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School Bells Sing … Are You Listening?

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Remember when the music
Came from wooden boxes strung with silver wire
And as we sang the words, it would set our minds on fire,
For we believed in things, and so we’d sing.”

Harry Chapin

school days

DAMN! I’m wondering if this is the fire and brimstone of Old Testament lore shitting down on the Okanagan Valley (and maybe your locale too) with floods, fires, and the worst global pestilence of all – good ole boy Donny-John Trump!

The only ones truly thriving in this plague are the chosen ones – comedians…

Summer 2017 – again – has melted away like a deliciously sweet Pralines and Cream ice cream cone licked madly on the Penticton beachfront, the escaped drips available on the front of your T-shirt to sample later.

The diamond glitter of sunshine on the balmy lake water, tropical scents of sunscreen, electric bursts of music and kids’ laughter are, alas, diminishing.

The smoke from surrounding forest fires that’s languished over the Naramata hillside for most of the past month is nowhere to be seen today. Yesterday’s wheezy cough is today’s soothing clear inhale of September joy.

It’s the perfect Okanagan Valley summer day. Or has autumn already descended?.

I scan down the line of parked cars along the sandy beach strip and already there are fewer Alberta, Saskatchewan, Washington and Oregon plates… the British Columbia home-grown ones suddenly predominate, something not seen since mid-June when floods, not forest fires were the threat du jour.

And I’m sitting here on this first, beautiful day of September reminiscing about the many many September 1st’s and new school years that rotated past as my kids were growing from toddlers to school-age to tweens and adolescents and then, like reaching the end of the carnival Fun House – half exhilarated, half terrified – stopped.

Stopped dead like a healthy heart in mid-beat. The music went quiet.

summer end.jpg

School day 1, 1990 – I vividly remember standing outside the portable of my 5 year-old daughter’s kindergarten class, gathering her up in my bursting-proud Daddy arms, she in her little white and pink polka-dotted dress, and kissing her so long.

She wanted my hug but she wanted even more to begin this new escapade. “Dad… Dad! Mr. Lambert’s ready for us!“.

One last little squeeze and I released her like a dove winging away, free in the breeze.

I felt a squeezing in my throat, wetness welling in my eyes as she skipped away.

She was so excited to be a “big kid” and entering the classroom with the Oshkosh group of little moppets, most of whom I would watch proudly stroll to the front of the stage in tux’s and ballgowns in 13 years to pick up their graduation diplomas.

She was so little, so pleased, so ready to begin this new adventure.

I don’t remember my parents seeing me off to school on my first day, so this is a treasured memory for me that resists the chalkboard eraser that has wiped away so many other precious moments.

……………..

Remember when the music
Was the best of what we dreamed of for our children’s time
And as we sang we worked, for time was just a line,
It was a gift we saved, a gift the future gave.

……………..

Suddenly, the kids were grown. The long chapter ended.

All of the Back-to-School crescendos and decrescendos, all the adolescent fire, rain and sun whipped and flung in a thousand directions over time, dissipated.

Now it was time to load up the van or the car or the plane (vehicles morphed over time, like my grey’ing hair colour, to accommodate the friends and the sports or dance activities of the time) and fly off to deposit kids and their boxes and computers in university or college dorm rooms.

I wore my Dad jeans up and down dorm stairs and hallways, hauling boxes, taking in the young adult excitement and smell of new freedom hanging loosely in the air. The aura of sexual tension was the wallpaper that lined the hallways filled with crop tops and short shorts and muscle shirts.

And just like elementary and high school times, the post-secondary years blew past.

Scary fast.

Formula One racer fast.

end of university.jpg

Yes, my mind wanders through time and space.

There’s a colossal pod of starlings making a huge sound like a rambunctious swarm of cicadas outside my window this morning.

The grand cedar tree across the street is bathed in early sunlight and coated in the grey-black birds as if they’re auditioning for a new remake of some classic Hitchcock film.

The warmth of summer lingers.

But soon, the BC smoke and flooding will be a mirage in the rear view mirror.

Soon, new school clothes will wear out.

Soon, sweet flirtations will erupt in the playground.

Soon, notebooks will fill with pictures and poems and sums and quotients.

There’s a shift, a mental refresh, a reshaping  that occurs when the calendar strikes September… and the universe’s cycle continues its relentless spin.

To every thing there is a season.

……………..

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

autumn okanagan

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Morning Has Broken…

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Are you a Morning Lark…

Cape Cod Morning

Cape Cod Morning… Artist: Edward Hopper

… or a Night Owl?

Nighthawks.jpg

Nighthawks… Artist: Edward Hopper

An early morning Okanagan Lake ripple concentrically riffles its way outwards, softly handing the light reflection onward from one small wave to the next like an Olympic relay team passing a baton from start to finish…. silent symphonies of silky azure grasping tones from the sunrise sky.

A gentle southern breeze from Oliver hovers over the water, lazy like a Texas drawl, drifting northward up the valley.

The delicate paintbrush of sun casts narrow, gauzy shadows across the clay cliffs, highlighting the vertical veins and wrinkles patiently etched and scratched through wind and rain millennia. You raise your eyes and drown in its beauty.

I’m a morning person.

I like it that way.

Okanagan lake dawn.jpg

As a kid, I loved jumping out of bed on a cloudless summer day and smelling the perfume of lilac and lily-of-the-valley blossom in the air, invisible clouds of blissful scent that gave a sense of deliciousness to the dawn.

I’d wander the pathways of my little vegetable garden and absorb the trill of the morning songbirds.

My energy and creative spark are morning-centric.

Today:

  • I write my blog posts in the morning, signing off my computer before noon.
  • I do my “hard” guitar practice and songwriting in the morning hours.
  • I hit the gym, or pool, or track, for intense exercise… yes… in the early am, often before the sleepy sun pulls itself out of bed for the day.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Except.

Being a morning lad makes my… summertime… part-time… evening-time… forays into bartending a challenge.

I love the aura of creative flow I feel when I concoct, blend and shake red, and yellow, and blue cocktails, adorning them with pinwheels of lime or zesty curlycues of lemon peel… but… yawn.

If only folks enjoyed imbibing their alcohol at 7:30 am with a warm pancake and a slice of bacon and then calling it a day by noon, I’d be in bartending heaven. I’d be floating on a natural energy high, perhaps boosted a touch along the route by a “Vitamin C” latte fix or two.

But reality persistently insists that alcoholic consumption is in the nighttime haven of humanity… many of us even watch the ticking clock, feverishly counting down the seconds before joyously pronouncing “Happy Hour” at 4 pm or 5 pm, abiding by the unwritten rule that booze is verboten any earlier.

When pouring and mixing drinks for others, I find that by 11 pm when the patrons, servers and staff in the restaurant are decidedly looking awake and energetic, I’m coaxing, prodding, imploring my eyes to prop open and remain alert.

And on other evenings, when I go on stage to sing and play my guitar at Medicis’ Open Mic night, I hope for an early slot on the entertainment slate. At 7:30 or 8 pm, I’m primed and wide awake and set to perform. Put me in Coach!

Time passes, another light beer settles in, and by ten o’clock, my eyes are growing heavy and I fear my voice will sound tired and croaky. In fact it never does, but as I tap my toes and enjoy the other entertainers’ music, I worry and fret that I may not be at my best.

It’s occurred to me that I could suggest to David the owner that he try out an Open Mic “Daytime” edition!, but I know it would never fly.

medicis night

Me, on stage at Medicis

Need another example? I frequently enjoy a night at the local Cineplex, inhaling fluffy bags of salty, buttered popcorn, and catching the latest Wonder Woman or Maudie flick.

There are two evening showings, but it’s always the early showing, the 6:30 or 7:15 edition that I sign on for. Starting the film at 9:30 or 10 pm means when the lights lower in the house, my eyelids kinda do the same. No one likes the unintended snoring sounds of Shavasana next to them in the theatre. Can’t help it.

Something that makes humans so special is that we are a species that can adapt to new environments.

As a Man on the Fringe, I adapt into these environments where I plug my square peg into a round hole (hmmm, maybe that’s an unfortunate choice of wording!) because they expand my quality of life, adding technicolour to my world like the moment Dorothy opens her door to Munchkin Land. “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Many of the joys and desires in life occur as the sun sets, flaming in orange and pink hues at the western horizon. When the sun fades to twilight… as darkness oozes into the corners and crannies… the curtain rises on romance and sensuality and danger.

So while I’ll never fully adapt to the schedules of these times, I do my best to set mind over matter, sharing in the beauties that exist in the shadowy nighttime world.

Then as the sun bathes the far side of the planet, I’ll dream of the sensory delights and pleasures that await me when the loon’s call brings me back to life and I open my eyes and ears and nose to another deliciously fresh morning.

Once again, I wander the pathways of my little vegetable garden and absorb the trill of the morning songbirds.

moon and earth.jpg

Wanna See A Grown Man Sing? I’m Happy Like A Room Without A Roof …

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four funerals

When I was a young lad, I attended quite a few funerals (my boyhood could probably be written in movie form: Four Funerals and a Wedding).

My somewhat distant male Gray family cousins would be at the family wakes, the only time I ever saw them … grown Gray men with grey hair who all looked the same to me.

There was something else that stood out for me about these cousins. They were very public cryers … giant tears aflow everywhere.

I’d approach my aunt or uncle’s open coffin to say a final goodbye, and as I first discerned the pasty-white face of my reposed relative, I’d hear the bawling sounds of the sobbing Gray men. It made a big impression on a young boy, believe me.

I’ve said in earlier posts that I don’t tear up easily. I didn’t even shed a tear at my own mother’s funeral when I was 15 (the background to that can be found here) – but there are exceptions.

  • Like when I work at the soup kitchen cutting up 20 large onions… yup, sopping wet tear city.
  • When I watch Schindler’s List and the little Jewish girl in the red coat appears against the movie’s black and white background … mucho more tears.
  • When I see which platinum blonde is offered a rose on TV’s The Bachelor… oops … sorry… no tears there AT ALL.

I was watching a 50th anniversary special on TV last week about the movie, The Sound of Music and the opening notes of Climb Ev’ry Mountain began. Without warning, I felt my tear ducts coming to life.Climb evry mountain

How can just a few musical notes elicit such an outsized emotional response?

MUSIC.

Music is the genesis of tears for many of us, isn’t it? It’s a powerful and ubiquitous force in human life.

For eliciting sadness, yes.

But also HAPPINESS in equal measure.

It’s springtime here in the Great White North and time has come to disperse with the gloomy tears. Spring means it’s time to put away the melancholy musical minor keys along with the winter sweaters.

It’s time to bring out the vivacious happy major keys and begin to feel the warm air rushing through our hair as we drive down the beach strip – the diamond sparkles of Okanagan Lake reaching out like stars in the night sky.

When the suns ray’s are bursting brightly over the morning dawn horizon, what mood isn’t made even better with happy, upbeat music?

It’s like hot steamy waffles covered in fresh, sweet berries and delicious, thick maple syrup. It smells good and it tastes great. And it carries us to a sunny spot inside our heads. Maybe physicians should be handing out some “happy music” prescriptions in place of mood elevating scripts …

Music in its magic power drills into our heads and hearts and locates the emotional core that drives our feelings of elation and overpowering joy.

And so today, now that spring is officially here, I’m shedding the melancholy mantle of tear-jerking music. I’m reeling in the carefree, joyous sounds of warmer days ahead – songs that raise our pulse rate and unearth the euphoria that simmers beneath our day-to-day surface like green shoots of promise that remarkably appear.

