10 November 2013

Coming Home

Our life at Small Pond is ruled by the seasons, with summer typically being the busiest time of year. But this fall things just haven’t slowed down. Our last big event at the farm was the Scarecrow Festival, and as soon as that was over I was packing my bags and heading to Toronto to work at Clay & Paper Theatre’s annual Night of Dread.
My friend and mentor David Anderson explains the Night of Dread
 proceedings to a group of volunteers
It was my seventh year working this spectacular community festival and parade that takes place in and around Dufferin Grove Park. I’ve come to accept my yearly presence at Night of Dread as a given; a few years back I didn’t attend and I felt a gaping hole in my heart. I now understand that it is an important rite for me to come and be with my people at this time of year, and to be a part of this work that I am so deeply connected to. 
Some of the giant puppets used for Night of Dread
After a whirl-wind week of prep and a soggy set-up, the event went off despite the rainy odds, and a beautiful, magical time was had by all. I helped pack up the puppets the following day, and it was back to County for the next event… The Picton Zombie Walk!

This is Small Pond's third year of partnering with the County of Prince Edward Public Library to present the Zombie Walk. The funny thing is, I think that our Zombie walk isn't really about zombies at all - what it is about is fun, creativity, and supporting the great community-building work that our library does.

I’d barely washed off my zombie make-up and I was on the road again – this time heading to Pikangikum in Northern Ontario as a volunteer artist with ArtsCan Circle.

It was my second trip to this fly-in Ojibway community, and I was travelling with two other wonderful artists, Raven Murphy and Kenneth ‘Magoo’ McGregor. Our theme for the week was turtles. If you look at the shell of any turtle in North America you will find that it has thirteen plates, surrounded by twenty-eight smaller plates. For First Nations people, the turtle’s shell was the original calendar – the larger plates representing their thirteen moons, and each moon containing 28 days (I’ll save you the math – that’s 364 days). Of course many First Nations also call North America Turtle Island, so the turtle is an animal totem loaded with meaning and symbolism.

The first part of our project was creating a giant papier-mâché turtle. Because our time in Pikangikum was so limited, I brought the sculpture – made from cardboard and foam – in pieces in my suitcase. It really wasn't much to look at...

Upon arrival, I taped it together with masking tape.

Some high school students helped me papier-mâché it.

The following day, some more teens jumped in to help paint the turtle.

But the main part of the students' task was to each create a design for one of the thirteen moons which they would paint on turtle’s back.

It turned out pretty great! It's now hanging in the art room at Eenchokay Birchstick School.

Our second project was working with another group of teens to create six short videos based on these same moons. Students worked in teams of two to four, each creating a two-minute video. Once they’d presented us with some sort of plan, we gave each team a video camera and let them go to it. I was so happy with what we got back – creative footage full of handmade touches, with a few giggles thrown in to the soundtrack for good measure… having fun is an important part of the creative process!

Gorgeous handmade title for one of the videos
Before we knew it, the week was over, and we hopped back on our teeny-tiny airplane that made five (!!!) stops before landing at Toronto’s Pearson Airport. It's amazing the difference of perspective a few days away can give you. Walking through the airport was a shock to my senses. Everything was so shiny and expensive and fast. It all just seemed so excessive. The chasm between the haves and the have-nots of this country is so vast that it’s hard to accept or comprehend. Pikangikum is a town of 2300+ and is not hooked up to the electrical grid; the whole town is run on generators. As we were leaving, there was talk of the power being shut down for four days - an unpleasant situation as winter was settling in, not to mention the fact that school would be cancelled as long as the power was out. Most households in Pikangikum have no running water. Come on, Canada: you can do better.

I really cherished this trip to Pikangikum and I’m eager to go back to continue building on the relationships I’ve started there. The rest of Canada needs to hear the voices of these people, especially the youth, and anything I can do to help encourage those voices to speak up is certainly worth pursuing. 

Lake Pikangikum
But for now I’m happy to be home, and am feeling big time gratitude for the experiences that I've had, the life that I live, and for the place that I get to come home to.