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May 31, 2009

The Poultry Capers

Dear Diary,

Today I went to a "Poultry Swap". Well, it was sort of a swap except I don't exactly, or even specifically, have any chickens or roosters or runner ducks or crazy white fluffy chickens that sound like roosters to swap. But, you know, I'd really like one.

Did you know that chicken eggs are either white or blue and that the brown ones are only brown because they're coated in something when they come out? I missed that part - the part about what it was exactly that they're coated in. I don't think she said "shit". 'They're coated in "shit", that's why they're brown.' Nope. She didn't say that.

But, unfortunately, I was feeling kind of hot-tired-lazy today so I really didn't ask that many questions. It's not as if I was writing a story. I wasn't working so to be honest after I made a few feeble attempts to learn something, and after I threw out a few seeds of conversational corn so to speak, I discovered that poulty people aren't really all that chatty. At least not today.

And, now, as life would have it, I'm having chicken for dinner because, well, hey, it was unfrozen and the Best Before Date was May 25th so what choice do I have? Yet another good reason to become a vegetarian.

I ended up at this rather unlikely place (like going to a children's birthday party without a kid) because I didn't really have any plans today.

It was taking place at The Farmer's Institute. I don't know why they call it that: Farmer's Institute. It's such a lofty title. Was that some Salt Springer's warped sense of humour?

I mean as soon as you hear the word - Institute - you expect to see a bunch of guys with tweed jackets over their overalls carrying a chicken under one arm, a text book under the other as they head off to milk a cow, and give a lecture to a bunch of First Year farmers or something. Institute? It's just a collection of buildings and stuff where the Fall Fair takes place unless I'm missing something.

I was wandering from sets of poultry on display in the back of one pick-up truck to the next and I kept having these weird flashbacks to Robson Street in Vancouver where I used to live.

On this same type of Sunday, when I might have had no plans or just felt the need to be with my own thoughts, I'd sometimes take a walk up Robson.

And, today, standing out behind the pick-ups at the Farmer's Institute my warped little brain kept providing me with somewhat comical juxtapositions between the storefronts on Robson Street and the poultry in cages, on display, awaiting eager buyers. Don't ask me why?

And, as I was standing there I thought to myself, I fit here, behind the pickup trucks staring at the chickens more than I fit on Robson Street. Sure, I might not own a chicken (and it did take every bit of will power not to bring home a Runner Duck) but I really enjoyed looking at that poultry more than I typically enjoyed looking in those Robson storefronts or walking with the flocks who meander like baby ducklings down Vancouver's well-known street.

I mean, heck, gee, shucks, I even provided entertainment to some old farmer when I asked him what kind of egg was sitting all by itself in the back of his truck in the middle of a basket. Ostrich? Osprey?

He picked it up and said, "Plastic. It's a plastic egg. See the line in the middle?" he said to me, the complete moron who was saved by the fact that I can laugh at myself and he laughed at me and with me as I was laughing at myself. Idiot!!!!

But, after all that, I have to admit that my favorite chicken (or I guess it's a rooster?) was the little white ceramic one sitting in the back of his truck, in a little brown basket on the old fashioned oilcloth.

For me, that little ceramic hen, chicken, rooster or whatever the heck it is, is a throwback from a simpler time when kitchens had ceramic chickens and egg cups got used.

That little piece of man-made poultry just shrieks out "Welcome to the Country" louder than a cockadoodledoo at the crack of dawn.

May 27, 2009

The Funkiest Place Ever

Byron Noble, an actor from Vancouver and (right) Skye Sweetman (who really is a sweet man), from Australia, now living on Salt Spring with his girlfriend and selling knitted hats at the market. They were hamming it up for my camera one Saturday.)

Here's a story I wrote for the Weekender last week about being a new vendor at The Saturday Market.

Before I moved to Salt Spring last October my only knowledge of the Saturday Market in the Park was as a tourist, on and off, for 20 years. The glorious arrays of artistic bounty mixing with the sun and the ocean breezes and the creative nirvana all around made me borderline delirious. And can I just say that after all these years it’s still “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.

So much so, in fact, that getting a spot as a new market day vendor is harder than scoring a ticket to the gold medal hockey match at the 2010 Olympics. As Mary and Joseph discovered, there ain’t no room at the inn. Success breeds popularity and on occasion a tad bit of territorial prima donna neuroticism. Where’s a Reality TV show producer when you need one?

