Wonderscape 2017

It’s drizzly and cold when we stop the car on the side of the road on our way to Wonderscape. Belén sprints across the highway, towards the bushes in the ditch, and I open the trunk to get the pruning shears. I’ve been worrying about the table centrepieces for months. Stories? I can tell them. Contracting artists? No problem. Booking a venue? Done. But centrepieces, oh the centrepieces, how I dread tackling this overwhelming problem. And so, I leave it for the very last minute. Until I am on the road, centrepiece-less, driving to the retreat I am about to facilitate. Which is when we see them waiting for us, perfect branches with leaves turning from papaya-orange to apple-red. I cut them down and stuff them into our car. Tell me, what else should I have done?*

It turns out my mom is the oldest person attending the retreat and my daughter Belén, the youngest. Last year, the first time I tried organizing a Wonderscape retreat, Belén begged to join us. “Please,” she said. “I’ll eat the crumbs that fall from your table,” she said. “You won’t notice me, I promise,” she said. Her pleas didn’t work then because I was too nervous and preoccupied, but this year I am more relaxed. She and her friend Ainsly don’t eat the crumbs off our table but they do sketch, read, collage, run, walk, write, and paint feverishly all weekend. I admit, I lowered the registration age to 13 just for them. Tell me, what else should I have done?

Lesley stokes the fire and lights the candles and I call everyone to gather for our first session. I’ve been looking forward to introducing the artists I’ve hired for a long time. Each one fascinates, impresses and inspires me and I can’t wait to present them to the group. But even more interesting is hearing everyone else introduce themselves. I want to know: Why are you here? Where are you from? How did you find out about this? What gifts are you bringing? I know there are painters, poets, story-tellers, community-builders, movers-and-shakers, photographers, potters, knitters, bee-keepers, musicians and more. It takes time for all 33 people to introduce themselves and I have to strike other things off my agenda to make room for it. Tell me, what else should I have done?

Chef Mariana Brito intructing a culinary workshop

Daisy – mixed media workshop instructor

On Saturday morning I wake up at 5 am. My mind is racing as I envision how the day will unfold. By 6 am I’m dressed and slip out of my room to the lounge. The fire is out and the coals are black. I slide past the books in our weekend library with a longing glance. So many good books, so little time. I head downstairs, past the gallery with Kate’s poetry, paintings and tee-shirts. I am almost past the “giving tree”–where we left offerings to encourage our fellow makers–when I stop to stare at the bounty. Between us all we have so much wealth to share.

I push out the doors and head to the beach to scope out a route for my Hike n’ Write workshop. Soon I am following a path that lines sloughs and field on one side, and the lake on the other. At the end of my walk I see the lights are on in the old church where Kate and Daisy are busy working. They show me the canvases textured with drywall mud and tell me about the next step of the process. How they’ll cover the mud with black paint, and how it’s a metaphor for grief and pain. How sponging off most of the dark paint transforms the painting into something deeper, like a relief map. How loss and sadness lessen but continue to shape our story. How adding paint to the contours gives us joy. I think of their own story of grief–losing a husband and father in a tragic accident–and others here who have lost their own husbands and dads. I wipe my eyes with my fleece gloves. I cannot speak. Tell me, what else should I have done?

When I first thought about planning a retreat such as this one, I expected I would literally “retreat”. I envisioned myself doing whatever I wanted and my schedule would look something like this: Walk, write, eat. Paddle, write, eat. Repeat. Of course, this is not what happens. I am realizing that my creative project is designing and executing the experience itself. I take pictures of Krista playing the ukulele while “Stand by Me” and laughter surround her. I catch snippets of conversations. About organizing Lawn Artz and harvesting sea buck-thorn berries, about publishing poetry and illustrating children’s books, about connecting first nations people from different continents and travelling abroad. I have no time for making anything except this thing that is happening right now. Tell me, what else should I have done?

