Monday, October 13, 2014

Non-traditional celebration

But then, that shouldn't be too surprising. We seem to often do things our own way.

This Thanksgiving was no different. No big turkey roasting in the oven. No pile of dishes and pots to wash up.

It was an order-in takeaway supper instead -- barbecued duck instead of turkey. The non-traditional accompaniments of chow mein and tofu were good companions to the duck.

But so was the completely traditional side of Brussels sprouts, though even they arrived in a less-than-conventional format -- still on the stalk, fresh as they can be.

Much to be thankful for. Always.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Gathering wild mushrooms

It's something that goes with autumn. Harvesting an assortment of wild mushrooms. Over the years, we've refined our skills -- learned about mushrooms we didn't know about before, explored new places, tried new recipes.

We've also learned a few things about the right and the wrong ways of harvesting.

The photo above shows how NOT to gather them. Those aren't some fat cigarette butts resting around the leaf. The black 'fuzzy' stuff on the cut-off mushroom stems is soil.

The harvester who left these behind has jeopardized the odds of mushrooms growing there again next year. They've pulled them up by what you might want to call their 'roots' -- that critical connection which links them to the mycelium, hidden beneath the earth.

The parts we 'pick' are the bits that poke their heads up through the soil.

It's important to slice the base of the mushroom in such a way that the link to the fruiting body isn't disturbed.

It's also a good idea to not try to clean out the forest, but to leave some for other harvesters who may be coming along in a day or two. A good way to ensure you're doing this is to avoid taking small mushrooms, and only harvesting those that have had a chance to grow into mature specimens.

Of course, it's important to know what you're harvesting. Our friend the Internet can provide many answers, but even Google's images of chanterelles contain at least one look-alike, one you won't want to ingest.

A book with clear photographs can be a useful companion in the forest, and will be easier to use if its focus is specific to your geographic region. An even better way is to tag along with a knowledgeable harvester.

But even if you don't feel like learning which kinds of mushrooms are edible, the experience of walking in the forest this time of year is one that can only inspire wonder. Get out there.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Looking forward

I've been staring at this autumny tree, trying to take in some of its calmness.

It's been kind of a crazy month -- not one to complain about -- nearly all of it happy-making, culminating in this weekend's Word Vancouver. Still, I'm ready for a less hectic time.

Maybe tomorrow, when the calendar turns to October, life will slow down a little. But for now, I need to get dressed, as I'm heading off to a literary event, exactly the sort of thing I love to do.

And no, I will never complain about there being too many literary events going on, or too much art in the world, or too many beautiful sights in nature to inspire me.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sweet homecoming

This past fortnight has been a series of homecomings. There've been reunions of various sorts -- with relatives, some whom I haven't seen in a decade or more-- with friends that go back even more years.

I've also revisited places I haven't seen in years. I even got to visit my gramma's old house.

But the best homecoming of all has been returning home today. It's been one of those rare September days when the air is warm and sweet, hot as any day in July.

The berries still on the bush are continuing to ripen (I picked enough for a pie for the freezer and for a dessert for tonight).

The quince are nearly ripe, but autumn is clearly nearby.

Something I suppose about the angle of the light, the way it seems to break into disparate beams. The spiders are weaving their oversized nets, hoping to catch the last of the summer insects. The floppy autumn crocuses have opened their pale blossoms to these last days of warmth.

The clues are here: change is in the air. But oh, it's sure beautiful right now.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Once upon a time the sky...

...was filled with flocks of passenger pigeons. The empty sky in the photo marks a sad anniversary -- 100 years since the last passenger pigeon, Martha, died.

It's startling to think that a species could go from being the most numerous bird population on the planet to extinction, and all in the space of not much over a century. As late as the 1800s, the sky was said to darken, sometimes for more than a day, as masses of these birds flew overhead. 

And somehow I don't find it completely reassuring that scientists are considering ways of renewing the species, using DNA from the feet of specimens in the Royal Ontario Museum. Such birds wouldn't be the same, as they would be crossed species with another breed of pigeon. Besides, really, what's the point.

The best lesson we can take from the passenger pigeon is a cautionary one, reminding us of the fragility of life -- even when it seems to be in abundance.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Imagine whirled peas...

Saturday was a day that proved to be all about community. It started with an event sponsored by the SOFIA Collective, an interdisciplinary group of artists based in the north end of Surrey, the city where I live.

They've sponsored a couple of these events, forums exploring ways the arts can contribute to the health of the community.

Even though I only attended the afternoon panels, I came away filled with hopeful thoughts for our city.

The first panel, "Intersections: Art Practice in Convergent Communities" raised many questions (and comments) about the broad multicultural spectrum represented in our city. Racism, the elephant in the room we all seem to choose to ignore, was key to the discussion -- and rightly so. According to the last reliable census figures (2006, the last census to employ the 'long form' which asks respondents to identify their ethnicity), 46% of our city consisted of 'visible minorities'. No doubt, this figure is higher now, but thanks to Harper's fact-denying agenda, such numbers will no longer be available. Not that such numbers are necessary to see who we are. Attendees were united in wanting all of us, artists and others, to go forward together, regardless of what we might look like.

The second session, "Lessons Learned: A Survival Guide to Establishing an Artist-Run Centre" was much more light-hearted, even fun. And this is likely where I found the most to take home with me.

All of the speakers talked about getting together with other artists, and surprisingly, the notion of potluck dinners came up more than once. Yes, say I, food can serve as the glue (even when the food isn't sticky!) that brings us together.

So, later in the evening, when we went to nearby New Westminster for their second annual festival of food trucks, I couldn't help notice the way everyone was getting along. It wasn't a potluck supper, but the atmosphere was similar. There were lots of conversations, comparisons of food items (Oooh, where'd you get that sandwich??), good-natured kidding while standing in line, people snapping pictures with cameras or phones.

Maybe food really is the answer, even the way to world peace.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Everywhere is Anywhere is More...

It isn't very often that an art gallery has signs that encourage you to take photos of the exhibit. But then, there aren't a lot of exhibits quite like the current one on the main floor of the Vancouver Art Gallery, a wide-ranging show by Douglas Coupland.

Yes, there's plenty of Lego, not all of it quite as wildly assembled as this piece. Still, I love the ways he uses it, even when he's pointing out the mundaneness of contemporary suburbia: row upon row of identical houses. All that's missing from his show are the identical people who must inhabit those houses.

One of my favourite parts of the show is a section of Canadiana artefacts -- everything from hokey-looking lunch kits and thermoses to a tin of Uncle Ben's beer.

But don't think for a minute this exhibit is all about trinkets and toys.

Coupland's paintings and sculptures reveal an artist who's committed to interpreting art history. Some of his paintings serve as homage to the Group of Seven and Emily Carr. Others hearken to the era of Pop Art, with obvious tributes to Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol -- or, to their predecessors, Mondrian and Miro.

He even plays around with his own forms of Op Art, with pieces that require you to view them with a Smartphone, for almost a 'magic eye' effect.

It's hard to imagine anyone having this much talent, but yes, he also writes fiction. So, it's not surprising that some of his art is text-based. One section of the show, called Slogans for the 21st Century, consists of signs with Couplandesque sayings on them. An example? "It's not an illusion. Time is moving faster." Fans of his books will recognize some of these as part of the marginalia from Generation X.

Those living in or near Vancouver should try to get to the gallery soon, as the show closes on September 1st.