Monday, October 31, 2011

Day Forty-Two: Halloween Spirit

Just yelled at Arwen and her little buddy who run across the road without looking both ways. It's only seven degrees Celsius and the town is on the move. Doorbells ringing. Running downstairs. Dropping chips, chocolate, gummies, lickerish, suckers into pillow cases, orange shopping bags, ice cream pails, pumpkin buckets. Little gypsies, cartoon characters, action figures, pirates, princesses, teddy bears, monkeys, ghosts, and one chicken are waddling, running, hopping, trudging from door to door, followed by adults on foot or in vehicles. Earlier Andrea, Ian and I followed our kids on foot, enjoying a rare adult-sibling outing. We decide that next year we'll meet like this again, but dressed up. "There's solidarity if we're all dressed up," Ian says. We go back to Janet's for spaghetti. Now I'm following just Arwen and Tia.

On the weekend I'd announced to my sister-in-law and cousin that they should be like me and let their kids make their own costumes.

"We'll get there," Janet says.

Oh, I scold myself, their kids are only ages one to six.

"Sheena forgets," Michael says, "That I did all the costumes."

But I always took the kids door to door, and every year, just like this year, the Halloween Community spirit sneaks up on me. I love seeing a mix of people, all over town. Neighbours greeting neighbours at their front doors. One partner out with the kids. Somebody else at home manning the front door.

I see two of my grade ten girls trick or treating. I'm not sure they want to acknowledge me. Maybe they're intimidated to see me with my siblings. Maybe they think I'll think they're too old. I told one of the girls earlier today in class that I thought about her as I passed the Treaty Four Convenience Store this morning, and I wondered if she'd finished her Treaty Walk story. She did work on it in period three and handed it in. It's probably the smoothest student weaving of treaty awareness and an every-day walking experience from the assignments I've received. I wonder if she'll be interested in trying to publish it. Minus Twenty in the Leader Post. News Letter. Fort Times. It's that good. We pass each other a few times as we walk and we tease back and forth. I hope she knows I think she's a great kid.

I'm substituting today for my intern because she is at a funeral. It's fun being a visitor in my own classroom. I read the sub notes to the students, pointing to Jade's, "Game Plan" on the white board. They read for fifteen minutes, write a quiz on photography for twenty minutes, we correct the quiz, and then they have an exit slip, "What did you think of the quiz?" My student I later saw trick or treating writes, "It was kind of testy." I hear her giggle as she writes.

We have so many laughs today at school. Mike in his mullet and sunglasses. Four witches. Two masquerade masks. One green dragon. A lab coat or two. One raging hormones pregnant woman; oops, she wasn't in costume. A red clad damsel in distress. A chubby kid in size 42 sneakers. A bag lady. A gypsy. A mystic. I'm not sure if I'm a pirate, a gypsy, a hippy, or just mysellf with ringed earrings, silk kerchief from India, big sleeves, jeans and clogs. When the kids ask me if I'm a pirate, I answer, "Arrrrr Matie." If they ask if I'm a hippy, I say, "Peace," and hold my fingers in the V peace sign.

The SLC kids and teachers run a spirit assembly, students who dress up walk the runway to pumped up music. Moira and Sweet are Elizabeth and Jack Sparrow, flowing dress and musket down the aisle. They are gorgeous. I'm a proud mother. The students, grade by grade, with one teacher team, have a bizzarre relay race, with four laying on the floor, using their bodies to roll a mattress with a pumpkin on top. I have to leave the assembly during the "fear factor" where kids volunteer to drink concoctions like, "blue slirpee, bag of chips and sardenes." My gag reflex is in perfect working order.

We stop in at the cousins, our last stop, and I show Angela the pictures of Moira's dress that Victoria sewed and the graffiti that we've all seen across from the school next to the renovated condos, "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." Brian tells me these are the late Jimi Hendrix' words. Makes me think of my colleagues today, and the love they have for their kids, their subjects, their school, their vocation. And really, love is power. And I think about this town on the move tonight; help us to keep our eyes open for opportunities to interrupt our love for power with the power of love.

Day Forty-Two: October 31st Pictures

Friday, October 28, 2011

Day Forty-One: Perspective

My legs tingle against the thin-skin jogging pants. I'll need to buy wind-pants this weekend, I think. Or maybe just start wearing snow pants. I wonder if that would be too hot. I take a picture of an ice puddle, leaves dead and dying in it's basin. I try once with natural lighting, but it's pretty dark. Once with the flash, but the digital looks odd, like a picture of something close-up under water. I walk and realize I've dropped my blue, woolen mitten. I return and try a picture from the mitt's perspective. Lesley Farley's been teaching our students about camera angle and composition, and I've been thinking about it, too.

