Author Archives: esthermaeers

Creative Practice #9- Hidden Monument

For our final creative practice, my boys and I ventured right in front of the education building and the University of Regina. We walked around in search of something we hadn’t seen before. Nestled in among some trees we found a hidden monument.

IMG_6353

 

In the centre of a clump of trees just feet from the front door, we found a letter E made out of stone. On the E was written Engineering 1973 RIP. What could this mean? My guess is that there used to be an engineering building in this very spot and it was torn down in 1973.

 

As we thought about the building that used to be in this place, we looked around at our surroundings. This clump of trees was surrounded by parking lots, roads and walking paths. This was only a tiny bit of nature within a multitude of human made creations. We could hear human sounds all around us, cars zooming by, people talking, footsteps crunching in the snow. The sounds of nature were drowned out here.

My boys bent down to feel the monument. Cohen began to try and lift it up. He thought that maybe there was a secret passage way to the engineering building hiding underneath. Caius and I joined him in his search for this magical door. We abandoned our efforts as we realized that the monument was stuck.

IMG_6345

 

As we walked back to our car, Caius found some large footprints in the melting snow. He declared that he had found T-Rex footprints. He was very excited about this find and seemed completely convinced that a huge dinosaur had created these prints.

image0-15

Our journey to find urban nature will continue even though this is our final creative practice for now. We have made some important discoveries in our quest to find the unexpected. Searching our city for places where we can be with nature has been interesting. I began this journey feeling like I needed to leave the city in order to find natural beauty and places of calm. These unexpected finds have shown me that nature is all around our city. Nature and man made artifacts are truly entangled with each other and with all of us. I have made another discovery along this journey, that there is a place for my children within my doctoral studies. I am not forced to always separate my family and my school life. I have found enchantments after all (Macdonald, 2017).

Creative Practice #8- Surrounded by Glass

Today we journeyed to the university. Cohen, Caius and I explored yet another place where human made sculptures and buildings exist alongside nature. We found a place surrounded by glass and yet there was also natural beauty to be found.

 

As we walked around we could hear piano music coming from inside. We stopped to listen and enjoy before moving on to find out what the sculpture was all about. The plaque explained that this red sculpture of circles represented the language of dancers and was created by Francoise Sullivan who was herself a dancer, as well as, a choreographer, painter and sculptor.

As we continued on our walk, we noticed that the snow was melting and forming puddles on the sidewalk. The boys’ snow pants and mitts were getting quite wet. Along the path we came across some sort of drainage coulee. There were rocks of many sizes and a variety of trees all around it, surrounded by glass and buildings. Caius was quite upset at this time because he was worried that his snowball would melt. We decided that it would be best to leave it under a tree instead of bringing it home in the car (although just before we left, he returned to retrieve it and did bring it home).

Click to view slideshow.

Within the coulee, Caius found part of a dinosaur egg. He was excited and momentarily forgot about his melting snowball. He dug into the ground and insisted that he had found the other piece buried below. Oh the imagination of children!

image1-46

At the end of our adventure the boys found a little mound of snow. They had a great time jumping off of it and rolling down it. I sure wish I could bottle their energy! As we returned to the car, we were rosy cheeked and happy from the fresh air. Nature has a way of uplifting and re-energizing the spirit.

Creative Practice #7- Four Directions

On Friday, my youngest son, Caius and I ventured out to explore the unexpected. We continued on our journey from home to the university along a nearby road. We noticed another sculpture nestled amongst nature.

IMG_6255

 

What could this sculpture be? Caius ran ahead to check it out and look for a plaque with some information. We read that the sculpture is called The Four Directions and it symbolizes both a bow and arrow, which were used for survival IMG_6253by the Plains First People and the 4 directions of the Medicine Wheel. The plaque was written in English and Cree.

 

 

Caius and I went closer to the sculpture to feel what it was made out of. Caius took off his little mitt and put his hand on the surface. He told me that it felt pretty cold. The sculpture appeared to be made out of steel. We looked at it from different angles and stood in awe of how big it was.

