Moving Forward

A note written by my Aunt Betty when she gifted my husband and me with a Henry Bergeson scope on the occasion of our wedding 22 years ago.

So, I have a job. All of my education and decades of volunteering has been geared towards chaplaincy and teaching English, but today I, ahem, walk dogs. Not just any dogs, mind you. I walk two beautiful (and very large) Bernese Mountain dogs for two hours every day on their owner’s property which happens to include their home nestled in 200 acres of woods. To say I love my new pastime would be an understatement.

Although I grew up accustomed to cottages, woods and water, I was never really a ‘mountain’ girl, so to speak. Ticks, black flies, mosquitos; Lyme disease? West Nile? No, thank you. We also have our share of bears up here in Canada, even in Southern Ontario, so I’ve never been one to venture into back fortys too often. I really like it that the dogs I walk are huge, one being 150 lbs. I’m 5′ 11″ and when he goes on his back legs, his front paws are on my shoulders and we are eye to eye with each other. The dogs are also very protective of me which is helpful, of course. Hawks, bald eagles, coons, fox, coyotes, white-tailed deer and wild turkeys are all found in the woods where I walk. Thankfully no bears, so far. 

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Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

While hiking through Cheyenne Mountain with my husband a few years ago, I decided that I could easily become a mountain girl. That was new for me as I’ve always insisted that wherever we live, it must be on or overlooking water. But our trip to Colorado had a profound affect on my life in many ways. Hiking along trails surrounded by mountain ranges (a different kind of nature than what’s found on the waterways back home) overwhelmed me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And yet, I knew I’d want more of that in my life moving forward.

Walking dogs (I bring my own dog along too, so there are four of us) on a beautiful wooded estate is nothing I ever expected to do. Far from it, actually. I always thought counselling and teaching, writing and creating would be my life. I suppose it is and always has been, but it’s never been a means to earn a living. I suppose the saying, “never do for money what you would do for love” rings true for me. Regardless, with the money I’m now earning, getting new pieces of art work on our walls could finally be within reach. 

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An image from one of my scopes, deconstructed.

Suspended Indelibility

When my husband suggested that I start making my own kaleidoscopes, I was rather intimidated by the challenge. I never saw myself on the same plane as the creators of the kaleidoscopes in my aunt’s collection (because I’m not; not by a long shot). But after some consideration, I began poring over books on how kaleidoscopes work. In the end, I was relieved to discover that making kaleidoscopes proved easier than taking photographs of them.

Eventually I picked up my camera again and slowly began producing a consistently good shot, but it still wasn’t translating well onto paper. That hurdle was overcome with the purchase of a high-quality printer, generously given to me by my father. He believed in my vision from the beginning, (as a business man, endeavours and entrepreneurial success were a normal part of his everyday existence), and was happy to invest in its fruition. I bought the best photo paper I could afford, and before long, the walls and shelves of our home started displaying framed prints of my kaleidoscope photography. It took several years, but I had finally accomplished what I originally set out to do: preserve the interor images of my aunt’s kaleidoscopes. And to my amazement, the walls had photographs of kaleidoscopes I had made myself, as well. Who would have thought?

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The interior of one of my homemade scopes.

I could have chosen to hand the kaleidoscopes out to my cousins and never think twice about what they looked like inside or out. I could have not taken care to research the artists who created them, or not call the stores where she bought them to ask the owners if they remembered her patronage. (They always did, even several years after Aunt Betty died. I do remember your aunt and when she would come here to visit. She and her friend would come in to look at kaleidoscopes. I remember her as being very sweet and wearing a badanna in her last few visits. She always smiled. She bought alot of Wedding Scopes by David Kalish, probably as wedding gifts. They have a great story to them. A Wedding Scope has two ends, the idea being a couple can each look at the same cell and see different things…) 

But I did. I did do all those things. The answer as to why I did is simple. Kaleidoscopes mattered to my aunt Betty. Aunt Betty mattered to me. Therefore, Aunt Betty’s kaleidoscope collection mattered to me.

Now, for me, it is very rewarding to be able to widen the aperture of my camera to these scopes in order to capture the transient refractions occurring inside. It’s nothing short of suspended indelibility.

Pain in the Offering

There was never a quick word with my aunt, Elizabeth (Betty) Spoelstra. This, of course, was on account of her being a master at engaging. When I was with her, I felt like I was the most intelligent and gifted woman — she brought out the best of everyone she was with — and I never wanted our visits together to end. She was eccentric, engaging, and full of life even when she was full of death; her body inwardly decaying from cancer. Aunt Betty left behind a legacy of faith and joy and music, among other things, when she died 12 years ago. One of the things she left me in particular was a cabinet overflowing with kaleidoscopes. I had always admired her scopes when I visited her. I would take them out of her cabinet (there were over 60 of them) and go through them one by one, competely enraptured by the vision of light and colour that would scroll by in front of my peeping eye.

Shortly before she died, she told me she would bequeath the scopes to me with the instruction that I was to give them all away. So, one by one, I have been doing as she requested and gifting cousins on their wedding day, teachers on their retirement, and friends transitioning into new homes with kaleidoscopes from my aunt’s collection. One by one I have watched various scopes pass from my hand to the grateful receiever; scopes by Bennett, Chesnik, Karadimos, Knox, Paretti, Weeks, Van Cort, and many others.

Honestly, there is pain in the offering. But I know that’s a good thing. Gifts should cost us something if they are to be a true gift. And in case you’re wondering, the pain is not in parting with such costly collectibles. The pain is when I must take the scope in one hand and a cloth in the other, and carefully rub all of my aunt’s fingerprints off the scope before wrapping it in tissue and gently laying it into a giftbox. I’m not losing money or beautiful artistry. I’m losing another piece of that which remains of my aunt.

Today, only a few kaleidoscopes remain in the wood and glass display cabinet that Aunt Betty gave me, and I will continue to give them away as she requested. And as I hold her scopes in my hand and rub away the smudges and prints, I will remind myself of the gift I received that’s worth far more than her collection: The memory of a woman whose love and life shone brighter and more beautifully than any person I have ever had the privilege of knowing.cabinet