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  • Monique Sliedrecht

Sea(sonal) Change

Updated: Aug 31, 2020



Sea Change


When I was in Newfoundland for the first time a year ago I remember someone mentioning the fishing moratorium that was declared due to over-fishing through the previous years and decades. It happened in the early 90s within the period of 24 hours - one day they were fishing, the next day the Canadian government called an immediate halt to it.  Due to an excess of fishing the Newfoundland people were forced to up sticks and leave; to alter their circumstances. Drastic decrease in cod stocks resulted in change to people’s way of life, and some are still adjusting and trying to find new ways of making a living.  

I had vague memories of hearing about this when I was young, but did not grasp the impact that it had on the people. Many had to leave for Alberta or other western provinces in Canada to find work and a new way of life. When I was in the Bonavista Peninsula in Newfoundland, I saw saltbox houses that had been left with furniture and other items intact as though the owners planned on returning. Many did not return and the houses of recent and former generations are empty shells of a past life with threads of hope and home still attached to them. 10 years on, the empty houses and abandoned communities create a mysterious and melancholic atmosphere. 


***


‘No change in the weather, no change in me. I don’t want to leave you, but I can’t live for free. 

Can’t eat the air, can’t drink the sea. No change in the weather, no change in me.’

That’s from a song beautifully sung by John McDermott - a Glaswegian who emigrated to Canada. My mom used to play his album when I was younger and still living in Ontario.  (Link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rq8eHwzpH0)




However, where there is fallow ground, there is also opportunity for new life and transformation.  In the last 20 years, friends of mine from Ontario have bought some of these abandoned houses and are building new creative visions and plans for them as they engage with the remaining local communities.  Change can result in new life and movement.

***


I’ve been living with a large canvas of a sea that I painted a number of years ago. ‘Sea’ is a piece I have a special affinity with.  It brings clear, sharp memories of a time when I crossed the Pentland Firth on a small boat ‘Boy James’ from the island of Stroma one evening.   


The story of Stroma is a similar one to that of the eastern Canadian communities of Newfoundland and Labrador.  Change came for the island of Stroma in the late 1950s when there was no doctor on the island anymore and life became too hard to support.   Stroma people had to settle on the mainland leaving their homes, community and livelihoods behind on the island.  Houses were abandoned, some with furniture intact, and the floors are now raised with decades of sand and silt and sheep droppings. 

(More information about the island of Stroma here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Island_of_Stroma )


I remember the energy and feeling I had when I painted 'Sea' and all the strong associations in my mind of being on that boat in the churning waters with the low light and seagulls flying around me.


I’ve shown this painting in various exhibitions, so this ‘Sea’ has travelled - to Holland, Edinburgh, Paris, John O’Groats…. Soon it will make its final journey to the west coast of California where it will find a new home, and someone else to appreciate it. I will miss it, but I am happy for this painting to grace someone else’s wall.




Seasonal Change


There is a marked difference in the weather here in Scotland. Within a week the temperatures have dropped a notch and the winds are picking up again. The swallows are gathering and ‘twittering in the skies.’ (From Keats poem - referred to below.) The sea is wilder, the waves spilling some of the dead seaweed onto the shore at Freswick Bay. The light is different and days are getting noticeably shorter, the clouds are more dramatic in the sky. Change is coming.


We’ve had quite the Spring / Summer, and now a new season approaches. I’m perhaps a little more tentative and nervous about what this new season will bring. If anything, it is hard to plan and we are all having to make adjustments to the ‘new normal’. There is a part of me that is raring to go, to move into the change, whatever that means. This takes a certain level of letting go and staying open.

I remember having a conversation with a group of people about whether or not change was a thing they welcomed or feared. I’m pretty resistant to change, though at times I am energised by it and I will often follow inner promptings (if loud enough) and push myself into it. The need for change is also a nudge to wake myself up, and to awaken creativity. I was nervous and excited about the trip to Newfoundland and Labrador - a place I had never visited before - and in the end it was enlivening and eye-opening.


