Saturday, August 30, 2008

Canadian Cultural Icons -- Tom Thomson

I was at Sand Bay, off Georgian Bay, off Lake Huron, last week, just outside of Parry Sound. I don’t know if a sound is a Canadian geographic term or if it’s general – a sound is a large, wide body of water that connects two other bodies of water – in this case, Georgian Bay and Five Mile Bay. There’s Parry Island on the east side of Georgian Bay, and the Sound is north of it, and Five Mile Bay is south of it and feeds back into Georgian Bay. A little confusing.

We went on a couple of picnics a short boat ride from my sister-in-law’s cottage. On Picnic Island, where else? Here’s a couple of pictures I took at Picnic Island. We are on the Canadian Shield here, an enormous slab of granite that includes Greenland, most of eastern Canada from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean, and the Adirondack Mountains are part of it too. In the Pleistocene era giant continental ice sheets 1,500 to 3,000 metres thick receded over it – they carried off most of the topsoil, exposing the bedrock and carving lakes and rivers into the rock. There are grooves cut in the bare rock, left by those ice sheets. I just love it there – for me, it’s another one of those “thin places” that Ellie told us about recently.

I was taking pictures of those trees, and trying to remember a poem our Grade 8 teacher, Mrs. Dyment, had us memorize. All I could remember was the line, “and the pine trees leaned one way”. Thank heavens for Google. Here it is (and by the way, I didn’t understand this when I was 13, and it reinforces my view that children should not be made to memorize adult poetry like this or “In Flanders Fields” or prayers like The 23rd Psalm and the Our Father):

The Lonely Land

Cedar and jagged fir

uplift sharp barbs

against the grey and cloud-piles sky

and in the bay

blown spume and windrift

and thin, bitter spray


at the whirling sky;

and the pine trees lean one way.

A wild duck

calls to her mate

and the ragged

and passionate tones

stagger and fall,

and recover,

and stagger and fall,

on these stones –

are lost

in the lapping of water

on the smooth, flat stones.

This is a beauty

of dissonance,

this resonance

of stony strand,

this smoky cry

curled over a black pine

like a broken

and wind-battered branch,

when the wind bends

the tops of the pines,

and curdles the sky

from the north.

This is the beauty

of strength

broken by strength

and still strong.

A.J.M. Smith

It also made me think about Tom Thomson, member of the Group of Seven, a Canadian painter who loved and painted and died in northern Ontario. He’s a Canadian cultural icon for certain sure. I think if you went to school here in the ‘50’s through the ‘70’s, you’d be able to look at a painting and guess by the style it was by Thomson, even if you hadn’t seen it before. Beautiful paintings. A fisherman and canoeist. Thomson’s death adds to his legendary status. He went canoeing in Algonquin Park one day, and was never seen again. The official verdict was accidental death by drowning, but there have been rumours of arguments and speculation that it was homicide, ever since. That's not what matters, though, the paintings are.


Kate Morningstar said...

The poem is supposed to be broken into stanzas, at "A wild duck", "This is a beauty", and "This is the beauty", but I lost that, in managing to keep it all single-spaced without treating each new line as a new paragraph. Sorry -- I'm not going back in to edit -- who knows what will happen if I do.

FranIAm said...

Ahhhhhhhhhh- the art, the poem.

The spacing, no worries. Blogger is weird sometimes.

So happy that you had a great trip dear Kate.

Doorman-Priest said...

Wonderful art.

Crimson Rambler said...

I do like A.J.M. Smith...thanks, Kate!

Pagan Sphinx said...

That happens to me on blogger as well. Frustrating.

I really enjoyed the Thomson art and your lovely photographs.

Kate Morningstar said...

Thanks, Fran. It was a great trip, and a great time with family.

D-P, Tom Thomson's paintings are so familiar, I forget that others from farther away may not know the Group of Seven.

CR, I don't know if I've read any more of Smith's poetry, but I know I'm going to, now I've remembered this.

Thank you, too, Pagan. Yes, I've given up on some things with Blogger, and I'm just going to put all my pictures at the top now. At least I can get them in the order I want that way. Now I'm having font problems. And thank you about the photographs -- photography's an old pleasure of mine, and just this year I've started again.