Sunday, April 25, 2010

landscape and the unexpected

pastel 8 x 11 Spencer Creek - Tuesday, April 20 2010

I spent two afternoons last week at Christie conservation area,  which is where the Spencer Creek runs - off Middleton Road between hwy’s 8  & 5 on the escarpment above Dundas. Both were sparkling, idyllic, sunny days.

But Tuesday was a bit of a shock. When I got home around 4:30 there was no David to greet me. He was at a fire on our street one block to the west of us. It was the city architect’s cottage, the fire started in the huge addition he had just built to the back  of his house.

The architect's cottage on Stanley Ave just west of us, Tuesday April 2010

The consensus was that the fire likely started around four, just half an hour before I got home. Everyone was in disbelief. The librarian at Locke library on the corner of our street said she heard sirens and thought dismissively, hmm you don’t often hear sirens on Locke street. It never occurred to her to make the connection that the fire could be  in our neighborhood!
Another woman a few houses down, said she smelled smoke but thought maybe someone’s barbecue had caught on fire. At five I walked over to see for myself.  Flames could be seen through billowing, acrid,  smoke on the cottage roof. The local CH news was there and people were snapping pictures with their cell phones. Nothing in the house was salvageable but the firemen were at least able to prevent the fire from spreading to the houses on either side. And mercifully the family was safe - thank god for that! Still, what can I say - it was horrible. 


  1. Marcia, That landscape reads beautifully. Nice job. Neighborhood fires are scary (and rare, fortunately). Good no one was hurt. Hopefully nothing irreplaceable was lost.

  2. The sight of this must have left you quite shaken, maybe still a bit wobbly. I'm so sorry for the family and your neighborhood. It is devastating to lose everything in just a few moments.

    Your pastel has the sparkle of life and joy in the landscape. There is a nice sense of distance too. I hope that in time, your neighborhood and neighbors will be able to rediscover their joy.

    p. s. About six years ago, I was walking my dogs by a neighbor's house and I heard the very, very faint beeping noise of their fire alarm. It would have been so easy to dismiss the barely audible sound, but I felt like an insistent dog and had to call the emergency number. The house was saved from total destruction, only the table where the candle was left burning was a loss. The house needed smoke damage renovation, but the elderly couple didn't lose one memento. Every year since then, I find fresh tomatoes at my gate, sometimes with a note about paying tribute!

  3. Hi Candace,
    I’m glad you think it reads, I’m still groping my way with the great outdoors, which makes me look in a completely different way and is so very different from dealing with the figure. The family I think is fine but shaken. Everything within the house was completely lost. It was an extremely hot, fast fire due to the extensive foam insulation. The woman who was alone in the house got out just in time and was wise not to try and save anything. I think it’s really hard to lose mementos and things that have very particular associations – still we all need to learn to let go and move on – not an easy lesson but an important one. I think I’m a slow learner in this regard as I tend to hold on to everything.

  4. Melinda isn’t that something! – of course this couple is eternally grateful to you! you saved their world, their memories through which they’re connected, through which they live, from going up in smoke!
    I’ve noticed this about you – you have a rare gift of not holding back, a spontaneity, of being concerned about others and doing something about it. In my eyes it is this humanity, these small kindnesses that in the end, save the world.
    I mention this because I find regrettably in myself and in many a growing disconnect with the problems and pain of others. It’s as though we want to tune out. It’s an ongoing erosion in community and further increase in individual isolation that tends to foster, I suspect a feeling of being overwhelmed by the immensity of the task at hand and a feeling of powerless to change anything - so we retreat further into our shells. I guess that’s where politics enters into it. I’m afraid in this respect I’m often just one of the spectators…
    I must say though that our immediate neighborhood is very caring and at the same time very respectful of one another’s privacy!
    Thank you for your comment on my landscape. Distance is certainly something I’m working on but not detachment – ha ha!

  5. You are a very special artist and human being, Marcia. I love reading your blog and comments.

    Do you remember the psychological studies done many years ago about crowds and how they behave in an emergency? It was reading about how people freeze and do nothing that got me to practice taking action in the moment.

    It is extremely distressing to me that, as you have so eloquently stated, many people have the problem of "being concerned about others and doing something about it." There is a kind of fog that overlays humanity, putting to sleep the conscience to stand up for others and to stand against abuse or tyranny.

    A very smart women told me once that "generosity builds confidence." Now, who doesn't want that?! If we are generous enough to risk something, later we grow in personal confidence and are better able to behave bravely in the future.

    I deplore cowardice. I see that people are being frightened into blind obedience, or even more dangerous--complacency. But, I know that if we practice the little gestures, we can build a portfolio of successes that, if need be, could result in a more heroic act in the future.

