Happy Thanksgiving to all of my Canadian friends and truthfully anyone who just likes the narcosis of turkey and pumpkin pie, no matter what time of year.
I have an abundance of reasons to be thankful this year, as with all previous, but perhaps my greatest thanks is for my ability and resources to give back to my communities: financially, spiritually, however love is needed.
Below, I describe a couple of projects I have underway that will hopefully bear fruit for any number of groups.
As an avid fan of the Toronto Marlies hockey team and avid photographer, I have been combining my passions by photographing the home games.
A couple of years ago, I took that one step further by designing a photo calendar for the hockey season (Oct to Sep), listing all the games & many player birthdays.
The first year, it was just a gift from me to many of the other season seat holders.
Last year, I sold them to anyone interested simply to cover my expenses. At the end of last season, however, my ticket agent & friend Wayne arranged to have the team sign the calendar and we auctioned it off with a team-signed stick on Facebook.
I was blown away.
Between the winning bid and two matching bids, we raised $1050 for You Can Play (American link), a group that supports inclusiveness in sports with a focus on the LGBTQ community.
This year, I am doing the same, but donating $5 from every sale (calendars are $20) to the MLSE Foundation, an org that uses sports to build communities.
Of the 75 calendars I ordered, I only have 16 left after the two-day home opener this weekend (both Toronto victories). Fans from as far away as the United Kingdom are jumping on-board to help support my effort, the team and the MLSE Foundation.
Also, Wayne is again having one signed by the team, so watch another auction in the coming months!
I love walking all over the city of Toronto and pretty much anywhere else I visit, photographing both the wildlife and the urban art landscape of graffiti and murals. With that in mind, I recently decided to see if I could use that walking habit to raise some money for charity.
I just finished watching the last episode of Tales by Light, a series originally produced by National Geographic but released in Canada on Netflix.
The series follows several different photographers (mostly of nature), and at least in the first season, spent a lot of time discussing their personal journeys of exploration and processes of photography, a subject close to my heart.
Although my personal interest is in nature photography, with a dabbling in other forms such as sports photography, the final episode of Season Two was particularly poignant, focusing on Stephen Dupont‘s exploration of death.
A documentary photographer, Dupont has covered many war zones and had developed something akin to PTSD from his years surrounded by carnage and mayhem. To cleanse himself, he set out to explore the more honoured rituals of death and the celebrations of lives lived.
I have no intention of photographing war zones, but one thing that struck me in Dupont’s episodes was a comment he made about photography and his reverence for his subject matter. The comment epitomizes my approach to photography, and I feel blessed to have heard it described so eloquently.
I’ve always seen photographs as gifts. You do not take them; they are given to you.
I agree and am eternally grateful.
I am routinely blessed by my subjects, who give me their time and patience as I fumble to capture a moment.
Photo property of Iejano (www.flickr.com/photos/lejano/). Used without permission but undying appreciation.
There is a bridge that crosses Toronto’s Don River—the Queen Street Viaduct—that is itself bridged by an arch inscribed with the message:
“This river I step in is not the river I stand in”
The sentiment, I have learned, is an adaptation of the teachings of Heraclitus as handed down in Plato’s Cratylus:
“Everything changes and nothing stands still. You could not step into the same river twice.”
It is a concept that I have come to embrace deeply through my many walks around and across Toronto, my camera firmly planted in front of my face.
Although I regularly seek new routes to follow in the hopes of discovering previously unknown treasures (at least unknown to me), I also revisit well-trodden routes to explore the changes that occur from visit to visit.
As Heraclitus suggested, our world is one of constant transformation if we but seek to see it.
Every nature walk brings me new species of plants and animals to photograph and opportunities to better appreciate the ones I see regularly.
Every lane way and alley along the grid of thoroughfares that cross my city, offer me windows into the temperments of street artists and social commentators who splash their messages and visions on every surface in dazzling colour.
These displays and their constant revision is one of the reasons why I will never be bored on any of my walks. But there is another reason that resonates within me much more deeply.
I am constantly changing.
Just as Heraclitus suggested that the river flows and so is not the same from one minute to the next, my life and my experiences continually flow and so I do not greet my world in the same way from one minute to the next.
