Saturday, June 2, 2012


Nearly midnight on this first day of June.  As we approach the summer solstice the evening sky stays bright and lingers long, at least most days.  But not today.  It's been alternately drizzling and pouring all day, sometimes torrentially.  Gusts of wind every once in a while swept the rain almost sideways.  Umbrella corpses must be littering the sidewalks and entranceways all over the city.

I'm grateful to have had a full yesterday, including a long zippy outing on my bicycle last night, and a calm task-filled day today, with no need to brave the elements except to do small chores in the garden.

I've been sorting slides (yes, actual old-fashioned colour slides) all day, prompted by a need to find images to skan, so that I can show them to my Foods that Changed the World class this coming Tuesday and at the last class on June 19th.  Instead of showing a few each week, I've decided to show a batch to illustrate some of the things we've been talking about in the last three weeks.  That means I have shots of rice cultivation and harvest, bread ovens and flour mills (small hand-powered ones), old olive trees, oil mills (animal powered), and more.  As I sort through the sheets of slides, it's a pleasure to be reminded that I have a real depth of food shots.  I feel I'm getting reacquainted with them after a long time away.

I've been so immersed in Burma these last three years.  Now it's time to re-engage with images and thoughts of other places, and with other themes and ideas.  No, I'm not abandoning my interest in Burma, very much not.  But I need to reconnect to the wider world too.  How fortunate that I have the photographs, taken over the last decades, to remind me of the richness of the world, the extremes in which people live, and how much they can teach us.

As I look at flatbread-related images, for example, it makes me want to go and re-photograph in flatbread cultures, and also to extend my understanding.  Dreams of travel to Iran start to surface, and to Egypt, and why not Algeria? I think to myself.  It's too easy to stay comfortably inside the zone...the ideas and places that are familiar.  The familiar is endlessly enriching, for sure.

But I have a hunger to be out being vulnerable, to be in not-knowing situations, where I have no automatic responses and instead have to figure things out moment by moment.

Perhaps this yearning is connected to my having been at my university reunion last weekend, reminded by the aging faces all around me of how long ago graduation was, and of how easy it is to settle into routines and forget about new challenges.  I have to say it feels good to have the blood and imagination stirring.  I've been so caught up in Burma deadlines and the urgencies of last-minute checks and edits, that I've not had my eyes raised to the horizon.

Perhaps it's this rainy day that's freed me to reflect and ponder more abstractly about what comes next.

Perhaps it's the wonderful supper and conversation I had with two dear friends last night, challenging and lively, to celebrate one birthday, and to mark how much better each of us is feeling and doing, compared to this time last year.

The yearly markers, whether they're the annual cycles of the garden and the trees (these last ten days have been a time of elm seeds scattered like pale flimsy coins all over the street and into the house on stray breezes, and of pale fallen chestnut blossoms like left-over tossed rice after a wedding, decorating the gutters at the edges of the sidestreets), or personal anniversaries such as celebratory dinners with friends, keep us in line and allow us to keep track of our lives and loves.  And so I can say, as we head into June, and the green and fruitfulness (we hope) of summer, that life these days is looking and feeling very good and full of promise.

I hope you are feeling some of this kind of optimism and good energy.  It makes each day shine more brightly, makes a rainy day feel like a gift rather than a let-down, gives meaning to the simplest things.

POSTSCRIPT REMINDER: The transit of Venus is happening this coming Tuesday, June 5.  It's the last one for more than one hundred years...a sort of unimaginable length of time into the future.  For people in Toronto and the east half of North America, it starts in the late afternoon.  Here Venus starts to cross the sun's orb at 6.04 pm we're told.  It will take more than three hours, which means the sun will have set before the transit is finished.  In other parts of the world it will be visible finishing, at dawn (say in Southeast Asia).  Have a look on Google for more info about times, and also the safety glasses you need to protect your eyes (just as with an eclipse of the sun).  I'm going to rush up to Varsity stadium to see the first twenty minutes or so of the transit.  And I'll be thinking of the wonder and amazement that skywatchers have felt over the centuries when they have chanced on a transit of Venus.  (They happen about twice in a hundred years, we're told.)  Now to hope for clear skies!

No comments: