Collecting Hidden Beauty

Sometimes, on my walks, I like to play a little game.

I call it Alleyway to Art Gallery.

Something catches my eye —  a piece of rust, moss on a worn fence, a shattered windshield,  even some crumpled paper floating in the gutter.

At that moment, in that light, it is astonishing.

That’s how the game begins.

Part two is imagining that the little piece of beauty has been magically transported from the gutter to a pristine white gallery.

The lighting and ambience are perfect. The exhibited piece is HUGE. Twenty feet high.

Perhaps sparkling wine is being served …

The colours, the textures! It’s stunning.

In some ways, the game can be a little depressing since the imaginary exhibit is far more gorgeous and spontaneous than anything I’m likely to create.

But, therein lies the fun of it. It’s an inspiration. Something to aspire to.

Plus, before you know it, I’ve been on a little fantasy VAG, MoMA, or Tate Modern trip during the course of a dog walk.

It’s my little secret. Until it wears away, blows away, or the light changes, it’s part of my own private collection.

The pictures in this blog are of a treasure I found in a local alleyway around this time last year.

As you can see in the photo above,  the alleyway in question did not seem, at first glance, to hold a lot of promise. I can’t remember how exactly I came to notice it. Perhaps Geordie wanted to pee on it.

It was a large painting, done on some sort of wood veneer with thick, swirling sweeps of paint. Hard to say if was acrylic or oil paint, or what the original subject was.

I’m not sure how long it had been languishing in they alley when I found it, but much of the paint had worn off and the wooden base had started to de-laminate. Moss was beginning to colonize parts of the wood, and windy weather had caused brilliant fall leaves to pile up in front of it.

One or two other leaves had become plastered to the old painting and random, yet somehow perfect, intervals.

It was one of those overcast, damp days where the sky is a dull grey, but all terrestrial colours seem extra bright to compensate. Flecks of blue left in the painting, and the touches of red in the autumn leaves, seemed to add little jolts of electricity to the overall composition.

I visited my little secret art show several times over the next few weeks, until it disappeared under the winter snow.

I considered all the the elements that went into the accidental “installation”.

The painter and their original inspiration.

The decisions and/or circumstances that led to the painting being abandoned in the alley.

The wind, the leaves, the moss, the light.

My decision to walk that way that day.

Geordie’s sudden need to pee.

Somehow this little game brings me much joy.

More and more I’m trying to find ways to steer my mind onto calmer pathways and thinking about beauty and serendipity makes a welcome change from too much news or  the never-ending “to-do” list.

I recommend it.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like, The Gift.

www.junehunter.com

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Thank-You So Much

This blog post is really just a huge thank-you for all the lovely, thoughtful, funny, comforting, poetic messages I’ve received after my last post about the passing of George. They’ve come via blog comments, email, text, Messenger, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I expect a carrier pigeon at any moment …

There have been stories of how people enjoyed hearing about him; how he taught them new things, maybe even changed their minds about crows. There have been whimsical descriptions of bird companions loved (and sometimes lost). I’ve laughed and cried reading them all. I have tried to write back as much as I can, but I fear I’m never going to manage as many replies as I’d like. If I haven’t written back to you, please know that I really appreciate your words and feel as if I’ve had a big hug from the world.

This is one of my favourite photos of George when I first met him. You can just see the wisdom and engagement in his eyes.

It was tough to lose George. As my husband said, when called him in tears to tell him the news, “It’s not all beer and skittles, being an urban nature enthusiast.”

So true — disaster and heartbreak is always lurking around the corner. But that is, as they say, life. And to quote Alfred Lord Tennyson, ” ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

When I picked George up to bury him, he weighed almost nothing at all. I had never held him before, so it was a surprise.

I keep thinking about how very light he was. That lightness seemed such a contrast to his substantial personality and presence.

George was a gift. I hope he’ll pop into our minds whenever those of us who knew about him see other crows. And we’ll smile when we think of him.

