Thursday, November 10, 2011

November is the Crulest Month...

"Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"- oil on panel 12x10 inches

Captain Matthew Jonathan Dawe
Company C, 3rd Batallion

Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry

Lucas and Peter Dawe Senior, Lieut-Col ,Rtd.... presenting the Captain Matthew Dawe Ceremonial Sword to OCdt Jean Christophe Jacques' Ouellet at The Arch Memorial Ceremony at Royal Military College in Kingston on October 2nd, 2011

This building at The Royal Military College in Kingston is the first building to be named in honour of a Canadian soldier killed in action Afghanistan

An Athletic Trophy... The Matthew Dawe Trophy for Excellence in All Four Sports at RMC

I think... if you follow my blog regularly that you would agree that I present a pretty upbeat and optimistic outlook on the whole. But I must readily admit that that optimism and "joie de vivre" is greatly challenged during this usually gloomy month... save for celebrating the births of two of my children.... November 24th for Liam James... now to be 18 years young... and on November 30th my eldest child Lisa will turn... better ask "Her"! HA HA!!

I was born... raised and spent most of my life on the shores of The St Lawrence River... so "I" am proudly.. a "River Boy"! The is the core of my very being... spiritually and artistically. I feel much at peace when "I" am "home"... standing on its shores... anywhere between Gananoque and Brockville... where I was born. When we visit the area... I stop and simply gulp in that rarefied River air... and my body and mind know that we are at home!

At this time of the year however... the River takes on an almost malevolent... steely... gun grey persona that I can't say I totally enjoy... except on rare days when buttermilk skies add a warmth to compliment that pervasive and dominant greyness. And yes... I am one of those unfortunate individuals who suffers when light or time is changed or is available for shortened periods of time.

On this very date... November 10th, 1975 a huge Great Lakes ore carrier, The Edmund Fitzgerald disappeared with all hands during a vicious November gale on Lake Superior.It was discovered by a deep diving expedition to have succumbed to damage caused by being broken in half between two mammoth waves... then plunging at break neck speed... burying its forward bow area deep into the lake bottom. Death would have been instantaneous due to the frigid water conditions and the pressure which easily buckled the superstructure and hull of this mammoth laker.

This horrific November Canadian Great Lakes disaster brought great sadness to all Canadians... especially those who live along the waterways on which the Edmund Fitzgerald sailed. As a boy playing baseball at the coal docks on the Brockville waterfront ( I lived a block away and within sight of the River)... we would pause our games and run to the docks to wave at the passing carriers. We got to know the ships on sight... the Scott Misener and the Edmund Fitzgerald being my favourites because of their length... sleek beauty and swiftness. On more than one occasion this ship passed coming and going on its journey up and down the River.

My favourite balladeer and troubadour, Gordon Lightfoot... who coincidentally was born and began his brilliant musical career in Orillia, twenty minutes from Hillsdale wrote The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald which is easily a Canadian anthem... and an all time favourite of mine. I am listening to it ... as I write this post... and I resurrect and play it often...each and every November. Strangely... despite the magnitude of sadness that this ballad carries with it... paradoxically for "Me"... I find peace and inner quiet as a result of listening to it.

According to old Chipewyan native legend... Gitchee Gumee as they refer to our label Lake Superior... never gives up her dead. Lightfoot added these thoughts to a pair of lines that resonate my feelings about November perfectly.

"The Lake it is said, never gives up her dead

When the skies of November turn gloomy."

Those gloomy November skies are a perfect backdrop for our Canadian Day of Remembrance... held across the Dominion on November 11th... the day that gunfire ceased in World War I. IT has always been a part of my November ritual to visit the cenotaph and to take part in the Service of Remembrance in each of the communities where I have lived. I even took my full classes on the day to encourage their participation and understanding of the sacrifice... and the needless and devastating loss that war causes.

I had two uncles who served overseas during World War II... both were severely wounded in action in Normandy and Italy... so that our family well knows the cost of war and has reason to be respectful and observant of this day. However... on July 5th, 2007 Remembrance Day would forever carry a face... a young 27 year old Captain... a hockey pal and schoolmate of my son Andrew... a child that I had enjoyed on a hockey team that I helped coach with his dad.

