Friday, December 29, 2006

Tolerant but not too melodramatic

Today is one of those days in Saskatoon when you wish you had worn a toque just for the walk from the car to the house. You also wish there were some way of preventing your nose hair from freezing, but alas, this remains to be discovered. One feature of wintry Saskatoon that I had forgotten was the ruts in the un-grated roads – they’re so deep and frozen over that you don’t really need to steer, unless you want to turn, at which point you have to try to get out of the ruts. Last night on a wonderful date with Christine, she described S’toon as a place where you spend half the year tolerating or trying to survive the weather, quickly moving from one indoor place to another. Which is why she’d like to get out of here eventually. Sometimes I agree. And sometimes I like the tolerating part. It makes me feel robust and vigorous and alive and… tolerant.

Christmas this year was beautiful, with all of the elements I have come to expect and desire… attending three Christmas Eve services at church, making music in two of them with Rachel, Daniel and Chris, the peaceful feeling of looking out at a sanctuary full of people holding lit candles, a great homemade present from Don, plenty of fudge and cookies and peanut butter balls, a sleepover “under the tree” with my siblings, a lazy Christmas morning, matching sibling pajama pants, not getting dressed until very late in the day, a visit from Chris and Dan, turkey with Dad’s family, hilarious games with my younger cousins, and banana slush (my favorite Christmas food). The only thing missing was Sarah – we have to share her with her husband’s family now. So there was continuity and change this year.

I received some great gifts this year, including earrings, a Wendell Berry poetry book, an Annie Dillard book, a bag you can heat up and put around your neck, a beautiful wooden box, a banana case, some shirts, and not one, but two Damien Rice CDs. I have been thinking about Damien Rice. There is a lot I like about him. His poetry surprises me. He’s passionate. His CDs somehow make it sound like you’re sitting ten inches in front of him, like you’re intruding or invading his personal space, and I like that. It feels vulnerable. But I’ve decided that I need to be in a particularly introspective mood to fully appreciate his melodramatic, brokenhearted singing. Sometimes it seems over the top. And his new CD is slightly more… explicit. Which has got me thinking about swearing. I’ve grown more tolerant of swearing, ironically, at Bible school. I still wonder if it’s a moral issue or a societal issue. In other words, is swearing sinful, or just in poor taste? What did Jesus say when he stubbed his toe? I’m starting to think it doesn’t matter what you say, from a moral perspective, whether it’s “sick dog”, “sick monkey”, or something our society calls an expletive. I’m not talking about throwing swears into every sentence, which I consider evidence of a poor vocabulary, or swearing AT people, which is mean. I’m talking about those situations that seem to cry out for swearing. Anyway, if you have any opinions, please leave a comment.

I have one New Year’s resolution so far, and it doesn’t have to do with swearing, it has to do with cooking. Yes, roommates, listen up – I have copied down a bunch of recipes from my mom. I plan to make a master list of all possible meals we can make without the use of an oven, so we will not be stuck standing around at 7:00 PM wondering what to eat. And maybe we could eat at the table sometimes. I forgot how much I like tables. I think we need to make more homemade soup and stew. And we need to invent more recipes using Frank’s Hot Sauce.

One more week here. Every day is about appreciating home, and the people here, without becoming overly sentimental and nostalgic. And possibly starting to write that paper that’s due on the 15th… gross.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Back in Toontown

I’m home. I arrived on Saturday. (Crazy thing – on the second leg of my flight, from Edmonton to Saskatoon, I was seated right beside my best friend Jane from elementary and high school. No, Saskatoon is NOT that small.) My family was reunited for a whole weekend, since my sister Sarah was also home for a few days. I love my family and I hope I never take any of them for granted. We put up the traditional tree-with-an-overabundance-of-ornaments. It also has strings of popcorn and cranberries on it – does anyone else have this tradition?

I’m feeling the same way I felt the last time I switched cities. The four hours in a plane cross me over from one stream of life to another. When I’m in Vancouver, my home in Saskatoon seems like a faraway dreamland, a place I actively remember and think of fondly, where I long to be. Almost as soon as I arrive, this dreamland feeling switches into a fee
ling of intense normality, like I’ve never been gone. Everything is familiar, and I slip right back in again and don’t even realize it. This isn’t a bad thing – it’s good to feel like I fit in. But I don’t want to take advantage of the time; I want to appreciate every moment and live in the knowledge that these days are the ones I’ve longed for. The same thing will happen, I’m sure, when I return to Vancouver. It will be too normal.

My exams went well, I think. I’m pretty sure that after many French lit classes and a year and a half of grad school, I’ve figured out a nearly foolproof method of writing essays on final exams. Basically, you read through your notes and try to find themes that run through the whole course, and examples of where they appear. Chances are, you’ll be able to twist your ideas into at least one of the essay options. You also memorize a few key details (specific dates, names, etc.) and make every effort to include them, so that the prof knows you’ve been paying attention. And then you write it out in an organized and time-efficient way. That’s it. It’s worked for me. I’ve also figured out how to write a mean Hebrew translation test, but since far fewer (note the word choice, Chris!) people will benefit from this information, I will refrain from providing it. This was my last Hebrew class, sadly. I hope I don’t forget it all…

So, with the exception of an unfortunate Exegesis paper that I have to write over the holidays, my Master’s degree is half finished. My degree is half finished, and my savings are almost all finished! My landlords called me up the day before I left to tell me that one of my cheques bounced (due to my own stupidity, not a lack of money), but this got me to checking my budget and income/expenditure ratio, at which time I discovered that I’ll be short of money next semester. I was mostly frustrated at myself for miscalculating, but there was also a bit of worry and fear that crept up into me. This is the first time in my life I’ve been so tight with money,
and it’s going to be a learning experience. But on the same day, I had a cool reminder about God providing for me… for several months now, I’ve been looking for some rubber boots to protect me against the elements – the last missing chink in my rain armor. I had checked with friends and looked in a few stores, but I hadn’t found anything I liked or could afford. Finally, at Jacob’s Well, my friend told me there were some rubber boots on the free table. (The free table is where members of the community – both volunteers and residents - can bring things they no longer need and take things they do need). They were beautiful yellow and they fit me perfectly! So I waited, and God brought me free boots in his own way. Please pray as I learn to trust him for bigger things…

I am glad to be back in the predictable cold and snow. The recent cataclysmic weather conditions in Vancouver were starting to take their toll on me. First it was the constant rain and flooding and undrinkable water, then it was massive snowfall, and then before I left, there was a hurricane-force windstorm that uprooted enormous trees in Stanley Park. Plus everyone keeps talking about “the Big One” which is the long overdue massive earthquake that’s supposed to hit Vancouver. We’re supposed to have emergency supplies ready in case this happens. Good old Saskatoon. Yep, it’s cold and it’s snowy, but the chances of a massive, life-threatening earthquake here are slim to none.


