Buzzing Mountain Ash Trees

The mountain ash trees in our front yard are blooming and the blossoms fill the air with thick perfume, and every evening there’s a layer of yellow pollen on our patio table’s glass! There are so many bees pollinating the blossoms out front that the trees were humming last night. I took a few 10-second recordings trying to capture the sound. Turn up your volume and you’ll hear a steady hum. That’s the bees!

You’ll also hear an attention-seeking robin in the background trying to steal the show with his melodic singing voice. And in one of the videos, a mourning dove chimes in. Her mother told her she can sing. (She can’t.)

Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.

Hal Borland

Big Knife in April

The Battle River Below

We had the opportunity to visit Big Knife Provincial Park last week for another hike, this time on the Highland Trail. During our previous visit, we hiked the Lowland Trail. Downloadable trail maps are available from the Alberta Parks website, if you’re interested.

Thanks to Wander Woman Travel Magazine (check out the publication – it’s excellent) for the following story about how Big Knife park got its name:

Big Knife Provincial Park is named after Big Knife Creek, which flows through the park. The park and the creek are in Blackfoot Nation territory. According to legend, a fight to the death happened near the creek. A Cree warrior named “Big Man” fought a Blackfoot warrior named “Knife.” The creek was thereafter known as Big Knife.

Debbie Olsen

Nothing like a fight-to-the-death story to keep us visiting our provincial parks, am I right? Another draw this particular visit were the bright yellow signs posted around the park and at every trailhead: Warning – Bear in the Area. “How relaxing!” I exclaimed. I didn’t. Instead, my husband and I held loud conversations when we’d remember. Occasionally, we’d lapse into comfortable silence as we walked along until we remembered that our silence could potentially startle a very large, faster-than-you’d-think, bear and end in one of our deaths. Probably mine as I have much shorter legs than my husband.

The Lowland Trail: Bear-less (for now) Path into the Woods
Hoodoo View

During our last visit during which we hiked the Lowland Trail, we found a narrow path leading up to this hoodoo. Against my better judgment, I stepped on its clay side at the base of the hoodoo where its incline just begins. The earth gave way as soon as all my weight was on it. Under the dry surface, the clay was wet and slick. I slid and fell down, clay all over my one shoe and covering my right pant leg. I didn’t get hurt, but my pride was a little bruised.

View From Above of the Big Knife Creek Valley
Another View of the Battle River

To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.

Terry Tempest Williams
The Hills Beyond the Park
I never thought to take a picture of the bear-warning sign, but this image is close.
One More View of the Battle River

I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.

E. B. White

Breathing Life Into Reading

A few weeks ago, I received an email through my website. It was from a school librarian in Fort Saskatchewan. She and a couple coworkers were planning a photo tour around Alberta as part of a literacy project. They would visit several communities during their school’s spring break in my area of the province, capturing images of “large” attractions and meeting authors along the way. Staff members of the French-immersion school, École Parc Élémentaire, made this incredible journey to spark a love of reading in their students through local sites and local stories.

École Parc Élémentaire staff members reading my books in front of Hughenden’s large brown-eyed Susan created by Ed Larson from a really big Bridgestone tire.

On Thursday, April 1st, the three of them – two teachers and the librarian – pulled into town in their white van and up to where I waited to greet them by the brown-eyed Susan situated on the edge of town. They presented me with a thank-you card and a water bottle featuring their school’s logo. I gave them some books and a coveted Village of Hughenden pin to attach to the literacy display that they would set up in École Parc.

When they left Hughenden, they were headed to the Drumheller area and had made reservations to stay overnight at the historic Rose Deer Hotel in the nearby village of Wayne where they would visit the Last Chance Saloon downstairs for supper and in hopes of spotting a ghost. They have updated me since and, while they enjoyed their stay and their supper, they reported their disappointment at not seeing an apparition there or anywhere during their trek.

They may not have seen a ghost, but these engaging École Parc Élémentaire staff members breathed life into the spirit of reading and, along the way, they made this east-central Alberta author’s day!

Prairie Sunsets with Pablo Neruda

For years, I believed Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) to be the soft, starry-eyed poet of the love struck. Of course he was, but this Nobel Prize in Literature (1971) recipient was so much more.

“He who becomes the slave of habit, who follows the same routes every day, who never changes pace, who does not risk and change the color of his clothes, who does not speak and does not experience, dies slowly.”

