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…
- 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).
- I have all but disappeared from my online communities (my apologies for not coming by to visit lately) due to total lack of inspiration.
- 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).
- 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.
- My ankle sometimes still aches where I hurt it last fall.
- 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
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
When I was young, we often went on hikes together as a family. My dad has a collection of topographical maps of this area, scratched with pencil lines marking the trails he has found and followed. Many of these trails are unmarked; following them was always an adventure.
I remember one hike, in winter. We were walking beside a frozen lake, skirting the edge of the woods, and we could not see the path; only the trackless snow lay ahead. I was feeling cold, and I wanted to go home. Then my dad told us a story about Robert Scott’s expeditions to the Antarctic, and the challenges he faced in exploring its permanently frozen landscape.
Somehow, hearing that story made all the difference. As I imagined being in the Antarctic, I began to feel like an explorer, and I started paying more attention to my surroundings. And I decided that, if this was an adventure, I could put up with a little cold and inconvenience.
One of these days I might make it to the Antarctic to see it for myself. In the meantime, I can have one adventure after another, right here.
Photo taken on January 5, 2008
I love the fact that the country is right on our doorstep. In less than 15 minutes, you can drive from Saint John’s city centre to the country. I love driving in the country, following the roads as they wind up and down the hills, looking at mailboxes and barns, wondering about the dirt paths that disappear into unexplored territory.
The road out to Fairfield, just past the eastern boundary of Saint John, is a familiar route. My aunt moved here as a war bride when she married a Canadian soldier during the Second World War. It was quite a culture shock to move from the outskirts of London, England, to a small rural community, but the warm welcome from her new family made her feel at home. My mother and her parents followed, building a house and settling just down the road. Although that was many years ago now, my aunt and her extended family still live in the same area — just over the hill, around the corner and up the road from where this photo was taken.
To the casual eye, it looks like a scattering of houses and farms, far apart and disconnected, but I know it is a tight-knit community, where everyone looks out for their neighbours. Just last week, a new bridge was completed on the main road at Fairfield. My aunt loves to tell the story of how she and her late husband were the first to cross the old bridge. When we were visiting her yesterday, she told us that a neighbour brought her to the new bridge before the official opening last week so she could be the first to cross it again.
This may look like ordinary rural landscape, but love makes it beautiful.
Photo taken on March 15, 2009
It’s been rainy this week, and the forecast is for more rain next week. When the weather is grey and drizmal, I have two choices:
1) curl up on the couch and catch up on my sleep/reading while I wait for nice weather
2) put on my brightest clothes, look for some eye-popping colour or play some snappy music, then go out for an adventure
An adventure is going places. It could be a walk in a nearby park or an unfamiliar neighbourhood. It could be a shopping expedition, or a drive out in the country. It could be a visit with a friend, or going out to dinner or a movie.
Whatever it is, an adventure is something to look forward to, something to do right now instead of waiting for Mother Nature or the Ship of Opportunity to ring your doorbell.
This photo is loud. It’s a wake-up alarm, a call to action. Because I really need to be a little more active. And, you know, I can’t resist red.
Taken on May 29, 2009
It’s officially autumn. Overnight, it seems, leaves have started falling. Patches of yellow and red are appearing on the green hills. The market smells like fresh apples.
I remember a greeting card I was given a long time ago. “Stay out of the park: the squirrels are gathering nuts for the winter” it said. And so they are, we are all gathering in, picking the last of the produce from the garden, making green tomato pickle because the tomatoes have not ripened, buying squash and pumpkins while they are cheap and plentiful, storing what we can of summer’s bounty for the cold months ahead.
Taken on October 17, 2009
They say that you have to dream something to make it real. That you need dreams to have a future. That through dreaming you can overcome difficulties and work your way around psychological obstacles.
Yet you’ve also been told that dreamers are not doers, that dreaming doesn’t make it true, and dreams are the opposite of reality. I don’t believe it.
Maybe I was born with rose-coloured glasses, maybe it’s just that I’m an optimist, but I’ve always thought that — for most things — if I can dream it, I can do it. I’m not talking about fantasy; I’m talking about dreams, about having vision and seeing the paths that might open up to you around the corner. When you dream, you see not only your potential, but what you truly want, and who you truly are. And let’s face it, reality can be pretty grim unless you know how to dream, unless you know that it is possible (yes it is) for your dreams to come true.
Taken on May 24, 2009
I used to have a t-shirt that said “Canadian seasons: winter and construction.” It sure seems that way this year in Saint John — everywhere you look, there’s construction. Sometimes the construction looks more like destruction. It’s hard to hold off on judging whether a project is worthwhile when you see only the mess and inconvenience. But the hardest part isn’t the chaos, it’s the letting go.
