Category Archives: life

Left coast musings

Recent days have seen me traversing the country, jetting between varying worlds, and even escaping to far, far galaxies on occasion.

I found myself suddenly in California just over a week past, admiring the coastline and it’s intrepid surfers, breathing in the brisk sea air, sketching the magnificent scenery.  Many thanks to my friend Steve who took me on a California field trip to Natural Bridges State Park.

Sketch of Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz CA

I took a couple of days to acclimate to time and space there and to catch up with dear ones who live too far from my particular holler.  We made books together.

Rosemary’s gorgeous new sketchbook. I was delighted she used a facsimile of an old sketch of mine to collage the cover.
My new summer season sketchbook with some found imagery and art lent to me by my dear fellow artist-friend Tina Westerkamp. I love cross-pollination between fellow artists.
Mushroom washi tape is among my favorite little things just now.
These pages will have much to hold in the coming months

Soon it was workshop time.  The Saturday portion found us at Montalvo Center for the Arts in Saratoga, California.  It was a bit chilly and there was tree work on the grounds dramatically making itself known with saws and a chipper, but we found a somewhat quiet corner to begin our day.

Karen starts out her page with a study of the colors to be found on this day, in this place. This is a great way to get to know a new place.
I really admire folks who like to draw architecture.
Sandi did an exquisite job on the trunk of this wisteria

There was a wonderful wisteria tree which caught the eye of many of the sketchers who found their own way to interpret it.  It was early in the workshop so we talked a lot about capturing color and the basics of tackling a complicated scene.

Later we went out in front of the main house where an artist’s installation of birdhouses makes one special tree very different indeed.

I demo-doodled a few birdhouses in pencil. There are many ways to capture a sketch.

Alas, I did not take many photos that day, as I was too entranced by teaching!

After our sketch day, we went back to the lovely and artful home of Rosemary who hosts this event each year to visit with one another and toast the day with a bevvie or two.  I even managed to have a quick tune with my friend Tim who’s family had spent the day sketching with us.

Day Two of the workshop was here before we knew it and the morning had us up and over the mountain, bundled up along the shoreline of Santa Cruz.  The weather was cold that morning but this did not bother my intrepid group of sketchers!  We even dodged a few rain drops!

The girls look off into the distance to see the colors I am getting down onto the demo page. Once you really begin looking with an artist’s eye, you’ll be amazed at the variety of colors you see, even on a seemingly gray day. (photo courtesy of Rosemary Berwald)

Photo courtesy of Magdalena Cabrera
Photo courtesy of Magdalena Cabrera

Everyone quickly got to work.  Eventually we moved places, closer to the local lighthouse and lunching spot for more drawing.

We played with color and scale.  And the sun even came out for us in the afternoon.  A day on the seaside is an ever changing adventure.

Our youngest sketcher, Tess, paints a lovely little circular landscape to install into her sketchbook.
Here Waller discovers the subtleties of the shifting seascape grays of the day.
Rosemary has perfected the art of the tiny landscape painting!
By just Day 2, Robin had really hit her stride!!
Robin had a small admirer of her work so she showed her what we were up to. Sketching brings everyone together.
Magdalena studies the ever changing hues of color in the sea and beyond.
Lani managed to capture the essence of the poppies around some stones where we were sketching. It’s a tricky color!
Joan found herself captivated by the distant sailboats who’s sails were billowing in the breeze. She captured it perfectly in this tiny landscape painting, later installed in her new sketchbook.
Here Rosemary demonstrates her tinies prowess.
Connie spent a great deal of time on the stones with the poppies and really managed to capture the subtlety of stone and the pop of poppy color.

Soon the weekend was over, and we said goodbye to this group of amazing sketch artists who will now go forth and doodle in their own daily lives.  I opted to stay an extra couple of days to do a little work in my own books.  We traveled to Point Reyes Station for lunch and wandering, then headed into the hills to sketch this mystical region.

The next day found us admiring the new vine growth at a local vineyard called Savannah Chanelle.  It was quiet with bird song and chickens cooing and clucking in their coop near the villa.  The vintner admired my drawing and offered to trade a bottle of wine for it.  But alas, it was trapped in my sketchbook.  Perhaps I’ll send along a proper painting to trade for next time.  The wine is quite tasty there!

Alas, soon it was time to once more travel toward home here in the Ohio River Valley.  But I felt as though my teaching self was reinvigorated and reminded of it’s true purpose.  I was reminded of mindfulness and how this practice is a direct line into being truly present.

This poem came to me via Shippenverse a day or so before the weekend workshops and it seemed like the perfect thoughtful intention with which to begin the time together.  So we typed up a copy for each participant and gave them as little favors.  I kept the one with the most typos.

I have a small thing for real typewriters.  Upon returning home to Ohio, I was alerted by my Hub, who knows good things when he sees them, of this little gem awaiting me at the local antique mall.  Of course I had to get it.

I suppose I might have opted to stay in California forever but alas there was a great event to attend back here at home.  A number of local rebel artists banded together to craft an art show so magnificent, it was literally out of this world….. in a galaxy far, far away…..

Pretty sure this storm trooper was with the rebel alliance and in disguise. He was exceptionally polite and kind.
This pint-sized Rey has apparently been dressing up for May the Fourth since she was a tiny baby. Her parents said I could post this adorable picture of her.

A good time was had by all that evening and the art came in all shapes and sizes be it sculpture, painting, or cosplay.  I displayed 8 tiny landscapes from this captivating world created by George Lucas and by the time I arrived, 3 had already sold.   The work is on display at local rebel watering hole, Brew House here in Cincinnati through the month.

