Category Archives: Inspiration

Stone Whispers

“With my feet on the dash, the world doesn’t matter.”

The sun peeks through goldening September forest land as we take to country roads, optioning out of the city for the day and into the waiting arms of Appalachian foothills not so very far away.

Our destination is the mystical Serpent Mound, an internationally regarded effigy mound, crafted in the shape of a snake in a time before written history.

We arrive at the park amidst other touring travelers, motorcyclists out for a day’s drive, families of multiple generations exploring the museum and grounds.  There is much Native American trinketry to be had, little arrowhead reproductions to purchase, crystals and dreamcatchers, sage bundles, and many books.

Much has been written theorizing why the mound was built.  It is not a burial mound, as there are some of those dotting the grounds as well.

The sinewy curves do mark special times in the astrological wheeling of the year and so for all we don’t know about the folks who created Serpent Mound, we at least know they were likely wise and watchful and capable engineers at the least.

We have brought our sketchbooks but neither of us are feeling much like drawing.  We do scratch a rubbing from the granite sign which marks the beginning of the path around the serpent herself.

The mound is best seen from above, and there is a viewing platform for those courageous enough to risk a trek to the top.

We are.

I wonder about how the grass is kept so cleanly cut.  It seems like sacrilege to run a mower over these forms.  Visitors are kept to an asphalt path.

We wander and wonder around the length of the Serpent.  I have in my heart a similar uneasy sense about it all as to my visit to Chaco Canyon over the summer.

While in the museum, we take in the exhibit about the variety of artifacts found in the area over the years and what they mean.

I spy one which stops me in my tracks, as it is quite familiar to me.

The sign reads that these are ‘gorgets‘, like a pendant of sorts, worn at the throat.  The one which has caught my eye is a quadriconcave gorget crafted from slate and it is exactly like one I had in my hand just the other day…

You see my Uncle Jim passed away a number of weeks ago and this has us all in a familial circling of the wagons state of mind.  My mom and I going through old papers and pictures, visiting gravesites of ancestors long gone from this plane.

One of those ancestors, we think perhaps Joseph Kelley, a farmer, was ploughing the fields of his farm one day.

This is the old family farm. Much dilapidated now which we are sad to see when we drive by. But it still has it’s stories in the land.

His horse drawn plough hit something out of the ordinary and so he stopped to pick the object up and see what it might be.

The story goes that the plough took a small chink out of this strange stone in its unearthing.  The farmer might have dusted off the object and tucked it into his pocket to share with his family over supper that evening.  This would have been over a hundred years ago, and ever since that day, The Indian Rock has held pride of place in the home of whomever in the family happened to be in possession of it at the time.  The most recent steward of the stone was my Uncle Jim who had an affinity for local archeological finds and a knack for knowing where to look.  Apparently he had quite a collection of arrowheads and tools and such which he picked up on his countryside ramblings over the years.  But my mom had always treasured this one, and so now it resides with her.

When I spot the one in Serpent Mound Museum I know I must share it with her, as Now We Know what exactly our Indian Rock might possibly be.  We had guesses as to it being a tool of some sort, but never were quite sure.  What I wonder now is why does our stone lack holes in it?  When the original stone-crafter lost this particular piece, was it perhaps yet awaiting it’s drilling?  The style of our stone, the more looking around I do on the internet, seems to come from the Adena culture.  I have never heard of the word “gorget” until today…

I love this.  We all want to sparkle like a hummingbird, do we not?

I think about the original inhabitants of this land of ours, so very distant in the past, yet just as human as we are, with foibles and desires all their own and not so different from us after all.  Their stories and lifestyles are but whispers on the winds compared to the native cultures which have stood the tests of time, in spite of rampant colonization.  I wonder about who might have made our family’s gorget and whether they missed it when it was lost.  I read that these stones are often found in fields here in the midwest and into the southern states as well.  And they are indeed a lucky find and treasured by those who discover them.  Mom is excited to take her stone on a wee field trip to Serpent Mound and chat up the archeologists there to gain more insight on this family treasure of ours.

I continue to try to slow myself down into a more stoney sense of time.  A drive out to the foothills does this, for a bit at least.  On our way home we are treated with Krista Tippett’s timeless interview with John O’Donohue, whom I consider a spiritual teacher of mine as his writings speak to my soul.   It seems the world is coming at us reckless on most days.  This chaos is at the global scale, and the personal scale as well.  I do my best to merely keep above the fray, as best as possible, tucking in the magic wherever space allows, and sometimes even when it doesn’t.

How are you managing in these crazy times? I’d love to know.  In the meantime, I highly recommend a day’s drive out into the country to slow things down and give a bit of perspective.

til next time…..

 

 

Hear ye, hear ye!

It’s been a fair bit of effort in the doing, as I am not a person of numbers, but new prices are now officially set for next summer’s sketching workshop in Taos, New Mexico.  You can find them here:

Join us in Taos, June 2018!!

Why a change in price?  Well aside from a few costs which have risen in the 7 years I’ve offered this workshop, for the 2018 offering next summer, I am expanding the workshop to be a full 5 day offering. Usually we have a full 4 days, with departure on Friday morning of our week together to give folks a chance to head to the hills and practice all they have learned in four days of workshop exercises. But over the years, participants have been loathe to part and I have gained more and more to offer and so, I give another day to it all, which changes the pricing structure a bit as well.

I hope this new structure works for everyone.  I already have a handful of folk ready to join us in June.  Won’t you be one of them?  New Mexico is a spectacular place in which to tap into the language of an artful soul.

Send me an email if you need any more information about the workshop or what it entails.  If the class speaks to you but you feel you are ‘a beginner’ or ‘can’t draw’ or any of that other stuff, I assure you, I’ll help you sort all of that out in the doing of it.  Trust me.  You won’t be disappointed.

Creativity is our birthright.  More soon….

Cosmic Reverence

 

Today it is a delightful late-summer’s day here in the Ohio River Valley.  I have the windows thrown open for fresh air and the sun is shining brightly in an uncharacteristically blue sky.  (usually August is Smogust.)

I’ve taken this day to attend to a final few veterinary well-visits for our menagerie (weeks in the doing of it), as well as to attempt a bit of wordsmithery here on the blog.

In the midst of all of this normalcy, I am finding it difficult to put into words a most liminal day earlier in the week.  For on this past Monday, myself and a few fellow intrepid souls took to the backroads on a Quest for Totality.

We had heard that many folks would be traveling en masse to see the spectacle that was to be the Total Eclipse of the Sun 2017.  As our plans came together rather late, we opted for One Big Day of travel to and fro and knew we were in for an adventure.  I packed a picnic lunch and many jars of tea and set off in the wee hours of the morning to gather my friends for the day.

I’ll admit to experiencing some trepidation regarding the notion of standstill traffic….

