Anthropocene

My head moves slowly side to side saying no, no, no. I watch in horror as images of human devastation move across the screen, rendered in heartbreaking beauty.

Tusks from six thousand elephants aflame in Kenya; lithium evaporation ponds liquid green and turquoise in Chile; sculptured landscapes carved by giant earth movers in Germany; clear cuts in BC and Borneo; psychedelic potash tunnels in Russia, and a flooded city in Italy.

I walked the lanes beside the canals of Venice when I was fourteen years old. My parents and older sister with me, a gaggle of four English tourists soaking in the wonder of that historic city. We rode in a gondola piloted by a handsome gondolier who plied the waters between quaint beautiful buildings, under the Bridge of Sighs, into scenes only known in my history books. A picturesque magical place full of treasures, not the place I see on the screen in front of me. Golden in the evening light, empty café tables and chairs their legs deep in water, restaurant doors open to reveal flooded floors, locals and visitors in tall red, blue and yellow waterproof boots, wandering the streets. I’d heard the stories of this, seeing the evidence brought such deep sadness, perhaps intensified because of my personal childhood experiences of the place. The message of loss hit hard in my heart.

Anthropocene, a multimedia collaboration between Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky, and Jennifer Baichwal, documents the singular most significant thing we as a human race must come to terms with. Anthropocene is the age where the human impact on the planet is greater than all other forces existing at this time. Collectively we have contributed to the death of a 23 million year old coral reef, the extinction of the white Rhinoceros, the grave threat to the ongoing survival in the wild of the Sumatran Tiger, the list goes on and on, we’ve all heard these stories too.

Edward Burtynsky’s images are gloriously beautiful and profoundly frightening. There’s a Q and A with filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal, the audience asks questions, we learn more, we leave. We carry on.

I get into my car and drive home. I could have taken the bus to Cinécenta but I always choose to drive. There’s really no excuse, I have plenty of time and freedom to choose how I spend it. It’s a habit I seem unwilling to change. There’s the rub. I along with all the others sitting in the movie theatre appalled and saddened, concerned, moved by what we have just shared, mostly drove there, mostly have our cell phones in our pocket. We are privileged to live in great comfort. We are players in the game of climate change. This is not an exercise in guilting each other for what is past, rather we need to acknowledge the reality. We are part of the nature that is being destroyed. We are users of the products created through this destruction. We are actors in this tragedy and by virtue of living in this age, we are actors in future productions on planet earth.

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Turning through the seasons Spring and Early Summer

A banquet of colour, texture, and tone the turning of the seasons in my new Victoria home offered a feast for my eyes and my camera. Spring in Victoria is spectacular I discovered camas meadows, Garry Oaks showing off their bright green leafing, bearded iris and roses in the gardens at Government House, poppies and cherry blossoms in my James Bay neighbourhood, and the brilliant colours of spring in all the carefully tended well loved gardens.

IMG_2633Camas meadow Uplands park at Cattle Point

IMG_2731Garry Oaks newly leaf for spring

IMG_2808Bearded iris a regal plant

IMG_2832Happy bees in simple single rose

IMG_2825Government House roses sweet apricot scent

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At home in Victoria the ocean offers morning views from Ogden Point breakwater walk and beach times with my best four-legged friend Bruce. I live in a beautiful neighbourhood full of gardens, bursting with flowers and food. June holds an annual treat when I visit Yellow Point Lodge near Ladysmith with a particular group of friends who gather every year deepening bonds of friendship and love.

IMG_2836Tugs and pilot boats at the ready cruise season looms

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Spring kelp beds shimmer in shades of turquoise beside Ogden Point breakwater

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Sunday Walking with Dad, Ogden Point, Victoria

 

IMG_2874still pool reflections at Yellow Point lodge

My summer of 2018 has been full of the many things I love about summer. Travel, play, ocean and lake swimming, celebration, connection and reconnection, adventure, laughter, great fresh market food, all of this with the warm sun caressing my shoulders and the gentle summer breezes playing on the water. Living on an island surrounded by islands I spend many happy hours riding BC Ferries through spectacular ocean scenery past idyllic island hideaways.

IMG_2994BC Ferries pride!

A retreat at Loon Lake lodge in June, early morning swims, lunchtime swims and late evening swims, prayerful practices, wisdom teachings, forest walks, deeply caring conversations, nourishing friendships.

DSCF3439healing waters of Loon Lake

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Lammas, Lughnasadh

Lammas or Lughnasadh first harvest, is the traditional celtic celebration of this time of year usually marked on August 1st. Not being a farmer nor literally harvesting at this time, addressing the question of harvest opens up the possibility for more of an internal quest. The question being, what am I harvesting?

