Category Archives: music

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…..

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Between

This time just last week I found myself still in Antigua, Guatemala, soaking up the last bit of sweetness and sunshine of a truly remarkable artistic adventure.

Today, at least according to calendars, spring has arrived.

Charlie is not amused, but I assure her that this will pass quickly.   For while the snow falls and is apparently due to drop 4-6 inches on our fair river valley, the birds do sing, the buds do promise a show, and so I admire the loveliness, and sift through sketches and photographs of a time well had down south….. now while sipping hot bevvies.

It is always a bit of a journey to truly move between one place and another, each beloved, each so different from the next.  And so I have taken my time getting back into the swing of things here at home.  There has been work to catch up on at the shop (this is my day job where I help craft world class concertinas and the cases which house them).  Not to mention unpacking, much laundry and the defragmentation of lists and accounting.  And oh yes, St. Patrick’s Day nudged itself in there as well.

All good and fine things, but I’ll admit to being a little more on the ‘busy’ end of the activity spectrum in recent days than I would normally care to be.  It is a gift to have a bit of time on a snowy morning to share a bit of this latest Guatemalan adventure here.  What a time we had!

After a quick visit to foggy, rain soaked Chicago, I traveled for a lengthy but uncomplicated day, arriving in Central America at sunset.  By the time I made my way to Guatemala City, it was fully dark, but there was full moon splendor for the first few nights of my stay.  I spent a number of evenings just marveling from the rooftop as la Luna came up and over the horizon.

A bit of time was also spent just marveling once again at the collection of trinkets and santos and other such things at our beloved Posada San Sebastián in those first few days.

Eventually, we did spend time out in town as well.  Antigua does not disappoint with it’s charm.

When I shared this drawing with our inn keepers, they knew immediately who these guys were and were thrilled to see them!

The local active volcano, Volcan de Fuego, was quite active indeed.  Breathing it’s blessings upon us by day and by night.

“We are volcanoes, when we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change.  There are new mountains.”

~Ursula K. LeGuin

We enjoyed working in our books a bit before workshop participants began arriving.  I was thrilled to see them!  Old and new friends alike.

Photo by Vanessa Sorensen

They turned out to be very hard workers!  Some folks came with a fair bit of know-how and skill, while others brought a beginner’s wonder to the table.  All worked beautifully together which was fantastic and not unexpected.  Somehow, I manage to attract the most amazing people to these Sketch Journaling adventures.

As luck would have it, before we even began working, our group was treated to a front row viewing of a local Lenten Processión just after our first dinner together….

We spent the coming days soaking up everything Antigua had to offer, both out in town and close to home, depending on mood and how warm the weather might get on any given day.  The days flew by and yet stretched endless with possibility.

I drew the Joseph Santos at our Posada a couple of times.

My friend and fellow artist Vanessa Sorensen took a fancy to the Santos as well.  Take a look at her gorgeous sketches and blog posts about the trip here and here.

There is color and community at every turn in this ancient city.

Check out sketches by Christina Wald from the trip at her Instagram page!  She of course had to draw the iconic Arco!

A brief note:  Having lived in Guatemala as a child, I have a deep regard for the complexities of the variety of communities to be found in the country.  When looking to acquire textiles and other forms of handicraft, it’s important to me to buy second hand and to pay a fair price.  If I get anything first hand, I like to, again, pay a fair price to the artisan responsible.  In recent years, thanks to my friends Rosemary who’s an amazing sketcher and mixed media artist (and a dear dear friend, pretty much responsible for this trip happening) and Mari Gray over at Kakaw Designs, I’ve gotten to know some weavers personally and I’m slowly learning a bit about what makes Guatemalan textiles.  Below is our friend Lidia Lopez talking a bit about her work and how she teaches others about it.  I always enjoy a visit to see her.  She is constantly offering new things to admire and perhaps purchase and she’s always great about helping us practicing our ever-evolving Spanish.  

And yet there was always a chance to duck into a cool and shaded corner for some quietude or to escape the sunshine.

photo by Vanessa Sorensen

There is a deep spirit of reverence at every turn.  Santos on santos on santos.  Religion is a very visceral and real thing in Latin America.  It’s refreshing.

she’s carrying a skull. it doesn’t get more real than that!

I prayed to the gods of all things in my own way.  Best I know how.

We drew and drew, sketched and painted.  Some just quick captures here and there.

