem so difficult. Old habits die hard, but they might just melt away when we are inspired to do something new or different. May we all have that little bit of courage we need as we step into the brave new year.
Photo taken on December 7, 2009
Can you feel it? When you first opened your eyes this morning, did you have that “day before Christmas feeling”? No, not the stressed “I have too much to do” feeling. The other one, the feeling that’s been part of you since childhood, that catches at your heart with the magic of twinkling lights and shortbreads and singing.
I get that feeling when I’m wrapping presents and humming along with carols. I get that feeling when I come downstairs in the dark of the morning and find the living room awash with soft glowing colour from the Christmas lights. I get that feeling when I hang each special memory on the tree: the stack of gifts ornament my mom helped me make when I was young, the felt rabbit that I sewed years ago, the cat with angel wings to remind me of my special Tobey, and all the treasures given by friends and family.
Wishing you much magic amid the madness, however you celebrate the season. Happy holidays and Merry Christmas!
Photo taken on December 23, 2010
Someone commented on Twitter lately that Saint John feels like a big urban centre with a small town heart. It’s easy to fall into conversation with a stranger while waiting in line at the bank or watching the harbour seals from the boardwalk. While it’s true that many people are in a hurry or isolated in their own little bubbles, the general impression for newcomers and old timers is of a friendly city.
So when one of the vendors in the City Market asked me about my camera, I stopped to talk to him. And I found out that Daniel has a lot of interests, a lot of ideas and a lot of enthusiasm, and he loves to meet people. As we talked and passersby shopped, I remembered that Christmas is not stuff, it’s people. The spirit of Christmas is right here, in these conversations, where strangers become friends, and newcomers become neighbours.
The next time I walk through the market, I’ll be sure to say Hi to Daniel, my new friend and neighbour.
Photo taken on December 18, 2010
I went uptown to go shopping on Saturday, and found the city centre beautifully decorated. But then the sun set, casting a bright wash of purple colour along the streets and making the harbour glow with reflected golden light, and that was the best decoration of all.
Photo taken on December 18, 2010
When I first joined Flickr in 2006, I merely wanted to share my travel photos with family members on the other side of the world. I was surprised and pleased to see comments on one of the first photos I uploaded, and from then on, I was hooked. I would not be as avid a photo enthusiast today if I didn’t have Flickr to encourage and inspire me.
I chose my Flickr name “Seeing Is” partly because it can be read in two ways (I love puns) as “Seeing is… believing” for example, and as “Seeing eyes”. Having “seeing eyes” has become increasingly important to me. To see means to have vision, to pay attention, to notice and observe and wonder at all things great and small. I’ve always liked the image of the eagle, who sees clearly and far. Here on WordPress and other sites, I am eyeGillian (another pun), referring to photography and also my internal ego-emperor, a reference to the Robert Graves novel I, Claudius.
As I write this, my father is struggling with failing eyesight, and I can see how it has affected his previous enjoyment of driving, hiking, reading and even simple everyday tasks. I remember my disappointment when I had to get glasses at age 19. The thought of what my father must be going through, and the possibility of someday losing my own sight makes me cherish it all the more.
Yet there is something deeper than just seeing. I need to remember the wisdom I read as a child in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “It is only with the heart that one sees rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye”.
Photo taken on November 14, 2010
No, it’s not yet the 11th day of Christmas (“11 pipers piping”), but the pipe bands marching in Saint John’s Santa Claus parade on Saturday night have helped to put me in the Christmas spirit. Twinkly lights and red bows brighten the streets from one end of the city to the other, and carols accompany every trip through the grocery store.
The newspaper is also fatter — just like the legendary Christmas goose — filled to overflowing with sale flyers promising super specials on everything from cranberry-stuffed cheese balls to a computer-enhanced paintball game. My own Christmas shopping will be much too modest to boost the local economy, so as an antidote, I try to focus on the non-commercial aspects of Christmas. To quote a perennial holiday film, here are a few of My Favourite (Christmas) Things:
10. Pipe bands (gotta love those kilts) or brass bands, playing outdoors.
9. Skating on Lily Lake to the sound of waltzes from the pavilion loudspeaker.
8. Watching dogs and children frolicking in the fresh-fallen snow.
7. Strings of lights and cheery decorations on people’s homes and businesses.
6. The food. Oh, the food, the food, the food.
5. Visiting. Seeing farflung friends and family is worth a holiday all by itself.
4. Decorating the tree. All my ornaments have stories; hanging them on the tree is like opening a box of precious memories.