The same yellow warbler might sit on exactly the same branch at the same time tomorrow and I might never see it. And even if I did, I would appreciate it in a completely different manner for reasons I cannot begin to fathom and recount today.
Every experience—regardless of whether I am conscious of it—changes me and influences how I frame and absorb my universe. Acknowledging that helps ensure that I am open to all of these new experiences within supposedly familiar ground.
Thus, to paraphrase the Queen Street Viaduct:
“These eyes I look with are not the eyes I see with”
Believing this, I live in an amazing world and embrace every moment for its wonder.
My apologies if my happiness has gotten a tad obnoxious of late, but my life is blessed in so many ways that I simply cannot keep the joy inside, nor truthfully do I wish to.
Alongside the wonderful gifts I am given every day, I am routinely presented with insane opportunities to express and explore the passions that light up my soul, whether it is writing or photography or sharing knowledge.
But beyond even that, I sit in complete awe at the wondrous passions of the people around me; people with amazing visions of who they are and how the world can be.
I know painters and actors and writers and musicians; parents and partners and children and pets; athletes and industrialists and service workers and technicians. And every single one of those people bring me insane joy simply by following their own passions, whether within their titles or not, and allowing me to be witness and in some cases, participant.
Even watching perfect strangers experience their worlds, or Nature express itself from day to day, brings a beauty and elegance that I simply did not choose to see in my former life but do now.
So how can my heart not burst forth, my spirit soar and the laughter ring forth?
I am both a newborn child seeing things for the first time and an ageless ancient finally understanding the patterns that have always splayed out before my once dulled eyes.
That is my joy. That is my happiness. That is my love.
As many of you know, I am nutso for puppetry and have somehow managed to know some amazingly talented puppeteers. But as much as I adore my friends, one fellow blows me away not just for his skill as a puppeteer, but also as a puppet designer.
For a guy that looks like he’s 12—I’m over 50, so you all look 12 to me—Barnaby Dixon seems ancient in his craft and wisdom. From the very first YouTube video I watched, he has dazzled me with his love of the art form, his ability to bring the inanimate to life, and his presentation style that draws you in and makes you feel like this is a private conversation. Stellar!
I know, I know. I have to get past my addiction to these beautiful sketch and improv wunderkinds. But I can’t help myself.
Apart, Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus are wonderfully funny and vulnerable and endearing, but together, they rocket off the charts.
As I have reviewed previously (see below), Baram & Snieckus are to the modern era what Stiller & Meara and Nichols & May were to theirs, people who express the challenges and wonders of social awkwardness, allowing us to laugh at the things that frighten us in our daily lives.
No one is more neurotic than Matt…until Naomi erupts in her own mental mushroom cloud.
And that this husband-and-wife team are beautiful, friendly, giving, caring people is an absolute bonus.
As a photographer, I adore nature. As a writer, I adore bizarre or interesting juxtapositions. Thus, I had no choice but to fall in love with Filippa Levemark’s work.
With the seemingly simplest of compositions, Filippa combines nature and human infrastructure to powerfully demonstrate that the two worlds are one and the same. Try as it might, humanity cannot hold itself as distinct from the wildlife that surrounds us, nor should it.
Her work is beautifully approachable and yet is rife with meaning, offering depths that may be missed at first glance.
Based in Sweden, my greatest hope is to find a way for her to bring her works to Canada.
As a student at Toronto’s Second City Training Centre several years ago, I had the great fortune to meet and do improv with a gorgeous and talented actress named Irene Sankoff, a truly giving performer.
Years later, I heard that Irene and her husband David Hein had created the somewhat autobiographical stage musical My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, which played to wonderful reviews in Toronto. What I didn’t realize was that the musical would explode in the theatre world both in Canada and abroad, setting these two up as a creative force of nature.
And just this past year, they have repeated (and likely surpassed) that success with a new musical Come From Away, based on events in Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11 when hundreds of air passengers found themselves suddenly grounded.
The musical just completed a spectacularly successful run in Toronto and begins Broadway previews on Feb 18 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York, where it is sure to sell out quickly.
But like my Baram & Snieckus comment above, what makes these two particularly special is that they are genuinely wonderful people and have such love for their craft and for the people who come see the show.