It is finally spring here.  Our aging cat Ian took down a mouse the other night which surprised all of us, likely Ian most especially of all!  There is finally life and blooming and even, as of today, a bit of sunshine.  I have a to-do list a mile long as I gather everything needed to launch the 8th year of the Taos Illuminated Journaling workshop.  This is my flagship class in this process and each year I look to it as a true indication of how things have shifted and changed over the past year and I come home once again full circle to the things I know to be central to the work.  I am brimming with gratitude that this is even my job and I know I can’t do it alone.  So, thank you to those intrepid souls who take a leap and attend one of my workshops – a week or a weekend, at home or abroad – Thank you.

And to my husband Tony who manages things here at home when I am away and keeps spreadsheets like a boss. My friends and family locally who step up to help him when things get crazy -Y’all know who you are.  And then of course a big virtual hug to my art-pal and fellow typewriter enthusiast, Rosemary, who so loves this work as much as I do that she helps me figure out where to go next!  Thank you friend.  For everything.

I am really looking forward to getting back to Taos as well in a matter of weeks to the folks who make my work possible there.  Friends who have become like family over the years.  You are deeply appreciated.  all of you.

Til next time…..

 

 

A book and a box of colors.

“I travel a lot.  I hate having my life disrupted by routine.”  ~Caskie Stinnett

A temptuous siren’s call beckons from the open road.  Once again, I comb maps of places yet to be explored, finalizing flight paths,  formulating rail patterns and charting the wheeled paths where travels may take me this season.  It’s once again workshop season.

Second only to sitting absorbed in my own book and box of colors while on the road is my love of teaching the Art of Keeping An Illuminated Travel Journal to students who range from intrepid beginners to like-minded artists already brimming with their own artistic tricks of the trade.    There is truly no wrong way to capture one’s travel adventures.  For some folks, merely snapping a photo with a cell phone or even a  proper camera might be enough of a record of time and experience. But for many many others, a new trend of mindful travel is all the fashion these days.

Our world spins madly on at hyper speed.  Many of us look for ways to slow it all down.  To step off of this merry-go-round – to hit the reset button and come back once again into our physical bodies.  Travel is one way to do this of course, but if we are not careful, we may find ourselves careening through our travel experiences at the same breakneck speed we do the rest of our lives.  A travel journal is one such way to ever-so-gently pull the reins back a bit on time itself.

Sketching in the field

As an artist, I have dwelled in the world with a sketchbook of some sort or other tucked under my arm or in my knapsack since before I can remember.  But one doesn’t need to self-identify as an artist to experience the magic of a little book and a box of watercolors.  While spring drags its heels here in the midwest, travel season must surely be on its way eventually, yes?  As we plot and dream of summerly adventurings, my friend and fellow creative spirit Margot Madison, Empress Queen Bee of Creative Juice asked if I might have a few suggestions related to the art of keeping a travel sketch journal.  Not able to contain this amazing practice, I opted to put together a blog post here which might give folks a taste of what I do and teach along with heaps of links and ideas to get you started.

 

photo by Tom Spatig of Bat Cave Studios

What you need:

Not much really.  A book, something to draw with and a little set of watercolors.  For the book, opt for something not too cumbersome.  Stillman And Birn have lovely books in all shapes and sizes.  The Alpha Series features good paper which can take a watercolor sketch without falling apart.  Moleskin books are also classically wonderful to work in, just make certain to obtain one with watercolor paper.

For drawing, I like both pens and pencils, depending on how I am working.  Nothing fancy necessary in the pencil department, though mechanical pencils are nice to have on hand.  Recently I have taken to using fountain pens for ink drawing as I was tired of the waste of an empty marker heading to the landfill.  Artist Liz Steel has some lovely ideas and suggestions on which pens and inks to try, but my current favorites are the Eco-pen with Noodler’s Bulletproof inks.

Next you’ll want to choose a watercolor set.  Over the years, I have steered students toward the Winsor and Newton field sketching sets and they have held up over time.  There are countless options out there to be had from the world renowned Schmincke brand to handcrafted ones from Greenleaf and Blueberry out of Colorado.

Tuck all of these new found treasures into a comfortable little bag or backpack along with a container of water, a cloth for blotting and you are ready to Go Forth And Doodle!  If you are to be out in the sun, consider a sunhat and glasses, and maybe a little portable chair if need be.  (Though I find that most beautiful places tend to have a bench or two.)

Now What?

But “I can’t draw a straight line”, you say.  Well, first off, straight lines are overrated.  Drawing and painting is more about learning how to really see than anything else.  A wonderful, playful way to settle into a new place and to get your eyes seeing in vivid color, without the pressure of ‘making something’ is to make little color swatches.

This is a wonderful way to get to know your watercolors, and learn about mixing colors to capture what you see.  The first place I saw this exercise is in the lovely work of Sara Midda.  Her book South of France, A Sketchbook’, is a favorite of mine and serves as a lovely example of how some simple colors can really give one a sense of place.

You’ll find that every place has it’s own distinct and sometimes quite subtle color palette.  Simply beginning with swatches will get you working into a blank page.

Mapping out a Place.

I adore maps of all kinds.  You can paste a small map of a place in your book, or perhaps create one of your own which speaks to where you’ve been along your own route.

They Draw and Travel has wonderful examples of playful ways to map a new place as well as creative usage of text to light up a journal page.  Below is a page from a student of mine.  Notice how she painted the letter ‘T’ which really highlights her drawing from Taos New Mexico!

student work

Another creative way to incorporate text into your capture of a place is to stop into the local post office for a postal stamp.  Often state and national parks will have site specific stamps on hand to play with as well.

Lawrence Tree Sketch, Amy Bogard

 

Foggy Monhegan, Sketch by Amy Bogard

But wait, I’m still not drawing anything!

No worries! You’ve already begun to ‘mess up’ your journal with these beginning exercises.  And this is key to sidestepping one’s inner critic who is so hasty to make commentary on your efforts.  Besides maps and swatches and stamps, keep an eye out for ephemera from your journey.  Ticket stubs and business cards can be pasted into your journal as a reminder of where you’ve been and what you saw along the way.   Perhaps you might begin to tuck in a quick sketch in and around these found objects….

