Category Archives: People

Prairie Monuments

These rail sentries first appear as a dot on the horizon. The train pushes ahead, the heat and condensation of its engine blurring the view, like peering through a liquid veil. The dot grows quickly into a familiar shape, with its tower and angular side. The trained eye recognizes the grain elevator… Sneaking up on unsuspecting passengers, it grows rapidly to fill the dome-car’s front windows. The passengers point their cameras to capture a scenery that is fading into history as these grain elevators disappear, one by one, replaced by larger, more modern concrete facilities. That’s progress.

The Butze elevator, a faded stack of brown boards for its walls, comes into sight. The structure was built in 1920. At their peak, 538 brown Alberta Wheat Pool elevators lined the track. Today, less than 12 remain: some privately owned, others maintained as museums.

The scene repeats itself down the track as we race toward Edmonton, our final destination. We approach a structure that contrasts with the previous mostly-white elevators, a brick-red-and-green structure flanked by three grey silos and a blue-and-white pumpjack: the Chauvin grain elevator.

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Koholā (Whale) Festival Parade, Maui. Strike up the band!

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Everyone gets up early in Kihei (I may be generalizing a little, but not much), which explains why I wasn’t surprised to see South Kihei Rd lined up with a crowd by the time the parade got under way, at 9:00am. Most favoured the south side of the road, taking advantage of the shade afforded by the trees and buildings, as the early morning sun already warmed things up.

Maui (600 of 2119)

Everybody loves a parade! Colourful performers, impressive floats, dignitaries and pageant winners, boats, dogs, roller skaters, mermaids and even a whale! The music of pipe bands, drums and marching bands imparts their rhythm to the parade. The Whale Day Parade was no exception. The Isle of Maui Pipe Band led the parade; Seabury Hall Middle School Marching Band played on in the middle of the pack; Chestermere High School Concert & Jazz Band—from Alberta, Canada of all places!—brought up the rear.

But one distinctive sound could be heard wherever you stood along the parade; its magic made you tap your feet. As the sound drew nearer, bodies began to dance under its spell. The echoes of the drums reverberated on the structures along the way. Seated on the sides of a pick-up box, the drummers beat their drums with abandon, hands moving quicker than the eye could see, hypnotizing those spectators brave enough to watch without blinking. Their smiles seemed to outshine the sun, their energy communicated to everyone along the way. They were Drum & Dance of Passion. Groove. Sound waves of Happiness.

Makena (Big) Beach; A Ka nāpo’o ‘ana o ka lā (sunset) story, Part 3

Maui (805 of 2119)

The few white puffy clouds provided little respite from the mid-afternoon sun. When I started to sizzle, literally, I ventured out into the salty Pacific water to brave the strong shore-break waves of Big Beach at Makena State Park, on Maui’s southwest tip. I was surprised at how warm the water felt. I swam, I floated, I let the powerful waves carry me back to the shore, again and again. The turquoise water so clear, I could see my feet.

A little later, the young lady sitting on the beach a few feet from us went for a swim wearing her wide-brim straw hat, never losing it, not even once. Her long, powerful, even strokes propelled her down the beach; she swam gracefully, gliding across the water, all the while keeping that large hat on her head. She smiled at us on her way back to her spot in the hot sand. A connection. Kindred spirits for a short while, enjoying the hot sand, the refreshing water, the beat of the surf, and later the sunset.

I set up my tripod on the dune at the edge of the brush, getting ready for daylight to give way to dusk. I returned to my beach chair.

— Getting some good shots? the young lady asked, shielding her eyes from the bright sun.

Caught by surprise, a little, I snapped a couple more of the beach, and of my wife sitting on her beach chair.

— I did, thanks! How about you? She waved her smartphone with a thumbs up.

It seemed people left the beach too soon, like fans flocking from the arena when the outcome of the game is already decided; the home team won’t come back. Maybe that’s how beachgoers felt as the clouds moved swiftly across the sun, convinced the game was out of reach. I could count on the fingers of both hands the remaining faithful bystanders who weren’t keeping score. The bright red ball appeared to slide down the Kaho’olawe Island slopes, into the jagged edges of the darkening ocean.

— Good luck with those beach chairs! she said, as we walked away with the chairs still open (I had fussed with them a few minutes—the bad news bears—and capitulated, afraid to break them), the connection about to be broken.

A few hundred feet up the beach, I managed to “unlock” the chairs and fold them, letting out a scream of victory, pointing my fist to the sky. A wave. Goodbye.

