Saturday, December 29, 2012

Photos of the year gone by

The first word that comes to mind when I think about the year 2012 is adventure. For me, the adventure began in March when I packed my bags and left rainy BC and headed south to Honduras. While I was in Central America, I helped make an alfombra in the streets of Antigua,

I hiked to the highest point in Honduras, 

I baked traditional Mennonite paska for the first time ever using traditional Honduran baleada flour, limones and possibly a dash of Honduran ants (so so proud of myself),

I explored ancient Mayan ruins and picnicked in ancient sports fields in the pouring rain,

I wandered through the colourful colonial streets of Antigua and kayaked in a lake high in the Guatemalan mountains surrounded by volcanoes and coffee plantations:

and I saw a few too many of these of these.

But more importantly, I got to spend a great deal of time teaching English and playing with kids here:

I was able to teach this cheerful looking group how to play "Ode to Joy" on the keyboard:
and I made a great deal of creative (and MESSY!) art with this bunch of darlings:

And to end my adventures in Honduras I traveled by bus, taxi and fishing boat with some friends to a small island in the Caribbean where we snorkelled with barracuda and ate heaping plates of fish and crab:

Upon returning back to Canada in August I spent some time wandering in the mountains around Banff with my brother:

And then it was time to embark on the new adventure of moving into a little yellow house on a tree-lined street of Vancouver and beginning my first semester of grad school:

Looking through these photos reminds me that this certainly has been a year of adventure. And while the moments of "firsts" have perhaps been the most memorable - and the most photogenic - it has been the undocumented moments that truly composed the framework of the past year.

It was the time spent reading with fidgety nine-year old boys, teaching the oh-so-valuable phrase "the wolf cries" to a group of Honduran elementary students, spending my early mornings reading and praying while looking out over the mist-shrouded mountains, listening to a fisherman's story on the beach, braiding little girls' hair and searching every grocery store in Copan Ruinas for baking flour that filled my time this year. It was the hours of reading both in and out of school and the hours of essay-writing and studying that have shaped and guided my thoughts. It has been a year filled with moments of waiting for buses in the pouring rain and taking long walks through misty forests. And it has - perhaps most importantly - been a year of finding wonderful and dear friends to go along with me in adventures that each year brings.

I suspect, given my loosely formed plans for the year to come, that 2013 will be primarily composed of the undocumented moments, those moments which are likely not as photogenic as exploring old ruins and cities in Latin America. But I know that every adventure is composed of time spent waiting in the rain, where the excitement of adventure is hard to discern. And so I will strive to keep my eyes open and my ears listening for the strains of beauty and excitement that weave themselves through the fabric of every adventure that ever comes my way. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


I am a composting failure.

I think that composting is very much important, I really do. It is just that when composting moves beyond idealism and I actually need to put my discarded peels and egg shells in a fruit fly infested bucket below the sink, my naturally laziness kicks in, oh-so-quickly.

I know, I am a terrible person who doesn't belong on the West Coast. But I really am going to try to improve.

While I am a self-proclaimed composting failure, I think that composting is beautiful. What was once so solid and full of life becomes soft, subtle and filled with hope of regeneration and new life, like the ancient nurse trees lining the forest floor, that fall to the ground dead only to become a rich source of nutrients for future generations of trees and shrubs growing in the places where they once stood tall and strong through winds and rainstorms.

Rotten apple cores and onion skins lying in a plastic bucket below my sink are not quite as poetic as decaying red cedars in the forest. But the same depth of meaning applies.

Here is a visual reflection on compost that I did for an art class this past semester:

(I apologize if this isn't the clearest picture...texture and gloss medium don't add up to photogenic material...)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bach in Times of Crisis

There is something about Bach in times of crisis.

I have a tendency to run to Bach when times get crazy, when it feels like all the threads of events are tangled in the most beastly of knots that even the invincible children's book protagonist Maniac Magee would be unable to untangle. Bach entered my life when I was about twelve and once I mastered my first little prelude I pounded it out with great enthusiasm and minimal regard for the fact that Bach was not in fact a romantic and may not have approved of my rather dramatic take on his dynamics. I took piano lessons until I was nineteen, so Bach became a fixture of my practicing time as I moved gradually from Inventions, to Sinfonias, to finally working on a hauntingly beautiful Prelude and a hauntingly terrifying Fugue to prepare for my final exam.

What has continually drawn me to playing Bach (besides the fact that he was an integral part of the curriculum) is that he always resolves so beautifully. Each piece is composed of different melody lines working through the same motif. The melodies are like threads that weave in and out of one another, bouncing motifs off of one another throughout the piece until they finally resolve with a conclusive cadence at the end. And regardless of whether the piece is stormy and frantic in a minor key, or jubilant in a major key, the loose ends are always eventually drawn together.

It is so satisfying to know that whatever my external circumstances, Bach won't leave me hanging. He will always masterfully weave in the loose ends in and give them purpose.

In the midst of the final exam madness this semester (side note - I just survived my first semester of grad school. not that it's a big deal or anything....) one of the figures I have been studying is Julian of Norwich. A mystic living as a reclusive anchoress in the fourteenth century, Julian lived in an era of true crisis. The church was shaken by emerging heresy, the papacy was corrupt, new Renaissance ideas were just beginning to challenge traditional understandings of life, and let's not forget the Back Death, waves of which Julian would have experienced twice within the first twenty years of her life.

And how did Julian respond? In her Showings of the Divine Love she describes the concerns of the world as nothing more than the size of a hazelnut. And she recites the words of the Lord, spoken to her in these times of crisis:
I will make all things well, I shall make all things well, I may make all things well and I can make all things well; and you will see that yourself, that all things will be well
Because I can only begin to understand God by seeking to understand him through the lens of earthly things, I see something of Bach in God. Like Bach pulling the separate threads of melodies through a sometimes harrowing melodic experience into a conclusive cadence, God will, somehow and unbelievably, pull us through the knotted mass of threads that is this life - and he will be better at untangling the mess we've made than even Maniac Macgee.

I can't help but think about the hope that Julian suggests in these times of crisis, where children(!) experience trauma and evil in their schools. It is hard to see that hope when we are knotted up in the midst of it all. All I can do is sit down at the piano I am so very blessed to have in my living room, and I can play my preludes and sinfonias with the hope that the cadence will come, in spite of all odds.