Category Archives: life

Like so many others

The last time we were renovating, we were relatively new to this house, busy with elementary school kids, eager to create a home for them that would grow with them.  I catalogued those renovations back in the spring of 2008.  Looking back to those posts and a host of others before and after on this lowly old blog, there is one small and constant voice in the comments section. (before I realized that there were comments!!)  Just the one.  I don’t think many people were reading my early efforts really.  But Esme was.

Es was a dear friend of my kids.  They bookended her in age and the three of them spent countless hours together.  I wrote about losing her in this blog post from March 2009.

https://www.amybogard.com/2009/03/

Today is the somber anniversary of that loss, a loss that rippled through a community in ways still being navigated.  It’s been 12 years.  Madeleine made the journey home from Columbus today and we met up at Spring Grove Cemetery to pay homage to a young life ended too soon.  There is a tree there, planted in Esme’s honor and we made our way to it.  I remember when the tree was first planted, Es’s dad Tom would personally hand carry big buckets of water over to it to make sure it had enough.  So many trees in Spring Grove.  He wanted to make sure this became a tree for the ages.  It has.

There is something about the time in which we find ourselves just now – this pandemic – which has peeled some layers of vulnerability back on all of us.  My kids, now young adults, may finally be able to look at what happened to Esme from a slightly broader perspective.  Perhaps they even feel some company in grief, now that we find ourselves surrounded by it.

It is miraculous to stand amidst the boughs of this amazing weeping cherry and think of how much we have all grown over time.  How much stronger we all are.

We can bear so much now, with love in our hearts, and the perspective of time.

This nation has lost 500,000 people.  Like the virus that has us all at a stand still, grief rides the air and it can seep into everything.  No one is left untouched.  Perhaps we will support one another in grief and learn to live and love in kinder ways, I do not know.

This tree has created a perfect ‘sit-spot’.

What happened to Esme was a random and strange thing – a strike of lightning in a way.  Violence against women is – and always has been over the ages – rampant,  with some women more at risk than others.  In every family, and for every young friend who loses someone – that loss shapes the lives of everyone touched in their lives.

This cannot be over-stated.

Sometimes when I consider the grief in the wake of this pandemic, or in the epidemic of missing or murdered indigenous women,  I think of Esme and of the affect her loss had on our lives.  None of us were ever the same.  We still grieve.  And while we were her friends and we loved her dearly, we weren’t even her family.  I think of the hundreds of thousands of families, and loving friends, who’ve lost someone this year and I know a bit of the road ahead.

Grief is a prickly thing.  We all navigate it differently.  But grief, much like birth and death, is something we share as human beings.  And while the way through this journey of both grief and more broadly of being human is very personal, there are some tried and true paths which seem well lighted.

The gifts of music, art, nature, poetry and friendship (even if distanced just now) can be a bit of a healing balm through the tears.  It is our only option really, to seek beauty through sadness.

Jack played a concert for his old haunt the Riley School of Irish Music, where folks who’d watched him grow up, were treated to a show of what makes him tick musically. Music has been his path over these years and I am so grateful for it.

We have not been without our rough times after the loss of Esme.  Life is life, yes?  But our kids never really went through a stereotypical stage of teenage rebellion as they were sort of catapulted into the realities of the world at a much too early age.  The two of them have the most tender hearts, in part because of a Big Loss at such a young age.

We have a choice when we experience loss.  We can either harden, or deepen.  With the tools of art, music and kinship, we can choose to deepen (perhaps not right away, but eventually).  As painful as it might seem at the time, deepening is better than hardening, yes?

This time of year is normally fraught with a bit of tension.  The Irish music and dance arenas are on full throttle and we can tend to bottle up or bury the sadness of years past.  This is ok, and a very human thing to do.  We mark this anniversary in our own private ways most years.  This year though, we are at a strange collective standstill and are given a small gift of space.  A moment of silence to work into grief a bit, our own and that of the community at large, locally, nationally, globally.  Let us not harden.

Let us grow, even with dark shadows at our heels.  Let us deepen.

