Tag Archives: mary oliver

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?



Consumer Conundrum

Last week a friend of mine brought up the never ending question of how are we to give more than we take in the world.  How are we to be more mindful consumers in this consumerism driven economy.  This is a common theme.  My teenage son is even asking it now, and finds himself, often rightly so, disgusted with humanity’s inherent ability to defile the earth… at least I think that is how he put it.  When I was in art school, a teacher/ mentor of mine, Pam Cole gave a copy of a poem to me written by Jeanne Murray Walker:

Looking for Ruby Earrings on Portobello Road

Not to want it all is a sort of defect–
the porcelain cows, socks made out of flags,
scarves fluttering against the blue throat of the sky,
hot dogs, bawdy brooches, paper cockatoos,
an organ grinder with three cats,
and a lover wrapped around a saxophone.
He coaxes it to whine.

The perfect earring, if I could find it
soon enough will tumble into a sidewalk grate,
clink, and lie in its littered grave forever.
And yet I drift across the street waiting
to be gulled, trying to catch fire again.
Then the notes of the full throated saxophone
rise, and my eyes rise with them
to some stones gleaming on black velvet
in a stall stuffed with celestial junk

and I laugh with the saxophone
because the stone is the least of it–
cheap glass or plastic–the instrument
to be played on. And the holy river of desire
runs wide.  I buy the earrings,
which call me to the world we can never keep
but must, nevertheless, adore,
it being all we know of eternity.


I think this is a lovely way to think about our relationship with our desires for that next best great thing that we just have to have.  But the trick is, how do we do this responsibly?  How do we pick and choose?  And how do we inspire others to be just a little choosy in their consumerism?

There are a number of ways, and here are a few that came to mind to me this week as I pondered all of this.  First, there are plenty of others who know more than I do about this.  My friend and fellow artist, Michelle Miller, currently based in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, has made paring down her own consumerism a lifestyle for years now.  Her blogs, The Nothing New Project (oct 06- oct 07) and the (Almost) Nothing New Project (current) chronicle her relationship to consumerism and how she navigated this in her own life to come to a reasonable balance of needs and wants.  It was the arrival of her birthday gift to me today that inspired me to write this particular blog, as i felt that indeed, this had become a theme.

Michelle went to the shore of Lake Michigan and collected 40 small pebbles and crocheted a pouch for these lovely little stones.  She then packaged up this magical gift and sent them to me.  I almost cried when I received them.  It was a beautiful and thoughtful gift.  Funny thing is, it’s not the first.  I got a box o’ rocks from my dear friends out in Olympia who spent quite a bit of time looking for rocks with holes in them (which I collect).  In that box was also some cool driftwood and other found natural objects. Amy in Maine once sent carefully chosen ocean pebbles which stack on one another.   My friend Anna gave me bug for my birthday.  It has freckles and I love it!  Carol gave me a collection of bird’s nests one time.  Lisa also gave me an incredible nest once.  This list could go on and on. (and on)

One might think that I haven’t received or appreciated anything not natural or “found” in my gift receptions.  Not true.  I got a wetsuit for kayaking from my mom.  My in-laws all chipped in for an amazing purse which I would never have bought for myself.  Gorgeous, crazy color leather.  Love it.  Again, I could go on, and on.  My point is, all of these wonderful gifts were given with love and thoughtfulness.  Gift giving can be a pressure filled consumer conundrum but with a little creativity and thoughtfulness, I believe there is a right gift for every recipient.

By carefully choosing where we shop for gifts as well as for daily items, we can make a huge difference.  One of my gifts came from a fair trade shop here in town.  I try as often as I can to buy local at the grocery store.  There are “green” areas of town that encourage even folks with modest means to start living a little more lightly in the world.  I try as often as I can to buy from fellow makers for things I need, or to barter for services from skilled workers who might be trying to make ends meet.  So many artists, massage therapists, builders, musicians, bar tenders, etc. are without health insurance.  By bringing business to them, it is possible to help them make ends meet.  These are small things that may or may not have a trickle effect of lighting in someone else the desire to do things differently.  We live in a big-box world.  And sometimes you just have to buy some underpants.  or a toothbrush.  But there are little ways we can make a difference by buying local, supporting artists, musicians and craftspeople in their work, and doing our best to recycle, re-use.

As I write this I am fully aware that I am not anyone who can even scratch the surface of these issues facing our society.   It’s just something that has been lurking in the back of my mind and I wanted to pay attention to that.  Tomorrow is my 40th birthday.  Amidst all of the joy of making it this far in my own life, I am sad to report that my pup Caskie, has ended his time in this world.  He died, in my arms, a week ago Sunday, of cancer.  I am at peace with his passing, although I miss his presence in my daily life.

I’ll wrap this post up with another poem, a favorite of mine….

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

p.s.  elliot, in Rochester, has sent me a post card nearly everyday this week of my birthday.  I simply don’t know how he does it.  but I love him for it!  thanks elliot!!  xoxo