Stopping Time

Standard

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”  Anaïs Nin

I have often thought of this quote by Anaïs Nin – not in the context of a writer, but in the framework of a photo. Ever since Joseph Nicephore Niepce clicked the first photo in 1814, humanity has been beguiled by the ability to capture something important.  It is our only way to stop time, to remember our journeys, and proclaim that we have lived, felt love, endured challenges and sustained losses.

I confess that I am a “photo hoarder.”  Yes, even the photos that I consider “second best” remain safely stored on external drives in hopes that some day there may be an editing program that will be invented that will enhance and bring out their beauty. By beauty, I mean the emotional impression of that event.

Just last week, I went back to “taste life twice.”  The year was 2004.  I had purchased my first digital camera, a Canon Powershot A70, for a long-awaited trip to Italy to enroll in a 3-week Italian language course.  The reviews were as generous as I was enthusiastic: “The PowerShot A70 is much more than just a 3.2-megapixel version of its predecessor, the A40.”   I was convinced that this was an excellent purchase.

With a camera in hand, there is added emotional drama at play, more clarity, more interest in the “now.”  This awareness was most keenly felt when I walked the lush paths of Frederick Stibbert’s Garden.  It was a late October afternoon. A gentle light settled on the trees and aging walls, a faint wind tossed the leaves.  A quiet solitude lifted my spirits.  I had recently finished an arduous academic journey and was at a crossroads.

Looking back on these photos, I remember a pivotal decision, made with a recognition that we move in tune with the music of time, surrounded by those who came before and those who will come after. Our myths, our struggles, our joys are intermingled.  Perhaps it is in the retrospective, in knowing what happened afterwards, that reveals a greater understanding.  And with that knowledge, we move forward with profound resolve to embrace the next moment.

 

 

What are Angels?

Standard

“Poets are born knowing the language of angels.” 

 Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light

November has turned over time to December, a month of deepening frost, and merry celebrations.  It’s the festive season when all the twinkling lights brighten up the city and give even a rainy Vancouver sky a mystical glow.  This is the time of year for joy, good-will, Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” and the appearance of an angel or two. Angels come in many forms and are found in shop windows, holiday cards, and frosted Christmas cookies.

Angels have been part of human history since ancient times, dating back to the long, long ago Mycenaean era (16th to 12th centuries BCE) Throughout the centuries and mythologies, there is a common theme of “messenger.”  Angels are intermediaries who have knowledge to share, teach, or warn. They bear tidings of destiny.

What are angels? I have the answer, or rather I was sent the answer by way of the marvellously gifted experts at The National Gallery, London.  I am learning that creative endeavour, whatever form it takes, whether it be art, poetry, music, dance, literature, oration, allows us to explore the unknown and make peace with the unknowable.

“If instead of a gem, or even a
flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a
friend, that would be giving as the angels give.” George MacDonald

Three Goddesses & A Garden

Standard
The Bandstand

The Bandstand and Sir William Young’s six urns.

There were once three goddesses who watched over the elegant Halifax Public Gardens, a gift from the estate of chief justice Sir William Young.  Born in the year 1799 in Falkirk, Scotland, a city situated at the junction of the Forth and Clyde Canal in the Scottish Lowlands, Sir William Young immigrated  to Nova Scotia with his family in 1814 and went on to become the Premier of Nova Scotia in 1854.  He lived during the Romantic Period when there was a increasing awareness of ancient Greece and Rome, which was reflected in his private garden.

Flora, goddess of flowers, spring and youth,

Flora, goddess of flowers, spring and youth.

On his passing in 1887, three goddesses and six urns were given to the Halifax Public Gardens.  The three goddesses left Sir William Young’s estate to take their place along the Petit Allée.  First there was Flora, the Sabine-derived goddess of flowers, spring and youth.  Next came Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, the moon, nature, woodland and wild animals.  Last came Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops, and fertility. These statues embodied the quintessential characteristics of the Victorian age.

Ceres

Ceres, goddess of agriculture, grain crops and fertility.

Alas, in March 2012, Diana was the victim of vandalism, knocked to the ground by unknown persons.  An outcry went throughout Halifax for Diana was a 138-year-old Haligonian cultural icon.  Year after year, families would gather around Diana to take wedding and graduation photos.  Memories were built under her gentle gaze.  Now, the garden is in the keep of Ceres and Flora.

Our Memories of Diana 2003

2003 –  Our Memories of Diana, goddess of the hunt, the moon, nature, woodland and wild animals.

