I sat down this morning to play with a new little something I recently acquired, called Joy. No, really, it’s a pen, called the Lamy Joy. Recently a former student of mine shared a link with me to the website and sketching work of Liz Steel down in the Land Down Under. I love the look of her sketches which have so much life and color and bold line work. She uses ink to draw and watercolors from there to bring things even further to life. I often work in the same way but have always used permanent ink pens such as Microns, Sharpies and the like to create my lines – before and after painting. I enjoy the look of a fountain pen line, but had never translated it to sketchbook work. She recommended this pen and, with a name like Joy, how was I to resist?
Last fall I attended an inspiring series of lectures by a number of wonderful children’s book illustrators and writers. One of whom, Sergio Ruzzier, works in pen and ink for the drawing, and then, like Liz Steel’s sketches, follows with watercolors later. I love the look of these drawings and have been playing a bit since then with a variety of pens and some inks. But these inks would ruin a proper fountain pen overnight.
These have been fun to experiment with in the studio but aren’t as friendly for on the go sketching. I do have another Lamy fountain pen which I love, but the ink I use in it wasn’t at all water-resistant so unless I wanted to stay in the grayscale world, it too was not exactly sketch friendly.
Reading Liz’s posts on fountain pens inspired me to do a little more digging into that world (it’s an overwhelmingly big and enthusiastic world, the world of fountain pens!) and see if there was possibly an ink I might take on the go, in fountain pen form, but which might be a tad more welcoming to watercolor. An ink that with proper precaution, wouldn’t ruin my new pen, but would allow some color.
Apparently, noodler’s black ink is the one. You can read all about it anywhere on the interwebs and with many posts all around giving it a thumbs up, even in actual working fountain pens, I decided to give it a go.
Guess what!? It seemed to work!
After just a few seconds of drying time, the little Fox in the Snow became a regular old orange fox and the lines did not run at all. I was thrilled! As much as I love the micron pens, I will admit that my stomach churns every time I go to discard a used up marker. Perhaps there is a way to recycle them somehow, but that doesn’t seem to be enough.
In this throwaway culture of ours, I look for even the smallest ways to not be such a consumer. This feels like a small way to do that. Maybe this pen, with it’s ink that can stand up to watercolors, and it’s variety in line weight options in just the one pen, can be a beginning.
I will need to draw a tad more often to keep that ink flowing, and make a point of cleaning out the ink more often than I do in my other pen. Perhaps this notion will keep me more in practice. I’ve been a bit out of practice since summer’s sketching and travel. This usually happens. But I am ready to dive back into daily sketching, and more and more painting and see where it all leads.
Across the arc of a number of seasons, we have had the difficult and expensive task of removing some trees who had lost the battle with time or the emerald ash borer and who might be a danger to our house if a brisk wind were to kick up. I have been asking the land what it needs ever since.
This little patch of land carries on and begins the path to recovery via nature’s vigilant first responders, the fungi. It is magnificent to see them crop up just where they are needed. I merely observe.
One of the trees which seemed to be asking for a place here back in spring time was apple. It all seemed like a grand experiment back then, which perhaps it was – for due to deer and other challenges to those early flowers and fruit we harvested a mere two apples.
I watched our little trees grow in spite of the challenges they faced, and wondered if what fruit they were yielding might yet be left riddled with worms as the gentlemen at the nursery were so keen to tell me. It is a risk I’ve been willing to take.
One day the apples let me know they were ready to come inside by nearly tumbling into my hand when I checked on them. And so I brought them in and pondered their beauty for a couple of days.
They were so beautiful and as their were only two, I decided to paint their portrait for posterity. For who knew what would lie within.
I gently peeled and cored the apples, gathering every last juicy morsel from them. I’ve never been so thankful for apples.
As luck would have it, they were nearly spotless! And I felt a deep sense of pride in them.
I made a pie crust (mine is an all-butter sort, my favorite, though tricky to pull off if you lack any patience) and cooked up the apples with a combination of a number of recipe-like ideas. Mostly simple – things like a bit of sugar, cinnamon, freshly ground nutmeg. And put the two together into some mini pies……
They baked up beautifully and are now awaiting our after dinner treat time. We are not, generally speaking, dessert eaters. But I think for tonight we may have to indulge.
I must figure out a different fencing situation for next season to further protect my young trees from the mindless suburban deer who seem to have nothing better to do than wreck ones gardening dreams. But for now I am thrilled to have had even a small (intimate, really) harvest to bake into some delectable delights to savor.
Once upon a time, I was a traveling child, moving from place to place with my parents as work became available. My younger years, before seismic events both collective and familial changed everything, were spent in a variety of interesting places and we knew interesting people. We lived in a ‘cracky old house’ in a rough-ish part of Philadelphia for awhile, and way up north in Canada for a few years as well. It was there I suffered from scarlet fever at one point and my friends Kelly and Roger both had to take medicines as well in case they too took ill. It is told that the physician braved a snow storm to bring me treatment.
After Canada, a change of scenery took us to Guatemala City. Here my ears heard a completely new and unfamiliar tongue and so I took to not speaking much until I could pick up Spanish and blend in as best as I could. My mom says she would speak to me in English to try to keep it alive in me and I would in turn, answer in Spanish. I lost English along the way.
