We got a little gooseneck filming tool in the post today just minutes before I started today’s drawing so I did a quick movie to see how it works. I like the gooseneck tool, but I need to change my angle. It’s all an experiment.
Anyway! John Joe Badger and I have been diligently working with the poor shocked drone reeds, trying to get them into tune. My pipes teacher Cathy has been sooooo patient, teaching me all about how to remove the reeds ever so carefully and place bits of booger shaped beeswax here and there to teach the reed where to be and how to sound. It’s one part wishful thinking, two parts magic and 1 part engineering. But it’s fun to fiddle with as an escape from this frightful world on some days.
What are you doing to escape reality now and then?
“It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire. Perfect tranquility within consists in the good ordering of the mind. The realm of your own.”
~Marcus Aurelius – Meditations
There are days when I forget there is a raging global pandemic and that the United States is on the brink of losing grip on it’s democratic principles. I am fortunate in this regard. I live on a little acre, in a gentle village, mostly surrounded by nature. At least that is how I frame it when I am at home.
“To know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience. In the world of poetic experience, it is depth that counts, not width. A gap in a hedge, a smooth rock surfacing a narrow lane, a view of a woody meadow, the stream at the junction of four small fields – these are as much as a man can fully experience.”
I am fortunate indeed. And so I share a bit of it here with you on this blog.
In spite of an autumnal hinting in the air, the garden still produces in beauty and food. I follow close behind with camera and paint box.
There are many mysteries to unpack in a little box of colors. We should all have one, to better understand the world in which we find ourselves.
It is good practice, I think.
To follow the colors and shapes of one season into the next is to find ourselves in a maelstrom of change. And couldn’t we all do a bit of finding ourselves in the world right now?
I think of color matching as a form of chromatic meditation.
From the vine into the sketchbook…..
And of course into the kitchen.
We continue to marvel at how our little accidental garden has come together so unexpectedly this season.
The garden comes together yes, but I feel like falling apart. Not completely, of course. There are many things here (just right here) that are wonderful, this is true. But there are significant things in the broader world at large giving me pause that I work through bit by bit these days.
Politics in this country continue to go back in time. Sadly I know I have people in my sphere for whom this feels like a good thing. My so-called “pro-life” leaning acquaintances who vote Republican, merely to get pro-choice laws reversed. And yet, they seem to forget that abortion rates were lowest ever under President Obama, while the lives and well-being of people already born slide back into the realm of understood inequity. How is this “pro-life”? I do not understand it.
On a broader scale, climate change continues to wreak havoc and it just doesn’t seem to be getting the attention it deserves in the world, in our country in particular.
It does no one any good to obsess over these concepts on the global scale, only to freeze in terror on the personal. And so I do not. I do what I can with the garden, in the voting booth. (Have you registered to vote? It’s imperative for our survival, I think) I stay informed, to the best of my ability, while also attending to my inner world where art and music and magic reign supreme.
I head outside to clear my head and I pay attention to the specific color of brown found on a receding fern.
I replicate it’s delicious color.
I think it needs more blue actually….
“Light is the mother of color.”
Just over a week ago I was informed that my flagship Travel Journaling class, held each summer in Taos, New Mexico (cancelled this past summer due to the covid-19 crisis) could possibly go forward in June 2021…. but at half capacity due to regulations surrounding the pandemic. Suddenly my “staff” (read, spouse and dear friend in support of this work) found themselves crunching numbers to see if this is indeed even doable. As it turns out, with a small price hike, it is doable, even though I may have to turn a number of folks away or grant them space on a wait list. ( I was to have a full and bustling class this next year…..)
Like so many others I know in a variety of work-realms, I find myself questioning the very nature of what I do. And it’s not just the pandemic which has me pondering the imponderable. I wonder about all the flying I do (which to be fair, isn’t much compared to many, but shouldn’t we all be doing our part?) I wonder about nurturing and admiring the very ground beneath my feet instead of traipsing round the world looking for beauty. I have a couple of book ideas brewing where I focus on just this one little acre and all it has to offer.
“These are the fruits of my reverence, This is a love story.”
I spend more and more time alone to think about it all.
“Nowhere can a man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.”
I could really use an agent or an editor or someone interested in getting these thoughts out into the world outside of this blog. I am not sure how to find one. I do know that I will just keep writing, and submitting and see what happens. If for no other reason than to settle my spirit in these troubled times. Perhaps someday, someone will take notice. (Like this lovely blogger!)
