I love lying under trees

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Tree

I love lying under trees on grass still wet with dew, arms outstretched. Above me, the breeze runs its fingers through the branches and the tree sighs and lets go of a few unneeded leaves.

I don’t know what kind of tree this is, and it doesn’t matter that it is a nameless stranger I found in a park in an unfamiliar city. The only thing that matters is that it stands here, stretching its green canopy above me, reminding me that I am safe, that I am loved.

glimpses of blue sky
slip through
pure effervescence

More Sabbatical FAQs

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Pacific City

Q: Is being on sabbatical as thrilling and as terrifying as it sounds?

A: Yes!

Q: What do you know about being on sabbatical now that you wish you had known before?

A: A few things come to mind…

1. I wish I had known that it wasn’t a good idea to tell people that I want to write during my sabbatical. Because now, of course, everyone asks me how the writing is going, when I’m not writing yet and am not quite ready to write yet. I’m still at the rejuvenating stage of things (see my answer to the next question).

2. I wish I had known how difficult it would be to let go of my old job. I spent the past four-and-a-bit years pouring all of my time and energy into building a new library. I am so proud of that space and of the services the staff and I created. And now the library is going on without me, and I without it. Our paths have diverged, and it was surprising to discover that the library and I are two separate entities. I had forgotten that at some point over the past few years.

Q: So really, what are you doing?

A: I am taking the summer off. I am riding my bike, going for long walks and to yoga, and playing with clay in the pottery studio. I am spending extra time at the farm and visiting friends all over the place. I am sitting on my balcony reading books (and not even all that fabulous Can Lit I’ve been saving for “when I have time” – more on that in a future post). I’ve been taking lots and lots of long afternoon naps.

If you don’t believe me that it is possible to make an entire, completely fulfilling summer out of these things, try it some time. Trust me.

Q: Where is that beach?

A: Pacific City Oregon. I was in Portland for five days last week and rented a car to go to the coast on the last day, and found myself on this blissful beach.

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P.S.

Thank you for reading! I love it when people stop by to say hi. All kind and thoughtful comments are welcome.

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Sabbatical Project #4: Start a blog

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Welcome!

As you can see, I’ve been posting things here for a little while.

My main motivation for starting this blog is to give myself a deadline to write on a regular basis. I intend to post something (anything!) at least twice a week.

Will anyone read along? Who knows. This space for writing is – like everything else this year – an experiment.

A few things I plan to include in this space:

  • Updates about my sabbatical
  • Writing about my current and past travels (coming soon!)
  • “Research notes” about interesting tidbits I find while researching Alberta’s history and my own family’s history for a writing project I am planning to work on later this year
  • New poems and other short pieces of creative writing
  • Thoughts about creativity and the writing process
  • Notes about books I’m reading

If you’re reading this, please say hi in the comments. All kind and thoughtful comments are welcome.

For my grandfather

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ruins of the windmill


Each year, the city’s tendrils creep closer
to the ruins of the farmhouse of your
birth. Our family’s firstborn Canadian.

When you were only two weeks old,
the census taker spelled your name wrong,
unable to understand your parents.

No matter. You thrived like the prairie grasses
and now I am here: more than a hundred
years later, only a few miles away,

part of these urban rhythms, bearing witness
as this city that was your future consumes
my past beneath this holy, expansive sky.

the old Kublik farm
Dad shows my brother, sister-in-law and I the layout of his grandparents’ house near Ellerslie, Alberta. Photo credits: Gladys Kublik, 2009.

Sabbatical Project #2: Get Back Into the Pottery Studio

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first pots in over a year

In April, I went back to the pottery studio after more than a year away.

Before, when I was working, going to the studio was about doing something with my hands. About the pleasure of taking my frustrations out on an unsuspecting lump of clay and feeling a bit better at the end of the evening.

I was happy to make the same bowl over and over and to glaze those bowls with a few favourite glaze combinations. I learnt a lot about technique making those bowls, discovering exactly how thin the sides could be and how little clay I could leave at the bottom before a piece collapsed in on itself.

I was always late for my Thursday evening class – but I made it, and that was an accomplishment by itself. At some point, during the busiest part of managing the library expansion project, I decided I didn’t have time for pottery any more.

