A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 181: An Ode to Canada


“Sea to sea to sea and there and back again,
Draws from each soul a simple, “It’s a beauty, eh?”
And in truth beauty, beauty truth
C, A, N, A, D, and A”

Tomorrow is a momentous Canada Day, deserving of a take on a momentous poem. Three years ago I took John Keats’ masterpiece “Ode on a Grecian Urn” as a template and wrote my Ode to my adopted country. Here ’tis:

An American Ode on Canada Day

Thou still unravished bride of whiteness,
Thou foster-child of Britain and of France,
Mowat and Atwood likely could express
A better ode than this American putz:
What maple leafed –fringed legend haunts thy shape
Of Gretzky and mortals or both
In Toronto or the dales of Burnaby?
What men or Mufferaws are these? What Acadians loth?
What Trivial Pursuit? What pass from tape-to-tape?
What fiddles and bagpipes ? What tepid Red Rose tea?

Shaped dough of Tim’s is sweet, but flowing syrup
Sweeter, therefore, trees tap on;
Not just for sensual tongue but, more endear’d,
Feed our spirits with thy rich tone.
Fair youth on outdoor rinks cannot yet go
Home though supper-time be called
No winning shot has yet been tallied
Skate on despite wind and cold
Warmth will flood when, arms upraised,
Is heard, “He shoots! He scores!”

What land is this that freezes and boils,
Where deep snow yet blistering sun is seen?
Toques, Mukluks and tanks of heating oils
Exist with swimming trunks, AC and sunscreen.
In span of but weeks the snowshoers tread
On waters now solid and still;
Only now calm from the cottagers play,
From Ski-dos, canoes, loons and kabooms.
From evergreen to seemingly dead,
A cycle no death can kill.

O Canuck land, fair and free, doth teem
Of men authentic, maidens fair overwrought,
With forests, lakes, rivers and trodden paths,
Your vast form dost tease us out of thought.
Cities rumble, roll and flow; highways stretch beyond
Imaginings; people red and white and black and tan
Make a tapestry draped in full humanity.
Sea to sea to sea and there and back again,
Draws from each soul a simple, “It’s a beauty, eh?”
And in truth beauty, beauty truth
C, A, N, A, D, and A

by Ronald Kok, Ottawa, ON, July 1, 2014

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 180: Tragically Hippin’ Canadiana


They are the quintessential Canadian band, unapologetic in their Canuck references and consistently constant in seeking out the Great White North source for material: The Tragically Hip. Their songwriter and front-man, Gord Downie has been his country’s unofficial poet laureate for the past 30 years. In the land of the Loonie it is said, “In Gord We Trust”.

tragically hip logo

As we inch closer to Canada’s 150th birthday, I thought I’d share some of the Tragically Hip’s most Canadian lyrics. I cannot take credit for this as my source for material was an article on the website The Loop (You can take a look at the entire article yourself at http://www.theloop.ca/the-19-most-canadian-tragically-hip-lyrics). The Loop article listed 19 song lyrics of which I gleaned a tidy 10. The Canadiana listed and the comments come from the author of the article, Amber Dowling.

10. “38 Years Old”

Twelve men broke loose in seventy three
From Millhaven Maximum Security
Twelve pictures lined up across the front page
Seems the Mounties had a summertime war to wage

Canadiana: Millhaven Maximum Security, located in Bath, Ont. 

9. “Bear”

I think it was Algonquin park
It was so cold and winter dark
A promised hibernation high
Took me across the great black plate of ice

Canadiana: Bears + Algonquin Park + plate of ice. 


8. “Bobcaygeon”

‘Cause it was in Bobcaygeon, where I saw the constellations
Reveal themselves one star at a time

Canadiana: The song that put Bobcaygeon on the map. 

7. “The Lonely End of the Rink”

I hear your voice cross a frozen lake
A voice from the end of a leaf
Saying, “You won’t die of a thousand fakes
Or be beaten by the sweetest of dekes”

Canadiana: Few other artists would get away with using the word deke in a love song. 

6. “Skeleton Park”

In Skeleton Park
One fine summer evening
The sun teased the dark
Like the last strawberry
I could hear them on the breeze
Hear them moving through the trees
The ghosts of the Rideau Canal start to sing
And patting the grass you said
“Come sit next to me, be my sweetheart”
Over in Skeleton Park
Over in Skeleton Park

Canadiana: Most may now recognize the supposedly haunted Kingston, Ont. park (and former burial ground) under its new name, McBurney Park. 


