Birds of a Feather

It is early morning and we are greeted at the gate of a local nature preserve by staff most serious of purpose.

We purchase tickets into El Pilar, a well kept, multi-purpose bit of land and head off for a hike to see about seeing some birds….

Our gracious hosts are our friends Mari Gray and Leander Khil, who between them carry many labels such as designer, ornithologist, writer, photographer, artist and so much more.

They take us into the forest and invite us into their world where birds reveal themselves in ways previously unknown and we are delighted.

Mostly we see and hear birds alive and well.  Calling and chirping, flitting and flying.  Yet we also see signs of nature taking it’s course which gives us a way to study closer…

 

This is indeed a seemingly magical wood.  And I begin to wonder where we are in the world.

Up and up we climb, witnessing the world of the flying kind at their own level.

A glimpse of the valley below, and a cookie or two for our efforts, we marvel at the vista and rest a bit before heading back down where the birds have gone into hiding but there are still some interesting insects and flowers to behold.

We head into town for brunch where we revisit the names of all of the birds we saw this day.

Eventually gears must shift and we are back to the workshop scene where birds of another feather are gathering.

photo credit Julie Persons.

One by one, this upcoming week’s workshop participants arrive and are greeted with views of a volcanic realm where there is poetry hiding in the most unlikely places.

Like in the clouds…..

Or under a napkin holder on a silverware sleeve….

Days dawn bright and beautifully and some of us greet the sunrise with an early morning run up the hill for a view of the city….

These recent days have also given us surprise visits from some esteemed guests.

Claudia was here today for a photo shoot….

And she met her greatest fans...

photo credit Julie Persons

In between complicated scenes….

Mari stopped in to meet everyone today as well.  We are hoping she can finish her thesis this week and come to paint with us!

By evening, we are all getting to know one another and making plans for Day 1 of this week’s activities over dinner.

It’s been rich, and we haven’t really even begun.  Yet like birds of a feather, we have gathered to feel volcanic breezes ruffle our winter plumage.  Our sights are set on seeing the colors for what they are and exploring Antigua in the week ahead.

As the week gets started, I will be doing my best to update on the usual channels where I can, but my priority is, of course, being fully present for those who’ve come here to make art with me.  So I’ll catch up here when I can…. Til then…

 

 

 

 

Day two – Readying

A busy day of many good things workshop related – errands run, lists checked and re-checked, details double checked, last minute messages sent, plans solidified.  I am so grateful for the people who make this work not only possible, but gratifying and fun as well.

In which Rosemary and Hugo are asked to “look serious” for the “we are working very hard” instagram photo.

Though we managed to get so much done……….(swag packages readied? check!)

…. we also managed a little shopping, some lovely meals, and even a few hours sketching at a local ruin.

The mixing of work and play, art and vocation, self care and the tending to a job to be done.  All of it a beautiful balance.  Feeling the magic of Antigua seeping into my bones as we settle in for what will be two wonderful weeks of art-making with amazing people.

Who knows?  There may even be a guest appearance here and there by some special non-workshop friends…..

First night

A smooth day’s travel via winged chariots hailing from north and west and of course my little Ohio River Valley.  A few of us are landed, in our physical bodies at least, if not fully and completely just yet.

Antigua is mostly quiet, especially compared to years past when Easter time was nigh.  The breezes are warm, two of us here are from cold climes.  We are beginning to thaw.

These past weeks of grief and loss have been wearying, this is certain.  Traveling finds me weary at the end of an uneventful but rather long day as well.  But I am grateful for the thawing.  Grateful for this work which brings me to such beautiful places in the world.

Tomorrow is a fresh day.  With camera and sketching gear in hand, I’ll head into town to warm up the image making muscles with my fellow artists.

For now, it is time to rest.

 

For Sale (twist of hemp, wk 15)

As much as John Joe Badger loves his borrowed practice set, even with all of its idiosyncrasies (and don’t all sets have their idiosyncrasies?), he’s begun to consider the acquisition of a practice set of his own.  Perhaps even a “half set”, which would surely complicate matters.

John Joe consults his latest issue of Piper’s Weekly……

Where does an average badger of modest means even begin to look for such a set?  Does he go for a freshly made set of pipes?  Or a well loved set, which might come along with adopted issues.  Who are the best makers?  Does he seek a maker near to him and to his climactic locale?  Or does he dare contact one of the makers in Ireland….?  These are the questions that keep our dear John Joe awake at night these days.

These, and the humidity levels (or lack thereof) here in late winter.

 

 

The cat who hugged back

“And I see the leaves turn a bit in the air and the breeze coming in feels like the whole world is a pet that is breathing on me and I think, ‘Well, I am so sensitive and I am very fragile but so is everything else, and living with a dangerous amount of sensitivity is sort of what I have to do sometimes, and it is so very much better than living with no gusto at all.  And I’d rather live with a tender heart, because that is the key to feeling the beat of all of the other hearts.'”