Rob Pingle, the market’s new coordinator, flips a good one-liner to diffuse tension. He walks quickly, clutches the precious seniority list and a long measuring stick. Problem-solver. Therapist. Cop. Diplomat. Publicist. All very useful traits last Saturday when he turned away 15 day vendors on the May long weekend. Sorry! But, look at all that green grass murmur newbies. Right there. Inches away. Whispers start. “It’s the covenant” say the experienced. What? Is that like Opus Dei?

“Like a lot of things about the market, it’s not written down per se,” says Pingle. “From what I understand, the Province gifted the designated space and defined where and how the market can occur and for the same reasons it can’t run on Sundays, it can’t just expand onto the grass.”

“There’s a theory that demand [by new day vendors] happens in cycles,” he says. “This year could be one of those years.” He thinks that a weekly pre-registration system for all vendors would enable him to know, in advance, who was going to be there each Saturday. “A proactive approach to vendor approval requiring day vendors to register earlier in the year like Seasonal Vendors might make it easier as well. That way their products could be verified as truly meeting the make it, bake it, grow it philosophy and their residency status (minimum 6 months) could be verified as well.”

Rugged individualists started a version of the market, circa 1975, but its current philosophy - “Make it, Bake it, Grow it & Vendor Produced and Sold” – was born in 1992 when extreme tension a.k.a “the Market Wars” resulted in a community-wide referendum that set the foundation for the current guidelines.

Alvaro Sanchez, representative for the Jewellers Guild, has sold at the market for almost 20 years. He’d like vendors to “think more about what’s good for the market as opposed to what’s good for them.” In principal he’s against more regulations but knows that the market’s success has made them necessary.

In a haze of market culture ignorance, I knew nada of vendor culture. Rules? Politics? Personalities? Palu? Is that some sort of exotic paté?

I liken the experience to a beauty pageant. If you’re into maintaining the fantasy, don’t ever take a peek back stage.

Points are everything! The only way to eventually become a seasonal vendor is to accumulate points, one point for each time you’re assigned a spot. Pingle estimates that any new day vendor intent on scoring a seasonal vendor spot may be looking at seven to eight years. And by the way, seasonal vendor spaces are tied to people, not businesses, so seasonal vendors get first dibs on any seasonal spots that come available in a seniority pecking order that rivals the Federal government’s hiring processes.

If you’re used to being up at the crack of dawn (no partying Friday nights), can handle your car like a reverse Demolition Derby driver while unloading, don’t mind feeling like you’re in training to become a professional mover, and (I’ll speak for myself) can handle the crushing disappointment of making very little money, day vending is heaven. Be glad you’re not Tom Jahns. He drags what look like the equivalent of five old growth fir trees that he’s carved into Twig chairs hoping for a spot each week.

Once the farmers have arrived - first come first served - no later than 8:30 am sharp and the seasonals have set up, the ritualistic name calling begins - one by one - down the day vendor list. Newbies crowd closer and begin to follow Pingle like anxious baby chicks.

This is not for the weak willed. Commitment baby! If you can’t be there one Saturday because let’s say your wife is giving birth or you’re scheduled for sexual re-assignment surgery, you can (for a maximum of four times only) take a pass, pay $5 and retain your seniority.

Each time you get a spot (and Mercury is not in Retrograde) you get one point. You pay a $5 flat fee plus 1.25 per foot to a maximum of eight feet. Seasonals pay $150 for the season and $1.25 per foot. Some farmers are grandfathered at 10 feet (that often looks like 12).

But here’s the deal. None of this matters because if you’re thinking of dropping by with your wares, it’s too late. You would have had to sign up on the first day of the first market in April to get high enough on the seniority list of day vendors to guarantee – absolutely nothing actually - especially in the high season. But don’t let me dissuade you.

If the tense jockeying into position isn’t enough, newbies tend to get a little OCD about the ultimate booth; one that showcases products and takes up less space than an anorexic in a Greyhound bus toilet. Margo Milton has the right idea. She’s got a modified ladder. It’s perfect for her photos. Don’t block your neighbour’s walkway. Don’t change what you initially declared you were selling without consulting Mr. Pingle. Selling food? Where’s your current approval from the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

“Your neighbours are watching,” says Sanchez who says that it could take a few weeks, a month or two months but a jury process exists and if there are questions about whether you really did make it, bake it, or grow it, you can expect a visit. If the coordinator can’t handle the complaint directly there’s a dispute resolution process via the Market Advisory board.