The morning is fresh like a dry shower. I know the sun is at my back, behind the hills, but the light is dull, and as Lesley points out, light makes a photograph speak, so I miss the sun until I'm walking by several open lots and the sun smiles between a building and a tree. I snap directly into the ball of fire. My shadow seems like it's own little person, against the highway ditch, against the school's treed perimeter, out there, dancing in the sunshine.

At morning break, Kelsey, a former student, pops into my classroom to remind me that we have a date at lunch. We've been trying to get together since last spring, and finally this week we decided to go to Outreach for Friday lunch together. We both have long hair, her's blonde and mine brown, and I'm loving our shadows, with hair billowing and arms swinging, walking the side-walk, side-by-side. I photograph our shadow's turn at the corner.

This is Kelsey's second trip into the Outreach. Last spring we spent an afternoon volunteering with Trudine, putting clothes away, tidying, taking stuff to the goodwill boxes, throwing cardboard away. Everybody was pitching in, and then a group of five or six of us sat on the couches and Trudine entertained us with a variety of Saulteaux words and their literal meanings. She was mostly laughing, telling us the funny side of language, and when one of the regulars leaves, he speaks to her in Saulteaux and she fires back. She tells us that they always call each other Ugly, it's their little joke. He passed away this fall, and he is missed. Trudine, herself, has had to stop volunteering because she needs to take care of her health. I look forward to her feeling better.

We eat pork soup. Dip Keitha's bannock in the broth. Kelsey and I barely have time to visit, enjoying our food, and sitting on opposite sides of the long table. Kelsey visits with Keitha, talking about their favorite books. "Sure," Keitha says, "I'll take some books. I know who likes to read, even some of our guys. We'd love some books."

I visit with Keitha's granddaughter, Miranda. She's reading one of Michael's favorite author's, David Geddings, I think. Bet I spelled that wrong. I read one of the books, actually, maybe the whole series when Victoria was first born. I remember reading in our bed on McIntyre.

A former student, Sharee, her son and boyfriend are enjoying soup and bannock. One of my former students, Dakota, a tall young man, comes in. I shake his hand. We share the meal and visiting. I ask if I can take some pictures for my blog, and I snap a few. Just before I leave, Dakota asks me when I'm going to get a table tennis table outside so we can play table tennis. He and I used to play at school. I say, "Yah, that would be great." Then I look at the double table in the middle of the room, in a rectangular shape. "Hey," I say, "We could put a net on this table and play." I look at Keitha. "Can I bring some paddles and a net? Hook it up?"

Keitha grins. "Sure."

Later, I look at the picture of my student standing beside me, and I wonder what people see? I wonder if they know this young man absolutely loves table tennis? That he's a good sport? Respectful. Hopeful. Humble. It all depends on the perspective, I think; the more light we shine on each other the better the picture.

Day Forty-One: October 28th Pictures

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Day Forty: On Riel's Trail

It's still dark. I'm driving out of the Qu'Appelle Valley on Highway Ten, toward Regina. At Balgonie I see a line of red as the sun begins to rise. I take the north route, bypassing Regina, straight for the Louis Riel Trail, the double laned Highway Eleven between Regina and Saskatoon.

The sunlight is sideways and strong as I turn off the Louis Riel Trail and onto Highway Two, north toward Imperial, Watrous, and Young. I'm snapping pictures of our shadow against the golden field and navy clouds. My heart is light. I love this land, I think, and I realize that the more I think about treaty the less guilty I feel personally about Canadian history. I've always felt that we, the newcomers, stole the land. According to treaty (although I know there was sometimes collusion in the signing  -- things like people were starving and being ravaged by disease) I have a right to be here; nobody is asking me to give back our family farm or sell my house.

I see Liberty and have to pull the Envoy onto the shoulder to take a picture. I'm on my way to Imperial and have left Liberty behind, what classic colonial names, I think. I turn into Imperial. I see a row of world flags, but no Treaty 4 flag. The business is called Rite Way and I snap a picture, thinking of the elder expression, "In a good way" and I consider that all cultures believe there is a right way and a wrong way to do things.

I share my writing life with the grades 1 to 6 students in Liberty. At the end of the presentation, I say, "And, my current writing project is that I am walking to and from school for a year so that I can think about our Canadian Treaties." The teachers are smiling. "Did you know we are all treaty people?" I say.

The kids nod and bounce up and down.

"Wow. Do you know what treaty territory we are in? I didn't do my homework and check before I came."

Hands shoot up. "Treaty 4."

I'm running late, but I have to stop to capture pictures of Queen and Prairie Street, King and Saskatchewan Street. I pass a Royal Street and a Railway Street. I pass the flags. Write a letter, I think, as I tear off toward Young's McClellan School.

This is the smallest group I've ever presented to with only two teachers who each have three grades in one classroom. Just like a one-room school house, I say. Sometimes they have had five sets of siblings in a classroom, they tell me. Reminds me of Black Lake when I had five pairs of brother-sisters in my grade eight-nine split.

I begin with my Treaty Walks story because they have the computer all set up and ready to go. A little guy in the back row shoots his hand up when I ask if they know about treaties. He says that he is First Nations. I look closer, and notice his shirt. "That's a Louis Riel shirt," I say.

"That's his name, that's his name," a few kids blurt.

"Your name is Riel?" I ask.

He nods, light shining in his eyes.

I show them the first page, "Afraid I'm Going to Flake Out," and tell them about my Artist Way, and now I'm on day forty, and how I'm not worried about it any more; then I pause, self-reflective. "But more tests are coming, right?" I say.

"Like snow, hail, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards," the kids say.

"Show them some of the pictures," the librarian says. While we were setting up, she'd said, "I've had a look at your blog, and what's with the mugs in the trees?"

The librarian walks me to my vehicle. I ask her if she knows who or what the town is named for. "Some white, male, likely," I say.

"I'm not sure," she says, "But we're on A-Z line. Watrous... Young... and Zelma down the road," she points north.

At Watrous I'm happy to meet up with Matt and Heidi Tann, who we taught with in Black Lake. Now Matt teaches in Watrous and Heidi is on maternity leave with her second daughter. The elementary school has been divided into two groups, both five or six times as big as the morning sessions. I do my usual speel. Sing a couple songs. Tell the kids about my treaty walks.

I'm dizzy tired, but I do want some pictures from Watrous, so I fill up my tank and drive just half a block from the Coop when I see two cement railway guys. I jump out of the Envoy, sleeveless, but the sun is shining and my Hong Kong scarf keeps me from shivering in the wind. I take pictures, read the marker, and notice that the building across the way is called Manitou Hotel and Bar, but I'm too lazy to take a picture.

The sun is dropping; the side lighting is gorgeous, but I'm so sleepy I need to pull into a field approach and close my eyes.  I leave the vehicle running and I keep dozing, then startle awake, thinking I've fallen asleep at the wheel. I do feel more rested as I back up into a field, turn right, and back onto Highway 2.

The sun is setting as I drive south along the Louis Riel Highway. From sunrise to sunset I have been an artist, a writer today. I think back to that amazing quote from Louis Riel about the artists' place in the empowerment of his people. Later at home I check on-line to see if it's Zelda or Zelma; who Young was named after; is it the Canadian National Railway or the Canadian Trunk Pacific Railway; and what was that Louis Riel quote.

"My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirits back."  Louis Riel July 4th, 1885 (Manitoba Metis Federation, )

And I'm struggling with how to wrap this day. I love my land and my country. I'm from Macoun, Saskatchewan, named for the botonist who negated Palisser's prediction that the prairie could not support agriculture. I could be from Watrous, Imperial, or Young. I get small town, colonial Saskatchewan.

But it's been a hundred years, and I wonder if we're ready to realize that not all things have happened in a right way. Take Riel, for example, he founded Manitoba, stood up for the Metis, and was eventually hung for treason. I often lump the Metis with First Nations people, but the Metis were not even included in the treaty making process and did not receive any of the benefits of treaty, but all of the oppression.

And then I hear the legend of Manitou Lake, and three Cree men dying of Small Pox found healing in the waters, and how the waters have been used by Medicine Men for generations. And it's wonderful to know there is healing, but it is tragic to know the Small Pox came because of the newcomers.

Today, as I wake along the highway, in my own small way, I offer my writing, and pray to Gitche Manitou, Great Spirit, that art may bring healing, the return of manitou, of spirit.

Day Forty: October 27th Pictures