I was just a little girl who wanted to play and make friends and to fit in where I could. I’m not sure about the fitting in part, but I did make friends, and life was good.
Eventually, things fell apart in my family, as things often go and some of us found ourselves back in Ohio. I was suddenly thrust back into a vaguely unfamiliar tongue which I needed to re-learn. I would forever look at the world just a bit differently due to those early gypsy years. Though in time, of course I assimilated and grew up.
And now, here we are. I tell you this bit of my own back story to add a layer of understanding to my thoughts on this DACA situation we have going here in the US. I’ve been thinking a lot about the 800,000 or so “Dreamers” as they are called, the folks under Obama’s Deferred Action for Child Arrivals executive order. Remembering my own childhood travels, I know what it is like to be taken by parents from place to place for whatever reason adults have to do so. For my parents, it was to follow work. We were ‘landed immigrants’ in Canada while there, and I am not sure what our status was in Guatemala, but it was legal. But we weren’t fleeing war, or violence, like many illegal immigrants who have come to our country over time. If we had been, my parents might have made the same desperate decisions for our family, just to try to keep us safe.
The situations we are born into in this lifetime are a luck of the draw really. It is a complete crapshoot that makes one person born in say, a slum in a third world country, and another into royalty or even merely a life filled with basic comforts. It is this fact that gives me such empathy for the Dreamers. Much of life is what we make of it, through choices good or ill-informed. But some of it we just get by luck of the draw or lack-there-of. These Dreamers came to this country through no fault of their own. They were just kids whose parents were doing the best they could for their families. They speak English, pay taxes and contribute to our society in wonderful ways. There are many things they aren’t able to take advantage of due to their status. These are what they’ve given up in order to come out of the shadows created by the choices of their parents.
I do not understand, let alone condone the actions of our “president” on this issue. I wonder if it is merely in the name of cruelty that this decree has come, though I do not claim know the complexities of Washington policy making. I only hope it spurs the Congress to put something more long-lasting into place for the Dreamers. A path to citizenship in the only country many of them have ever known for one example. I also hope that perhaps in the meantime we can re-gain a bit of old-fashioned empathy for our fellow human beans. We in America are so filled with everyone’s Otherness just now, our leadership and the “alt-right” most especially. I will also admit to feeling that Otherness in those who are perpetrating hate and bigotry and the policies which point in that direction. Perhaps this makes me part of the problem. I aim to remember the complexity of each person’s experiences and attempt compassion over judgement, even as I work in the ways of the quiet activist, making calls, engaging in conversation, crafting change at the grassroots level.
But for today, I seek the rainbows. And wish their magic upon the haters. And, of course onto the lovers, the dreamers, and me.
ps: Make your voice heard with your local senators and representatives:
The sun peeks through goldening September forest land as we take to country roads, optioning out of the city for the day and into the waiting arms of Appalachian foothills not so very far away.
Our destination is the mystical Serpent Mound, an internationally regarded effigy mound, crafted in the shape of a snake in a time before written history.
We arrive at the park amidst other touring travelers, motorcyclists out for a day’s drive, families of multiple generations exploring the museum and grounds. There is much Native American trinketry to be had, little arrowhead reproductions to purchase, crystals and dreamcatchers, sage bundles, and many books.
Much has been written theorizing why the mound was built. It is not a burial mound, as there are some of those dotting the grounds as well.
The sinewy curves do mark special times in the astrological wheeling of the year and so for all we don’t know about the folks who created Serpent Mound, we at least know they were likely wise and watchful and capable engineers at the least.
We have brought our sketchbooks but neither of us are feeling much like drawing. We do scratch a rubbing from the granite sign which marks the beginning of the path around the serpent herself.
The mound is best seen from above, and there is a viewing platform for those courageous enough to risk a trek to the top.
I wonder about how the grass is kept so cleanly cut. It seems like sacrilege to run a mower over these forms. Visitors are kept to an asphalt path.
We wander and wonder around the length of the Serpent. I have in my heart a similar uneasy sense about it all as to my visit to Chaco Canyon over the summer.
While in the museum, we take in the exhibit about the variety of artifacts found in the area over the years and what they mean.
I spy one which stops me in my tracks, as it is quite familiar to me.
The sign reads that these are ‘gorgets‘, like a pendant of sorts, worn at the throat. The one which has caught my eye is a quadriconcave gorget crafted from slate and it is exactly like one I had in my hand just the other day…
You see my Uncle Jim passed away a number of weeks ago and this has us all in a familial circling of the wagons state of mind. My mom and I going through old papers and pictures, visiting gravesites of ancestors long gone from this plane.
One of those ancestors, we think perhaps Joseph Kelley, a farmer, was ploughing the fields of his farm one day.
His horse drawn plough hit something out of the ordinary and so he stopped to pick the object up and see what it might be.
The story goes that the plough took a small chink out of this strange stone in its unearthing. The farmer might have dusted off the object and tucked it into his pocket to share with his family over supper that evening. This would have been over a hundred years ago, and ever since that day, The Indian Rock has held pride of place in the home of whomever in the family happened to be in possession of it at the time. The most recent steward of the stone was my Uncle Jim who had an affinity for local archeological finds and a knack for knowing where to look. Apparently he had quite a collection of arrowheads and tools and such which he picked up on his countryside ramblings over the years. But my mom had always treasured this one, and so now it resides with her.
