Breathlessness and Brilliance

A few days ago we flew and flew, with great love in our hearts, only to find ourselves in Breckenridge, Colorado – breathless with altitude and not without some concern over recent local wildfires.

Alas, while we were there storms did kick up, rain did fall and temperatures too, just enough to get at least this fire under some semblance of smoldered control.

Our travels to this high country were to visit our eldest, Jack, as he is working with the National Repertory Orchestra for their popular summer symphonic festival of music.  Each day we were able to attend their rehearsals which are free and open to the public, many of whom attend with friends in tow.

In a whirlwind of just a few days we managed to take in not only these rehearsals but two fabulous concerts.  The first included Shostakovich’s Fifth along with music by Mendelssohn and López.  We enjoyed it immensely!

Warming up just before the show!

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”  ~Plato

When not taking in music we enjoyed a bit of what Breckenridge has to offer in the way of touristy fun.

While the Hub worked one day, I opted to go horseback riding.

I’m not entirely comfortable around horses but each day we should do a little something challenging.  And so I did.

What is it about horse-loving girls.  They tend to have a spot of admirable moxie I think.

Between rehearsals and concerts and everything else, we did get to see and feed Jack.  And to catch up on selfie shenanigans, which was great fun.

I’m not one for selfies in general but sometimes one can’t resist the temptation for silliness.

We even managed to get in some sketching here and there……

My favorite is this sketch below from our drive up Boreas Pass where I was captivated by some yellow lichen on the side of the mountain.  And so I painted it.

The views from up there weren’t half-bad either.

Saturday soon arrived and by then we were feeling a bit more acclimatized to the altitude.

 

 

 

 

I did wonder how the wind players were faring with the altitude, but apparently they have über efficient embouchures and were therefore all right. The poor reed players on the other hand were carving new reeds for themselves day to day due to the intense dryness of the climate. I marvel.

Saturday was to be a special day all around because a dear and long time friend who now lives in Denver was to drive up for that evening’s concert featuring the music of Star Wars composed by John Williams.

 

We watched a bit of rehearsal, of course, getting in the mood for the evening’s Star Wars excitement.

Royalty was in attendance that night and the mood was light and energetic.

(side note, the first few notes of this bit of Star Wars music once conjured a whole slew of summer camp shenanigans as we were learning this Breton tune below from our beloved and brilliant flute instructor, Nuala Kennedy.  See if you can hear what I heard….)

The evening’s concert ended with an encore presentation of the wonderful and iconic Cantina piece, with a solo by none-other than the NRO’s brilliant conductor, Carl Topilow.

More selfie shenanigans.

Even though he must’ve been exhausted, Jack graciously posed for photos with us, as well as with our long-time friend Amy from Denver and his amazing ‘host-parents’, Tom and Darlena.

Tom and Darlena graciously sponsor a musician or two or three each summer.  Taking them on wonderful hikes on their days off, and out for iced cream after concerts.  (Not to mention the backing they provide to the NRO itself!)  Even though Jack is a fully-fledged adult, it’s nice as a parent to know he has parental influences to call upon should he need them.  We also enjoyed a wonderful dinner out all together before the concert.

I’m told the NRO is the only summer festival that provides a host-family experience for the musicians. It really helps them feel at home and part of the community for the summer.
Soon it was time for ice-cream….

 

As it goes with whirlwind weekends, our time in the mountains was quickly past.  We bid goodbye to Amy who headed back down the mountain to her life in Denver.  We told Jack we would meet him in his birthplace of Maine in just a matter of weeks.  We too made our way back to Denver, not unaware of the toll the altitude was taking.

I for one was ready to get back to some oxygenated air, although a bit muggy as things tend to be back here.

There is more to come in this summer of wonders.  I find myself marveling at it all lately.  Dear friendships, these amazing adult offspring of ours (do click the link and see what Madeleine has been writing about in recent months) and the places we get to see along the way.  Some days the world feels as if it is going to hell in a handbasket.  But it’s good to step aside from that, if we are fortunate enough to be able to do so, and to bask in the brilliance of a host of talented and driven young musicians.  In their small way they are making the world a much better place.  We are thrilled Jack has has a part in it this summer!

As for me, I am attending to household to-do’s and re-packing for next week’s adventures down to an older set of mountains for some older sets of tunes.  Til next time….

 

 

 

Still point between journeys

Found a fortune in my backpack upon return from NM. It was from a take out meal I had in my hotel room at the Super 8, wrecked from heat exhaustion after exploring the Chaco Canyon area. It reads ‘a much needed vacation will allow you to unwind.’ Perhaps this is true.

Seems I have only been home for a day or two from New Mexico, but alas, it’s been far longer.  Long enough to get dragged back into the day-to-day, with day-job-work to attend to, family to connect with,  but I find myself on the eve of my favorite part of the season.  That part of the year in which I take ‘off’ from work, and yet, from which often my deepest idea-gatherings and thought-craftings dwell.  It seems a bit upside-down, doesn’t it?

Tomorrow before dawn we fly to visit our first born who is spending a magical summer out in Colorado on a musical fellowship.  I am excited to get back to a mountainous climate and to see our kid with my own eyes to make sure he’s all good.  4 years of conservatory can take it out of a fella and I’m his mama.   Enough said, I suppose.  This is not a usual jaunt for us in summer and it feels quite decadent.  We are excited and debating what to pack….

