Category Archives: Travel

Oh, the Merman!! (44/365)

He’s still there at the Banff Indian Trading Post!!!!! Just got home after leading a Ghost Walk in Banff, which followed a full day of writing and editing. Half fish, half human, this little dude haunts my childhood memories and today when I popped in to say hello he transported me back across the decades to the first time I saw him so long ago…

No doubt he will now follow me into the world of dreams…

Time to Reflect – in Banff (36/365)

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I spent much of the day today hiking from end to end of Banff (and back), reflecting. Ostensibly, I was figuring out exactly where I need to go when I lead my first ghost walk, planning where to tell which story… But there was lots more going on than just deciding when to mention the various apparitions. Wandering around the streets and alleys, peering into back yards, reading all the plaques (they weren’t there when I lived there, way back when), catching glimpses of the familiar, being shaken by all that has changed… I kept alternating between regret and sadness that we ever left and delight to be back and looking at my old hometown with fresh eyes.

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All day today the world kept shifting between the intense colours of early summer and the black and white filter of powerful childhood memories. 

When I was a kid sometimes the guys (they were mostly men back then) would let me ride my horse at the back of the string of horses when they were brought down from the Banff Springs Hotel to the barn near the rec grounds. I pretended like I was actually important and had a proper job to do, though I was really just following along. I loved the way the tourists would point and say, “Look how small she is!” as I sat astride my much-too-big-for me horse, Ace.

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Ace in front of Cascade Mountain. About 1970. 

As a family, we travelled a lot when I was young and until recently I was hard pressed to say what place I considered to be ‘home.’ Now that I am back in the mountains, though, I feel like I have come home, in geographic terms at least. Walking around in Banff, I think that’s perhaps the closest I will ever come to identifying with a specific place in such a way that I feel that’s where I come from. It’s a very strange feeling because I don’t even live in Banff (and probably never will again) – I live down the road in Canmore. But Canmore feels like the place I live at the moment that’s very similar geologically speaking to a place I once called home. And that is different to actually being back at home.

Oh, it’s confusing. I keep finding myself time-slipping, taken back almost five decades to the first summer we spent in Banff in a cabin not much different to one of these:

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Banff Beaver Cabins on Beaver Street

Back in the day, accommodations for visitors were in short supply (actually, that hasn’t changed much). Enterprising locals built cabins behind their homes and rented them out. When we first arrived in 1969, we lived in just such a cabin for the first summer until we moved into a small house on Grizzly Street a couple of blocks over.

My most vivid memory of that first summer was being awakened at dawn by banging noises behind the cabin. No, it wasn’t a ghost… it was a female grizzly and her two cubs raiding our garbage cans. Mom, my brother and I watched through the window until they had taken what they wanted and ambled off.

Those were the days before animal-proof garbage cans and, actually, before feeding the wildlife was strictly verboten. Somewhere, I have photos of us feeding crackers to elk outside the back door of the Grizzly Street house. On my next trip to the coast, I’ll dig through the boxes of old photos and find a few to post…

For now, though, my memories from long ago and the new impressions from today are doing a strange dance, not quite in synch but not quite not in synch either. Do you know what I mean?

I am too tired to think any more about this tonight (and, my jaw still hurts so I just want to go to bed), but I’ll leave you with a question or two: How far away from ‘home’ do you live? In our ever more mobile world, what does home mean?

On Sketching in Public – A Sketchy Business (22/365)

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Sometimes there’s not a lot of choice when it comes to choosing a subject to sketch… my knee and foot were handy while waiting at the hospital…

For whatever reason, I am happy to pull out my phone or camera or even the awkward iPad and take photos wherever I find myself. The exception to that is portraiture – bad enough when I know the subject, beyond daunting when I don’t. That’s why, when you look through my billions of images, you’ll rarely see one that includes a recognizable person. It’s a shame, really, because people are endlessly fascinating and certainly worthy of being photographed. But there’s something about invading people’s privacy and stealing their souls that makes me anxious. So, I generally wait until passers-by get out of the way before snapping the photo. 

 

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People? Who needs people when you can photograph your dog? This is Pippi, looking adorable as always… 

 

Maybe that’s why I enjoy Humans of New York so much. Brandon Stanton’s work taking photos of people in New York is both disarming and captivating. The combination of deceptively straightforward images and the stories of the people he photographs is endlessly entertaining. Not in a funny way (though, sometimes the anecdotes are pretty amusing) but also often in deeply touching ways. More than once since I became a HONY groupie (groupy?) years ago I have been moved to tears after seeing an image and reading the accompanying text. 

