Odd but beautiful

One white birch tree in a green forest, trilliums in bloom around it.

A lone birch amongst other deciduous trees, hundreds of trilliums at its feet.  

To me, the picture represents . . .

. . . determination to be authentic no matter what is going on around . . .

. . . a white tree being applauded by an audience of trilliums . . .

. . . alone, but not lonely. . .

What does the picture bring to your mind?

3 important answers

Book cover for Jon J. Muth's The Three Questions

It’s time once again to remember The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth.

Muth took a short story written by Leo Tolstoy and reworked it with animal characters to appeal to children. In the book, a boy named Nikolai goes on a journey to seek answers to three BIG LIFE questions:

  1. “When is the best time to do things?”
  2. “Who is the most important one?”
  3. “What is the right thing to do?”

His steps lead him to encounters with a heron, a monkey and a dog. Each of these characters answers the questions in way that reflects personal biases. The heron suggests the best time to do things is after everything has been planned in advance. The dog believes the most important one is the one who makes the rules, and the monkey knows the right thing to do is to have fun all the time.

Not satisfied, Nikolai climbs a high mountain to seek the answers to his questions from a wise old turtle.

When he reaches the top of the mountain, he finds the wise, old turtle digging a garden. Wanting his full attention and knowing that a young boy digs much faster than an old turtle, Nikolai takes the shovel and finishes turning over the hard soil.

When he is leaning on his shovel after the last shovel full of dirt, he hears a cry for help coming to him out of the windblown forest. He follows the sound and finds a panda knocked out by a fallen tree. Nikolai rescues her and takes her to the turtle’s house to get warm.

When the panda wakes up, she asks, “Where is my child?” Alarmed, Nikolai runs back to the forest where he finds the baby panda, shivering and alone.

Before Nikolai departs, he and the wise old turtle reflect on the answers the boy has found.

  1. “There is only one important time, and that time is now.”
  2. “The most important one is always the one you are with.”
  3. “The most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.”

Tolstoy sure was one wise old turtle.

Terrible photographs that are wonderful

So, I’ve had time on my hands, you know? Good time to sort through photos.

I found some oldies-but-goodies from the days of film. Remember when we had to shoot off a roll without knowing how the shots turned out until developed? None of this “Oh, that’s not a good one. Delete.”

Some of these old photos are terrible. And they are so, so wonderful.

Like this one of my mother- and father-in-law dancing at a hall in Toronto. They are the couple in the very bottom right corner of a crooked photo of . . . pillars, more than anything. But I love it. See how happy they are? Don’t you wish you were that happy right now?

Black-and-white photo of dance hall in the 1950s

This is my grandmother, probably around 1983 or so. It’s a terrible picture—crooked and overexposed with light from the window—but I love it. She lived with us for the last year of her life, and she spent a lot of time knitting by the fire. Our dog used to sit like Snoopy on his dog house on the back of the chair beside her. This terrible photo makes my heart as warm as the fire she was sitting beside.

Woman knitting by the fire. Dog on the chair beside her.

We can’t forget the classic “thumb over the lens” pictures. Here’s one of my father-in-law, red polka-dot hat on his head, hammer in hand. What is not to love about this terrible, wonderful photo?

What terrible, wonderful photos do you love?

Tech-off Part II: The need for reliable, in-depth news

When journalists appeared on this kind of “jumbo screen,” (3 square feet!) all news gatherers had to dig deep for their stories.

Remember when the word Twitter was never a part of a news story?

I miss those days.

The first time I saw a Twitter news story—you know the kind where a person stands in a studio beside a big screen and points to Tweets written by prominent citizens, or ordinary citizens who write something pithy—I was looking for information about an Important Community Event. To inform me about that event, the news source relied on Twitter. He hadn’t:

  • left his cushy chair, except to walk to the big screen
  • made a phone call

I was shaken. How is that news coverage?

These days, anyone, anywhere can post information that hasn’t been fact-checked, or even alternative fact-checked.

Enter COVID-19 and social distancing. Even if journalists wanted to leave their cushy chairs to interview someone in person, it’s not allowed. It is not only acceptable but expected that journalists use Zoom, or FaceTime, or Google Meet, or any number of other such resources for video interviews.

What happens after social distancing passes? How many of our news gatherers will continue that practice because it’s easier, if less effective?

The newsrooms of the most reliable news sources don’t have the staff they used to; people don’t pay for news when there’s so much free stuff floating around out there.

Because we’re not paying, we’re paying in a different way.

Reliable, trustworthy, in-depth news is getting hard to find. Thinking about it has me feeling a little tech-ed off.

Subscribe to your favourite, reliable, trustworthy news source.

Tech-ed off: More technology, less technology

During my book club gathering (on Zoom) one of my friends said she was becoming a little “tech-ed off.”

The need to hold a book club electronically does test the patience. Sure, it’s fine to discuss the book via the internet, but, let’s be honest, the real heart and soul of a book club is the shared glasses of wine, the tea, the dessert, and the lingering conversations that have nothing at all to do with literature. Being deprived of that connection has me a little tech-ed off too.

At the same time, I am so-o-o-o-o-o grateful for technology in other ways. I have spent more time on my laptop over the past six weeks than ever.

Even though the electronic book club was not as satisfying, it was better than no book club at all. I’ve participated in writing circles, dinners, coffee times, meetings, and church. Seeing a friend’s face pop up on a video screen is not as much fun as an in-person visit, but it’s . . . enough. The whole experience certainly has clarified who the people are that I really want to see.

I’ve also done more activities not related to technology than ever. There are six of us here, ranging in age from 22 to 64.

We have done:

  • paint night
  • blind coffee taste test (McDonald’s overall winner. Really.)
  • blind beer taste test (Molson Canadian overall winner. Really.)
  • giant crossword puzzle
  • jigsaw puzzles
  • learn-to-draw night
  • card games
  • board games (Scattergories, Scrabble, Cranium)
  • baking (desserts, bagels, baguette, bread, sourdough starter, pizza dough)
  • walking and biking
  • cleaning and organizing

In some ways this experience has a “time at the cottage” feel. We’re doing a lot of the same things we would when technology isn’t an option.

Except for when we’re using technology more than ever.

A spark of light on the path

Wooded path with one tree with white leaves

On Sunday I walked in the woods near my home.

Last autumn’s leaves have not yet composted, so they cover the parts of the path that aren’t muddy. The trees in my Ottawa, Canada climate are budding, but branches are still bare of leaves. Muted colours of grey and brown and dark forest green dominate.

I rounded a corner in the path. Up ahead, white leaves fluttered on a single tree. With branches stretched out in a triangular shape, the leaves resembled the flickering lights of a Christmas tree.

I stopped to appreciate it. I walked closer to examine the leaves. I thought about another of Robert MacFarlane’s words: marcescence. It can refer to trees that hold on to leaves through winter, or people who wither but don’t fall.

Others might have passed by without noticing the simple gift of nature. I’m glad that I walk mindfully, on the lookout for sparks of light on my path.

If we’re watchful, we can perceive those little boosts to the spirits. They help us during times when we’re withering, so we don’t fall.

Close-up of a white leaf