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The Art of Letter Writing

18 March 2012 - 3 Comments

Some treasures found are wistful, sad, sweet

… like love letters from a special friend. There is satisfaction that you have loved and been loved. It is time to pause and cherish this. Then all the questions crowd into your mind: “I should have… I could have…. I wish we had…. Why did we allow this relationship to be shipwrecked? What happened? Really?”

And chances are you will never know.

Life carries on in all its twists and turns. You travel your road as best you can. Choices. Decisions. They carve your character.

Yesterday I opened a thick file of old letters I received in the 1970’s. I knew I wanted to go slowly through these letters and enjoy them with a cup of hot ginger tea by the fire. People rarely write letters any more. We e-mail and text friends and family, and catch up on Facebook. But where is the written letter? I loved looking at the different hand writing of my friends. It actually would make a nifty collage, and I just might create one to hang in my new palace in Ganges, when I move.

“The lost art of letter writing….”

Here were letters from Olivia Crawford who danced with me in Vancouver BC in the 1970’s at Synergy Workshops – a wonderful dance studio run by Linda Rubin who had studied the Martha Graham technique of modern dance in NYC and was teaching us basic modern dance with improvisation. Olivia went to Papua New Guinea and founded the Papua New Guinea Dance Theatre Company. We have recently re-connected and our friendship is as alive and warm as it ever was. I will send her the letters.

Here is a letter from Jane Allison Frick – about swimming with the humpback whales and the right whales in Argentina. It is a beautiful letter of grace and appreciation for the mysterious mammals who were being hunted to near extinction. I was teaching children about whales at the time and Jane sent me slides of her diving with the whales. Her hand writing is exquisite and tiny.

I wracked my brain. Jane Frick. Who is she? How did we meet? ¬†Frick Museum in NYC…. Could she be from this family? I Googled her and discovered that she died in 1978 at the tender age of 32. I can’t describe how sad I felt. Then I Googled her family and discovered a sister lived in Maine, so I phoned and left a message saying how sad I was to learn of Jane’s death, and I have a lovely letter from her about swimming with the whales and would she like me to mail it to her?

I had no idea if I would hear from her sister. The grief could be too painful, still.

Adelaide phoned me this morning, in awe that I had a letter from her sister, whom she loved. We had an amazing conversation and I will send her Jane’s letter written 40 years ago. This is a real gift to all Jane’s siblings.

So, three cheers for Clutter!

I am grateful that I kept these letters for 40 years, and that I can return one that has poignant meaning to a family who lost a cherished sister.


photo by Deborah Glockner-Ferrari /Center for Whale Studies

Jane’s Letter… excerpts….

“You asked me what it felt like to be so close to a wild whale. There isn’t an experience I’ve had either under or above the water that comes close to the exhilaration I felt from swimming close to whales. The first time I saw wild whales was in the open ocean off Bermuda. They were migrating humpbacks. As they cruised under the boat I jumped overboard. Their tremendous grey shapes loomed beneath me (about 30 ft). I couldn’t see them very well as it was dusk, but they looked almost mystical with their big white angelic flippers hanging out. When they descended deeper I dove down to catch the last glimmer of their white flukes. It seemed incredible that they – air-breathing, warm blooded mammals knew where they were going and could communicate with each other over long distance in this vast ocean.

“Swimming with right whales was different. They were not migrating but were in a protected bay for the sole purpose of mating and giving birth. … A wonderful experience I had was swimming with a little calf. The calves, unlike their mothers, are very curious. The mothers are usually wary of boats and swimmers and don’t let them get too near. However if a calf spots a swimmer before the mother, she will sometimes leave the mother and investigate the swimmer playfully for awhile. The calves seem to have a trusting playful feeling about them, much more than the adults. It is sad in a way to see how friendly and uninhibited a naive small whale is around a species which is gradually causing the extinction of whales …

“The calf who investigated me was interested and curious. He had a playful glint in his eye – as he tilted his head at all different angles, spy-hopped and splashed his flippers before slowly returning to his mother.”



Uncle’s Advice

9 March 2012 - Leave a comment

Advice from an Uncle to a Niece

Here is what I found in my Uncle Bill’s file, who wrote me c. 1966 when I was in my twenties with a warning on how to behave with men. I read it to him the other day on the phone and he laughed and laughed. He is 93 years old.

“Just to show you what happens if you do not pay attention to your diet and forget to take the pill!”

My Uncle and I have had a long, abiding relationship – ever since I was a baby. He adored my gentle Mother – his sister – and took his Uncle role seriously and with joy. He sent me many funny New Yorker cartoons about “relationships”. This postcard is priceless, and I am thrilled I kept it for 46 years.


Clutter? Who is to say?



In Defence of Clutter

25 February 2012 - 2 Comments

A Pearl in the Ocean

While sorting through my stuff, I came across beautiful hard bound New Yorker Diaries from 1970 – 1990 that I have lugged around for nearly 32 years. Dead material? You bet! Who cares when I had my eyes checked or when I heard Maya Angelou speak at a Vancouver Conference?

Out of curiosity, I opened my 1980 Diary and started reading it, as I used these diaries for journal writing too, and not just records of appointments. I could not believe my eyes when I found reference to a massive herring spawn in our Salt Spring Island Cove on July 29, 1980. Biologists are looking for “anecdotal” records of the abundance of herring in our protected Gulf Island Bays because the Department of Fisheries (DFO) insists there never were resident populations of herring and they are proposing a 6,000 tonne limit on the herring fishery this season – which could wipe out our resident populations, being significantly over the quota allowed last year.

