A couple of weeks ago I took a short stop motion animation workshop through my local artist’s collective at the Kennedy Heights Art Center. The instructor is Kate Ball whose work is interesting and hand crafted and which has just the right amount of surreal creep factor. I loved it! We had a ball working as a group and I knew I’d want to go home and try it myself. Here are the early experimental results……
I have no idea if I will keep working in this medium as the paints are calling. But I like that this is just another tool in my took kit in the art making realm. I do enjoy it. I hope you do too!!
And receive all the challenges, truth and light you need.
May you never be isolated but know the embrace
Of your anam cara.
Last weekend my good friend Tina and I took a rather long road trip north to Vermont to visit another good friend of mine, Kristin, newly moved to Burlington from Portland. It was indeed a whirlwind weekend, bookended by many, many hours in the car. All of it flew by in a flash, and yet seemed to go on for ages as well. That’s the thing about friendship. It’s a time bending endeavor.
We laughed harder than we had in ages. We cried at the shared human experience. We talked of art and politics, motherhood and menopause. We dreamed artful ideas which seem ever more real when discussed with our anam cara, our soul friends.
It was a blessing to see my old friend in her new neighborhood, which finally seems like a place she and her family can settle for the long term. It was an equal blessing to have my other old friend along for the drive, which due to our chit-chat and shared reading and pondering and wonderment, seemed not to be a long drive at all.
But the best blessing of all is that these two now know each other truly, having only met in passing before now. It was like we had all known each other our whole lives. Which, perhaps, we have.
It’s worth working on friendships, in spite of or perhaps especially when, life gets in the way.
“The number 7 is the seeker, the thinker, the searcher of Truth (notice the capital “T”). The 7 doesn’t take anything at face value — it is always trying to understand the underlying, hidden truths. The 7 knows that nothing is exactly as it seems and that reality is often hidden behind illusions.” ~From ‘numerology.com’ a la google
I’ve spent this morning updating the website a bit with details for next summer’s Taos-based Travel Journaling Workshop. Although I am still tweaking the cost (no huge changes or increases here, just the structure of lodging options), the dates are set. And I am now accepting registrations for what will be my 7th summer teaching at Mabel’s. This is incredible!
What started out as an off the cuff notion in a long ago blog post, a mere whisper of my soul’s deepest longing, has become work I engage in all year long. Two weeks spent in what has become one of my soul’s dearest home-places (Taos, New Mexico) takes all year to prepare for; gathering registrants, marketing, planning travel, etc. These past 6 years in which the workshop has grown, been shaped, changed and evolved, I have had my head somewhat down in full-speed-ahead mode as each year sped toward summer. I was so terrified that if I looked up and considered things properly for even a moment, it might all burst and have been a dream-state all along.
But next year’s workshop will be my 7th and this feels like terra firma. While I never approach a trip to Taos Mountain with anything but humility and reverence, and I know nothing lasts forever, I have a sense of calm about things this season as I begin the work for next year. I am deeply grateful for this change.
While I am not sure exactly why this next year already feels different, I have some ideas. Much of my work has felt a seismic shift in the last year or so, mostly due to a workshop I took in Maine last September. It is as if the painter in me broke out into the open and, while not without a little resistance here and there, she has managed to stay in the light and to keep painting. This painting practice has made me a better teacher, which has given me more confidence, both as painter and as teacher. A nourishing spiral indeed.
For a number of years, I taught sketch classes here in town and those morphed into what is now the Taos workshop. Since that time, I have considered, and then ultimately declined a number of opportunities to teach in a classroom setting locally. I loathe to turn down work, but I have come to find that I am best at teaching in a setting that has something of beauty to behold. And so, while I have once again this fall, turned down teaching gigs from good people at good places, I have decided not to shut down local teaching completely. I simply want to do it on my terms.
So, for those of you in the SW Ohio region who have been interested in working with me as a teacher, but have been unable to commit to the Taos workshop, I am offering small group and individual tutoring in basic sketching skills. I’ll help you put together your supplies and then we can meet at fun, local sketching sites, which vary depending upon weather and what you’d like to learn, and go from there.
Drawing and basic watercoloring are such a fun way to experience the world and a couple of sessions with me will get you on your way! Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) directly for more information on pricing. I can work with you individually, or perhaps you and a friend or two might like to start your sketching adventure together!
I hope to hear from a few of you locals who have been hounding me (in the sweetest way possible!) to offer some instruction options here in town. These individualized sessions feel like the perfect answer to this call!
