Short and Sweet

Winter Aconite in the garden.

Since February is short and sweet, so is this post. I’ve been wandering around the gardens on this warm final day of the month, searching for signs of life after death in the aftermath of a very bitter cold December and January. And sure enough, I see encouraging signs poking up out of the old leafy remains of last year, signifying that hope truly springs eternal!

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:

The soul, uneasy and confined from home,

Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
Alexander Pope from An Essay on Man


Finding the Magic

This blog’s long silence can be blamed on our move to the country, and lots of trips with the back of the car loaded Beverly Hillbillies-style holding what we thought were our “minimalist” belongings, which turned out to be quite a few.

Granted, the capacity of our hatchback isn’t cavernous, and we managed to relocate without a moving truck, but still, our “living with less” egos became a bit bruised over the weeks and months that dragged on as we filled box after box. We also were cured of the whole weekend-house-in-the-country mystique after we did our best not to buy and own two of everything, a feat that inevitably led to at least one item residing in the wrong place just when we needed it every week.

However, as I wander around still searching for hastily packed items that ended up in the oddest of places (paring knives with the bath supplies, anyone?), I’m constantly amazed by how everything seems to gravitate toward its perfect placement, and the stuff of my dreams (rustic bohemian cottage with flower gardens) is coming to life after thirty years.

Around every corner, and out the window especially, I’m struck full of wonder each day by a brilliant light beam, or the jewels of frost on an unruly tussle of native seed pods. A walk to the river nearby can lead to a sweet encounter with a baby river otter or the sleepy gaze of a garter snake. The sacred soul of this land that drew ancient prehistoric people to leave their calling cards in the form of earthworks and stone tools, is palpable here.

Which leads me to my Word of the Year, completely entwined with the prolific vegetation that could easily compete with Jack’s beanstalk, and heralded by the fairies that live in a world garden created in love. What could be more appropriate than “Magic” for 2018?

I’m sure that magic won’t be hard to find every day.

Going Up the Country

With the earthy tones of Canned Heat’s signature song humming in our ears, my husband and I are headed back to rural living after nearly 15 years in the suburbs and city.

As quickly as our last move transpired three years ago, this particular transition is paced as leisurely as the river that meanders through lands that we’ll soon call home. In fact, each hour-long trip with a car load of possessions is a kind of moving therapy, a decompression if you will from the stresses carried along city sidewalks that we can exhale into the long shadows cast on an evening walk next to fields stripped of their summer splendor.

The ground’s stalky quilts are bedded down, ready for winter winds, snow and solitude, and so are we, anticipating the longest night of deep rest and introspection away from the world’s flashing beacons and whirling distractions, all its fussin’ and fightin’.

Now more than ever, we’ve got to get away.

Thinning of the Veil

Last year, I was preoccupied with all the fearmongering and polarization going on in my neck of the woods, and my nation. This year, after some of those fears have been realized (or threatened), I feel the presence of the ancestors, and take solace in their company.

As mankind’s old wounds are reopened and exhumed, they are waiting with us while the sins of past human horrors fly screeching from tombs of our denial to join with present atrocities. Just when you think all are accounted for, yet another evil pops out of the Pandora’s box to be addressed in brazen light of day.

Last year, I talked about being afraid of the dark, but this year I welcome it. Limiting my vision within velvety shadow shields me from the glaring justifications and blinding boasts by a narcissistic chorus of cons and culprits, criminal in their actions while they preen themselves with angelic posturing and shameless self-promotion.

Meanwhile, since last Halloween and the apocalyptic national election that followed my ancestors have been nudging me back to life, whispering those long-forgotten lullabies, breathing deserted dreams and destiny back into my heart, resuscitating the inner child pulled from a deep pool of adult despair.

Instead of the anticipated fear, I’ve been surprised by a spooky joy, one that jumps out from the country hayloft or city parking lot. Hope and possibility reveal themselves in the swallow’s swoop and stranger’s smile, the clasp of a trusting child’s hand and the brush of a cat’s whiskers.

I’ve witnessed in wonder the gathering of all ages to make art, and had my breath taken away by the incredible beauty that is birthed every living moment by reawakened creators surprised with what takes flight from their hands.

There is no doubt that this has been a hard year of endings, of death, of an inconsolable loss for what we used to believe and know with absolute certainty. And we have a right to lament what has been lost while grieving the absence of many who have recently left this path for other worlds.

But still, in starlit moments on inky-black nights, I’ve seen that they haven’t deserted us. They are still there, at the end and along the way.

Staying Strong

A dear writer friend and I went in search of oaks and acorns this week after a lovely lunch at my favorite local coffee shop. The walk was a welcome reprieve from the swirling chaos of horrific news and bad human behavior that we futilely attempted to recognize and understand over delicious fare, supporting the hardworking small business that bravely hopes to make a living in a fickle and uncertain industry.

The weather was amazing. If ever there was a reference picture for a perfect fall day, this was it. A slight, crisp breeze with the hint of cider, clear autumn-blue sky lacking summer’s haze, spots of ruddy blush as the leaves turn. I had a specific tree in mind for my friend to see, one that I pass every day on my morning walks before my hot cup of reward at that same coffee shop.

I call her The Grandmother, the ancient one who all the others surround. She existed before the military fort was built over a hundred years ago and wisely left standing when the army cleared the land. From her carefully manicured limbs, you can tell she’s been well cared for and honored through the years.

Towering over the rest of the former parade grounds, she doesn’t need the maples’ flashy foliage or the fir trees’ decorative pinecones to assume her throne with quiet dignity. On this particular day, her leaves had yet to turn gold, although the afternoon light that hit the highest branches already suggested a change to come. How many years had she worn her golden crown, I wondered as I pulled my head back as far as it would go.

Her acorns were few, a job left to younger trees as part of their service in exchange for her wise counsel. No doubt her roots connect to all, not just the young oaks, but to maple, gum and walnut trees that dot the landscape. She sends them messages of reassurance and fortitude earned from more than a century’s experience with drought, wind and lightning. She has seen preparations for war, and still remembers the young soldiers who stood in formation beneath her boughs, never to return.

On a late afternoon, I too stand under her protective shade and wish that she could share with me, with all of flailing humanity, the truth of what she has seen, an impartial telling of our human history from the view of one whose heartbeats send out the sap of life-affirming support through underground capillaries of ancient understanding, to those who are right or wrong, deserving or not.

And in her presence,  I humbly ask for guidance, knowing that in these turbulent times we all need to call on the strength of oaks.

Washing Away

Another form of water that reflects my mood on this last day of August.

This month I’ve been obsessed with water. Starting with my art grant for next year, which focuses on how water always seems to show up in my paintings, to the horrific events still unfolding in Texas. I’ve gone from lazy afternoons spent watching barges glide down the Ohio River on painting trips to recoiling from the unforgettable photos and videos of the broiling brown brew currently washing away lives and lands.

Like Katrina before it, I felt the same sinking feeling with Harvey as I tracked the swirling cloud mass on weather maps and phone apps. Growing up on the east coast I remember well the endless deluge of Agnes in 1972, when constant rain soaked through everything in my family’s spanking new saltbox colonial home, the wooden shingles, the old-fashioned plaster walls that only a very few craftsmen still knew how to apply, and the extensive fireplaces built with unglazed brick. My mother set out so many pots and pans to catch the drips, that the sparsely furnished rooms echoed like a tin symphony.

But that was nothing compared to the flooding of my beloved meadow, where the innocent creek that meandered through my youthful playdates became a wrathful river that destroyed the little driveway bridge carrying us to the outside world of groceries and grandma’s house. We waited days before my father was able to reconstruct a passage to freedom. By that time, the angry torrents had reduced to a slimy whimper, and when I managed to slip and slide my way to the meadow’s edge, I couldn’t recognize my former friend amid the scattered rocks and stinking muck from a thousand fields upstream.

The gentle bends and soft shoulders of the grassy banks I knew by heart were never the same, making it easier to say goodbye. The next year we moved away to another land with a completely different kind of water, where my brother and I played in a man-made ditch that ran straight as an arrow through soil the color of coal, reflecting a greenish hue that I would later realize was filled with something more ominous than the little leeches clinging painlessly to my legs in the old meadow.

And while Agnes’ unrelenting rain and stifling air fell heavy on my bony shoulders that June of 1972, this was nothing compared to what the population of Texas is enduring. My family didn’t watch our beautiful new house fill up with sewage, or have to leave our pets behind, we didn’t inhale the choking fumes of chemical plants and refineries relieving themselves of toxic byproducts as they shut down, and we didn’t know anyone who perished beneath a dark current.

This water, no matter how swift, will never wash away the fear and countless tragedies. As I grieve for those living beings who have been affected by this national disaster and donate what I can, I find myself wondering whether the suffering evacuees will return and the bridges be rebuilt, or if it is easier to say goodbye and start over somewhere else? Only time will tell and there is one thing I do know:

It will never be the same.



Summer Reflections

Kids are heading back to school, moving trucks are out in force, and I have just returned from our first successful attempt at a vacation this summer of 2017. Old friends took pity on us in our stuffy apartment during these final sweltering July days by inviting us up to their family’s cabin on the Menominee Indian Reservation near Keshena, Wisconsin.

This was only my third time in the Badger State, and we couldn’t have chosen a more beautiful weekend to indulge in a few days of swimming, boating, lounging around a campfire and gazing up at the stars. Located on the shores of a string of lakes that have been connected together, I was enchanted by the serenity of this land and its people during boat rides to remote parts of the reservation.

A large portion of undeveloped property has been returned to the Menominee tribe, and they gather on the shoreline for reunions and birthdays, to fish and swim, play games, eat and socialize. As we slowly passed numerous campsites and RV gatherings, I marveled at how peaceful and happy they seemed without the fancy cottages and noisy watercraft on the commercial areas of the lakes, sandy banks and perhaps a simple inner tube all that was needed for hours of swimming fun. We were warmly greeted for our quiet passage, careful not to create a wake strong enough to erode edges where the beautiful beech and pine trees perched.

During our visit, we saw and heard loons, gulls, sandhill cranes and even a majestic bald eagle. At night on the dock, as the Milky Way appeared overhead to remind us of other worlds, I found myself thinking back to those gatherings along the shoreline with longing and an urge to join in community with one of the few tribes that still lives on its original lands. That kind of belonging is as alien to me as those distant lights in a faraway galaxy, and as elusive as the shooting star I saw falling from an endless sky.