Winter Landscape with Dogs

It was the week between Christmas and New Years. I headed out to pick up beer, a few groceries and to take  Mira for a walk on the Trans Canada Trail.  Although it had been snowing for hours, I failed to notice and underestimated everything about the weather. It was snowing and blowing  harder, snow was deeper, roads slipperier and the visibility poorer than anticipated.

The trail is built along the old railway and stretches behind and between villages, forest and farm land. By the time we got there the weather had deteriorated. I wasn’t dressed as well as I should have been, walked into the white with my head down and persisted because I knew the return would be easier. Wind swirled, swept and drove the falling snow in fitful gusts. Every now and then it carried the suggestion of howling dogs which may or may not have been there. At one point Mira, well ahead of me, stopped, looked over her shoulder and waited. A sign that a person or animal was ahead. When I reached her she was watching a black spot in the distance and the wailing separated itself from the wind to become clearly canine.

Imagine that no one is there. Only a black spot in a snowstorm, too far from anything like a home, howling louder and harder than any twelve week old puppy should ever have to.

This event had the potent kind of imagery and unexpectedness that lends itself to my writing and I was looking forward to putting a fictional and mysterious twist to it. But I can’t. The puppy was there. He and his siblings had followed their mother when she broke her leash and ran. Their owners had driven away for a couple of days and left them outside. It was an odd twist of fortune that  he became separated from the rest and I found him. The mother’s leash got caught up and she and the other puppies were found two days later.

They say that everyone is alright. Really?


A Christmas Card

On the front of the card is the picture of a small one room house with corner windows that reveal a Christmas tree with frantically blinking coloured lights. It’s about five minutes from town on the corner of a gravel logging road and the old highway. Beside it there’s a vacant lot, long brown grass and weeds scattered with rusty metal machine parts and wooden pallets. Animal bones in the ditch, paper cups, broken glass and tossed trash. The night is dark and miserable, rain pounding as I drive by. I’ve always been aware but never noticed the place. Tonight I can’t help but think that to spend an evening in that room crowded with flashing coloured lights would drive me out of my mind. There’s an edge of criticism or judgement in the thought. A blind spot.

I catch myself as the card opens, and I see the two of them sitting on the sagging, plaid couch holding hands, starring at the tree. Delighted. Their story of course is a mystery, but I almost missed them altogether.

May your heart and mind be open, and your season filled with peace and delight.

Self Portrait 2: Breathing

11:00 a.m. Set the timer on my computer for 15 minutes. Throw a fabric runner with a forgotten history on top of the printer. Light a tea light in the small bowl that Adrain gave me. Strike the meditation bowl. Sit on a wool blanket folded on the threadbare, cat scratched couch. And stop.

Sometimes this practice is a tangle of thoughts and distraction.  Other times it’s like watching a rare bird. Careful, quiet and concentrated. Momentary. At the best of times I watch my breath like the sun rising and setting, awed by the natural, uninhibited ease of existing.

And then I go back to work, a little different than before.

Turning over

On the highway to New Glasgow I passed a dead coyote on the way to the building supply store. And then another. I pulled over and got out of the car. The animal had been dead for awhile and was becoming part of the shoulder. Colour of gravel,  dirty crystallized frozen melted snow, brown grass and sun faded trash.  “You should not be here, ” I said, crouching down to sadly witness the carcass. As I rose and turned, a sound sensation like locomotive thunder instant of broken teeth, bone in grill and face scraps scraping pavement come and gone faster than the speed of life.

And I was sitting on the edge of a field in coyote heaven.

“You should not be here,” she said, smiling. She stared into my face with her golden eyes, got up, stretched her long, lean body and turned away. A gentle breeze brushing over her fur. “If you want to stay, you can’t be human anymore. People are too careless.”

“Okay. But what should I be?”

“Begin with kind, and see what happens.”

We both laughed, rose again and started across the field.

Self portrait at desk

The image on the computer screen was taken of a butterfly on the oilcloth floor of a cabin in Sexsmith, Alberta in the fall of 1980. Agnes had just returned to Germany. Neither of us aware that I would be following her much sooner than planned.

I built the desk from three quarter inch finished plywood. It fits into and extends out of a former clothes closet. The office which I also call studio used to be our bedroom. Shelving tucks into the left and right corners of the closet desk and runs from the desktop to the ceiling.

