Greetings from Maine. My home away from home. (I have a few.)
There is a yearly gift I offer, to the muses of art and music, to that of friends seldom seen, to places I hold dear but do not occupy on the daily. Most years these offerings come easily. Other years, in eras of difficulty or “the in between”; hard times of cocooning to become our better selves, these posts -dripping with honesty and true love – are harder to give birth to.
On the one hand, as my dear flute-sister-friend Ellen so eloquently put it, :
“Sometimes, when something is close to perfect, there is not much to say, it is complete as it is.”
On the other hand, I simply can’t let this year’s return to the Swannanoa Gathering go unwritten, undocumented. It had been 3 long years since we’d all been together making music and mayhem. On yet another hand, how to even begin?
So I’ll just begin with the loss of a legend. I had the off chance to have a quick meet up and brief flute lesson with the great Seamus Tansey in the “before times” while in Ireland in late 2019. He was a force to be reckoned with and I knew I was shadowed in the light of greatness in our couple of hours together. It was surreal to say the least and I am so glad to have met him.
I received word just before Celtic Week that Seamus had left this realm for greener pastures, and god-speed to him as he navigates the great beyond. He brought many gifts to the music. So as our week began at Swannanoa, he was on my mind a good bit.
To say that I was a tad anxious about attending a “gathering” in the midst of yet another round of Covid’s latest shenanigans, would be putting it mildly. But I trusted my loved ones at camp and we had a plan. A plan that included mostly keeping to ourselves, mostly keeping out of doors when at all possible, sadly avoiding indoor concert options (most of us at least) and basically just doing what we had done in our bubbles for the past couple of years.
“This fear is a terrible chore. If only we had enough sense to let it give way to love.” ~The Shins
There was still a distinct culture of covid-based fears upon our arrival, especially amongst the staff. I quite literally found myself walking away from the annual orientation to quell the panic bubbling up amidst the all too understandable rhetoric coming down to us from on high. But we had our plan, we knew our risks, we orbited outside of the center of things. We dove in.
Through the week some moments float to the surface. Some better documented than others:
Finally meeting Alia, soon-to-be daughter in-law to some of our Swannie loved ones, whose work with Hannah online is shaping culture to be more loving, understanding and inclusive. They are brilliant and if you are on instagram and consider yourself an ally for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community, they are a hopeful follow.
Receiving a tear-inducing compliment from an old Swannie connection that basically amounted to “you and your work, your postings online, basically got me through the pandemic.” I was deeply moved to hear this and did come to tears, which to be fair were quite close to the surface all week anyway. Here’s to more of us putting small, thoughtful, hopeful things out into the world. Never question the power of love. Thank you Kate.
Plucking up the courage to ask the somewhat recognizable but clearly incognito Rising Appalachia gals if they were indeed themselves. They were so gracious and, yes, it was indeed themselves – out at band camp with their mama. Learning new things, being vulnerable. I sent a snapshot of myself with them to my own girl and we had a mama/daughter love moment over music and the vulnerability of life in general. They are lovely. so is their mom.
Daily cocktail hours celebrating each day, and near the end of the week, the anniversary of my dear friends David and Ellen. We even played their wedding march together with our teacher and friend Nuala Kennedy.
I met new friends over my little multi tool which just happens to have a wine opener on it. Madeleine, Ann Marie, Alicia, TJ, et al, so glad to have met you all! Let’s do it again next year. Later we all sang and played while mountain storms danced around us.
There was a full moon, and much mystery surrounding it.
There were even some howling wolves afoot, though I am still looking for footage. Thankfully, Nuala chased them away from the door.
There were evening sessions with beloved instructors who share the love of this music with us and with each other with such generosity that we marvel.
I attended piping classes which was low-level terrifying for this still-new piper self.
My fellow pipers in class were welcoming and kind and our instructor Cillian was the picture of patience and poise. (One needs these in a room full of pipers.) Outside of class I was grateful for the encouragement of not only my flute teachers but of old musical friends as well, championing my new efforts. Would that all humans were so encouraging of one-another in all new endeavors. Just think what we might accomplish!
There was seriousness of purpose. And a lot of noise.
There were new polkas which caught the ear of some local towhees:
We were slowly, and ever so sweetly, reminded of who we were meant to be. We were reminded of what we are worth, especially when we have a tune in our hearts. We were reminded of what we are made of and who we deserve to be.
This is what art does really. It connects, it channels, it swells and sweeps us into new ways of being. And let’s face it, we need new ways. The other day it was 106° in Paris France. It’s been in the 90’s here in Maine.