Driving back from Brentwood Bay I found myself on West Saanich road in the vicinity of the Unitarian Church whose labyrinth I last walked on June 29 (Labyrinth as Healing).  It seemed an opportunity to stop and ponder this question with the help of the winding path, the quiet, and the wide view across the valley. I found the grass brown across large areas, the surrounding ferns and shrubs dry and taking on colours of the fall, the apple tree bearing fruit, and the big maple a strong green against the parched earth. On entering the pathway I offered my question up for an answer.DSCF3638

Step by step I made my way walking steadily along the wide dried grassways, noticing the abundant yellow flowering in any area of green.

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It is always a mistake for me to hope for some great revelation from the labyrinth, her lessons come to me in the most subtle ways, so subtle it is easy to miss them if I’m looking too much at the bigger view of life. Today was no exception. While I was certainly aware of the colours in the dried grasses, the wild flowering blossoms along the path and in the rough edges of the place, the bees, the cricket, the tiny lizard, the soft breeze rustling in the big maple tree, I did not at first ‘get’ the significance of any of these.

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I reached the centre and sank into a long contemplative pause allowing the distant green meadow edged by the pale tan of mown grasses, to soften into a blur in my vision.

I felt deep gratitude for the softness of the day aware of the contrast to my experience last Monday in the extreme heat of the Lower Mainland where I wandered with friends in the beauty of Van Dusen Gardens. That day had held many gifts from the garden and many encounters with the winged and feathered occupants of that place. I stood in communion with the grove of Giant Sequoia each tree offering me a different perspective, every one of them willing to be in communication with this human. Seated under the pines in the wild section I was visited by a small hawk whose repetitive and rhythmic call caught my attention before (s)he landed on a branch above my head. Resting on a bench beside the lily pond the great Heron landed close by, her long sharp beak pointing towards potential prey under the lily pads. Two mallard ducks came swimming by quietly ignoring my presence. A crow called loud from the landing spot he’d found at the top of a nearby spruce, tiny songbirds echoed each other’s calls from tree to tree beside the Japanese Maples at another pond’s edge. Wandering in full sun solitude beside low branching cedars in the back corner of the gardens, I came upon a barred Owl wings outspread, sunbathing. On hearing me (s)he turned her great face towards me and we locked eyes for just a moment.  The edges of my awareness blurred into the edges of the beyond human beings amongst whom I was walking and resting, extending my mind beyond individuality into unity.

So too today, that sense of my being simply another manifestation in form within the one great unity of life from which all beings are wrought. Nothing so special about me being human, nothing superior about me the human, just the fact of me and other beings rooted, winged, crawling, all together in the beauty of the winding labyrinth path displaying another shade in the many tones of the year.

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What am I harvesting I asked again, simply the beauty, the beauty that engenders in me such deep appreciation and gratitude for life, mine and all that is around me. Blessed be Lammas, blessed be the first harvest, may the wheel turn in unity and peace towards the feast of Mabon.

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Potlatch 67-67

Sunday July 22 I returned to Victoria from an incredible journey in the Comox Valley with the K’ómoks First Nation. Not, as you might immediately think, a landscape traverse kind of journey, this was a journey of the soul. In the past I’ve been privileged to attend a number of first nations ceremonies, enough to have given me a beginning in my personal education process about the true history of Canada. Through stories told during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, I’ve become aware of some of the atrocities inflicted on children in buildings just like that the big white school building in Carcross, Yukon that I knew back in 1971, which was at the time an operational residential school. My return to the valley was to attend Potlatch 67 67 events.

As a privileged, white settler immigrant, I had heard the words ‘potlatch ban’ before, read them in museum exhibits, it was not until I heard Hereditary Chief Rob Everson’s clear articulation of the importance of the Potlatch and the impacts of the ban, that I in any way understood the significance of those two words.

Potlatch 67-67, The Potlatch Ban Then and Now, is an unprecedented collaborative program between the Comox Valley Art Gallery and the Kumugwe Cultural Society.  An undertaking of monumental proportions, demonstrating a level of commitment and collaboration we need to see more of if we are to effectively move towards reconciliation. My journey to the Comox Valley was specifically to be present for the opening of Hiłt’sist’a’am, The Copper will be Fixed exhibit at the Comox Valley Art Gallery, and a day of ceremony and cultural sharing at the K’ómoks Big House.

images Medwyn McConachy

I was moved to tears by what I witnessed. I learned through drum, dance, voice and heart, how the ban had ripped the soul right out of indigenous peoples’ culture, just as the residential school system had ripped the hearts right out of indigenous families. Cultural genocide are appropriate words to describe how the settler government systematically set out to destroy the indigenous peoples not by war – Canada is proudly not a war-mongering country – by a slow and painful extinguishment of rights and culture.