If time and inspiration allow, I will share some of our Rocky Mountain adventure here on the blog, but closely following this quick trip is my annual trek down the rabbit hole/ off to Brigadoon that is the Swannanoa Gathering.  Every year this week of music is exactly what it needs to be.  I’m out of practice but excited to see old friends and make new ones.  All of us sharing a love of Irish Music.  So we shall see, and I place no pressure on myself.

This last trek to Taos has me all shifted inside.  Not as game on the pressures that make me ‘work’.  Allowing things just to be instead of pushing them along.

“You can’t push the river.” ~Eunice Proust (via Terry Pratchett)

Just allowing.

Today, this allowing comes in the form of a cup of tea and some knitting to sit with this afternoon under a clouded-gray sky.  Seems like a total waste of time and yet, here I am.

I came across an amazing Rilke quote over on twitter the other day and I think it sums up my life’s work beautifully…

“I have been circling for a thousand years, and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.”  ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Amen.

The other day I did some painting – finally – and it felt really good.  And now I am left with a small pile of not-good paintings lying around.  I find it really fascinating that the visual arts are such that our practicing leaves visible evidence in the world.  Often evidence we might not want others to see or share.  This isn’t the case in most other art forms.  When I practice tunes on my flute, I play them, maybe get a little better at playing the tune and move on – with no slime trail left behind.  This is something we visual artists must grapple with.  Even Georgia O’Keeffe had stretcher frames in her workshop off of which she had sliced undesirable paintings to be recycled or destroyed.  I love her moxie.

And, !ya esta!.  Sharing a cup of tea, and a quote that has me thinking big thoughts in the course of this, the latest of my gypsy summers.  I love being on the road.  It causes me to question everything and then to return home with eyes wide open to the beauty of it all and my gratitude for both the journey and the coming home.

 

 

New Mexico Portals

You have traveled too fast over false ground;

Now your soul has come, to take you back.

 

Take refuge in your senses, open up

To all the small miracles you rushed through.

 

Become inclined to watch the way of rain

When it falls slow and free.

 

Imitate the habit of twilight,

Taking time to open the well of color

That fostered the brightness of day.

 

Draw alongside the silence of stone

Until it’s calmness can claim you.”

~John O’Donohue

 

My yearly pilgrimage to the Land of Enchantment began with a few days of solo travel, enabling my body and soul to sink back into this place.  The last year has been a challenging one in many ways, not without its bright spots as well, and I had been craving time and space to sit with the everything of all of it.  New Mexico has a way of giving us what we need.

I drove and drove, many long, mindless miles, embracing the quietude that comes with such spacious landscape.

Chaco Canyon is a vast and far-flung destination but worth the effort it takes to get there.  With a near full moon upon us, the regularly scheduled star gazing tour provided by the National Park Service, instead became an evening walk amongst the ghosts of this strange land.  Haunted and beautiful, indeed.

By the time I made my way to a charming little Super 8 in Bloomfield, NM that night, I had been up for 22 straight hours and slept, dreamless.

I found Chaco to be a mixed bag of ancient history, natural splendor and cognitive dissonance.  On the one hand, I was grateful for the opportunity to visit and experience this Unesco World Heritage site, and to the NPS for their careful and respectful stewardship.  And yet, more than one ranger remarked that native people in New Mexico and beyond have stated that these places are meant to fade back into the ground after they have served their purpose – all of their great mysteries, feats of architectural engineering and ghostly human stories lost to the sands of time.

I left Chaco a bit conflicted about it all yet enchanted all the same with wonderings about what sorts of people lived or worshipped here and what we might have in common.  It was so good to be out in the wide open spaces of New Mexico with the vistas both outward and inward it provides to a tired soul.  Grateful for my solitude and art supplies, I soaked it all up.

Then, just like that, it was time to head to O’Keeffe country….

I was fortunate enough to snag a ticket to a “Special Tour” of Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio led by a personal caretaker of Georgia’s and her brother, who worked the gardens in her later years.  This tour worked magically into my schedule for traveling to Taos to teach the following week and so I invested in it.

There is such serenity to O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu home.  Her aesthetic was modern yet earthy – timeless, really.  No photos were permitted of her indoor spaces but I was captivated by the light, the serene colors, and the fact that she too kept jade, aloe and other such plants that many of us keep in our own homes.  She collected stones and bones and other things she found beautiful and surrounded herself with them.  Knowing this about her and seeing these collections in her home and just outside felt very personal, artist to artist.

I was captivated by the sense of this place.

Eventually, upon arrival back home here in Ohio, I chuckled to see that my own hollyhocks had bloomed while I was away, and I was welcomed by my own ghostly skull….

I’ll admit to geeking out a bit while in the home and gardens of this iconic artist.  I stood in the very doorway Georgia herself had found compelling enough to paint again and again, exploring its shape and form and depth.

Photo of me, captured by a kind stranger and fellow tour goer.

It was like standing in a portal of history.  And I have always been a lover of doorways to other worlds.

These few days could have been ‘enough’ to fill this empty artist’s cup and set me to painting once again.  But alas, I had not come to New Mexico for the making of my own work.  I was here to teach.

Taos has become my home away from home in the years I have spent teaching there.  Much like Georgia O’Keeffe herself, the lure of New Mexico brings me back time and again, every summer, and each year I discover more captivating beauty and I continue to build community as well.  Mabel’s family has grown and changed with the newly employed and the newly born, yet Mabel herself is still in charge of the place and I was welcomed home with open arms.

photo credit – Christine Kuhr

I took to getting settled, washing the dust of the road off in my familiar claw foot tub in Tony’s bathroom upstairs, and unpacking all of my boxes of books and supplies – readying the classroom space for a week ahead of work and wonder.