I wish you all peace.  Through the grief of the age.

 

****this is public post also available at my Patreon Page.  If you’d like to support my work and writing over there, the link is this: https://www.patreon.com/amybogard

The Bedside Book

Recently I’ve participated in some online workshop-gatherings of a sort.  Neither have been “classes” per se but rather more intended as an artistic shot in the arm – a path to creative exercise that isn’t my own regularly trodden path.

It is good to get out of one’s own way sometimes.  In this strange era of no teaching or traveling, barely making anything of note (besides a fair amount of really good food), there comes this opportunity to step outside of my norm, to tune out this world gone mad for an hour or so once a week.  It has been good.  Creating space for some play time has re-enlivened a few tried and true practices which had gone a bit stale over the course of the pandemic.  One such practice is that of my bedside sketchbook.

I came to the tail end of that little bedside book and it’s rich with interesting characters.  I’ve no idea who they are or why they are, they just are.

Some of them might be worth developing further one day, so as not to be trapped for eternity in the pages of a small book, but we shall see.  For now, here are a few of my favorites…

Sometimes, these Fine Folk would escape the bedside and make their way into the day book, alongside bits of poetry, to-do lists and the keeping of a calendar.  I welcome them too.

I was doodling one time while taking an online group workshop with Conal O’Grada of flute wielding fame. “The twiddle in the middle” are his words and they made me smile.

Yesterday I slipped into the art store before heading into the concertina shop.  I splurged on new versions of red and blue in the oil paints.  I also picked up a cheap little sketchbook to begin another volume of the bedside book.

It is nothing fancy, I just use pencil in it anyway, so no need for fancy.  I collaged the cover to make it my own, and will set it on the bedside table with a newly sharpened pencil to see who pays a visit before I collapse into a restless sleep.

I am restless due to current events and this raging pandemic and all that goes with it.  As I write this, I am receiving text messages from family and far flung friends with the news that the president has once again been impeached.  This is good news indeed, I think.  But honestly, I am weary.  Weary of ignorance and misinformation and cruelty.  I hope we can move through all this and one day gain footing on a sense of normality, whatever that may look like after these horrifying past months and years.  But time will tell.

For now, there is puppy kindergarten beginning this evening.  There are more meals to attempt which feed our bodies in healthy ways.  The sun shone today a good bit as well.  All is not lost, at least right here at home.  And that is what I cling to just now.  I hope you are doing well and hugging those you can.

The Embrace of a New Year

The new year dawns amidst heavy rains, as if the tears of 2020 continue to overflow.  There is a relief in this new day, this new year, even if in reality, it is just another day.

In years past I might have greeted the day a little weary from an overnight of music at Arthur’s house with many of my most treasured musical mates.  Alas, our tradition like so many this dark and difficult season, was simply not to be.  And so we had some curry and watched When Harry Met Sally.  I of course would rather have been playing music.  But that said, it was not a bad way to spend the turning of the year.  I am grateful for that.

So here we are.  A new chapter.  At least according to the calendars.  This feeling of a new beginning is refreshing after the sense of doomed Groundhog Days of the past several months.  The early half of this day I refreshed my studio chalkboard with a new focus word to contemplate for the year and some reminders to keep in mind of goals and plans for the months ahead.  Not so much “resolutions” really, rather ‘things to keep in mind’.

This year’s word is EMBRACE.  It is fitting on so many levels.  At the basest level, I just need more hugs in my life.  I’ve read that hugging more releases the hormone oxytocin into the body, creating happiness.  I am keen to try this as I’ve been a little blue of late.  But haven’t we all?

Embrace also is a challenge to myself to take more seriously all of the gifts that I have,  specifically in my working life.  I don’t take my art work for granted and I have worked hard over the years to improve my craft and get my work out into the world.  But that said, there is always more I can be doing to put the work forward.  I am considering setting up a Patreon page to ask my subscribers if they might like to pay a small patronage toward the making of my art work in exchange for patron only content and thank you rewards.  A bit like kickstarter and other funding platforms, but ongoing and not necessarily project specific.  I have heard wonderful things about the relationship that develops between artists and their patrons.  Money is a difficult concept for artists some of the time, but Patreon allows for people to throw a few coins into the proverbial hat so that artists can do what they do.   So we shall see.  I am still researching it all.  Don’t worry though, the blog will always be here in some form or other.  For free.  I promise.

