Saturday, September 27, 2008

What are these?

They are the harvest from the hardy kiwifruit vine in my parents' backyard - minus a few that got eaten before. Not a big harvest I know. I figure it is due to two reasons. One, the age of the vine (it is old). Two, the half day of light it gets, as opposed to a full day (willow trees are pigs).

The size of these green beauties is somewhere between a grape and a cherry - at least the above-pictured variety. There are lots of varieties of hardy kiwifruit, as there are of "regular" kiwifruit, some the shape and size of dates.

How does one eat them? One difference from fuzzy-skinned kiwis (usually Hayward) you see in the grocery store produce aisle is that you don't need to peel (or divide) the hardy kiwi. You eat them like cherries. Except there is no stone to spit out. The insides of them look just like a large size regular kiwi, but miniature.

They are ripe while they retain that premature green appearance. Fully dormant, the vines can withstand temperatures down to -25F, and perhaps lower.

Now one might think of hardy oranges when told of hardy kiwis, and conflate the two. Meaning one might presume that hardy kiwis, like hardy oranges, are good for nothing but throwing at crows - or using for marmalade. Not so. The hardy kiwi, and this I find surprising, tastes just like regular kiwis. And well, they are regular kiwis; just originating from a more northern climate of China as opposed to their southern Chinese fuzzies. No, kiwifruits do not originate from Australia, or New Zealand.

Anyhow, the texture of the hardy ones are also identical to the texture of the others, except the skin, which lends the fruits a welcome pugnacious hint. It is still a little odd for me to eat them and have all that same kiwi-world on a smaller scale. Smaller scale, size-wise. For these hardy kiwis are actually somewhat sweeter than the larger ones. Actually, if you eat the really tiny ones (there is quite a bit of variation in the sizes), their sweetness abandons that zing and twang which is the hallmark of kiwifruit, and becomes more reminiscent of a grape.

There is some small industry developing, and is apparently on the rise, for hardy kiwifruit. Here in British Columbia and in Oregan. Here in B.C. they call them 'grape kiwis'. In Oregan, 'baby kiwi'. I like 'baby kiwi' better. 'Grape kiwi' takes too much away from 'kiwi'. Really though, they both need to come up with a better name that will stick. Wee Kiwi?

The vine in my parents yard has been there for years without producing because there was no male pollinizer. Or fruits would develop, but only to a certain size. The thing is, all those years we figured it was a "regular" kiwifruit vine. I bought a male last year and planted it in. This year the male flowered, and lo, the flowers on the female gave way to the size fruits pictured above. We thought they had a lot more growing to do, thinking it was a regular kiwi. Then I did some searching on the internet and it began to dawn on me that they were basically full size and that what we had all these years was a hardy kiwi.

Now I need to get another female and plant it in beside. Or maybe two.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My first icon

From a few angles, taken in the kitchen. Hopefully I will be getting professional shots of it in the coming weeks before its exhibition at the Epiphany Sacred Arts exhibition in Vancouver.

The icon has its faults and foibles. But its strengths outweigh these. I'm happy with it, and most important of all, it has grace coming through it. Poise. Authority. It's my first, so you move on with what you've learned, on to more icons.

You will also notice the board is flat. It does not have the raised border, or scooped-out center as the case may be, which is tradition. We just went ahead with a "practise board".

The raised hand signifies ascent (and assent I'm sure) - ascent of the mind to God. This pertains to the true source of Aquinas's wisdom, which sprang from his innocence and his fear of God, wonder and awe. The meditation of Christ crucified on the cross was the source of his wisdom, by his own admission.

The Latin words in the book that he holds are: O sacrum convivium in quo Christus sumitur. They are words written by Aquinas as part of the antiphon for the feast of Corpus Christi. Translated it runs: O sacred banquet wherein Christ is consumed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Beckmann brushing aside "abstract art" with a flick of his hand:

“When spiritual, metaphysical, material, or immaterial events come into my life, I can only fix them by way of painting. It is not the subject which matters but the translation of the subject into the abstraction of the surface by means of painting. Therefore I hardly need to abstract things, for each object is unreal enough already, so unreal that I can only make it real by means of painting.” --Max Beckmann from On My Painting

Bless me father, for I have sinned...