I have always felt welcomed in the K’ómoks Big House. My experience of the generosity, education and sharing flowing from the Kumugwe Cultural Society at annual ceremonies on June 21, the Walking with my Sisters exhibit, and the Red Dress campaign, has been the ground for so much of my education about BC indigenous history, stories, culture and traditions.

Potlatch 67-67 served to deepen and expand that education far beyond anything I have experienced to date. In the presence of esteemed elders whose wisdom guided the creation of the event, the Kumugwe Cultural Society offered teachings, ceremony, celebration, and dance to a Big House audience of their neighbours who occupy and live on the unceded territory of the K’ómoks nation in what is generally referred to as the Comox Valley.

DSCF3570 Karver Everson leads the Womens’ Dance with sister Keisha in the background – image Medwyn McConachy
DSCF3573 Lee Everson in the Womens’ Dance – image Medwyn McConachy
Grizzly Bear dancer – images Medwyn McConachy
Across the generations – Honored Elder Mary Everson, Hereditary Chief Rob Everson and youngest dancer
– images Medwyn McConachy
One mask many faces – images Medwyn McConachy

And everybody danced, to the drums and the powerful songs, danced with eagle down clouds around their heads, danced in gratitude and celebration.

DSCF3606image Medwyn McConachy
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Elder Mary Everson spoke of how important it is to ‘hold people up’ always keeping them in a positive light, always encouraging, always teaching.

Hereditary Chief Rob Everson spoke of the Everson family history:

” My grandparents were very instrumental in preserving our culture….. my grandmother was a princess a very high ranking woman ……..my grandmother carried a chief’s name, it was given to her so that she had standing in the big house so throughout her life she had standing in the big house ……..that name was passed down to my mother (Mary Everson) so that she would have standing, she could carry anything we had as a family and she could potlatch without me or any of my brothers, and she had the authority to do what she needed to do within this house.”

Andy Everson spoke of how the name of the gallery exhibit ‘The Copper will be Fixed’ came to be:

“We have been slowly putting that copper back together to give it back that value so the symbol of the show has these pieces riveted back on and there’s still one piece missing and that’s to illustrate that there’s still work to be done to make that copper whole to make it as valuable as it once was.”

To say that I felt privileged to witness this event is an understatement, I was humbled and awed by the power of this culture, recognizing yet again how very much we have to learn from the ways of our indigenous brothers and sisters.

 

Kelowna Galleries

Kelowna Art Gallery

Kelowna is the busy bustling commercial centre of the Okanagan. Any memories I had of the downtown were not strong enough for me to recognize anything as Barbara and I drove into town heading for Water Street billed as the heart of the cultural district where we would find the Kelowna Art Gallery. Built in 1996 the approximately sixteen thousand square foot facility boasts two main indoor exhibition spaces, an outdoor gallery and community hall and classroom spaces.

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Walking into the high ceilinged entrance hall gave me space to breathe and experience what was around me. Hanging above us a stunning woven willow piece Red Vessel created in 1998 by Canadian artist Peter von Tiesenhausen. He is the Alberta based multi-media artist who has gained note for claiming copyright on his land as an artwork in resistance to development pressures from the oil and gas industry.

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High above us over the entrance door another large sculptural piece, a handwoven wicker bell balanced on a large wooden tripod from Canadian artist Mark Gomes.

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Johann Wessels’ Immaculate Deception delighted the multi-media installation artist in me. Using natural wood, carved plywood, metal, wire, gold leaf and acrylic paint, Wessels has created a range of iconic pieces evoking classic religious artifacts. The deception aspect of the work is intriguing often hiding in the smallest details. Immaculately crafted each piece a testament to the artist’s careful skilled hands, the show drew me into the complexity of making and marking sometimes stimulating laughter, sometimes awe.

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Barbara and I mimicked our MA Invocation pose in the Wessels gallery allowing the hurray experience of our uplifted arms to celebrate this intriguing work.

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I was impressed with the education spaces which felt inviting, opening to the possibility of great artmaking play.

DSCF3547DSCF3551we left the gallery offering our final MA hurray to the convex mirror at the door.

