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….
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.
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.”
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 pricess 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.
We awake at 230 am, Antigua local time, to brew a quick cup of coffee, double check that we’ve packed every last little thing we brought with us and picked up along the way. It is dark, quiet and cool. Hugo, one of our beloved innkeepers, sees us off with hugs and sleepy eyes and makes sure our driver arrives. Which he does, only a few minutes late due to road closures set up for the weekend’s Procesións.
Careening through the wee hours and the volcanic hill sides to arrive in Guatemala City where lights, sounds, people and the airport are to be found, we begin our trek back into modernity one small step at a time.
The day awakens with a pink dawning. I part ways with my friends, knowing we will be drawing and painting and laughing together in just a few week’s time for a smaller workshop out in the San Jose area. And so there are no tears, which is a relief. I am sad to be leaving this 3rd world, but I look forward to my home comforts and creatures.
Airport life is strange and timeless, full of noise and people rushing about, and lots of concrete and hard surfaces. I do not care for it. I am fortunate on both ends of this trip to have familiar faces to greet me along the way. This sweet dog is called Enya. She works with my dear friend Danielle in customs making sure no inappropriate or potentially dangerous things come along in peoples’ baggage. I have such high regard for dogs with jobs and it is lovely to make her acquaintance. Though clearly Enya is on the job and only has eyes for Danielle.
Eventually, I make it home to the Ohio River Valley, which is carpeted green with spring and there is even a bit of sunlight.
I settle in, and unpack a bit, catching up here at home, which feels really good.
Just like that, it’s my first day back home. Coffee in hand (in my new hand painted mug from Guatemala), I walk outside with the dogs for our usual routine. Almost like the last week never was.
And yet, it was.
I left for Antigua just over a week ago with a head full of the spin-cycle of modern life, but return now with a handful of worry dolls to carry those little things instead, and a heart filled with color, beauty, simplicity and love. Along with a huge dose of gratitude, which is a great gift indeed. If you don’t shake stuff up now and again, all the good stuff sinks to the bottom. We can’t have that.
Life in Antigua is quite easy and simple for tourists, or those residing there with money. However, I believe that for the average citizen, life is probably a bit rough around the edges. Yet people seem to get by for the most part.
Ever so creatively.
Shopping and laundry get done.
Money gets made, which can be a family affair.
Life goes on. In some ways so very different than life here, and yet, mostly, pretty much the same. To me, this was one of the take-aways from this trip. I was reminded how very much alike we are as people. Human beans are so keen to draw lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’, when really, we are all just us. My modern life, white skin and heaps of built in privilege are just the luck of the cosmic draw, really. This is something to consider when we walk in the world.
I’m taking today to launder some well worn travel clothes, bathe my smelly dog, and enjoy a little quiet after the trip. Perhaps a run and a bit of time in the garden as well if the weather holds. I am enjoying the liminal, post-travel version of myself. This mellow feeling that anything is possible and life is good. Because it is.
I am thankful for the ways I have of connecting back to my travels in my heart of hearts, even as my life back home slides back into place.
Yesterday by the Beatles is being played somewhere by what sounds like a French horn or tuba or some such. I am sure it is live and off the cuff and it’s actually quite sweet. Possibly one of the surely exhausted-by-now Procesión musicians who’ve been at it all day just blowing off some steam.
Antigua is hopping tonight. I can hear Latin style drums beats off in the distance as well.
Things will continue to get wilder as Easter approaches. These people know how to rock the Lenten season. It’s a festival atmosphere woven into the faith of the season and I love how human and real it is. People merely being their bright, beautiful, wonderful selves.
I’ve marveled all week.
This place is not perfect. Nor is it paradise for most of the folk who live here. But I get a sense of ‘what ya see is what ya get.’ And most everyone is quick with a genuine smile. Its infectious. I’ve been imbued a with a Guatemalan sense of presence that I hope stays with me in the coming weeks as I head home.
The alarm is set and we will steal away in the dark of the wee hours of the morning to catch our flights out, which is just as well with nearly a million people decending upon Antigua in the coming week. I shall write more impressions in the next few days once I’m home and settled and back at a proper keyboard with a dog at my feet. (all Antigua blog posts have been via a little device which is convenient but not).