    Don't you think that if we all did this, there would be less political instability? Retreating builds insecurity and fear, yes?

    Oh, and I found out later that the elderly neighbor man, whose house caught fire, had saved two drowning men when he was a young man! It thrilled me to no end to learn this.

  6. Melinda are you referring to a book by Elias Canetti called Crowds and Power or a book on crowds in history neither of which I’ve read?

    Speaking personally and using older academic jargon - there are moments when I have moral fibre or strength of character and other equally typical moments when I’m weak and go with the flow – so am I a coward or cowardly or shy or reticent – yep all of it and lazy to boot - and jealous of my time. I like to have time to read and to stare in into middle space and make the odd mark or two on a piece of clay or paper and not to be bothered going to meetings.

    At university I read a book by Camus called The Fall about a man who watched a person jump off a bridge and did nothing to save him. He then referred to his guilt as the black dot on his horizon – which wouldn’t go away. Landscape is a metaphor after all! I can relate to that man.

    Many people who live in cities want the perks of anonymity and to be left alone, to be uninvolved even if the price to pay for it is loneliness. Alienation exists for a reason. I’m just thinking out loud. But yes I think that little gestures are crucial! It’s difficult, even impossible to live with oneself without conscience.

    Then what about the need for social change – which is possible but only with persistent very hard work - doesn’t come easy and even then it’s not guaranteed. It requires a critical mass of concerned active citizens with conscience who are organized to a common cause. My husband has always been involved in some cause or pressing issue. He’s won a few battles but lost a lot more - but never gives up – its what gives meaning to his life. I have immense respect for that even at times if it more than a little inconvenient.

    So yes I agree, it’s vital to ‘stand up’ and not take for granted hard won liberties and rights. Because unless they’re protected they can vanish.


  7. Hi Marcia,

    I love your painting and I'm glad you're safe. This must have been a harrowing experience.

    Take care of yourself.


  8. Well said, Marcia. Well said. As I was thinking about your comment, a thought occurred to me.

    Each day we are inundated by images and tragedies we cannot resolve. After many years of being passive observers, what does this build within our psyches? A helpless and powerless feeling and thus, complacency. Then, we realize as we get older that we are vulnerable (in this modern jungle) and we want to insure our personal safety. Understandable.

    I try not to watch too much world news because I don't want to go numb. So, if I see something happening locally, I march, write letters, make phone calls and act. But, I do not endanger my safety. I'd only do that in an extreme case. However, calling 911 on a hunch is a piece of cake and only requires compassion and awareness.

    I think you are braver than you think. Kudos to your husband. It is worth the effort. And, just as it is true in art, the process is the thing.

  9. I love your pastel painting. I've always been quite useless with pastels, could never get the hang of them but always admire other artists who can use them well.

  10. Hi Barbara

    Thank you and the short answer is: all is well! The family is safe! – mom, dad and two children of seven and nine.

    Shortly after the fire they received an invitation from lovely people they’d never met, offering them the use of their home for a month while they are away on vacation. After that they can rent a large house across from the remains of their previous home and watch as the architect, her husband, redesigns and supervises the rebuilding of what will become their new home.

    I walked over there yesterday and spoke with the woman whose house it was as she watched, sort of in a trance, while what was left of the ruin of her home was being demolished by a bull-dozer.

    They had managed to salvage two boxes of photographs and the hard drive to their computer which had survived under a concrete counter top in the kitchen. Some Christmas decorations also, including an angel that sits atop the tree and the plate they use to serve Santa and the reindeer cookies on - all were completely intact. And miraculously (this woman is from Ireland) - the Irish blessing they use specifically intended to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day that she had brought over from Ireland and that had been placed in the bathroom, was untouched by the fire!


  11. Thank you Melinda. I agree with everything you say. As far as news is concerned though, I live with a news junkie – so in order not to appear as a complete and ignorant fool, I ask him occasionally to tell me what is going on – and that generally saves me from embarrassment in polite conversation – but not always.

  12. Thank you very much Val Erde - but if you can handle photo shop as you do, so beautifully, I encourage you to give pastels another try.
    On a scale from one to ten with other media – water color, acrylics, oils – pastel is regarded by many as by far the easiest because it is so forgiving! And they’re dry and eminently portable!

    Best to you,


  13. Hi Marcia,

    Well there you go! No wonder I like St. Patrick's Day so much for my half drop of Irish
    (actually French) blood. Got rid of the snakes in Ireland, and survived the fire.

    All the same. Very upsetting to be that family.

    Love Barbara