5. “Fifty-Mission Cap”

Bill Barilko disappeared that summer
He was on a fishing trip
The last goal he ever scored
Won the Leafs the cup
They didn’t win another till nineteen sixty two
The year he was discovered
I stole this from a hockey card
I keeped tucked up under

Canadiana: These lyrics are the only way most Leafs fans remember the last time they won a cup. 

4. “Fireworks”

If there’s a goal that everyone remembers
It was back in old seventy two
We all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger
And all I remember is sitting beside youYou said you didn’t give a fuck about hockey
And I never saw someone say that before
You held my hand and we walked home the long way
You were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr

Canadiana: Again, hockey + love song = only The Hip.

3. “At the Hundredth Meridian” 

Me debunk an american myth?
And take my life in my hands?
Where the great plains begin
At the hundredth meridian
At the hundredth meridian
Where the great plains begin

Canadiana: The 100th meridian west, aka the line of longitude that separates Western Canada from Central and Atlantic regions of Canada. Naturally, this is one of The Hip’s biggest hits. 


2. “Wheat Kings”

Late breaking story on the CBC
A nation whispers, “We always knew that he’d go free”
They add, “You can’t be fond of living in the past
‘Cause if you are then there’s no way that you’re going to last”

Canadian: What’s more Canadian than the CBC?

1. “Looking for a Place to Happen”

Jacques Cartier, right this way
I’ll put your coat up on the bed
Hey, man, you’ve got the real bum’s eye for clothes
And come on in, sit right down
No, you’re not the first to show
We’ve all been here since, God, who knows?

Canadiana: This song traces Jacques Cartier and his journey to claim Canada for the French back in the day. That’s pretty darn Canadian. 

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 178: Before the Pow Wow

Before the Powwow

Before the Pow Wow
She was twirling
Lost in dance

Before the Pow Wow
She spun circles
Around the silence

White child free
In the circle of Red
Free to be free

White child free
Arms swinging wide
Across the expanse

Red Welcome Red Grace
White child free
To fancy dance

Red Welcome Red Grace
The space is yours
Be free to be

Dance with ancestors
White child free
To their voice

Dance with ancestors
Prepare the ground
The circle expands

The Spirit takes you
White child free
Wings spread wide

The Spirit takes you
Feel it in the marrow
Beneath your feet

Before the Pow Wow
She was twirling
Across the expanse

Before the Pow Wow
White child free
To fancy dance

Before the Pow Wow by Ronald Kok

Written June 25, 2017 after witnessing my first Pow Wow – Ottawa, Ontario, Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival held on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg people. I took the photo above and it led me to write these words. 

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 177: 18 Single Lines

18 single lines self portrait

Self Portrait in 18 Single Lines, Ronald Kok, Coloured Markers, 2017

Last week I discovered that a single line has a lot to say. On a whim, I decided to turn the experiment into 18 single lines.

There is a pack of dollar store coloured markers at my workplace, the kind that dry out really fast. It just so happens that it is a pack of 18 different colours. After filling a couple of sketch books with single line portraits using a large black marker, I felt like another step or two was needed in the experiment. So I grabbed that set of markers and did the above self portrait, using each marker only once to create it.  I wasn’t working off of a photo, just recreating myself in simple lines as I think I might look. I found the exercise to be fun and challenging, a sort of planned spontaneity. So I decided to up the ante…

I work at a day program for adults with developmental disabilities. I am part of running the art studio there. There are always a number of artists who I interact with on a daily basis. I asked three of them last Friday if I could draw their portraits. Below are those three, also done with 18 single lines, each a different color.


Nola in 18 Single Lines, 2017


Sophia in 18 Single Lines


Alison in 18 Single Lines, 2017

Far from a sort of “photo realistic” image, yet conveying a lot more than I expected, I was happily surprised at the results. So much so that I think this is a style worth exploring more. There was no pencil drawing to start, instead I jumped right in with the first colour and just flowed from there. It was a bit scary and required far more concentration than I initially realized. But it forced me to boil the portraits down to the bare essentials and, hopefully, to convey something important about the personalities in those portraits.

The 18 lines of colour reminded me of the many facets that make us who we are, whether or not we are categorized as having a “disability”.  Each of us is so unique and so imbued with a distinctness that even a few lines can display that for the world.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 176: Sunday God Quote – Mike Scott


This Sunday’s God Quote goes out to all you spiritual wanderers out there.