3. Singing along with Handel’s Messiah. Just try not standing up during the Hallelujah Chorus (I know, that’s part of the Easter section, but who’s counting…).
2. Giving gifts. While I do enjoy getting, giving is even better — I love seeing that pleased expression on a loved one’s face.
1. Hearing the Christmas story. You know the one — pregnant teenage girl, hasty wedding, weary travellers desperate for a place to stay, the stable, the birth of a baby, singing and dancing shepherds — a real barn-burner. And you know there wouldn’t be a Christmas without a baby.
Photo taken on November 20, 2010
Saturday was sunny and 17 degrees (celcius). Today’s temperature is down to 10 degrees with 20 mm of rain forecast. Friday will be only 2 degrees and windy. And I wonder why I have half-a-dozen different jackets competing for space on the coat rack!
This abrupt change in weather tells me that I need to get the car switched over to its winter tires today or tomorrow. I was glad I still had my summer tires on to drive through the 140 mm of rain — and lake-sized puddles — we got the previous weekend. But when the road starts to freeze, there’s nothing like winter tires for keeping you safe on the roads.
When I bought winter tires a couple of years ago, I did some research to see if all-seasons would be all right for New Brunswick. We could have mild temperatures all winter, but it’s more typical here for the thermometer to bounce up and down between minus 20 and plus 5 or so, creating bone-jarring potholes and icy roads. A lot of people (my dad included) don’t bother with winter tires. But all-season tires don’t grip the road as well as they age, and the rubber hardens as the temperature drops, resulting in reduced traction even on dry surfaces. The compound of a winter tire is more pliable and retains its grip in cold temperatures. So, there you have it: if I have winter tires on the car, I won’t lose my grip… or at least, that’s what I’m hoping!
Photo taken on November 13, 2009
The days are getting so short. It’s still dark when I get up in the morning, and the sun has set by suppertime. Autumn’s spectacular display of colour has been swept away by the November storms, and now the trees stand bare and waiting.
Autumn is over, and winter has not yet begun. We have feasted in celebration of Thanksgiving (except for our friends in the States), the ritual of Hallowe’en has passed in a shower of candy, and the season of Advent will soon begin. Before the last-minute Christmas panic sets in, before the cold weather arrives to stay, there are a few precious days. This is the time for looking back and planning ahead, reflection and preparation, as we anticipate the miracle of Christmas and the gift of light.
Photo taken on November 13, 2010
One of the really cool things about living in Saint John is that we are on the flight path of the International Space Station. On Friday night, we headed outdoors just before 6 p.m. and saw the ISS orbiting right over our back yard, tracing a path across the sky from the northwest to the southeast. I last saw the space station earlier this year, just after the space shuttle had undocked and before it returned to earth, and it was incredible to watch, because you could see the shuttle chasing the space station across the sky.
Of course what you see (unless you have a powerful telescope) is not the space station itself but the bright reflection of the sun’s light on its metal exterior. And there’s no question of mistaking it for anything else — it travels much faster than an airplane across the sky, tracing a steady straight line from one horizon to another.
You need to have a clear sky (and as wide a view as possible) in order to see the ISS pass over. And although it circles the earth several times a day, you can only see it from the ground in the hour before sunrise and the hour after sunset. That’s because the earth needs to be in shadow (the sky is dark) and the space station needs to be in sunlight (otherwise it won’t be lit up). As well, its path has to be at least 15 degrees above the horizon; if it barely clears the horizon, there is too much haze and atmospheric dust for it to be visible.
If you would like to see the space station fly by for yourself, check the NASA’s sightings page. It’s a truly magical experience.
Photo taken on November 12, 2010
Who’s driving? Well, I am. OK, let’s ignore the fact that I may or may not be so foolish as to take photographs while driving down the highway at 112 km/hr (you must promise to never try this, ever). The point is, I’m driving. It’s my choice. Or fate, perhaps. But even I can’t be lucky forever.
The point is, it’s my life (long may it continue). And I’m realizing that there are a lot of choices I could be making right now if I wasn’t waiting for other people to make them. I’m waiting for other people to decide to hire me, or the right opportunity to come along and slap me upside the head. In the meantime, while I may think I’m the one in the driver’s seat, I’m going nowhere fast.