Other longer drawings, begun in place and tweaked and worked (perhaps overly so) back at home at our posada.

The quirky festival atmosphere in Antigua lingered on.  Lovely evening light delighting photographers day after day after day.

As all trips do, this one eventually had to come to an end.  I traveled back home to family and day job responsibilities, friends traveled on to other places in Guatemala to do work in the realm of Speech Pathology.  While I sit here with tea and a wool hat and extra socks on, they informed me this morning that they grapple with 100 F degree heat for their work this week.  What a difference a week makes.

Meanwhile, I heard from the lads at the Posada that the new courtyard being installed in my last couple of days there is now complete and the results are stunning.  The outdoor space there has always been captivating, but now it’s truly expanded in its usability.  I can’t wait to get back there with workshop groups to sit and draw all day!  The dates for next year are approximately the first 2 weeks of April.  I’ll craft a specific page here on the blog soon with specifics and you can choose one or both weeks, both will be essentially same, but no two weeks are ever the same so if you attend 2, you’ll get 2.  More soon on all of that once the numbers are crunched.  If you are in the Northern California realm of this world and want a taste of this process, I’m doing a 2 day workshop outside of San Jose and Santa Cruz the last weekend in April.  You can sign up for one or both days.  Send me an email at abeefrnd@gmail.com if you are interested and I’ll get you the specifics.  And, while I’m on the topic, there are still a few slots left in the annual Taos, New Mexico trip which is a week long…..

There is much I miss about Guatemala as I gaze out upon our, for the moment, snowy landscape.   I miss the color and timelessness, the quick smiles of locals one sees every day on the street on the way to breakfast.  I miss the sense that just beyond the veil there is a part of myself I lost along the way somehow and which, with every visit, I begin to recapture.

There will be more about Guatemala on this lowly blog to be sure.  I hope to bring The Hub back there in November to share with him all I have discovered since our trip there for our anniversary.  I have many more drawings to make and musings to consider as well.  Something about this place feels like it can unlock a lot of what makes me tick as a person.  This is something I seek to explore.  We all have complicated histories.  Mine includes this marvelous place.

Amidst quietude, color and beauty, I am ready to begin unpacking it all….

Til next time Antigua.

 

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?

 

 

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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A week in a minor key

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…or who graciously took our class photo.

Thank you Julie Adams for sending this along!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was a ceili to attend on Tuesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Joy is active resistance.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love the little boat called Intuition.

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

Til next time….

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

Breathlessness and Brilliance

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

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

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

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

Warming up just before the show!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

More selfie shenanigans.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

A story of Petrushka

It all began with a request, from my first born, to create a special gift for his long time university level private-lesson teacher/ coach / mentor, Paul Patterson.   If anyone could understand our complex and multifaceted young musician, and light a path ahead for him through the throes of life in a conservatory setting, Paul has been that person.   He enabled Jack to see that there was no need to choose one musical path over any others – that to study jazz music was not to abandon the classical tradition.  This forked path is not for every musician, and it takes a great deal of extra work, but over the years, with the help of some other amazing instructors as well, Paul has quietly given our Jack many tools to follow his musical nose down whichever path that may lead.

Words simply cannot convey how grateful we are to Paul for his patience, his belief in this kid, and for truly shaping a young life in a way none of us thought possible.  Maybe in some ways, he even saved that young life and placed it on a more hopeful and focused path when he needed it most.

I had in mind perhaps a painting, of a master and his young student. Or perhaps a handmade book.  In typical fashion I thought and thought but was dragging my proverbial heels, artistically speaking, as Jack’s end-of-conservatory recital drew nearer.

Finally, Jack came up with a brilliant, though rather lofty, idea for a gift.  The kind of gift which might suit a teacher who has everything he may want or need.  What if I were to create a small puppet-styled doll, in the shape of Stravinsky’s famed Petrushka ballet?

And so I sourced some scrap wood from a carver friend, and set to experimenting.

This red cedar is incredibly beautiful, but difficult to carve in the time scope we had (and with my ever-so-rusty carving skills!).  So I fell back on some basswood I had up in our attic space which is softer to work with.

After a number of practice runs and false starts, I finally had a serviceable head with which to build Petrushka’s figure and so I set to work on the rest of the body.

I carved and carved.

Shaping things out of little blocks of wood and slowly bringing character and a bit of life to them.

