Saturday, November 19, 2011

November Remembrances

In the month of November, my father comes to mind more than at any other time of year.  This is a picture of a picture, originally taken by a neighbour and good friend of Dad's.  They liked to talk about their respective projects and about life in general.  Dad was of a time when pictures showed one's formal best, but I don't have a single one of him on Remembrance Day, his shoes and medals shone, and his shoulders as straight and proud as he could possibly hold them.  Nevertheless, that image is etched indelibly in my memory.  He didn't go overseas, but the army trained him as a mechanic and the bonds he forged during WW2 were, I think, as strong as any he experienced afterwards.  No, he wouldn't have approved of this picture, but I love it, and feel pretty sure he would have been happy to know that.  Working outside on his many projects is the way I like to remember him.
The art below was created by one of the students at the international school where I teach.
 This year, for the first time, I asked all of my students to memorize "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae, and to recite it in front of the class.  It was a great pronunciation exercise, and though we no longer seem to favour learning poetry by heart, I realized that there are benefits to doing so that I had forgotten about.  The students gained confidence, learned new vocabulary and enjoyed the experience far more than I would have predicted.  They also listened more attentively and critically than I've ever seen them do before, when the poem was read at our assembly on November 10th.  We talked about the meaning of "Take up our quarrel with the foe" and decided to put a new spin on the original interpretation.  The foe is mankind's propensity for hatred and the failing hands are the ones that have not found a way to end war.  I hope John McCrae would have been okay with that idea.  War over religion and/or land has been waged since the beginning of mankind, but I continue to hope that we will one day figure out how to get along with each other.

Pipe Sergeant Don McPhee led a colour party of veterans and legion members into our gymnasium to begin what has become a traditional remembrance at school.    
One face was missing this year, and I felt that loss deeply.  Flight Lieutenant Fred Mullen of the Royal Canadian Air Force passed away just a couple of months after the 2010 ceremony.  One of the students prepared a video in his honour.  It began with the words, "I want you to meet a friend of mine."  
Mr. Mullen was trained in the use of radar, a system of detection and tracking that came into use near the beginning of WW2, and one that he was as excited about in 2010 as he had been in the 1940's.
You can hear Mr. Mullen speak at this link.  When I heard the recording at this year's assembly, I felt he was surely in the room with us.