The road to hell is shoulder to shoulder with nice people who never do anything very bad, but also never do anything very good...This road is a broad, nicely paved road with a very, very slight downward incline--enough to keep us coasting, but not enough to notice that we're going downhill.

From Father Dwight Longenecker's recent post Why Confession? over at Standing on my Head.

When a person is immersed in the vital, life-giving heart of the Sacraments, like confession, one thing will dawn upon that person, and it is this: how not normal is the "normal" discourse between people in their everyday interaction. "Not normal" in both its good sense and its bad sense, as the situations vary.

The person may start to wonder if he or she is being sanctimonious. Which world is the real one? will come to that person and quietly demand an answer: is it the world you have been familiarizing yourself with for so long, or this other world that you enter for a few minutes, or less, once every few weeks, or months, or years?

This is not of course a gnostic division that views this world as not real; this world is very real, more so than we observe, and the very physical practice of going into a confessional and pronouncing your sins with your mouth is proof that this is not some gnostic division but is a division between the subjective world of the self and the objective, more real world of the supernatural.

When a person's subjective world becomes infected, or illumined with the objective world of the supernatural it leaves a kind of...good wound. A being emptied out that you cannot produce by yourself. As Pope Benedict has said in so many words, having your sins forgiven is also the way in which you see your sins for what they are: to have the full grievance of your sins and to see your inability to remove the stain that has been removed, is the same moment of experiencing God's mercy in the full.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

You may happen to notice a different look here

So I like Old English font. Spikey but not stark. The antithesis of pithiness. Germanic. Modulated fullness. The kind of font you want to see carved into an inn sign.

Working with microsoft paint is hell. It is also fun.

Today I was working on my first icon under my mentor. There is likely one session left and then it will be finished, which is writing in the name of the saint. The saint: Thomas Aquinas.

It is tradition to make one's first icon either of St. Michael the Archangel or of Christ the Pantocrator. I think my mentor was excited about doing one of St. Thomas Aquinas when I mentioned I would like to do my first icon of the Doctor, since he had never done one of him before. And well, you don't see Byzantine icons of him, for obvious reasons. The whole tradition of Byzantine iconography, and all iconography I believe, is basing your work on the work previous - so we were going on very little with Aquinas.

My next icon will be of St. Michael.

The frustrations to be found in microsoft paint have nothing on the frustrations to be found in iconography. I'm not comparing the two, for that would be silly. I'm just is a good thing: in iconography it is as though the frustrations, so adamantine, are flush right against the miraculous resolutions. It is as though there is no gradation between the two. It is purification and prayer.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sad Glad September

The steady, latent percolation of seedlings has a way of stacking up the work for you. Where you thought you had only two pawpaw sprouts to transplant into larger pots, there in a corner in two other pots you had long forgotten about, a couple more have shot their slender arms above the soil's deceptive face.

Where you thought only a few tulip poplars would come forth, seven have risen in a bunch that you must delicately separate. And the pines - perhaps you were a bit lazy waiting until mid September to separate and individually pot the crowds of them, three varieties. And which variety is which, you no longer know.

The Korean mint, mountain mint, hyssop, hardy pecans, the horse chestnut, the Japanese maple and the other maples, the Serbian spruces - and finally, the English oaks - all have to be transplanted, either from seed beds into individual pots, or from individual pots into larger individual pots.

And what for? Why go into the Brown brothers' wood to collect giant redwood seeds, and the seeds of the Nordmann fir and incense cedar? Some ask, "What are you going to do with them?"

Do with them? Grow them. Watch them. And maybe later down the road…well, I know a nursery down the flats who might like doing a bit of small business. You know, sell some, not the whole lot of course, grow some, new ones and familiar ones and sell some more; perhaps the kind of thing that develops into a small enterprise. I don't know.