 

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Sunflower experiments… various waiting rooms

 

Not that this is a post about street photography or candid portraits. Over the past couple of weeks as I’ve been trying to draw something every day, there have often been times where the available time to do a sketch was in public somewhere… in a waiting room, at a ferry dock, on a plane or at a coffee shop. 

I have forced myself to surreptitiously pull out my notebook and draw something, but oh my, it’s excruciating. First, it’s physically challenging to contort myself so I hide as much of what I’m doing as I can from curious eyes. I cross my legs to make a sort of angled platform for the notebook and then ‘rest’ my right arm over the page while leaving just enough of the drawing peeking out that I can sort of see what I’m doing. People are curious, of course. I would certainly wander over to peek at someone’s work if they were sitting out in public somewhere, drawing. So why the shyness? I’m keenly aware that I’m not very good – and, that this does not matter. But who likes to think that the response from an onlooker will be ‘dear God, why is that woman wasting her time? What is that she’s trying to draw?’ 

At the hospital the other day, I was waiting with Dad in a small room off to the side of the main emergency room waiting area when the lab tech came in to take a blood sample. I was sketching something from a photo I had taken over the weekend (oh, how much do I love having so many photos at my fingertips on my cell phone???) and the lab tech stopped and asked, “Are you sketching?” I nodded and blushed but before I could say anything else she started going on about how in all the years she had been working at the hospital she had never seen anyone drawing while waiting. “People are always on their phones! Their heads are down. They aren’t paying attention to anyone else. This is so cool!”

 

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Pretty soon, I’m going to have quite the collection of waiting room chairs in my notebooks…

 

She didn’t actually come over to see what I was working on, but the whole time she was busy with Dad she kept talking. “We all used to draw, didn’t we? And color? They say it’s very therapeutic – relaxing. Why did we ever stop? Why did we ever stop playing? Why do they take the swings out of the middle school playgrounds?”

 

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Children’s Playground in Tiergarten Park in Berlin by Max Liebermann, 1885

 

What excellent questions! What the heck happens to us when we grow up and get all serious and think that everything we do either needs to have a dollar sign attached to it or has to meet someone else’s standards of good enough? She wasn’t the only one to note the strange shift that happens at some point in our childhoods when we stop experimenting and trying stuff. Dani also made a comment when she was looking over my shoulder at a truly awful rendition of a lily I was struggling with and observed, “We all stop drawing as eight-year-olds. That’s why our drawings all look like they were done by eight-year-olds.” 

It’s true. My lily was crude, but not in a good, sophisticated Picasso-esque kind of way. It was just badly drawn and the colour was wrong and there was something terribly skewed about the perspective. Kind of like what I might have come up with when I was about eight. For so many years I have kept that eight-year-old kid artist wannabe locked up, banished to a darkened room without access to coloured pencils. Now, suddenly, she has burst out of her room and gone mad!

 

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Just a bunch of squiggly lines, right? Any kid could do that, right? Wrong… Artist and his Model by Pablo Picasso, 1926

 

What is interesting about my recent efforts is that for some odd reason I seem to have reconnected with my eight-year-old self and am treating her much more kindly. I am so enjoying exploring different materials, techniques, subjects, approaches as I blunder my way from page to page in my notebooks. It’s fun to be messy, to be wrong, to make mistakes. There is nowhere to go from here but up! To facilitate this progress (because I have to believe that if I keep going, there will be progress), I am determined to get as comfortable whipping out a sketchbook when I see something interesting as I am pulling out my camera or sitting down to write in my journal (or, as I am doing right now, typing on my iPad). I used to be a bit embarrassed about that, too, but in terms of writing in public, I have done it so often I don’t even think twice about settling in wherever I find myself. 

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I’m writing this while on a plane heading from the coast to Calgary. I’m inches away from my seat-mate, who is watching something on her iPhone. Outside the window, we are descending into fields of crazy big puffy white clouds… I stop my writing, flip the iPad over and aim it out the window and snap a few reference shots. I’ll sketch those clouds a bit later. Maybe even in the airport, at a coffee shop, while I’m waiting for my shuttle to take me back to the mountains. 

 

Blissful Interlude (19/365)

My visit to Pender didn’t last long, but it was heavenly to enjoy the sun, water, beaches, friends and food at the Bluewater Cruising Association rendezvous at Poet’s Cove.

