Ferron

Ferron. She has us.

“Magical”.

In one word. A review of the Ferron concert from a guest. Ferron’s gritty, husky, throaty whispers, her timing, exquisite stories and humour led us on an emotional tour. We laughed, we cried, we cheered and we sang the night away. “Harmless love, what’s the matter with harmless love”. We had that sort of love on Wednesday night at the Saturna Lodge. Like Ferron said “There are no predatory animals on Saturna.” 

“It was best concert I have ever attended. I mean that. And I’ve been to a lot of concerts.”

From an experienced music-ie. He’s been around. He knows exceptional. He knew he had just felt it.

There are too many lyrics to remember. I can’t pull one up and do it justice. You need to hear them yourself. Scrumptious notions, glimpses, moments. Sometimes like the gentle clicking of knitting needles. Sometimes like fireworks.

“Aaahhh, aaahhhaaa, aaahhh.”

Not said like a word. Not an analysis or a review. After each song a woman sitting in front of me shook her head and voiced the movement she felt with simply “Aaahhh.”

“Generous.”

The word kept coming to my mind. Ferron’s generosity filled the room. She’s not young anymore. We found Advil and got it to her in the morning. Her puffy, arthritic fingers still ached when she arrived for sound check. She doesn’t sleep much. She has printed her lyrics but with the dim light they are hard to read. But there she was in a fullness that only comes with being fully real…with it all. It was the first Ferron concert for me but I am certain she was as good as she’s ever been…perhaps better.

Then there was Norm MacPherson. Her virtuoso guitar accompaniment who has played for decades and with stars such as Burton Cummings and the Poppy Family. His brilliance makes it look and sound as if he has performed with Ferron for years.

And Robert Montgomery. He’s been a sound and light guy for the likes of David Bowie, Rush and Reba McIntyre and there he was at Saturna Lodge setting the stage and turning two musicians into a delightful, quality production.

But it wasn’t just Ferron and the others. It was the Lodge. Tex and I learned quickly when we bought it that it didn’t belong to us. Not in the usual sense of the word. We sort of belonged to it. And it sort of belonged to the island. I have long had that sense of ownership when it comes to land, place, space. It’s bigger than me. I am simply the current caretaker. The most recent custodian. The one who is responsible for it for a tiny slice of time until I pass it on to the next and the next and so on.

Ferron knocked on the door only weeks after we had first wondered what we could bring to the Lodge and what it would bring to us. She came bearing stories of previous owners. Previous efforts. Previous dreams. She came bearing ideas of what could be. She was in love with the Lodge. She has been side by side with us bringing a new contribution to this magical place.

So there we were. Wednesday night. A full house. Sharing love.

Okay. I just remembered the lyrics that have been bouncing around in my head. The ones I’ve been trying to pull up as I write this blog. I’ve got them. I have to share them with you. Not to get preachy or teachy but we all need these words these days as we struggle to wonder what to do with our crazy world. Not that we need complacency but we all need to chill out like we used to say.

Ferron’s concert gave us a moment to relax and just be with what we’ve got.

“It’s old human nature, It’s cold or it’s hot

But if it’s snowin’ in Brooklyn

You say it’s snowin’ in Brooklyn

Well if it’s snowin’ in Brooklyn

I’d say snow’s what we got.”

Getting ready to host. Sunflowers by Kevin Stewart (Vancouver)

Ella’s hat

It’s all about the hat

“I’m just going to stay here and knit with Grandma.” That’s Ella’s response to suggestions to do almost anything. 

So here we sit. Across from each other. Talking about how much she loves Saturna Island, the Lodge, her brother Silas, her school, learning to speak SENCOTEN, playing soccer and most of all knitting. 

“I’m your knitting partner,” she says. And she is. 

Ella was born with the knitting gene.

At 10 years old her needles click in her hands while she looks around, giggles and talks. Like her great grandma, Laura Olsen, I’m sure she could knit with her eyes closed. 

Ella doesn’t knit what she’s told or knit from a pattern. She designs what she knits. She amends it as she goes. She adds colours and stitches depending on what she sees emerging. She designed and knit the skirt she wore on her first day of school in grade one.