But change that comes upon us when we least expect it can be hard.  

What have we got in our ‘bank of resources’ to weather the change? How do we prevent our circumstances from dictating too much of who we are and what we become? How do we avoid becoming a victim to chance and change?


***


Sometimes, change is necessary. When things lie stagnant and there is no movement forward, it is time to make some decisions, whether in place, work or even friendship. Relationships go through seasons of their own. Sometimes we have to make a tough decision when a friendship no longer brings ‘life’ or enables growth. Then it may be necessary to end it, and to go through a period of grief after the initial feeling of loss. While difficult, this unhinging can be an important step to freeing oneself up for future possibilities that uplift and enhance; opening up an unexpected pathway to deeper relationships with people who listen to who we are, bringing encouragement, and life-giving affirmation.


***



New doors and windows have finally gone up in the space where I work at Freswick. They were supposed to go up earlier this year, but because of the lockdown, the process was put on hold. Now that they are up, new light is shed on the space (and on all the clutter I’ve had to clear away!). The windows have opened up the studio, and already I’m excited about the work I will produce there.

***


Climate Change


With the change of climate, environmentally and with this pandemic, we are having to take steps that we would otherwise not have planned.  

I feel for the people in southeast Texas who have suddenly had to evacuate their homes this week in order to protect themselves from the severe storm. I was reading that hurricanes will happen more frequently and more severely with the global warming that is occurring.

Are these warning signs for us to look at? Should we take steps, big and small, towards change in our everyday lives if we are to bring a good future to our children on this earth?  Is it too late? Sometimes a change in thinking, and a decision to act, is required to roll with the times and deal with previous wrong turnings and poor decisions.


James Lovelock, the great British scientist and Gaia theorist, said that it’s life that keeps the earth constant. During his long career he suggested that the world was moving in a downward spiral, but recently, on his 101st birthday he seemed more optimistic and is encouraged by the new energy systems that are being researched to help fuel a better way of life.  

(Link here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/science-environment-53644147 )



Change is life


“What is the difference between a living thing and a dead thing? In the medical world, a clinical definition of death is a body that does not change. Change is life. Stagnation is death. If you don't change, you die. It's that simple. It's that scary.”

― Leonard Sweet


Change wakes us up. It keeps us in touch of who we are, and what is important.

So here’s to sea changes as well as sea-sonal change from summer to autumn.



To Autumn

BY JOHN KEATS


Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,

   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

      For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.



Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

   Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

   Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;

Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,

   Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:

And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep

   Steady thy laden head across a brook;

   Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,

      Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?

   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

   Among the river sallows, borne aloft

      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

   The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;

      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.



***


No Change in the Weather

Song by John McDermott

(This song was based on the 90's when the Canadian government cut the cod quotas and people had no more work. It resulted in mass exodus from the Maritime Provinces.)


You could shoot off a cannon

Down the middle of bond

And attract no attention in downtown St.John's

This getting nowhere is getting to me

Wondering where can you go

To be all you can be


No regular joe wants to pull up and go

And wind up homesick

Where there's no one you know

Just a smoke and a beer

And the sports on tv

Being sorry you left

With no choice but to leave


No change in the weather

No change in me

I don't want to leave

But I can't live for free

Can't eat the air, can't drink the sea

No change in the weather

No change in me


You could shoot off a cannon

From the top of long's hill

And a gulliver's taxi might be all that you'd kill

We were promised the sun

And the moon and the stars

We got weathered old clapboard and salt-rusted cars


So I'll join in the leaving like all of the rest

Montreal Calgary Vancouver west

Lay down on the sidewalk

Kick off and die

And watch people not looking

As they hurry by

No change in the weather

No change in me

I don't want to leave

But I can't live for free

Can't eat the air can't drink the sea

No change in the weather

No change in me


No change in the weather

No change in me

I don't want to leave

But I can't live for free

Can't eat the air can't drink the sea

No change in the weather

No change in me


***

For more information on the history of cod fishing in Newfoundland go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cod_fishing_in_Newfoundland

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