My laptop is plugged into a small, thin backup drive that’s humming on a roll of electrical tape. To my right a big digit calculator, small piece of driftwood that is sort of shaped like a horse, a variety of round stones, shells and two other small pieces of driftwood. An old brick, pieces of a pipe stem and bowl and a porcelain fragment from an archeological dig in Toronto from Adrian. And a flake of sharp stone. A slender cherry wood letter opener Veronica gave me years ago when she visited with her sister Ziggy and new baby shortly after we moved into the house. There’s a set of speakers that may belong to Adrian or maybe he gave them to me. Behind the computer there’s another backup drive that I use occasionally to be extra safe. I’ve lost a lot of files in crashes over the years. A couple of wooden boxes slide under the shelf to my left. I think of them as drawers. One has computer related stuff like cables, cords, a mouse and the other holds office supply odds and ends like tape, markers, paper clips and a light bulb. There’s a rag and some essential oil screen cleaner that I got from one of the other delegates in a trade mission we did to Portland, Maine around 2005. To my left, unplugged speaker and printer cables and one for charging my Blackberry. There’s a hole drilled at the back of the desktop with a bunch of wires coming up. White headphones and a charging cable for the iPod I rarely use. A cable that connects the scanner or camera to the computer. Scattered papers, drafts of a newsletter for Summer Street. Young adults facing barriers share success, experiences and growth in job readiness and life skills training program. Man, that’s a long headline. An open, coil bound book full of pictures of Summer Street clients, events and other things. The blue technical pencil that is one of my favourite things. An insert from Harvard Business Review that was part a subscription offer I found in my mailbox at work. Addressed to me, President of Summer Street Industries. I haven’t been President there for years. A white cordless phone. Battered Stella Artois beer coaster that has followed me, written on the back. I was having lunch with someone in 2005 while we were planning our trip to Costa Rica. A couple of other beer coasters from our trip to Germany this summer. I thought I might collect them because of the Stella one, but probably not. A little Canon scanner that I use for thumbnail sketches of concepts for client and designer briefs.

On the wall directly in front of me a large, plague mounted poster featuring Birds of the Garden. American Robin. Common Flicker. Wood Thrush and Cedar Waxwing among others. To the right a narrow framed assemblage by Brittany. Part of a collection of artwork that we’re happily storing on the walls. On the other side of the poster a slab of pine from my grandfather with the words, God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Below that an old, dramatically romantic black and white photograph of a woman and a horse. Most of it black or shadow, a suggestion of dark clouds, light falling on the white skinned, dark haired woman’s moon shaped face, bare shoulder and arm. Her fingers disappear into the blackness of the animal’s mane. Her face close to the horse’s. Black and gold beaten frame, clouding glass. I picked it up at a flea market in Oldenburg in 1980 or 81. Below that a photograph of Lorena, chin in hand, thoughtful. She’s wearing a black corduroy jacket. A shell earring.

Top shelf on the left a bird facts book, one thousand years of painting, some binders, one with years of journal writing called “This Airport is my Monastery” and a blue hat with an embroidered Advocate logo.

Next shelf several art books including my college art history textbook, Anatomy for the Artist, tattered Dune novel by Frank Herbert,  Early Modern Sculpture, Kenneth Clark’s Civilization. My grandfather gave me that one. Unusual. If I recall he may have been taking an evening course at college. Something I cannot imagine him doing. A couple of business books, Good to Great, Blue Ocean Strategy, One Minute Manager. Tucked among these, Learn to Draw with Jon Nagy. My brother has drawn round glasses, a cigar and long hair on the artist’s cover picture and the words love and peace. On the inside flap I’ve written my name, address and phone number. Grade 6. St. Pius X School. Teacher, Mr. Law, Principle, Miss Serriani (who also taught my dad). Ambition Veterinarian. Dog named Tammy. Like making models. Camp at Hicks Lake. Mom, Dad and brother Mike. Like bird watching. Have a new friend named Tomas. Yours Truly Chris Morrison. Beside that is an publication from the Art Affairs North, Northwestern Ontario Juried Art Exhibition. January 1985 – December 1986. On page 21 a picture of me with a big smile and goatee below my drawing, The Human Landscape. It says that Chris Morrison was born in 1957 in Port Arthur. He graduated from St. Lawrence College, Kingston, receiving the President’s List Award. Following graduation, he travelled throughout Northern and Western Canada and Germany. While in Grande Prairie, Alberta, he taught Children’s Imagination Workshops. He also taught private and night school drawing classes for adults and ceramics for children while living in Germany. In 1983, he took part in a three man exhibition in Cloppenburg, West Germany. Chris returned to Canada in 1984 and resides in Nolalu, Ontario. Next to that is a book on beginning woodcarving, Whitney’s Star Finder and Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walk.

