Category Archives: In the Garden

Churning and Reconfiguration

“It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire.  Perfect tranquility within consists in the good ordering of the mind.  The realm of your own.”

~Marcus Aurelius – Meditations

There are days when I forget there is a raging global pandemic and that the United States is on the brink of losing grip on it’s democratic principles.  I am fortunate in this regard.  I live on a little acre, in a gentle village, mostly surrounded by nature.  At least that is how I frame it when I am at home.

“To know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience.  In the world of poetic experience, it is depth that counts, not width.  A gap in a hedge, a smooth rock surfacing a narrow lane, a view of a woody meadow, the stream at the junction of four small fields – these are as much as a man can fully experience.”

~Patrick Kavanagh

I am fortunate indeed.  And so I share a bit of it here with you on this blog.

In spite of an autumnal hinting in the air, the garden still produces in beauty and food.  I follow close behind with camera and paint box.

There are many mysteries to unpack in a little box of colors.  We should all have one, to better understand the world in which we find ourselves.

It is good practice, I think.

To follow the colors and shapes of one season into the next is to find ourselves in a maelstrom of change.   And couldn’t we all do a bit of finding ourselves in the world right now?

I think of color matching as a form of chromatic meditation.

From the vine into the sketchbook…..

And of course into the kitchen.

We continue to marvel at how our little accidental garden has come together so unexpectedly this season.

The garden comes together yes, but I feel like falling apart.  Not completely, of course.  There are many things here (just right here) that are wonderful, this is true.  But there are significant things in the broader world at large giving me pause that I work through bit by bit these days.

Politics in this country continue to go back in time.  Sadly I know I have people in my sphere for whom this feels like a good thing.  My so-called “pro-life” leaning acquaintances who vote Republican, merely to get pro-choice laws reversed.  And yet, they seem to forget that abortion rates were lowest ever under President Obama, while the lives and well-being of people already born slide back into the realm of understood inequity.  How is this “pro-life”?  I do not understand it.

On a broader scale, climate change continues to wreak havoc and it just doesn’t seem to be getting the attention it deserves in the world,  in our country in particular.

It does no one any good to obsess over these concepts on the global scale, only to freeze in terror on the personal.  And so I do not.  I do what I can with the garden, in the voting booth.  (Have you registered to vote?  It’s imperative for our survival, I think)  I stay informed, to the best of my ability, while also attending to my inner world where art and music and magic reign supreme.

I head outside to clear my head and I pay attention to the specific color of brown found on a receding fern.

I replicate it’s delicious color.

I think it needs more blue actually….

“Light is the mother of color.”

~Alma Thomas

Just over a week ago I was informed that my flagship Travel Journaling class, held each summer in Taos, New Mexico (cancelled this past summer due to the covid-19 crisis) could possibly go forward in June 2021…. but at half capacity due to regulations surrounding the pandemic.  Suddenly my “staff” (read, spouse and dear friend in support of this work) found themselves crunching numbers to see if this is indeed even doable.  As it turns out, with a small price hike, it is doable, even though I may have to turn a number of folks away or grant them space on a wait list. ( I was to have a full and bustling class this next year…..)

Like so many others I know in a variety of work-realms, I find myself questioning the very nature of what I do.  And it’s not just the pandemic which has me pondering the imponderable.  I wonder about all the flying I do (which to be fair, isn’t much compared to many, but shouldn’t we all be doing our part?)  I wonder about nurturing and admiring the very ground beneath my feet instead of traipsing round the world looking for beauty.  I have a couple of book ideas brewing where I focus on just this one little acre and all it has to offer.

“These are the fruits of my reverence, This is a love story.”

Obi Kaufman

I spend more and more time alone to think about it all.

“Nowhere can a man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.”

Marcus Aurelius

I could really use an agent or an editor or someone interested in getting these thoughts out into the world outside of this blog.  I am not sure how to find one.  I do know that I will just keep writing, and submitting and see what happens.  If for no other reason than to settle my spirit in these troubled times.  Perhaps someday, someone will take notice.  (Like this lovely blogger!)

In another world, before this one, I was to travel to Ireland with a fellow artist and dear friend for a month’s residency in that land of magic.  The month was to be October.  We should be on the road just now.  Here we are below, in Antigua last spring.  While we were working separately there, we came together for some meals and mayhem along the way which was a blast.

Julie Persons and myself with the lovely and captivating personality of Claudia. Both Julie and Claudia make the world a better place with their presence in it.

One thing we share in our work is a deep sense of play.  I miss that.

Alas, our residency is canceled due to the pandemic.  For now.  We shall see what the coming years hold.  We allow grief for what could have been while also making room for the Big Griefs at hand in these unexpected times.  We will get there eventually, we hope.  We have come to expect the unexpected.

As for me, I continue to root down.  And grow the seeds which are planted here.

I’m a bit out of practice in the painting department, outside of a badger now and then – week to week – and that is ok.  I’ve ordered a little phone-holder tool that might help me share some of my process via video and perhaps that might enliven my social media game a bit in the coming weeks.  I don’t know.  (And whether I care for social media is another post entirely!)