This weekend it was all about the hat. She had to have a hat.

“I’ll knit one for myself if you tell me how,” she said. 

She tried on all the hats on the table and knew exactly which one was perfect for her.

“It’s yours,” I said. “A gift from me.”

But Ella is really the gift. To me. To the world.

Going small

Knitted hats on the table

I’m reading Michelle Obama’s book The Light We Carry and was interested to see the lead photo was of her sitting on her foot on a wing back chair…knitting. She bought needles and wool and learned to knit as a way to get through isolation during the pandemic. She soon found out that knitting is more than one stitch after the other. It is a gentle, quiet, therapeutic practice that helped her manage her pandemic anxiety. But she found out that it’s also not more than one stitch after the other. It is a simple motion, a beautiful rhythm—yarn around, pull through, push off, repeat, repeat, repeat. Simply motion.

“Everything was big. Everything was consequential. It was hard not to feel overwhelmed.” Michelle was talking about how she felt during the pandemic. “Nothing felt even remotely like enough. There were just too many gaps to fill.”

Now that stage of the pandemic is over many of us are left with the “nothing is enough” feeling about everything.

The rise of fanaticism and narcissism (perhaps two expressions of the same condition) leave us bewildered and beleaguered. The right to maintain the personal freedom to travel, to express oneself in any way we choose, to make up our own facts, to purchase at will and to preserve our western privilege have become our causes while the voices of the historically oppressed, the people who for generations/centuries have had their rights trampled, have been sidelined. At the same time the real threat to all of us bickering humans—climate change—marches along. 

Insanity rules at the highest level of our society. The U.S. nomination of the speaker of house is a case in point. The recent sideshow was a disturbing display of dysfunction. Each player, clearly a bundle of anxiety, driven by their own priorities and imperatives looked more like circus performers than elected leaders. There was just too much wrong with the situation to get it right.

Watching the Canadian parliament or BC legislature isn’t much better. We all know there’s a systemic problem. The structure of our democracies needs to be rethought, rejigged, refreshed…those are thoughts for another day. But for now, for me, that project is too big, too consequential, too overwhelming because I don’t think we can get there. As long as we continue on the path we are taking madly chasing big ideas while our inner selves are in chaos we won’t get it right.

Being someone who is convinced that our real challenge is climate not personal freedom I am thinking we don’t have a lot of time to do “inner” work. But we have no choice. 

Wonder if each one of us took time to get mentally and physically healthy. Wonder if we stopped with the “busy, busy, busy” and be still. Wonder if we took a break from the “important, important, important” and focused on the simple and the light. 

Wonder if we got out of our heads and how significant our ideas are. Wonder if we stopped letting our feelings, our triggers, our grudges inform our every action. Wonder if we got into our bodies, its simple functions.

Not golf, where we take our business to the course. Not exercising, where we beat ourselves up to achieve ulterior goals…better bodies, better looks, better opportunities… Not counting laps at the pool or steps as we go about our daily tasks. 

Sigh. We are so damned goal orientated. We are so damned impressed by the busy, the important and the loud. 

Michelle recommends “going small”. Rather than letting her head stay in charge she reversed the flow by picking up knitting needles and letting her hands lead. As she says “I buckled my churning brain into the back seat and allowed my hands to drive the car.” Once she got the hang of the yarn overs and unders she said, “Something in the tiny and precise motion on repeat, the gentle rhythm of those clicking needles, moved my brain in a new direction.”

I’m thinking each one of us has our own sort of knitting that will help us reset our anxious brains and let go of our troubled feelings. Something that will help us find a new inner rhythm. Not counting steps, just putting one foot in front of the other. Not swimming laps, just taking the breaths and kicking the feet. Not networking on the golf course, just swinging the club and following the ball. Not getting the gardening done, just turning the soil.

I’m with Michelle. I hope 2023 is the year people decide to go small. And if we take it slow, relax, get quiet and enjoy simple movements on repeat for no other reason than to enjoy simple movements on repeat I think we can find a new groove. That’s it. Just a new groove. But if you need a big and significant reason for letting go of the big and significant I’m pretty sure your new groove will benefit the consequential things as well.