When I spot the one in Serpent Mound Museum I know I must share it with her, as Now We Know what exactly our Indian Rock might possibly be. We had guesses as to it being a tool of some sort, but never were quite sure. What I wonder now is why does our stone lack holes in it? When the original stone-crafter lost this particular piece, was it perhaps yet awaiting it’s drilling? The style of our stone, the more looking around I do on the internet, seems to come from the Adena culture. I have never heard of the word “gorget” until today…
I love this. We all want to sparkle like a hummingbird, do we not?
I think about the original inhabitants of this land of ours, so very distant in the past, yet just as human as we are, with foibles and desires all their own and not so different from us after all. Their stories and lifestyles are but whispers on the winds compared to the native cultures which have stood the tests of time, in spite of rampant colonization. I wonder about who might have made our family’s gorget and whether they missed it when it was lost. I read that these stones are often found in fields here in the midwest and into the southern states as well. And they are indeed a lucky find and treasured by those who discover them. Mom is excited to take her stone on a wee field trip to Serpent Mound and chat up the archeologists there to gain more insight on this family treasure of ours.
I continue to try to slow myself down into a more stoney sense of time. A drive out to the foothills does this, for a bit at least. On our way home we are treated with Krista Tippett’s timeless interview with John O’Donohue, whom I consider a spiritual teacher of mine as his writings speak to my soul. It seems the world is coming at us reckless on most days. This chaos is at the global scale, and the personal scale as well. I do my best to merely keep above the fray, as best as possible, tucking in the magic wherever space allows, and sometimes even when it doesn’t.
How are you managing in these crazy times? I’d love to know. In the meantime, I highly recommend a day’s drive out into the country to slow things down and give a bit of perspective.
Why a change in price? Well aside from a few costs which have risen in the 7 years I’ve offered this workshop, for the 2018 offering next summer, I am expanding the workshop to be a full 5 day offering. Usually we have a full 4 days, with departure on Friday morning of our week together to give folks a chance to head to the hills and practice all they have learned in four days of workshop exercises. But over the years, participants have been loathe to part and I have gained more and more to offer and so, I give another day to it all, which changes the pricing structure a bit as well.
I hope this new structure works for everyone. I already have a handful of folk ready to join us in June. Won’t you be one of them? New Mexico is a spectacular place in which to tap into the language of an artful soul.
Send me an email if you need any more information about the workshop or what it entails. If the class speaks to you but you feel you are ‘a beginner’ or ‘can’t draw’ or any of that other stuff, I assure you, I’ll help you sort all of that out in the doing of it. Trust me. You won’t be disappointed.
Today it is a delightful late-summer’s day here in the Ohio River Valley. I have the windows thrown open for fresh air and the sun is shining brightly in an uncharacteristically blue sky. (usually August is Smogust.)
I’ve taken this day to attend to a final few veterinary well-visits for our menagerie (weeks in the doing of it), as well as to attempt a bit of wordsmithery here on the blog.
In the midst of all of this normalcy, I am finding it difficult to put into words a most liminal day earlier in the week. For on this past Monday, myself and a few fellow intrepid souls took to the backroads on a Quest for Totality.
We had heard that many folks would be traveling en masse to see the spectacle that was to be the Total Eclipse of the Sun 2017. As our plans came together rather late, we opted for One Big Day of travel to and fro and knew we were in for an adventure. I packed a picnic lunch and many jars of tea and set off in the wee hours of the morning to gather my friends for the day.
I’ll admit to experiencing some trepidation regarding the notion of standstill traffic….
We careened along carefully chosen backroads in Indiana and Kentucky, through national forest lands and in and out of mist-laden farm country. The phrase ‘over the river and through the woods’ comes to mind. And we found it beautiful. There was to be no traffic, thankfully, at least on the way down.
The journey was quiet and filled with interesting stories and conversation. We did not need the radio on, so satisfied with each others’ company were we.
The sun did rise eventually, and the miles did pass. Each seemingly unaware of what was to come on this momentous day.
We had our star charts, and an idea of where we might need to be to witness a total eclipse of the sun in our region. And so, we drove and drove, perhaps a bit farther than some as we opted for west, then south to avoid the crush of sun-seeking humanity.
There were signs for a municipal park nearby and so we followed them and found ourselves in a delightful setting. Enough fellow sky-watchers to feel a sense of human-camaraderie for the Big Event, and yet enough private green space to feel centered in the scope of what was to come, just by ourselves. We had come prepared for reverence.
We ate our lunch together on some sporty bleachers and watched those with large telescopes prepare. We celebrated the tail end of our meal with the most delicious brownies ever.
1 (15.5 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
3 tbsp oil (I used coconut)
Maybe around 1/4 c peanut butter (a nice blob in any case. This is optional though.)
1/2 c brown sugar
1/4 c plus 1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Semi-sweet chocolate chips for topping (optional- but…)
Preheat oven to 350 f
Add all ingredients into a blender (except for the chocolate chips). Blend it till all the beans are blasted apart. Batter will be a bit runny.
Lightly grease an 8×8 baking dish and pour the batter inside.
Top with chocolate chips or nuts
Bake for 25 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean if you poke it
Cool for 30 minutes before cutting and serving. This is so it doesn’t fall apart when you cut it.
But I digress.