It has thankfully begun to rain here, sorely needed after weeks of dry.  We are grateful.  I am going to go play some pipes out in the “back room” which is falling down and due for a rebuild any day now.  I am grateful for the distraction.

Below I am linking a few things making me think more deeply just now, helping me stay sane, keeping me hopeful.  I hope you will check them out as well.  Stay safe.  Stay sane.  I shall write to you from a different world in the coming days.  Stay tuned……

“I wish you a kinder sea.”      ~Emily Dickinson

This podcast, and all the supplemental stuff along with: https://accidentalgods.life/

This lovely conversation with a long time fave musician and a guardener I’ve long admired along the way…. (there is also a conversation with Mary on the Accidental Gods podcast to be found here.  It’s lovely.)

The work of Mac Macartney (also interviewed by Accidental Gods but he’s been on my radar for a time now.)  Here is just one TED talk…..

The notion of soil as the harbinger of life.  We have to save the soil….

Some hope that one person can make a difference……

And finally, if you need an escape, which will also provide you some things to think about in this world now…. Go read the work of Signe Pike. 

 

 

 

 

 

Genius Home

It seems an age ago that were in Maine.  Coastal time, cool, crystalline lakes, like a dream.

We are now back in our own home, land locked here in our river valley, tending to house and garden, both needing upkeep, updates.

We always know when we have returned firmly to Ohio…..

As Billy Collins’ poem above alludes, there is a certain kind of genius which accompanies basic household chores of care.  This damned pandemic affords us the opportunity of time, if not inclination, to attend to matters here at home.  And so we do.

A bit of harvesting.

And a few things still growing along nicely.

I’ll give the autumnal plants a head start this week I think.  And put other plants to sleep for a time so they might come back to us in the dead of winter.  Beauty in dark times.

This begonia has been through the wars. Originally a cutting gift from my friend Vanessa, it was eaten by deer one year, but eventually bounced back and needed a new pot this year.

I am a haphazard gardener at best, but I am pleased with the results of our efforts this year.  The back garden, fenced during the first fitful, anxiety filled weeks of the lockdown, seems to be holding up.  Keeping the deer at bay.

I am grateful.

The dahlias have put on a show this year.  Somehow they had survived my stashing them in the garage last autumn where they overwintered successfully.  Surprisingly.

They are a constant delight.

My great-Auntie Nancy passed away the day we were on the road home from Maine.  She lived a long life, and did not suffer in the end, which is all anyone can ask for really.  When we attended her funeral, masked and out of doors, I took a posey of my dahlias and some sunflowers too, to place on the grave of my beloved grandparents.  Life has a way of marching on.

Note the dates. My grans, married for 64 years, died within just 3 days of one another. My grandmother, who married at age 16, used to quip about my grandfather, “Why Herbie? Well, he practically raised me.” I can still hear her say it in her quintessential Butler County drawl.

Last week I added another digit to my age line.  It was a quiet day really, a few hours at the concertina shop, take out from a local brewery and a zoom call with some artful and inspirational friends.  It was lovely. I even received some gorgeous flowers.

My mom gifted me the innards of a new Traveler’s Notebook for my birthday. (I made the cover myself from a scrap of leather from the shop.) I am interested to see how this journal system works for me as my own sketchbook practice has shifted in recent years.  When I “go sketch”, I am actually painting and use good paper in good sketchbooks.  But for the day to day, I like to have a workbook to capture ideas, quotes, poems, drawings, lists and etc.  Also a date keeper, not that there is much of a schedule these days.

Perhaps this little book will help me get organized as we do some serious household renovation and reorganization in the coming months.

I already have lists going, and some quotes.  Tunes I must work on……

This is my new half-set of uilleann pipes being crafted by Mickey Dunne in Limerick, Ireland. I think they are a thing of beauty indeed. Though honestly I am not sure quite what I have gotten myself into!  As Louise Mulcahy said in a presentation she did yesterday hosted by Southern California Pipers Club, perhaps it’s just the “medicinal sound of the drones.”  I’ll be sure to post here when I receive my beautiful new instrument!

“Don’t focus on the limitations, focus on the possibilities.”

~Liam O’Flynn (via Louise Mulcahy’s recent research)

Tomorrow morning we bid adieu to our friend Ari, the ‘little red dragon”, or “the wee man” as I sometimes call him.  He’s heading back to my sister’s where she is settled into a full time position as a nurse at a hospital near Louisville, Kentucky.

We will miss him indeed, but we also know there is much work to be done around here and it might best be done with only  the one aged dog along for the ride.  (Plus, he is missed dearly by his proper steward.)

Thankfully, our Little Miss Charlie doesn’t climb steps and mostly sleeps the days away, so she will be the perfect dog to weather the coming months with us as we turn the house upside down a bit.

It is a good time to nestle into a great feathering of the nest so to speak.  My travel journaling work – for now at least – is non-existent for obvious reasons.  I keep the art-wheels oiled here with a few side projects but a bit of a domestic re-design will be my creative project for the time being.   In recent years we found ourselves with an empty nest, the kids fledging to adult lives of their own.  My travel journal business  was where my energies flowed and I never really found the time to re-group here at home.  For now – this year at least – all of that is at a standstill.  Like many others, I am finding it difficult to concentrate on the usual things, and so I’m going to just take full part in this collective pause.

