A statue of St. Francis stands in the corner of the roof garden. He holds out his hands for Plaster of Paris birds to settle upon them.
St. Francis wears a brown, sack-cloth cassock bound at the waist by a knotted, white cord. Living birds would come to him, if he called, but he is silent. He knows the birds by their names, not the Latin or Spanish names, nor their names in Mixtec or Nahuatl. He knows their true names, their own ineffable names that grace each of them and brightens their songs of colored glory.
Brother Sun, by day, and Sister Moon, by night, bless him with their soft-feathered gifts of light. Alas, he is bound to this earth by Brother Donkey, the flesh and blood body he once wore and now wears in effigy. Of the earth, earthy, his thoughts are bent on beating this sackcloth body down and raising his mind in birdsong that will reach up, higher and higher until it achieves his Kingdom Come.
In front of him, the Bird of Paradise offers him that which he most desires, a return to earth in avian form, winged like a miniature angel armed with a golden harp and an aura of song.
“Where are you going?” I ask again. “To see a man about a dog,” my father replies. “Why?” I ask. “Hair of the dog,” his voice ghosts through the rapidly closing crack as the front door shuts behind him. “Why?” I cry out. Years later I remember this episode. The mud nest nestles tight against a beam beneath our garage roof. Tiny yellow beaks flap ceaselessly open. Parent birds sit on a vantage point of electric cable, their beaks moving in silent encouragement. A sudden rush, a clamour of wing and claw, a small body thudding down a ladder of air to crash beak first on the concrete. “Why?” I ask. The age-old answer come back to me. “Wye is a river. It flows through Ross-on-Wye and marks the boundary between England and Wales.” The swallows perch on the rafters watching their fledgling as it struggles on the floor, the weakening wing flaps, the last slow kicks of the twitching legs. “Why?” I ask.” “Y is a crooked letter invented by the Green Man of Wye.” “Why?” I repeat. “I want to know why.” Silence hangs a question mark over the unsatisfied spaces of my questing mind. A golden oldie. We would all like to know why. But there are no answers. Just riddles cast, like two trunk-less legs of stone, on the sands of time. Nothing beside remains. Yet still we ask the age old question: why? And still we receive the age-old answers from those ageing wise men who ruled our childhood and taught us everything they knew. “Why?” “Because.”
Alas, we have lost our hollyhocks, not all of them, but most. They have been drowned in torrential rain, blown and bent, ravished by raging winds, and they have been scorched in a heat-warning scorched earth policy that left them and the garden all forlorn. As for the lawn, between chinch bug, crows, raccoons, and a surge in weeds and bugs, it is a desolation.
What is worse: they were so beautiful, those hollyhocks. Multi-coloured, stately, and tall. Hopefully, they will return next year. We do hope so. And equally hopefully next year will be a better year for them. And for you and me. Meanwhile, I savour the photos and mourn their loss.Meanwhile…
“Why?” I ask “Why?”
The answer echoes back across the years in well-known voices that have long been silenced.
“I left her by the gate to the Beaver Pond at 2:38. It takes her twenty minutes to walk around the circuit. I always check my watch. Then I know when I can expect her back. In exactly eight minutes, she comes out of the woods and I can see her at the end of the boardwalk. I park the car in a spot from which I can watch her and wave to her. Today, I didn’t see her come out of the woods. It’s the radiation for prostate cancer … it’s left my bowels weak. I had to go to the bathroom … so I turned the car engine on … it was 2:44 … about two minutes before she was due to appear on the boardwalk … yesterday, a Great Blue Heron stood fishing in the pond … he flew when he saw her … a great crack of the wings … but today, the heron wasn’t there … just ducks … they flapped their wings, stood on the water, you know, the way they do, and scattered from the spot where she should have appeared … she walks very quietly, tip-toe, you know … she likes watching the heron and the ducks … she doesn’t like to frighten them … I don’t know what to think … I had to go … it was urgent … so I turned the car around and drove to the nearest bathroom … about one hundred yards away … I was in there … I don’t know … about five minutes … I didn’t check my watch … it’s dark in there … no electricity …besides, between hobbling on my sticks, praying to God to help me to hold on, opening and closing the door, struggling to get my pants down without soiling them …and then I drove back to the picnic tables … and waited … and waited …and she never appeared. I haven’t seen her since … she’s gone missing … I fear the worst … “
On the other end of the phone, a long silence, some heavy breathing, then:
“We’ll file a missing person’s report.”
