Many people do this through gardening or tending their yard, which is always amazing for me to see as I know the hours of work that goes into such gardening, even though I am quite sorely lacking in a green thumb myself (my mother carried this gene and it seems sadly to have skipped me entirely). However, even without a green thumb we can contribute to the beautification of our community, just as I learned early this morning.
You see I was headed downtown to pick up some coffee and some groceries and I decided to take a little detour onto a quiet little street in our downtown core. I had meant to go before now, but with the recent struggle with a recurrence of my chronic eye disease I have been housebound for days, unable to handle the sunlight or too much time under lights of any kind. This morning, though, with my eye problem approaching resolution I popped on dark sunglasses and ventured into a little pathway behind some houses to find something.
I was searching for Elsie.
The grass was very damp, lush and green but making my shoes very wet. The sun was shining, though, after days of rain, and the birds were singing a cheerful song, making the short walk a very pleasant one - and then I found Elsie, the mural Russell Thomas created to cover a piece of graffiti tagging on a shed in his backyard.
It is a lovely little spot there, quiet and green, and I paused for a few moments to take some "selfies with Elsie" and to read the prayers Russell has carefully inscribed on the mural. The one that touched me most perhaps was the prayer asking for us to return to the centre of our hearts, a prayer that resonated with me today as I have been immersed in fear for the last few days as I battled once again with the eye disease that has almost robbed me of sight in my left eye in the past and which has returned for another kick at the can. It was nice to spend some time with Elsie Yanik, a calm and centred soul in our lives and think about returning to the centre of my heart. As I made my way back to my car I felt more at peace than I have in days.
You see what Russell has done is taken a small hidden spot and beautified it through his talent. I am quite appreciative of this as recently I have taken my own small step in this direction.
Last year at the SMS Wine Auction I bid on a silent auction item that I subsequently won when the highest bidder did not claim his prize. It is a giant metal tree, handcrafted and a one-of-a-kind piece of art made by the husband of a dear friend. It was delivered to me this winter and it sat in my yard for months, forlorn and dejected, until the snow melted and I had another accommodating friend drag it onto my deck (it is quite heavy, too, a substantial piece of art). And once it was on the deck I took it and instead of wine bottles I strung lights all over it, tiny white lights that shimmer in the night. I bought the LED kind so it takes very little energy and so I can keep it lit all night long - and it is on purpose that you can see the tree from one of the main thoroughfares of our community, clearly visible on my deck as you drive by.
You see it doesn't take a huge amount of money or a municipal department to beautify. We can each do it, through a mural on a shed, a lighted metal tree, a well-tended yard or some other homegrown initiative adding interest and beauty to our community. I intend this summer to photograph some of the things I find where people have invested of themselves to beautify our community, tagging them on social media as #ymmbeautify so I can share some of the grassroots things we do to make the city beautiful. Just the other day the Intrepid Junior Blogger mentioned someone has built a small stone inukshuk on a trail by our house and I intend to go and seek it out as soon as I can tolerate the outdoors light once more - but I know there are so many others out there, too, and finding them will be an adventure.
Fort McMurray is an incredible community, full of amazing people and natural beauty. But it is full of something else, too. It is filled with those who are taking small, simple steps to beautify the community and share this beauty with others. And there is something truly magnificent about this kind of action - it is infectious. So, let yourself be infected by beauty - and then create and share your own as we build a strong, vibrant - and beautiful - Fort McMurray.