But, lest this sound so heavy, newbie vendor Linda James (Flame on Glass Studio) lets out the real secret of the market’s success. “I get to go to this big party every Saturday, the other vendors are really nice, there’s jugglers, people on stilts with wings, and even people smoking dope at 8 am. It’s the funkiest place ever.”

May 25, 2009

Babies: Part 7-Eleven/Part Sweat Shop

Konor and Lisa spent overnight with me on the weekend. Baby. Baby. Baby. As you can see, he's a beautiful little guy. But, alas, he's still a baby and there are very good reasons why some of us never did get around to having children. Well, in my case there are many reasons but not getting around to it was definitely the right choice.

Don't get me wrong. I find babies fascinating...for about an hour. I love little toddlers and when they come into the office I definitely want to interact with them. But, let's be honest. Babies can't go kayaking. Babies don't really care what's on at ArtSpring. Babies don't have funny stories, know how to pick good wine or restaurants or have great cars. They haven't travelled. They're not really good conversationalists.

Babies are a full-time job where the overtime is never ending. They're like combo sweat shops/7-Elevens. They're "Big Gulps" mixed with a never ending routine of overtime that pays less than minimum wage in developing countries.

The fact that most women work and care for babies is just mind boggling to me. The fact that so many babies are raised by single parents (mainly women) is mind boggling to me. It's like self-inflicted solitary confinement.

Juggling lessons should be mandatory for all new parents. Maybe, in fact, they should be one part of an extensive test to determine whether you're really up to the challenge. Forget the condoms, watch a few episodes of Super Nanny, that should work.

If you can't juggle two bottles, a booty, a diaper, a breast pump and a stuffed animal at the same time while screaming to your husband who is always in the next room so that he can fetch one of the gazzilion items required by the baby then you can't have a baby until you can. You're just not ready.

I think of what it must have been like for my mother - not one but two babies, twice. Two sets of twins. And, back then they didn't have all the techno-gadgets that they have now. They didn't even have disposable diapers and believe me, my Dad was not Mr. Mom.

He couldn't be. He was working overtime himself to provide the circus tent called home for the set where the dysfunctional family episodes would unfold which by the way he diligently caught on 16 mm film.

May 23, 2009

More City Mice

Great visit with Keiko and George. Keiko's a watercolour painter and until she was with me touring around I'd not noticed how few watercolour painters there seem to be on Salt Spring. Or maybe, there are lots, just not in the galleries, except for Carol Evans.

They'd never been to any of the Gulf Islands so I hope this proved to be a good introduction for them.

I swear, living on this island, is like forget about laid back. Yesterday, I jumped out of bed and the first thing I thought was "Chicken. Must get Chicken!" I'm somewhat notorious for never having groceries in the house so I was out the door at 8:15 am, headed for GVM now called Country Grocer. I grabbed a shopping cart and was pushing that thing around like an LPN in a senior's home with an old guy in the wheelchair and 20 more patients to get to. Look out! Get out of the way. Must get chicken! Dessert. Salad stuff. Peanut Butter. Cream for coffee. Keiko drinks decaf. Don't forget the decaf. Juice. Beer. Get beer for George. Wine. Later. I'll get the wine later. We proceeded to have a really enjoyable day with me showing them as much as I could in one day.

They're off exploring on their own today. NEXT. Lisa arrives with baby Konor on the 1:40 pm. I jumped out of bed this morning, flung open the french doors to the deck and was making my coffee when a persistent whirring sound seemed to get louder. Next thing I know I realize a hummingbird has flown in, he's up in the skylight. I'm looking at it thinking, oh my god, it's going to have a heart attack and drop dead right on the floor. I try a few things, and then of course, who my gonna call? Pauline of course.

"Morning," she says. "There's a hummingbird stuck in my house," I yell into the phone. "What am I gonna do?" "Get a ladder," she says. "Get a sheet."

"I don't have a ladder." The landlord here seems to have left next to nothing for tenants. No ladder. Nothing. God dammit. I mean, you got two houses and tenants in them and you don't even have a goddamn ladder on the property. Hello! Responsible homeownership please!!!!