Buffalo Gal, sketch by amy bogard
Selfie Santos, sketch by Amy Bogard
Student sketches around found ephemera in her journal

There is a veritable feast of resources both locally and online that can get you actually drawing.  Artists like Danny Gregory and his Sketch Skool project, Dan Price’s little tome How to Make a Journal of Your Life,  and the local chapter of Urban Sketchers are all great places to pick up ideas about drawing or even take a workshop.  That said, there is no greater way to learn to draw than to just sit and draw.  That may sound tremendously daunting.  But every drawing you make, “bad” or “good”, you will learn something which you will then apply to the next drawing.  Drawing is exercise.  Drawing is mindfulness.  When we sit down and really see something for what it is, in this place, at this very moment, we are in communion with that thing, in this place, at this time.

One great exercise is that of the ‘blind contour’ drawing.  Sit in front of what you would like to doodle, look at it for a few moments.  Allow your eyes to look at the lines that make up what is in front of you.  Now, place your pen or pencil to paper and without looking at the paper, run the pencil around the contours of what you are drawing.

This process is good to utilize, even if you are ‘looking’ at your drawing because it tends to keep drawings loose and scribbly.

Daily dog sketch by amy bogard
Local flavor. Sketch by Amy Bogard
Student work
student work
A quick capture of New Mexico Light with watercolor, Amy Bogard

In the end, whether your travels are taking your far a field this season, or perhaps merely exploring your own back yard, or watching the kids splash about at the local watering hole, a travel journal is a wonderful way to catalog and capture these fleeting moments.

This week I am off to California to guide a new group of sketchers onto this mindful path of gathering experience.  Shortly after that I’ll be back in New Mexico for my flagship class in Taos.  If you are interested in joining me for a workshop, consider Antigua, Guatemala next April (I’ll be offering 2 separate weeks back to back!) or perhaps Taos next June.  Or just dredge up the courage to join your local Urban Sketchers.  I can promise you they are a wonderful, welcoming group of people and you’ll learn a lot just by doing!

Go Forth and Doodle.

Kelley’s Island, Ohio – Sketch by Amy Bogard

 

 

A Galaxy Far, Far Away

(dangling from the shepherd’s hooks are little water wells which help keep hummingbird feeders from becoming overladen with bad bugs when the feeders are out.  but at this point who knows if bugs, or hummingbirds for that matter, are anywhere in the neighborhood at the moment.)

I am laid out flat and irritated with an unexpected spring cold, the likes of which I’ve not seen this year.  Cheekily I thought I was in the clear of winter’s ailments when the blossoms began arriving and we found ourselves sketching in the cool, but sunny breezes.

We managed some hiking with the dogs, were taking note of things beginning to grow and bloom and even my spring allergies had taken root.

We were celebrating.

It was not to last.

“Spring” has other ideas.

With spring allergies comes a lowered immunity, which is part of being human I suppose.  And so, here I am with a roaring head cold.  (and a cough to wake the dead, some sunken eyes and seriously productive sinuses.)  Meh.  Insert healthy dose of self-pity.

My mom always says, ‘this too shall pass.’  And she is, as moms are, absolutely correct.  To pass the time, I have clung to escapism in the form of Netflix shows, a bit of whisky to clear the head (I’m not a huge fan of the regular medicines) and some time, when I feel up to it, to finish a couple of little paintings.  I am grateful for this spaciousness.

There is no escape quite like the escape to other worlds entirely.  I’m pleased to say that I have managed to finish a small series of eight tiny paintings which will go on sale at the local incarnation of May the Fourth, a day which celebrates all things Star Wars around the world.

I join a number of other local artists at Brew House, May 4th for the opening of this eclectic show.

Endor
Naboo
Fourth moon of Yavin (filming location at Tikal in Guatemala where we visited a while back!)
Degobah
Crait
Kashyyyk (Chewbacca’s lush homeland)
Hoth
Tatooine

These are all tiny landscapes of worlds you might escape to yourself, should you like, (penny for scale).  As for me, once recovered I will be escaping next week to the wilds of California for a weekend of travel journaling workshops in the San Jose area and surrounds.  But for now, it’s back to the Netflix.

 

Down the Barrel

To attempt any kind of plan on any given day in the month of March in Ohio is to play a game of roulette.  But March 24th was the day nationwide when the youth of this country, and those of us no longer so young who support them any way we can, came together to demand something be done about the overwhelming problem of gun violence in this country.  And so it was that our city found ourselves bracing for a spring snow-storm, as well as an anti-gun-violence rally downtown.

Let me first preface this writing with a few quick words just so you’re clear where I stand…. (it’s by no means complete, but it’s a start.)

I am not anti-gun.  While not a gun enthusiast myself, I see the place of a shotgun on a farm to deal quickly with a suffering beast or an overzealous predator.  While I’d not join them per se, I appreciate the hunters who help to quell the population of deer and are careful to process, consume and share the animals they take down and who do so with a reverence to Nature.  I’d rather see an animal taken down with a well placed bullet (or arrow) than one starving to death.   I married a Navy guy who was a sharp shooter in college.  I am not anti-military.  (In fact, I truly appreciate the many veterans who are speaking out on the subject of gun violence.)  I am a former school teacher.  I am an artist who lives and speaks in symbols, story and metaphor.  I know the difference between a shot gun and an assault rifle…..

So, with that out of the way, let me share with you a bit of the past few days, as I have an interesting tale to tell about my own experiences related to this past weekend’s March For Our Lives.

My beloved flute maker and dear musical friend of many years, Dave Copley of Copley and Boegli Flutes, sent along an intriguing message about someone who wanted to commission him to craft a series of flute like instruments out of gun barrels hitherto the March for Our Lives which was to happen a couple of weeks later here in town and all across the country.  Upon reading the message, I knew this was something special and encouraged Dave to get involved if at all possible within his budget and schedule and, that I would help out along the sidelines if I could.

