Sunday, October 31, 2010

sky touching the river

When my sister, Della, was in town, us three sisters went to visit our dad's gravesite on the anniversary of his death. After leaving him some cedar boughs and reminiscing about the gifts he left us, we got back in the car and continued down the highway to go hiking at Kakabeka Falls. We parked the car and set out on the main trail into the park. I snapped this photo as we walked across the bridge above the falls spanning the Kaministiqua River. The river's mirror calmness belies the mad rush of water dropping over the 40 metre high cliff edge.

Where did I come from,
and what am I supposed to be doing?

I have no idea.

My soul is from elsewhere,
I'm sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.

This drunkenness
began in some other tavern.

When I get back around
to that place,
I'll be completely sober.

Meanwhile, I'm like a bird
from another continent,
sitting in this aviary.

The day is coming when I fly off

~ excerpt from Rumi, "Who Says Words With my Mouth?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

the magnificient Pigeon River Trail, Canadian side

Unlike the trail on the American side of Pigeon River, the Canadian trail is not wheelchair accessible. It is quite a climb and restricted to those who are sure-footed and have hearty lungs. I'm still trying to figure out my new camera so, unfortunately, the American forest on the other side of the river washes out.
If you are afraid of heights, some sections of it might spook you, but there are options so you don't have to go that route. Over many years gone by, glaciers, volcanoes, water, wind, and ice have carved out this amazing landscape.
Parts of the trail are less challenging than other sections. But you still need to be able-bodied and fit to hike this trail as the path is full of roots and is not asphalted and planked the whole way like the American side. Only sections of the Canadian trail have a boardwalk and that's over the swamp down river by the end of the trail when you loop back. Parts of the trail have stones placed in such a way to help you climb up or down the path, depending on which loop you take first. Whether these rocks are natural or placed strategically for hikers' benefit, I'm not sure. I would say not as the path is left to its natural inclination for the better part; indeed, this is what contrasts it most strongly with the American side. If you are able-bodied and fit, this short invigorating trail won't disappoint you. I recommend the half hour drive down Highway 61 to the American border to hike this trail. If it's raining, however, take a rain date as the rocks will be slippery when wet.
Why risk a fall?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

a reel injun has me reeling

I really like this photo of the singer Janita because it reminds me of my sister, Katja, when she was younger! When she was twenty-something, she looked a bit like this Finnish American singer, Janita, whose music I came across recently. Ari Lahdekorpi wrote a review of her new CD, Haunted, for the last edition of New World Finn (which, btw, is closer to its web publication format, so you will be able to read articles from it online soon!), and from that introduction I thought I'd look up her music.

So I found Janita's Myspace page and listened to some of her songs; I really enjoyed "Hopelessly Hopeful." It starts off like a song from an old 40s movie, but then develops into a moody evocative piece that really tugs at you. Her voice is beautiful. I like the oxymoron the song's title conjures: if you are hopeless, how can you be hopeful? Like "never say never," it sounds like a contradiction, but it is not. After listening to all of her songs on her Myspace page, I said to myself, yes, definitely, I've got to get her new CD! Eager to hear more, I looked her up on Youtube to see what was on there.

I found the title track to her new CD and watched and listened...

and then had a sinking feeling and wished I hadn't clicked on this particular music video. You listen to music to take you away from the everyday, to drift, to dream, to enter reverie....Well, not this time. Not far into the song, I could hardly hear the lyrics anymore as I was disturbed by the imagery in the video, by the video's appropriating of Native American symbols to create its "haunting" storyline.

Why would she use the romantic savage image in her video? The young shirtless guy standing at the window wearing a Chief's Headdress? What contemporary Native American guy does this? Wears traditional regalia during his regular day? Is this the only way to show a Native guy? Through stock imagery best left in the past? If it was a Finnish guy by the window, how would he be represented? Would the Finnish guy be standing at the window nude with a sauna pail in his hands to show his national identity? Or would he look like ..... a contemporary guy?

This is not the 50s' anymore; haven't we --Finnish settlers-- to Indigenous lands learned any lessons over the years? Worse was yet to come, however, and I have to say I was truly shocked to see Janita pulling out the feathers of the Chief's Headdress. Now, perhaps this isn't a "real" Chief's eagle headdress, but it does signify a lot of values. It is not just a Hollywood Injun prop.