So, of course, Pauline comes up. She leaves her breakfast mid bite because Gayle can't deal with a hummingbird stuck in her skylight that has too tiny a pee brain to figure out that if you're bumpin your little hummingbird head against plexiglass for the 30 millionth time, maybe there's another way out. But, no.

To make a long story short, Pauline to the rescue. All is well. Hummingbird is resting (we hope). Dishes are done. Compost is stirred. Me, dressed.

And, now I gotta go and all I can say is Thank God I don't rent a cottage on the big island of Hawaii because this visiting thing would be year round, non-stop, endless.
(Seriously, it's great having the company!)

May 18, 2009

Daily Gifts

Is it just me or is the way these lilies can be seen through this church window just the most exquisite small gift of the day?

This is a rented house.
You do not own the deed.

You have a lease, and you have set up
a little shop where you barely make a living
sewing patches on torn clothing.

Yet only a few feet underneath
are two veins, pure red and bright gold carnelian.

Quick. Take a pickaxe and pry the foundation.
You have got to quit this seamstress work.

What does the patch-sewing mean, you ask.
Eating and drinking. The heavy cloak
of the body is always getting torn.

You patch it with food
and other restless ego-satisfactions.

Rip up one board from the floor
and look into the basement.

You may see two glints in the dirt.


May 16, 2009

Four Market Faces

Three of the cutest faces - no make that four (how could I forget the cutest ferret on the planet) - at the Salt Spring Market today!

May 15, 2009

A Garden at The Point Gallery

The May long weekend upon us kicks off the summer season and an explosion of tourists and part-time island dwellers returning for the six months of summer.

There's an around the island sailing race, a huge annual soccer tournament, a Fiddling camp with fiddlers arriving from all over Canada and the US and the requisite barn dance on Saturday night.

Tonight, with three art openings at different galleries, it's a very mini (extremely mini) version of Santa Fe on a Friday evening, moving from one to the next, the free wine and appetizers flowing.

I hit them all saving the best for last: a privately owned barn transformed into a Gallery called The Point near Fulford. As you can see from the photos, it's too beautiful for words.

May 13, 2009

From Thought Bubbles to Shared Realities

This is a close-up of a sculpture in Grace Point Square by Salt Spring sculptor Lynn Demers.

I don't know the background information on this sculpture but when I look at it, to me, it represents female strength, inner peace, personal assurance.

How do we get to that state? Any of us? Men? Women? Some people seem to be born with that natural inner confidence. Or perhaps they were raised in an environment that helped them develop it, didn't give them any reason to doubt themselves to any great degree. But, I expect that's true for only a very few lucky souls.

The rest of us perhaps have taken the circuitous route to belief in self and then sometimes, if you're like me, it feels like you pretty much completed an obstacle course, as if life's experiences have been sand grinding away at what could be an invisible pearl and even though you've come a long way Baby as the saying goes, at the core of my being, there is still the ever present question mark not about personal worth (not anymore) but about a significant creative idea that I have and how to share it. How to put it out into the world in a way that represents my strength and engages others as I envision.

When you figure out that life is not about acummulating money (any more than is necessary for independence) then the only thing left is an attempt to make your journey here meaningful in some way - through relationships or Love in the broadest sense of that word, through art or music, through giving of yourself in service, through sharing of some innate talent that is unique to you and you alone. But, after you've honed that, there comes a time when it makes sense to put it out there; to stop hiding.

So, in case you're confused - what the hell is she talking about - the truth is, this post is a selfish little message. It's like a pep talk to myself that is something along the lines of that saying "feel the fear and do it anyway" in relation to an idea that I have. So here are a few of the things I feel I need to tell myself. If you have any more, feel free to share them through comments below.

1. Write down your idea and trust that intention planted in the subconscious will create "lucky accidents" in the form of people, places and opportunities.
2. Make a detailed plan about how to bring your plan to fruition.
3. Test the waters in small ways but continue to dream about the biggest possibilities.
4. Figure out which skills you may be lacking and either develop them or collaborate with another person who has complementary skills, compatible temperament and a sympatico of understanding about your creative vision.
5. Remind yourself that perfection is nonexistent and that you are the right person to make this happen.
6. Accept that because it is an idea that has come from you and you are unique that the way it gets translated can't help but be unique.
7. Find a trusted and objective confidante as mentor/advisor.
8. Be open to accepting that the original idea may go through a variety of permutations and these could in fact be advantageous and necessary.
9. Expect to feel trepidation. Breathe.
10. Acknowledge all progress.

