Blog: Murmurating

Blog to Book(s)…

With time on my hands in quarantine I wandered over here to dust off my struggling blog.

Blogging, unlike posting about paintings, has lacked, who knows. But inspired by a pandemic Facebook group out of Australia called Bin Isolation Outing, where some of the members surprised me by enjoying my snippets, I thought I’d enter the stories I edit as I go…

Writing in a vacuum is one of the loneliest things on earth. Can’t do it.

But my daily musings on my Facebook page (P Jean Oliver) feed my soul…maybe writing on a website is simply murmurating further afield. 

Also, under the “books” tabs on the menu, I will build each book in the passing days. 


May 9, 2020
These stunner dogwoods are right outside my door.
The big one’s where I first met Phoebe, one of my backyard crows, in June last year, and I came to call it the nursery tree.
Her mom Beyonce (who was Blue’s partner) used to stash Pheebs here, obviously telling her like my mom used to, to stay in the yard while she went for groceries.
One day walking by, I heard a raven in the tree, shocked, because there’s no way a raven would be there, I stopped and looked up, straight into Phoebe’s sparkling baby eyes.
Couldn’t be.
I forgot it, but a week or so later, I heard a kind of maniacal giggling on the roof nearest the tree, and looking over, I saw her up on the crest alone.
The laughing had definitely come from there, but still…
Eventually I looked the phenomenon up, and learned fledgling corvids often entertain themselves with mimicking, and gradually stop doing it.
Phoebe still talks a lot, usually quietly as if to herself, or caws out some amazing find or thought, the noise of which I’m never thrilled about so I’ll go out and shush her.
But as her caws bring me flying out the door to wave and shush, which entertains her immensely, who’s training who?
She uses crow sounds, some giggles, clicks, and the best is the raven; which I think she may do for fun because I caught her doing it once, then with clear enjoyment written all over her, she stayed on the roof watching the adults scatter.
Those lovely trees mean a sinus bonanza in my head. So, unless I want to hike to the ocean where the effect is less, which I can’t, inside it is. It sure would have been a perfect studio day; on a beautiful day like today, no one would have been there.
May 2, 2020
The morning coffee was wanting a theme, something to disengage over while I wake up and sip myself back into human.
What am I wanting, where would my ultimate escapism come from, over coffee, no barriers, nothing objectionable, everything stimulating–or should I just give up, and get that half a pie out of the freezer?
The answer came faster than the pie urge, I want to pack a suitcase, and go somewhere I’ve never been.
Escaping for me has always been about rambles, travelling, people watching (not necessarily engaging with), and no urgent agenda other than the time my next flight leaves.
Maybe if I read about painters, might learn something … not feeling inspired by painting, or the thought, but I nonetheless searched master painters topics on Google.
One notable search showed where my head is at (although the outlook’s improving the longer I write) with: “master painters, coffee, and the plague” search. Talk about the stuff of nightmares, Brugel the Elder and God knows what–that’s not what you wake up to, that’s what we wake up running from.
Thinking I needed soothing, I tried “master painters and their gardens”, but, yah…lovely stuff, soft, fluffy, brilliant, but right now that all feels about as escape as a still life of marshmallows. Apparently during a plague, there’s no sugar in my coffee for me in a Monet, Sargent, or a Renoir.
A theme for May emerged, a dream trip of all the best, not necessarily the most famous (but let’s start there) cafes in the world.
Where do I want to wander to today? Immediately, Naples. It’s the name of my favourite yellow, and the land of pastry, and that cake that transcends ecstasy…the soft, melting panettone.
No question. Let’s go. The next search, “famous cafes around the world” produced 50 places to choose from, and that’s just the well known ones.
Outside, it’s as densely quiet as a library or a basement archive, more like a Sunday than a Saturday, but a Sunday without the undercurrent of restfulness.
There may not be a way to physically escape, not altogether, although no doubt I’ll take a walk later. This morning my small apartment is darkened by a dull, heavy sky outside that’s drizzling rain, giving off a kind of oh, great, more brooding vibe.
Physically, maybe no, but mentally, why the hell not?
BTW there’s a video on this website of a chef making a pie that had me drooling–watch, let the guy’s gorgeous voice do its thing.

