Category Archives: Photography

Magic Door in Kew Gardens, Toronto!

As I was walking through Kew Gardens, the sight of this wee door at the base of a tree astonished me!

IMG_7056Who made the door? And why?

IMG_7068IMG_7048IMG_7062IMG_7064IMG_7045Who arranged the offering of twigs and leaves?

IMG_7039IMG_7084To thank the tree, I placed two quarters on the spontaneous shrine, still marveling at the fairy-tale door.

IMG_0688The story of the magic door evolves with a sighting nearly a year after the first. Astroturf now covers the dirt floor and a new vision of the world outside the door has been created.IMG_0695With a sturdy vehicle, a stone wall, a compass, a sign, and a campfire, this self-sufficient village can weather the challenges of a busy Toronto park.

(Note: a few months ago, I read a newspaper article that solved the mystery! The door serves as a literary backdrop for Henley the Hedgehog, the star of three children’s books by Sharon Douris.)

 

Think About the Pink Sink

A pink sink appeared on a neighbour’s lawn two weeks ago, and I took a picture of it.

IMG_5279The rejected basin was still there yesterday, but some changes in its appearance had occurred.

IMG_5880Pink Sink Reflection

The weight of the pink sink basin is no match for the power of grass. It only takes two weeks for hundreds of green blades to hoist their pastel burden and tilt it to one side. Even the dandelions triumph over the sink and find outlets through the three holes, the ghosts of faucets past.

IMG_5733 IMG_5725 IMG_5717Where hot and cold water once rushed through pipes, new stems flourish wild, breathing spring into the openings that people once controlled. Fluffy weed seeds unfurl with defiance, flaunting the natural disobedience of plant life. It seizes every opportunity to grow, not caring if it’s welcome.

IMG_5734What humans see as trash and ruin, the dandelions respond to with grace and grit. They teach us what really matters: survival, finding a purchase, and overcoming obstacles. They create ingenious beauty in the unlikeliest of places.

 

The Name in the River: Photo-poem by Catherine

Window Art by Natu Patel, Humberwood Library
Window Art by Natu Patel, Humberwood Library

She kneels before the river,

the ankles of her snow boots resting on the bench-edge.

Beside her, The Lightning Thief, three mysteries, Brave,

and a packet of cheese crackers make a small tower.

Window Art by Natu Patel, Humberwood Library
Window Art by Natu Patel, Humberwood Library

Ignoring the crackers,

she watches the deer who sniffs the air for danger

before dipping its head in the river.

She wants to swim downstream in grey and blue

where the water’s wild direction drops from sight.

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Window Art by Natu Patel, Humberwood Library

She turns to watch the librarian busy with the Holds cart

and then etches the name Alia into the river with her fingernail.

Alia knows it is not allowed,

but she obeys an inner devotion

to a moving sanctuary, an altar of water.

Alia writes her name in the river

because it calls her daughter.

Alia dives into her river,

ancient gills awakening to underwater life.

The river’s name is Alia

and it carries the kneeling girl home.

 

Trash Bunny’s Worst Christmas (Photos and Poem by Catherine Raine)

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Lost animal of Christmas past,

floppy ears cover eyes

too ashamed to accept,

how low she’s fallen,

 faded felt belly

frozen in grief to the sidewalk.

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Without even a plastic bag

to disguise rejection,

she lies exposed, less than garbage.

Discarded cords, old homework,

and a Disney Store bag from 2007

press against the slack form on three sides.

Her tired pelt casts shadows on jigsaw mats

that are not useful, not even fun.

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 Who used to love you?

Who threw you away?

Who remembers the morning

you got yanked from a red box

and hugged with aggressive joy?

Where is your former seat

on a bunk bed or cedar chest?

You never chose this street, this corner, this end.

Nobody asked if you were done with love.

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When I see the patchwork bow on your neck,

my ribs tighten in pain.

