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April 29, 2010

Saltspring's North End: Priceless Precious Peace

I'm absolutely in love with my new cottage and the priceless precious peace. When I drive home from town after a day at work, I have no desire to go out and leave it. Suddenly being alone feels even better than it used to after the past 8 months.

The North end of the island is one of the quietest parts of the island with less traffic than the South End, especially in summer because the South End has Ruckle Provincial Park and a lot of tourists/campers. A lot of people don't even get to the North End on a visit to the island.

I was reminded today of something about myself that I'd almost forgotten. I LOVE solitude. Where I was living up until this point was positively suburbia, in hindsight,compared to this place and I forgot how much I love being alone, just with nature, until the past week. It reminded me of the time I rented this little shack on Mayne Island and I rode my bike to get to it not realizing exactly how far it was from the ferry to the end of Horton Bay Road. Colleen came to visit and I could tell she was thinking, Are you out of your mind? You actually LIKE this?
If I climb up to this tree and look down on the property, you see my little cabin on the right.

I wake up to see little bunnies hopping around and fastidiously inhaling the grass, long blades disappearing between their soft lips as if they're sucking up spinach fettucine. Okay guys. Listen up with those extra big ears you've got. Stay away from the geraniums I just planted .  At dusk, there are always at least 4 or 5 deer up in the field near the tree at the top of the property.

Outside my cabin, these trees become brilliant  when the light hits them late in the afternoon. The only drawback is that there's a tiny little wasp's nest under the eaves near my bedroom. That's totally freaking me out of course. My lovely landlady bought me those lantern looking things that simulate a wasp's nest. They are supposed to tell the territorial creatures that this house is taken, look elsewhere. But, I'm not sure how well they work when the nest has already got a start. Must deal with that. I really don't like wasps. Can't barbecue with those suckers around wanting to get at any meat or flesh.
I got on my bike for the first time in a long time after pumping up the tires and using the WD 40. Okay, so my bike is fluorescent pink and green but that's because it is almost 20 years old now. Holy crap! I've become one of THOSE people. New bike? What? Why? It's perfectly fine she says. If you don't want a little flashback to the 80s, don't look.  It really does work though.

Walkers Hook Road surely has to be one of the roads on island with the flattest stretch for the longest distance. There was no traffic at 6:30 tonight and the sun was brilliant on the water. It  felt so fantastic to get back on my bike again and go for a little ride beside what has to be some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. I passed the Fernwood dock and two people were sitting on deck chairs. I couldn't tell whether they were fishing or just sitting enjoying a coffee in the peacefulness.

Pauline gave me a little hummingbird feeder and the hummingbirds with their fluorescent red and green breasts have been lining up to get at the sweet liquid.

This is what my cabin looks like with the sun striking it full blast in the evening.
And, I've positioned my computer so that when I'm at it, I get to look out at the wonderful crooked tree which seems to lean at almost a 45 degree angle over the water. The morning after the first night I slept here, a huge eagle was perched on one of its branches and suddenly, opening to its full wingspan, it spotted something and dove, catching it, whatever it was, almost in mid air. There is the constant sound of nature here from the squealing call of eagles to the frogs at night and crows which seem to have been especially raucous lately. There's the chirping of the birds and the bleeting of the goats just across the road and sitting at the picnic table, the whirring of the hummingbird wings always surprise me. Just now, as darkness has fallen, the distinctive sound of an owl, not sure which kind, intermittently calls out.

Let's face it, if I can't write something good when I"m able to look out at this view, it's a lost cause.It doesn't get much better than this when it comes to location as far as I'm concerned. Gratitude with a smile.

April 20, 2010

The Awful Wonderful of Moving

Red Rooster Winery, Naramata, BC

In all its awfulness, there's something wonderful, still, about moving.

The obvious wonderful is the illusion of a new beginning. I feel the happiness of a space and that's how I decide to take it. Do you? I've looked at so many places now having moved so many times that I can tell almost instantaneously whether it's the right place all by the feeling I get from being in the rooms.  There's a mood to every structure. It's as if all the emotions of all the people who have ever lived in the place combine to create a collective mood and it's either generally happy or just a little off.