In another world, before this one, I was to travel to Ireland with a fellow artist and dear friend for a month’s residency in that land of magic. The month was to be October. We should be on the road just now. Here we are below, in Antigua last spring. While we were working separately there, we came together for some meals and mayhem along the way which was a blast.
One thing we share in our work is a deep sense of play. I miss that.
Alas, our residency is canceled due to the pandemic. For now. We shall see what the coming years hold. We allow grief for what could have been while also making room for the Big Griefs at hand in these unexpected times. We will get there eventually, we hope. We have come to expect the unexpected.
As for me, I continue to root down. And grow the seeds which are planted here.
I’m a bit out of practice in the painting department, outside of a badger now and then – week to week – and that is ok. I’ve ordered a little phone-holder tool that might help me share some of my process via video and perhaps that might enliven my social media game a bit in the coming weeks. I don’t know. (And whether I care for social media is another post entirely!)
It has thankfully begun to rain here, sorely needed after weeks of dry. We are grateful. I am going to go play some pipes out in the “back room” which is falling down and due for a rebuild any day now. I am grateful for the distraction.
Below I am linking a few things making me think more deeply just now, helping me stay sane, keeping me hopeful. I hope you will check them out as well. Stay safe. Stay sane. I shall write to you from a different world in the coming days. Stay tuned……
This lovely conversation with a long time fave musician and a guardener I’ve long admired along the way…. (there is also a conversation with Mary on the Accidental Gods podcast to be found here. It’s lovely.)
The work of Mac Macartney (also interviewed by Accidental Gods but he’s been on my radar for a time now.) Here is just one TED talk…..
The notion of soil as the harbinger of life. We have to save the soil….
Some hope that one person can make a difference……
And finally, if you need an escape, which will also provide you some things to think about in this world now…. Go read the work of Signe Pike.
We waited and waited, and now, just like that, the waiting is over and the work begins.
Frankly I don’t really know what I am doing. I don’t know how to tune these reeds, or to make them sing their buzzy, intoxicating song together in unison. It all sounds a bit like a spot of goose bothering just now. I must remember that this is how it is. And likely how it will be for a while still. I have had the set out for a little while each day, even as “regular life” has been quite intervening and busy, more so than normal in these pandemical times.
This instrument is pushing all of my emotional hot-buttons. The “I don’t deserve” and the “I’m not smart enough”. The “aren’t I too old?” and the “who the hell do you think you are” hot buttons which run deep and strong and rear their ugly heads when insecurity beckons. That said, I have done a TON of work over the years on these buttons. Now they serve as reminders of growth. I feel all of these things which make me feel small, and I order the pipes anyway. I take the plunge in spite of the insecurities. I allow myself this luxury even if they aren’t here to impress anyone or make any money. I don’t even have to show them to anyone really. Unless I want to. I allow myself this luxury because the sound of uilleann pipes makes my heart happy. And because I love Irish music. There needn’t be any other reasons than those really.
As an object d’art, they are a stunning thing of beauty and perhaps I will draw them some, outside of the John Joe Badger series, just to draw the form of them. We shall see. For now, I will just play them a bit each day, call my teacher crying, begging for a zoom call to see what needs adjusting. Perhaps one day they might even sound musical. For now though…..
It is a gentle, rainy day. “Soft” as they sometimes call it in Ireland. This kind of weather might annoy some people, but honestly I like it. The coloring of things hints at autumn, my favorite season in spite of or perhaps because of inherent melancholia to be found therein.
Melancholia is a constant and faithful friend of late. I find myself thinking a lot about death.
The gardens themselves lean toward the great sleep, readying here and there for a dying back into autumnal composting and winter’s rest. Spring’s regrowth will come once more, eventually. We as humans seem to forget our place amidst nature’s seasons. Lately I find my mind ill at ease – a feeling of being consistently gaslighted by society. Over 180,000 people have died of Covid-19 in this country and few seem to even take note of it anymore. Around 1000 people PER DAY. How can this not be the day’s big news? There are even some who don’t believe the numbers. We throw these figures around and forget that behind every number is a lifetime of dreams and hopes and fears and faults. Laughter and learning, lightness and darkness. The messy stuff of everyone’s everyday. These are someone’s loved ones. How can the world just go “on”? I find it almost too much to take. And maybe this explains why no one is talking about it much. Maybe no one can take it.