The bow’s faded hearts, flowers, and stripes

in green, blue, yellow, and a hint of purple

cannot lift this heap of despair,

but the colors found me, your witness, your friend.

Let’s sit together until the truck comes.

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The Algo Mall Ruin at Elliot Lake: Reflections of a Concerned Visitor

Ever since a friend introduced us to the northern beauty of Elliot Lake and its surrounding forests two years ago, my husband and I have taken several trips there. After our first visit, I even wrote a blog post about Elliot Lake’s library situated in the Algo Centre Mall.

On June 23, 2012, part of the Algo Centre’s roof collapsed, crashing through two floors of the mall and killing two women. The news shocked and disturbed me, especially when I considered how often we had shopped in this building and how my friend used to spend countless hours in the food court working on her laptop. Before the mall collapsed, my faith in the safety of structures like the Algo Centre was intact, but now that conviction feels shaky.

Earlier this year, my husband and I had discussed another visit to Elliot Lake at the end of the summer. After the tragedy, we weren’t sure if we still wanted to go, but in the end we stuck to our original plan in hopes that our tourist dollars would help the community.

On a hot afternoon last Saturday, Stewart and I lunched at Jane’s Tea Garden, a cafe and gift shop that faces the fenced-off hill that marks the edge of the Algo Centre’s property. As I ate my soup and salad, I saw at least eight people, some with large cameras, climb up the stone steps that stopped abruptly at the tall fence bordering the mall and its parking lot.

After lunch, I bought a pair of sneakers from Tin Can Alley (a few doors down Ontario Aveneue from Jane’s Tea Garden) and then walked up the stone steps that the other tourists had recently ascended. I stopped in front of the “Danger! No Trespassing” sign and looked beyond it to the ruin of the mall. It didn’t seem right to snap photos of such devastation, so I left my camera in my bag.

I felt a little queasy from the heat and the way the twisted metal and concrete debris reminded me of the fallen Twin Towers and pictures of Joplin, Missouri after last year’s tornado. Nevertheless, I wanted to get a clearer view of the collapsed mall entrance, so I walked a few paces west.

I tried to take in the scene in its entirety, but it was difficult. My eyes kept locking on stray details like the five shopping carts I could see in the foreground and closer to the entrance. It was like a grim game of I Spy:

I spy one of the carts fallen on its side and another one full of thick silver wires pulled from the rubble. Two more carts have been tossed into piles of debris in the parking lot, and the last one I see is upright and empty, a ghostly reminder that this place used to be a busy, normal site of commercial activity.

When I look at the carts, I remember buying a purple paisley blouse and two towels from the now silent Zellers two summers ago. I used one of the towels to pad an epic sprawling-on-a-dock session by a lovely lake, one of my favorite memories of northern Ontario. And the Foodland where we bought picnic supplies — apples, petite boursin, juice boxes — is now a reeking horror of rotten food that has had two months to putrefy.

From my position upwind of the grocery store, I was spared the revolting smell, but I still felt slightly nauseated and shaky. The disaster site put me off-kilter, and a vague sweaty headache pulled at my consciousness. In my gut, I sensed a pocket of emptiness in the shape of a fist. The fist was the color of hot rust, its knuckles outlined in red.

Although I didn’t personally know the two women who died in the collapse, the tragedy of their passing exposed my own grief over recent and past losses, for the presence of Death collapses identifying boundaries such as the cause of death, the location, the time elapsed, and social proximity to the victims. The people who lost Doloris Perizzolo and Lucie Aylwin two months ago at Elliot Lake are hurting like me when I lost Dad, Grandma, Jenny, and Eric.

Looking past the rubble to the mall itself, I was struck by the naked chaos of the twisted, ragged hole where the mall’s entrance used to be. I looked at it in disbelief and wondered if I should be witnessing a building in such an exposed condition. Maybe that was why I didn’t feel right taking pictures of the ruin. The mall was so naked and vulnerable, literally stripped to its bare skeleton, showing square frames of nothing save a few exposed wires where solid walls once stood.