Since I arrived home, I’ve had a sleepover with my sisters, I’ve seen my brother sing in a recital (his voice seriously blew me away), I’ve been in a near-traffic-accident due to the ice, I’ve played a great new board game Chris gave my family (Apples to Apples), I’ve caroled at the hospital, I’ve had breakfast with Jordan, I’ve attended a party at Rochelle’s house, and I’ve almost bought all of my Christmas presents. I plan to spend a lot more time with family, with Chris, with other friends, with my pillow, and with books. I’ll try to let you know how this plan works out… pictures to come...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Studying and flamingos

Hi everyone,


Just a quick note to say that I'm almost through the semester. I have one exam today and one on Thursday, and then I'm flying home on Saturday, where I'll be for three weeks. I'm SO excited to see all of my family and Saskatoon friends again. I'm very in need of a break - in the last few days I've noticed that my prayers for grace, patience and peace have become increasingly frequent... Maybe I'll write more once I have this exam (Christianity and Science) under my belt, but for now, I must study. Instead, I'll give you some crazy pictures of Danice and I on the bus with a pink flamingo...


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Jeannette

Seagulls sing carols
Outside the aluminum-foil-plastered windows
The oven is on, for the heat;
I doubt she bakes.

Her eyes sink into her smile;
the rest of her hides under layers of blankets, and beside the bed
is a long-forgotten plate of chopped fruit
as shriveled as she is.
Privileged, we are the only ones she opens her door for.

Another cough racks her tiny frame
momentarily muting the perpetual TV
that tries to tell her what she should crave at this most blessed time of year
when all that glitters is cold.

We’re supposed to take her to the clinic because of her pneumonia.
She will do no such thing.
But she’d love to have some toffees and walnuts.
We can’t find any walnuts at the Army and Navy,
but when she sees the toffees
the child inside her leaps.

For hours, we are her ears;
she remembers to us a childhood on the reserve
skipping the parts that hurt
dwelling on parts that matter, like when she was seven and her father
taught her Our Father in his language.

Now, she prays it for the junkies who steal from her.

When the Kingdom breaks all the way through
and life returns to her legs
I hope the forests are greener and grander
Because I want to run with her there, get her to
teach me how to tell a salmonberry from an elderberry
show me how to rub off the prickly hazelnut skins
with the calloused soles of her feet
like she did with her sisters.

Then she will know that she was
not just another prisoner in the pretty paper-box of a poem
but one for whom I prayed.

Monday, December 04, 2006

the Christmas concert

I sang Emmanuel in your direction

I strung the arrow-notes to splinter your dark glass

I sang up an apple tree

to keep your dying faith alive

to shelter your weary bones

I sang a rose into bloom

to brighten your half-spent night

to dispel your darkness

to lighten your load

I sang a lamb

I sang an on-time God

I sang angels to tell you not to fear

I even sang a king right up onto his throne

because I knew you needed him

I sang them all for you.

I sent them all your way.

I sang them all for you, but you did not stand.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Snow pictures

Well, it looks like the manna will be sticking around for a while. At least a week! What a gift. AND we had a snow day today - no school at UBC, because the power was out! Danice said that never happened during her five years of undergrad at UBC. Too bad I didn't have any classes today in the first place! I seriously can't remember ever in my life having school cancelled because of snow in Saskatoon - any other Saskatonians remember having snow days? My roommates and I have been thoroughly enjoying the weather. We went on a two-hour walk last night and another two-hour walk this morning, during which I took 180 pictures. Wow. Mostly I'm writing to tell you to check some of them out on my Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bethmalena . Here's a sample for you:

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Meteorological-theological free associations

When the dew evaporated, a flaky substance as fine as frost blanketed the ground. The Israelites were puzzled when they saw it. “What is it?” they asked each other. They had no idea what it was. And Moses told them, “It is the food Yahweh has given you to eat” (Exodus 16:14-15).

The Israelites had been complaining to God… I had been, too. But I had good reason. In Vancouver, in November, the rain was a constant, a given, a mathematical probability. My life was perpetual wet pant cuffs. Perpetual wiping off the droplets on my glasses that blurred my vision. Grey skies, leaves soaked to the point of disintegration, the musty smell of overcrowded buses full of dripping people. It was starting to dilute me; it was washing me down the drain. I, who thought myself immune to seasonal affective disorder, was melancholy.

I heard rumors of Saturday snow. I did not believe them, but when I woke up Saturday morning, I put on my long underwear. Just in case.

Chris and I disagree. She is for rain, and I am for snow. She enjoys rain on car windows. I long for a blanket of fresh snow on the tree-branches. I tell her snow is more beautiful. She says yes, but it comes with a prerequisite of chill. I’ll give her some grace, because she’s had to wait for the bus outside in snowy Saskatoon this week, in -30 degree cold. I told her to crochet herself a scarf. She said perhaps she’d crochet herself a bus shelter.

I saw them float down – those first few flakes. I was sitting, lonely, in the Regent library, working on Exegesis, and I happened to be glancing out the window. A smile crept from one side of my mouth to the other, and soon I was doing spinning dances on the inside. I watched it fall, spellbound. Exegesis was a million miles away.

I wonder if you could have made a ball out of manna. I wonder if, on that first morning, the Israelite kids looked at it in delight, if they sprinkled it in their hair and let it melt on their tongues. I wonder if they let it run through their fingers, if they piled it up and sat on it. Did any of them wake up early just to see it appear? I wonder if even the kids tired of it after a couple years. After forty years.

Vancouverians use umbrellas in snow. This is logical, I suppose. Snow is wet and falling from the sky, like rain. I’ve just never associated umbrellas and snow. I’ve definitely never seen umbrellas used that way in Saskatoon. Vancouverians also freak out slightly when it snows, not wanting to drive and such, but this is understandable, because it only happens one or two days a year. I must not be too critical… I admit that I’m going to stay inside tonight instead of going out to New West. I’ll be doing what all good Saskatchewanites do when it’s cold: playing card games. Dutch Blitz.

I walked home from the bus stop last night tongue-out. The snow came in wet clusters, catching in my hair and melting down inside my jacket. I didn’t care. It drifted lazily through the glow of the streetlights. It lighted on green hedges, unaware of the incongruity.

