Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Heart of the Tree

Between Christmas and the New Year is the time to tell stories.

Decorating the tree is a yearly re-acquaintance with old friends: ornaments from my childhood and my son's, crocheted stars and shell angels from church sales, gifts from dear friends, toys that have found their way onto the branches, little flocks of feather-plumed or paper birds, a cardboard Santa, and favorite cards including one of the Madonna and Child that is always set at the heart of the tree.

I learned how to decorate the tree from a friend of ours from Montreal days, back in my preteen years. About whom I have this story:

In 1970, on a grey and snowy December Saturday so cold that even weather-hardened Montrealers shunned the outdoors, we went to Fairview Shopping Centre for groceries at Steinberg's. With the bags in a shopping cart we battled the wind and snow across the parking lot and back to the car. My mother and I got in straight away while my father and brother endured the cold and loaded the groceries into the trunk. Such was the civilized division of labour in those days, considerate and gentlemanly.

It was a relief to be out of the wind and I curled and uncurled my freezing fingers in my mittens. Suddenly my father opened the passenger door and thrust something into my mother's hands. "Here, take this" he said. My mother exclaimed and quickly put the something - I barely saw it, a glimpse of kittenish ears and fur - down the front of her coat. "What is it, let me see! Let me see!" I leaned forward between the seats excitedly, and my mother told me to sit back and wait, but also answered "Yes, it's a kitten, a frozen kitten". My brother got in beside me and then my father took his seat and started the car. My mother said, "It's starting to purr, in shudders", and my father explained how, while they were loading the groceries into the trunk, he felt a slight tugging on his trouser leg and looked down. A very small brown and white tabby kitten, weak with cold, was attempting to climb up onto his boot, looking up with a silent meow. If not for that tug it might have gone unseen.

We took him home, of course. He might have been 8 weeks old and, once well-revived with a saucer of sardines and milk, he took over the house.

I remember us sitting down for lunch (tomato soup and toast) while the kitten explored the kitchen and under the table, around our feet. My father had telephoned one of the radio stations with an announcement for the lost and found segment of their noontime broadcast. The announcer read out our bit, "Found in Fairview parking lot this morning, an 8-10 weeks old kitten, call (number given) for more information" and then added "Now that's too bad. Who would leave a little kitten out in a parking lot on a day like this?".

We already had a cat, an older and dignified male who did not take to the newcomer. A friend offered to adopt our orphan, she christened him George and took him home to her welcoming family. He seemed to appreciate having a home and people who opened a door to him, and expressed it in ready purring. And Christmas was coming.

Our friend had her own way of decorating the tree, putting things in clusters and decorating from the heart of the tree out to the tips of the branches. Small objects were at the top, medium-sized ones around the middle and large ornaments went on the lower branches. All were hung gracefully to complement the line of each branch. It was a work of art, every year. She closed the doors to the living room and none of the children were allowed in until the last strand of tinsel was in place. The doors were opened and glory was revealed, a glittering tree with many exquisite and irreplaceable antique glass ornaments, hanging like beautiful fruits from fairyland.

George climbed the tree.

I think the story really stops there. What happened next can be imagined by all - the fall, the soft explosions of fragile ornaments hitting the floor, the scattering of fur and glitter and innumerable fragments and constellations of fine pastel-coloured glass. The terrible silence that would have followed.

Pat didn't speak to George for days, but he still had a home. And I have always remembered how to decorate a tree.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas to All

Thank you for visiting my very new blog this year.
Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Here Comes Santa Claus

It is the time of year again for Christmas crafts, for making fan-folds of the pretty papers and foils saved from last year, for colouring and cutting and trimming with ribbon. One of our old friends in the craft box is the jointed cardboard Santa, such a good friend that we made a page for him here in our book "Grandmother's Tree", and on the Santa craft page of my website.

It is simplicity itself - colour with pencils and magic marker, cut out the pieces, and fasten with brads. I have taken this little craft to school and library events and of the resulting jolly Santas no two have been exactly alike! Some have been glittery or adorned with angel hair; one thoughtful child made him a paper sack to carry over his shoulder. The traditional round-head fasteners, also called brads, are also available in a dazzling array of shapes and colours. Stars seem to be a nice choice for Santa.

The Santa craft kit will be on my Etsy shop, which is to reopen shortly. More about this in the next post!

The tree is going up soon, with all the paper cut-outs and crafts, long-loved ornaments and fairies. The little one here, one of the tucked-away surprises inside the Illustrated Fairy Gazette's Christmas Celebration, reminds me of the poem by Walter de la Mare,


Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there.

Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen - and kissed me there.

