Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.
Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.
Perhaps it is the bright face of the full moon which pours into my bedroom window in the wee hours of the morning. Or maybe it’s that I have traveled far and wide just recently, with more journeys awaiting me in the wings of weeks to come. I do not know. But I have been doing a fair amount of vivid dreaming while visiting the landscape of my sleep-time each night.
Generally a deep and dark sleeper, I seldom remember my dreams, but occasionally I get a conscious-time glimpse into that other-world beyond and it’s tremendously exciting and inviting and I do not want it to end. Thankfully, this has been occurring more and more and more.
Once, much like in the poem above from Antonio Machado, I dreamed that bees had crafted a hive in the walls of my home. This dream-time home was different than my home here in waking-time. Yet it was my home none-the-less, as it often goes in dream-translation. It was a quaint little house, nestled in quiet country.
Painted blue, it had lace curtains which blew gently in the breezes. Outside there was washing on the line, bleach-drying in the golden sunshine. Inside, the bees had been so busy in the inner walls of this sweet home of mine that honey –rich, golden honey – began to seep from the very walls themselves. And from the ceilings. Drip, drip, dripping from every corner. Oozing a golden coating on to all. My waking self has a bit of an aversion to being sticky. Give me the mess-making of mud-pies and the following-flowing of dust-bunnies, but stickiness can set my teeth on edge. But my dream self saw and felt this honey coating everything as a great gift from the bees. A sign of the richness in my day to day. Seeping out of the very walls.
I come back often to this dream and the sensations it delivers upon the heart of my remembering, as I am “abeefrnd” after all. I love all things bees. The wax, the honey, the magic of their pollination which in essence keeps us alive as well as surrounded by beauty. Just the other day I was captivated by a podcast featuring a Bee Priestess called Ariella Daly and was once again reminded of the honeyed home awaiting me in my dreamscape.
This morning I awoke from another powerful dream which I took to paper and pen first thing (well, after I’d given the dogs a chance to wee and poured myself the requisite first cup of coffee).
“Intense, wee-hours-of-the-morning dream. Skyscape and seascape were one. I could swim-fly underwater, beneath floating purple and darkened-green continents of mosses. Under-over there, all was turned around – up was down and sideways and back again.
Some feared if I swam-flew in this place, I might never return to above the mosses.
Before this swim-fly time, I was on a beach, with a public beach-house. It was winter and access to the sea was limited. The life-guard then said it was time and everyone cheered and pulled their pick-up trucks on to the beach to sell their market wares.
It was crowded.
This is when I began to swim-fly. This place was not crowded. It was wild and lonesome. I dove in and once under came the turning around of the world. As I dove down, I also flew up. Direction didn’t seem to matter. I could easily breathe this air-water. I was of two worlds. Maybe more. The worlds of Up, Down, Over, Under, Back and Forth.
The masses of mosses had watery, puddled areas in them, like bog-land. Puddled portals of a sort. These puddles led to below-above where anything is possible.”
I could go on an on about the venturing I’ve been up to amidst the murky depths of my own dreaming, but we all know how difficult these images and sensations can be to convey in conscious conversation. So I will simply share with you a few endeavors from waking-time, and in-between times which seem to be contributing to these dreamscapations. (That may be a new word of my own making, though I am not sure.)
The rough little drawings dotting this post are from a small book I keep at my bedside nowadays, along with a pencil. Most evenings, just before sleeping, I scribble a bit into this book. Nothing in front of my eyes to capture. Merely the musings of my own mind and my own imaginings. Occasionally I am surprised at the results. Often, they are simple and rather mundane. But still I doodle.
I began this practice a few weeks ago, inspired by my friend, fellow illustrator, and fab yoga instructor, Stacey Maney who has been doing the same practice herself a good while now and has amassed a number of bedtime drawings. Though we each approach this practice in our own way, we both find it helps to feed the inner muse. This muse is our bread and butter after all and needs to be coaxed and tempted with attentions and praise from our daily habits.
This all differs greatly from my usual sketching practice of the world around me, about which I write here often and much. The deep mind-full-ness my sketchbook work brings has been a richly rewarding gift over the years, a gift I now offer to others through my classes and workshops. And yet, I still want to go deeper. Sketching is not enough. Writing is not enough. In the attempt to bring my own practice to a deeper, soul-entrenched level, I’ve been seeking a nameless thing. I haven’t been sure if that thing is in the form of yet another book or a deeper yoga practice to delve into, or a new teacher, or new habits and pathways of my own intention. In the past I have even been known to run toward (and away from) this Nameless Longing by training for and running marathons. I did 7 of them before deciding they were finally through with what they had to teach me.