~Jenny Slate, Little Weirds

Greetings from the House of the Broken-Hearted.  It’s taken me a few days to get to this post, with yet another chapter of sorrowful news.  I am so used to writing about dogs.  Their antics and full presence in my life has always been a more public thing here in this space of sharing.  But the cat, well, the cat somehow occupied a quieter, more private, place in my heart.  How to even begin to write about the gentle and constant presence of a quasi-domesticated creature who has shared our home for nearly 16 years?   Yet with a few days to ruminate, and scroll through old photos, I knew I owed at least a blog post in honor of Ian Small.

It seems Iris and River were holding up the train for this old cat who, much to our sadness, opted to join the rest of the ginger-flavored crew onto the Next Great Adventure late last week.   With age had come blindness and confusion, weight loss and miscalculations around the litter box situation.  We had been navigating all of this for a good long while.  When I took Ian into the vet well over a week ago, hopeful for a simple fix, she said, “Whenever you are ready, it’s time.”

I came home to sit with it for another week, to give a chance for goodbyes and a few more nights’ snuggling.  But eventually, he peacefully joined the others.  The vet reckons that the big dogs with their big physical presence and their tight routines, had actually aided in Ian’s adjusting to losing his sight a while back and with them gone from his world, he felt a bit lost.

In which Ian shows off his best impression of Greg Louganis.

We all feel a little bit lost here lately.

Ian was a tiny kitten who grew into a huge ginger bear.  The kind of cat who hugged back.

In his prime, he didn’t know a stranger and welcomed all with curiosity and a sweet demeanor.

As he got older, napping was really his most sincere occupation, which he took quite seriously.

This is of course when he wasn’t studying the activities at the bird feeders outside.

It was a difficult decision to give Ian a peaceful passing.  One wonders if the time is ever right.  But in the end, he left us quickly and painlessly and I feel confident it was the right decision, as bereft as I was to have to go through with it.  And there had been so much suffering here lately.  I was not going to prolong it for our beloved cat.

It’s really strange to be in the house right now.  So much change.  So much loss.  A mass exodus of what had been a true life’s blood of the household.  It will be an adjustment I am sure.  And I am soul-weary.

Travel beckons now.  I am nowhere near ready.  But I have in my heart lessons from some four-legged friends on how to be fully present at all times, how to relish in the sensuous delights of occupying a physical body, how to play and make friends and live in a state of beautiful curiosity.

And for all of this, I am deeply grateful.  Rest easy sweet Ian Small.  May there be tuna and catnip upon your arrival in the Land Beyond.  You’ve earned it.

 

Is that a bagpipe? t.o.h. week 14

There are many varieties of the notion of “bagpipe” to be found in many cultures across the globe.  The Uillean pipes are just one.  But since we gather the air into the bag which activates the reed in our chanter with a bellows, versus blowing up the bag of air with our own lungs, we often get curious questions from onlookers….

Yes, they are truly and actually a proper set of bagpipes.  Yes, we play “real” bagpipes.  And we use a bellows, pumped by our elbow (Irish for elbow is uillean) to blow them up.  Hopefully this clears things up for poor John Joe Badger and his piping friends who manage to field all kinds of questions while out in the world playing.

Thanks to my flute teacher (who also plays Gallician pipes) John, and my pipes teacher Cathy for the inspiration for this week’s illustration.  Each of them have heard it all over the years!

Here are some examples of “other” piping traditions….

And of course, back home to Ireland….

a good ‘un too

“My fashion philosophy is, if you’re not covered in dog hair, your life is empty.” – Elayne Boosler

My grandparents had been married for 64 years when they died less than three days apart from one another.  Something about this closeness in the timing of their passing brought us a small semblance of comfort in a time of great chaos and grief.  I look to that phenomenon to help us through the latest news here in this dark winter of doom (as honestly, it’s beginning to feel like lately).

Alas, this morning our dear old dog, our Wild Iris Rose, finally succumbed to her recent illness and is now at home in the stars with River, the accidental and constant companion of her lifetime.  I think dogs are more like people than most folks give them credit for.  Iris especially, with her wise eyes and knowing look.

“I love my dog as much as I love you
But you may fade, my dog will always come through”

~Cat Stevens

Perhaps she simply couldn’t be on this plane without River.  I do not know, as this is the depth of mystery, this ‘why’ of everything.  I have always thought Iris knew more about the ‘why’ of everything, and perhaps now she does.

So much of the content in this lowly old blog has been devoted to the dogs in my life over the years.  The puppies came along shortly after I began this online diarizing, and they fit right into it all with their antics and photogenic, sketchable qualities.

Even with all the complexities having multiple dogs brings to a household, I wouldn’t trade any of it.  Even these final, messy weeks.  Dogs remind us of our own innate physicality and, of course, our mortality.  They are constant reminders of the following:

We mustn’t take ourselves too seriously.

Time is of the essence.  The moment is now.