For now, I leave this place, cup filled, grateful to live in a beautiful world.
I find myself unexpectedly weary today after a day of art making and eating and not much else. It was great fun to dive fully into book work but it is work. And work I love dearly. I feel a bit more up to snuff in my sketchbook after today’s efforts so I’ll share a few more Antigua adventures with you here.
I’ve been really enjoying meeting the other artists here in Antigua and beyond. Rosemary has made many connections over the years between service trips for her speech pathology work and textile tours. Yesterday we had the pleasure of stopping in to see Lidia López who is a talented weaver among many other wonderful things (I’m keen to learn how to make Pepian sauce from her!).
Lidia was pregnant with her son and visiting friends in Panajachel, and I was a 7 year old kid living in Guatemala City when in 1976 tragedy struck this region in the form of an earthquake. Thousands of lives were lost and it was indeed something one never forgets. But time passes, and as Lidia says, it was not our time then. We had more work to do. And so we did.
It was lovely to chat with Lidia about the work she does and life in general. She patiently let us practice our Spanish on her, although her English is amazing. We talked to her about visiting again when we come for the travel sketch workshop next year which I hope comes to frution.
Our visit was over far too soon and I hope to stop in to say goodbye and share with her some of the work we have been up to in the mean time. Including a drawing I made of Lidia herself.
Later in the afternoon we went to sketch and photograph a lovely ruin…..
I was very happy to have my fancy camera this day as the structures and light at play in this old convent make for beautiful imagery.
But time was ticking and the ruins close fairly early to visitors. We knew we had to get to work if we were to get a sketch in.
As the kids do often put it,
Seems kids have been the same since time began….
We had 40 minutes to do a quick study and we opted for a fairly complicated stairwell.
While this is not a scaled architectural study, it’s not a bad painting to my eye. Coming back to this drawing in my sketchbook in years to come, I’ll remember the light in this stairwell, and church bells on the wind and quiet drawing time with a good friend. The gifts of a well fed travel journal.
Today was a slower paced day in the way of touring. We had meals out of course but mostly we stayed home and caught up in our books. Little things here and there….
…like this creepy antique wooden baby Jesus spotted at a collectibles and antiques owned by a nice fella called Axel.
I also did a page spread in my book to try and learn a bit more about the weaving tradition here in this country.
Although it took me the better part of the day, I’m happy with the results.
I wanted to try to capture the beauty and variety of the indigo dyed corte or cuts of cloth we encountered the other day at the market in Panajachel. Each piece different, punctuated with the colorful seam stitching called randas.
The textiles in Guatemala are not something I can try to adequately comprehend in one go, but it’s been great fun to get a weaving 101 from Rosemary, Mari and Lidia.
Tomorrow there will be more and more drawing. And I hear tell of some hot chocolate which contains chili powder in it. Two days left in this captivating country. For this visit at least.
Yesterday we took a field trip to a town called Panajachel where a weekly market was to happen. We awoke early to be driven higher into the hills near Lake Atitlan. Though rain was forecast, we were greeted with a most lovely day.
I was traveling with my friends Rosemary and Steve of course, who are helping me build my second travel sketch class, but we also were accompanied by Mari Gray of Kakaw Designs, based in Antigua. More on Mari’s work in a bit, but suffice it to say, this was a business trip for her. For me, it was a nearly overwhelming array of color and texture. All gently used and ready to be repurposed.
It was difficult to choose! I purchased one small bit of cloth I hope to make a wee something of eventually but at the very least, it’s just a gorgeous bit to have on hand as a throw.
The prices were amazing and we counted our quetzales and haggled a bit with the vendors which was fun and good Spanish practice.
Soon we were vended out and went in search of a place to eat with a view of the lake. We found a little spot courtesy of our lovely driver and knowledgeable guide, Andres, and we all enjoyed the breezes.
We didn’t tarry long though as we had an afternoon appointment at Multicolores, an amazing artist cooperative changing the lives of women artisans in many areas of Guatemala.
We were greeted at the mysterious teal colored door along a busy side street in Panajachel by the lovely Rosario who proceeded to show us around and introduce us to the vital work going on at Multicolores.
