Artists inspire resolution: show more gratitude for beauty

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 5, 2017

Wide-angle view of mountains west of Morley across hostile foreground beckons viewers to see beyond immediate despair to find hope. Photo by Gerald Kaquitts

No sooner had I gone to press with my New Year’s resolution column than life cried out, “Not so fast!”

My resolution for 2017 was to show more gratitude for beauty. But what possible beauty could there be to justify gratitude in the Christmas week news about what happened to a former member of the Chiniki First Nation council at Morley?

The body of Jeremy Kaquitts, 44, missing for two weeks after he went for a walk on a seriously sub-zero night, had been found – frozen.

Jeremy was the grandson of renowned artist/actor the late Stoney Nakoda Chief Frank Kaquitts (Ganutha Îge, “Sitting Wind”) and traditional Elder Kathleen Kaquitts (Wîkoske Wathte, “Beautiful Maiden”), and son of Rhonda Kaquitts and photographer/councillor the late Gerald Kaquitts.

It was in Gerald’s heritage-rooted words and photography that I encountered the comforting wisdom for this moment of grief.

Back in the 1980s he gave me a 16×20 inch black and white copy of a photo he’d taken of a desolate summer scene near his home near the entrance to Kananaskis Country.

A dried, cracked wasteland dominates the foreground in the photo. The fissures look enormous. Who could ever cross this hostile terrain? Yet, far off in the distance are the familiar mountains with slopes moist from melting snow nourishing the forest at their feet.

In reality, the seemingly unreachable mountains were almost at Gerald’s doorstep, and the “hostile terrain” was an easily traversed dried mudhole only a few metres across. Gerald had photographed the scene with an ultra-wide-angle lens from a point just a hand’s breadth above the ground. Being so close to the mudflat magnified it to despairing proportions.

But, Gerald pointed out to me, if the scene could be viewed as an eagle sees it when soaring high, hope would return. For what is viewed from close up as hopeless is redeemed in the grander scheme of things.

It’s about looking at life from the right perspective, he said, a lesson his grandparents had taught him.

“They saw the world for how beautiful it was, instead of seeing ugliness all around. Seeing the world every day for how beautiful it is, and being thankful for it – that was the way of life for my ancestors.”

Jeremy’s tragic death is, indeed, a difficult wasteland in the community’s journey. The appropriate gratitude is not for that wasteland, however, but for the eagle’s eye view of the greater hope and peace beyond.

In this, Gerald’s ancestral wisdom provides a special insight into words many of us memorized as children: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”

And in that hope – in that beauty – I find comfort at this time for Jeremy’s family and all who knew and loved him.


© 2017 Warren Harbeck

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