 

The air was cold and crisp on that day and our faces were a bit red. We breathed in the fresh air and stood in this place for a moment, looking all around us. Caius told me that it smelt hollow here.

 

The coming together of natural and urban elements, was yet again evident within this space. The silence and the fresh air were interrupted by the city sounds and the busyness of university life. Within this space, we could take time to explore, think and be still for just a moment before being reminded of our everyday responsibilities (I thought as I took out my phone to text my husband to get something for supper on the way home from work).

Caius then led me on his own nature walk within the nearby urban forest. He found a tree that he felt compelled to spend time with.

 

Caius told me that he noticed the snow had fallen down the tree in between the cracks and he wondered if the sun was able to shine there. Spending time with children is such a beautiful thing. They are wonderful teachers in their ability to notice detail and wonder out loud.

IMG_6276

Why are we drawn to certain things? Can trees and sculptures communicate with us? Perhaps we were supposed to come to this place today, to learn from these elements and to understand our place in this world.

IMG_6236

Creative Practice #6- Directional Beauty

My boys and I set out today on another quest to find the unexpected. I had seen our destination in the past but wanted to learn more. We parked near the university and crossed the street to take a closer look at the circular sculpture in front of us. My boys took off running across the field as they spotted a plaque that may give us a clue.

IMG_6104

image2-17

We read the plaque and learned that the sculpture was created by Joe Fafard in 1997 and that it is called Le Jardin de L’Esprit or the Mind’s Garden. We continued on until we were in the centre of the Mind’s Garden. We looked all around and there was beauty in all directions. The road near by was quite busy so there was a continuous roar of traffic that took away from the serenity that could be felt here. Also my youngest son, Caius was in a grumpy mood because he was feeling cold, so that also took away from the serenity of this place.

 

We discovered a circle in the centre of the sculpture. Cohen noticed that the directions of North, South, East and West were on the circle.

We also noticed that if you looked directly from each direction, the sculpture had an open space. What could this represent? The space seemed to almost act like a frame capturing the beauty of nature as a living photograph.

image0-3

As we looked at each panel of the sculpture, images of animals, such as, a horse, a polar bear, a goose, an elephant looked back at us. We also noticed inanimate objects such as a boat, a teepee and a tractor, within the artwork. There must be a story that these images are trying to tell us. There were many images and forms that we didn’t understand, that we couldn’t make out. Cohen thought that the panels were made from bronze. We felt the strong structure with our hands and noticed the intricate details that Fafard had expertly crafted into his art.

 

This place had directional beauty, as we turned to face the four directions we were in awe. Just outside of the sculpture was the lake and the university. This place was a combination of natural and man made elements almost competing for attention. The towering buildings of the institution, the roaring cars of humanity, the strong bronze of the sculpture and the natural beauty of the lake, all owning the space, all speaking in their own ways. This place did not have the relaxing effect on us that other creative practice moments have had. Why was that? Was it our hurried day, was it our own attitudes, was it the sounds around us? I’m not sure what it was today. Even though we did not feel the calm that nature usually brings us, my boys and I were able to appreciate the Mind’s Garden. The panels of the sculpture were a garden for our minds, allowing us to think beyond ourselves and imagine what these images were teaching us.

image0-1

 

Creative Practice #5- Fossils Everywhere

Today I was a parent volunteer for my son Cohen’s class trip. Although I didn’t dwell in a location along my route from home to school, I feel like this experience was another way to bring my parent and student lives together. The route we took to the museum allowed us time to explore the creek and surrounding plants as we made our way on foot to our destination. The weather was beautiful and sunny. I walked with my son Cohen at my side and my son Caius in the stroller. Fifteen 6-8 year olds were ahead of us with their teacher in the lead and two other parent volunteers there to help. Each child walking to a different rhythm, noticing different elements and learning in their own way.

We attended two sessions at the museum, all about fossils and dinosaurs, before heading outside again to explore and have lunch by Wascana Lake. The children had a wonderful time running and climbing trees during recess break. I gazed around at them in awe, at their freedom and bravery to take risks and laugh loudly. Both Cohen and Caius chose trees to sit in, to look at the world from a different point of view. What fun to look down from above when you are used to always looking up.