Artists from Guatemala are trained in this rug-hooking technique and given further instruction on basic things as well, such as color theory and even vision statements.
They were asked to really consider their life’s calling. One wall hanging said:
Solo existen dos dias en el año en que no se puede hacer nada. Una se llama ayer y otro mañana. Por lo tanto hoy es el día ideal para amar, crecer, hacer, y pricipalmente vivir.
Loosely translated, there are only 2 days in the year that you can do nothing, yesterday and today. Every other day is ideal for loving, growing, doing and principally living.
So, not only are these artists learning a skill they can earn a real living off of, they are bettering their lives all around. They take used clothing from the local thrift shops and painstakingly turn them into exquisite utilitarian works of art.
There are also a few beautifully embroidered dolls available as well, which some folks might not consider utilitarian, but I do. Play is a most useful thing.
Will you look at her sweet hair??!
These guys had secret coded messages to share with anyone who knows the language of symbols.
After much careful consideration and admiration of the sheer amount of work this collective produces, Rosemary chose a new piece of art for her newly remodeled space at home. Its stunning. And even more so in person!!!
As much as we had enjoyed this full day, we soon needed to get on the road to avoid traffic on top of the already two hour drive back to Antigua. With rain and pea-soup variety fog on hand, Andres calmly got us through a somewhat white-knuckled drive and we were home by sundown.
It was a day of no art making for me, but rather of gathering material for consideration. The best travel journals come from real, lived experiences and the impressions these experiences bring to us on many levels. The tastes and smells of food, the textures of things at the vendors, the people. Conversations with new friends and those overheard at the parque while walking. All of these things get recorded and captured in some way, even if they don’t make The Book on that very day. There must be a balance to it all.
This taking-it-all-in field trip mode continued into today with a visit to Mari’s place back here in Antigua. It was amazing to see how this young designer lives and works and to just visit and have an opportunity to see the things she creates with the types of materials acquired the day before. She lives in a hidden little magic place with a sweet dog.
Such a sweet, magical place, even the fairies are in residence.
Evidence of Mari’s passion for textiles is at every turn.
Soon we got to see some of her products and how they come together. These lovelies have been well worn and even re-heeled over the years. They are still beautiful and on my wish list.
She had a few shiny new pairs around as well But they weren’t in my size.
We so enjoyed hanging out with Mari again today and I feel I’ve made a new friend here in Antigua. I’m so thankful Rosemary knows so many lovely folks here!!
This all just takes us through to this morning! I could certainly tell you of Lydia, a beautiful weaver and vendor (and yet another lovely friend of Rosemary’s) who lived through the same earthquake I did in 1976. And I might also share our afternoon visit to a local ruin and the sketches which resulted. But alas, those sketches could use some daylight to best share and perhaps these are tales for another day and another blog post.
We have another solid three days here in Antigua and no more lofty plans such as the last couple of days have seen. Just working in our books and soaking up more of the beauty here in Antigua Guatemala.
We are still working out details for the 2018 Travel Sketchjournal -Antigua trip but if you’d like to be on a list to get more information as it unfolds, just comment below or send me an email.
This morning began misty and mysterious. I sipped coffee and sketched a bit.
We breakfasted – and, following the sunshine, then did a bit of perusing the shops round town. Have I mentioned the feast of textiles to be found here? Old and newly made, well worn and repurposed, they are everywhere. Draped on the furniture, piled in shops, peddled by Mayan street vendors.
Besides the traditional, there are more modern and quirky things to find as well. I picked this one up for Jack.
Because remember that time he played fiddle and banjo in a hilarious Fringe Festival play called Hot Damn, It’s The Loveland Frog? And also played the frog at the very end… With banjo?
Hmmmm, yeah. Me too. What can we say? It was a paying gig, and it was fun, strange as it all might seem.
I picked up a pair of pantalones from a lovely vendor named Gloria whose passion for the handwork she does in her home pueblo of San Francisco A.C. is truly inspiring.
They have pockets! I love pockets.
All over town things delighted our senses, more to bring back to our sketch practice later over a lunch of leftover pizza which was delicious!
I could make art for ages merely on the procesión we witnessed yesterday.
All the while, our watchful volcanoes drift in and out of their self made mists, teaching us to breathe.