Next shelf, novels by John Irving, Hemingway, Atwood and Donald Barthelme. David Suzuki’s, The Sacred Balance, and a variety of field guides. Seashores, birds, eastern forest, ponds, astronomy. Hermann Hesse, Margaret Lawrence and a couple of hiking trail guides. A cheque book. Wooden carving of a monk with his face in his hands. You are supposed to squeeze this when you feel stressed but I never had the heart. A large box of wooden matches on top of the books.

Below that. A six sided glass terrarium type thing that is now full of rocks, shells, moss and an old pair of glasses. A white, rectangular stoneware bowl may have once had a bonsai in it but now shells, rocks, very small pieces of driftwood and sand. A ticket stub from a recent Gord Downie concert. Very small ceramic flower pot with an upturned beer cap on the bottom that serves as an occasional ashtray. An ornamental green frog and a trophy that says, Chausse Memorial Long Distance Canoe, Bernard Morrison, 17 min. 40 sec – 1951.

Bottom shelf, ten cents worth of Canadian Tire money. A grinning cow, wearing sunglasses and pulling up it’s trousers. A gift from Adrian and Lorena. Large turned over shell. Small silver owl, bought one year at the art gallery or museum in Winnipeg when Agnes and I left the kids behind and went to see Phantom of the Opera. Some cotton batten. Three yellow plastic capsules containing toys from Kinder Chocolate. A round hand painted box by Lorena. Papa painted in silver on the side, yin yang symbol on the lid. There is a frame with two photographs of Agnes. In one she is in the front of a canoe looking over her shoulder, smiling. This photo always reminded me of Leonardo da Vinci’s, Study for the angel’s head in “The Virgin of the Rocks.” It is also the starting point for the large portrait of Agnes, on the wall behind me. The other photograph was taken in Germany. A trip without me. She’s visiting a friend, her body is facing the camera but she’s speaking or listening to someone to the left, over her shoulder. Taped to the back of this picture frame is a folded piece of paper. On the front my name is written. A heart dots the i. Inside a lipstick print created years ago when Agnes kissed the note and left it somewhere for me to find. There’s a little speaker on the shelf too.

Moving to the shelves on my right. Top shelf, Time Life Library of Art books including Matisse, Van Gogh, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Vermeer, Manet and Cézanne. Modern Art. Kandinsky, Goya and Georgia O’Keefe. Beside the books is a ceramic sculpture of Agnes’ torso when she was pregnant with Lorena. In front of that a very gaudy rooster, signifying year of the rooster, sits on top of a small book of Eastern wisdom quotations, gifts from Lorena.

Under that my brown tae kwon do belt with the black stripe is rolled in front of some books on spirituality. Mac OS X Snow Leopard software, a photographers loop, photo album with drawings from Germany, flea treatment for cats, Office for Mac software. Restoring the Acadian Forest and Night Watch, A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe.

The next shelf contains books on Taoism, Buddhism, Catechism of the Catholic Church, Hinduism’s Contemporary Catechism, bibles, a small stack of Tao Te Ching translations. Between these is a very old suede bound, ribbon tied book called Love by Henry Dyke. This is a treasure that my mom sent me earlier this year. Always in our family. It’s a book of love poetry. Age is beginning to take a toll on the book and I’m not sure what I can do to save it. There’s a stack of business cards. A miniature sand garden with white sand, stones, a shell and tiny rake from Lorena.

And finally. Another little speaker. Figurine of a laughing Buddha. German English dictionaries. Thesaurus. A crumpled scrap of paper that was probably used as a bookmark with a quote by Shunryu Suzuki, “We must have a beginner’s mind, free from possessing anything, a mind that knows everything is in flowing change…” A small pewter bowl has a little rag in it that I use to clean my glasses and computer screen. And there is a small brown, smiling hippopotamus lying on it’s back, legs crossed, arms folded behind his head, looking very relaxed. A gift that Agnes brought back from one of her trips to Germany when we were living in Nolalu.