I’ve felt for a long while that the speed of things in this world is too much for me personally, it’s just tragic that it’s taken a pandemic to slow things down even just a bit.  With this slowing down has come an opportunity to take stock, decide finally what to do with the old “back room” which has been falling down around us for a few years now.  It’s time to rebuild. We have engaged a builder to begin in autumn sometime.  There will be much shifting and cleaning and decision-making and things will be topsy turvy.  Construction and reorganizing has a way of affecting every corner of the household and knowing this, we are taking the opportunity to reconfigure the whole place.

It’s time.  Getting our home organized and making a little oasis around here will help us bring more peace to the world outside of our home.  Of this I am sure.  To seek beauty in a dark world is important work.  Sometimes, that starts at home.

And that, as my mom says, is all the news that’s fit to print.  We, like everyone, continue to adjust to The State of Things.  We do the best we can.  Being gentle with ourselves and each other.  Following our noses as to how best to proceed.

How are you all doing? I’d love to know…..

First crop

Last autumn, we popped in a little batch of garlic lovingly sent to us from a dear one in Maine.  The garden out back was to be a long term project of building soil and perhaps constructing a fence some time in the coming years.

With the arrival of these uncertain pandemical times, we opted to speed the garden up a bit.  There is no energy quite like the fight/flight/flee level energy of anxiety.  The fence went in around the fledgling garlic plants, and they didn’t seem to mind.  A few other things have been popped in here and there as well and now it’s all just doing what first year gardens do.  Which isn’t a whole lot to see.  But the soil is developing, there are worms and other creepy crawlies attending to the work at hand and the plants that can grow, do.

We learn along the way about how to grow food, breaking down the dense clay of our modern day ignorance.  Baby steps, I say.

And suddenly, just like that, we have a lovely crop of garlic bulbs which we can cook with in the coming months, saving a few to do it all again next year.

I’ve repurposed a bit of old fencing to allow the bulbs to cure.

That’s one pre-trip chore down….. now, back to work!!

 

 

 

Prickly territory

This evening I was walking the lone, remaining dog up the drive.  She doesn’t care for a long walk really, being fully deaf and mostly blind, but she does still like a good ole sniff along.  I spied some neighbors walking by.  A mother and adult son by the looks of it.  They were thick into conversation, and looked up just in time to wave to myself and little Charlie from afar.  And I got to thinking about the silverish lining of these strange and grief-full times in which we find ourselves just now.

Today would have been Full Day One at the Swannanoa Gathering and to be quite honest, I have been a bed of ready tears since the day before yesterday.  I had texted my friend Peter on Saturday about the snacks and tunes and books-on-tape we might have shared along the drive south together on Sunday if we had been able to actually go.

Then Sunday morning, the waterworks really began as there were videos available from the Celtic Week Staff (only temporary, so click *here* for now, but not forever…) to wish us all well as we weather this heartbreaking non-time.

Thankfully the weather here locally was remarkably reasonable so I went for a hike and a little bicycle ride with the Hub and tried not to think about what we’ve lost this year.

It didn’t work.

I still had a good sob in the bath upon returning home, in spite of a day well spent in good company.

Grief is a funny country.  It doesn’t follow the rules of polite society.  It’s prickly territory.

Having had a dance with griefs big and small over the years, I figured, let’s just dance with it again and see what happens.  As I communicated with all of my favorite summer and musical soul mates we talked of how fortunate we all are to have one another, if but from afar.  To have this music in our lives to give us strength in hard times.  We are all sad not to be together this year, but we are all hopeful that we will persevere toward better times.  We know what we have here.  And we are grateful.

So for now we work on our craft, learning new tunes, new instruments maybe.  We weather this grief, personally, collectively. We know our loss of this week together is just one small loss in the Grand Scheme.  But we grieve anyway.

There are plans to gather online in coming days, weeks, months, as best we can and we solider on with the help of our loved ones who seem to know how hard this is.

Case in point, I was drawing late this afternoon and heard the distinct sound of Irish music coming from outside.  And wouldn’t you know, my Hub, knowing how difficult this has all been on me had set up a little ‘beer tent’ in the back yard in honor of Swannanoa.  It’s the most thoughtful thing.

I think about that mother and son from my neighborhood and wonder if he, as a young person, is perhaps stuck at home unexpectedly with his parents in this wild, pandemicly charged time.  Might they be getting to know each other in new and unexpected ways?  I do not know.  But maybe.

Small, unexpected silver linings in what is indeed a very dark time in the world.

As for me, I’ve seen more of my garden this year than in years past and I am glad of it, even if it means the work I do in the world will not look as it has in the past, at least this year.  Even if it means my adventures have been tamed for the season.  I am glad of the time here at home, fraught as it has been with worry about The State of Things.