After lunch, it was TIME. We heard it announced that It Was Starting. And sure enough, when we glanced up at the Sun with our special glasses, part of it appeared to be missing.
This was a relatively slow process actually and so we took turns monitoring the Sun being shadowed by the moon and spent the in between time tending to our sense of the Divinity in it all.
There were crystals to charge, prayers of thanks to offer, bundles to smudge, bless and wrap for sending along to the nature spirits and the Otherworld. We burned incense which had been given to Justin and Megan by our dear departed friend Cindy, and we shared stories of her generosity and her most artful life. (as for me, Cindy is who first lent me a flute to see if I might like to tackle this most difficult instrument. I am forever grateful.)
We struggled to get our normal camera gear to cooperate in these difficult and potentially harmful conditions while we attempted to document the undocumentable.
I was so tickled to be with friends who are at once practical and spiritual in their endeavors. I maintain that my Irish music friends are the deepest and smartest people I know in my lucky life.
Soon, it was clear that Totality was nigh.
And so it was.
I took a picture and then took my glasses off to merely witness.
As totality had approached, all of the things that were supposed to happen did so. The light changed, the birds rested and dogs howled. As the darkness took hold, a cheer went up from our fellow sky-watchers. The tree-frogs and crickets began to sing. Street lamps turned on. And, possibly because we were in Kentucky, gun-shots were heard off in the distance as well. I suppose we all celebrate things in our own way.
There are times in our lives when the universe seems to hold its breath for a few moments. If we are fortunate, and if perhaps we have taken the time and care to be paying proper attention, we can catch a little whiff of the Otherworld in these auspicious times.
Still points in life are found in the usual, expected places – the moment a baby is born and draws it’s first breath, or at the bedside of a loved one in the process of a peaceful passing on. I’ve witnessed a fair number of both of these scenarios and for a time immediately following these life changing moments, the world doesn’t seem quite it’s usual self. There is a palpable divinity in everything somehow. It is as if a veil is lifted for a time and we are Reminded. In a more reverent and perfect world, perhaps we could feel this in the day-to-day, yes?
I find it difficult to express the Otherworldliness that this eclipse provided our merry band of sky-watchers. The mere shift of the light was the very same I’d heard described (but never quite witnessed) in all the stories of Faerie-land. Time stood still. We marveled and wept at the cosmic beauty we had the great fortune to behold in this very moment. Life itself is a miracle really and moments such as this remind us in a way that is nearly heart-breaking.
I could go on and on. But it is difficult to convey. Perhaps Annie Dillard says it best in this quote from her article from 1982:
“Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.”
I have seen partial eclipses in my lifetime. But this was an altogether different animal indeed. I will go so far as to say there was before, and now there is after. There is a sense of feeling one’s place in the cosmos. My friends and I are already plotting the best situation for April 8, 2024.
When totality had passed, and we once again had to don our viewing goggles, there was an indescribable sense of glee in all of us. We danced and cartwheeled and made music and laughed.
As if we were under some faerie-land intoxication.
Perhaps we were.
We continued to watch the sky for awhile after totality as the chunking out of the sun is truly miraculous to watch.
And after a while we settled in for a bit of a nap. All of us feeling we were under some sort of spell.
This is where it came to me that we had witnessed one of those liminal moments. Like a birth or a death, or the moment you know you’ve met your beloved – there had been a shift, a change, and none of us would ever be the same.
Eventually, the heat and the ants let us know it might be time to pack up our things and begin the journey toward home, which suddenly felt so very far away. But we still had each-other, and this amazing shared experience. And thankfully, a well-timed cup of coffee on route through Kentucky.
We did face some traffic on route home, which alas, gave me some comfort. In this day and age of cynicism and sarcasm, reality tv and ‘fake news’, the path of red tail lights on the highway informed me that much of humanity still holds wonder for the Great Beyond. We still wonder at that which we cannot altogether explain. The astronomers give us the timing and the maps for witnessing, but our souls show us the way into the cosmos.
In the beginning was the dream…
In the eternal night where no dawn broke, the dream deepened.
Before anything ever was, it had to be dreamed…
If we take Nature as the great artist, then all presences in the
world have emerged from her mind and imagination. We are
children of the earth’s dreaming. It’s almost as if Nature is in
dream and we are her children who have broken through the
dawn into time and place. Fashioned in the dreaming of the
clay, we are always somehow haunted by that; we are unable
ever finally to decide what is dream and what is reality. Each
day we live in what we call reality, yet life seems to resemble
a dream. We rush through our days in such stress and intensity,
as if we were here to stay and the serious project of the world
depended on us. We worry and grow anxious – we magnify
trivia until they become important enough to control our lives.
Yet all the time, we have forgotten that we are but temporary
sojourners on the surface of a strange planet spinning slowly
in the infinite night of the cosmos…
There is no definitive dividing line between reality and dream.
What we consider real is often precariously dream-like.
Our grip on reality is tenuous…
Excerpt from Eternal Echoes
by John O’Donohue
May you take the time to journey toward cosmic wonders in your lifetime. May you see these wonders in your day to day, even in the simple changes in the light of day….
There comes a time in late August, every summer, where I take note of a slight shift in the light in and around things.
This is a visual thing, having nothing to do with temperatures, which at this time of year in our Ohio River Valley, tend to be a bit stifling. But this goldening is not due to heat, rather more to the timing of things.
