The Art and Stories of Nathalie Coutou

WakefieldUp in the once sleepy town of Wakefield, Quebec the streets are bustling on a Sunday afternoon on Canada’s long weekend. The town, nestled in the Gatineau hills and lying along the beautiful Gatineau river, now not only boasts gorgeous scenery but many fine cafes and boutiques, artisan shops and bakeries. I’ve been there multiple time but especially in the last four years after purchasing a cottage in the region. I’ve wandered up to the old grist mill (which is now an inn and spa) and further to the cemetery where Lester Pearson and Malak Karsh are buried (among other notables) and then in out of the shops after eating a meal at a cafe. It’s always time well spent and a delicious adventure.

On previous visits before this past long weekend, I’d ventured into a shop called Khewa (meaning “the north wind which brings people back to essentials”). The objects, all having a First Nations flavour, were fascinating to look at, but as with most original, beautifully handcrafted art, a bit beyond my budget. I also had children whom I needed to police and herd away from the fragile pieces. This kind of distraction does not lead to any kind of practical purchasing so I always ended up leaving empty-handed. However, when you’re children free and away with girlfriends, the art of shopping comes back to one – kind of like riding a bike.  My trip to Khewa was a much different experience this time.

SoufleVieWhen I, and my two friends, walked into the shop we were immediately met with leather pieces and fine jewelry. A beautiful, dark-haired woman, the same person I’d seen there before whom I assumed was the owner, stood behind the counter talking animatedly to some captivated customers. My friends and I split up and I sauntered between the displays imagining that I would, once again, leave empty-handed, when my eye caught something I couldn’t ignore. It was a large painting of an eagle swooping down on a woman. The colours were soft and yet full and the characters abstract and yet full of meaning and subtle movement.  I stared at it a long time and then realized the room was filled with paintings by the same artist.

I could feel my heart start to race. Everywhere I turned my eyes were met with colour and beauty. I needed to have at least one piece to take home with me. Happily, these days, most savvy artists know that not everyone can take home an original so, in order to make their art more available, they make smaller prints and even nice quality greeting cards. I spent time picking through all the prints and chose three with images that resounded with me. I flipped one over and found information about the artist on the back. It turned out the artist was the lovely woman at the front counter who’s heritage, from her mother’s side, is First Nations.

nathalieI couldn’t wait to make the purchase and to have an opportunity to tell her how beautiful her work was. I mean, how often do you get to talk to the artist directly? I shuffled up to the cash and lay the merchandise in front of her. One of my girlfriends did the same. When Nathalie turned her attention to us, a gush of compliments poured from my mouth. You never know how some people will react; some shy away from compliments while others bask in them. Nathalie smiled and her eyes sparkled with a modest pride and gratitude. “Thank you.” she said. And I thought that’s where the conversation might end. But what followed was most delightful for me and my two friends…

Nathalie gently nudged the cards apart and pushed one to the forefront. “Would you like to know the meaning of this one?” she asked. Yes! All three of us nodded enthusiastically. With one of the most soothing voices I’ve ever heard and a lilting French accent, Nathalie began telling us the story behind the images. The women, the animals, their relationships to each other, to the earth, and to the Great Spirit. She explained how the images came to her and how many of them were part of a larger picture and story…As with Nathalie’s previous customers, my friends and I were immediately captivated. In fact, we were so impressed with her story telling, that one of my brilliant-minded friends suggested that Nathalie record her stories for audio files on her website. The stories just would not be the same without her telling them.

My friends and I walked away from a store with a happy experience in our minds and hearts (how often does that happen at the mall?). We made up our minds to return soon…the fall colours will be perfect in Wakefield in a month. Nathalie’s art now hangs in my meager home office; a small space in the basement. It looks lovely and livens up the space immensely. My plan now is to put aside some money…just a little every month…so that one day I can perhaps afford an original. There’s something very comforting to me about being surrounded by art, especially pieces with meaning. When I look at each piece I don’t just see the painting or photograph, but see my story behind it and if I’m lucky, as I was with Nathalie, I see the artist’s story too. Thank you, Nathalie, for such a wonderful experience. We’ll be back! nathalie_coutou

His Dream…Our Dream

martin-luther-king-jr

On August 28th, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. That was 50 years ago.