The entrance was a peeled and ragged maw of emptiness, a grimacing face on which silence rests because nobody knows what the hell to say. And behind that useless portal lay a crime scene, its rotting contents a nauseating metaphor for the neglect that led to the collapse. A traumatized and traumatizing building with memories of shock, fear, flight, injury, and death.

I think about the library on the second floor of the mall. It wasn’t far from the lottery booth where the two victims died. I remember the quilt on the wall, fishing rods for rent, a mural, and a large French collection. All part of the rubble now. (Elliot Lake plans to open a new library not far from the mall at White Mountain Academy).

For comfort, I turn away from the ruin and walk back down the hill to study the shrine. Although it sits in the shadow of destruction, decay, and collapse, the memorial display is an attempt to lovingly respond to senseless loss. The shrine’s candles, Inukshuks, teddy bears, flowers, and angels testify to a heartbroken town’s courage, community strength, and its refusal to forget. Elliot Lake, I’m holding you in my thoughts and prayers as you wrestle with grief and seek the light of justice.

Beauty Never Dies at the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix Arizona (Journal Entry for May 3, 2012)

As I write on a slightly rickety table beside the snack cart, I’m enjoying the shade and moving shadows of a tall tree. The same waving branches that are making patterns on these pages recently hosted a rock pigeon, but it has flown away.

I’m taking a rest after almost two hours of desert trail-walking. Funny how the landscape didn’t really reach me at first, but before long I lost my heart to its wildflowers, lizards, hummingbirds, and flowering cathedral cacti.

As I made my way along the Desert Wildflower trail, the Desert Discovery Loop, and the Steele Herb Garden, fragments of lectures and conversations shimmered briefly, the fluttering of unseen wings in the leaves.

Tap Root.

Burrow.

Nest.

Lizard!! Lizard!!

“Would you like a picture of this cactus for your power point presentation?” (Father to his young son)

In the Desert Garden, I saw a multitude of memorials on benches, chairs, fountains, trees, and walls. There were even memorial drinking fountains (a lovely idea). However, I was looking for a special one, a plaque in memory of a Toronto friend’s beloved parents. And when I finally found it, I felt connected to my friend’s family and their shared memories of the Garden. It didn’t seem to matter that I never met them. They had walked these paths before and enjoyed the beauty that I was seeing.

I studied the plaque for a long time, growing sad and thoughtful. But the more I reflected on the inevitability of loss, the more I felt strangely comforted at the thought of all the people who will visit this gorgeous sanctuary long after I have had my mortal turn. The Desert Garden is an embodiment of faith, for in this place, love, memories, and the creative earth continue to flower and flower, tapping deep roots of Beauty that do not die.

Christmas Tree Stories

My grandmother Raine gave me this Christmas tree in 2004 when she was 93 years old. She had decided that she no longer felt like putting it up every year, especially after the loss of my father (1995) and my uncle (2004).

I hadn’t decorated a Christmas tree since I was a teenager, but Grandma’s gift inspired me to start again. My mother also gave me some ornaments that have been in the family since the 1960’s. And to accompany the tree into the 21st century, I’ve added some new ornaments, mostly purchased from Ten Thousand Villages in Toronto.

My grandmother was a wonderful quilter, and she made the Christmas tree skirt under the rocking horse, teddy bear, and gingerbread girl.

Also resting on the quilted tree skirt are some of the cookie dough ornaments I remember from my childhood. My mother made some of them, but she recently told me she can’t recall exactly which ones. Regardless, I’m glad to have these reminders of Christmases past when my father, mother, and brother and I used to decorate the tree together (and Birthday the cat used to bat and smash the glass balls on the lower branches).

I’m especially fond of the cracks in this circular face. They testify to the survival of more than thirty holiday seasons.

The small red wagon on the left has a story, too. Mom bought it for me one December in the 1970’s when she took me to see the Wornall House museum in Kansas City in all its Christmas glory.