The people of Israel began to complain. “Oh, for some meat” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6)

It’s hard to love snow in Saskatchewan. It’s all you see for at least half the year. The first snow is always too soon; there is never enough autumn there. The first snow is the herald of deep cold. It marks the beginning of six months of shoveling, plugging in cars, icy ruts in roads, freezing ear-tips and pinky toes. A few prairie people can still find a place in their hearts for it (as I’m sure there were some Israelites who didn’t mind eating manna for so long). At best, the first snow is met by shaking heads and a chuckle, at worst, it is met by a serious reconsideration of why one has chosen this winter-heavy part of the world as a home. But in Vancouver, it’s much easier to love, because it only lasts a few days. It’s a clash, a wonder, a luxury. Hearts leap instead of sinking. At least from what I can tell. I’m sure some are frustrated. But many have their cameras out. Many have impromptu snowball fights. Many snowmen smiled at me today.

Last night, as roommates, we decided we should bundle up and make the most of the anomaly. We put on many layers. I think Lindsey had seven. I finally got to use the snow accessories that languish in the dark of my closet. “I’ve seen those in books!” said Danielle, pointing to my neck-warmer. We went to the ocean, because that’s where you go around here when you go outside. As we stood there, I realized the ocean doesn’t actually change when it’s snowing. But the beach looks like something out of a dream, as though someone turned a knob and increased the whiteness of the sand. I made a snow-and-sand angel. I ate some snow, thinking to myself that it was probably safer than Vancouver tap water. We sat on the cold beach and Danice told me that snow is actually alien sweat, which starts out orange in the orange sky and turns white as it falls, just like blood turning from blue to red when it mixes with oxygen.

Familiar pools of water under dripping snow clothes. Forgotten leg muscles coaxed into action again in the delicate process of walking without slipping. Tires spinning. Large clumps falling from the eaves and startling passers-by. The mischievous smile of a young snow-suited boy, aiming a carefully glove-crafted ball at his father’s back.

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3)

The snow of the last 24 hours has been divine sustenance to this displaced prairie girl. He provided the same thing for me last year in Vancouver, and five years ago in Belgium, with my insuppressible joy and delight as a predictable result each time. But if rain is to be my every-morning manna, I guess I should also learn to see His provision there and respond with gratitude. Matthew Kelly describes rain as God’s loving attention to his earth, a communication of life, a sign that all is well. I wish I could become a container and let it fill me instead of being washed out. Still, I will enjoy the peaceful white while it’s here. Kelly also says, “Only God could have surprised rain with such a change of dress as ice and snow…”

As we walked back to the house last night, my roommates and I slid through the snow singing Christmas carols. We sang them loudly and out-of-key, dancing like people who don't care what they look like. Then we sang songs from the Sound of Music, which don’t have much to do with snow…except “Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes…” and “Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever…”

…a song which, by means of an association deeply ingrained in me (and logical to very few of you), brings the following words to mind:

Blessed art Thou
O Lord Our God
King of the Universe
Who brings forth bread from the earth…


Who brings forth bread from the heavens.
Who brings forth snow to feed me.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

Interestingness top 10

Paper: done.
Health: much better, thank you.
Rubber boots: still lacking.
Photoshop guilt: assuaged.


Now I will tell you some interesting (and not-so-interesting) things I’ve experienced this past week, in no particular order…what a wonderfully vague word, “experien
ced”…

1. A concert by a band called Over The Rhine. This husband-and-wife duo from Ohio write the most seductive songs I’ve ever heard sung by Christians. Karin, who does most of the singing, is one of the most talented vocal line-crafters I’ve heard, very jazzy and gospelly. But they’re allowed, because they’re married. Anyway, they’re unique and relaxing – check them out at http://www.overtherhine.com.

2. An impromptu lesson on the World Wars around the supper table at the Williams’ residence. This was sparked by the Anne of Green Gables sequel, where Anne is married and goes to find Gilbert at the war. As Hannah and Emilia and I watched it, Sarah would pipe in with, “Girls, don’t watch this part; it’s not historically accurate!” Man, I’d love to have a historian in the family.

3. Skating with my Regent breakfast-prayer friends! Ho
w can this be, you Saskatonians may ask, considering the lack of cold here? The answer is : Indoor arena! I showed off my skating prowess, especially my backwards skating. They were very impressed. Actually, they were almost as good as me. Almost.


4. Body Worlds 3. Approximately 200 real human specimens on display, preserved, eyes and all, using a strange “plastination” technique. Some are full bodies, with the skin removed so you can see all the muscles and ligaments, and some are opened even more so you can see organs. I thought it was amazing. Granted, I’m a biology geek. Check it out at
http://www.bodyworlds.com.


5. Having to boil my drinking water. You may or may not have heard that since Thursday, we’re not supposed to drink tap water in Vancouver because the rain caused a mudslide into the lake that serves as our reservoir. The water is kind of murky. I heard rumors of police being called to break up a fight at Costco over the last bottle of water. Yesterday I saw a boy on the street selling not lemonade, but water. Yes, the situation is dire here in the Couv.

6. A fruit fly infestation of massive proportions, in my house. We are taking steps to eradicate them. Step one was taking the compost out. Step two was getting a new compost container that had a closable lid. Step three was searching the internet for fruit fly trap-making ideas. Step four was building a saran-wrapped-jar-with-holes-in-it-and-a-banana-piece trap. Step five was watching them crawl back out the holes. We are now trying a new trap with a paper funnel, and we shall see if we ou
tsmart them at last. Geez, with the water ban and the fruit flies, this place is starting to seem like a real war zone.

7. Having my hair cut by an apprentice. Someone recommended this to me as a way of going to the expensive Aveda salon but paying only $15. What I didn’t realize was that the girl was getting judged on how well she did my hair. In order to please her very unforgiving instructor, she took two and a half hours. I was pulling for her. Needless to say, this is the most thorough haircut I have ever had – if you want to inspect it, let me know.

8. Two great movies– one old and one new. “In America” and “The Prestige”. Both highly recommended to me by my sister Rachel, who has excellent taste in movies.

9. Apple crisp with sunflower seeds in it. Eaten at… you guessed it… the Naam. Where I take all of my friends from home. The lucky prairie visitors to accompany me this time were
Scott Fitzsimmons (McGimmel), Jordan Kurtz and Lisa Nazarenko.

10. My first celebrity sighting in Vancouver. I went to Sophie’s Cosmic CafĂ© today (which is interesting in its own right) and this lovely man was leaving the restaurant:


I never was a huge Joshua Jackson fan (I didn’t watch Dawson’s Creek), but Danice and Lindsey and I agreed that he was better looking in real life anyway. The best part was that I was seated in the EXACT SAME SEAT that he had been sitting in. As he got up to give me his seat, he winked at me and pointed and said, “Hey hot stuff, is that a new haircut?” I think I’m remembering that correctly…

Today is the 24th birthday of marvelous inimitable Danice…she was still carded at the liquor store. Tonight we shall drink and trim the Christmas post to the sweet sounds of Michael W. Smith singing Christmas songs.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Photoshop guilt and kenosis

It sure is raining. It rains a lot here. I think I’ve accepted that. At least I get to wear my bright blue jacket. (It matches my eyes.) There were rivers flowing down the street by my bus stop. Leaves were getting caught in it and tumbling around in the rapids. It reminded me briefly of the toothpick races of my childhood, but you’d have to run to keep up with toothpicks in that current. There were also rivers flowing into my shoes. I do need some rubber boots. There are no Canadian Tires or Walmarts or Zellers in Vancouver – you have to go to the suburbs to find anything big-boxy, which is a good thing unless you’re in the market for some cheap rubber boots and you don’t want to take a skytrain to find them.

I am lying on my bed with the stomach flu. I’d really like to be at Rock Garden with my roommates. But even being home has been good today. I got to talk to Mom, Dad, Rachel, Daniel, Chris, Jordan and Arwen! I am very popular when I’m sick. Plus I’ve had plenty of time to become a genuine addict of Flickr.

If you haven’t heard of Flickr, no, it’s not a new stomach flu drug, it’s a website where you can post photos and see other people’s photos. Rachel started her own Flickr site, so I thought I’d give it a try, since one of my favorite parts of this blog is posting photos on it. So here’s my site:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/bethmalena .

But here’s the addicting part… checking out other people’s pictures. And commenting on them. And then adding them as your favorites. And checking what other people’s favorite pictures are, then discovering whole new photographers with really beautiful stuff. And searching for good photos by people who live near you. And looking at photos rated high on the “interestingness” scale (yes, that’s the word they actually use on the site). The fun never ends. There are so many good photos out there! So many people with great cameras who are adept at using Photoshop. It’s enough to make me want a great camera and Photoshop. And adeptness. I showed Danice some photos I found that use a technique called “light painting” (check my favorites on Flickr if you want to see them), where the photographers left the shutter open for a long time and ran around with an LED light, making streaks across the photo. Before you know it, we’re in the dark in the bathroom with my camera and a lighter. This is me trying to write my name. Not
quite as satisfactory as the professionals…we need practice.

But it’s got me thinking about the ethics of photo editing. I definitely disagree with photojournalists adding things into their photos – but what about regular amateur photographers, like me? I’ve been using Picasa (poor man’s Photoshop) to touch up my pictures, and I suddenly realized that I was feeling slightly guilty every time I changed something. And I also remember feeling guilty for thinking, as we drove through the badlands near Drumheller this summer, “Gee, I could really make those foothills look even better if I took a picture and turned up the contrast a little…” Turning up the contrast on the already amazing view God gave me…

I think the source of my guilt is really my understanding of photography. I had been seeing it as a direct reproduction of the beauty of creation as seen through my eyes, which is why altering it purposely in post-production bugged me. But really, unless you’re standing there with me, I need to put the scene through a camera to show it to you. And as soon as I use a camera, I make artistic choices, and I’m not representing exactly what I experienced. So I’ve definitely come to see photography as being more about creating beauty than straight-up capturing it. Like any art form, it’s a combination of the raw materials in nature and the creative choices you make, both before and after taking the photo – what lens you use, if you go black and white or color, how much you zoom in, what branches you push to the side, what red-eye you fix, what highlights and shadows you bring out, even turning up the contrast. (And the fact that it really is “art” makes me feel good, because I haven’t considered myself a visual artist until now…) Any thoughts on Photoshop guilt, fellow photo-nuts?

This week, I must finish a paper for my Christianity and Science class. It’s funny how many other things I want to do when I have to write a paper… like photography…I’ve also been teaching myself Greek, and how to play the drums, using chopsticks. But my paper isn't about photos or Greek or drums or even chopsticks - it's about miracles. “It will be a miracle if you get it done in time.” (Chris) Ha ha. It will get done.

It’s actually more about the way God works in the world. I’ve been really interested in the ideas of this theologian/theoretical physicist named John Polkinghorne, who has a “kenotic” worldview… he (and a few other theologians – Moltmann, Vanstone) thinks that God has willingly limited his own power and knowledge for the sake of our free will. Not just our free will to choose whether or not to follow God, but our free will to influence the course of history. So instead of God being the director of a scripted cosmic play, standing outside time and watching it unfold, he’s the director of an improvised cosmic play, and doesn’t interfere with where the actors take it. He has an ending planned but hasn’t set in stone exactly how the play will get there – that depends on the actors. Polkinghorne calls it an “intertwining of creaturely and providential causality”. I call it freaky and intriguing. While I’m uncomfortable with the idea of God not being completely omniscient and omnipotent, especially God not knowing exactly what the future holds but somehow working out redemption of creation, I can’t stop thinking about what it would mean. It makes a lot more sense of prayer, and of evil, but it’s a fine line to walk. I’d like to read more. Any thoughts on God's self-limitation, fellow theology-nuts?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sunday Sunday... someday


Sundays have always been wonderful days, but they’re really making a name for themselves this year. Sundays are my Sabbath days. I’ve been doing the whole Sabbath thing for four or five years now. Before you tell me you're impressed at my depth of spiritual discipline, I must confess that it’s more of a sanity-preserver than a spiritual discipline for me. I can seriously picture God saying, (to himself, in plural, because of the whole Trinity thing) “We’d better include some verses in the Bible about taking a day of rest, because Beth’s going to come along, and unless she has a day when she knows she can’t do any work, she’s going to drive herself mad with guilt every time she’s not working.” Yep, that’s just the way I am. Danice and I balance each other out well because she’s always trying to get herself to do work and I’m always trying to make myself stop. All of this to say… taking a day of rest has kept me marginally sane through college.

Except, actually, now that I think of it, I did do some work today. I washed half the dishes. They finally got to me. My roommates and I have become overly skilled at stacking dirty dishe
s on our 2-foot square counter space, compacting them and permitting many days to pass before washing becomes an absolute necessity. I know, it’s disgusting. But I feel that it is an entirely expected part of a basement-suite-dwelling- full-time-student’s life to let dishes pile up, and this is one expectation I will live up to.

But I’m off topic already. Sunday. Well, obviously, I go to church in the morning. Church is great. But my favorite part about church the last two Sundays has been walking home from it. This is a new tradition I’ve started, and it will be hopefully be regular, but most likely weather-dependent. It’s about an hour and fifteen minute walk. (See, any other day, I wouldn’t walk that far, because taking the bus would be faster, giving me more time to get homework and reading done, but because I’m not allowed to do that stuff on Sunday, I can walk. Get it?) My only rule when walking is that I have to say hi to everyone I pass on
the street, even the awkward ones who try so hard to avoid making eye contact - this practice is inspired in part by a post on Tall Jordan’s blog. I take a different route home each time, and mostly what I do is pick up leaves. I might actually start calling it “leafing”. Lindsey Fox is another distinguished leafer. I pick up leaves whose shape and/or color I like. My Bible ends up doubling as a temporary leaf press, which I think is a very good second use for a Bible. You know… bringing together the two Books, the World and the Word. (A little bit of dorky Regent humor for you there.) I have no idea what I’ll do with all of these leaves. Any ideas?

Today I learned two new trees, whilst I was leafing. I asked a lady what they were - a poor innocent bystander, subjected to my nerdy curiosity. Catalpa and Liriodendron. The Indian Bean Tree and the Tulip Tree. It’s crazy, because I dissected the flower of the Tulip Tree in my Botany class. That’s the third species dissected in the U of S biology program that’s turned up here. Here I thought they were bringing us strange specimens from all corners of the globe, but no, it seems they had a Vancouver distributor. I can’t say I’m disappointed. If you’re going to get species from somewhere, you might as well get them from Vanco
uver. There’s a lot of them just sort of lying around the place.


I keep getting distracted. Back to Sunday. Sunday has long been the day to phone home to the family, a tradition started way back in Belgium in 2001. It’s a highlight of Sunday, because I get to catch up and talk to whichever family members happen to be lazing around. And sometimes I get advice, like today when my dad told me that maybe I’d be able to find a boyfriend (or at least a date) if I told boys I was interested in going to a Canucks game… I also got to talk on the phone with my best friend not once, but twice today. Sunday Sunday.

For the rest of Sunday, I usually do whatever I feel like doing. I try to not watch TV…but today I discovered a nature documentary that comes on at 2:00, so that might become a new tra
dition. I listen to music. I put pieces of dark chocolate in my mouth and let my tea wash over and melt them into my tastebuds, like the Belgians taught me. I read books that I actually WANT to read. I read people’s blogs and write my own. Sometimes I pull out my guitar and fool around. I become my most introverted self, completely enjoying being alone in my room. I’m in the Sabbath zone.

(Oh, and every second Sunday night, I take the SkyTrain to New West to go to a service called Rock Garden (yeah, weird name) where a great band plays, and a great Regent prof, Rikk Watts, basically gives a free hour-long lecture. If you'd like to spend an hour listening to him, visit http://the-rockgarden.com/?Audio:Living_Against_the_Grain.)


Well, that’s all I have to say about that. And I hear there is occasion for a little bit of Rider Pride tonight. Yeah Saskatchewan! Don’t you love when people like me who don’t follow sports or cheer anyone on suddenly get all excited at playoff time? So, Dad, maybe I’ll have to invite some boys out to BC Place for some football, instead of hockey. Except that I’ll be cheering for the “wrong” team…
(This last pic is Rachel's, included in memory of very different, snow-filled, Saskatoon Sundays, with Wesley the funny-shaped guitar and the Blue Lagoon... I miss them both... I mean all three - rachel too)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I feel most strongly what I write about least


Last night a warmth crept through the wire
and we, the once-frozen, softened at its ends
melting in this fire
that we did not kindle

My eyes, long held closed by frosted eyelashes
opened just in time to see
the fire folding in, rolling into a piercing
point, and sharp
boring into that great and immovable stone
with a terrible roar!
split by light into shards
And behind it, now revealed...
a cobwebbed door.

I saw us walk through.
I do not know where it will lead.

But dripping images, hazy, in strands
seem to suggest
that we will return to the place where we were born
we will wander lazily back to the place where we were born
walking, we will be unwrapped
layers will fall away
and we will laugh,
laugh long,
laugh
in the face of the one who would forever suspend
that which was meant to dance

We will dance on our graves.

(Now don't be surprised if
I say something to the effect that
to see your beauty surface from the deepest places
up through the shadows of murky, surreal seas
is to me as the delight of a thousand jellyfish)

Here my blessed task will be
to find the shining in you - I will name it
as you will do for me
And as I lay back, basking in new-found freedom
fallen like dew on a mountain,
you will sing the song
the waiting song
the one
that sits curled up in your corners...

And we will both say that yes,
we were worth the fight

---------

Did I mention that it's raining?
You always loved it more than me
But today every drop is redemption
and I'm not nearly as cold.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Maybe I will name my first child "Aurelia"

Well, I didn’t find a lot of sunshine on the Sunshine Coast, but I found plenty of other experiences to satisfy me. I had my fill of theological conversation on the car ride there. Upon arriving, I walked a winding path to the top of a hill and spent half and hour watching a red-breasted sapsucker. (A bird.) I learned how to play Rook and lost badly, but was entertained all the while by the trash-talking between my three fellow Canadian card players, Dan, James and Alley. I stayed in a yellow room, looked out at a red Japanese maple tree and navigated deep green waters in a white canoe. I shared tons of laughter and stories and Scripture reading and delicious meals and wine in a hot tub with nine other Regent students. I watched leaves fall. I played the piano for fun. I read a book. I drank hot chocolate with ice cream in it while staring up at shooting stars and listening to Sarah quote G.M. Hopkins.
I think the best part was the water. As I said, it looked forest green, probably because of the reflection off the evergreen-covered mountains. Color alone gave it an aura of mystery, but it had many more secrets. Soon after arriving, Leanne and I set off in a canoe. Only a couple minutes into our trek, Leanne let out a gasp. I followed her gaze over the side of the canoe, and was so astonished and excited I nearly fell in. Aurelia aurita! (Translation: the moon jelly, or common jellyfish.) There was nothing common about them as I saw them for the first time in the wild! The moment was dream-like and surreal; there must have been twenty of them around the canoe, at different depths, all slowly rising. About the size of dinner plates, they seemed to glow fluorescent pink in the dark water, especially the horseshoe-shaped gonads and the peripheral pink fringe, which reminded me of the gathered bottom of window blinds. The glow came from the whole animal, eerily… how can something transparent glow? Upside-down was my favorite view. Its four translucent oral arms drifted lazily in a spiral, and in the center, a strangely lovely ribboned cluster fringed with white light seemed to be the treasure it was protecting under its bell, the secret location of its radiance… (I found these pictures online – I couldn’t take any satisfactory photos of my own!)