In the end, I’ve come to find it is all of these things along the way and always more, ever changing. And so recently, I have been following this nameless need for something, down it’s soft, darkened path. I can almost smell this path, blanketed as it is by pine needles and leaf litter.
It feels so good to be able to smell the earth once more as spring has come upon us. To celebrate this awakening, I have signed up for a class via One Willow Apothecaries called Intuitive Plant Medicine. The ideas promised in this class are exactly what I have been looking for as pathways to enrich my own personal practice as an artist, a writer, a teacher. I firmly believe that to be a good teacher, one must always be learning right alongside our students. Maintaining an openness and the vulnerability of a learner, a beginner, is crucial to meeting students who find their way to us right where they need us to be. And so I am always digging. Always searching for ways to stretch.
I have no intention of becoming an herbalist or plant shaman really, except to suit my own curiosities and affinity for the magical world of plants. But I know in my gut that this seemingly un-related study of the soul-life of plants, and how they can enrich our own lives at soul-level, is exactly the spirit-food I need to stay grounded and growing in my own work in the world.
And so it goes. The seasons are shifting into sunshine and growth. Workshops are happening in the coming weeks and I am busily tending to the earthly details which make them run smoothly. My offspring are both jumping headlong into their adult working lives. Madeleine off to Africa to work with a linguist and some medical doctors to collect health-care stories (a pricess called Verbal Autopsies). Jack, gearing up for next week’s senior recital over at CCM. How the time is flying. And like between season lettuces tucked in under the other vegetables and flowers, I plant idea seeds in every fertile corner I can find. Hoping something grows and blooms amidst all of this rich life-compost.
note: I haven’t a clue what any of these drawings mean. but they seem to have a feel to them that reaches one into the next. I am interested to get to know the little faces peering out at me from the pages of my little bedtime book and perhaps learn their story.
We awake at 230 am, Antigua local time, to brew a quick cup of coffee, double check that we’ve packed every last little thing we brought with us and picked up along the way. It is dark, quiet and cool. Hugo, one of our beloved innkeepers, sees us off with hugs and sleepy eyes and makes sure our driver arrives. Which he does, only a few minutes late due to road closures set up for the weekend’s Procesións.
Careening through the wee hours and the volcanic hill sides to arrive in Guatemala City where lights, sounds, people and the airport are to be found, we begin our trek back into modernity one small step at a time.
The day awakens with a pink dawning. I part ways with my friends, knowing we will be drawing and painting and laughing together in just a few week’s time for a smaller workshop out in the San Jose area. And so there are no tears, which is a relief. I am sad to be leaving this 3rd world, but I look forward to my home comforts and creatures.
Airport life is strange and timeless, full of noise and people rushing about, and lots of concrete and hard surfaces. I do not care for it. I am fortunate on both ends of this trip to have familiar faces to greet me along the way. This sweet dog is called Enya. She works with my dear friend Danielle in customs making sure no inappropriate or potentially dangerous things come along in peoples’ baggage. I have such high regard for dogs with jobs and it is lovely to make her acquaintance. Though clearly Enya is on the job and only has eyes for Danielle.
Eventually, I make it home to the Ohio River Valley, which is carpeted green with spring and there is even a bit of sunlight.
I settle in, and unpack a bit, catching up here at home, which feels really good.
Just like that, it’s my first day back home. Coffee in hand (in my new hand painted mug from Guatemala), I walk outside with the dogs for our usual routine. Almost like the last week never was.
And yet, it was.
I left for Antigua just over a week ago with a head full of the spin-cycle of modern life, but return now with a handful of worry dolls to carry those little things instead, and a heart filled with color, beauty, simplicity and love. Along with a huge dose of gratitude, which is a great gift indeed. If you don’t shake stuff up now and again, all the good stuff sinks to the bottom. We can’t have that.
Life in Antigua is quite easy and simple for tourists, or those residing there with money. However, I believe that for the average citizen, life is probably a bit rough around the edges. Yet people seem to get by for the most part.
Ever so creatively.
Shopping and laundry get done.
Money gets made, which can be a family affair.