Pedro Reyes is an internationally renowned artist known for his capacity to tackle socio-political issues in innovative, creative and distinctly participatory ways.   He is based in Mexico City where he lives and works with his family.  Cal Cullen heads up Wave Pool Gallery which is “a dynamic place where art intersects with community. We act as a catalyst for social engagement and cultivate artistic development.”   Factored into this mix is The Welcome Project which is affiliated with Wave Pool and is helping out a lot of vulnerable new members of our community.  Somehow, these folks found flute maker Dave.  Inspired by the 17 lives lost at the Parkland, Florida mass shooting this past Valentine’s Day and the activism sparked amongst the surviving students, Dave was to craft 17 flutes from 17 gun barrels to honor those lost and to inspire those now marching for change, backed by the people and organizations I have mentioned here.

(Yes, I know these are shot gun barrels.  Please read above statement about my love of metaphor and symbol in art practice.)

Dave took on the project.  At this point I was out of the country doing my work in Guatemala but I was keeping my ear to the ground as to how it was going.  Last week upon my return, I stopped over for lunch with Dave and Marlene and got a chance to see the flutes in person.  They are heavy and cumbersome but play surprisingly well.  I make a decision on the spot that I will help to play these at the march the following weekend.

This one looks a bit like proper flute. A bit.

Did you hear that Remington has filed for bankruptcy?

These former guns are still collectively creepy.  They are heavy, cold, each a bit different from one another.  They pose a bit of a challenge to Dave as an instrument maker but he soldiers on and they eventually make their way to Wave Pool where we give them a spin.

Remarkably, they play beautifully (at least when warm)!  He crafts a few in each of a couple of keys.  The ones in E are slightly lighter in weight and we choose them to play the coming weekend at the march.  We had hoped for some local kids to help play them, but alas, no one shows to the rehearsal.  Perhaps a case of mixed signals…..

We find our way into Saturday morning.  Local music school classes are not canceled as we thought they might be and so some of our number had to go to work which left three of us to wield the new flute barrels best we can.

Wave Pool had sponsored a day of mitt making while I was away, crafting the Evil Eye onto gloves for the march.

I was prepared with my own crafting of the idea as this too was a concept I could get behind.

Those who know me well know I have an evil eye on my flute case.  The charm is from Greece and was brought back to me by my friend and mentor Pam shortly before she died.  I treasure it….

Somehow, all of the flute-related magic is coming together.

The weather is raw and unforgiving on marching day.  The mitts are necessary and perhaps not nearly enough to keep fingers challenged with steel gun barrels from freezing.

We get to City Hall and already there is a great crowd gathering.

We are put into place to begin the work of musical activism.  On the steps of City Hall, the three of us present to play remark half heartedly that we sure wish we had more flute players.  It is cold and we do not trust our fingers on gun steel.  Nor our embouchures really.  And wouldn’t you know it….two of the young people on hand for the march chime in, “We play.”  Just like that we are 5.   And stronger for it.  Thank you Lila and Kennisha.  You saved the day for us older folk.

While introducing the kids to these strange instruments, we meet Ethel Guttenberg whose grand-daughter Jaime was a victim at Parkland.  One of the 17 who sparked this rally, one of the 17 who sparked this gun barrel flute project.  I am speechless and reeling from the gravity of what we are doing here.

We play a few classics.  We Shall Overcome, Amazing Grace, that sort of thing. We only have a few minutes.  And it’s cold and raw to be placing bare lips and fingers to cold gun metal.  Miraculously, the crowd begins to sing along and it is magical.  This is the genius behind the vision of Pedro Reyes and his biblical notion of ploughshares from swords.  This is not a new concept really, but one brought beautifully to bear by this modern artist.  To be quite honest, I find it hard to keep my quivering lip playing the simple music at hand, especially after talking with Ethel.

Ethel speaks to the crowd on hand, which is sizable, especially when combined with like minded folk across the country and around the world.  Before her and after her are the children responsible for this amazing event. Kids like her grand-daughter Jaime.  Kids, really.  Up till now perhaps the world would have discounted these kids.  But they are the future.  In fact, I’d say they aren’t even the future.  They are the now.  They are stepping up where our leadership cannot.

“and these children that your spit on as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.” ~David Bowie

As a parent of two young adults who weathered some serious storming in their own young lives along the way, I know what it is to be a parent witnessing the undoing of innocence in our children.  I have been thinking so much about Emma and David, and their friends,  parents and loved ones.  I’ve seen snippets of what they are grappling with off stage and out of the spotlight.  These are kids, y’all.  Children.  Children grieving the loss of their classmates.  Children grappling with their place in a limelight none of them asked for.  Their lives are altered. Taking a peek at what the interwebs has to offer in the way of feedback, a good chunk of it is negative.  But a fair amount of it is also positive.  From good people like myself wishing them well.  Hoping they might even consider running for office one day.  Sign me up.

I write to you crickets here in this echo chamber, hoping maybe my words will ring true.  Even to just one person.   Maybe two on a good day.  Hoping that this avalanche of gathering young snowflakes is embarking on change….

I share Sam Cook’s music with a nod to how these kids have made it a point to include people of color so often left out of these conversations. Something I find remarkable and a glimpse of the future…..

People like Naomi.

She’s ELEVEN.  

ELEVEN, y’all.  Let that sink in.  

These kids are our future.  They are poised and educated and can dance their way round the internet in ways I couldn’t have imagined. (Let’s face it, at their age, I couldn’t imagine the internet).  

And so, time marches on.  At this writing, over a month has passed.  More shootings have occurred.   These kids have a job ahead of them to be sure.  But I have faith in them, despite the internet throwing shite upon them at every turn.  Let’s find ways to support them as the tide turns.

