Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Unearthing the mysteries of the mushroom  

I truly had a “SensoriuM” revelation on this amazing mushroom walk, given by Alexis Williams. I was so impressed with Sensorium's mission – to bring to fellow SensoriuM followers the chance to discover through our senses, both the physical and taste experience which we either ignore or know very little about.  Natalie, an engaging performance artist whose work involves space and place discovery and her partner Eric – a rock climber during summer and winter (ice climbing mountaineer too) arranged the car pooling up to Montreal’s Morgan Arboretum in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. It was exceptionally well organized. The couple’s commitment to what they do (no one pays them) is palatable. I truly admire their spirit and innovative sharing approach that allows others the opportunity for holistic and stimulating discovery at every SensoriuM event. 
This particular outing introduced us (we numbered over 20 eager scouts strong) to mushroom maven and guru gal herself – the awesome Alexis Williams.

Although Alexis claims she isn’t a scientist, but rather a passionate forger, grower, eater and artist focused on mushrooms, her  vast knowledge thoroughly impressed us as did her primordial instincts, eagle eye and astounding fact retention regarding the complexities of the oft misunderstood and underappreciated world of the mysterious mushroom. She started by showing us her foraging tools: a basket, a special knife, an axe, her portable mushroom guide, and more. She explained  us the many ways different species multiply and how they live off trees, sometimes even eating the bark, and their role in creating the very soil we walk on. 
In fact, as we tread through the Arboretum’s Climax Forest in the grey fall wet weather – yes, it was a rainy day, she pointed out that the leaves we were walking on would disappear as compost, thanks to the mushrooms manner of decomposing that which falls on the ground. It was a day of colour with the fall leaves and the mushrooms; the hours flew by.  
She encouraged us to find mushrooms, and that we did. It was an interactive adventure that each of us took as we went on our discovery journey finding mushrooms with Alexis leading the way  - eyes peeled to the ground or looking waist-high as we witnessed tree trunks rising tall and those that had fallen.  




I had no idea that the world is populated with 5million different kinds of mushrooms and that there are 13 sex genders to mushrooms. On this walk, we had a “taste” of such mushroom mania; a myriad of mushrooms that delighted our senses. They provided a feast for the eyes; we also touched them, and smelled them and stood in wonder at the brilliant hues, even the dark brown brilliant ones. I loved the turkey tail mushroom with their fanning feature enhanced by rippling lines hued in turquoise. The inky capped one that left within two short days an inky trail at its life end was petite but impressive. In fact, Alexis has used its ink to dye her stockings. She was wearing one such pair with its brown stripes – thanks to this inky little mushroom. The disco lemonade mushroom with its brilliant tiny yellow spots clinging to down-on-the-ground tree trunks was an Alexis' favourite.  
Then there were the puff ball ones. We had fun playing with them. They emitted a surprising smoky plume from their tops as we squeezed them.  A row of black deadman’s fingers brazenly poked up from a log – each one seemed to be “giving us the finger” and the sky above. Far more regal was the artist conch mushroom; it was most impressive as it robustly juts out from trees. Alexis had etched a wonderful series of tiny criss-cross patterns in the one she owns. She explained that she can use it as a slow cooker by burrowing a hole in it, and that inside its layers is fluff. 


There was the honey mushroom, the spongy coral mushroom and so many more – some not edible – others were. 
As we reluctantly headed back to the chalet to enjoy the home brewed chaga mushroom tea (the big mushroom soaking in the big pot), we were most happy. We had gone on a magical mushroom tour set me on my own private journey to discover more next time I tread the forest floor. 



Below is a marvellous sampling of the prints Alexis makes from the mushrooms she photographs and turns into art. She’s an intrepid mushroom collector who utilizes every spore to grow more mushrooms; she makes complete use of these fascinating ‘creatures’. Their secrets will come out of hiding with Alexis at the helm.

Definition of a climax forest: 
Climax vegetation is the vegetation which establishes itself on a given site for given climatic conditions in the absence of major disturbance after a long time. Tropical evergreen forest is an example of climax vegetation, as are temperate forests, tundra, savannas, grassland etcetera... 
The SensoriuM is a collaborative artistic platform founded by multimedia and performance artist Natalie Doonan in Montreal, Canada in 2011. Le / The SensoriuM is an alternative tourism bureau of sorts that re-conceptualizes consumption through active participation in the production of social space. Le / TheSensoriuM presents participatory art performances with the aim of generating conversation. Through tours and tastings led by artists, participants are engaged viscerally, creating spaces for discussion. Tours and tastings are two major forms through which stories about place proliferate and Le / The SensoriuM offers chances to unsettle staid narratives. This approach to collective learning through walking and eating is a new take on an old theme. For example, Aristotle founded the Lyceum, a school of philosophy, in Athens circa 335 BCE. It is said that on the grounds of this property, he established the first zoo and the first botanical gardens. These became the field for his famous investigations in the natural sciences. In the mornings, Aristotle walked and exchanged knowledge with his students through discussion and debate in the gardens. This was continued through lunch, as they ate together. Aristotle’s ambling academy became known as ‘the peripatetic school,’ drawing from the Greek for ‘walking about.’ Today, the city becomes the field for peripatetic and culinary investigations. 
The purpose of Le / The SensoriuM is thus to activate public space through physical occupation and through open, ongoing exchange. As authors Jody Emel and Jennifer Wolch say: "Our political project is the creation of many forms of shared space.” 

