Eldon George: “Yes, that was back in ‘68.”

Eldon George telling the story

Eldon Tells the Story — Photo by Ahchee Hsu

Eldon George was honoured at a celebration hosted for him at the Fundy Geological Museum last Sunday (Nov. 15.) Feeling an it’s-about-time gratitude, I wish I could have attended.  The Parrsboro Rock Shop Project announced:

The Cumberland Geological Society, operators of the Fundy Geological Museum in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia (Canada), are pleased to announce plans to establish a permanent exhibit featuring the Parrsboro Rock and Mineral Shop and accomplishments of Eldon George.

http://www.parrsbororocks.ca/

I wrote the following several years ago after yet another visit to Parrsboro, and I’d like to offer it as a tribute to Eldon. But let us not forget the contributions of amateur collector Don “Keeper of the Cliffs” Reid who opened his private centre in Joggins long before the Joggins Fossil Cliffs Interpretive Centre was completed in 2008. Nor should we forget the contributions of Sonja Wood and Chris Mansky who gave the public access to their collection at the Blue Beach Fossil Museum near Avonport, Nova Scotia.

I’m grateful to the Fundy Geological Museum and to its current curator Dr. Tim Fedak, because for some time I’ve heard the academic geologists dismiss the likes of Eldon George, Don Reid, Wood and Mansky—people for whom the word “amateur” is a misnomer. These people are serious, dedicated and knowledgeable. They’re people whose passion and talent for sharing the treasures of Fundy with an appreciative public put them in the vanguard. They’re the people who put Parrsboro, Joggins, and Blue Beach on our maps.

_________________________

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Can you identify the mystery poet?

Mystery_Poet
Here’s another poem from “Sad Songs from Hush River” available at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/471447 offered in recognition of National Poetry Month. I wrote “On the Morn of Your Eulogy” as an exercise using another poem as a prompt.  My poem follows the structure of the original, including that of the title which is something like “On the Eve of Your Departure.”  Alas, I cannot relocate the inspiration and I am unable to credit the writer. Can you help? Do you know who the author and the poem might have been?  Suggestions appreciated.

Tell me you weren’t cracking up,

You had but the one suckling child

and you still held an artist’s brush with confidence

even hope.

 

I promised you by your tired eyes that you were a well-tempered palette.

You promised me by your tired eyes that you were a well-tempered palette.

And all the planets promised both of us by your tired eyes that you still

perceived the colors of truth completely

 

Who could not go on living?

 

My pen will be glad to have been a record,

The brush to have been your lover,

I to have been blessed to touch the hem of your dress

in the quiet of evening.

 

The scout has lost his compass,

The sailor his anchor,

And I — I feel my mind eroding–ragged holes exposing a stormy sky,

That my time too is ticking down

That your daughter is more than a daughter, and the sun is more than a sun.

 

What is the word for tomorrow?

Going to Timmy’s with You

Timmys

(after “Having a Coke with You” by Frank O’Hara)

Going to Tim Hortons with you is better than a drive to Borden, New London, Hunter River, even Ebbsfleet, especially in winter when the roads are drifting in and the RCMP are advising “motorists” -– a word left over from an era when a man wearing a fedora needed an “operator” to complete a call to the woman he thought was his lover—she wore red shoes, but we didn’t know that because all we see of her is in calculated film noir shadows, but wanting a simile, I’ll say the word is left over like cold pizza from the night before.

Coffee with you is better, here in town at a Tim Hortons that both of us could walk to, if we had to, We push the steel and glass door, find shelter from the wind and snow, find warmth, and the only mumble is among three young kids behind the counter, indistinguishable, not that we’re paying any attention, but we feel their infectious camaraderie, or is it the richness of their energy that animates them and becomes us.

And what could be better than an idea growing between us as we stare at the table top remembering the heft the old white porcelain mugs, familiar as cliché. We talk of social media and A-D-D growing in a Petri dish. Your expression, not mine.

What could be better than a bottomless cup and a clock with no meaning, a to-do list left somewhere I don’t know–I’ve looked in my pockets, my wallet–and I wish I had it so that I could check it at the door like a backpack carried into Wal-Mart, or a cashmere coat removed in another film noir and delivered to an officious man at the theatre who hands me a ticket with the number 72 on it. I think of other lists, one once important that fell into the snow and the ink bloomed like a watercolour wash over lettering that tried so hard to be a new language, transcendent and Zen-like as I held it up, lines of calligraphy vertical, the words sliding off like drops of snow-melt that will appear next month, or the month after, on the branches of the would-be forsythia in your back yard.

Time disappears except for that nagging thought vandalizing the back room where I store things like the car keys, sleeping bags, and the notion that I should go to Cornwall for a haircut. But not today. I forgive myself without telling you, because I want you to believe that there is nothing better than being here with you, or so I tell myself as you begin to speak of depression and a change in meds, and it occurs to me that I dropped the once important list that blossomed earlier this morning, and that with an effort I’m not prepared to give, I could reconstitute it. Almost.