They all sit at my parents' house of course. The collection had its basic start courtesy of the squirrels. I had already decided I wanted to start growing some trees (I was infected by the bonsai bug), and my parents said sure there is some room here or there around the property, and I didn't have much; a hemlock, a mountain hemlock, and some other stuff. And then, all over the property these sprouts started coming up, with beautifully shaped leaves. They were obviously trees. I dug one up and the seed was attached whence the tree was coming out and the root going down and it took a while to identify it as an English oak. There was more than a dozen of them, in the front yard and the backyard, and the sides of the house.

I dug them all up. I believe I had fourteen. Now there are eleven. Some died due to root exposure (oaks are picky like that, even in tiny instances). They are such a handsome lot. They do me proud.

But September is good for this sort of thing. Something about the portended turning of the leaves prompts one to organize and sweep. This afternoon was good for that; I got done what I set to do, which firstly was the pines, tulip poplars and hardy pecans, and the aforementioned herbs, as well as a bit more: I got most of the English oaks into larger containers, the ones that needed it.

Soon it will be to Redwood forest (the Brown brothers' wood) to stroll around and commune with whatever the trees have to offer.

Here are some alright pictures:

These are most of the pines (pinus). Some are somewhere else. There are some Tulip Poplars to the side and a London Plane and some Hungarian fragrant lilac.

Here is Pea-Shoe, my youngest sister's cat, poking around a couple of Pawpaws (Asimina Triloba). There's seven of these very interesting trees sprouted right now.

These are Golden Chain trees (Common Laburnum).

Two Monkey Puzzles (Araucaria araucana).

Hardy Pecans (Carya illinoensis). If they aren't Hardy Pecans then they are Shagbark hickory (Carya Ovata).

Horse-Chestnut (Conkers! Or just throw them!) (Aesculus hippocastanum). And Pea-Shoe, again.

That tall narrow-leaved one is a Pomegranate (Punica granatum), as well as some of those in the back. The foremost is a Giant Redwood (Sequoiadendron gigantium).

Nordmann Fir (Abies nordmanniana).

Another Giant Redwood.

A row of those English Oaks (Quercus robur) with a couple of Douglas Firs (I think) yonder at the end. Sorry, green on green is hard to shoot.

American Sweet Chestnut (Castanea dentata).

Two English Oaks, again. I'll stop here, though not exhaustively.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Something of a latecomer, I watched the movie Juno three nights ago. I wasn't so much surprised by, as satisfied by its perfection - no, not perfection in any profound, full-orbed-worldview sort of way (the film is by no means perfect) - but the inherent perfection in the quiet nobility of its story, and characters.

The movie's quality is in the lightness, as it (a comedy) discloses its heart: the way the film takes its own hip, irreverent pop-cult milieu of mildly sardonic witticisms, then suddenly undermines it, and stealthily affirms…the birth of a child by a sixteen year old and the giving of that child for adoption.

In a culture that goes about seeking authenticity in all the wrong ways (hence one of the reasons why irony is so prevalent in our culture), here is a film that asks in a subtle manner: what is it that really matters to you, to "who you are", to what makes you, you?

And then the movie provides an answer without in the least being moralistic. The answer is of course to be found, not in Juno's guileless and frank and pop-conscious personality (genuine though it may be, it still proves fallible later on), but in Juno's actions and decisions underlying those things: to be able to give. You can be faulty as anything, a living wretch, but if you retain the capacity to give at the cost of pain and sacrifice (and yes, mockery), then you retain and find your true character: you become ennobled. For in that lies our true authenticity.

Alternatively, you can be affluent in virtue and manner, guiltless of any great corruption (which frankly, in this day of mass abortion, is impossible, since everyone is culpable), a winning personality, unique and "original" in every way, but if you do not have the retained capacity to give at the cost of pain and sacrifice, then you are void. Or to put it another way, you can be an extremely "giving" person, giving in every way, except in the way that gives in the direction that doesn't hold interest for you, or in ways that cause you pain and mockery, and you will still be a selfish void.