Mike Scott is the founding member, songwriter and lead guitarist of the band The Waterboys. But, really, Mike Scott is The Waterboys as he has always grabbed various musicians to perform with him over the years. He’s a Scotsman who calls Ireland home. He has that restless creative spirit that is so often tinged with a religious wistfulness. I love his songwriting and I love his honesty. So for this Sunday here are the lyrics to “Long Way to the Light”, almost a novella in song as it takes you along in his story. The song was on his 1995 solo album Bring ‘Em All In. Below the lyrics is a video to the song.

Scott barely mentions God in “Long Way to the Light” but, to me, it is clearly the song of a man setting his face towards a higher purpose.

I’m sitting in my bedroom
Overlooking Findhorn Bay
Cluny Hill in the distance
Summer on the way

Blue skies and sailing boats
Like a picture in a book
I can’t believe I got here
Or how long it took

Living one step at a time
Putting one foot in front of the other
It sure feels right

Healing on my mind
Been a long way
Been a long way to the light

I’d made it to Manhattan
Built myself a nest
I meant to get right back to doing
Exactly what I do best

Plugging in an electric guitar
Leading a band
Well, if you want to give God a laugh
Tell him your plans

Summer in the city
Wilting in the heat
Buzzing up and down to Bearsville
And back to Hudson Street

I learned meditation
And how to visualize
Just breathing, being still
Never felt more alive

Living one step at a time
Putting one foot in front of the other
It sure feels right

Healing on my mind
Been a long way
Been a long way to the light

I spent the fall in transit
Circling the moon
Like a cat on a hot tin roof
Like a fiddle without a tune

I found what I was searching for
In Mrs. Caddy’s book
I had to go there straightaway
Have myself a look

I flew back to Scotland
Anticipation in my bones
The old country welcoming me
Like a prodigal coming home

I knelt and kissed the tarmac
In the wild Atlantic rain
Felt the fiery Gaelic blood
Rising in my veins

Living one step at a time
Putting one foot in front of the other
It sure feels right

Healing on my mind
Been a long way
Been a long way to the light

I spent the night in Glasgow
Flew to Inverness
I found the place and at the first
I was not impressed

Nobody said hello
The faces left me cold
Back then how was I to know
All that would unfold?

I entered the Sanctuary
Heard the voice of a girl
Sending out a circle of light
Clear across the world

I shuddered in the Power
Like a seedling in a storm
I’ve been traveling to this place
Since the moment I was born

I flew back to New York City
Singing the big city blues
The sand of Findhorn Bay
Still clinging to my shoes

Tried to restart my life
But the life I knew was gone
I had to let go everything
But that’s another song

Living one step at a time
Putting one foot in front of the other
It sure feels right

Healing on my mind
Been a long way
Been a long way to the light
A long way to the light

So I’m sitting in my bedroom
Overlooking Findhorn Bay
Cluny Hill in the distance
Summer on the way

I’m watching the sailing boats
Bobbing to and fro
Time to hit the road
The only way I know

Living one step at a time
Putting one foot in front of the other
It sure feels right

Healing on my mind
Been a long way
Been a long way to the light


A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 175: Saturday Life Quotes (and paintings) – Carr

Art-Canada-Institute-Emily-Carr-HR-Above-the-Gravel-Pit 1937

“Above the Gravel Pit” Emily Carr, 1937

“There is something bigger than fact: the underlying spirit, all it stands for, the mood, the vastness, the wildness.”


Emily Carr (1871 – 1945), as her simple grave marker states, was an “Artist and Author, Lover of Nature”. She was also one of Canada’s greatest painters. Often included though never technically a part of the Group of Seven, it was the Seven’s Lawren Harris’ appreciation and support of her work that gave Carr the boost she needed at an age when women were often not considered legitimate artists. As Harris said to her, “You are one of us.” She was influenced by the Fauves and drawn to the same themes as the Seven, a post-impressionist display of the spirit, the vastness and the wildness of Canada.

She was also a writer and had a beautiful way with words. For today’s Saturday Life Quotes, I give you some of her paintings along with her words.


“Autumn in France”, 1911

“You come into the world alone and you go out of the world alone yet it seems to me you are more alone while living than even going and coming.”

