Sunday, March 28, 2010

A night of owls...

barred owl on a branch

family on a perch

After posting about my friend the barred owl, I awoke in the wee hours to the shrieks and calls of the breeding pair just outside my window. I can't say I actually awoke, more strained to come out of sleep to hear them better. Sometimes I reach over and open the window, but that morning I was very deep in sleep. I don't know in what order things happened that night, but I also had a wonderful dream..... I was somewhere outside standing at eye level and a few inches from a pair of barred owls. They were sitting on some kind of man-made perch or shelf. I reached out to the female owl who hopped gently onto the back of my hand. I thought for sure her talons would hurt but I didn't care, aware of the gift that she had given me in accepting my invitation. Strangely, she spread her talons out and only the lightest feathery sensation touched my hand. The male spread his wings and flew silently off. She hesitated for a moment, then spread her long wings and jumped gracefully into the wind and was off into the dusk. That's all I remember, a slight tidbit of a dream, but full of soft feathers and a magical moment with black-pool owl eyes- both innocent and intense. 

Maybe this season I'll catch a glimpse of the owlets all lined up in a row, sitting on a branch. It was nice of them to come visit just after I wrote about them... wonder if they'll visit tonight and spread mysterious dreamings through the hemlocks while I sleep. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Owl visitors, river stories and green tapestries of moss....

quick sketch - barred owl in hemlock

Its owl time in the forest... it had been a while since I heard them on regular basis, but now, as the pairs are out and calling, I often find myself standing silent in the driveway, or opening a window to listen, hearing that they are right outside, somewhere in the night. There is an owl who used to come and sit in a tree next to the house all day long. She hasn't been here in a while, but this is the time of year she would come out of the damp, cool forest to sleep on a sunny branch of the dead hemlock. We, Pasha cat and then Sophia cat, too, would wander around outside doing our daily things- me bringing in wood, Pasha and Sophia doing their daily cat hunting rounds - while the owl snoozed in the tree. She occasionally would open one eye to see what was happening, shift around and puff up or change branches to re-align herself with the rays of sun. I always felt wonderfully blessed and found it hard to get a whole lot done, just wanting to watch her and not miss the moment when she would spread her wings and glide off to other sunny spots. One day, a few friends came over one by one. I was sure the comings and goings of cars and people in the driveway would send her on her silent way, but she stayed all day reigning over my little clearing with black-eyed forest mystery. She hasn't come to sit in the hemlock or her perch on the oak in a long time, and I wonder with regret if she has gone  into the mists. Screams and hoots and all kinds of owly soundings abound here still, but nothing compares to having an owl sleeping in a tree, day after day, ten feet from the house, not caring about the comings and goings of humans, cats and even the red squirrels who occasionally happened upon her with a start and a FAST retreat down the tree....

a happy Pasha cat in the driveway 


As the snows melt, the many mosses, well watered and full of life, fill the forest floor with the exuberance of green. Unlike the brown fields in the open lands not far, spring in the hemlock forest is a green, jeweled tapestry of pattern and texture. Small pools of water gather between mounds of ancient roots and stone ledges, and the roaring of the river a mile away tells mountain stories to the peaceful wood. When I venture out for an afternoon walk, I stand, silent and listening, soothed by the natural rhythms of wind and water, and wonder at a place so full of the more-than-human world. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Seeds, nests, and the balance of light and dark....

Thinking nests on the Vernal Equinox....

Thinking about nests and eggs as I watch the snows melt and mark the day of equal night and equal day with ritual. RavenWood had a small gathering today to celebrate the Spring Equinox. We had a lovely cleansing ritual with flower petaled water, gentle winds from turkey, grouse and seagull wings, and soothing crystal bowl and voice toning. Very healing. We ended our circle out on the land with a gathering of excited chickadees, the calls of the barred owls and the afternoon raven who seems to be here many days in a certain tree, right nearby, deftly concealed by hemlocks and shadows. I feel renewed and blessed by many open hearts and loving, healing hands and voices. One circle sister was blessed to witness hawks mating in a tree today... now THAT"S something! The wheel is now turning towards the light. Time to buy seeds and clean up branches and leaves as the snows finally recede bit by bit, day by day. Happy spring!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Natural magic, spins and following the magic crayon......