The school buses are making their routes now around the neighborhood and all things garden seem to be leaning less green, more gold.
Along my runs, the light has a certain slant to it that I love.
By night, even if it’s hot outside, I crack the window, just a bit, to hear the crickets and tree frogs sing.
I am not prone to being hermetically sealed indoors.
I’ll admit to having this blog post brewing for days now, but to being a bit tangled up inside my heart about ‘what to write’ and ‘how to put it’ and ‘shouldn’t I just be painting?’, while none of these question/options seemed to fit. The world, (this country specifically) is going mad of late and to respond off the cuff doesn’t seem enough. To not respond is even worse. And so, in typical slow-cooker fashion, I have been mulling it over. And over.
I so admire the microwaves in our modern culture. The JK Rowlings of the world who are so quick witted and can take down nay-saying haters in a heart beat with a single tweet. Alas, I am not cut of that cloth. I am a slower cooker, a crock-pot, one who stews. Someone who mulls over things and then re-mulls again in the wee hours (this can be a tortuous prospect). But eventually, I’ll occasionally put my two cents in if I feel strongly enough and many times, my commentary is late to the game. But here it is anyway.
It’s been a week since the horrifying events in Charlottesville, Virginia and I am as heartbroken today as I was when they happened last week. Unlike some of my fellow middle class white friends, these marches came as no surprise to me. In fact, the election of President Trump came as no surprise to me either last fall. (I mean, c’mon, I live in Ohio). I may be a white girl, but I grew up a poor white girl, on food stamps, raised by closeted lesbians, and let’s face it, I can still smell trouble when it’s brewing. Our country has been a proverbial tinder box for awhile now, possibly since the election of Barack Obama, and perhaps it was only a matter of time before the white rage hit the stage.
The thing about being an artist, writer, thinker, dreamer in this world is that, much of the time, we must hold two ways of being at the same time. On the one hand, it is my job to rise above the fray and make stuff and think up stories and paint pictures and play tunes. To bring joy. On the other hand, it’s often the artist-writer-thinker-dreamer types who forge necessary change in the world. How to navigate?
On the Book of Faces the other day, an old friend quipped, ‘a lot of self-righteousness here on FB, overflowing, wallowing in it.’ While I had not shared much over there regarding recent events (#slowcooker), he may have been right to a certain extent in that the quick shares just didn’t go deeply enough. I decided to opt out of that platform for a few days and do some deeper digging into what thinkers and writers were saying elsewhere. Here is bit of what I came up with along the way:
While this came together well before the events of recent weeks, I feel to witness this work of art is to begin to take on part of the narrative going on here in our own country (though it hails from South Africa, where racial narrative is fraught with peril as well, different though similar). The work is brilliant, and beautiful and really difficult to sit with. It involves many senses and asks many questions. And if you are in the Cincinnati area, I recommend spending some time with it.
The Southern Poverty Law Center posted their guide to navigating these tumultuous times (see link above) and there is a lot of good information there. We can all start somewhere.
In Boston today, I am seeing reports that a hundred white supremacists are on the march, but in opposition, are 15,000 counter-protestors. This gives me great hope.
As someone who likes to operate in ‘woo-land’ a bit (you know, magic and metaphysics, fairies, crystals, etc.) I think there is still responsibility in the day to day lives we live in ‘normal’ time. Layla Saad of Wild Mystic Woman over on Instagram posted a very powerful letter on her website, the first part of which can be found HERE. (second part is forthcoming).
She asks hard questions and asks those of us in any place of privilege to really question our place in this world and how we came to it. I think it’s brilliant and well worth reading.
I could go on. I like to think the good outweighs the bad in this world but perhaps that is my privileged perspective. I think we must be diligent never-the-less. History has taught us that the bad can come barreling at us out of nowhere if we are not watchful.
In yoga class yesterday, we talked of stress. I made a light-hearted comment that the news is stress enough. A woman in class remarked that there are ‘many sides’ (many sides?? seriously??) to the news these days and we can not always believe what we see and hear there. She left rather abruptly. I wonder if she was a Trump-supporter perhaps. I only know that I don’t watch commentary. I read articles from good publications. I watch and listen (even though it sickens me) to the statements of this current administration. I make my own thinking from there.
I also attempt to move beyond the News of Now and steep myself in broader, bigger thinking. I’ve been reading books and articles by Martin Shaw which I love. There is a really good interview with him on a new-ish podcast called The Lumieres Podcast.
We must feed our minds with good sentences.
John O’Donohue is another thinker whose words resonate just now:
OUR POWER TO BLESS ONE ANOTHER
In the parched deserts of postmodernity a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well. It would be lovely if we could rediscover our power to bless one another. I believe each of us can bless. When a blessing is invoked, it changes the atmosphere. Some of the plenitude flows into our hearts from the invisible neighborhood of loving kindness. In the light and reverence of blessing, a person or situation becomes illuminated in a completely new way. In a dead wall a new window opens, in dense darkness a path starts to glimmer, and into a broken heart healing falls like morning dew. It is ironic that so often we continue to live like paupers though our inheritance of spirit is so vast. The quiet eternal that dwells in our souls is silent and subtle; in the activity of blessing it emerges to embrace and nurture us. Let us begin to learn how to bless one another. Whenever you give a blessing, a blessing returns to enfold you.