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Catching the Wave

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Along Maui’s eastern coast, on the Hana Highway, the curves become a little sharper and more frequent. On our left, the deep blue of the water disrupted rhythmically by large waves, first darkening the water, then churning it with white foam, smashing on the hot sand and retreating out to sea, taking some of the beach away, a few grains of sand at a time. On our right, a layer of puffy clouds rings the Haleakalā crater like beads of a necklace, halfway up (or down, depending on perspective) the mountain.

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From the lookout point high above Ho’okipa Beach, we see surfers floating about like a flock of seagulls, waiting to catch the next big wave and their chance for the ride of a lifetime. I can think of worse ways to spend an afternoon.

The waves crash with a deep thud on the north side of the point, onto a lava rock formation, showering the glistening jagged stones on their way to the shore. The main element stands like a cat sitting on its hind legs; the dripping surf from its chin looks like whiskers.

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Makawao, the “Old West” of Maui

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Looking down Baldwinn Ave in Makawao, on Maui, HI

This feels like an old Western movie town,” is exactly what I said staring down Olinda Road. You could almost imagine days gone by, with red dirt streets, seeing a stagecoach rolling past horses tied to the sidewalk rails, and cowboys drinking whisky in the saloon. I knew it! That’s exactly how one travel website describes it: “Makawao is famous for its Hawaiian cowboys, or paniolo. Since the late 19th century, horseback-riding paniolo have wrangled cattle in Maui’s wide-open upland fields.” An eclectic, charming, colourful—if memory serves me right, every storefront was of a different colour—and welcoming town going about its business in the midday shadows of Haleakalā.

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Looking up Baldwin Ave and Olinda Rd toward the cloud-shrouded peak of Haleakalā.

Makawao is also renowned for its thriving art community, as evidenced by the many  galleries lining the streets. We were drawn in by Hot Island Glass, with its wide-open doors through which we could see a number of art pieces on display and curious would-be-customers listening attentively to explanations about this timeless art form. Artist and glassblower Christopher  Richards was busy heating, spinning, forming with the gentle touch of a mother with a newborn baby, putting the finishing touches to a beautiful translucent multicolored jellyfish suspended in crystal-clear glass. Captivating!

At the Crossroads gallery, I met Chicago painter Mort Luby, a former publisher and AP journalist who paints with oil, and watercolours, which he proudly exhibited as the artist-in-residence on the day we visited. We chatted about art, inspiration, the difference between Chicago and Maui winters, and Mort explained some of the challenges of watercolours versus oils.

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Oil and watercolour painter, Mort Luby, at the Crossroads Gallery in Makawao (Maui).

Nestled between the many shops and art galleries are the restaurants of Makawao. We opted for the “new kid on the block” for lunch: Habibi (open for only its 5th day on our visit), the Middle Eastern cuisine creation of Michael Worrell and Lindsay Hogan. For the uninitiated, reading the menu can be a little intimidating at first with tabouli, fatoush, zaater, sambousik, shawarma, falafel, al hadiya, al souq, tahini and loukoumades. But we quickly made sense of it all with Deni’s help. Our meal overwhelmed (in a good way) our taste buds, exploding with flavours, and satisfied our appetite. Inspired by mouthwatering flavours, spices, recipes and ambiance, Habibi is its very own art gallery of the culinary type. I highly recommend stopping there next time you’re up-country, in Makawao.

Painting Haleakalā Crater

A visit to the summit of Haleakalā Crater is bound to create lifelong memories, and I’m not even talking about the drive. Once I found my mountain legs, which took a few  minutes after getting out of the car at the Visitors Centre (and later at the summit), I needed to find my mountain lungs. Trekking at 10,000 ft altitude takes a little getting used to.

No matter the viewpoint, every look is as grandiose and breathtaking—I did catch my breath eventually—as the previous. The crater’s rocky rim with its jagged edges, like a giant mixing bowl, runs down to the centre where a number of reddish chimneys (volcanic cones) are visible among what looks like endless rock slides. Clouds file in from Pai’a direction and others spill over the southern rim, like fingers of a hand holding on for dear life to the edge of the crater. Everything has a lunar landscape feel to it, with much brighter colours.