To be joyful is a gift, and it’s ours for the taking at any moment.

Love with abandon.

When you rest, just give into it, like it’s your job.

Give your keen attention to anything you find interesting.

Take a walk.  Everyday.  Twice if possible.

Love your fellow beings.  Even when you find them to be curiosities quite unlike yourself.

“Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born”.

~Mary Oliver

“But then I looked in your eyes
And I was no more a failure
You looked so wacky and wise
And I said, lord I’m happy
’cause I’m just a walkin’ my dog
Singin’ my song
Strollin’ along
It’s just me and my dog
Catchin’ some sun
We can’t go wrong
’cause I don’t care ’bout your hatin’ and your doubt
And I don’t care what the politicians spout
If you need a companion
Well just go right to the pound
And find yourself a hound
And make that doggie proud
’cause that’s what it’s all about”

~Nellie McKay

You can imagine the quiet state of things around here.  I honestly don’t know quite what to do with myself.  So here I am, writing, which strangely, is what I do in times of crisis.  There is a nap of escape in my future.  I’ll take Charlie with me, and maybe the cat too (but that’s up to him).   Beyond that, I am doing my best to simply make space for this grief.  A grief that feels bigger than a couple of good dogs gone too soon.  I’m giving it space, and hoping it doesn’t move in permanently in a darker, blacker form.

Art by Tracey Harris spied at Wally Workman Gallery in Austin Texas.

“The bond with a true dog is as lasting as the ties of this earth will ever be.”

~Konrad Lorenz

Here’s to you, my wild Iris Rose.  Long may you run.

PS~  As heartbroken as I am, I want to just say thank you to the vets and techs at Cincinnati Animal Medical Center.  They have seen us through many a beloved pet and this time was no different.  They treat us like family and I know they grieve along with us.  If you are local to the Cincinnati area, I can’t recommend them enough.  

January

This time last week I was in Austin, Texas, visiting artful friends, meeting new trees and dogs.  A good time was had by all and I was (and always am) deeply inspired by time spent with these women and their loved ones.

Austin has been described as a blueberry in a big bowl of tomato soup, culturally, politically and it was great fun skimming even the surface of this amazing capitol city.

One can read countless articles about the food in Austin, or the music in Austin.  But honestly, I really loved the trees.

There were two in particular which captivated my imagination.  The first being the famed Treaty Tree – an old, intrepid Council Oak utilized by Native Americans long before our misguided United States was even a glimmer on the horizon.  You can read the full story here about how this poor tree was poisoned back in the 80’s and nearly died.  But it survives to this day and is loved and protected and shored up and supported in its growth.

The day we visited it, there happened to be officials on hand, measuring and taking stock of the tree and I asked permission to come inside the fence and place my hand upon its trunk.  I was permitted and nearly cried when I touched it.  Trees are truly miraculous beings and I have a bit of a thing for them.

A second tree which I befriended just happened to be in the back yard of the very friends we were visiting.  This tree, now called Bonnie, was a primary reason my friends chose this of all houses and they brought in an arborist to make sure they could care for her properly in the coming years.  I think they are glad to know Bonnie.  And perhaps Bonnie is glad to know them.

I am guessing there will be more paintings of Bonnie.  I spent a bit of time just watching how the evening light played upon her stately form.  She’s lovely indeed.

But Austin is not all trees, there are the dogs.  One dog especially seemed to sum up all of Austin’s playfulness.  Mr. Pickles.

One cannot NOT sketch a spectacle such as Mr. Pickles.  Apparently his mom works in the mobile dog grooming world, hence the painted on color.  I think Mr. Pickles knows how cute he is as he greeted us with enthusiasm on our visit to the Contemporary Austin art museum.

There was much more to tell of Austin.  A beer garden in a grove of trees in the hill country, cocktails made of a desert plant….

Vintage finds in the second hand shops.  But mostly we merely enjoyed one another’s company.  And this was enough.  Even in a city as cool as Austin.

And now I am home.  Nursing a cold…..

And deeply worried over our own pup Iris.  Our Wild Iris Rose has been unwell of late.  Deer poo is nasty stuff and we can only guess that she may have sampled some in the yard leading to intestinal distress.  We got her sorted out last week and were in the clear, but this week, among everything else, she was overcome again.

Tonight she is hospitalized and getting fluids.  We are hopeful for the best, but it’s up to her.  And so tonight we wait.

I’m finding it difficult to concentrate on anything, tea is helpful, yes.

And good books to pass the time…

A bit of light reading…..

Scribbling a bit helps to pass the time sometimes. I learned this style of doodling from my friend artist Kim Rae Taylor

But it’s worrying, to put it mildly.  She has been greatly weakened by this latest illness and we are giving her the best care we know how.  And only time will tell.  Of all the dogs, Iris is really my girl and I miss her presence here in the studio tonight as I write this.  Hoping she’s back home resting comfortably tomorrow perhaps.  But we shall take it all as it comes.

As we must.