Archive: At the Studio, January 2020

The grounds around the Studio become an absolute wetlands wonderland in winter–soaked through, lush, the soccer field submerged under great-flood amounts of rain and flooding, teeming with life.

Everyday I watch quiet dramas playing out under spring-swept skies, an eagle overhead looking for an unwary squirrel, and the ganders and drakes, those good men of nature, necks stretched on diligent point, swivelling eyes guarding egg-heavy mates who trust their mates completely, as only wives of good men can, focused solely on gaining fat for lean weeks ahead on the nest.

Occasionally, a dog or boy is let loose, and allowed to chase the birds, shouted at, encouraged, or ignored by turns, by their irresponsible handlers.

The males sound the alarm, and everyone leaps to the air in irritated batches, sounding more pissed off than afraid.

Watching this amazing act of supreme organization, the training showing like an army well used to each other in battle, the groups lift, and shift, murmurating in MIXED breeds expertly to another part of the field, before floating slowly to the ground and continuing on with feeding, and watching.

Emily called it the great push of life, nature, getting ready for the babies.

Convergences of Murmuration
January 6, 2018

A curious man came to see my paintings. Over cups of tea in my studio (an activity which is almost a must in any art story), he took “Big Red” and “Are-Beauties” to a treasured home.

Understanding the house. Sketch by PJO

Big Red. Beacon Hill Park. P Jean Oliver. Acrylic on Canvas, 11″x14″. Privately Owned.

As it turns out, he and his intrepid family are in the realm of heritage preservationist heroes for me. They are the dedicated owners of Emily Carr’s Hill House, famously known as The House of All Sorts.

I’ve been trying very hard not to freak out because Emily wouldn’t have liked it. She referred to people who gush as muttonheads.

Once a few years ago, the house was open for public viewing in a citywide heritage building tour. I think I was second in line to get in. After seeing her studio inside, and taking in every nook and corner, I ditched the tour to spend the day in her backyard, Emily’s energy was so strong for me there it soothed me.

Are-Beauties, Arbutus Trees. Acrylic on Canvas, 9″ x 12″, P Jean Oliver. Privately Owned 😉

When I first went in, and climbed the long, narrow staircase to the top floor where Em’s studio is, I was overcome and crying by the time I crested the landing. What I hadn’t realized was the house is configured in a similar way inside as my childhood home in Quebec.

It seems a long journey, and no time at all, from that eight year old girl me, who stood transfixed in front of Emily’s “Grey” at the Montreal World Expo in 1967 (the painting actually scared me a little, and is still does), who longed to chip off and take home a bit of BC’s wild trees on display–to this sixty year old woman me, who waved off two of her darlings to go “live with Emily”.

Me at the house tour, 2016

That infamous “back stair” at the HOAS

Like many of us, Em’s path and mine are so mixed now, I should stop being surprised by the convergences. But to now have a thread in this woman’s tapestry, as an artist and a Canadian…it’s a profound honour that fills me with joy and pride.

The back stair, I can almost see her descending to feed the dogs and the furnace, or fleeing up it to hide in the attic.

What would it be like, in one of Emily’s apartments? To have free access to the strong, murmurating energy the house vibrates with. A place with wholesome, good lighting for painting, where cats and a bit of garden are welcomed, where I could happily walk in nearby Beacon Hill park everyday, or along the beach, just as Emily did. For now, my paintings will live there in my place.

Emily has a knack for enduring, of bringing us all along with her in an unbreakable bond, like the material in one of her hooked rugs, her unseen hands weaving us in.

Emily Carr in her Simcoe Studio

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