Category Archives: Image & Word

Live from the studio, musings and other outrageous opinions that no one has asked to hear.

I Am The Sound of the Sound

mourning doe

I am the sound of the sound and the sound of the name…and they will find me there, and they will live, and they will not die again.                                 —The Thunder, Perfect Mind, A Gnositc Text

It’s been nine hundred and seventy four days since Roger died and I am marking this evening with my usual walk through the cross country course. As I pass the familiar bladdernut trees with their delicate, japanese-lantern shaped seed pods, they rattle amicably in response, all new and awed by the busy natural setting in which they find themselves These days the papery pods are sheathed in fragile celery green but as the summer wears on they will turn delicious shades of pink and rose as they make their way to their eventual brittle, dried blood and burnt brown color of late fall and winter.

Before I came to these dense shrubs lined up along the creek bed, I passed through an open field of clover and startled a couple of big, black, red-headed vultures; their red heads tell me they are mature adults and know exactly what they are up to. Evidently I have stumbled onto what appears to be a bloody feast right there in the young summer grass. They flap noisliy away as I approach what at first I believe to be a large dead hare; all that is left is a bloody ribcage and two baby-soft furry ears. They are big ears. They are big ears for such a small body. That is why I think it is a hare. But wait! Now I see hooves—tiny, tiny hooves—and just as my lips vibrate with Lordy!, Lordy!, my heart and mind recognize in sync that this dead carcass is a new born fawn. A shadow appears in my peripheral vision and I look up to see a worried doe, pacing out in the open field, exposing herself, making herself vulnerable, back and forth, back and forth…Oh my, what do I do? Oh my, what do I do? I tighten my throat against the grief trying to hurl itself out of my body. Back and forth, back and forth, What do I do?

I begin to sing. Just a little something from Westside Story that I have been trying out lately on the neighborhood deer herd; she should recognize it if she is a local. The doe stops in her tracks and stares through me, almost as if she thinks I may be her child’s murderer. I keep on singing. A few minutes pass and she relaxes enough to lower her head into the clover and breathe; she pulls gently at the grass and begins to chew. I know from being around horses that grazing is a sign of tension release; maybe the spell is broken. The next minute she daintily leaps across the field into the woods.

The Native Americans used the three little seeds in each Bladdernut seed pod to make rattles which they used in healing rituals and dances by the Meskwaki Indians; some tribes used them to make a wash or poultice; the seeds were also eaten like pistachios as a medicinal remedy. If not used for healing purposes, these capsules fall off and float their merry way downstream to spread their realm of influence further than mere gravity will allow. Today it is their sound that is healing, vibrating with the pure energy of song, the wail of the mourner.

sad_horse

It Isn’t Political, It’s Personal

Waking up on the day after the recent election was hard. Frankly, I felt that I had been punched in the stomach and hit over the head with a two by four. All day this darkness followed me around and all efforts to self soothe were non productive; as a last ditch effort I headed to the barn where I ride to visit the horses which always makes me feel more peaceful and more in tune with my inner emotions.

Unlike election day, which was mild and pleasant, this day dawned cold, windy, and gray as if winter had suddenly announced itself as a harbinger of what is to come. When I got to the barn it was all closed up and dark, no horses quietly grazing in the fields, no equine heads jauntily poking out of the dutch doors. Inside it was eerily still as I went around to each stall and found one horse after another standing quietly, head bowed, as if grieving a troublesome loss. When I got to the stall of the small Arabian that I ride the most, I stopped, slid open the stall latch and stepped inside. Cosmos seemed preoccupied and after quickly acknowledging my presence with a half hearted head butt he resumed his head hanging with what I detected as a strange mixture of sadness and anxiety. Gently rubbing his withers, I felt a tear slide down my cheek and a great surge of complex emotions rise up from my gut and into my heart. As an artist I tend to be a reflective person, maybe a bit too contemplative for my own good, but I have spent many years earnestly trying to iron out the flaws in my own character, sometimes successfully and often times not so much. But here I was, a twisted ball of emotions with no where else to go and an urgent need to ground myself; for this I had come to the horse.