And this from David Whyte:
is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without; vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding under-current of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature; the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, in refusing our vulnerability we refuse to ask for the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity.
To have a temporary, isolated sense of power over all events and circumstances, is a lovely illusory privilege and perhaps the prime beautifully constructed conceit of being human and most especially of our being youthfully human, but it is a privilege that must be surrendered with that same youth, with ill health, with accident, with the loss of loved ones who do not share our untouchable powers; powers eventually and most emphatically given up, as we approach our last breath.
The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant, and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.
May we find ourselves vulnerable in these tumultuous times.
In coming days there is to be a great shadowing of our sun. May we find secrets behind and within those shadows.
May we find ways of transforming the leaden weight of our current time into something more golden and worthwhile…….
I am preparing a fall show about which I am nervous and excited. More on that soon.
Next summer is shaping up with a few announcements which shall come along soon. Ginger Small is polishing her eclipse-wear and I hope to have a drawing to share with you tomorrow.
Wherever you are, keep your eyes on the stars and sky, but perhaps keep your hearts closer here to home, where we might all strive to make the world a better place.
Not two full days home from my blissful week of music in Swannanoa and I find myself flying east to my soul’s home in Maine to visit friends of auld. These are friends who have known me longer than they haven’t, and I am blessed beyond the stars to have them in my life still. As a family we are fragmented this year for what is usually our time of solidarity. But this is how it is to be. One must follow his heart home for recovery after a Big Summer of Big Work; another, I have secretly purchased a two day ticket up to join us for just a moment or two and fingers crossed it all works out as planned (it does). And lastly, our anchor in all things fun, my hub Tony, does his best to come along for just a few days. He is successful and we pack a lot into a couple of days time off.
We spend as much time as possible by the sea or in the sea. Ferrying to our favorite places….
….eating oceanic gifts of the odd lobster or oyster; swimming, beach-combing the ever interesting, ever-changing wrack-line.
To me this is paradise and I collect a few little tid-bits to drag home to paint.
The coastline sets my heart all aflutter – all I want to do is paint. And yet I am restless and frustrated in a way I cannot name – torn between time with those I love and miss all year long, and my desire to make stuff. I also find myself really missing the music I have only just the week prior been steeped in, more so than in other years. Perhaps the music is sinking deeper into the pores after all?
Eventually, the paints do come out. But it takes time.
And keen observation. But the art does come. It starts slowly.
In between boat-trips and cock-tailed laughter, oysters and teenaged catch-ups, we take some time to drive round the old haunts of our early days all together -when there was Peace in the land but our boys did their military duties, deploying too often for our liking, even when babies were due. These are the things that can seal friendships for life.
In spite of hard winters and time apart, we remember our days in Maine with rich fondness. It is one reason we come back each summer.
Chapter 2. – to the lake side
Soon our seaside time was at an end and we were headed inland to a lovely lake house we’ve taken to commissioning for a week each summer. It feels like home, all the while we discuss going full on ocean-time.
We are torn. We love this place.
We love it’s moody skies and ever-changing weather patterning.
And the sunset views, which never disappoint, even on rainier evenings.
Chapter 3 – romancing the stone
Before my family leaves, we take a little kayak jaunt across Long Pond to Beaver Brook where I am captivated by a stone divided into three parts by ancient ice and time and other such forces. I vow to go back to sketch the place, as I have come with nothing but a hat and a paddle.
Soon enough, though surrounded with dear friends, I am left as the only Bogard on vacation which is a strange sensation. Tony has been dubbed the Julie McCoy of the group, always corralling us all to gaming and cocktailing, water-sport contesting and the like and things are really, really quiet with-out him around. This all plucks and strums strings of empty-nesting woes I don’t even think I was aware of until now.
I play it all out in the boat house on my flute.
I make it back over to the little cove where the Beaver Brook runs and the captivating stone resides. I marvel at the language of light and shadow which I can barely translate.
I believe there is something here to translate.
And so I ask the stone to help me.
It’s a start.
I am not one for series usually, but I am called to paint and have been looking for a form I could play with, from painting to painting. Not just the one-and-done sketch I usually go in for. This stone is just the ticket and I am enjoying exploring it’s complexities. There will be more, especially once I am home near the oils. I have traveled lightly this trip.
Chapter 4 – critters large and small
One day I go for a run across the way on the Mountain Road. A place I return to every year for it’s lake views through the trees, its lack of proximity to cars and traffic noise in general. Along the road I find a sweet feather which is eventually identified as a low wing feather of a wild turkey after much back and forth discussion and postulation both online and with my compatriots back at the camp. I even meet a lovely older gentleman along the road who thinks it could be eagle, though my guess is owl. I am not disappointed with turkey, as they are wonderous to behold in the wild.
I set out to sketch this lovely gift before I must leave it behind here where I found it. Sometimes I keep feathers, but this one shall stay.
I appreciate it getting my paint brush filled and setting me to painting, as it comes to me before the stone paintings begin.
This day’s run is truly fruitful as I also spy some horses through the edges of the woods and I stop to capture them with my phone-camera (the only camera I brought this year as I am traveling light. Still not sure about this decision.)