With 2020 came so much change and grief and anxiety and a necessary re-thinking of the world in general.  The final tenet of my notion of Embrace, is to take what comes -to embrace the challenges of our time right along side with the small joys and achievements.  It is a time of  ‘yes, and’.  It is an era when we must learn to carry sadness and hope together in the same basket a lot of the time.  My goal is to embrace this concept and it’s inherent yin-yang quality and see where it takes me.  It feels like a good, multilevel word I can chew on for a good year or so.

The latter half of the day we met our daughter and her dog for a beautiful winter hike at a place called Glen Helen Nature Preserve.  It was magical with patches of fog and melting snow on bright green mosses.  There were streams and springs there filled with iron-oxide and the rocks at some of these waterfalls dripped a bright orange-red.

This fallen tree had been cut away from the trail we were hiking along. I looked at the growth rings and wondered, ‘how many other difficult years are represented here?’

There was an Adena burial mound just in the woods off the trail and it occurred to me that perhaps this place was sacred to early people in our area.  I am glad it is still treated well now.

Philomena continues to grow and change.  She has ‘divil dog’ moments when she is all wild instinct and needled teeth and it is difficult not to lose patience with her.  But we are all learning together.   As I type this, Charlie and I have escaped upstairs to the studio and Tony has taken over puppy duty.  When she is awake, we have to keep a close eye on her.

When she rests, one of her favorite things is to shuffle herself under her bed in the kitchen where there are radiant floors.  We think it might feel a bit like a weighted blanket to her.  She came up with this funny concept on her own.

Sometimes when she is all the way under, and merely a lump under a dog bed, she reminds me of a passage from The Little Prince

A favorite of mine.

As we attempt to bring our shoulders down out of our anxious ears, and gain an even footing in the world again in the next few months, I wish you a brave new year.  A year where the good will outweigh the heartache perhaps.  A year of mending what has come undone and weaving together all of the lessons of the past 10 months or so.

Sweet dreams everyone.  Tomorrow is another day.

Start Close In

by David Whyte

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To hear
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice

becomes an
intimate
private ear
that can
really listen
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

A David Whyte poem from
River Flow: New & Selected Poems
Many Rivers Press

Mischief and Moxie

We begin a new chapter in recent days.  One filled with the sweetness of a puppy’s young breath while haunted and hunted by the pandemic.  The weekend saw us driving northward a bit to collect a new dog whom we now call Philomena Amaryllis.  A big name for a big personality.  We are still getting to know her.

We encountered her through a local heeler group as I’ve been keen to get an Australian Cattle Dog mix of some sort.  A dog who can keep up with my miles in the morning, Hub’s miles in the evening, and everything in between. They called her number 9 and something in her eyes reminded me of our wild and wise Iris Rose whom we lost last winter.  We still grieve, but life goes on in spite of that.

We inquired about this young pup in particular and I enjoyed getting to know the young woman who would bring her to us once she was ready.  Along the way she sent us routine photos of the pups and their parents, apparently from a farm home.  I didn’t ask too many questions.  Puppies are puppies and they provide us with a blank slate of possibility.  They were clean and well cared for, what more could we want?

We made our decision to adopt number 9.

And so we brought her home a couple of days ago and things are fairly puppy centered in our home just now.  I’m feeling a bit sleep-deprived and depleted with night-time puppy scheduling on top of some recent health challenges.  But we are really happy with our new puppy.  At least most of us are…..

Charlie, our sweet “canine house-cat” is not too keen on Phil’s addition to the family.  But they occasionally find a peaceful moment.

We remain diligent in making sure Charlie’s quality of life and personal boundaries are respected and maintained, even with the addition of a rambunctious new pup.  We give Phil plenty of time and space to run.  I find her enchanting and engaging.