Do I wish I were with my musical mates this evening down at Swannanoa?  Yes, of course I do.  But instead,  here I am in a different sort of time, trying to make sense of things as they are.  Blooming where I am planted.

****if you haven’t listened to Dolly Parton’s America podcast, you should*****

In a couple of days we will make the quiet drive to Maine.  Stealing away like thieves in the night.  Before departure, I’ll get the garlic out of the ground for the season, and engage a neighbor to water the rest of the plants while we are away.

I’ll admit to be a bit anxious about the journey.  There are no plans to engage anyone or anything once there, besides our extended family.  We know how fortunate we are to even have this option of ‘away time’.  And this is another prickly level of things.  To allow grief for the things in our lives that aren’t happening this year, and joy for the things that are, amidst the complexities of the world at large.

We must make space in our hearts for all of it.  To be at once missing wistful tunes in misty mountains outside of Asheville while also making fervent calls to government representatives.  To doodle gentle creatures  while gardening as if our lives might depend upon it.  Perhaps they may yet.  We mustn’t lose our capacity for complexity in these times.  We must remain richly invested in all of it.  The good when we can find it, the difficult when it confronts us, the grief-ridden – especially as a collective of human beans.

In a long ago chapter of our early days together, we were faced with a number of long deployments due to Tony’s work in the Navy.  Fortunately, these were in peaceful days and the dangers were relatively few.  But nevertheless, the separations were difficult.  I used to have a system of whining about it all that gave space for the grieving without wallowing in it.  A couple of days of feeling pitiful, with allowances for ice cream for breakfast, an extra bottle of wine or what have you.  And then, I’d wipe my tears, and get back to the job at hand.  The time eventually passed, possessing its own arc and way.  This pandemic is a bit like a long and terrible deployment I think.  We have no idea how long it may last.  I think it’s vital to let ourselves whinge a bit now and then about the waves of losses that have come in the wake of this thing.  To be a bit weepy for a day or two in the midst of it all is far better than to armor up completely under the guise of “being strong” or feeling like our small griefs do not count when others have lost so much more.  Armor is not good for an open heart.

I hope y’all are keeping safe and sane in these difficult times.  We will get through.  Together.  Seek joy where you can.  Lean on one another.  Send letters.  Have a good sob in the tub now and then.  But don’t lose faith all together.

PS:

Here’s one more lovely thing as well.  I am ever so grateful for music.

Joy of being

“In today’s rush, we all think too much… seek too much… want too much… and forget about the joy of just being.”

~Eckhart Tolle *

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m feeling the rush and pull of a return to normalcy which I’ll admit, I am not quite yet in favor of.

“Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow.

~Vincent van Gogh *

For those of you who follow my online doings, the noise of the world has gotten to be a bit much for me personally and I have opted off the social media channels until further notice.  While we cannot and mustn’t turn our backs on a troubled world just now – the news of things as they are happening in real time – we CAN turn down the noise of it all online in order to dig deeper into what is really happening out there, what can actually be done, and how we feel about it all.  Sure one might get a chuckle now and then over on the socials, but true reality is a bit more difficult to find.  And so I seek it in deeper wells.

I’ll be honest, I needed a break – have done for a good long while now.

And so I am taking one.  Officially.  I am hopeful it might be longer than the usual month off which happens now and then in normal times.

I celebrated this returning to myself, this coming home really,  by building a fire last night.  Humidity is creeping back up as of today, but in recent days past, the magic of a cool summer night’s mystery has been in rare form.

We are grateful.

We wear a crown of midsummer and watch the garden flourish.

“With life as short as a half taken breath, don’t plant anything but love.”

~Rumi *

While not everything planted will be in top form this season, the garden’s beginnings give me hope for better days.

I suppose if necessary, we could live off of pumpkin and swiss chard alone, if we had to eventually.  Perhaps not all is lost.

Life carries on.

Birds nest.

A great June greening gathers further in.

“We must not allow the clock and the calendar to blind us to the fact that each moment of life is a miracle and mystery.”

~ H G Wells

The daily post continues to be a source of great day to day joy.  Today we received the long anticipated “Views from Quarantine” zine project from Ireland-based artist and child-art psychotherapist Simone Westerkamp (also long time friend and musical pal).  This zine is filled with offerings Simone gathered from artful friends and family scattered around the globe.  We, Tony and I, are thrilled to have been a small part of it.  In this era of grief, sadness and strife – in epic proportions, to be sure – beautiful small things are a keen reminder of the scale and importance of our own humanity.

“Never regret anything you have done with sincere affection; nothing is lost that is born of the heart.”

~Basil Rathbone *

The summer’s slowing, with my yearly work offerings no longer viable, affords a delicate space for quiet wonderment.  There are Rainier cherries now at the market once more, which I love.  When I can settle my brain and nerves down enough, I am drawing more in this in between time and space.  I am grateful for these crumbs of validity in such tumultuous times.

I’ll admit I am not ready to re-enter the rat-race.  I did not belong to it in the first place.  This I must remember as the traffic time into my part-time work begins to once more give me pause.