Captain Matthew Jonathan Dawe and five of his men were killed instantly by a roadside device in southern Afghanistan... only a week after he had lost three of his men in another incident. He was one month from returning to his wife Tara, 1 year old son Lucas and his family. Matthew came from a military family. His father Peter is a retired lieutenant-colonel. All four sons served in the military... and one currently commands the Canadian Afghanistan contingent.

Even as a young peewee hockey player... Peter was a leader on and off the ice. His quick wit and infectious smile is something of "Him" that still burns strong in my heart today. Just before his untimely death Matt was quoted as saying that "he couldn't wait to get home to his family in Edmonton and Kingston"... "and that his heart ached to change diapers and do the daddy stuff " with Tara and Lucas. Too sadly.. both "He" and "They" would never enjoy those precious... taken-for-granted daily moments... which most of us sometimes gripe about.

According to his superiors and his men who loved him dearly..."Matt led from the front"... and he paid the supreme price for that valour and example. Tomorrow at the Remembrance Day services in nearby Midland... during that "two minutes of silence"... "taps" and "Reveille"... my heart will belong solely.. to Matthew and his courageous family who survive him: Tara...Lucas... Reine his mother... Peter his dad and brothers Philip...James and Peter.

Kingston is an army town... a base for the army, Staff College and the Royal Military College. We had a home in nearby Grenadier Village. Our children were raised and schooled with army children. It was indeed a tight family environment... and the ties remain. My daughter Allison lives just down the street in Kingston from Tara and Lucas. Last Friday, we dropped by in order for me to present this painting memento of my respect and thanks for their sacrifice. Tara was not home... but Allison has offered to deliver the painting and a note to Tara and Lucas on my behalf. Others have recently offered gestures of remembrance in Matthew's honour which underscores his community's and whole family's continued belief... that their loss continues to have meaning and purpose. I have include a couple of jpegs to show those gestures with my viewers.

We have all been robbed of beautiful... wonderful... precious minds... each in our own corner of existence. Let us set aside daily thoughts of gratitude to those who "led at the front"... and sacrificed their tomorrows... so that we could have today! Honour them... by making something lasting and good Today... and Tomorrow... in their memory and honour. We owe them that debt of gratitude... not to squander their precious gift to all of us!

Heads and hearts up!... and back to the easel!

Good ALL!!!


  1. Hi Bruce a friend of mine died tragically this year. I still think of her, especially as at this time of year I would be over visiting her guest house and wandering about the shores near her home looking at the moon which is especially beautiful now. It is hard to know why special folk are taken from us, yet many who have little joy of their life still carry on. I finally had to tell myself though as yet I have to get to that stage, that I must celebrate the beautiful life that she had and not morn the grandchildren she will never hold nor the dear husband she loved so much to spend time with each day. It is hard though. I believe Matthew fought a big cause to keep us all as safe as he could against the dark shadows that try to steal the sunlight from our lives. His death saves other families, hard to see that now, but he did something very special in the bigger picture of life. It doesn't take away the sadness of it all, the futility of it all but it is a beginning, a start to trying to come to terms with the tragedy of the loss of loved ones. Let us light a candle for Matthew and for Patricia, they live on in our memory.

  2. Dear Bruce,

    Your painting and post are such a moving tribute to the memory of Captain Matthew Jonathan Dawe, his men lost with him, his family and yours, who also suffered and continue to mourn his loss.

    And, I have also always been interested in the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It must have been so terrifying and sad to experience such a loss of life in that way as a child.

    Pain and loss touches us all, at any time or any place. A childhood friend of my husband's suffered head and spinal chord injuries in an automobile accident this past weekend, bringing home to us the fragility of life and the possibility of loss. The constant possibility of death and it's devastation is never far from any of our minds. I've always sought to understand it better so as not to be so frightened and terrified of it or its effects.