Yes, I wanted things to be different, but mostly I wanted to understand why and what had upset me so much and how I could move through these feelings and present my best self to the world despite them. Like I have been taught by some wise spiritual leaders, I place my right hand on my gut and my left hand on Cosmos’ belly and try to discern the rumblings within. Maybe because I am a woman, maybe because I am a recent widow, maybe because I have experienced intimidation and bullying from men that I have loved in my past, I now feel that I am vulnerable and exposed, like being out in the elements without food or shelter. For some of you who lived through and remember the sixties, there may be an element of understanding of this predicament; for many of you who are newly outliers or innocents or outside of the mainstream in any way this is a familiar place, a very scary place to be without some kind of support or protection from predators, very much like being an equine who as a prey animal has no defense but to run like hell.

After identifying fear as part of my turmoil, I turn to the sadness. In yoga we use the salutation Namaste which represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra. This gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another. Nama means bow, as means I, and te means you. Therefore, namaste literally means “bow me you” or “I bow to you.” I feel the tears and the sadness rising up again into my throat as I place my right hand on my heart and my left on Cosmos’ heart and listen. Today we have a new leader, a new person stepping into the parental role of guidance and care for all of us and not once has he acknowledged my soul or the light that all of our souls can emanate into the world. Not once. For this I grieve, not only for myself, but for the innocents, nature, animals, and the earth itself.

I need some time with this darkness. I need to feel the sadness. Eventually, at some point, I will fall in line and do what I have to do to help this new leader succeed because it is in the best interest of myself, my country, and all those who I have mentioned above to do so. But that does not mean that I do not mourn. That does not mean that I will not remember the things he said about women, minorities, the disabled, and the planet itself.

I throw my arms around Cosmos and bury my head in his mane; I shed my tears in that dark barn on a grey bitter day. I promise him that I will protect him from all predators because that is what a leader promises to ALL his followers. I just wish he had not said those things. It would be a lot easier if he had just not said them.

You Scratch My Back & I’ll Scratch Yours

Cosmos

For several years I have been taking riding lessons until this summer found me without a trainer and riding on my own.  Lucky for me this unchaperoned riding experience coincided with my current equine love affair with a 22 year old Arabian named Cosmos whose age in horse years just about matches my human equivalent; let’s just say that although he has been a first class show horse all of his life he now requires a lengthy warm up and a significant coughing spell during the first trot of each work out.  But don’t misunderstand me, the ole Cos still gets plenty excited when he gets going, especially when he knows there is going to be jumping involved—it’s in his blood after all.  We suit each other fine.

One sticky summer night a few weeks ago Cos and I had a date to ride; it was almost ninety degrees outside at six in the evening and the flies were thick, so of course he was a bit fidgety and sluggish.  I could feel my own sweat pouring down my neck from under my helmet and I knew that Cosmos probably had some major ‘butt cheese’, as they call the white perspiration that runs down between the buttocks of the horse.  Well into our warm up he began lowering his head to one side and then the next as if he had an itch under the girth and I kept pulling his head up as I had been taught by my instructors—”don’t let him do that, he is testing you, he knows better, it’s time to work.”  But then I realized I wasn’t in a lesson, there was no instructor, and by God if he has an itch we are going to get nowhere until it gets scratched.  So I did the unthinkable.  I leaned forward onto his neck, reached down with both arms, and wiggled my fingers under the girth on both sides.  Then I began scratching as hard as I could.  As I was relieving his itch I remembered how as a kid  I would offer to scratch one of my sibling’s backs in exchange for the same from them and I wondered if and how Cos would reciprocate.  I wasn’t disappointed.

As I finished scratching I sat up in the saddle, gathered up the reins, and as if to thank me, Cosmos, apparently feeling like his youth had returned, took me on a thrilling lap around the arena, jumping all the ground poles at a very brisk canter, ears up in anticipation and excitement.  For a few brief moments we were both younger versions of ourselves and we were flying, our aging cares left behind in the dust!

Cosmos reminded me once again that life’s difficulties and unpleasantries, especially in these later years, can be greatly eased by the simple covenant of a scratched itch by a dear friend.

Thank you Cos.