By day I worked and by evening I caught up with dear friends.  It had been a year since my last visit and that is far too long.  I was caught up on the latest dog walking paths, and introduced to new dirt roads and rushing riverbeds. I held a new Little Bird and gleaned a small smile from her.  I was told with a wink and a smile that if we only found a little slice of land, that we too could build a small adobe space of our own near town, and that I’d have all the help I’d need for this handmade home.   I’ll admit I am tempted.

This is from our final night together, minus one who had to leave us early. The joy in this photo emanated from this amazing group of people from the moment they met one another.

Soon the beautiful people attending my workshop arrived, some new to me, others who’ve been before and return home to Mabel’s to renew their contract with what has become sacred work.  I no longer question this truth -that what I do in these workshops is indeed a sacred kind of work.

Journal page with a telling horoscope for the week’s work, by Rosemary Berwald

What started out, for me at least, as a way to get to know the world and to slow down and take it all in with the wonder that befits it, has become an intense practice of creative mindfulness.  On the one hand, I’m introducing and sprucing up the old lessons of composition and perspective, line quality and color theory.  And yet, on a much deeper, richer level of the soul, I am working with people to disengage their inner critic (just give her a cookie and a window to sit by, she’s been hard at work and deserves a break, don’t you think?), to tap into their birthright of creativity and the act of making something which makes a heart sing.

Journal page by Christine Kuhr. ‘Light in the darkness’ study and caricature of Mabel etc.
Sketch by Marty Regan of ‘The Pink House’ at Mabel’s place
Journal page of ‘Light in the Darkness’ study exercise and quotes from the workshop time by Jan Reyes.
A collection of ‘tinies’ by Connie Ware – in which we play with the scale of our drawings to get out of our own way. Connie was a self-described ‘beginner’ at the start of the workshop. Beautiful work!!!

Occasionally, we worked in our books from memory, such as when attending a sacred Corn Dance at the Pueblo and we must only capture images in our mind’s eye.  I will note here that all of the images below are now in the private sketchbooks of these artists, as records of the day’s experiences.  Very different than taking a photograph, which is prohibited on feast days.  We have a deep respect and regard for this notion.

A lovely page spread by Mary Lynn Munro, based on a visit to the Taos Pueblo.
Jo Diamantes created her very own book for this trip which now holds these wonderful studies of the corn dancers. Impressions in memory, evocative of the actual experience.
Barbara George (Our B.J.!) was the first to embark on corn dancer studies, even before we did a ‘how to draw people’ exercise. I think these are just lovely expressions of the colors and gestures we saw that day.

But mostly, we studied from what we had in front of us there and then.  The Mabel Dodge Luhan House has much to offer in the way of beauty and things to pull into our sketchbooks and so we did.

photo credit – Rosemary Berwald

Photo Credit – Christine Kuhr
We even took some time one morning to sketch miss Little Bird and her sweet toes.

We discussed how to capture that sense of ‘hither, thither and yon’ which beautiful landscapes provide us with.  Otherwise known as ‘atmospheric perspective’.

photo credit Christine Kuhr
We also discovered how to make a believable rendering of rusty surfaces. Perfect for the odd Taos truck or rusty, steel sculptures.

We worked and played each day, sometimes into the night.  I was a bit manic with the magic of it all to be honest.

Photo credit Sally Hickerson

But I love this work and the people who are drawn to it.  I had to milk the time there for all it gave to me!  I even found time to settle in to a tune or two with the local session players who welcome me every visit ever so graciously.  For this I am deeply grateful.

As the week went on we sketched and laughed and drew and painted and ate good food.  We were treated once more to a visit to my friend Harold’s herd of buffalo which everyone enjoyed.  There was a morning visit, and an evening time as well, as the buffalo are shy and do not accept great throngs of visitors.  Small groups met Harold at his ranch home where we caught up with him and the herd.  Grateful for the grace of these magnificent creatures and that of their farmer/steward.

We were fortunate to see a few baby buffalos on our visit!

photo credit Christine Kuhr
We are welcomed back by Harold and his family year after year with hugs and a catching up of the year passed.
What a gift this friendship has become to me and to the folks to come along to my workshop.

Too soon, as always happens, it was that time.

Photo by Mary Lynn Munro

Time to toast to a week of work well done.  With dinner created for us by chef Jeremiah Buchanan whom we collectively adored!

Photo by Ryobun McCormick (find him on instagram @dragonswisdom)

We shared our books around and traded addresses and gifts such as a wee concert by Marty Regan who is a musician by trade.

It was time to pack up the classroom and mail home my supplies.  I was grateful for the help and company of a few students who stayed around for an extra day to assimilate all we had learned together.

And it was time to visit a few more places before we had to leave this Land of Enchantment.  Like the breezy hillsides of the DH Lawrence ranch.

These guys really liked the vegetables we brought for them to eat.
I enjoy just sitting under this tree and watching the sunlight play and hearing the wind whisper through its branches.

I needed to take the time to sit by the river at the Pueblo and promise that I would come back.  To memorize the sound of its waters which have come to me in dreamtime at times.

Time to ponder moody skies which seemed to beckon “Come back and paint, quietly.”

On my final evening in town, with all of my company scattered to the Four Directions, the skies opened up with the great gift of a thunderstorm. This brief storm was filled with ethereal pink light that I longed to paint somehow.

