“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
It’s funny to me, my own internal cycles of inward-facing versus outward-facing; of intense productivity versus steeping an idea for a time. The notion of developing something a while and then, at the proper juncture, sitting down to implement that development into something real in the world, something which was once just an inkling in the outer reaches of my mind’s eye.
These cycles are no less apparent in my relationship to the online world. In the midst of this pandemic, and that amidst a country further mired and deeply more into trouble, I have once again, like so many I know, fallen into the trap of too much information and too much time on the standard culprits. It is time for a break. I’ve learned that I do not need to pull a Lorde and burn up my social media presence, rather I simply need to pull back into my own sphere for a bit to recalibrate.
“This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
A good while ago, knowing the news wasn’t going to get any better anytime soon, I removed Facebook and Twitter from my phone (always a wise move even in the best of times) but it’s not enough. There must be a balance to these things. A balance of being informed but not inundated, of monitoring where my attention falls.
I have heard it said that what we do with our days is what we do with our lives. I believe this to be true. And so we must decide what we want our lives to be.
“Attention is the beginning of devotion.”
There is a lot to take in just now. Heartbreaking news from every corner of the globe, but also breathtaking beauty in our gardens and new ideas to pursue in our imaginings. Neither of these things should outweigh the other. We must pay witness to the tragic, yet not dismiss the miraculous, however small or fleeting it may be.
We must pay attention to everything. Closely. It is what artist’s do really.
“Instructions for living a life. Pay Attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
One of the pitfalls of social media is the old “if a tree falls in the forest” concept. If one is not on facebook lamenting the latest lunacy from the white house, is one really informed or engaged at all? My answer is “yes”, perhaps even more so.
So while I may appear to disappear into the folds of my own little world here, you can be sure I am keeping up with the broader context. I might seem to be hiding in the garage making stop motion videos, or getting lost in an imaginary world where animals wear clothing. But rest assured, I am quietly staying informed. Engaged. We all just need a break sometimes.
A time in which to grieve the horrendous loss we are experiencing as a collective, to bear witness to ongoing atrocities in our “perfect union”, and yes, a time to weep at the beauty of the blooming of a simple spring flower.
“Attention, without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness – an empathy – was necessary if the attention was to matter.”
Finally, after some flirtatious hints in previous weeks, the goddess of Spring has bestowed upon us warm breezes in which to bask, a carpet of greening with which to readjust our vision of the out-of-doors, and the fleeting gift of spring-blooming flowers, strung up like so many lines of fairy lights amongst the trees and tucked into the base of the forest itself.
I sit here today at this writing machine, feeling an urge to catch you all up on things ’round here with a juicy blog post. So if you have a little while to spare, brew a cup of tea, tuck yourself into the coziest chair and I shall fill you in.
In spite of the coming of Spring in our river valley, we extended our journey into Winterland for a number of days as we headed northward to the great city of Montreal…
Our friends in the North were waging their own battle with the tail end of winter and we were graced with brisk but beautiful days to tour the city, as well as a rather dramatic snowfall one morning.
Why Montreal, you may wonder? Well, our youngest, Madeleine, was part of a team competing in the World Championships of Irish Dance being held in this fair city. This was to be our last trek to a ‘major’ and so we opted to make a real trip of it and spend a few days in what I believe to be one of the most charming cities in North America.
Around every corner, there were little bits of Other World. It truly has a feeling of a city much older than the rest of civilization available on this side of the pond.
As a woodsy girl, I am not one to bask in cities in general. But the Spirits of Montreal are present if one simply seeks to view them.
I managed to find the local Irish music session there on our first night and was welcomed by a charming, talented bunch of musicians who not only play Irish tunes, but also tunes from their area in the Quebecois and Cape Breton styles. It was a highlight of the trip for me personally and set the tone for the rest of our time there.
While M and her friends practiced, shopped and explored the city in their own way, we met up with far flung northern friends we seldom see. We walked and ate and visited, not really caring what we did to occupy ourselves beyond the simple bliss of merely being together.
Though to be honest, I just wanted to stare at Baby Alice’s sweet toes. And so I did a bit. Amazing to think that our little dancer, about to graduate into the Big Real World, once had toes as tiny and juicy as these.