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ALTERNATOR centre for contemporary art

Just around the corner is the Alternator centre for contemporary art Kelowna’s artist run gallery. A new show opened the previous evening featuring Mississauga-Anishinaabe artist Olivia Whetung’s exquisite seed bead imagery.

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Titled gaa-waategamaag after the original anishnaabemowin term adopted for the region in south-central Ontario known as Kawarthas for its many lakes, translates in English to ‘Land of Reflections’.

Whetung’s tiny beadwords are full of reflection, light and motion, evoking the water surfaces viewed from the shores of the Kawartha Lakes and the Trent-Severn Waterway. The works begin with digital photographic images pixilated by the artist reducing the colours to a pattern where one seed bead per pixel is used in the crafting of the work.

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Walking around the gallery the pieces caught me in their different reflections as the light angled on them from new perspectives. Their delicacy and intricacy brought wonder touching that part of me that resonates in the presence of nature’s beautiful land and waterscapes.

In a side gallery space we found the mixed media drawings of Vernon artist Crystal Przybille.

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A collection of mythical beings of her own imagination and creation, delighted us with their originality, their character and their fine mark making.

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Three caught my attention

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Well nourished with art Barbara and I headed over to the café creating our own art remembering of the afternoon.

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Art in the Okanagan

Visiting Artist – UBC Okanagan located on the unceded traditional territory of the Syilx peoples

‘We are breaking through to new horizons of sound and feeling.
We are beginning, just beginning, to suspect what still lies beyond.’ (Greene, 2001, p.17)

‘Reality is a matter of revelation. Subjectivity, not the laboratory, is its site. The artist’s studio houses both. “Drawing from and writing through our arts practices, ………we offer insights into creative ways of being present, in the moment and also open to what is not yet known.”’

above quotes taken from Foreword – William F. Pinar
Arts-based and Contemplative Practices in Research and Teaching – Honoring Presence
Edited by: Susan Walsh, Barbara Bickel, and Carl Leggo
Routledge 2015

In May 2017 I participated in a day long pre-conference workshop of the CSSE annual Conference held in conjunction with the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at Ryerson University in Toronto on ‘Dish with One Spoon Territory’. The Dish with One Spoon is a treaty between the Anishinaabe, Mississaugas and Haudenosaunee. The workshop was an iterative offering co-created by the editors of this book and drawn from the research practices of ten artists/researchers/teachers. It was a transformative experience for me to find myself in an academic environment where the ‘teaching’ resonated so harmoniously with my own art and spiritual practices, in its contemplative nature.

This July 2018, Barbara Bickel delivered a summer intensive on Arts-Based and Contemplative Practices at UBCOkanagan and invited me as visiting artist to co-facilitate two of the classes on collaborative practices developed through our work as members of Gestare Art Collective.

Poster bickel summer courseUBCO

The MA pose practice was presented on my first day with the group, three days into their course. We (the Gestare Art Collective) developed and teach this contemplative practice in which we use art in relationship with the body as embodied curriculum. We adopt and hold one of a series of thirteen poses for a set time, listening to the body wisdom drawn forth by our physical positioning, and our intentional focus on breath and ground. The poses invoke the stages of life both human and more than human in relationship to the divine feminine. The practice is drawn from the work of three women, Dutch historian and theologian Annine van der Meer, ‘The Language of MA the primal mother’; Lithuanian archeologist/anthropologist Marija Gimbutas, ‘The Language of the Goddess’; and American linguist and anthropologist Felicitas Goodman, ‘Ecstatic Body Postures’.

 Invocation Pose, Uplifted Arms

6. Invocation uplifted arms A

Pose 6 Uplifted arms invocation

The group of students some from the teacher education program some teachers from the field, brought their varied disciplines to our engagement with the MA poses. Teachers of art, sports, theatre arts, film, some seasoned, some early career, all deeply curious about the potential to apply contemplative practices to their work. Gathered in the bright welcoming space of UBCO campus’ largest building, we moved from power point presentation into practice. Barbara guided the group through the Mary Magdalene pose a deep grounding release developed by our colleague Nané Jordan, into holding the Invocation Pose, Uplifted Arms, chanting MA-n-MA three times, holding the pose for seven minutes, repeating the MA chant, then releasing again with the Mary Magdelene.

Sounds weird doesn’t it – it is certainly not mainstream art practice or teaching and perhaps that is what I like about it, its edge-pushing quality. What it is for me is a way to step into the liminal, the beyond, the ‘not yet’ known, and find the space within opening to the ‘more than’ as it holds me in powerful presence. After an experience of this nature it is a challenge to find words that fit our attempts to articulate that which we now know and feel. If we are just able to hold off the cognitive mind long enough, a free-write can reveal the mystery we glimpsed as we stood with the ancient indigenous, earth and body-based wisdom of MA.

