The Test/Heartfelt (Voice and Vision 2021)

Voice and Vision is an annual collaboration between Airdrie and area artists and writers. We meet in May, each bringing an initial piece, and we are randomly paired. We then create a response piece — the author a response to the artist’s work and the artist a response to the writer’s work — which is revealed at the Grand Gala in September. This year, I was paired with Jean K. Blackall. This post features my initial piece, The Test, and Jean’s response piece, Heartfelt. Next week, I will post Jean’s initial work and my response piece.

Owl returns stolen shoestring to Cormorant
Heartfelt When I began working on this collage, the cormorant, all in black, suggested hijab to me — I spent a few years in Saudi Arabia. I could not get that out of my mind, and then the terrible crime of a young man running down a family in London occurred and I just had to make this cormorant a female in hijab. The painting is about repentance (of our society) for the way we segregate and separate Muslim people, leading to young people learning hatred rather than love. That is the understory of the painting, but it is also about the repentance for things said, unsaid and done between friends. Jean K. Blackall, artist. (acrylic and mixed media with hand-dyed paper and found objects; 16x 20 inches)

Cormorant sulked in his basement.
He was angry at old Hooty Owl.
“He’s stolen my favourite shoestring,
That light-fingered, treacherous fowl.”

“We used to be very best buddies
Which many folks thought really weird,
But, oh, we had such fun together
Playing o’er river and field.”

Owl, who’d taken the shoestring,
Sat up in his tree, all forlorn.
He looked at his purloined possession
Once prizéd but now oh so scorned.

“This shoestring, I thought, would be perfect
To spruce up my family’s nest.
But now I see I was mistaken
For friendship is by far the best.

“I miss my old friend, Mr. Cormy,
Estranged is not how we should be.”
He sighed, and he made his decision
Way up on the top of his tree.

Owl picked up that tattered old shoestring
And flew with it back to his friend.
Said, “Cormorant, I am so sorry,
I hope I can make some amends.”

“I regret my rude rash act of thievery.
Your shoestring I gladly give back.
It’s only a thing – I have plenty –
It’s friendship that I truly lack.”

Cormorant looked at his shoestring.
He sighed, then he smiled. “Old Friend,
I missed you much more than that shoestring.
Our spat can now come to an end.”

The moral of this little story
I hope you, Good Friends, take to heart.
A “Thing” is just not worth the having
If it’s going to drive you apart.

#VoiceAndVision #ArtistAuthorCollaboration #NonsensePoem #SocialCommentary #Friendship #Repentance #Othering #Forgiveness #MargaretGHanna

In a Jam

Some days, I amaze myself, how slow I am.

We have four berry bushes – one gooseberry, one red currant, one high-bush cranberry and one chokecherry. None produces enough berries to make single-source jam so I have taken to throwing all the berries into the pot and making what I call “Many Berry Jam.”

Which is what I did Sunday morning.

Chokecherries are about 90% stone, 10% pulp, so I cooked them separately, squished them through a sieve to remove the seeds, and added the resulting juice and pulp to the other berries. My husband watched as I threw all the berries into the pot. “Aren’t you going to cook the cranberries separately? They have seeds, too.”

Being the all-knowing (at least, in my mind) maker of jams, I said, “No, they’re small seeds. You’ll never notice them.”

Guess what? Hubby was right (oh, I hate to admit that). Flat, oval and definitely inedible seeds began appearing in the mash. I started spooning them out. More appeared. Then more. Then still more. The pile of discarded seeds grew. Egad, is there no end?

I realized, to my horror and dismay, that there would be no end as long as there were still cranberries splitting open and spilling out their seeds. Now what to do? I’d been spooning out seeds for an hour; how many more hours would I have to do this?

The light bulb of inspiration flashed on. Why don’t I get out the food mill and run the mash through it. That will take out the seeds. Duh! Why didn’t I think of this at the beginning? (Of course, some of you may be asking, “Why didn’t you listen to your husband before?” Well, chalk that up to my contrary Hanna personality, or my equally contrary Libran personality – if there’s anything a Libran hates more than having to decide what to do, it’s having someone tell her what to do. But I digress.)

