sometimes, photos aren’t enough to convey the richness of a magical time with those we love. sometimes, we need the drawn interpretations of a journal entry or a few sonic scrapbook snippets as lenses through which to taste this fleeting magic…….
(push play…. just below. enjoy the harmony, and perhaps, a guffaw or two…)
eventually, as many magic times do, festivities melted into songs over cups of tea, and a few more sips of celebratory libation by those who were on that path…. here are a few more tracks of songs sung, littered with the sounds of toasts being made, more laughter, and some scratchy sketching here and there just near the recording device. Best wishes Alex and Rae. You are loved.
And receive all the challenges, truth and light you need.
May you never be isolated but know the embrace
Of your anam cara.
Last weekend my good friend Tina and I took a rather long road trip north to Vermont to visit another good friend of mine, Kristin, newly moved to Burlington from Portland. It was indeed a whirlwind weekend, bookended by many, many hours in the car. All of it flew by in a flash, and yet seemed to go on for ages as well. That’s the thing about friendship. It’s a time bending endeavor.
We laughed harder than we had in ages. We cried at the shared human experience. We talked of art and politics, motherhood and menopause. We dreamed artful ideas which seem ever more real when discussed with our anam cara, our soul friends.
It was a blessing to see my old friend in her new neighborhood, which finally seems like a place she and her family can settle for the long term. It was an equal blessing to have my other old friend along for the drive, which due to our chit-chat and shared reading and pondering and wonderment, seemed not to be a long drive at all.
But the best blessing of all is that these two now know each other truly, having only met in passing before now. It was like we had all known each other our whole lives. Which, perhaps, we have.
It’s worth working on friendships, in spite of or perhaps especially when, life gets in the way.
“Sing and you shall defeat death; sing and you shall disarm the foe.” – Elie Wiesel.
I am returned, once again, from the magical world of the Swannanoa Gathering, which this year celebrates it’s 25th anniversary. And once again, it was quite the week of music and mayhem, tunes and tricks, laughter and love, friendship and food, beverages and beauty.
There are many ideas floating around in my head for drawings and illustrations seeded by this past week which I shall soon share here of course. Art begets art and by spending the week with so many talented and creative folks, I am fairly swimming in artful thought-glitter!!
But in spite of dark times and a world awash with so much hatred and violence, we came together, once again. A dear friend of mine from Swannanoa overheard someone say one night at a ceili where everyone dancing seemed to have a smile on their shining faces, “Why can’t we be like this all the time? All of us?” I don’t think he meant just us at the gathering, but maybe more the world at large.
So hard not to smile in the midst of this music. Heartfelt, Joy-filled….
And in the midst of all of the fun, we were there to learn. Everyday, we went to the classes available to us to soak up all the tunes and tips we could from our multi-talented instructors. For me, this was Nuala Kennedy in the morning, and Kevin Crawford in the afternoons.
The rapport and sense of play these two bring to teaching and playing and performing is simply infectious and I find them both incredibly inspirational in my own teaching work as well as of course, the music itself.
Neither one of them lets us get away with anything but our very best work and so on the edge of our seats, we huffed away on our flutes and learned so very much. My mind is still quite thick with all of the information we gained over the week!
The week was not all classes though….
There were concerts, lectures, opportunities to play more slowly on a new instrument. There were sessions till all hours of the night. And of course lots of laughter and community with friends. Here is a small sampling…..
(side note: during the storm, a huge lighting strike occurred on campus. it hit a tree and out went the power. it was captured in this amazing sound byte by my friend Mary….. listen for at least 40 seconds…..)
There is so much more in the world of sweet snapshots I could share with you here. Special thanks to my flute friends Kate, Bob and Colin who generously shared their pictures for this post. And I could leave the update here and that might be the end of it. But while we were at camp, the world was continuing on its crazed path of recent self destruction. News was leaking in. The music we were making took on a whole new gravity.
As is often the case, the ‘Flutilla’ was planning some mischief for the end of week student showcase. In years past we had made fun with the ‘rivalry’ between Nuala and Kevin, as our allegiance to them both made them often wonder, ‘hmmmm, who do the flute kids like best?’ But of course we love them both equally and we get something different from each. So this year, we took on the fiddles. Which seemed a fun direction to go, based on the hijinks at the concert the other night. And so I drew up a little drawing, and we made a plan for take over in the form of wearable art…..
