Monday, May 31, 2010

Warm Sunshine and Slow Moving Bears

"Forest Light"

A painting from a while ago... it felt like this in the forest today. A mysterious, quiet afternoon - warm sunshine and river breath filtered through hemlock boughs. I gazed into the woods from the garden where the last few days were spent in communion with swallowtails, dragonflies and dirt. Lots of dirt. I moved wheelbarrows full from the compost pile to flower beds and lost track of the world beyond the forest clearing.  

On days like these I sink into a quiet flow, watching and listening to the world just beyond my perception. I turn and see faces in the leaves or in the bark of trees... Root Woman, who guards the entrance to the forest came alive in a moment of light just so.... 
she startled me, in fact, though I pass her every day. 

Anenomies bloom in the moss garden and a mass of purple lupine have scented the clearing with the most amazing perfume. 

Around the corner in the shade, foam flowers mingle with lady's mantle.

In the heat of afternoon, even the ferns seemed a little droopy.

A meander stone nestled into the scotch moss...

In late afternoon I ventured out for a cup of tea 
at a friend's at the end of our road... the view from her house looks
over the foothills to the Berkshires beyond. 

I returned just in time to see the the dark bulk of a bear lumbering slowly up the path from the forest. She was heading towards the clearing, where Pasha cat was snoozing near the lupine. When she caught wind of me, her dark, furry-edged silhouette glided quietly through the trees and disappeared into the forest. I'm glad I came when I did, to spare Pasha the fright. After days of being harassed by foxes, who are thankfully back to visiting only at night, Pasha has relaxed. Although he has learned that bears are not a threat, being startled awake by one stepping on his tail would surely be something! Luckily, he never even smelled the bear. I opted to scoop him up and bring him into the house in lieu of snapping a photo with the camera I held in my hand... A happily snoozing Pasha cat is way better than bear photos anyway...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fox Tails and Cat Tails and What's Brewing in the Studio....

Forest Abstraction

The forest clearing is rather full of foxes these days.... We've been hearing them calling in the night - distress calls, young foxes barking, and intense screams. One especially active night, I saw foxes dashing this way and that throughout the evening while peering out to investigate a sound here and there. A young fox climbed up on top of the wood pile and was not far from the shed roof. I looked out in time to see it yowl and scramble down into the night. They have surely gotten my attention, and Pasha cat's as well. He has been meeting them while minding his own business in the driveway - the first time that happened I came out to the screams of the male fox. The fox and a VERY puffed up and pointy cat were a few feet away. Nobody made any contact, but the screams were frightening enough. Since then, Pasha seems to have met with a few more here in the clearing and off in the forest, I hear the screams and then Pasha appears looking slightly stressed. Yesterday, a young one and Pasha surprised each other in the garden, today they met on the path. So it seems they have claimed my garden as their territory, poor Pasha is doing his best to stay close to home and keep alert, but now that the young are out of the den, everyone is out and about all the time learning survival skills. Luckily Pasha is a big cat, and not interested in fighting, but afternoon catnaps in the garden are not quite as sound as usual, and I'm wondering how long this will last!

Fox after the first encounter with Pasha

Maybe I'll get a snooze in, before they're back!

Jumping into work after a bit of time away takes discipline. After moving all the tools out and cleaning and reorganizing the studio, it was time to begin. Where to begin was the question. I started with a series of drawings playing with bleeding. I have learned much from this practice over the years. I've always loved working with bleeding and did many such ink drawings before the knowledge of the technique ever became useful in my watercolors. Now I employ what I learned when painting trees in the landscape. I take a  heavily laden brush and work it into a wet wash, the resulting bleed becomes trees and tree lines. ("Pines" and "Pines and Dark Sky" to the right are good examples of this) It doesn't always work, there is a delicate balance I must achieve between all the elements, too dry and its over... But today I could just play, explore and learn. Listened to Japanese Shakuachi flute music and frog sounds from the forest and out of the meditation came these...

