Dec 4, 2014

What I'm reading

For the last week I've been "reading" a book on audiotape. It's Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It's about Cheryl's trek along the Pacific Coast Trail from California to Oregon and Washington state. She had no experience as a long distance hiker, and took it on as a project to heal from the death of her mother and a divorce from her husband. I like this passage from a part of the trail when she's walking through the Mojave Desert, among the Joshua trees and the rattlesnakes.

"It was a deal I'd made with myself months before and the only thing that allowed me to hike alone. I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn't long before I actually wasn't afraid.”

Nov 20, 2014

A few weeks ago I mentioned going with my friend S to visit L, a blacksmith. She invited us to come back to learn about smithing. We went yesterday and had a fantastic afternoon.
The forge is inside a dark shed with a dirt floor. It has to be dark so you can see the colour of the heated metal properly. We put on cotton shirts and leather aprons so we wouldn't get burned. Then we put shovelfuls of green coal into the forge and shovelled coke and burning coals on top. The coal began to give off an opaque yellow, sulphurous smoke. L used an electric fan to get the chimney to draw, and the small pile of coal quickly turned into a blasting fire. It's so hot it hurts the eyes if you look at it for a long time. 
We thrust bars of metal deep into the blast of the furnace and I learned how to tell when the metal is ready to work. Dull red isn't hot enough. Glowing yellow is just right, and when the metal sends off sparks it's about to crumble up and burn. 
I learned about metal grinders and wax polishes, forge welding, clamps, and vices. L showed me how the metal "moves" and lengthens as the hammer blows make it thinner and pointier. She also showed me how to bend a metal bar using the edge of the anvil and a hammer, and how to make fine twists with a pair of tongs. She let me strike every blow that shaped my hook. 
It was warm and dry inside the forge and we sipped at mugs of hot liquorice tea because we were so thirsty. The clang of hammer on metal didn't jar me when I had my earmuffs on. We were drilling a hole in my hook when for some reason I thought of the shiny new consoles and equipment at work. I was trying to bring the drill bit down slowly and gently so it wouldn't get stuck in the metal - which it did several times because I moved too fast. 
I thought about the difference between that drill and our touch screen buttons that type the same letter no matter how hard or softly the fingers press down. The word "analog" came into my mind. I thought about bringing the hammer up high to smite a fine tip of metal, and how it can bounce back into your face if you're not careful. On the other hand, there are the tiny taps of a hammer to put a subtle and elegant bend into the back of a hook. 
S and I were talking about it later, after four hours passed without looking at the clock or realizing that we were mentally drained. We agreed that smithing seems to be like a meditation. All your attention is focussed and concentrated on this one glowing piece of metal. You have only a short span of time to hammer it, shape it, put it back in the fire, and take it out without burning it. It was an intense way of seeing. Here's the finished hook I made. 
No picture could ever show you the sparks I saw coming from inside the red-gold bar of metal S worked on the anvil. They didn't spring off the metal and into the air. They welled up from the molten inside and shimmered on the surface of the bar with each hammer strike in the dark. 

Nov 15, 2014

Good bye, Sackville and Bell Road

CBC Halifax is on the move. We are abandoning our two buildings in the downtown and combining into one space down the road. Many of us are feeling sad and quite sentimental about the two old buildings, and there were some tears shed on Friday. Okay, I will admit to some nostalgia. These two buildings were places where I got started, where I was allowed to step inside and learn. Sometimes when we are working in the field we say to each other, "All done here, let's go home" - and by "home" we mean the station. 

But maybe it doesn't do to get too attached to a building. Everyone knows it takes more than that to make a home. The people are CBC, and we are taking that with us. 


Oct 30, 2014

Elspeth Beard, Globetrotter

Love this...this is Elspeth Beard, the first English woman to travel around the world by motorcycle in the early 80s. Read more about her here. It's pretty amazing stuff. Her adventures include crossing Canada, exploring New Zealand on foot, trekking the Himalayas, forging a permit to get out of India, crossing post-Revolution Iran and Yugoslavia.

She went on to become a successful architect and still runs an award-winning firm. This is her home in a converted water tower.

Oct 23, 2014

What a difficult and emotional few days it has been for the whole country. There was a lot to think about during and after the shootings in Ottawa, but I find my thoughts circling back to a few things. 