This is Mr. Ron Smith.  At school, he is fondly known as "Mr. Canada."  
His idea of passing the "Torch of Remembrance" is one of several traditions that make our international school unique.  
With approximately thirty countries represented, where better to plant the seeds of hope for a peaceful future? I am grateful to Mr. Smith and to the other teachers who worked with him to prepare a meaningful remembrance for our students.   
This is Master Seaman Christian Mosely.  He lost a cousin and a close friend to war.  His heartbreak and his need to honour their memory, and that of their fallen comrades, struck a chord of understanding in all of us.
After the ceremony at school, I headed homeward along the new overpass, and there seemed to be the most beautiful golden light.  I couldn't shake the feeling it was connected to voices from the past.
When I reached the traffic light at the end of the overpass, I looked across 1st Avenue, and the sun was drifting through the leaves of a tree on the corner.
I crossed over the Lions Gate Bridge, and took a minute to admire the lions.  They have been in remembrance mode since November 1st.  Who, I wonder, climbs up the monuments at either side of the bridge sometime between midnight and early morning, each first day of the month, to dress the lions in their "theme of the month" wardrobe?
A soft light over English Bay and a gaggle of geese making their sundown pilgrimage across the water added to the feeling of something a touch beyond ordinary in the air.
On Friday, November 11th, I walked with Black Jack along the seawall shortly before 11:00 a.m.  These trees were beautiful, but in a more delicate way than they had appeared..   
about two weeks earlier.
At that time, I had taken one photo from each side, during a ride home from work.
Continuing that walk on on November 11th, we headed along the beach beside English Bay.  A father was speaking in German with his children, and I was curious about the little kingdom they were building in the sand.
The children were giving their dad instructions.  They didn't speak English, but he was happy to explain the design to me.  At the front centre were twigs to represent a forest.  One very tall tree had fallen over.  In front of the forest were three rocks to represent mountains.  In front of the mountains were some houses and to the left was one high rise.  To the right, and a bit isolated, was a mall.  A road went around the town.  He explained that there was much work left to do.  The children wanted to complete their road system, and then they were going to build a school.  He said they didn't need a playground, as the beach and ocean were just outside the surrounding road.  I thanked him for taking time to explain their project, and left, happy for those lucky children whose dad played with them.  
A few Harlequin Ducks were feeding as Black Jack and I walked down to the water.  Perhaps they were the same ones I had seen a few days earlier.  They don't appear very often, and I always enjoy seeing them.
The male was following the female and I wondered if the pairing up is happening sooner than usual this year, or whether they mate for life.  I found this information from an SFU study:
Abstract. We documented the frequency of pair reunion in Harlequin Ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus) on breeding streams in Alberta, and at a molting/wintering area in southwestern British Columbia. As long as their mate is alive, Harlequin Duck pairs reunite on the wintering area and return to the breeding stream together. Pairs reunite even if the female is unsuccessful at breeding the previous season,which suggests that reuniting with the same mate year after year is important. Some males that have lost their mate and fail to re-pair on the wintering area show fidelity to their former breeding site.
As I was noting a splash of orange at the centre of some more muted colours,
I heard the sound of what I believe was an Aurora plane coming over the Granville Bridge.  It was a very grey day, and my small lens barely managed to pick it out.  (It's in the right top corner of the photo.)
It continued over the Burrard Bridge.
We were standing on the rocks watching the plane when this little fellow peeked up, just for a few seconds.  I'm still wondering what it was.  Suggestions have ranged from Marmot, to gopher, to groundhog, to "dinner" (by one colleague:) and mostly recently, to American Mink.
I am leaning to American Mink because of this site (recommended by Ship Rock).  The white chin and lower lip are apparently a distinguishing feature.  What I can say for certain is that he or she was very cute. 
A few seconds later, these eight planes came by.  I believe the pilots are known as The Fraser Blues.
These flowers were on a park bench behind me, and I wondered if they were also in honour of Remembrance Day. 
I think these were Barrow's Goldeneyes.  
They seemed to be pairing up as well.
We walked a bit further along the beach.  I noticed a pile of about 8 logs, with bright colour at each end.  When we got closer, I saw these letters.  I've googled in an attempt to figure out what they meant, and nothing has turned up.  The letters were upsetting to me, especially since the paint seemed fresh and every single log bore the writing at each end.  I tried to shake off my fear of the meaning, but it has stayed in the back of my mind. Edited to add: Bill wrote a letter about this to the Parks Board, and received a response that the letters are a logging company's id, and have nothing to do with racism.  Thank you, Bill!  
Later, Bill and I drove to The Wicked for lattes and oatmeal, and then we decided to see if we could get tickets for Penelopiad.  As we drove, there was a sudden downpour and very strong winds. 
I took "truck-shots" through the window.  The leaves were being blown about like huge, green snowflakes.  It was a mesmerizing sight. 
Orange and yellow leaves came down as well,
soon covering everything in their path.
Another truck-shot, this time of a rainbow.
I was thrilled to see it, and again had an uncanny feeling that it was in honour of Remembrance Day.
Our Penelopiad tickets were for Saturday, so that left us time to see another play on Friday. We chose Sunday on the Rocks by Theresa Rebeck.  It was at the Havana Theatre.  
This was a student production, and Avery Crane, Alexis Lundergan, Samica Poon, and Tamara Williamson gave very strong performances.  In spite of some wonderfully funny scenes, the play didn't quite work for us, and I thought and have continued to think about how the best writers and thinkers frame their more serious messages.  People can be put off by a heavy-handed approach, and the yelling in this play, while leading to some resolution, often caused my stomach to churn in discomfort. The playwright, however, is well on her way to a very successful career, and the actors, I feel sure, are not far behind her.
For a glowing and very personal response to Penelopiad, I refer you to Alex Waterhouse's blog.  He saw the play twice and his admiration for Meg Roe is compelling.  During the play (sorry, Alex), I found my attention drifting at times, but many of the scenes have floated through my mind since.  Bill seemed to understand what I meant when I said that I enjoyed the play more in retrospect than I did in the moment.  If you want to see it, you'll have to move quickly on your weekend plans, as it closes tomorrow.  I had a bit of an "aha" moment in understanding the depth of Meg Roe's talent.  She gives the impression of talking just to you, as naturally as if the two of you were conversing over a cup of tea.  Perhaps, in the world of the performing arts, that understated stage presence is the mark of a true master.  
Photo by David Cooper
Another November performer who has stayed in my mind is Merl Jones, a Sto'lo Nation person who guided my students through a wonderful exploration of history at Fort Langley National Historic Site.  You can see from this picture taken with the students how much they enjoyed meeting Merl.
Here, he introduced us to the way to carry a very heavy load of fur pelts.
He had an impeccable sense of timing..
and even the students just beginning to learn English gave him their rapt..
attention as he demonstrated the way it was in Canada at first.  Can you guess what he is showing in the above photo?
He fashioned this hook in front of the students and it will be the prize for a vocabulary test given after our visit.  If you haven't visited the fort, I think you will find a trip there to be entertaining, informative and well worth the time spent.  
Merl talked about the mix of languages that was used to communicate between First Nations, Hawaiian and Scottish people.  I asked him about this art exhibit that I always look at when I walk along the False Creek seawall.  It is a kind of Chinook jargon that was used to communicate between English, French and Asian people.  For some reason, my favourite words are "Yukwa yahwa pe konaway." That translates to, "Here, there, and everywhere."
This link takes you to the artist's words about the project.  You can also read about that below, but there was moisture under the glass, so part of it is difficult to see.
Here are all of the translations for the words in the exhibit. Thank you, Merl, for inspiring all of us with your knowledge and energy.
Below, photos from yet another November performance that I continue to cherish for a variety of reasons.  It was at The Cellar Restaurant and Jazz Club   This is Paul Luchkow, father extraordinaire to Oscar and Max, husband to Bill's niece, Glenys, and outstanding musician.  Here, he tunes with cellist, Natalie Mackie.  They joined Stephen Creswell on viola and..   
Soile Stratkauska on the flute to give their unique energy and interpretation.. 
to Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn flute trios and quartets.
I struggled to get photos from our table, a fair distance from the performers, and not wanting to disturb them in any way.  These are my very first attempts at using manual focus.  I thought this picture of Natalie was the most successful.
This last set of pictures came from a Sea to Sky Outdoor School camp experience that I had the wonderful opportunity to share with several of our students.  It was in October so technically doesn't fit with the title of the post, but it joins the spirit of my November remembrances.  I grew up with quite an unreasonable fear of mice, but this one shared space in my cabin, and warmed my heart by posing for a photo.    
I learned at least as much as the students at this camp.  The fact that 20% of the world enjoys 80% of the resources was really driven home as never before.  
Here, "Tuckamore" shares a cherished part of his world with the students.
Everyone took on a special name at the camp.  Our two other (incredible) leaders were "Otter" and "Owl"  I was "Osprey" and our students chose a variety of names that included "Teddy Bear" and "Orange." Tuckamore's tenderness as he moistened a slug that was stressed after being introduced to many of the students will stay with me for a long time to come.  You can read a little bit about him from this quote taken from the camp web site:
Chael MacArthur - alias Tuckamore - The word 'Tuckamore'  describes the stunted Balsam Fir (Var) and Black Spruce that grow on the rocky shores of Newfoundland and Labrador where they brave the salt laced winds of the North Atlantic. Their roots hold firmly onto the rocks; communities of branches mingle together and stretch inward to the land. They create a metaphor for the place that reminds us of the power of resilience and the wisdom of the wild. Chael has been teaching this wisdom in outdoor classrooms since the age of 16 and has completed university degrees in English, French and a Bachelor of Environmental Education from Simon Fraser University. Tuck believes his most valuable education began the moment his mother first handed him a raincoat and said, “Dere's no need t'be indoors on a day like t'day.” It turns out that in Newfoundland, you are a wet weather adventurer, or not at all. A storyteller, adventurer, musician and explorer, Chael strives to live a one planet lifestyle. As Uncle Tuckles would say, “Young Tuck, my son, he's silly wit sustainability.”
A photo of Black Jack giving me "the look" at supper time closes this post, just because:)  Thank you for spending time with me, and have a wonderful weekend.