Construction projects need to start with a clean slate, which means razing whatever was there before and building a new foundation. Even home renovations require hard choices: you can’t get new stuff unless you make room by getting rid of the old stuff. While I think new building projects and renovations are exciting, I still find it hard to see landmarks disappear and beloved items go out with the trash, even if they are well past their useful life. And let’s not even get started on people!
When an old church is closed, a liturgy is held to “desanctify” it. I think we need a small but significant way to ceremoniously mark a change, and leave the past in the past. We need a way to properly say goodbye. I know I could use the practice.
Taken on May 24, 2009
This rocky bit of shoreline has seen a lot of history. By tradition, this is where United Empire Loyalists landed following the American Civil War. An estimated 15,000 Loyalists arrived in what is now New Brunswick between 1783 and 1785, the majority landing here to found Saint John. They weren’t the first to settle here; this spot is just around the corner from a traditional Wulstukwuik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq trading spot and the site of Fort LaTour, and a number of Acadians had settled in this region as well. Those who had lived here before were displaced, having no “title” to the land.
As the young city became a properous port, this became Market Slip, where ships lined both sides of the pier selling fresh fish and other goods. Photos from the 19th century show a sea of masts and carts clustered around the area, and a line of warehouses that were later included in the development of the Market Square shopping centre in the 1980s (just to the left of this photo).
Now there is a boardwalk and hotel along the old pier, a mall with a line of cafes and restaurants, a summer stage, and a popular beach volleyball venue just above the high tide mark. The fishing boats from a local Mi’kmaq community dock just around the corner on Long Wharf, dwarfed by the huge cruise ships that bring hordes of tourists in the summer and fall. It’s a far sight different than what the Loyalists may have envisioned, but it still thrives.
Taken on June 26, 2009
There’s no question of reconciliation. The siding is different, the doors are different, the steps are on different levels. The colours clash, the decorative details don’t match, the parking signs don’t even agree. Yet here we are: two neighbours with adjoining walls, sharing the same side of the street, the same views from the front steps, the same noises and cooking smells. Maybe it’s important to maintain some difference, and keep our separate ways, separate.
Taken on May 7, 2009
Gardening is one of those tasks/hobbies that never seems to be finished. We’ve been landscaping our front yard, adding perennials and shrubs — planting native species when possible — and trying to make it look, well tidy. But the back yard is a different kettle of fish altogether. Or perhaps I should say it’s a different kettle of weeds. Between the weeds and the bare uneven patches, the back yard looks unkempt, especially compared to our neighbours’ lush rolling lawns. We keep it cut, but it doesn’t look nice. We inspected our modest property yesterday and realized that we have to draw a line. The front is for display. The back is for us. What happens behind the garden gate stays behind the garden gate.
Taken on June 12, 2009
This is the growing season. Everything is growing full tilt — flowers, weeds, vegetables, trees — and producing to its fullest. Everything looks its best in this season, and not only the flowers. Painting and re-siding projects are all over town, and if you can’t hear any hammering or sawing, there will at least be a lawn mower running somewhere close by. This is the time of year to be outdoors, to enjoy the fine weather and the sheer variety and vibrancy of life. In winter this will all look barren and cold, save for a splash of colourful paint on the house down the street. Take nature’s example to heart: don’t just live — thrive!
Taken on June 23, 2009
Yesterday, after the showers had passed, the clouds started to lift. The sun appeared, and the moist earth breathed dampness into the air. Then the fog rolled in. (Welcome to summer in Saint John!) Yet, I still love the fog. I love the soft filtered light during the day. And the fog halos around the streetlights in the evening. And the way it adds mystery to the darkness, inviting you out at night, to walk with the fog through the quiet city streets.
Taken on June 25, 2009
Another wet day. Another dreary grey day. A day for staying indoors, for working, for listening to good music. It’s a good day for making bread, for knitting, for rearranging the living room furniture, for catching up on your reading. Will you play lively music to energize you, or soft music to soothe you? Will you linger at the windows, looking out at the wet world, or busy yourself with all the things you’ve been saving for a rainy day? It could be a good day for being productive, or it could be a good day for being contemplative. What will you choose?