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
–Mary Oliver (I love this poem and was re-minded of it recently by the wonderful daily poem sharing offering of Shippenverse. Go give her a follow on the socials if you like timely poetry.)
It is a grave mistake in a well lived life not to give death a good mulling over now and then. I have at times (in the before times) been playing music with my dearest friends in a local session and have found myself so overwhelmed with a tearful gratitude that I think:
“Remember this. It’s not going to happen again. These people are a gift. Nothing is guaranteed. Pay attention. We could lose one another in an instant.”
Cheerful. I know.
But I do maintain that to toe the edges of things, to contemplate Great Mysteries, is to be more deeply alive, to live closer to the bone.
On soft days such as this one, I find myself thinking about Ireland, a land with its fair share of soft days and a place where the lines between life and death, this world and the Other, before and after, us and them, are blurred. I find myself most comfortable in a place that openly acknowledges the delicate nature of our very existence. Ireland is such a place.
Looking back on this Year of Years, we come to realize we were truly fortunate to begin the year’s wave of griefs on griefs in such a magical place. Tony’s mom died while we were over there. To explore ancient burial sites and wander the misty and mystical Burren in Clare was to feel a part of things in a very deep way. I wish I could be there again this fall, to process all that has happened – all that IS happening – but this is not to be.
Last week in the tail end of a yoga practice a thought, or perhaps even a ‘command’ of sorts came to me. “Tell the earring story” it said. And so I shall….
My friend Mia was dying. I had been lucky enough to leave my day to day behind and spend a few quality days with her before she slipped into that “between place” where she could no longer be reached by us. It was the wee hours of the morning and no one in the household had slept much that night. Professional nurses, Mia’s mom Ruth and husband Morris tended to her final moments and then, just like that, she was gone. The quiet was that strange sort of quiet that sometimes happens in a room where a birth has occurred. Dying is a different kind of birth I suppose. I stepped outside to get some air and to give Mia’s family a bit of space. I could feel the All of Everything outside. It was a beautiful morning. A bit later, Morris and one of the Hospice nurses approached myself and two other women on hand and asked if we might accept the task of washing and readying Mia’s body for viewing. Their family’s close community was to come to the house to pay their respects, share food and kinship, and bid farewell to their dear friend. Washington state allows for a family to hold on their loved ones for one full day before needing to send the body on to final burial or cremation. This was to be Mia’s day. We accepted this task with great honor and the Hospice nurse filled us in on what needed to be done. It’s a strange and wonderful thing to tend to the final physicality of someone we love. Yes, we were filled with grief, but something about the very earthiness of it all was a salve to that grief. We were mindful and in the moment. We put on Mia’s favorite music, opened the window to allow her soul passage. We washed her gently, and put her into her favorite clothes. Soon, we were nearly done. I had put in one of a pair of earrings into her ear when we were interrupted by someone entering the room. A friend in the community who hadn’t realized we weren’t *quite* finished. And just like that, the bubble had burst. Something of a strange reality had entered the room with this newcomer and there was no more that could be done. Mia’s head was turned and so no one would notice the missing earring anyway. My fellow caretakers and I had a bit of a strange laugh over this turn of events and the day carried on. I pulled Morris aside and told him of the earring still in my possession. He too found it all a bit funny. The earrings in question were moonstones. Mia and I had gotten matching sets we before she’d moved out to Washington and we liked to wear them at the same time like a couple of middle school bff’s. When the day came to an end it was time for the funeral folks to come and take Mia’s body away. I did a puppet show for the kids in the other end of the house while Morris took care of this bit of business. Later, he handed me the first earring. I took some pliers and converted that earring into a small pendant which I eventually took home with me. I made the second into a pendant as well, and left my set of earrings and that matching pendant with Morris to give to their daughter when she was old enough to wear them. (she was in the first grade if I remember right.) I still have my little moonstone pendant and keep it on my flute case as a constant reminder to live this life to the fullest. Mia reminded me always to follow my art dreams and to keep playing music. I have done and am so grateful for her early encouragement as we ran mile after mile together in between our busy lives and young motherhood.
I tell the story above as a small snapshot of the complexities of the end of a life. To remind us that once there was a time when tending to our dead was a privilege. This virus has so many dying that I believe we have a hard time really taking stock of so much loss. Our minds can’t wrap around the level of destruction. And with all of this death, comes a deep loneliness as well as many are having to die alone so as not to endanger their loved ones. The virus has robbed us of the very things through which we cope with difficulty. Gathering, hugging, singing, sharing. And these are difficult times to be sure.