After some work on next year’s travel sketch workshop plans and pondering, Rosemary, Steve and I drifted out once again for our evening meal. Taking in Antigua along the way.
I’ve technically been here in Antigua Guatemala for a day. Just shy of 24 hours. And in that time I’ve seen a city of history alive and laughing. I’ve heard many tongues being spoken upon the breeze. One conversation between a lovely, crackling fireworks display to end a raucous saturday evening in town and the volcano in the distance which answered with its own beautiful breath of fire and light in the distance.
Life happens amongst the rooftops and streets here. Creature comforts being the first order of business for this weary traveler, we had a snack before bed late last night up the street and coffee and a hearty breakfast on a local rooftop this morning. The volcano was still whispering its thoughts on the breeze. After breakfast we followed rumors of a procesión happening a number of blocks away. A celebration of the Lenten season.
Temporary carpets were being delicately installed along the streets where the procession would return them to dust.
It was hot, diligent work. The carpets (alfombras) were crafted of tinted saw dust, raffia, flowers and vegetables.
Some had a way of looking at us.
Soon we reached the center of all the activity, Santa Ana Church.
Here, hundreds (thousands?) of faithful folk gathered to watch the spectacle. I am told this happens every Sunday leading up to Easter Holy Week when things are happening every day by then. But all in all, we were lucky to witness what we did.
After the crush of humanity it was great to get lunch and head back to our hotel, Posada San Sebastián which is a wonderland really. And a feast for the senses for anyone with a whimsical bent.
This special place contains many collected items set around in groupings. Such as chairs.
And my personal favorite, a cabinet chock full of baby Jesus.
Yes it’s true.
One might think that with barely a day here, all of this activity might have had us so busy as to forget our art making. But I did manage a page in between times. And after some rest, tomorrow will bring more. Sometimes it’s important just to fully soak up what’s in front of you in the moment .
Good night watercolor set. Goodnight baby Jesus. Goodnight chatty neighbor.
I’ve made up a pot of stew, and put the kettle on as well, as this is one of those long and winding posts to share with you a few notions of what’s on my mind, in my heart in recent days. Welcome, and enjoy!
Remember that warning in my last post regarding the poor plants eager to strut their stuff so early in the season? Alas, the last gasp of winter (one hopes) has been blowing across the eastern half of the country and sure enough, those antevernals have taken quite a hit. Many of our flowering trees will have to wait until next year to flower once again, as they are already burned by the brutal cold. It’s sad, but it’s life in a way. Time in the way of trees. Though to be fair, it’s been a strange season in many ways – as if winter got lost along the way and arrived late and possibly drunk to it’s own party.
This probably seems especially true further out east where recovery from the blizzard is just beginning. As for us back here in the hollers of south-western Ohio, we had a bit of snow the other day, some serious cold and wind in the meantime, but all in all -unless one is a spring time flowering plant – we find ourselves relatively unscathed.
(I did manage to rescue a few of the daffodillies before things got too crazy. And for that I am grateful.)
It’s been a time lately of a restless longing which I can’t seem to name. And naming it seems important. As if by naming this vague sense, I could perhaps grab it by the tail and reel it in a bit to get to know it better. Is it the annual hushed call to be outside, barefooted and full of wonder, after the long months of winter’s hibernation? Perhaps. But I sense it is also a desire to delve even further into work I do from the heart. This art/writing/teaching practice of mine seems to be doing some shifting and deepening on it’s own over these last months (maybe even years). Whispers of this seismic activity have been in the darker cornered spaces for a time now, but I am beginning to pick up words of meaning hither and thither, as if I am possibly (finally) learning the language of my own heart.
“How do I talk to a little flower? Through it I talk to the Infinite. and what is the Infinite? It is the silent, small force. It isn’t the outer physical contact. No, it isn’t that. The infinite is not confined to the visible world. It is not in the earthquake, the wind or the fire. It is that still small voice that calls up the fairies.”
~George Washington Carver (former slave, plant genius)
In the deep desire to learn this language, I have been following bread crumbs down many darkened paths. In my ears as I draw and paint or do the delicate handwork at the concertina shop day job, have been podcasts and stories from near and far. By early morning I gobble up books and other publications crafted by such writers as Sharon Blackie, Robert MacFarlane, Sylvia Linsteadt and Mary Reynolds whose words and images evoke lands quite far from here but which sound so very familiar to the ears of my soul.