All is not lost!  There are whispers that she is merely resting, waiting to be placed inside a public building.  Myths have survived centuries; they do not stay silent for long.  They live in our music, poetry, dance and literature.  And especially in our gardens…

Nike

Standard

Nike stands vigil on the Cordova Street median at Thurlow in downtown Vancouver. Daughter of the Titan Pallas and the goddess Styx, she comes from a distant past. Sister to Kratos (Strength), Bia (Force), and Zelus (Zeal), she represents Victory.  Endowed with speed and agility, she took her place as the divine charioteer, rewarding the victors of battle with glory and fame. Her name has endured over the centuries, along with her companions Zeus and Athena.

Nike

Nike came to Vancouver, a gift from the Greek city of Olympia in honor of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games hosted by our fair city.  Designed by Pavlos Angelos Kougioumtzis, who lives and works in Athens and Delphi, there is a remarkable strength embodied in Nike’s abstract beauty and elegant lines.  Bronze, four-metre-tall and placed atop a 2.5-metre base, Nike presides over a busy city intersection, a profound reminder that ancient ways are embedded in our modern societies.

We are defined by our mythologies. In turn, our mythologies keep us focused on universal themes that have been embraced and handed down through the generations of human history.

Nike

Beira

Standard
Scottish Highlands

Scottish Highlands – Loch Ness

Seasons have unpredictable natures, and struggle to retain influence over earth days.  Winter has lost most of its control over Vancouver, but has sent a covering of snow in parts of Eastern Canada. Transitions are never smooth, and seasonal weather patterns, which can take on a tug-of-war appearance, seem to adopt human characteristics.  Is it any wonder that mythologies build upon this idea?

In my farewell to winter, I came to know the one-eyed giantess Beira, Queen of Winter, the mother of all the gods and goddesses in Scottish mythology.   Wielding a magic hammer, her brilliant white hair set against dark cobalt skin and rust-coloured teeth, she formed mountains to serve as her stepping stones and set up Ben Nevis to be her mountain throne. Loch Ness came into being when she transformed her inattentive maid, Nessa into a river that gave us the spectacular Loch that draws thousands of visitors to Scotland every year. In her more reflective moments, Beira herds sheep, but she is ever vigilant against “spring,” using her staff to freeze the ground upon which she walks.   The Winter Solstice defines the end of her reign as Queen of Winter, and ushers in Brighde, the goddess who rules the summer months.

Scottish Highlands - Loch Ness

Scottish Highlands – Loch Ness

The Queen of Winter will return, for on the longest night of the year, she drinks from the enchanted Well of Youth and grows younger day by day.

There is a wistfulness when we let go of what is, to accept what comes next; even a goddess feels a sense of loss.  Yet, the possibility of renewal is always present.

“Folk tales and myths, they’ve lasted for a reason. We tell them over and over because we keep finding truths in them, and we keep finding life in them.” Patrick Ness

Scottish Highlands - Loch Ness

Scottish Highlands – Loch Ness

Frog Constellation: A Love Story

Standard
Frog Constellation: A Love Story

Frog Constellation: A Love Story

“The frog is quite powerful in our thinking. It’s one of the creatures that can go in two worlds, in the water and in the upper world, our world. . . The frog is one of my family crests, but I don’t know the family story, how that came to be one of our crests.”

James Hart, Haida Master Carver

On Sundays, the corridors of Simon Fraser University are quiet, as if at rest before the commotion of student activity that accompanies the coming of Monday mornings.  Within this momentary pause, I take the opportunity to visit the Frog Constellation that is situated in Saywell Hall, by the SFU First Nations Student Centre. I have been there many times over the years since its installation and have come to sense a silent companionship with the sculpture. The Frog Constellation tells a love story that begins when a young man cannot find his love, only to learn that the frog king has whisked her away to his domain.  A wise old man gives him the knowledge of where to dig in the earth.  Millions of frogs come from the young man’s excavation, the last one being the frog king that carries his love back to him.

Within the themes of loss and recovery, it is the search that resonates within me.  It is the wisdom of age combined with the strength of youth that brings about resolution.

Frog Constellation

Frog Constellation: A Love Story

Frog Constellation

Frog Constellation: A Love Story

Frog Constellation

Frog Constellation: A Love Story

 

James Hart is a master carver who apprenticed with the late Bill Reid.  He bears the Haida name, “7idansuu” [ee-dan-soo], as hereditary chief of the Statas Eagle Clan.