A couple of artful friends in my life are stepping into what one of them calls her “final act”. They are seemingly facing this next chapter with a grace all of us might hope for in the end. They wisely advise us all to have the difficult conversations about what we might want for our own end of life chapters, how we might want things to go if difficult decisions are faced. Have you done this? Do your loved ones know how you might like to be remembered?
My friend Jeni sent this below to me (not knowing I was brewing a death-themed blog post, but this is how the muse works sometimes, eh?) And I absolutely love it. I read this and think, I might have been friends with this woman had we met.
It seems easy in these scary times to just step out of our bodies and forget we are limited beings. I think many people have really. So much anger, so little time for self-reflection or kindness. We aren’t taking the time to ask one another “How’re you doing, like really?” We won’t be here forever, this much is true. Something about turning 50 on the cusp of a global pandemic will drive this home to many of us. Much as the ads promising me the fountain of youth would like me to step away from my own sense of self, I stay put and face this age, my age, as it is. It isn’t pretty most days.
I make the conscious choice to stay in my body, as difficult as this feels in this harsh world. I run when I can, even on (perhaps especially on) cool rainy days.
I eat spicy food and cry easily. Much like old Moaning Myrtle, I am not afraid to talk of death. Perhaps it is, in the long run, the only thing left we might have in common these days.
Be kind to each other, check in with one another. Bake some cookies for your neighbors if you can.
And perhaps take some time for self-reflection on these remarkable times in which we find our small selves.
Hiya friends. Amy here, the creatrix of John Joe Badger. It’s a strange time to be drawing gentle, tuneful badgers. There are so many badgers from which to choose in this harsh, fast-paced world.
There is the screaming, spitting, distrustful American badger; the go-your-own-way, screw-everyone-else, “independent” honey badger; and of course our own John Joe Badger, based as a character more on a “European” styled badger.
John Joe loves tea and gathering with fellow woodland animals – even, and perhaps especially – when they differ from him. He is quiet, thoughtful, and believes in fair opportunity for everyone. He believes in the arts (tunes and seascapes are his favorites!) and good, local food, available and affordable to all.
A friend of mine on the book of faces ranted recently “enough of politics!!!” And I hear that. But perhaps todays’ politics are more than “just” politics. Perhaps the choices these days are about life versus death, art and culture as life-saving things. Education and critical thinking as ways forward, not things to be afraid of.
It is difficult to make art, share a joyful tune, laugh at a silly pun, when the world is literally burning. But we MUST!
Today is week 42 of John Joe Badger’s “Twist of Hemp” series. I will bring episode 43 to you when my new pipes arrive from Ireland which might be a few weeks what with one thing and another (unless another idea springs to mind which sometimes happens.) There are tunes to record with my flutilla mates and our capitán of recent weeks Kevin, and tunes to record for the start of our strange new quarter at the Riley School. There are also votes to get out, volunteering opportunities to rock, old dogs to care for, gardens to harvest.
Art is a funny thing. It encompasses so much. And it’s not always what some might consider to be “art”. Sometimes, it’s politics.
There are many mysteries in this thing we call piping. John Joe Badger has heard whispers of a mysterious thing some call ‘The Backstitch’, and he is intrigued. On occasion he thinks he can hear it, in the playing of one further along the piping path, but he does not yet know what it really IS.
Perhaps one day he will figure it out.
For now he will leave backstitching efforts to the mending basket, and merely play the little tunes he knows as best he can.
It seems an age ago that were in Maine. Coastal time, cool, crystalline lakes, like a dream.
We are now back in our own home, land locked here in our river valley, tending to house and garden, both needing upkeep, updates.
As Billy Collins’ poem above alludes, there is a certain kind of genius which accompanies basic household chores of care. This damned pandemic affords us the opportunity of time, if not inclination, to attend to matters here at home. And so we do.
A bit of harvesting.
And a few things still growing along nicely.
I’ll give the autumnal plants a head start this week I think. And put other plants to sleep for a time so they might come back to us in the dead of winter. Beauty in dark times.
I am a haphazard gardener at best, but I am pleased with the results of our efforts this year. The back garden, fenced during the first fitful, anxiety filled weeks of the lockdown, seems to be holding up. Keeping the deer at bay.
I am grateful.
The dahlias have put on a show this year. Somehow they had survived my stashing them in the garage last autumn where they overwintered successfully. Surprisingly.
They are a constant delight.