Goodwill

Peace on earth and goodwill towards men. It’s my favourite seasonal greeting.

It’s Christmas so it’s allowed to be biblical. But when I hear it my former life as a Bible student rushes back with a question. Is the Bible really giving a blessing to all humanity?

The whole thing reads “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will towards men.” At least that’s how it goes in the King James version (KJV)…the one my family read two times each day, during breakfast and after supper, everyday of my early life.

Right now I’m not thinking about the glory to God part. God is, obviously, not something you can put your finger on. So my sense is that how we give Him/Her/It glory has to be left up to our individual imagination. But giving glory, or at least giving acknowledgement and respect, to something greater than ourselves is worth thinking about if we have any hope of reversing our society’s current slide into narcissism. More on that some other time…

Peace on earth is also too big for me. I used to hope and even believe that one day I would see peace on earth. But I was a child then and now that I only have another decade or so on the earth (if I’m lucky) I am absolutely certain this planet will not see peace in my lifetime. 

What I’m thinking about these days is the “goodwill towards men” part of the Christmas card. I mean goodwill toward all humankind. Why are we doing such a terrible job of it these days?

Seriously. Can it be so hard?

You know the pass you give to your family, your friends and even your favourite political leader? You know how you make excuses for their bad behaviour? That’s what I’m talking about. Why can’t we extend that…that kind of goodwill…to everyone?

We’ve never needed it more than we do today. We will not “solve” the climate crisis without it. We will not deal with our healthcare, education, child and family, race, gender or housing crisis’ without it. We will not have peace in our families and our neighbourhoods without it. We cannot and will not make any useful collective decisions that address the monster issues of our day unless at the heart of our thinking is goodwill towards everyone.

But we just can’t seem to do it. I can’t seem to do it. Trumpites draped in stars and stripes…I cringe before I even meet them. Defenders of whiteness…I immediately want to argue. Religious fundamentalist zealots…trigger my shutdown response. I try but there are times when I just can’t find my good will.

I went back to my KJV source and read it again “Peace on earth and goodwill towards men.” Yes. That’s what I want. For everyone.

Then the weather-beaten, cynical old me looked a little deeper. I read the passage in several dozen other translations. Other than the KJV, only a handful say “goodwill towards men.” Most other versions add a qualifier something like “goodwill towards men with whom He is well pleased.” Or “goodwill among men of goodwill.” Or “goodwill among men whom He favours.”

Ah. Therein lies the flaw. The other versions add qualifiers. They describe exactly what we see everyday…goodwill to those in our bubble, to those we like, to those who we deem to be good.

Just like what I read on a Facebook meme the other day “I will be good to people who are good to me…it’s as simple as that.”

It’s no wonder we are stuck with our selves and our same-groups in this adolescent, self-absorbed, narcissism. It’s no wonder we are plagued by the dichotomy of  “us and them” with us pitted against rest of the world. It’s what we’ve been taught.

The trouble with much of the Bible is that it’s directed to a same-group. Right from the start the book is about a chosen people…and an unchosen. That sort of thinking might have worked in the past but now it’s time push our western cultural teachings to another level. There are things we need to relearn. (I can’t speak for other cultures but I from what I can see they aren’t doing a super job of embracing difference either so this is likely more than a western problem.)

Goodwill to everyone? Sigh. We aren’t even close. We haven’t grown up enough yet. And we won’t get there unless we get out of our tiny selves and our tiny same groups.

So I’m going to start with my tiny self. It’s my personal challenge. Sharing goodwill is my 2023 New Year’s resolution. And I don’t mean goodwill for all the people who I find interesting. I’m talking about the people who rub me the wrong way…the ones who have done me wrong…the ones who have no goodwill for me. It’s on the edges of easy that the real work needs to take place.

I’m not giving up on goodwill for all humanity. Even though it feels like an almost impossible global challenge in our colonized world where the planet’s peoples share the same neighbourhoods and hallways and smell what everyone’s cooking for dinner. And in our technological world where a quest for truth is no longer the ultimate journey but as easy as a quick scan of your own algorithm on the Internet.