“You will find her, won’t you? I love her, you know. I must find her. I want to know what’s happened … ” the old man wiped the corner of his right eye with the knuckle of the index finger of his left hand. He coughed and cleared his throat.
“Twenty years younger than you, you said?”
“Yes,” the old man nodded.
“Well, sir: we’ve already started our investigation. We’ll do our best to find her. We’ll contact you as soon as anything turns up.”
The police officer put down the phone and the circuit clicked out.
“What the hell you gonna do?”
“Not me … us.”
“Okay … us then … well … what the hell we gonna do?”
“You tell me. We got her on video. She walked out the other exit, by the park HQ, straight into the arms of the Deputy Police Commissioner. She’s twenty years younger than her husband and her husband’s got the sort of cancer that’s killed his sex life. Cancer? And the Deputy Commissioner’s the one who’s waiting for her? What the hell do you think we’re gonna do?”
Comment The Beaver Pond at Mactaquac is a beautiful place to be, all year round. We love it in summer and fall and Anne Stillwell-Leblanc (< click on link for website) has captured the stillness and silence of the place in the above engraving. As I have become less mobile, so I have sent Clare cantering around the pond to enjoy the beauty we used to enjoy together. Meanwhile, I sit in the car and watch for Clare’s regular appearances through the trees and on the footbridge. As I sit, I write. Sometimes it is journal style, sometimes poetry, and occasionally a short story, like this one.
I have published three books this year and I am working on a fourth and a fifth. Somehow, the blog, like these hollyhocks, seems ephemeral. It will not out last me, though its seedlings, children and grandchildren, may creep into my printed books and remain a lot longer. These, incidentally, are the children and grandchildren of the first hollyhock grown in the garden. I think a little bird must have dropped it about five years ago. Now it has seeded and reseeded itself. Reseed, yes — recede, we hope not. They are so tall we can sit in the kitchen and they are at eye level with us.
And don’t forget the yucca. He was $120 in the local garden store. Reduced to half price ($60). Then to $50. “We are in the wrong zone for yuccas,” I told the salesman. “Yours for $20, then. He probably won’t last.” That was 32 years ago. And baby, just look at that yucca now.
He hides behind the hollyhocks, but he doesn’t live in their shade. Not by any means. There are so many things to see and do. The blog seems to have drifted by a little bit. I know it’s lonely, but I haven’t forgotten it, as the hollyhocks haven’t forgotten the yucca and vice versa. It’s just that it’s summertime and things are busy and well, I guess I’ll try to do a little bit better. I promise!
Just one leaf dropping from the tree and the fall a call of nature and no freak chance of fate. What throw of the dice eliminates Lady Luck? None at all, or so the poet says, lying there, indisposed, his ribs cracked hard against the wooden boards of the porch and his right foot caught in such a way that the hip slips slightly from its socket and try as he may he cannot stand but lies there in the chill evening wind, a lone leaf, getting on in age, plucked from his tree and cast to the ground.
Comment: And don’t forget the family of crows, sitting in the tree, giving me the eye. watching every movement. I half expected them to flap down on to the balcony, and take a closer look, but when I started to move, it was game over, Rover, and they all cawed and flew away.
She is an oyster, silent at low tide, yet with a host of pearls waiting inside her, ready to be released. When set, she will release those pearls herself, stringing them together, like Chantal’s beads, into a skein of meaningful, enigmatic moments.
Enigmatic, yes, but, like Elgar’s Enigma Variations, a Russian Doll puzzle of secrets and intrigue. Comic book artist, she evolved to graphic designer, then multi-tasked first to Kinetics, and then to a painter who reaches out in empathy to the world around her.
For her, all art is linked and communications are key, on many levels. Visualization. Achievable goals. A step-by-step process with each step foreseen, planned beforehand, and each step always taken with an open mind that accepts the true response, leaving falsehoods behind.
Kinetics, yes, but she is above all a loner. Kayaking. Hiking. Weight-lifting. Yoga. Meditation. Mindfulness. Caring. Sharing. She sends me her web page and I am blown away by her empathy with birds and the natural world, that world her oyster and her, an oyster in that world.