― Pablo Neruda

“Give me, for my life, all lives, give me all the pain of everyone, I’m going to turn it into hope.”

― Pablo Neruda

“Let’s try and avoid death in small doses, reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.”

— Pablo Neruda

“In one kiss, you’ll know all I haven’t said.”

— Pablo Neruda

“He who does not travel, who does not read, who does not listen to music, who does not find grace in himself, she who does not find grace in herself, dies slowly.”

― Pablo Neruda

“With which stars do they go on speaking, the rivers that never reach the sea?”

— Pablo Neruda

“He who has nothing — it has been said many times — has nothing to lose but his chains.”

— Pablo Neruda

“If nothing saves us from death, at least love should save us from life.”

— Pablo Neruda

“And that’s why I have to go back to so many places there to find myself and constantly examine myself with no witness but the moon and then whistle with joy, ambling over rocks and clods of earth, with no task but to live, with no family but the road.”

— Pablo Neruda

“It is not so much light that falls over the world extended by your body its suffocating snow, as brightness, pouring itself out of you, as if you were burning inside. Under your skin the moon is alive.”

— Pablo Neruda

“My soul is an empty carousel at sunset.”

— Pablo Neruda

“Do you not see that the apple tree flowers only to die in the apple?”

— Pablo Neruda

“Give me your hand out of the depths sown by your sorrows.”

— Pablo Neruda

“So I wait for you like a lonely house
till you will see me again and live in me.
Till then my windows ache.”

— Pablo Neruda

An Awfully Heavy Burden

Do you want to be right or do you want to be light? Throughout life and especially as we age, we need to decide if we’ll release the burden of the past and forgive or if we’ll keep carrying around our pain. Either way, it’s difficult. It’s hard to lug through life all our hurts and resentments that grow heavier with time. It’s challenging, too, to open our hearts, accept our pain, and to forgive and move on.

Listen to me read this post:

In a cardboard box downstairs in my house, the house that belonged to my grandmother, there’s a trove of cards and letters that my grandmother collected over the years. In that cardboard box, I found and read several warm and caring letters written in my mom’s graceful hand to her mother-in-law who openly could not stand this young woman married to her son. So consumed by her feelings toward my mother, Grandma expressed them to me, long after my mother was dead and gone.

My grandma chose the narrative that supported her resentment, those poisonous perceptions. No one forced her to sustain it. There is always a small payoff to carrying grudges and resentful attitudes: we get to feel we’re right, that we hold the truth and see situations as they actually are. It is a very small payoff compared to the repeated stabs of resentment we experience each time we review our treasured memories of slights and insults, real or imagined.

The Gift We Give Ourselves

Feeling justified often keeps us from forgiving. We tell ourselves, “They don’t deserve my forgiveness.” We hold our anger close so that it scorches us, but instead of dropping that hot coal, we clench our fists and hold our hate tightly. We clutch our memories of situations that hurt us but now are over. Why don’t we let go of our suffering? Perhaps we feel that we shouldn’t give up our view of being right, of being the victim in all this. Our resentment and the stories surrounding it are part of our identity. Sometimes, we become our pain. If we didn’t hurt anymore, who would we be?

That’s why forgiveness is not for the other but only for us. It’s the forgiver who changes, not the forgiven. The forgiven don’t even have to know they been forgiven for forgiveness to work. Heck, they’ve probably forgotten all about us. They’re too wrapped up in their own stories, just like we are.

To forgive means to take control of our own minds and of our own lives. This isn’t easy, either. But as long as we judge ourselves and blame others, these negative feelings are in charge. The more we forgive the more power we have over our lives. Counterintuitively, the more we release, the more we gain.  There is strength in forgiveness, more than in bearing a grudge and holding close our old hurts.

It seems strange to me that forgiving is often interpreted as weakness. If you’ve tried it, you know it takes much more determination to forgive than to hate. We can slide into resentment like slipping down a hillside, slick with mud. Forgiving is like climbing that same hill while the rain is still coming down.

A Path to Peace

There’s no way around it that I’ve found. There can be no personal peace without forgiveness. That’s too bad because not only is forgiving one of the most difficult things we do, it’s also never ending. We will never forgive one final time, wash our hands and say, “Well, I’m glad that’s done” as if we’ve just finished painting a room or cleaning the garage.

As Martin Luther King Junior said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude.” And he would know.