Soon, touring and visiting were over. The competition was at hand and the McGing Pirates danced a perfect rendition of their well-practiced routine. In fact, all 9 teams competing danced a perfect rendition of their clearly well-practiced routines. When the dust settled, our girls had placed a respectable 4th in the world, good enough to medal. They were thrilled! It was a beautiful note upon which to end Maddie’s dance career. She will likely never truly stop dancing when she hears a proper tune, but this season of competitions and stage-worthy costuming is over. We couldn’t be more proud of her.
And I, for one, was ready to leave the built environment of the city, as nice as our trip had been…
“…most of us get used to living a hectic life that even the present moment, with its vast spiritual resonance, is unavailable to us. This is less true of the solitary, quiet workers whose company I have treasured; they seem to be living in a different psychic space from other people on the evening news. I do not mean farmers alone, but my grandfather in his carpentry shop, or Robin, when he comes home from a day of tuning pianos (which is how he makes his living). Such people may not know that their daily experience – contemplatively charged as it is – is different from other people’s. When something, like a trip to the mall, brings the disjunction to their awareness, they may fault themselves for being ‘out of it’. A day in the city looking for a couple of shirts can fry the brain of a normal country person.” ~from The Barn at the End of the World, by Mary Rose O’Reilley
….ready to come back to my blissfully quiet and mostly contemplative life at home. We catapulted across miles and seasons, once again coming upon the greening of more southerly climes.
This spring time is filled with many special occasions for us as a family, as we hold space for and make witness of the many endings-to-beginnings sort of happenings for Madeleine. One of these events was the Senior Prom. The kids looked stunning in their fineries, perched on the cusp of adulthood. It is such a blessing to behold all of this promise. Knowing my own young-adult children as well as their friends, I have a great hope for Times to Come as they venture into the world to make their own way of things.
With ‘World’s’ and ‘Prom’ successfully behind us, we took advantage of the beautiful weather to head outside. One lovely place to spend the day outdoors locally here is the Cincinnati Nature Center where not only is Spring on grand display all along the woodland trails, but there was music to listen to one day over the weekend. We sketched and enjoyed the breezes in the outdoor pavilion space as we listened….
The songs were mostly in French, providing an outside-of-time-and-space feel to things, which is precisely where I like to be, generally speaking. After the show, we hiked for awhile, pleased to see so many signs of life here, there and everywhere.
We came across tadpoles, newts and turtles in the reservoir ponds on the property of the nature center and of course stopped to observe them and enjoy.
“Is it possible to grow a worthy cosmology by attending closely to our encounters with other creatures, and with the elemental textures and contours of our locale? We are by now so accustomed to the cult of expertise that the very notion of honoring and paying heed to our directly felt experience of things – of insects and wooden floors, of broken-down cars and bird-pecked apples and the scents rising from the soil – seems odd and somewhat misguided as a way to find out what’s worth knowing.” ~from Becoming Animal by David Abram
The Cincinnati Nature Center is a treasure in this metropolis. Where else can even a trip in to the loo turn up so much to look at??
Back here at home, we have had to have a number of dead trees removed from our property. This changes the look and feel of things quite a bit. Despite the promise of perhaps enough sun for a small vegetable patch at long last, I mourn the downing of these beings who have brought such shade and shelter to this place for so many years. The majority of these trees are Ash trees and victims of the emerald ash borer, a non-native and clearly invasive beetle wreaking havoc on the trees here.
Yesterday evening my hub and I donned our wellies and walked the creek out front to collect downed limbs in order to keep them from building up and causing water to back up and flood when the storms come. As we did so, I was hit with a supremely nostalgic smell from my childhood. David Abram says it best…
“…there’s a new texture to the air, a moistness: water suspended in the medium, unseen, though you can feel its presence as the air washes against your face in waves. And riding those waves, vaguely enticing at first, then too pleasureful to resist: smells! Dark, stygian smells gliding over the rippled glass of the lake to mingle with the aromatic dank of the soil underfoot and the high-pitched scent of the green needles… the darkly laughing scent of cool water lapping up against the shore (infused with the chemistry of tadpoles and trout and the tannin of drowned leaves), and a host of other whiffs sometimes merged and sometimes distinct, all sparkling like wine in some part of your brain that had earlier been rocked to sleep by the soporific dazzle of sunbeams, but has now been startled into attentive life by this more full-blooded magic, as though your mammalian intelligence has abruptly dropped anchor and suddenly found itself really here, bodily afoot in these damp woods.” ~from Becoming Animal by David Abram
As a kid I spent countless hours barefoot, walking the local creeks, turning over stones to look for ‘crawdads’. The smell of being down in our own little creek for a bit last night brought back those timeless hours spent exploring. I decided to see if there was anything to spy just yet under the stones in our little waterway.