Comment: This particular bird visited our Mountain Ash in the garden at Island View. Kaitlin saw my photo and asked if she could paint it. I sent it to her, and this is the result. Wild life to Still Life to art and never Nature Morte! Together, Kaitlin and I have preserved forever the surprise visit of this beautiful bird.
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Sculptures in the Gardens
It’s the only sculpture garden in Canada. It may even be the only one in the world in which the sculptures shake off their shackles and come alive at night when the moon hangs heavy in the sky and shifting shadows prowl beneath Kingsbrae’s trees. Deadly nightshades, roaming with no thought for the humans who walk around by day taunting these sculptures, thinking they are lifeless, mere images set in stone.
Beard not the lion in his den, nor the fox running wild, nor the chubby bear whose clumsy run belies his speed and strength. The dragon opens iron wings, but beware of the hot forge lodged in the snap-dragon’s mouth.
Have you seen the cerulean whale, marooned and ship- wrecked on these foreign soils? Once upon a time, in a fairy tale, he roamed the seven seas and plundered men and ships with abominable ease. Ease and the easel, plein air paintings, sculpture portraits taken from life and converted to a ship’s canvas that will never sail.
Ask not who is that bearded man, for he might be the one Don Juan invited to supper. Ah, the hard rock ship-shock when with a thunderous knock he arrives, an unexpected guest, at the coward’s door. And shake not his hand lest his fearsome grip turn you to stone or drag you down to hell.
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Painting a School Outing Beaver Pond, Mactaquac
The yellow of the school bus is easy, but what colors do you give the rainbow of kids arcing out through the exit? And how do you portray their energy, their noise, their origins when such a variety of accents assaults your ears and drives the wildlife into silence?
What colors would Rimbaud have given to their vowels, their consonants, their high-pitched tones? You can sketch their orderly rows as they snack on the top-hat magic pulled out of backpacks. But it’s not so easy to paint the pop of cans, the scent of chocolate bars, or the crackle of chips released from packets and popped into mouths.
Running round after lunch, they drive the wild birds wild with their unorganized games of tag, their impromptu dances, their three-legged races, their winners and losers, their joys and sorrows. Fishing nets are produced from nowhere. Girls, boys wander to water’s edge in search of prey: incipient frogs, newts, tadpoles, bullheads, but how do you paint the wet and wriggle of them?
Try painting this. Whistles sound. Kids regroup. The bus reloads and goes. Now paint the silence. Sketch the tranquility of woods, bird-calls back, of the beaver pond with its lilies stretching their green necks skywards towards a pale blue sky where cotton clouds cluster together in celestial flocks. A pastoral scene, this painter’s paradise.
Comment: The woodcut was a gift from my fellow KIRA artist in residence (May-June, 2021), Anne Stillwell-Leblanc. It goes well with this poem about nature, noise, and the absence, then presence, of silence. For those of you who do not know the Beaver Pond at Mactaquac, it is well-worth a visit. My thanks to Anne for her permission to use her art work.
Eclipse at KIRA June, 2021 as seen from the Red Room
Another exercise in light and the emotions triggered by changing light. I couldn’t look at the early morning sun, with its partial eclipse, especially through the camera’s eye. So I did my best through the digital screen. These photos are the result of hope and a set of digital colors that are way beyond my human eyes to comprehend.
Incredible moments in time and space, and oh so subjective, this seeming objectivity of the camera’s eye. Who are we, what are we, we tiny morsels of humanity when we see ourselves, so miniscule, so seemingly meaningless, beneath the daisy eye of heaven and the celestial dance that began before us and will continue long after we have gone.
The Old 100th in metrical form:
“All people that on earth do dwell, Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice. Him serve with mirth, his praise foretell, Come ye before him and rejoice.” Scottish Psalter, 1650.
Comment: No, I am not an overtly religious man and definitely not ‘a man of any cloth’. However, yesterday afternoon I received my second shot of Moderna and I want to offer my thanks to all those, world-wide, who made the vaccine possible and also to all the New Brunswickers and Canadians involved in distributing and delivering the Covid-19 vaccine. Today, I remembered my digital photos of the partial eclipse I witnessed at KIRA, St. Andrews, NB, earlier this month. So, this morning, for better or for worse, I have come before you to encourage you to rejoice.