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” ~Albus Dumbledore

 

 

 

 

Mind on Fire

Difficult to believe that at this time just last week, we found ourselves in the magical, mist-ical lands of coastal California -my hub just barely cracking through his shell of over-work, only to have to dive straight back in again.  But it was good to see a glimpse of himself to be sure.  I am hopeful he could be coaxed back to this real life once again soon.

It is always a strange thing to return back to our regular doings back here at home in Ohio.  For me, the mark of Good Travel is that it makes for a yearning and a churning of the soul, a fire in the mind, which keeps us asking questions of ourselves about how we are living this One Wild and Precious Life of ours.  While we balance chores and responsibilities, work and dreams of what can be, time marches on ever faster.  We must make sure we are on the right track.  Travel and all the soul-nudging it brings with it, is one sure way to track our proper path isn’t it?

Yesterday my daughter sent along a new song to add to a running playlist I get going each year which tends to set the tone for the up and coming Taos sketch trip.  This annual trek to the high desert is a flagship workshop for me as an instructor/facilitator.  And the yearly playlist often carries a loose theme through the songs which happens strangely and organically.  One year it was about light, especially Golden light, as I found myself craving the sparkling quality of light that is found in places such as northern New Mexico.  Yet another year the loose theme seemed to be about the heart of the matter  – on finding ones heart beating below the surface of all that is thrust upon us in the drudgery of the day to day.

On a whim, I sent along this new song to a dear musical friend of mine, also the parent of a young adult daughter, knowing the both of them might appreciate it.  He asked how I found myself relating to this new song and it got me thinking about my playlists in general and how I use and relate to them.  About why I gather songs and how they capture a moment in time.  Like the old mix-tapes we might have traded around in our teens, these playlists relay a certain kind of longing.  Today’s longing is a more complex, multifaceted thing than my middle school obsessions.  Now, I find myself pining for wilder places versus people, be it a sea of salt-water or a sea of sage.  I suppose my yearly playlists are a listing of love songs to landscapes that are out of reach to me in my daily life.

“Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.”  ~Terry Tempest Williams

Once upon a time, I dreamed of being a scientist. I love all animals and could spend hours upon hours in observance and wonder of them.  Alas, I do not have the mind of a proper scientist which remembers long and (to me) complicated names and specific facts and figures, and so my observance skills took a different path to that of artist.  Now, my very favorite thing is to go to a wild place and watch, and draw, and wonder.   Just a different kind of scientist really.

We had the great fortune to obtain access to a beach near Santa Cruz which the majestic elephant seals come home to for a season each year to go about the Business of Life.  Here they mate, struggle for territory and status, give birth, nurture and nurse, grow and learn, rest and recuperate.  We were fortunate to have a patient guide on our tour who allowed us to tarry a bit longer than other groups so as to take it all in properly.

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”  ~Aristotle

And amidst all of this marvelous wildness, we had also the comfort of dear friends who welcome us to this wild land with open arms.  In the evenings there was a warm fire in the hearth and plenty of tea and long over-due conversation.

The ocean and it’s splendor was a indeed big player in our whirlwind trip west.  I had a run on the beach one morning and we sketched the waves.  I was captivated by the variety of dogs to be found having their daily walks along the shore.

We also took part of a day to meander down the coast and visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium where we watched, entranced, the displays of Jellyfish and other watery wonders.

“Jellyfish: The sea offers up flowers of glass like thick light.  They are transparent landscapes.”  ~Raquel Jodorowsky

I was reminded of some old work of mine with the jellies, and vowed to come home and make more.

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”  ~Loren Eiseley

“…the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonders forever.”  ~Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Amazing bronze drinking water fountain in Santa Cruz.

But the trip was not all ocean all the time.  I was invited to an Irish music session at a local home of a friend of a friend of a friend, which is how it works in musical circles, and was welcomed with open arms to share a few tunes.

Welcomed with open arms is also how we felt in the Redwoods just minutes inland from the sea.

To walk and wander in a forest of these trees is to experience the notion of Cathedral.  We found ourselves whispering in hushed tones out of respect. Even the local wildlife is quiet.  With the trees comprised of naturally inherent tannins, they are insect-repellant, and therefore even the chatter of birds is kept to a minimum.

We sat and sketched a giant for a good long while.  It was cold and quite humid.

All in all, it was a wonderful getaway.  January in Ohio is not for the feint of heart.  A friend of mine, also from the world of Irish music, was saying last night that while she has lived in places with reputations for the harshest weather winter can throw at us (i.e. Alaska, Montana) she has found that winter here in SW Ohio/ N. Kentucky is particularly draining for it’s gray heaviness.  Difficult to convey to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, we here in this river valley trudge through the winter months as best we can, thankful for the opportunity to get out of town when we can.

I left the Hub in California to do his work and I to come home to do mine.  The temperatures were in single digits upon my arrival which was shocking to the system to say the least, considering I had had my toes in the pacific ocean just days before.  But, I made some little woolen boots for my smallest dog, brewed a lot of tea, and carried on.

“Have you seen the girl with the mind on fire?”

“Have you seen the girl with the heart as big as the sea?”

I am not the only one with a big heart and a mind on fire, yearning and churning for a bit of change.  The world at large is calling for it as well, at least women and those who love and respect them.

This past weekend marked the 1 year anniversary of the Women’s March and we did it again.  While the news didn’t make much of it, the numbers appeared to be as large if not larger this year.  I was at our march here in Cincinnati and while the palpable shock of the election of a vile predator-in-chief was not as present this year, a continuing sense of outrage was.

The energy was palpable.

These strange times seem to have unleashed a free for all on many levels.  On the one hand, the highest levels of power, especially in this country, are seemingly above all scrutiny.  Politicians who once would have run a president out on a rail for the kinds of shenanigans ours pulls off, merely turn a blind eye and shrug off the behaviors of the current administration.  I marvel.  But the flip side of this coin is the notion that really, anything is possible.  And I find a bit of hope in this.

