~A TWIST OF HEMP~ week 3 of John Joe Badger’s journey into Uillean Piping……
John Joe is diligent in his efforts on wrestling the octopus-like instrument we call the Uillean Pipes. Gallant even! But there are times during this journey when one might hear some rather colorful phrases coming out of the woodshed, or round the kitchen door. John Joe realizes he has taken on a beastly task here, and that this will not be easy.
With every mistake, out of tune squawk, honk, or (occasionally, miraculously) note, John Joe looks up, takes another deep breath and tries again. Letting the flying curses fall where they may….
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
― Anatole France
We’ve been wandering a bit close to the proverbial bone in these parts of late.
We always think we have more time…..
Once upon a time, we went for one puppy, and came home with two.
We didn’t really intend to, it just happened. And it was perfect.
River was the unexpected one. And he lived a life of such heart….
“If you’ve been thinking you’re all that you’ve got,
Then don’t feel alone anymore.
When we’re together, then you’ve got alot,
‘Cause I am the river and you are the shore.”
“Winding and swirling and dancing along,
We pass by the old willow tree”
“And it goes on and on, watching the river run,
Further and further from things that we’ve done,
Leaving them one by one.
And we have just begun watching the river run.
Listening and learning and yearning.
Run, river, run.”
Iris and River have been together from the beginning. Though not litter mates, they came home to us as a pair and have been inseparable. We will have to keep an eye on our old girl now, and give her some extra love and attention and patience. Tonight, before River left us, she crawled into bed with him, as she’d done a thousand times before…..
Within an hour or so after that, he was gone. He had had a stroke in the afternoon, but seemed ok. Sure we are used to seizures in Iris and maybe with a little rest he’d be fine. But alas, he slipped away peacefully. For this peaceful passing we are deeply grateful, but it will be a long while yet until his presence has truly left our home.
….. in which we deal with dryness.It is far too cold in the woodshed for John Joe Badger to practice his pipes.He must bring the noise making inside where it is warm and dry.Dry, yes.Winter is dry.And the pipes find themselves leaking air in all directions.What is John Joe to do???Well, he shores up leaky connections on his borrowed practice set with a twist of hemp thread, made sticky with a bit of beeswax.He puts a full kettle on the stove top to boil.These two things may help get John Joe through these trying, leaky, dry times.For today at least……
John Joe’s struggles are my own. I practice the pipes as much as I can, when I can find time alone in the house. They are loud! And not yet pleasant. (For others at least.) The dryness that comes with a “forced air” heating arrangement is mitigated a bit with cool mist humidification and of course, putting the kettle on as much as possible. It does help. And so does the bit of hemp and beeswax. It all feels very old fashioned. It’s testing parts of my brain and motor memory which need the exercise! I may never get to the point of playing this contraption out in the world. But who knows? I will say that I already have next week’s John Joe drawing idea in mind. And it involves flying curses. Til tuesday…..
Fine Folk grace the pages of my sketchbook, along with wise words from the wisdom keepers I trust. I look to these wisdom keepers as beacons, following their light, as will-o-the-wisp….. into the darkness.
One such beacon, writer Robert Macfarlane, was featured in an interview with Krista Tippett of the program On Being. They discuss a recent book of his called Underlandwhich is a gorgeous, lengthy tome; an exploration of the world beneath our feet as seen and sensed from a variety of angles. It’s the kind of book that deserves to be by one’s bedside to fill the mind with juicy and delicious language as a doorway into dreaming. This book apparently took Macfarlane 6 years to complete. He dipped into other projects along the way of course, but this one crept along, under everything else it would seem. It was worth the wait.
Underland explores a concept of Deep Time, one that is beyond human, but which can be tapped into by those of us with the proper notions to do so. If you have been reading my ideas here over the years, you know this is something I hold dear, this time-bending. I believe it is at the heart of the things we treasure as human beings. Good art, rich poetry, the ability to go beyond the day to day. To send our cultural tap roots down into the flow of All Things and perhaps channel something up. All of this of course takes time and practice. And there are no guarantees.
‘In verse, a pause in the rhythm of a line after a phrase; in choral work, a moment where singers might catch their breath.’
I really admire the depth of the work of writers such as Macfarlane, and I look to them for clues as to how to dig deeper into my own work. Art as well as writing. Even on social media channels, he and others like him make places like twitter and instagram into arenas of culture and idea-weaving. I aim to do the same, having curbed my own use of such channels into avenues of art and music. It’s a tricky balance in a world filled with instant sound-bytes and the next great and funny thing. Last week Macfarlane announced he will be off of twitter for a while with the word caesura and its definition.
I thought to myself, ‘I’d like to do that.’