… and the dog, of course! I don’t have any grandchildren, but I sure do enjoy hanging out with my grad puppy Spartacus (Sparty). He’s becoming such a confident little boat dog!

My visit ended with a great potluck! The dinghy rode a bit lower in the water when the time came to shuttle me back to land to catch my taxi down to the other Pender Island (there are two – north and south).

I took lots of photos so I have more than enough reference material to get back to work drawing various things once I get back home.

I even managed to find a bit of time to work on my lines for Romeo and Juliet while hanging gout in the cockpit.

I also managed to find a bit of time to do a blind contour drawing of the Dragon Fountain from Butchart Gardens.

Here’s a photo…

The idea is to not look down at your drawing but to choose a line in the object and follow it without ever lifting pencil from paper.

About to board the ferry now and head back to Victoria for another couple of days before hopping back on another flight to Calgary.

Quiet (18/365)

A couple of quick photos from our sleepy anchorage… Poet’s Cove on Pender Island.

Glassy water and painterly skies…

Sea shanties by firelight…

Feasting, fun, friends…

…and now settling into my cozy quarter berth.

Looking forward to lots of fun activities tomorrow (and a more complete report when I have a bit more time).

Carousel Ponies, Frogs and Nosebleeds (17/365)

 

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Dad and Frog (or, toad?)

 

After leaving the hospital for what has become our daily morning visit to ER to deal with ongoing nosebleed management issues, Dad and I headed for Butchart Gardens to gather some raw material for drawing and painting.

 

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I couldn’t make out the signature, but this drawing is stuck to a cabinet in the ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) Room at the local hospital emergency room… It’s the chair in which Dad has spent a fair bit of time over the past several days… 

 

It has been YEARS since I was last at the gardens and I have to say, they really are quite something, especially given the place is also a story of reclamation and rehabilitation. Once an ugly quarry that supplied limestone for Robert Butchart’s cement plant, the gardens were the dreamchild of Butchart’s wife, Jennie who wanted to pretty things up a bit once industry was done with stripping what it needed from the land. What a beautification project!

These days, almost a million visitors a year stroll around the gardens, snapping photos.

As one would expect, there are gazillions of flowers, shrubs, and trees, but there are also fountains, statues, and a carousel. I have always loved carousels and am always a bit disappointed when I’m near one without a child to coerce into riding with me!

A carousel horse statue prances near the carousel, an escapee from the endless drudgery of up and down and round and round. I took several photos, thinking I might be able to draw it later.

 

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Statue of a carousel pony dancing at Butchart’s

Dad gave me a brush pen with a reservoir for use with watercolours and once I got home  I pulled out the watercolour pencils I brought with me and started to experiment.

 

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New toy, must play…

 

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Unhappy with the pole, which looks awful, but I’m thinking that if I mess around with that it will get much worse… As it is, you can tell it’s a carousel pony, so I’m happy to leave it at that!

Of course I’m not the only person to be captivated by carousel ponies…

 

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Carnival the Carousel by Georges Lemmen, early 1890s

 

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Many carousel ponies (and other creatures) are works of art themselves… I’d kind of like one in my living room, to be honest. Maybe even a row of them for people to sit on at the kitchen island… We would need a bigger kitchen island, of course… Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

That’s it for now… I’m struggling (really struggling) to draw or paint a flower that looks even remotely floral, so you don’t get to see any of that stuff yet. I’m feeling a bit heartened, though, that with practice comes progress, so I’ll keep trucking on and see what happens next…

 

 

 

 

 

En Route – Heading Home

Flying back from the BVI via Puerto Rico and Chicago after a week that was equal parts stressful (unfamiliar boat, mechanical problems, electrical issues, under-experienced crew, under-experienced captain, spicy winds, seasickness, sunburn) and wonderful (warm waters, quiet anchorages, beaches to explore, reefs to snorkel, shorelines to paddle along, the Baths for bouldering).

A strange, sometimes uncomfortable bonus was spending most of the week device free, which meant meeting and chatting with people on the dock, chatting with each other, looking at the stars, feeding fish off the back of the boat, watching the sun set over the islands, going to bed early and getting up when we were done sleeping – all without being interrupted by constant beeping and buzzing and vibrating.

The exceptions to that idyllic break came during times of crisis – engine alarms, blinking electrical panels, dead batteries, a dying engine a that triggered flurries of trouble-shooting messages on a cell phone that we kept alive with a solar panel and saved for navigation and disaster interventions.

All that said, I learned a lot this week and challenging though it was at times, can’t wait to go back for more. Not the problems, of course, just the good stuff!