We careened along carefully chosen backroads in Indiana and Kentucky, through national forest lands and in and out of mist-laden farm country.  The phrase ‘over the river and through the woods’ comes to mind.  And we found it beautiful.  There was to be no traffic, thankfully, at least on the way down.

The journey was quiet and filled with interesting stories and conversation.  We did not need the radio on, so satisfied with each others’ company were we.

The sun did rise eventually, and the miles did pass.  Each seemingly unaware of what was to come on this momentous day.

We had our star charts, and an idea of where we might need to be to witness a total eclipse of the sun in our region.  And so, we drove and drove, perhaps a bit farther than some as we opted for west, then south to avoid the crush of sun-seeking humanity.

Eventually, we arrived in a small town called Marion, Kentucky.

There were signs for a municipal park nearby and so we followed them and found ourselves in a delightful setting.  Enough fellow sky-watchers to feel a sense of human-camaraderie for the Big Event, and yet enough private green space to feel centered in the scope of what was to come, just by ourselves.  We had come prepared for reverence.

We ate our lunch together on some sporty bleachers and watched those with large telescopes prepare.  We celebrated the tail end of our meal with the most delicious brownies ever.

  • 1 (15.5 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp oil (I used coconut)
  • Maybe around 1/4 c peanut butter (a nice blob in any case. This is optional though.)
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 1/4 c plus 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Semi-sweet chocolate chips for topping (optional- but…)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 f
  2. Add all ingredients into a blender (except for the chocolate chips). Blend it till all the beans are blasted apart. Batter will be a bit runny.
  3. Lightly grease an 8×8 baking dish and pour the batter inside.
  4. Top with chocolate chips or nuts
  5. Bake for 25 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean if you poke it
  6. Cool for 30 minutes before cutting and serving. This is so it doesn’t fall apart when you cut it.

But I digress.

After lunch, it was TIME.  We heard it announced that It Was Starting.  And sure enough, when we glanced up at the Sun with our special glasses, part of it appeared to be missing.

This was a relatively slow process actually and so we took turns monitoring the Sun being shadowed by the moon and spent the in between time tending to our sense of the Divinity in it all.

There were crystals to charge, prayers of thanks to offer, bundles to smudge, bless and wrap for sending along to the nature spirits and the Otherworld.  We burned incense which had been given to Justin and Megan  by our dear departed friend Cindy, and we shared stories of her generosity and her most artful life.  (as for me, Cindy is who first lent me a flute to see if I might like to tackle this most difficult instrument.  I am forever grateful.)

We struggled to get our normal camera gear to cooperate in these difficult and potentially harmful conditions while we attempted to document the undocumentable.

I was so tickled to be with friends who are at once practical and spiritual in their endeavors.  I maintain that my Irish music friends are the deepest and smartest people I know in my lucky life.

Soon, it was clear that Totality was nigh.

this snapshot, used with permission, is by Natalie Coleman

And so it was.

I took a picture and then took my glasses off to merely witness.

As totality had approached, all of the things that were supposed to happen did so.  The light changed, the birds rested and dogs howled. As the darkness took hold, a cheer went up from our fellow sky-watchers.  The tree-frogs and crickets began to sing.  Street lamps turned on.  And, possibly because we were in Kentucky, gun-shots were heard off in the distance as well.  I suppose we all celebrate things in our own way.

There are times in our lives when the universe seems to hold its breath for a few moments.  If we are fortunate, and if perhaps we have taken the time and care to be paying proper attention, we can catch a little whiff of the Otherworld in these auspicious times.  

Still points in life are found in the usual, expected places – the moment a baby is born and draws it’s first breath, or at the bedside of a loved one in the process of a peaceful passing on.  I’ve witnessed a fair number of both of these scenarios and for a time immediately following these life changing moments, the world doesn’t seem quite it’s usual self.  There is a palpable divinity in everything somehow.  It is as if a veil is lifted for a time and we are Reminded.  In a more reverent and perfect world, perhaps we could feel this in the day-to-day, yes?

I find it difficult to express the Otherworldliness that this eclipse provided our merry band of sky-watchers.  The mere shift of the light was the very same I’d heard described (but never quite witnessed) in all the stories of Faerie-land.  Time stood still.  We marveled and wept at the cosmic beauty we had the great fortune to behold in this very moment.  Life itself is a miracle really and moments such as this remind us in a way that is nearly heart-breaking.  

I could go on and on.  But it is difficult to convey.  Perhaps Annie Dillard says it best in this quote from her article from 1982:

“Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.”

I have seen partial eclipses in my lifetime.  But this was an altogether different animal indeed.  I will go so far as to say there was before, and now there is after.  There is a sense of feeling one’s place in the cosmos.  My friends and I are already plotting the best situation for April 8, 2024.

When totality had passed, and we once again had to don our viewing goggles, there was an indescribable sense of glee in all of us.  We danced and cartwheeled and made music and laughed.

As if we were under some faerie-land intoxication.

Perhaps we were.

We continued to watch the sky for awhile after totality as the chunking out of the sun is truly miraculous to watch.

And after a while we settled in for a bit of a nap.  All of us feeling we were under some sort of spell.

This is where it came to me that we had witnessed one of those liminal moments.  Like a birth or a death, or the moment you know you’ve met your beloved – there had been a shift, a change, and none of us would ever be the same.

Eventually, the heat and the ants let us know it might be time to pack up our things and begin the journey toward home, which suddenly felt so very far away.  But we still had each-other, and this amazing shared experience.  And thankfully, a well-timed cup of coffee on route through Kentucky.

We did face some traffic on route home, which alas, gave me some comfort.  In this day and age of cynicism and sarcasm, reality tv and ‘fake news’, the path of red tail lights on the highway informed me that much of humanity still holds wonder for the Great Beyond.  We still wonder at that which we cannot altogether explain.  The astronomers give us the timing and the maps for witnessing, but our souls show us the way into the cosmos.

In the beginning was the dream…
In the eternal night where no dawn broke, the dream deepened.
Before anything ever was, it had to be dreamed…
If we take Nature as the great artist, then all presences in the
world have emerged from her mind and imagination.  We are
children of the earth’s dreaming.  It’s almost as if Nature is in
dream and we are her children who have broken through the
dawn into time and place.  Fashioned in the dreaming of the
clay, we are always somehow haunted by that; we are unable
ever finally to decide what is dream and what is reality.  Each
day we live in what we call reality, yet life seems to resemble
a dream. We rush through our days in such stress and intensity,
as if we were here to stay and the serious project of the world
depended on us.  We worry and grow anxious – we magnify
trivia until they become important enough to control our lives.
Yet all the time, we have forgotten that we are but temporary
sojourners on the surface of a strange planet spinning slowly
in the infinite night of the cosmos…
[…..]
There is no definitive dividing line between reality and dream.
What we consider real is often precariously dream-like.
Our grip on reality is tenuous…
Excerpt from Eternal Echoes
by John O’Donohue
May you take the time to journey toward cosmic wonders in your lifetime.  May you see these wonders in your day to day, even in the simple changes in the light of day….

