Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ancient Trees, Setting Sun, Apparitions in the Night

"Ancient Oak", 5"x5" scratchbord drawing

While my days at home are spent preparing for the 
coming snows, I steal moments while teaching to 
bring more ancient trees to life. Only a few weeks 
left in the semester, and students work 
independently on self-designed projects. I 
become more like a consultant now, as long as I've 
done my job at the beginning of the class to invite 
them into their own creative process. I enjoy working 
along side, sharing in the development of our work. 
Have I mentioned how much I love teaching? 

"Dancing Oak", 5"x5" scratchboard drawing

 Much of the land in these hills is second growth, 
though stands of old growth forests dot the hills 
here and there. The sides of roads are lined 
with old, gnarled sugar maples and trees that 
escaped being cut because they grew at the
 boundaries of land parcels. 

One such tree is this enormous hemlock 
on the side of the road near my house. 
I call her "Grandmother Hemlock". Its hard 
to get a good sense of scale here, 
 I must return with someone for a size comparison. 
She is mostly hollow now, and until last year she 
was still full of green growth. One night of high 
winds brought her top down and most of her 
sweeping branches. Until the other day I thought 
she was completely dead. I spent some time sitting 
with her and noticed to my surprise 
that she still has several green branches growing 
from her middle. She whispers
many stories to me when I pass- stories of 
owls nesting inside, mosses gathering 
at her roots, and days gone by when people
other than me greeted her as a wise elder spirit. 

Up the road from Grandmother Hemlock, trees cradle
 the sinking sun. A barred owl glides past, I stop and 
follow her in my dreaming. 
The last of the leaves shout orange as I pass, 
I catch them frolicking with the light 
and wind, flitting this way and that, filling my 
otherwise quiet walk with a sound like 
paper lanterns in the breeze.    

In the field at the crest of the hill, I pause for the 
last of the color show. 

The return walk on the other side of the road, 
reveals stories written in sand. A deer track, 
heading into the forest. 

And what appears to be a coyote speeding along 
behind. Its the time of deer running.
Predators are hungry with the gathering cold, 
and the forest is full of coyote pups growing bigger, 
and orange-vested men with guns, 
stealing a day away from work 
to hunt the deer. 

I remember a brief encounter as I write. 
While driving in the moonlight, I squinted 
at the apparition in the middle of the road. 
A slight mist, the rising almost-full 
moon, a pair of antlers appearing in front of me. 
I slowed and the young buck walked slowly to the 
side of the road. I rolled down my window as he 
turned back to look into my eyes. I waited for him
to speed away - instead he turned and
walked slowly, gently into the dark.  

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ancestors, Roots & Branches

"Gnarled Oak", 4x4" scratchbord panel

A gnarled, old oak dreamed itself into being
yesterday. With life at home so busy, its been 
weeks since images floating around in my imagination 
have come out on paper. In a quiet moment as my 
afternoon class worked, I found a piece of 
scratchbord panel and eagerly communed with
 the visual stories brewing inside me. 

For many years I lived on land that had once been 
a gathering place for Native Americans. It was said that 
a great oak near our house was a meeting tree for 
the local Eastern Woodland tribes. I spent many a day 
wandering in the forest there, and sitting under the huge, 
old oaks with their branches touching the Earth. 
I saw my first coyotes while sitting under 
one such oak, at the time that they were just beginning to 
re-inhabit the area. No one believed me, saying that what I saw 
was just dogs, until finally one day, others began to see coyotes 
also, and hear them singing in the night. 

I loved going to the Trailside Museum to see the Great Horned Owl 
who lived there and the little model of the Native village 
with its tiny dwellings and humans going about their daily lives, 
frozen in a story-tale of old. 

Yesterday, when this oak became my drawing, 
I remembered the amazingly huge oaks that I grew up 
with on that land of my youth. 

"Moon and Tree", 4x4" scratchboard panel

I love this bare-branch time.... a time of dark 
and ancestors, and the raw, undressed beauty of the land.
A few years ago, while meditating in a small, stone cave in 
a town not far from here, an image of "Reindeer Grandmother"
came to me. I was meditating on my ancestors, especially 
the branch from the Celtic lands, when a beautiful 
image of an ancient, wise and protective spirit came to me. 

I'm a tad protective of this image, its powerful for me, 
even with its awkward proportion (that arm!) and strange 
space. It came out quickly once I came home from my 
journey, and feels truly like a spirit watching over me. 

As the fall finds itself leaning towards winter, 
things are changing in my life. My parents have now 
packed the last of the house and moved to Florida! 
Its amazing to me, that they are soooo far away. I used
to be able to drive to see them in a couple of hours, 
now, its a plane ride. Oh my..... change... 

Speaking of change, my house has changed, too. 
A new window went in, and a few pieces of furniture 
that didn't go to Florida came to me. Below is 
my living room before the window, sofa and chest. 

And after:

Strange that my barometer for feeling more adult was the 
transition from a futon in the living room to a sofa!

The sofa is a hit with Pasha cat, or rather, the blanket 
on the sofa.  On cool and damp days, I am a 
cat door opener. Pasha stands at the door, staring 
at the knob. If I don't see him there, he whacks 
the heck out of the wind chimes on the knob
so I get the message loud and clear!

A few moment later he's back looking through the 
French doors with a desperate look, remembering the 
warmth of the wood stove and the cozy new blanket 
that has just come to live here.  

Its his favorite new bed, the "car blanket" that also didn't 
go to Florida. It was my grandfather's, and I think it 
was from a time when cars were open air. Yes, its 
really THAT old!

Today I hung a bird feeder from an old post outside the 
window, chancing a visit from the big, old bear. It was 
such a joy to sit in my living room, looking out the new 
window, watching the birds flitting about from 
hemlock to feeder. I'll wait to hang my new best 
hand-me-down feeder until I'm more sure that old 
bear has gone into dreaming.