May 12, 2009

Other Worlds Right Here

"An enchanted life has many moments when the heart is overwhelmed by beauty and the imagination is electrified by some haunting quality in the world or by a spirit or voice speaking from deep within a thing, a place or a person.

Enchantment may be a state of rapture and ecstasy in which the soul comes to the foreground, and the literal concerns of survival and daily preoccupation momentarily fade into the background."
- From the introduction of The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life, Thomas Moore

What is it I have wondered for a long time that makes photography such a soulful journey?

Why does it tap into the universality of what it means to be human, the sacredness of the earth, a knowing glance, the way someone's hand rests on the crook of an arm, recognizing ourselves in others, light when it reveals dailiness in a new light, shadows creating mystery and mood, questions, an image that makes you want to linger longer because it is so full of dimension it evokes emotion.

An image that evokes a smell from your childhood, sadness so strong you still feel an ache; a fresh perspective.

The act of taking a photo is a conversation that you're having first with yourself and, as in speaking conversations, between two people, sometimes you capture others interests - they find you fascinating and there is sympatico - and sometimes you just don't.

The soulful nature of photography, the seed of spirit, happens when through a photo you begin to feel some commonality. It could be an impression, a judgement dispelled; knowingness. Fragility.

As I wander with my camera, I really try to remain conscious of paying attention to the thoughts that arrive, phrases, or themes that begin to remind me of someone or something that I may need to pay attention to. Giving intuition the space it takes and wants is a gift, perhaps even hinting at a direction for the future.

I look at what I choose to photograph, repeatedly, and often ask myself, what meaning within that is drawing me back, time and time again. What draws me in? What does that say about what matters to me?

I do this so that when I leave my camera, I get a little better, each time at seeing in the same way without the aid of the viewfinder to recognize the grace of being that surrounds me, wherever I am.

May 11, 2009

A Break from Routine

"Nice. Beautiful. Quiet. Relaxing eh?" Repeat 50 times. That's what big sis had to say about the place.

The float plane she was flying in on was 45 minutes late. I was beginning to worry. Maybe she's freaked out and won't get back on the plane, I said to the man on the dock just returning from his buddhist retreat at Stowel Lake Farm. But no, she really enjoyed the flight. Especially the pilot, Tom, I believe. Nope he's not flying back on Tuesday. Sorry!

As always, she was overly generous and spoiled me: dinner, soap, and a new cloth purse. I think she may actually be part Japanese. You can't look at anything without her wanting to buy it for you. But I don't NEED anything.

We went to Ruckle of course and I took her to the exact spot in the park where I used to camp and my very very favorite spot where I want to live forever when I die. What was your favorite part, I asked her, after the Canucks had lost.

The black sheep with the fluffy, long tail of a dog she said. Part Sheep. Part Fox. (No idea what the hell it was really; very strange.) She also liked the little baby lambs and the way they baa'ed as if they were saying "bye, bye". "You ate that last night," she said, pointing at them and pointing that out to me.

We sat on the deck of the Salt Spring Inn, ate at Bocaderos and the Rock Salt Cafe. We stopped in at The UpStairs Bears so she could see all the antique Teddy Bears and dropped by Transitions, everyone`s favorite second hand store. We walked through ArtSpring and she met my co-worker Suzanne.

I took her to Pauline`s and she walked around the place counting all the dried bird`s nests tucked away in the cottage`s cozy corners. She liked the deer in the field at dusk and the horses that looked like Clydesdales.

She compared Fulford to tourist shops at the Hawaiian Market. And, she doled out hand sanitizer this afternoon at the bottom of Booth Bay Road to the little boy who had picked up the wet sock on the beach. No, it didn`t have a foot in it. He washed his hands anyway.

It was nice to have a member of my family visit so I could show them my favorite places. A rare treat.

And I think she was glad to get out of the city, away from her regular routine, even if the crickets and the frogs kept her awake.

May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

A beautiful day of recognition to all the mothers in the world, and the grandmothers.

May the love you have given be given in return.

Learn more about a campaign started by the Stephen Lewis Foundation called Grandmothers to Grandmothers.

This is Lisa with Konor (a photo taken by her sister).