The tree-topping knitted angel is a new addition, as are most of the ornaments in the pictures which follow. She was made in Bangladesh, which reminds me of my students at the college where I teach English.

Elephants, crescent moons, and Bangladeshi angels mingle with Santa, reindeer, and an apple. They help the tree honor Toronto’s multiculturalism and integrate the Christian traditions of my childhood with the pluralism all around me today.

I hope Grandma Raine would have liked the way I set up her tree. She also supplied me with more festive textiles in the form of two placemats (one green, one red) and a smaller Christmas tree skirt.

Finally, six giant postcards from the 1960’s put the finishing touches on my decorating efforts. I think my parents bought these cards in California when my father was working for Trans World Airlines. My favorite one is the calico cat, and “Dr. O’Brien’s Amazing Powders” is a close second.

Thank you for joining me on this narrative sleigh-ride in time and space! It feels jolly to share Grandma Raine’s tree with you!

Generous Reception and Bio-Wall at Centennial College Library and Academic Building

I arrived near the end of a 2011 reception in honour of Centennial College’s New Library and Academic Building (Progress Campus), but a couple of punch bowls were still flowing in orange and red.

Soon, the catering staff started encouraging everybody in the Commons to finish off the food. One extrovert caterer hollered, “Come on everybody — grab a napkin and eat up these sandwiches!” He made large crowd-gathering motions with his arms and added, “I don’t want to see any of this food in the trash.” At least a dozen students rushed to his aid, carting off double handfuls of pastry and sandwiches to their tables.

Responding to the summons, I downed a lemon tart as I took in the busy scene of multiple study groups in the open courtyard. Two floors above us, glass-walled rooms devoted to communal study could be seen in the library proper: illuminated cross-sections of learning in action.

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Much as I enjoyed the bustle of library activity and the sleek new building, the main attraction for me was this living wall. When I first saw it, I just wanted to sit at its roots for a long time.

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The wild elegance of an indoor vertical garden is a delight in itself, but this gorgeous bio-wall is far more than a decorative feature. According to an explanatory leaflet, the wall-plants grow “in a synthetic rooting media . . . . Contaminated room air is drawn through the root zone of the plants, which acts as a biological filter, where pollutants are broken down by microbes into water and carbon dioxide.”

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Please join me in celebrating a generous wall that gives back to its community, quietly transforming toxins into fresh air as students engage in learning  by the roots! May the new library’s bio-wall inspire all who experience its calming green presence.

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2016

“Jesus Has Left the Building”

 

I was taking a walk down an alley near Dovercourt and Bloor when this ruined church happened upon me. Both imposing and sad, the ruin really affected me and I vowed to return and photograph it.

Last Friday, I revisited the site and first took some pictures of the back of the building. These are the west and north walls as viewed from the alley.

 

Then I walked from the alley to Westmoreland Avenue to see the front of the church. I wondered what had happened to turn this lovely edifice, surrounded by reasonably prosperous rows of houses, into a ruin.

When I looked carefully at the carved words next to one of two doors on the east wall, I could make out “Saint Mary the Virgin.”

And when I studied the other door, I read these words penned by a giant black Sharpie: “Jesus has left the building. You are on your own now. Good luck.”

For me, the chain on the door was sadder than the building’s graffiti epitaph.

Purple Gratitude Sheet at Dancemakers

It was my turn to DJ our six-woman dance circle last month. When I arrived at the Dancemakers studio, I put a king-size purple sheet on the floor near the windows. The sheet became our canvas for the session’s theme: Dancing in Quiet Gratitude.

In my music set, I included a number of songs that held the light: “Thread the light” (Glen Hansard‘s “This Low”), “There will be a light” (Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama), “There’s still a light that shines on me” (“Let it Be“), and Brian McMillan‘s encouraging lyrics in “Let the Darkness Go.”