 

 

 

 

Edge time (chaptered)

Chapter 1.  – seaside

Not two full days home from my blissful week of music in Swannanoa and I find myself flying east to my soul’s home in Maine to visit friends of auld.  These are friends who have known me longer than they haven’t, and I am blessed beyond the stars to have them in my life still.  As a family we are fragmented this year for what is usually our time of solidarity.  But this is how it is to be. One must follow his heart home for recovery after a Big Summer of Big Work;  another, I have secretly purchased a two day ticket up to join us for just a moment or two and fingers crossed it all works out as planned (it does).  And lastly, our anchor in all things fun, my hub Tony, does his best to come along for just a few days.  He is successful and we pack a lot into a couple of days time off.

We spend as much time as possible by the sea or in the sea.  Ferrying to our favorite places….

I like to sketch my fellow ferry passengers when I get bored.

….eating oceanic gifts of the odd lobster or oyster;  swimming, beach-combing the ever interesting, ever-changing wrack-line.

To me this is paradise and I collect a few little tid-bits to drag home to paint.

The coastline sets my heart all aflutter –  all I want to do is paint.  And yet I am restless and frustrated in a way I cannot name – torn between time with those I love and miss all year long, and my desire to make stuff.  I also find myself really missing the music I have only just the week prior been steeped in, more so than in other years.  Perhaps the music is sinking deeper into the pores after all?

Eventually, the paints do come out.  But it takes time.

And wandering.

I’ve been carefully breaking in these shoes since spring time and they now wear like slippers. Such a sturdy travel shoe, and one of a kind. You can get your pair at Kakaw Designs.

And keen observation.  But the art does come.  It starts slowly.

I was captivated by the limey green of this seaweed on the coast at Land’s End on the very tip of Bailey Island. Wonder if you can eat it?

In between boat-trips and cock-tailed laughter, oysters and teenaged catch-ups, we take some time to drive round the old haunts of our early days all together -when there was Peace in the land but our boys did their military duties, deploying too often for our liking, even when babies were due.  These are the things that can seal friendships for life.

In spite of hard winters and time apart, we remember our days in Maine with rich fondness.  It is one reason we come back each summer.

Chapter 2.  – to the lake side

Soon our seaside time was at an end and we were headed inland to a lovely lake house we’ve taken to commissioning for a week each summer.  It feels like home, all the while we discuss going full on ocean-time.

We are torn.  We love this place.

We love it’s moody skies and ever-changing weather patterning.

And the sunset views, which never disappoint, even on rainier evenings.

Note the loon family….. they were part of our world all week. Calling to one another, teaching the youngsters how to be loons on Long Pond. The kids gave them names. Parents Jose(Paco) and Marcia, and their kids, Judy and Lola.

Chapter 3 – romancing the stone

Before my family leaves, we take a little kayak jaunt across Long Pond to Beaver Brook where I am captivated by a stone divided into three parts by ancient ice and time and other such forces.  I vow to go back to sketch the place, as I have come with nothing but a hat and a paddle.

Soon enough, though surrounded with dear friends, I am left as the only Bogard on vacation which is a strange sensation.  Tony has been dubbed the Julie McCoy of the group, always corralling us all to gaming and cocktailing, water-sport contesting and the like and things are really, really quiet with-out him around.  This all plucks and strums strings of empty-nesting woes I don’t even think I was aware of until now.

I play it all out in the boat house on my flute.

I make it back over to the little cove where the Beaver Brook runs and the captivating stone resides.  I marvel at the language of light and shadow which I can barely translate.

I believe there is something here to translate.

And so I ask the stone to help me.

It’s a start.

I am not one for series usually, but I am called to paint and have been looking for a form I could play with, from painting to painting.  Not just the one-and-done sketch I usually go in for.  This stone is just the ticket and I am enjoying exploring it’s complexities.  There will be more, especially once I am home near the oils.  I have traveled lightly this trip.

Chapter 4 – critters large and small

One day I go for a run across the way on the Mountain Road.  A place I return to every year for it’s lake views through the trees, its lack of proximity to cars and traffic noise in general.  Along the road I find a sweet feather which is eventually identified as a low wing feather of a wild turkey after much back and forth discussion and postulation both online and with my compatriots back at the camp.  I even meet a lovely older gentleman along the road who thinks it could be eagle, though my guess is owl.  I am not disappointed with turkey, as they are wonderous to behold in the wild.

I set out to sketch this lovely gift before I must leave it behind here where I found it.  Sometimes I keep feathers, but this one shall stay.

I appreciate it getting my paint brush filled and setting me to painting, as it comes to me before the stone paintings begin.

This day’s run is truly fruitful as I also spy some horses through the edges of the woods and I stop to capture them with my phone-camera (the only camera I brought this year as I am traveling light.  Still not sure about this decision.)

The horses pay me no mind and I think about the wild ponies some artists I follow online are fortunate enough to have in their lives as they go about their daily wanderings.   I wonder what I need to do to have more woodland walking right outside my door, more ponies to spy on through the edges of the hedges.  This is a constant wondering, as always.

Most times we wander down to the water from our little house here, we are treated to the antics of a local loon family who have some still young but near adult fledglings along with them.  I borrow Amy’s proper camera with a decent telephoto lens to capture them up close for this post.

Pretty sure this is the mama, Marcia
Judy and Lola are never far from her. And she works hard to keep them fed. a mama’s work is never done.

They are absolutely captivating as they call to one another, throughout the days and nights.  This is the soundtrack to my dreaming and I am glad of it.

I am indeed glad of dreaming in general as there has been some wakefulness in the household in recent days.  A wee mouse has gotten a bit too friendly, joining my friends in bed night before last, which gave them a start indeed.  Last night, as lights are out, I hear a rustling and sure enough, wee mouse (we hope it’s the same) is in a paper bag into which I have stashed my knitting and a few varieties of tea I like to bring on my travels.  This leads me to believe he is a country mouse indeed (I mean, tea and knitting, come on.)  and he is escorted out of doors by our brave knight in PJ’d armor.  No harm no foul, but we hope the lil thing stays outside for the remainder of our time here.  I calm my late night nerves with a bit of bourbon and sleep fitfully from there.

Chapter 4 – where to from here

I write this missive in present tense, a style I see on occasion over at one of my favorite follows, These Isles.  I have no idea if it works or not for others, but for me, today, right now, it works.  This writing style allows me to step outside of a linear path of  ‘what happened when’ and to step into the concept of the Traveling Now.  The Traveling Now is not unfamiliar to quantum theorists, though this name for it is from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.  I find more and more that the order of things matters not.  What matters is that we are present in it.  Now.