Now, the way in which this movie unveils this giving as authenticity in Juno's character is in a perfect balance of Ellen Page's acting with the equally genuine direction of Jason Reitman, from Diablo Cody's remarkably simple screenplay. What sort of subtleties are here that distinguish the story from some after-school teen-drama?

It is, basically, Ellen Page's character, Juno.

The good characters are good without being sugar-coated, and flawed without being psychologically stamped with teenage "traits" - or adult "traits" for that matter: that's one feat. But to be able to bring out their personal nobilities in a way that goes well beyond charming us, while yet resisting the idolatry of positivism? That is a kind of miracle. That is art.

This development of the character Juno coincides with a key revelation concerning the adoptive parents, which comes about by way of having to face her own behaviours and ways. Without getting into much detail, the revelation is sort of like the progression of a Flannery O' Connor story, in which we are brought to an often disturbing disclosure of a character we took to be normal, and are faced with our own subjective normalizing of our own behaviour, and what it hides.

Thomas Merton described this aspect of Flannery O' Connor in an essay, in which he talks about a certain character named Rayber, in The Violent Bear it Away:

"A teacher, a man with forward-looking and optimistic perspectives, illuminated and blessed with a scientific world view, he is acquainted with all the best methods for helping people to become happy and well adjusted in the best of all possible societies. It is he who sees through nonsense, prejudice, and myth…It is he who suffers permanent damage (deafness) trying to liberate the boy from the awful trammels of obscurantism and superstition…Yet as we read Flannery O' Connor we find an uncomfortable feeling creeping over us: we are on the side of the fanatic and the mad boy, and we are against this reasonable zombie. We are against everything he stands for. We find ourselves nauseated by the reasonable, objective, "scientific" answers he has for everything. In him, science is so right that it is a disaster."

For the sake of analogy, while the film's scenario is not the same down to the details, it is enough that in Juno there are two characters, one of whom we get comfortable with and start to like, and the other whom we find stiff, mildly paranoid and unconsciously snobby, who both, with the same uneasiness described by Merton, are switched in our perceptions, so that the cool, relaxed, pop-indy-cult-conscious, amiable husband becomes frankly repulsive, and the fretting, stiff wife becomes one of true motherly character.

Every once in a while you will hear someone talk about how if you want to know the state of a culture, look to the stories that it tells. I often forget this, and when I hear it again, or suddenly remember it, I get a certain haunted feeling.

A story in which a pregnant sixteen year old decides to go through with carrying her unborn child and all that it entails, all done for the sake of an adoptive mother who at least superficially represents the entire antithesis of that girl's cultural milieu - that is a story worth watching.

For it is a story worth enacting in real life.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Acrostic poem (On Spirit and Mammon)

This acrostic is somewhat sketchy.

September 10th. tomorrow, some real smart
Physicists will use 17 miles of stuff
In Europe to smash subatomic hearts
Right at each other: sort of like the rough
Inflamed bout between a husband and wife
That yet unexplainably gives them new lights?

Answers some: but will it give me higher speed
Net, or better resolution on my tube?
Dunces we are, even in the midst of

Mammoth unravellings (speculatively). Even physicists
As these, must needs come to a point in their
Mapping out of things where they insist:
My guess is as good as yours right now - air
Of our life still intrigues: we will never,
Never exhaust what breeds our pursuing what breeds.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Time's swift

I had hopes for Swift Current, seeing the name on the map. Such a Tolkienesque name; straight out of the Shire. Like Crow's Nest Pass, which I like even better. If you are heading west out of Saskatchewan, Swift Current is on the way out. Now, I didn't stop there for anything but coffee, so I have no right to say if the place is good or bad, but the name gave me hopes. And the sign on entering the town raised my hopes even more.

You know those signs, like: Winnipeg: A Great City.

I'm not sure how much effort they put into that one; it begs for a little more specificity.

The sign on entering Swift Current? Swift Current: Where life makes sense. Yes, you can see why my hopes were raised even more. Where life makes sense? Wow, maybe in Swift Current they are devoted to agrarianism and localism, and reject all chain outlets and support one another through a self-sustained community: such were the thoughts running through my mind, about this place where life makes sense.

My hopes were immediately dashed on first seeing the Wal-Mart. But I would be guilty of misjudgment if I went into any criticism, since I simply don't know the place. I went through and into Alberta, into the Badlands.

Alberta on a lucid sunny day: the wheat fields bristle so gold that the blue of the sky by contrast becomes the main feature. Blue to the point of making the eyes stutter with delightful incomprehension. The distant belt of a train goes by a lone structure for grain that looks like some giant space age Jack Daniels bottle with a row of four silver beer cans attached. The subtle flats and smooth curves of Saskatchewan give way to more perky uprisings and stark erosions.

A wolf in a field not too far from the road pries his narrow jaws as far as they can open on another animal that looks much like him, dabbed with blood. He masticates his jaws on the furry carcass, irreverent and unknowing of who may be watching. A late breakfast.

The wolf tells me it is a new day, and that he did not bring it about, with its wide dome of immaculate cobalt overhead, set with the distinct burnished clouds like billowing white linen on a clothesline.

And nor did I.

A sign tells me I am entering Alberta's Badlands. The sign back in Swift Current is in the wrong place. They should have it here, beside the long forlorn ice cream stand and other joints that are the abandoned parts of a still-living little town - though I could be wrong about its being still-living - across from which a clutch of appaloosas whip their tails in a fenced field.

They should put it up with a base of stone-work, where the gutted truck holds up a sign for a liquor store that is no longer there - or which is there but defunct; where the tall weeds reinstate themselves through the concrete right up to the empty ice cream counter and mark the place where limber children, buzzing on the energy of their summer family vacations, waited eagerly for their ice cream cones:

Alberta Badlands: Where life makes sense.

I'm sure the affirmative irony would not be lost on people.

Saturday, September 6, 2008


For as long as you were to stay in Saskatchewan, one thing would never, never, happen. You would never get vertigo.

That assurance has always been somewhat absent in the sheer, sheer, sheer, undulating chorus of primal rock and pine and fir that reaches to the floors of the clouds in British Columbia. The beauty of those mountains borders on the realm of nightmare. For myself, a B.C. native (not aboriginal), the awe of our mountains (when driving along them) has always gone with a modicum of unconscious vertigo.

This mild vertigo comes especially when you come at a curve, and it's not the actual sheerness or drop-off of the curve you are driving on so much as the sight of the neighbouring mountain on the other side of the valley: you are looking straight at its midway face (which is at such an odd distance as to be distant but not distant enough to render a full overview of the mountain), with its multitude of timber-spires, and you realize you yourself are on a "midway" face. Then the feeling comes. This sense of not fully knowing your grounding, that it could all come down, and you will only know falling and falling and falling. To look up at the naked summits does not help in this regard; it really does take your breath away.

While I would rank the beauty of British Columbia as my personal first love before any other province, Saskatchewan surprises me. She is a province of essences.

There is not one corner of the world that could forever refute the begging of the painter. Everywhere and any place, were it given the time, could be begged by the painter to beg him to paint it. This is a roundabout way of saying: there is no corner of the world that can for long withhold "inspiration" from the artist.

If the entire world is a "studio" for the artist/painter, then Saskatchewan is the artist's retreat center. It's too easy a temptation to say that it is boring and monotonous. (Canadian jokes abound in this matter)

No. This seeming blankness, to eyes that persist, will suddenly give huge glimpses of a hyper-light - the light that sustains things in every passing second. The landscape is pregnant with it. It suddenly blushes at high pitch way yonder at the last gentle curvature in the fields before the haziness beyond. There will be a bordered plain raised ever so subtly at an angle towards you, and all over it is the repetition of pristine hay bales that, accumulatively, have that slightly disturbing exactitude of Faerieland.