“A Rushing Sea of Undergrowth”, 1935

Art-Canada-Institute-Emily-Carr-HR-Odds-and-Ends 1939

“Odds and Ends”, 1939

“The artist himself may not think he is religious, but if he is sincere his sincerity in itself is religion.”

“Blunden Harbour Totems”, 1937

“You will have to experiment and try things out for yourself and you will not be sure of what you are doing. That’s all right, you are feeling your way into the thing.”
scorned as timber, beloved of sky 1935

“Scorned as Timber, Beloved of Sky”, 1935

“I think that one’s art is a growth inside one. I do not think one can explain growth. It is silent and subtle. One does not keep digging up a plant to see how it grows.”
carr-emily-canvas-autumn-woods 1911

“Autumn Woods”, 1911

“Do not try to do extraordinary things but do ordinary things with intensity.”


“Kitwancool”, 1928

“Let me not fuss and fret at my incompetence but be still and know that Thou art God.”

emily-carr-Indian-Church 1929

“Indian Church”, 1929

“It’s all the unwordable things one wants to write about, just as it’s all the unformable things one wants to paint – essence.”

maccauley point 1924

“MacCauley Point”, 1924

sunshine and tumult 1939

“Sunshine and Tumult”, 1939

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 174: My Folk/Rock-n-Bromance

avetts and me

“And I wanna grow old without the pain,
give my body back to the earth and not complain.”

I’ve got a serious Folk/Rock-n-Bromance going on with the Avett Brothers these days. It’s all their fault, writing and performing music that is hitting me square in my personal angst. I picked up their CD I and Love and You on the advice of a far-away friend who figured I’d enjoy their music (you are partly to blame, Greg – at least 42% responsible, I’d estimate).  Frankly, I can’t believe it has taken me this long to experience their music. Yet it is obvious that it is coming along in my life exactly when it was meant to.  You know that’s the case when songs written years ago can seem to be written with you and your present state of mind in mind.

There are many songs on that album that are hitting the nail on my head. The song “The Perfect Score” in particular contains some lyrics that continue to run circles in my brain. I’ll share that song with you today, first in video form, with the lyrics printed after.

This feeling has reminded me that creativity kick-starts your heart or kicks your ass when it is needed, and there’s no telling where it will come from or who will be the kicker(s).  That reminds me, the Avett Brothers song “Kick Drum Heart” – ya gotta listen to that one!  After this one, of course… By the way, nobody moves in the video. Just listen and get over it already.


“The Perfect Space”

I wanna have friends that I can trust,
that love me for the man I’ve become not the man I was.
I wanna have friends that will let me be
all alone when being alone is all that I need.I wanna fit in to the perfect space,
feel natural and safe in a volatile place.
And I wanna grow old without the pain,
give my body back to the earth and not complain.
Will you understand when I am too old of a man?
And will you forget when we have paid our debt
who did we borrow from? Who did we borrow from?

Okay part two now clear the house.
The party’s over take the shouting and the people,
get out!

I have some business and a promise that I have to hold to.
I do not care what you assume or what the people told you.
Will you understand, when I am too old of a man?
Will you forget when we have paid our debts,
who did we borrow from? Who did borrow from?

I wanna have pride like my mother has,
And not like the kind in the bible that turns you bad.
And I wanna have friends that I can trust,
that love me for the man I’ve become and not the man that I was.


A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 173: Single Line Portraits, part 2


It turns out, a single line not only has a lot to say, it can also keep your attention for a good while.

I didn’t get enough of single line portraits so I went at it again. This time, I chose a different sketch book and used a thicker Sharpie marker so I would get a stronger line. I had some abysmal failures but I kept at it. In the process I feel it has helped me learn more about how to say more with less.

Here is part 2 of my single line portraits experiment. As I told one of my students today, “It’s like taking a line for a walk”.

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A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 172: Single Line Portraits


What can you say with a single line?

I recently saw a post on Facebook about an artist who draws portraits using a single line. That is, he puts pen to paper and draws a portrait without picking up the pen until he feels it is finished. I really liked that idea so I set to doing it myself. Over my morning coffee, at around 6am or so, I took up my dollar store sketch book and an illustration pen and proceeded to let the portraits flow. It was a great experience and I was only stopped from continuing by the fact that real life necessitates that I go to work. Bummer.

Here are my initial single line portraits. I am hoping to revisit this again soon. Maybe tomorrow morning…