We have our sights set to venture home to Maine later in July. (God willin’ and the creek don’t rise, as they say)  Once there we will keep ourselves to ourselves, which we normally do anyway, and I promise we will do this all safely.  I look very much forward to cuddle piles of hugs with my god-child and her sister, and our dear friends, their parents.  Even as introverts, we are missing the humanity of a normal social existence.  I am counting the days.

This is a strange new world we live in.  Some people seem to be carrying on like nothing has changed, like it is an insult to their American-borne freedom to be asked to wear a mask in interest of the safety of others.  Most near and dear to me of course, continue to be diligent and do what is necessary to keep things safe for everyone.  We live life in the day to day just now.  Plans are difficult to commit to with things changing so fast in real time.

In the end, time will tell.

As for us, we soldier on.  Listening to books, reading books, doing puzzles, keeping to the work online as needed.  Tonight we go to meet East-Coast cousins arriving new to town.  Socially distant, of course.

Take care of each other, get hugs when you can.

More soon……

****some of the quotes above (*)  have been saved over time from a wonderful offering on the Book of Faces called Ravenous Butterflies.  Go give em a follow if you are currently riding the waves of the socials.  They are a bright light on a dark platform.

notes to self

It is a discombobulated time.  I for one feel a bit unmoored and adrift of late. (Perhaps we all do.)  It is the season for journeying but I, like everyone just now, find myself rooted to home.   Still the journey must go on.  And so I go inward.

A new book, just for me.  I return to old practices.  With no inclination to share.

These past couple of days give the gift of a break in the weather, a lifting of humidity and oppressive heat.  The break in weather affords the gift of a bit of hope, at least for me.  A backing off of the blue dog which has been hovering at the doors of my heart lately.  I make a mindful choice to hit a reset button.

Perhaps only half true, but I am at least still young at heart.

 

An online music festival provides unexpected glee with workshops in flute and pipes.  One instructor speaks of tunes as poetry and palindromes, the other talks openly of the magic of this music, some of it “old and outside the laws of the land.”

I am reminded of my place in the world.

“G is not a tone, it’s a place.”  ~Conal Ó Gráda

I’ll admit, it all made me a bit weepy.  I am deeply missing my musical mates these last months.  I shall just work on my craft and connect how I can.

The noise of the online world feels unbearable as I wade through the news of the physical world day to day.  I find myself online less and less in an attempt to situate myself in reality to offer up my best self to the world.  This is as it should be.  Plenty of times have I vowed to spend less time in the hall of mirrors of the social networks, and always I seem to drift back.  Just now however, it is more of a drifting away from that hall and a journey inward, in lieu of summer’s teaching travels.

We have harvested lovely bundles of scapes in recent weeks.  Garlic, sent to me from a dear one in Maine, planted last fall as we began the new bed out back – The Before Times.  It all seems so far away, muted by the mists of time, dappled with a light we will not see again.

Scapes are like the “flowers” of the garlic plant.  Up and up they rise and curl.

Eating them, lightly sautéed, with an egg at breakfast, I taste the garlic to come.  It is essence of future garlic.

“While they are indeed a delicacy of early summer, we do not harvest scapes merely for their culinary flare.  To harvest these showy curls is to send the energy of the plants down below into the ground to the very base of the garlic – the bulbs – which we will harvest later in the summer.

I see a strong metaphor here for our own meandering growth.  It is lovely to flower and curl and show up in the world.  But we forget to cut these flowers off now and then to allow for real development below ground.”

 

This is where I find myself, metaphorically speaking.  I need to grow the bulbs.  It is summer, and in a normal summer, one might find me off to New Mexico to teach, or to North Carolina to take in some music workshops.  And often, I am too busy with these adventures to be spending much time online.  This is as it should be.

This summer I devote that time to a more inward journey.  To work on my art outside of the constancy of the online world and its performative pressures.  To play and experiment.  To read books, both for fun and escape as well as for the ongoing journey to educate myself.

It is entirely possible we may find ourselves in Maine later in July.  Fingers crossed.  We shall do so if we can do so, safely.  This potential gives me hope.  As does the deep pool of a new book, filled with good paper, some new ink for an old pen, and time to dive into it all without an audience.

But don’t worry, I’m not going far from here, this little corner of the internet that I call home.  Til next time……

That’s it!  File under life.

 

 

Attending

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

~Mary Oliver

It’s funny to me, my own internal cycles of inward-facing versus outward-facing; of intense productivity versus steeping an idea for a time.  The notion of developing something a while and then, at the proper juncture, sitting down to implement that development into something real in the world, something which was once just an inkling in the outer reaches of my mind’s eye.

These cycles are no less apparent in my relationship to the online world.  In the midst of this pandemic, and that amidst a country further mired and deeply more into trouble, I have once again, like so many I know, fallen into the trap of too much information and too much time on the standard culprits.  It is time for a break.  I’ve learned that I do not need to pull a Lorde and burn up my social media presence, rather I simply need to pull back into my own sphere for a bit to recalibrate.

“This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”

~Mary Oliver

A good while ago, knowing the news wasn’t going to get any better anytime soon, I removed Facebook and Twitter from my phone (always a wise move even in the best of times) but it’s not enough.  There must be a balance to these things.  A balance of being informed but not inundated, of monitoring where my attention falls.

