Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Morning waves, North Shore

I awoke this morning to a dull roar coming through the open bedroom window. At sunrise, Honey & I went down to the water to investigate. Part of the noise was an early morning scallop dragger moving through the water and part was the breaking of low-tide waves over rocks and pebbles along the shore.   

Sonnet 60: Like as the waves make towards the pebbl'd shore

Like as the waves make towards the pebbl'd shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

--   William Shakespeare

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Kent Haruf: novelist


Here was this man Tom Guthrie in Holt standing at the back window in the kitchen of his house smoking cigarettes and looking out over the back lot where the sun was just coming up. When the sun reached the top of the windmill, for a while he watched what it was doing, that increased reddening of sunrise along the steel blades and the tail vane above the wooden platform. After a time he put out the cigarette and went upstairs and walked past the closed door behind which she lay in bed in the darkened guest room sleeping or not and went down the hall to the glassy room over the kitchen where the two boys were. 

The room was an old sleeping porch with uncurtained windows on three sides, airy-looking and open, with a pinewood floor. Across the way they were still asleep, together in the same bed under the north windows, cuddled up, although it was still early fall and not yet cold. They had been sleeping in the same bed for the past month and now the older boy had one hand stretched above his brother's head as if he hoped to shove something away and thereby save them both. They were nine and ten, with dark brown hair and unmarked faces, cheeks that were still as pure and dear as a girl's face. 

And so begins Kent Haruf's lovely, quiet, masterful novel Plainsong. Kant Haruf died on Sunday night, another of my favourite authors gone. 

Plainsong begins a trilogy of novels including Eventide and Benediction set in Holt, Colorado, telling and expanding on the stories and the lives of people like Tom Guthrie and his sons Ike and Bobby, his unhappy wife, Ella. There's Victoria Robideaux, a pregnant teenager and her new friend Maggie Jones. And there are the McPheron brothers, bachelor farmers Harold and Raymond. We're allowed to live with these compassionate, imperfect people, be with them as their lives change and their hearts crack open.

 Apparently Kent Haruf has left us a last novel to be published next year. I'm glad he didn't leave us all alone. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mark Strand: poet

         The Triumph of the Infinite
          I got up in the night and went to the end of the hall. Over the
          door in large letters it said, "This is the next life. Please come
          in." I opened the door. Across the room a bearded man in a
          pale-green suit turned to me and said, "Better get ready, we're
          taking the long way." "Now I'll wake up," I thought, but I was
          wrong. We began our journey over golden tundra and patches
          of ice. Then there was nothing for miles around, and all I could
          hear was my heart pumping and pumping so hard I thought I
          would die all over again.

                   -- Mark Strand, from Almost Invisible

Mark Strand, one of my favourite poets, died this weekend. He was 80 years old. 

I'm a subscriber to the New Yorker and when I'm finished with each magazine I clip the poems I like and paste them wherever I seem to be pasting things: my Commonplace books, my writing notebooks, journals that I start  and never (ever) keep up, or I stuff them in files to save for the right occasion and if I really like them, I stick them on the fridge. Mark Strand's poems live on in all those places. 

Andy and I particularly liked his poem Our Masterpiece is Private Life and we used it on a collage we sent to friends to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Here it is for you to read.

          Our Masterpiece is the Private Life

Is there something down by the water, keeping itself from us,
Some shy event, some secret of the light that falls upon the deep,
Some source of sorrow that does not wish to be discovered yet?

Our happiness says we should not care, that desire,
If it wished, could cast its rainbows over the coarse porcelain
Of the world’s skin, and with its measure fill the crystal

Reaches of the air. Why look for anything else?
Why not in the brightness of such weather allow ourselves to be
Astonished by the music and the privilege of our passing?

And now, my love, while the advocates of awfulness and sorrow
Push their dripping barge up and down the beach, let’s eat
Our brill, and sip this beautiful white Beaune.

True, the light is artificial, and we are not well dressed,
But the heart of the matter is often beside the point.
We like it here. We like the bullocks of the field next door,

We like the sound of wind passing over grass. The way you speak,
In that low voice, our late-night disclosures…  Why live
For anything else? Our masterpiece is the private life.