I invited my fellow dancers to decorate the purple sheet in response to the theme of gratitude. I had some fabric markers, but the small bottles of neon fabric paint proved more popular. The four of us filled the sheet with these words and images: rivers, voice, movement, bosoms, silliness, mistakes, great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, daughters, safe girls, spirit, breath, the forest, laughter, rocks, fierce winds, night, moon, kindness, creativity sheets, raindrops, flowers, hope, fire, goldfinches, fierce goddess, play, community, beauty, thunder, food, wild grasses, health, smiles, art, ocean, a tomato, You, a foot, refreshing tears, music, and lightning.

Over the course of the two-hour music set, the purple sheet’s function evolved in a wonderful way. At the beginning, it operated like a picnic blanket on which to gather and discuss the theme of the session. When the music began, the sheet was a connecting fabric; all of us were lying on the floor with some part of us touching the sheet, whether it was only a head or an entire body curled up on it.

As the dance progressed, we crouched at the edges of the purple canvas each time we felt inspired to write or draw. Then we moved in to fill the centre as we moved more deeply into the set. And towards the end of our time in the studio, I started squirting fabric paint at random, and soon we were all squeezing the bottles and giggling as blobs of paint rained down on the sheet without constraint.

While we were collaborating on our modern art experiment, Brett Dennen was singing “Blessed is this life, and I’m going to celebrate being alive.” I felt that we honored the spirit of his words with our ecstatic paint-dance.

When the music ended, we were back in a circle, gathered around the no-longer blank sheet. Each of us talked about what images caught our fancy (it was the tomato for me!). Then we ceremoniously folded up the sheet, even though I realized to my dismay that the fabric paint was still wet.

After I got home that night, I had to peel the sheet apart! There were plenty of smears and blobs, but luckily most of the words and pictures remained clear. I hope you enjoy looking at the Purple Gratitude Sheet as much as we enjoyed making it!

Churchill Library on a Day of Lakes, Gourd-Banjos, and Romance Novel Heroes

Not far from the shores of Lake Simcoe, there’s a place where you can visit a small community library or make a banjo from a gourd.

Let me explain.

Last Tuesday I accompanied Stewart to Churchill (near Innisfil), where he was attending a banjo-making workshop run by Jeff Menzies. While Stewart was busy in Jeff’s studio, I spent the morning beside the lake and the afternoon at the Churchill branch of Innisfil Public Library.

One of four branches of the Innisfil Public Library system, Churchill’s small size, leafy setting, and friendly staff reminded me of the library in the small town where I grew up in the Midwest. And just as my mother used to take my brother and I on weekly library visits, several Churchill moms brought their kids to the local branch on Tuesday afternoon. One mother-daughter pair arrived with bicycle helmets and awesome summer reading habits, for the mom was able to talk her child into hurrying with the words: “Come on! We’ll be back tomorrow!”

I could definitely see why Churchill patrons would want to be regulars at such a welcoming branch. The librarian had reading suggestions for the parents and stickers for the kids, all of whom she knew by name (like I observed at Perth/Dupont branch in Toronto). In addition to a row of three computers with internet access, there was a nook reserved for children who wanted to play computer games.

With limited space upstairs, the basement was devoted to children’s programs. The librarian told me it was a “work in progress,” but I liked the lower level’s simplicity. It resembled the Baptist church basements of my childhood where I ate potluck suppers on metal chairs and sang about Zacchaeus in a sycamore tree and Jesus having the whole world in His hands.

I returned to the main floor to see if there was a French or multilingual collection. Although I didn’t find any foreign language offerings, I did notice a feature that the Toronto Public Library system lacks: a Reacher.

In the Romance section, I also noticed someone who didn’t seem to need a Reacher to gain access to an alluring shoulder: Lord Lightning. (Thank goodness he wasn’t called Lord Smog Advisory or Lord Drizzle).

I’d like to extend my thanks to Lord Lightning and the hospitable staff at Churchill branch for making my afternoon in their lakeside community such an enjoyable one!