“This land is in my bones. Land under Wave.” ~from Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Success! I found one and I am sure there were others. I shall visit them when the sun returns, as today we are graced with the cooler side of Spring. Such a temperamental lady, our spring. Yet I am glad she seems here to stay for now.
Spring being firmly footed must mean that summer is on her heals. I am beginning to feel the pull toward a summer spent mostly on the road….
My annual trek to teach in Taos is less than two months away, with workshop participants arriving exactly two months from today. Like some sort of nesting bird, I am busily collecting supplies and ideas to bring to the workshop. Just the other day I hand printed some little canvas bags into which will go some basic necessities. I didn’t need to print anything on the swag-bags, but I really wanted to. So I did.
That rather sums up my state-of-mind of late. I’m following my nose as much as possible. Sure there’s loads that needs to be accomplished. And I manage to get to most of it. But sometimes it’s fun to climb aboard that ‘cross-town bus’ and see just where it takes me. It is there that ideas spring up out of the newly tilled soil of the soul. I hope to share with you soon where some of these ideas are taking me. They are shaping my approach to my kid-books projects. And that is a good thing. These projects will shift their shape over time, I am certain. I have already received my first official ‘rejection’ letter from a company to which I submitted some of my work. Along with the small smidge of sadness that my ego wanted to strap to its back came a much brighter sense of really doing this. I am in the game. Doing what needs to be done, a bit each week, moving forward. Someday, with some persistence and enough caring and constructive critique to keep the work improving, it will be ‘good enough’ to be birthed into the world as books with stories in them that began in my mind’s eye and in the heart of my creative soul. This all feels really, really good. As does spring.
And so, we come to the end of this rather lengthy tome of a post. I don’t post often, but when I do….
What’s happening in your world? I’d love to know. Blessings on your new season, wherever it may find you.
We thought we had made it through to the other side.
The piled up, well and often used coats and woolens lying around have been tucked away into the closet to await next winter. Pollen has begun to hinder the morning’s runs and flowers are bursting forth all over the landscape with enthusiastic springtime abandon.
Lambs are being born at our friend’s farm, and green grass for them to nibble is growing strong. We have had the first official pass with the lawn mowing tractor.
Neighborhood friends have come back to play in the shadowed corners of the yard, quiet, sweet and quite shy, but willing to make friends if we let them.
Even the ever so flighty cherry blossoms have been on full display at some of the more flowerful places around town.
And then some storms came. With much wind, buckets and buckets of rain. And we awoke to a blanket of thick sticky snow weighing down our springtime lightness.
I couldn’t help but admire it’s loveliness, much as I am over snow as a phenomenon for the season. Springtime has it’s own slant to the light in the sky and so the snow has a more lively crystalline quality to it than it does in the depths of winter.
The daffodils seemed to be requesting a do over, with their cheery faces leaning back into the soil.
The forsythia blooms, just recently opened are feeling a bit droopy and sad with this cold snap and the weight of the snow. I wonder if a few more blooms are still behind these…
The farmer’s almanac did say that we were in for at least one more good snow before we really could settle our bare toes back into the grass and the bubbling creeks without getting too very cold. And they have been spot on all winter long. This too shall pass.
And then we can continue to get on with the busy-ness of spring.
It’s finally, blissfully, feeling like spring time down in our little gully and there is much to fill you in on.
In between things popping up out of the ground and being pulled from the ground (what is with all the chickweed this year??) and things being planted into the ground, life around here is running along at breakneck speed.
