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February 14, 2012


As I was pondering your question, Beth, the image of my Uncle Earl came to mind. He was a farmer ... a thoughtful and observant one, always trying new crops and improving, and sharing his discoveries with his neighbours. He was exhausted most of the time. He gave himself to his land and his animals, to his meadow and woods. He had the misfortune to not have children, so it was not for posterity in that biological sense that he worked and he left no oeuvre at all. And yet I would be hard pressed to distinguish the quality of his effort from this one you and Emily Carr describe. Am I missing something? Or was he just lucky and it's we who have to struggle in a way that is more obscure than the way he sruggled?

Hi Vivian, thanks -- I think you'd like these journals a lot, if you haven't read them. Yes, I was thinking more about this last night and realizing that many people, like your Uncle Earl, labor all their lives this way: their effort is worthwhile and meaningful to them, but may not be appreciated or recognized either during their lifetime or afterward. Today's economic climate probably makes it much harder for people to devote their time to the pursuits closest to their hearts, whether it's art or parenting or farming or study of some sort, whatever. That's one thing. The other, though, in addition to the economic issues, is that I don't think most people today have the emotional or psychological support or spiritual underpinning, if you will,(meant very broadly), to spend a large proportion their lives as amateur pianists or butterfly collectors or painters or daylily hybridizers. Society tells us that unless we're professional, unless we have the degree or position, unless we make money from our work and can list our accomplishments, it means nothing -- which is completely misguided from a spiritual point of view. I think your Uncle Earl was lucky, and Emily Carr too - I think anyone who has a sense of why they are here and what they are meant to do, and manages to do that in spite of everything, is lucky. And I also think we need to figure out ways to support one another, and especially young people, in discovering this "other" path toward meaningful living.

Emily Carr is wonderful. I have not seen the painting you show but enjoyed seeing some of her work in Vancouver, and I have read all her writings.

Thanks for writing, Hattie. I'm glad to know someone else has read and enjoyed her writings as well as her art!

Beth - sidenote: have you heard of naturalist Theodora Stanwell-Fletcher? She wrote a much loved book about her time in the wilderness of British Columbia in the 1930s.

I think Dave Bonta's mom has writen about her. I've been lending the book to friends who seem to want revisit an unspoiled relationship with nature. I certainly enjoyed it when I read it a few years ago. It's not at all deep or spiritual but rather physical, hearty and chastely sensual. The great struggle is to keep alive. She more or less mainlines the grandeur of the outdoors through her good eyes and strong body.

"until the God quality in me is in tune with the God in it." Yes, that's how I write. And I agree, too, with your comment above, Beth, that social pressure goes all the other way toward value as material success and status.

I'm going to have to read more Carr. That was wonderful. I don't know; I think there are many others (religious and not, known or not) who believe that it is important to swim in the sea of culture--to make the sea, whether we do the work of minnows or mighty fish.

Yes, Marly, since writing this I've thought of many other people, from gardeners to scientists, who live their lives passionately and with a pure intention, and don't get blown off course by the values of a secular world. I just think it's more rare than it used to be, and that economic pressures and lifestyle fashions make it harder and harder to show and model alternative paths for young people. I do think there's a lot of idealism in young people today, and that's great.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.