21 June 2010

Summer Comes to Small Pond (a pretty Purdy place to live)

“… Something irrational had stirred in my brain. It said: stop wasting your life conventionally, waste it yourself, unconventionally.” - Al Purdy, poet and former resident of Prince Edward County.

Today marks the first day of summer, and for us, the beginning of our first summer at Small Pond. What a metamorphosis we have witnessed since we moved here four months ago! The gardens and fields are an endless parade of blooms – just as one flower is fading, another is coming to life.

The vegetables in our garden are growing by leaps and bounds. We are about to have a whole lot of veggies on our hands, so if anyone wants to stop by for an organic garden salad, you are most welcome!

The wild grasses, left unchecked, have in some places grown chest-high; to wade through them is like walking through a jungle. In the ‘back forty’, paths that were easily followed in the spring have become impassable tangles of brush. Next to the silo, the raspberry bushes are filled with the sound of happy, buzzing bees. The wild grape vines seem to be climbing everywhere; Al Purdy was famous for getting visitors drunk on his homemade wild grape wine.

The fruit of the black currant bushes are turning colour like so many jewels. The wild strawberries are sweet for those patient enough to stoop down and pick the small red fruit. Early one morning, I saw a wild turkey by the outhouse; it was huge, up to my waist at least. It didn’t bother to run or fly away, but casually just strutted off into the bushes. We have grown to know many birds on an individual basis; there’s the huge black crow that can be found on our front lawn most mornings, pacing back and forth as he looks for breakfast in the grass. The crow babies’ nest is in a tall pine tree out back; they entertain us with a variety of comical noises. There’s the red-winged blackbird that lives in the crabapple tree, who is extremely territorial and gets very upset when we come too close. And there’s the robin who repeatedly builds nests in our barn, despite the fact that I kept taking them down (I have now given up and conceded the robin free reign of the barn.  Robin - 1 / Human - 0).

A nest with horse-hair lining that I found in the early spring; these eggs were left abandoned on the lawn

One afternoon Guy and I were riding our bikes to town when we encountered a good-sized turtle crossing the road. We picked it up, and it retracted its head and legs inside its shell. As I held the turtle I looked into its eyes, and it looked into mine, surely wondering if it was about to become my lunch. We returned the turtle to the ditch it had been heading for, and went on our way, giddy for our encounter with such an intriguing creature.

A toad explores the front garden

A few weeks ago, I finally saw my first deer on our property, after months of seeing the tracks of these elusive animals. Milé had invited a bunch of our friends over to surprise me for my birthday, and we were gathered outside near the silo. I guess we were making such a racket that a doe was too curious not to check us out, and stood watching us from the edge of a nearby field before prancing off into the fading light.

Last week we met a woman who told us she has an entire photo album of Prince Edward County sunsets, each one of them different, and I can believe it. The skies here are some of the most beautiful I have seen, particularly at sunset, often lighting up in fiery shades of pink. At night the stars are clear and bright, and fireflies dance their magical lights through the tall grasses near the house.We love living here. We love it here even more than we thought we would. Although we have a piece of paper that says this land is ours, we know that we are such a small, insignificant part of the abundant life that is all around us, too astonishing and magnificent to ever truly be owned.

Caitlin meets Butty the butterfly

Since moving to Small Pond, we’ve barely watched TV, and I have to admit we’ve been a little slack on keeping up with news from the outside world. The one story that I have been following is the horrible tragedy of the Gulf oil spill. In the midst of this devastation I have taken great comfort in the pure, unhampered life that is thriving all around us.

     The world’s pain is a little away from here
     and the hawk’s burst of speed that claws
     a fish from its glass house is earlier
     and later than now under a rejuvenated
     Pontiac with frogs booming temporary
     sonatas for mortals and Beethoven
     crows thronging the June skies and
          everything still
     everything suddenly goddamn still…

     - From Spring Song by Al Purdy

(Some good folks are trying to purchase and restore Al Purdy's A-frame house in Ameliasburgh and turn this important site into a writers' retreat.  To find out more about how you can help, click HERE)

12 June 2010

Time to Think About the Future: Burying a Time Capsule

For the Grand Opening of Small Pond Arts, we wanted to do something ceremonial to mark the occasion, and we thought that burying a time capsule would be a perfect way to do just that. I talked about the burial ceremony in a previous post, but thought I’d go into a little more detail about our process of putting it together. In our modern-day culture we have so few non-religious rites; this project reminded us of the value of  an inclusive, non-secular ritual as a way of bringing people together, and added a deeper significance to our celebration.
The crowd waits for the ceremony to begin

I started by ordering The Dead Good Time Capsule Book from those brilliant people at Welfare State International, writers of two of my other favourite books, Engineers of the Imagination and Eyes on Stalks.