As I observed this beautiful undersea suspended animation, I remembered my only other experience with Aurelia, examining one in a glass dish in Bio 203 (have you done Cnidaria yet, Terice?), turning the dead gelatinous mass (haha, Strongbad) with my tweezers and trying to imagine what it would look like alive in the ocean. My imagination wasn’t near as wonderful as the reality. The process of watching is half the fun. It starts out as a gauzy outline, playing with your depth perception, causing you to look twice – was that just the watery reflection of a small cloud? No, it’s moving!…in slow but determined spurts, rising into greater clarity, growing brighter and larger, sometimes drifting, open and careless, its fringe of tiny hairs floating listlessly, before its muscles contract and it resumes its pulsing motion. It seemed to be deciding where and when to move, which parts of itself to reveal to me, even though it had no brain. (What is it with me and these brainless ocean creatures?) As we circled and circled in our canoe, more and more Aurelia surfaced in this surreal, enthralling way. The scientist in me tried to memorize what it looked like at every angle, tried to remember what all the parts were called. The child in me knew that the water was enchanted, and I was seeing pure magic, whose depth only an ocean-deprived prairie girl could fully appreciate. I am thankful that Leanne shared my delight.

The next morning, I sat on the dock for two hours, stalking the water, trying to see past the surface reflection. I saw many more moon jellies, and my breath caught in my throat every time. At times I would see tiny flashes of light erupt randomly all through the water, which reminded me of the very artificial “sparkle” effect they used to put in movies after something magical happened, like someone disappearing. When my eyes adjusted, I realized it was a school of small fish, with scales catching the sunlight when they happened to be at the right angle. I also saw a burrito-shaped white spiny thing on the bottom that moved very slowly. I think it was a nudibranch, a.k.a. sea cucumber, one of the weirdest things I studied in biology. Again, seeing creatures in the ocean is entirely different from examining them in a biology lab dish.

Since I got home on Wednesday, I’ve been trying to put the “reading” back in Reading Week. I’m marginally satisfied with my productivity, considering the high expectations I had for myself. I had a great morning with the Crazy Boggers yesterday. Instead of pulling bad, invasive things out of the bog, we got the rare pleasure of planting good things in the bog! Both activities are necessary and restorative, but I’ve discovered that it’s more emotionally satisfying to plant than to remove. As I pushed little bunches of sphagnum moss into the wet dirt with my thumb, I found myself silently pleading that God would cause them to grow and spread, and un-do the damage we’ve done to this part of our/His earth. It was deeply satisfying to do this repetitive, dirt-under-the-fingernails work of redemption with the Creator of bogs. God-willing (and God-very-much-helping), the bare ground in that section will once again be covered with sphagnum...but not until about five years from now. It’s weird being part of such long-term work, work that might not even pay off if the weather doesn’t cooperate. I can’t imagine working on those cathedrals in the Middle Ages, knowing the finished product was 150 years off and you’d never see it. (If you for some reason happen to be interested in this bog thing, the website is great –
http://www.naturalhistory.bc.ca/CamosunBog/ As is my custom of late, I leave you with a quote. I read some of Annie Dillard’s “Teaching a Stone to Talk” this week, and this part in particular resonated with many experiences I’ve described above…

“The mountains are great stone bells; they clang together like nuns. Who shushed the stars?…Billions of stars sift among each other untouched, too distant even to be moved, heedless as always, hushed. The sea pronounces something, over and over, in a hoarse whisper; I cannot quite make it out. But God knows I have tried.
At a certain point you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, the world, Now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening. After a time you hear it: there is nothing there. There is nothing but those things only, those created objects, discrete, growing or holding, or swaying, being rained on or raining, held, flooding or ebbing, standing, or spread. You feel the world’s word as a tension, a hum, a single chorused note everywhere the same. This is it: this hum is the silence. Nature does utter a peep – just this one. The birds and insects, the meadows and swamps and rivers and stones and mountains and clouds: they all do it; they all don’t do it. There is a vibrancy to the silence, a suppression, as if someone were gagging the world. But you wait, you give your life’s length to listening, and nothing happens. The ice rolls up, the ice rolls back, and still that single note obtains. The tension, or lack of it, is intolerable. The silence is not actually suppression; instead, it is all there is.

We are here to witness. There is nothing else to do with those mute materials we do not need… If we were not here, material events like the passage of seasons would lack even the meager meanings we are able to muster for them. The show would play to an empty house, as do all those falling stars which fall in the daytime. That is why I take walks: to keep an eye on things.”

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Bon appetit


Some ways God’s been blessing me this past week:

- Seeing a rainbow near my house during a brief break in the clouds.

- Getting to hold a 1-mo. old baby for an hour at my church.

- Watching a movie with a ten-yr.-old who wanted me to sit very close and cuddle her.

- Receiving a hug from a First Nations lady who I’d just met at Jacob’s Well.

- Eating a caramel apple with Danice at the UBC Apple Festival. (She got a gross candied one...)

- Gifts of baking from two different people this week (I don’t have an oven!)

- Being called “beautiful” by two different men on the bus in the past two days. Both were definitely drunk and probably homeless (I’ll take compliments wherever I get them!) All I did to provoke these compliments was to say hi to them. Maybe saying hi makes you beautiful.

- Sharing excellent meals with two different groups of friends.

Let me expand on that last one. I grew up in a family that put a priority on eating together. This was so built into me that I took it for granted. Now that I’m away from family, I realize how deep a blessing it is to eat meals with other people. Eating by myself seems so much like filling up a car with gas – it’s just refueling of my body, and I don’t enjoy it nearly as much, even if I like the taste of the food. But eating with other people makes me feel very Kingdom-y. I’ve heard it said that community meals can be a way of announcing the Kingdom, so long as we’re welcoming everyone in and sharing what God’s given us… it’s a foretaste of the Feast we’ll all be sharing together one day.

Since coming to Vancouver, I’ve heard (and used!) the word “community” ad nausea. But as much as the word is overused at Regent, I can’t say how important it’s been to find places to belong and people to share life with, especially coming from a big family. Fortunately for me, many of these communities love eating together. Jacob’s Well has harvest parties. Regent has Tuesday soup lunch. Kits church always has excellent post-service food. The photos are from a backyard dinner party Tora threw for a bunch of Regent students in September. My good old Wednesday morning prayer group has always included a sort of potluck breakfast. Lindsey Fox (who hosted the best meal I’ve had in months at her house last night) pointed out that “companion” comes from the Latin words “with” and “bread”, referring to the person you share bread with.

This is what I am realizing as I’m paying so much to learn theology… I need to learn a lot of other things besides theology to live the kind of Christian life I want to live: a life that’s closely tied to the earth and to community. These are things that don’t even cost money to learn. Things like gardening and wrapping presents and being hospitable and planning for long trips with people. And especially cooking. I have a poor track record with cooking… ask my siblings about the infamous wieners and beans fiasco a few years ago… These are all things I could have learned growing up with my mom, had I put more time and focus into them. Mom, I’m coming home for Christmas, and I want to learn more from you…

To end this post, I will be helpful and offer you some cooking tips I’ve picked up in the last month. Well, they’re not really about cooking, per se. They’re more about microwaving and condiments. They will show you that I have a lot to learn about REAL cooking. Here are my tips nonetheless…

1. Get this… you can make a baked potato in a microwave in under 7 minutes. I suppose it isn’t actually baked, it’s microwaved. But hey, in this oven-less house, that’s not bad. If I had known this microwave trick I would have had a lot more starch in my system last year. Don’t forget to poke a fork in them first, though. Fun fact: the Brits call these “jacket potatoes”, which I kind of fancy. Special thanks to Lindsey and her grandma for this tip. (And happy birthday Lindsey!)