The idea of taking a break from social media is by no means a new one, by myself or anyone else for that matter. There are books on digital detoxing which I have looked to when desperate for a break from it all. Lately, thankfully, I have not felt desperate to leave the online arenas of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I have them fairly well and carefully “curated” in order to see things which inspire me. New books to read, artists to research and learn something from, science to pique my curiosity and better my stewardship of my little part of the world. I choose when and how to get my “news” as that can be fraught with peril in this day and age. We must be careful what we feed ourselves, body and mind.
And yet, although not desperate to leave per se, I could use a break. What keeps me tethered to the usual channels is the business end of things. Usually, I am in marketing mode this time of year. Selling my classes to Taos and Guatemala. Hustling to show the world that yes, we go to beautiful places, have an amazing time together and make a bunch of gorgeous work. (WE DO!!!!! ) And this is all part of my job. But this year, I have been given a great gift….. My classes for 2020 are mostly sold out (there are two slots left in the second week of the Antigua offering. That’s it!) For once, I can relax a little bit. And so I am considering a break over the holidays.
If this idea comes to fruition, I’ll be off of twitter, facebook and instagram from Nov 29 – Jan 1.
I wonder sometimes, if I make something, or write something, but I don’t shout it into the void of the social media platforms, have I really created anything? This is the culture we are sold in this modern age. I would like to confront this culture, especially in my own mind. I’d like to follow some breadcrumbs of my own making just to see where they may lead. Without the pressure to report.
This will be an interesting experiment. I just began a weekly story idea which will continue to grow here, but folks will have to come find it, or wait until the New Year when I get back into the swing of things of sharing. Soon, I’ll be packing for Guatemala and sharing via instagram sun-kissed, color-washed images of our time in Antigua. It is in this way I beckon to future students to step into the sunshine with me and come on along!! But with the classes filled to brimming, and a lovely waitlist padded out for Taos, I feel I can take the social media break I’ve been craving for years, without having to crash and burn mentally to get it. It’s a good place to find myself.
So we shall see. It is always a balance. I may yet shift this plan into something less stringent. But I am always leaning toward trying a new tactic with regard to my presence in the online world. And for once I have the space to do so.
In other news…….
With Riley School out for break, I am back to sketching along with my mates in the Cincinnati Urban Sketchers. Last week we had a “boUrban sketchers” outing where we tasted bourbon at New Riff distillery. It was great fun!! Come along with us sometime!
I have a few paintings up at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center’s winter Collective show, EMERGE. This one below was the belle of the ball. I received many complements and offers to buy it. But alas, it was snatched up by a private collector just days before the show. I think the theme is one I’d like to explore further. The quietude of this piece seemed to speak to a number of people.
The other work on which I received a good bit of feedback is this little lovely, Bonny Hills, whose skies are filled with subtle color. This is a second theme I hope to explore further in more paintings in the new year. This one has not yet sold…. One of my fellow collective members said to me, I get the sense you were meant to be in Ireland. How right she is.
In the music arena, the Riley School of Irish music will present its annual holiday program Peace and Merriment, at 2 pm December 14. Our address is 2221 Slane Avenue in Cincinnati. Hope to see you there! We also play a weekly session out in town: 1st and 3rd Wednesdays we can be found at Ludlow Garage in Clifton, 2nd and 4th Tuesdays , Streetside Brewery on Eastern Avenue. Stop in and say hi!
Today I have the great pleasure of presenting a bit of my illustration work and sketchbook process to some college students at a local university. So I have been collecting a few of my books and drawings and have been thinking deeply how all of this stuff has affected and changed life as I know it. It’s amazing really.
Yes, I am an artist by trade and vocation. But I don’t think one has to be An Artist to find one’s path through life in an artistic manner.
Human beings are born makers.
“When we pay attention to who we believe we are and we surround ourselves with the things that reflect that story, with all its urges, aspirations and processes, we develop a perspective that’s uniquely ours to share. In turn we can share that unique perspective and, acting from a place of greater wholeness and awareness, thus become better and more useful members of our community.”
” I never knew I was creating a world which was an antithesis to the world around me which was full of sorrow, full of wars, full of difficulties. I was creating a world I wanted, and into this world, once it is created, you invited others and then you attract those who have affinities and this becomes a universe.”
Meet John Joe Badger. …. and his story in the coming weeks.
A borrowed practice set of Uillean Pipes. Loads upon loads of humility and patience. A fair bit of time. And patience. (Did we mention humility?) And humor too, of course. And we mustn’t forget the tea. Cups upon cups of tea. (I hear he’s partial to Lyon’s, with a splash of fresh milk).
These are just a few of the things John Joe Badger will need as he begins his journey down the perilous and noisy road of learning a bit about the Uillean piping tradition in Irish music. There will be blowouts, embarrassment, hours alone in the woodshed. (And more ungodly sounds!) But our John Joe is keen. He’s made a few friends on this same tricky path already and he’s acquired a teacher whom he’s fairly certain is a saint or perhaps an angel disguised as a fellow Irish musician.
