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.
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.
Til next time……
Update: Here is the drawing of Ginger Small and friends, ready for the eclipse!
It’s the time of year when everything feels a bit frenetic. The garden is growing by leaps and bounds. I’m finding it hard to decide where to place my efforts – weed out more of those plants choking out their neighbors? Thin the greens under my new apple trees? It’s truly a game of whack-a-mole in many ways. And the garden isn’t the only place.
There is simply So Much Going On. But I am reminded that this is how spring goes around here. I have many details to attend to with regard to the Taos trip which is mere weeks away. And always I find myself feeling behind there. That sense of not enough time to get it all tended to. I have one kid just recently graduated from University and about to spend the summer at a music fellowship out of state. His worldly possessions must get from his place to ours somehow in the coming weeks. The other kid is over seas in Africa working this month (you can read about her adventures here.) So there is the quiet noise of worry in the back of my mind. But if I am to be honest, it’s not as great as one might think. No more worry really than when she is just up the road at school. This is good.
There does come a time when they outgrow the nest and must forge their own paths. I am grateful for it.
In spite of all the goings on, with my art work, the family, our green space, I opted again this spring to take one more thing on board. Last year at this time it was a 6 week oil painting class focusing on portraiture. Because painting faces is scary and I wanted to learn about it and challenge myself. I wanted to be the beginner, the non-expert, uncomfortable, making bad art – before I go out to Taos and challenge my own students to do the same.
I remember last spring feeling much the same during the arc of that painting course as I do now. That I had taken on too much. That I wasn’t very good at all this. That I wasn’t enough. It is good for the ego to sit with these feelings every so often, just so we don’t get to feeling too smug. And so I keep tackling new challenges where I can. This spring’s challenge has come in the form of a class called Intuitive Plant Medicine. I am only a week and a half in and already feeling overwhelmed by all of the new things to learn and consider.
I know just enough to be dangerous in the garden. I have a green thumb by nature, actually talk to plants, believe in fairies – the works. But I am no herbalist. I am not a scientist prone to the Latin naming of things. I appreciate a good metaphor and enjoy delving into the edges and hedges of things. And lately, the edges have been those found here on our little green space. And so I took this class, knowing I’d be flying a little close to the sun with it butting directly up to my time in Taos.
As a class we gather virtually in a wonderful online community forum, rich with beauty, and so lovingly stewarded and curated by our instructor, Asia Suler, of One Willow Apothecaries. I find such comfort in the vulnerability and openness of my fellow classmates. Some of them are already quite knowledgeable in the realm of plants and medicines and the like. While others of us are new to this side of things. For a few of us, the gorgeous onslaught of so much information has been a bit overwhelming, as written in this lovely blog post by a fellow plant intuitive. We are learning not only the ‘woo’ side of plants, but also a lot of the nuts and bolts of basic botany. We are being guided to find plant allies which both physically and metaphorically may have a thing or two to teach us.
For me, I had one before the class even began. I had read Mary Reynolds’ lovely book Garden Awakening over the winter and had been spending a fair amount of time outside – really listening to what our space wants and needs. We’ve downed a number of trees due to the ravages of the emerald ash borer beetle and age, and I could sense that we needed to pay attention. I had been wondering, Oak? Or Maple? I knew Willow would be placed out front by the creek. But what about the yard?
And then, one day, I got an unexpected answer. Apple.
Unexpected because I have never grown a fruit tree. Aren’t they notoriously troublesome? Don’t the deer ravage their young trunks and eat all the fruit? The idea came out of nowhere.
But I had my marching orders and I began thinking about apples. A few weeks later, at a local seed swap, I spied what I believed were apple trees across the room and went to introduce myself. I learned I would need more than one apple tree to promote proper pollination. Eventually I looked all around town at expensive and chemically raised apples and was beginning to feel a bit down hearted but finally came back to the same folks I had met at the seed swap. I bought two young trees to put in the ground and plan to raise them chemical free, which I hear is possible, unless you talk to the guys at the local garden center. We shall see how it goes.
I’ve shielded the trees from the deer with little individual fences. And I will keep an eye out for signs of problems. But so far they seem really well adjusted and even have some young fruit growing.
The other ally I have from this process is an Iris down near the creek. We have a fair number of these which grow there, blooming golden and lovely each spring.
In spite of stormy weather, which brings a force of water through our creek bed at times, these plants continue to grow and bloom, letting the rushing water wash over them and go right on by. I feel a bit like these Irises just now. The rush of life going by so fast, and me, just trying to root down and hold my ground in the midst of it all.
And so I dig in the dirt, literally and figuratively, as my yearly offering in Taos draws nigh. My workshop began, years and years ago, as a little evening class here in town where I shared how I take a blank book and fill it with life’s little details. Everything from to-do lists to ta-da! (voilá!) lists, sketches and skepticism, weather reports and vacations recalled and catalogued through drawn and painted imagery. I marvel at how far this work has come and what gifts it has bestowed upon me. In recent years, it’s become so clear to me that this process is so much bigger than merely keeping an active sketchbook. It is a practice in mindful meditation on what makes our hearts sing. These books of ours are a compass of sorts. As Frederick Franck puts it so eloquently:
” SEEING/DRAWING as a way of meditation, a way of getting into intimate touch with the visible world around us, and through it… with ourselves. “
In class I encourage students to trust their own visual voices, to trust that the marks they make with their paints and pencils and pens are important in developing those voices. That to be the beginner is their only job. In the intuitive plant medicine class, I am remembering what it is like to be that beginner again as well. I am reminded that we are enough, right where we are just now. There is real magic in that knowing.
See me sparkle….
And a quick p.s. on the notion of Allies and Weathering the Storm:
The other night I spoke in front of our village council in favor of a new resolution which would call for specific non-discrimination language to be adopted by our village. Vital language and a cultural tone which states, all are welcome here. That hatred and vitriol will not be tolerated. That this is village is filled with allies to the marginalized. Some may be thinking that I have backed off of politics here on this virtual space of mine. And perhaps on the surface, I have. But I am quietly paying attention. And just as quietly, and subversively, I continue to #resist all that the White House and #45 Himself stand for. I am planting a garden which will feed us here and there – without chemicals. I am forging a path of beauty in the world with fellow creatives. I am attentive to the goings on of my local government where change really begins. These are subversive acts of politics. I believe we as a country can do better than the likes of who we’ve placed into power at the very top of things. I’m beginning with my own back yard.
It seems many things in our little acre of land are bell shaped just now, fairly ringing with the bodacious arrival of a proper spring time. Daytime warmth coaxes and whispers to the plants to grow and the evenings, cool again for resting before another day of more and more growing.
If one listens quietly enough, for long enough, the chiming of these little bells might be heard all around. Small ones, tinkling near the ground, nestled and tucked under larger, louder plantings.
Other bells chime deeper, perhaps with the promise of a new backyard food source.
Some have a note so high and so sweet, only the most careful listeners might hear them.
And still others have a chime so light and ephemeral, one can’t really know if they sing the song of the mists or the breezes. But if one listens…..
I’ve been listening. With my trowel, moving plants around and tucking in new gifts from friends in trade. Planting seeds and pondering plots and plans, all while these little bells ring and chime and sing all around me.
I’ve been listening with my pencil and paint brush and ink, to capture a bit of this ephemerality, and pin it’s simulacrum to my paper as best I can.
This is good practice as tomorrow I must leave my little plot of land here for a few days to lead two days of sketching with a very speical group in California. We will visit a lovely garden and some wonderous trees as well, whose names I am eager to learn. I am so lucky to do this work I do, encouraging folks to find the paths of their own ink lines, pencil marks and paint puddles. It’s teaching season once again and I am glad for it.
But always I will come back home, to this little place, which is feeling really magical just now with the gardens bursting forth and the beauty of the bells in my ears.
“I am sure there is magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to make it do things for us.” ~Frances Hodgson Burnett
(thank you Cathryn Worrell for this gem of a quote. You can see her Unicorn here.)
I’ll be back in a few days with tales of a land far west from here, but where friends await my arrival. For now, I leave you with some more magic for your ears….
I’ve made up a pot of stew, and put the kettle on as well, as this is one of those long and winding posts to share with you a few notions of what’s on my mind, in my heart in recent days. Welcome, and enjoy!
Remember that warning in my last post regarding the poor plants eager to strut their stuff so early in the season? Alas, the last gasp of winter (one hopes) has been blowing across the eastern half of the country and sure enough, those antevernals have taken quite a hit. Many of our flowering trees will have to wait until next year to flower once again, as they are already burned by the brutal cold. It’s sad, but it’s life in a way. Time in the way of trees. Though to be fair, it’s been a strange season in many ways – as if winter got lost along the way and arrived late and possibly drunk to it’s own party.
This probably seems especially true further out east where recovery from the blizzard is just beginning. As for us back here in the hollers of south-western Ohio, we had a bit of snow the other day, some serious cold and wind in the meantime, but all in all -unless one is a spring time flowering plant – we find ourselves relatively unscathed.
(I did manage to rescue a few of the daffodillies before things got too crazy. And for that I am grateful.)
It’s been a time lately of a restless longing which I can’t seem to name. And naming it seems important. As if by naming this vague sense, I could perhaps grab it by the tail and reel it in a bit to get to know it better. Is it the annual hushed call to be outside, barefooted and full of wonder, after the long months of winter’s hibernation? Perhaps. But I sense it is also a desire to delve even further into work I do from the heart. This art/writing/teaching practice of mine seems to be doing some shifting and deepening on it’s own over these last months (maybe even years). Whispers of this seismic activity have been in the darker cornered spaces for a time now, but I am beginning to pick up words of meaning hither and thither, as if I am possibly (finally) learning the language of my own heart.