2. Peanut butter is good on just about anything. Mostly ice cream. I rarely eat ice cream without mixing in a spoonful of peanut butter and chocolate chips and chocolate sauce. But I’ve also learned that it’s delicious on waffles (with syrup), sandwiches (my grandpa used to eat peanut butter and lettuce sandwiches) and rice cakes, and it’s funny to watch dogs and cats eat it. Special thanks to Danice for expanding my peanut butter horizons.

3. The piece de resistance… Frank’s Hot Sauce. This cayenne-pepper-based phenom is a welcome condiment on nearly any food. It is especially delicious on cheggels (cheese-egg-bagels) and in yaki soba. There’s something supernatural about it that blends into every flavor. Special thanks to our roommate last year, Bryanna, who had a bottle of this wonderful stuff in the fridge, which Danice and I would constantly use behind her back.

Well, I’m getting hungry with all of this talk of eating… time for some yogurt-covered raisins. I’m off to the Sunshine Coast tomorrow morning – I’ll let you know how sunshiny it is there…

Friday, October 20, 2006

Into Great Silence

I must start this post with a completely unrelated quote I just heard from my roommate Danielle: “What if the hokey pokey really IS what it’s all about? What if that’s all there is?” A sobering thought indeed.

So the first movie I saw last week was called “Into Great Silence” or, in German, “Die Grosse Stille”. I saw it with Peter, who had been waiting for a long time to see it. The movie was part of the Vancouver International Film Festival, which I knew meant that it was going to be weird. I was prepared for weirdness. And I knew it would be about monks. Monks in the French Alps who take a vow of silence. I was all excited that I’d understand the French until I realized they wouldn’t be speaking…
So this was a very silent movie. A very long and silent movie. The person who introduced the movie said it would be calming, but at times I was a little TOO calm, if you know what I mean. After a long day at school, three hours of silence was difficult, and it felt like an accomplishment to have made it through the movie. No voice over. No background music. Only ambient noise. It’s crazy that these monks live this day in and day out. This is MDT solitude times a million.

I spent most of the movie in utter confusion as to how to feel. Should I admire these men, or pity them? Or some combination of the two? I’ve wavered in my view of the monastic life. Admittedly, these monks are among the most ascetic. Besides not being able to talk except on Sunday afternoons, they never sleep a whole night through. They sleep for three hours, wake up and sing chants for two hours, and sleep for three more hours. That has to be unhealthy somehow. There were some beautiful parts of the movie
, mostly in the rare instances when the monks had some contact with oeach other. A very old monk sitting shirtless, hunched over, the vertebrae in his neck sticking out grotesquely, most likely from the continuous bowing of his head, being rubbed gently with salve by a younger monk, in silence. An initiation ceremony culminating with each monk in the monastery embracing the new monk, and squeezing into his room to sing blessings over it. A Sunday outing where the usually solemn monks start sledding down the snowy hill on their feet, in their robes.

All in all, this movie didn’t make me want to be a monk – at least not a silent, secluded one. Not that I could be a monk, as a female. Hypothetically, though. In talks with Peter and Lindsey and Danice, I came to realize that I don’t think God put us here on earth to hide out in a building up in the mountains, out of the world, and just pray. Alone. Is that too judgmental? I know these guys have sacrificed their whole lives for this. But one thing I learned about last year is that in the Christian life, there has to be a balance between Mary and Martha – contemplation and action. Most of us outside of monasteries err on the Martha/action side. These monks were definitely erring on the Mary side. I think we need both. And I think we can’t know all of God when we’re isolated. We can’t know the relational part and the part of the kingdom that seeps through culture. And we can’t hope to do any kingdom-announcing work if we’re secluding ourselves from the people who need that message most. What do you guys think?

Aware of my Martha imbalances, I got wondering, what is the place of contemplation, solitude, silence, and simplicity in my life, outside the monastery? Incidentally, I have felt much more contemplative lately. I’ve been trying not to rush to fill my empty spaces with music, and I’m even trying to silence some of my inane mental conversations with myself to hopefully hear more from God. I’ve been feeling very much at rest most of the time (which Rachel says is equivalent with beauty). Except the last couple of days, which have been more scattered and difficult. But I’m going away on Monday, up the Sunshine Coast for a couple of days, so hopefully I can find an inner listening-to-God environment again.

If it be your will that I speak no more

And my voice be still as it was before
I will speak no more, I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will

If it be your will that a voice be true

From this broken hill I will sing to you
From this broken hill, all your praises they shall ring
If it be your will to let me sing
From this broken hill, all your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

If it be your will, if there is a choice

Let the rivers fill, let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill on all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well

And draw us near, and bind us tight

All your children here in their rags of light
In our rags of light, all dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

(Leonard Cohen)

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Maybe I'm craaaaazyyyy...

I have three or four different things I want to write about, all unrelated, and all in different…moods. Some of them will have to wait.

Yesterday morning I came back from my Rock to find a great message on my machine. It was a 403 area code, so I thought it was my sister Sarah, but it ended up being Bob and Brandon Webber. (You may remember them from such posts as “Homowebmape” in May 2006). They were in Vancouver on a father-son road trip to see Sufjan Stevens in concert, and they wanted to hang out. And since they’re almost the closest thing to family next to my family, and I had a free night, I was thrilled.

So they picked me up and asked me if I knew of any restaurants nearby. I told them I don’t get out much, but I’d heard Regent students (and probably Danice) mention “The Naam” on 4th. So I accompanied these two Alberta farm boys to “The Naam”. (If you live in Vancouver and you’re more cultured than me, you may already be laughing). The waiter who seated us had a very thin, braided goatee. This should have been my first clue. We opened the menus. I scanned the menu items. Bob and Brandon were silent, with quizzical looks on their faces. “Wait a minute,” Bob said, “…where’s the beef?” He was right. There was no beef. And no chicken. And no pork. This menu was starting to look, shall we say, tofu-ey. Under the “Burgers” heading, there were veggie burgers and tofu burgers and veggie-tofu burgers. I looked more closely at the front of the menu. “The Naam: Vancouver’s Oldest Vegetarian Restaurant”. Yes, of all the myriads of eateries in Vancouver, I, Beth Malena, took two beef-loving Albertans to a vegetarian restaurant. We had a great time joking around with gravelly soldier voices: “Yeah, I was in ’Naam. I had the miso gravy.”