I have heard it said that what we do with our days is what we do with our lives.  I believe this to be true.  And so we must decide what we want our lives to be.

“Attention is the beginning of devotion.”

~Mary Oliver

There is a lot to take in just now.  Heartbreaking news from every corner of the globe, but also breathtaking beauty in our gardens and new ideas to pursue in our imaginings.  Neither of these things should outweigh the other.  We must pay witness to the tragic, yet not dismiss the miraculous, however small or fleeting it may be.

None of us are any good to anyone if we become mired in the unreal world of social media.  My goal personally is to read more deeply about the issues at hand – about this pandemic and it’s long term challenges.  About how the rest of the world is viewing our country (and the UK)  just now in the wake of recent, racially motivated murders.  I’ll investigate ways to look keenly at my own inherent biases and consider how to best navigate them and change from within.  (Here are just two things for a start:  The Groundwater Presentation and The 1619 Project .)

We are in tumultuous times to be sure.

 

We must pay attention to everything.  Closely.  It is what artist’s do really.

 

“Instructions for living a life.  Pay Attention.  Be astonished. Tell about it.”

~Mary Oliver

One of the pitfalls of social media is the old “if a tree falls in the forest” concept.  If one is not on facebook lamenting the latest lunacy from the white house, is one really informed or engaged at all?  My answer is “yes”, perhaps even more so.

So while I may appear to disappear into the folds of my own little world here, you can be sure I am keeping up with the broader context.  I might seem to be hiding in the garage making stop motion videos, or getting lost in an imaginary world where animals wear clothing.  But rest assured, I am quietly staying informed.  Engaged.  We all just need a break sometimes.

A time in which to grieve the horrendous loss we are experiencing as a collective, to bear witness to ongoing atrocities in our “perfect union”, and yes, a time to weep at the beauty of the blooming of a simple spring flower.

Turns out we DO have white peonies in our yard after all! But we can still share some pink peonies with our gardening friends.

“Attention, without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report.  An openness – an empathy – was necessary if the attention was to matter.”

~Mary Oliver

I wonder and worry as to whether I’ll ever get back to Ireland. (And with that, how to get delivery of my new pipes due in October as well….) As a small prayer of hope, I planted some fuschia in a pot in the back garden. I am told the hummingbirds will like it. And maybe the bees too. These can be found all over Ireland in hedge form. Little fairy jewels on display. And I love having them around here at home.

These Gifts

There are quiet gifts arriving daily here at our lowly little acre.  A baby oak seedling I have been stewarding in the last year or so made it through the winter and has wee buds of life bursting forth.  My good musical friend Emmanuel found this little tree in a setting that mightn’t have let it grow and asked if he might dig it up for me.  I said yes and so the little seedling arrived and I have crafted for it a home here and the rest has been up to it.  It seems happy.  I am grateful for friends who see the world like I do.

Ferns are coming up.  They are a bit like big-footed teenagers romping through the house.  Taking up too much space, yet gorgeous in their unfurling.  We have some to share if you would like them.  They love shade, and spreading out.  Much like human teenagers actually.  Just send me a message if you would like some.  we can have a socially distant digging party of sorts.

A number of weeks ago, eager for spring, I took a few cuttings from the willow tree we planted last year, which is thriving (don’t worry, I humbly asked permission first).

These spindly little cuttings quickly made roots and are now forming proper trees in various places in the yard.  Getting trees to grow is a big goal of mine here, having lost so many in recent years.   I look forward to helping these little trees become big trees in the coming years.

In the veggie garden, plans are afoot to attempt what’s called a “Hugelkultur” which is basically a little mounded garden space which increases ground space as well as makes way for the organic matter necessary to feed hungry plants.

My beloved hawthorn tree, which is thriving, has spring buds upon it.  She seems really happy to be the mother hen of this new protected garden space and is relieved of the old armor we kept on her trunk to keep the destructive deer at bay.  We are all breathing a bit easier now, in spite of a pandemic.

a few bits and bobs have gone into the ground and I visit a few times daily to see how we are faring.

But garden gifts aren’t the only ones quietly arriving day to day here at Chez Bogard.  The post has been a blessing as well.  Some of my more trusty penpals have taken to the postal waves to comfort one another in these strange times and thankfully, this has included me.

I’ve received belated birthday gifts, hand painted seed collections,  long missives with the hopes and dreams of a pandemic age.  I’ve sipped the gifts of exotic tea bags and read articles from far flung periodicals lovingly snipped and sent along.  And just yesterday, party flags arrived to welcome the new deer boundary.

Firstly, my artist friend Michelle who is hunkering in Sheboygan WI sent me 50 snapshots of her view of Lake Michigan near her home.  50 snaps for 50 years of my own life.  She is a talented gift giver.  For my 40th, it was pebbles in a hand crocheted bag.  I still treasure them.  I’ll admit, these in their beautiful blueness took my breath away and made me a little weepy.

Gifts such as these make my heart soar.

