Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"Once there was a tree... and she loved a lttle boy."

Two "Old" Canadians... still standing proud... and TALL in Cathedral Grove, British Columbia

"Maple Morning Glory" - oil on canvas 16x20 inches

Crooked.... interesting trees... "Leaning Towards Autumn" - oil on Canvas 36x48 inches

Even fallen trees... "Life Is a Beach"- Sooke, BC- oil on panel 24x48 inches

A wedding gift... "A New Beginning"- oil on panel 10x20 inches

"A Birch Copse In Late Winter" - oil on canvas 24x20 inches

Trees... Coming and going... "A Family Gathering" - oil on canvas 36x48 inches

Tapped Maples Standing tall..."Sunbathing In Spring" - watercolour on paper 22x30 inches


My post title this morning is "borrowed" from one of my favourite books. These are the opening lines of a very special book, "The Giving Tree"... by the late children's literature author Shel Silverstein. I "discovered " this book... or more succinctly and accurately.. it discovered "Me" when I was teaching children with specific learning disabilities. It quite literally "fell off the shelf "... and into my needy hands.

I say needy... because I was new to this "special" class assignment and freshly back from a self-funded leave of absence, a time that I had chosen to paint full time and to open the Gingerbread Gallery in Camden East, Ontario. The experience was both gratifying and profitable, but with a baby on the way and more than anticipated costs to renovate our newly purchased and very neglected Victorian-style new home... it was necessary to return to a more predictable teaching income to support these very real life needs.

Back to the needy part! I was needy... simply because no curriculum outline existed to guide me in conducting an educational programme to resuscitate the learning of these children with special needs. All had "fallen through the cracks" in the regular public education system... and had failed and were totally left behind their peer group. I had to devise my own curriculum, based upon my instincts... my own interests and skills... and my "read" on " how these kids worked... more to the point... why they wouldn't.

The term ADHD was (still is)... the "go word" attached to all of them... "behavioural" as you might expect followed the clinical diagnosis. The common trait was that all were withdrawn from risking in math and language and none could... or wanted to read and write. They wanted to play... quarrel and upset any learning environment. I understood their feelings in a strange way, simply because in my life in school, I had been less than successful in these as well... choosing to "doodle my way" through grade school... and through seven years in high school.... the two extra years being dedicated entirely to my educational passion at the time... football and cheerleaders. I was good at both... and no art programme existed in our high school. My grades met the lowest average that permitted my eligibility for football... so goin' nowhere academically.

A very special teacher... friend and mentor, the late Don Taylor... an English teacher recognized my "interest" in art... and my love of poetry. Using these strengths, he encouraged me to read... and participate more in class... rather than to try and control the class with my clown act... yet another (misused) strength. His mentorship and genuine interest in "Me" as a person turned my school life around. Art became much more than just the act of painting in my life. From that moment forward... it became my mission to share through my art...

He taught me to capitalize upon my strengths to create opportunities which advanced the "possibility" that I might actually graduate. Through him and his gift... I regained my self-esteem which had masqueraded for far too many years... sheathed in adolescent stand up humour and head-butting. I became head boy in the school... and did in fact graduate. I moved on to London Teacher's College and graduated in 1965... a full fledged..."certified" and ready-to-roll educator! HA HA!!

These tools would become the very basis of discovering and developing my own brand of pedagogy throughout my entire teaching career. Self-esteem became the apex, or central hub of my learning model... Art being a "driver" ... along with Poetry/ Prose as a "vehicle" which I could use to encourage initial oral and written expression. Children's literature... reading along with pictures.... replaced usually boring basal readers which affected only predictable outcomes... and most often... preordained failure for those with lesser strengths or experience in a totally language-based learning environment.

And so it went during my career... and in every classroom I worked with. This model again came to my aid in this new teaching experience... and with it ... "The Giving Tree." Having followed my posts you will note that the concept of"Giving"... remains a constant in my present mantra and my journey.

"We".... number like trees on this beautiful planet... different "species" perhaps... with different bark, colour and texture... height... abilities and locations. This analogy is in no way obtuse... don't you think? Simply... we are all a part of Creation... children of Mother Earth... subjects of the mysterious Universe.

Trees have always been special to "Me" ... even a young child. I often scaled a very ancient white pine at Narrows Lane Road... near Rockport... to seek solitude... a place where I could see the world over top of and well beyond Tar Island... Grenadier Island... clear to the United States in the very distant haze. I carved my initials into that tree... claiming it as my refuge... my safe haven.