Yesterday, I began to move some boxes into my old, new cabin. It's very sweet and in need of cleaning. So, I swept the chunky dark stairs that lead to the loft and got out the bucket I've been meaning to get rid of for at least a decade given to me by a former crazy landlord, the one who started vacuuming the stairs on my moving day. It has one of those mops with the cotton fabric strips that you slop all over the floor in an effort to pick up just one crumb and finally, in vain, you just reach down and grab the crumb pitching  it out the nearest open door.

I felt a little sinking feeling knowing that I'm returning to no full stove and no full fridge. No more ice cream. Note to self: Eat as much of the chocolate strawberry swirl before Thursday!

I carefully climbed to the top of the stairs, bucket in one hand, the other gripping the steepness of the incline still wondering where I'm going to store my beautiful bed, and mopping down all surface space around the six inch mattress that's in the loft. I lift it up suspiciously checking for tarantulas or whatever, underneath. It's clear.

There's comfort in re-arranging your furniture in your mind in the space before it arrives. Will the couch really fit there? How will my two chairs look beside the bookcase. Look how the ceramic frog I bought in Fairhaven when I went that time with Michelle is so perfect for the wooden bench out front. I will have to clean the sliding glass door and a little WD40 wouldn't hurt either. I picture being able to have friend's visit me again. Wow. I didn't know I could see the water from my kitchen window through the fir trees. I feel like I'm playing house, like I'm on a little adventure. It's small but it's completely private close to the main house on four acres.

My new landlady knocks and tries to give me a kettle. "I have a kettle," I say. "I have an electric kettle. I know what you're up to, I say jokingly.  "Don't go unloading your stuff on me. Look around. Do I have space?"

She then lets it slip that she's 87 years old. I'm shocked. I guestimated she was in her late 70s as I eyed her up and down trying to determine whether she would be around for a while.  Upon hearing this disturbing news I grab her by both shoulders and say, "You are going to remain healthy, aren't you?" in the same way a mother might demand that her children eat their broccoli.  "No strokes allowed. No heart attacks. No losing your mind. You're allowed to be deaf, as you are, and that's it.  Together, we are going to pretend that you're 40. It's a great age to stay. Nod your head." She laughs.

She seems pretty feisty for 87. I liked her instantly when she pronounces that novel, Eat, Pray, Love that she picked up at the Anglican Church garage sale to be "crap." "Oh please," she said, "I couldn't bare to read about her going on and on, crying on the bathroom floor, in the never-ending descriptions of her divorce." I laugh.

We tour her house. She insists on showing me the computer set-up as I realized there was a distinct possibility that I'd just agreed to rent a place that had no computer access and none possible. I look at some of the interesting oil paintings she has of places that no longer exist on Salt Spring - little grocery stores, the way the harbour in front of Moby's Pub used to be and the beautiful view out her front window. She has a massive wood-burning stove from Norway that's very ornate and I really like the feel of her house too.

She has a fenced garden, to keep out the voracious deer, and she paces herself, weeding, sitting, weeding, sitting, walking around observing. "I'm preparing the rest of the garden to welcome the Wisteria tree's blossoms," she says.

I let the beauty of that observation linger a while in my mind thinking back to how Michael Kluckner once described the Wisteria tree outside his Craftsman cottage in Kerrisdale he lived in prior to his move in the early 90s to a gentleman farm in Langley. I'm not sure where he is now. 

Having tested out the high speed wireless access to success, I leave, feeling happier than I've been in a while.

April 19, 2010

The Cycle of a Dream

The other night I was lying in bed and I had what could be called an epiphany (a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.)

And, just like that, it was clear to me that I must leave the island. Not immediately, but soon.  I just had this insight that my personal development as an individual is at stake if I don`t. I can not remain this broke. I can not remain this inert, mentally.  It had been a particularly `trying`day at the Employment office and suddenly, almost laughing, I said out loud, "Is it any wonder that I`m bored out of my mind?"

