Last week I had the privilege of attending the graduation ceremony at Dalhousie University where Cornelia Oberlander was receiving yet another honorary degree. Giving the convocation address, she spoke the importance of taking risks. To paraphrase: “To make the world a better place, we cannot keep doing things the same old way they have always been done. We must take risks.”
What a treat it was, after this inspiring event, to spend some relaxing time with Cornelia – now that I wasn’t “trying to worm things out of [her]” (as Cornelia put it), and with her husband, who helped bring me and Cornelia together four years ago, when the seed of the idea for the book Love Every Leaf, the life of landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander was planted. And how tantalizing, to find out things about her that I would have loved to have been able to write about! Susan Perren was right when she wrote in a Globe & Mail review on May 17:
It is questionable whether Stinson has quite “got” all of this remarkable woman: There is evidence from Stinson that at some level Oberlander didn’t want to be “got”.
One of the highlights of our time together was a trip down the south shore of Nova Scotia to the place where Peter Carver and I run our summer writing workshops, and which used to be the summer home of the Oberlanders’ friend, Humphrey Carver (Peter’s father). What did Cornelia do as soon as she got out of the car? Did she gaze out to sea as most visitors do upon arrival? No. She spotted some tiny plants in the rugged terrain and immediately dropped to her knees to photograph them! We should have known she would do this. We were treated to a botany lesson all the way down the south shore!
And just in case you’re wondering – despite the fact that Cornelia is thirty years older than I am (and I am no spring chicken), she had no trouble at all springing back to her feet to walk the paths that Humphrey had created over the hills overlooking the sea.
I’m back home in Ontario now. Cornelia has moved on with her husband to Montreal, where tomorrow she will receive an honorary degree from McGill. What a privilege it will be for McGill graduates to hear Canada’s “premier landscape architect” speak about the park on Mount Royal which they will know well and which was created by Frederick Law Olmsted, an inspiration to Cornelia and considered by many to be the “father of landscape architecture”. I wish I could be there with them.