Update!!!: Due to the high level of interest in this design, I have created a tidied up version of it to put on products such as totes, shirts and the like which you can order from the link below. Proceeds will go toward a scholarship to Celtic Week at the Swannanoa Gathering. Viva la Flutilla!!!!
But then we awoke the next morning to read the dreadful news of Nice and beyond and we approached the day more somberly. I had the feeling that my blog post from before leaving for camp was even MORE important and we all talked about how important and actually ‘serious’ the ‘fun’ we were having at camp truly is.
My dear friend Joe Bly wrote a gorgeous poem, in true mythical epic poem format that had begun with the ‘let’s take down the fiddles’ sort of approach and idea. But as he wrote it, it changed. Into something bigger and better than all of that. With his poem, the ‘tyranny’ we speak of became all that is evil in the world at large. All the violence and negativity. The work and fun we embarked upon at the Swannanoa Gathering is the rejection of all of that. The folks I know from the gathering go back to their real lives as doctors, teachers, paramedics, therapists, healers, parents, lawyers and beyond. They are bright and active in their communities and keenly aware of the news. And into that work in the outside world, they bring the laughter and creativity that a week of music camp can ignite. I simply marvel.
Cloaked in the mists of Tír na nÓg, the Otherworld of Swannanoa, Where three hundred days pass as three, Rival Clans of the Blackwood vied in feats of strength and skill, Lost in the Loop of myths and legends.
Come! Ye Fianna of the Flute! Daughters of Méabh, Sons of Cúchulainn! Come forth from the mists and meet in the ford of the river that divides us, For now is the time to cast arms beneath the waves And in Friendship and Honor Unite.
We are reborn as warriors anew as we march forth into the shining day.
For are we not free? For do we not face the shadow of a common foe, Hearts and eyes open wide?
For we shall not grovel in fear of the Darkness But serve the light of the clear morning.
We cradle the sacred rite passed down through the mists of legends, And it is our sworn honor to push together against the night, With our strength and our weapons of music and laughter.
Now, more than ever.
I do believe that Joe may have channeled something divine in this poem. He read it aloud at the showcase before the flutes came together as one and played a jig together in unification.
The evening wore on and there were so many gorgeous tunes and songs put on by everyone…. We soaked up and steeped in the final evening together.
As the week came to an end, we all talked much of not only the music we had experienced, but also of the wisdom we were given by those who light this musical path.
A highlight of the week for me was a ‘potluck’ lecture-talk put on by Martin Hayes who is a great fiddler, not only in the traditional sense but also as one who is constantly pushing the boundaries of the music itself. He spoke of being truly present in our music and that to do that we must be present with ourselves. This notion of presence really struck me.
When I play music, or make art, I am most truly present. And the doing of these things over the years has enriched my life and caused me to be more present in all aspects of my life. Presence. It’s crucial. Presence in ourselves. Presence with each other. This alone could help heal a lot in this world, I do believe.
some notes jotted down from martin…
“…raw beauty of a melody.”
“simple music, heartfelt.”
“connective tissue between musician, instrument, and player”
“anything that further releases inner expression is valid”
“trying is an obstacle” (yoda?? is that you???)
“leave the safety zone behind”
“trust the unknown.”
“create a spell.”
Last week at Swannanoa was more than just music. It felt a lot like activism. Pursuing creativity and kindness, music and beauty in a world so hell bent on the opposite seems like an insurmountable challenge at times. But I accept this challenge. As best as I know how to. I share my approach to art work in the form of teaching and I’ve been told it has changed lives for the better. Much in the way my instructors at Swannanoa and beyond have changed mine.
I am deeply grateful to be on this beautiful planet at the same time as these people. These musicians and friends of mine. The world needs their beauty. My beauty. and Yours.
“Sing and you shall defeat death; sing and you shall disarm the foe.” – Elie Wiesel.
This time last week, hard to believe, I was packing up boxes and cases, making last minute visits to loved ones in my home away from home, grasping hugs and goodbyes to new and old friends alike, with promises not to forget.
It’s easy to come back home to our day to day lives and forget the work we have done while in Taos. The week out there being just one in a year full of so many work-a-day weeks. Weeks when we might be tempted to forget the importance of our day to day creativity. And how crucial that creativity and the belief in it are to a Life Well Lived.
Each year I marvel at how a little class focusing on keeping a daily visual journal can become such Big Work. It IS Big Work. And I mustn’t forget.
For myself in my own practice of it, and for my students as well. What once started as an art class with some sketching and gathering involved, has morphed into a week each summer where some like minded folks come together to open up to the world.