I realized that I used to spend my days working in a large department at UBC surrounded by people - 55 professors, 30-40 staff, tons of undergraduates and 200 graduate students. A dynamic city within a city. What I loved about that job is that there was always something new to do, `new information to try and digest, something going on and lots of people to interact with. The people I worked with were very smart but not full of themselves, quick witted and very nice. We got a lot done and we could see our results when it came to new recruiting initiatives and new brochures and new events always happening. And, we even had fun doing it!

When I left that job, I knew that it was possible that I may never have another job that I was better suited for and yet it was time to leave.  Even when I went to BC Mental Health & Addiction Services and was based at Riverview Hospital, after leaving Computer Science, although it wasn`t the greatest fit for me because it too felt a little stagnant at times, I did get to experience an environment that was very fascinating in terms of being foreign.  Let`s face it,  how else would I have the opportunity to get into a forensic psychiatric hospital and have access to inside information about some of the most notorious patients there? (Don`t answer that!) And, once again, I had a great manager with a great sense of humour and we got along really well.

Now I spend 4.5 hours a day, four days a week in one room. My co-worker is super nice and she is totally suited to do what she does for a living and always seems to have the time for everyone. That`s great. That`s the way it should be in that job. I don`t have that. I can fake it. But, it`s killing me. Maybe you`ve noticed, if you know me, that I don`t suffer fools gladly. Understatement. I can only show someone how to attach a file to e-mail about 10,000 times and then I`m done so I think I`m reaching my quota.

Now I`m not saying any of these individuals are fools. I haven`t ever actually met a true fool. Okay, well maybe one or two.  But, I have met a lot of people where something went very wrong in their education and it`s not all attributable to learning disabilities.

I`m interacting with people who are computer illiterate and in general seem to have a literacy level around Grade 7 or 8. While I`m not blaming them for that, I also don`t need to be the person who helps them get past it.  I don`t see it as a priviledge to help them. I would see it differently if I felt that they were intent on helping themselves. What I see is a lot of people expecting someone else to do the work for them.

There are a lot of conspiracy theorists here. There are a lot of people who believe the world is out to get them and everyone is out to screw them over and you know, on Salt Spring, that might just be true because everyone who isn`t independently wealthy is obsessed with figuring how to make a buck and survive here. I don`t want to spend this much time thinking about money. If I did, I would have become a stock broker and then it would make sense to spend this much time thinking about money.

Most people I interact with can not write a cover letter or even the first sentence to get themselves started. They can not do this without significant spelling mistakes that are not fixable by using spell check. They do not know how to save, print, attach a file to an e-mail or any number of the most basic computer tasks.  Many of them did not complete high school. The scarier part is that many of them did.

I keep having this thought about not hiding your light under a bushell. I think it`s a reference from the Bible actually, (which is weird that I would know it) but basically it`s suggesting that it`s wrong to hide your light from the world and maybe more importantly from yourself.  

What I have come to see on Salt Spring is a lot of talent that is not being used to its full potential in people who have it and desperation in those who don`t.  I have no qualms saying I fit into the first category.

There`s only so much that I`m willing to give up in order to live on a beautiful Gulf Island and basically that trade-off has become so one-sided in what I have to give up that I would be an idiot not to recognize that, at this point in time, it`s not okay to be okay with that.

So that`s what I`ve been thinking lately. It might sound really negative but you know, in a way, it`s actually a sign of progress. I came. I participated in what I wanted to. Now, I know the lay of the land and I`m looking for a new horizon.

In the book, The Artist`s Way, there`s a part that speaks to the fact that anger can be good because it shows you where you need to make change and that`s exactly how I feel about Salt Spring.

It`s good to recognize when a dream has been attained and to look for what`s next.  There`s still too much of the world to see and too many new things to learn, interesting people to meet and I think I`ve seen enough to know for sure that I`m never going make any of that happen by stayin`on this rock.


April 13, 2010

Is there a seat at the table?

