As I write this the little screen in front of me tells me that I am 33,472 feet above sea level. Courtesy of Air Canada, I am enroute from a three month summer on Vancouver Island, headed toward home and spring in Mitchells Island, Australia. I have left behind my son, my mother, my daughter and her partner, several good friends, and dozens of relatives and in-laws who are dear to me.
It’s hard to imagine at this point, but I know from experience that within a few days these people will become part of happy memories. How can I prevent these wonderful experiences from dissipating into a misty past? My heart and mind will soon be full of my Australian housemates, our Mitchells Island gardens, the choir I sing in, Saturday morning breakfasts on the Manning River and the myriad other things that make up my Australian life.
That was a couple of days ago. As I write this I am in the throes of jetlag, with that strange sense of displacement that I’ve described in a previous blog. Some of the brain circuitry just wants to dwell in yesterday-life, and some is champing at the bit to design tomorrow-life. Sometimes tomorrow and yesterday stumble together in great confusion. Just being present is not yet a possibility.
The whole sensation brings to mind a feeling I was swamped with after an extraordinary event I attended a few weeks ago. Let me tell you about it.
Each summer the coastal Vancouver Island town of Parksville hosts an international exhibition and competition called The Canadian Open Sand Sculpting Competition and Exhibition. Some thirty sculptors from around the world are accepted to contribute; their expenses are paid and they are eligible for prizes up to $5,000. They have a total of 30 hours over a three-day period in which to create a sculpture. (All sorts of disasters apparently happen during creation, as heads fall off and pillars collapse.) The sand is clean and refined, and the works are sprayed with a special glue that helps keep the elements at bay.
This year’s theme was Heroes and Villains.
Rick and I drove to Parksville one day and wandered into the exhibition, having heard that it was “fantastic”. When you travel among enthusiastic people, many things are described as “fantastic”, so one takes the fervour with a grain of salt.
However, it soon transpired that this exhibition was by any definition fantastic. (See Webster. Fantastic: “imaginative or fanciful; extraordinarily good or attractive”.) We were spellbound by the imagination, the talent, the execution – and by the deep sensitivity of many of the pieces. For example, there was a massive sculpture of halves of Batman and Joker, locked in enmity and mutual torment – showing how you can’t have good without evil, that they are each half of the whole of human experience.
Another moving sculpture was titled “Every villain thinks of himself as a hero”. One side of the sculpture displayed a rather grim and ugly ogre, a chained storybook villain. But when you walked round to the back, you saw his view of himself: radiant, clear-sighted, a quiet force of nature. A hero. How often have we all felt the same way? One moment I am a hero in my own mind, though perhaps the villain in others’. And who knows how the villains in my life regard themselves?
But one sculpture in particular stopped me in my tracks. I was first captured by an enormous and perfect bust of Einstein. I stepped in close to study the miraculous eyes, and to my amazement discovered a tear streaming from a corner of each of those all-seeing eyes. Puzzled, I began to look more closely at the whole display. Sure enough, there behind Einstein was the devastated city of Hiroshima, with the Enola Gay dropping its payload in one vignette and a saddened Buddha in another.
Here I was, walking with a hundred other tourists through this cheerful sun-kissed place, and out of the blue was cast into one of the darkest moments in our history. I was flooded with imagery from a film I had just seen, Mr Holmes, set shortly after WWII, where the protagonist is touring what a year or two earlier had been a magnificent park in Nagasaki. The subtle tear streaming down Einstein’s face captured his painful knowledge of his culpability amidst his good intentions. Hero and villain all at once.
How many times have I tried to do the right thing and instead incurred damage I don’t even care to think about?
At any rate, perhaps the most poignant part of the whole display was knowing that in two weeks bulldozers and trucks would move in, and all these magnificent works of art would be gone. It was unbearable to think about. I have a friend who has created beautiful pieces of art and left them in the forest to be consumed by the natural order of things. I’m familiar with the Ephemeral Art movement. But these glorious pieces that had moved me so deeply with their richness…how could the world let them just disappear? How could they have been created in SAND, I ask you? Clearly, someone needed to throw a coat of bronze over them, and preserve them for a hundred lifetimes.
Well, here’s how life is: some things don’t get bronzed. Sand castles, for example.
And memories, for another.
I’ll hang onto my Canadian summer in the way that humans have forever tried to, and then ultimately—let it go.
Time for a cuppa with housemate Eve.