Now, I have more time and I’m on time: I get the full three hours of studio time. I find myself thinking about new techniques and designs to try next all week. I discovered Pinterest and am busy pinning pieces that inspire me. I’m not throwing many bowls these days – instead I’m trying to create my version of this creamer with a matching sugar bowl and playing with vases with cutout designs.

Not all of my experiments turn out well; in fact, my bowls were probably more appealing. But for the first time I am thinking about design and balance and composition and “what if” and “how about…”

For the first time, pottery is about more than just technique.

Suddenly, I am a beginner all over again.

And I’m having fun.

A few of my favourite finished pots:

pots1

pots2

pots3

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Note: this post is part of a series about my adventures during a year long, self-funded sabbatical. For more, click here.

Across Canada by train

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Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? I can imagine watching dense forests and ripe wheat fields pass by while sipping a glass of wine a the luxury restaurant car.

During a recent visit to Calgary’s Heritage Park, I was reminded that all of my great-grandparents, and three of my grandparents, made this trip in much different conditions after landing as new immigrants in either Halifax or Quebec City.

Each of the four families arrived in Canada planning to continue on to Alberta, to settle near family members already living near Ellerslie or Wetaskiwin. And each of the four families would have made that journey in a train car similar to this one.

Colonist Car, Heritage Park, Calgary AB

The sign outside the car pointed out that “these second-class cars, with their wooden slat seats, cookstove, and tank of water, provided necessities rather than comforts.” Even so, for the Stengel family, which included my grandmother Olga (then an infant), the $7.00 fare per person – even if the children rode for free – would have been a significant expense, considering that the family had only $60.00. I doubt they would have splurged the additional $2.50 to purchase bedding for the sleeping berth.

What did my great grandparents, Karolina and Frederick, think about as they began to realize the immensity of their new country? Did they voice their thoughts to each other? Where they excited? Hopeful? Frightened? I’m certain I would have been all of the above.

I love to travel, but I wonder if I would have had the courage to leave family behind and move halfway across the world, never to return “home” again. Even as that question enters my mind, I know it is not a fair comparison: they had very little to lose when they left Volyhenia, Russia, to come to Canada.

Here is my version of the family legend:


Coming to the Promised Land

He said, “This is our chance. We can make a better life for ourselves and our children. We can stay with my brother and his family. They have lots of room.”

So he sold the two cows that hadn’t died during the winter and bought tickets for the five of us: Frederick, his younger brother Julius, me, Henry who clapped his hands in excitement when we told him we were going on a ship, and the baby. I thought I would die in the belly of that ship, the Hesperian, as it belched smoke across the Atlantic and I lay curled up on our cot, seasick, while Henry toddled around playing with the other children.

Then there was the train. The journey I thought would never end, the journey west, west, west, through the rich Ontario farmland where I wanted to get off, but he said, “no, there is no free land here.”

Through the rich farmland into the barrenness of the prairie where no trees grew, and still we kept going. We kept going until we came to Edmonton, where his brother waited to take us on to Millet, the brother who had lots of room.

His brother’s wife said, “We have no room. But you can have the old chicken coop.”

So I cleaned out the shack with a pitchfork and I swept and I washed and I begged some paint from the brother’s wife and I painted. And we called it home.

I waited for a better life. But there was no free land, not here. To get the land we would have to travel far away from the towns to where there was no one. We would have needed supplies: horses, seed, a plow. The money from the cows was already spent.

He said, “Things will get better after I find work.”

I wasn’t sorry we had come. What was there for us in Russia? Nothing, not even the house we had lived it: the landlord’s men tore it down the morning the lease on the farm ran out. Frederick’s family had farmed it for ninety-nine years, but the only land they owned was the bit that was caught under their fingernails.

That first year, he would come home, his shirt soiled with sweat from the long hours in another man’s field. He would sit at the table, head in his hands, too tired to eat the supper I had cooked hours before. We would sit on the step, our children asleep inside, and look at the stars, dreaming of a farm of our own.

After a while, I would put my hand on his shoulder and say, “This is our chance.”