Taken on November 15, 2006
In the Maritimes, we’ve become used to hearing about fisheries quotas, disappearing species, the threat to livelihoods that depend upon the sea. A warm dry July has even brought a (temporary) end to salmon fishing in New Brunswick, as the fish need to stay cool in the deep pools, and they may overheat if harrassed and driven to shallower water. Of course it’s not as bad for us as for Newfoundlanders, who lost 90% of their livelihood when the bottom fell out of the cod fishery. But there are reminders all around us of how vibrant the fishing industry used to be here. This weir, its net bedraggled on the rocky shoreline, is one example of a rich resource people used to take for granted. No more.
Taken on May 31, 2009
There is a certain style to these 19th century apartment buildings in the South End. This photo is taken from a deck behind four adjoining brick buildings that overlook Queen’s Square. From the top windows you can see out across the harbour to Patridge Island. Some of the plaster moulding and wood floors are original, along with the lovely high ceilings and tall windows. The rooms are huge by today’s standards. In the apartment we rented for six months, the outside walls (which are shared between the buildings) had been uncovered down to the brick, revealing the original fireplaces. This was the most beautiful of any of the apartments I’ve lived in, anywhere. It would have been perfect, if it wasn’t for the long walk up the stairs!
Taken on May 2, 2009
Yesterday, when we drove by this church in Black River, just outside Saint John, the sky was cloudy and fog was gathering in the creek valley down the road. On the day I took this photo last year, it was a perfect early summer day. We were heading back to town, driving with the windows down and enjoying the fresh salt breeze off the Bay of Fundy, when we saw this little country church. It may be true that travelling via the winding roads and small communities is much slower than taking the highway, but the views are much better!
Taken on June 7, 2009
It was stormy here yesterday and the night before. I went out without my camera, and I wore my bright yellow raincoat. It had been raining hard, but when I got into the car, it stopped. The sky was constantly changing, with sudden sunny patches and dark clumps of drifting cloud. I could see a curtain of rain sweeping the horizon. I got out of the car and left my raincoat behind.
Taken on June 18, 2009
If you went back in time, before the graffiti and peeling paint, what would you see? I try to picture what the heyday would have looked like for this small corner shop in the South End, a few blocks from the harbour. Maybe it was a butcher shop, a barbershop or a green grocer. Maybe you could buy ice cream sodas here in the summer. I imagine this little corner bustling with activity, tradesmen making deliveries or stopping to talk, leaning against the post while they smoke a cigarette. They move out of the way politely for a young woman with a baby on one hip and a bag of groceries on the other. They pass around a grubby newspaper, scanning the headlines for news of the war, or the stock market, or the horse races…
Imagining the past is not just an exercise in nostalgia. It can help us to see past the grime of neglect in order to recognize potential. It can encourage us to breathe new life into old places as we imagine the future. And I believe that if we can imagine something, we can do it.
Taken on June 12, 2009
The uptown core of Saint John is fairly low key. Aside from a small cluster of tall buildings at the foot of King Street, the majority of the central city — much of which is 19th century streetscape — is no higher than four or five storeys. And since the city core is built on a hill that climbs up from the harbour, that means there are some interesting views if you know where to look. From the deck of this apartment in the South End where we lived last year, just a stone’s throw from the uptown area, we could see fireworks and the upper decks of cruise ships at high tide. We could see sunsets and steeples. And on a clear night we could see stars. In fact, you can see stars from almost everywhere in the city. All you have to do is look up.
Taken on May 2, 2009
Walls are seldom glamourous, architecturally speaking. It’s usually the windows or doors that get all the attention, enhancing their good looks with curtains or fancy plasterwork. Not walls; you don’t look at them, you look for a way around them. But walls have stories, too. You can tell how a building has evolved by noticing different brickwork where a window has been blocked off, or a different style of decoration where a new storey has been added. The quality of stone or masonry or brick says something about the skills, material or money available at the time. I don’t know a lot about these historical details, but I can tell that this wall has been here for a long time, and that these stones would have an interesting story to tell, if only walls could talk.
Taken on May 24, 2009
Travelling by water is a luxury. If you’ve booked a berth on one of these towering cruise ships, you will be well fed and entertained as you float from one harbour to the next. The smaller ship (on the horizon), is the Princess of Acadia, our vessel of choice to and from Nova Scotia for our vacation last week. This no-frills car ferry travels in a direct line from Saint John to Digby and back. Still, to choose the direct route across the Bay of Fundy is more expensive than driving around and, depending on your destination, may actually take longer. But we were on vacation, and we wanted to take our time and explore — and it’s a lot more relaxing to take the boat than dodge cars on a long grey ribbon of highway. In some ways, it’s too bad that travelling by boat is considered such a luxury these days when water was at one time the only highway, but I suppose travelling by sea has its own hazards!
Taken on July 1, 2009