Hike n’ Write

wonderscape 051

Shannon Shakotko leading the vocal/ukulele workhsop

After a farm-to-table dinner we listen to Sweet Saturday begin their set with a Civil Wars cover. Their harmonies are perfectly-fitted puzzle pieces, they pause at all the right moments and I know it’s going to be a good night. At one point they perform an original tune they’d never rehearsed before–they want to show us how their creative process works instead of tell us about it. One plays the mandolin, the others focus on each other and try to find their harmonies. They stop, start and try again, laying bare the raw process of collaboration. When their concert is over we ask for an encore. Then another. The band glances at me for direction. One of the them laughs about not having any songs left. I hold up my index finger. We want more, I mouth. When they hesitate I announce, “I have 35 women to back me up.” Tell me, what else should I have done?

Sweet Saturday

Before our final meal on Sunday I tell the story of Babette’s Feast, the tale of the French refugee who flees to Norway to work for two spinster sisters. When the maid, Babette, wins the lottery she spends the entire sum on a decadent French feast for the sisters and their friends. She uses every cent to prepare a single meal, holding nothing back; no wine is too expensive, no delicacy out of reach for Babette. She is an artist, compelled to share her gift, if only for her own sake.

I have the notes from the story in my hand, but I hold them to my chest the whole time. I have no need for them. I almost forget I am in the room with the other woman and can nearly feel the snowflakes falling in the fjords of Norway. I take my time, savouring each image, and fall deeper into the story. When I feel the peak of the narrative coming, like a wave swelling in the distance, I begin to tremble. I catch Shannon’s eye. Even though she’s probably read this story a hundred times her eyes are shinning and I can tell it’s carrying her too. When I interrupt myself to explain the pause she keeps nodding and speaks for the rest of the audience, “I know… I know… I know…” Suddenly I can’t coax my voice out of my throat and there are tears in its place. Tell me, what else should I have done?

At the very end, just before we read the artist blessing I wrote for the group, I disclose that I cannot untangle my creativity from my spirituality. I explain that I am swept away by the story of Jesus and redemption and that it’s impossible for me to contain all the abundance of the Creator. I tell them that the more I write, the more ideas I get; the more I use and give away, the more inspiration floods and fills the cracks. I bear witness to my source of ideas, dreams, visions and seeds. Even so, when I hand out the words for the blessing I tell them to interpret it according to their own sensibilities and worldviews. Tell me, what else should I have done?

I write cheques out to artists, pay for the venue rental and mentally calculate what is left over. I haven’t tallied the hours spent making Facebook posts, researching locations, processing registrations, collecting materials and programming. It might be too discouraging and it’s clear that if I wanted to follow common sense I wouldn’t be blogging about Wonderscape right now. I wouldn’t have stayed up in the middle of the night, proposing the idea to friends a couple years ago. I wouldn’t have paid attention to a whim that would grow into a place where strangers gather from hundreds of kilometres away. But tell me… What else should I have done?

*If you know Mary Oliver, you’ll recognize the line from her poem “Summer Day” repeated throughout this post. I used the poem as a primer in the Hike n’ Write workshop and it seemed like it wanted to get in on this piece too.

**Follow Wonderscape Retreats on Facebook to see more pictures and updates on upcoming events.

**A huge thank you to the Saskatchewan Arts Board and Sask Culture for supporting Wonderscape 2017!

Advertisements

Forgotten Things: Our family canoe trip on the Churchill

Evan in front of Robertson Falls (Photo credit: Kevin or Carol Kohlert)

After paddling three kilometres from the boat launch in Missinipe I remember that I left our first night’s supper back in the van. Days earlier I had cut up chunks of pork, frozen them in a marinade and was intending to skewer them with veggies for the freshest–and most bulky–meal on our menu. (We dehydrated the rest of our meals ahead of time.) Instead, we split the following day’s lunch in half. Before eating our shishkabob-less supper we go swimming to wash off our paddling sweat. Everyone throws on their swimsuits except for Vivi, because she doesn’t have one. Her missing swimsuit is one more thing I had forgotten to pack and for the rest of the week she lounges bare-bummed on the bald granite. The next morning the sun rises and our tent is as bright as a glow-bowling ball. I roll my black toque down over my eyes to block out the 5 am sun. When I rally enough to get dressed I discover my third mistake. I cannot find my underwear. I pull out each counted and precious item from our dry bags and realize I had forgotten ALL my panties in a neat pile on my couch. Which is approximately 800 km due south. I have, of course, the pair I am wearing and I continue to wear it, wash it and roast it over the fire to dry, for the next seven days.