May 09, 2009

Talent to Share

Went to Cafe El Zocalo last night. Derrick, husband of our band teacher and former professional trumpet player, turned veterinarian turned Mexican restaurant owner brings in some really great music to the cafe when he and his own trio aren't playing. Last night, the little place was wall to wall people to listen to five young guys - drums, bass, guitar, trumpet, sax.
One of them, Simon Millerd, the trumpet player, originally from Salt Spring now has a Quintet in his name. He and his friends, all at McGill in Montreal, were fantastic. I can't believe people can have that much talent when they've only been on the planet 20 some odd years. They have a CD, not sure if or where it's available. It's called Thankful.
Simon composed most of the songs on it and last night, sitting in El Zocalo, just reminds me again why I'm thankful I moved.

excuse the cell phone photos...

To the market I go...rise and shine!

May 08, 2009


Listen to presences inside poems
Let them take you where they will.

Follow those private hints
and never leave the premises.


May 06, 2009

"Who Guided Us Here?"

“It’s not every day that you read a book that tells you the name of the person who killed your father, and gives photos and details.”

These are the words Australian architect Mike Alexander (above right) wrote in an e-mail to Salt Spring resident John McMahon (Paddy Mac) on October 30, 2008. He was referring to McMahon’s self-published autobiography, Almost a Lifetime, a harrowing tale of beating the odds in a feature film-type plot that includes parachuting from a crashing Lancaster bomber, German PoW camps, a death march, an unknown woman instrumental to his survival and now an unlikely reunion.

Alexander, 65, never met his father because Leopold G. Alexander (pictured left) was killed four months before his only son was born. His father was a 30-year-old RAF gunner flying out of Lincolnshire, England in a Lancaster Mk III, ED440 (EA-L) heading for Cologne, Germany. He was part of a seven-man crew on their first operation. They were shot down at 9:30 pm on February 2, 1943 by a famous German fighter pilot: Werner Streib. All but one crew member died.

McMahon, the sole survivor, was the flight engineer, and the last person to see ‘Leo’ Alexander alive.

“I can still remember watching the pilot trying to control the aircraft,” said McMahon. I hung on for as long as I could. My fingers were clinging. One of my legs was stuck. The escape hatch was open. I remember saying ‘God’. Then, somehow, my foot released from the stuck boot and I was sucked out of the hatch.” He had donned his parachute shortly before when he got up to check fuel levels.

Sitting in his son’s Salt Spring home, McMahon, 88, still has the twinkle in his aging Irish eyes. He recounts the events as if a few months - not 65 years – have passed.

“On my way down, just before landing, I heard a dog bark. I saw a door. I never passed out. It was dark. It was raining hard and the winds” he said, “they were strong enough to pick up the parachute again and drag me.” He thought he had landed in Germany. Fearing for his life, he dug a hole with his bare hands, buried the parachute and began staggering down a narrow road, missing a boot and in shock.

“I saw cyclists coming towards me and I rolled into the ditch. As I was crawling out I saw two more cyclists – a boy and a girl – they yelled out, ‘You’re in Holland.’” They helped him to their parents’ home. Shortly after, German soldiers arrived, then German air force guys who treated him well. “The village policeman notified them,” he said. “What would you do if you knew that you’d get 3 months food for your children for turning in the enemy?” McMahon was taken for two more years.

Visiting Canada for the first time, Mike Alexander says for most of his life he felt different from his mother and his step siblings. “I knew when my mother and stepfather were gone that I wanted to find out who I was. The only way I could do that was to find out more about my father,” says the lanky man who strongly resembles the wartime photo of his father posted online. Alexander’s mother remarried when he was two years old and rarely spoke of the past.

One day, in 2006, he Googled Royal Air Force 49 Squadron. He found a paragraph describing the fatal mission. One crew member was listed as PoW. Alexander couldn’t believe it. He’d assumed they’d all died. He then contacted the Squadron to enquire and a researcher named Colin Cripps called him back. “I hope you’re sitting down,” he said. He’s alive,” referring to McMahon.

A continent away, McMahon received a call at 10:00 pm. “Are you the John McMahon who lived at 12 Century Street, Belfast, Ireland?” Cripps wanted to verify McMahon’s identity prior to making e-mail introductions between the two.

Sitting in the dining room of his son’s home near Vesuvius Bay, two days after an emotional meeting, McMahon asks rhetorically, “Who guided us here?” Alexander seconds that. “Something; someone higher had a hand in this,” said the man who isn’t particularly religious but called the miraculous reunion that took place at Victoria International Airport last Friday as “inevitable” the moment he learned of McMahon’s existence.