    In my reading, I found this story and it helped some. Here it is:

    "One day, a young woman went in tears to see the Buddha. Her child had just died and as she had already lost her husband, she no longer had anyone in the world. She hoped that the Buddha would perform a miracle and give her back her child. The Buddha smiled kindly at her and said: Go to the town and bring me back some mustard seed from a house in which no one has died. She went, but she got the same answer everywhere. We can give you all the mustard seed you want, but it is impossible to meet your conditions! Lots of people have given up the ghost in this house. She stubbornly went from door to door all day, hoping to find a house that had never been visited by the grim reaper. When night came, she gave up having realized that death is a part of life. And that it was futile to deny that fact. She went back to the Buddha, who asked her if she had brought him some mustard seed. The woman prostrated herself and said grant me initiation. I want to know what is not ephemeral. I will no longer ask you to give me back my child because he would die some day or other. Teach me what does not die."

    My sympathies to his family, his country and your family—his friends—on the loss of this wonderful and vital man.

  3. Hi Caroline...Thank you so very much for your very own personal sentiments shared here Caroline!

    It is right that we embrace the positive contributions that came out of the sacrifices of so many young men and women... or the "possibilities" that might arise in the future.

    But irregardless... it is very difficult for me to look past the futility of the loss/ taking of any human life for political or religious reasons.

    The title of my painting... borrowed from the anti war period of the 60's underscores the feeling of loss... and of futility... that despite countless sacrifices... we continue to embrace war as a solution to our differences.

    "When will we ever learn...????"

    Thanks for visiting and for your lengthy and deeply felt thoughts. They do help ease the sadness! Thank You!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  4. Hi there Suzanne!... Thank you ever so much for your very kind and sensitive response to the post!

    We all are likely to have to face the reality of death... in some form on our journeys well before our own inevitable meeting with it. It is nevertheless less palatable when it is visited upon the very young... in the prime of their lives.

    I thank you for your story which referred to the wisdom of Buddha's use of a mustard seed analogy to help wrap one's head around the fact that death is a part of living.

    "Teach me what does not die."... One's good acts and willingness to sacrifice our most precious possesions... most especially one's life! Matthew's life and his sacrifice are validated... each and every day that each of us does a good deed for another being. I'd like to believe and trust that Matthew's wonderful smile would endorse each of our singular acts of kindness and caring!

    If you're at all interested... Google the Edmund Fitzgerald... there's a host of information... and U Tube clips featuring Lightfoot's song!

    Thanks again for your response and for your friendship Suzanne! I much appreciate both!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  5. Good morning Bruce,

    What a moving post, both in your words and in your painting. It's so sad that nearly 100 years after the First World War, and the first Day of Rememberance, young men are still being killed in conflicts far from home.

    I had forgotten how big the Great Lakes are. Your mention of them being deep enough to crush ships really brought it home to me. They are, I think, more like inland seas. I suppose people who live around the shores must face the same dangers and tragedies as all other coastal communities.

    All the best,

  6. Hi Keith!... Thanks you for visiting!

    I again share your opinions and reflections on the futility of war... and Man's inability... it would seem to override his instincts to kill... torture... terrorize... enslave and control others who share this already fragile human existence.

    The deepest sense of sadness for "Me"... arises from the lost "possibilities"... of beautiful minds... leadership... literature... art... invention and freedom that Death through war deprives the world of forever. What could have been... is indelibly "crossed out"... forever!

    On a historical note... your idea that The Great Lakes - HOMES... Huron... Ontario... Michigan... Erie and Superior are inland seas is exactly correct. Superior being the largest... is also the most deadly and unpredictable... especially in the Gale driven Fall... where ten metre waves can be the norm . Hard to believe... but the long history and list of tragic marine disasters on these lakes prove that fact to be true. Marine communities anywhere... share these tragic moments as a part of daily life.

    Thanks for checking in Keith! Always a pleasure to chat and share back n' forth!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  7. Ah Bruce...I can see why you find November a "cruel" month. I reserve that particular title for January. I too love the Gordon Lightfoot song and didn't realize that the Edmund Fitz went down so recently in our history. I also didn't realize that Gitchee Gumee was Lake Superior. It was always one of those things I intended to look up but always forget by the time I next get on the computer. My heart breaks for Matthew...that he never got to see his son grow up, or be with his wife again. My daughter's BF served in Afghanistan as well (he is only 24 now) and is intending to return there or another Middle Eastern area as a civilian employee for three years. I wish he wouldn't.

