Thursday, February 25, 2010

Visions of Eternity

If you are not familiar with the school of Canadian artists called “The Group of Seven,” you should be. The Toronto-based painters were at their most prolific in the ‘20s. They rightly proclaimed that their work was a celebration of the diverse and ethereal Canadian landscape.

I was recently given a small post card book consisting of 30 reproductions of oils by Lawren Harris, the founder of the group. Harris’s paintings exemplified the Group of Seven’s work with its vivid, rhythmic compositions.

I was particularly struck by a Harris quote cited in the introduction of the post card book (Pomegranate, ISBN 978-0-7649-4552-6) because the same notion has risen within me of late.

In 1924, Harris wrote, “Art s the beginning of vision into the realm of eternal life.”

I don’t feel this way about all art, but I have certainly found it to be true of much of the work of the Group of Seven.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Birthday in Brooklyn

Today, my birthday, was (and is) wet and gray in Portland, but I felt the need to get out and stretch my now 68-year-old legs — almost to prove that nothing happened to them in the night as the new day and my new year ratcheted into place.

So before the rain and general crumminess of the day could dissuade me, I got out my Portland “Walk There!” book and decided to hike an unfamiliar neighborhood.

I chose the old Brooklyn neighborhood just southeast of the Ross Island Bridge. A young friend once lived there before moving on to law school in Seattle. When I’d pick her up to go to meetings, the place always looked intriguing. Pocket parks, old houses, massive trees, the rumble of freight trains somewhere very near.

It’s even intriguing on a nasty day. And perhaps still more so on a birthday in one’s advancing years.

It’s what they once called “working class” but is more likely “long-term unemployed” today. A fair number of houses are honest-to-god Victorians. An a few have been lovingly restored as such.

The neighborhood is on the old rail line. No, I mean a REALLY old rail line.

The walking guide tells me that trains have been whistling through Brooklyn since 1868. The freight yards are now filled with containers and rolling staple-shaped cranes to lift them onto low-slung flat cars. On a pleasant day I’d want to stand on the bridge overlooking the yard and watch the action.

Today was not such a day. As the wind picked up and the rain grew determined, I popped open my umbrella and I kept moving.

Brooklyn is also home to the sprawling TriMet bus garage-warehouses-service shops. I walked by the Bullseye glass foundry where I could peep in and see the kilns glowing orange hot. From the street, I could feel the heat.

Cabin-sized workers’ dwellings — miniature Victorians long shorn of gingerbread ornamentation — lined streets near the yards and factories.

One industrial lot served as storage for an acre or two of new robotic-looking electrical transformers. A staging area for aliens, I thought.

A gap-toothed old man — could he be my age? — carried a dolorous black spaniel on his shoulders through the rain. A kind of Saint Christopher for the canine.

I did not take photos. It would have been unfair. They wouldn’t have shown the old neighborhood at its best. But I did regret not having my camera when I encountered the Sacred Heart Catholic Church complete with towering white spire and separate, proper-looking convent. (Here it is in its glory.) It was built in 1893. I chewed on the date. The old church wasn’t really that old. After all, when I was born, it was a middle-aged 49 years old. It’s still looking good after 117 years.

I should be so lucky.

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