Recently, on a frigid Toronto morning, the pair brought coffee and donuts to fans waiting for rush tickets to their final Toronto performance (Toronto Stararticle). The pair and performers from the show entertained the small crowd, singing songs and chatting with the chilled throng. That is simply beautiful.
I had an amazing moment earlier today that I wanted to share, a moment of complete peace and sheer bliss.
As I may have mentioned before, I am an amateur photographer and a lover of nature. In wandering along Toronto’s waterfront this morning, I passed some butterfly gardens.
Not my first time visiting these small gardens. I’ve even taken photos there.
But for whatever reason, today was magical because there were dozens of butterflies having the time of their lives flitting from flower to flower.
The movement attracted my eye and I wandered over to the gardens to enjoy the sight and grab a couple of shots with my cell phone. But as I stood there, the world fell completely away, and it was just me, the garden and the butterflies.
And rather than flit away to keep their distance, the butterflies accepted me into the moment, a few even briefly landing on my arms and shoulders.
I had somewhere to be, so the moment couldn’t last too long. I have every confidence, however, that if I had had the time available to me, it would have lasted as long as I chose.
Complete bliss, joy and comfort.
I’ll visit the gardens again. Maybe the moment will happen again; maybe not. But I have available to me this one time that it did, and that will sustain me.
This summer has been unbearably hot and humid in Toronto, but I was going stir-crazy without my weekly walk. So, throwing caution to the (complete lack of) wind, I grabbed my camera and hit the boardwalk and some nearby wooded areas.
A cooling dip interrupted
Too impatient to wait for the blooms to open
The cormorant takes wing (well, two)
Damselfly dares unseen frogs to make a move
Dragons flew in profusion
Light danced on the compound eyes
Viceroy (or is it a Monarch) samples the flowers
The pollinator slowly climbs the stem
Mallard mucks for a meal
My camera prefers to focus on wings, not faces
Red dragons were easy to pick out against the greenery
Hotel le Roberval centres an eclectic mix of neighbourhoods
Conveniently located within a short walk to Montreal’s Vieux Port, the Village and the restaurants of St. Denis, Hotel Le Roberval offers affordable, clean lodgings for people who like to explore the city on foot or with a quick jump on the Metro (Berri-UQAM).
The rooms are quite spacious and well-maintained, offering a kitchenette space that included a bar fridge, microwave, coffee maker and two sets of dishes. The Queen-sized bed was firm and comfortable, and the television was hi-def. And for those needing to work or wishing to keep in touch via social media, the free WiFi was very reliable and allowed rapid upload of photos to Facebook.
Parking is a bit of a chore, however, as you need to store your car in a shared lot less than a block from the hotel. Unfortunately, you need a room key to access the lot, so you have to check in before you can park. That said, you can leave your car on Rue Berri for up to 15 minutes while checking in.
The free continental breakfast leaves something to be desired. There is no hot food, the entire spread limited to croissants, cellophane-wrapped half-bagels, yoghurt, pastries and a couple of dry cereals, as well as milk, juices and coffee. Like the small dining room itself, however, the buffet is well-maintained and the staff who work the room are attentive to everyone’s needs.
Although the hotel is located on the corner of two busy streets (Boul. Rene-Levesque & Rue Berri), bound by government offices and the Universite du Quebec á Montréal (UQAM), there are several restaurants within a short walking distance (mostly in the Village) and a couple of depanneurs (convenience stores that also sell alcohol) if you just want to relax in your room.
As comfortable and accommodating as Hotel Le Roberval is, the lodgings are really just a place to store your stuff and rest your head as you explore what Montreal has to offer.
Off-site parking can make checking in a chore in bad weather
A profusion of restaurants and art installations are nearby
The Botanical Gardens are a short metro ride away
The beautiful Notre-Dame Basilica is within blocks of the hotel
Ride the metro to the Biodome and see Nature at play
We arrived perfectly to enjoy the annual Jazz Festival
Mother, Nehiyaw, Metis, & Itisahwâkan - career communicator. This is my collection of opinions, stories, and the occasional rise to, or fall from, challenge. In other words, it's my party, I can fun if I want to. Artwork by aaronpaquette.net