Meanders and circles have been in my consciousness since I began 
painting stones....

And in the garden, after the foxes departed and kitty was sleeping, I wandered around to see what was blooming - a lovely woodland wonder - the Jack in the Pulpit.   

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Day in the Studio....

Rubber snake and stones on my studio desk...

A day to sink deeply into ones work is a blessing I am ever grateful for - even if its a day of cleaning the studio. Yesterday I built shelves in the new tool shed. Mountains of shovels, tarps, gardening gloves, clay pots, extension cords, rakes, scythes, seeds and sundries were hung on hooks, arranged on shelves and emptied from my studio. For years I've been dreaming of a studio not cluttered with things one would store in the garage or the basement - if one had such spaces. My house is on posts, so, nothing but a hole underneath where a basement might have been. My friend Donna suggested I add a few chicken legs to the posts to complete the Baba Yaga house transformation... (I do like skulls by the way, but they are not surrounding my house, in case you were wondering) Today, after months of waiting, I cleaned, re-organized and began to feel myself moving towards a new body of work waiting to be born. After a few years of profound transformation, I feel different, and I saw this reflected in how my studio came back to life. Its different. The lack of tools is evident, 
but something else as well, 
something subtle - something new. 


I got rid of things, I cleaned, I covered tables with kraft paper, I found boxes for pens and paints and shells and bark and all the things I collect. I hung burlap on one wall and made an inspiration altar of sorts. I burned incense and listened to lovely Early Italian Medieval dance music and didn't mind the light rain falling on the tin roof 
and the damp and puffed up Pasha cat 
needing to be let in and out 
a hundred times during the day 
so as not to feel left out. 

As a student, I remember being told, when in doubt, draw. I would add, when in serious doubt of what to draw - clean, re-organize or create an inspiring studio space. Having decided not to heat my studio last winter I have been working at a desk inside, fine for drawing or small paintings, but not for my sometimes large watercolors. My process is too messy, I work on several at a time and it just doesn't work for me in a clean space with a nice rug. Not to mention the open floor plan in the house (not many doors!) 
and agile kitty curious about whatever I am working on. 
(Before this winter serious weatherizing 
of windows, new door and an 
efficient heater are needed)
So its been months since I have used this space. 

Ebbs and flows of work and tides and inspiration. I've been thinking about my particularly cyclical life and how it demands I not get too comfortable in a routine. It helps me to break out of habits in art-making, which is particularly true this winter of not heating the studio. I think it was useful, it freed me up to experiment and play and do other things that will inform my painting. I had inklings today of images and thoughts to follow and I bring the freedom of my winter exploration into my studio, 
breathing new life into my process. 

There are many forest stories to tell as well, 
but tonight its time for dreaming, 
I leave you with an image from a sketchbook 
from a few years ago, 
found today while cleaning. 
A forest story told in ink and bamboo brush....

Friday, May 14, 2010

Hair and Bone and Hide...

There is a place I visit 
when weary in my heart,
of who we have become 
and how we have forgotten. 
The journey there is long, 
through cave, mountain, and remembering. 
 I crunch through lightly falling snow, 
trail of woodsmoke 
and cedar scented air. 
Wind blows delicate flakes in bursts and
breathes through tribes of swaying, reaching pines. 
It is night. 
When I reach the glowing shelter, 
flakes die,
stars are born. 
Soft drumbeats and low voices 
hum together from inside. 
I bend and enter
 a flickering world of fire 
and women, 
wrapped in blankets and furs, 
singing songs of moss.
Hair and bone and hide
bound and tethered and known. 
I sit without a word, 
- soul to soul-
 the ancient one, 
keeping rhythm 
with antler and broken heart. 
Gentle sounds of rattles, 
shake me into presence. 
I am here, 
as I am, 
nothing more to do or say or be. 
The eyes of each one gathered here, 
 knows of death, 
and of going beyond. 
A raw, exquisite knowing - 
running through the forest, 
hunting a life worth living,
glancing and grinning, 
at the toothless shadowed one, 
running along beside. 
in this circle, 
 drums and rattles and crows,
building, weaving, praying,
there is no forgetting who I am, 
or what I am to do, 
or that owls,
and stones, 
are breathing with 