On what might be the calmest evening left in the week, I wander alone down to the waterside for a quick swim in the moonlight alone under the stars.  If you’ve never skinny-dipped for whatever reason is holding you back, it is something I hope you do at some point in your life time.

I arrive back up stairs, sobered and refreshed (pre-country mouse adventure) and I find this by John O’Donohue (one of my all time favorite go-to writers):

THE CALL TO LIVE EVERYTHING

One of the sad things today is that so many people are frightened by the wonder of their own presence. They are dying to tie themselves into a system, a role, or to an image, or to a predetermined identity that other people have actually settled on for them. This identity may be totally at variance with the wild energies that are rising inside in their souls. Many of us get very afraid and we eventually compromise. We settle for something that is safe, rather than engaging the danger and the wildness that is in our own hearts. We should never forget that death is waiting for us. A man in Connemara said one time to a friend of mine, ‘Beidh muid sínte siar,’ a duirt sé, ‘cúig mhilliúin blain déag faoin chré’ – We’ll be lying down in the earth for about fifteen million years, and we have a short exposure. I feel that when you recognize that death is on its way, it is a great liberation, because it means that you can in some way feel the call to live everything that is within you. One of the greatest sins is the unlived life, not to allow yourself to become chief executive of the project you call your life, to have a reverence always for the immensity that is inside of you.

John O’Donohue

I like to think that even something as simple as going to the lake side for a moonlight swim in nothing but my birthday suit is one small way to ‘live everything’.

Tomorrow we leave this place.  As we do, we know nothing of the year to come.  The third of the four kids who do this magical week with us each year (our two went first, now theirs) is off to college in just a matter of weeks.  I do not know what the end of summer into fall-winter and beyond hold.  I have some ideas of things I’d like to set into motion, which I will do.  But for now, I read things that make my head and heart spin on its very axis,  I make plans for an upcoming show that has me thrilled and terrified in equal measure.  I continue to answer the (also terrifying though I do not know why) irresistible call to paint in ways I have not yet done.  I show up.

This summer has been a gift beyond imagining and I am grateful for it.  Each year I grow and make and play in the hopes I can bring that home to my friends and family and to my students along the way.  It is a gift, and I do not take it lightly.

 

 

A week in a minor key

 

One of the small things I love most about Maine is that in the 70’s billboards were outlawed. There is nothing but green and granite to contemplate when on the roads. It’s so part of the charm of this place and I wish it were in my day to day.

I write this to you from my soul-home in Maine where I can smell the ocean on the air upon wakening.  I await those in my little family who can make it up here for even a day or two in the coming weeks and miss those not joining us this year.  But while I fully sink into life back here where it feels so very familiar, I’ll admit that part of my heart is still under the enchantment of a week of music, magic and mayhem that is the Swannanoa Gathering.  You will know that in year’s past there were much shenanigans (and one year even a wedding!!) amidst the musical goings on.  This year, it seems that while we had an immense amount of belly laughter and all around craic, the music itself took front and center.

The trip down to Swannanoa this year began, blanketed by a low hum  in my heart- consisting of worries Big and small, varying in proximity to me personally.  Some closer to home, some via merely a glance at any news, at any time.  It seems that the world-at-large continues to fly a bit close to the sun, cosmically speaking, and I don’t feel like I am the only one sensing it.  Everyone I know seems to be feeling chaotic and a bit frenetic.  These summers of mine,  so gypsy-like from the outside-looking-in, are my way of assimilating the year past, and of lighting a way forward as the arc of each year moves on into the darker months ahead, to fall and winter.  They are a necessary re-set button and I am glad of it.

My week of workshops in North Carolina last week (was it really just last week?) began Monday morning with classes with the fabulous flute-player and singer, Nuala Kennedy.  You might remember her from her beautiful Behave the Bravest, for which I made the album art.

It was so wonderful to be sitting back again in music class learning a few new tunes.  I have let my Riley School doings fall aside of late as I work to build my art and workshop-offering practice and I have missed it dearly.  Nuala always teaches interesting tunes that strum the heart’s harp-strings and this year was no different.  The first three tunes we learned – a march, a strathspey and a reel were all in the key of B minor.

Now I am no musical theory geek but I know enough to know that the minorish keys tend to be a bit more moody and pensive.  For me at least, this key fit the mood of the early part of the week and we gobbled the beauty of them up in class and in our flutilla-led rehearsal time which we kept each day between classes, open to any of our classmates who could make it.  It is here we made some new friends, which is a bonus each year.

Some days in Nuala’s class we had a special guest, for whom we played a gentle version of our March.

Surely Wee Lochlann is soaking up every note. He’ll be playing circles ’round us in no time, I’m sure of it.

…or who graciously took our class photo.

Thank you Julie Adams for sending this along!

Between classes we practiced more, occasionally napped or snuck in a shower- as camp life can make for late nights and sweaty days.  And by afternoons we found ourselves in the presence of the one and only Kevin Crawford who keeps us on our toes and usually laughing a good bit too throughout the week.

Here Kevin expresses to us that he hopes at least a bit of the tips and tricks of the trade he teaches us will be something we take home and apply to the tunes we already play. Always a challenge. Challenge accepted.

Kevin hears every note.  Good or bad.  Especially if he sits right down in front of you….

And as if the flute weren’t difficult enough, he’s taken to trading instruments with his bandmate Colin Farrell and playing a jig now and again just to get a laugh from his class.  If you are not a musician, you might not realize how hard this is.  These guys make it look simple.

The week wore on and little by little, the key of things changed a bit.  We came fully under the spell of music and the people who make it and there were moments of magic to behold along the way.

One evening a few of the staff snuck away to one of my favorite corners in which to play, the Kittredge breezeway, and had a bit of a session.  Here is just a snippet….

It’s amazing when this happens.  The staff at Swannanoa give their all to this week between teaching and hosting other goings-on, but much like us, sometimes they might simply want to run off and have a tune with old friends.  Sometimes these are situations we students might join in if invited, other times, it’s nice to just sit back and listen awhile.  And so I did.

Yes, that is Grainne Hambly, John Carty and Martin Hayes. Royalty in the Irish music world, really and all around great folks indeed.

This little session was a perfect blend of tunes and song.  All of these artists listening to one another along the way.

Eamon O’Leary and Cathy Jordan take in the tunes along the way.

There was even a bit of step dancing by dance instructor Siobhan Butler to add to the magic of the evening.

Our week at Swannie always seems to fly by but this year it seemed exceptionally quick-paced.  One day it was Monday with the whole week ahead of us, then suddenly, just like that, it was Friday.  But as I look back, there were at least a few shenanigans along the way….

There was a ceili to attend on Tuesday.

And I was sure to catch up with my new flute friend Julie so we could snap a picture of our matching flutilla swag!!

There were late night sessions with loved ones from near and far, and we enjoyed music and many many laughs.

We talked of the importance of being silly together. Why must we be so serious all the time? The world is serious enough as it is. Let us laugh together more often, yes??