My youngest kid managed a perfect score on her driver’s test and is now able to run herself around to dance classes and social engagements. The hub and I are thinking this smells a bit like freedom. It’s the natural order of things, this growing up, and getting out into the world and I am so proud of her and tickled for her.
Meanwhile my oldest kid is due to graduate from high school here in a couple weeks. This just seems unreal. I have adopted a zen mindset about it all as best I can (the odd glass of wine helps as well) as he navigates the next few steps. He’ll be sticking close to home for college, attending University of Cincinnati’s esteemed College-Conservatory of Music. So he’s shopping for apartments and making his budgetary plans. We are thrilled that he is staying in town but also happy for him that he’s going to get on with his young adult life. This too smells a bit like freedom, perhaps not financially, but at least from a temporal perspective. Time is opening up for me, and not just by one kid leaving the nest and the other doing her own driving….
Last week I performed my last show with the Frisch Marionette Company. We closed out my favorite show, Hansel and Gretel, with a gig at Firestone High School for the Arts in Akron. Rumplestiltzkin, the other show I know, had it’s final booking last week as well and with the company moving forward into a new season with Wizard of Oz, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll be doing any more shows. Wizard is a perennial favorite of Frisch fans and that will be the show that sells. So there it is. My commitment is fulfilled. It’s been such an amazing ride and I have a sense that Kevin and I will work together in the future on other projects. I feel so fortunate to have learned the art of marionette manipulation from one of the true masters in the art. I am now part of a lineage of puppetry that is written about in the history books. It’s an honor. On route to Akron last week, we stopped in at the Columbus Museum of Art where the show Strings Attached is on display. If you are anywhere near Columbus Ohio and have a vague interest in sculpture, puppetry, theater and the like, I highly recommend a visit to this amazing show.
Visiting these professional grade puppets seemed like a nice way to cap off my time as a puppeteer. I won’t ever be too far from the world of puppetry as I adore the art form and story-making in general. But as I’ve been saying for too long now, it’s time to make my own stories.
A beloved part of my story each summer is the Sketch Journaling Workshop to Taos NM. I am just weeks away from heading back there for the third workshop and I am so excited when I think about it that my stomach gets that delightful butterfly feeling! I have a small but healthy sized class of intrepid travelers and future illuminated-journal artists and there are new things planned to keep everyone’s eyes open and observant and their pens and brushes moving. I’ve already begun packing supplies to send ahead of my own journey out there….
Some other news that has me kid-level excited is that we finally, FINALLY have chickens.
Yes. It’s true.
We welcomed 2 Barred Rocks, Gladys and Mabel, a Rhode Island Red, Bernadine, an Easter Egger, Elvyra and a haughty little Buff Orpington, EmmaJean, into our home last week. We went to fetch them at twilight on an gorgeous Pink Moon evening and have delighted in their presence here with us. We get that they are chickens. Bottom of the food chain. Likely to be hunted by local predators and the like. So we are attached, but realistic about the keeping of chickens. That said, they are pretty darn fetching.
Iris is exceptionally interested in them.
But after awhile, even dogs get bored with chickens.
I however, do not. I could spend hours just watching them and drawing them. It’s almost like corn in Ohio. You can practically see them grow as you look at them. They have sprouted little wings and are beginning to work out who’s who in the pecking order. From my vantage point it all looks a lot like Jr. High School. I’ve been taking lots of notes, loads of pictures and getting drawings of them into my sketchbook as well. I’m looking forward to having them around, enjoying the eggs they will lay for us, and continuing to doodle them. They are fantastic, under-appreciated creatures.
You’ll be seeing loads of chicklet pics here on the blog more than likely. I frankly can’t get enough of them!!!
This is about all for now. As is often the case, the blog will get ignored in lieu of gardening. But behind the scenes here, there will be minor changes happening that will make this blog my online home. I’ll be phasing out the old website in the coming weeks and doing more to continue making this virtual space one that is fun to visit. While we are in crazy-time mode for the next few months with graduation, Irish Dance season and spring chores, I see time opening up a bit after that… Time to get on with making the books I want to make, building the Illuminated Journaling classes I want to teach and continuing to explore painting as a Fine Art form.