You must have a dozen or so go-to songs that lift you into the billowy clouds of bliss, am I right? Take the journey with me today and think of those musical strains that bring merry magic into your life.

happy-dance

10 Songs that make me feel giddy and elated:

  1. Happy – Pharrell Williams – not only is this a feel great ear worm, but the accompanying video is the HAPPIEST thing you could watch without the use of illicit drugs …
  2. The Lazy Song – Bruno Mars – the equivalent of putting sprinkles on your ice cream when you match happiness and laziness together … it’s just yummy!
  3. Surfing’ USABarbara Ann – Beach Boys – the blend of classic Beach Boy harmony with steamy beach imagery is summer exemplified.
  4. Knee Deep  – Zac Brown Band – tropical guitar plucking and the feel of warm ocean waters lapping against your skin … oh my paradise!
  5. Walking on Sunshine – Katrina and the Waves – a super fast beat with blaring trumpets gets the blood flowing like thin sap running from a spring maple tree.
  6. What A Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong – an amazing piece of musical miracle that makes you smile and cry at the same time. Wonderful lyrics that speak of happiness with harmonious notes that pull at your heartstrings.
  7. I’m A Believer – The Monkees – Ah, the goofy lads that could sing. A cute little uplifting love song that brings back boyhood images of Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones. “And then I saw her face, yeah, I’m a Believer” – Me too!!
  8. American Saturday Night – Brad Paisley – a great driving country guitar and fiddle line and beat that just makes you wanna dance, and doesn’t that make you happy!
  9. Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah – James Baskett – who makes more happiness than Disney? What childhood would be complete without the sight of James Baskett singing of life’s pleasures as butterflies and birds flit all around?
  10. MayBerry – Rascal Flatts – I’m a sucker for great harmony singing. The trio of Rascal Flatts makes country harmony a masterpiece when thrown together with a banjo and fiddle background.
  11. You Are The Sunshine – Stevie Wonder – the misty piano/organ that accompanies this set of feel good lyrics should be a required part of any wedding march. I can’t control my sway when I hear this.
  12. One Fine Day – Carole King – I’ve always loved Carole King, so I had to add her to my list. And One Fine Day is a terrific pulse raiser that makes any trip to the beach sweeter. Pure exuberance.

Did you see that? I was feeling so upbeat with all of this euphoria that I snuck in 2 extras.

Going back in time, I wish now that I had met my Gray cousins under happier circumstances than family funerals. I’d bet the lacrimal energy that they put into grieving was probably matched by equal amounts of unbounded joy when they were happy.

For now, I’ve packed away my chilly winter tears and reloaded with carefree spring smiles. Feel free to unload some of your favourite musical smiles to my list – tunes that make your heart sing out loud and draw out your springtime bliss.

Songbird

F*** Summer Solstice !!!

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Canadians love their 4 seasons, right?

Summer solstice

Rippling heat waves rise and wiggle a belly dance over the searing white sand at Sunoka Beach.

Even though my eyes are closed I can feel and see the excruciatingly bright orange sun’s rays burning through my eyelids – squealing gulls whirl and dance in the air currents overhead. The sand forms a warm, comforting cup around my laid out torso like an Ikea futon.

I’m seriously considering getting up and heading to the beach’s snack stand on the riser above me. A light breeze has delivered a salty-scented roiling mix of hot canola oil and French fries with a pungent tinge of vinegar that grabs and tugs insistently at me, like a dog wanting its evening walk outdoors.

A pretty young woman sitting on a towel just next to me smiles and spreads coconut-scented oil in white streaks across the lipstick-red shoulders of her little girl — the fidgety one with sand-coated pig tails and blue polka dots on her white tankini.

Summer has just pressed its way through the revolving seasonal door and is abundantly full of promise — long unending days overflowing with an exploding mixture of blossom scents, insect songs, and Beach Boys harmonies floating past in cherry-red convertibles.

