I hurried down Flynn Street with Bala heeling at my side, just like at puppy class, when something stopped us dead in our tracks. It was predawn, almost December and most of the community was still sleeping. The Christmas decorations at a house near the corner of Rye Street caught my eye, so I used my dog training voice and called, “Sit!”
Bala plopped her hind end down on the cold, snow spotted asphalt and we stared at a large plastic reindeer poised under a fir tree, half hidden behind a hedge. The reindeer stared back at us, and then it blinked. Bala stiffened to alertness, but remembered her ‘friendly neighbour greeting’ lesson and remained quiet and still.
It wasn’t an artificial reindeer, but a large doe that we’d disturbed at breakfast on the neighbour’s lawn. We all froze. The deer’s eyes met mine and something primal was exchanged. She read my mind and saw no malice, and Bala – who could have been an enemy, didn’t flinch. The doe’s neck bent slightly and she resumed her breakfast, then changed her mind and stared at us again. Minutes passed as we measured and judged each other. She didn’t seem like a wild animal – she was just a resident I hadn’t met before.
Who was the native and who was the newcomer? Was there a threat, or could we be friends?
We heard the oncoming danger at the same time. A roaring engine, throbbing bass and spinning tires. “Heel,” I yelped to Bala and we darted off the road and into the ditch. The doe whirled on her toes like a figure skater and bounded away. The white underside of her tail flipped like a hand wave as she fled for the scruffy undeveloped bushland that borders the road.
Rainwater splattered by the speeding car soaked my dog as we scrambled for safety. The blue sedan, vibrating from the blasting speakers, hesitated at the stop sign and roared around the corner.
The minutes of quiet reverie and the chance to understand that beautiful creature, whose ancestors predated modern habitation were lost. The driver of the car, oblivious in his rush and electronic boom of power had endangered us and ruined something precious. But maybe there was a lesson.
As we say goodbye to the complex dynamics of Canada’s 150th birthday and move on with the relentless march of time, let’s all slow down, turn down the modern world’s noise, and look at the fragile natural beauty that’s still around us. Like the vanishing deer, it will soon disappear without our protection.
We hiked Ball's Falls - a group of friends who'd never met before. This stunning waterfall is located near the little village of Jordan, just a few miles from one of the 'wonders of the world' - Niagara Falls. Ball's Falls was once a thriving village in the mid 1800s, and now little is left...just enough to be called a Ghost Town.
The Twenty Mile Creek flows through this quiet green valley as it winds its way down to Lake Ontario. We met in the parking lot of the Conservation Area and chatted as we strolled up the slopes to find the quiet, mystical Upper Falls. The water roared over the brink and cascades tumbled out of the rounded cliffs that edged the river. It would be easy to imagine that the overblown tourist trap that millions crowd to visit once actually looked like this wonderful peaceful site. Sunlight streamed through the trees, laden with gold and orange leaves and the only sound was falling water.
We rambled along the banks and heard the pounding roar of the lower falls. It's big, and it's beautiful. We'd never met before, but we felt bonded by something larger than ourselves as we gaped at the scene. We left as friends and want to go back.
Artist Linda Hankin, whose work is currently on display at the Pumphouse Gallery in Niagara-on-the Lake, peeked mischievously over her bright red rimmed glasses and informed me that her early paintings can’t be shown because of today’s volatile and politically sensitive situation. We were having tea together and discussing her lengthy and fulfilling career and her current show at the NOTL gallery. Her large collection of colourful and expressive paintings, created during a broad range of historic and social influences, dazzles the eye. She calls it ‘Contemporary Realism.’
Hankin was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1948, and has lived in Montreal, Toronto and Niagara Falls. Her career has taken her throughout North America and Europe as she absorbed images and influences that are visualized in her work.
We chatted about her artistic philosophy and painting techniques. Like the famous Franco-Russian artist, Marc Chagall, her paintings simmer with mystery and potential. Tiny treasures, acquired in little shops around the world and hidden portraits of humans and animal forms magically weave stories and enchantment on the painted surfaces. Hankin says that artists are clairvoyant and that her approach to creativity is both empirical and accidental.
She lives a solitary, simple existence on a large farm with her beloved dog and cats, surrounded by nature and her artwork. She meditates and the absorbed inner influences of the country, her collections and experiences, percolate through her subconscious and flow into her work. The Pumphouse show features vivid, dramatic paintings that draw the viewer in closer to examine the fantastical images that prance and float across the canvas. I asked Hankin about her display of small scale animal sculptures and landscapes painted on miniature screens and boxes.
“They are paintings that have left the canvas and are going three dimensional,” she replied. These whimsical papier-mache cats and mixed media pieces create an interesting counterpoint to the paintings.
After our meeting, I stood in the middle of the Pumphouse Gallery show and turned slowly about to absorb the dazzling florals, dreamscapes, landscapes, still life paintings and fanciful creatures that almost seem to vibrate off the walls. Brilliant red poppies and roses, luminous purple irises, glowing yellow daffodils, swirling blue clouds and floating landscapes filled with dreamy figures and colourful horses surrounded me. In one large work, a circus performer lunges a polka dot horse through a carnival of mysterious, yet somehow familiar objects. Standing amidst this energy and excitement in the gallery, I remembered a childhood sensation of riding a prancing pony on a merry-go-round while the world swirled by. That’s the feeling that Linda Hankin’s paintings and sculpture create. Only Linda can see her controversial early works, but everyone can enjoy the pieces currently on display.
It’s worth taking a trip to the Pumphouse Gallery in NOTL to join Linda Hankin on an exotic journey through a life filled with imagination, passion and talent. The Pumphouse exhibit is on display until November 27, 2017.
Sharon Frayne is a writer and artist. She is a member of the Canadian Author's Association, the Niagara Writer's Circle and the Pumphouse Art Gallery. She looks for the universal experience and the mystery in everyday things.