Phil was in a motley way when me met her, smelling of regurgitated puppy food as her brother had gotten a bit car sick on the drive down to us for the hand off.   So much for her pre-trip bath!

We got her cleaned up and wrapped up and headed for home.  She hardly moved a muscle the whole drive.  Except when she was nursing in her dreams.

Arriving home we are already figuring out our schedule again as a household.  We’ve dealt with the changing landscape of early puppyhood in the past and know that nothing lasts long.  We simply spend time observing and correcting, training and treating.  It’s a fun and fleeting time. 

This week our talented builder, who’s been singlehandedly rebuilding our back room, tested positive for Covid-19.  We have not had much indoor contact with him, and when we have it was always masked, but this is nevertheless quite worrisome.  And so now we quarantine here with our new puppy.  Socialization with neighbors and friends outdoors will have to wait until we make sure we are all healthy and well.  Soon the spectre of the coronavirus will be made slightly less grim by the arrival of a vaccine.  We merely bide our time in the meantime and try to keep hopes high.

This is not difficult to do with a new puppy in the house.

Today we are walking out in the yard more, allowing Phil to explore while teaching her that we are the source of all good treats and pats.  We learn that she is really into traipsing through dried plant life in the garden and this brings her endless pleasure.

It is my sincerest hope that this activity will make for a restful night.  But we shall see.  This is puppyhood after all.  We remain patient and diligent in equal measure.

You’ll be seeing a lot of Phil on this blog in due time.  Drawings, paintings and the like.  Dogs are my muse after all.  Such a close tie to Nature itself.  They remind us of our wild selves, all the while weaving themselves into our domestic lives and reminding us to root down into a settled life in the moment.  We needed more of this concept in our lives after this devastating year.

Dreams, it would seem, do come true…..

 

 

 

The mess we’re in

“We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust…”

~Albert Camus (via Maria Popova of @brainpickings)

Life is messy.  Birth is messy.  Democracy, equally so.  We must choose the mess in which we live really.

Outside my window, I can hear the soundtrack to an Ohio autumn – an  endless hum of gas-powered leaf blowers in the distance.  It’s maddening.  I think about how one person’s version of ‘messy’ is so different from another’s.   My grandfather had some cottonwood trees in his yard with whom he battled.  They would scatter their seed with hopes for new beginnings in another yard elsewhere, and my grandfather would sweep them out of his little space, grumbling all along about how ‘messy’ they were, to his eyes at least.

Here in our little village we are blessed with much space, big trees too, which grew here before the village did.  So many of my neighbors employ gas blowers to gather the ‘mess’ that autumnal droppings bring, while we (in the minority) mostly leave them lie where they land.  Where my neighbors see a mess, we see possibility – a place where next season’s moths might grow and hatch, as one small but important example.

Last night I watched (and celebrated with a ‘wee dram’) the speeches of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden as they acknowledged what our sitting president has, as yet, refused to – the fact that they are the President-Elect and Vice President-Elect of the United States of America.  It was an historic moment and I wept through most of it.  Harris represents the hopes and vision of generations of women who worked for women to have a voice at the table.

It was, indeed a lovely moment.  And we are right to celebrate the ousting of such a vile representation of ourselves.  But here’s the thing, these last four years ARE a representation of ourselves.  We might not want to admit it, but there it is.  I live and love here in Ohio where I am consistently confronted with folks whom I consider to represent the very underbelly of this great nation.  But the concepts these people represent and fight for are the very things our country was built upon.  We have so much to unpack as a nation.  I feel like we are finally beginning to at least talk about the elephant in the room.  It’s a start.  And it’s a start that Kamala Harris is in now the VP-elect.  It’s a start that  an old white guy chose her as his running mate.  These are all good things.  And last night, I slept the sleep of the unburdened for the first time in perhaps four years.

Many of my friends and loved ones posted about feeling like they could breathe easy once more.  I felt (and posted) the same.  It’s not lost on me that metaphorically, this is poignant.  In an era of George Floyd and Covid, the ousting of the very representation of the worst side of ourselves gives us space in which to breathe again, at least for the moment.  But there is work to do.