That necessity for solitude has continued to be a part of my life... and though I no longer scale very tall trees... I reach out as far beyond "the din" of humanity that is possible for me to access... to again be alone with my thoughts and Creation. Trees still play a very strong part as subjects for my artistic interests.

The response to my two recent posts employing tree images encouraged me to look back in the archives to bring forward a collection to share which I feel does... borrowing a phrase from beloved Dr Seuss' wise Lorax... to indicate that: "I (too)... speak for the trees"... and have done so for the very same reasons. I used "Lorax"... then available on tape to workshop with teachers the use of children's literature to inject pertinent ecological and environmental lessons... and the importance of sharing using cartoons. Unique thought then... now a blockbuster hit at your local big screen theatres in the Now! A real money maker...

The final message in that Seuss classic... rings up a message which I have always maintained. Stewardship for the planet is better left in the hands of the young. With aging and current eldership comes cynicism and a sense of powerlessness. Technology has reached a blurring speed which dizzies all of us... just to simple things... like answering the (i)phone. The current trend which clearly demonstrates that the young have come of age... and now hold down the positions of higher decision-making... which in our day was reserved only for "seasoned"... and usually grey-haired veterans. It is a world for the young.

However... the other sign of the coin... and there always is one... is the reality that the span of childhood has decreased.. to the point where it almost no longer exists. Machines and electronic devices dispense knowledge... and have replaced hands on contact in the home... at school and play amongst peers.

There is great value and a sense of belonging gained from being held... sitting around a table sharing daily meals... being read to by an adult on a comfy couch... playing interactive board games together as a family or peer unit...kidding and talking "silly" talk with your child... before it becomes necessary to talk about things more crucial. These interim episodes in "growing up" form a platform of trial and error... preparation to deal with the world alone... and with your own survival toolbox. I am not at all sure that our current society realizes that this is crucial in establishing Self-Esteem in our children.

Much can still be be done to counter the cultural tsunami of mass electronic control... by simply doing the things that I have suggested with your children or grand kids. The place to begin is in early childhood. Children still respond to "old hat" ideas... such as a "Cat in the Hat" winter evening read on the couch... hot chocolate all around! Board games still rule at times in our house... and we all enjoy the fun-poking and the excitement when the elders are whopped... and trumped by the short guys!

I thank Caroline Simmill... my Highland Lass blogging Friend found at for the suggestion to revisit some old tree Friends. This post is for you Caroline! Enjoy!

A Light in the Attic is another Silverstein favourite as are all of the Bill Peet's wonderfully prose-driven, beautifully illiustrated series... beginning with... "Big Bad Bruce". What a stir... and hour of laughter (at my expense... or so they thought) that book caused in my class of misfits... when introduced by a whirling dervish... then... Johnny!

But that's another story... for another day!

"I" ... am blessed ... to have my memory!

Good Painting to ALL!


  1. Story time... best memories. I'm not sure which is best being read to or reading to my nephews and neice. (Was I the proud aunty when my neice read me a book the whole way through!) A kindle just wouldn't be the same.. Books and falling out of trees are definately well spent childhood past times and should be encouraged.

    I love your 'Life's a Beach' and I'm looking forward to many more of these to come. My hat is duly doffed for this mighty fine post whilst you are so busy getting ready to move. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and memories.
    Best wishes.

  2. I am a tree lover from way back so I particularly enjoyed this post full of tree paintings, Bruce. When I substitute taught, I also taught in some Title I classes and had the best time in them. Finding some way to reach those kids is fun, for both them and the teacher. There are not always the best teachers out there and to have been taught by one with that creative side would have been fabulous even for someone like me (anal retentive hyper responsible super quiet in school kid).

  3. Hi there Lisa... Thanks for dropping by and for adding your own thoughts to those in the post!

    Books are our Friends... many come and go... but some never leave us. We are the sum total of those friendships really.Kindles don't cut it for "Me."

    Children need to be children to discover the world on their own terms and at their own pace. They must come to realize and be proud of "Who" they are... and where their rightful and enriching place can the world they will move into.

    This developmental process cannot be hurried along by parents or educators who over plan and control their growth... and free will.

    Glad that you liked the paintings. I really enjoyed your new "Moon Series"... Beautiful!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  4. Hi there Sherry!... Good to hear from you again!

    Glad that you enjoyed my personal "reforestation" project! HA HA!! Trees really are wonderful to look at... ponder... and paint!

    Special needs kids always give back when they sense that someone cares to understand... and is genuinely interested in reaching out to meet and understand them. I found my time with them to be challenging... but most rewarding. I learned as much from them... as they did from me. That is a true and healthy learning model for any any classroom. Sharing knowledge... as opposed to dispensing it!

    Thanks for sharing your own experiences and ideas Sherry!

    Good Painting and Writing!
    Warmest regards,

  5. Hi Bruce,

    What a magnificent, gnarled old specimen in the first image. The tree is impressive as well!

    These paintings show your deep feelings for your subjects. They are more like portraits, really, rather than just landscape paintings.

    It's a wonderful thing when a creative teacher can 'connect' with a pupil who is struggling. However I have spoken to teachers who felt that they were constricted by rules and regulations. I hope that the 'art' of teaching, that you demonstrated by your methods, isn't being lost in the drive for standards and results.

    All the best,

  6. Good Morning Keith!... Thanks for dropping by and for adding to the post... some very valid personal observations!

    Cathedral Grove is just that Keith... a natural Cathedral where the vaults soar as they do in any of the great cathedrals of the world.

    I was humbled to the point of tears to be privileged to stand in the very midst of these several thousand year old giant cedars... and to smell... even taste the moist-laden reason for their longevity. And yet... there are those who lobby to fell them... as we speak.

    Teaching is in the same sad state here as well Keith. Hugging a child... in the presence of his/her peers when they are distressed and need consoling would certainly be "out of line"... maybe even grounds for dismissal. Many teachers are in the first wave with students thru' the door at dismissal time.

    But there still exist many teachers who care and go beyond their mandate to serve needy students... and they are still revered by students for their unconditional love and commitment to service. Therein lies Hope!

    The test standards and results merely measure the failure of the testing in my books. One can't measure the results from teaching values and principles... except that they are strongly evident in the actions of the next generation. No electronics or Apps access or teach it! These intangibles are modelled consistently... daily and therefore "Taught"... and caught!

    These tree pictures as you have suggested... are indeed portraits in the truest sense, rather than landscapes. Trees really do interest "Me"... and there are so many lessons to be learned from them. I "see" them!

    The lads, Deb and I are heeading out to McCutcheons sugar bush this weekend... our annual Spring ritual since they were wee. Might be the very last time that we do so as a family. I savour the taste... memories of the many Springs spent there. They are as sweet as the syrup they make!

    Have a great weekend Keith! Thanks for your comments!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  7. Gosh Bruce what a fantastic post! lots there to digest and savour. Your 'journey' notes are rich and inviting as we read about your childhood days and the way trees and poetry have enriched your life. I do wonder if you will perhaps find the new location you are moving to a little busy in the summer months and that to find your solitude at times a little difficult. Solitude for times of reflection are important it could be that life will change for you both but as long as you have your friends the trees with you, you will be fine. Thanks for the mention and glad you shared your very beautiful paintings of the trees with us all. Take care laddie!

  8. Hi there Caroline!... Thanks for visiting!

    Glad that you enjoyed the post and the pictures and my reminiscing about my connections to trees!

    We certainly expect that we are going to be VERY busy from April through to Christmas what with moving... and establishing a new presence in Rockport! Lots to be done!

    However... there will be time... and it is a place of great opportunity for solitude... fishing... canoeing and being with nearby family members. We look forward to these bonuses for making this huge change.

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  9. What a "TREEt" to see all of these fantastic tree paintings. Thanks for sharing, Bruce! (Love the shot of you with your back to the cedar-certainly can feel the energy of that big old grandmother!!)

  10. Hi there Linny!... THanks for your visit and compliments!

    Glad that you enjoyed my "TREEt"! I included a number of samples from Linnyland that you would recognize and enjoy!

    Cathedral Grove is a sacred grove... a special edifice that truly speaks to "Me" of the power of the Universe... and its Creator! We are all made to feel small... and so very humbly insignificant in the presence of their combined powers and majesty!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  11. I need to humbly add that the big old grandmother looks like a fir not "a cedar" - Whoops...she is grand though, Bruce!!

  12. Hi there Linny!... Thank you for correcting yet another "senior moment"... The giant fir is indeed... definitely not a cedar!

    Thanks for noticing my error and for mentioning!

    Good luck with your upcoming show with Jeffrey! Were I closer... I would certainly be in attendance on opening night! Many smiles... and sales!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,