  1. What a lovely tribute to your father, Remembrance day, drama, music, your students, sustainability and darling Blackjack! Phyllis

  2. Carol, this is another wonderful post and I hardly know where to start. The tribute to your father is very touching and the Remembrance Day service at your school moving. So many wonderful photos, thank you. :)

  3. This gives a wonderful impression of the varied experiences of your November, the thoughts, the sights, the whole feeling. Thanks for taking us along.

    The aspects of it which stand out for me are firstly, the amazing row of red trees, now translucent. What a nice man your father looks. The disconcerting letters on the logs. the rainbow, the planes, the way that your school takes remembrance day so seriously. The echo of the colours of the poppies in the colour of the leaves.

  4. Your words, “a touch beyond the ordinary”, describes this post perfectly and the somewhat poetic way in which you described the events of the past few weeks. The imagination of the children at play with their wonderful dad and the magnificent face of your dad etched into that old photo were great to see. The lone flowers on a bench and the wreaths of war gave melancholy pause. And I think BC is much like how the NFLD fellow described it … you need to be a “wet weather adventurer” or not at all. I love the pattern of the blanket where Black Jack gives you that look and the surreal photos of leaves fluttering down “like snowflakes” onto glistening streets where a rainbow suddenly appears. Thanks as always, Carol, for sharing your fantastic journey through life. :)

  5. A very interesting blogg with varying pictures and subjects. Hope you´ll see "your" swan at Jericho-Beach :-) Regards, Michael

  6. I polished Dad's medals on Remembrance Day and it seems that although miles apart we were sharing the same memory of him. That picture is also one of my favourites.

    Your photo of the mouse brought back some memories too. Very brave! Dare I ask how you feel about bats these days?

  7. And, I shone his shoes:) I think I've come quite a long way, even with respect to bats (although that hasn't been tested), but your question brought back an image of hiding under the bed covers, and screaming for Dad to come help. (He was my hero that night.) I was at least in university by that time, too. Thanks for the smile this morning.

  8. I liked the narrative flow and the great photos. Is it possible to add an actual voice over?

    Venus setting into the sunset...
    with Inukshuk in the foreground.
    That could be an interesting picture.