Life goes on. In some ways so very different than life here, and yet, mostly, pretty much the same. To me, this was one of the take-aways from this trip. I was reminded how very much alike we are as people. Human beans are so keen to draw lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’, when really, we are all just us. My modern life, white skin and heaps of built in privilege are just the luck of the cosmic draw, really. This is something to consider when we walk in the world.
I’m taking today to launder some well worn travel clothes, bathe my smelly dog, and enjoy a little quiet after the trip. Perhaps a run and a bit of time in the garden as well if the weather holds. I am enjoying the liminal, post-travel version of myself. This mellow feeling that anything is possible and life is good. Because it is.
I am thankful for the ways I have of connecting back to my travels in my heart of hearts, even as my life back home slides back into place.
I’ve technically been here in Antigua Guatemala for a day. Just shy of 24 hours. And in that time I’ve seen a city of history alive and laughing. I’ve heard many tongues being spoken upon the breeze. One conversation between a lovely, crackling fireworks display to end a raucous saturday evening in town and the volcano in the distance which answered with its own beautiful breath of fire and light in the distance.
Life happens amongst the rooftops and streets here. Creature comforts being the first order of business for this weary traveler, we had a snack before bed late last night up the street and coffee and a hearty breakfast on a local rooftop this morning. The volcano was still whispering its thoughts on the breeze. After breakfast we followed rumors of a procesión happening a number of blocks away. A celebration of the Lenten season.
Temporary carpets were being delicately installed along the streets where the procession would return them to dust.
It was hot, diligent work. The carpets (alfombras) were crafted of tinted saw dust, raffia, flowers and vegetables.
Some had a way of looking at us.
Soon we reached the center of all the activity, Santa Ana Church.
Here, hundreds (thousands?) of faithful folk gathered to watch the spectacle. I am told this happens every Sunday leading up to Easter Holy Week when things are happening every day by then. But all in all, we were lucky to witness what we did.
After the crush of humanity it was great to get lunch and head back to our hotel, Posada San Sebastián which is a wonderland really. And a feast for the senses for anyone with a whimsical bent.
This special place contains many collected items set around in groupings. Such as chairs.
And my personal favorite, a cabinet chock full of baby Jesus.
Yes it’s true.
One might think that with barely a day here, all of this activity might have had us so busy as to forget our art making. But I did manage a page in between times. And after some rest, tomorrow will bring more. Sometimes it’s important just to fully soak up what’s in front of you in the moment .
Good night watercolor set. Goodnight baby Jesus. Goodnight chatty neighbor.
I’ve made up a pot of stew, and put the kettle on as well, as this is one of those long and winding posts to share with you a few notions of what’s on my mind, in my heart in recent days. Welcome, and enjoy!
Remember that warning in my last post regarding the poor plants eager to strut their stuff so early in the season? Alas, the last gasp of winter (one hopes) has been blowing across the eastern half of the country and sure enough, those antevernals have taken quite a hit. Many of our flowering trees will have to wait until next year to flower once again, as they are already burned by the brutal cold. It’s sad, but it’s life in a way. Time in the way of trees. Though to be fair, it’s been a strange season in many ways – as if winter got lost along the way and arrived late and possibly drunk to it’s own party.
This probably seems especially true further out east where recovery from the blizzard is just beginning. As for us back here in the hollers of south-western Ohio, we had a bit of snow the other day, some serious cold and wind in the meantime, but all in all -unless one is a spring time flowering plant – we find ourselves relatively unscathed.
(I did manage to rescue a few of the daffodillies before things got too crazy. And for that I am grateful.)
It’s been a time lately of a restless longing which I can’t seem to name. And naming it seems important. As if by naming this vague sense, I could perhaps grab it by the tail and reel it in a bit to get to know it better. Is it the annual hushed call to be outside, barefooted and full of wonder, after the long months of winter’s hibernation? Perhaps. But I sense it is also a desire to delve even further into work I do from the heart. This art/writing/teaching practice of mine seems to be doing some shifting and deepening on it’s own over these last months (maybe even years). Whispers of this seismic activity have been in the darker cornered spaces for a time now, but I am beginning to pick up words of meaning hither and thither, as if I am possibly (finally) learning the language of my own heart.
“How do I talk to a little flower? Through it I talk to the Infinite. and what is the Infinite? It is the silent, small force. It isn’t the outer physical contact. No, it isn’t that. The infinite is not confined to the visible world. It is not in the earthquake, the wind or the fire. It is that still small voice that calls up the fairies.”