Our predicament is bigger than the 1%. It’s bigger than corporations. It’s bigger than which media we listen to. It’s bigger than who we vote for. It’s bigger than the secret power mongers aiming to control the world or whether Trudeau or Fauci is telling the whole story.

It’s about listening to our planet writhe in pain. It’s about feeling the loss of our fellow creatures. It’s about putting ourselves into perspective and getting humble. It’s about going beyond how right we think we are, what we’ve been taught and what comes easy.

In 2023 let’s take it up a notch. I’m going to try. And if you’ve figured out how to do it can you let me know?

Blame

A kids’ story from Ron Martin–his message–you can’t stop bad things from happening but you can choose how you respond

“What is the world coming to?” We hear it all the time. I have said it myself.

There likely hasn’t been a generation that hasn’t mourned the “good old days” and that hasn’t thought the “kids these day” are just not what they used to be. But we really are in a period of unusually dramatic change. I don’t think we can deny that the revolution is here and the fundamental changes taking place in our society and on the planet could make the industrial revolution and WWs 1 and 2 look like blips on the historical timeline.

Certainty has been obliterated. Not just in the economy, but in so many things this generation has never questioned before—health care, education, transportation, weather, food production—everything we have previously just assumed would be there for us. 

People are looking for someone or something to blame. The idea that there is a giant conspiracy to twist our brains and turn us into nasty mindless robots permeates social media. Even privileged people with exceptionally good lives are quick to get angry and blame governments, corporations, managers, owners, basically anyone in charge of anything, for their inconveniences. People feel like victims but they have trouble identifying the oppressor. The easy target is the 1%, whoever they are, or the corporations, whoever they are, or Trudeau, as if he has personally upended Canadian society. 

COVID exacerbated the situation. No one loved that experience and we all became geniuses spouting better ways to deal with it. Many people thought (think) the bumbling governments and fumbling health systems were perfect proof that there were masterminds behind the disaster…forces deliberately messing us up. What COVID did, without a doubt, is create a deep fissure in society that is still affecting us all. 

I don’t have a brilliant explanation for our current dilemma. I wish I did. I wish someone did because relationships are not mending and we are more disgruntled than at any time I can remember. Anti vaxxers believe the mainstream population has been duped into getting vaccinated out of fear and lies being promoted by media that is controlled by large corporate interests. The vaccinated believe anti vaxxers are driven by fear of human manipulation and conspiracies around every corner being promoted by large interests controlling social media. COVID will keep us fighting for a long time. Now whenever you have a medical condition you can blame it on the vaccination or on long COVID…which ever side you are on…as long as we can blame…and as long as we can keep proving ourselves right and everyone else wrong.

Humans are not doing very well. We have lost our grip. Almost everyone is feeling a loss of control as we glue ourselves to our devices and read/watch things that reinforce what we already believe.

My sense is that humans are largely the authors of their own destinies and that the general public is as complicit with unhelpful behaviours and decisions as the people they vote to govern them are responsible. I think that masses of humans create destinies that few individual humans really want. I also like Occam’s razor theory…simple explanations for our problems are likely to be more correct than unnecessary and improbable reasons.

So why is our ferry service so damn sketchy these days? The other morning while we were waiting for what appeared to be a 2-hour delayed ferry I heard a loudly disgruntled customer say, “They want us to believe that it’s a staffing issue. They always want to blame the staff.”

“It is the staff,” I said. “Not the staff that gets to work but the staff that no one can find these days to deliver our services.”

He didn’t like my response. He wanted to blame BC ferries and the government. He even wanted to blame Trudeau. Eventually he understood the simple distinction I was trying to make.

“You watch,” another island resident warned me. “Big corps and big developers are behind the ferry delays. They are deliberately messing up the service so it’ll breed discontent and anger and then we’ll support their plan to build bridges between the islands. You wait. The government will go for it. They are just puppets.”