Standing at the quay between the Roving Swan and the Star Emaculate,
Breathing the night air as the moment of pleasure taken
In pleasure vanishing seems to grow, its self-soiling

Beauty, which can only be what it was, sustaining itself
A little longer in its going, I think of our own smooth passage
Through the graded partitions, the crises that bleed

Into the ordinary, leaving us a little more tired each time,
A little more distant from the experiences which in the old days
Held us captive for hours. The drive along the winding road

Back to the house, the sea pounding against the cliffs,
The glass of whiskey on the table, the open book, the questions,
All the day’s rewards waiting at the doors of sleep…

                       -- Mark Strand

Friday, November 21, 2014

Moose and ice

A cold morning walk, a few snow squalls and blustery moments, but some sun at times too. Sure is beginning to feel and look like winter. Pretty ice had formed over rain puddles from a couple of days ago. 

We haven't had a lot of moose around the house so this morning when Honey & I went walking and we heard a rustle, we were very surprised to have a moose rise out of the grass not ten yards from us. She had an enormous pee then ran a ways into the trees and turned and allowed me to take a photo of her. We thank her.

You can click on the photos to see them better. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Never Forgotten National Memorial: an open letter

November 1, 2014

To the Honourary Vice-Chairs, Ambassadors, Honourary Patrons, Volunteer Directors and Executive Advisors, and Board of Directors: Never Forgotten National Memorial;

As Armistice Day approaches, November 11th, I have on my mind the proposed memorial at Green Cove, which is said, “will usher in an exciting new era of commemoration, one allowing Canadians to honour and respect Our Fallen in a manner never previously experienced or possibly even imagined.” That I can’t imagine what exactly this experience will be is likely my failing, but I do have a few concerns about the project I’d like to present to you today.

I will say immediately I am not against war memorials, and I am not against the Green Cove memorial. I lived and worked in Ottawa, raised my children there. Every year my husband and I attended the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph, a memorial we passed almost daily, which has recently, and tragically, become the “iconic” memorial to soldiers in Canada since the death of Cpl. Cirillo. The Cenotaph ceremony allowed me to honour dead and serving Forces members, and provided a chance to personally honour my grandfathers, who fought in World War I, one having spent time in a German prisoner of war camp, and to recall my uncles, who fought in, and survived, World War II. My father was in the Naval Reserve when the war ended.

The ceremony also gave me a chance to remember my uncle Roy Schnarr, an RCAF flyer who died when his plane malfunctioned in a test flight in New Brunswick, on November 11, 1943. He was 20 years old. He never made it overseas. His mother, my grandmother, never understood how his death had served Canada. The day she was told of his accident, she put away a quilt she was working on and didn’t touch it again until the early 1980s when she came to visit me in Ottawa. We took her to the Peace Tower where the custodian of the Book of Remembrance turned the pages to find Roy’s name. She was moved to tears to see his name there with so many other war dead. In some way it legitimized his death in her mind and heart. That is a powerful memorial, a book of names, one that could open the heart of a mother grieving for over 40 years. When she returned home, my grandmother finished the quilt she had put away, and today it is in my mother’s bedroom, another kind of memorial, an intimate and domestic one.

As you can see, I am not against memorials. My reservation about the Never Forgotten memorial arose when I realized no one seemed to know the process for development of the monument nor who would pay for it.  When I looked at your website and saw the scale of the monument -- a enormous statue -- and realized the amount of concrete that would be needed to support it and the parking lots for the many Cabot Trail visitors expected. I worried development would possibly destroy, but certainly transform, a beautiful natural outcrop, already an active tourist stop, into something that I was not yet sure would truly honour the military. I worried what the mentioned “marketing opportunities” meant and what the gift shop would sell and where those gifts would be manufactured. In effect, I worried this was a somewhat grand project concerned as much with making money and honouring donors and partners, as it was about honouring war dead and serving Forces members.

Then I read in the Globe and Mail on Saturday, October 25th, an article by Alec Scott interviewing Michael Winter, a Newfoundland writer, who had been asked to write a non-fiction account of those Newfoundlanders who had served in the Great War. Winter described the Beaumont-Hamel memorial in France, and his description made me realize that a different kind of memorial was possible. Here is some of what Michael Winter had to say:

Winter mentions the impact that visiting the Beaumont-Hamel memorial had on him. “I was ambushed by what I felt.” He said. “No one was there; it was completely empty.” He had a picnic in the spot where 650 men died, 250 of those deaths within minutes. “I had this strange feeling of so many men experiencing what they didn't know would be the last night of their lives.”  He said the park had been preserved as it was after the battle and he went on to describe the memorial, “It’s effective. The whole park is surrounded by 5000 trees native to Newfoundland. These trees by now are huge, some 100 feet tall – much taller than they’re able to grow on the Island. The soldiers died young, and yet the trees are ancient now. They felt like witnesses, a force from home that overlooks this battlefield.”