A friend of mine asked me the other day during our very ‘middle-age-appropriate’ discussion of “What Are We Doing With Our Lives” if I didn’t think that being a good teacher might be Enough.  I had been filling her in on the Taos trip and what a deep success I felt it had been all around.  I was telling her how enriching it is to teach something successfully, but that I have been struggling to make the switch back over to being a maker-of-things.  More specifically, a painter and maker of pictured-stories for small humans.  I feel blocked creatively, as if in all of the beauty found in the creativity of others, my own quiet artist self has taken to the hills.  I am seeking to woo her back home to roost.  I love being a teacher.  And I am so excited that my spring trip to Guatemala next year is already sold out and that next year’s Taos trip already has some takers (and I haven’t even listed it yet!!).  But I long to paint.  And write.  And draw.  And I must trust this longing, even as I pursue my work in these amazing workshops.  And so, no.  I don’t think it is enough.

I think part of this perceived block is just my inner-processing of what was a stupendously amazing trip back to a place which I love dearly and work which excites and challenges me.  A painter friend of mine reminded me to be gentle with myself.  That teaching takes a lot out of an introvert.  That making the switch back to quietude takes time.  And so I have been being gentle.  I have been holding off making this post about it all because in some way, to write about Taos time is to shut a lid on it until next time.  Buttoning that space up so that I don’t lose track of it between now and next year.  I hope to get back for a visit between now and then if I can.   Perhaps even for a workshop with Solange Leboucher who is a practitioner of Polarity Therapy which I have come to lean on as a tool of the soul when I teach out there.

I don’t know.  I do know that if feels good to get back here on this old writing space and share some photos and to attempt to convey in some small way the gratitude that I have for the work that I do.  I marvel at the scope of it sometimes, even as I ask more of it.

Til, next time….. enjoy this summer’s travels no matter where you go.

ps.

I met Taos based poet and Rumi translator Daniel Ladinsky while out with the girls. This is on his business card, which I love. Because I believe it to be true.

pps.  And these words, from Millicent Rogers…..

“Did I ever tell you about the feeling I had a little while ago? Suddenly, passing Taos Mountain I felt that I was part of the Earth, so that I felt the Sun on my Surface and the rain.  I felt the Stars and the growth of the Moon, under me, rivers ran.  And against me were the tides.  The waters of rain sank into me. And I thought if I stretched out my hands they would be Earth and green would grow from me.  And I knew that there was no reason to be lonely that one was everything, and Death was as easy as the rising sun and as calm and natural – that to be enfolded in Earth was not an end but part of oneself, part of everyday and night that we lived, so that Being part of the Earth one was never alone.  And all fear went out of me – with a great, good stillness and strength.”

A story of Petrushka

It all began with a request, from my first born, to create a special gift for his long time university level private-lesson teacher/ coach / mentor, Paul Patterson.   If anyone could understand our complex and multifaceted young musician, and light a path ahead for him through the throes of life in a conservatory setting, Paul has been that person.   He enabled Jack to see that there was no need to choose one musical path over any others – that to study jazz music was not to abandon the classical tradition.  This forked path is not for every musician, and it takes a great deal of extra work, but over the years, with the help of some other amazing instructors as well, Paul has quietly given our Jack many tools to follow his musical nose down whichever path that may lead.

Words simply cannot convey how grateful we are to Paul for his patience, his belief in this kid, and for truly shaping a young life in a way none of us thought possible.  Maybe in some ways, he even saved that young life and placed it on a more hopeful and focused path when he needed it most.

I had in mind perhaps a painting, of a master and his young student. Or perhaps a handmade book.  In typical fashion I thought and thought but was dragging my proverbial heels, artistically speaking, as Jack’s end-of-conservatory recital drew nearer.

Finally, Jack came up with a brilliant, though rather lofty, idea for a gift.  The kind of gift which might suit a teacher who has everything he may want or need.  What if I were to create a small puppet-styled doll, in the shape of Stravinsky’s famed Petrushka ballet?

And so I sourced some scrap wood from a carver friend, and set to experimenting.

This red cedar is incredibly beautiful, but difficult to carve in the time scope we had (and with my ever-so-rusty carving skills!).  So I fell back on some basswood I had up in our attic space which is softer to work with.

After a number of practice runs and false starts, I finally had a serviceable head with which to build Petrushka’s figure and so I set to work on the rest of the body.

I carved and carved.

Shaping things out of little blocks of wood and slowly bringing character and a bit of life to them.

I’ve worked with puppets in the past, most notably with the brilliant Frisch Marionette Company.  But my work there mostly centered on the performance aspect of puppetry, not necessarily the building of them.

And so my goal with this particular work was not a proper puppet necessarily, poised and balanced for nuance of movement, but rather a doll, with puppet tendencies, to be presented as an artful gift.

Soon I had pieces of this puppet-doll put together and able to move hither and thither in his own way.

To me, a representation of anything, be it animal, person, or puppet character, doesn’t really come to life (two-dimensionally or three) until the eyes have been gifted the spark of personality.

Creepy as this may look to those averse to clown-styled imagery, it was upon painting this Petrushka’s face that the personality of this tragic ballet-theater character truly fell into being.

Soon I was crafting a little outfit for him, all handmade, as proper gifts often are.

After awhile he was complete, except for the semblance of strings to give him the feel of a proper puppet, if not necessarily the movement of one.

This Petrushka is full of quirky personality, much like our Jack, and much like his amazing mentor, Paul himself.

It’s been a great joy to put time and energy into this project, even if it meant getting behind in and left behind by a few others.