It’s really as simple as that. And as complicated.
I’ll attempt here to share a little bit of what we accomplished this year in Taos.
First off, re: the little ditty at the very above. I really miss my Taosñas. Each is a beautiful Chip of a Star. Every year whoever needs this class comes to it. I panic a little as registrations come in (or don’t) and remind myself that this is not up to me. My job is to put it out there and those who are supposed to be there, will be there. This year was no different. I had some repeat attendees whom I hope benefitted from new tricks, and some newbies whom I hope are affected forever by the power of the work. I really, really miss them. We somehow manage to pack a year in a day, everyday, day after day. And every morning they’d show up at breakfast, exhausted, raw and ready for more, much like myself.
Pictures cannot do the week justice. But I have a few snapshots to share, and a few more words as well.
I arrived in Taos and the town was hopping, unlike usual. The Mabel and Company show was making quite the splash down at the Harwood, and if you are in town, I recommend you see it. This place has attracted artists and movers and shakers since before history. The show at the Harwood gives us a snapshot of one such time in history when the attraction was especially compelling to the likes of Georgia Okeeffe, Ansel Adams, and DH Lawrence.
On both the front and back ends of this trip personally, I opted to get out of town and visit the old Lawrence Ranch, now owned, operated and managed by the University Of New Mexico. I was blown away by the sense of place I found there.
In particular, the famed Lawrence Tree captured my imagination and the interest of my pencil. I truly enjoyed spending time with this tree.
In my heart of hearts, I think each tree has a soul of sorts, but like people, some trees have a soul which shines brighter than most. This is one such tree. And Georgia O’Keeffe knew it herself.
It was an honor to spend some time with it. Humbling as well. Because, let’s face it, not all of us are Georgia’s. We must all find our own way.
Meanwhile, folks arrived and gathered and we began the week with some exercises “where the tight are loosened, and the frightened are freed.”
I love the energy of these early drawings. And wish I had gotten more images of all of the work done that morning. Basically, we laid some locally found color down and then did some contour drawing over top. But the end product was less about what was on the page and more about what remained in the heart of the artists themselves. Suddenly, those who came to the table buttoned up with all kinds of amazing skills, found their work loosening and changing and growing. And the beginners, well, they had these gorgeous instant drawings they didn’t know they were capable of creating!! It was pure magic.
Later that afternoon, as luck would have it, the Pueblo had a dance to attend. So we moved the afternoon class to the evening, and traveled en masse to witness the dancing.
I have taken to not posting much about what we witness at these dances at/in the Pueblo itself, as they are sacred, and really only to be witnessed first hand. But overall, for Day 1 of an art workshop, this was kind of a spiritual ticket to the delicious underworld of it all. Someone remarked that the energy in the classroom that evening was more like that of Day 4 than Day 1, and I credit that to the workings of the day at the Pueblo.
As the week went on, day two into day three, all began to roll together. I had structure laid down for the work each day, but into that structure, Magic came. And the days, once again stretched and changed and became Other.
Creativity is really just the structuring of Magic.
In the past we have had the great pleasure of visiting the buffalo herd of my now dear friend Harold Cordova. In spite of some serious new responsibility on his shoulders we once again paid a visit to these amazing animals who were nursing some new members of their herd and shyly introduced us….
As usual, these regal beasts wove their way into our hearts and into our sketchbooks.
And in the spirit of the endlessness of the days of this particular trip, I found time that evening to play some tunes with local Taos friends who have become dear to me over the years. In spite of teaching all day. In spite of a spiritual visit to some otherworldly animal friends. Eventually, we did this twice during my time there this year. Again, I marvel. At the sheer deliciousness of it all.
Of course, all work and no play, make Amy an insufficient instructor, and so I did manage to get my feet up now and then, as per the instructions of the history of the house….
I’m no Dennis Hopper, but I do know how to put my feet up . Special shout out to my dear friend Jamison who set this bit of relaxation up for me there. All in keeping with the spirit of the house.
(yes, this hammock was in the same spot as Dennis’s hammock back in the day. Amazing how the stories of old speak to us in this day and age, via something so simple as a hammock.)
Meanwhile, we worked and worked and worked….. (and I took a few – but not many- pictures.)
Sadly and soon, it was time for our annual end of workshop dinner….