Letters come, big and small, sometimes bearing other gifts beyond words within, like tea and seeds.  But often the words are enough.  The two above are from two separate pen friends.  Both know I adore the natural world.

Other gifts will keep on giving long after arrival.  These pumpkins will be tested on the Hugelkultur this year.  I love the little drawing on their seed pack.  One of a kind.

And the flags, well the flags were a request actually.  I have had them in my living room and now I have a few sets for my garden – the new living-room as it were.  They are part prayer-flag, part party-flag.

Joyfulness is a form of prayer.  I adore them.

Joy in a time of sadness.

They are crafted by my soul-sister in Vermont, @complimentcoins who makes little bits of love and kindness to sow into the world like seeds.

Some of her little coins are on order to send to my beloved pen friends around the world.  We could all use a bit of love and kindness just now, don’t you think?

There is much news that needs attention paying to it just now.  But a big one for me is the notion that the federal postal service is in question here in our country right now.  This is a long time coming as the service has been saddled with rules and restrictions that have caused their budget to be out of balance in recent decades.  It’s a long and complicated thing which I don’t truly fully understand.  But one thing I do understand is that the timing is crucial.

As we face this pandemic, we also stare down what is likely the most vital election our country has ever faced.  Voting by mail simply must be an option this fall in the face of uncertainty at best, and a second wave of the virus at worst.  And sure enough, those in power would like to defund the post office by October.  Just in time for the election.

We must be diligent.  And let our representatives know how we feel about this.  Via post, ideally.

Here is one link who’s action begins this week (it’s not too late)

I for one, plan to vote by mail at the earliest opportunity.  That was my original plan before all of this madness arrived as I hope to be in Ireland for October and a chunk of November this autumn.  Time will tell if I get my residency after all, and honestly that is the least of my worries in a world of so many worries just now.

If this idea resonates with you, write a letter to your senators, write a letter to your loved ones far away, and even one to those just up the road.  A hand written note or packaged gift can brighten these dark days in ways few other things can.

We small creatures must take to the postal waves and make our voices heard.  It is the only way.

Go.  Be the gift.

Ps:  you are not alone in feeling a lack of concentration in these strange times.  I really enjoyed this article about the Allostatic Load.  We will get through this.  (Charlie, this is for you.)

 

 

A glorious something else

“A glorious something else awaits.”

~Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things

I sit with the sadness this morning.  Like so many of us in this time of so many griefs big and small.  Not anything in particular really.  I am fine actually, personally, just now.  The sun is beginning to peek through the clouds and it looks to be a potentially nice day.  I may get to see my sister today, from afar, and we will relinquish the little red dragon back into his normal life back home with her and her support team. He is welcome back here any time of course but  I know he will bring her comfort between her shifts in the ER.

Here, comforts are bursting forth from the ground up.  The long (long) awaited deer fencing is up so we can finally grow some proper food in a real garden bed.

Here are the young-uns. Did you know, egg shells are the perfect little vehicle for growing seeds? It’s true.

A few things are in the ground of course already.  The cold weather kind.  And it looks nice to have some life amidst the structure of it all.

Planted strawberries in pots so they might come inside again over the winter and rest in the warmth. I am learning along the way.
Garlic survived not only the winter, but our trampling around it as we built the garden from the ground up. I wanted to get them in the ground last fall and so it rested whilst we laid cardboard down, then leaves and straw and so much time. Later came more straw and wood chip mulch. Building soil, without tilling. This little patch is the only one with no grass barrier. We will see how it goes.
A note about these lettuce plants. They have served us so well. They started out as seeds in a bag of soil under a plastic bin for warmth over the winter. Here’s the how to: *click* 
We created some archway trellises for the more climbing kind of plant-creatures. I look forward to them shading any summer greens we might be able to plant.

I have nothing against deer really.  Like all of us they are just trying to make a living in the world.  But they are decimators of plant life.  And so, while most of our little acre is at their disposal to wander and chew,  we’ve cordoned off just this little bit for ourselves.  I’ve thought for a long time that growing some of our own food could be paramount.  I always thought this notion might be a bit dramatic really.  But now it all seems closer to home.  Closer to reality.

The deer have been warned to move along from this place. With all due respect.

“Oh the summertime is coming
And the trees are sweetly blooming”

~trad. Irish/Scottish folk song

I am grateful it is spring time.  It is good to walk and watch the wild world come alive.  A normal spring time here would see my work year ramping up into full gear.  Today I was due to be waking up in California, ready to find the weekend’s sketching spots for the upcoming weekend.  Well, we all know how that panned out.

And I would usually be chomping at the bit to get back to the Land of Enchantment for a taste of big skies and grand ideas and the feeling that anything is possible.  That is Taos for me.  But, alas.

A thousand tiny griefs.

It is a difficult balance in this strange new era of corona to make space for all the grief.  We as a culture are so quick to categorize the griefs and the joys as big or small, important or trivial – at any given time.  And here’s the thing, we don’t know what one thing or another might mean to any other person but our own true selves.  The joy of a new sunrise to one person might be equal to the birth of a child to another.  Circumstances differ.  We must make space for what that sunrise means to that one person on that very day.