So yeah, it turned out fine. Then Brandon took me to a movie. (Incidentally, this is the second time a boy has taken me to a movie in the past three days… I’m becoming quite a player. I’ll tell you about the first movie next time.) We saw “The Illusionist”, which Jordan and Chris told me was good, and it was good. I came home and my roommates were watching “Speed”. I got ready for bed, and the boiler furnace thing, which is right off my room, made loud banging noises and I thought it was going to explode. My roommates assured me that if it exploded, we’d probably all die, but I would die the most. How reassuring. Thankfully it hasn’t yet exploded.

I tell you all this to set up my final story, which took place this morning, but likely very much as a result of the weird, mysterious, expect-the-unexpected sort of mood I was in. And it was slightly foggy, which also makes things feel more surreal. I was sitting on my Rock, looking out at the ocean, like I do every morning. I saw a seal, and then it dove again. Then it resurfaced, and I saw more seals pop their heads up – there must have been at least four. I’ve seen seals in groups before, but this was different. They were swimming around like crazy, and there were some things that popped up out of the water that didn’t fit. One of them seemed to have something white in its mouth, which I thought was a fish. There was so much splashing. And then something weird jabbed out of the water suddenly – I swear it was a human leg. I think I saw a foot. “Oh my goodness… the seals are murdering somebody!” I thought. Then everything stopped, as quickly as it started. They all dove down, taking this poor soul to their secret undersea lair, presumably to eat him. I have a lot more sympathy for people who think they see sea monsters. The ocean can be very confusing. I was seriously disturbed.

I thought about telling the people at the yacht club, but they probably already think I’m crazy. Some of them are usually working on (sitting on, looking really cool in) their docked sailboats when I arrive at the beach, and they see me stumble down the hill with grubby clothes on and messy hair (because I wake up and go to the beach without combing it), sitting on this big rock with my binoculars, occasionally dancing (thanks to the suggestion of a friend). I wonder if they have names for me. They probably call me “beachcomber”, because many mornings, like today, I spend the first 15 minutes of beach time picking up after the previous night’s beach partiers. It’s so aggravating. There must have been 30 beer cans this morning, a couple of them floating in the water, and those 6-pack rings that choke sea animals (though maybe the murderous seals need to be choked…). I always bring the cans to my house and leave them in the alley for the shopping cart guys in the neighborhood. Occasionally I glean more exciting things… like when I find unopened beer cans (I guess the party people are too plastered to realize they’re leaving beer behind) – I usually give those to Danice, because I hate the taste of beer. And this morning I found a Nalgene bottle, which I think was a gift from God because I don’t have a water bottle here. Sometimes my conscience gets to me, and I wonder if I should leave these things on the beach in case their owners return (my bottle has “Marina” written in white out on it…), but my logic is that I’m cleaning up their gross mess, so I deserve to keep whatever I find in it. Tell me if you think I’m wrong…or crazy.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Stargazing


You may be saying, Beth, you have an obsession with starfish. Yes. I do. Well not really. I just like taking pictures of them, and watching them. Just think about these creatures for a second. Pretend you’ve never heard of them. Starfish are so surreal. They’re astonishing. Could you have imagined them up, had you never seen one? They’re just not logical. You couldn’t infer them from the rest of the animals you see. You couldn’t have predicted them.

I’m reading an incredible book called “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton, and it’s not about starfish, but he does say this, which I think applies (just replace “rhinoceros” with “starfish”): “It is one thing to describe an interview with a gorgon or a griffin, a creature who does not exist. It is another thing to discover that the rhinoceros does exist and then take pleasure in the fact that he looks as if he didn’t.”

Their shape is too easy, as if it were designed to be readily identifiable when seen outlined in children’s coloring books. Their color could be used to teach the same children the meaning of “purple” – it’s so well achieved. The amazing number of tiny suction-cup tube feet on their underside seems like overkill – couldn’t a few big suction cups have done it? The tiny white ossicles on their back are perfectly placed, like constellations. Constellations on a star…that’s a paradox. They glisten in the sun, leading me to believe that they’re slimy, but really they’re hard and unbendable.

They lay there, all overlapped. I think some of them are extroverted and don’t mind, but others are probably really uncomfortable touching that many other seastars and can’t wait until they can move again. Because they can’t move when they’re exposed to air – they move by a hydraulic system, using their tube feet, and when they dry out, they don’t have enough water to work the system. They’re so vulnerable in low tides, immobile, stranded, clinging to rocks, waiting to be revived by the ocean. I walk around knowing I could destroy them all if I wanted to. It doesn’t seem right that some of the most beautiful things are also the most fragile and helpless.

It’s weird to think that they’re alive, since I’ve never seen them move. They seem like part of the rock. But if you try to pry one off a rock, you see how much power they have in their suction-tube feet. They really are like aliens. They eat things by inserting their stomachs into them. They can squeeze their stomachs into a 0.1mm opening in a mussel shell. They secrete fluids to digest their food before they swallow it. They have no brain, just a nerve ring. They have a pair of sexual organs in each arm. Wow.

Listen to this… it’s so brilliant… I thought this deep thought one morning at the Rock. Ready? The stars don’t like the moon. Seriously. Think about it. The moon is responsible for the tides. When the moon pulls the tide out, it exposes the starfish, and the seagulls start pecking at them and dragging them around and eating them. Which, I assume, they don’t like. Therefore they don’t like the moon. This is logical. Although the moon also re-covers them with water. So I guess it all evens out.

Okay, I’m done with my starfish rambling. I want to tell you about something equally geeky I have involved myself in. I have joined a club at UBC called “Friends of Wetlands”. Yes. The shorter form is “FOWL”. Mostly what we do is restore the Camosun Bog on Saturday mornings. This is a bog that is close to where I live, on the edge of the huge forest that surrounds UBC. If you don’t know what a bog is, you’re not alone. It’s much like a blog, but without an “l”. Just kidding. A bog is a place with wet, spongy soil, mostly covered with sphagnum moss. It’s very poor in nutrients. That’s why almost all carnivorous plants live in bogs (they get their nutrients from the insects they eat). The problem is that in the 1920s, people tried to drain this bog to build houses nearby. As a result, it got a lot drier, and a lot of invasive species moved in. We mostly weed them out to let the natural bog species thrive, like the sphagnum moss. It’s great. There’s usually people of all ages working in there on Saturday mornings, and we all have a tea break together, and I get to talk about plants and birds with people who like them as much as I do. And I’ve already had a few great conversations with UBC students who are intrigued with my “interdisciplinary biology/theology” master’s degree. The best part: I got a pin that says: “I’m a crazy bogger”. Ecologists are the wittiest people around.