Launching! Everything we need for 7 days (minus the parents)

Strangely, these forgotten things don’t matter as much as I think. We catch plenty of walleye and end the trip with surplus food in in our plastic five-gallon buckets. We swim off private sites where it doesn’t matter who wears what, if anything at all. We wash our clothes almost daily. The details that seem terribly important in other contexts are almost inconsequential here. On the other hand, other things becomes paramount: finding a good potty spot to bury poop and toilet paper, picking up bannock crumbs to keep bears away, monitoring the wind (and celebrating the lack of it), and becoming adept at sealing 5 sleeping bags into a 55 litre dry bag.

Vivian definitely notices the change in priorities and ambiance. Although she seems happy enough with her lot in life, staying out of waterfalls and campfires, she has bouts of homesickness. While she doesn’t complain about the dearth of toys she expresses her disorientation daily. On the last morning she stands at the edge of our island campsite and asks again, “Mommy, where’s the road home?”

I listen to her three-year-old voice pitched against the sound of roaring rapids and tell her, “You’re looking at it, girl!”

The edge of the waterway we are standing on is part of the Churchill River System and has been used for centuries as a highway for First Nations, voyageurs, and now, recreational enthusiasts. Die-hard paddling addicts say it is one of the premier paddling places in the world, and our driver Heidi, who picks us up at the end of the trip, claims she would need more than 3 lifetimes to fully explore it.

Heidi, a guide with Churchill River Canoe Outfitters who has paddled for at least 30 years, has a tanned face and her strawberry-blond braid is interwoven with silver. While she shuttles us back to our vehicle I lean forward in my seat to learn all I can from this formidable woman. She tells us about raising her kids in a boat (solo tripping with a toddler and infant in the backcountry), dealing with bears (“I’ve never had any problems except for that one time in the NWT when a grizzly totally destroyed our canoe.”) and quick-dry underwear (which is of particular interest to me). When we ask about the risks of whitewater and for extra tips she is helpful and informative. At the end of our conversation she adds succinctly, “But, you know, if I’m always thinking about the risks I’d never leave my own living room.”

We meet other paddlers who have come to the same conclusion as Heidi and it’s clear that the northern waters are in their blood. They are smitten by this land–where life can be harsh and the margin for error slim–and its bounty. A place of unlikely generosity where spongy, soft moss grows a foot deep on hard granite, where fish hooks thrown into the foot of raucous falls pull out perfect walleyes, where reindeer lichen grow a few millimetres each year into edible sculptures more delicate than an artist’s dream, where saskatoons, blueberries, raspberries and bearberry provide a buffet for the forager, where pelicans and eagles criss-cross the sky, and where even the hum of mosquitoes rings with abundance.

Although we’ve canoe tripped in other places and provinces this is the farthest north we’ve paddled and it feels like we are on the brink of something new. We buy a thick book called Canoeing the Churchill at the outfitters office before we leave. At the same time we re-calibrate to our regular ways out of the bush. We change into clean clothes. Toilets become important again. We look in the mirror in gas station restrooms and rake our hands through our hair. We check the clock, count hours, and estimate a midnight arrival back home. Priorities change. Life on land with engines, schedules, and infrastructure dictates a rigour altogether different than the water and paddle. Still, we pass the canoeing guide around our rented 15-passenger van and read snippets aloud of legends, voyageurs and possible routes for next summer. We’ve had a small taste and are hungry for more of the wide river, where loons cry as if they know about our forgotten things, mourning as if everything matters.