~George Washington Carver (former slave, plant genius)
In the deep desire to learn this language, I have been following bread crumbs down many darkened paths. In my ears as I draw and paint or do the delicate handwork at the concertina shop day job, have been podcasts and stories from near and far. By early morning I gobble up books and other publications crafted by such writers as Sharon Blackie, Robert MacFarlane, Sylvia Linsteadt and Mary Reynolds whose words and images evoke lands quite far from here but which sound so very familiar to the ears of my soul.
“Once, we were native to our own places; once we belonged. There is a Gaelic word for it and coming from a language which rises out of a deeply connected animistic world view, it is not easily translated to English. These are the languages of root and leaf, of field and stone, of seaweed and salt. These are the words whispered in our ears by the land as if by a lover; the languages which tell us that we and the land are one. In Irish the word is dúchas; in Scottish Gaelic, dùthchás. It expresses a sense of belonging to place, to a certain area of land; it expresses a sense of rootedness, by ancient lineage and ancestry, in the community which has responsibility for that place. In the Welsh, the word cynefin has a similar meaning. This is the way our ancestors lived.”
It is this belonging I seek. It is this belonging we all seek really, if we but take time to listen to the whispers of our own longing. For me, much of this sense of belonging has come by learning the languages of art and music. These are languages of pure magic.
Through the language of creativity and the visual arts my true inner self was awoken, around the same time as my children were born. Birthing and motherhood were for me the creative sea-change which unleashed my inner artist. The kids and I have artfully come of age together in some ways.
Robert MacFarlane tweeted this quote the other day:
“”With words at your disposal, you can see more clearly. Finding the words is another step in learning to see”
~Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer
I’d go a step further and say one sees even more clearly through the act of sitting still and quiet and drawing. The notion of learning to pay attention in this bold and beautiful world is at the heart of what I teach in my workshops. To open up to beauty in small ways as we go about our travels or our day-to-day is to open up our lives to beauty in general. Like attracts like. The more we hone in on that which makes our hearts sing, the more we drawthese things to us. Drawing is powerful, critical magic. When I started my journaling classes, I saw them as simply a way to make some art, to share the notion of being more creative in our lives. But it’s become so much more! What I teach is a life-altering practice. And it’s wonderful to awaken to this and shout it to the skies!
And then there is the music. It’s the Season, after all…..
This bright beautiful music for which I am grateful every day of the year, not just on St. Patrick’s Day. The learning of any music making is a gift of being human in general, but to find that specific type of music which sings to one’s soul – which opens up the notions of community and friendship and travel in new ways – well, that is a true bronntanas an chroí, a gift of the heart.
Like so many Americans, mine is a hodgepodge heritage of mixed ancestry. I know bits and bobs of where I come from, genetically speaking, and lord knows I’ve grown up a child of the world at large – moving from place to place, often country to country in the early years, traveling always and mostly saying, “I could live here.” My family teases me about this, that I seem to be at home most anywhere, especially if there is beauty to behold and capture in my sketches. And it is true, to an extent. I tend to bloom where I am planted, with only shallowed roots. Yet I am always pining for that ‘perfect place’ to call home, while knowing there is no such thing really.
A number of years ago I traveled over to Cavan, Co. Ireland for ten days of the annual Fleadh Cheoil (“Festival of Music”) with my son and a few other close musician friends. I had been to Ireland once before to run a marathon. That had been a memorable trip, full of laughter and tourism and many, many miles with my friends from DC where we lived at the time. A quick in, quick out weekend really. And we didn’t even get far out of Dublin as there was simply no time. But this more recent trip to County Cavan was far different. In the years since my last visit, I had learned so much about Ireland beyond the touristy stuff. I had taken some big bites of the music and had begun to make it my own in my heart. I was so much more wide awake this time around. And the land itself spoke a good deal louder there in the Cavan countryside, away from the traffic and the noise of a road-race, circus-like atmosphere. Each day as we walked the village roads into town from our little house, I felt a sense of home that, if I am to be completely honest, scared me. It’s trite in some ways to admit to that sense of home in Ireland. Especially at this time of year. It is not my place to claim. I live in Ohio. And yet, I have not been able to shake it off in the years since.