Thanks again to all who have been following and supporting this artful journey of mine over the years. I am truly grateful.
“To romanticize the world is to make us aware of the magic, mystery and wonder of the world; it is to educate the senses to see the ordinary as extra-ordinary, the familiar as strange, the mundane as sacred, and the finite as infinite. ” ~Novalis
“We are as gods to beasts of the field. We order their birth and the time of their death. Between times, we have a duty.”
~Terry Pratchett (via Granny Aching) The Wee, Free Men
Just over a week ago, a dear friend of mine took me on a field trip. Ohio in summer is not a favorite of mine and I was just home from a summer away – to northern climes and northern light and adventures blanketed by northern breezes. Part of me was not keen on spending a day outside…..
But as luck would have it, we were gifted with a day back here that felt like northern climes and northern breezes; the first breath of early fall, which is always such a treasure in southern Ohio. With that, it already felt like a day touched with a special form of magic.
And so, Penny and I headed east out of town, to Grassroots Farm, which, from where we normally stand, felt a bit like the edge of nowhere.
We were visiting old friends of hers (now new friends of mine!) on their land of farmish dreaming. We were treated to a welcome I have seldom experienced and that which I am still processing (and making art!)
Upon arrival, we were greeted at first by the front guard of working dogs who were greatly excited to see us, but who also know their manners.
Soon we hopped into a four-wheeler adventure to tour some of the farm property and to get a sense of what Grassroots Farm philosophy is all about.
My first impression of both Susan and Drausin, the husband and wife team who are Grassroots Farm, is that of a tremendous passion for the work they do. Work with the land itself, with the animals, and with the food those animals and gardens become. There is a sense upon arrival at Grassroots Farm of a strong sense of ‘Place’, something I feel is often lacking in Ohio, generally speaking. I was reminded of the relationship my friends out in Taos on the Pueblo have with their animals, which is beautiful and not found in most places.
Drausin is mostly the farmer, and Susan, mostly the cook. But it is clear that it’s a team effort. I rode along and soaked in the imagery with my eyes and with my camera. Imagery which would become sketches…..
…and then eventually some ‘Art’ once back home with proper paints.
I, like many folk I know, have a difficult relationship with meat as a food source. But over the years, I have come to know the sources of meat which make me comfortable to be the omnivore my body feels meant to be. I want to know where my food comes from. Not just meat, but vegetables as well. It’s become more and more important to me to develop a relationship with my grocer, my butcher, my farmer. This may seem like a first world luxury. Well, you know what? It is. And it’s a worthwhile place to put our first world resources. Business follows where the money goes, and if this style of farming is where the money goes, ideally, this is the direction the farming will go. This feels like a good direction.
The animals at Grassroots Farm are raised in traditional manners much more sustainable than most of today’s more popular ways of raising meat. Or even vegetables for that matter. I was fascinated to hear the complex relationship the folks at Grassroots Farm have with their animals.
I was introduced to many cows, some dairy and others meat cows, but all cared for with diligence. There are dozens of varieties of grasses grown at Grassroots upon which the cows feed. How many people do you know with digestive issues, food allergies, immuno-disorders related to food? So much of these issues stem to the very food our meat is given. Modern industry lacks the quality of feed, the time taken, to raise animals properly for processing. I worry sometimes that in modernity, we are losing our ability to make food for ourselves in the future. In this visit to Grassroots farm, I was, for once, hopeful for a sustainable future in food production.
It’s not all beef and dairy at Grassroots, there were also sheep and pigs to visit. All farmed with the same impeccable attention to detail as the cows.
Drausin and Susan have committed a part of their land to being permitted to drift back into natural wetlands which is so good for everyone. These bits of the property especially felt enriched with an otherworldly magic.
While farming occupies the day to day for this couple, meanwhile, preparations are in full swing for a private family wedding for which Drausin has created an altar of stone. During our farm tour, some tweaks were made on the stone work, displaying the attention to detail this family is made of.
I’m certain those involved in the upcoming nuptials will be pleased. It’s a fairytale setting indeed!
The wedding altar was not the only stone work to be found….
Drausin builds beautiful tributes to his family throughout the property, as well as places to enjoy time together. I was honored to visit a few of them.
One of these especially magic places has a fire pit and some seats around for enjoying after dinner time and sunsets. I did a small painting of this space which has an old well-stone set in place. The stories that stone might tell…..
Soon the farm part of our adventure was over, but the fun was just beginning….
We were to be treated to some of what the farm had to offer, through the culinary brilliance of Susan…
Everything about this table spoke of love for this food and an artful sense of presentation.