By day the skies might open and deliver thunderous rains on occasion, but always the clouds parted, and the sun did shine once more, as it goes in these misty mountains.

Each day we packed in as much music as we could, learning from our teachers.  It was fun to approach tunes we may have heard on recordings and to listen to the nuanced differences in how each player approaches each tune along the way.   The goal is, after all, to take this music into our hearts and make it our own somehow.

Here we were listening to Paddy Keenan play Condon’s Frolics from the album Poirt An Phíobaire. I love how delighted Kevin is when listening to one of his old favorites. He passes this delight on to us along the way. Thank you Kevin!

Many evenings saw us attending concerts where we could watch our instructors do what they do best, which is perform.  These folks are the best at what they do and it’s a true treat to hear them live.  Especially when they gather together and make music perhaps never heard before.

The flutilla force is strong here. For the record, the bodhran player shown here, Matt Olwell, is also an amazing flute player himself. Maybe next year we will add a couple more flutes to this routine….

When our days weren’t too full, and we weren’t too tired, we attended what are called ‘pot-lucks’ where some of the staff shared a topic of their choosing for an hour or so.  I attended one by Cathy Jordan called The Happy Subject of Death.  She and some of her fellow instructors sang murder ballads and other dark songs and there were many tears and a good bit of macabre laughter as well.  This all felt in keeping with the minor key of the week for me and I loved it.  I also attended a chat by Martin Hayes, sometimes referred to as the Buddha of Irish music.  We talked about why we play music.  Some folks look to perform perhaps, others might just want to play along with a recording by themselves or sit in the kitchen over a cuppa having tunes with friends.  There is no wrong way.  But the biggest goal for him, and I must say, for me, is to play with real Joy.

I read this week somewhere that on CNN, someone was quoted as saying,

“Joy is active resistance.”

I believe this to be true and I am holding on to it with all my strength and fortitude.  What else do we have?  It is this joy in the making – of music, of art, of laughter – which gives us the strength to do the hard things along the way in this crazy world.  At least this is how I feel.

As I have stated, Friday came along on the heels of Monday far too quickly for our liking, and suddenly we were rehearsing for the student showcase.  The showcase is a fun evening where we get to play a few new tunes together as a class to our fellow ‘gatherers’ and to hear the work of the other classes as well.

It was a steamy, North Carolina style evening and though we were all feeling sticky, we gathered down at the pavilion for the showcase. The photos that follow are some captures by photographer Tom Crockett who’s brother Tim was in class with us.  He hiked and took pictures out in the mountains most of the week but attended the showcase on Friday and snapped a few photos of the Flutilla. I share them here with you by permission.

In between acts, we shared stories and laughter. Ellen and I have shared so much over these long years at Swannie, we have decided we simply must get together more often. Let the wild rumpus begin, I say!!
Here is Kevin’s flute class playing a set-dance into a Jig. The air was so humid, I am surprised we could even play!
Kevin is one of three of my musical mentors in the flute department. He, and my dear friend Ellen Redman here, have changed and enriched my little life for the better. I am beyond grateful for their teaching and their friendship over the years.
This is a rare capture of myself with my flute instructor John Skelton, whom I work with back in Cincinnati when I can at the Riley School of Irish Music. He too has changed and enriched my life for the better through music and a lot of laughter.
This week Nuala Kennedy taught us a couple of interesting reels and we added some harmonies. This is another week where I learned how to use one of the keys on my flute. Nuala is a brilliant teacher.
How did I get so fortunate to have such amazing, caring teachers to work with???

(Thank you so much Tom for the gorgeous photos!  They are truly treasured.)

And now here we are.  Back in Maine once again, soaking up a bit of the seaside and lake time which we will draw upon time and again in the year ahead.  These weeks of art and music, friendship and fellowship, always set me to thinking about things in a deep way.  They remind me to practice what makes my heart sing.  To play my flute, no matter how clumsy it might feel when not backed up by my flutilla.  To push a paint brush around even when I don’t know where it’s going.

To remember to head out into nature more often, as She is the real conductor of things.

And most importantly, to trust my inner knowing along the way.  A lesson I am trying so hard to take more and more on board.

I love the little boat called Intuition.

If you are reading this and attended the Swannanoa Gathering’s Celtic Week, do leave a comment with your favorite moment(s) of the week.  I’d love to read them!

Til next time….

Sometimes, I day dream of tunes in the pavilion, to the rhythm of tree frogs singing.
If you’re even remotely curious about Irish music, this is a fantastic read

Breathlessness and Brilliance

A few days ago we flew and flew, with great love in our hearts, only to find ourselves in Breckenridge, Colorado – breathless with altitude and not without some concern over recent local wildfires.

Alas, while we were there storms did kick up, rain did fall and temperatures too, just enough to get at least this fire under some semblance of smoldered control.

Our travels to this high country were to visit our eldest, Jack, as he is working with the National Repertory Orchestra for their popular summer symphonic festival of music.  Each day we were able to attend their rehearsals which are free and open to the public, many of whom attend with friends in tow.

In a whirlwind of just a few days we managed to take in not only these rehearsals but two fabulous concerts.  The first included Shostakovich’s Fifth along with music by Mendelssohn and López.  We enjoyed it immensely!

Warming up just before the show!

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”  ~Plato

When not taking in music we enjoyed a bit of what Breckenridge has to offer in the way of touristy fun.

While the Hub worked one day, I opted to go horseback riding.

I’m not entirely comfortable around horses but each day we should do a little something challenging.  And so I did.

What is it about horse-loving girls.  They tend to have a spot of admirable moxie I think.

Between rehearsals and concerts and everything else, we did get to see and feed Jack.  And to catch up on selfie shenanigans, which was great fun.

I’m not one for selfies in general but sometimes one can’t resist the temptation for silliness.

We even managed to get in some sketching here and there……

My favorite is this sketch below from our drive up Boreas Pass where I was captivated by some yellow lichen on the side of the mountain.  And so I painted it.

The views from up there weren’t half-bad either.

Saturday soon arrived and by then we were feeling a bit more acclimatized to the altitude.

 

 

 

 

I did wonder how the wind players were faring with the altitude, but apparently they have über efficient embouchures and were therefore all right. The poor reed players on the other hand were carving new reeds for themselves day to day due to the intense dryness of the climate. I marvel.

Saturday was to be a special day all around because a dear and long time friend who now lives in Denver was to drive up for that evening’s concert featuring the music of Star Wars composed by John Williams.

 

We watched a bit of rehearsal, of course, getting in the mood for the evening’s Star Wars excitement.

Royalty was in attendance that night and the mood was light and energetic.

(side note, the first few notes of this bit of Star Wars music once conjured a whole slew of summer camp shenanigans as we were learning this Breton tune below from our beloved and brilliant flute instructor, Nuala Kennedy.  See if you can hear what I heard….)