Indeed, Faerieland is everywhere in Saskatchewan. You know it when one robust round tree comes at you in early evening, and there are no other trees around. And the textures in the mere grasses and wildflowers and wayside shrubs. The way the varying kinds of flowers grow along the sides of the roads like a purposeful lining. The all-white but weathered, fungied look of some large bull, like monumental stone resting in the grass. O, all those desiccated little barn shacks or storage sheds and keeling leftovers of fences! A painter's haven.

An artist's electrical haven - for danger is here too, just when you think all that space would free you from it. That is, in point of fact, when it becomes most dangerous. A place of essences does not bide one's forgetfulness with a lot of patience.

I was cruising in the late sunny morning around a curve along those plains. And in the dipping, wide, grassy middle section between the two main roads that run east and west, there was a semi-truck, flipped fully on its side. The long box trailer was still attached and also flipped on its side. Around the truck at various points were three or so parked vehicles. As I came round the curve there was a man with a straw hat, who had mounted on to the side of the semi-truck, and he was opening the door like the hatch of a trunk, and looking down inside.

Friday, September 5, 2008

They have hat hooks

Only about two days out of Ontario (I spent a good part of one day at Lake Superior...uhm, taking a bath) and one of the Dominican brothers proves correct.

"You're going to miss us", said one especially jovial brother.

With the rare exception of certain devout married couples, religious people who live in orders, be they monks, brothers, deacons, are perhaps the only kind of people who, after only knowing them for two mere days, you suddenly miss like crazy. I attribute it to holiness - and they are just so darn happy, and charitable - which is infectious. A little time is enough for that holy happiness to rub off.

There is something else that is...well, sort of missing - now that I'm just in British Columbia. It's the sort of human wisdom that puts hat hooks on the backs of church pews.

In Ottawa I noticed in the two churches I was in, there were these two-looped hooks on the backs of the pews, beside the hymn book holders - two to each pew. I'm going on a limb and saying they are for hats. They don't have them on the backs of pews here in the west coast.

It strikes me as a small symbol that gives expression to the Francophone culture. I'm going on a limb and saying hat hooks on the backs of pews is a particularly French touch. I'm not sure, but I'm willing to bet they are on the backs of pews all over Quebec. French is of course profuse in Ottawa, and the generally spoken tongue in the Dominican College is French, between the priests and brothers: their daily mass is said in French.

Of course they don't shun the Anglo tongue altogether, as the college courses are taught in English. But getting back to those hat hooks. When you think about it, it is quite an imperative thing. Where is one to place his or her hat when other people are needing to sit in your same pew? They can't sit on your hat. You can't put it on the floor. The hooks are therefore indispensable.

But it seems to me only the French would consider such a predicament and see to its being resolved, due to caring deeply about such things in the first place. And why do they care, rather deeply, about such things, such seeming flourishes and quaint matters? My conviction is that it is for no other reason than this: because not to care about such things would be one step closer to being a barbarian.

And this, I am sorry to say, is where the Francophones have us beat. They have manners, and more than that, they know how important they are. In British Columbia, if you are trying your hand at a church door to get inside and find the doors locked, some stranger across the street on the other sidewalk typically won't gesture to you the direction of the doors of the building that are unlocked and which are the real entrance.

This sort of communal kinship is somehow prevalent in parts of Ontario - though this is to say nothing of the corruption at its core in Ottawa (the youth to my observations seem utterly shameless). I only noticed how prevalent it was in the east, when driving into B.C.

You will notice when driving at night through the B.C. mountains, when the double lane starts to merge back into a single lane, and you slow down to let the semi-trucks go past you so they won't be stuck behind you, the truck drivers here don't blink their rear red tail lights at you as a way of saying thank you in the night. They do in Ontario. Over and over again - all different truckers.

I think that's a French influence. Those human touches that are so vital to retaining an equilibrium, with oneself, and with others. Can't we have hat hooks too on the backs of our pews? Or would that be "a waste of money"? Barbarians.

Driving into B.C. where the autonomous and aggressive spirit is less subdued, it began to dawn on me, even only having been in Ottawa for two days, why the Francophones seem to take pride in remaining ignorant of the west coast.