the art of remembering

clarity, endurance, resilience,

showing up, staying informed
and not forgetting to tend to what feels like small matters
in these times of reexamining trust and power, truth and justice

walks on the land, connecting with wildness
and rhythms of life that speak to us of deep time
like tide markings which cant be manipulated or faked

…the music in compass grass etched into sand dunes

…the strangeness of wind enlivening the feathers of the remains of a rare arctic owl

the wind bringing messages of spring still months away.

The imagination, the heart demand that we not forget
these conversations

entryways into the other world within this one

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Winter Count 15 – 21

Perhaps it seems silly to take this Count so literally – counting each of the watercolors I paint at my desk this winter. But I promise you, for someone who has struggled her whole life to commit to her own creativity, counting is a very powerful tool. Tangible proof that I keep coming back to my desk:  to look closely and observe, to mix colors on my palette, to experiment with different ways of loading my brush and touching the paper, spending time connecting with the natural world.

And so I offer for your perusal…Winter Count paintings 15 through 21.

The main project has been to paint objects from my Nature Altar, signifiers of absent inhabitants, just these singular, amazing forms isolated on the page. Christine and Catherine Creedon spoke about ‘nature altars’ in the first class I attended of Christine’s, at the temporary John Jermain library space on Water Street. They spoke about how so many of us solitary walkers share this common practice of tending a ‘nature table’ at home. (I prefer the more sacred ‘nature altar,’ and ‘tending’ is a word borrowed from Christine that evokes both the sacred and the domestic.) They spoke of organizing an exhibit like this at the library, paired with student writing. Perhaps our Winter Count work is the perfect occasion? in their new library space?  (yes!)

The latest in the ‘Nature Altar’ series include this intact bivalve shell of the Blue Mussel, Mytilis edulis… (edulis is Latin for edible)…a container for secrets:IMG_5316.jpg

And my third attempt at reproducing the battered wing of an American Lady butterfly, Vanessa virginiensis – only the dorsal side has been completed here, the ventral underside is still awaiting completion.IMG_5314.JPG

But because of the close attention, slow pace and detailed brushwork required for my Nature Altar series, I feel myself ‘tightening up,’ contracting rather than expanding, growing fearful of touching the page. So to counter this, I have invited in other practices. Is it the same with writing? Somehow the fear of losing something irrevocably with writing seems less of a danger. But I wonder about similar limbering-up exercises with writing…

One approach has been to simply keep a sketchbook journal of more off-the-cuff, in-the-moment studies. This candle burning after dinner was finished…I was happy with its simplicity, its pared-down attempt at accuracy:    (click, then click again, to enlarge)img_5350

…Or trying to capture the fleeting sensation of a scene or landscape from my day. This series of sunsets, remembered and noted, rather than painted on the spot. Sunrise this time of year coincides with getting my son off to school, so I usually can’t sit down to paint at this fleeting time of shifting light & color.   (click, then click again, to enlarge)IMG_5320.jpg

And then I tried returning to an old practice from my former oil painting days: the free-form, let’s-just-push-some-paint-around-and-see-what-happens approach. The first one pleased me with its surprises: a forest echoing the forest outside my desk window, a suggestion of faery dust blowing through the trunks, of mossy elves’ hillocks around their bases. IMG_5312.jpg

But the next one reminded me of why I stopped oil painting entirely — IMG_5349.jpg

I was painting mostly without external reference – and I realize now, I simply don’t find imaginary/imagined spaces as interesting as attempting to represent real space in the world. If only I’d stuck it out long enough to discover this when I was painting earlier in my life….instead, I just gave up. But I’m back now!

 

And finally I have an experimental project:  painting a ‘personal medicine wheel’ I created for myself. I researched traditional Native American medicine wheels, but they didn’t always correlate with my own experiences. I also drew on the pagan Wheel of Life, and the wheel that pairs up menstrual cycles with the moon phases. Each quadrant, or ‘direction,’ has personal significance for an area of my life, a stage of development. Associated with each direction, is a color and an animal totem and an element, a time of day and time of year, corresponding too with a time in my life. Gazing at this made-up medicine wheel, I feel centered and confident in my path. My life history has wholistic sense and sacred meaning – rather than feeling like a random series of half-finished projects and failures. It has power. And so I feel empowered. I feel it is a shamanic practice, where arranging physical objects in the outer world, affects the state of things in the inner world, and vice-versa. One day, I would like to teach a workshop about this, so that others might learn to do this for themselves, too. It reminds me of our Winter Count workshop, in fact, where at the end of the day, we composed ‘road maps’ for ourselves, of the project which lay ahead.

So here are the colored directions in my journal, where I have been tweaking and rearranging meaningsIMG_5323.jpg

And here are my studies for the animal totems associated with each direction…Yellow-Shafted Northern Flicker in the East, of Fire, daybreak and the renewed energy of springtime, associated with Glowing Yellow, and Physical Vitality…IMG_5317.jpg

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit in the South of midday and the fullness of summertime, associated with Loamy Green, and the Earth element, and Nature…IMG_5318.jpg

Great Blue Heron in the West, associated with the Water element, with Autumn, and the Indigo Blue hue of crepuscular hours, the solitary ‘Wild Woman’ of Creativity…IMG_5319.jpg

Missing still is the ghost of Snowy Owl in the adamantine Air element of the North, of nighttime lit by a full moon and of deep Winter, associated with white and pale violet, the Wise Woman of Spirit.