A Chief's Headdress is a sacred item with high spiritual value. Usually, the feathers are eagle feathers, each feather the highest honor given to a man, each signifying some heroic, brave, or profound thing he has done. A man who wears a headful of eagle feathers commands a lot of esteem and respect. A warrior. A Grandfather. A Tribal Leader. A Medicine Man. Why would she assault this holy object like this? Doesn't she know its spiritual and cultural significance?

Is she and those who made this video so completely ignorant of the respect that should be accorded to the people whose land we are on? Unaware of the sacredness of a Chief's Headdress?

If it was a Bible, a Quran, or the Pope's hat, for that matter, would she be so cavalier? Wouldn't there be an outcry?

My friend, Shannon, asked me today if I had seen Reel Injun, the CBC documentary that through Aboriginal eyes critiques the portrayal of North American Indigenous people in Hollywood movies and discusses the films they are making today that counter the racialized representations that had them stuck in the past. In their self-representations they are not the vehicles of white people's new possibilities. They are no one's ghosts. In their stories, they are not haunting the edges of white people's stories.

They are no one's reel injuns......

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thunder Bay`s new mayor and Toronto`s new mayor cut from the same conservative cloth

Ominously, a strong wind and rain storm entered our territory this morning. What is really unusual is that the wind is from the south, so the air is eerily warm outside despite the howling and lashing. It`s plus 10, which is unusual for late October. Outside my window, I see the blue spruce bending dangerously in the gale force winds, the red arms of the Devil`s Ninebark waving frantically, and golden leaves whipping past my eyes as I sit by the window typing. The rain is lashing down something fierce, but I had a strange idea to go walk in this fierce weather to clear my head.

I heard a soft pat-pat, pat-pat in the front porch; looking through the glass of the front door window, I called out, Oh no! There`s water all over the floor of the porch!

Off I went to find my mop and some pails. It seems the wind has whipped the rain against the front exterior brick wall and water is dripping down from the balcony above the sun porch. Then, suddenly, the electricity went out. As the day is so dark and dreary, the inside of this old Victorian house is also dark, so off I went to find some candles to spark some light in the kitchen.

Sydney, I said to my lovebird who busied herself making a nest out of papers in her downstairs cage, you would not survive this weather if you were out doors today. No way. It`s not a lovebird kind of day. You`ll never survive out there.

What is actually depressing, however, is not the weather. It`s that both in my city, Thunder Bay, and in Toronto, the capital of Ontario, folks last night have elected conservative mayors, Keith Hobbs and Rob Ford respectively, who rode on the populist support bandwagon of getting tough on crime and `fiscal responsibility` (you can always tell the conservative candidates when these two head the top of their list of `change`), and the illusive mantra of making city governance more transparent and accountable to the people.

Of course, the solutions on how they will do that emerge from a blind spot, from a narrow scope of missing the social and historical power relations and disadvantages of race, class and gender, that shape people`s choices in life. Shades of Mike Harris, Evelyn Dodds, and Stephen Harper, to name a few `commonsense` politicians. Indeed, Rob Ford`s father was a MPP, a backbencher in the Mike Harris Tories.

Who knows? Maybe Thunder Bay will build another jail. Maybe we can privatize the ones we have while we`re at it. That`ll bring in some more lower-paying jobs without addressing any of the issues of why we are hiding away drug-addicted, alcohol-abusing, and traumatized folks in jail cells. Hopefully our new mayor won`t look to Toronto`s new mayor for guidelines as Ford is planning to privatize garbage collection.

Since most of the previous councillors of our city council were re-elected--only one new face-- (and we have only two women out of 13 positions which is shamefully low female representation in municipal politics), I wonder how our new mayor, Keith Hobbs, will be achieving his said goals of `change` if everyone on the council except one person is the same or has been in the job before. Is he planning to be `the leader`? the hero beacon of change? authoritarian? ... planning to bring police sergeant methods to city hall? Yet, he self-describes as having been a peacekeeper in his former job. Funny this didn`t seem to materialize in his election campaign. Perhaps it`s perspective; I am sure there are many folks who don`t equate the male-dominated institution of policing as a site of peacemaking.

Our new mayor and the new Toronto mayor share more than backlash politics, i.e. conservative political ideology and the get-tough on crime approach that supposedly will clean up house the old-fashioned way. Both could be described as having the 4 A`s style of dealing with those they don`t agree with: aggressiveness, antagonism, abrasiveness, arrogance. Type A personalities. Now, these characteristics may be at times necessary -- especially for those who have been at the brunt end of these top-down methods for years -- but I am sick of white men in power taking up the same tired old tactics while espousing change.