This Petrushka’s workings are a tad on the clumsy side…

 

But he is a lovely sculptural gift for some one who loves music.  Someone who has himself, done much to sculpt the abilities, thinking and sensibilities of our young musician.  Things we as parents can’t always do.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.  I firmly believe in the truth of this and I take pride in the other adults we’ve invited into our lives over the years to help us in raising ours.  We are deeply indebted to all of them, and this trend continues into the young adulthood of both of our kids.  All that said, Paul Patterson is exceptionally close to our hearts for all the hours he has spent shaping and carving out the musical life of Jack.  We often ran into him at gigs Jack had, even outside of University life.  He always had much to report on all of the hard work Jack was putting into his music, and how we might best support him in our own, non-musical ways.  We can’t thank him enough!

Paul, this one is for you.  With love and gratitude.

Allies

It’s the time of year when everything feels a bit frenetic.  The garden is growing by leaps and bounds.  I’m finding it hard to decide where to place my efforts – weed out more of those plants choking out their neighbors? Thin the greens under my new apple trees?  It’s truly a game of whack-a-mole in many ways.  And the garden isn’t the only place.

There is simply So Much Going On.  But I am reminded that this is how spring goes around here.  I have many details to attend to with regard to the Taos trip which is mere weeks away.  And always I find myself feeling behind there.  That sense of not enough time to get it all tended to.  I have one kid just recently graduated from University and about to spend the summer at a music fellowship out of state.  His worldly possessions must get from his place to ours somehow in the coming weeks. The other kid is over seas in Africa working this month (you can read about her adventures here.)  So there is the quiet noise of worry in the back of my mind.  But if I am to be honest, it’s not as great as one might think.  No more worry really than when she is just up the road at school.  This is good.

There does come a time when they outgrow the nest and must forge their own paths.  I am grateful for it.

In spite of all the goings on, with my art work, the family, our green space, I opted again this spring to take one more thing on board.  Last year at this time it was a 6 week oil painting class focusing on portraiture.  Because painting faces is scary and I wanted to learn about it and challenge myself.  I wanted to be the beginner, the non-expert, uncomfortable, making bad art – before I go out to Taos and challenge my own students to do the same.

I remember last spring feeling much the same during the arc of that painting course as I do now.  That I had taken on too much.  That I wasn’t very good at all this.  That I wasn’t enough.  It is good for the ego to sit with these feelings every so often, just so we don’t get to feeling too smug.  And so I keep tackling new challenges where I can. This spring’s challenge has come in the form of a class called Intuitive Plant Medicine.  I am only a week and a half in and already feeling overwhelmed by all of the new things to learn and consider.

I know just enough to be dangerous in the garden.  I have a green thumb by nature, actually talk to plants, believe in fairies – the works.  But I am no herbalist.  I am not a scientist prone to the Latin naming of things.  I appreciate a good metaphor and enjoy delving into the edges and hedges of things.  And lately, the edges have been those found here on our little green space.  And so I took this class, knowing I’d be flying a little close to the sun with it butting directly up to my time in Taos.

As a class we gather virtually in a wonderful online community forum, rich with beauty, and so lovingly stewarded and curated by our instructor, Asia Suler, of One Willow Apothecaries.  I find such comfort in the vulnerability and openness of my fellow classmates.  Some of them are already quite knowledgeable in the realm of plants and medicines and the like.  While others of us are new to this side of things.  For a few of us, the gorgeous onslaught of so much information has been a bit overwhelming, as written in this lovely blog post by a fellow plant intuitive.  We are learning not only the ‘woo’ side of plants, but also a lot of the nuts and bolts of basic botany.  We are being guided to find plant allies which both physically and metaphorically may have a thing or two to teach us.

For me, I had one before the class even began.  I had read Mary Reynolds’ lovely book Garden Awakening over the winter and had been spending a fair amount of time outside – really listening to what our space wants and needs.  We’ve downed a number of trees due to the ravages of the emerald ash borer beetle and age, and I could sense that we needed to pay attention.  I had been wondering, Oak? Or Maple?  I knew Willow would be placed out front by the creek.  But what about the yard?

And then, one day, I got an unexpected answer.  Apple.

Unexpected because I have never grown a fruit tree.  Aren’t they notoriously troublesome? Don’t the deer ravage their young trunks and eat all the fruit?  The idea came out of nowhere.

But I had my marching orders and I began thinking about apples.  A few weeks later, at a local seed swap, I spied what I believed were apple trees across the room and went to introduce myself.  I learned I would need more than one apple tree to promote proper pollination.  Eventually I looked all around town at expensive and chemically raised apples and was beginning to feel a bit down hearted but finally came back to the same folks I had met at the seed swap.  I bought two young trees to put in the ground and plan to raise them chemical free, which I hear is possible, unless you talk to the guys at the local garden center.  We shall see how it goes.

I’ve shielded the trees from the deer with little individual fences.  And I will keep an eye out for signs of problems.  But so far they seem really well adjusted and even have some young fruit growing.

The other ally I have from this process is an Iris down near the creek.  We have a fair number of these which grow there, blooming golden and lovely each spring.

In spite of stormy weather, which brings a force of water through our creek bed at times, these plants continue to grow and bloom, letting the rushing water wash over them and go right on by.  I feel a bit like these Irises just now.  The rush of life going by so fast, and me, just trying to root down and hold my ground in the midst of it all.