What would it be like to look into your eyes without guilt?

What would it be like to see you clearly and to know in that moment of visual penetration, my own clean nakedness, beautiful and soulful, stainless with no implications of dysfunctional sexuality and no hint of that vocal crescendo that is Elvis’s doing it “my way”, or Rufus Wainwright doing it his way, with Cigarettes and Chocolate, but more like Gershwin’s piano concerto in f, the intensity of which is so, so American. In a good way.

And I ask myself, what can you see through a Thorazine glass darkly? Oh that you could dance the dance of Salome, toss down the veils and emerge through all that fog that hangs heavy in the valleys of your discontent. Would you see any sunlight in my eyes?

When you belittle the well-intentioned but ignorant and ineffective efforts of Nameless, our mutual friend, I find myself uncomfortable, feeling the hardness of franchise furniture–when you say, “Why couldn’t she have … I realize that Little League baseball is better, especially in July, in a small town in Massachusetts like Boxborough or Hubbardston, metal bleachers, sparsely populated by eager fathers. The green of the grass is better. The red dust on Zoey’s uniform is better. After he slides into second and wipes his hands on his pants. And it doesn’t matter who wins, even though I’m aware of the cawing of the crows in the background, but apparently it does matter to the punk dad who stands up and yells at the ump, “Take your head out of your ass, asshole. You would have seen that Carl tagged him good. Zoey’s out for Chrissakes.” I want to ask the punk dad just how do you take your head out of your ass when you’re an asshole, but I don’t.

I surface and hear the remnant of the continued complaint, “Why can’t they give her another job, something else to do where she can’t screw up as much … I turn my focus to the couple behind you, sitting in the corner—the middle-aged man and woman who walked in twenty minutes after we did. I know you didn’t notice. I try to imagine their home life, their story.  I see them losing a daughter, and that’s why they don’t care what others think of the way they dress. They’re as comfortable in their attitude as war veterans who join biker clubs. If only I could make you as comfortable in your own skin, say the magic word that would take down that totem print of ‘The Scream’ that hangs over your broken couch, and replace it with a window overlooking the Aegean, which is a far more profound and dramatic act than finding a word that fits more smoothly than “motorists”—a word fluid with soft consonants like ells.

Going to Timmy’s with you is better than writing a poem with the word “motorists” in it, which is why I want to acknowledge this moment, one more occasion of our connect/disconnect, you speaking in the past tense, and me writing, in my mind, in the present tense, and wanting ever so much to believe that my love for you has not diminished.

 

Excerpt from Sad Songs from Hush River. In appreciation of National Poetry Month, this and twenty other poems are available at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/471447Sad Songs from Hush River

A special award of appreciation to the first readers to write reviews (can be short blurbs) of the book of poetry on the smashwords site.

Sad Songs from Hush River

 

Amblyopia

Amblyopia

Amblyopia, copyright 2015 Paul Vreeland — Undistorted, unaltered and usable home eye test charts for children are available at http://www.eyecareamerica.org.

Autumn cool, edge of ice on the playground puddles

we line up, first grade boys,

the girls on the other side,

waiting the morning bell the big double

doors to open to the red brick school.

Squinting into the light

I am “four-eyes” clumsy

heavy lenses in clear-plastic frames,

an opaque patch

remedial over one eye

so to teach the other one.

A fifth grader, older, bigger,

unconcerned about laws of the line,

comes up to me threatening in his presence.

Behind him, a flamboyant maple

gives up a few more of its crimson leaves,

drops them down

to the collection-in-progress at its roots.

He hawks and blow-guns a thick glob of spit

onto my face, my glasses,

the one clear lens and the opaque patch.

Helpless, I wish a barren wish

for a parent, an adult, a bigger friend

someone to make me clean again,

I remove my glasses, feel the glooey slime

in my fingers,

wipe them on my pants,

and know myself dirty the rest of the day.

Having made his introduction, he seeks me out

on other mornings, asks for my money

and I acquiesce

all my pennies,

even three nickels

sometimes a dime.

Days pass, the maple gives up being flamboyant

and I forget.

until he reappears

I stumble over my discomfort,

like stumbling over the pronunciation of a word

like “sharing” the meaning of which I’m now unsure,

something I thought I had learned.

I choose another, smaller boy;

go to him and ask, “What money do you have?”

No threat, I’m just bigger with a question.

He hands it over like he’s lost a game

and so on other days, I do it again.

One Saturday his mother comes to visit mine.

It has to be her ‘cause I recognize the boy in tow.

I am on the dead grass of the front lawn

watch them coming down the street.