Reluctantly, and after what seems much too soon, we begin the 8,000 ft descent down Maui County Hwy 378 with its 30 hairpin switchback curves, when a small sign that reads Kalahaku Overlook draws our attention. Just one more look… Along the eastern edge of the crater, we’re treated to more breathtaking views and a new sightline of the reddish chimneys. Sheltered by the rocky wall above us, the wind has stopped where we stand. We’re alone. We swear we could hear a pin drop on the crater floor; all is perfectly quiet, magical. Everything stands still save for the clouds sliding into and across the crater. We could stay here for an eternity—there’s a certain calm, zen, all around us, peace, feels so good—but I don’t want to drive down in the dark…

But we weren’t alone. A young lady artist was busy mixing oil colours and applying them to her canvas, the spirit and life of the crater appearing with every stroke of her brush. Her face is well protected from the hot sun by the shade of her wide-brimmed hat, and covered with a thick white layer of sunscreen. She smiles at my surprise, realizing that we were not alone. I ask permission to photograph her, all too aware that I am disturbing her concentration and inspiration. She explains the painting in progress briefly and returns to her work. The name on the card she graciously offered is Hiu Lai Chong, from Maryland, here for the Maui Plein Air Painting Show.

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Haleakala Crater viewed from Kalahaku Overlook, Maui, HI

Haleakala Haikus

High above the clouds
Peace, awe, and serenity
Cool wind and thin air

Awe of destruction
Lava flowed 200 years hence
Pele rests in peace

High in the blue sky
Enchantment, dreams come easy
My feet on the ground

The fright of the climb
The reward awaits the brave
Sights like no others

 

Pastels on Mokule’ia Bay

Driving the Honoapiilani Highway, on Maui’s northwest tip, we came upon Slaughterhouse Beach, a name stemming from the Honolua Ranch slaughterhouse and tanning/storage shed (torn down long ago) that were located on the cliff’s edge above the ocean.

On the sand, near the sharp black lava rocks, where the waves break with much fury and white spray, I met Montana artist Aaron Schuerr putting the finishing touches to a pastel painting of the beautiful landscape of the bay. Aaron graciously answered my many questions about his art and inspiration as he put away the hundreds of little coloured pastel sticks; each stick in its place, forming a neat kaleidoscope in the flat artist’s box.

The painting—a pastel drawing is called a painting, I learned—Aaron produced over the previous three hours captured the scene with emotion, depicting the flow of the water among the sharp lava and onto the warm sand, mixing colours and light expertly.

It’s easy to find inspiration out here. But from a quick look at Aaron’s portfolio, he seems to know a thousand more places where to find inspiration…

Pleasure meeting you, Aaron!

Haïgas on the Bay

Softness of pastels
Lend colour to a gray day
Contrast sharp edges

Rainbow in a box
Colour of the scenery
Crash, sound of the waves

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The scene at Mokule’ia Bay captured with my camera

 

Misfit, A Book Review

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Six weeks after I published Dancing Gabe: One Sep At A Time, I received an email from Kimberley Neyedley, a friend (and former co-worker) who had moved to Ottawa a number of years ago. She wanted to tell me about her recently-published book, her first, titled Misfit. Much to her surprise, she had just learned about my recently-published book, my first also. Seems we had a lot in common.

We immediately agreed on a fair trade: our books crossed paths somewhere over northern Ontario, one headed for Winnipeg, the other for Ottawa. It wasn’t long after I received Misfit that I dove in, with both eyes, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m thankful for the opportunity to re-connect with Kimberley. Because of our passion for writing, we now find we have lots to talk about…

You can find out all about Kimberley and her book Misfit on her website.

A review of Misfit
by Kimberley Ann Neyedley

Meet Jill Ann McCann, a smart, creative, and friendly young girl whose main concern is what will people think, and whose main goal is to fit in with her peers. Set in a small, sleepy southern Saskatchewan prairie town where everyone knows your name…and what you had for dinner yesterday, Misfit takes the reader through a range of familiar emotions and, at times, forces some deep reflection. Because we’ve all been school kids and teenagers, we can relate to the story, whether we tried to fit in, made it difficult for others, or simply watched from the sidelines. In the story, Kimberley touches on matters of mental illness and depression, anxiety, alcoholism, religion, relationships, families, death, and growing up. I found myself wondering which parts of the story were fictitious and which were autobiographical.