If my life was a map, and I could see the route I’ve taken so far, which would it be:
1. going in circles
2. heading off madly in all directions, or
3. a tour of interesting landmarks and the occasional breathtaking vista.
If I could actually see the map in advance, I’d take route number three, every time. Maybe it’s time to stop spinning my wheels in the fast lane and explore a winding country road. Maybe there’ll be something interesting around that next corner.
Photo taken on October 30, 2010
I am a spur-of-the-moment photographer. I tend to take ‘em as I see ‘em. That’s not to say I don’t work with different angles and compositions, and I certainly spend enough time adjusting colour, crop, contrast etc on the computer. But I have to admit that I seldom plan ahead.
Last night was an exception. I had two reasons to take photos. The first was because it was Thursday, and Utata (the Flickr photo group I participate in) always has a weekly project called Thursday walks. The second is the photo conference happening this weekend in Moncton, called Foto Expo, which is also running a contest with the theme “downtown architecture”. I didn’t get out during the daytime because I was making apple chutney, and it took longer than I expected (doesn’t it always). So that’s why I was uptown with a camera and tripod at 8 p.m. last night.
I had been wanting to take a photo of this building for a while, so last night was the perfect opportunity. Finding the puddle was a bonus. I’m really glad I planned ahead and brought the equipment I needed for this photo shoot. I spent about 40 minutes in this parking lot (my car is the 2nd from the right) and took photos of this Old Post Office building from several angles. In fact, it was so much fun, I might do it again (plan ahead, that is)!
Photo taken on October 28, 2010
It’s a wet day today. The sky is grey.
Car tires “slissssh” on the pavement.
I watch the rain against the window pane
As chickadees queue at the feeder.
The leaves are forlorn, scattered and torn,
Their autumn fire has faded.
The bare trees wait for a sunny break
And I am waiting, too.
Photo taken on October 15, 2010
Yesterday I spent much of the day outdoors. Only a light breeze was blowing, so it was a good day to rake the leaves and tidy up the fallen branches from the recent storm. I did my best to mulch them as I raked, filling up the garbage can with leaves and then using the weed whipper to break them up and speed the decomposition process. All the leaves were piled in a mesh enclosure in the back of our garden to await the spring, when they will be dug into the garden to enrich the soil.
As I was working out in the front yard, a CBC van pulled up and the driver asked if I would be willing to be on TV! Of course I said, “Sure”. He filmed me raking the leaves, and then I looked at the camera, identified myself, and then asked Peter what the weather would be like tomorrow. Apparently it was to be used as a lead-in to the weather forecast, and Peter is the local meteorologist on the evening newscast. I didn’t get to hear how Peter answered me, however, as we don’t have a TV. I hope somebody saw me in my brief starring role! If everyone has 15 minutes of fame, I wonder how many minutes I have left?
Photo taken on November 6, 2009
Storms are like operas. At the start, you can sense the dark clouds building on the horizon, the impending doom. In the midst of the storm, there is a lot of wind and wild movement, small creatures run away and copious tears are shed. The German term sturm und drang (storm and stress) describes well the extremes of emotion expressed during the height of an operatic storm.
Then there is a lull, a deceptively peaceful period when the eye of the storm passes over and it seems that love will prevail, after all. You have a moment to lean back and take a sip of wine, but — watch out — the 2nd act is more dramatic than the first, so hold on to your seat! Again the wind comes howling through, tossing limbs and bending strong trees to the ground. Again the chorus of sirens, as lightning strikes and fire rages. Again the shedding of copious tears, the heartbreak, the tragedy of untimely loss.
At last — yes, once the well-endowed soprano has sung her final dying note — it ends. The world has been scoured and refreshed, the storm has passed on and life will continue. Catharsis, and peace. Tension, and release. Storm, and silence.
Taken on October 15, 2010
I grew up in Millidgeville, a suburb on the north edge of Saint John where it meets the Kennebecasis River. In the winter, we skated on the river, dodging snow drifts and cracks as we traced a path across the smooth ice. In the summertime, we swam at the beach a little way up the road. We had a good view of the river from our house, and I loved to watch the clouds, the sunsets, the early morning light change and glow as it hit the water.
