Category Archives: Photography

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.



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.


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.


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.”


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.


“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!