The presence of so many birds in my Wheel has brought me to Terry Tempest Williams’ book When Women Were Birds, but I have not yet delved in….so much more exploration and work to look forward to!

 

 

WOMEN’S MARCH, NYC, JAN 21, 2017

Bo and I were up before dawn and ready to drive into NYC (with two friends from EH)  to join the great Women’s March.  We were meeting six other women and men who felt as strongly as we did in standing up for the rights of women, Blacks, immigrants, LGBTQ, etc.  I felt very proud that my two daughters were going to marches in DC and Oakland with their daughters.

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Waiting for our friends at 47th & 3rd, we watched hundreds of thousands gathering – many with their “pink pussy” hats on, most everyone carrying a homemade poster.

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It took us about 1 1/2 hours to walk one block – this wasn’t a March, this was the largest gathering of women and men with a purpose!  Everyone was helpful, polite and inspired!

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This was the first and last time our gang was together.  The enormous crowds pulled at us and we dispersed.  Bo and I stayed close – we didn’t want to lose each other.  Finally, as we turned the corner of 47th & 2nd, we could move.  Rather than joining the “March,” we walked west on 46th Street, heading toward 5th Ave where we could join the marchers heading to Trump Tower.  Thousands joined us on the non-designated route.

IMG_9297.jpgWe were cheered on by truck drivers and friendly police.

I felt a strong connection to those times in the late 50’s and 60’s when we marched for civil rights, women’s right and freedom from persecution.  My sense was that everyone woke up and were ready for action this day and beyond.  There were marches in every city in the USA and in many around the world.  Millions of people were standing up to prejudice and tyranny and we felt proud.  What a day!

Workshop Announcement

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Honoring Voice 2017 / Monday 27 February  1 – 3 pm:

Moving into the end of the winter cycle the lengthening of sun’s light coincides with a deepening of clarity.  Water has been in my heart and aligned with voice as we grow into the new year.  Connecting with water is an invitation to declare the intention to speak to what matters most and set about the task of discerning what that is.  White water, Dark and churning waters, green translucent jade water meeting late afternoon sky.  Lets open to honoring voice and explore the wisdom of our surrounding waters.

LETS WRITE!

Im hoping to keep our group small to preserve intimacy.  Please let me know if this date works for you.  All Wintercount folks invited.

Location to be determined

Workshop fee:  $45

 

A talismanic touchstone right now…

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Photo:  Snowy Owl in Flight by Carrie Ann Grippo-Pike, taken on December 11, 2013 at the Summerville Pier in Irondequoit, NY.   Poem by Christine Irving.  Marriage of image & text by me.

I forgot to mention that I saw my first Snowy Owl on Christmas Eve. Along with friends spending the holiday with us, we had gone to Lazy Point that afternoon to walk after the rain. As we rounded the boat ramp across from Hicks Island, I noticed a car pull up and a familiar profile behind the wheel –  Joe Giunta, local birding expert and leader of birding walks through SoFo. In fact, just two weeks prior, he had called in my first owl glimpsed in the wild, an Eastern Screech Owl, on a moonlit walk through Barcelona Neck, sponsored by SoFo. I wished him a Merry Christmas, and as he pulled his scope out of the back of his car, said jokingly, ‘c’mon, Joe, get me a Snowy Owl for Christmas.’ As we chatted and looked through the scope at ducks in Napeague Harbor, he motioned to the scope casually, and looking through it, I beheld my first Snowy Owl. The sun had started to break through the clouds in a magnificent display, which also had the fortuitous effect of positively lighting up the Snowy in a blaze of blinding white. Once you knew he (or she) was there, it was possible to see his white form with the naked eye across the Harbor, sitting at the leading edge of a dune. He had some dark barring, indicating he was a juvenile, but it was not possible to tell whether it was male or female. The entire experience was unbelievable to me – the series of coincidences and synchronicities to bring me this very best of Christmas gifts:  two owls – my first in the wild – this month of December.

Recent wintercount watercolors…5-14.

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My desk space where I paint. Out beyond the leafless trees, the sunrise over the ocean is visible in wintertime.

spring passes
and one remembers one’s innocence
summer passes
and one remembers one’s exuberance
autumn passes
and one remembers one’s reverence
winter passes

and one remembers one’s perseverance.

– Yoko Ono

‘. . . there will be a hundred meals without mustard.’

– Mary Oliver, ‘Of Power & Time’

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A rabbit hopped up to the large glass door on New Year’s morning and peered inside at me making my morning tea. I’ve decided Moon Rabbit is my totem for 2017.

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Another try at Crassotrea virginica, Eastern oyster.

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Wing fragment of American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis. I realize now that I neglected to add a final dot of white paint in one of the outer orange segments, the field mark distinguishing this species from Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui.

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Sunrise, January 8.

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Sunrise, January 10.

 

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It was only afterward, putting her workshop materials into my writing binder, that I realized that Christine’s title for the Winter Count was ‘Exploring Wholeness,  Absence and Presence.‘ Suddenly, I could see clearly what my subject matter has been all about. All these fragments of the natural world that I carry home are signifiers of an absence – of the creatures that once resided within them, gone, absent, deceased. My painting them is a kind of monument, an attempt to (re)constitute a presence.

Even the landscapes concern absences…To paint a snow scene, one must leave that part of the paper blank – an absence to signify a presence. I found myself thinking of Melville’s chapter, ‘The Whiteness of the Whale’ and re-read it. How does one paint ice? A snowflake? Or the blazing-white sun ball of sunrise? The ever-changing positions of a foraging squirrel? How does one capture and conjure a particular moment in time, attempting to represent it visually? Elusive absences, one and all….

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Drawn using one of Wilson ‘Snowflake’ Bentley’s micrographs for reference.

 

 

 

 

FROM BROOKLYN TO CHINATOWN AND BACK

IMG_9245.jpgResidential highrise by Frank Gehry

Last Wednesday was a glorious day in NYC; out of a stormy Tuesday came a sparkly sun-shiny Wednesday.  It was marvelous being with my darling daughter Lila (who is often too busy in her career and with her family to spend a whole day with me) and walk from Brooklyn to Chinatown over the Brooklyn Bridge, enjoy a delicious lunch, and walk back to Brooklyn over the Manhattan Bridge.IMG_9237.jpgWhile I was totally taken with the view from the bridge, the tourist traffic was overwhelmning.  Everyone was taking photos of the bridge and the buildings and selfies as well.  I can’t complain – I was doing to the very same thing!

IMG_9256 - Version 2.jpgThe walk was very invigorating and we arrived at NYC Noodle Restaurant with good appetites.  We had bbq duck, roast pork and sauteed pea shoots – all perfectly yummy! And then for a change of scenery, we decided to walk on the Manhattan Bridge which had very different vistas, no tourists, but lots of subways roaring by.IMG_9257.JPGWe thought this kind of looked what we imagined Communist China to look like – especially that building with red window frames and sheets in the windows.

The refection of the sun on the water was beautiful.  The clouds were spectacular.  Both Lila and I felt moved spiritually and very grateful for this new year’s gift!

IMG_9248.JPGBrooklyn Bridge seen from the Manhattan Bridge as we walked toward Brooklyn. ❤️

 

 

What Art Asks of Us

On what felt like an ordinary morning, snow falling, cold but not biting I set out to walk the long stretch of Ocean Road in Bridgehampton.

Intention:  to visit Richard Serra’s serpentine sculpture.

I took notice of my foot fall as each foot rose and fell between paces a print made – behind me now a trail, a form of mark-making revealing persistence in the quiet morning.  Snow in its own right is a wondrous creation and if i were to zoom in on one flake I could spend lifetimes marveling at the artistry.

Catching sight of Serra’s ribbon of steel set in the soft powder of fresh snow sent a rush of surprise, a feeling of joy.  As I moved closer i had the strange sensation of a delay that the distance between myself and it remained unchanging.  [that space had its own mesmeric quality]

Nature and art are a spiritual resource.

An uneven layer of snow partially frosted the gentle curve of the sculpture.  Serra looked a part of the landscape of no less natural grandeur than the trees and foliage beyond it.   I found a certain charm in the tuft of snow collecting atop its outer wall forming a neat band of white.  Turning to see behind me and then forward again I entered the opening between the skyward reaching walls. Inside the wind created  natural snow drifts, gentle sloping dunes – magical geography

Art is alive.

Flow, rhythm movement.  Snow followed each bend and graceful arc of the sculpture. A relationship.

Cold to the touch, my palm making contact with its right wall.  Good morning Serra.

Silence is insulating.  Here wrapped between steel and snow I was welcomed, contained by an intelligence a quality of beneficence.   As artists I’m not sure any one us knows the life our work will take on once it is out in the world. The joy and delight of walking through Serra’s serpentine sculpture early on a snowy morning is a gift that the artist might have mused upon and imagined or not.

Art arrests our hearts, it awakens our imaginations, it reminds us of the other world within this one.

What does art ask of us?

Perhaps to be available, to be receptive and wholly present.

Thank you Mr. Serra – Gratitude for all who continue to create and bring wonder to the world

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San Carlos, Mexico

thumbnail_img_20161222_125808235San Carlos, Mexico
I saw a lynx walking by this estuary. She was catlike, but longer and sleeker with a long fat tale. She was not afraid. She had been lying by the water relaxing. She saw us, stood up and walked away, not at all in a hurry, very proud. In these short , colder days I am soaking up as much sun as possible. (Dale told me it was a lynx) Anyway I know it was different than a cat! Wintercount greetings to you all. I think of us all in different places turning our faces towards the same sun.
Bette