I purchased a tiny landscape painting by local Cavan artist Imelda Bradley on the street one day when the sun was actually shining. This moody image of the misty, lake-strewn land of 365 lakes (one for every day of the year!) hangs by my bedside now and informs my dreaming. I look to it to inform my sense of home back here at this home, where I live now. Because this is where I am for now.
I am seeking to deepen that sense of belonging right here, right now. For now is all we are ever promised. Just now. Just this moment. In all of my recent reading and research, I am seeking to find that sense of dúchas in this place in which I currently find myself. I’ve been reading quite a bit of Wendell Berry’s work, as he lives just down the way in rural Kentucky. And funny thing is, apparently so is Robert MacFarlane across The Pond who tweeted this out recently:
“….to defend what we love, we need a particularising language, for we love what we particularly know.”
~Wendell Berry (agrarian, writer)
I am finding the language I seek through a mycelium-styled network of like-minded artists, writers and thinkers, many of whom live far away but whose word-ways feel familiar to me. Sometimes they lead me back around nearer to where I live now which is nice. While I read the latest book by Irish garden designer, Mary Reynolds, I also will sign up for an up-coming plant-magic sort of class with Asia Suler of One willow Apothecaries, just south there in the Appalachian mountains, a bit closer to home. I find both of these gardeners carry a similar take on the magic to be found just below our feet and the messages it all may have for us. I also plan to seek out the four stands of old-growth trees right here in my own city (yes, it’s true!!!) as written about by local naturalist John Tallmage in a book I am still devouring called The Cincinnati Arch, Learning from Nature in the City.
I am learning so many new languages. Layers upon layers of expression to bridge the gap between myself and the world. The Spanish language, which I will re-visit and practice once again in Guatemala in just over a week. The language of Irish music, which I’ll play so much of the day tomorrow on the Feast of St. Patrick. The language of trees, which I hope to learn on many levels. Having taken down a number of trees recently, I am wholeheartedly asking our little patch of land what it wants in the way of new trees to replace those which have passed. I hope to have the ears to listen.
I am eager for the language of story as well. So many of the stories to which I am drawn are from far away places. The local stories, at least the older ones, are proving difficult to dig up. But I shall seek them out, even as I enjoy the others, for if a story calls to your heart, then surely there is something there to be learned from it, yes?. Here in Cincinnati, we live on land much like The Chalk, described by Terry Pratchett in his Discworld books, the Tiffany Aching series in particular. This Land Under Wave is as good a place to dig in for now. This place from which to explore the rest of this wide and wonderful world, this place to come home to.
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:
(we are all artists)
Thank you for reading…..
ps. do go toss a few coins into the hats of any or all of these amazing artists. they deserve it.
A couple of days ago I took the plunge to schedule a trip on my own back down to Guatemala to scout out a new sketch trip option, the lovely town of Antigua. I will meet up with friends there next March who know the area and will be there already on a service trip. And I will explore the town as a tourist and as an artist and as a teacher. It’s exciting to think about offering a second sketch-travel option to the wheel of my working year and I will certainly keep you posted as this new workshop develops. Of course, my Taos based class offered at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House will continue to grow and change on its own as well from year to year, and hopefully for years to come.
All of this booking and planning, along with our recent and up and coming travel has me thinking a lot about the notion of tourism. My practice of keeping a travel journal, even for the mundane day to day, developed out of a desire to be more mindful and grateful for what is right here in front of me. It has worked, and continues to work for me, whether I’m doing any actual sketching or not. I’ve learned to open my eyes to things through this practice. It’s a true gift.
And so yesterday, with artful eyes wide open, my Hub and I took a day to drive to out to Clifton Gorge, near the town of Yellow Springs, Ohio for a hike, and to be tourists for the day in our own neck of the woods. Something I’ll admit I forget to do at times being so busy running off to other seemingly more exciting places.
The gorge is a natural thing, having been created amidst the havoc of the glacial era of our state’s history. It is deep and mysterious and we could hear the roar of its river as soon as we began our hike through the woods.
Often times here in our region, nature has been altered in some way, such as a river dammed up to create the lakes we sometimes kayak, so it’s really nice to visit something that feels so wildly unstructured. And yet, there were nice touches of the man-made along the path, created in the days of the CCC, which reminded us that we weren’t so far from civilization.
We hiked for a good while on the path, photographing and taking note of things along the way. It felt good to just move so I didn’t do much sketching until later in the day. Sometimes knowing when to sketch and when not to worry about it all is part of the fun.
All of the water that rushes through the gorge prompted early settlers to build mills to harness the power of the water. After our hike we visited the old Clifton Mill, still in operation as a mill and restaurant.
Eventually, we were a bit thirsty, so we stopped for a beer at the local brewery.
This place not only has delicious beer but also has a ‘no television’ policy in place which thrilled me. One of my deepest annoyances with the modern world is this idea that there must be a television going at all times in all places. One can hardly escape it these days so it was really a treat to enter a place where people were conversing and enjoying each other’s company. While dogs are not permitted inside the brewery itself, they do have a lovely back porch area where dogs are welcome. So, now comfortably seated by the bike path, we did pull out the sketchbooks. I doodled the dogs.
All in all, it was a beautifully spent, perfect October day. We could have stayed home and done chores, sure. But instead we opted to be tourists in this beautiful place we call home. Ohio.
It’s true that I often think of living elsewhere once again, perhaps a place near a pebbly sea-shoreline I could walk each day. These wishes persist.
But for now, we are here in Southwestern Ohio. And, to be quite honest, not entirely unhappy with it. Being a tourist for the day right here at home was a nice reminder of contentment.
Connotes a yearning for place that is lost or may not exist, a feeling of longing to be ‘at home’ in the sense of achieving a sense of belonging, of finding your paradise.
~from Rising Ground, A Search For The Spirit of Place by Philip Marsden
It is summer and we are firmly ensconced in our paradise. Early last week we drove and drove and drove, many hundreds of miles, to escape the city where we live and work. To escape the stifling heat and humidity that quantifies summer in southwestern Ohio. This is vacation time in Vacationland for our family. A yearly trek to this place we once called home and to reconnect with friends we consider family.
As our friend Tom over at Bat Cave Studios so aptly put it, every visit back to this place makes it that much harder to leave it again.
I’ll share just a few of the adventures of the trip thus far, in between which we have enjoyed much visiting and laughing, cooking, eating and drinking with great joy, game playing and swimming, hiking and paddling. We are thoroughly enjoying the company of our loved ones here. But beyond that, there is the sheer lure of this place so far from home and yet so much like home.
I for one spend a great deal of time pondering the deep sense of place I feel here.
Having lived and worked here so very long ago, we know life isn’t perfect in Maine, or anywhere for that matter. But we love this place and are deeply grateful for what time we do get to spend here.
There are the great gifts of the sea to be had of course and our time in Maine began with these.
“I love oysters. Its like kissing the sea on the lips.” ~Leon-Paul Fargue
“It was a bold man that first ate an oyster.” ~Jonathan Swift
Not only do we love a quiet lobster dinner on the back deck at our home away from home, but we also like to get out into town sometimes, at least when ‘town’ is by the sea. This year we sampled the beautiful food and drink at Eventide restaurant in Portland. It was divine!
But of course dinner in town is not why we came to Maine. This year we were fortunate to score some tickets to a special farm-to-table dinner event out on an island…..
The food at this dinner was beyond spectacular. Every course made with the complexity of island simplicity if that makes any sense. I am no foodie so I will leave that to another blogger, but I do know that these culinary gifts shared with great love and intention were well received and we couldn’t have had a lovelier time.
We were ferried home on the good ship Equinox amidst a breathtaking sunset and cleansing ocean air.
But all has not been food and drink and more of same however. Our timing for this year’s visit afforded us the opportunity to see in person some original artwork by one of my all time favorite illustrators, Barbara Cooney. The show was at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and featured works for three of Cooney’s most prized books.
“When I grow up,”I tell her, “I too will go to faraway places and come
home to live by the sea.”
“That is all very well, little Alice,” says my aunt, “but there is a third thing
you must do.”
“What is that?” I ask.
“You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”
“All right, ” I say. ~Barbara Cooney, Miss Rumphius
And now we find ourselves lake side. In recent days we’ve had visitors from home and from our life back in our Maine time and from since then as well. It’s been a lovely mix and match of loved ones from near and far. But for today it is just the few of us. The loons are calling and the boats buzz past on occasion. I’m able to catch up here and perhaps a bit in my sketchbook as well. Up to now it’s really only been color studies.
We swim these waters and treasure the sunsets.
We walk the paths and explore the vistas.
Meeting new friends along the way…
All of this experience deepening the sense of place we have here in our treasured summer oasis.
Who knows where the future will take us. But regardless of the path ahead, a good chunk of my soul resides here in this beautiful place called Maine.
