Tag 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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Thank You, Robert M. Pirsig!

I was filled with a certain sadness when I first read news of Robert Pirsig’s death, the kind of sadness you experience when someone you don’t know, someone who touched your life without knowing it, passes away.

Maybe you are unfamiliar with the name in the title, which would be ok. Maybe you are familiar with what he wrote. Robert Pirsig is the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which he wrote in the 60s, and was first published in 1974. A friend gave me a copy, convinced that the book would resonate with me; and resonate, it did! I don’t know if I ever thanked that friend… (Note to self: say “Thanks!” to Terry).

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Robert Pirsig, and his son Chris, on his 1964 Honda SuperHawk – a CB77 (from the book’s jacket)

The book uses “motorcycle maintenance” only as a metaphor for an in-depth look at life and people, a backdrop for the real story. The bike trip Pirsig took with his son, Chris, takes us from Minnesota to the west coast. I read the book twice and dog-eared many of its pages; it’s something I do. Then I re-read all the dog-eared pages and capture the key messages in a document. Every once in a while, I scan through the document, reminding myself of the author’s ideas that resonated with me. With Zen, I realized that I was a bit of a philosopher, although I’d never venture to write a book about my philosophy. The fact that I was also a motorcycle enthusiast, not a very mechanically-inclined one, I could see myself making that trip. I will read the whole book again…

“…A motorcycle functions in accordance with the laws of reason, and a study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself… the real cycle you are working on is the cycle called yourself.” Pg. 98

Here are some of the messages you would find if you read the pages with bent corners, just to give you an idea:

The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away. Puzzling. Pg. 12

You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it’s right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness. Pg. 13

Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. There are things you should notice right away. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow. Pg. 204

Quality, or its absence, doesn’t reside in either the subject or the object. The real ugliness lies in the relationship between the people who produce the technology and the things they produce, which results in a similar relationship between the people who use the technology and the things they use. […] at the moment of pure Quality perception, at the moment of pure Quality, there is no subject and there is no object. There is only a sense of Quality […] Pg. 290

So the thing to do when working on a motorcycle, as in any other task, is to cultivate the peace of mind which does not separate one’s self from one’s surroundings. When that is done successfully then everything else follows naturally. Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all. Pg. 297

If you get a sense that Pirsig’s views were complex, deep, and sometimes confused (or is that confusing?), you’re right. The book takes you along, if you stick with it, and forces you to think about concepts fundamental to life, and to enjoy the journey, which is why I enjoyed it so much. Thank you, Robert Pirsig!

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My ’97 Honda VF-750C Magna

 

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

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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

 

A Salute to Dancing Gabe, Hometown Hero

Last September, Dancing Gabe Langlois was the subject of a biography, Dancing Gabe: One Step At A Time. Little did he know how busy he would be over the next ten months—heck, the guy already attends almost 200 professional sports games a year—and where this adventure would take him.

We now know the next chapter! Fans will be able to get their hands on a Dancing Gabe Bobblehead! Wednesday night, July 13th, 2016, is Hometown Heroes Night at Shaw Park and the Winnipeg Goldeyes Baseball Club pays tribute to Winnipeg’s Police, Fire & EMS Service personnel. They “also pay tribute to Winnipeg’s own “Hometown Hero” Gabriel Langlois with a Dancin’ Gabe Bobblehead giveaway.”

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In October, Gabriel Langlois was awarded Winnipeg’s Community Service Award by Mayor Brian Bowman. In November, he led the Grey Cup Parade as the co-Grand Marshall. In January, he was awarded the Dallis Beck Good Guy Award by the Manitoba Sportswriters  and Sportscasters Association. In March, Gabe and his siblings performed the ceremonial puck drop at centre ice on Autism Awareness Night, for a Manitoba Moose game at the MTS Centre. And in April, Dancing Gabe was interviewed on Hockey Night in Canada.

Sprinkled throughout these events, Gabe graciously accompanied me to more than 60 events, signing books, posing for photos, reading to school kids, and spreading joy and happiness to everyone he met. He continues to do this without hesitation, always sporting this big smile everyone loves.

Dancing Gabe has been recognized with many awards and special events over the past 53 years, including a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2010, but you’ll have to read the book to find out more…

Dancing Gabe, Hometown Hero, we salute you!

Swallowed by the Ocean

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Surf’s thunderous crashes, deafening
Crests lit by waning rays, shimmering
You ventured ever further, terrified
Stood, fell, emerged, froze, petrified

Held your breath, closed your eyes
Disappeared, an instant
You were gone, a moment
Lost, an eternity

On the sand, the wave died at my feet
On the edge, gold sliver, incomplete
We both watched with emotion
The sun sink in the ocean.

Farewell, Angélina

Angelina Langlois passed away ten days ago. She was Dancing Gabe’s mother, and Mike’s, Rick’s, Rob’s, Gerry’s, and Claudette’s. She loved all her children, and her late husband Louis, and devoted her life to their happiness.
I only met Angélina in July 2014 but I soon developed a deep affection and respect for her. She was a wonderful woman: warm, patient, kind, selfless, humble, loving, and with an unshakeable faith. I soon realized how much she was the rock of her family; how she loved all her children, and how they loved her back.
I always looked forward to our conversations at her kitchen table, as I researched to write Gabe’s biography, a story where she featured so prominently. We laughed often, we cried at times (never for long), as my questions took her back in time, revisiting what has been a full and rewarding life, even if it has not always been an easy one. I loved her sense of humour and the ease with which she laughed. Her smile warmed my heart.
Angelina touched my life in so many ways and made me a better person. I know she had that effect on many others…