McMahon likes to think that his mother (who died when he was four) has some part in the extraordinary tale; as if every “coincidence” [and there are many] was predestined.

Alexander and his wife Lynne are enjoying Salt Spring this week before carrying on to England, then Holland. They discovered that the 49th Squadron is having a June reunion to which they have been invited. They’ll also make a trip to the crew’s gravesites at Jonkerbos War Cemetary and to the place where the Lancaster crashed in Holland; places that McMahon and his son Jim have already seen. The Canadian father and son (Jim’s only one-week into retirement from BC Hydro) have travelled together extensively and met countless people as a result of their research.

If there has been a higher power in this story, one can’t help but think that Alexander’s father could not have chosen two better men to help his only son get to know him.

Story by story, the little boy inside the Australian man, is beginning to know a father he never had through a Canadian father and son who seem to have the kind of relationship that Mike Alexander could only ever dream about.

It's not often that I write a story that makes me cry. When I wrote the last paragraph of this story, it made me cry perhaps because meeting them in person brings this story alive. It's in The Driftwood today.

May 05, 2009

Country Children

I was at Ruckle Farm Days on Sunday afternoon and couldn't help but notice the kids runnning around playing with the bunnies and the goats and sheep.

They were learning how to do some blacksmithing, cutting wood with one of those back and forth saw blades, and just sitting in the grass talking to each other. I couldn't help but think how wonderful it must be to be a child in the country, (not a teenager, but a child).

It was one little boy in particular who made me stop and think that. He's usually at the market because his mom sells these really great monster dolls which she does using what she calls soft sculpture.

He's about 8 or 9 years old and he has this quality to him that's so innocent and sweet because he's a little shy, a little hesitant but really keen and interested at the same time.

My booth was beside theirs one day and he was selling his paintings and I was talking to him about his artwork. A friend bought one of his paintings and gave him $5 and he was SOOOOOOOOOOO happy, clutching that $5.00 bill and smiling because someone had bought one of his paintings.

I saw him run past me at the farm with a little skip and I could feel how happy he was in his own little world; his happiness was palpable and it couldn't help but make me smile and feel really happy for him, and for me because I got to be there too. There was just something about his little skip, the look on his face, the lightness of his body in full motion that seemed to capture for that couple of seconds the joy of being a kid out in the fresh air, exploring, in the country.

These bunnies were on a table courtesy of the 4H club.

May 03, 2009

Better than Google Maps

Only on Salt Spring would a traffic sign look like this.
Oh, and if you're looking for wifi, go left (or if you're coming off the ferry, go right).
This is at Fulford Village where there's ferry traffic and local traffic
on a two lane road and it's absolutely critical that the two remain
distinct or chaos reigns, (especially in the summer)!

May 02, 2009

Unimaginable Reunions

Tomorrow I am going to interview an Australian man who never knew his father because he was born four months after his father was shot down over Holland in World War II.

Mike Alexander, now 66, never imagined that there was anyone alive on the planet that could give him insight into his father; enable him to know a little about him. For 66 years, he has believed no such person existed. His mother spoke little about his father when he was growing up. When his mother and stepfather died in 2006, he began to research.

His search led him to Salt Spring Island and an 88 year old Irish man named John McMahon.

McMahon can still recall the night when the Lancaster bomber he was in with Leopold Alexander (and four other men) was shot down. He was the only survivor and woke up in a field with his open parachute around him. He was taken in by a Dutch family but was soon discovered by the Germans and was taken prisoner of war for 2 years.

McMahon recalls how excited his friend was about the baby he and his wife were expecting all those years ago. He met that "baby" yesterday for the first time, 66 years later.

I'm really trying to figure out what the most significant thing I can ask them is. What's the most important thing about this reunion? It might seem obvious but it isn't. Would everyone want to meet the last person that was with a parent they'd never met? What sort of emotions would come up? Would they feel relief? Would all the grief for the father he'd never known come up. Would they be at peace being able to hear directly from someone about the man. What would it change from here on in for that man?

It reminds me a bit of that book, For One More Day, by Mitch Albom. The book explores the question, “What would you do if you had one more day with someone you’ve lost?”

I guess when you meet the last person to see the father that you never met, alive, it is a bit like getting to meet your father in person. We'll see.