The evening’s concert ended with an encore presentation of the wonderful and iconic Cantina piece, with a solo by none-other than the NRO’s brilliant conductor, Carl Topilow.

More selfie shenanigans.

Even though he must’ve been exhausted, Jack graciously posed for photos with us, as well as with our long-time friend Amy from Denver and his amazing ‘host-parents’, Tom and Darlena.

Tom and Darlena graciously sponsor a musician or two or three each summer.  Taking them on wonderful hikes on their days off, and out for iced cream after concerts.  (Not to mention the backing they provide to the NRO itself!)  Even though Jack is a fully-fledged adult, it’s nice as a parent to know he has parental influences to call upon should he need them.  We also enjoyed a wonderful dinner out all together before the concert.

I’m told the NRO is the only summer festival that provides a host-family experience for the musicians. It really helps them feel at home and part of the community for the summer.
Soon it was time for ice-cream….

 

As it goes with whirlwind weekends, our time in the mountains was quickly past.  We bid goodbye to Amy who headed back down the mountain to her life in Denver.  We told Jack we would meet him in his birthplace of Maine in just a matter of weeks.  We too made our way back to Denver, not unaware of the toll the altitude was taking.

I for one was ready to get back to some oxygenated air, although a bit muggy as things tend to be back here.

There is more to come in this summer of wonders.  I find myself marveling at it all lately.  Dear friendships, these amazing adult offspring of ours (do click the link and see what Madeleine has been writing about in recent months) and the places we get to see along the way.  Some days the world feels as if it is going to hell in a handbasket.  But it’s good to step aside from that, if we are fortunate enough to be able to do so, and to bask in the brilliance of a host of talented and driven young musicians.  In their small way they are making the world a much better place.  We are thrilled Jack has has a part in it this summer!

As for me, I am attending to household to-do’s and re-packing for next week’s adventures down to an older set of mountains for some older sets of tunes.  Til next time….

 

 

 

New Mexico Portals

You have traveled too fast over false ground;

Now your soul has come, to take you back.

 

Take refuge in your senses, open up

To all the small miracles you rushed through.

 

Become inclined to watch the way of rain

When it falls slow and free.

 

Imitate the habit of twilight,

Taking time to open the well of color

That fostered the brightness of day.

 

Draw alongside the silence of stone

Until it’s calmness can claim you.”

~John O’Donohue

 

My yearly pilgrimage to the Land of Enchantment began with a few days of solo travel, enabling my body and soul to sink back into this place.  The last year has been a challenging one in many ways, not without its bright spots as well, and I had been craving time and space to sit with the everything of all of it.  New Mexico has a way of giving us what we need.

I drove and drove, many long, mindless miles, embracing the quietude that comes with such spacious landscape.

Chaco Canyon is a vast and far-flung destination but worth the effort it takes to get there.  With a near full moon upon us, the regularly scheduled star gazing tour provided by the National Park Service, instead became an evening walk amongst the ghosts of this strange land.  Haunted and beautiful, indeed.

By the time I made my way to a charming little Super 8 in Bloomfield, NM that night, I had been up for 22 straight hours and slept, dreamless.

I found Chaco to be a mixed bag of ancient history, natural splendor and cognitive dissonance.  On the one hand, I was grateful for the opportunity to visit and experience this Unesco World Heritage site, and to the NPS for their careful and respectful stewardship.  And yet, more than one ranger remarked that native people in New Mexico and beyond have stated that these places are meant to fade back into the ground after they have served their purpose – all of their great mysteries, feats of architectural engineering and ghostly human stories lost to the sands of time.

I left Chaco a bit conflicted about it all yet enchanted all the same with wonderings about what sorts of people lived or worshipped here and what we might have in common.  It was so good to be out in the wide open spaces of New Mexico with the vistas both outward and inward it provides to a tired soul.  Grateful for my solitude and art supplies, I soaked it all up.

Then, just like that, it was time to head to O’Keeffe country….

I was fortunate enough to snag a ticket to a “Special Tour” of Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio led by a personal caretaker of Georgia’s and her brother, who worked the gardens in her later years.  This tour worked magically into my schedule for traveling to Taos to teach the following week and so I invested in it.

There is such serenity to O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu home.  Her aesthetic was modern yet earthy – timeless, really.  No photos were permitted of her indoor spaces but I was captivated by the light, the serene colors, and the fact that she too kept jade, aloe and other such plants that many of us keep in our own homes.  She collected stones and bones and other things she found beautiful and surrounded herself with them.  Knowing this about her and seeing these collections in her home and just outside felt very personal, artist to artist.

I was captivated by the sense of this place.

Eventually, upon arrival back home here in Ohio, I chuckled to see that my own hollyhocks had bloomed while I was away, and I was welcomed by my own ghostly skull….

I’ll admit to geeking out a bit while in the home and gardens of this iconic artist.  I stood in the very doorway Georgia herself had found compelling enough to paint again and again, exploring its shape and form and depth.

Photo of me, captured by a kind stranger and fellow tour goer.

It was like standing in a portal of history.  And I have always been a lover of doorways to other worlds.

These few days could have been ‘enough’ to fill this empty artist’s cup and set me to painting once again.  But alas, I had not come to New Mexico for the making of my own work.  I was here to teach.

Taos has become my home away from home in the years I have spent teaching there.  Much like Georgia O’Keeffe herself, the lure of New Mexico brings me back time and again, every summer, and each year I discover more captivating beauty and I continue to build community as well.  Mabel’s family has grown and changed with the newly employed and the newly born, yet Mabel herself is still in charge of the place and I was welcomed home with open arms.

photo credit – Christine Kuhr

I took to getting settled, washing the dust of the road off in my familiar claw foot tub in Tony’s bathroom upstairs, and unpacking all of my boxes of books and supplies – readying the classroom space for a week ahead of work and wonder.

By day I worked and by evening I caught up with dear friends.  It had been a year since my last visit and that is far too long.  I was caught up on the latest dog walking paths, and introduced to new dirt roads and rushing riverbeds. I held a new Little Bird and gleaned a small smile from her.  I was told with a wink and a smile that if we only found a little slice of land, that we too could build a small adobe space of our own near town, and that I’d have all the help I’d need for this handmade home.   I’ll admit I am tempted.

This is from our final night together, minus one who had to leave us early. The joy in this photo emanated from this amazing group of people from the moment they met one another.

Soon the beautiful people attending my workshop arrived, some new to me, others who’ve been before and return home to Mabel’s to renew their contract with what has become sacred work.  I no longer question this truth -that what I do in these workshops is indeed a sacred kind of work.

Journal page with a telling horoscope for the week’s work, by Rosemary Berwald

What started out, for me at least, as a way to get to know the world and to slow down and take it all in with the wonder that befits it, has become an intense practice of creative mindfulness.  On the one hand, I’m introducing and sprucing up the old lessons of composition and perspective, line quality and color theory.  And yet, on a much deeper, richer level of the soul, I am working with people to disengage their inner critic (just give her a cookie and a window to sit by, she’s been hard at work and deserves a break, don’t you think?), to tap into their birthright of creativity and the act of making something which makes a heart sing.