I’ve worked with puppets in the past, most notably with the brilliant Frisch Marionette Company.  But my work there mostly centered on the performance aspect of puppetry, not necessarily the building of them.

And so my goal with this particular work was not a proper puppet necessarily, poised and balanced for nuance of movement, but rather a doll, with puppet tendencies, to be presented as an artful gift.

Soon I had pieces of this puppet-doll put together and able to move hither and thither in his own way.

To me, a representation of anything, be it animal, person, or puppet character, doesn’t really come to life (two-dimensionally or three) until the eyes have been gifted the spark of personality.

Creepy as this may look to those averse to clown-styled imagery, it was upon painting this Petrushka’s face that the personality of this tragic ballet-theater character truly fell into being.

Soon I was crafting a little outfit for him, all handmade, as proper gifts often are.

After awhile he was complete, except for the semblance of strings to give him the feel of a proper puppet, if not necessarily the movement of one.

This Petrushka is full of quirky personality, much like our Jack, and much like his amazing mentor, Paul himself.

It’s been a great joy to put time and energy into this project, even if it meant getting behind in and left behind by a few others.

This Petrushka’s workings are a tad on the clumsy side…

 

But he is a lovely sculptural gift for some one who loves music.  Someone who has himself, done much to sculpt the abilities, thinking and sensibilities of our young musician.  Things we as parents can’t always do.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.  I firmly believe in the truth of this and I take pride in the other adults we’ve invited into our lives over the years to help us in raising ours.  We are deeply indebted to all of them, and this trend continues into the young adulthood of both of our kids.  All that said, Paul Patterson is exceptionally close to our hearts for all the hours he has spent shaping and carving out the musical life of Jack.  We often ran into him at gigs Jack had, even outside of University life.  He always had much to report on all of the hard work Jack was putting into his music, and how we might best support him in our own, non-musical ways.  We can’t thank him enough!

Paul, this one is for you.  With love and gratitude.

River Run Wide

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.

Where your name is spoken

Looking Westward, a drawing of mine from a few years ago…. Raven is a bird close to my heart.

What a winter we are weathering.  Not for the normal reasons which might lead to a bout of winter weariness such as darkness or the ice and snow (we’ve had little of either, though we do suffer our fair share of a seemingly endless milky-gray pearlescence, which is a nice, wordy way of saying ‘day to day dismal’.)

Instead, there seems to be a general sense of malaise in all corners, at least to my winter-wearied eyes.  The political climate of late is one I am deeply committed to keeping track of, though how to do so and still nurture my rich inner world is proving to be a bit of a challenge.  (I am up to the challenge.)  All told, through this winter’s darkness, both literal and metaphorical, I’ll admit to having had to dig quite deeply to find any light lately within my heart- physically, creatively.  Some days I have felt quite extinguished indeed.  It’s been a hard time, ‘I don’t mind tellin’ you.’  

But, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve and all is not lost, fear not!  I am back to running the local village paths once again more routinely, just in recent days, no matter the weather! This morning I awoke with the clearest head I have had in months, the cobwebs having been cleared from my seratonin-deprived brain by just a few short, but successful hard runs around my neighborhood.  I could nearly weep with joy for the returning of this source of bliss and emotional sustenance in my life.

While running has not been available to me, walking still has.  Our dogs enjoy a wee trot outside each day, provided the roads aren’t too salty for their exposed paws.  I delight in a rhythmic jaunt where I can get lost in my thoughts.

A few days ago, the sun did shine for a day. (read: a brighter milky-pearlescence).  My hub and I went to the local nature center for some sketching time.  There are all sorts of very still, very dead, yet somehow quite animated taxidermy-style animals there and we took some time to draw them.

There was woodsmoke in the air there that day, and a sweetness as well, signaling maple sugaring season.  We enjoyed learning about how our native forebears likely processed, consumed and traded the sweet, valuable maple syrup and crystalline sugar using handmade tools they gathered from the earth and adapted to their needs.  I did not take a picture.

We discussed that day of how sad things have been (how sad I’ve been) and we talked also of how mood-changing a song might be when it catches our ears just so.  My Hub found one such song called I Don’t Recall done up so very beautifully by Lavender Diamond. They have a new video….

We were intrigued by the biography of this project to be found on Spotify…..

