Friday, April 30, 2010

Two Schools

This week I've visited two different schools. And different is clearly one of the words that applies.

The first, the White Rock Learning Centre, is a small, storefront-style building, with a population of about 150. Its students have chosen to attend an alternate school, one that does things differently from the mainstream ones. Students set their own goals and learn at their own pace. Teachers are there to help keep everyone on track, but the real push for learning comes from the students themselves.

So it was pleasing to me that a group of them decided the presentation I was making (for the BC Federation of Writers' Off the Page program) might be worth taking time out of their Wednesday morning for. We wrote some 'group-poems' and shared the results of our work. We talked about many things, including books we loved.

Then today I had another opportunity to visit another school -- this time about as different from the Learning Centre as I could imagine. Oceanview Middle School (aptly named, that's their view in the photo above) is a far cry from a storefront in a mini-mall. And rather than being a home for students of all ages (15 and up), the way the Learning Centre is, Oceanview caters to Grade Eights only. The visit made for an interesting contrast from Wednesday's session. Besides the age difference, I had a much larger group, as my audience consisted of the entire student body.

My challenge was to set a writing challenge that each student could work on. After all, I was part of their Literacy Day. Contrarian that I am, rather than giving a single assignment, I suggested a number of avenues for students to pursue. No doubt, this frustrated some; hopefully, it freed up a few.

But no matter how different each situation might have been, what remained was that both places made me feel welcome. And more importantly, both places strengthened my hopes for a positive future for life on this planet.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Written in stone

My mother was born on Christmas Day, and thus was named Carole. She was always proud of her birthday being that day, so it seemed disappointing when her burial site turned out to be a cold, rules-bidden mausoleum. It's a place that doesn't permit living flowers or plants. Its markers allow no indication of dates, only the years of birth and death.

My sister Lisa came to the rescue, and purchased a 'paver stone' that commemorates our mother's dates -- and, probably to our mother's liking, rectifies the fact that she was only a youthful-sounding 81 when she died, and not the ancient-sounding 82.

Today, Lisa and I, in company of many of Lisa's friends, attended a lovely ceremony at Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve where the memorial paver had been installed. The park was a place our mother had enjoyed visiting in life. Hopefully, her spirit now rests more peacefully among the trees and garden there.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Asheville, NC -- a great place to visit

My sister's been giving me the royal tour of her state. We've driven incredibly scenic highways (including the famous Blue Ridge Parkway) through the mountains where dogwoods nestled in the forest are in bloom.

We spent two days in Asheville, a city that clearly values its heritage buildings. We even found an old F.W.Woolworth store that's been converted to a kind of art emporium. Both upstairs and down serve as gallery space for painters, photographers, and assorted artisans. Best of all, they even preserved the old soda fountain, where my sister and I shared a chocolate soda.

We've eaten at some amazing restaurants -- my best meal to date was blackened catfish, served over grits with goat cheese -- an amazing combination where old Southern cooking meets new.

I can understand why Barack Obama would want to come here to take a holiday with his wife. It's a lovely spot that feels culturally rich while exuding a comfortably laid-back attitude. The touristical T-shirts said it well: "Asheville, where normal is weird."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Taking a rest for the Earth

The 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, and this year I'm far away from home. I'm travelling with my sister who lives in North Carolina. Once again, our angels were with us -- or in this case, our guide might have been Mother Earth. While driving, we decided it was time for a rest stop, and where did we land but at what must be the greenest rest stop ever.

The facility opened last fall and boasts a raft of energy-conserving devices (the news story contains a short video that tells more). A rain-conserving system provides most of the water for toilets and urinals, solar panels pre-heat water for washing up, even the high-up windows are designed to let in natural light so they don't have to burn electricity to light the place. At night, the inside lights are even set to go off if they don't detect motion for 15 minutes.

Even though I'm on the road, I like knowing what's going on in the news back home. So for Earth Day, I see that Environment Minister Jim Prentice is going to distribute free passes to students to encourage them to learn more about the beauty of nature. At first glance, this looked like a terrific initiative, but when I read the story and saw the park passes were going to Grade 8's, my cynical side kicked in. If he'd been serious about doing anything more than getting parents to take their families on holiday, he would have given the passes to Grade 12's -- for the most part, they can drive themselves and might actually get out on their own and see the world with new eyes.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Flying thoughts

Like the geese in one of my favourite children's books, Wild Geese Flying, I've flown south. My flight isn't a migration, but for a visit with my sister in North Carolina.

Yesterday was the annual Open House at the OWL refuge, a healing place for injured and orphaned birds. As you might guess from their name, many of the birds are owls. That's Sarah, the barn owl, smiling for the camera.

As part of the Open House celebrations, at 1 pm, they released an eagle they'd been nurturing. I wonder, what was his destination?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The pleasures of a rainy day

I like the quiet of a day like this. The rain's barely there, settling on everything, greening things up, making them grow.