“Sing and you shall defeat death; sing and you shall disarm the foe.” – Elie Wiesel.
I am returned, once again, from the magical world of the Swannanoa Gathering, which this year celebrates it’s 25th anniversary. And once again, it was quite the week of music and mayhem, tunes and tricks, laughter and love, friendship and food, beverages and beauty.
There are many ideas floating around in my head for drawings and illustrations seeded by this past week which I shall soon share here of course. Art begets art and by spending the week with so many talented and creative folks, I am fairly swimming in artful thought-glitter!!
But in spite of dark times and a world awash with so much hatred and violence, we came together, once again. A dear friend of mine from Swannanoa overheard someone say one night at a ceili where everyone dancing seemed to have a smile on their shining faces, “Why can’t we be like this all the time? All of us?” I don’t think he meant just us at the gathering, but maybe more the world at large.
So hard not to smile in the midst of this music. Heartfelt, Joy-filled….
And in the midst of all of the fun, we were there to learn. Everyday, we went to the classes available to us to soak up all the tunes and tips we could from our multi-talented instructors. For me, this was Nuala Kennedy in the morning, and Kevin Crawford in the afternoons.
The rapport and sense of play these two bring to teaching and playing and performing is simply infectious and I find them both incredibly inspirational in my own teaching work as well as of course, the music itself.
Neither one of them lets us get away with anything but our very best work and so on the edge of our seats, we huffed away on our flutes and learned so very much. My mind is still quite thick with all of the information we gained over the week!
The week was not all classes though….
There were concerts, lectures, opportunities to play more slowly on a new instrument. There were sessions till all hours of the night. And of course lots of laughter and community with friends. Here is a small sampling…..
(side note: during the storm, a huge lighting strike occurred on campus. it hit a tree and out went the power. it was captured in this amazing sound byte by my friend Mary….. listen for at least 40 seconds…..)
There is so much more in the world of sweet snapshots I could share with you here. Special thanks to my flute friends Kate, Bob and Colin who generously shared their pictures for this post. And I could leave the update here and that might be the end of it. But while we were at camp, the world was continuing on its crazed path of recent self destruction. News was leaking in. The music we were making took on a whole new gravity.
As is often the case, the ‘Flutilla’ was planning some mischief for the end of week student showcase. In years past we had made fun with the ‘rivalry’ between Nuala and Kevin, as our allegiance to them both made them often wonder, ‘hmmmm, who do the flute kids like best?’ But of course we love them both equally and we get something different from each. So this year, we took on the fiddles. Which seemed a fun direction to go, based on the hijinks at the concert the other night. And so I drew up a little drawing, and we made a plan for take over in the form of wearable art…..
Update!!!: Due to the high level of interest in this design, I have created a tidied up version of it to put on products such as totes, shirts and the like which you can order from the link below. Proceeds will go toward a scholarship to Celtic Week at the Swannanoa Gathering. Viva la Flutilla!!!!
But then we awoke the next morning to read the dreadful news of Nice and beyond and we approached the day more somberly. I had the feeling that my blog post from before leaving for camp was even MORE important and we all talked about how important and actually ‘serious’ the ‘fun’ we were having at camp truly is.
My dear friend Joe Bly wrote a gorgeous poem, in true mythical epic poem format that had begun with the ‘let’s take down the fiddles’ sort of approach and idea. But as he wrote it, it changed. Into something bigger and better than all of that. With his poem, the ‘tyranny’ we speak of became all that is evil in the world at large. All the violence and negativity. The work and fun we embarked upon at the Swannanoa Gathering is the rejection of all of that. The folks I know from the gathering go back to their real lives as doctors, teachers, paramedics, therapists, healers, parents, lawyers and beyond. They are bright and active in their communities and keenly aware of the news. And into that work in the outside world, they bring the laughter and creativity that a week of music camp can ignite. I simply marvel.
Cloaked in the mists of Tír na nÓg, the Otherworld of Swannanoa, Where three hundred days pass as three, Rival Clans of the Blackwood vied in feats of strength and skill, Lost in the Loop of myths and legends.
Come! Ye Fianna of the Flute! Daughters of Méabh, Sons of Cúchulainn! Come forth from the mists and meet in the ford of the river that divides us, For now is the time to cast arms beneath the waves And in Friendship and Honor Unite.
We are reborn as warriors anew as we march forth into the shining day.