The first is an interview with Barbara Winters, who ran BACK to the war memorial after she heard the gunfire and was one of many people who tried to aid Nathan Cirillo. "I told him you are loved. You are brave. You are good," she said. It was one of the most moving pieces I've ever heard on As It Happens. 

I find myself also thinking about Kevin Vickers, the House's sergeant-at-arms who some credit with shooting the shooter, preventing anyone else from getting hurt. And I keep going back and mulling over something Margaret Wente wrote about Vicker in the Globe and Mail

He has made a career of reaching out to Muslims, Sikhs, First Nations, and others who haven’t always been included in this country. When the Idle No More movement marched on Parliament Hill, he formally exchanged tobacco with a First Nations chief and said, “I understand your frustration. I understand the conditions in which you people live and I also understand the importance of tobacco and what it means as not only a gift, but as a sign of respect for your people.” After the Quebec National Assembly banned the kirpan, he made sure the ceremonial dagger would be allowed in the House of Commons. As he told one gathering of Sikhs, he doesn’t like the word “tolerance.” “No,” he said. “As head of security, I am going to accept and embrace your symbol of faith within the Parliamentary Precinct....."I told them that if they made me their sergeant-at-arms, there would be no walls built around Canada’s parliamentary buildings,” he said.

Oct 15, 2014

Experiences, not things

I've been trying hard to get outside more often. I think it's good for my headspace. On Thanksgiving Monday, the young man and I went to the valley to have lunch in Pete Luckett's vineyard and to hike Cape Split. Here's the view at the end of the hike. The sun was setting on a day filled with glad things.

And today I went on another hike with my friend S. We walked up into the backlands to look down over the south shore coastline. We've started doing more together on Wednesdays, when most other people are at work. It's restful. We always end up doing something new. Today after the hike we visited a blacksmith she knows, who invited us back to make hooks in the forge someday. Later, we climbed up on her roof and looked out at the bay. I always feel happy when we're out doing things together. I think that's because I'm not thinking of anything except what is happening at the moment.

The Atlantic published an article last week about buying experiences, not things. "When you can't live in a moment, they say, it's best to live in anticipation of an experience," author James Hamblin writes.

On the roof in the sunshine I was just happy to be there, with maybe a touch of pleasant anticipation for the next time we do something. It's a good place to be.

Sep 11, 2014

Summer Vacation

September already? The summer was too short, as always. Got to wonder where it goes. 

I spent most of it working. Some of the stories that stick in my mind include two parents searching for their missing daughter, concerns about a new policy for ESL teachers, and pro wrestling (which included a crash course in arm locks). This August I took a crash course in sailing as well. I sailed many summers in my teens. It was wonderful to get back on the water at Bedford Basin Yacht Club. I kept running all summer and explored some new trails around Halifax. I'll be doing another 5k in the MEC Race 4 at the end of this month. Also, I finally started working on how to throw a baseball properly. I mentioned this goal that I'd been procrastinating about to my friend A, who went and got me a baseball and also told me to look up Mo'ne Davis, the 13-year-old star Little League pitcher. Now that's throwing like a girl. 

For the Labour Day weekend I went up to northern Nova Scotia. My friend F told me long ago to get up to Cape D'Or. There is a cottage there that used to belong to the lighthouse keeper. Now it is a guesthouse. 

I kept the window open at night to hear the ocean on the rocks below the cliff. Sometimes you can hear it, and sometimes you can't. 

Two conflicting streams of tide come together at Cape D'Or. They call it the Dory Rips, and it was roaring away when I first arrived. I've never seen the ocean act like that anywhere else. The Dory Rips crashes especially when the tide is turning and you can see the waves churning just beyond the lighthouse point and the rocks. But sometimes - I think when the tide is fully in or out - it is silent at Cape D'Or. The "lighthouse keeper" and owner of the guesthouse is Darcy. 

We stood out after dinner and listened and it was absolutely quiet in the dark. He said sometimes he turns off the fridge and all the lights just so he can hear the silence better. That's how quiet it is; you can hear the refrigerator going when you're standing at the cliff. 

And on one day of the year, if the conditions are exactly right, you can look east across the Bay of Fundy and the sun comes up and sends a beam of light right through the split in Cape Split across to Cape D'Or. It only lasts for a minute, and you can only see it if there's no haze or fog. In 15 years at the lighthouse Darcy has only seen it twice. The day is around August 29 or so. I missed it by two days, though with the fog I wouldn't have seen it anyway. But it was charming and quiet and lovely, and I'm glad I made it up there at last.