I wonder if there is still time to consider a memorial in our beautiful Cape Breton Highlands National Park or elsewhere that would not transform Green Cove into a concrete base for a huge statue and a grouping of buildings and parking lots, but like the Beaumont-Hamel memorial, might meld what Green Cove naturally offers into a “living” memorial that would honour the memory of the dead and serving members of the Canadian Military and Merchant Marine, as well as honouring the land that those same war dead and Canadian Forces members come from – Canada. Green Cove on its own, as you mention in your, is “the Cabot Trail’s iconic look-out”; it’s an awesome spectacle. If naturally enhanced in a careful way, keeping in mind those dead and living Canadian soldiers, it could prove one of Canada’s most lovely natural memorials to those who served and serve in Canada’s Military.

Finally, I want to say that the jobs and ongoing commerce the construction and maintenance of the Never Forgotten memorial would provide has been one of the local talking points. Making a living memorial would create jobs, and tending a living memorial would sustain those jobs. We in rural Cape Breton, those born here and those who immigrated in to make their lives, build businesses, pay taxes and raise their children, much like Mr. Trigiani’s family who immigrated to Ontario, all know the sorrow and hardship of rural unemployment and underemployment and of losing children to cities and areas where commerce is booming. In one small and suffering area of Cape Breton, a memorial would be a boon. My intention is not to destroy the hope of those jobs, but to suggest there might be another kind of memorial, one that could just as fully serve community economic needs and the glory of Green Cove’s natural beauty and most particularly, honour the men and women of our Military Forces.

Respectfully yours,

Susan Zettell
North Shore, Cape Breton


Today in our local newspaper, the Chronicle Herald, an article told about a proposed and necessary moose cull in the CB Highlands National Park. It explained that after the moose cull, an area near the Skyline Trail will reforested. Matthew Smith, the park ecologist, said it is possible that a “moose enclosure” the size of nine football fields could be built to protect immature trees from being eaten down by remaining moose. He goes on to say, “Visitors to the park will have a chance to walk through the “enclosure” and plant trees while learning about the project and the importance of restoration.” It is this sort of project, shared by the park and the Never Forgotten National Memorial, a “living” and ongoing project dedicated to the memory of war dead and serving Forces members that could create a living memorial, an ongoing natural memorial to Canadian Forces. Something novel yet fitting for a National Park. I'm not suggesting the Never Forgotten members adopt this particular project, unless it was appropriate to do so, but I do want to allow you to see the kind of project I had in mind.

2) Moose cull a reforest project article, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Chronicle Herald:


3) Never Forgotten National Memorial:


4) John Allemang article in Globe & Mail re: war memorials


Friday, October 31, 2014

For Bernadette: October 31, 1953 - October 31, 2011

     On Prayer

     You ask me how to pray to someone who is not.
     All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge
     And walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard,
     Above landscapes the color of ripe gold
     Transformed by a magic stopping of the sun.
     That bridge leads to the shore of Reversal
     Where everything is just the opposite and the word ‘is’
     Unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned.
     Notice: I say we; there, every one, separately,
     Feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh
     And knows that if there is no other shore
     We will walk that aerial bridge all the same.

             -- Czeslaw Milosz (translated by Robert Hass)

My sister's birth day (1953) and her death day (2011) share this day, a full circle life. Her morning sunrise was all glow, the last leaves on the trees transformed from brightness to brilliance, the play of light and shadow magical. She would have loved it, loved these pictures I took for her and for my family. I share them with you in her memory.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Cal's Restaurant & Grill

For our anniversary lunch Andy & I got take-out from a new restaurant on our slice of the Cabot Trail, Cal's Restaurant & Grill. There's a basic menu of foods that go with fresh, hand cut French fries: fish, scallops, clams, shrimp, burgers, BLTs, club sandwiches etc. He also serves poutine and has good onion rings and coleslaw. I've not tried the desserts yet, but I will because I overheard that they are deep fried -- cheesecake and cinnamon buns. Imagine! I could be wrong but if I'm not, Scots deep-fried Mars bars, eat your heart out. Once I try them I will report back. 

Cal & Liz

Cal built the restaurant himself and the space is bright and airy, and the floor, well it's lovely: painted cement with a beach and ocean theme. There's a mermaid sculpture I covet and a photo by my dear friend, Carol Kennedy. 

If you're heading this way, give it a try. It's a nice addition to existing eateries: The Clucking Hen Bakery & CafĂ© (lots & lots of good stuff), Simply Pizza (great lasagne as well as pizza) and The Dancing Moose (fabulous pannekoeke & good soups). 

Hours from 11 AM - 7 PM and you can call ahead: 902-929-2257.