Today I was talking to a guy who has lived in a tent on island throughout the winter. He has three young sons and a chronic illness. He came to Salt Spring about six months ago from Vancouver because he'd rather live in a tent than in one room in the city.

"At least my three sons can visit me when I live in a tent," he says. "They love it here."  He was talking about his disillusionment with the place saying that unlike Tofino, there is a uniculture of wealth and conservatism here. "The place closes down after 7pm. There's not even a coffee house with music that stays open on weeknights where people can go." [The TreeHouse stays open until 8pm in Spring and later in summer. Other than that you either have to go to a bar or a restaurant for entertainment.]

"When I saw the Market last summer, I thought I'd found it but what you see there is just so superficial," he said.

"It's not what exists deeper," he said. "It's really an ultra-conservative place; an old folks home with no room for those who don't own and no intention of making it amenable to those who don't fit that model. It's so boring!"

I challenged him a little on that and said that I wasn't defending the place because I'd only lived here 16 months and certain things that he said certainly ring true, but from what I'd seen, for such a small place, there seemed to be a lot of resources. "You can get free food almost every day of the week," I said.  "There are more than a few agencies that do nothing but try to help people."

"But I don't want to take my kids to the food bank," he said. "Where's the dignity in that?" "Even in the city," he said, "I could take my sons on a Sunday morning, walk down the street to Starbucks and I could get each one of them a hot chocolate for $1 and they'd  make it fancy. Here, you can't get a hot chocolate, kid or otherwise, for less than $2.75. You could go to a restaurant and get a cheap hamburger and fries.  It's as if they've created a world here where only the rich want the rich to exist."

Later in the day, I think about an immigrant who can't seem to get work in her field at a place you would expect to hire her even though she has the qualifications and there are jobs. That's the second time I've seen this with someone who isn't white, whose first language isn't English and I begin to wonder? Could it be what my intuition says it is or is it just legitimate competition?  

The stories I hear. Employers ripping off employees, [and undoubtedly vice versa], the low wages, the having to hustle every single day to scrape together enough money at odd jobs to pay the rent, rentals with rats and mould, being kicked out with inappropriate notice because it's tourist season and there are more bucks to be made regardless of how good a tenant you've been and on and on.

Slowly as my own rose-coloured glasses have come off, I am forced to look more critically at what truly is, not what the reputation has painted this place to be, and I now know that there are at least two Salt Spring Islands.

There's the Salt Spring for the rich and then there's the Salt Spring for the people I spend my days with at the part-time job and the two experiences are so far removed from one another that they wouldn't be reading off the same menu even if they were seated at the same table.

I keep thinking that I would like to either do a photo essay of the faces I have come to know (so many fantastic faces) or a serious article on the side of Salt Spring that never makes the news. 

April 12, 2010

Renting on Salt Spring: Musical Houses

This is my new home. As you can see, it's really, really small. That's why it's really cheap. Sure, it needs  a paint job. But, it's cute inside and I'll make it cuter, well not personally, the decor I mean.

It has a real fireplace which I'm thinking could be good (for Santa) but not so good when it comes to roof  rats (ugh). Welcome to paradise. You don't see photos likes these on the REMAX site now do you?  

I put an ad on the list that said, "Where Art Thou Rental Robin Hood?" and lo and behold, she answered. Well, her son did. They were looking for the right tenant, not even advertising it and I guess that would be me.

I'm not exactly sure how I"m going to fit my stuff in there but let's just say I'm paring down even further. Somebody give me an award for my small green footprint. I keep wondering if I'm in training for some sort of future incarceration. I really shouldn't even have that thought in my head. Get it out!
The good news is that it's completely private and separate from the main house. There is no 85 year old living in the attic. The bad news is that if I have to go pee in the middle of the night, I have to climb backwards down stairs without a railing. Won't be living there when I'm 80 obviously.  The bad news is that I can't fit my bed in the loft because it already has a mattress and it's too small to accommodate mine. The angle of the eaves is too steep. So, I'm stuck with the smaller, thinner mattress that is there which seemed comfortable enough but it's not mine!