“Once, we were native to our own places; once we belonged. There is a Gaelic word for it and coming from a language which rises out of a deeply connected animistic world view, it is not easily translated to English. These are the languages of root and leaf, of field and stone, of seaweed and salt. These are the words whispered in our ears by the land as if by a lover; the languages which tell us that we and the land are one. In Irish the word is dúchas; in Scottish Gaelic, dùthchás. It expresses a sense of belonging to place, to a certain area of land; it expresses a sense of rootedness, by ancient lineage and ancestry, in the community which has responsibility for that place. In the Welsh, the word cynefin has a similar meaning. This is the way our ancestors lived.”
It is this belonging I seek. It is this belonging we all seek really, if we but take time to listen to the whispers of our own longing. For me, much of this sense of belonging has come by learning the languages of art and music. These are languages of pure magic.
Through the language of creativity and the visual arts my true inner self was awoken, around the same time as my children were born. Birthing and motherhood were for me the creative sea-change which unleashed my inner artist. The kids and I have artfully come of age together in some ways.
Robert MacFarlane tweeted this quote the other day:
“”With words at your disposal, you can see more clearly. Finding the words is another step in learning to see”
~Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer
I’d go a step further and say one sees even more clearly through the act of sitting still and quiet and drawing. The notion of learning to pay attention in this bold and beautiful world is at the heart of what I teach in my workshops. To open up to beauty in small ways as we go about our travels or our day-to-day is to open up our lives to beauty in general. Like attracts like. The more we hone in on that which makes our hearts sing, the more we drawthese things to us. Drawing is powerful, critical magic. When I started my journaling classes, I saw them as simply a way to make some art, to share the notion of being more creative in our lives. But it’s become so much more! What I teach is a life-altering practice. And it’s wonderful to awaken to this and shout it to the skies!
And then there is the music. It’s the Season, after all…..
This bright beautiful music for which I am grateful every day of the year, not just on St. Patrick’s Day. The learning of any music making is a gift of being human in general, but to find that specific type of music which sings to one’s soul – which opens up the notions of community and friendship and travel in new ways – well, that is a true bronntanas an chroí, a gift of the heart.
Like so many Americans, mine is a hodgepodge heritage of mixed ancestry. I know bits and bobs of where I come from, genetically speaking, and lord knows I’ve grown up a child of the world at large – moving from place to place, often country to country in the early years, traveling always and mostly saying, “I could live here.” My family teases me about this, that I seem to be at home most anywhere, especially if there is beauty to behold and capture in my sketches. And it is true, to an extent. I tend to bloom where I am planted, with only shallowed roots. Yet I am always pining for that ‘perfect place’ to call home, while knowing there is no such thing really.
A number of years ago I traveled over to Cavan, Co. Ireland for ten days of the annual Fleadh Cheoil (“Festival of Music”) with my son and a few other close musician friends. I had been to Ireland once before to run a marathon. That had been a memorable trip, full of laughter and tourism and many, many miles with my friends from DC where we lived at the time. A quick in, quick out weekend really. And we didn’t even get far out of Dublin as there was simply no time. But this more recent trip to County Cavan was far different. In the years since my last visit, I had learned so much about Ireland beyond the touristy stuff. I had taken some big bites of the music and had begun to make it my own in my heart. I was so much more wide awake this time around. And the land itself spoke a good deal louder there in the Cavan countryside, away from the traffic and the noise of a road-race, circus-like atmosphere. Each day as we walked the village roads into town from our little house, I felt a sense of home that, if I am to be completely honest, scared me. It’s trite in some ways to admit to that sense of home in Ireland. Especially at this time of year. It is not my place to claim. I live in Ohio. And yet, I have not been able to shake it off in the years since.
I purchased a tiny landscape painting by local Cavan artist Imelda Bradley on the street one day when the sun was actually shining. This moody image of the misty, lake-strewn land of 365 lakes (one for every day of the year!) hangs by my bedside now and informs my dreaming. I look to it to inform my sense of home back here at this home, where I live now. Because this is where I am for now.