Today many of us still hope…

May we, the human race, one day fully realize his dream. May there be the “richness of freedom and the security of justice” for all races and both sexes, not just in America but everywhere in the world. May we finally understand that it is not violence and hatred that will quell the “thirst for freedom” but from a struggle conducted “on the high plane of dignity and discipline”. May one day we all live in liberty and prosperity.

When we “come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny” and “that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom” the world will be a much better place.

Peace to you all.

If you’re interested, this movie – 42 - encapsulates  in a gentle but poignant way the struggle for blacks – and whites (with their consciences) – in America in the 1940′s. Extremely well done and enjoyable to watch.

The Battle of Crysler’s Farm

I think I have become a reenactment junky. In fact, my whole family seems to be going down that road. I’m not sure I can tell you precisely what it is that attracts us to these events. Well, actually, I think the thing that propels me the most is bringing live history to my kids. And the venues…the venues are always perfect. These are the places I like to visit anyway. Small towns with loads of history (Spencerville or Sackets Harbor) or pioneer villages (Upper Canada Village). After spending an entire day in Spencerville a few weeks ago, immersed in history, there was no going back. I really have to hand it to the re-enactors too. Boy! Do they know how to put on a show!

Yesterday, late afternoon, we went to Upper Canada Village for their version of the a War of 1812 reenactment called the Battle of Crysler’s Farm. There, there were more than double the number of participants we saw in Spencerville. They had full forces fighting for the U.S. side and for the Crown. At dusk the battle began with a cannon barrage. At the time we were eating our dinner and nearly choked on our food when the first cannon went off! After that the two sides moved onto the battlefield with muskets and the infantry battle began. It wasn’t long before the air filled with smoke from the firing muskets. It became very clear (in a smoky way) how difficult it would have been in battle back then. Not just because the muskets’ aim was very imprecise, not just because the soldiers had to wear wool in the heat and humidity of July…but because you can’t bloody well see what you’re shooting at with all that smoke!

It all ended well anyway. The Crown forces managed to move forward and keep the Americans back…true to history. It will be interesting to see how the story ends in Sackets Harbor on the American side. We will be going there in a few weeks and the kids are already excited. First because it’s their first trip to the United States, and also because they get to see yet another battle. My daughter has asked me to sew her a period dress for the event. Gulp. We’ll have to see about that.

I’ll leave you with some photos of the events from last night. Have a wonderful week.

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The little things: Fresh Raspberries

Sometimes little things make me very happy. Today, when I was admiring how much my raspberry bushes had grown, I noticed a splash of red almost hidden by a leaf. I lifted the leaf to find two of the biggest raspberries I’ve ever seen! These two were at least twice as big as the ones from the grocery story! Boy! Did that ever bring a smile to my face. I picked them and enjoyed their juicy sweetness. I can’t wait for the rest… Of which there are plenty… To ripen. Hurrah for summer berries! Hope you find some joy, big or small, in your day today.

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A Drive to Spencerville

Took a drive south of Ottawa yesterday to see a wonderful Heritage Fair organised by the Spencerville Mill. Re-enactors from different groups converged to recreate events and life from the time of the War of 1812. Spencerville is a beautiful little town and the day itself was full of interesting things to see and do. The re-enactors, themselves, are a wonderful group of people always willing to talk about history and to help visitors feel as though they are a part of the day not just spectators.

Enjoy the photos in this gallery. I’ll have more later in the week…detailed information on the war, the re-enactors, and scenic shots of the area. Gotta love history!

Happy Monday.

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A Drive Through Cottage Country

As I mentioned in my last post, I drove up to the cottage on Saturday. It takes me North-east of the city of Gatineau, Quebec within the region of the Outaouais. Although the Outaouais isn’t officially called “cottage country” – that’s reserved for the Laurentians (or Laurentides) – it is still rich in lakes and hills. Most of the people I know in Ottawa who own a cottage, own it there. I haven’t traveled much in the Western part of the Outaouais but my favourite areas are centred around Val-des-Bois to Wakefield. Up near Bowman and the Riviere du Lievre and then down along the Gatineau River are some of the most scenic areas of the drive. I had planned to take a lot more photos than I did. Many areas along the winding 307 are not good places to stop safely, but I managed a few shots and thought I would share them with you.

Riviere du Lievre along the 307.

Riviere du Lievre along the 307.

The 307 goes between the rock cliffs and the waters.

The 307 goes between the rock cliffs and the waters.