P1020655

Photo credit: Kevin/Carol Kohlert

Bare-bones of the Trip

Put-in: Missinipi (5 hours north of Saskatoon, SK)

Take-out: Stanley Mission, SK

Total days on water: 7

Longest paddle day: 19 km

Number of boats: 4

Number of adults: 4

Number of children: 5 (ages 12, 10, 9 and 3)

Portages: 2

Number of days to pack/dehydrate food/gather gear: 3

Number of days to unload and clean up: 1

Supper meals: hot dogs, potatoes and veggies in tinfoil packets, tortilla soup (dehydrated powder base, cheese, sour cream and corn chips), fried fish, bannock, scalloped potatoes (from a box), dehydrated ground beef and gravy, dehydrated frozen veggies, mac n’ cheese, pizza (on naan bread), chili with dehydrated beef, popcorn, apple/berry crisp (dehydrated ingredients)

Breakfast Menu: porridge, dried fruit, pancakes, dehydrated sausage, refried beans, bannock, granola bars, nuts

All Business

Disclosure: The following post includes a recipe, an advertisement, a book recommendation, and more propaganda…

Nathanael crouches and drops bean seeds into the trench I made with my hoe. Vivian is there beside him and throws her handful into a pile and begins to cover them up, all lumped together. When I protest, Nathanael squints up at me and stares.

“Why are you wearing that?” He is looking at the huge hat I just put on to cover my huge head. “Are you a farmer?”

I straighten up and throw my shoulders back. I am pleased with this four-year-old’s question. “Yes,” I say, spreading my arms to point to the  budding raspberries, quivering garlic stalks, blooming cherry and plum, trailing strawberries and spiking asparagus. “This is my farm.”

Nathaneal isn’t convinced. “You can’t be a farmer because you don’t have a barn,” he concludes. I agree with him partly–barns and outbuildings are very useful things for farmers to have, and then we keep working.

After we finish planting the beans he helps me unload a few wheelbarrow loads of mulch and waters the emerging snap peas.  By the time his older brother gets off the bus he’s changed his mind about my title. Still holding the watering can, he waves it at his brother and shouts, “Look Josiah, she’s a farmer!”

Right now we’re harvesting asparagus, green onions, rhubarb, and dandelion roots on our “farm”. It is a pleasant sort of vindication to pull foot-long roots out of the earth, knowing they will become a smooth part of my spring morning ritual. Turning them into coffee is the best way to up-cycle these medicinal plants in my opinion. (And believe me, I’ve tried all manner of recipes.) In fact, if I was inclined to market goods I might actually sell this stuff, but instead I’ll try to sell you on this retreat…

There are a few spots left and early bird pricing lasts until next week. Come be a part of it! Watch this short interview on CTV News to get a better idea of what it’s about. (I come on at 13:25 minutes.)

This book.

Image result for annie dillard the writing life

I  have 3 hours to myself every week when Vivi goes to daycare. During these mornings alone I only do Very Important Things, which usually means walking, praying, and writing. Last week I used 30 precious minutes to copy passages from Annie Dillard’s book. Here is one of my favourites:

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

And finally, one last advertisement.

No automatic alt text available.No automatic alt text available.

My nieces and nephews have started their own business, Three Huggers, creating sustainable beeswax wraps with the help of their parents. I love wrapping my children’s sandwiches in them; their fabric designs almost transform lunch prep into a festivity instead of a mad rush to throw some ham between two slices of bread. Here’s their FB page and Etsy account where you can flood them with orders 🙂

Have a wonderful weekend ahead!

Last wkd was mostly all backbreaking work except for Sunday afternoon, which was mostly all about water, fresh fish, fire, and friends.

PS. If you haven’t been getting notified when I post (and you’ve signed up for email notification) try entering your email address again. If that doesn’t work, leave a comment and let me know!