Most of the food was quite simple, actually. But complexity was to be found in Susan’s mixes of herbs and other subtle flavorings.
Her mussuka stew of zucchini and ground lamb was as divine a dish as I have had in recent years, topped off with a fresh yogurt concoction.
I am excited to visit Grassroots Farm’s farm stands in the coming weeks now that life is settling down, as Susan’s recipes are available for purchase. To add a bit of her culinary magic to your day to day table would be a gift to yourself ( and the world at large I think! )
But alas, as all good things must end, our day was beginning to golden into evening…..
We could smell September on the breezes at last. And see it in the light of things…
Old Nick, now retired, laid and listened to us chit-chat as the sun sank.
We talked of food and land, and family and friendship. Drausin left us to finish his farming for the day. Penny and I did dishes and sang Susan’s praises for the dinner she had prepared and shared with us.
It all felt a little old fashioned. A little timeless. A lot beautiful. Beauty-filled.
As we pulled away from this magic place against the gloaming of the evening, we knew we had shared the gift of a magical day. I knew I’d run home to make some paintings. As that is what I do. And I knew that Susan and Drausin would prepare for their oncoming farm tour (which was this past weekend – do sign up for next year!!) and their daughter’s wedding soon to come, and the general day to day that is, Working on a Farm. I marvel at the work they do and appreciate that it is so close to home here. If you are local to me in the Cincinnati region, Grassroots sells their meats as well as Susan’s frozen prepared foods at Hyde Park Farmer’s Market and Milford Farmer’s Market. And be sure and stop over at their beautiful blog to see what they are up to between market days.
“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” ― A.A. Milne
I am newly returned from the last of the Big Trips that were slated for what has been an amazing summer. My Hub, along with a few kayaking friends and myself went off grid and out of country last week to paddle a bit in Georgian Bay and to do some exploring and camping in the wilds of Franklin Island. This was to be my own very first ‘Expedition’ in the kayaking world where everything had to be planned and plotted, measured and made-to-fit. It was a big endeavor for me personally and I felt as if I was ‘hangin’ with the big kids’ as I am somewhat of a reluctant paddler.
We crossed into Canada where I opted to go offline to avoid the fees that come with staying connected in a foreign country. And with that unplugging came lots of time to wander around the dusty halls of my own mind, a pleasure I don’t often have the time for in my busy life.
After a long but safe and uneventful drive north, we arrived just in time to gulp down some fish and chips and a well deserved beer at Payne’s Marina where the staff took our late arrival not only in stride, but with quintessential Canadian kindness and welcoming.
We camped at a local provincial park and spent the next day or so readying for our adventure and monitoring the changeable water and skies of this place.
Soon it was time to load the boats and make the 2.3 mile trek across the water to our first campsite on Franklin Island.
We arrived safely to Henrietta Point where I learned how to pitch a tent on and with stones, something I had never done before being more of an Appalachian forest creature in my upbringing.
This place was perfect from many perspectives. We had ample room for all of us to set up camp and there was an area somewhat out of the wind which allowed us to enjoy cooking together in our stony kitchen.
And there were the marvelous ‘Thunder Boxes’ (i.e. outdoor loos) which were not only not smelly for an outdoor loo, they put many indoor situations I’ve visited over the years to shame! I was pleasantly surprised.
During the day I followed the shady places as much as possible to sketch and explore.
And in the evenings, we would take our dinner plates to the windy shore and enjoy the sunset views which were stunning. The company was pretty great as well!
There was much hiking to do along the shore where we could sit and watch the water, or sketch new friends along the way….
While at Henrietta Point, I didn’t get back into my boat, and I might have been happy not to do so until it was time to leave for the mainland again at week’s end. Much of the time, I watched the others go about their watery business on the waves, secure in my desire to remain on shore. I am prone to sea sickness and don’t care for the waves they make in these inland seas, all confused and bouncing every which way.
This all being so, we’d heard the winds were slated to change, and that would mean our campsite would become a more exposed and less desirable place to be. We discussed as a group and opted to pack up camp and see what else Franklin Island might have to offer.
That day I joined our group and paddled the waves. All went well. I don’t mind the odd wavey day, provided said waves behave themselves, which they did. It was a long day in our boats exploring and scouting camp sites and we gratefully arrived at our new place at Cunningham Bay. No Thunder Box, but otherwise it was lovely.
Notice that our tent was there along the water, and that all was calm and glassy. We were in a protected bay away from the larger water to the west. But over night the wind turned on us once more and suddenly there were waves lapping at our door and the wind whipped the tent fabric into a frenzy. All in the middle of the night!