We then traveled along the lake towards the Legislative Building. We stopped in the garden area and were asked to find fossils. The children were given note books and pencils and had time to sit and look and think. Nestled within the solid rocks, that were used as foundations for the statues and benches, were fossils, lots of fossils everywhere. The children were asked to draw what they saw and to imagine what creature they thought the fossil belonged to.

The children found fossils that they thought came from snake tails and T-Rex claws, shells and toe nails and creatures with wings. They drew and drew and struggled to sound out their words on paper. I sat and watched and helped when needed.

It was now cloudy with a slight breeze, the children were completely engaged and I felt relaxed and uplifted at this wonderful example of living curriculum. The information from the museum was coming alive for these eager 6-8 year olds as they made discovery after discovery and imagined what a past world may have looked like.

IMG_6042

Creative Practice #4- A Spot with a View

Today we ventured further along my route from home to university and found a spot with a view. My boys and I drove to the Conexus Art Centre and then walked along the bike path nearby. We searched for a place that we could sit and take a moment to be still. Around the bend in the path we spotted a clump of trees and decided to take a closer look. Both boys agree that this was our spot.

IMG_5929

We settled down on the grass and took out our notebooks to record what our senses were taking in. I asked my boys what they could hear, see, feel and smell. We each recorded in our own way. My older son, Cohen decided to draw a picture. My younger son, Caius wanted to know how to spell the word boat and I wrote down the words that came up for me.

As we sat on the grass, I could hear the loud honking of the many geese near by. Some were flying over head, some were floating on the lake. Every so often, we could hear a duck quack and a car drive down Wascana Parkway in the distance. We were sitting right next to many cattails growing up from the marshy shore. I could hear the wind moving through these plants and creating a rustling sound. The grass that we were sitting on was covered in fall leaves that crunched under our bodies. Cohen commented on the car noises and seemed disappointed that we could hear those sounds from our spot.

As I looked out at the lake, I could see small waves which carried the geese gently up and down. I noticed that some of the cattails near by were exploding with fluff and that the gentle breeze was transporting some of that fluff to other locations. Across the lake to the east, I could see Douglas Park hill with a few tiny cars at the top. Perhaps the occupants are enjoying the view also. To the south of us I could see the tall stark buildings of the U of R. They both stand out and blend in to the surroundings. The materials used to create the buildings are a neutral colour that isn’t in competition with nature, however, the institutional feel the buildings project is a reminder that we are still within an urban center.

As my boys and I sat quietly reflecting on where we were, many people bustled by on their way home from work. Some were walking, some were riding bikes and some were glued to their phones oblivious to the world. I wonder, how often that person is me. How often do I check my phone and miss something? How often do I take a picture of a moment to memorialize it but in doing so I miss the real moment?

It was so peaceful in this place with the sun on our backs and the trees, wild life and fresh air all around us. Caius ran over to a tree to taste it. He licked the tree and proceeded to tell us that it tasted just like a tree. Oh how I love the unpredictablility of children, their wild spirits and their freedom to be in the moment. Again, I am grateful for this opportunity to sit and reflect with my two boys. So often we are caught up in the crazyiness of our days and lose this kind of connection.

Before we left, we decided to collect some of the items we saw on the ground. Caius finds image1-23a pink feather that is very out of place here. Maybe someone walking by had feathers in their bag for a future craft project. We collected dry leaves, small pebbles, cattail fluff and tiny flowers. As we walked back to our car, the boys ran ahead and found a trail of pink feathers, perhaps a treasure hunt.

 

 

This spot with a view that we found nestled along the walking path, reminded us that even within our city, we can escape into nature.

image1-24

Creative Practice #3- Snowy Park

Today I took a slow drive to the university with the hope to find something unexpected. I had planned to stop along Wascana Parkway to sit by the lake, however, I found a place that I had not noticed before. As I drove along 23rd Avenue, I image1-20noted some benches and a walking path to the East of the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre. I was intrigued so I stopped to take a closer look.