George on one of his favourite perches at the local elementary school.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to get my City Crow Calendar to the printer, but I keep re-writing it. You would think I was working on a major novel, rather than a calendar.

I keep going back and forth on George in the calendar.

No George, therefore no morbid “dead crow” associations?

Lots of George, to honour him?

In the end, I’ve decided on some George, and a special page at the end to celebrate him.

This picture of George’s magnificent feet will be one of several in the 2018 City Crow Calendar.

Thank-you once again for all of the kind thoughts and messages.

I like to think that George, from his perch up in the Great Sky Roost, enjoyed them too.

www.junehunter.com

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Forest Bathing

sun in trees

Sometimes a little dip into nature does the trick, but sometimes, nothing short of full woodland immersion is going to work.

Most days my spirits can be revived by a quick dog walk round the block, appreciating the changing leaves, a bit of moss here and there. The crows, of course.

Last week though — I’m not sure it was a touch of flu, too much turkey at Thanksgiving, or watching the second US presidential debate — but I was running on my last cylinder.

Although I felt mostly like sleeping, we went for a walk around Lynn Headwaters Park.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Because fierce rain and windstorms were predicted, last Wednesday seemed bathed in a golden light. It was a perfect fall day, all the more special for the impending weather doom and gloom.

Also, I hadn’t been in the woods for several weeks due to a series of unfortunate lower leg events. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it.

Three hours felt like the equivalent of a week’s magical vacation.

Coincidentally, ever since then I’ve been seeing the Japanese practice of “Forest Bathing” or “Shinrin-Yoku” popping up on my social media, and even in today’s local paper. If you Google the term “forest bathing” you’ll see that everyone from The Globe and Mail to Oprah is talking about it.

It seems that something we’ve always known intuitively is backed up by science. A walk in the woods is good for your health — physical and mental. No need to work up a sweat either. It’s simply being in the presence of trees that provides the benefit.

So, if you can, get out and find some trees to bathe with right now.

If you can’t fit it into your schedule immediately, I hope you’ll enjoy these photos.

Think of it as just a preview of your own real woodland walk, coming soon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lynn waters

Should you ever doubt the calming effect of a woodland walk, compare Geordie’s before and after pics.

anxious-geordie

BEFORE – in the car on the way to the park. Geordie always suffers a bit of car-ride anxiety, worrying perhaps that we’ve changed our mind and are returning him to the shelter in California whence he came.

AFTER: Geordie, blissfully one with nature.

 

www.junehunter.com

logo with crow

The Gift

Gifts are something we start thinking about at this time of year.

We fret about finding perfect gifts for the people in our life.

Free gifts and special offers abound. Things can, and often do, get kind of crazy. By December it’s hard to see the wood for the Christmas trees, vis a vis why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Winter lights

I think of it as being placed, reluctantly, in the luge track (or perhaps the head first Skeleton would be more apt) for the festive season. We’re tucked in and about to head off at breakneck speed. Some days will just go by in a blur, until we end up in a crumpled heap on Boxing Day, wondering how on earth we got here.

In short, there seems to be little time for reflection during the holiday season. I’m about to strap myself in for the festive ride. In fact, I’ve already sent newsletters of my own about special offers and free gifts in my online shop, for people looking to buy gifts for others.

Which got me thinking about the nature of gifts. Gifts that you can’t buy.

Of course there are many of these. Love. Friends. Family. Music. Nature. Health.

But, particularly at this crazy time of year, one of the most precious gifts is stillness.

Floating feather

I am a bit of a “doer” in my personal and creative life. I tend to just keep moving and doing until I’m too tired to do any more. I think I get this from both of my parents, who seemed to be constantly making, fixing, knitting, cooking or cleaning.

In some ways this is great, but it makes it hard to be “in the moment”. I find my mind insistently wanders to tasks ahead when I’m doing yoga or trying to meditate. Or even sleep.

But I finally discovered one way to stop the mind spinning and quiet the “lists”.