I am seeking to deepen that sense of belonging right here, right now. For now is all we are ever promised. Just now. Just this moment. In all of my recent reading and research, I am seeking to find that sense of dúchas in this place in which I currently find myself. I’ve been reading quite a bit of Wendell Berry’s work, as he lives just down the way in rural Kentucky. And funny thing is, apparently so is Robert MacFarlane across The Pond who tweeted this out recently:
“….to defend what we love, we need a particularising language, for we love what we particularly know.”
~Wendell Berry (agrarian, writer)
I am finding the language I seek through a mycelium-styled network of like-minded artists, writers and thinkers, many of whom live far away but whose word-ways feel familiar to me. Sometimes they lead me back around nearer to where I live now which is nice. While I read the latest book by Irish garden designer, Mary Reynolds, I also will sign up for an up-coming plant-magic sort of class with Asia Suler of One willow Apothecaries, just south there in the Appalachian mountains, a bit closer to home. I find both of these gardeners carry a similar take on the magic to be found just below our feet and the messages it all may have for us. I also plan to seek out the four stands of old-growth trees right here in my own city (yes, it’s true!!!) as written about by local naturalist John Tallmage in a book I am still devouring called The Cincinnati Arch, Learning from Nature in the City.
I am learning so many new languages. Layers upon layers of expression to bridge the gap between myself and the world. The Spanish language, which I will re-visit and practice once again in Guatemala in just over a week. The language of Irish music, which I’ll play so much of the day tomorrow on the Feast of St. Patrick. The language of trees, which I hope to learn on many levels. Having taken down a number of trees recently, I am wholeheartedly asking our little patch of land what it wants in the way of new trees to replace those which have passed. I hope to have the ears to listen.
I am eager for the language of story as well. So many of the stories to which I am drawn are from far away places. The local stories, at least the older ones, are proving difficult to dig up. But I shall seek them out, even as I enjoy the others, for if a story calls to your heart, then surely there is something there to be learned from it, yes?. Here in Cincinnati, we live on land much like The Chalk, described by Terry Pratchett in his Discworld books, the Tiffany Aching series in particular. This Land Under Wave is as good a place to dig in for now. This place from which to explore the rest of this wide and wonderful world, this place to come home to.
For days, it seemed as if it would never stop raining.
We hunkered in our homes, all of us (including the Faeries, I do believe!) watching the gardens begin to awaken between raindrops and the rollercoaster weather patterns for which our region is known.
We tended our indoor plants as well, hungry to touch something green once again. We are all of us ready to go outside once more.
As the rain poured down, our normally babbling brooks not only rushed but eventually even did a fair amount of flooding. Up and over our little bridge and the drive. Thankfully, the flood waters only lapped up to the door, with nary a trickle actually making it indoors. We were lucky.
Eventually, the sun has shown here and there. And things are beginning to bud and bloom. Risky behavior for these intrepid plants, as warm days are still fleeting.
But bloom, they do.
While the streams rushed outside our doors, and the Ohio River and its tributaries raged closer to town, another far sweeter and gentler River has begun flowing…..
A new album of folk-styled music has been taking shape out in Seattle where my young friend Alex Sturbaum now lives. You may remember Alex from my post about his amazingly hand-crafted wedding a few months back. Recently Alex created a Kickstarter campaign for his River Run Wide project and it has been successfully funded (though there is always room for more)!! I was thrilled when he gave me a call and asked me if I might be able to produce some art work to contribute to the design of the CD and it’s wee booklet.
There are so many tales to be told and behold through Alex’s music -both via traditional songs he’s interpreted for this solo album as well as his charming original works. Narratives rich in visual detailing and a sense of nostalgia for something just out of reach. You can practically smell the salt air of a ship’s passage in his maritime songs….
You can feel the pull of a mighty river and maybe hear the voices of those working it just over the lapping of the river waves on shore…..
There is a longing for home that music such as this evokes. It may very well be a sense of home which can never be quenched.
Congratulations to Alex, and his talented band of merry, music-making friends, with whom I’ve shared a number of late night sing-alongs. May this album head into the world and encourage more singing, more gathering and telling of old tales, more joy in the making of music.