Monday, November 30, 2009

In a Heartbeat, Advent, and Good Fairies

The gallery is looking lovely. The creatures and characters from Woodland Christmas and Woodland Nutcracker are beautifully displayed and despite dreary weather we had a busy weekend at the opening. It is a real pleasure to see these pieces together again, and in a setting reminiscent of the summer cottage that inspired the Woodland books.

Fairy art and books are on display too,

And between the fairies, keeping them company, is the last of our Gund Woodland Nutcracker bears that were produced for Eatons reopening in 2000.

It was a brief reopening for Eatons, a chapter of Canadian retail history in which our Woodland Nutcracker played a decorative role. While the Titans of retail wrestled for supremacy, our lovely bears and woodland friends were recreated as life-size figures for in-store Christmas displays. A phalanx of Woodland Nutcrackers was commissioned and the 9-foot bears were positioned at store entries, and more bears and Woodland friends twirled inside in animated displays.

I wonder how many busy Torontonians in 2002, crossing at the intersection of Yonge & Dundas, noticed Clara and Prince Nutcracker?

When the displays were taken down for the last time the Woodland figures were dispersed. Some went to libraries and many of them to the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children, where they are brushed up and set out every Christmas. I can't think of a better place for them and occasionally I make the trip to see them on display.

Making for a longer than usual post, also happening this first weekend of Advent was "First Light" at St. Marie Among the Hurons. It is believed that Canada's first Christmas Carol, The Huron Carol, was written by Father Jean de Br├ębeuf at Sainte-Marie in the 17th century. Since 2007 St. Marie has celebrated the Huron Carol with a pictorial gallery featuring my illustrations, plus a video presentation. First Light is a magical event. Although closed to unscheduled visits during the winter, for these three evenings St. Marie is open to the public and the paths around the mission buildings and longhouses are lined with candles.

There is a sense of timelessness, walking under the stars here. In 400-plus years the cold and snow have not changed. Inside the longhouse and in the recreated mission buildings there is heat, if you are close enough to the fire, but it is a compelling reminder of the isolation and challenges of those earlier days.

Which way to go, the darker paths that lead away between the trees, or the blaze of light that leads back to the museum, to crowds and warmth, music and celebration?

A brief glimpse of part of the Huron Carol display, above. In the twenty years since I worked on this beautiful carol it never fails to move me. Many thanks to the people at St. Marie who made this lovely exhibit happen.

There is a generosity from artists to other artists in blogland ( of which the talented Valerie Greeley and Gretel Parker are outstanding examples) that enriches the experience for all. Recently a lovely review of our Illustrated Fairy Gazettes was posted by Tangle Catkin/Bryony Whistlecraft at Fae Nation. This beautiful site is truly "your virtual portal to faerie" and many are the enticements to visit and linger awhile. Thank you Tangle, from the fairies!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Christmas Fantasy at "In a Heartbeat"

Once again I am surrounded by paintings and frames, getting ready for the Christmas Fantasy art show at the In a Heartbeat Gallery. In addition to fairy art from "The Illustrated Fairy Gazettes" we will also hang originals from two earlier books, Woodland Christmas and Woodland Nutcracker. The image above is from "Woodland Nutcracker", showing Grandfather and Clara with her handsome Nutcracker Bear. Adventure is only hours away.....

and a royal welcome awaits....
But I'm getting ahead of the story. It begins like this:

"Long ago, far away from highways and city lights, where bright stars touched the tree tops and forest roots touched the edges of frozen lakes, a woodland family welcomed relatives and friends
to a Christmas Eve party in their cosy island home.
Softly falling snowflakes drifted into the cottage as the guests arrived."*

And the rest, as they say, is magic.

*Text copyright Avril Tyrrell, 1999

Remembrance Day

"We will remember them"

At the local cenotaph the wreaths were placed on Sunday and today the main events take place at the centre of town. But a few people came here this morning to leave their poppy and remember the fallen. I came over early, camera in hand, to take a picture with the sun rising - and the camera jammed completely. But I do remember them.

I remember ... my mother telling me of the skies over her London suburb dark with planes, of hearing Chamberlain's 1939 radio broadcast "This country is now at war with Germany"", of their classroom windows covered with glued shatter-proof netting, of nights spent in an air raid shelter, and more. It wasn't sure that the Allies would win.

And we are in uncertain times yet. Young people who don't look much older than my teenager's friends have enlisted, wanting to be a force for good in the world. So I am grateful this day to be here, a fortunate descendant of brave people, that kind hands loaned me a camera, and that good brave people - before whom I am humbled - are passing on the torch and going forward, despite the dangers.