We must climb into some semblance of heart space and tuck in for a good long winter’s resting.

We must awaken with fresh eyes at what is in store.  We mustn’t look away.  A couple of people dear to me have recently stated something to the effect of:

‘ I plan to just hide my head in the sand until this is all over. ‘

This is not a good plan, for one will only drown sooner.

Perhaps better to confront the demons that built us.  To show up with kindness in the face of great challenge.  To avoid any gloating or shaming of ‘the other side’ and instead seek to know what brought them to that dark space in the first place.

This may sound preachy.  But remember, I really only write here to suss out my own feelings.  I have people in my direct daily or weekly contact in my life who feel this election now as I did four years ago – like the world is going to hell in a hand cart and that all is lost in this young country.  But unlike their response to my sadness four years ago, I have no desire to wallow in their despair.  I merely want to get through to the next chapter on this planet with out killing ourselves in the process.  This will take all hands on deck.

Yesterday we took the afternoon to attend a foraging class at the Cincinnati Nature Center.  I could sense that at least a few of our fellow foragers were folks not on the same political train as we were.  It was pouring off of them like smoke.

But we foraged together anyway, averting conversation of anything besides the juniper berries at hand.  Honestly, had it come up and been a point of contention, I was not ready to pat the back of anyone disappointed in the results of the election.  That said, I also had no intention of being as cruel about it all as the vitriol I’d experienced four years ago.  And so we foraged.

We learned about distilling the flavor found in this native tree.

simple syrup with juniper berries, which aren’t really berries but rather tiny pine cones. it was delicious!
goat cheese coated with juniper ash. a strange and new flavor to me. I am intrigued to give it a go on our own!

Later that evening, T and I took turns doodling the little dishes of these tiny berries over a beer.

“We are our choices.”  ~J. P. Sartre

The world at large celebrated with us as the news traveled yesterday.  Bells were rung, songs were sung, leaders reached out to the effect of  “welcome back, America.”  It is this more than anything that leads me to believe that I am on the right side of history.  That we will look back at the trump years as a dark era indeed.  It is my hope that people hoodwinked by his way of thinking might come along for the ride, but we shall see.

Today, my body is weary from four years of a trump presidency, but at least I slept well.  I am keen to reclaim a hold on my inner-knowing a bit now that the noise of a constant, top-down gaslighting is to end soon.  I am working to pivot my working life inward toward the studio in order to better weather the financial storm of this pandemic.  I want to keep learning music, to knit more.  And, as part of all of this, I want to work for a better future for the planet.  With Biden and Harris in office, this feels more doable than it did just a few days ago.

And, for now, today on this lovely day, I’m gonna go have a few tunes.

Wishing you all well.  Let us go gently into the liminal months ahead of us……

 

 

 

Just the same

It is pouring rain this morning.  Despite this, I walk a few miles before sitting down to write.   Work at the concertina shop beckons as well – buttons to be polished, a case to be outfitted.  These quiet rhythms of walking and working, in one form or other, keep me grounded in the here and now, skirting the edges of anxiety – though thankfully not drifting too far into that country.  Worse yet in times of past perils, is the propensity to escape my body altogether.  This too, isn’t an ideal state.  So I keep to the rhythms of my days, best I can.

Yesterday, a day gray and heavy with weather to come, I stock up on a few basic groceries to set us up for the weeks ahead.  My favorite place is a market downtown, Findlay Market.  There is a lovely man visiting with a friend there and selling the Streetvibes paper.  I am glad to have a bit of cash in my pocket to buy his paper and support his efforts.  We stand  and chat about the weather and upcoming election, that there is a hurricane coming once more to the folk in Louisiana.  “Where is all this water coming from, anyway?” one of the men asks.   I answer, only slightly in jest, “Tears of our collective grief.”  This gets a laugh.

“There’s rain in the river and the river’s running through.”