She with an expression of determination and something more,

approaches, and with a wordless glance,

teaches me the feel of shame

before I understand

the reason for it.

My mother greets them at the door

they enter and I am summoned.

Why did I do it? they ask.

So I tell them of the older boy.

And in the telling I learn the feel of another word

long before the spelling.

Then it stops; the other boy no longer seeks me out

all the leaves are gone, we’re in winter jackets now

the skies flat November grey,

a dull-matte diffusion of light,

like heaven might appear

through the patch I am supposed to wear

remedial over one eye

so to teach the other.

Sad_Songs_Capital_B

Excerpt from Sad Songs from Hush River. In appreciation of National Poetry Month, this and twenty other poems are available at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/471447

A special award of appreciation to the first readers to write reviews (can be short blurbs) of the book of poetry on the smashwords site.

“And that’s why my grandmother’s legs are hanging on the wall.”

Walter Everett Burt the Barber

December 2014 – January 2015, our third trip to Victoria State, Australia, my second visit to Walter, the barber. Walter Everett Burt has the Brown Hill Barber Shop on Hummfray Street in Ballarat. The shop was full of waiting customers, all seats taken, late one morning when my son, son-in-law and I dropped by. One of us had to stand. But not for long. A haircut needn’t be a complicated affair, and each of the gents ahead of us was in the chair and out in matter of ten minutes or so.

Walter’s shop is well decorated. Lots of signage, most of it license plates from Australia to Alaska and points in between, but none from Prince Edward Island. The first time we visited, I noticed that Walter had quite a collection from New Hampshire, and that’s when he told me us of his North American connections. His mother was from New Hampshire and his father from Nova Scotia, from places we knew. Picking up the conversation again this year, he mentioned that one of his regulars was originally from Musquodoboit, a small village near Halifax, Nova Scotia. Being able to pronounce the name of the village is half the proof needed to talk about it with some credibility.  A few minutes later, the man from Musquodoboit walked in.  Happy coincidence?

Eventually we got to the story of the legs on the wall.  “They were my grandmothers,” he said. “She was in the kitchen, and my grandfather had an accident and cut them off.” That was the short version otherwise known as bait. Who could leave it at that? We wanted to hear more.

“Well, they were getting pretty low on food, and grandpa said she had a good lookin’ shank.” We had a little laugh. Walter was teasing us and then he spoke more seriously. (You can see the legs above the swinging doors and the ‘Waikiki Beach’ sign.)grandmothers_legs

“He was a sawyer,” he said. “He had a saw mill by the house. That’s how my grandfather made his living. One day she came out to tell him that dinner was on the table, that he should come in and wash up. She goes back and then somehow the eight foot saw got away from him; you know, big round blade. It got loose and came off the mount and tore into the house. It ripped through the kitchen, cut her legs off halfway up her chest, cut through the next room and came out the front of the house.”

“My father was five years old at the time, his brother two. He had an older sister, and grandfather asked her to run to the neighbours which must have been two miles away,  and have them bring their car around. There weren’t too many cars in those days. In time the neighbour came and grandad picks my grandmother up and puts her in the front seat. Then he throws her cut-off legs in the back seat, and off they drive to the nearest hospital which was down in Exeter. There was a new bridge, and my grandfather said he was the first car to cross it. He was going so fast the police caught up with him and stopped him. When they looked in the car and saw my grandmother all bloody like that, and her legs in the back, they let him go.”

“Back in those days they didn’t do much. Just tied off the stumps. They threw her legs in the hospital incinerator. Granmother said she could feel her legs burning. She swore she could feel her toes, and the flesh burning.  When she was eighty, the doctors said they could do something. But by then, she said, ‘I’ve put up with it for this long.’ Those legs on the wall, that’s what she got by on.”

Now, a license plate from Prince Edward Island, we need to work on that and get one to Walter.

The Tree on Henderson Road

The Tree on Henderson Road - copyright 2015 Paul Vreeland

The Tree on Henderson Road — copyright 2015 Paul Vreeland

 

Three years ago (August 2011), my son and I were driving to his father-in-law’s home in Ross Creek. The sun was low in the ‘golden hour’ of afternoon sky when I saw this tree on Henderson Road. We stopped to photograph. Back in Canada, I processed the image. I worked with it again and again, but could not bring out in the image the magic of that moment. Returning to Australia in December, I knew I wanted to go back and photograph the tree. We waited for the sun to descend before heading back to Henderson Road. I think now, that maybe we waited a bit too long, which is to say that I’m more satisfied with the image, but not completely. Most probably, I never will be.