I was in my old neighbourhood the other morning just before dawn, and couldn’t resist stopping for a moment to watch the river. A cold breeze was blowing from the west as I drove to the end of a nearby road. As I walked toward the shoreline, watching the rising sun redden the hills across the river, I found a small wetland next to a new housing development. I heard a hoarse call and watched a kingfisher fly swiftly across the water’s surface. As if on cue, two mallard ducks emerged from their nest in the tall grasses, wending their way toward the river. The sun rose, and the wind blew more strongly. My hands were frozen. Feeling cold, but awake, I headed home.
Taken on October 18, 2010
In New Brunswick, the spruce tree dominates the forest. At one time, the white pine was plentiful, but these tall straight trees were highly prized for use as ships’ masts — shipbuilding was an important industry here during the golden age of sail — and now the spruce trees grow where the white pine once stood. The white spruce has now reached new heights, as a packet of 24 seedlings from New Brunswick were used for an experiment at the International Space Station last April.
I don’t know the difference between the white spruce, black spruce, red spruce and Norway spruce. All I know is that they are by far the most common tree I’ve seen in this province. When you land at Saint John’s airport, you can see spruce trees in every direction, with a few houses and wetlands to add variety. When you drive North to Fredericton, or in almost any direction, spruce trees line the road for hours, broken by occasional stands of birches, maples, oaks and poplars. There are lots of pines and cedars, tamacks and balsam firs, but when you go for a walk through the forest, the trees you are most likely to bump into — fighting those tough lower branches that catch at your clothing — are spruce trees. I read somewhere that New Brunswick is almost 90% covered by trees, and I believe it. Forestry is still a thriving industry, and with 5.9 million hectares of forest, plus about 30 million new trees planted each year, the province isn’t going to run out of trees anytime soon.
Taken on October 11, 2010
October is half over, autumn’s colour is fading. Frost has touched the forest, turning the fiery red and yellow leaves dull and rusty. A wild wind dances through the trees, and the leaves dance with it, twirling and tumbling through the air. Many birch and maple leaves have already fallen, leaving bare gaps between the spruces and pines. We can see the sky through the poplar now, while the oak — that strong-willed spirit — is slower to relinquish its crown.
This is not the end of autumn, as some think, but the heart of it. The show of colour gives way to the fall itself, to the crunch of leaves underfoot as they break and scatter and enrich the earth. Walk, walk now as the fields turn brown and the leaves fly. Drink in the last mild days as the colour fades, before the wind sweeps us all into winter.
Taken on October 11, 2010
I love walking through the woods, and on a beautiful fall Thanksgiving Monday with colour still on the trees and the sky deep blue, who could resist? So I grabbed my camera and we headed to Rockwood Park, along with the dogs — we have two Cardigan Welsh Corgis — one for each of us.
Some might say dogs and cameras don’t mix. It’s true that I don’t carry my tripod or other camera equipment, and I don’t stop at scenic locations for a period of extended shooting. I tend to take the opportunities as they come, which usually means I look around when the dogs find something interesting to sniff. Or sometimes they’ll wait in one not-so-interesting spot, if I ask firmly, for long enough for me to take a couple of snaps. I suppose a part of me (the contrary part) enjoys the challenge of taking photos with a heavy dslr in one hand while holding the leash of an enthusiastic dog in the other.
So I had quite a few blurry photos. And a lovely walk in the woods.
Taken on October 11, 2010
When I was young, a car ferry crossed the river at the bottom of the road a few minutes walk from home. I don’t remember taking the ferry much, but I remember the ferry store, where they had penny candy (mmm… pixie sticks) and chocolate bars and chips. The ferry landing has since moved farther down the road, but you can still take the ferry across the river, and travel almost instantly from a city suburb to the rolling countryside. It always feels like an adventure to take the ferry.
On Saturday morning we took the ferry to go to a local farmers’ market. It was cold and windy — a classic fall day — with a bright blue sky and rich oranges and reds decorating the hills. When we returned (with fresh garlic, apple cider, red cabbage and eggs), the line-up for the ferry was a kilometre long. I looked at all the people bundled up in their cars as we drove by. I hope it still feels like an adventure to them as well!