For more information on the SensoriuM go to:  http://www.lesensorium.com   
or email /  info@lesensorium.com  


Mont Royal is smack in the middle of Montreal and forms the crowning landmark of  nature and man-made landmarks that beckons the entire city to come and have fun. Walking through its forested area on path or on the winter trails summer, fall, spring, and the cross-country skiing is most satisfying for all ranges of accomplishment - beginner and expert.
Did you know that when you enjoy this vast mountain where you can hike a half hour or 3 hours, your feet are treading a large volcanic-related incline?
Part of the Monteregian Hills noted for their greenery.

 This particular gentle mountain consists of three peak:: Colline de la Croix (or Mont Royal proper) at 233 m (764 ft), Colline d' Outremont (or Mount Murray, in the borough of  Outremont at 211 m (692 ft), and Westmount Summit at 201 m (659 ft) above sea level. The lookout is fabulous. Climb the 300 steps if you approach it from Pine Avenue.

The first Nations people used to make fires here. Nowadays, you can barbecue, and enjoy a great picnic by its man-made lake, called Lac Castor (Beaver Lake; no beavers here, just ducks).

This body of water is a wonderful way to enjoy the breeze and rippling water. I hopped on a row boat to row around this lovely little lake. It’s 200 metres (660 ft) in length and of 150 metres (490 ft) in width Beaver Lake is shaped like a four-leaf clover. Shallow, it is emptied in winter to serve as outdoor rink. Great recreational, activities including biking, tobogganing, bird watching and even a ghost tour are part of the fun.
The statues have their own history, so check out this website below for all information.
The website is: www.montreal.com/parks/mtroyal.html

Lots of photos to enjoy on the website. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Getting Older, Getting Wiser, Getting Ailments

Life is a bowl of cherries, and when we’re young, those cherries are beautiful and shiny red. As we get older, it seems those cherries begin to shrivel, turn brown and leave a musty taste in your mouth. Before you know the bowl is full of cherry pits. 

Let’s face it, our bodies seem to do the same thing, yet our minds (if there is no clinical illness) are soaring ahead with all kinds of fantasies, new ideas for our third career, even wishing we could travel the world and stay in the most unique accommodations. Some women even wish they could bear children at the age of 60. 

Why is this? Why are our bodies not in sync with our minds?
 I believe as the body ages, God wishes us to remain happy, and so we compensate for our physical ailments by allowing our brain to be flooded with renewed zest. Have you ever noticed how cheery and childish in a fun way older people can be. They say whatever pops into their heads, and they also reveal many of their wishes for escape. Maybe this is what keeps us going. In the end, it would seem the imagination is our most powerful engine, not our brain. So when those aches and pains set in, get your mind into the zone of great escapes, great dreams, perfect love for those you do love and send a lot out to yourself as well. I suppose the most harmonious way to age is keep fit, accept your new ailments, and all the adjustments you must make, and laugh, laugh, laugh.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


I love music, but there’s a time and place for it. Of course, please sing if you wish on the sidewalk. In the Czech Republic, people at any moment can simply stand and sing opera. How gorgeous! Moving and splendidly evocative of an epic period shining with stunning compositions that please the ear. And these spontaneous outbursts of vocal beauty are shared with us at normal hours during the day – not after 11 pm. Please play your instrument spontaneously if you want if the music is not heavy metal, but don’t inflict your radio music on me as your car whizzes by or comes to a halt at a red light. It is utterly intrusive. Worse still, my ears are treated to enormous radio pounding at all hours of the night, including and at wee hours of the morning. So I can’t sleep, and hundreds more on my block can’t sleep. This is noise pollution at its worst,. It’s enough to turn us off pop stars, because their fans are wrecking my right to have peace. What is it about people who think they must share their music with the entire street? I say, police should be monitoring this after 11 pm. Or do we need to educate more and create a course on correct decorum and civil behaviour regarding music. Whether the car window is up or down, the radio play comes blasting out. It’s bad enough we have cell phone conversations in public. Now it’s music in the car. What’s next?! Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Unachieved Talents Can Cause Frustration … but should they?

I’ve met so many talented people in my life – not only through my 17-year-stint as an arts’ columnist for a Montreal newspaper, but in so many casual encounters.
In more cases than not, the majority of people have expressed varying degrees of frustration at not being able to make it their life’s work. They can’t get recognition; they are not famous; no one appreciates their work, but mostly I hear the dismay at carrying a day job that has nothing to do with their artsy dream to achieve and be known for their art.

I’ve met bus drivers who sing gorgeously, corner store owners who play classical violin stunningly, daycare workers who paint passionately with excellence to match.
I, myself am somewhat of a creative person, having made 3 CDs with my songs accompanied by banjo and full band, created a board game for kids, written books for kids adn adults,  but despite public performances, and TV stuff etc,  no one really knows this. Am I frustrated? Not at all. I thank the lord that I was gifted talents that I acted upon - which did take a lot of hard work and persistence to get where I wanted to go. Yes, there a several film scripts buzzing through my head, - some even getting to the treatment stage and perking interest in a producer, comedic skits that drill holes through our society and evoke belly laughs (I think), but the fun of having a talent is having one or two or more and using them to fulfill your own imagination and need to enjoy yourself.
I would hope people congratulate themselves for doing what they like to do, and not feel good or that they have fulfilled your talent only if others see what you have created.
The world is a lonely oyster; you are the pearl inside. Open it and don’t wait for others to compliment your shining pearl. You know it’s there! And that’s good enough.