January 25, 2014

First signs of spring in Vancouver

Today was a brilliantly sunny day in Vancouver, cool and crisp, and while there is frost on the lawn there are also signs of spring in VanDusen Gardens.

Buds are appearing on the magnolia trees and the Japanese Cherry trees are beginning to bloom.

The Hybrid Witch Hazel is doing something related to spring too.

The air is crisp and cool, yet the sun warms our faces as we walk. There is that familiar smell of dirt that accompanies the advent of spring throughout Canada; the smell of dust and rot from leaves on the ground too.

It seems too early to be spring, even in Vancouver, yet the signs are here.

Photos by Jim Murray.   Copyright 2014.

January 23, 2014

Stanley Park and an almost full moon

In recent days, we have had a mix of fog and cloud, though it remains dry. 

The low cloud cover, and the distracted light of the sun, creates slightly different shades of colours in the sky than what we are accustomed.

There is a moodiness to some of these scenes, a strangeness, a darkness.

When the cloud and fog clears, sometimes ever so briefly, the almost full moon, now waning, appears, perhaps a part of the darkness and moodiness too. 

Photos by Jim Murray. 
Copyright 2014.

January 22, 2014

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park was one of the reasons we went to Tucson, and we  were fortunate to be staying at a place so very close to the eastern half of the park: Serenity Guest House

The park is actually two districts, one lying about 30 km east, and the other 25 km west of the centre of Tucson. We stayed on the eastern outskirts of the city and viewed the park, more of less, from our deck.

The park was created as a National Monument in 1933, and elevated to National Park status only in 1994. It covers about 37,000 ha, of which 28,000 ha is designated wilderness.

The park conserves fine tracts of the Sonoran Desert, and includes the Tucson Mountains in the west, and the Rincon Mountains in the east. There are almost 250 km of trails in the park, with varying degrees of difficulty. Snakes and spiders are common, as are other creatures, though apart from seeing rabbits and one bob cat, and hearing coyotes, we didn't see much of anything on our walks.

In addition to the amazing saguaro cactus, which is native to the region, there are other cactus, including barrel, cholla and prickly pear.

All photos by Jim Murray. 
Copyright 2014.

Saguaro National Park is a wonderful place, and it is a great place to walk. There is a calm and beauty here that is quite magnificent. This is harsh and difficult place, yet life abounds, and in the gentle breeze, amidst the towering saguaro, the silence is a symphony.

January 20, 2014

The Human Library ~ borrow a book, discover a person

The Human Library is a novel approach to promote discussion, reduce prejudices and encourage understanding, and it is on now as part of Vancouver's PuSh Festival.

It all began in Denmark after a brutal attack on a young person in 1993 when five friends began a movement called Stop Volden, or Stop the Violence in English. Within a few years over 30,000 of Denmark's youth were mobilised as members.The Human Library project grew out of a request to the movement to organise events around nonviolence and dialogue for some of Northern Europe's largest summer festivals and concerts in 2000. Today, Human Library events take place around the world. They are all volunteer based and free to the public.

In Vancouver, the Human Library is curated by Dave Deveau of Zee Zee Theatre Company. It takes place in, oddly enough, the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library. About thirty books will be available during the run of the event, including one by our own writer and playwright, Sherry MacDonald.

It's a simple enough process. The books are actually real people with stories to tell. A reader looks over the selection on offer, makes a selection or two which is duly noted on a library card of all things; when was the last time you had a library card I wonder?

At the appointed time, the reader is escorted to their book, and for about twenty minutes a story is told and some sort of discussion takes place. Or not as the case might be.

Book titles are simple and short: HIV Positive, Born Again Christian, Sex Health Educator, Living with Dementia, Funeral Director by Day - Comedian by Night, Single Mother - Three Boys. The idea is to name the book directly and honestly, with a minimum of imaging and branding. All books are volunteers and free to all readers.

For the books, their day can be full. There is much conversation as a book can see up to ten readers during their five hour stint. In that sense it can be rather arduous for the book, I suspect. The consort does have it easier. In fact after taking out a couple of books, I left.

It is also rewarding for both reader and book. It is engaging and interesting; discussion does happen, discoveries are made. Never any late fees.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

January 14, 2014

Taliesin West ~ Frank Lloyd Wright's desert home

Walking through Taliesin West, the western and winter campus of Frank Lloyd Wright, it is sometimes difficult to realise it was created in the late 1930s in what was then the eastern foothills of the small town of Scottsdale, Arizona. It seems so much more contemporary in  many ways and more modern than anything from the 1930s, all of which speaks to the genius and vision of the man.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 - 1959) was born two years after the end of the American Civil War, and he was witness to extraordinary changes that swept the world, from the end of slavery to nuclear war, from horse and carriage to rockets into space.

Wright was told repeatedly by his mother from a very early age that he would grow up to design magnificent buildings, and as a young child, when asked about what he would do with his life, replied quite honestly that he would become a great architect. In later years, he would gladly expand on that theme to anyone who would listen; he was not a humble man by any stretch.

He called his architecture organic in what might have been an early use of the word. Wright's anchor and muse was Nature, which he always spelled with a capital "N." His works were constantly striving to achieve harmony and balance with their surroundings.

Oddly, for a man devoted to Nature and with what appeared to be a respect for First Nations peoples, he moved rocks found in the desert and obviously painted by aboriginals, hundreds of years earlier, to his property. That he took pains to re-position them in exactly the same position as found, shows some respect, but if found today, these rocks would stay exactly in their place, and they should have then.

In his time, Wright was one of America's largest collectors of Japanese art, and pieces abound at Taliesin West. The understated elegance and simplicity of Japanese art and thought, and its embracing of nature, is clearly evident in Wright's work: water, trees and rock are present everywhere.

The desert masterpiece that is Taliesin West was begun in 1937. It was to be his winter camp and a bold  new enterprise for desert living. It set in place a pattern of migration between the two Taliesins, East and West, which is continued to this day by a select group of students enrolled in the FLW School of Architecture.

While in Arizona students continue a tradition, begun almost eighty years ago, that of living in "shepherd's tents" made of canvas and attached to a three square metre masonry base - in the desert. This was done to better help the students understand the Nature of the Sonoran Desert in which they lived. No word about snakes and spiders, coyotes and god knows what else.

Today, students design and live in their own designs, still on three square metres, though more often than not, their designs are dedicated to avoiding snakes, scorpions and rats.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014. 

Pictures of FLW and student shelters 
from official website.

Taliesin West is a wonderful introduction to the larger-than-life character that was Frank Lloyd Wright. He was a man full of bombast and exaggeration, a womanizer and wildly reckless with money, yet a profoundly creative spirit who saw things beyond the comprehension of most of those around him. Taliesin West is a fascinating place to experience, even for just an afternoon.

January 12, 2014

Cosanti Bells

In what appears to be a residential part of an upper-class district of Phoenix, resides the famous Cosanti of Paolo Soleri.

Mr Soleri was born in Italy in 1919 and came to Arizona in 1956, where he established his business and foundation, and lived until his death only last year. He was a world-renowned architect and innovator. He lived simply and attempted to create an architecture that was one with ecology, in what he called: archology.

Cosanti is considered  to be an Arizona historic site. It features an incredible selection of ceramic and bronze windbells suspended along courtyards and pathways. Handcrafted and unique in shape and sound, the bells are gentle, and very much in harmony with their surroundings.

This is an enchanting place,a peaceful space, with  the constant tones of ... well ... bells. And a parrot.

Photos by Jim Murray.
Copyright 2014.