Because it was so blustery and chilly out, I decided to do a walking meditation instead of sitting in one spot. I began walking along the path and to my left there was a murky pond. The pond had muddy water which made me question if it was meant to be a pond or if it was a place where rain/snow collected.Within the murkiness grew a variety of plants and could possibly be home to many little creatures.

IMG_5866

I immediately noticed the smell of evergreen trees, which I love. I inhaled deeply to try and soak the smell in. As I looked around, I could see many types of trees growing nearby (although unfortunately I don’t know the names).

I imagine that this place could be a small retreat for the patients and staff of the rehab centre. This park invokes a feeling a calm, a sense of relaxation within the busy city limits. As cars rush by on the busy street, this place is a little slice of quiet and a small piece of natural beauty within this urban setting.

 

image2-10

I continued to walk and came across a little squirrel who seemed as interested in me as I was in them. We looked at each other for a minute or so before the little creature bounded through the tall grass and up the trunk of a tree.

I took my gaze upwards to follow the squirrel and was struck by the beautiful fall colours of the leaves. Just having celebrated the fall equinox with my son’s school, my sense of the changing seasons is heightened. Looking around though, snow and fall leaves are mixed together which causes me to worry that fall may be skipped with winter’s hurry to take over.

IMG_5868

My walk led me to an unexpected structure. This structure was fabricated from steel and stood in stark contrast to the natural surroundings. The plaque gave a provocation to its readers to view the structure from two opposing perspectives, tension or comfort. Can one feel both tension and comfort at the same time? Or are these incommensurable emotions? The structure was standing tall with large rocks around it just inviting someone to sit and spend time thinking here.

Click to view slideshow.

My walk today was unexpected and therefore I did not dress for the weather. I felt the cold wet snow hitting my face and covering my glasses. All around me I could hear the water dripping off the trees and the snow slopping under my shoes. My body was beginning to feel cold which caused me to look forward to going home and having a nice warm cup of coffee. I am so glad that I sent my son to school with lots of warm clothing today, so that he can enjoy the outdoors without worry. It is interesting to me, how tough it is to just be present in this moment. I am constantly bombarded with thoughts of family, thoughts of the past and worries for the future. It is a battle to remain present, to enjoy my surroundings and relax into just being.

The park that I have found, is called Arboretum Park, which means “a place where trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants are cultivated for scientific and educational purposes” (taken from the Merriam-Webster dictionary). I wonder what sorts of things this park is used for. Do children come here to learn? Do scientists from the nearby university use this place as their laboratory? My hope is that in the process of learning, this park is taken care of and these trees and plants are respected. I look forward to taking my sons here one day to learn from and with this place.

image1-19

Creative Practice #2: Mushroom Surprise

As we wandered down the street from our house, my boys and I looked around at our surroundings in search of the unexpected. Interestingly, we were mostly looking upwards. As I glanced towards the earth, I noticed a line of mushrooms which had sprouted in the open grass. We decided to dwell in this spot and examine the mushrooms further.

IMG_5661

image2-8

My son, Caius, began to count the little mushrooms and found that there were 12 all in a line one after the other. They were all so smooth and wrinkled, perfectly formed. They grew like little tiny umbrellas sheltering the ground beneath.

I began to think about these little plants…

Why did these mushrooms choose this spot to grow? They seem so vulnerable and fragile here out in the open. If we hadn’t looked down, we could have easily stepped on them, crushing their fragile structures. As I looked down on the mushrooms, I wondered how the world looks from their perspective. I decided to try and take a photo from right down beside them.

My sons were reminded of a CBC children’s program, Beat Bugs, as they took time to think about this place. They remembered in the t.v. show that everything was from the bugs’ point of view. In this perspective, the mushrooms, the grass and the yard equipment looked gigantic. Using this change in perspective we thought about how big and tall we must seem to the little mushrooms growing in amongst the grass.

As we sat in this moment of slowing down, I noticed a man on a bike riding by. He glanced over at my boys and I and gave us a smile. He seemed to say through his smile, that he appreciated what we were doing, that as the busyness of life zoomed by us, we had chosen to take a moment to dwell within this place.