I had told Briony Penn, writer, artist and environmental advocate with a PhD in Geography, that I remembered seeing Rivers of Herring in our summer cove during the ’60’s and ’70’s, but thought I never wrote about it. Here was proof:


29 July 1980

“SWARMS of tiny herring in Salty’s Cove. Never seen them so thick. Stretching all the way across cove and within 2 feet of cliff. Silver salmon. Water warm, but horrid going in with the fish!”

Finding this innocent entry was like finding a pearl in the ocean – and it is useful information today. No one thoroughly understands how herring populations work. DFO measures the big spawns that are commercially viable, and once the stock is depleted, they quit measuring. What we are discovering is that herring used to be in all the protected bays up and down the coast, and there are very few left.

I made a xerox copy of my note and gave it to Briony, who brought it to a meeting re. the herring quota for the Salish Seas. Briony told me the reference was perfect, because 1980 was the LAST LARGE HERRING SPAWN RECORDED in our Southern Gulf Islands. People like Briony thought we had a local summer population of herring, and now there was anecdotal proof. Fisheries, with all its “scientific wisdom” allowed our local resident populations to be virtually “wiped out” believing they didn’t even exist.


Importance of Herring

Pacific Herring (clupea pallasi) have the unenviable fate of being dinner to a large population of sea birds, salmon, seals, sea lions and whales. They are a vitally important fish in the food chain web of the oceans. Only one herring out of 10,000 eggs laid survive to return to spawn. They live up to 15 years – if they are lucky and escape the jaws of predators!

Have you ever seen a Humpback Whale scoop up a tonne of herring in one gulp? Go to You-Tube and watch this awesome sight.

Humpback Whales eating Herring on YouTube


What is today’s Lesson?

I hardly know because my task is to make my life lighter with my past history so I can spread my wings and fly with a new “me” into my next big adventure. I still dream of that Bull-dozer.

However, I am thrilled that I found this reference to the Herring Spawn – because it fills in a missing link that is significant today. On the same page I have reference to Barn Swallow babies being coaxed out of their nests under the eaves of our house. Another sad note, because we used to have 14 nests under the eaves and for many years there have been no swallows with their cheerful chatter and swift acrobatic flight. Never did I think the swallows would vanish. Never did I think my grandchildren might not know what a swallow was except for a book image like the extinct Dodo Bird.


How Whales Pop Up

31 January 2012 - 8 Comments

Whale Workshops in the Early 1970’s

Why have I lugged this Whale stuff around with me for nearly 40 years? It’s bogging me down, collecting dust. What can I possibly do with it? If I were ruthless and serious about “clearing clutter”, I’d toss it into the fire without a pang of remorse. But it’s my history! I taught children about whales in the forefront of the “Save the Whale” movement in the early 70’s. I designed exuberant Whale Workshops for children and collected their art and poetry that was published into a book in 1975, and made into a Smithsonian Travelling Exhibition that toured the US and Canada for 2 years. Is there any historical value to this?

I am delving into one of my successes, and also lugging around unpublished work that is perhaps hopelessly out of date. What can I do? I am determined to go through this. Making myself a cup of hot ginger tea, I sit down by the fire, take a deep breath, and open a file. I am curious. What is here? It is like Christmas and the ghosts of winter’s past.

What I find are copious notes from my Father in his distinctive handwriting, editing my manuscript for the revised Whale Curriculum I was writing in 1984. Dad, editing my manuscript? I had totally forgotten. Thank you Dad. Wherever you are, I love you and thank you.

I curl up on my Shepadoodle dog’s bed and rub her floppy black ears affectionately. I wrap myself in thoughts of my complex, handsome Father while crooning love to my dog. My Dad’s ghost spirit is tangible, too, in my memory.


Tamar and Martin

Tamar and Martin in 1976

There are more files holding Whale Workshop information from 1971 – 1975. I take another deep breath and open one. My Gosh! Up pops Martin Gerrish! We taught Whale Workshops in Elementary schools for 2 years in Vancouver, BC. funded by the National Museums of Ottawa and the Burnaby Art Gallery. He was 22 and I was 35. Those were the best teaching days of my life – working together with Martin and Carmelita Camillo. We combined science with the language arts to provide a rich learning environment for the children. Poetry, creative movement, art, myth combined with biology of the hugest creatures ever to have inhabited the earth. We spent three weeks in each classroom, teaching Kindergarten Children through Grade 7. The children were eager to learn about whales and were proud of their work.



Bamboo Bowhead Whale Grade 7

Bamboo Bowhead Whale Grade 7

And here are letters he wrote me from Anna Halprin’s dance workshops at Mt. Tamalpia, CA. I knew Martin had moved back to England, and was eager to talk to him. Google and the Internet are fantastic in tracing people.

Martin answered the phone! We haven’t spoken in nearly 35 years. What a surprise. What a treasure, catching up on each other’s lives. Memory stirs in the rich soil of my past and awakens the branch where Martin lives. I put together copies of photos from our teaching days, and all the letters he wrote me, and mailed them to him – complete with a gorgeous $10 Blue Whale Canadian stamp.


Orca by Grade 6 Children

Whale Spout Dance Grade 4

Whale Spout Dance Grade 4






Blue Whale Stamp to Martin








So, have fun. Pause, and celebrate who you were and who you’ve become along the twisting road of your life. Clear the cobwebs, clear the space, revisit your past and nourish the positive influences. Embrace yourself even in your hesitations and mistakes. You survived and are fine.