Journal page by Christine Kuhr. ‘Light in the darkness’ study and caricature of Mabel etc.
Sketch by Marty Regan of ‘The Pink House’ at Mabel’s place
Journal page of ‘Light in the Darkness’ study exercise and quotes from the workshop time by Jan Reyes.
A collection of ‘tinies’ by Connie Ware – in which we play with the scale of our drawings to get out of our own way. Connie was a self-described ‘beginner’ at the start of the workshop. Beautiful work!!!

Occasionally, we worked in our books from memory, such as when attending a sacred Corn Dance at the Pueblo and we must only capture images in our mind’s eye.  I will note here that all of the images below are now in the private sketchbooks of these artists, as records of the day’s experiences.  Very different than taking a photograph, which is prohibited on feast days.  We have a deep respect and regard for this notion.

A lovely page spread by Mary Lynn Munro, based on a visit to the Taos Pueblo.
Jo Diamantes created her very own book for this trip which now holds these wonderful studies of the corn dancers. Impressions in memory, evocative of the actual experience.
Barbara George (Our B.J.!) was the first to embark on corn dancer studies, even before we did a ‘how to draw people’ exercise. I think these are just lovely expressions of the colors and gestures we saw that day.

But mostly, we studied from what we had in front of us there and then.  The Mabel Dodge Luhan House has much to offer in the way of beauty and things to pull into our sketchbooks and so we did.

photo credit – Rosemary Berwald

Photo Credit – Christine Kuhr
We even took some time one morning to sketch miss Little Bird and her sweet toes.

We discussed how to capture that sense of ‘hither, thither and yon’ which beautiful landscapes provide us with.  Otherwise known as ‘atmospheric perspective’.

photo credit Christine Kuhr
We also discovered how to make a believable rendering of rusty surfaces. Perfect for the odd Taos truck or rusty, steel sculptures.

We worked and played each day, sometimes into the night.  I was a bit manic with the magic of it all to be honest.

Photo credit Sally Hickerson

But I love this work and the people who are drawn to it.  I had to milk the time there for all it gave to me!  I even found time to settle in to a tune or two with the local session players who welcome me every visit ever so graciously.  For this I am deeply grateful.

As the week went on we sketched and laughed and drew and painted and ate good food.  We were treated once more to a visit to my friend Harold’s herd of buffalo which everyone enjoyed.  There was a morning visit, and an evening time as well, as the buffalo are shy and do not accept great throngs of visitors.  Small groups met Harold at his ranch home where we caught up with him and the herd.  Grateful for the grace of these magnificent creatures and that of their farmer/steward.

We were fortunate to see a few baby buffalos on our visit!

photo credit Christine Kuhr
We are welcomed back by Harold and his family year after year with hugs and a catching up of the year passed.
What a gift this friendship has become to me and to the folks to come along to my workshop.

Too soon, as always happens, it was that time.

Photo by Mary Lynn Munro

Time to toast to a week of work well done.  With dinner created for us by chef Jeremiah Buchanan whom we collectively adored!

Photo by Ryobun McCormick (find him on instagram @dragonswisdom)

We shared our books around and traded addresses and gifts such as a wee concert by Marty Regan who is a musician by trade.

It was time to pack up the classroom and mail home my supplies.  I was grateful for the help and company of a few students who stayed around for an extra day to assimilate all we had learned together.

And it was time to visit a few more places before we had to leave this Land of Enchantment.  Like the breezy hillsides of the DH Lawrence ranch.

These guys really liked the vegetables we brought for them to eat.
I enjoy just sitting under this tree and watching the sunlight play and hearing the wind whisper through its branches.

I needed to take the time to sit by the river at the Pueblo and promise that I would come back.  To memorize the sound of its waters which have come to me in dreamtime at times.

Time to ponder moody skies which seemed to beckon “Come back and paint, quietly.”

On my final evening in town, with all of my company scattered to the Four Directions, the skies opened up with the great gift of a thunderstorm. This brief storm was filled with ethereal pink light that I longed to paint somehow.

A friend of mine asked me the other day during our very ‘middle-age-appropriate’ discussion of “What Are We Doing With Our Lives” if I didn’t think that being a good teacher might be Enough.  I had been filling her in on the Taos trip and what a deep success I felt it had been all around.  I was telling her how enriching it is to teach something successfully, but that I have been struggling to make the switch back over to being a maker-of-things.  More specifically, a painter and maker of pictured-stories for small humans.  I feel blocked creatively, as if in all of the beauty found in the creativity of others, my own quiet artist self has taken to the hills.  I am seeking to woo her back home to roost.  I love being a teacher.  And I am so excited that my spring trip to Guatemala next year is already sold out and that next year’s Taos trip already has some takers (and I haven’t even listed it yet!!).  But I long to paint.  And write.  And draw.  And I must trust this longing, even as I pursue my work in these amazing workshops.  And so, no.  I don’t think it is enough.

I think part of this perceived block is just my inner-processing of what was a stupendously amazing trip back to a place which I love dearly and work which excites and challenges me.  A painter friend of mine reminded me to be gentle with myself.  That teaching takes a lot out of an introvert.  That making the switch back to quietude takes time.  And so I have been being gentle.  I have been holding off making this post about it all because in some way, to write about Taos time is to shut a lid on it until next time.  Buttoning that space up so that I don’t lose track of it between now and next year.  I hope to get back for a visit between now and then if I can.   Perhaps even for a workshop with Solange Leboucher who is a practitioner of Polarity Therapy which I have come to lean on as a tool of the soul when I teach out there.

I don’t know.  I do know that if feels good to get back here on this old writing space and share some photos and to attempt to convey in some small way the gratitude that I have for the work that I do.  I marvel at the scope of it sometimes, even as I ask more of it.

Til, next time….. enjoy this summer’s travels no matter where you go.

ps.

I met Taos based poet and Rumi translator Daniel Ladinsky while out with the girls. This is on his business card, which I love. Because I believe it to be true.

pps.  And these words, from Millicent Rogers…..

“Did I ever tell you about the feeling I had a little while ago? Suddenly, passing Taos Mountain I felt that I was part of the Earth, so that I felt the Sun on my Surface and the rain.  I felt the Stars and the growth of the Moon, under me, rivers ran.  And against me were the tides.  The waters of rain sank into me. And I thought if I stretched out my hands they would be Earth and green would grow from me.  And I knew that there was no reason to be lonely that one was everything, and Death was as easy as the rising sun and as calm and natural – that to be enfolded in Earth was not an end but part of oneself, part of everyday and night that we lived, so that Being part of the Earth one was never alone.  And all fear went out of me – with a great, good stillness and strength.”