A brisk wind stirs waves on the birdbath

In 1999 my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. My mother had died unexpectedly two years earlier and I’d hardly got my bearings after that. My dad lived in the UK. I lived in Canada with my husband, and two small children. Thanks to the great kindness of a friend, who gave me three business class trips to the UK, I was able to visit him often during his last year. When the end came, he didn’t want to die in hospital, so my last trip was not just to visit, but to nurse him at home. It was a remarkable time. My brain, I believe, actually melted a bit under the stress of fatigue and worry about him, and about the family I had abruptly left behind in Vancouver.

I slept on the floor by his bed and was awake every hour or so. For one hour a day, a nurse came in to bathe him and to give me a break. The time was not really enough to have a nap and, if I tried, my mind just raced with a competing derby of thoroughbred worries. So, instead, I took to going for walks in the countryside around the house.

Lichen

On those walks, everything seemed magnified in significance and beauty. I believe that the sheer stress of grief, responsibility, and tiredness forced my eyes open in a new way.

Things that I would not have noticed before seemed truly incredible. The rusted and contorted barbed wire on the farmer’s fence seemed to somehow symbolize the struggle that my dad was going through. Every old stone wall, piece of moss and crumpled leaf seemed full of meaning. I may just have been delirious from lack of sleep, but that experience stayed with me long after he died.

In a way, it was Dad’s last gift.

It permanently changed how I look at the world.

Spectacular dumpster in the Costco parking lot. The dodgy end.

When things are spinning out of control, I’m still an epic failure at traditional meditating. But walking and looking really closely at the things around me (which for me, involves photography) can slow things down to a peaceful pace, or even a momentary full stop.

shadows

All the lists and the worries can be briefly put to one side. For a few moments everything is still, and all that is beautiful and wonderful in nature is perfectly encapsulated in that one piece of rust or lichen, the sheen of a bird feather, the visual poetry of shadow or, the hop, skip and jump of a crow. It’s like being in a cathedral, even if it’s, geographically, an urban alley or a forest trail.

This little starling kept me company while I had a coffee at Granville Island.

This little starling kept me company while I had a coffee at Granville Island.


Walking to pick up my van from the mechanic I came across this incredible landscape of created by a shattered windshield on the sidewalk.

Walking to pick up my van from the mechanic I came across this incredible landscape of created by a shattered windshield on the sidewalk.


The sun catches the light on lovely new post-molting season crow feathers

The sun catches the light on lovely new post-molting season crow feathers

Amid the holiday shopping, menu planning, house decorating, travel plans, and social life scheduling, it’s worth taking the time to give yourself a few of these small gifts every day.

Downtown Vancouver - falling leaves trapped and displayed on the glass awning above the sidewalk.

Downtown Vancouver – falling leaves trapped and displayed on the glass awning above the sidewalk.

To look deeply at something (not in a shop) and think to yourself “wow”.

And then move back into the slipstream of your day, but carry the “wow” with you.

Wow!

Wow!

logo with crow

Just Another Day

It started as a normal Monday in East Vancouver. The dawn made it’s spectacular appearance (an hour late due Daylight Savings).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Birds began to reappear in the sky, taking their posts for the coming day.

Dawn bird

Eric and his family arrived at their spot — in my garden, waiting for the first peanut handout of the day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was thrilled to see the first downy woodpeckers had returned from whichever winter destination they’d chosen.

Downy Woodpecker male

I noted that the house sparrows were collecting nesting material. And giving the pine siskin some interior design ideas at the same time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Suddenly, trouble in paradise.

Eric and his family of crows dove into the lilac tree where all the small songbirds like to be.

I thought the crows had suddenly and unexpectedly decided to start dining on full-grown sparrows and chickadees.

But no — the crows had spotted a juvenile Sharp Shinned Hawk darting into the lilac.

No doubt the hawk had certain designs on the songbirds, snack-wise.

Sharp Shinned Hawk

The hawk fled, pursued by Eric, his family and the neighbourhood watch committee of concerned crows. They flew around the neighbourhood all day.

Hawk soaring, crows cawing.

Hawk on High

A crow keeps a wary eye on the hawk from the top of street sign.

 

So, now we have a new kid on the block, adding to the daily excitement. Another hazard for smaller birds, like the bald eagles and ravens that already cruise the skies. But another thrilling ingredient into the mix of wildlife that calls East Vancouver home.

Last Dawn of 2014

Dawn Flight

I took some time to appreciate the last dawn of 2014 – and such a dawn it was.

After a festive season of heath challenges, it seems even more important that usual to appreciate the small things that are big.

Being with family, good friends, health (it’s all relative), moments of quiet loveliness, every dawn, every sunset. Crows, naturally.

A week or so before Christmas my husband was in a nasty bike accident. When we found him in emergency he couldn’t remember the last five years or so of his life, or how he had come to be in the ER. Thanks to his helmet, he did not have a major brain injury, “just” a concussion. By the next day he remembered everything, except for the ride to work, the accident, the ride in the ambulance and the hours spent in the hospital. These things he may never remember. Concussions, I am learning, are tricky things, taking anything from weeks to months to recover from. Phillip has spent about 90% of the holiday season in bed, in the dark with his new best friends — audio books. Even watching TV or reading is too much for his rattled brain at this point.

He will get better eventually, with rest and quiet, so as frustrating as the process of healing can be, we are grateful every day that things weren’t much, much worse.

So this morning I made a point of spending an hour or so bundled up on the top deck of our house to welcome in the last day of 2014 in all its splendour. This may be the most exciting part of my New Year’s celebrations this year, but that’s just fine with me.

The first of the commuter crows arrive.

The first of the commuter crows arrive.

As the sun rose, the sky behind the poplars at the end of our street was painted with sugared almond shades of peach, raspberry and lavender. And, as reliable as clockwork, the crows began to arrive from the east and their night time roost at Still Creek. Most were just passing through, heading to their “day jobs” in North Vancouver and points west of here.

Crow's Nest View of the Dawn

But the locals stopped on the very tops of the poplars as if to take in the breath-taking views. I’ve often noticed them hanging around there on mornings with particularly gorgeous sunrises, as if they are as susceptible to the beauty as I am. Of course, it could be that they sit there every morning and I only notice them when I happen to be out taking in the view myself, but I prefer to go with my “crows as dawn worshippers” theory.

Incoming

You can see the neighbourhood waking up from the vantage point of our roof, the sky changing and a positive rush hour of birds – flickers, gulls, geese, sparrows, juncos, were spotted this morning, as well as Eric and the gang.

Gulls over the Mountains

The northern flicker scooped the weeping birch perch this morning.

The northern flicker scooped the weeping birch perch this morning.

As I watched Eric and his little group huddling together on the wires, I was also reminded of how grateful we’ve been for all the friends who’ve rallied around since the accident. It’s the crow equivalent of volunteers leaving the little crow family group to head over and scare away the eagle. I’m sure our friends would scare eagles away for us too, but, in the absence of winged predators, we are very grateful for all of the soup, cookies, help and concern that we’ve received.

Family Group on Pink

And, of course, I’m very grateful to Eric and his corvid kin, because watching them lifts me away from my worries and cares for a while as I realize there are so many lives being lived in parallel to our human ones, even here in the middle of East Vancouver.

The colours of the sunrise glow on Eric's feathers

The colours of the sunrise glow on Eric’s feathers

Happy New Year, everyone. From me, and Eric.

What Did You Wonder Today?

If you’re anything like me, the list goes along these lines:

  • Why is my computer displaying that “fatal error” message?
  • Where the heck did those extra cell phone charges come from?
  • What should I pick up for tonight’s dinner?
  • How soon, exactly, will the world arrive at hell in a hand basket?

These are all very worthy concerns. I am an expert worrier. Just ask my children. However, each time I board a plane I am reminded that, in the event of an emergency, I need to put my oxygen mask on first. In other words, I can’t help anyone else if I’m not functional. I discovered this a few years ago during a time of major stress and sadness.