For are we not free? For do we not face the shadow of a common foe, Hearts and eyes open wide?
For we shall not grovel in fear of the Darkness But serve the light of the clear morning.
We cradle the sacred rite passed down through the mists of legends, And it is our sworn honor to push together against the night, With our strength and our weapons of music and laughter.
Now, more than ever.
I do believe that Joe may have channeled something divine in this poem. He read it aloud at the showcase before the flutes came together as one and played a jig together in unification.
The evening wore on and there were so many gorgeous tunes and songs put on by everyone…. We soaked up and steeped in the final evening together.
As the week came to an end, we all talked much of not only the music we had experienced, but also of the wisdom we were given by those who light this musical path.
A highlight of the week for me was a ‘potluck’ lecture-talk put on by Martin Hayes who is a great fiddler, not only in the traditional sense but also as one who is constantly pushing the boundaries of the music itself. He spoke of being truly present in our music and that to do that we must be present with ourselves. This notion of presence really struck me.
When I play music, or make art, I am most truly present. And the doing of these things over the years has enriched my life and caused me to be more present in all aspects of my life. Presence. It’s crucial. Presence in ourselves. Presence with each other. This alone could help heal a lot in this world, I do believe.
some notes jotted down from martin…
“…raw beauty of a melody.”
“simple music, heartfelt.”
“connective tissue between musician, instrument, and player”
“anything that further releases inner expression is valid”
“trying is an obstacle” (yoda?? is that you???)
“leave the safety zone behind”
“trust the unknown.”
“create a spell.”
Last week at Swannanoa was more than just music. It felt a lot like activism. Pursuing creativity and kindness, music and beauty in a world so hell bent on the opposite seems like an insurmountable challenge at times. But I accept this challenge. As best as I know how to. I share my approach to art work in the form of teaching and I’ve been told it has changed lives for the better. Much in the way my instructors at Swannanoa and beyond have changed mine.
I am deeply grateful to be on this beautiful planet at the same time as these people. These musicians and friends of mine. The world needs their beauty. My beauty. and Yours.
“Sing and you shall defeat death; sing and you shall disarm the foe.” – Elie Wiesel.
Awoke this morning to the call of magpies. A bit bleary eyed after a long day of travel but oh so grateful to be here.
And so I wandered down for a cup of coffee and a stroll….
All is quiet so far. No students to greet just yet. Few other guests at all really. I treasure these relatively rare quiet moments at Mabel’s.
It’s so good to be back in a small town atmosphere. So close to Big Nature, yet I can also hear summer ball practice being held over at the park and the local church chiming the time.
Upon arrival last night, I was just in time to catch the premier of a beautiful new documentary by my friend and film maker Jody McNicholas called Longshotsville. Its all about a group of local actors seeking their best art and truest selves through stage and film acting. So many local folks were there, people I count as friends now since I return once or twice a year. It was refreshing to have a good cry and root for the creative process these young artists are seeking.
This is Taos. A place that demands that you be here. Now. Which I mostly try to be at home as well. But in places like this, the connection to self, to the present moment as it stands, seems more accesible somehow.
Always a step ahead, is our inner muse, in whatever form it takes. For me, it is often Ginger Small, so small yet so intrepid. So willing to step in to the trust of adventure in spite of her perceived size, stature and strength. After all, we are all only as big, powerful and strong as we believe we are.
And so we send these muses ahead of us to pave the way. Ginger has left here (with a sliver of my own gypsy-traveling heart) to begin the trek out west to Taos where I will teach later next week. It’s more work than a week should be and so I pack and prepare maybe more than most might for a normal work week. I love this work. This week is what I prepare for all the rest of the year. This week of sharing my book-based process of sketching and keeping a visual diary with workshop participants. I love it. And during this week, I am always inspired to pursue my eventual studio work more fervently once back home.
Ginger Small, my little book character yet to be snatched up and published but yet ever so present in my imagination, has gone on ahead of me, as my imagination and muse-selves are wont to do. I wish her “Fair Winds and Following Seeds” , a play on an old navy tradition of wishing one on a journey or a move ‘fair winds and following seas.” For we are following the seeds of inspiration. To see what feeds us. What grows with a little planting, watering and weeding.
Whatever you are pursuing in your own artistic journey, Fair Winds and Following Seeds to you. And let me know what comes of it. For after all, we are on this journey alone, yes. But also with one another