Bail_Eucalyptus

I’ve come to love the landscape of Victoria State because of the trees, particularly the Eucalyptus, more commonly known as gum. The ‘Tree on Henderson Road” is a gum, but I wanted a more precise answer. Without an arborist, the answer may be hard to come by because there are about 800 species. Australian writer Murray Bail isn’t one to waste that fact. In his modern-day fairy tale Eucalyptus (1998), a widower named Holland busies himself planting trees. Lots of trees. Lots of varieties. When his only child, Ellen comes of age and beauty, he informs her that she can only marry the first man to correctly identify each and every tree on the farm.  I’ll be looking for Eucalyptus, winner of the 1999 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book and a New York Times Notable Book of 1998.

To say that the trees have character is an understatement; they have spirit. I’m not the first photographer to believe in trees. Continue reading

“When a thought of war comes…”

Is the world really getting worse?

I participate in two study groups. One is comprised of five friends, and our weekly discussions on ethics and spiritual identity are punctuated by personal stories of life’s lessons. We are inspired by the writings from Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, and our togetherness is rich.  This past week we were encouraged to reflect upon the statement:

When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. ~’Abdu’l-BaháArising to Serve_Chinese

The second study group I attend has progressed to the second book in the series entitled Arising to Serve. We are a group of about six who have been

together for some time. Our numbers and membership have varied over the years, but whoever is present at any given sessions shares his/her understandings after reading the material in English, Chinese, and Farsi, and our cultural diversity helps to ensure that we are learning from each other.  Last night we talked about peace and saw how even our intimate little gatherings are personally transformative and how they are also instrumental to our community-building efforts.

We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions. ~Shoghi Effendi

While I have been familiar with the statement about the “thought of war,” the practice and mastery of the exhortation has been another one of those disciplines that from time to time has its moment in the sunlight of my otherwise cloudy attention. But this post isn’t about the regularity of discipline. Rather, I’d like to share a few recent insights about the statement—insights that beg the application of other disciplines.

Pinker_Angels
I’ve taken up Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Penguin Books, New York, 2011). It’s a surfeit of statistics and analyses, a compendium of reviews of modern research on the subject of war, and a personal narrative.  Sounds dry doesn’t it? But Pinker is a talented, if at times irreverent, writer, and I find the book is a compelling read. For example, I appreciate how he begins the chapter on “The Civilizing Process” by relating how he, as a child, questioned his parents when they informed him that he should not push food onto his fork with a knife. “I lost the argument, as all children do, when faced with the rejoinder “Because I said so,” and for decades I silently grumbled about the unintelligibility of the rules of etiquette. Then one day, while doing research for this book, the scales fell from my eyes, the enigma evaporated, and I forever put aside my resentment of the no-knife rule.” What follows is a brief introduction to a book by Norbert Elias,  graphs showing the decline in homicide rates in England from 1200-2000, an explanation of “cutting off your nose to spite your face”, a discussion of  what was happening in Europe as thousands of feudal states gave way to a handful of monarchies and as “A culture of honor—the readiness to take revenge—gave way to a culture of dignity—the readiness to control one’s emotions,” and subsequently the reason why we do not push our peas onto our dinner knives.  The next chapter, “The Long Peace” is where things really get interesting. I won’t give away the conclusion that is offered in the book’s title. That’s not my point. Pinker isn’t the only one who suggests that things are getting better. (More on that in a moment.) My concern is that “a thought of war comes” to me again and again and again on the hourly news, in coffee shop conversations, and whatever print media I set my eyes upon. It seems to pour in upon me, as I suspect it does upon you.

In his preface, Pinker writes:

This is a big book, but it has to be.[Indeed, 800 pages.] First I have to convince you that violence really has gone down over the course of history, knowing that the very idea invites skepticism, incredulity, and sometimes anger. Our cognitive faculties predispose us to believe that we live in violent times, especially when they are stoked by media that follow the watchword ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’ The human mind tends to estimate the probability of an event from the ease with which it can recall examples, and the scenes of carnage are more likely to be beamed into our homes and burned into our memories than footage of people dying of old age. No matter how small the percentage of violent deaths may be, in absolute numbers there will always be enough of them to fill the evening news, so people’s impressions of violence will be disconnected from the actual proportions.

Also distorting our sense of danger is our moral psychology. No one has ever recruited activists to a cause by announcing that things are getting better, and bearers of good news are often advised to keep their mouths shut lest they lull pe0ple into a complacency… (p. xxii)

So perhaps by reading Pinker’s book, I am opposing a thought of war with stronger thoughts of peace. Isn’t that what ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is telling us to do? Ah, but am I turning a blind eye to the truth? I realize that Pinker has his detractors, and that there are fact-based counterarguments to idea that violence is on the decline. Whatever the case may be, building peace is work, and the hardest work of all may be in my own mind. I take responsibility for my own reactions knowing that I can’t make presumptions about yours. (Although I am interested. Write your comments in the box below.) At any rate, this is where I am encouraged to begin–where we are encouraged to begin.  Our thoughts have consequences, as do the changes we make in our thinking.

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