With my head spinning I thought about conversations I had in the 1970s. We talked about the baby boom and the huge, bulging, privileged, middle class society we had built in the western world after WW2. Universities, museums, health care, resorts, investments, malls, material goods, real estate, travel…something for everyone, or perhaps everything for everyone. The more we built the more we wanted and thought we needed. We did it because we could. There was plenty of everything especially our #1 resource—people. We were streaming out of universities in droves. With knowledge and skills only to be exceeded by our expectations followed by the blithe assumption that our excesses were our entitlements.

“What’s going to happen when our generation is 70 and 80? How will the next generations maintain the social edifice that we are building? Will they even want to? Will there be enough people to look after our old bodies? Never mind keep up all the other services we’ve come to expect.” 

The answer is no. The answer has always been no. We know that now and we knew it then. But we were 20-something and 80 felt like a long time off. We wanted to enjoy ourselves while we could.

The explanation for the crumbling of the western middle class, the inability of society to maintain what it created, the digging in of corporate fingernails to hold onto control, supply chain issues, rising costs, the destruction of the ecosystem and on and on does not need a grand conspiracy.

What we built was simply unsustainable. We had no business building it in the first place. Our expectations were unreasonable and unfulfillable. We had no business expecting them. Our appetite for personal comfort, self-gratification, material stimulation just could not be satiated.

Sometimes our beautiful planet reminds me of a beleaguered husband or wife who has a demanding spouse that simply can never be satisfied. You see these people around. They drag their poor sorry butts after their loved one getting this and doing that. They look tired and more haggard all the time while they are barked orders they are unable to fulfil. 

When we watch we want to say, “Stop! Just stop and be happy with what you’ve got!! Your poor old spouse is not going to be able to run around making you happy forever.”

Writing this has helped me find an answer…for me…for now. “Stop! Just stop and be happy with what I’ve got!! Society is not going to be able to run around and make me happy forever.”

I need to remember the problems we are facing are not about me. They are not about you. They are much bigger than us both r. I wish I could point my finger at who is to blame. It would be easier that way. But the finger would point back at me. Individually we are all part of the problem and collectively my generation has been a huge part of the problem. We built a world that cannot survive and that will take down the ecosystem with it. Individually we may not be able to solve society’s current problems but we can control how we respond to them. 

We can stop arguing, demanding and blaming.

We can look inward and reassess our assumptions and realign our needs, wants and expectations. 

We can look outward and focus on what we can do, not what we think or what we read, or what someone said was going to happen, but what can we do for someone else? 

Do something. Anything. We need each other, folks. We even need people we disagree with. The biggest question is not who is right and who is wrong or who is to blame. 

Martin Luther King, Jr’s quote helps us reset our energy and our priorities. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is “What are you doing for others?”

Shared symbols

Designs from our DNA

I am fascinated by geometric designs. In grade school I decorated my books with elaborate borders of zigzags, Xs and Os, diamonds and even swastika type figures, having no idea what they had come to mean. As a teenager I stencilled geometric borders around my bedroom window and door. I used to think it was because I couldn’t draw anything else very well. But looking back I realize it was because I didn’t want images of horses or butterflies as decorations. I loved geometric designs. There was something reassuring about the repetitive movement between line and space.

I am not alone. Humans have been using geometric designs since the beginning of time. Genevieve Von Petzinger, a Canadian anthropologist, found 32 common markings in cave drawings dating back 30-40,000 (and more) years and spanning the planet. Perhaps the markings are early signs of language, perhaps otherworldly symbols. So far Von Petzinger doesn’t know the meaning behind the cross-hatching, triangles, ladders etc. But these cave markings contain all the elements of geometric design and are some of the first communicative expressions of human beings.  