*   *   *
This was to be a quick post.... get out my journal, and copy this bit of writing I did over a year ago, that I keep coming back to. It is another day of low, lingering mists, a day when   the forest calls me deep inside myself, and into the shadows between hemlocks and ledges and mysteries. A treasured kind of day, when the reason for my landing here is close to the surface. I used to think writing was easy.... but that was before... before what? Its a mystery. But as I typed the words above, things needed re-arranging, molding, no... more specifically, things need to be trimmed, cut down to bone. I think maybe I am beginning to understand how to write like I paint... but there are miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep. 

I once had a naturalist friend with an amazing collection of feathers from all over the world. He lent them to me for a time and I felt as though I had come home to my body- a winged body of myths and flights. Once, I called a friend (fire spinning Lita) to take photos of me with them. Soon after, the feathers were returned, had to be, it is illegal to have them, unless one is a scientist or native with tribal papers.... but I knew I belonged to those feathers, and the brief moment when they lived with me taught me more than a lifetime of schooling. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Story of Fox and Crows...

'Fox Gourd', by Nina Haglund - final project for my
Myth & Symbol class at Clark U.

Mornings in the forest are usually very quiet. Gentle birdsongs, tree frogs, an occasional raucous raven and the late summer hum of crickets. The really loud creature neighbors are the night visitors - coyotes in the wee hours before light, the barred owls howling like monkeys while hunting in the clearing, right outside my window. If loud sounds pierce the morning, everyone notices. I want to share this story before it slips away.... a story of two very loud forest mornings, a few mornings ago... 

A warm May morning, Pasha was using me as a trampoline on his jump from window sill to floor, letting me know - in his not so subtle way - that he was anxious to go out. On these mornings when the forest is calling him so fiercely, every rug in the bedroom is askew and I laugh at his wild stares and loud thumping paws on wood floor. He can make himself sound a lot heavier on these mornings as he lands, hard and loud, at the foot of the bed. A bit earlier than usual, I circled down the spiral staircase to let him out. On the doorstep, his ears perked and his body listened- alert. He trotted off, clearly knowing there was something of interest to pursue. A few moments later, while making my tea, I heard wild screams and cries from the direction he had just traveled. Instinct told me it was foxes, not Pasha, but one never knows. I slipped on clogs and dashed out the door calling, the cries and shrieks still piercingly intense. He came running out of the woods, wide eyed and wondering, and we stood for a moment listening. As the cries died down, shrieking crows gathered in the trees and a barred owl joined in from deeper in the wood. I took my tea to the moss garden with Pasha, welcoming the warm sun. A bit quieter now, save occasional bursts of crows and dark-winged shadows flying by on the moss and over my toes. Pasha settled down at the foot of a hemlock, a usual spot for stalking shrews in the morning. Suddenly black wings swooped onto a branch above him and began shrieking down at him. Another joined, the first flew away, then back again flying aggressively at the remaining crow. They flew off, darting this way and that and at each other - black wings, wild screams and impossible swoops between trees... 

The following morning, while upstairs at my desk, I heard a quiet bark, then the cries of crows and the whooshing of wings past my window. Looking out into the moss garden, I saw a very scared looking red fox hugging the hemlock hedge. Several large crows were overhead, swooping down and shrieking at her. Her look was one of utter helplessness, frozen there at the edge. I went downstairs for the camera and opened the front door for Pasha who came in in a flash. The fox stayed a bit longer, but then darted into the trees, staying close to big trunks and slinking near to the ground. Her usual silent journey through the forest mapped by loud crows until she was quite far off.... I wonder how she might have offended those crows, did she travel through their nesting ground, or was she guilty just for being a fox....?

The little red dashing fox... 
do you see her - a small bit of red- in the center of the photo?

