Walk Into White

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About noon today I went for a hike with a small group of friends on a section of the Bruce Trail lying between Felker’s Falls and the Red Hill Creek Expressway, toward the Glendale series of waterfalls. The cold was no real problem (except when a burst of wind would break through a clearing) and snow was falling. It was not one of those bright, shiny, new-glistening-snow-underfoot-and-all-over-the-trees sort of days but even in its dull gray whiteness it seemed special.

The snow underfoot had fallen in the last few hours and lay undisturbed except for the occasional dog and his walker. The snow, still undisturbed by gusts of wind, clung to tree branches. The air, too, was often more full of snow than of light. For a short time I separated from my companions where the trail took two different loops to reach the same spot. And then everything came together in a special way.

Suddenly I was in a private space. The terrain, the muffling snow on the ground and in the air, the silence of wind and wildlife, all combined to make me feel alone. So wonderfully alone, one. Even the dim light, the cool air, and the silence were part of being alive. For that moment, nothing else mattered.

Such little miracles happen every now and then; I savor them, hold them close, often try to turn them into poems. This one also will not be forgotten.

To emphasize it with a strange contrast, I went to a concert later in the evening, a performance by George Sawa of traditional and more recent compositions for the Egyptian Qanun. The multi-stringed psaltery-type instrument was accompanied by percussion instruments, and they in turn accompanied a pair of traditional dancers. This too was spellbinding.

The perfect end to a mystic day.


Two Faces of the Guitar

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This weekend so far has been a guitar experience.

Friday night I caught most of a concert by Michael Pickett at the Artword Artbar. Michael is a bluesman who started out with a full band but now performs mainly solo. I’ve been going to his performances locally for some time now, especially when he plays in intimate settings like the Artbar.

His presentation consists of voice, accoustic guitar, and racked harmonica with only a few production tricks like reverb used occasionally. His style is vigorous and ideosyncratic. What I especially like is the way he uses one of his guitars, a National Steel. It’s one of those guitars from the ’20-’30s with a full steel body, steel strings, and a Dobro cone resonator. It’s a marvel to see and hear him attack the instrument, to hear the instrument’s response to a master’s hands and fingers. The music reverberates throughout the room; there is no space for other sounds to exist.

For this I want to thank Gwen Duncan and the Tribal Gallery.

Saturday afternoon I attended another concert, one that was similar in some respects but so different in others. The setting was even more intimate, thirty or so people gathered in someone’s home for a house concert. Again the performer was a single person, not a band or ensemble. Again the main instrument was a guitar. And that is where the similarities end.

David Leisner presented a program of music on his concert guitar, most of it written especially for the guitar. Whether playing a Bach arrangement or his own composition, he was the consumate musician – aware of his music, his instrument, his audience, and the synthesis of all those elements. There was no way to escape the spell in which we were held; his technique and arrangements had us transfixed.

And I came away  with the same emotional high. Two different performances, styles of music that could not be more dissimilar, presentations so contrasting. But in both cases the energy and the power innate in music as such moved me and gave me joy. Even thinking about it creates a glow.

And for the David Leisner concert I have to thank Emma Rush and Guitar Hamilton.

The Creator I thank for life and for music.

The Awesome Arctic Adventure

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I do a bit of hiking when I can.

Now, that’s not an understatement. I like walking in the outdoors through various types of terrain, toward a specific destination or not. But, I am not a fanatic. I don’t equip myself with special gear or special clothing. No gung-ho, mountaintop-or-bust attitude. Often when my wife and I were tenting I would explore the area on foot while she lazed about the campground. I still have the desire to get outdoors but I’m level-headed enough not to do it solo at my age and physical condition. I’ve become part of a wonderful, friendly, and informal group who hike. (Check them out: Trail Blazers – Explorers of Southern Ontario.)

There was a hike tentatively planned for this past Saturday. When Saturday arrived it was a day full of falling snow and blowing wind. Most people would have cancelled their participation; some did. But a hardy group (some may have thought “foolhardy”) gathered anyway. We had a guide waiting at the park we were to visit; people were expected to come down from further away; we saw no easy way to cancel and not cause undue confusion. Therefore, a handful gathered together in Hamilton, drove through dangerous snow conditions on the QEW to Short Hills Provincial Park just outside St. Catherines where we met the rest of our party. Seven adults and two youngsters.

Now slogging through knee-high fallen snow and air full of falling snow that whipped exposed faces on the higher ground may not sound pleasant. However time spent with an intimate group, whether friends or strangers, all involved in the same activity certainly diminishes any effect mere weather could have. It didn’t matter that the walk seemed longer than first perceived. It didn’t matter that the main attraction, Swayze’s Falls, was frozen solid and snow-covered. It didn’t matter that the snow and wind kept all winter wildlife out of sight. We enjoyed each other.

We enjoyed and helped each other on the trail and in the snowbanks. We talked and laughed in the cars, the parking lot, Tim Hortons. And we laughed and commiserated with one who got lost, came late, didn’t hike at all, and was still one of us.

And that’s friendship in a true form.

Naming Cats and Dogs

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I have noticed over time that dogs and cats have their separate languages. They will use different tones to express their meaning, as well as different movements and body language. A cat who rubs against you is very different from the dog who rubs against you.

They also respond differently to spoken language (English, anyway; others I can not be certain of). Dogs seem by nature to respond to commands. They want to be told clearly and constantly in short bold and imperative sentences. Cats on the other hand refuse to move for such a modality. They refuse to obey direct commands and ignore declarative statements. To approach a cat one needs to be inquisitive, ask it a question, engage it in a discussion that always leaves alternatives. In simple terms, be firm and direct with a dog; leave a cat to make a conclusion for itself (with your direction.)

A firm illustration of these principles in operation can be seen in dogs and cats and their names. Dogs, as we have noted, need to be addressed with short, firm imperatives and display that in the names they respond to. They react best to names that have only one strong syllable, names such as King, Max, Duke, Bess, etc. Cats react best to names of two syllables, preferably names that end with a rising inflection (like a question) especially those ending with the “-ee” sound such as Sally, Marty, Fluffy, or even (god forbid) Kitty. Just as long as the two vowel sounds are different and the name ends with an upward inflection.

For example, I have a friend who named her cat Deedee. It sounded fine but the cat refused to acknowledge it. I suggested that she change the initial vowel sound, and call her cat Dodie. She did. The cat responds.

Name your cat or dog carefully. Your whole relationship may depend on that word.

The Price of Happiness

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I was listening to a radio discussion: some academic was talking about the ratio between income and perceived happiness. In other words, your chances of feeling generally happy about yourself depends to a certain (and she claimed important) amount on your income. Specifically, she found that middle income people ($45,000 – 90,000, her figures) were happier than those living on less as well as those bringing in more. It sort of boiled down to, as she saw it, those who have less wanting that which most people have; the great amount of people in the middle only bothered by little deviances to their perceived standards; those with nearly everything still not satisfied and looking to get what seemed to be missing.

I don’t know what “happiness” she was trying to quantify, it sounded shallow to me. Satisfaction that depends on what you have, on what you buy, on your financial worth, can’t be rooted very deep and may ultimately lead to deeper dissatisfaction. I took a look at myself to see what was creating my personal happiness.

I’m in her lowest income range, so I should be unhappy. I haven’t got  … you name it and either I don’t have, or have less, etcetera. But I’m satisfied with who I am, what I do. This weekend was a good example about the variations that make up my happiness.

Friday evening I went to a concert. Not because it was the place to be, to be seen but because the performer’s music had struck a chord with me so I made time to see and hear her live. Saturday morning I went for a hike; not a long or strenuous one, but with friends to enjoy nature (in the winter snow), get some exercise for my well-being, and the sense of community, being part of something greater than myself (something I need because I live by myself). Saturday afternoon I went to a poetry workshop; the time was spent discussing matters I like, things I find important, getting and giving reactions to artistic endeavors. Sunday afternoon I went for a stroll in a park, watching birds and squirrels, enjoying the laughter of children sliding down a snowy slope. I spent some time and effort playing repeated patterns on my mandolin (what some might call practicing) and enjoying that. Activities that were necessary like cooking a meal and snow removal from the walk were chores but not unpleasant. I was content. No, I was more than content, I was happy.

You’ll notice this happiness and what brought it about had nothing to do with money or income, no competition about mine versus yours, no snobbish “well, I’m …”  Happiness is not a state of being. It’s not something you automatically are under a certain set of circumstances (like level of income).

Happiness, for me, is the product of doing, the result of activity. Action is happiness, especially action with or for other people. I really can not consider circumstances where my happiness would depend on financial matters. Even while taking the most luxurious vacation imaginable, I would have to work hard at doing with and for people to find a measure of happiness. It depends on the effort and the motivation.

Happy New Year

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Wishing all health and contentment in 2011