The good news is that I can get my funky couch back from Linda and Tom which is big enough for someone to sleep on if they visit or for when I just can't bear to climb up to the loft.

The worst news is that I am moving again.

Welcome to the annual past-time of living on Salt Spring and being a renter. 

I'm not going to lie to you, not having a stable home base sucks. But, that's the way it is when you live here and you rent. It's not pretty! 

Oh, and by the way, if anyone ever says you can have free rent in exchange for just sleeping overnight to watch over their aging mother, run, immediately, screaming from the room.

I've verified it beyond a shadow of a doubt. There is no such thing as free rent.

April 07, 2010

Skype, Skype and Away

This is an old photo from last year's market but I thought it fit with the tone of this article, going where I haven't been
before in Skype-land.
Last night I downloaded Skype for the first time because I have a niece who has moved to Australia to do Graduate Studies and she sent me an e-mail suggesting it would be a good way to keep in touch.

There's nothing like being introduced to a new (to me) software/communication device to really make you feel ancient and out to lunch.

I think my niece is somewhere near Brisbane. Sadly, I really can't even recall where she is because it's all just a big blob of a vanilla ice-cream continent to me having never been there. I'd need a map even if she told me where she was to visualize where, geographically, exactly.

I didn't really know how to use it and like all of those who are foreign to complicated places - cockpits, operating rooms, radio stations - I had no idea what I was doing when I began to click on a variety of icons. Somehow I found her name - her pseudo name -  and I managed to connect and next thing I know her head, much bigger than I remember it,  has materialized on my laptop screen. I felt like it was the multimedia film noir version of Little Red Riding Hood. My megan, your head is so much bigger. Your teeth are so much whiter. She's laughing and whispering something. She has headphones on. 

There is a live person on my screen laughing with big white teeth who looks confusingly like her sister, my other niece, who isn't in Australia (she's in Maple Ridge) and who was born with jet-black Eskimo hair.

Hunched over, peering into my laptop, like I've just discovered an alien being in my bathroom,  I was staring as she was whispering something. "I'm in a library," she says to me, continuing to laugh. I was still confused. Why is Kim in a library in Brisbane? Have I connected accidentally to Kim in Maple Ridge? This was scaring me. How do I get off?  I dyed my hair she says. With black hair I look like Kim. I can't really talk, she says quietly. Oh, okay, I whisper back.

I stare back at her feeling very stressed, as if I, on the other side of the world, will suddenly have an Aussie librarian shusshing me, like I've interrupted the entire quietude of the University of Queensland library. I'm hunched over and I"m whispering into my laptop monitor feeling like a complete idiot, slightly annoyed, definitely experiencing some Grade A technological luddite angst.

Why has she answered my Skype request if she's in a library I think to myself (for God's sake). I mean, just because it's there doesn't mean you should do it now does it Meg?
What strange invasive software is this?

Ever since I downloaded Skype, the blue button on the top of my own laptop has sprung to electronic life. It's as if my own third eye in my forehead has been transplanted into an equivalent fluorescent one on my laptop. E.T. is that you?  

Is someone looking at me as I talk to myself right now wearing my rattiest bathrobe, my hair wet from a shower with a very pained and confused expression on my face?  What can they see? Who's they? I don't think I like this. I must read the instructions. I must check my Privacy controls. Until then, Skype off!

April 06, 2010

Salt Spring Saturday Market Focus Groups

Pig Tail
One of the best things about selling your photographs at the Salt Spring Saturday Market is hearing why people choose the photograph that they choose to buy. This pig butt for example or "Pig Tail" was bought by a woman for her brother because it was his birthday and when they were kids he always used to pull her pig tails. I threw it in at the last minute because it's just about the cutest pig tail I've ever seen, not that I've spent a lot of my life paying attention to pigs or their butts. But, hey little piggie, nice tush! I took this last year at the Fall Fair.