~Nick Mulvey

I’ll be quite honest when I say that while my physically anxious tendencies are indeed mitigated with recent self-care and the slowing down only a pandemic can bring us, I am deeply concerned for what will happen in this country in the coming days.  The level of vitriol between opposing world views  is so palpable.  So much at stake.  And each side of the political coin thinks the ruination of our country will come with the election of the other side’s candidate.  It is no hidden thing that I am not a fan of this so-called president or his rabid followers, so you know on which side of the coin I rest.  To me, the direction of the world, not just our country, is really what’s at stake here.  No side of any coin will be able to exist amidst the climate changes already happening.  The election of Donald Trump would defy any efforts to save our poor crumbling planet.  His direction is simply the wrong way.  Greta Thunberg says “We are running out of time.”  and I believe her.

To anyone I know who still supports this mad man, all I can say is,

“I know you are so different to me but I love you just the same.”

Nick Mulvey

The song above has been rolling around in my head since I heard it on a podcast I’ve been listening to about the issues surrounding climate change.  It is a strangely hopeful show called Outrage and Optimism and I highly recommend it.  Instead of worsening my anxieties about the state of the world, it has merely deepened my ideas about changes that need to be made and how we can make them.   As I listen to this song, the words remind me of an old bible verse from Psalms:

“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

 

Begin Again, Nick Mulvey

Mary was my mother’s mother and my sister too
There’s rain in the river, there’s a river running through
To the sea around these islands, crying tears of sorrow, pain
There’s rain in the river there’s a river in my veins
Mary, young as we may be you know, the blood in you and me
Is as old as blood can be
Is as old as blood can be
As old as blood can be
Living lines of memory through the markings on my hand
Ancient lines of living love, awaken in this land
Saying, I am in the forest, in the city and the field
I am in the bounty, come on, know me as I yield
I am in the falcon, in the otter, and the stoat
I am in the turtle dove with nowhere left to go
And in the moment of blind madness when he’s pushing her away
I am in the lover and in the ear who hears her say
Can we begin again? Oh, baby, it’s me again
I know you are so different to me, but I love you just the same
I love you just the same
I love you just the same
Love you just the same
Love you just the same
Love you just the same
Nigh-e
Nigh-e (Love you just the same)
Nigh-e (Love you just the same)
Nigh-e (Love you just the same)
Mary, if the world had 1912 to ’72 (Love you just the same)
Though we never met in flesh, here, I remember you
(Love you just the same)
Were woman you were gentle, you were modest, you were kind
(I love you just the same)
A mother, wife and gran you were a woman of your time
(Love you just the same)
Mary, young as we may be, you know, the blood in you and me
Is as old as blood can be
Is as old as blood can be (Love you just the same)
As old as blood can be (I love you just the same)
She says, I am in the living I am in the dying too (Love you just the same)
I am in the stillness, can you see me as I move? (Love you just the same)
I am in the hawthorn, in the apple and the beach (Love you just the same)
I am in the mayhem, in the medicine of speech (Love you just the same)
In the moment of blind madness when he’s pushing her away
I am in the lover, and in the ear who hears her say
Can we begin again? Oh, baby, it’s me again
I know you are so different to me, but I love you just the same
I love you just the same
I love you just the same
I love you just the same
I love you just the same
I love you just the same
This may seem like a leap for some, but to me the idea of “I am” is inherent to the notion of the divinity in all of us, including those in the natural world.  Those whom Joanna Macy calls ‘the more than human world.  One time in a yoga class, one of my instructors laid out the following further break down of the Psalms verse:

“Be still, and know that I am.”

“Be still and know that I”

“Be still and know that.”

“Be still and know”

“Be still”

“Be”

Will, Cincinnati Yoga School

We sat with each statement for a few moments to let it sink in.  To ponder what the essence of the words might mean for us.  It was a lovely meditation of sorts.  Perhaps thoughtful meditation is what is lacking in our country.  The ability to sit in silence with one another.  The opportunity to think and breathe deeply and just BE – which is as close as we can come to divinity most days.