 

 

th-1

NIGHT SOUNDS

The tree frog is tiny but has superior grasping ability; it can oppose two of its fingers to the other two, resulting in a vise-like grip. -Wikipedia

I am in my studio sitting in front of my computer cursing; there is a particularly virulent form of Adware parked somewhere that is popping up maddeningly everytime I try to use Safari. Expletives spew from my sailor mouth as I had planned on a quiet contemplative writing session backed with a little Googling research. Now I am on hold as I have dialed Apple Support and am waiting on my new BFF to help me out.

It is dusk, nightfall is descending, and that’s when it always starts—the incessant loud chirping that has been disturbing my sleep for the last few weeks. I’ve tried shutting the windows in the house but the calls are so loud that I can hear them through the walls. First I had asked my tree-hugging, neighborhood sleuth what kind of bird she thinks it might be but she has no clue. In frustration one day I drive directly to the birdseed store and an astute clerk immediately plays me a recording of the offending sound which turns out not to be a bird at all but a tree frog!  But I digress.

My art studio sits in the middle of my backyard garden, the windows and doors opening out into the yard so that it feels as if one were actually outside. I am sitting here listening to my newly identified tree frog call to his mate as if his life depended upon it when the Apple lady finally comes on the phone. As she asks permission and then magically takes over my computer, I strain to hear what she is saying above the din of this tiny tiny creature sitting on a leaf, a twig, or a blade of grass somewhere in my garden. Finally she asks in exasperation what the infernal racket is in the background. ‘It’s a tree frog’ is my original reply and she is  appropriately dumbfounded.

When my yellow lab was alive she was always with me in the studio at night. She’d alternate napping on the couch with stalking the perimeter of the unlit yard for possible critter intruders. As she grew older and lost her hearing she became anxious about me not being in the house with her and my husband after nightfall. Her solution was to sit on the deck of the house and wait, staring at the studio as if she could will me inside with her incredible concentration. Of course her theory panned out everytime as eventually I would turn out the studio lights and walk toward the house and as I approached I could hear her let out a big sigh as she stiffly pulled up her body and turned toward the door, toenails clicking softly on the wooden deck floor.

Now I have a cat— the lab is gone, the husband is gone. The rescue organization where I got this feline made me promise not to let her outside but she does go out onto the screened in porch which looks out directly to my studio; she sits on the wicker chaise and she waits. Just like the dog she worries when I am not safely inside. When I finally make my way toward the house I can hear the thud of her little paws hit the porch floor running as she gets ready for me to open the door and go inside.

Soft, sacred sounds these are and I bow my head to them.  The old dog sighing, the toenails clicking, the tiny little feline paws hitting the ground with a thud, sounds that have been and are so much a part of my everyday living that they do (and still) echo in my brain many years later.

Which brings me back to the chirping tree frog clutching his branch with all his might, calling out to his mate night after night, wondering why she is not with him, why she is not safely inside.

Riding Emma

Half-Halt

Don’t make any big decisions for at least a year.  That’s what I kept hearing from friends and family in the months following the loss of both my beloved lab and the husband I adored.  And, to be truthful, I agreed with them, that is until Emma came along.  While my husband was sick I began taking riding lessons at a local stable, revisiting a passion I once had as a young girl, and losing myself in a totally different world from the sad, sweet one I now inhabited at home.   Once a week I drove east, over the reservoir, and saddled up one of the saintly school horses for an hour of dust, sweat, and manure piles that transported me from caretaker to little person atop a huge bundle of powerful muscle.  Each week before my lesson I would feel the familiar anxiety and reluctance of leaving my comfort zone but as soon as I was up on that horse I was a different person.  In a few months, thanks to my young maniacal riding instructor, I was doing the two-point and breathlessly jumping over obstacles in the dusty arena.  And each week, after cooling down the horse and settling it back in its stall I would drive home through the open fields and cry my heart out, sobbing and beating my fists against the steering wheel, for all the beauty that had been in my life and was now exiting.  Once home my now very thin husband would ask about all the horses, calling them by name, and after I told him excitedly about my day at the barn he would remark on how happy I seemed on those afternoons, how much younger and relaxed I looked.

I was drawn to Emma the first time I saw her.  A big, dark, bay mare with a social, loving personality and a huge rear, she belonged and was loved by one of the boarders at the barn. Every week I would bring her offerings of organic mini carrots from Whole Foods and scratch her ears while her hot breath blow dried my hand.  Don’t get me wrong, I adored all of the horses, but Emma was different; I felt like she knew something that I needed to know.

My dog died about a year into the riding lessons and in several more months my husband was also gone; I continued to go to the barn and being with the horses continued to lighten my heavy heart.  After my lesson one week I heard the girls in the barn talking about Emma being for sale, that her owner was graduating from college and was moving to Houston and could not take Emma with her.  My heart jumped as I heard myself exclaim loudly, “Emma is for sale?”  and in an instant all eyes turned toward me and the connection was made, what a great pair we would make!  I had no intention of buying a horse but as the days wore on and the wrong people came to size up Emma, the thought of her being taken away from this barn and all that she knows began weighing on my heart.  I remembered the pain I felt when I had to sell my own horse after graduating from high school and I could see that same angst on the face of Emma’s young owner who on her Facebook page is posing lovingly with Emma by her side.  So I caved.  I went to see a man about a horse as they say and now that horse is mine.

I had to pinch myself on a regular basis the first few days after taking Emma into my care.  It was the first big lifestyle change I had made since losing my partner and it felt like I had stepped off a familiar shore, away from the family I had once known, and into the unknown on my own.  Was I moving too fast?  Would I find myself stranded in a new world before I was ready to leave the old?  These are the questions I brought to one of my first lessons on Emma.

The first time I rode her, Sam, her owner told me as i was mounting that Emma would take care of me, just to relax and enjoy her huge rhythmic stride.  And huge it was, as I quickly learned what having a XL rear can actually do for a horse.  By the third session with her I realized that Emma has places to go and people to see; as she trots she continually picks up the pace until I feel a bit like I did after losing my loved ones…sailing into the unknown, a bit out of control, leaving behind all that I had known before.  And this is when I learned about the half halt, which is both a driving and restraining aid, sometimes thought of as an “almost halt”, asking the horse to prepare to halt in balance before pushing it onward to continue at the same speed, essentially to rebalance the horse.  Whoa! (no pun intended)

And so as I am learning to ride Emma I am also learning to use the half-halt in my own life’s journey.  Whenever I feel like I am moving too fast, leaving too much of my old life behind too soon, I call my attention back to my center, sit up straight and down in my seat, take a deep breath, and rebalance.  It’s a simple rhythm of restrain and yield, restrain and  yield, as all the wise horse people have taught me.

Today I googled the name Emma;  it means complete or whole.

 

Martin House

CLEARING HOUSES

I’m sitting here waiting on a local volunteer agency to pick up a chair, you know the drill with the three hour window.  Two weeks ago I was doing the same thing but it was a sofa, an oversized chair, and a coffee table.  The queen’s chair is what we used to call the oversized one, as it had once belonged to me before the dog and later the husband took it over.  I decided to get rid of all of them (the funiture that is) one fateful night in early spring while streaming some HGTV program on Netflix.  That night, lying on the sofa, I began to notice these wiry, curly, yellow dog hairs that only labs can grow sticking straight up out of the cushions like darts.  Moving my eyes over to the oversized chair was no better; it was noticeably sagging in the middle in the exact shape of my husband’s ass.  It all seemed particularly drab and depressing and I guess I had just had enough.  So I called.

Within a few days my living room was practically empty.  The cat and I laid on the floor with a pillow for the first few nights of Masters of Sex but that had to end when my back seized up in rebellion.  (That thing about lying on a hard surface being good for your back is BS.)   And I could tell that the cat missed her cozy perch on the faux fur throw that used to adorn the back cushions of the couch.  But I liked the room better; it seemed more spatial and open, as if something new could happen, as if the past were over and the future could begin, this time without the dog, without the husband, who both passed away last year.

This morning, when I returned from my daily hike, I was taking  my usual walk around my garden  when I noticed unruly piles of dead foilage mixed with shreds of plastic trash lying on the ground around the martin house.  My husband and I had bought this ultimate, luxury hotel for birds on one of our many trips to wine country in California.  It was an anniversary present to oursevles one year and we had it shipped to Ohio, had it first mounted on top of a dead tree and later purchased a designated pole with decorative brackets on which it now rests.  Martins, however, were never attracted to it, perhaps because there are so many tall trees nearby. Instead, the delightful gold finches have made it their home for several years which means the martins will probably never come.  In either case, it is evident to me that this morning, or last night, perhaps while watching Netflix,  these feathered creatures living in my backyard in the big bird hotel had finally had enough.  They cleaned house.  They cleared house.  They took everything inside that structure and threw it spiritedly on the ground in disgust.  They will begin again.

Tracks in Snow

WHEN IT’S OKAY TO BE SHEEP

 

There’s been a foot of snow on the ground for the last few days which makes my morning walk on the cross country course seem more like trudging.  It’s hard to get a meditative rhythm going when every few steps my weight breaks through the snow and I lurch forward like a bad tennis player—my Leki walking stick helps.  It’s easier to find a trail of footsteps that have already been made and then carefully place each of my feet one after another into those prints; sometimes they are my own from the previous day, and sometimes they belong to the guy whose boots make tracks like bare feet who I’ve never actually met.

Now I know we’ve been told by spiritual leaders and self help gurus that we should always make our own paths, always take the roads less traveled (to borrow from Scott Peck), and to never follow another’s road just because it is easier and well known.  I feel really bad about this as I am picking my way each morning through the snow, but after much inner wrestling and visual investigation, I discover that the wildlife, for whom I have the utmost respect, are doing the same damn thing!  Hell, I love animals so altruistically and believe so enthusiastically in the goodness of their instincts that I’d probably eat the bark off a tree if I actually saw them doing it, so why should I feel guilty?

So here is what I witness—deer prints placed very carefully inside each heel print of the human track as if they have been stamped there with a stencil and rendered identical every time!  At first I am a bit disappointed by the sheepishness of the deer and their shortcuts but now I have learned to cut them some slack.  Everything is awfully hard in winter and there is absolutely nowhere to hide; the branches are bare, there is no foliage, and one’s tracks can lead the big bad wolf directly to one’s door.  So why not take a shortcut when it presents itself, just for now, just until it gets a little easier to find food, shelter, and a fire in the heart?

photo of soccer player and relatives cropped - no heads

Worst Photographer Ever

Friday, January 4, 2013

We’ve all heard the line about the truth staring someone right in the face and they still don’t see it.  That could explain the myriad of bad photographs taken by camera buffs all over the world; maybe, just maybe, bad pics are truly Freudian slips that embarrassingly expose the unconscious peccadillos of the photographer who takes them.  Or maybe, some people want so badly for an image to look the way their imagination conjures it that they click away refusing to see what is really there.  I think that both must have been true for my mother who had to be the worst photographer of all time.

For the last decade of her life my mother chose to live within a mile of me and my husband in a small condo she furnished with the pared down remnants of her former Florida home.  We helped her settle into her new life, kept our eyes on her by visiting frequently, and soon we were fast friends again as can only happen when people spend time together everyday. It doesn’t take very much togetherness, however, for most eccentricities and annoying habits to surface and one of hers was to place a basketful of snapshots on the coffee table in the living room for everyone to sift through while they were visiting.  I say annoying because most of these pictures were of our family and the photos were simply dreadful.

The majority of the basket was filled with pictures of special family occasions, trips and cruises my mother had taken with friends, and visits she had made to Colorado to see my sister.  If there were people in the photos you can bet that they look fatter, older, and grumpier than you’ve ever seen them look in real life (if she hadn’t cut them all off at the waist) and that is why I worried about her taking pictures of me. For God’s sake, she could point and click my dog into a homeless pound reject!  It was the gift she had, but I needn’t have worried.

One day while visiting my mother after one of her trips to Colorado I found myself (as everyone eventually does) sifting through the photos in the basket on the coffee table.  As I glanced through the pile looking for new shots that I had not seen before, a shocking image caught my eye—it was of my sister.  What I am about to describe to you is very graphic but since it is not of me I think I can safely proceed…. the picture my mother took and chose to exhibit for all to see on her coffee table was of my sister in a tee shirt, hair bedraggled, sitting on the toilet in her bathroom in Colorado, her pajama shorts down around her ankles on the floor.  My jaw fell open in disbelief as I stared at the picture between my thumbs.  What on earth could my prim and proper mother have been thinking?

When my mother returned to the living room I gently broached the subject of my sister’s predicament, but she seemed to have no knowledge of any such photo until  finally I showed it to her.  Immediately sparks of recognition ignited her eyes and like a true artist she began to explain in depth what her  vision had been.  Sitting down beside me on the couch she took a corner of the photo between her thumbs and with her other hand she pointed to the background behind my sister’s head.  Indeed, there on the toilet tank, stretched out like an Egyptian sphinx, was my sister’s cat looking for all the world like an icon begging to be digitally frozen.  “You see”, my mother cooed, “what a beautiful cat your sister has?”

PAN

The Coloradian

Sunday, October 14, 2012

I always thought that my younger sister and I had different tastes in men.  The first guy she married moved her all the way to Colorado.  Since my sister was already wearing Frye boots and driving a Ford Bronco, it might have been her idea and not his, so I cannot accurately say whose idea it really was.  But suffice it to say, they moved all the way across the country, much to my dismay.  It must have been to the dismay of many others because, since then, seven other Ohioans have followed him to Colorado—hIs children from his first marriage, one of their spouses, his ex wife, his business partner and his wife, and his next wife after my sister. It was then that we started kidding him about single-handedly depopulating the state of Ohio.

Over the years, the rivalry has become quite heated, all of the new Coloradians disparaging their home state in the midwest, and my husband and I still living here and doing quite well professionally and socially.  I have learned to tolerate the slight nose snubbing of the nouveau Coloradians; they gush ad nauseum about their mountains and lakes, and for God’s sake the Denver Broncos have humilated the Cleveland Browns more than Joe Biden has put his foot in his mouth!

Eventually my sister and my brother-in-law got divorced and low and behold he married a woman who lives in Ohio.  His first plan was to take her to Colorado too, and he would have succeeded but divine justice set in.  She got a job in Colorado and moved and he stayed in Ohio to update her home so that they could sell it.  Now the Coloradian is living in Ohio!  No gain there.  They did that for a year but the Ohioan wife was homesick and alone in Colorado so she came back.  Now both of them live in Ohio while the seven others (plus those that have been born since) still live in Colorado.  He goes to visit often and I doubt that he will change his license plate.

Now, for the ace in the hole.  My mother’s brother recently died and my cousins came to Ohio for his memorial service.  My husband and I met them for dinner and who knew that he could be so charming as to lure one of our family back to Ohio.  But that is what  happened, because one of my Ohio-hating cousins is now moving back here from Phoenix.  She says she had so much fun here that she is leaving her life out west.  That’s one for us!  Score!

So, I guess my sister and I do have similar tastes in men afterall. We love those charasmatic guys who, like Pan, can lure people to move miles for no good reason.

Laura and Mika

Lovin’ That Milkweed

Sunday, October 7, 2012

With the dog, we are dealing with an instinct very close to man (or woman in my case). The dog as guide to everywhere in this and the other world in mythology certainly gives dog instinct an unerring flair.  But, however much we love them, many of us also suspect that in the case of the actual dog, it mostly obeys its own inner urges. (My husband rubs turkey fat on his hands as part of his demonstration of this theory.)  Yet, it is just this illogical, playful, following of their own bliss that makes our dogs vital centers of our lives.

My own dog has been with me for almost thirteen years and  never deviates too far from her own pattern and, being a good watchdog, she makes sure I don’t deviate too far from my own authenticity.  That’s our deal—she shows me how to live in the moment, how to be aware of all that surrounds me, and how to express warm concern for my own well-being.  We laugh about that a lot.

Over the years my canine friend has not only lived up to all the smarmy hype one hears about dogs (you’ve heard it all), but she has surpassed it so many times that, in short, I owe her my very life and I intend to repay her any way that I can.

So now, as she and I are both aging and entering new phases of our journeys,  I have become her physical guide and she has deepend my spirit even more.   Our once brisk, invigorating walks have evolved into a snail’s pace as she tries to get her bearings by smell alone;  our morning forays have turned into long, slow, and cautious pokings around, in which she much prefers to be on leash in fear of getting lost.  When getting into the car or up the steps, she confidently places her front feet on the uprise but waits patiently for me to lift her hind legs.  My life, in tune with hers, has become very, very slow.  Of course, she knows instinctively that is what I need most at this time, a quieting of the mind.  And as always she obliges me, mirrors me, and gives me exactly what I need to heal.