Snow Day Crumbs

While vacuuming the last crumbs of Snow Day, I wasn’t sure it was worth it. I wasn’t convinced all the planning, hauling, setting up, and then cleaning up, was something I would ever want to do again. When my sister called to ask me how it went, I answered, “It was a lot of work.” Because it was. Now, a few weeks later, I still remember gripping the bottom of our heavy burgundy couch while maneuvering it into the clubhouse (Stan helped me move our living room furniture because I wanted a cozy atmosphere) but I also remember other moments. And these are the images that remind my why I wanted to do it in the first place…

*

“We can’t come out fo the retreat but we can help you get ready for it,” Sheena offers in her easy Jamaican accent. I haven’t known Sheena and her family for long and, even though I feel a tiny bit bad accepting their help, I am grateful. When they get to the clubhouse the night before the retreat I hand her a pile of neatly folded saris and she understands intuitively what I envision. “It will be a swoopy, airy effect,” she says while gesturing where they should hang. Meanwhile her husband Mark climbs a step ladder and starts discussing with my daughter what colour of sari they should start with.

My other friend Rebecca has come too, along with Stan, Belén and Susanna. Rebecca strings lights, moves tables and chairs, prepares a coffee station and lays drop cloths with the girls. Stan cuts wood for ice-lantern stands, throws down sand on the icy walkway and reaches the heating vent near the ceiling (when no one else can) to attach the last of the filmy fabric. Three hours later the space is transformed into an arts studio. I am the last to leave and all I can think about is how I love being surprised by the goodness in people. I hadn’t asked anyone to come tonight to help and yet I am not sure what I would’ve done without them. I turn off the lights and wait for tomorrow.

*

Dion comes into the clubhouse with his computer and, after a rushed hello, he  chooses his spot in the far corner of the room next to a large window. He opens his laptop and before I start with the welcome or any introductions he is already typing. Laura too, is busy, and so is Crystal. Each of them have claimed a window of their own and they’re set up with a view of snow, sky, spruce, and naked trees. Pens scratch paper. Fingers fly over keyboards. Vague ideas are shaped, carved, and trimmed by letters and words until they are almost real enough to touch.

*

People trail through the buffet, a few at a time, filling their bowls with hot soup. There is no designated lunch-break as I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the day. In any other room full of friends, acquaintances, and strangers, I’d feel obliged to make the rounds and be social, but today is different. I wear my Silence is Golden sticker on my chest, like a few others, and bring spoonfuls of lemony lentil soup to my mouth while I devour Mary Oliver’s poems at the same time. Her book Owls and Other Fantasies is propped in front of me and I linger over lines like “I think this is the prettiest world–so long as you don’t mind a little dying” from her poem The Kingfisher. The entire book is about birds, and it’s odd that I’m so enchanted with it, given the fact I’ve never been a birder or even pretended to be, but her poems make me want to sit by a saltwater marsh forever to see what she sees. I copy The Kingfisher into my notebook before the last of my broth is finished. Perhaps if I recite her words while I write them down some of their elegance will infuse itself into my own vocabulary.

*

Anne is here because, as she said during the introductions, she “wants to help people get outside and on the ski trails”. She outfits a group of mothers, daughters, cousins, and friends with skis, poles and boots. It is time to break away from the writing, the sketching, the studying and the reading. It’s time to breath a little fresh air. And laugh.

*

The sun shifts in the sky and so does the atmosphere inside the clubhouse.  People clean up their paints, wood, leather, fabric, yarn, books, computers and paper. Tables are pushed together, covered with cloths, and candles are lit. Adam pulls the lids off of his art, which is our dinner. Greek Chicken. Rice Pilaf. Mediterranean Salad. Roasted Vegetables. While we savour the food I ask participants to share about their day. People are brave, funny and honest. One woman reads from her memoir-in-the-making about her journey with anxiety; another explains how she is using up plastic grocery bags to make sleeping mats for homeless people. Twila talks about painting with her hands and how it’s like eating Indian cuisine that tastes better when you can touch the food. She also speaks about being absorbed in the process and truly listening to her work and the Spirit while she creates. I smile and nod and try to remember the words she is using to describe her experience.

*

And this: fiddle music, harmonies, and acoustic guitar…

Thank you Wool Tree Grove, fiddlers, and dancers!

dscn3124_ dscn3121_dscn3125_

*

Find out more about Wonderscape Retreats here.