While at the Swannanoa Gathering I met a writer (and whistle player) who’s written a beautiful book (she’s written a number of them actually) that is on the surface a fairy story for the young adult set. But like so many books in the YA realm, this book flows into deeper truths. About how we are treating the world and one another. It’s beautiful and I plowed through my first reading of it. I now revisit it with wider eyes seeking deeper truths. Always seeking.
Because here is what I believe, the forces driving climate change and all of the heart break lying therein are, on the one hand, of course our responsibility. And yet, they are not, not exactly. We are a small part of such a huge set of systems, that the only real thing to do is push for systemic change. Which we must do.
So that leaves us with our day to day. In the face of such enormity, what can we do? Like really?
Well, VOTE. That’s one thing. Set aside all other agendas and vote to save one another. Our country in particular is in deep, deep trouble.
Beyond that, and this merely comes from my quiet corner of things, we must dig deep down to find ourselves and one-another. We must risk asking hard questions and be ready to receive difficult answers outside of our little egos who might like to explain and correct and think we are “right”. We must look to the youngest among us and trust them when they tell us of how to move ahead. We must step aside. And listen.
And in the day to day, we must trust the art. Trust the making of music. Trust and come home to reconnecting with those who make our hearts sing. We must trust the drifting of our world into a minor key. Trust the beauty and difficulty to be found there. We must turn off the noise sometimes and just step outside ourselves to find the answers to difficult questions.
Above all, and this is merely a note to self, we mustn’t lose the joy in our lives. It’s easy to do isn’t it? With the never ending stream of news and difficulties around the world. We must try and hold both truths in our hearts. That we are at once, in deep and existential trouble, and that at any given moment, we carry the very human tools of laughter and connection, art and music and wordsmithery, and are capable of making meaning out of mayhem.
I am so deeply indebted to my yearly pilgrimage to the Swannanoa Gathering which reminds me of all of these things. Most especially the making meaning out of mayhem bit. I’d not be the writer, artist, musician, human being I am without all the things I’ve learned there, all the wonderful people I’ve met there who have become a family of sorts. For all of this, I am deeply grateful.
****To current patrons, this is a “public post” as a gift to my old and new swannanoa buddies who may or may not follow my posts on the regular. To anyone new who likes what you’ve read here and who might want to read more and/or support the work that goes into it, I’ve been posting more often via Patreon. This allows me to pay my tech bills which is a wonderful thing.
Here’s the link: https://www.patreon.com/amybogard?fan_landing=true
Till next year swannie siblings. I love you all.
To my dear patrons, this post is a “public” post, intended for those who maybe don’t read as often, or who may be new to the work and are considering participating later on via Patreon. To those of you who do chip in a buck or 3, or ten, month to month, please know that you keep this ship afloat, you are the wind in the sails that keep it all going. So many of the pennies you contribute are right now working behind the scenes to get this old blog into a more modern and navigable state in the form of a shiny new website. And for this, I am truly grateful. But for today, below is the post-Taos-trip report. A yearly thing….
A love letter to the participants of this most recent workshop:
I always come away from the Taos, NM trip in a state of awe. This workshop is my offering to the world. A way of seeing, traveling, art-making and engaging that is different from anything else. And each year, a small group of people, varying in degrees of experience and expertise, take a plunge of trustful open-heartedness and come along for the journey.
My offering is a humble one – in this world filled with so many shiny things in which to partake. My own world is one of moss-time; slow and somewhat fragmented. And I am routinely caught by surprise when a class fills with curious, interested, artful beings, eager to come along. Ever so shyly I make my way out to meet them and share what I have learned over the years, to share what I am thinking about and how I might catalogue that in some way into a travel journal.
Here we are again after another week, another year. The Taos trip is a sort of flagship as it were. It is at once where I feel most at home and most challenged. It sets the tone for the year ahead, offering an island of respite and recollection from the year just passed. (And what a year it’s been! yet again.)
It is a still point of sorts.
Last I left anyone paying attention, we were were careening away from Taos town at the very break of day after the workshop. The mountainous vistas achingly beautiful in their farewell. We had spent the evening before partaking of one final desert hike, under a smoky sunset, worrying over the latest wildfire, and pondering the journey home.
I was so very tired,
already missing my dear friends. And we hadn’t even parted one another’s company.
The week was pure magic. Somehow, outside of a couple of folks opting out of the class due to utmost care (and for this I am deeply thankful), we managed as a group to remain covid free. Everyone arrived ready to work.
and work we did! Below is a sampling of participant work. Like I have said before, sometimes I have beginner artists, and sometimes I have people come along who have been successfully making art for their entire lives (and I wonder to myself why they are even there!). Yet all who are called to Mabel’s are welcomed. And I actually don’t question much of that any more. I merely build the container in which to hold the work and step back to marvel at it all.