Reading the book was an excellent place to begin, as it discusses a number of different ways to approach a time capsule project, particularly for large groups of people. We decided that we wanted as many people to contribute to our capsule as possible, and we wanted the contents to be as diverse as the contributors themselves. Here is the invitation that went out to our friends, family, neighbours, and the internet in general:

“As part of our grand opening celebrations, we’ll be burying a time capsule to be opened in May 2035. We’d like to invite you to contribute something to our time capsule. What would you like to place in the palms of the future?  Contributions should be small in size, as the cylindrical capsule is 5.5" diameter by 22" high, and we want as many people to contribute as possible. Some ideas for what you could contribute are: a message, a photo, a wish, a song, a recipe, a poem, a keepsake, a drawing, a story, a toy, jewelry, currency, textiles, newspaper or magazine clippings, or anything else you think reflects life in 2010. Let your imagination guide you, but choose materials that are unlikely to decay with age, and media that won’t be obsolete by 2035. We will have some acid-free paper available at the party if you would like to write something at that time.”

My grandparents, Jack and Marion, just prior to the ceremony

I ordered the Time Capsule from Future Packaging, opting for the “Mrs. Future” model. It is made of stainless steel and came with a variety of packaging to separate and preserve items inside the capsule, as well as oxygen absorber, acid free paper, and sealing materials. It was a little on the expensive side, but I figured if we were going to do this, we had to do it right. It would be really disappointing to dig this thing up in 25 years and find a pile of dust!  There are a number of other, less expensive, DIY ways to do a time capsule; particularily if you are not burying it in the ground or sealing it up for a very long time.

Make sure nobody falls in the time capsule hole before the burial!

More than 30 people contributed to the time capsule, many with multiple items, and the contributions were all wonderful, ranging from thoughtful and personal to the downright silly!

One of my favourite contributions came from the Clarke family, who lived in our house for 87 years and after whom our road is named. Sisters Ann, Brenda and Sandra stopped by with their mother Betty a few days before the party. They hadn’t been in the house since it had been sold seven years ago; we took them on a tour of the house and they regaled us with family stories and childhood memories. It was an emotional visit, but good for all of us – they felt happy that this special place was in good hands, and we felt that we had their blessing to be here. Their contributions to the time capsule were deeply personal and an important step towards preserving the historical record of our house. The items the sisters contributed were Harry Clarke's obituary notice, who bought the farm in 1915 (the sisters’ grandfather), Don Clarke's death notice (the sisters’ father), he inherited the farm on their grandfather's passing, a letter from Brenda that was read at their father’s funeral, and a picture of their father and three brothers, Robert, Fred and Howard.

The ladies Clarke: Ann Pappas, Brenda Clarke-Campbell, Betty Clarke and Sandra Sharpe

We knew that the party was going to be big and chaotic (in a good way!), so we designated a table in the dining room as the Time Capsule Station; when people dropped off their items, they signed a registry with their name and a description of their items. People enjoyed perusing the items on display. I made the very smart move of delegating the organizing of the capsule to my sister Caitlin (Time Capsule Captain), who was assisted by my other two sisters, Meagan and Brittany. With 100 people coming and going over the course of the weekend, there was no way that I could be responsible for organizing all the items that came pouring in whilst I was playing hostess.

Some of the time capsule contents

However, because I was not organizing the items, I didn’t see much of what went into the capsule! The registry also went into the capsule, so we'll be truly surprised when we open it in 2035. These are some of the items that I know went in: a copy of the local paper from that week along with flyers from the grocery store, photos of the house and the silo, photos of my parents, a picture of Small Pond as drawn by my 4-year old niece and a photo of her holding said drawing, a wishing feather, some very goofy gag glasses, a photo of a neighbouring family along with some Canadian coins, Milé’s dad’s zippo lighter, a ceramic pin by brilliant Toronto artist Barbara Klunder, a message in a water bottle from our friend Sheila, a letter from my grandmother, a cookie cutter from my sister along with the gingerbread recipe we traditionally make every holiday season, a disposable camera with pictures from the party, a drawing of the silo by Milé, a DVD with something Olympic-related on it, a bracelet from a neighbour, a sticker, a button, an ID card, a whistle… and who knows what other mystery items?? We’ll have to wait and find out!

My niece Brooklynn will be almost 30 when the time capsule is dug up!

The capsule was sealed first with silicone and then with wax. We placed it in a big clear garbage bag for good measure. The outside of the Time Capsule is marked “Time Capsule” in case someone should stumble upon it.

The future belongs to the children - my little cousin Olivia helps bury the time capsule

What really worked about our ceremony was involving everyone in the burial of the capsule. We asked each person to help bury it, and we asked everyone to pass over the buried capsule and “into the future.” This was really important as it brought everyone into the ceremony; whether or not they contributed an item they still got to take part.

Guy and Nel look pretty happy to be stepping into the future together

The final step of this project was to register the capsule with the International Time Capsule Society. This registry was established because the society estimates there are approximately 10,000 capsules worldwide, most of them lost!  Hopefully by registering this capsule either we or our families will be able to locate it in 25 years.  The ITCS website is also an excellent resource, and has some great reading on it, such as The Nine Most Wanted Time Capsules.

The time capsule turned out to be one of the highlights of our grand opening. Now we just have to wait 9,106 days until we can open it. Until then, I wish you a future full of art!

01 June 2010

Don’t Let Your Silo Go Naked: How to Make a Giant Banner

At Small Pond, we believe that small is beautiful.  But that doesn't mean that we don't think BIG, dream BIG, and enjoy making ridiculously BIG stuff.

We made this banner in celebration of the grand opening of Small Pond Arts on May 23, 2010.  Our first question when setting out to make it was exactly how big should it be?  We knew our silo was BIG – anyone could see that – but we had no way of actually measuring it. So we measured as much as we could with a tape measure (10 feet), then guesstimated that was about a quarter of the silo's height, so it was about 40 feet tall. In order to create something large enough to suit the scale, we figured the banner should be about 20 feet tall. Anything smaller and the banner would look like a postage stamp.

Look waaaay up!

I’d been saving white tablecloths and bed sheets for a while, and we scrounged a few more from a thrift store. The red fabric was left over from two previous projects: stilt pants and puppet clothes. Lucky for us,  Milé's mother had just bought us a new sewing machine, and even luckier, my youngest sister, Caitlin, was coming to visit – and man, that girl can sew.

This is NOT the new sewing machine… this is Sew Awesome, which we picked up at our favourite store, County Traders

I didn’t want to buy any more fabric than what we had. Not only are we on a fairly strict budget, but using what is at hand is part of my artistic philosophy; I enjoy making things from recycled and freecycled materials wherever possible.

With the material that we had, we fit it together like a jigsaw puzzle, configuring it into a 20 foot by 10 foot banner. We pinned it together in sections in the living room; there was nowhere big enough that we could lay it all out – nowhere clean enough for a white banner, anyway.

Caitlin sews up a storm

Caitlin set about sewing this monstrosity of white sheets together at our ample dining room table, stitching, double stitching, and triple stitching for strength. It gets pretty windy up here at Small Pond, and so durability was everything. I washed the red material and hung it on the fence to dry – we didn’t want any bleeding hearts on our silo.

"Wasn't it hard to hang on to the side of the silo while you were sleeping?" - Krista's Uncle Dan

When the pieces were all sewn together, Caitlin sewed the heart into the middle. She made the heart double-sided (like you would make a cushion) and turned it inside out, giving the heart a nice edge and perfectly-formed shape. Finally, she sewed channels along the top and both sides of the banner. We fed heavy rope, recycled from our dismantled electric horse fence, through each of these channels, and tied the ropes together where they met at each corner of the top. We used 100 feet of rope along each side – it had to reach from the outside bottom of the silo, all the way up and over the top, and then down again to the bottom inside the silo, with plenty of extra rope at each end to be secured to cinder blocks.

As much as we made this banner as strong as we could, right from the beginning we had to accept that this banner would be a temporary installation. No matter how well we built it, there always existed the possibility that one morning we would wake up to find that the banner had simply vanished, whisked away by some gale force bandit of this windy island. (Spoiler alert: three weeks later, the banner is still there in all it’s glory. Good sewing, Cait!)

One week before the party, Team Silo (Milé, Guy, Caitlin and me) woke up early, and carried the banner out into the sunshine.

Using duct tape, we secured a rock to a length of binder twine and then taped the twine to the tops of the two ropes. It took a while, but Guy managed to hurl the rock up and over the silo wall without too much trouble. We hauled the banner up, two of us inside the silo and two outside. The wind was picking up at this point and the ropes at the top seemed to be hopelessly tangled. After struggling with it for some time, I was forced to admit that we’d made a mistake by throwing the ropes up together: they needed to be thrown up separately so the banner would be held open. Failure is part of many creative processes… and so we took the banner down.

So now we had two rocks, taped to two pieces of binder twine, taped to two pieces of rope… and Guy limbered up and started throwing. Fast forward… and the rocks had been thrown over in the right locations, and we were hoisting the banner up and into place. The ropes were tied to the cinder blocks and adjusted so that the banner would hug the silo as tightly as possible.

The banner was made exclusively from recycled materials – barring the thread, which was new – and cost about $20 and 3 days to make and install.  All of our visitors love our silo even more now, and so do we.  I have a vision of knitting a giant, woolly silo cozy by the time winter rolls around (frenetic knitters, please contact me!). There are many neglected, naked silos dotting countrysides across the land; now will someone dress them, please?