If you're brave, you can visit this site to hear the sound of fighting foxes... 
scroll down a bit to where it says "gray fox fight-(Loud) gray foxes 
fighting visciously..." can't link you closer than that. I think what I heard were red foxes fighting, but it sounded much like this - quite intense on a warm spring morning. 

On a final note, Pasha is feeling pleased with himself today as his photo- 
and the view from a couple of my windows - is posted on the blog of the 
wonderful mythic artist/writer, Terri Windling. Check out her posts on "The View from Your Window", and see lovely views from all over the world - and the handsome Pasha cat! 

And, because they are so lovely, here's another of my student, Nina Haglund's final project. This one is the "Bear Gourd", if you couldn't guess. The final projects from this semester's Myth & Symbol class were so wonderful,I'll be sharing some little by little.
(OK... sometimes the spacing does whatever it wants on my posts... so, there you have it... I give up!)   

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Misty Day....

'Tis a misty day in the forest, 
with occasional passing thunderings. 

When I walk in the wood on a day such as this, 
I walk gently with eyes on the ground. 
a bit of bright orange,  
tucked beneath green grass and clover.

I delight in purply outlines 
and electric-orange spots 
 and tinier textures and dots... 
and sweet little quadra-pod toes. 

Further afield I went today - 
  to the river for stories and stones. 

On my way I saw layers of greens,
and red-budding trees,

and a white-belted cow looking at me...
on break from trimming the grass. 

 Fog draped the farm....

and the top of a hill, 

slow moving river -
all was quite still. 

Back in the wood, 
the sun danced 
with the beech.

Drops collected on a leaf, 

and a pink perfect wonder.

Cold winds and more thunder, 
sent the cat to hunker down under. 
 I do wonder...

 He'll come home dashing, 
between thunder and flashing. 

We'll curl by the fire,

(of this we never tire)
and a 
 soggy, old cat.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Pilgrimage to Home...

Many years ago, 
when leaves uncurled from branches, 
I traveled over the seas to the land of blue waters,
and silver-green olive trees. 

white bones 
collected on journeys...

 weathered faces 
of people who still worked the land... 

deep, spirited eyes ~
 mountain, stone and bone

the distant shore of Turkey, 
the view from my terrace, 
sea meeting sky

An eight year pilgrimage, to a small, 
white village. Sun-baked, but with pure, clear water.

 I lived in Vourliotes, a small, mountain village on the island of Samos, Greece. I sank deeply into the land, learned the language, painted on mountain tops, became woven into the slow-moving rhythms of a community dependent on good harvests, help from neighbors, and donkeys. At the end of my teaching year, I'd pack up, withdraw all my money from the bank, and fly to Greece.... 

The first few days I moved slowly around my house and terrace, dropping whatever clung to me of fast-moving cars, phones, tv, florescent lights, human-made white noise. Once the rains stopped in early spring, life in villages was lived outside on terraces. Some folks moved beds out and slept under the stars until the cool nights of late fall. I arrived, dropped my bags inside my tiny house, and began the season of composting. Landing there each year marked the end of a cycle - a clear line to cross over from electromagnetic overstimulation to sensing, feeling, being. 

When I found Ravenwood in 2003, it had been many years since my last pilgrimage to Samos. I remember leaving my mum and the realtor chatting at the house to walk a bit out into the forest. Stopping at a mound of moss peeking through the snows, I sensed this was a place I could drop into the silence of being.... I offered a song of thanks. It ended in breathlessness and tears and a sure knowing of home: of coming home. 

So here I am, at the end of a cycle - semester is over, projects are graded, good byes and good lucks wished to students moving on, grant written and sent, winter turned spring, Sophia cat buried for over a year now, the depth of grieving for her and for all that had to be shed these few years, turned under in the garden.....

My pilgrimage this year will be to home. 

I need a moment 
to walk through the gateway, 
to sink into the forest, 
to listen
~ deeply ~
to myself
moss-green land.