Forgiveness is an ongoing, high-maintenance project. The moment we’ve successfully let go of one hurt, another one pops up to take its place.

Yes, forgiveness is a lifetime’s worth of work, but it may be the most worthwhile work we choose to do. In the end, it’s up to each one of us to decide if we will carry our heavy burden into old age or if we’ll lay it gently down and continue along a path to peace.

Of course, it’s too late for my grandma to feel the soothing balm of forgiveness. But it’s not too late for me to remember her painful and heavy burden, and to use her story to encourage myself to undertake the lifelong and urgent work of forgiveness.  

Abandoned Around Here – A Photo Blog

When looking for photos to post to the historical society Twitter account I manage, I realized that I have quite a trove of photos from abandoned homesteads and building sites in the area. Here are some of the best close-to-home shots from over recent years. These were all taken at the same abandoned farmstead. Wherever you are, take time to enjoy the view. – Lori

The view through the farmhouse window
The cupboard is bare.

“It was a mistake to think of houses, old houses, as being empty. They were filled with memories, with the faded echoes of voices. Drops of tears, drops of blood, the ring of laughter, the edge of tempers that had ebbed and flowed between the walls, into the walls, over the years.

Wasn’t it, after all, a kind of life?

And there were houses, he knew it, that breathed. They carried in their wood and stone, their brick and mortar a kind of ego that was nearly, very nearly, human.”

― Nora Roberts, Key of Knowledge

The same barn from a distance.

“Give me an old house full of memories and I will give you hundred novels!”

― Mehmet Murat Ildan

Historic Preservation Quote | Renovation Quotes

“The reality is that old houses that were built a hundred years ago were built by actual craftsmen, people who were the best in the world at what they did. The little nuances in the woodwork, the framing of the doors, the built-in nooks, the windows—all had been done by smart, talented people, and I quickly found that uncovering those details and all of that character made the house more inviting and more attractive and more alive.”

― Joanna Gaines, The Magnolia Story

Treacherous Skate, Frosty Walk

Yesterday morning I dug out my old skates and walked down to the outdoor rink that the local fire department created in December. It’s situated by the local arena which lately, due to Covid-19 restrictions, has been closed. People skate on this oval all the time, but this was my first visit to the newest attraction in the village.

When I arrived at the ice rink, one of the volunteer firefighters was just finishing adding some water to the ice surface to remove the thick frost left there by the rain we’d received a day or two before. He’d made a wide, wet ring around the outside edge of the oval, but the centre was still thick with a combination of frozen rain and sleet. The firefighter had run out of water to apply to the ice so he drove off on his quad, hauling a little trailer behind, and I laced up my skates.

Prior to this attempt, I hadn’t skated for about seven years. As I stepped onto the ice, I made a realization: wet ice is extremely slippery. I took a few tentative steps and began staggering around like a newborn giraffe, my arms flailing in tight circles as I tried to gain some balance. Then, as I rounded the oval I discovered what I couldn’t detect from just looking at the ice rink. It has a definite downhill slope and suddenly, I was on that decline and picking up speed fast on the wet surface. With my knees locked in terror and my arms spread for balance, I made a frantic plan to leap into the snowbank I was headed for. But, even as I planned my desperate escape, my skate blades obeyed my feet and followed the curve of the wet ice oval. Here, the ice was level and I slowed to nearly a stop.

Heart pounding, I stepped off the wet outer oval and onto the frosty centre where I staggered about until the firefighter returned on his quad with a full canister of water on his trailer. By the time he returned, I was regaining a small slice of my lost skating ability. Still, I was happy to head to the bench, swap my skates for boots, and let him finish resurfacing the ice.

After my short, sweaty skate (sweaty from fear and the exertion it took to keep upright), I dropped my skates off at home and went for a walk. The sun was bright and the trees were adorned with frost. There were large ice crystals embedded in the frost and floating through the air, glinting as the morning sun kissed them.

The ice crystals are quite visible on this glittering tree.
The road I walk north of the village.

Thanks for dropping by to spend some time with me today. Take care. ~ Lori

Stories

Hello there. Thanks for dropping by. I’ve re-posted this story for two years in a row now, but it’s one I really like, all about family history and the stories we tell to create our identity. These stories give us a place to belong and connect us to the past, as well as explaining some of our eccentricities and little habits. I wish for you a peaceful holiday season and the warm feeling of connection despite the strangely disconnected time in which we live. Take care and stay safe. ~ Lori

When she was a child, my grandmother received a locket as a baptism gift. That was in Calumet, Michigan. The family later moved to Hughenden. Then in 1931, my great uncle Elmer died from a ruptured appendix when he was sixteen and my grandma was twenty.

By her younger brother’s graveside in the Hughenden cemetery, my grandma lost that precious locket that she’d owned most all her life. That’s how it goes sometimes. Years later, in 1944, her father, my great grandfather, died. He was buried near his son Elmer, and as that grave was being prepared, the locket bearing my grandma’s initials was dug up.

Listen to me read this post:

Life is comprised of stories. My life is stories and your life is stories. These are scenarios that happened, that might happen, and that are happening right now. I love stories, but hearing the tales of the old folks who came before me leaves me feeling two different ways.

The first feeling is warm and sentimental. The old stories make me feel connected to the people whose blood flows in my veins. I treasure that connection, like time as a railroad track joining our stations along the way.

The second feeling is the stark realization that someday all that will be left of me is stories. And then, after a while, even the most colourful Lori stories will fade into time and eventually disappear. It’s true.

Petersons (2)
Another photo and there’s that locket again.

I like the story of my Grandma Knutson and her newborn baby, Jeannette, on their way home from the hospital following a March snowstorm. When the cutter tipped over in the deep banks, both new mother and new baby were pitched into a snowdrift. Good thing they were bundled up and that babies are typically a bit bouncy.

If you know me, you know I love ghost stories! Sadly, I’ve lost some of the belief in their plausibility. It’s too bad because the possibility of truth made those old stories especially thrilling. In this case, the truth doesn’t matter. I like hearing ghost stories and I like telling ghost stories.

Back in the day Grandma would tell me about the house she and Grandpa lived in on the edge of Hughenden Lake when they were first married.

She’d tell it like this: “Often, late at night, the door at the top of the stairs would slam shut really hard. At first this was terrifying, but after a while, we got used to it. We were startled, but we weren’t scared.”

Even so, my grandparents didn’t live in that house for long.

Grandma and Grandpa
Grandma and Grandpa looking snazzie!

All the people involved in those stories are gone. The house, long since moved from the lake shore into the village, stands here in town today. I wonder if the door at the top of the stairs slams hard enough to shake the walls. Does that particular draft, uneven foundation, or angry spirit still haunt the place?

People come and go from houses. We bring stories, we make more, and then we move on.

I always tell the story of Erwin Knutson, my dad’s uncle who was found dead in an abandoned vehicle outside of Wetaskiwin. It was December, 1957. The body had no identification on it, no wallet, and no money. But there was a slip of paper in one of the jacket pockets that read: Erwin Knutson, Hughenden.

My dad told me about him being fourteen years old and traveling to the Hughenden cemetery with his dad, the deceased’s brother, to deliver the rough box used to shore up the interior of that wintry grave.

I held on to that story and it became my novel, Denby Jullsen, Hughenden.

I’m grateful for the stories that connect me to my past and to my ancestors. I’m also thankful for the stories I’m living now, and for the good ones I imagine might happen.

My wish for you is that you remember and share your stories. I hope you’ll make new ones to tell again and again down through the years because, in the end, the stories are all we’ve got.

The Spread of Information

I love local newspapers and I’m discouraged that this form of media is dying out. Newspapers have always been a part of my writing life. Perhaps that’s why I understand the important role they play in keeping us connected and in giving us common information based on facts and research. Newspapers held us together and still have that power in a media scape that seems bound to drive us apart.

Listen to me read this post:

When I was in high school I ran for the position of press correspondent on student council. The job entailed writing and submitting pieces to the local paper about what was happening in our school community. The day of the school council election, I had work experience in the morning at the veterinarian clinic out on the highway on the southwest end of town, a long way from our school which was located in the northeast. Although I had access to my parents’ car and knew that student council elections took place at noon hour following my work experience class, I chose for some reason to ride my bicycle that day.

After inaccurately filing files and generally making more work for my supervisor, I hopped on my bike, and headed down the highway. Halfway to my destination and with little time to spare, my bicycle chain broke. Seriously. So I leapt off my bike and pushed it, half-running, half-walking, up the hill to the school.

When I arrived sweaty and flustered, it was already lunchtime. Students were assembled in the gym waiting to hear the school council candidates’ speeches. Also there was the student running against me for the position of press correspondent. My opponent was an older student, someone I respected and whom I knew to be more popular and a bit smarter than me. He spoke first, giving me a chance to catch my breath. His words were measured, and he was both articulate and amiable. He would have made a fine press correspondent.

After he’d wrapped up his succinct address, I stood up at the front. Someone commented loudly that they couldn’t see me and someone else brought me a chair to stand on. The crowd twittered and I knew right then that they could be receptive to my broken-bike-chain story. My heart was pounding as from atop the chair, I told them about dragging my bike up the hill to be with them, here in this very gymnasium, in a sincere bid to be their next press correspondent. I made them laugh. In social situations and in trying to gain acceptance, humour has often been my default. Sometimes this strategy is successful and, in this case, it was.

In the days of my youth, the local paper for a community of 2000 residents served as a connection. We all read it and all of us formed opinions, but we all started out with the same information. We found out who was mayor, who won the hockey game, who was born, and who had died. Residents researched employment opportunities and what was on sale in the local stores. Local radio played the same role and played the same darn songs over and over. But at least we all knew those songs. We shared the same references and a common cultural context.

I enjoyed writing for the newspaper so, in later years, I became a weekly columnist for the newspaper in Grande Prairie, The Daily Herald Tribune. I contributed to that newspaper and other publications until I began a full-time teaching job. My energy and headspace was mostly consumed by that work, and I gave up the weekly column. But soon I began submitting school news, local happenings, and personal narrative pieces to a regional newspaper. Now, semi-retired and with more time to write, I still submit work to newspapers.

Boring facts, the kind found in local newspapers, are what bind us. They’re what give us common ground and root us in a shared perspective. It’s not titillating to discover what bylaws have been passed, who celebrated a 60th wedding anniversary, and which grade won the pumpkin decorating contest. Real information isn’t always real riveting. Mundane facts don’t usually make our blood boil or make us feel righteous or indignant. There is no adrenaline rush to be gained from finding out what time the farmers’ market is and where to get your annual flu shot, but local information is valuable.

Speculation and gossip are tastier than dull facts, and there are many sources for those these days, many ways to effectively disconnect us from our family and neighbours. To hold us together, we need local information, facts and numbers, to keep us informed and to keep us connected. We need information without emotion and without spin.

How can we encourage the spread of information? Support local news sources and local journalism. Still have a print newspaper? Advertise in it. Submit news items to it. Subscribe to it. This way, you’ll find out what’s happening in your schools, in your municipal government, in your hospitals, and with your sports teams and volunteer organizations. Is print news already dead where you live? Resurrect it by creating your own one-page newsletter about community happenings. Got time on your hands and some technical savvy? Consider compiling a website that covers local news on a weekly basis.

Gossip and opinions are exciting, but it’s newspapers and other reliable news sources that have the potential to bring us together. The spread of information benefits us all.

Thanks for reading. Take care and stay safe wherever you are. ~ Lori

Winter Wonderland – A Photo Blog

I realize that in some places the season is still autumn, late autumn, but fall nonetheless. Here in east-central Alberta, we are deep into winter. Looking for inspiration, I sifted through my photos to find a few that describe the best parts of winter around here. Then I searched for quotes to give our hearts a lift as we move into what promises to be a long winter following a difficult year. Take care and keep warm. ~ Lori

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire; it is the time for home.”

– Edith Sitwell

“Snow was falling,

so much like stars

filling the dark trees

that one could easily imagine

its reason for being was nothing more

than prettiness.”

– Mary Oliver
A Roadway Through Frosty Trees

“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.”

-Carl Reiner
Food For the Birds
I’ve Seen Better Days
A Single Barb

“Thank goodness for the first snow, it was a reminder–no matter how old you became and how much you’d seen, things could still be new if you were willing to believe they still mattered.”

-Candace Bushnell
Frosty Field Just Outside of Town
Winter View Across a Field in Mid-Afternoon

“To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake it is necessary

to stand out in the cold.”

– Aristotle
Snow-Covered Road Into a Pasture
Frosty Tree On Muted Blue

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”

– Lewis Carroll
Along the Road
Reaching For Heaven

“Kindness is like snow. It beautifies everything it covers.”

-Kahlil Gibran
Winter Blue
Rabbit Tracks

“My favourite outdoor activity is going back inside.”

– Unknown
At Sunset
Me, All Bundled Up
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