“How do I talk to a little flower? Through it I talk to the Infinite. and what is the Infinite? It is the silent, small force. It isn’t the outer physical contact. No, it isn’t that. The infinite is not confined to the visible world. It is not in the earthquake, the wind or the fire. It is that still small voice that calls up the fairies.”
~George Washington Carver (former slave, plant genius)
In the deep desire to learn this language, I have been following bread crumbs down many darkened paths. In my ears as I draw and paint or do the delicate handwork at the concertina shop day job, have been podcasts and stories from near and far. By early morning I gobble up books and other publications crafted by such writers as Sharon Blackie, Robert MacFarlane, Sylvia Linsteadt and Mary Reynolds whose words and images evoke lands quite far from here but which sound so very familiar to the ears of my soul.
“Once, we were native to our own places; once we belonged. There is a Gaelic word for it and coming from a language which rises out of a deeply connected animistic world view, it is not easily translated to English. These are the languages of root and leaf, of field and stone, of seaweed and salt. These are the words whispered in our ears by the land as if by a lover; the languages which tell us that we and the land are one. In Irish the word is dúchas; in Scottish Gaelic, dùthchás. It expresses a sense of belonging to place, to a certain area of land; it expresses a sense of rootedness, by ancient lineage and ancestry, in the community which has responsibility for that place. In the Welsh, the word cynefin has a similar meaning. This is the way our ancestors lived.”
It is this belonging I seek. It is this belonging we all seek really, if we but take time to listen to the whispers of our own longing. For me, much of this sense of belonging has come by learning the languages of art and music. These are languages of pure magic.
Through the language of creativity and the visual arts my true inner self was awoken, around the same time as my children were born. Birthing and motherhood were for me the creative sea-change which unleashed my inner artist. The kids and I have artfully come of age together in some ways.
Robert MacFarlane tweeted this quote the other day:
“”With words at your disposal, you can see more clearly. Finding the words is another step in learning to see”
~Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer
I’d go a step further and say one sees even more clearly through the act of sitting still and quiet and drawing. The notion of learning to pay attention in this bold and beautiful world is at the heart of what I teach in my workshops. To open up to beauty in small ways as we go about our travels or our day-to-day is to open up our lives to beauty in general. Like attracts like. The more we hone in on that which makes our hearts sing, the more we drawthese things to us. Drawing is powerful, critical magic. When I started my journaling classes, I saw them as simply a way to make some art, to share the notion of being more creative in our lives. But it’s become so much more! What I teach is a life-altering practice. And it’s wonderful to awaken to this and shout it to the skies!
And then there is the music. It’s the Season, after all…..
This bright beautiful music for which I am grateful every day of the year, not just on St. Patrick’s Day. The learning of any music making is a gift of being human in general, but to find that specific type of music which sings to one’s soul – which opens up the notions of community and friendship and travel in new ways – well, that is a true bronntanas an chroí, a gift of the heart.
Like so many Americans, mine is a hodgepodge heritage of mixed ancestry. I know bits and bobs of where I come from, genetically speaking, and lord knows I’ve grown up a child of the world at large – moving from place to place, often country to country in the early years, traveling always and mostly saying, “I could live here.” My family teases me about this, that I seem to be at home most anywhere, especially if there is beauty to behold and capture in my sketches. And it is true, to an extent. I tend to bloom where I am planted, with only shallowed roots. Yet I am always pining for that ‘perfect place’ to call home, while knowing there is no such thing really.
A number of years ago I traveled over to Cavan, Co. Ireland for ten days of the annual Fleadh Cheoil (“Festival of Music”) with my son and a few other close musician friends. I had been to Ireland once before to run a marathon. That had been a memorable trip, full of laughter and tourism and many, many miles with my friends from DC where we lived at the time. A quick in, quick out weekend really. And we didn’t even get far out of Dublin as there was simply no time. But this more recent trip to County Cavan was far different. In the years since my last visit, I had learned so much about Ireland beyond the touristy stuff. I had taken some big bites of the music and had begun to make it my own in my heart. I was so much more wide awake this time around. And the land itself spoke a good deal louder there in the Cavan countryside, away from the traffic and the noise of a road-race, circus-like atmosphere. Each day as we walked the village roads into town from our little house, I felt a sense of home that, if I am to be completely honest, scared me. It’s trite in some ways to admit to that sense of home in Ireland. Especially at this time of year. It is not my place to claim. I live in Ohio. And yet, I have not been able to shake it off in the years since.
I purchased a tiny landscape painting by local Cavan artist Imelda Bradley on the street one day when the sun was actually shining. This moody image of the misty, lake-strewn land of 365 lakes (one for every day of the year!) hangs by my bedside now and informs my dreaming. I look to it to inform my sense of home back here at this home, where I live now. Because this is where I am for now.
I am seeking to deepen that sense of belonging right here, right now. For now is all we are ever promised. Just now. Just this moment. In all of my recent reading and research, I am seeking to find that sense of dúchas in this place in which I currently find myself. I’ve been reading quite a bit of Wendell Berry’s work, as he lives just down the way in rural Kentucky. And funny thing is, apparently so is Robert MacFarlane across The Pond who tweeted this out recently:
“….to defend what we love, we need a particularising language, for we love what we particularly know.”
~Wendell Berry (agrarian, writer)
I am finding the language I seek through a mycelium-styled network of like-minded artists, writers and thinkers, many of whom live far away but whose word-ways feel familiar to me. Sometimes they lead me back around nearer to where I live now which is nice. While I read the latest book by Irish garden designer, Mary Reynolds, I also will sign up for an up-coming plant-magic sort of class with Asia Suler of One willow Apothecaries, just south there in the Appalachian mountains, a bit closer to home. I find both of these gardeners carry a similar take on the magic to be found just below our feet and the messages it all may have for us. I also plan to seek out the four stands of old-growth trees right here in my own city (yes, it’s true!!!) as written about by local naturalist John Tallmage in a book I am still devouring called The Cincinnati Arch, Learning from Nature in the City.
I am learning so many new languages. Layers upon layers of expression to bridge the gap between myself and the world. The Spanish language, which I will re-visit and practice once again in Guatemala in just over a week. The language of Irish music, which I’ll play so much of the day tomorrow on the Feast of St. Patrick. The language of trees, which I hope to learn on many levels. Having taken down a number of trees recently, I am wholeheartedly asking our little patch of land what it wants in the way of new trees to replace those which have passed. I hope to have the ears to listen.
I am eager for the language of story as well. So many of the stories to which I am drawn are from far away places. The local stories, at least the older ones, are proving difficult to dig up. But I shall seek them out, even as I enjoy the others, for if a story calls to your heart, then surely there is something there to be learned from it, yes?. Here in Cincinnati, we live on land much like The Chalk, described by Terry Pratchett in his Discworld books, the Tiffany Aching series in particular. This Land Under Wave is as good a place to dig in for now. This place from which to explore the rest of this wide and wonderful world, this place to come home to.
For days, it seemed as if it would never stop raining.
We hunkered in our homes, all of us (including the Faeries, I do believe!) watching the gardens begin to awaken between raindrops and the rollercoaster weather patterns for which our region is known.
We tended our indoor plants as well, hungry to touch something green once again. We are all of us ready to go outside once more.
As the rain poured down, our normally babbling brooks not only rushed but eventually even did a fair amount of flooding. Up and over our little bridge and the drive. Thankfully, the flood waters only lapped up to the door, with nary a trickle actually making it indoors. We were lucky.
Eventually, the sun has shown here and there. And things are beginning to bud and bloom. Risky behavior for these intrepid plants, as warm days are still fleeting.
But bloom, they do.
While the streams rushed outside our doors, and the Ohio River and its tributaries raged closer to town, another far sweeter and gentler River has begun flowing…..
A new album of folk-styled music has been taking shape out in Seattle where my young friend Alex Sturbaum now lives. You may remember Alex from my post about his amazingly hand-crafted wedding a few months back. Recently Alex created a Kickstarter campaign for his River Run Wide project and it has been successfully funded (though there is always room for more)!! I was thrilled when he gave me a call and asked me if I might be able to produce some art work to contribute to the design of the CD and it’s wee booklet.
There are so many tales to be told and behold through Alex’s music -both via traditional songs he’s interpreted for this solo album as well as his charming original works. Narratives rich in visual detailing and a sense of nostalgia for something just out of reach. You can practically smell the salt air of a ship’s passage in his maritime songs….
You can feel the pull of a mighty river and maybe hear the voices of those working it just over the lapping of the river waves on shore…..
There is a longing for home that music such as this evokes. It may very well be a sense of home which can never be quenched.
Congratulations to Alex, and his talented band of merry, music-making friends, with whom I’ve shared a number of late night sing-alongs. May this album head into the world and encourage more singing, more gathering and telling of old tales, more joy in the making of music.
What a winter we are weathering. Not for the normal reasons which might lead to a bout of winter weariness such as darkness or the ice and snow (we’ve had little of either, though we do suffer our fair share of a seemingly endless milky-gray pearlescence, which is a nice, wordy way of saying ‘day to day dismal’.)
Instead, there seems to be a general sense of malaise in all corners, at least to my winter-wearied eyes. The political climate of late is one I am deeply committed to keeping track of, though how to do so and still nurture my rich inner world is proving to be a bit of a challenge. (I am up to the challenge.) All told, through this winter’s darkness, both literal and metaphorical, I’ll admit to having had to dig quite deeply to find any light lately within my heart- physically, creatively. Some days I have felt quite extinguished indeed. It’s been a hard time, ‘I don’t mind tellin’ you.’
But, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve and all is not lost, fear not! I am back to running the local village paths once again more routinely, just in recent days, no matter the weather! This morning I awoke with the clearest head I have had in months, the cobwebs having been cleared from my seratonin-deprived brain by just a few short, but successful hard runs around my neighborhood. I could nearly weep with joy for the returning of this source of bliss and emotional sustenance in my life.