The food at Mabel’s was, per the usual, show stopping. They are true artists. And we are grateful for the gorgeous, plated dinner to which we were treated that evening. (not to mention, the breakfasts and lunches day to day!!!) No dinner in Taos that evening could have compared to ours, I am certain of it. The food and the people of my day-to-day in Taos are what I am missing the most, really.
I am now back in Ohio. I have lots of delicious plans for further travels with loved ones and into musical mires which themselves transcend time and space much like my time in Taos. But these are different than Taos, and I am still missing my time there. The me there. The Us there. There is a small bit of me that hangs onto it throughout the rest of the year. A bit that only those Who Have Been There can really relate to.
My goal is not to forget. Not to forget how crucial this work is in a crazy world so hell bent on crushing delicate creativity. Not to forget how Big this work is when sometimes my day-to-day feels so very small. Not to forget that lives have been and are being changed by the simple act of keeping a journal, or of making a little drawing of something beautiful each day. This is important. This, is work worth doing.
In the end, I think Lani Potts, a workshop participant this year and also an artist and a poet, put it most beautifully in this poem which found its way into her journal….
It seemed like it would never stop raining. This gorgeous, flower-filled spring time of ours has lingered on and on in its misty, fog-filled mornings and cold temperatures. I actually really love cool temps and soft rain showers. A part of myself could probably even live in a place like Ireland. But here in Ohio, folks have done planted their tomatoes and are wonderin’, ‘when will we get some predictable sunshine and finally dry out???’
The past day or so we have had not only dryness, but sunshine. Sunshine worthy of summer’s glory. This sunshine has put me in mind for New Mexico, which for me and my intrepid sketch journalers, is just around the bend! I am grateful to be warm (but not yet sweltering, thank heavens!), and grateful that travel season is only a matter of weeks away. I am grateful for work that takes me to beautiful places to spend time with interesting people. And I am grateful for friends, family and ‘faminals’ who welcome me home when that work is done. Today, I am grateful for sunshine, a full day in the studio (with a couple hours off to paint some walls at our local art center) and the sense that the real work of summer is upon me. Looking forward to getting back to Taos, drawing and painting all I can capture!
Be sure and follow my adventures on Instagram,Facebook and Twitter in the coming months. I’ll be sure to share lots of images, and will blog when I can!
We are down to one hen, having lost the family favorite, mischievous, curious, moxie-laden Bernadine. Her personality here on our little acre of land will be sorely missed.
That leaves us with Elvyra, who was kind of the extra one from the beginning. We went to the little farm in Kentucky to get four chicks, and came home with 5. The farmer suggesting ‘that little easter-egger over there’ might be a good one to have if we wanted a pretty flock.
And pretty she is.
Of all of the flock, this one has been the quiet one. Part of the flock enough to be safe, but not overly keen on human attention or affection. Having read that lone hens are prone to depression and rapid decline, I have been keeping a close eye on Elvyra, but so far, she seems ok.
She preens her feathers regularly and scritches around the garden and woods for bugs and fresh spring green things. She’s still laying daily and roosts predictably at night. She is eager to de-coop in the morning and join me for a cup of coffee and some treats on the back stoop. It’s become a bit of a thing for me lately amidst this crazy time of year.
There is just something so soothing about watching a hen peck around the yard for a bit each day.
Even if it is just the one.
I’m gearing up for the Taos trip here in a few weeks and so have ramped up my yoga practice and running routine to get my head on straight, to be the best I can be for my incoming students. Spring can be a frenetic season with graduations and birthdays to be celebrated, chores to be caught up on and of course the usual day to day work to be done. Busy. a word I loathe, but to which I must occasionally succumb. I am woefully behind in my own sketchbook, but have instead been at the easel a bit each week in a painting course I decided to take from Manifest Drawing Center here in town. I am learning a lot in this class about color and painting in oil paints, some of which I hope to apply to my own teaching out west. It’s important to me not to rest on laurels and to always be finding new things to share in my classes. I am keenly aware that to do this work is a great gift. I do not take it for granted.
While we are down in numbers in the avian world, our canine sphere is fit to burst since last year. It’s nearly a year since we took over the stewardship of my Mama-in-law’s little dog Charlie.
She was not as little as she really should be when she first joined us. But with some exercise and the company of other dogs, she has trimmed out a good bit and her more boisterous personality has begun to shine (read, bark).
Charlie seems quite happy here with us and still makes regular visits back home to Mom as well, which is good for everyone.