Allies

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. 

 

Bells of Springtime

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….

 

 

Dreaming the Between into being

A painting of the heart; beeswax, paint and love

Last Night As I Was Sleeping

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

                                                                 ~Antonio Machado
Perhaps it is the bright face of the full moon which pours into my bedroom window in the wee hours of the morning.  Or maybe it’s that I have traveled far and wide just recently, with more journeys awaiting me in the wings of weeks to come.  I do not know.  But I have been doing a fair amount of vivid dreaming while visiting the landscape of my sleep-time each night.
Generally a deep and dark sleeper, I seldom remember my dreams, but occasionally I get a conscious-time glimpse into  that other-world beyond and it’s tremendously exciting and inviting and I do not want it to end.  Thankfully, this has been occurring more and more and more.
Once, much like in the poem above from Antonio Machado, I dreamed that bees had crafted a hive in the walls of my home.  This dream-time home was different than my home here in waking-time. Yet it was my home none-the-less, as it often goes in dream-translation.  It was a quaint little house, nestled in quiet country.
Painted blue, it had lace curtains which blew gently in the breezes. Outside there was washing on the line, bleach-drying in the golden sunshine.  Inside, the bees had been so busy in the inner walls of this sweet home of mine that honey –rich, golden honey – began to seep from the very walls themselves.  And from the ceilings.  Drip, drip, dripping from every corner.  Oozing a golden coating on to all.  My waking self has a bit of an aversion to being sticky.  Give me the mess-making of mud-pies and the following-flowing of dust-bunnies, but stickiness can set my teeth on edge.  But my dream self saw and felt this honey coating everything as a great gift from the bees.  A sign of the richness in my day to day.  Seeping out of the very walls.
I come back often to this dream and the sensations it delivers upon the heart of my remembering, as I am “abeefrnd” after all.  I love all things bees. The wax, the honey, the magic of their pollination which in essence keeps us alive as well as surrounded by beauty.  Just the other day I was captivated by a podcast featuring a Bee Priestess called Ariella Daly and was once again reminded of the honeyed home awaiting me in my dreamscape.
This morning I awoke from another powerful dream which I took to paper and pen first thing (well, after I’d given the dogs a chance to wee and poured myself the requisite first cup of coffee).
“Intense, wee-hours-of-the-morning dream.  Skyscape and seascape were one.  I could swim-fly underwater, beneath floating purple and darkened-green continents of mosses. Under-over there, all was turned around – up was down and sideways and back again.
Some feared if I swam-flew in this place, I might never return to above the mosses.
Before this swim-fly time, I was on a beach, with a public beach-house.  It was winter and access to the sea was limited.  The life-guard then said it was time and everyone cheered and pulled their pick-up trucks on to the beach to sell their market wares.
It was crowded.
This is when I began to swim-fly.  This place was not crowded. It was wild and lonesome.  I dove in and once under came the turning around of the world.  As I dove down, I also flew up.  Direction didn’t seem to matter.  I could easily breathe this air-water.  I was of two worlds.  Maybe more.  The worlds of Up, Down,  Over, Under, Back and Forth.
The masses of mosses had watery, puddled areas in them, like bog-land. Puddled portals of a sort. These puddles led to below-above where anything is possible.”
                                                                  ~Amy Bogard
I could go on an on about the venturing I’ve been up to amidst the murky depths of my own dreaming, but we all know how difficult these images and sensations can be to convey in conscious conversation.  So I will simply share with you a few endeavors from waking-time, and in-between times which seem to be contributing to these dreamscapations.  (That may be a new word of my own making, though I am not sure.)
The rough little drawings dotting this post are from a small book I keep at my bedside nowadays, along with a pencil.  Most evenings, just before sleeping, I scribble a bit into this book.   Nothing in front of my eyes to capture.   Merely the musings of my own mind and my own imaginings.  Occasionally I am surprised at the results.  Often, they are simple and rather mundane.  But still I doodle.
I began this practice a few weeks ago, inspired by my friend, fellow illustrator,  and fab yoga instructor, Stacey Maney who has been doing the same practice herself a good while now and has amassed a number of bedtime drawings.  Though we each approach this practice in our own way, we both find it helps to feed the inner muse.  This muse is our bread and butter after all and needs to be coaxed and tempted with attentions and praise from our daily habits.
This all differs greatly from my usual sketching practice of the world around me, about which I write here often and much.  The deep mind-full-ness my sketchbook work brings has been a richly rewarding gift over the years, a gift I now offer to others through my classes and workshops.  And yet, I still want to go deeper.  Sketching is not enough.  Writing is not enough.  In the attempt to bring my own practice to a deeper, soul-entrenched level, I’ve been seeking a nameless thing.  I haven’t been sure if that thing is in the form of yet another book or a deeper yoga practice to delve into, or a new teacher, or new habits and pathways of my own intention.  In the past I have even been known to run toward (and away from) this Nameless Longing by training for and running marathons.  I did 7 of them before deciding they were finally through with what they had to teach me.
In the end, I’ve come to find it is all of these things along the way and always more, ever changing. And so recently, I have been following this nameless need for something, down it’s soft, darkened path.  I can almost smell this path, blanketed as it is by pine needles and leaf litter.
It feels so good to be able to smell the earth once more as spring has come upon us.  To celebrate this awakening, I have signed up for a class via One Willow Apothecaries called Intuitive Plant Medicine.  The ideas promised in this class are exactly what I have been looking for as pathways to enrich my own personal practice as an artist, a writer, a teacher.  I firmly believe that to be a good teacher, one must always be learning right alongside our students.  Maintaining an openness and the vulnerability of a learner, a beginner, is crucial to meeting students who find their way to us right where they need us to be.  And so I am always digging.  Always searching for ways to stretch.
I have no intention of becoming an herbalist or plant shaman really, except to suit my own curiosities and affinity for the magical world of plants.  But I know in my gut that this seemingly un-related study of the soul-life of plants, and how they can enrich our own lives at soul-level, is exactly the spirit-food I need to stay grounded and growing in my own work in the world.
And so it goes.  The seasons are shifting into sunshine and growth.  Workshops are happening in the coming weeks and I am busily tending to the earthly details which make them run smoothly.  My offspring are both jumping headlong into their adult working lives.  Madeleine off to Africa to work with a linguist and some medical doctors to collect health-care stories (a process called Verbal Autopsies).  Jack, gearing up for next week’s senior recital over at CCM.  How the time is flying.  And like between season lettuces tucked in under the other vegetables and flowers, I plant idea seeds in every fertile corner I can find.  Hoping something grows and blooms amidst all of this rich life-compost.
note:  I haven’t a clue what any of these drawings mean.  but they seem to have a feel to them that reaches one into the next.  I am interested to get to know the little faces peering out at me from the pages of my little bedtime book and perhaps learn their story.