When I first encountered Coast Salish knitting I was a seventeen year old newly wed. I moved to Tsartlip First Nation in WSANEC territory with my husband, Carl. His family had been making, what were then called Indian sweaters, since before the 1920s. The earliest example of typical, modern Coast Salish knitting is a sweater dated 1919, which is in the BC Museum of Anthropology. Carl’s grandmother, Martha, may have been one of the early designers of the unique, geometric designed, multi-banded, hand spun, bulky garments. Laura, my late mother-in-law, said that her mother unravelled sweaters she acquired second hand and carefully examined the stitches in order to learn the knitting techniques then she reknit the yarn into her own creation

Although it appears that for the first 20 or 30 years after Coast Salish women learned to knit they did not put their trademark patterning on their knitting, incorporating geometrics into their sweater designs would have been second nature to Laura’s family. They had been blanket and basket weavers before they learned to knit and had a long relationship with the use of geometric patterning.

Laura had a passion for designs and motifs. Whenever something caught her eye on things such as carpets, doilies, tea canisters and other people’s sweaters she translated them onto graph paper and then incorporated them into her knitting.

When I moved to Tsartlip I immediately fell in love with the Coast Salish geometric designed sweaters. I sat side-by-side Laura, like she had done with her mother, and it wasn’t long before I was knitting and spinning in a style that was an almost replica of hers. She shared her pattern book with me and encouraged me to make my own designs and share them with her. Pretty soon I was designing other knitted things but somewhere, somehow geometric designs always found their way into my creations.

When I asked Laura what certain motifs meant she would scoff and say, “Whatever anyone wants them to mean. A clam to one person is a wave to another. Zig zags can be mountains. Chevrons can be arrows and snowflakes can be flowers if you want them to be.” Although Laura didn’t know Genevieve she believed geometric designs belonged to the universe “You know you can find them all over the world,” she said. “I use designs because I just like the way they look and feel on the sweater.” And it’s no wonder. One of Laura’s favourite designs is a dead ringer for modern scientific images of our DNA.

That’s what I love about geometric designs. They are everywhere when we look out in the world around us and also they illustrate the structure of our inner human existence. Geometric designs belong to everyone and they can mean whatever you want them to mean. Perhaps the message of this most basic human language is that we are all one and we don’t have to agree on our interpretations of our symbols we can just enjoy the subtle certainty and peace that comes with the designs repetitions.

The double helix on my sweater, one of the last sweaters knit by Laura Olsen

I met Fiona

Photo credit:  Jack Morse/CTV Atlantic

How did the wind reach down and pick up huge concrete flowerpots and flip them upside down demolishing what was left of the late season dahlias and geraniums? It looked as if a band of hooligans, burly, big hooligans had been on a senseless rampage.

I was trapped in Charlottetown during the hurricane. I arrived on Wednesday night to teach and present at the PEI Fibre Fest. The first grand celebration of fibre hand-work for the tiny island. I woke up Thursday morning to an email that said the organizers were thinking about cancelling the event. Hurricane Fiona was climbing up the east coast and was expected to hit the Atlantic provinces on Friday night. Later, with regrets, they confirmed the cancellation and warned us to get flights immediately in order to return home.

Of course there were no flights. So I bought food—crackers, cheese, popcorn, cherry tomatoes, kombucha, water (not a recommended grocery list when preparing for a storm)—and hunkered down in my tiny hotel room waiting for the hurricane.

Fiona arrived right on schedule with driving rain first. In the black of night I listened to the gale and looked out the window across a flat roof (that quickly turned into a deep pool) to a parking garage that was flanked by 4 and 5 story buildings. Through the eerie purple-gray light of the sky I watched the tops of two trees being mercilessly buffeted and wondered when their branches would let loose and how I would clean up my room if they hit the window.

The power went off early. The emergency lights in the hall only lasted a couple of hours. The hotel was black on the inside and relentlessly pounded on the outside. I had plenty of time to think. I only knew two people in the province and they lived at the other end of the island so they could be no help. There was no power, no food, no access to money, no taxis, no way off the island, no cell (mine later reconnected).

I hate to admit it but Friday night was all about me. What was I going to do?

By Saturday afternoon the winds were still high but I thought it was safe enough to go out and see the city. Siding, metal roofing and anything that could be dislodged from the sides of buildings littered the sidewalks. But it was the trees. Smashed. Upended. Exposing their intimate roots and the rich, red PEI earth that could not keep its grip.