Someone else came to my table who caretakes Ruckle Park with her husband. Her mother was visiting and she had to buy one of my photographs of Ruckle. Then, the daughter spotted a sign that she had made for the Fall Fair last year and of course (bless your heart) as soon as her mom heard that it was her daughter's sign she just had to buy it in the form of my new little Canvas "corner brightener" as someone in my band decided I should call them when she dropped by my table. They're photos put onto 4X6 canvases with burnished upholstery pins tacking them down on each corner. They look really good with barns and old doors.
Two people actually bought photos that I'd taken at a store at Fulford called Stuff and Nonsense because one of them always sends her sister a card whenever she goes anywhere and because the other said it was the first store she'd gone into when she first got off the ferry and she liked the store. Here's the railing out the front I think. Sometimes I truly forget where/when I took the photos.
I almost always sell a card or matted print of my photo that I took of a reflection in Coal Harbour while walking along the Stanley Park Seawall. People love this photo.
I recently decided to start selling larger matted photographs of my work, 8x10 matted to 11x14 and I was ecstatic to sell one of my favourites to a guy from Vancouver who liked it right away, hardly said anything to me, then returned and bought it. Of course, it makes sense to sell larger. More money. I call this Aquatic Plaid. I really like that name.
I can't find my list of the other ones that people bought but you get the idea.

The best part about the market is the amount of mental energy you spend trying to sort out exactly what works best and then seeing how right or how wrong you are. There really should be Salt Spring Market Focus Groups that take place all year round so that we know exactly what our customers want before it starts. It's either that or spend 5 years doing it.

Only 4 more days until the next market. Yippee!

April 05, 2010

Silent Warriors speak through Eric Klemm's Photographs

photo by Eric Klemm

On the weekend, I went to an exhibit of photographs by local Salt Spring resident, Eric Klemm, a photographer with an international reputation.

Klemm trained as a graphic artist and was a commercial photographer in Germany working for some of the top magazines there prior to moving to the Maldives, then France, Vancouver and Salt Spring, BC. When I asked him why he lives here now, he said he didn't know. He admits he could live anywhere and isn't sure why he lives on Salt Spring. I liked that answer. It's such a rare response.

His latest project, Italian Journey, is based on following the voyage in 1786 by the German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Klemm traveled through Italy visiting the same places, on the same days, 300 years later.

When he retired from commercial photography, he found himself to be “very grumpy” and his need to create propelled him back into the creative realm in the form of Fine Art photography. In the six years since he began that, he  has produced an immense amount of work. His projects have included old cars found on Salt Spring in various states of decay or Metamorphosis to what he calls subject-less photographs that use only light and shadow to captivate, abstracts of coloured pencil shavings, and back alleys in Vancouver as well as his latest project, the Journey to Italy.

The exhibit at Mahon Hall on Salt Spring showed a sampling of photographs from these projects since he re-invented himself. Many more of the photographs (40) he has taken for the Silent Warriors project are currently being shown in Portland, Oregon. He is hoping to get a show of  them in Santa Fe at the Photo-Eye gallery.

In 2006, he travelled in Canada and the US spending more than $200,000 of his own money to photograph native people where he found them. On Vancouver’s Downtown East Side and at Pow Wows or outside stores in small towns such as Williams Lake, into the Shuswap and New Mexico, Texas, Florida. He worked with an assistant, Chris Taylor.

Sometimes, he'd take a photo within minutes of encountering an individual and other times he'd have to engage someone for a few hours to convince them to have their photo taken as part of the Silent Warriors project.  For these photographs, he used only natural light and a neutral white backdrop.

He photographed more than 300 people and Silent Warriors was published in a book by German publisher Steidl .

What I realized, as I spent a lot of time interviewing him, moving from one photo to the next, was how true professionals, regardless of what status they may have achieved as a result of their talent, have a passion for their work that is contagious.  They do not differentiate between whether you are from the New York Times or The Gulf Islands Driftwood. I liked that and I really appreciated the time he took with me.

Very inspiring!

To see the work of other Salt Spring artists, visit the Salt Spring Artist Directory.