I think the same holds for grief.  There is so much of it just now.  But it does us no good to hold one grief up against another for comparison.  Better to just allow.  and honor.  All of it.  It’s hard to do.  I’ve been heartbroken this last week or so with the cancellation of not only my Taos work, but the magical week of Swannanoa as well.  I had a good long snot cry over each of these in the bath, I’ll be honest.  I’m doing my best to honor these losses, to give them space, even while I read the headlines of the death toll mounting, and hear stories of the front line from my sister and her co-workers.

All of it is heart breaking.  We must make space.

Stunning photography by Seán Mac an tSíthigh. @buailtin on instagram

And we must compost this grief and cultivate joy in this space.

A wee peach tree given to me last year by my dear friend Kim Taylor. This year I shall place it into a larger pot and it can summer out in the garden, to get a taste of life in the big world. I shall continue to nurture it…..

It can feel a bit like a roller coaster of emotions of late.  I was saying to a friend the other day that if this time teaches us nothing else, it is giving us lessons in the notion of being as fully present as possible in each and every moment.  We don’t know if the things to which we look forward will actually come to fruition.  It is a new horizon in tech as we all try to connect real time with our beloved communities and families.  I can say for the record that the incorrect connecting device for one’s computer might actually drive one to tears (again) and another lost connection is added to the list of a thousand griefs.

And so how to navigate?

“Look at how a candle can both defy and define the darkness.”

~Anne Frank

I am fortunate to know many who somehow manage to exist above the fray.  I look to them for inspiration.  The other day Nuala Kennedy took to the airwaves to do a little concert.  It was inspiring and honest and beautiful.  Much like Nuala herself.

Here’s the post:  https://www.facebook.com/nualamusic/videos/10163320918625188/UzpfSTEzMDEyMzY2NTY6MTAyMjE5OTEyMzA1OTIxMjE/

A couple of far flung artist friends of mine are offering up their teaching online in beautiful ways as well.  Erin Lee Gafill of Nepenthe  in Big Sur, California has a lovely community built over on facebook if you look for “Awaken The Artist Within”, and her tutorials are over on YouTube.  Here’s a sample.

Erin is lovely and calm and brilliant in her scope of experience.  She brings a soothing presence to the canvas and to her teaching.  Getting into the paints is on my list of joyful things to do in these pandemic times….

Would like to translate this tiny sketch of a painting into something larger in scale. The canvas is prepped. But the garden calls.

Fabian Hernandez is an artist I met down in Antigua and he too is offering some video tutorials for free over on Facebook.  I know Facebook is the devil in so many ways, but it is an easy platform in a difficult time.  I find myself finding community there (as well as frustration on occasion too) more than usual.  This is to be expected and forgiven.

Here is a still from one of Fabian’s tutorials. You can find him over on FB here. *click* It’s all in Spanish, but you’d be surprised what you can pick up.

And so, here we are.  In need of a bang trim, trying our best.

My friend Rosemary says “I can get used to just about anything, if you just give me a minute or so to adjust.”  And I agree.  (My metaphor for this same idea is that ” I am not a tug boat in the harbor, more like an ocean liner, and it takes me a bit of time to turn course.”  But you get the picture.)

We are here for a while it would seem and every day brings new challenges.  Like everyone I am learning to sit with it all.  Learning to get my head up in the clouds when needed to get a 30,000 ft view over it all for some perspective.  As the weather improves the garden will go on, giving me focus.  I can get out into the back room (currently under construction) to play some music perhaps.  I’m being more mindful in the last week or so as to what I say yes to.  This to give space to the grief that is and the grief that is to come.  And the joy.

I am trying to see all of this as the space I have been craving for awhile now.  But I do miss my friends.   Especially the musical ones.

*small disclaimer:  I write this from a place of deep privilege which is not lost on me.  I am deeply aware of the bigger broader world, this is just my artful snippet of it.  Don’t forget to vote.  wherever you are.  

Sounds of Autumn

This morning, just after my first cup of coffee, an autumnal sonic assault begins.  A murderous whirring of epic proportions.

The gas powered leaf blower.

It is nigh impossible to think for oneself amidst the din of modernity, particularly in suburbia, where the moving of leaves around seems to point to some sort of status.

I wonder, what we might hear if we were afforded an opportunity to listen deeper.  To listen to the miniscule preparations being made by the smallest of creatures….

Roll, roll, grumble, grumble, roll…

The sounds of a gathering of food stuffs for the winter season.  Acorns, walnuts.

Crack, snap, crack, crack, stack…..

Further gathering and arranging of sticks and wood and kindling with which to warm ourselves in the months to come.   Even the smallest of fallen twigs might be of use.

Perhaps we hear the click, click, click of knitting needles working woolens into garments for bracing against autumnal winds…..

Maybe we hear the gentle felling of ripened fungi in the forest, so that they might be dried and saved for soup making.

What sorts of sounds do you listen for when the leaf blowers finally run out of gasoline?  How can we better listen to the quietude offered to us by the smallest of woodland creatures?  How might we better listen to ourselves?