And so I dig in the dirt, literally and figuratively, as my yearly offering in Taos draws nigh.  My workshop began, years and years ago, as a little evening class here in town where I shared how I take a blank book and fill it with life’s little details.  Everything from to-do lists to ta-da! (voilá!) lists, sketches and skepticism, weather reports and vacations recalled and catalogued through drawn and painted imagery.  I marvel at how far this work has come and what gifts it has bestowed upon me.  In recent years, it’s become so clear to me that this process is so much bigger than merely keeping an active sketchbook.  It is a practice in mindful meditation on what makes our hearts sing.  These books of ours are a compass of sorts.  As Frederick Franck puts it so eloquently:

” SEEING/DRAWING as a way of meditation, a way of getting into intimate touch with the visible world around us, and through it… with ourselves.  “

In class I encourage students to trust their own visual voices, to trust that the marks they make with their paints and pencils and pens are important in developing those voices.  That to be the beginner is their only job.  In the intuitive plant medicine class, I am remembering what it is like to be that beginner again as well.  I am reminded that we are enough, right where we are just now.  There is real magic in that knowing.

See me sparkle….

And a quick p.s. on the notion of Allies and Weathering the Storm:

The other night I spoke in front of our village council in favor of a new resolution which would call for specific non-discrimination language to be adopted by our village.  Vital language and a cultural tone which states, all are welcome here.  That hatred and vitriol will not be tolerated.  That this is village is filled with allies to the marginalized.  Some may be thinking that I have backed off of politics here on this virtual space of mine. And perhaps on the surface, I have.  But I am quietly paying attention.  And just as quietly, and subversively, I continue to #resist all that the White House and #45 Himself stand for.  I am planting a garden which will feed us here and there – without chemicals.  I am forging a path of beauty in the world with fellow creatives.  I am attentive to the goings on of my local government where change really begins. These are subversive acts of politics.  I believe we as a country can do better than the likes of who we’ve placed into power at the very top of things.  I’m beginning with my own back yard. 

 

Sketch Antigua Guatemala – Spring 2018

Come with me to the beautiful and ancient city of Antigua, Guatemala for a week of exploration through the lens of a travel journal!

March 4-10  ~ 2018

$1240 per person, double occupancy includes the following*:

~6 nights at Posada San Sebastian in the heart of Antigua

~5 days touring Antigua’s many sites, ruins, churches and museums with sketching instruction all along the way.  (entry to sites included in workshop fee.)

~All meals, including dinner Sunday of arrival and breakfast on Saturday, departure day.

~ Transportation to and from airport Sunday March 4 and Saturday March 10.

~$300 deposit holds your spot ($50 non-refundable)

*does not include airfare to Guatemala, gratuities, alcohol or the optional master weaving class.  single occupancy is also available for an added cost.  

 

email me, Amy Bogard at abeefrnd@gmail.com to register.  

Space is limited.  

 

Antigua, Guatemala is a treasured World UNESCO site, nestled into the heart of volcano country.  It is about an hour from Guatemala City where you will fly into.  While ancient in it’s long and varied history, the city is also quite cosmopolitan. Wandering the city streets, you’ll hear a variety of languages and there are many options for dining.

We will spend our week exploring the sites from our cozy home base at the Posada San Sebastian, where upon arrival you’ll be warmly greeted, “welcome home”.   Our host, Luis, is a gatherer of many interesting things and some of our time will be spent sketching his amazing collection of Guatemalan oddities.

Native Guatemalan culture is alive and rich in Antigua and is expressed in food and incredible textiles.  We will learn a bit about these things along the way and capture these colors in our sketchbooks.  While we will be spending most of our time in the city of Antigua, we will travel one day to the nearby town of San Antonio Aguas Calientes to the home of local weaver Lidia Lopez. Her family will prepare chicken pepian, a traditional and delicious dish, for our lunch, and Lidia will talk about the art of backstrap weaving. You will have the option of a weaving lesson for an additional fee.

If you are new to the sketching/travel journal process, fear not!  I will have you drawing and painting more than you could imagine in no time at all!  There is so much to see and do in Antigua.  A travel journal is the best souvenir you could give to yourself.

Join us!

Bells of Springtime

It seems many things in our little acre of land are bell shaped just now, fairly ringing with the bodacious arrival of a proper spring time. Daytime warmth coaxes and whispers to  the plants to grow and the evenings, cool again for resting before another day of more and more growing.

If one listens quietly enough, for long enough, the chiming of these little bells might be heard all around.  Small ones, tinkling near the ground, nestled and tucked under larger, louder plantings.

Other bells chime deeper, perhaps with the promise of a new backyard food source.

Some have a note so high and so sweet, only the most careful listeners might hear them.

And still others have a chime so light and ephemeral, one can’t really know if they sing the song of the mists or the breezes.  But if one listens…..

I’ve been listening.  With my trowel, moving plants around and tucking in new gifts from friends in trade.  Planting seeds and pondering plots and plans, all while these little bells ring and chime and sing all around me.

I’ve been listening with my pencil and paint brush and ink, to capture a bit of this ephemerality, and pin it’s simulacrum to my paper as best I can.

This is good practice as tomorrow I must leave my little plot of land here for a few days to lead two days of sketching with a very speical group in California.  We will visit a lovely garden and some wonderous trees as well, whose names I am eager to learn.  I am so lucky to do this work I do, encouraging folks to find the paths of their own ink lines, pencil marks and paint puddles.  It’s teaching season once again and I am glad for it.

But always I will come back home, to this little place, which is feeling really magical just now with the gardens bursting forth and the beauty of the bells in my ears.