And so, on this very average day, I must get back to work. Attempting the task of getting ahead of myself a bit before the summer travels begin in earnest; pondering the One-ness of all things via the simple avenues of home – ‘fanimals’ and family.
I have heard it said that in 7 years, a person’s whole body – every bit of it, down to the cellular (and perhaps beyond) level – is replaced in that time by a new set of cells, ready to take on the task of the day to day life of being human. But what of the soul?
I’ve returned from some magical travels to a more equatorial part of the world with my beloved, and have landed amidst the mud and mire of early spring back home. Normally a joyful season for most folk, what with the coming of green things and the promise of new fawns in the bulging bellies of the local mama deer, early spring has, in fact, proved challenging for us over the years. This year marks the 7th anniversary of Esme’s death which was a sea change in the lives of both of my children, in our own lives as parents, and in the collective life of an entire close-knit community. Not to mention, her dear family. Everything is now measured against this tragic event. And in March, we are called back to the season to take stock, re-visit ourselves and our losses and re-calibrate our lives to a certain extent.
And so we did.
Es’s weeping cherry tree in Spring Grove Cemetery is thriving. Under the now formidable presence of the tree, little offerings of love and memory are present….
We were glad to see them.
Madeleine and I drove around the cemetery just to take in the beauty and the years of memorials present there. It’s breathtaking, the number of stories held by this place. Just the names and birthdates alone get you thinking, ‘ Why did this person die so young?’ Or maybe even, ‘wow, that guy sure lived a long and hearty life for the time!’. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to any of it.
There really doesn’t.
It was strange that M. was home for Esme’s anniversary as it was only to mark the passing of another family friend, the loving mama of a dance friend of her’s. Lucinda, a wonderfully witty, thoroughly engaging fellow dance mom I’d known over the years, passed away from cancer, leaving behind a kid just a year younger than my own, amongst many others she loved and whom cherished her.
We are all heartbroken.
And so from memories of one to memorializing another, March seems to be funeral season. We are all glad we have each other.
Amidst all of this funeriality, I was called upon to play some music with friends at the wake of someone dear to them. And so we did.
It was fascinating to me to see the effect of the presence live music has in the environment of grief. Music, especially live music, seems to punctuate the moments of celebration of a long life well lived, while simultaneously allowing for the pauses for tearful acknowledgement of great loss to a tune perhaps more in the minor key, or slowed down enough to capture the depth of that loss. I was honored to play a small part in all of it.
And today, M and I attended Lucinda’s funeral. And then made our way back up to Columbus to plant her back at school where she belongs.
Like I said, it’s been a heavy season.
But every edge has two sides. Alongside the grief in recent days, was a fair amount of hope-full worry in our family, which has thankfully come to a bright and beautiful homecoming.
Our nephew, wee Frank came to us on Monday, just over a week ago. He arrived early, amidst some worry as to The State Of Things regarding how he was faring. Sure enough he had a bit of a struggle for a number of days as he caught his breath from his early oncoming. Eventually, thanks to the tremendously brave parenting and caregiving he was fortunate to receive, Frank went home to get to know his siblings. Things, for perhaps just one wild moment, seemed completely right with the world…. (though in this shot, Big Brother Harry might not be so sure. I’ve heard he’s come ’round in the mean time. )
This is the crazy balance of it all. Walking the knife’s edge of life’s beauty and heartbreak. Making time for all of this Big Life Stuff, while trying to fit the work of Making a Living, or perhaps even Getting a Little Art Made, into the grooves of life’s floorboards.
Even though I didn’t feel quite up to it with these recent heavy days, I met up with some fellow sketchers to challenge the blustery breeze of Esme’s day with some drawing downtown. Christina had invited a few of us to join her while WCET filmed her segment for a show on her work. I can’t wait to see it, and of course share it with you, as her work is fabulous. Sketching is a strong part of her work and we all enjoy sketching together. In spite of the chill, we all managed a sketch of Music Hall, as well as some lively conversation…
Why is it always a lesson? That making the time and effort for some music and some art, are the things that make sense of a difficult season? Perhaps because I am only human and by that I mean, I have still much to learn. This is the development of the Soul.
It is March. I have many hours to make up at the Shop and many, many more hours to make up to my own solitude and writing and sketching of new ideas. In times like these when life comes at us reckless, I wonder, how do they do it? The successful ones. Those produced, published, and promoted.
Perhaps they just stomp the work into the floorboards of life, between the moments of birth and grief. I have heard that music happens between the notes. Perhaps I am onto something…