I came across a small park skirted by roads and surrounded by old, tired, but still elegant Maritime homes. All the big trees were down. The smaller ones were mangled. A woman stood next to me sobbing. It felt like the respect you have when standing next to a stranger at the graveside of someone you both know.

The media reported with great relief; Fiona had taken no lives. But she did. She took the lives of thousands of our greatest allies. It is a time for mourning and reflection and perhaps a time to rethink our non-human relationships.

Telling stories

“Don’t tell stories.” How many times did my mother say those words to me? What she meant was “Tell the truth.” My mother had no time for fantasy or tolerance for lies. Life was black and white for Phyllis Snobelen. She was too busy and practical to wade through the complications of nuance.

There were hard truths in our family that were determined by our religious beliefs that provided her solid ground from which she could pronounce what was right and what was wrong.

Right here I’m stuck. Where do I go with this? Many of you are probably saying, “But if you were Christian isn’t your entire religion based on stories?”

Exactly. And the Bible provides some of the most popular stories in the western world. Stories from which my mother extracted her black and white, but that’s for another discussion at another time time. And then there’s Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

Not to diminish the importance of the stories I was raised with but we’ve come a long way since the late 50s and 60s when I was a child. Stories are not the opposite of truth. Stories are not “just” stories. They are the way humans have communicated with each other since we had language.

I’m thankful my mother lived long enough to hear me tell stories and to read some of the stories I had written. While she liked them she could never truly understand the point of it. From her perspective if a story wasn’t God’s story then it was of hugely diminished importance.

But when dementia began blurring the hard lines she had drawn in her life I spent hours with my mother telling her stories. Simple stories about buying a pair of boots or visiting an old friend kept her entertained. She told me stories that were a collage of her childhood and my childhood mixed with, perhaps, utter fantasy. She kept me entertained.

As her dementia progressed she struggled to remember even her closest friends. When a very dear family acquaintance died she had no recollection of him at all. It wasn’t until I recreated into a story something she had experienced dozens of times that she connected.

“Remember at the church on Sunday nights, Mom,” I said. “George (name change) the door man, with his long, dour face, paced across the back of the hall. He watched the second hand of the clock tick until it reached the 12 at 7:30…precisely 7:30. Then he shut the doors and sat down ready for the meeting to begin. Remember wondering why he never smiled?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “But he had a lovely wife who had a beautiful big smile for everyone.”

Stories didn’t just entertain my mother, they helped her connect to me, to her life and to the world. Stories aren’t just stories, they communicate the essence of what it means to be human.

The art of making space

And then there’s the paint dress.

Winston Churchill said, “First we make our houses and then our houses make us.” He wasn’t talking about our private homes but it’s true. We have a reciprocal relationship with where we live. We start by painting the rooms to match our furniture, or the other way around. We set up our photos and hang our art. We nestle in our favourite corner of the sofa and arrange the bookshelf (or TV remote) so it’s an arm’s distance away. Nothing feels better than breathing in the scent of our favourite meal and listening to the sounds of our personal lives…music, children’s voices, video games, conversation…

Whether our house is a mansion, an apartment or a tiny room…we begin making our space at the same time our space begins making us. Our home is where we feel safe (or not). It is where we learn, love and rejuvenate ourselves. It is where we laugh and cry, where we experience our greatest joy and where we suffer our most heart wrenching struggles. It is where we become who we are.

Our home is an expression of ourselves. It is, in a way, our primary art form. It is creative, not just in its decoration but in its function…in how it relates to us and us to it. We are both becoming.

Preparing the Lodge for guests made me think about the relationship between the visitors and the space and what role we play, as innkeepers, in that interaction.

I was laughing with a woman from Vancouver who was staying for a few days. “I have become a maid,” I said. “It’s a long way from the heady work I used to do…changing the world.”

“But it’s important,” she said. “Creating a sanctuary where people can spend a few days in peace, where they can feel valued and respected, where they can learn something and share something. Or where they can disappear in the garden or in their room, whatever they need at the time.”

And, as my son, Adam, said the last time he was here. “The Lodge is good medicine.”

Preparing that medicine has become our art form. We are making the space while at the same time the space is making us and it is helping to make the people who come to find peace of mind, serenity of spirit and simple enjoyment.

This is as high as I’ll go. Thankfully an Island painter is coming to do the top floor.

A new relationship

The last glorious bouquet of hydrangeas from the garden

Six months ago Tex and I had the privilege to become the owners of the Saturna Lodge. It is a grand old house that’s foundations were built in the 1920s but has had several total facelifts and reincarnations since. It is on Saturna Island perched on the hill at the toe of Boot Cove looking down the inlet to Navy Channel.

While we had shares in the Lodge earlier it wasn’t until February this year that our relationship truly got off the ground—the Lodge and us. Madison, my 19-year-old granddaughter, best describes our initial feelings. On her first visit she walked in and circled around. She nodded her head while checking it out.

“Wow, Grandma,” she said. “This is a thing. And it’s a lot.”

Once we got over the muchness of our purchase we began looking for words to describe our connection—steward, custodian, caretaker. The Lodge required us to rethink the idea of ownership. In many ways we felt that we had formed a partnership with the building and property—that the Lodge, itself, was the third party to a new liaison.

Like in any new relationship we needed to listen and learn who the Lodge was and how she functioned (she is definitely and graciously a she). We got to know how quietly she weathers gale force winds, how the sun sidles down the cove and finds her late in the morning, how she presides over the garden as if she is grounded in beauty. And overwhelmingly we came to know how much care she needed from us…the immediate repairs to the old deck, outdoor stairs, porches and siding…the protective painting …the energy saving remediations…

We found out that the Saturna community felt a sense of ownership of the Lodge. It was as if everyone we met had either worked there, stayed there, been married there, had dinner there, had great ideas for what could happen there, had wanted to buy it…but didn’t. We did. Now what?

We had ideas. The space seemed perfectly suited for small events—board meetings, training sessions, workshops, family gatherings… We thought that we might host a dozen or so such occasions a year. It was a manageable business plan and still is.

But many islanders told us that the Lodge needed to reopen for short-term guests. The island didn’t have enough accommodations.

The Lodge herself seemed to agree. She wasn’t built to be a private dwelling. She was designed for short term lodgers…a bed and breakfast. Lovely rooms, comfortable shared indoor and covered outdoor space and gardens to live in.

Tex, is the quintessential innkeeper, the congenial host, the world travelled, genteel hotelier who loves to meet and greet people so it was easy for him to agree.

At first I didn’t want to think about operating a B&B; cleaning, changing beds, cleaning, making breakfast, cleaning… And besides that the Lodge wasn’t prepared. There was too much to do to get her guest-ready. She needed work.

But we agreed, perhaps all of us together, that we should open the door and slowly let people in. In April Tex said yes when a woman called. She was working on the island and needed a room for two nights.

She was from Surrey. She had two teenagers at the madness stage. She hadn’t been feeling well lately. She wasn’t sure about her husband anymore but his folks lived downstairs and that was the only way they could afford their house. The whole thing made her tired.

After she dragged her bags into her room she took her cans of cider out to the hot tub that is nestled in the trees overlooking the garden. A few hours later I got worried. Are we supposed to make sure our guests are okay? The mother in me said, go find her. It was dark and cold. She was blissfully listening to music oblivious to the hours that had passed.

“Thank you so much for letting me stay here,” she said. “I feel calm, serene, peaceful. I haven’t felt that way in a long time. This place has a special tranquility about it. I really needed it.”

A psychiatrist who stayed a few weeks ago said the same thing, “If there is one thing people need these days it’s serenity. And that’s what you have here. This place is a gift.”

The sun is half way down the hill on the other side of the Cove. It’s time to put breakfast on the bar. We are painting the exterior and as Maddy said, “It’s a lot.”

There are beautiful twin boys and their parents staying in the family room downstairs. They will be up soon looking for something to eat. People say this is our fourth quarter, Tex and I. Perhaps. I hope it’s not our final inning. But I think it might be our last big play and if it is, it’s sure a hell of a gig. One thing is for sure…the Lodge is getting ready for whatever is coming her way.