No clatter of rain on the roof, just wet enough that everyone's staying inside. Nobody's outside making a racket: cutting their lawn, chainsawing some innocent shrubbery.

And not so much as a breath of wind.

The perfect day to move slowly, puttering.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

New heights for poetry?

Marion Quednau and I read today at Grouse Mountain. Our event was part of National Poetry Month celebrations, sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets.

Marion read several sections from her prize-winning poem, "Paradise, Later Years". The piece was co-winner of the Malahat Review's Long Poem Contest in 2009.

The theme for this year's Poetry Month is 'Climate Changes' (which always reminds of the not-inappropriate 'Shit Happens'). If you visit the Poetry Month site, you'll find lists of events and even a blog of daily postings of poems.

Marion discovered that because mountains are such fragile ecosystems (and because everything in the atmosphere goes up), scientists have come up with a climate-change term for mountains, "islands of extinction."

Considering how little snow was on these mountains only two months ago (remember how they had to use trucks and helicopters to bring in snow for the Olympics?), it was amazing to see how much snow is now on Grouse. And with the snow (and sunshine, hurrah!) came the skiers and snowboarders. They were everywhere!

Still, we managed to attract a small, but attentive crowd. And maybe, just maybe, we'll go to the same location for next year's celebration. With luck, the grizzlies might even be visible in their enclosure.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

How quickly we forget -- Steve Fonyo

Today's investiture of 43 persons into the Order of Canada reminded me of something I thought about during the recent Olympics -- the absence of Steve Fonyo as a participant in any of the ceremonies. Once upon a time, just like Terry Fox or Rick Hansen, he was good enough to be one of our heroes. But that was back when he was running across Canada on one leg and raising $13 million for cancer.

Only then, something happened. He screwed up. And more than once. But it seems to me he screwed up in some pretty human ways.

He fell for the lure of celebrity, got into bad drugs and too much booze, and got himself arrested more than once. He even did a bit of time. But, despite the superhuman feat he'd accomplished (running 7,924 km/4,924 miles across the country), his crimes were enough to have him divested of his Order of Canada.

As far as I can tell, only two other people have been stripped of this honour -- David Ahenakew and Alan Eagleson. Ahenekew lost his for making harshly anti-Semitic remarks, an action we've come to call hate crime. And anyone who watches hockey knows what Eagleson did to (and in the name of) the NHL.

The motto of the Order of Canada is 'They desire a better country.' As far as I can tell, Steve Fonyo hasn't done anything to indicate he doesn't still 'desire a better country.' He didn't try to get rich by stealing any of the millions he raised for cancer. He hasn’t insulted anyone for who they are. Fonyo hasn’t so much let his country down as Canada has let him down – by denying the value of what he did and reneging on the award he earned.

Freelancer Claude Adams has created an insightful radio documentary about Fonyo. Called "Journey to Normal", it was broadcast on CBC's 'The Current' on March 31st. If you click on this link, you can hear the whole show or just listen to the sections on Fonyo (part two and at the show's end).

Fonyo's story isn't a pretty one. But really -- if Terry Fox hadn't died of cancer, who's to say whether his life might not have had a few bumps too?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Playing around with Easter

It must be because a friend and I have started a game of Scrabble -- but whatever the cause, when I looked at the word 'Easter' I started seeing other words. Not all of them made sense, but I liked them anyway.

Breaking them apart helped, as with set era which made more sense than setera.

Anyway, just fooling around, I wrote a silly piece. And really, what else could I call it but "Easter Teaser".

reset a
seat re
a steer (who, steady)
as tree
ate res (taurant)

A terse
ear set
rat, see
re teas
for the stumbling bunnies
fumbling amongst the eggs.

As you can see, it fell apart. But it was fun fiddling with anagrams. I even found some good ones for my name. My faves? Oh, Ice Ridge or Icier God, Eh. But best of all the almost haiku-like, He Go, I Cried.

Silly fun on a lazy day. What does your name anagram into?

Friday, April 02, 2010

A better-than-Good Friday

Sleeping in always makes the day easier. A holiday, and best of all, one with no expectations. Although maybe the 'no expectations' part isn't quite true.

This is a day on which I long-ago agreed to always meet a friend for a rendez-vous in a certain park. Good Friday, an easy enough day to remember. Between 12 and 3, a safe enough window of time. And yet again yesterday, he bugged me (okay, reminded me) that I've never once made it there.

Still, this is a day of few expectations. It's a holiday when nobody expects a present or a big fancy dinner. A day for doing nothing more than enjoying life and maybe colouring a few eggs.

After looking at our pile of farm-fresh free-range eggs, I worry about the chicken who laid that gigantic one. I can only think there must be one hen hopping about the yard, clucking ouch, ouch, ouch.