This all made for a very difficult night full of fear and anxiety on my part, the details of which I won’t go into. Suffice it to say, the following morning we picked up our little home and moved it into the woods on shore a bit further which felt safer in many ways.
When the more paddle-y folks opted for an epic day on the water the following morning, I stayed home on shore to enjoy some alone time and to try to come to an even keel of the soul in my own little ways….
Eventually, I spotted my friends on the horizon and they came home exhausted.
I whipped up some dinner which we all worked to fry up together. Everything tastes better by the water, don’t you think?
The very next day was already Friday, the day we were due back on the mainland. We had camped and paddled and cooked and swam in our birthday suits on a daily basis. We had prepared food together over camp stoves and enjoyed shooting stars and crackling fires in the evenings.
I for one spent a fair amount of time in a state of anxious agitation about whether I would have to paddle in sickening conditions, or whether the wind would blow so hard as to blow our tent down or whether our next camp site would have a thunder box or not. Truth be told, I spend a fair amount of time in my ‘regular day-to-day’ life in a state of anxious agitation and going on this trip was a way to try and temper that. (Perhaps every trip is a way to try and temper that!) Maybe if I behave the bravest, and test myself a bit along the way, I can get a little break from that day to day state. In some ways, I think it works. I think we must always be challenging ourselves.
Toward the end of the trip, my Hub Tony asked if I might take this sort of trip again. I was not ready to answer. Perhaps I am still not. We were so fortunate to have great weather and that our little group got along so well. ( I have heard horror stories from other trips.) I wanted to hold my own and I think I did, making wise choices as to when to be on the water and when not to be. And I am better for the going on this particular trek. For me, a homey, gentle soul, a lot about the idea of this adventure was daunting. And in many ways, I was very brave to attempt it. But I was also with friends whom I trusted not to put me in danger. The only real danger was in my head and maybe in my so easily queasy stomach.
And so, what of this ‘Behave the Bravest’ business, you ask? Well, while wandering the dusty hallways of my ever active mind while off the grid, I realized that I did not do a proper blog based announcement of my art work being featured on Nuala Kennedy’s gorgeous new album called, of course, Behave the Bravest. The themes in the album are epic and watery in the most folky ways and I am proud to be the visual part of it, my art work being made to look even more fantastic by the design team at 16K Design Works who did a fantastic job with the raw work. This album has been a soundtrack to my summer of sorts this year and many of the tunes were in my head as I navigated this recent expedition.
Difficult adventures cause us to look inward and confront our most shadowy sides of self….
And by plumbing those depths we can learn more about ourselves, enabling our best selves to come back to civilization and that version of reality to readily serve the world.
I am not quite back to my best self. I am still tired and sore, not feeling quite caught up. But I am better for my time and experiences amidst these inland seas. As always with a challenging time, I have learned something of myself and I am glad of it.
Connotes a yearning for place that is lost or may not exist, a feeling of longing to be ‘at home’ in the sense of achieving a sense of belonging, of finding your paradise.
~from Rising Ground, A Search For The Spirit of Place by Philip Marsden
It is summer and we are firmly ensconced in our paradise. Early last week we drove and drove and drove, many hundreds of miles, to escape the city where we live and work. To escape the stifling heat and humidity that quantifies summer in southwestern Ohio. This is vacation time in Vacationland for our family. A yearly trek to this place we once called home and to reconnect with friends we consider family.
As our friend Tom over at Bat Cave Studios so aptly put it, every visit back to this place makes it that much harder to leave it again.
I’ll share just a few of the adventures of the trip thus far, in between which we have enjoyed much visiting and laughing, cooking, eating and drinking with great joy, game playing and swimming, hiking and paddling. We are thoroughly enjoying the company of our loved ones here. But beyond that, there is the sheer lure of this place so far from home and yet so much like home.
I for one spend a great deal of time pondering the deep sense of place I feel here.
Having lived and worked here so very long ago, we know life isn’t perfect in Maine, or anywhere for that matter. But we love this place and are deeply grateful for what time we do get to spend here.
There are the great gifts of the sea to be had of course and our time in Maine began with these.
“I love oysters. Its like kissing the sea on the lips.” ~Leon-Paul Fargue
“It was a bold man that first ate an oyster.” ~Jonathan Swift
Not only do we love a quiet lobster dinner on the back deck at our home away from home, but we also like to get out into town sometimes, at least when ‘town’ is by the sea. This year we sampled the beautiful food and drink at Eventide restaurant in Portland. It was divine!
But of course dinner in town is not why we came to Maine. This year we were fortunate to score some tickets to a special farm-to-table dinner event out on an island…..
The food at this dinner was beyond spectacular. Every course made with the complexity of island simplicity if that makes any sense. I am no foodie so I will leave that to another blogger, but I do know that these culinary gifts shared with great love and intention were well received and we couldn’t have had a lovelier time.
We were ferried home on the good ship Equinox amidst a breathtaking sunset and cleansing ocean air.
But all has not been food and drink and more of same however. Our timing for this year’s visit afforded us the opportunity to see in person some original artwork by one of my all time favorite illustrators, Barbara Cooney. The show was at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and featured works for three of Cooney’s most prized books.
“When I grow up,”I tell her, “I too will go to faraway places and come
home to live by the sea.”
“That is all very well, little Alice,” says my aunt, “but there is a third thing
you must do.”
“What is that?” I ask.
“You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”
“All right, ” I say. ~Barbara Cooney, Miss Rumphius
And now we find ourselves lake side. In recent days we’ve had visitors from home and from our life back in our Maine time and from since then as well. It’s been a lovely mix and match of loved ones from near and far. But for today it is just the few of us. The loons are calling and the boats buzz past on occasion. I’m able to catch up here and perhaps a bit in my sketchbook as well. Up to now it’s really only been color studies.
We swim these waters and treasure the sunsets.
We walk the paths and explore the vistas.
Meeting new friends along the way…
All of this experience deepening the sense of place we have here in our treasured summer oasis.
Who knows where the future will take us. But regardless of the path ahead, a good chunk of my soul resides here in this beautiful place called Maine.
“Sing and you shall defeat death; sing and you shall disarm the foe.” – Elie Wiesel.
I am returned, once again, from the magical world of the Swannanoa Gathering, which this year celebrates it’s 25th anniversary. And once again, it was quite the week of music and mayhem, tunes and tricks, laughter and love, friendship and food, beverages and beauty.
There are many ideas floating around in my head for drawings and illustrations seeded by this past week which I shall soon share here of course. Art begets art and by spending the week with so many talented and creative folks, I am fairly swimming in artful thought-glitter!!
But in spite of dark times and a world awash with so much hatred and violence, we came together, once again. A dear friend of mine from Swannanoa overheard someone say one night at a ceili where everyone dancing seemed to have a smile on their shining faces, “Why can’t we be like this all the time? All of us?” I don’t think he meant just us at the gathering, but maybe more the world at large.
So hard not to smile in the midst of this music. Heartfelt, Joy-filled….
And in the midst of all of the fun, we were there to learn. Everyday, we went to the classes available to us to soak up all the tunes and tips we could from our multi-talented instructors. For me, this was Nuala Kennedy in the morning, and Kevin Crawford in the afternoons.
The rapport and sense of play these two bring to teaching and playing and performing is simply infectious and I find them both incredibly inspirational in my own teaching work as well as of course, the music itself.
Neither one of them lets us get away with anything but our very best work and so on the edge of our seats, we huffed away on our flutes and learned so very much. My mind is still quite thick with all of the information we gained over the week!
The week was not all classes though….
There were concerts, lectures, opportunities to play more slowly on a new instrument. There were sessions till all hours of the night. And of course lots of laughter and community with friends. Here is a small sampling…..
(side note: during the storm, a huge lighting strike occurred on campus. it hit a tree and out went the power. it was captured in this amazing sound byte by my friend Mary….. listen for at least 40 seconds…..)
There is so much more in the world of sweet snapshots I could share with you here. Special thanks to my flute friends Kate, Bob and Colin who generously shared their pictures for this post. And I could leave the update here and that might be the end of it. But while we were at camp, the world was continuing on its crazed path of recent self destruction. News was leaking in. The music we were making took on a whole new gravity.
As is often the case, the ‘Flutilla’ was planning some mischief for the end of week student showcase. In years past we had made fun with the ‘rivalry’ between Nuala and Kevin, as our allegiance to them both made them often wonder, ‘hmmmm, who do the flute kids like best?’ But of course we love them both equally and we get something different from each. So this year, we took on the fiddles. Which seemed a fun direction to go, based on the hijinks at the concert the other night. And so I drew up a little drawing, and we made a plan for take over in the form of wearable art…..
Update!!!: Due to the high level of interest in this design, I have created a tidied up version of it to put on products such as totes, shirts and the like which you can order from the link below. Proceeds will go toward a scholarship to Celtic Week at the Swannanoa Gathering. Viva la Flutilla!!!!
But then we awoke the next morning to read the dreadful news of Nice and beyond and we approached the day more somberly. I had the feeling that my blog post from before leaving for camp was even MORE important and we all talked about how important and actually ‘serious’ the ‘fun’ we were having at camp truly is.
My dear friend Joe Bly wrote a gorgeous poem, in true mythical epic poem format that had begun with the ‘let’s take down the fiddles’ sort of approach and idea. But as he wrote it, it changed. Into something bigger and better than all of that. With his poem, the ‘tyranny’ we speak of became all that is evil in the world at large. All the violence and negativity. The work and fun we embarked upon at the Swannanoa Gathering is the rejection of all of that. The folks I know from the gathering go back to their real lives as doctors, teachers, paramedics, therapists, healers, parents, lawyers and beyond. They are bright and active in their communities and keenly aware of the news. And into that work in the outside world, they bring the laughter and creativity that a week of music camp can ignite. I simply marvel.
Cloaked in the mists of Tír na nÓg, the Otherworld of Swannanoa, Where three hundred days pass as three, Rival Clans of the Blackwood vied in feats of strength and skill, Lost in the Loop of myths and legends.
Come! Ye Fianna of the Flute! Daughters of Méabh, Sons of Cúchulainn! Come forth from the mists and meet in the ford of the river that divides us, For now is the time to cast arms beneath the waves And in Friendship and Honor Unite.
We are reborn as warriors anew as we march forth into the shining day.
For are we not free? For do we not face the shadow of a common foe, Hearts and eyes open wide?
For we shall not grovel in fear of the Darkness But serve the light of the clear morning.
We cradle the sacred rite passed down through the mists of legends, And it is our sworn honor to push together against the night, With our strength and our weapons of music and laughter.
Now, more than ever.
I do believe that Joe may have channeled something divine in this poem. He read it aloud at the showcase before the flutes came together as one and played a jig together in unification.
The evening wore on and there were so many gorgeous tunes and songs put on by everyone…. We soaked up and steeped in the final evening together.
As the week came to an end, we all talked much of not only the music we had experienced, but also of the wisdom we were given by those who light this musical path.
A highlight of the week for me was a ‘potluck’ lecture-talk put on by Martin Hayes who is a great fiddler, not only in the traditional sense but also as one who is constantly pushing the boundaries of the music itself. He spoke of being truly present in our music and that to do that we must be present with ourselves. This notion of presence really struck me.
When I play music, or make art, I am most truly present. And the doing of these things over the years has enriched my life and caused me to be more present in all aspects of my life. Presence. It’s crucial. Presence in ourselves. Presence with each other. This alone could help heal a lot in this world, I do believe.
some notes jotted down from martin…
“…raw beauty of a melody.”
“simple music, heartfelt.”
“connective tissue between musician, instrument, and player”
“anything that further releases inner expression is valid”
“trying is an obstacle” (yoda?? is that you???)
“leave the safety zone behind”
“trust the unknown.”
“create a spell.”
Last week at Swannanoa was more than just music. It felt a lot like activism. Pursuing creativity and kindness, music and beauty in a world so hell bent on the opposite seems like an insurmountable challenge at times. But I accept this challenge. As best as I know how to. I share my approach to art work in the form of teaching and I’ve been told it has changed lives for the better. Much in the way my instructors at Swannanoa and beyond have changed mine.
I am deeply grateful to be on this beautiful planet at the same time as these people. These musicians and friends of mine. The world needs their beauty. My beauty. and Yours.
“Sing and you shall defeat death; sing and you shall disarm the foe.” – Elie Wiesel.
This weekend, my son, myself and hundreds of others embark on the journey to a kind of Brigadoon for a week at the Swannanoa Gathering. The Gathering happens during much of the summer down near Asheville, North Carolina, changing themes for each group involved. Guitar week, Fiddle week, Old Time week, and for us, Celtic week. You get the picture. It is much like an escape from the world we inhabit for much of the rest of the year. We go to be understood by fellow trad-heads and to improve our craft. We go to share and play music for hours on end. We go to laugh and catch up on our lives over the past year. We’ve planned for this week since we left it round this time last year. It is a yearly pilgrimage for all of us.
In some years past, I’ll admit to ‘escape’ being a primary function of this week for me personally. There is nothing wrong with this per se, in the spirit of escape from the day-to-day. But in more recent years, these weeks I commit to the broadening of creativity in my life – i.e. Big Work In Taos, this up-coming week of music classes and sessions, and the like – have come to mean more. I attend to them with a more deep seeded intention.
I read recently somewhere that when people sing together, their hearts come to beat in time with one another. I think this is likely the case in playing tunes together too as we do at camp. Perhaps church goers who chant or pray and sing together pull their hearts into one as well.
I am certain I am not the only one who has heard heart-wrenching news in the past couple of days and been dumbfounded as to how to respond. Scores of people of all colors gathered to protest recent violence in peaceful ways. Social media has been flooded with articles, memes about peace and prayers and where-to-go-from-heres, as well as some real and justified anger at it all. Like so many, I am simply in shock at the scope of hatred and violence.
Where DO we go from here? I believe there is real value in protests and all of the public outpouring that happens at times like these. But I also believe there is real value in the mindful acts of less ‘social’ ways of protesting the trajectory of the world just now. There are those in the world who walk a quieter path of response. Through monastic or prayerful practice perhaps, or through the making of music in the spirit of communion such as we will be doing this upcoming week. Perhaps one’s protest is in the work of building beautiful children’s books, or poems which make a heart sing. To make just one heart sing, or child smile, is that not changing the world?
Don’t get me wrong, I am an active voter, I volunteer where and when I can, getting outwardly active in the issues I care about. I am by no means indifferent and I am intensely angry about recent events. But for me, this anger is fuel for furthering my tasks in this life as I see them. Magnifying and identifying beauty in the midst of a harsh landscape of current events. Shaping, encouraging and fostering connection within my communities. In response to horrific news, I feel a fierce need to make more art. Art and music and connection with our most valued communities can help to heal the world, in valid, measurable ways. I truly believe this. And so, I will continue down this path in quiet protest to all of the ugliness out there.
I for one head down to The Gathering this next week with the intent of music-making as prayer for the world. We will gather our hearts together, for just this week of time, and beat them as one. So that perhaps we can take that beauty and soul of community back out into the world at large and make it a better place some how. In our quiet way. This is all I know how to do.
This time last week, hard to believe, I was packing up boxes and cases, making last minute visits to loved ones in my home away from home, grasping hugs and goodbyes to new and old friends alike, with promises not to forget.
It’s easy to come back home to our day to day lives and forget the work we have done while in Taos. The week out there being just one in a year full of so many work-a-day weeks. Weeks when we might be tempted to forget the importance of our day to day creativity. And how crucial that creativity and the belief in it are to a Life Well Lived.
Each year I marvel at how a little class focusing on keeping a daily visual journal can become such Big Work. It IS Big Work. And I mustn’t forget.
For myself in my own practice of it, and for my students as well. What once started as an art class with some sketching and gathering involved, has morphed into a week each summer where some like minded folks come together to open up to the world.
It’s really as simple as that. And as complicated.
I’ll attempt here to share a little bit of what we accomplished this year in Taos.
First off, re: the little ditty at the very above. I really miss my Taosñas. Each is a beautiful Chip of a Star. Every year whoever needs this class comes to it. I panic a little as registrations come in (or don’t) and remind myself that this is not up to me. My job is to put it out there and those who are supposed to be there, will be there. This year was no different. I had some repeat attendees whom I hope benefitted from new tricks, and some newbies whom I hope are affected forever by the power of the work. I really, really miss them. We somehow manage to pack a year in a day, everyday, day after day. And every morning they’d show up at breakfast, exhausted, raw and ready for more, much like myself.
Pictures cannot do the week justice. But I have a few snapshots to share, and a few more words as well.
I arrived in Taos and the town was hopping, unlike usual. The Mabel and Company show was making quite the splash down at the Harwood, and if you are in town, I recommend you see it. This place has attracted artists and movers and shakers since before history. The show at the Harwood gives us a snapshot of one such time in history when the attraction was especially compelling to the likes of Georgia Okeeffe, Ansel Adams, and DH Lawrence.
On both the front and back ends of this trip personally, I opted to get out of town and visit the old Lawrence Ranch, now owned, operated and managed by the University Of New Mexico. I was blown away by the sense of place I found there.
In particular, the famed Lawrence Tree captured my imagination and the interest of my pencil. I truly enjoyed spending time with this tree.
In my heart of hearts, I think each tree has a soul of sorts, but like people, some trees have a soul which shines brighter than most. This is one such tree. And Georgia O’Keeffe knew it herself.
It was an honor to spend some time with it. Humbling as well. Because, let’s face it, not all of us are Georgia’s. We must all find our own way.
