Tag Archives: creative writing

Miracle of Snowflakes

She could not fathom the hexagonal miracle of snowflakes formed from clouds, crystallized fern and feather that tumble down to light on a coat sleeve, white stars melting even as they strike. How did such force and beauty come to be in something so small and fleeting and unknowable?”

Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child

This weekend’s foot of  snow has given the Michigan landscape a white frosting, but the ephemeral nature of our weather ensures that its presence will be fleeting.  Before it disappears, come walk with me across an icy stream and  along  a woodland trail.

Kensington Park, Michigan

Advertisements

Our Toils Obscure and A’ That

Athabasca River, Alberta

Canadian Rockies and the Athabasca River, Alberta (photo, Robert Schultz)

The green Armstrong plaid  had once been a fearsome sight along Scotland’s  border, being  the tartan worn by rustlers and ruffians.  Reluctantly adopting a more settled life, later generations of Armstrong men went down into the coal mine dungeons near Edinburgh to eke out a  living for their families.  The course of my family history began when my grandfather Armstrong  glimpsed brighter days in Canada’s West.  His sense of adventure may have been inspired by his cousin’s letters back to the old country from the Canadian frontier, filled with yarns spun from scouting a passage for the Canadian Pacific Railway through the forbidding barrier of the Rockies.

[It’s the birthday of Robbie Burns, Scotland’s national poet. In celebration, I believe I will forego the haggis, but perhaps imbibe a wee dram. There’s also this re-post, a sketch of family history, maternal (Armstrong) side.]

Tam Armstrong secured passage for his family on a ship out of Glasgow, bound across the wine dark sea for Nova Scotia.  Along with various Stuarts, McEwens, and Smiths, they traversed the Atlantic, the convoy dodging U-boats during the First World War.  Upon arrival in Halifax, they took a train across the verdant  farmlands of eastern Canada to Toronto.  From there, the CPR tracks reached to the north shore of Lake Superior, left that great inland sea behind, and struck out through the tractless pines and muskeg of Ontario’s wilderness.  Finally, the train took the Armstrongs over the prairie, golden with wheat waving in the summer winds, to a coal-mining town on the eastern slope of the Rockies.

My mother often reminisced to me about her home town of Nordegg, an outpost of human activity encircled by the dark silence of the forests.     Over the years, I heard a hundred stories, and remain firmly convinced that a few at least were true.  Cougars sometimes strayed into Nordegg’s streets, and family legend held that one cat chased Uncle Andrew into his house.  The Stoney Indians often showed up in town, and later disappeared back into the wilderness after having beguiled the white man in the Indian barter.

Yet, this mining town’s frontier brashness often yielded to Old Country courtesies.  Nordegg was no rough-and-tumble mining camp, my mother insisted.  A golf course, albeit with sand “greens,” followed the Saskatchewan River, grey with silt from melting glaciers at its headwaters.  My mother’s Uncle Jock soloed on trumpet, when he was not anchoring the Nordegg brass ensemble.  Proudly, my mother recalled the Literary Club, where miners discussed novels and plays, naturally with a Scottish burr.  As her anecdotes sparkled, I imagined that the cultural life provided a welcome tonic for the deadening drudgery of mining coal.

But not all her memories spoke of the promise of spring.  One October day, the mine’s whistle had screamed.  Terrified wives and mothers ran to discover what they really did not want to know.  Twenty-nine families mourned.  Nordegg wore black.   Uncle Jock, a pit boss whose warnings on hazardous conditions went unheeded, was among those who did not come up from underground.  The newspaper articles about the disaster mentioned that Jock himself had lost a brother to a prior mine cave-in.

Beneath an autumn sky the color of lead, the funeral procession descended the hill along main street, black flatbed trucks each bearing six flower-draped coffins to the special cemetery plot.  The entire town turned out, many trudging behind the trucks, while others mutely watched from the sidewalk, men and women with bared heads bowed, their faces ashen.

Sometime after the empty trucks returned to the mine, and the sidewalk witnesses retreated to the privacy of their homes, to the privacy of their sorrow and despair, the mine workers’ union built a monument at the cemetery.  The simple stone sentinel bore the names of those lost.  Thirty years later, on a family vacation, I had watched my mother weep at the grave site.  “Jimmy McLaughlin, he was only eighteen,” was all she said.

The Nordegg mine, no longer profitable, closed after the Second War.  The town soon followed, and cougars met no people in Nordegg streets.  My grandparents, hoping to start anew, moved to nearby Edmonton.  Neither my grandfather nor his descendants ever went into a coal mine again.

WPC: Expressive Variations, Seasons of a Lake

“A lake is a landscape’s most expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”

—Henry David Thoreau

In Michigan, we have the added pleasure of watching the lakes and their environs change through the seasons.  Lush green is followed by amber and red, which is succeeded by icy blues and whites.  Each has its own charms and memories.  As a bonus, this particular lake is nestled in suburban Detroit.

Photo Challenge:  Variations on a Theme  

Newburgh Lake, Michigan

Newburgh Lake, Michigan

Newburgh Lake, Michigan

Photo Challenge: Whispers of the Past amidst the Forest Silence

The brook whispering as it slid past the ice on the banks was the solitary sound in the woods, but I imagined it carried a voice–her voice–from winters past, but not forgotten.  Before I quite caught it, the memory slipped away, as the sparkling water disappeared around the bend.  Yet, the sky shone with an intense blue and  hope returns with the approaching Spring.

Photo Challenge:  Silence  

 

Fleming Creek, Michigan

In the Deep Freeze of a Polar Vortex

The weather buzzword this December is “polar vortex.”  An Arctic air mass has drifted further south than normal, sending temperatures in  the American Midwest plummeting into a deep freeze.  Yet in a landscape frosted white,  the usual Michigan suspects of woods, water, and blue sky  provide grist for the photographer’s mill.  And we know that beneath the snow lies a promise of spring’s return.

 

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.
Albert Camus

Fleming Creek, Michigan

Happy Solstice, from Daisy

Daisy      Do you ever watch for the longest day of the year and
then miss it?

Jay Gatsby          Don’t you mean the shortest day of the year, Daisy?

Daisy                   Jay, I’m p-p-paralyzed with happiness that the days will be
getting longer now.
(a few liberties with Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby)

Newburgh Lake, Michigan