Friday, October 23, 2009

All Souls Night and All Saints Day

"Make a wish"

Halloween is an appropriate time to reflect on little black cats. Tiger Tim is the tabby who walks alone, but Merry follows me around like a shadow. For variety she anticipates my moves and gets there first. After her first year spent in a shelter, this little house presents a maze of possibilities. Black as Kohinoor's India Ink, she settles herself in the darkest patterned areas of carpet, behind a curtain, on an unlit section of the stairs or in corners I hadn't even noticed before. Only a blink of her green eyes shows that she is there. Yesterday she was just inside the bedroom closet - where, oh horrors, I stepped on her soft paw before I could see her. (St. Gertrude of Nivelles is the patron saint of cats.)

In Scottish tradition black cats are considered good luck. (St. Andrew, patron saint of Scotland) After a run of nuisance problems I could wonder about that, but good things are happening too. I have an art show coming up in November. Last weekend I made the hour's drive north to visit the gallery again. (Saint Christopher, patron saint of travellers) It is a scenic trip away from the highways and up past the Niagara escarpment, through farming country and small towns.

Arriving in Eden Mills we crossed the bridge and there it was, the In a Heartbeat Gallery. (Who is the patron saint of artists? I had thought St Luke, whose portrait of the Madonna was the template for women in medieval art. It seems there are three more: Angelico, Catherine of Bologna, and Saint Michael the Archangel. A learned friend says that Saint Michael is also the patron saint of fairies.)

"In a Heartbeat" is currently featuring the work of sculptor Jamie Brick. Avril's latest article for Faerie Magazine was about Jamie and his highly imaginative work. (St. Claud, patron saint of sculptors)

In a Heartbeat is a lovely gallery with an almost fairy tale quality. The wood-burning stove is welcoming on these cooler days and the big sofa beckons you to sit down and enjoy the art. We looked over the paintings I had brought and discussed dates and lead-up preparations. After concluding our business we took a little walk up the road to see the mill pond and the eponymous mill wheel of Eden Mills. It was quiet this day, but in September Eden Mills is bustling with the annual writer's festival . (Saint Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers)

Then home again under steel-blue skies, passing by fields remembered in Thanksgiving hymns , "Come ye Thankful People Come", "We Plough the Fields and Scatter". (Saint Isidore the farmer, patron saint of farmers and labourers)

I have my voice back and I can join in the hymns again, with enthusiasm if not talent. (Saint Cecilia, patron saint of music, and St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes) Why the list of saints? Halloween is an enjoyable diversion, but the day after is the prize, All Saints Day.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rose Hips and Autumn Days

The last rose of summer may have danced away, but in fairy kitchens the magic continues. A handful of plump and glossy rose hips, collected in the summer and lined up in a row on the windowsill, led to "Rose Hip Kitchens", one of our Illustrated Fairy Gazette contributors.

The rose hips are over now
but berries are still on the

milkweed floss is floating over the fields

and along the ravines the leaves are turning gold. I haven't been up to the woods in months, too busy between work and then surgery, but Tippy and I are back to a full walking schedule again. Some of my favourite trees were cut down this summer, they must have been in the way of Parks Improvement projects - widened paths or old tree maintenance.

My very favourite tree escaped.
A remnant from the cottage-country years before urban planning reduced the green space, it is the last of the apple trees along this particular green corridor.

It beckons young climbers and there are several doors and windows, suitable for fairy comings and goings.

Closer to home geese scattered as we came near another tree, except for these greedy two. Who knew that Canada Geese eat green apples?

(The rare four legged Canada Goose, a species not unlike Hugh Lofting's pushmi-pullyu)

More about Hugh Lofting in another post.I grew up with Dr. Dolittle, Jip the dog and company, and better book company can not be had!

Speaking of Jip the dog - time for another walk.
Best wishes all

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dancing to Willow's Ball

Rose Peace, the Last Rose of Summer, is dancing her way to Willow Manor Ball, taking a route Down by the Sally Gardens (on little snow white feet). Her dance card is almost full, but she still needs a partner for "Let's Have a Ceilidh" - perhaps Davy Nick Nack will be there......

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dulce Domum

On the number plate for my house is a scene from Wind in the Willows. Mole and Ratty in the little blue-painted boat is a vignette of perfect friendship and domestic harmony. Ratty is an engaging character: outgoing, sympathetic, reliable, capable, resourceful and kind. Bless Kenneth Grahame for seeing these possibilities in the common water rat.

But who really feels an affinity for rattus norvegicus? When he tries to make his home in a human habitation it cannot be Happy Ever After; it is unhealthy for the humans and ultimately disastrous for the rat and his kin.