A Nap-in took place the next day.

In 2011 Barbara, Nané and I met together at a residency held in a private East side Vancouver home on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples including the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. We held a loose intention for the residency simply to be together, share each other’s most recent artmaking and find ways to collaborate and co-create. As we sat together for the first time, a common theme emerged, we were all feeling exhausted with the demands of our lives and needed rest. We made an agreement, at any time during the residency any one of us could call for a nap and we would all nap together. This moment was the birth of the Nap-in which has since grown into a socially-engaged art event which embraces performance, activism, social research and art making with the Dream Scroll initially a twelve foot long textile sculptural hanging now grown to thirty-six feet. Nap-ins have now taken place in upwards of thirty locations in North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East.

Dream scroll cattle point

The components of the Nap-in are dream pillow making, labyrinth walking, a nap, textile art-making and the releasing of the dreams. The Nap-in represents subtle resistance to the pressures of production and speed so present in our current realities. The labyrinth laid on the floor beneath the dream scroll offers a centring walk connecting to the earth, honouring the process of gestation and birth invoked by the womblike qualities of the labyrinth, and inviting compassion for ourselves and others caught in the busy-ness of life. The communal napping and art making process invites dreaming, contemplation, and the space to wonder.

With the students’ help the dream scroll was hung over the labyrinth they had laid on their first day of class on which they had been walking and working during the week. During the telling of the Nap-in story and exploration of perspectives on this arts-based contemplative practice, the students worked with scrap fabrics, needle and thread to create dream pillows stuffed with Mugwort to promote dreaming and Lavender for relaxation.

Large cushions, yoga mats, blankets strewn on the floor created nests for napping. Barbara and I played singing bowls invoking a dream state as the students settled around the scroll.

After their nap, a deep meditative silence cloaked the group as they focused on making their dream scroll offerings. Writing, painting, stripping, tearing, sewing and resewing the art began to take form.

Gradually words were spoken, the conversation began, the students were actively imagining ways to bring this contemplative practice to their school rooms, and their teaching practice. Every Nap-in has its own character.  I was surprised by the level of focus and attention this group paid to the making process after the nap, the quiet intent in the room was palpable. It was a wonderful gift to hear the ideas and enthusiasm shared around the table for ways that this practice could be included in their curriculum.

The dreams were completed later in the week after I had left. Barbara tells me the group’s releasing of the dreams on the final day of their course was unique, a surprise – stay tuned on this one!! 

Labyrinth as healing

Following the pathway to the centre of the labyrinth I release the heaviness I feel in my heart. With each step I inhale more deeply allowing my body to relax, feeling my weight drop into the earth. Gradually a sense of calm moves in as the threads of care drop away returning me to my intention for this walk, walking as a healing offering.

The healing is always for me, even if I think it is for someone else as in this case when my original intention was for a beloved family member. We have all been touched by cancer, and in my family I am a blessed survivor while others were not so fortunate, and here it is again, up close and uncomfortable in the life of one I hold close in my heart. I’ve returned to a labyrinth that has met my footsteps many times. Located beside the Unitarian church on West Saanich road, a simple turf construction marked by bricks on a hillside overlooking a peaceful rural scene of wetlands and farms.

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There is beauty in this place, the rugged dry grasses contrasting with the lush green, bright white daisies, yellow dandelions with pollen for the bees, young self seeded yarrow plants.  Butterfly crosses my path, dragonfly parallels my walking. A prayer comes:

may my dear one find serenity
may he find peace
may grace travel with him
may he be loved
may he find acceptance on his path
may he know care
may disease be gentle with him
may ease be with him
may he be touched by the divine
may he know his time to enter into the worlds beyond

My thoughts turn to his beloved partner, caring loving one and I understand that I am to stay close alongside as they make this journey together.

I receive offerings from the path, feathers to lift my dear one lightly beyond earthly cares, maple seed for his partner to carry their memories into the future.

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At the centre I breathe in light and life through the power of the elements air, fire, water and earth, offering on my outbreath radiant healing energy for all beings seen and unseen in the multiverse.

My transition from the labyrinth down to the gravel parking area offers just one more gift, a small lizard surprised at my presence as much as I am to see it. We both stand as statues for some time, observing each other until as I lean down to try for a close-up it vanishes down a hole in the concrete.

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So it was that I, gifted in so many ways by this place on the traditional territory of the W_sáneć people, made my way home, blessed by the healing pathway of the labyrinth.