snow roll - photo by m. heart 

How surprised was I when wandering the web to find that the curious roll of snow I wrote about a bit ago on this blog, and didn't have a picture of, had appeared to another person that same day in a town not far. It must have been the perfect conditions for the spiraling snow faeries to get out and about and spin some magic. So thanks to m. heart at - here's an image of the lovely, morning surprise we were both gifted. Her roll was a bit more of a spiral form, mine a tight and even jelly roll, but no matter the shape, they both held the deliciousness of wonder. I wonder who else received the blessings of natural magic that day?

"Spin", gel pen on black paper

line doodles with a "spin" theme

I've continued my exploration and play with line doodles, and I can see that they will, in fact, grow into a series of drawings and possibly larger works. The drawing "Spin", is a bit larger than the 3 1/2" square doodle series at 10" x 12 3/4" and an indication of the doodles beginning to inform work that requires a bit more investigation and commitment. When I shared them with my father, he thought they looked a lot like the work of my long-time friend, Timothy Nolan, Timothy and I had a show together this past fall at Clark University where I teach. The show, called "Trajectory" was a great success in terms of a seemingly wild paring, but with deep roots in a shared aesthetic. You can check out a short interview with me at the show if you click on the "Trajectory" thumbnail to the right. In some ways my father was right, I do work with line, repetition and simple patterns in this exploration, much like Timothy, though my doodles are loose, open and not precise- and, most importantly, they are simple explorations so far. Timothy's work on the other hand, is amazingly precise and a well developed, beautifully executed and elegant body of work - and quite large, sometimes encompassing a whole wall. I remember in the gallery talk that I answered a question about how different our work was with something like:  "Well, yes, on the surface, but we share aesthetic roots and I know if I weren't doing work about light and atmosphere, I'd be doing work about pattern and geometry as that is what I doodle." 

So back to stirring the creative cauldron. There is a wonderful potential in finding yet another "spin" on ones work, another line to follow, another way of bringing into form and pattern things that are stirring in the imaginal soup pot. It breathes new life into my creative process, bringing a feeling of expansion and anticipation. What will come out of me in the exploration of this new imagery that will surprise me or inform and change how I work with landscape? Like "Harold and the Magic Crayon", I can make anything happen with my crayon, but what is most satisfying is when I can let the crayon lead me a bit and find things that are surprising - when I can find the delicate balance between controlling and allowing. Now I'm off to finish my taxes - the delicate balance of doing what I WANT to do and doing what I MUST do.......

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A creative nest of one's own.....

line doodles and inspiration on my desk

my creative nest in the window nook...

What joy to have a sunny day to work in my "nest". I have been amazed at how several small additions to my upstairs - used to be office- has transformed this space into my "creative nest". This winter I chose not to buy propane to heat my studio as the ancient heater and many drafty spaces around windows and thin doors makes it rather expensive. I've insulated and insulated and think the solution must be to invest in a new heater and insulation foam in every nook. As I am working on a series of scratchbord drawings at present, I can easily make them in the house so decided that not heating the studio would be OK for a bit. I had a two person show in October that was up for a couple of months, and I always feel the need to re-group after finishing a body of work. So, after many years of paying way too much for studio heat, I let the studio go for the cold months and worked on creating a space upstairs for drawing. It has turned out to be a great way to "stir the creative cauldron", taking me out of habitual ways of working and into a generative place of exploration.

I enlisted my amazing carpenter father to build me a floor to ceiling bookcase on one wall (something that I had wanted for years to deal with piles of art books on the floor), and a desk built into a window nook. There was an unfinished feeling in my office as I hadn't landed on what to do with that window nook and didn't have enough storage for books. I've been amazed, however, at how the addition of a sunny, new desk to work at has been inspiring beyond my imagination. Before this, my computer sat on a desk looking at cork board, my back to the large picture window with a view of the hemlocks surrounding the house. Doing my teaching prep on the computer was not very inspiring. With the addition of the desk in the window nook and a wireless laptop, I look forward to working on pretty much anything that entails sitting there.

People are often jealous of my studio space- a relatively small outbuilding just a few yards from the house. To me it seems very small in comparison to my former 1100 ft loft space in Rhode Island. My "nest" has taught me a lot about what's possible even in a tiny nook! Though making my watercolors wouldn't work up here because of my painting process, writing, drawing, blogging, journaling and dreaming are all supported in such a loving way in this little creative nest of mine. I am now an enthusiastic advocate of creating a creative nest of one's own in any little nook one can find. The next step is landing on the right green for the walls.... I've been at this choice for some years now, but I am confident that it will finally happen now to complete the healing inspiration of this lovely space. As the weather warms, I am eager to begin the clean-up and re-organization of my studio space and see if I can bring some of the sunny inspiration from my creative nest there.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Turkey vultures and chipmunks and strange rolls of snow.....

"Ridge at Dusk", watercolor, at the Mulford Gallery
in Rockland, Maine.

Today is a dark, cold and damp day, much like the image above..... we've had a few of these in a row. The damp cold that seeps into the bones... It rained all night and then, sometime in the wee hours, it turned to snow. This morning the hood of the car had the most curious roll of snow on it. As the temperature warmed a bit towards morning, the 2 or so inches of snow on top of the car got heavy and rolled over in a perfect egg roll that stopped at the hood of the car. It was a funny thing to look out at in my still sleepy state. I couldn't quite figure out what I was looking at. When I finally figured it out, I wished I had remembered the batteries for the digital camera... it was really quite funny- a perfect roll of thin snow.

The warmth of spring of a few days back has completely vanished, though the songs of the birds still sound joyfully optimistic. Yesterday, while driving home from the dump, I saw the familiar tilt of a soaring vulture. That and seeing that the chipmunks are running about again are sure signs that the season is shifting. Turkey vultures are one of the true harbingers of spring. There's enough unfrozen meat around for them now to survive and clean up what is slowly being uncovered with the melting snow. I've read that their stomach acid is so intense that they can digest anthrax. They are such a crucial part of keeping disease at bay, too bad they're not understood or appreciated. They are lovely to watch soar on the high thermals, tilting back and forth, their v shaped silhouette jet black in the sky.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Unbinding the sketchbook, stirring the imaginal cauldron and creaking sounds in the near dawn....

- iced mountain laurel-

- line doodles in the imaginal soup pot -

A wet, rainy day here at RavenWood. The hemlock branches are dipped low with the weight of rain and a light coating of ice. Snow still hugs the house in mountainous heaps where it fell off the metal roof in thundering avalanches that caused both me and Pasha cat to jump out of sleep at night. One early morning, after a week of constant snow storms and over two feet of snow, I awoke to an unfamiliar sound overhead. Above my bed, in the near dawn, a creaking, cracking sound brought me out of dreaming to listen. Pasha heard it too, and put on his ready to run look. I surmised that it was the rooftop snowdrift, heavy from overnight drizzle, ready to slide. In an instant the moaning creak intensified and, with a swoosh, the avalanche began sending sheets of snow off the roof and Pasha to his downstairs hiding place, rugs askew in his wake. Out the far window, I looked through a waterfall-like cascade of tumbling white. I pulled my blanket around me and tucked back in for another hour of winter dreaming, grateful for the cozy comfort of wood stoves and flannel sheets.

Yesterday I started working with a new art student. I shared with her my concept of stirring the cauldron... the imagination cauldron to be specific. I remember a teacher of mine used to always say - when in doubt, draw. Stirring the imagination cauldron is just that. Though it doesn't necessarily mean that drawing is always the medium. I recommend having a practice, much like mediation, that is specifically for generating ideas. Sketchbooks are a good thing, but for me, the next step in getting out of the sketchbook to make a LOT of small images in whatever medium calls to me. Push the medium, play with the boundaries of what is possible with each. Its a kind of wax on wax off process.... a reference to the "Kirate Kid" movie where the master has the student do a lot of what seems like random exercises but are, in the end, crucial steps for the student to embody the movements and KNOW them intuitively. My students get a lot of "wax on wax off" kind of exercises with a lot of pleas from me to "trust me!". Do ten small paintings exploring an image and medium, do twenty small images on a bunch of surfaces you've never worked on before, do thirty images with a bunch of different mediums. I have found that some of what I learn about a medium may not come into my work for years after the experiments, but, consistently they do seem to find their way in. It works for imagery as well.

Right now I am doing a bunch of small drawings with metallic gel pens on black paper. Its completely removed from the work I am doing in the studio, but is satisfying and a direct, unfiltered source to the well of imagination within me. It allows me to play with generating a lot of ideas - in this case geometric pattern- without needing to commit to it. So, yes, its a process much like a sketchbook, but unbound. That's it for me.... the unbound nature of this means that not only am I allowing a free-flow of imagery, but also of materials. I am not "bound" to the paper in the sketchbook, but can choose, paper, wood, cardboard, fabric, whatever I want as my surface and anything as a medium, and in any scale. Will these patterns come into my paintings or become a series of drawings? I don't know, but I am putting them in the cauldron with the rest of the imaginal soup. They may settle to the bottom only to be stirred up in many years to come, or they might bubble up and demand attention right away. I keep stirring and adding a few new ideas to the pot until something bubbles over and becomes an ingredient in my visual stews....

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Stalking bubbles in the driveway and bear tracks in the snow

"Spring Rain" watercolor available from the Mulford Gallery in Rockland, Maine

I'm remembering that in October, for my birthday, I had a bulb planting party. I've lived here since 2003 and have been planting gardens ever since. There was a small shady garden by the side of the house when I arrived- lily of the valley and irises and such- but not much. Surely not the home of an overly enthusiastic if not obsessed gardener like myself. The original garden has become the moss garden, with much to be said for allowing what was already there to expand. But this year, for the first time, I will have spring bulbs.

Not like me at all to be thinking about spring flowers while still buried in snow, though spring equinox IS just next week. I am more like a bear in winter who wants to keep dreaming into the internal mysteries until the warmth finally pulls me out. I'm one part bear, and one part snowshoe hare I imagine as nothing could be more to my liking than a snow shoe in the quiet flakes of an afternoon storm. But spring is definitely coming to the forest. Today, my Pasha cat was outside stalking bubbles springing from the wet gravel driveway. I always forget this activity from year to year, but it keeps him active for hours. Very soon the bird feeders will need to come inside as the bears will be out and about. If I don't remove the feeders in time, I'll have an inky black visitor mangling yet another one, and a lovely collection of tracks in the melting snow.....

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Distant View", watercolor from last year. Inspired by the view from the end of the road looking towards the Berkshires.

Mud season has come, a bit early. Today the town put gravel on our dirt road so we wouldn't be sucked into earth. Even so one has to learn how to navigate through the ruts that heave the car to and fro. Its no secret when out in the world doing errands that I live somewhere out there- the brown spray all over my silver car says hilltowner all over it!

It seems as though my wood will last through the spring - I hope. At this time of year, I am always concerned that I might not have enough wood stacked in the shed to get me through the damp days of spring. A small fire kindled in the stove is so appreciated on those cold and rainy April days. Last year we had so many days of rain that I was burning wood into June. I will surely run out if that is the case this year.... I will have to make do with small fires from branches collected in the forest that Grandmother Winter left in her snowy wake.

And so it begins. A new incarnation of this blog. It has been a kind of pre-web site endeavor, a place for messages and a place to have a presence on the web. Soon there will be a web site for both RavenWood Forest and for my artwork. Soon, but not quite yet, still a few things to tidy up and bundle before I send myself out to the world. This blog will be a real blog now. A place where I will share - stories from the forest - of the bears and owls and foxes that I glimpse on their journeys through my little clearing.

I look forward to sharing with you, and have much gratitude for all the people who's worlds I have glimpsed in blog form and who have inspired me to dive into blogland myself.

Sending you spring birdsong blessings from the forest, even as the snow is still piled high around the house......

The maple behind my house iced and beautiful from the brutal yet mesmerizing ice storm of December 2008.