This is week one of A Twist of Hemp. A little set of storied pictures of a timid badger making his way, albeit clumsily, down this musical path. Stay tuned!!
Rain is falling and it is said snow is coming. What a perfect time to share this……
So excited to finally share with you a little drawing I made in late summer or so. It is the cover art crafted for a beautiful collection of pre-twentieth century European Christmas carols, all arranged for fiddle and guitar and performed with such delicate grace by Finn MaGill.
You can obtain this music digitally via the link below during pre-order days for just $7 until Nov. 29:
In a world so mad with the day to day, it is really nice to find a pensive work of music to set the tone. Especially for the holidays. Truly, it’s lovely. Go get it.
In other news, I have been pulling myself up by the bootstraps a bit as I dig back into colder weather and grayer days. I look back at older work to see where newer work might come from. My friend Rima Staines posted online a week or so ago a weeklong set of prompts for “Folk Tale Week” and at the last minute, I decided to play along.
It was good for my mood. Here they are….. (but to read my reasoning behind choosing these particular images for these specific prompts, go to my instagram page.)
It really was fun to re-visit some of my older drawings, and fun to feel inspired to make a couple of new ones as well. New ideas are a funny thing. We need the space and time in which to create them, and in a busy modern world, finding that is a feat in and of itself. But we must also seed new work with perhaps pieces of our own old ideas, or maybe some new things from people and things that inspire us. and so, we strive for balance.
This balance is always up for scrutiny, at least for me. Too much time alone with my own thoughts can be dangerous. Too little, is equally or perhaps more so. But I keep wandering the artful path. Trusting that time spent playing my flute or learning new things on the pipes is time well spent (let’s face it, no money is being made and in this modern age, that can seem like a waste of time!!).
In pipes class the other day we were lamenting the piping path, fraught with peril. And a new idea occurred to me of a series that might happen showcasing a newish piper, a Badger perhaps, clumsily finding his own way along the road to piperhood. And so I may have a new friend. He may look a bit like the fella singing in the album cover above…. John Joe? is that you?
More soon on all of it. In the meantime, treat yourself to the quiet beauty of Finn’s new album. It’s gorgeous. And for once, I am excited to put on Christmas music.
This morning, just after my first cup of coffee, an autumnal sonic assault begins. A murderous whirring of epic proportions.
The gas powered leaf blower.
It is nigh impossible to think for oneself amidst the din of modernity, particularly in suburbia, where the moving of leaves around seems to point to some sort of status.
I wonder, what we might hear if we were afforded an opportunity to listen deeper. To listen to the miniscule preparations being made by the smallest of creatures….
Roll, roll, grumble, grumble, roll…
The sounds of a gathering of food stuffs for the winter season. Acorns, walnuts.
Crack, snap, crack, crack, stack…..
Further gathering and arranging of sticks and wood and kindling with which to warm ourselves in the months to come. Even the smallest of fallen twigs might be of use.
Perhaps we hear the click, click, click of knitting needles working woolens into garments for bracing against autumnal winds…..
Maybe we hear the gentle felling of ripened fungi in the forest, so that they might be dried and saved for soup making.
What sorts of sounds do you listen for when the leaf blowers finally run out of gasoline? How can we better listen to the quietude offered to us by the smallest of woodland creatures? How might we better listen to ourselves?
” I sat down on the bank above the beach where I had a splendid view all around me. Dead indeed is the heart from which the balmy air of the sea cannot banish sorrow and grief.”
We are more than a week home to Ohio now. In this time we have run the gamut of human emotions. Grief over the loss of and funeral for Tony’s mom, love and glee at reconnecting with far flung family at said funeral, relief at being in one’s own bed and living space, awe at the turning of the season, as autumn in Ohio carries its own special splendor. Overwhelm at the return to the reality of regular responsibility.
So often the case, I find my soul lagging behind my body after a trip of such magnitude and so part of my mind’s eye is still fixed on the magical hills and cliffs and windswept beaches of western Ireland. But I am more fortunate than most who return to the US from a trip to the Emerald Isle. I have music.
I shall start with that.
Irish music has been in my life for a good while now. Beginning with my son taking on the challenges of the fiddle, which led not only to his life’s work as a musician but also to me forging my own brambled path via whistle, flute and eventually (gods willing and the creek don’t rise) the Uillean pipes. To say this music is a gift in my life would be a vast understatement. Everywhere we laid our weary heads whilst in Ireland had something to do with the music.
Our friends in Blackrock, Co. Louth are both musicians. Through their work over the years, they have come to know many influential people in the relatively small world of traditional Irish music. And this is how I came to find myself treated to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of a private lesson with a legend.