Little girl at beach

Canadians LOVE their 4 seasons.

Correction: Canadians THINK they love their 4 seasons.

I’ve come to realize it’s really just a mass deception, like FOX TV’s reports of WMD’s in my backyard. It’s because we don’t know any different. Or at least that used to be the case before huge airplanes vacuumed us all up and layered us out like cookies on an oven tray on spicy southern beaches each winter.

Changing from hot to cold and all of the temperature gradients in between is all we know and so we accept this in our young’ish years. Then little-bit-by-little-bit we grow older and we tire of ice and snow and shoveling and driving through slushy streets under city street lights.

Black ice gels beneath the heavy snow and we slide uncontrollably into the rear of the car in front. We swear and slam our palm against the steering wheel in frustration. I hate winter, we say.

winter fender bender

But winter isn’t where we began as humans … we started our existence as nomads on hot African plains. Later we adapted by making clothes and shoes to protect and survive harsher climates that were forced on us by changing circumstances. We were bred and evolved in the hot rays of solar heat.

And then we rambled.

And rambled some more, until one day a lost pod of us found ourselves chasing beavers and buffaloes on a whole different continent; a northern continent that blended short periods of Africa-like sunbursts with longer stints of ice-block cold, dark days.

The upshot of all this preamble is that I loath June 21st – we call it Summer Solstice, the longest daylight day of the year for us Northern hemispherites.

I call it Summer Sadness. It doesn’t seem to make sense, but it’s the end of daylight optimism for the year.

I spend my life anxiously anticipating the sweet chocolate cream-cheese icing on my birthday cake, or a tax cheque, or a vacation, or a million things that make me look forward with hope and excitement.

There’s a famous maxim stated by Robert Louis Stevenson that “It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive” that sums up the approach of summer’s leading edge. June 21 is one of those things that, day-by-day I anxiously await and look forward to with trepidation. I want the luxuriously long days to come but then all too soon they peak and I don’t want to let go.

It’s a terrible conundrum. There’s an oxymoron of emotional sensation. Sun, warmth, perfume-smells, cool-warm refreshing lake water… The chirp of the cricket that sends us to sleep, the early morning melodious trill of the red-winged blackbird, the annoying squawk of the stellar jay perched on the nectarine tree at full-sun noon.

Stellar Jay squawking

These are happy moments that the melancholy thoughts of advancing shorter days betray, like the bittersweet notion of a beaming new bride on her wedding day who knows that one day she’ll likely be a widow.

Oftimes we want the seasons to speed along their way and transport us forward to an eagerly anticipated event or time. Conversely, at other moments in our lives, it is our greatest wish to suspend the march of time so we can savour special occasions or sensations.

My most memorable June 21st – Summer Solstice, 1979 – I sat on a concrete curb outside a beautiful park in Interlaken, Switzerland while backpacking as a young man of 21. I was lonely and homesick, wanting nothing more than to be back home with my new girlfriend. I wanted the seconds and minutes to sprint ahead like Usain Bolt – who cared if the days became shorter, all that mattered was the companionship of the one I most wanted to be with.

Many journeys around the sun and many solstices have passed since that day. I still struggle with the push and pull of the passages of season and time.

Now that we’ve seen the backside of summer solstice for 2013, I’ll begin to mark the days and months off my calendar until … yes … the happiest time of the year … Winter Solstice … December 21, the renaissance of the days that grow longer.

Oh, I’m still going to enjoy the warm, relatively long days of summer. I’ll lay on the hot sand at Sunoka Beach – I’ll swim out to the buoys 100 meters offshore while savouring the intermingled chilly and warm currents of Okanagan Lake.

But, somewhere in the back recesses of my mind, a little bastard devil will be persistently reminding me that today’s hours of sunshine are fully a hair’s breadth shorter than yesterday’s.

Okanagan Summer morning

Summer morning on Okanagan Lake…