The MacLaren Cemetery in Wakefield. The Gatineau River is on the other side of the hills.

I had to take a photo of this notice. Whatever you do, don't walk over the graves!

I had to take a photo of this notice. Whatever you do, don’t walk over the graves!

That's me!

That’s me!

And finally, just for posterity, and to show off a little…I did swim in the lake at the cottage on June 15th. It was probably about 15 C (59 F) if I was lucky. We Canadians are TOUGH!! :D

Enjoy the rest of the week. Take the road less traveled. That’s where all the jewels are.

Thoughts on Father’s Day

With my dad and sister 1974.

With my dad and sister 1974.

Well, it’s Father’s Day and, as usual, I’m spending it away from my dad. Life has taken us in different directions, physically. It’s probably been a couple of years since we’ve seen each other, a fact I rather regret. You see, it’s not intentional, it’s just that I have kids and he is getting older so time and ability to travel, on both sides is, limited.  As I write it and re-read it, it sounds kind of lame, really, this reason for not getting together but it’s the truth. We don’t talk often on the phone either. Maybe once a month; twice if we’re lucky.

With all this in mind, you might think we were estranged, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I think of him often and fondly. I think he does the same but also with that parental worry attached, as every good father does. When we talk on the phone it’s always a pleasure for me. Hearing my father’s voice is like snuggling up to a childhood stuffy or blanket. It’s so familiar and so comforting…even if he’s reprimanding me in his very subtle, between-the-lines kind of way that he’s very good at.

Yesterday, I drove up to the cottage by myself. I needed to mow the lawn and vacuum amongst other small projects. It was one of those perfect June days; sunny with fluffy clouds in the sky, a warm breeze, crickets and birds singing in the grasses. As I drove along the winding roads of the countryside, I could feel every tension in my body release and I suddenly wondered why. I wondered why it was here, in the middle of nowhere, and nowhere near home, that I felt most at home. I didn’t grow up on a farm but rather a small-sized city. My dad was a history teacher at one of the local highschools. The countryside was a place through which we traveled to get from town to town.

Or was it? Suddenly an image came to me which brought a smile to myself that I couldn’t turn off if I’d wanted to. It was of my dad in a bright orange Cat Diesel Power cap rested just on top of his mat of wavy hair, which, if you knew my dad, was the antithesis of who he really was. But my dad always enjoys the dramatic approach to things; the eccentricities he can conjure. Anyway, that hat marked the days of the auction sales! My mom and dad were both antique enthusiasts and enjoyed running an antique business on the side. Almost every Saturday of the summer we rolled over the hills and through the valleys of Perth, Waterloo, and Oxford counties in our stationwagon (my sister and I sitting unbelted in the very back) in search of sales or for the purpose of setting up at table at a  flea market or antique show.

Auction sales were always  at farm estates, big beautiful open spaces with old homes and old barns. There was always a fence or a tree to climb, and an adventure to be had. My sister and I roamed like gypsy children while mom and dad focused on the goods for sale. I think it was a time when we were the freest. Mom let down her guard a bit and dad seemed happy to just be away from the classroom as a completely different persona. Certainly, my sister and I weren’t always agreeable about going back then, but I’m happy to look back fondly on it now. It really was some of the best times of my childhood and that explains a lot.

So there you are,  Dad, you can dress up all you want but you see how you are in my memories?! :) As a parent it goes to show you that of all the things you do for your  children, the things you do to make yourself happy, if you can include your children, can created the fondest and longest lasting of memories. I’m glad you didn’t abandon yourself, Dad. I’m glad you side a bit on the eccentric. I’m glad you are you and you’re my dad! I’m glad I have you to think about. Thank you and Happy Father’s Day! I love you.

Happiness is…

image …a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning on my deck. There’s a cool breeze and the scent of cedar is being carried across it. I live for days like this…well, not days really, just moments. This isn’t really meant to be one of those inspirational posts. Honest. It’s just that it struck me that I really need very little to make me happy. I’m not a simpleton but I guess I have simple needs. Sometimes I’m mislead to believe I have complex needs but it’s really not true. If sunshine, coffee, and the smells of earth and summer can lighten my spirit, if a smile and a touch from a loved one can fill my heart, if prose, poetry, or a brush stroke can make my soul take flight, then I’m doing okay.

Have a lovely day.