Idling at the traffic lights on the local high street I saw a little brown creature with that characteristic slinking side-to-side gait. He sniffed under an open door and then flattened himself and crept into the store. Drawn probably by the warmth, he couldn't know that within this cavern of silkiness and perfume and elegantly thin models there would be not a crumb to eat, not even a morsel of rice-cracker or drop of Slim-fast.

Where did he come from? Up from the harbour, probably, or evicted from some other dwelling. I know this store, they have lovely things and although I cannot afford to shop there I often pause to admire. So I quickly parked and went in to tell the lone saleswoman about her guest. He sat against folds of oyster-coloured satin and turned his head this way and that, nose twitching.

"Pardon me, but a rat... "

"Where? " She moved quickly.

"Here, in front of me - no, down by you now, between the rack and the magazines" - for he moved around and searched for new corners as we spoke. He looked, for a moment, both incongruous and pretty, with silky brown fur showing very well against the rich drapery of a display table. Then he simply disappeared, and not out the door. We prowled around the store cautiously, but could find neither tail nor whisker of him.

I had to go on my way eventually. I would like there to be a happy ending to this story, something for a picture book. It was more likely a baited trap.

Papa above!
Regard a Mouse
O'erpowered by the Cat!
Reserve within thy kingdom
A "Mansion" for the Rat!

Snug in seraphic Cupboards
To nibble all the day
While unsuspecting Cycles
Wheel solemnly away!

Emily Dickinson

PS. I think I have a happy ending for him, stay tuned.

Monday, August 31, 2009

High Flight and Poppy Cat

Poppy Cat slipped out of my pencil many year ago, inspired by the shower of poppy seeds from the dried seed heads in the garden - a scattering of pepper in the air, like something from A Midsummer Nights Dream.

Do fairies and flying creatures capture the imagination because of a common wish that we could also take wing? To my four-year old mind it had made sense. I reasoned that I could fly: lift one leg off the ground, then the other, then hover. What was not to work? I tried it and the floor came up to meet me. Gravity. I still remember the pattern of the linoleum on my knees. But in dreams I still fly.

High Flight

"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds,
– and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless falls of air...

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor eer eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod

The high, untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand and touched the face of God."
John Gillespie MaGee

Best wishes, dreamers and fairy followers all.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Storms and Splendour

From a few$2.99 seed packages in May, these delights: Nasturtiums in a swath across the front bed for end-of-summer glory, and Shirley Poppies that have bloomed for weeks, silken and lovely.

And I am enamoured of my pear tree, only a couple of months ago in blossom...

and now laden with ripening fruit.

Alice in Wonderland-like, one idea threads unexpectedly but logically to another. "Creative re-purposing" leads to fine china being stuffed with pencils and paintbrushes, and vessels re-purposed leads to domestic economies. Not the economies of nations, but of one household, in the spirit of environmental conscience. Leading to the concept of Magic Thinking, which is not generally considered to be a compliment to anyone's intelligence.

It began with wanting to continue to enjoy a nice deep relaxing bath every day, but not wanting to waste water. How about having the baths and saving the water to pour on the garden, which has to be watered anyway? One could use the plastic jugs that otherwise go to recycling - the kitty-litter and liquid laundry soap containers. The benefits immediately presented themselves to be listed on a satisfying check-list -
bath (check)
wise water management (check)
flowers watered! (check)
nice arm muscles from carrying jugs up and down stairs (check)
who needs a Stairmaster! (check)
and so on, virtue upon virtue.
In June I started saving the plastic jugs instead of sending them to be recycled. I filled up about 10 of them after a bath, ran out of jugs and there was still water in the tub. Tsk, tsk, the waste. The next morning I carried the jugs downstairs and emptied them over the flowers. Very hot day, with thunderstorms in the evening. Flowers very well watered indeed.
Ran not such a very deep bath the next night, saved the water afterwards, and carried the jugs downstairs. The flowers didn't need watering, they were well soaked from the previous night
and the next band of thunderstorms was on the move. The full vessels sat there on the front deck, and so the pattern continued through July.
Now for the "magic thinking": I didn't even have to fill up the jugs any more, I just stood them at the front door and uttered my intentions to the sky. It has rained almost every day and the garden is very green indeed.
Ah well, I don't need the exercise after all. I am supposed to Do Nothing for two weeks after next week's surgery, then the summer will be over. The lawns and gardens are marvellously green and the pear tree is heavy with fruit, faintly gold (delicious pear-tart recipe here).
I have nearly finished up the next fairy book, helped by the memory of the little fairies who came to visit earlier in the summer at Sovereign House:

the stylish,

the small

and best friends,

observing every detail,

and undeterred by weather.

Best wishes, fairy followers all.