Seamus Tansey is a force to be reckoned with. His playing carries the wild, untamed side of Irish flute music and his mercurial personality matches this fierceness. He’s a character not to be crossed, from everything I have ever heard about him. And yet, because I came connected to someone he holds in high regard, I think he took a shine to me. Our lesson was mostly me being stunned at the musical gymnastics he was asking for and him being patient with my inabilities. There is nothing more humbling than this music and I have so much to learn, it’s true. Perhaps this lesson with a legend would have been better spent on one besides myself, one with more knowing of the intricacies of this tradition. But when one gets this opportunity laid in front of them, one must say, “I accept.” I am grateful to Seamus and his lovely wife Joan for their gracious hospitality, to Simone and Sean for shuttling me to Northern Ireland for this opportunity and to Lillie whom I took to the airport hotel in Dublin far earlier than maybe suited her so that I could get to Belfast in time for all this. Life is rich indeed, and we all do things to build each other up, do we not?
One of my favorite evenings of this trip was of a night in a Kerry kitchen, trading very local tunes with my friend Michael, a lovely box player who is a bit too shy to play at the sessions but who has loads to share. Another favorite memory is that of an open session in a little pub in Dingle called Neligan’s. Another box player called Michael, along with a few other lovely players and another lovely night of tunes indeed. A shout out to publican Dara who makes all feel welcome and at home in his pub. Thanks for the encouragement to come along and play! (We shall catch up to ourselves in Dingle shortly here in this writing…..)
Dingle is quite the touristy place really. I can only imagine the throngs during the season. But I think of this music as a bit of a back stage pass. Knowing a few tunes and humbly sitting in (only when invited, of course) at a local session can mean that the local musicians might stick around for a chat after the tunes. And just like that, one makes a new friend or two.
Thankfully for Tony, all was not incessantly musical. There was much touring to be done in our short time in Ireland. I was keen to hook him on this country I hold so dear with the hopes of luring him back once again. I will be there next year for a whole month of course and I hope for him to tag along for a bit of November perhaps….. we shall see.
We took in the windswept Cliffs of Moher where there was not only natural splendor…..
But the splendor of quirky humanity as well which made my heart swell. There was an intrepid couple from away, maybe Portugal or Italy (difficult to hear with the wind blowing) who were keen to get some iconic wedding photos made….
Her veil blew in the wind and the rains did fall. Everyone seemed to be good sports about it all.
Others got in on the fun and had their own impromptu wedding shoots….
It was one of those rare, feel good moments when one feels a part of things and good to be a human. These kids might have been from Germany (again, so hard to hear with the wind as it was). But strangely, all seemed right with the world for the moment.
Eventually, the next day, as you know, saw us headed further south, further west to the Dingle Peninsula, “Corca Dhuibhne”. We soldiered on through rain and fog and down impossibly small roads which found us over impossibly foggy mountains. The skies did clear and Dingle did cast her spell eventually and we found the music there that night at Neligan’s. Sadly we barely had 24 hours to explore this amazing peninsula, but we took in what we could.
All around there was a feeling of being in an “other” world, of being blessed by those who exist in a greater beyond. Things seem chancey and strange here.
“Then I went to Ireland. The conversation of those ragged peasants, as soon as I learnt to follow it, electrified me. It was as though Homer had come alive. Its vitality was inexhaustible, yet it was rhythmical, alliterative, formal, artificial, always on the point of bursting into poetry.”
~George Thomson, The Prehistoric Aegean
Language, in English as well as Irish piles up like stones. Every nook and cranny, every stream and small strand has a name.
The sheer breadth and depth of such a small place is difficult to capture and express. It is said that Ireland is the size of our Indiana. And yet, it carries aeons of legends and myths, tales of wonder and woe. It would take a life time to learn and unpack it all.
We start with small words, easy to learn. Familiar concepts.
Creatures we know we love already.
Perhaps through painting the sights we see, learning the tunes which waft through the air, and engaging in a word or two of Irish here and there, we might find our way to being accepted by this land I feel so drawn to. I am keen to spend more time in Ireland.
I like the idea of being able to walk to the sea, and to the local bookstore, and the local pub, which might not only feature a warming bevvie, but also a nice cup of soup on an evening I don’t feel the urge to cook.
I actually don’t even mind the backward driving….
I love the constant presence of ravens and crows (kind of like in New Mexico).
But alas, here I am, now, in Ohio. And I do not grieve this. I have an amazing inlet and outlet for music via the Riley School, I have a wonderful community of fellow artists. We have a patch of land where I am about to go set some garlic in for the winter and batten down the hatches against the squirrels. Life is good wherever we are.
But I am glad to know of a few places, one especially, which make my heart sing. Most folks might go a whole lifetime and not find this. For this I am grateful.