My great-Auntie Nancy passed away the day we were on the road home from Maine. She lived a long life, and did not suffer in the end, which is all anyone can ask for really. When we attended her funeral, masked and out of doors, I took a posey of my dahlias and some sunflowers too, to place on the grave of my beloved grandparents. Life has a way of marching on.
Last week I added another digit to my age line. It was a quiet day really, a few hours at the concertina shop, take out from a local brewery and a zoom call with some artful and inspirational friends. It was lovely. I even received some gorgeous flowers.
My mom gifted me the innards of a new Traveler’s Notebook for my birthday. (I made the cover myself from a scrap of leather from the shop.) I am interested to see how this journal system works for me as my own sketchbook practice has shifted in recent years. When I “go sketch”, I am actually painting and use good paper in good sketchbooks. But for the day to day, I like to have a workbook to capture ideas, quotes, poems, drawings, lists and etc. Also a date keeper, not that there is much of a schedule these days.
Perhaps this little book will help me get organized as we do some serious household renovation and reorganization in the coming months.
I already have lists going, and some quotes. Tunes I must work on……
“Don’t focus on the limitations, focus on the possibilities.”
~Liam O’Flynn (via Louise Mulcahy’s recent research)
Tomorrow morning we bid adieu to our friend Ari, the ‘little red dragon”, or “the wee man” as I sometimes call him. He’s heading back to my sister’s where she is settled into a full time position as a nurse at a hospital near Louisville, Kentucky.
We will miss him indeed, but we also know there is much work to be done around here and it might best be done with only the one aged dog along for the ride. (Plus, he is missed dearly by his proper steward.)
Thankfully, our Little Miss Charlie doesn’t climb steps and mostly sleeps the days away, so she will be the perfect dog to weather the coming months with us as we turn the house upside down a bit.
It is a good time to nestle into a great feathering of the nest so to speak. My travel journaling work – for now at least – is non-existent for obvious reasons. I keep the art-wheels oiled here with a few side projects but a bit of a domestic re-design will be my creative project for the time being. In recent years we found ourselves with an empty nest, the kids fledging to adult lives of their own. My travel journal business was where my energies flowed and I never really found the time to re-group here at home. For now – this year at least – all of that is at a standstill. Like many others, I am finding it difficult to concentrate on the usual things, and so I’m going to just take full part in this collective pause.
I’ve felt for a long while that the speed of things in this world is too much for me personally, it’s just tragic that it’s taken a pandemic to slow things down even just a bit. With this slowing down has come an opportunity to take stock, decide finally what to do with the old “back room” which has been falling down around us for a few years now. It’s time to rebuild. We have engaged a builder to begin in autumn sometime. There will be much shifting and cleaning and decision-making and things will be topsy turvy. Construction and reorganizing has a way of affecting every corner of the household and knowing this, we are taking the opportunity to reconfigure the whole place.
It’s time. Getting our home organized and making a little oasis around here will help us bring more peace to the world outside of our home. Of this I am sure. To seek beauty in a dark world is important work. Sometimes, that starts at home.
And that, as my mom says, is all the news that’s fit to print. We, like everyone, continue to adjust to The State of Things. We do the best we can. Being gentle with ourselves and each other. Following our noses as to how best to proceed.
We are returned safely from travels and settled in, but more on that later……
Recently we heard from Mickey Dunne over in Limerick, Ireland that the half-set of uilleann pipes he is carefully crafting for me is nearly complete. I am very sad that I cannot go to Ireland this fall to collect them in person, meet Mickey and thank him properly. But this is just the way of things, and we soldier on.
Meanwhile, I am as a new parent preparing a nursery with all the necessary accoutrements for the new arrival. This week’s Twist of Hemp offering finds John Joe Badger diligently shopping for all the necessities and sundries so that we will be ready when the pipes (with drones!) finally arrive.
It is week 39 of our weekly adventure, John Joe and I. I am slowly learning a few tunes but still feel clumsy and more at home on the flute. Making a drawing for this series each week helps me keep track of how long I’ve been at this pipes thing while reminding me to just have a little fun with it along the way. It’s been a very long time since I purchased a proper instrument outside of a whistle of delryn flute here or there. I am nervous about it all and trying just to treat it like an investment. In myself, in the music, in the world.
These covid times can mess with our heads if we allow them to. What are you doing to keep yourself sane, grounded and invested in the world? I’m learning tunes, painting and drawing and walking many miles.