The horses pay me no mind and I think about the wild ponies some artists I follow online are fortunate enough to have in their lives as they go about their daily wanderings. I wonder what I need to do to have more woodland walking right outside my door, more ponies to spy on through the edges of the hedges. This is a constant wondering, as always.
Most times we wander down to the water from our little house here, we are treated to the antics of a local loon family who have some still young but near adult fledglings along with them. I borrow Amy’s proper camera with a decent telephoto lens to capture them up close for this post.
They are absolutely captivating as they call to one another, throughout the days and nights. This is the soundtrack to my dreaming and I am glad of it.
I am indeed glad of dreaming in general as there has been some wakefulness in the household in recent days. A wee mouse has gotten a bit too friendly, joining my friends in bed night before last, which gave them a start indeed. Last night, as lights are out, I hear a rustling and sure enough, wee mouse (we hope it’s the same) is in a paper bag into which I have stashed my knitting and a few varieties of tea I like to bring on my travels. This leads me to believe he is a country mouse indeed (I mean, tea and knitting, come on.) and he is escorted out of doors by our brave knight in PJ’d armor. No harm no foul, but we hope the lil thing stays outside for the remainder of our time here. I calm my late night nerves with a bit of bourbon and sleep fitfully from there.
Chapter 4 – where to from here
I write this missive in present tense, a style I see on occasion over at one of my favorite follows, These Isles. I have no idea if it works or not for others, but for me, today, right now, it works. This writing style allows me to step outside of a linear path of ‘what happened when’ and to step into the concept of the Traveling Now. The Traveling Now is not unfamiliar to quantum theorists, though this name for it is from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I find more and more that the order of things matters not. What matters is that we are present in it. Now.
On what might be the calmest evening left in the week, I wander alone down to the waterside for a quick swim in the moonlight alone under the stars. If you’ve never skinny-dipped for whatever reason is holding you back, it is something I hope you do at some point in your life time.
I arrive back up stairs, sobered and refreshed (pre-country mouse adventure) and I find this by John O’Donohue (one of my all time favorite go-to writers):
THE CALL TO LIVE EVERYTHING
One of the sad things today is that so many people are frightened by the wonder of their own presence. They are dying to tie themselves into a system, a role, or to an image, or to a predetermined identity that other people have actually settled on for them. This identity may be totally at variance with the wild energies that are rising inside in their souls. Many of us get very afraid and we eventually compromise. We settle for something that is safe, rather than engaging the danger and the wildness that is in our own hearts. We should never forget that death is waiting for us. A man in Connemara said one time to a friend of mine, ‘Beidh muid sínte siar,’ a duirt sé, ‘cúig mhilliúin blain déag faoin chré’ – We’ll be lying down in the earth for about fifteen million years, and we have a short exposure. I feel that when you recognize that death is on its way, it is a great liberation, because it means that you can in some way feel the call to live everything that is within you. One of the greatest sins is the unlived life, not to allow yourself to become chief executive of the project you call your life, to have a reverence always for the immensity that is inside of you.
I like to think that even something as simple as going to the lake side for a moonlight swim in nothing but my birthday suit is one small way to ‘live everything’.
Tomorrow we leave this place. As we do, we know nothing of the year to come. The third of the four kids who do this magical week with us each year (our two went first, now theirs) is off to college in just a matter of weeks. I do not know what the end of summer into fall-winter and beyond hold. I have some ideas of things I’d like to set into motion, which I will do. But for now, I read things that make my head and heart spin on its very axis, I make plans for an upcoming show that has me thrilled and terrified in equal measure. I continue to answer the (also terrifying though I do not know why) irresistible call to paint in ways I have not yet done. I show up.
This summer has been a gift beyond imagining and I am grateful for it. Each year I grow and make and play in the hopes I can bring that home to my friends and family and to my students along the way. It is a gift, and I do not take it lightly.
I write this to you from my soul-home in Maine where I can smell the ocean on the air upon wakening. I await those in my little family who can make it up here for even a day or two in the coming weeks and miss those not joining us this year. But while I fully sink into life back here where it feels so very familiar, I’ll admit that part of my heart is still under the enchantment of a week of music, magic and mayhem that is the Swannanoa Gathering. You will know that in year’s past there were much shenanigans (and one year even a wedding!!) amidst the musical goings on. This year, it seems that while we had an immense amount of belly laughter and all around craic, the music itself took front and center.
The trip down to Swannanoa this year began, blanketed by a low hum in my heart- consisting of worries Big and small, varying in proximity to me personally. Some closer to home, some via merely a glance at any news, at any time. It seems that the world-at-large continues to fly a bit close to the sun, cosmically speaking, and I don’t feel like I am the only one sensing it. Everyone I know seems to be feeling chaotic and a bit frenetic. These summers of mine, so gypsy-like from the outside-looking-in, are my way of assimilating the year past, and of lighting a way forward as the arc of each year moves on into the darker months ahead, to fall and winter. They are a necessary re-set button and I am glad of it.
My week of workshops in North Carolina last week (was it really just last week?) began Monday morning with classes with the fabulous flute-player and singer, Nuala Kennedy. You might remember her from her beautiful Behave the Bravest, for which I made the album art.
It was so wonderful to be sitting back again in music class learning a few new tunes. I have let my Riley School doings fall aside of late as I work to build my art and workshop-offering practice and I have missed it dearly. Nuala always teaches interesting tunes that strum the heart’s harp-strings and this year was no different. The first three tunes we learned – a march, a strathspey and a reel were all in the key of B minor.
Now I am no musical theory geek but I know enough to know that the minorish keys tend to be a bit more moody and pensive. For me at least, this key fit the mood of the early part of the week and we gobbled the beauty of them up in class and in our flutilla-led rehearsal time which we kept each day between classes, open to any of our classmates who could make it. It is here we made some new friends, which is a bonus each year.
Some days in Nuala’s class we had a special guest, for whom we played a gentle version of our March.
…or who graciously took our class photo.
Between classes we practiced more, occasionally napped or snuck in a shower- as camp life can make for late nights and sweaty days. And by afternoons we found ourselves in the presence of the one and only Kevin Crawford who keeps us on our toes and usually laughing a good bit too throughout the week.
Kevin hears every note. Good or bad. Especially if he sits right down in front of you….
And as if the flute weren’t difficult enough, he’s taken to trading instruments with his bandmate Colin Farrell and playing a jig now and again just to get a laugh from his class. If you are not a musician, you might not realize how hard this is. These guys make it look simple.
The week wore on and little by little, the key of things changed a bit. We came fully under the spell of music and the people who make it and there were moments of magic to behold along the way.
One evening a few of the staff snuck away to one of my favorite corners in which to play, the Kittredge breezeway, and had a bit of a session. Here is just a snippet….
It’s amazing when this happens. The staff at Swannanoa give their all to this week between teaching and hosting other goings-on, but much like us, sometimes they might simply want to run off and have a tune with old friends. Sometimes these are situations we students might join in if invited, other times, it’s nice to just sit back and listen awhile. And so I did.
This little session was a perfect blend of tunes and song. All of these artists listening to one another along the way.
There was even a bit of step dancing by dance instructor Siobhan Butler to add to the magic of the evening.
Our week at Swannie always seems to fly by but this year it seemed exceptionally quick-paced. One day it was Monday with the whole week ahead of us, then suddenly, just like that, it was Friday. But as I look back, there were at least a few shenanigans along the way….
There was a ceili to attend on Tuesday.
And I was sure to catch up with my new flute friend Julie so we could snap a picture of our matching flutilla swag!!
There were late night sessions with loved ones from near and far, and we enjoyed music and many many laughs.
By day the skies might open and deliver thunderous rains on occasion, but always the clouds parted, and the sun did shine once more, as it goes in these misty mountains.
Each day we packed in as much music as we could, learning from our teachers. It was fun to approach tunes we may have heard on recordings and to listen to the nuanced differences in how each player approaches each tune along the way. The goal is, after all, to take this music into our hearts and make it our own somehow.
Many evenings saw us attending concerts where we could watch our instructors do what they do best, which is perform. These folks are the best at what they do and it’s a true treat to hear them live. Especially when they gather together and make music perhaps never heard before.
When our days weren’t too full, and we weren’t too tired, we attended what are called ‘pot-lucks’ where some of the staff shared a topic of their choosing for an hour or so. I attended one by Cathy Jordan called The Happy Subject of Death. She and some of her fellow instructors sang murder ballads and other dark songs and there were many tears and a good bit of macabre laughter as well. This all felt in keeping with the minor key of the week for me and I loved it. I also attended a chat by Martin Hayes, sometimes referred to as the Buddha of Irish music. We talked about why we play music. Some folks look to perform perhaps, others might just want to play along with a recording by themselves or sit in the kitchen over a cuppa having tunes with friends. There is no wrong way. But the biggest goal for him, and I must say, for me, is to play with real Joy.
I read this week somewhere that on CNN, someone was quoted as saying,
“Joy is active resistance.”
I believe this to be true and I am holding on to it with all my strength and fortitude. What else do we have? It is this joy in the making – of music, of art, of laughter – which gives us the strength to do the hard things along the way in this crazy world. At least this is how I feel.
As I have stated, Friday came along on the heels of Monday far too quickly for our liking, and suddenly we were rehearsing for the student showcase. The showcase is a fun evening where we get to play a few new tunes together as a class to our fellow ‘gatherers’ and to hear the work of the other classes as well.
It was a steamy, North Carolina style evening and though we were all feeling sticky, we gathered down at the pavilion for the showcase. The photos that follow are some captures by photographer Tom Crockett who’s brother Tim was in class with us. He hiked and took pictures out in the mountains most of the week but attended the showcase on Friday and snapped a few photos of the Flutilla. I share them here with you by permission.
(Thank you so much Tom for the gorgeous photos! They are truly treasured.)
And now here we are. Back in Maine once again, soaking up a bit of the seaside and lake time which we will draw upon time and again in the year ahead. These weeks of art and music, friendship and fellowship, always set me to thinking about things in a deep way. They remind me to practice what makes my heart sing. To play my flute, no matter how clumsy it might feel when not backed up by my flutilla. To push a paint brush around even when I don’t know where it’s going.
To remember to head out into nature more often, as She is the real conductor of things.
And most importantly, to trust my inner knowing along the way. A lesson I am trying so hard to take more and more on board.
If you are reading this and attended the Swannanoa Gathering’s Celtic Week, do leave a comment with your favorite moment(s) of the week. I’d love to read them!
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!
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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….