“I am sure there is magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to make it do things for us.”  ~Frances Hodgson Burnett  

(thank you Cathryn Worrell for this gem of a quote.  You can see her Unicorn here.)

I’ll be back in a few days with tales of a land far west from here, but where friends await my arrival.  For now, I leave you with some more magic for your ears….

 

 

Dreaming the Between into being

A painting of the heart; beeswax, paint and love

Last Night As I Was Sleeping

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

                                                                 ~Antonio Machado
Perhaps it is the bright face of the full moon which pours into my bedroom window in the wee hours of the morning.  Or maybe it’s that I have traveled far and wide just recently, with more journeys awaiting me in the wings of weeks to come.  I do not know.  But I have been doing a fair amount of vivid dreaming while visiting the landscape of my sleep-time each night.
Generally a deep and dark sleeper, I seldom remember my dreams, but occasionally I get a conscious-time glimpse into  that other-world beyond and it’s tremendously exciting and inviting and I do not want it to end.  Thankfully, this has been occurring more and more and more.
Once, much like in the poem above from Antonio Machado, I dreamed that bees had crafted a hive in the walls of my home.  This dream-time home was different than my home here in waking-time. Yet it was my home none-the-less, as it often goes in dream-translation.  It was a quaint little house, nestled in quiet country.
Painted blue, it had lace curtains which blew gently in the breezes. Outside there was washing on the line, bleach-drying in the golden sunshine.  Inside, the bees had been so busy in the inner walls of this sweet home of mine that honey –rich, golden honey – began to seep from the very walls themselves.  And from the ceilings.  Drip, drip, dripping from every corner.  Oozing a golden coating on to all.  My waking self has a bit of an aversion to being sticky.  Give me the mess-making of mud-pies and the following-flowing of dust-bunnies, but stickiness can set my teeth on edge.  But my dream self saw and felt this honey coating everything as a great gift from the bees.  A sign of the richness in my day to day.  Seeping out of the very walls.
I come back often to this dream and the sensations it delivers upon the heart of my remembering, as I am “abeefrnd” after all.  I love all things bees. The wax, the honey, the magic of their pollination which in essence keeps us alive as well as surrounded by beauty.  Just the other day I was captivated by a podcast featuring a Bee Priestess called Ariella Daly and was once again reminded of the honeyed home awaiting me in my dreamscape.
This morning I awoke from another powerful dream which I took to paper and pen first thing (well, after I’d given the dogs a chance to wee and poured myself the requisite first cup of coffee).
“Intense, wee-hours-of-the-morning dream.  Skyscape and seascape were one.  I could swim-fly underwater, beneath floating purple and darkened-green continents of mosses. Under-over there, all was turned around – up was down and sideways and back again.
Some feared if I swam-flew in this place, I might never return to above the mosses.
Before this swim-fly time, I was on a beach, with a public beach-house.  It was winter and access to the sea was limited.  The life-guard then said it was time and everyone cheered and pulled their pick-up trucks on to the beach to sell their market wares.
It was crowded.
This is when I began to swim-fly.  This place was not crowded. It was wild and lonesome.  I dove in and once under came the turning around of the world.  As I dove down, I also flew up.  Direction didn’t seem to matter.  I could easily breathe this air-water.  I was of two worlds.  Maybe more.  The worlds of Up, Down,  Over, Under, Back and Forth.
The masses of mosses had watery, puddled areas in them, like bog-land. Puddled portals of a sort. These puddles led to below-above where anything is possible.”
                                                                  ~Amy Bogard
I could go on an on about the venturing I’ve been up to amidst the murky depths of my own dreaming, but we all know how difficult these images and sensations can be to convey in conscious conversation.  So I will simply share with you a few endeavors from waking-time, and in-between times which seem to be contributing to these dreamscapations.  (That may be a new word of my own making, though I am not sure.)
The rough little drawings dotting this post are from a small book I keep at my bedside nowadays, along with a pencil.  Most evenings, just before sleeping, I scribble a bit into this book.   Nothing in front of my eyes to capture.   Merely the musings of my own mind and my own imaginings.  Occasionally I am surprised at the results.  Often, they are simple and rather mundane.  But still I doodle.
I began this practice a few weeks ago, inspired by my friend, fellow illustrator,  and fab yoga instructor, Stacey Maney who has been doing the same practice herself a good while now and has amassed a number of bedtime drawings.  Though we each approach this practice in our own way, we both find it helps to feed the inner muse.  This muse is our bread and butter after all and needs to be coaxed and tempted with attentions and praise from our daily habits.
This all differs greatly from my usual sketching practice of the world around me, about which I write here often and much.  The deep mind-full-ness my sketchbook work brings has been a richly rewarding gift over the years, a gift I now offer to others through my classes and workshops.  And yet, I still want to go deeper.  Sketching is not enough.  Writing is not enough.  In the attempt to bring my own practice to a deeper, soul-entrenched level, I’ve been seeking a nameless thing.  I haven’t been sure if that thing is in the form of yet another book or a deeper yoga practice to delve into, or a new teacher, or new habits and pathways of my own intention.  In the past I have even been known to run toward (and away from) this Nameless Longing by training for and running marathons.  I did 7 of them before deciding they were finally through with what they had to teach me.
In the end, I’ve come to find it is all of these things along the way and always more, ever changing. And so recently, I have been following this nameless need for something, down it’s soft, darkened path.  I can almost smell this path, blanketed as it is by pine needles and leaf litter.
It feels so good to be able to smell the earth once more as spring has come upon us.  To celebrate this awakening, I have signed up for a class via One Willow Apothecaries called Intuitive Plant Medicine.  The ideas promised in this class are exactly what I have been looking for as pathways to enrich my own personal practice as an artist, a writer, a teacher.  I firmly believe that to be a good teacher, one must always be learning right alongside our students.  Maintaining an openness and the vulnerability of a learner, a beginner, is crucial to meeting students who find their way to us right where they need us to be.  And so I am always digging.  Always searching for ways to stretch.
I have no intention of becoming an herbalist or plant shaman really, except to suit my own curiosities and affinity for the magical world of plants.  But I know in my gut that this seemingly un-related study of the soul-life of plants, and how they can enrich our own lives at soul-level, is exactly the spirit-food I need to stay grounded and growing in my own work in the world.
And so it goes.  The seasons are shifting into sunshine and growth.  Workshops are happening in the coming weeks and I am busily tending to the earthly details which make them run smoothly.  My offspring are both jumping headlong into their adult working lives.  Madeleine off to Africa to work with a linguist and some medical doctors to collect health-care stories (a pricess called Verbal Autopsies).  Jack, gearing up for next week’s senior recital over at CCM.  How the time is flying.  And like between season lettuces tucked in under the other vegetables and flowers, I plant idea seeds in every fertile corner I can find.  Hoping something grows and blooms amidst all of this rich life-compost.
note:  I haven’t a clue what any of these drawings mean.  but they seem to have a feel to them that reaches one into the next.  I am interested to get to know the little faces peering out at me from the pages of my little bedtime book and perhaps learn their story.  