Print saskculture_colour

Snow Day by Wonderscape Retreats was sponsored in part by Artists in Communities, a joint initiative of the Saskatchewan Arts Board and SaskCulture Inc., and is supported by funding provided by the Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation

Why I Care About a Mouse Tail

The moon is a small sliver and the sky is overcast tonight. Stan is trying to back our small Saturn, and trailer, down a narrow alley that borders a park at the edge of the city. The trailer hitch is short so it’s incredibly hard to back up at the best of times, never-mind doing it in pitch darkness with soft snow ready to swallow the tires. He gets stuck so I get in the driver seat while he pushes. Then we try again; I call out directions while he maneuvers the trailer back towards the fresh snow. (This is the second night of shoveling so we’ve already cleaned off the stuff that is easy to access.) Finally we make it to our destination and I start pushing up piles with the snow scoop while Stan hefts it into the trailer.

I notice a home owner peek his head out of his garage to find out what the commotion is about. He stares for awhile and then retreats and I wonder if he will tell his wife about the crazy people shoveling snow off public land. I also wonder if we actually are a tiny bit crazy.

Sweat starts to trickle down my back–under my tank-top, tee-shirt, sweatshirt and winter parka. I can hear Stan grunting while he heaves snow at his usual frenzied pace. “I wonder,” I call through my scarf that is frozen stiff, “if we’ll be nostalgic about this when we are in the old folks home. Can you imagine sitting around and talking about the days when we used to steal snow for sculpting?”

When the trailer is piled high we lumber down the block-and-a-half to our front yard and half-empty wooden box. About 3 loads later, it’s finally full to the top and ready to sit for a few days while we wait for the snow particles to bond.

About a week later, after Stan has taken the wood form apart and finished 95% of the carving, we spend a couple evenings taking care of the last details. He’s working on the mouse’s nose and teeth and I’m on a step ladder, shaping the feet.  It’s dark and quiet enough to hear the scraping sounds our tools make against the snow. “Just so you know,” I tell my husband, “I would never be doing this if I hadn’t married you.” I’m not unhappy, or even complaining about the -30 temps, I’m just stating the obvious. How marriage affects us in ways we never would have known when standing at the altar. The next night this truth becomes even more apparent.

We’re laying in bed, and just before falling asleep Stan comments, “I think the tail is too wide for the body. It would look less reptilian if we narrowed it.” I agree and roll over. Hours later, in the middle of the night, I awake for no reason. I toss and turn and think about all kinds of stuff, including the mouse’s tail. Suddenly it’s all I can think about: how I’ll need to get the saw out in the morning and shave off the sides, how the mouse’s hind legs are curved, and how the buttocks should partly cover the tail. And then I think, why on earth do I care about a mouse’s butt at stinkin’ four o’clock in the morning?

But I do care. I care because we’ve invested so much time in it already. Because snow is a beautiful thing to work with. Because people like to drive by slow and crane their necks and take pictures. Because my girls look forward to the sculpture on their yard every year. Because creating something–anything at all, even a mouse’s tail–is the opposite of apathy; it affirms that there is meaning and that we have a reason to care. And I care because I married Stan, of course. Which is the main reason why I’m worried about how a mouse’s tail comes out of its butt.

dscn3075_

Stan cuts off a lot of snow blocks when he starts carving–they girls love to use these in their snow forts

dscn3047_

Saron and Free help us pack the snow

dscn3058_ dscn3060_ dscn3061_ dscn3067_ dscn3072_dscn3079_dscn3076_

Here

Here

I’ve hiked Andean mountain passes that plunge into lush jungle
I’ve followed wild rivers through the tundra and bathed in their remote falls
I’ve canoed on pristine lakes alongside moose, eagles, and river otters
I’ve poked at anemones and starfish in Pacific tidal pools
I’ve driven down red dirt roads of Prince Edward Island
I’ve posed for photo ops in front of the Swiss Alps
I’ve played in the aquamarine waters of the Caribbean sea

And yet

a long blade
of dying grass
curled
and golden
in the autumn sun
is as beautiful a thing as I have ever seen

-Tricia Friesen Reed

dscn2821_