Meanwhile, folks arrived and gathered and we began the week with some exercises “where the tight are loosened, and the frightened are freed.”
I love the energy of these early drawings. And wish I had gotten more images of all of the work done that morning. Basically, we laid some locally found color down and then did some contour drawing over top. But the end product was less about what was on the page and more about what remained in the heart of the artists themselves. Suddenly, those who came to the table buttoned up with all kinds of amazing skills, found their work loosening and changing and growing. And the beginners, well, they had these gorgeous instant drawings they didn’t know they were capable of creating!! It was pure magic.
Later that afternoon, as luck would have it, the Pueblo had a dance to attend. So we moved the afternoon class to the evening, and traveled en masse to witness the dancing.
I have taken to not posting much about what we witness at these dances at/in the Pueblo itself, as they are sacred, and really only to be witnessed first hand. But overall, for Day 1 of an art workshop, this was kind of a spiritual ticket to the delicious underworld of it all. Someone remarked that the energy in the classroom that evening was more like that of Day 4 than Day 1, and I credit that to the workings of the day at the Pueblo.
As the week went on, day two into day three, all began to roll together. I had structure laid down for the work each day, but into that structure, Magic came. And the days, once again stretched and changed and became Other.
Creativity is really just the structuring of Magic.
In the past we have had the great pleasure of visiting the buffalo herd of my now dear friend Harold Cordova. In spite of some serious new responsibility on his shoulders we once again paid a visit to these amazing animals who were nursing some new members of their herd and shyly introduced us….
As usual, these regal beasts wove their way into our hearts and into our sketchbooks.
And in the spirit of the endlessness of the days of this particular trip, I found time that evening to play some tunes with local Taos friends who have become dear to me over the years. In spite of teaching all day. In spite of a spiritual visit to some otherworldly animal friends. Eventually, we did this twice during my time there this year. Again, I marvel. At the sheer deliciousness of it all.
Of course, all work and no play, make Amy an insufficient instructor, and so I did manage to get my feet up now and then, as per the instructions of the history of the house….
I’m no Dennis Hopper, but I do know how to put my feet up . Special shout out to my dear friend Jamison who set this bit of relaxation up for me there. All in keeping with the spirit of the house.
(yes, this hammock was in the same spot as Dennis’s hammock back in the day. Amazing how the stories of old speak to us in this day and age, via something so simple as a hammock.)
Meanwhile, we worked and worked and worked….. (and I took a few – but not many- pictures.)
Sadly and soon, it was time for our annual end of workshop dinner….
The food at Mabel’s was, per the usual, show stopping. They are true artists. And we are grateful for the gorgeous, plated dinner to which we were treated that evening. (not to mention, the breakfasts and lunches day to day!!!) No dinner in Taos that evening could have compared to ours, I am certain of it. The food and the people of my day-to-day in Taos are what I am missing the most, really.
I am now back in Ohio. I have lots of delicious plans for further travels with loved ones and into musical mires which themselves transcend time and space much like my time in Taos. But these are different than Taos, and I am still missing my time there. The me there. The Us there. There is a small bit of me that hangs onto it throughout the rest of the year. A bit that only those Who Have Been There can really relate to.
My goal is not to forget. Not to forget how crucial this work is in a crazy world so hell bent on crushing delicate creativity. Not to forget how Big this work is when sometimes my day-to-day feels so very small. Not to forget that lives have been and are being changed by the simple act of keeping a journal, or of making a little drawing of something beautiful each day. This is important. This, is work worth doing.
In the end, I think Lani Potts, a workshop participant this year and also an artist and a poet, put it most beautifully in this poem which found its way into her journal….
Awoke this morning to the call of magpies. A bit bleary eyed after a long day of travel but oh so grateful to be here.
And so I wandered down for a cup of coffee and a stroll….
All is quiet so far. No students to greet just yet. Few other guests at all really. I treasure these relatively rare quiet moments at Mabel’s.
It’s so good to be back in a small town atmosphere. So close to Big Nature, yet I can also hear summer ball practice being held over at the park and the local church chiming the time.
Upon arrival last night, I was just in time to catch the premier of a beautiful new documentary by my friend and film maker Jody McNicholas called Longshotsville. Its all about a group of local actors seeking their best art and truest selves through stage and film acting. So many local folks were there, people I count as friends now since I return once or twice a year. It was refreshing to have a good cry and root for the creative process these young artists are seeking.
This is Taos. A place that demands that you be here. Now. Which I mostly try to be at home as well. But in places like this, the connection to self, to the present moment as it stands, seems more accesible somehow.