It was a gentle week in many ways. This group of 14 or so, along with a few companions and spouses, gathered and worked together with zero interpersonal drama. It was just so easy in so many ways.
It was also difficult at times. New Mexico is a fierce and weathering place and it does take its toll after a time. We took care to take care of one another.
There were field trips with old friends…
And we were glad to see them. I took it all in and sat in deep gratitude for the years this place have given to me.
As is usually the case, I soon found myself at the end of the week with nothing to offer up to the gods of the Socials. Once the week had begun, I could not splinter off to report to the masses online. I just don’t have it in me to be anything other than fully present when I am teaching or making art or music. This might not be good for the bottom line or for advertising, but it’s true to me and so I stick with it.
We did manage a few photos collectively however and at the end of our week together, everyone gathered in their party frocks for one final fancy meal at Mabel’s and to share our work with one another back in the classroom.
Now I find myself back at home, distilling it all. Wondering if the fever-dream of creativity and friendship, art-making and wonder were really all just a dream. I wonder how I can wrap words around the unfathomable.
I came across a post online by the marvelous Maria Popova of Brainpickings. She wrote that she’d put together a poem of sorts in honor of Krista Tippet’s 20 years of On Being based on episode titles. Without even reading her poem, I thought, “I should do that with my blog post titles!” And so I did. Wondering what would come of it. Was it the thing I was looking for to somehow convey the magic of the past week?
There were many words to mix together and choose from.
I’ve been writing here since 2007. Not many read my posts, but a few do and I am thankful for that. My new web designer/tech handler person says I’m an ‘ “og” blogger, from the way back,’ and I take this as a great compliment. Mining the titles of 15 years of writing, below is a poem which I think suits:
Notes to self:
Let us keep courage, on, in, near the tone of things.
A tale of Summer’s Travels
A golden opportunity; a need for slowness.
Gathering. On liminality.
Flights of fancy, gratitudinal expressions
Think Less. Breathe More.
Joy of Being
Rambling ways, whirlwind wandering.
On the move, peripatetic runaway.
Between worlds, shifting.
The end of the rainbow, virtually in time.
Seeking sanctuary, floating on air
Time bending, between.
When I have fears; On feeling small
Hunting and gathering; the work behind the work
Filling from a deep well. Digging deep.
A taste of practice. A call to action.
A measure of quiet.
Attending. Awakening. Aware.
Dreaming the between into being.
Making space. Between
Quiet beauty. Cosmic reverence
Contentment is wealth.
This is love
Stay and wonder
Come on along
And Just like that
Allowing the structuring of magic.
Enchantment. Inspiration. Artist’s pace.
What artists do:
A book and a box of colors
A glorious something else
Mere sketches, more sketches, PORTALS.
Pictures speak louder.
A day for greening. Gold behind the green.
Mode of magic making.
Red eye. Blue. Shades of gray.
Processing daylight. Come, chase the light.
Sometimes words will do.
Paint, how do I love thee? Watercolor play
Fully blooded magic. Gestures. Play in motion.
Illumination in situ
What do I know?
The language of drawing, mapping the unmappable
What comes next, shifted paradigm
This I believe.
The ancients, bubbling
Reminders, blessings, allies.
Stone whispers, living geology.
A living land where your name is spoken
Tiny offerings, Gold. Gifts of color and light.
Under a mountain
Picture This… Transition
At one. Drawn
Settling in, here, now.
Connecting through sketching.
While we are together
On traveling and coming home
Gratitude and liminality.
Joy before the journey’s end. Light returning.
State of contentment on impermanence
Successful. Returned. Enough.
Grateful for the mountain
Home again, do not disturb.
Gifts that keep on giving
On crafting one’s own world.
I find it fascinating that the words I have used for all this time can cast a net to hold the experiences of my most recent time in New Mexico, leading me to believe ever more so in the constancy of all things. I’m no quantum physicist, but I find some of the concepts fascinating. Perhaps all time is in this very moment. A vast void of now.
As this glorious summer of re-opening, re-engagement, and re-commitment continues on, I’ll balance all the nows at hand. Opting more and more often for a puddle of paint or the company of a good friend over the tantalizing offerings of the online world.
Week to week news will always be over on Patreon however, and my tech handler John is still weaving this old blog into the new space as he puts my new online home in order. So stay tuned for that.
I will announce registrations for 2023 (!!!!) classes early in September so mark your calendars for that. I will do my best to blast those announcements all over the usual channels, but let me know if you need more information. I’ll put you on an email list. Classes are selling out faster and faster each year which is humbling and amazing.