As I said, some days, I amaze myself, how slow I am.

Four half-pint jars of Many Berry Jam, sans seeds, now sit proudly on the shelf in our cold room.

And next year, I’ll cook the cranberries separately.

#JamMaking #FallPreserves #CookingFauxPas #LearningTheHardWay #HighBushCranberries #Chokecherries #MargaretGHanna

Ha! Ha! Fooled Ya’!

Archaeologists must be masochists (I should know, I was an archaeologist in pre-retirement life). Who else would willingly work in out-of-the-way places with no amenities, in blazing heat or freezing cold, bend your body into unnatural positions so you won’t step on/sit on/kick some precious (you hope) artifact or feature, or get run off your site (or worse, out of camp) by wild animals.

Archaeological sites are notoriously unpredictable. Just when you think you know what’s happening, you find something weird or unexpected – which is just as likely the absence of something you expected – and you have to change your entire excavation (or survey) strategy on the spot. Archaeologists have to be constantly on their toes, even though they are usually on their knees, or bellies, digging (maybe even praying).

I’ve been the victim of the unexpected many times. Here are a couple:

Gotcha #1
La Loche, northwestern Saskatchewan. My colleague and I were surveying a new highway right-of-way just south of the village. It was easy work. The soil was sandy and there were almost no trees (in spite of being in the boreal forest), so all we had to do was walk the right-of-way and map and collect any artifacts we encountered. At first, we found nothing exciting, just flakes of the expected quartz, quartzite and silicified sandstone. But then, just when we were about to give up on the place, I found a couple of flakes of a white homogeneous, extremely fine-grained stone that I had never seen before. A couple more lay barely a metre beyond. And then more. I followed the trail, finding more and more flakes. I was puzzled. What could this stone material be?

And then, there it was, the mother lode. I laughed. I tossed away those mystifying flakes.

What lay before me was a broken white porcelain toilet. I had been collecting porcelain “flakes.” I called my colleague over and we both had a good laugh. I swear I heard the site laughing, too.

Gotcha #2
Chambery Coulee, southeast of Eastend, in southwestern Saskatchewan. The Royal Saskatchewan Museum (where I was a curator) was excavating “Scotty,” a Tyrannosaurus rex, in the bottom of the coulee. I joined them for a few days where I discovered that chiseling through rock is much harder than digging through dirt (and more painful because I constantly smacked my thumb with the hammer). So when they told me there were lots of tipi rings (stone circles) on the prairie level above the coulee, I dropped my hammer and chisel (avoiding my foot) and headed for the hills that rimmed the coulee.

I won’t bore you with the details of my mapping strategy, except the one that is essential to this story. I used a piece of orange flagging tape on a 6″ spike to mark each of the thousands of artifacts (mostly flakes, rarely tools) that lay inside and around the tipi rings. Once they were marked, I mapped them, removing each flag-tipped spike as I recorded what it marked.

It was one of those scorching hot prairie days. The sun beat down from a cloudless sky. I was hot and tired. I desperately wanted to get back to camp, to wash, to have a beer, and to hear what the gang from the T. rex site had found. I packed the last of the spikes into my backpack and slung it onto my shoulder.

But wait! Way off there, a hundred of so meters away, was a speck of orange. Rats (or words to that effect)! I dropped my pack, dug out my notebook and pencil, and paced the distance to it.

I shook my head. I laughed. Fooled again! What sat at my feet was not a flag-tipped spike. No. It was a Scarlet Mallow, a wild flower native to the prairies. The flower was exactly the same colour as the flagging tape.

I walked back, picked up my pack and went back to camp. The crew had a good laugh. I’m sure the Scarlet Mallow had a good giggle, too.

#Archaeology #ExcavationTales #PorcelainToilet #ScarletMallow #SaskatchewanArchaeology #SurveyTales #MargaretGHanna