Storming

There is a strange light in the sky and thunder in the distance.  It’s storm season here in Ohio, which is annual and to be expected.

But there is so much more storming to be witnessed.  I hear the news; –  local, national, global, and it is storming.  And it all makes me so sad.  I am at once lulled by the beauty of spring blooms not yet burned by frost, and also rooting for children not yet brought down in Syria by poison gases.  It is heartbreaking.

I look and look and look for things to cling to.  That the world is not yet lost.

Here are two things which brought me solace on this stormy day:

https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2017/04/signs-of-spring/522003/?utm_source=nl-atlantic-photo-040517

and

Aldous Huxley on the Transcendent Power of Music and Why It Sings to Our Souls

Let us cling to beauty on stormy days.

Gratitude and Liminality

We awake at 230 am, Antigua local time, to brew a quick cup of coffee, double check that we’ve packed every last little thing we brought with us and picked up along the way.  It is dark, quiet and cool.  Hugo, one of our beloved innkeepers, sees us off with hugs and sleepy eyes and makes sure our driver arrives.  Which he does, only a few minutes late due to road closures set up for the weekend’s Procesións.

Careening through the wee hours and the volcanic hill sides to arrive in Guatemala City where lights, sounds, people and the airport are to be found, we begin our trek back into modernity one small step at a time.

The day awakens with a pink dawning. I part ways with my friends, knowing we will be drawing and painting and laughing together in just a few week’s time for a smaller workshop out in the San Jose area.  And so there are no tears, which is a relief.  I am sad to be leaving this 3rd world, but I look forward to my home comforts and creatures.

Airport life is strange and timeless, full of noise and people rushing about, and lots of concrete and hard surfaces. I do not care for it.  I am fortunate on both ends of this trip to have familiar faces to greet me along the way.  This sweet dog is called Enya.  She works with my dear friend Danielle in customs making sure no inappropriate or potentially dangerous things come along in peoples’ baggage.  I have such high regard for dogs with jobs and it is lovely to make her acquaintance.  Though clearly Enya is on the job and only has eyes for Danielle.

Eventually, I make it home to the Ohio River Valley, which is carpeted green with spring and there is even a bit of sunlight.

I settle in, and unpack a bit, catching up here at home, which feels really good.

Just like that, it’s my first day back home.  Coffee in hand (in my new hand painted mug from Guatemala), I walk outside with the dogs for our usual routine.  Almost like the last week never was.

And yet, it was.

I left for Antigua just over a week ago with a head full of the spin-cycle of modern life, but return now with a handful of worry dolls to carry those little things instead, and a heart filled with color, beauty, simplicity and love. Along with a huge dose of gratitude, which is a great gift indeed.  If you don’t shake stuff up now and again, all the good stuff sinks to the bottom.  We can’t have that.

Life in Antigua is quite easy and simple for tourists, or those residing there with money.  However, I believe that for the average citizen, life is probably a bit rough around the edges.  Yet people seem to get by for the most part.

Ever so creatively.

Shopping and laundry get done.

Money gets made, which can be a family affair.

Life goes on.  In some ways so very different than life here, and yet, mostly, pretty much the same.  To me, this was one of the take-aways from this trip.  I was reminded how very much alike we are as people. Human beans are so keen to draw lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’, when really, we are all just us.  My modern life, white skin and heaps of built in privilege are just the luck of the cosmic draw, really.  This is something to consider when we walk in the world.

I’m taking today to launder some well worn travel clothes, bathe my smelly dog, and enjoy a little quiet after the trip.  Perhaps a run and a bit of time in the garden as well if the weather holds.  I am enjoying the liminal, post-travel version of myself.  This mellow feeling that anything is possible and life is good.  Because it is.

I am thankful for the ways I have of connecting back to my travels in my heart of hearts, even as my life back home slides back into place.

My heart is wide open.  I am grateful for it.

part rabbit warren, part spin on art & life & etc. art, illustrations & workshops by amy bogard