The author uses colourful language and expressions (like “flat as piss on a plate,” and “heebie jeebies,”) to bring us back to a simpler, more innocent time, and introduces us to the principal characters of her childhood: family, friends, neighbours, teachers, etc. People with lovable names like Grammie Aggie, Uncle Victor, Butchie, Hollerin’ Halleran, Mrs. Crabby, and Hetta Seville; pets also had funny names like Flemmy the rooster, Buckles the Labrador, and Shuffles the cat… Thanks to the author’s attention to detail and her artistic ability to paint scenes, I could picture myself in the hardware store, at the farm, in Auntie Tibs’ house, or at Galaxy’s hockey rink. At one point of the story, Jill lists the inventory of the treats she could buy at the corner store. Seems everyone our age had a corner store with the same treats: Mojos, Sweet Tarts, jawbreakers, liquorice shoelaces, and “gold” gum nuggets in a little white pouch with a drawstring—I can still taste these.

Early on in the story, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Jill. “The thing I remember about growing up is fear: of Butchie, of ol’ HHH, of my parents’ screaming matches, of having to play sports and failing at it, of my peers’ ridiculing and humiliating me. I was scared of everything, too shy to speak to most people who were not family members.” Life got more complicated as Jill grew up. She developed a passion for reading and a world of make-believe to deal with rejection and hardships.

I suspect many readers will feel at home in the story and will relate to many parts, vividly. Oh, the age of innocence… From the general store to the farm, from home to school, from school dances to weekends at Auntie Tibs, I found myself hoping that things would get easier for Jill, maybe on the next page or by the next chapter. But they didn’t, at least not until she moved away. Thankfully, Jill had a best friend, Jen. Together they managed to deal with most of what life would throw their way, heartaches, frustrations, pain, growing up; that’s what friends are for. Chapter after chapter, Neyedley effectively develops contrasting characters, and as a result, we grow fond of some and despise others. That’s life! For example, she describes the contrast between her brother and her as “Butchie and I differed greatly in our approach to life. He ran ahead screaming and I held back timidly.” An invisible child to her parents, Jill eventually found peace at Aunt Mim’s, with whom she moved in as a teenager to escape her warring, alcoholic parents and bully of a brother.

“Fitting in” preoccupied kids when I went to school and remains of prime importance for kids growing up fifty years later. The book does not pretend to provide solutions nor to explain the origins of this urge to fit in, although Neyedley, at one point in the story, explains that “If you suffer from the ‘What will people think?’ attitude, you suffer from an inability to think for yourself and tend not to do what you wish rather than to appease the inherent concept of ‘they’ in ‘What will they think?’” She continues, “If you live your life solely by the idea of how others will judge you, you relinquish control of your life and you will be influenced by the whim of fashion and popular opinion.”

When it came to the issues of fitting in, popularity, innocent teasing, and malicious bullying—we didn’t call it that back then, “just kids being kids, boys being boys, just having a little fun”—I could relate. Heck, I think everyone can relate, regardless of whether you were the school jock, the clown, the princess, the beauty queen, the shy silent type, the average kid, or the misfit. We witnessed the innocent teasing, usually perpetrated by the same people onto the same innocent targets; sometimes encouraged by our actions, or at least not discouraged by our silence. Jill’s story, sprinkled with humour and nostalgia, conveys the lasting effects of such actions (and inactions), words, behaviours…

“In some ways, the great thing about childhood is that it ends.” Eventually, graduation came and went, and Jill the Pill moved away, became just Jill, and… well you’ll just have to read the book to find out. No spoiler alert here.

Kids eventually turn into teenagers who then, in time, become adults. In Misfit, through Jill McCann’s story, Kimberley Neyedley tactfully exposes the hurt and the scars that the cool kids, bullies, jokers, and others without labels, caused (at times unwittingly) by insulting and demeaning those who did not have the confidence and determination to stand up for themselves, or simply by precluding them from participating in group activities. Words do cut deep, as evidenced in one passage: “It was a subtle cut as it left no external mark, but emotionally the damage was extensive. It was a muted way of doing things and those of us sensitive enough to be hurt by words suffered deeply. […] The pain of being rejected by my peers in my adolescence has never left me. It haunts me still.” I have to believe that the author is talking from experience here… I wonder if people ever realize the pain and mental anguish they inflicted; they would not have known that some of their victims would carry this with them for the rest of their lives. How could they know? They were just kids themselves… All Jill wanted was to be told that she was okay, but that didn’t happen.

There’s an important message in Misfit. Neyedley is never “preachy” about it in the story, she simply lets it out to feel better. A courageous cathartic gesture.

Daniel Perron, author of Dancing Gabe: One Step At A Time
April 1, 2016