While running has not been available to me, walking still has. Our dogs enjoy a wee trot outside each day, provided the roads aren’t too salty for their exposed paws. I delight in a rhythmic jaunt where I can get lost in my thoughts.
A few days ago, the sun did shine for a day. (read: a brighter milky-pearlescence). My hub and I went to the local nature center for some sketching time. There are all sorts of very still, very dead, yet somehow quite animated taxidermy-style animals there and we took some time to draw them.
There was woodsmoke in the air there that day, and a sweetness as well, signaling maple sugaring season. We enjoyed learning about how our native forebears likely processed, consumed and traded the sweet, valuable maple syrup and crystalline sugar using handmade tools they gathered from the earth and adapted to their needs. I did not take a picture.
We discussed that day of how sad things have been (how sad I’ve been) and we talked also of how mood-changing a song might be when it catches our ears just so. My Hub found one such song called I Don’t Recall done up so very beautifully by Lavender Diamond. They have a new video….
We were intrigued by the biography of this project to be found on Spotify…..
“The folk delight that is Lavender Diamond originally came to life in Bird Songs of the Bauharoque, a punk operetta inspired by the work of American painter/architect Paul Laffoley. Vocalist Becky Stark wrote and created the piece with a friend while living in Providence, RI, and starred as Lavender herself, a winsome part bird/part human who wants peace on earth.”
Hub wondered at which point in the song she was human and which bit might find her in bird form – to which I argued, why can’t she be both? Both, at the same time. animal. woman.
I’ve been pondering a great bit lately this whole notion of polarity. Political polarity, yes of course. But also the light vs. the shadow sides of ourselves. The Masculine and Feminine bits too, always in a dance, yes? And even to how we react to times of great strain. I am intrigued (and often infuriated) by the discussion of a perceived necessity to choose one thing over another. Why can’t we be Both. I am both Woman and Animal. I am Light as well as Shadow. I enjoy tapping into both the (traditionally regarded) Masculine AND Feminine within my whole self. When I allow this, I am more wholly alive as a total human being. Perhaps like Lavender herself.
Music has indeed been a balm and an inspiration when Mother Nature is resting and doesn’t give us much to go on in the way of sketchable stuff.
Though if one pays close attention…..
One of my favorite flute teachers shared a song the other day which caught my ear, as songs of old often do.
It put me in mind of leggy hares to be found across the pond. so different from our own bulky little bunnies. so I sketched one up.
As I continue to climb out of the dark hole of my recent state, I am grateful for things which catch my ear. The music often being the first and foremost quality of a song shared. If I get a tune rolling round in my head, words or no, that can be a good thing. It can, indeed, change the tone of an entire day for someone sitting rather on the edges of things emotionally speaking.
But sometimes, what catches my ear is deeper still than just a catchy tune. Sometimes, as I listen to a newly found thing, often on obsessive repeat, (yes it’s true, and part of my charm, I like to think) the words partnering with the music to enchant the heart can act like will-o-the-wisp. Lights in the darkness, taking me down an enchanted lane to other worlds….
This morning the lovely Lin-Manuel Miranda (you know, of Hamilton fame?) shared the music of one Ali Dineen in the form of this song in particular, which much like the Lavender Diamond song above, has a happy feel to it. (and, turns out, Lin was one of Ali’s 7th grade teachers. Can you imagine?)
This song led me down the proverbial musical rabbit hole of her music in general and I was not to be disappointed. (Thank you Lin!) Little lyrical snippets pulled at my heart strings as I jogged the paths here amidst this gray, cold village here in Ohio.
“Somewhere else there were
miracles, carnivals, and a space in the air
only your bones could fill.”
Just weeks away, I am reminded by this tune, is a trip south to Antigua, Guatemala where I will sink into constant art-making for a solid week. This makes me happy beyond imagining. And reminds me that winter will pass. In spite of how hard things can seem just now, personally, nationally, globally.
“Spring it brought madness and chaos and song
the wind growing warm, the days growing long
I watched the world blow through your mind
we stooped low to pick up what it left behind
Scattered stories of our country’s childhood,
though we’re deaf to their sounds
We’re trying to stand up straight
but we don’t know what’s weighing us down.”
“go when your feet are restless
go when you hear a faraway song
heed what your bones are saying
don’t wait for your saint to come….”
“go where your name is spoken
stay when you feel like standing still
no one can guide your footsteps
so walk where you will “
So, yes, later this spring, I will travel to Guatemala, where once upon a time, my name was spoken. I have been trying to tap into that little gypsy girl who lived everywhere and nowhere. The me who spoke Spanish “like a native” (my mom’s words) and who seemed to feel at home anywhere. I seem to have lost track of her over the years but I am keen to get reacquainted. I’ve been taking a formal Spanish course locally and it’s been more difficult that I had expected.