Taken on October 9, 2010
The universe doesn’t always unfold as it should… or at least not from my admittedly limited human perspective. Sometimes it seems like I’m always running uphill, missing the boat, swimming against the tide.
Take last night, for instance. I had been wanting to get outside for some fresh air and photographs all day, but when I finally grabbed my camera, it was getting dark. I went out anyway, because there was still some light in the sky and the clouds were interesting, but I only took a few photos before my hands started to freeze from the cold wind. I decided to take a nice hot shower, and discovered I had a big scrape on my leg (when? where? who knows?). When I stepped out of the show, all relaxed, there was a huge spider in the middle of my clothes pile. (Did I say HUGE?) Thankfully, LB came to my rescue. Then, after settling into a nice sleep, why was I wide awake at 3:30 am, and I’m pretty sure those weren’t sugar plums dancing around my head.
So, I have a few things on my mind. Besides my increasing concern over not yet finding a job, there’s a growing job list for the house, a half-started project my father is waiting patiently for me to complete, and the huge Thanksgiving feast that we need to plan and prepare for Sunday. Still, I know in a few days, a few months, a few years, I’ll look back and all this will seem but a tiny blip on the radar map of my life.
But for now, there’s much to do… must run!
And to all my Canadian friends, Happy Thanksgiving!
Taken on October 7, 2010
Last night it was just starting to rain as I let the dogs out. It was dark. The porch light didn’t come on. I missed a step and fell. Aaugh! Ouch. I landed on the top of my foot and twisted my ankle. How ironic: welcome to fall.
I have fallen badly only a few times, but my first response is always fear. I don’t know why, but that surprises me. Of course, there’s pain, and anger (well that was stupid!), but mostly an intense awareness of how fragile I am, how close to breaking.
Not that I have a history of injury. I’m cautious by nature. So far (knock on wood) I haven’t broken any bones. But I have survived a head-on collision with a car while on my bicycle (because I was wearing a helmet), and a couple of years ago I had another bad fall that left me with a purple bruise on my face and dizzy spells.
I know it could have been worse. I’m thankful that my ankle is not broken, and I don’t think the sprain is serious. I don’t like pain, but I can put up with a little soreness. Still, I’ll try to keep my weight off it for a while. It’s raining, it’s cosy indoors, it’s a good day to stay home and be pampered.
Taken on October 24, 2009
It was foggy yesterday. This wasn’t the vanish-with-dawn kind of fog, or even the sun-burns-through-by-noon kind of fog. This was stay-all-day fog. As I walked through the uptown streets, several times the sky seemed to brighten and I thought ‘A-ha, now the fog will lift and the sun will come out’. But it didn’t. By the time I headed home again, I think I could see a little farther down King Street, but I wouldn’t swear to it in court.
But I was born here. I grew up with fog. I like fog. And most folks here don’t seem to mind it, to judge from the number of people strolling through town and passing a pleasant afternoon in the park. If you need sunshine to enjoy your day, you’d best move to Fredericton. But if you live in Saint John, and it’s foggy, that usually means it’s not windy. It’s calm and mild and easy on the eyes. And sometimes that’s just what you need.
Taken on September 25, 2010
The old Paramount Theatre was only one of many in Saint John when it was build in 1948, a glorious example of art deco sculpted plasterwork in the luxurious and large auditorium. Saint John, the hometown of Louis B. Mayer — a founder of the Hollywood studio Metro Goldwyn Mayer – had become the film distribution centre for all the movie theatres in eastern Canada. It was movie central here in town, but only for a brief time.The number of movie houses in the city had already started to decrease by the time this theatre was built. In the 1930s, it is said that were movies playing on every block, but the number of venues had reduced to 10 by the mid-1940s and by 1960, only four remained.
The old Odeon Theatre, one block away, was demolished in 2000. Now there is a surge in public interest as the theatre (re-named the King Square Cinema) faces the wrecking ball. It is just across the park from the Imperial Theatre, a beautifully restored and well-used performing arts centre. In contrast, the old Paramount has little left to work with — renovations in the 1970s split the theatre into two smaller cinemas, and much of the plasterwork is gone. When describing the building’s value, a local historian waxed eloquent about the staircase and bathroom tiles.
Could it be used as a live performance venue, or returned to glory as a movie theatre? It remains to be seen whether there will be enough public interest, or funding, to save the old Paramount.
Taken on September 5, 2010