Taking a small “wonder break” can be the most instantly relaxing and restorative thing you can do for yourself in five minutes or less.

Just some of the many things I like to wonder about:

  • What do birds think about?
  • Where do they go at night?
  • Does the rain bother the crows?
  • How come moss grows everywhere?
  • What, exactly, is lichen?
  • Why is rust so beautiful sometimes?

Rainy Day Crow

Portmeirion Red Lichen

I think we all followed such thought paths as children, but somewhere along the way, musing-time gets left behind. Mental meandering is frequently written off as daydreaming, a waste of time. But those tiny moments can be the start of bigger things.

Once you start, the wondering can take off in a couple of directions.

Path one: I wonder … (lower case ‘w’)
Once you start noticing birds, moss, plants, animals or old rusty signs, you may find yourself driven to find out more. You can talk to people who know more than you, read books or magazine articles, watch documentaries, do some online research. There might be just one question you’d like to find the answer to, or you can end up with a lifelong passion on your hands.

Vintage Books

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Path Two: Wonder (with a capital ‘W’)

This world is not perfect. Let’s face it, it’s far, far from perfect and we shouldn’t ever forget that or stop working to make it better.

But, there are those moments when you step outside of the door and notice some little, inconsequential thing and everything seems to stop just for a moment. Sometimes you say to yourself (or even out loud) “wow”.

Just for a moment we can live in pure wonder. It’s just a moment, but that feeling rides along with us as we rejoin the daily battle — whether it’s sorting out the cell phone bill, or saving the world.

A rusty shopping cart at Rona hardware store.

A rusty shopping cart at Rona hardware store.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Whiskey Jack on Dog Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Downy Woodpecker Update

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

An update on the downy woodpecker, injured last week by a cat and taken to the Wildlife Rescue clinic at Burnaby Lake: she’s doing much better! She has abrasions and bruising and they expect her to recover. Even better, when she’s ready to release, it’s likely that I’ll be able to go get her and release her back in our neighbourhood. I’ve seen the two males in the garden over the long weekend. I’m pretty sure they’re her mate and the baby and that they’ll be happy to see her!

While doing a little downy woodpecker research on the weekend I came across these two descriptions of these lovely little birds.

Audubon, in 1842 remarked that” it is perhaps not surpassed by any of its tribe in hardiness, industry, or vivacity”.

Another 19th century ornithologist, Alexander Wilson, in 1832 said that “the principal characteristics of this little bird are diligence, familiarity, perseverance” and describes a pair of downys woodpeckers working at their nest “with the most indefatigable diligence”.

I feel quite thrilled every time I see one of these wonderful little birds, especially right here in my East Vancouver garden, so really rooting for Mrs Downy to make a full recovery and come home.

 

In Defence of the Commonplace

Alleyway treasure!

Alleyway treasure!

I was reading a blog the other day about “bucket lists” and how too many of us put off doing things on those lists, getting too caught up in the day to day to organize and save for that trek to Katmandu, or sailing trip around the world. In many ways I sympathize with the sentiment of the message.And yet, it got me to thinking. For sure I would like to go to Italy one day … and New York and New Orleans. But, for me, it’s just as important, if not more so, to make time to really appreciate the little things every day.Stopping for a few moments to admire the robin’s joyful splashy bath in the birdbath on a sunny spring morning. Glancing at the crows huddled companionably on the power lines as the rain pours down. Spotting an amazing patch of moss and lichen that forms a whole miniature world on a lump of rotten wood. Simply noticing things. No great conclusions are necessarily reached, but I do feel rich, and as if I took a small trip outside of myself. And I was only out in the backyard, or walking to the post office.In my work I try to convey this philosophy. Most of images are taken close to home and the subject matter is not exotic – just things you can see everyday – common garden birds, moss, plants, old buildings. I work with these little moments and try to show them so that others see how I feel about them. I try to convey the ”specialness” and timeless beauty in the everyday.

Bath-time fun for baby robin.

Bath-time fun for baby robin.