Why does this concept of `change` not excite me?

I think I`ll go for that walk, after all.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

stragglers in the garden of life

Today after I came back home from my morning walk with Tassu, I went to dig out the dahlia bulbs from my flower garden. While our autumn days have been pleasant, and it hasn't snowed yet, you never know what the next day will bring. So, I thought I'd better not let another day go by else I'll be digging through snow with frozen fingers looking for those dahlia bulbs. After lifting out the bulbs, hosing them down, and collecting them into a large red plastic pail, I picked up the two leftover dahlia blooms that I had snipped off the plant before cutting it down, and decided to walk around the yard and see if I could find any other stragglers still blooming.

Sure enough, here and there I found a splash of colour livening up the decay of dead leaves and plants, so I snipped Arabian Nights dahlia, geranium, chive flower, salvia, calendula, mustard flower, jemima-jump up, comfrey bells, white clips, pink mist, parsley spray, purple button, petunia, and summertime sunset. Gathering them up into a colorful spring-like bouquet that belies their falltime lateblooming, I brought them indoors and popped them into an old chipped Iittala glass that I could never bear to throw out, so I use it for this purpose--hosting small flower bunches.Playing with the light, I tried placing the bouquet by the old Singer sewing machine drawers lined with mirrors that I was given as a gift some years back. Looking at my two photos together calls to mind how context shapes how one sees something, at how different the same thing can look depending on what surrounds it, dark or light, or even perhaps how dark or light one's mood is shapes what one sees, or fails to see. We see different things in the dark and from the dark and we see differently in the light. And in the twilight and dawn? Isn't that the time our eyes and minds play tricks on us? Or is that when we see beyond our limitations?

Yesterday I went to a funeral for a friend of mine whom I haven't known for too many years, but who endeared herself to the people she met since moving to Thunder Bay five years ago; she was 94. One of her jobs before she retired was seamstress; she used to be a seamstress for the Singer Sewing Machine Company in Ottawa. The chaplain who led the internment at Mountainview Cemetery read a number of poems as well as verses from the Bible. He began with Gibran, an excerpt from The Prophet, On Joy and Sorrow. Surprisingly to me, it was one of the writings I had assigned for my students in my summer class on Arab literature of the diaspora. Standing in the shadow of the Norwester Mountains in the circle of friends gathered at the gravesite, I was moved to realize how much more emotionally profound the words were at a funeral rather than in a classroom.

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Friday, October 22, 2010

High Falls, the American side

In North America we have a terrible problem with multi-tasking taken to ridiculous levels. People even drink coffee and drive. There are a lot of people who drink coffee, drive, and even talk or text on their phone at the same time -- even though using a cell or personal handheld device in your car is illegal for drivers in Canada. (Indeed, last week a driver of a truck almost smashed into our car as my husband and me drove down a busy street. The distracted guy had failed to stop at a stop sign because he was too busy talking on his cell phone!).

Personally, I rarely take a coffee on the go because to me, coffee is about the ritual of brewing a cup of freshly ground beans (fairtrade and organic), waiting for the coffee grinds to settle in my little blue pot (I don't use a coffee maker), pouring the coffee into a favorite mug, and sitting down to enjoy it. To savor it on its own. I admit there were a few times that I tried taking a thermal mug of coffee with me, but both times I ended up spilling the coffee all over myself, the front seat of the car, and the floor. I have never gone through a drive-through to pick up a coffee. I'm not sure how many other Canadians can say that. On my way down to Ryden's to pick up my new camera with my son, I did take a thermal coffee mug with me filled to the brim with my home-brew. My son was driving.
The American side of the trail starts at a viewing platform that overlooks the lower part of Pigeon River as it meanders its way down to Lake Superior. Canada lies at the far horizon. The heathery colours of the reeds and grasses evoke a sedate calming warmth. The colours remind me of the heathery heaths of Ireland, where I visited in the fall a number of years ago. As we got to the platform, an American man was packing up his tripod and camera. The tranquil river shallows at this spot show little sign of the High Falls just a very short walk up river, and if you didn't know that there are falls upstream, you might only stop and visit this marshy part of the river and miss the tumult. The trail leading to the falls is paved and easily accessible to travellers of varying physical abilities. This trail is in the northernmost part of Minnesota so a lot of US residents come upstate Minnesota as this is one of the most northerly parts of their mainland. It's their north, but our south. It's all relative, after all. The border, of course, is but a recent invention of nation state building. Both sides of this land artificially cut with a border are Anishnaabe/Ojibwe/Chippewa lands.
Outhouse for anyone on the path who may suddenly need to use the loo -- for having drunk too much coffee, for example. There is a shiny new just-opened visitor center at the start of the trail with gleaming restrooms. The brown outhouse, I think, is the old version of the toilets for tourists who come to visit the High Falls trail of Grand Portage State Park.
There are wooden boardwalks leading to the viewing platforms, which make getting closer to view the falls accessible, too. This shot was taken from the higher platform. You can see High Falls in the background, the Canadian forest on the right, and my middle son, the risk-taker, getting carried away with the serotonin that pumps through you as a result of the open sky, roaring waters, and fresh, clean air. He used to do other dangerous balancing acts ever since he could drag himself out of the crib, so I no longer get panicky.
The whole natural environment is like an open heart welcoming you. This is the gift you receive for going to the most northerly part of Minnesota if you are an American. For us, it is our welcome into their country--that is, after we have crossed the security of the US border patrol at customs at the border, which includes your entire car being photographed and digitally recorded as you drive through some huge yellow steel (scanning?) barrier (and if they allow you in). This time, we had to go inside and get questioned. The border patrol officers said it was a random thing. When we got back in the car, my son said to me, "It's you. You're a jinx. This never happens to me when I cross the border."

But once past the stress of customs and the border agents, you feel welcome by the average American. Americans love us Canadians who live close to the border. Do you know how many cars cross the border each day with folks eager to go spend their money in the US? No one seems bothered in the least about the hassle of the security measures.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

the lesson of the grouse

I wasn't sure what the lesson of the grouse was. Why did it cross my path that afternoon on the Pigeon River trail to High Falls? It quietly made its presence known. If we hadn't looked down we would have walked right by and not even noticed its furry boots and dappled feathers. The path on the Canadian side is enwrapped in magic; you walk into a welcoming mysterious yet familiar forest of multiple patterns. Wherever you look, you see a different pattern, different textures, different colours; wherever you point your nose, different scents come to greet you; wherever your ears tip, different sounds emerge, from the hush of moss to the roar of water cascading with a fury. It's a sensory experience. I have to say (not that I'm biased :-)) that it is indeed more spectacular than the path that runs along the American side. The path on the Canadian side is not overly groomed; it's more wild. You have to be a bit on the fit side to hike the Canadian side.
There are few barriers to where you can walk -- if you have the guts. Personally, I am a bit of a chicken -- or should I say grouse? -- at the edge of high rocks and water. You can see the American side across the way, the viewing platforms that they have built.
I prefer staying on the ground. Here I am lying on one of the riverbed rocks to let you see the size of some of the stones along the falls. The rocks had been warmed by the sun on this Indian summer day, so my rest on the rocks was healing, a hot stone treatment gifted by the ancient medicine spirits of the river. During spring, after snowmelt, this area would be under water and I would then be floating -- or perhaps -- rushing my way
down to spill over the falls.
This morning, I looked in the Animal Speak book on my shelf, under "Dictionary of Bird Totems," and found Grouse. It tells me that the medicine of the grouse is sacred dancing and drumming:

"The ruffed grouse reflects that working with new rhythms and new movement will be beneficial to opening a new flow of energy into your life. Dance and drumming would become wonderful tools to open new realms for you. This doesn't mean you have to go out and take dance lessons, but simply practice and develop your freeform expressions. You will be surprised at the changes in your own energy. See yourself dancing in new patterns and realms within your life.
Dancing a circle is an act of creation. It is the marking off of sacred space. When a circle dance is performed, the individual creates a sacred space within the mind--a place between the worlds, a point in which the worlds intersect.
The grouse does have the ability to fly softly if it chooses. Rhythm does not have to be audible to be effective. If grouse has come into your life, expect new rhythms and new teachings on dancing and drumming and drumming your life to new dimensions.
High Falls on Pigeon River. The right side is the Canadian side, the left side is the American side, and the river marks the boundary waters, half here/half there.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"and when you laugh, laugh like hell"

A ruffed grouse on the path along the Canadian side of Pigeon River. Isn't this a beautiful example of how a being lives within its natural environment and changes and adapts to changing conditions? I went for a hike with one of my sons on the American and then the Canadian trail that both run along the river at the border between our two countries after picking up my new camera. So, of course, we wanted to try out the camera, and besides, the trails at the border (there are numerous on both sides) are spectacular in the autumn. We saw this grey morph ruffed grouse right by our feet on the path. It wasn't bothered by us, at all. It just kept pecking away at the lichen, eating whatever it was in there that it found delicious. It had a crest and a beautiful deep indigo ruff around its collar.