    I give much thanks to all our military men and women.

  8. Bruce, what a lovely tribute. Well written and touching. I'm sorry for your loss. The painting you did is a kind gesture and I'm certain will remain as a prominent reminder hanging proudly in their house. It's lovely.

  9. Hi there Sherry!... Thanks for your visit and kind words regarding Matthew!

    We all have our "down" times Sherry and we have to weather them... mostly under our own power. However... it is a comfort to have folks who don't really have to... check in and add their support! Thank "You" for taking the time to respond!

    We all lose in war Sherry... but it is always our youth... our future... who lose most and their families who must endure the tragedy for the remainder of their lives. We owe it to their memory and sacrifice... to ALWAYS remember... and to never forget that they have paid the ultimate price for the freedom that we enjoy!

    A small price to pay... and gesture to offer! I offer it willingly... regularly... and with the deepest respect!

    Glad that The Edmund Fitzgerald addition to the post was meaningful for you... and others it would seem as well! We can all learn from each other! Ain't that great???

    Good Painting and Writing!
    Warmest regards,

  10. Hi there Susan!... Thank "You" ever so much for adding your thoughts and respect for Matthew and his family's deep loss!

    He was a fine young man and human being... aside from being a courageous soldier convicted to the cause of offering the hope of justice and freedom... to a people who were without any hope of obtaining either in their own culture.

    "No greater love..." I'm sure that you are well familiar with the rest!

    I dearly hope that my painting serves as a small gesture to Matthew's family... most particularly his wee son Lucas... tht their sacrifice was not... is not... nor never will be... in vain.

    His memory was fully in my heart this morning... as I stood alonside with several hundreds of other Midland veterans...children and citizens in our Canadian cold and snow... to bow our heads in their honour. I felt some peace in sharing that hour with that community... and I know that Matt would be pleased.

    Thanks for dropping by Susan! I'll get over later this evening for a look at your lovely site!

    Good painting!
    Warmest regards,

  11. Hi Bruce,

    I can barely respond, my eyes are so filled. I am so sorry for the loss Matthew. It is a tradegy. I was out walking my dogs earlier and enjoying a very full moon, thinking about all the people that have lost their lives in wars and how that loss has changed countless lives. You gave a wonderful tribute to a very fine man.

    Gordon Lightfoot was always one of my favorites, especially his ever haunting tale of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It has always amazed me the enormity of the EF and that it actually broke in half. Your memories of seeing it as a boy seem so vivid.

    Best to you Bruce,


  12. Hi there Sue!... THanks for your words and visit!

    It is a tribute... that we simply remember those in our journeys who pass before us. That single act keeps their memory and "presence" alive.

    I too... was looking at that beautiful full moon tonight on the way to pick up Bryn at the GO Train in Barrie. Its brilliant lit the edges of clouds around it.... and the snow-covered fields below. Its stillness and pristine light... cold as it was... seemed appropriate as an end to this Day of Remembrance.

    Strange how horrific events... can trigger or be twinned with other (thankfully) happier remembrances to revisit us... from deep in our psyches. The mind... at times...seems an entire universe in itself!

    The Edmund Fitgerald was a beautiful vessel... as all lakers were. To a child anchored in a small community... those globe-trotting lakers and liners... with their various national flags flying... seemed an invitation to a small boy's mind to come on an(imaginary) adventure - and "I" did!

    Better even than their sighting... was the sound of their deep horns in the night air... as one waited for sleep! That is a precious memory that still reminds me... that after all of the years away.... that "I" belong... and am still... a "River Boy!

    Thanks for your wonderful sharing of words and time Sue! We share... if we wish to... many common parts on our separate roads! That's a comforting thought!

    Good Sketching!
    Warmest regards,

  13. Amen, and God Bless all who serve to keep us safe and free, and for the their family and friends who will miss them.

  14. Hi there Joan!.... Amen... God Bless and remember... each lost yound life and those who must bravely learn to carry on their lives... without them!

    Thank "You" for dropping by and for leaving your own feelings regarding Remembrance/ Veteran's Day!!

    Good painting!
    Warmest regards,