Showing posts from April, 2017

Cassini, Huygens, Carter

This is a remarkable photograph. At first, as usual, I missed what is most remarkable about it. Typically, I miss the remarkable. As usual, I rely on friends to point it out.

For those who have been living under a rock on Mars, and who haven't seen this image, it is us. The cosmic speck is Earth, viewed through the rings of Saturn, from the Cassini space probe.

I was talking about this photo across the desks with Dale Carter last week at work.

I was coming at it from above, half-remembering a Christiaan Huygens quote from Carl Sagan's Cosmos that inspired me as a high school student. The we're-so-small-in-the-scheme-of-things, the why-do-we-divide-against-each-other-to-rule-some-pitiful-corner-of-this-small-spot point of view so bracing for a Cold War child at odds with his teachers.

Dale was coming at it from below, from Earth.

He said: "The most amazing thing about that pic is that we put the camera there and got the image back."

Yes, I thought in kinds of sha…


Pauline Kael did it her way, Siskel and Ebert theirs, and each of IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and reviews movies in its manner. My way is simple. Am I still thinking about the movie when I wake up the next morning?

I woke up this morning thinking about Maudie.

It is the story of Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis and her husband Everett and the tools they use.

It is about more, of course. It's about the small rooms we live and create in. And about the crooked being made straight, and the straight crooked. It's about light and windows. It's very much a love story. And it's very very much about the tools that Maud and Everett use.

Everett (Ethan Hawke) is a fisherman who uses a hatchet, an axe, a hammer, a spoon, a wheelbarrow, a scythe, and, memorably, once, his hand. Maud (Sally Hawkins) uses a hatchet, a cleaning brush, and, memorably, throughout, a paintbrush. And a cigarette. She holds a cigarette like a fuse.

The filmmakers who gave us Maudie built it out of …

Seeing trees

This is a pic posted by my friend Wendy. Wintry scenes like this are everywhere in Edmonton today. Wendy and the rest of us are contemplating the meaning of April in a city at 53 degrees north latitude.

Wendy is not one of the drippers. But the drippers are with us. I recognize them because I used to dripdripdripdripdrip, too. I understand why they call this weather horrible. The main reason is this: they have never considered what horrible is. And this: they haven't read enough Maya Angelou.

Sister, there are people who went to sleep all over the world last night, poor and rich and white and black, but they will never wake again. Sister, those who expected to rise did not, their beds became their cooling boards, and their blankets became their winding sheets. And those dead folks would give anything, anything at all for just five minutes of this weather or ten minutes of that plowing that person was grumbling about. So you watch yourself about complaining, Sister. What you'…

Citizen Cane

This was the view from my bicycle seat as I came up on 121 Ave at 116 St this afternoon. The man with the cane had just used it as a baton to signal the driver of the left-turning automobile that it should flow across his path, leaving free his line to the opposite curb.

The van driver complied and combusted by me and out of view. The cane, it turned out, was also a wand.

The man took a step off the curb and started walking with a slow, jerky rhythm across the avenue. The snowflakes were so light they twirled up with the wind, seeming never to hit the pavement. The man turned his head to me. I said hello. He nodded and underlined his wordless greeting by lifting his left arm and waving the cane in my direction. The cane, it turned out, was also a kind of prosthetic and punctuation device.

Then the man again anchored the cane on the pavement and resumed his trip to the other side. One, two, three, one, two three. The cane, it turned out, was also a kind of accompaniment.

Face north

A bicycle ride to the north end is, unavoidably, intriguingly, deliciously, sadly, sweetly, a journey into the past.

The Byzantine rite domes of St. Josaphat Cathedral rise above the roofs of McCauley.

In the distance, through the arch of bare trees, Commonwealth Stadium sits waiting.

Simple and straightforward. No wasted punctuation. Eavestrough might be candidate.

Tran's Foodland, fading.

White door, black-and-white address sign, rust mailbox, black plastic garbage bag in the sun.

The Coliseum is ground zero of the Oilers mythology. 

The exclamation mark is all that's left of Edmonton's meatpacking district. 

A lagoon of winter melt mirrors the brick tower.

Like, later, words from foreign languages, train cars from beyond told boys riding bikes that there was a beyond.

We saw, we heard, we watched trains. I learned later that some words carried anhydrous ammonia.

A friend to the birds, wheeling and cawing above.

An incinerator used to stand right here. We played footbal…

On the way to and from Coffee Outside

I have wondered about the the flight to artifice when natural beauty is encountered.

Standing in front of a mountain vista, I will routinely offer some version of, wow, it looks like a painting! Or like a postcard. Or that is just out of a movie! This morning as I pedalled in the MacKinnon Ravine the April snow felt etched onto the limbs of the trees. I have often felt dissatisfied with this transposing of the beauty out there into the key of human making. 
But, maybe, painting and photography and engraving and the rest of the human arts are as natural to us, as lovely, as nature itself. Or, maybe, so entwined that it is hard to tell nature and art apart.
My bicycle has certainly transported me to feelings of freedom I would not have achieved were it not a piece of technology. 
Who are we, really?
At the turn at the bottom of the ravine, a plastic orange fence encircles a soggy sinkhole. A voice inside my head that I cannot silence said: "I sink, therefore, I am." And then:…

Pothole season

It is April in Edmonton. A fitting time to report the effect of a pothole.

Shooting marbles in the schoolyard was a thrill of spring. The pots we aimed for in those now-buried days were shallow craters dug out of the earth. Cars flowed by on 66 St. Girls jumped in and out of skipping ropes. Peewees were the small marbles. (They were just the right size to go down an alarmed seven-year-old's esophagus once). The regular-sized marbles were the main currency. It took five or so marbles to make a boulder and four boulders to make a jumbo. There were crystals, cat's eyes, creamies, and steelies. These gems all carried different values.

Steelies (jumbo-sized ball bearings, actually) were curious. They sat outside the exchange system. A steelie was technically worth nothing, but was still valuable and coveted. Like the zero concept. The value of a steelie was what the player trying to win it deemed its value to be. I might put four "jums" and a couple of boulders into the …

Clouds in the river

Monday will bring the Monday question from work friends: "Whajadoo this weekend?"

I want to remember that I stood on the riverbank in the MacKinnon Ravine at the turn of the path up to the first of the three inclines on the way to the 142 St bridge and waited and watched for 11 minutes while ice chunks big and small in the river made the lazy turn around the bend and floated by toward the Groat Bridge. They looked like clouds in the murky sky of water.

As I started watching, this was the view:

It took five minutes for the sheet of ice to float to the edge of the shadowline of the watery trees:

And then five minutes more for the cloud of ice to get here:

I scooted down the riverbank to watch the floe glide by:

Show me the boy who doesn't want to run into the sky:

Beware the ice of March

I almost made it out of March without crashing in the MacKinnon Ravine. 

There are few transformations in the order of things so fast and so complete as going from being a balanced bicycle rider one instant to a tangle of triangles and hoops the next as will and material unweld themselves and go to confusion together. That ravine in west Edmonton is the stage where I continue to learn that the essence of things reveals itself in accident.
For those following the plot, this was my second coming down to earth in four years on the same stretch of pathway. In 2014, as Florence and the Machine came to mind, this is how it fell apart. 

And then on Friday morning, with Craig Finn in the air, things unravelled like this: 

(I love the quick shot, at the 0:03 mark, of the Velo Cult patch sewn onto the backside of my shorts. The threads held, Shelagh! Thank you! But what has to go gloriously wrong for the handlebar camera to record the back of my shorts?!)

After the ground, the bicycle fall tran…