My son exclaimed, "Too bad I don't have my gun!"

I reminded him, "This is provincial park land and no hunting is allowed! That's probably why this grouse isn't even afraid of us."

So, he went shooting with my new camera instead and caught this photo.

My new camera is a Samsung 12.2 mega pixels 5x zoom and although it cost more than my two older cameras, I think the photos are not as sharp in colour. I may be disappointed. I also noticed there seems to be some fading of distance in the background of landscape shots. But then again, there are more buttons to play with so I may have to work more with this camera. My old cameras both bit the dust; the shutter button fell off of the Sony Cybershot that I got as a hand-me-down from my oldest son, who got it as a hand-me-down from a friend. I googled how to repair it; I read don't bother. And my other camera, the old trusty heavy thick-bodied Sony Cybershot which I started this blog with suddenly stopped taking all photos except close-ups.
The other day when I was raking leaves in my yard and trimming dried up plants, I decided to make a decorative nest. Here is the nest I made in my yard with fall time yard clippings and fallen leaves, into which I placed the Chinese fortune ball I bought downtown Toronto a number of years ago from a shop that was closing down. I saw a similar nest last week on the ground off the Boulevard Lake path that some folks had made to surprise early morning bicyclists like me. It was one of those "live in the moment" interventions.

Fall is a time when thinking about mortality seems to come around quite often, particularly when one hikes through the autumnal northern landscape of sweet-smelling decay and death.

Below is a quotation for Fall musing which I found in an article on creativity and its importance in Native communities by Cherie Dimaline in First Nations House Magazine. I'm always keeping my eye open for well-written interesting short essays that I can use in my writing classes to show how writers construct their argument, and Dimaline's essay is perfect. As part of her support, she brings in advice to emerging writers from writer William Saroyan:

"The most solid advice for a writer is this, I think. Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Marina Park Drive

Since I'm talking about things from the past in this post, I thought I would post some old photos I took last year on the 3rd or 4th of October. This is a photo of a ditch. Of old oil dumped into the ditch at the side of the road. It's an industrial road. I took this photo last year in early October when I walked Musti and Tassu along the shore road
past the old grain elevator that is no longer in use to a very small beach.
It's not a swimming beach, no, not at all, This has been an industrial area for more than a hundred years and there are lots of chemicals and toxins in the ground and along the shore. It's what you call brown space. Contaminated. You access this road by going over the Marina overpass and continuing east. There is an active grain elevator at the end of this road.
You only want to be walking on this road on Sundays when logging trucks do not go whizzing by scaring the bejezus out of you. It is their road six days of the week and you would be taking your life in your hands.
The road is called Marina Park Drive -- I know, you might be saying to yourself "Marina Park Drive?" You might be thinking that this name conjures up, if not the vision of an idyllic shoreline nature drive, perhaps an upscale area of tony lakeshore residences.
It is a road that, especially in the past when our city had a semblance of what is called a booming economy, men, working class men, went to earn their bread-and-butter and pay their mortgages. And buy their trucks.

But my post is actually about old comments. I was doing some mousekeeping on my blog and noticed a message from Blogger to check spam messages regularly. Oops, that is something I have never done. So, I went into the Comments pages and, yes, I did find some spam lurking in the comments of past posts, and so I deleted them.

Of course, like in many of our inboxes there was old Viagra paying me a cyber visit. I heard on the radio the other day that viagra is Sanskrit for tiger. I guess for the folks who come up with catchy names, it seems they never tire of old stereotypes.

I also found a bunch of comments that had been left for me, but as they were on older posts, I had not gone back to reply as I don't often visit old posts. So, if you, dear reader, left a comment for me in the past and I did not reply to it, I apologize. Your comments were very interesting, and I appreciate you taking the time to post a comment. So, if you are out there, please know that I have read your comments, for I have read everything that has been posted on my blog.

While going through past comments, I also couldn't help but notice those comments that were left for me in past posts that accused me of being filled with hate, accused my blog of being a hate site, and other such horrible accusations. When one blogs for the human rights of Palestinians and is critical of Zionism and the state of Israel, one is bound to get rude and even hostile comments.
An old sign behind a new chain link fence on Marina Park Drive.
I have had to say good bye to Musti; I will tell you about that soon.