We conjugate a good bit, which I will admit, I don’t know how to do adequately in English, in spite of my ability to speak the language here. I am banking on a small faith that this class will warm me up to hear my name spoken on the warm volcanic breezes in the Highlands of Guatemala. I’m told I went there as a girl when my Nana Campbell came to town. I do not remember.
But I do remember what calls to my soul:
(we are all artists)
Thank you for reading…..
ps. do go toss a few coins into the hats of any or all of these amazing artists. they deserve it.
There is great value in slowing down, even if such restful slowing is thrust upon us. Internal rewiring continues, this seismic shifting written of recently. Illness continues to pervade the household, my hub hacking and racking in his own version of winter’s torture. The weather gods seem to be arguing over whether to allow winter’s arrival after all. I attempt daily forays out of doors to test my lungs with a bit of walking and jogging (I would not yet call said activity anything kin to ‘running’, but we must start somewhere. ) One day bundled in woolens, the next in shirt sleeves. It is no wonder Christmas dinners and gatherings are somewhat sparsely attended by extended family. Good to spend time with those healthy enough to be together.
Utilizing bits of energy hither and thither, my work space once more resembles a place ready for Deep Working and Fresh Thinking. It is the sunniest place in the house on a rare sunny day.
The morning routine here at Chez Bogard has been exponentially simplified with the unexpected offer to re-home our lone hen, Elvyra. I had been worrying over her, alone and cold without her sisters to snuggle up to, but had been loathe to take on new hens, thus perpetuating our chicken experience. I have adored keeping hens. I love their gentle chatter as they scritch in the yard for off-season insects on a warmish day. They make me laugh with their antics. (you really should see a chicken running across the yard sometime) And of course, when possible, there is the miracle of freshly laid eggs. But a lone hen is a depressing thing. They are not creatures built for solitude, but rather for more of a hive-minded existence.
With Elvyra as The Last Hen Standing, we were at once in a holding pattern and a decision making position as to whether or not to get more chickens. With the traveling we do, and some interesting and creative thoughts as to life once the kids leave college, we decided it might be best to opt out of hen-keeping for the time being, at least for a few seasons. And so, while catching up with a dear friend at our local music session (my first in weeks – I could hardly play without coughing or losing my lip to atrophy from disuse) she offered to introduce sweet old Elvyra to her young flock of hens – solving our lone hen/what do we do now question, while simultaneously offering a much better life for one lonely chicken.
Elvyra and I got along famously, but chickens just need other chickens.
So Farmer Kate arranged for a friend of hers to pick up Elvyra who’d been stashed in a crate for transport and we commenced Operation Chicken Hand-Off. I was nervous for her. Chicken introductions can be tricky. But in the end, I heard the next day that all is well.
Elvyra is keeping herself to herself, feeling a little shy in the first few days but observed to be roosting, eating and drinking. Her new flock is giving her the space she needs and there is no pecking-order business happening from either party.
With yesterday’s incredibly unseasonably warm temperatures, the flock explores the farm and scritches for bugs and Elvyra is apparently right at home. Remarkably simple creatures, chickens.
The cessation of our chicken adventure (which began with grassroots political change in our village to even legally have them!) leaves room for energies to be spent elsewhere. I continue to rest with complete abandon both body and soul. While not completely off line, a mindful avoidance of once-routine clickety behavior on my part and moderation/modification of such continues. Anxieties are still, blissfully, at bay. The blues may even be shifting and lifting, a bit, though I allow an engaged conversation between lightness and darkness in my heart to be ongoing. The ebbing and flowing between sadness and joy are the warp and weft of a wide awake life. It can be an uncomfortable state at times.
But, as Elizabeth Zimmerman has so aptly put it:
“Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises.”
and so I do.
RIP Carrie Fisher, whom I heard passed away just a bit after posting this. This quote from her caught my eye and speaks eloquently on why we sometimes must share what we feel inside….
“It creates community when you talk about private things and you can find other people that have the same things,” Fisher told Terry Gross. “Otherwise I felt very lonely with some of the issues that I had.”
May we all continue to nurture our inner rebels with strength and grace and humor, as she did, both on screen and off.
It is a gray, cold day here in Ohio. Like many people I know, both here at home and abroad, I awoke this morning after a fitful few hours’ sleep to a world blackened by the election results of this country of ours. I am shocked, honestly, at the outcome of what has been a really painful time to be an American. Perhaps I am naive but I thought better of neighbors, extended family members and yes probably even a co-worker. I find it truly hard to believe that anyone would vote for someone who carries himself in the world the way our new president-elect does, though I knew there were those people out there, fearful enough to go for his vague messages of ‘change-maker’ and ‘political outsider’. But yes, perhaps I was fooling myself.
And today, I am grieving. Not in the way one might be disappointed after an election goes in favor of the other party. I’ve had those years and that did feel bad enough. But, one wakes up, trusts in the system and has an extra cup of coffee.
This is a deeper level of grief. A grief I am truly having trouble wrapping my brain around at the speed expected of such things in the world these days. I am a slow cooker when it comes to most everything. I don’t do well with hurrying along emotions or decision making. This morning I visited my usual online haunts first thing, to commiserate with friends, and perhaps begin to wrap some words around this awful sense I’m feeling in the gut of my deepest gut. And I found an interesting phenomenon happening there. One which I think is indicative of the pace of things in the modern world.
People are already moving on.
I think part of this notion is the desire not to get mired down in the deep dark depths of negativity, which on the whole, is admirable. And yes, I do believe the path forward must be one of light and peacemaking. That said, I can’t go there yet. I am still grieving. At my own apparently geologic pace.
For many of my more moderate friends, this election was difficult in that they really didn’t feel they had a choice. I know many who ‘held their noses and voted for Hillary’. While I don’t understand this thinking, everyone comes to their beliefs through their own experiences (and, it must be said, ‘news’ agencies). It’s my own experiences that are feeding this deep aching grief of mine, however.
For a short while there, I’d had a sense that the world, and indeed our country, were changing for the good. There seemed to be more acceptance of those with differences, a real desire on the part of people to further understand one another’s religions and cultures and true selves. This felt like a world I could live in.
When I was a kid, after having moved around all sorts of places in the world, my broken family came home to live back here in Ohio. We were poor, very poor, and my single mom did her very best to do her very best through work, food stamps and night school.
A few years later our household eventually held two women and three children, living together under one roof and this was apparently problematic in the small Ohio town we landed in. We weren’t exactly lovingly accepted into the community fold. In fact, one time, we even had a rock thrown through our living room window. Even at that time, I knew why.
As a woman, I’ve witnessed and experienced the countless subtle and not so subtle ways women can be demeaned in our society. Hillary Clinton’s campaign gave me hope that in spite of this, perhaps women could have their equal time at the table. That inclusion could be possible for everyone. As the mother of two young adults, one of whom is gay, I was feeling like the world could be safer than the one I grew up in. That fewer rocks of ignorance might be thrown through our windows. That maybe my daughter could pursue her own path of service and leadership in the world on an equal footing.
I don’t often write here on this blog in such a personal way. I attempt to keep things liminal, otherworldly and artful. I shall head back down that rabbit hole for my work and my own sanity eventually. But I feel compelled to write this personally after this dreadful election. Tweets and facebook posts aren’t enough. We must do some deeper thinking as a country. Some slow, deep thinking. I wonder if anyone slows down to think any more. It certainly doesn’t seem so. It’s all about the next tiny parcel of semi-information, and sound bytes – small cogs in the wheel of the world spinning out of control. Perhaps the pace of things is different elsewhere. I don’t know. I do know that I’m having a hard time with how things are rolling along here and now. I worry that this very pace of surface information flying hither and thither contributed to the awful results we face this morning as a country.
This all being what it is, today I plan to get some spring bulbs into the ground. Which feels infinitely hopeful. I am trying to tap into our wiser selves a few months in the future….
And I await the arrival of a missing printer which I am fairly excited about. These are small, practical things I am looking forward to in my small day to day. But I will continue to grieve for the bigger picture of things. I am deeply grateful for friends who get that maybe for some of us, this grieving may take some time. Those of us who have been desperately poor, or have been victims of misogynistic behavior or have been on the ‘fringe’ of society somehow or other, will need a bit of time before we can ‘move forward’, ‘stay positive’, etc. We can get to that in January.
Thanks to my dear friend Justin for these beautiful, kind words which he wrote just as I began this lengthy blog post.
“I see a lot of folks on my feed telling folks that are reacting negatively to the election outcome to keep it together and get over it . . . so I just want to throw this out there:
If you’re sad, no shame. If you’re angry, no shame. If you’re scared, no shame. There is absolutely not a DAMN thing wrong with sadness, anger, or fear. You don’t need to “get over it”, “man up”, “move on”, “grow a pair”, or whatever else. You have (and God knows you don’t need it from me) full permission to experience YOUR experience, and there isn’t a soul alive or otherwise that has the right to make you do any different. Love is the greatest ally to all persons on this planet, so start with yourself and own your experience, no shame.”
And while we are on the subject of wise words, here are two more quotes bringing me some small solace this morning.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” ~Julian of Norwich
“FRODO: I can’t do this, Sam. SAM: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened. But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.
FRODO: What are we holding on to, Sam?
SAM: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.” ~(not sure if this is quoted from the book or the movie, but it’s from Tolkien’s The Two Towers. )
I went for a long, hot, humid run today. Not my favorite weather in which to hit the roads, but I have been a bit of an anxious mess lately, and running indoors would only have exacerbated that sensation. You see, my neighborhood, and many others near ours and like ours (some of which I’ve resided in in the past) is under assault by the big bully energy company who is supposed to be providing ‘service’ to our community.
Last Wednesday I skipped the churchlike regularity of my weekly Irish music session to attend a community forum…
At this meeting, light was shed upon the whispers of a tragic injustice potentially headed our way, courtesy of the fracking movement and spearheaded by the very company which is supposed to bring us ‘service’, Duke Energy.
I sat at this meeting, horrified, filled with dread, my ears fairly bursting with the news of this plan to bring an industrial strength, highly pressurized ‘natural’ gas pipeline straight through our back yards. I’ll fess up that I thought I was headed to this meeting for a bit of ‘not in my back yard’ tete-a-tete, and just to see what was up. This isn’t about my back yard. This is about all of our back yards.
For the first time, a pipeline of this magnitude is being considered for a path straight through the middle of a densely populated neighborhood area. A path that navigates it’s way not only through quiet suburban backyards with mature trees and woodlands such as ours, but also through neighborhoods with houses whose closer fence lines provide much more day to day contact. And right by schools where our neighborhood kids learn and play and live their little lives. And just near nursing homes, day care centers, hospitals and houses of worship.
This is no ordinary pipeline, I learned at last week’s forum. This is not about service to us from our local energy provider. This pipeline is a highway. A 30″ transmission pipe headed south to make money for Duke Energy. This pipeline has nothing to do with us, if I understood the information I gleaned from the meeting. Sure, it might be part of the overall ‘system’ ‘needed’ to be in place for us to get the natural gas we use so thoughtlessly utilize on a regular basis. I do not know. I am still in the process of researching it all. But I am no Erin Brockovich . I am just a quiet artist, trying to lead a good life. Trying to stay one step ahead of my anxieties about the world.
And so we went to our local forum. We sat riveted and horrified. And we came home to think about it all for a day or so. And now, we have written heartfelt letters to our local politicians, and to our local utility company (which feels laughable, considering their confidence in making this pipeline a reality). And today, I knit socks in my little patch of paradise while no one else was up besides me and the dogs and our last, lone chicken. And I pondered the kids and older folks by whom this pipeline would pass. And I thought about how vulnerable they all are. How vulnerable we all are.
When something goes wrong on one of these lines, there is no warning. No evacuation. Folks are just in the blast line. Or they are not. Currently, for at least one path this line is considering, we are in a fairly direct path of a potential blast. I don’t want anyone to be in this blast line. A line of this caliber belongs in industrial areas and along interstate routes. For in the long run, what is traffic and re-routing, if countless lives are potentially saved?
I sat in a state of endless anxiety for a good while. And then I went on that run. Due to the heat and humidity, I had to stop here and there. I chatted with a dear neighbor who has a new (to me) dog named Rocket. I wandered my streets filled with love for this place. This isn’t necessarily my perfect place. That might be nearer to the ocean perhaps. But for now, this is our place. And I am fiercely committed to it. I ran and ran and ran. Just one step ahead of the elephant that loves to take up residence upon my chest so often.
and then I saw it.
A little wild rabbit.
The morning sunshine was slanted just so that the creature’s ears were lit up like little rose petals. I stopped. Caught my breath. And got an idea.
I almost can’t handle the idea of older folks, school children, and my own home being in an explosion caused by a highly pressurized natural gas pipeline in a densely populated area. But I can escape to my imaginary sphere. And wonder what the animals might think of it all.
After all, regardless of property values potentially falling due to this pipeline, or dangerous safety concerns for our most vulnerable citizens, the environmental issues surrounding this project are absolutely staggering. Changes to storm run-off patterns in place for generations, construction run-off into the millcreek watershed, mature trees and woodlands decimated. I could go on and on.
But here was this rabbit. And here was myself, in a state of agitated anxiety. So for the afternoon I escaped into my imagination. Where the woodland animals were banding together with their own social media campaign.
And I made a little drawing.
Because besides chatting up my neighbors on both sides of the party line, and sending letters to my governmental representatives, this is all I know to do. I mustn’t cave to endless fear and anxiety over this notion. I must act. And today I acted. And I will continue to do so when I can. There have been stories of communities able to stand in the face of these environmental atrocities and make change. And lord knows there are others with a less happy ending.
But we are at the beginning of this struggle. There is a core group of citizens comprised of a variety of affected communities who have banded together to make some trouble and spread the word of this project so very inappropriate for this area. It seems the energy corporations are getting more and more desperate to make a dollar (or billions) and they are putting the very communities they are supposed to be ‘serving’ at risk. I really expected better community stewardship and responsibility from a company I, until now, trusted.
NOPE Cincy is a group online providing the latest updates on this tragic idea in the hope that we can get things rerouted. At the rally they put on which I attended, many local representatives were on hand ready to speak for their constituents. (shout out to Todd Portune whom I last heard speak at my friend Tina’s mural opening last fall. He is a politician who shows up. I find that tremendously admirable). In the current political climate so often filled with vitriolic mayhem, this all feels like a breath of grass-rooted fresh air, in spite of the horrific issue at hand. And it is just this notion of neighbors working together from ‘both sides of the podium’ as they say that gives me some real hope for where we are headed.
I made this little drawing today. This is all I know how to do besides writing letters and talking to my neighbors. It is putting my head in the sand where I feel safe, while not truly doing so. It is my form of activism.