I find that there is a fire in my own mind of late.  The travel bug is turned on full-force by this most recent trek to the fair state of California.  Guatemala is right on it’s heels, a mere 37 days away for me, with workshop participants arriving shortly there after.  And there are more adventures to follow.  Traveling shifts perspectives and asks us to consider hard questions.  Questions such as, should we give up this little track of land, with is gardens and trees and lovely, soul-nourishing green space and quietude, for a condominium with less upkeep?  Could doing so free up even more time and money for travel? Or would we regret giving up this amazing space?  Do we want to even stay in Cincinnati?  For me the draw of my family and friends (this includes my art and music family) is a big one.  But part of me feels my studio practice could really use a daily walk in the wild, versus the familiar suburban paths here in Ohio.  These are all the questions burning just now.  And likely they will continue to do so for a while.

One could go a little off the rails with these ponderings, but the work will always bring me back to center.  Sitting down to write a bit here settles my bones.  From across the room, the paints call to be mixed up to craft some new paintings.  Who knows where they will lead.  Story ideas come and go, flitting and floating in clouds of doubt and fear.  Rays of light amidst the dust particles.  Today on this day of endless gray, I’ll follow the words, follow the paintbrush, follow the breath to whatever comes next.

I could live in condos such as these, couldn’t you?

 

 

Heart-full-ness

Winter finally arrived in our fair river valley in the form of a harsh and deadly freeze which assaulted most of the eastern half of this country over the holiday season.

Occasionally, I’d glance at the temperature gauge in our car and see a number hovering around or below zero.  With the biting wind, it often seemed colder.

Our three dogs were not keen on going outside to do any amount of business, especially the smallest of them who found herself at the veterinarian with a nasty bout of colitis which may or may not have been related to cold weather issues and, ahem, business or lack thereof.

And yet, we soldiered through.  Fortunately for the human beans in this pack of ours, we could don coats and boots and we did manage to spend some time outside, in spite of the deadly temperatures.  And it was lovely indeed.

“We must go out and re-ally ourselves to Nature every day… even every winter day. I am sensible that I am imbibing health when I open my mouth to the wind. Staying in the house breeds a sort of insanity always.”  ~H.D. Thoreau  (via Brainpickings)

One particularly brisk day I attended a winter plant walk to see what we could see.  I learned a lot, procured some mushroom tonic which I believe helped me shake a head cold, and met a new friend as well.

Oh to have an alpaca coat in this cold clime!  We had a lovely conversation and I was whispered many alpaca secrets that morning.

Eventually, we were treated to a bit of a thaw, as we are wont to do here in Ohio being neither North nor South.  It is nice to breathe cool air instead of gasping at the cold.

This winter has been so very different from the last.  I look back at last winter’s blog posts and feel the fragility and desperation of a self barely holding on, riddled with illness – in both body and spirit – and a palpable malaise in front of which only the act of writing could keep me.

This winter, today, now, things are lighter.  I approach this harsh world with a new foundation forged of the groundedness which yoga practice, healthy eating and the like have afforded me.  I am deeply grateful.  The other day at in meditation class we learned that the idea of mindfulness, which everyone goes on about in this day and age, is actually a bit of a mistranslation from East to West. That a more fitting way to put the notion is that of heartfulness. 

I found this idea quite captivating and found myself ruminating upon it long after our hour together as a group.  What if, when we begin the spinning sensation of uncontrollable thinking – “good” or “bad” (light or shadow) – we might just go and curl up in our heartspace for a bit?  The space where kindness dwells.  The space where we are beyond judgement.  We are so very hard on ourselves, aren’t we?  When we think dark thoughts, or lose our patience or don’t live up to some constant standard we hold ourselves to.  What if we could just let these human tendencies come, and quietly, without judgement, let them go?  With a full heart.

This notion is not a new one, I am sure.  I am not one for labels or for following one particular tradition or spiritual path.  But this idea of heartfulness over mindfulness really makes sense to me.  And it’s nice for things to make sense now and again, isn’t it?

There is much brewing here in the studio, amidst all of the bothers of the day to day, and the workings of the day job.  Following the lead of my friend Kevin Necessary (amazing illustrator and official cartoonist at our local WCPO) I did something quite out of character the other day and downloaded a digital drawing application on my phone called Procreate Pocket. Kevin had posted some lovely digital drawings and I was interested to see if I might be able to do something of my own with this new tool.

And so I am something of an old dog learning a few new tricks.

It feels nice to use the phone as a tool, versus feeling used up by the phone and all of its trappings.  I’ve curbed my social media use in recent days, being more conscious of whether I am using it, or it is using me.

I’ve ordered some clayboard panels which should be in next week to expand a small painting of mine into a triptych of sorts – a special commission for some kind patrons who happen to like cows.

I’ve said yes to a low-paying illustration job in the hope that the exercise alone will be worth the effort.

I’ve recommitted to not only keeping up with the flute playing so near and dear to my heart, but learning a few tunes on the concertina which I spend so much time around anyway at the shop.  (So far, I have a polka, a bit of a waltz, and half of a jig.  and maybe a bit of that old hornpipe I tried to learn a few summers ago)  I am so fortunate to have access to these beautiful instruments.  I might as well learn to play one.

With the dawning of a new year, thoughts turn to re-centering in the things which mean the most to us.  My word for 2018 is T R U S T.  I like having a word to ponder and work with, versus a long list of resolutions.  I’m learning to trust my own intuition more and more.  A real gift of this stage of one’s life.

Tomorrow the hub and I head west for a couple of days by the ocean in between our busy work schedules.  Like a landlocked mermaid, I can already taste the salt air and am deeply looking forward to hearing the waves crashing.

“Dance upon the shore; What need have you to care for wind or water’s roar?”  ~W. B. Yeats

Keep an eye out in the usual posty places (IG , Twitter) for drawings and musings as we travel.  Wishing you the brightest of New Year’s offerings.  May it be all we hope it can be.  And more than we could ever have dreamed of.

 

 

On Midwinter

Solstice dawns bright and beautiful.  I head outside with a hot cup of coffee and three eager dogs and marvel at the pink light on a lovely sycamore across the creek from us.  I snap a little photo with the ever present phone, as you do in this day and age.

Just after capturing the image, I hear crows calling and they fly into the frame with the same sycamore and I think that would have been a nice photo as well, but I merely stand and watch them fly and listen to a snippet of their airborne conversings amongst one another.

The dogs snuffle around on the ground, surely on the trail of deer, fox or coyote who wander in the night.

After a bit I am chilled (and so is my coffee) so we head inside.  I check the usual electra-outlets of things and am thankful for a well curated online sphere.  There will be news when I decide to take on the days’ burnings, but for this morning, which is Solstice, I opt to seek beauty for a bit.  To sift my intake through the lens of loveliness.

The Splendid Table did a piece a while ago on the country of Georgia and it’s culinary traditions.  They discussed which foods would be presented, and how they might be served (in lots of lovely small dishes), and that often, between courses, those at table might take to singing.  This morning I am once again reminded of Georgian singing via a post by a musical acquaintance.  And now, thanks to him, these lovely singers are in my ears as I ponder the still point in the turning of the world.  Somehow these minored harmonies are a fitting soundtrack to the day.

We must be so very careful what we feed ourselves just now.  There is so much work to be done in the world.   On some days, the prospect of shifting the huge paradigms which must be shifted if we are to survive, seems insurmountable.  Music, powerful art, the magic of poetry all serve to shore us up and supplement our souls during these dark days.  Nourishment.

I’m grateful for the gatherers of words who keep me nourished online.  Here are just a couple of examples…..

Shapechangers in Winter (excerpt)

This is the solstice, the still point
of the sun, its cusp and midnight,
the year’s threshold
and unlocking, where the past
lets go of and becomes the future;
the place of caught breath, the door
of a vanished house left ajar.
Taking hands like children
lost in a six-dimensional
forest, we step across.
The walls of the house fold themselves down,
and the house turns
itself inside out, as a tulip does
in its last full-blown moment, and our candle
flares up and goes out, and the only common
sense that remains to us is touch,
as it will be, later, some other
century, when we will seem to each other
even less what we were.
But that trick is just to hold on
through all appearances; and so we do,
and yes, I know it’s you;
and that is what we will come to, sooner
or later, when it’s even darker
than it is now, when the snow is colder,
when it’s darkest and coldest
and candles are no longer any use to us
and the visibility is zero: Yes.
It’s still you. It’s still you.
—Margaret Atwood

via Shippenverse over on Instagram

and….

I heard a bird sing In the dark of December.

A magical thing And sweet to remember.

‘We are nearer to Spring Than we were in September,’

I heard a bird sing In the dark of December.

– Oliver Herford

via @FintryTrust over on Twitter

The second quote was shared on Twitter by a young naturalist I follow over in Ireland named Dara McAnulty.  Dara keeps a blog of his outdoor adventures and he is passionate about the world.  He and his siblings offer a glimmer hope for the future of humanity.

I am grateful for my fellow image makers who sprinkle their visual magic around like a healing fairy-dust of sorts.

In her tweet accompanying this gorgeous image, artist Rima Staines writes, “Merry Yule to you all! Here’s to the coming of the strange masked mummers through the snow-bound village, playing music to sing the light back up out of the dark belly of the world.” Indeed. Her work has kept many of her fans, myself included, spellbound for many a season. You can find more of her work at the Hedgespoken Shop.

This past year has been a tumultuous one for much of the world.  I find myself in somewhat of a dystopic frame of mind and have had to work quite hard to remain above the fray psychologically.  (thank you yoga and the well worn running paths of this here village.) 

I wonder, how can I better be of service?  How can things change, in part by the actions of small players like myself in the great theater of the world, when our leaders collectively seem hell bent on a path to destruction on the backs of the vulnerable? 

I find myself questioning the very systems I once believed undeniable.  (I’m looking at you Capitalism.)  How can we operate in this world more lightly, how can we exchange work and energy and our livelihoods in a more just way?  There are many forging a new path and I find myself becoming a part of that conversation.  I choose bartering when I can to the notion of cold hard cash.  I read and listen to the words of fellow artisans and writers asking the same hard questions such as Amanda Palmer, Eloïse Sentito, and Ayana Young.   All the while, holding on tight to the tail of my work, even when it can feel a bit senseless at times.

It is the season of Christmas parties.  At our local illustrators gathering, a few of us talked of how the very act of making books for children is a political one.   We tuck the seeds of kindness and compassion in-between the lines and in the imagery of work for children, be that picture books, traditional fairy tales or puppetry.   Crafting beauty for the next generation feels like a radical thing indeed these days.  Perhaps they will rise up and be the leaders we need.  Kind.  Compassionate.

My beloved day-job fellows at Carroll Concertinas gathered for dinner last night and talked of the past year’s work.  On average, we produce 24 handcrafted, high end concertinas each year.  We make all of the parts ourselves and piece them together into these amazing instruments.  Our boss and dear friend Wally commended us on our craftsmanship and acknowledged the many other gifts and skills we bring to the table collectively as artists and musicians and fellow human beings.  In a some small way, to do this kind of work, at this intimate level, is also a somewhat radical notion.  I do not take the gift of this lightly and am deeply grateful.  Would that everyone in the world has work which challenges them and makes them happy and compensates them deeply on many levels.  That is a world I can wrap my weary brain around.

These are my ponderings on this day, the Solstice, the very time when we catch our breath as the world turns back toward the light.  May this metaphor come to pass in the coming months.  May we all have the courage to follow the light home to ourselves and to each other.  May the mere act of following this light be seen for the very brave thing it is.

And one more musical nudge…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mode of Magic Making

Life’s pendulum slowly begins to swing back to a quieter state.  Only a smattering of art-related events left to attend to and soon the art work will come home to roost once again where it belongs.  Well, most of it.  Some small things have sold and will be finding their way to forever homes which feels like an accomplishment of sorts.

Last night, upon returning home myself from an evening of sharing a few tunes with my musical mates, the headlamps of my car alight upon a great buck who has come to pay us a visit.  He is regal and quite stately, taking his time crossing the little bridge over our creek.

Today I look for evidence of his brief visit, as he is quite magical and a brain entranced by hours of music can often see things which are not of this world.

I find the evidence in what is left of our recent snow fall, a track across the bridge where my dogs stop to have a sniff of this wild creature’s path.

Playing around with ‘watercolor graphite’ I attempt to draw the buck.

In my drawing he is bulky and strange, but I find myself excited to use this medium which I purchased awhile back and have not yet used much.

Rustiness seems to be the name of the game lately as I have been presenting and exhibiting, showing and teaching, meeting and greeting.  A dear friend of mine remarked at my last opening that he could see why I am not a fan of art openings in general (even the fun ones!) because it’s as if ‘you were just getting swallowed by people’.  Which feels true.

I am eager to get back to the magic of making.

I have recommitted with a vengeance to the act of daily sketching and outings with our newly sanctioned Urban Sketchers of Cincinnati group are just the ticket to get the pen moving across the page once more.

Though it’s painfully crowded, I manage a warm up sketch at first.

And then a bit later, settle into a quieter place, with a more fantastical little structure to draw.

The rusty drawing skills begin to come to life and I feel the gears slowing down in my bones with pen to paper.  It is strangely familiar and I am grateful for years of practice which don’t ever truly leave me.

I finish the sketch at home later that evening with a bit of color.

Our Urban Sketchers group is open to anyone who wants to get out and draw so do join us if you are in the area.  I promise we are quite friendly and do not bite unless provoked.

This is a indeed a magical time of year.  With the Solstice nearly upon us, in theory we begin to witness a return of light, though the world seems very dark indeed just now.  To combat this darkness, we must make magic in our own way.

Over in the land of Twitter, writers Julia Bird and Robert MacFarlane have cooked up a plan for the internet to co-read the novel The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper.  We begin December 20th, the very same day the story begins, and I am excited to be a part of it.  Reading a beautiful classic is a balm in these dire times.

I am inspired by dear friends who have been making magic in the world in very special ways.  The first, someone I hike and paddle with, has a job in the world of retail where she knows how to line up deals and coupons to make things quite affordable. She uses this super-power to purchase new coats for those in need to donate to the coat drive at a local charity.  This is especially wonderful for the rough and tumble little boys who are so very hard on their coats and therefore gently used coats are few and far-between.  I marvel at her spirit of generosity and urge others good at shopping in the world to consider doing something similar.

Another friend has been crafting and conjuring magic in his own way and a few of us closest to him have been presented with a wondrous gift indeed.

A wand.  I have other wands.  Those with paint-brush tips.  But this is a whole new animal indeed.  It is a branch of elm, sanded and shaped and bedecked with a gorgeous calligraphy nib for writing and drawing….

It makes lines like a dream.  At the other end of this wonderful wand is a little reminder of where my heart lies…

I am truly blessed to know people who play music, make art, walk ever so gently in this world.  I aim to be one of them.

Meanwhile, unbelievably (inconceivable?)

It has been 10 years of making magic here in this little online world of mine.

“Creativity is really the structuring of Magic.” 

~ anne kent rush

This anniversary time feels momentous.  Seismic in its shifting of my work and my thinking and life in general.  I look back on the woman who started this blog ten years ago and I know that I have grown and changed.

Around the same time as this blog was getting going, I got my very first tattoo.  A moth, rooted.  That tattoo has served me well for many years and the symbolism still resonates with me to this day.  That said, it had faded a bit and had grown a little tired.  When my daughter (now about to turn 21 which here in this country means one is a fully fledged adult) suggests we get tattoos together, I decide to use this opportunity to reinvest in the moth design.

Her idea is to get ferns, each in our own way, to our own liking.  Ferns are all about unfurling into one’s true majesty, which I think we both are doing just now as human beings.

She knew right away what she wanted and so, she goes first.

 

Simple, graphic, hipster.  Very her.  We both love it.

A few weeks on I come to the idea of reworking my moth and proceed to Flying Tiger Tattoo where my friend and fellow artist Megan Butler works.  She comes up with a way to reinvigorate my beloved luna moth, while incorporating the ferns.  She also nurtures the root ball of the design, adding in mushrooms to aid this forest inspired work of art, brightening and delineating the roots, giving them room to breathe.  I simply could not be happier with it.

It is earthy, bright and beautiful.  Colorful and confident.  No longer fading.  It is more cohesive than the original, more well thought out.  It may yet be added to.  It is a rich environment for new growth to occur. 

All of these things feel applicable to myself just now.  Which as I look back on this time last year, fills me with a relief I cherish.  This season finds me filled with so much less anxiety and depression, having worked exceptionally hard to shift back into a yoga routine, once again going back to eating vegetarian.  Self care and overall health are great gifts indeed.  They add to the magic making, at least around here.

And speaking of magic, here are a few more tidbits to share.

Magic in the littlest moments.  Noticing. Placing attention on these things….

One of my all time favorite characters in any book is Tiffany Aching.   She is a young witch, who is, among other things, “good with cheese.”  I like to think she’d be rather proud of my first foray into making cheese.  This time, a simple paneer.

And lastly, I leave you with my efforts from the month of October.  At the last minute, I opted to take part in “inktober”, putting together an alphabet of creatures as a way to get to know my new fountain pen.  It was great fun and I hope to have sets of post cards to share with you in time for the holidays.  Prints of individual animals are also available. 

*special thanks to my dear and wonderful friend who has allowed me to use her music in my videos over the years.  Kim Taylor, you are the very vision of friendship.  I love you.

 

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…..

 

 

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….