“The folk delight that is Lavender Diamond originally came to life in Bird Songs of the Bauharoque,  a punk operetta inspired by the work of American painter/architect Paul Laffoley.  Vocalist Becky Stark wrote and created the piece with a friend while living in Providence, RI, and starred as Lavender herself, a winsome part bird/part human who wants peace on earth.”

Hub wondered at which point in the song she was human and which bit might find her in bird form – to which I argued, why can’t she be both?  Both, at the same time.  animal.  woman.

I’ve been pondering a great bit lately this whole notion of polarity.  Political polarity, yes of course.  But also the light vs. the shadow sides of ourselves.  The Masculine and Feminine bits too, always in a dance, yes?  And even to how we react to times of great strain.   I am intrigued (and often infuriated) by the discussion of a perceived necessity to choose one thing over another.  Why can’t we be Both.  I am both Woman and Animal.  I am Light as well as Shadow.  I enjoy tapping into both the (traditionally regarded) Masculine AND Feminine within my whole self.  When I allow this, I am more wholly alive as a total human being.  Perhaps like Lavender herself.

Music has indeed been a balm and an inspiration when Mother Nature is resting and doesn’t give us much to go on in the way of sketchable stuff.

Though if one pays close attention…..

One of my favorite flute teachers shared a song the other day which caught my ear, as songs of old often do.

It put me in mind of leggy hares to be found across the pond.  so different from our own bulky little bunnies.  so I sketched one up.

As I continue to climb out of the dark hole of my recent state, I am grateful for things which catch my ear.  The music often being the first and foremost quality of a song shared.  If I get a tune rolling round in my head, words or no, that can be a good thing.  It can, indeed, change the tone of an entire day for someone sitting rather on the edges of things emotionally speaking.

But sometimes, what catches my ear is deeper still than just a catchy tune.  Sometimes, as I listen to a newly found thing, often on obsessive repeat, (yes it’s true, and part of my charm, I like to think) the words partnering with the music to enchant the heart can act like will-o-the-wisp.  Lights in the darkness, taking me down an enchanted lane to other worlds….

This morning the lovely Lin-Manuel Miranda (you know, of Hamilton fame?) shared the music of one Ali Dineen in the form of this song in particular, which much like the Lavender Diamond song above, has a happy feel to it.  (and, turns out, Lin was one of Ali’s 7th grade teachers.  Can you imagine?)

This song led me down the proverbial musical rabbit hole of her music in general and I was not to be disappointed.  (Thank you Lin!) Little lyrical snippets pulled at my heart strings as I jogged the paths here amidst this gray, cold village here in Ohio.

“Somewhere else there were
miracles, carnivals, and a space in the air
only your bones could fill.”

Just weeks away, I am reminded by this tune, is a trip south to Antigua, Guatemala where I will sink into constant art-making for a solid week.  This makes me happy beyond imagining.  And reminds me that winter will pass.  In spite of how hard things can seem just now, personally, nationally,  globally.

“Spring it brought madness and chaos and song
the wind growing warm, the days growing long
I watched the world blow through your mind
we stooped low to pick up what it left behind
Scattered stories of our country’s childhood,
though we’re deaf to their sounds
We’re trying to stand up straight
but we don’t know what’s weighing us down.”

“go when your feet are restless
go when you hear a faraway song
heed what your bones are saying
don’t wait for your saint to come….”

“go where your name is spoken
stay when you feel like standing still
no one can guide your footsteps
so walk where you will “

So, yes, later this spring, I will travel to Guatemala, where once upon a time, my name was spoken.  I have been trying to tap into that little gypsy girl who lived everywhere and nowhere.  The me who spoke Spanish “like a native” (my mom’s words) and who seemed to feel at home anywhere.  I seem to have lost track of her over the years but I am keen to get reacquainted.  I’ve been taking a formal Spanish course locally and it’s been more difficult that I had expected.

We conjugate a good bit, which I will admit, I don’t know how to do adequately in English, in spite of my ability to speak the language here.  I am banking on a small faith that this class will warm me up to hear my name spoken on the warm volcanic breezes in the Highlands of Guatemala.  I’m told I went there as a girl when my Nana Campbell came to town.  I do not remember.

But I do remember what calls to my soul:

Music.

Art.

Stories.

Other Artists.

(we are all artists)

Thank you for reading…..

~a

ps.  do go toss a few coins into the hats of any or all of these amazing artists.  they deserve it.