We are not a culture prone to stillness, quietude and self-reflection.  In the 2016 election, I was the only one amongst my circle of friends not to be surprised by the outcome.  I’d had a spidey sense all along that Trump would be the result of that grizzly contest, though I couldn’t have imagined how badly things might go, and how quickly too.  This election, I don’t even have a spidey sense about what’s to come –  a likely result of 4 years’ gaslighting from our Abuser In Chief.  I have spent a lot of time these last four years angry and anxious about the state of things.  With the pandemic came the time to slow it all down and think deeply.  To sit quietly with radical uncertainty.  As awful as this year has been, I am grateful for the slowing down it has wrought.  I seek to find the bright spots in this era of darkness.  That is one.

As we careen into the days (likely weeks) of uncertainty ahead, may we find ways to center amidst the madness of it all.  Our own fears for the future of our country and for the world at large.  May we continue to find divinity in our fellow human beings, (no matter our differences) and in the not so human beings as well.  Make some soup, drink some tea.  Be well, stay safe, stay kind.

I love you just the same.

And one other lovely nugget from the Faroe Islands……

I love you just the same
I love you just the same
I love you just the same
I love you just the same
I love you just the same
Can we begin again?

The U-Bend

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.

Will you look at this gorgeous new evocative work by my friend Lillie Morris, whose relationship with the music and magic of Ireland runs as deeply as mine. This is entitled, “The Immovability of Stone” which refers to a poem called ‘Stone’ by David Whyte. (I share this with Lillie’s blessing)

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.

Me and the graceful neighborhood rats

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.

 

 

Genius Home

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.

We always know when we have returned firmly to Ohio…..

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.

This begonia has been through the wars. Originally a cutting gift from my friend Vanessa, it was eaten by deer one year, but eventually bounced back and needed a new pot this year.

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.

Note the dates. My grans, married for 64 years, died within just 3 days of one another. My grandmother, who married at age 16, used to quip about my grandfather, “Why Herbie? Well, he practically raised me.” I can still hear her say it in her quintessential Butler County drawl.

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……

This is my new half-set of uilleann pipes being crafted by Mickey Dunne in Limerick, Ireland. I think they are a thing of beauty indeed. Though honestly I am not sure quite what I have gotten myself into!  As Louise Mulcahy said in a presentation she did yesterday hosted by Southern California Pipers Club, perhaps it’s just the “medicinal sound of the drones.”  I’ll be sure to post here when I receive my beautiful new instrument!

“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.

How are you all doing? I’d love to know…..

Of interest

” For an artist to be interesting to us he must have been interesting to himself.  He must have been capable of intense feeling, and capable of profound contemplation.”

~Robert Henri

This day is close. Like humid and slow.  I’m reminded of Ohio and grateful for the lake here.

This morning, a walk before some rain.  I go for some time, in order to walk off a bit of the rich food and drink vacation with friends doth provide.

I walk, hike and occasionally jog a bit as well, past Wyeth style fields…. (keen to get this barking IT band back in working order)

…..up mountain roads, and past signs of life in the outer world.

There are stony sentinels guarding these well worn paths along the way.

The humidity suits the fungi sort.

Upon returning to camp, rain has begun in earnest and I retreat to the boathouse to practice some tunes for awhile.

Soon, the sun is back out, and the instruments have had their fill of muggy conditions.  I put them away and go for a swim.

Fast forward to now…. I have made a painting.  It’s busier than I would like.  Perhaps I have waited too long to paint.  Exercising and playing music first on this particular day.  All are priorities of course.  I work from memory along with a few snapshots of last night’s spectacular sunset.  So much going on there, so much to capture.

So I just push paints around for while.  There are notes of this one I like.  “It is only a study” (this I remind myself again and again.)  I am finding my voice (aren’t we always?) in gouache and one can’t make a masterpiece at every turn.

It is late afternoon and dinner hour begins soon so I’ll wrap up and be fully present here at camp, as that is the business of vacation.   (Also, maybe another swim, jaysus, it’s hot!)

There are books to read, naps to take, boat rides to experience, meals to share.  It’s all a bright balance of good things here and now.  I am grateful for all of it…..

 

Notes: