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Rhodes

Rhodes

Rhodes, the inquisitive, scholarly roadrunner, saw me from afar and hurried toward the bench I sat on.  I swear he recognized me, yet he stopped for a moment, as if suddenly unsure. I called; he came closer. He likes to hear the recorder play.  Alas, I was without my soprano; instead, I spoke in a soft, low alto.  I wanted him near, now more than ever, and Rhodes is not the only one who is clever.  In truth, I think he likes the human voice; thus, he approached showing almost no fear, though it had been more than a third of a year.

In the past, while playing a tune, he has charged and strutted and stood quite near.  This afternoon, a mere three feet away, he delighted me with an amazing display. Three times he circled ’round me, the bench, the tree, sometimes topping to peck food from the mulched topsoil. Several times he would look at me a good while…first with his left eye, then he’d hop around to look with his right, and hop back again to observe me with his left, taking my full measure. I swear it seemed he recognized me.

We danced our bird and human trance…… I whispered; he posed, he preened, he took an observant stance. Several times he clattered his beak as if to speak.  I nodded and cooed; we entered a magical acceptance.  He approached within a breath of my outstretched hand; had I seed, I have no doubt he would have eaten my offering.  I promised to return with food and song. I thanked him for staying so unusually long. 

Thoreau said, “I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment….and I felt I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.” …my feelings exactly.

In the photo to the left, Rhodes raises his crown. On the right, Rhodes’ feathers form a heart on his back.  

Rays of Hope

“The first sparrow of Spring! The year beginning with younger hope than ever.” Henry David Thoreau

Amanda Gorman our National Youth Poet Laureate is a fine young sparrow whose poem, The Hill We Climb, delivered at the Inauguration of President Joe Biden, deeply moved a nation and offered renewed hope on January 20th, 2021.

Though this was our Nation’s Inaugural Day, I can’t help but include a little history of my own because this, too, provides a confirmation of hope.  Martha Tabor showed her first of five Prophet’s Wheels on our property in Highland, Maryland.  We used to host Open Studio every summer where artists from the Baltimore and Washington, DC area would hang, set, install or perform their art outside among the trees in the forest that was our property. The entire neighborhood was invited in to see and to buy if they chose.

When I saw her magical piece my heart cried out to have it for my own home, but the musician and I could not afford the asking price. I didn’t know Martha at the time, but we became fast friends, and like Michael Gessner (who was our original connection), she would come out to our property to gather wood for her sculptures and to let her two dogs run free.  

Sadly, Martha passed away far before she should have.  All of her unsold art she willed to The Friends (Quakers) community to which she belonged.  This piece, however, had been damaged, one ray of hope had broken off and therefore deemed somehow of little value.  Michael was offered the piece but he declined, suggesting instead it go to us, knowing how much I loved Martha’s work.  A gift, from a friend, from The Friends.

The lesson: cast your dreams, like rays of light, into the future…name them…call to them singing, “I will see you soon. I know what you look like. I feel your essence. ”  Name your dreams. Call to them from mountains and mesas, from valleys and streams.

 

All photos by me unless otherwise noted.

Featured Sculpture: Prophet’s Wheel by Martha Tabor (made with curly willow, hickory and poplar)

Craning

“It’s the beauty within us that makes it possible to see the beauty around us. The question is not what you look at but what you see.” — Thoreau

When I first arrived at my river sanctuary I could see through the bushes and the leaves, a single sandhill crane thirty feet away on one of the many long, narrow islands the shallow river had created. Separated by ephemeral streams, the rills and rivulets looked like fingers stretching, searching for the unimpeded flow.  I pushed through the tamarisk blind onto a narrow slip of sand, then stopped.  Holding my breath, I quickly but quietly doffed my satchel and sat down slow-motion slowly so as not to startle my grey-feathered friend.  The crane turned away with mock indifference and headed for the far west bank.  I watched, entranced, held captive by the moment.

Shortly, two more cranes emerged from the island bushes to join the larger of the three. Together, on long stilted legs, they preened, stretched, bowed and pecked their way across the damp sand flats until reaching the flow on the western bank.  I felt awash in deep gratitude, grateful they didn’t fly away, grateful I was allowed to observe their foraging.

At first, they stood directly across from me on the nearest of the river islands, in truth nothing more than mud flats, where seasonal flora dressed in golden autumn and rusty sage danced their ebb and flow. Having crossed the width of the river, knee deep in the Rio Grande, they turned upstream into the current and set about their day’s business, feeding themselves while their eyes swept the deepest shallows, hoping to spot a fish floating by.  Alternately, one would take an alert posture, scanning the banks from left to right as good guards do to assure the group would not fall prey to beast or other fowl.  Fascinating to watch.

From the moment I sat on the warm, sunny shore my intuition urged me to join the sandhills, though wary of the water’s depth nearest me.  How far up my thighs, my waist, would the river rise? How deep into the ooze might I sink?  People have been quicksand-stranded on the river flats, never completely sucked under, but stuck nonetheless, requiring rescue.

Always curious, a nature investigator, I watched the fowl forage, observing how high the river rose on their lanky crane legs, gauging approximation to my own body.  Never above their knees I noted; therefore, not above mine.  That was the information I needed to get me up off my duff and test the water’s temperature with my toes.  Would I follow the cranes?  Dare I embark on a simple exploration…alone as I was in a great, wide river valley?IMG_4049 (3)

Of course I did, happy to have worn my water Keens.   Keen to have worn my happy.  Fortunate among beings I stood in this wide, long stretch of the river.  Alone.  No children cried, no dogs barked, no planes roared or leaf blowers buzzed, no one to answer to…just peace.  The warm wind, the welcoming water, so lovely.  I basked like a turtle, feeling the energy of the sun infuse my every molecule while downstream visual perspective joined the banks at the bend in the river.  I laughed to see the last of the trees had dipped their crowns in gold, at the same time the cottonwoods upstream and nearest to me fluttered in their full, shimmering finery.

Words from a song hummed in my head…I wish I had a river I could sail away on… A gentle breeze enveloped me.  The water, the trees, and the land held me rooted yet flowing.  Grace rushed over and through me, a purifying cascade.

I do have a river, I realized!  I have this river, right here, right now flowing under and around me.  My heart sang out the words of another song, this one by Nahko from Medicine for the People …Each day that I wake, I will praise, I will praiseEach day that I wake, I give thanks, I give thanks….. Aloha Ke Akua

Thunderheart: All things are connected.

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“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far way.” HDT

Thank you, John Millen of Thunderheart Drums..

A quarter of a century ago, feeling a strong affiliation with everything Native American (I still do), I sought out a master drum maker and found him living in a geodesic dome home in the forests on the edge of Baltimore, Maryland.  I offered my services as an apprentice if he would teach me/help me make my own drum. He agreed on the condition that I give him 8 Saturdays, 8 hours each day.

While I helped him make other drums, he would help me make mine.
From scratch, each step a week apart: sawing the wood and letting it dry; soaking and shaping the wood; cutting, soaking, and stretching the hide; puncturing the hide in order to sew it; sewing the hide (with more hide) around the wooden frame.  Oiling all of it.  During each session I would first work on John’s drums, then work on mine.  It was an unforgettable and richly rewarding experience. Fifteen years later I painted my drum, following a visit to Taos, New Mexico where I saw in a drum store a few painted drums.  These many years later I now live in New Mexico.

When my drum was ready to be played, I solo camped for 3 days and 3 nights on Dragon’s Tooth in the Blue Ridge Mts. of Virginia. For two days and two nights I had the mountaintop all to myself, even though the mountain peak is part of the Appalachian Trail. However, on my third afternoon, while sitting in what I call the eagles aerie, a cupped crag large enough to hold a human, I heard voices rising through the forest canopy. Little did I know those voices were carrying a lesson for me.

Offerings: “I am grateful for what I am and have.” HDT

I collect stones, driftwood, shells, etc. It’s not an easy thing for me to resist bringing them home. But I have discovered that if instead I make an offering with them, and record that act, I am less inclined to acquire and more inclined to “let it go.” After all, how much do we need? And of course, some of those rocks are quite heavy.

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I actually took all of the rocks you see on this ledge home with me. In the back of my mind I kept feeling gluttonous for that act. Finally, I went alone and gave them back from whence they came.

This second time, on my way return to the car, I spotted this boulder.  I held in my hand a lovely, palm-sized red stone I had picked up after replacing all the others.  I am a rock cleptomaniac. Should I take home my hand-held stone?  Should I leave it in this quiet place? 

” I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite, only a sense of existence. Well, anything for variety. I am ready to try this for the next ten thousand years, and exhaust it. How sweet to think of ! my extremities well charred, and my intellectual part too, so that there is no danger of worm or rot for a long while. My breath is sweet to me. O how I laugh when I think of my vague, indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment. ” Henry David Thoreau

Moon Lit

“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake”– Thoreau

Mythical sirens called.  Compelled to follow, I drove alone through the night toward Vulan, Dark and JA volcanoes where I parked in the outer lot, empty until my arrival.  I was exquisitely and cautiously alone; a warrior is always alert.

Leaving safety behind, I climbed through an opening in the locked, metal gate and walked along the moonlit trail, a somnambulant hypnotically urged forward.  The vast open plain spread out before and behind, hushed but for the soft whisper of wind through the sage.  I thought perhaps I might witness something magical, something magnificent even.  Nature often rewards our efforts when communion is our purpose.

Through a haze of fairy-book wonder, I looked up.  Magic had already taken hold….luminescent orb!

IMG_20181218_193101640I stopped to watch a shallow stream of clouds pass over the moon.

The slow current flowed north to south along the western rift edge of the Rio Grande River Valley.  The moon danced in ether, bathed in a billowing diaphanous dress, a glowing sphere of mystery. Perhaps this nomadic community of water vapor had coalesced from the earlier heat of the day, or maybe this mystical mist had been conjured for my eyes only; a pleasure I was witness to contemplate.

Me, my moon shadows, and the sweeping sky above, humbling in its boundless grace. I laughed and twirled around whispering, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

The intention had not been to actually climb one of the volcanoes.  The walk from the outer parking lot measures more than a mile and a half to the top, not a long hike during the day, but under moonlight one’s footing is always tenuous.  Plus, it was very cold.  I would return with wind in my face.  Yet, JA rose closest in the distance, a darkened silhouette, an old friend calling me.  An old cone calling an old crone.  I could not resist the summons, so I set out to climb the narrow jagged path to the crest, stumbling, sometimes tripping, but determined.

The top!  My reward (as if the sky were not enough): a dazzling, sparkling, display of city lights far below toward the east, toward the Sandia Mts.  Bewitched, I laughed with delight and twirled around again, arms outstretched, hooting and howling my “barbaric yalp,” no false faces necessary when only the gods were watching.

Cautiously, I tread across the ancient caldera and soon found a windbreak. Here I turned toward the stone, hugged the jagged wall of lava, literally hugged it…cheek to rock…forehead pressing cold, aged pahoe-hoe.  Silent, standing perfectly still, I swear I felt JA’s heartbeat against my own chest. Here I met with eons and millenia, with this 125,000 year old rock and a primordial sky.

Back around to face the east, I leaned against the lava while looking up at the night and nestled in for a prayer.  I thought of Thoreau’s good friend Emerson who said it better than I.

“Standing on the bare ground…all mean egotism vanishes…I am nothing;      I see all; the currents of the universal being float through me.”

I understood my wee proper place within the warp and weft, the fabric of the universe; I wept with gratitude. How fortunate am I…are we?

Sentient beings on a beautiful planet!

Vulcanized: Thrown into a Fire

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.”    Henry David Thoreau

The path I tread over and over again these days is very narrow, very crooked, very jagged.  It leads me to that which I am in love: volcanoes.  Well, not just any volcano, and not so much the lava spewing caldera (though I have dawdled in awe near such a one) but rather the five or six volcanoes sitting in a southerly row on the west mesa of the Rio Grande rift valley.  

 

I do not visit as often as I would like.  I would live on one of these ancients if I were allowed.  JA, Black, Bond, Vulcan, Anam Cara (soul friend), all beckon, ...a tiny hut would do, a one-room cabin like Thoreau’s, or a simple cave from which to safely watch the weather unfold.

Power dwells here, along with peace and possibility, but also danger.  Tread nonchalantly at your peril.  This rattler is but one example of the many inhabitants: 

Startled on top of JA

But where you might find hell, you might also find heaven.  The noisy world of the city is replaced by silence…..the air sometimes so still, so serene…where solitude, ceremony, and insight sit side by side by side.  Come!  Walk with reverence. You will see (Carlos Cataneda-type ‘seeing”) not only visual wonder, you will see what wonder is and what can be.

What wonder is: the diversity of our planet.  These critters can all be found on one volcano…Anam Cara.  They are various bugs of the beetle variety.  Wonder-full.

What can be:  the image below begs you to imagine…

As the earth rotates counter-clockwise away from the sun, I give myself over to the swirl of the planet, orientate to the dance, and feel myself moving…a speck on the edge of this great sphere, grasping my proper place in the immensity of that which I am part.  Feeling, also, my connectedness to the universe and to infinity.  

Sometimes I climb seeking the full moon, and try to catch  the rising moon in my hands, 

 

 

 

 

 

then release the setting sun with breath.

If I stand on a volcano and wave my arms, I might produce the “butterfly effect” sending new winds, new events circling the earth.

If I stand atop a volcano and shout, “Take care of our planet!  Take care of our beautiful home,” I might change the course of fate.  It is right that I should consider these things both heavy and light, light as a beetle’s wings and as calamitous as human demise.  Vulcanized.

Stroke by Stroke (Life as Art)

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“He is the true artist whose life is his material; every stroke of the chisel must enter his own flesh and bone and not grate dully on marble.” Thoreau’s Journal: June 23, 1840

“She, too, is the true artist whose life is her material; every stroke of the chisel must enter her own flesh and bone and not grate dully on marble.”

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Stroke, n. — a mark made by drawing a pen, pencil, or paintbrush in one direction across paper or canvas.

Whether stroke of the chisel or strokes on canvas…the painter’s canvas…the canvas of life, we create what we choose to live, we live what we choose to create.  Creation: a beginning and an ending.  Alpha and Omega.

This time, perhaps, you choose a life uncommon.

If the muse smiles upon us, our efforts may look or feel divinely inspired.

Often our attempts at chiseling away at the marble, at the rose stone, at the life before us is a bungled lump of clay or dough.  That clay, that dough, we must fold in upon itself and simply let it be; let it rest.

DSCF0425Stroke of Dawn, n. — a time of day.

We think when young (not far beyond born, living our most recent dawn) we think we are gods and goddesses who will live forever. We are gods and goddesses falling upward* …born artist or activist, oligarch or musician, capitalist or clown, pauper, priest or penitent.

We will live forever.  We do live forever.  Matter cannot be destroyed (Law of Conservation of Mass Energy).  We cannot be destroyed, yet we disperse.  We come together and we come apart. ** Where do you think goes the slough of skin, the hair follicles, the detritus of your ever-changing body?

During these processes we will get wounded.  And OH how we may hurt!  It can’t be helped.  It may even devastate?

What do you wish for in your second, third, twenty-seventh apostasy?

canoe-paddle-2Stroke, v.an act of moving one’s hand or an object across a surface, applying gentle pressure, or constant pressure, [eternal pressure].

One stroke, then another, we paddle our swift, sometimes rickety, crafts through life.

Across the River Styx and back to first shore – ever vigilant.

Either we face our demons, or we may become one.

We are Warriors.  We are Angels.  We are Friends.

We live fiercely!  Let us not be Foes.

If we are fortunate, we stroke the skin of those we love and laugh with abandon.

Stroke, v. the act of hitting or striking someone or something a blow.

sculptor-3Art is an act of activism.  To make Art we must Act.  Art.  Activism.  Redundant?

Yes!  Strike the chisel over and over again.  Seek perfection.

I shall pierce my HEART and feel it bleed love and wonder, fear and frustration, sorrow and awe.

Sore feet, sore hands, sore heart and mind; I want to experience everything!

And having felt it all, decide what is good for me and what is bad. “…And not to feel when i have come to die I never really lived.”

I will write it; I will dance it; I will scream it from the mountaintops.

I will drum it; I will test it; I will inhale it from the canyon ravines.

Discernment marks my quest, Yet I trip so many times: over the stone and stumble, under the rock and rumble,

Schisms, and chasms, and stuck between.

I shall pierce my SOUL, leaking promise and potential, to know the truth of IT…to be true to myself this moment in the universe as honestly as I am able in the spiral dance of life.

Stroke of Genius, n. – a thought or an act of brilliance.

May we be so fortunate to follow in the footsteps of those we revere.  Oh, to experience even a single stroke of genius!

Stroke, v. – to caress.

I have felt the winter wind whisk mere wisps of hellish flailing; every living thing shuddering, trembling, quaking at once.  I have felt the whisper of love on my cheek, the breath of those I adore caressing my skin.

Stroke of Luck, n. –- something good that happens to you by chance.

Having your best friend nearby when you are struck down by circumstance.

Stroke, n. – a sudden disabling attack or loss of consciousness caused by an interruption in the flow of blood to (part of, all of) the brain, especially through seizure.

We cannot know when life’s circumstances may seize us and render us incapacitated.  It is terrifying to feel yourself lose control…wave-1as if out on a great, wild sea watching the water’s wide wave approach, lifting you up to dizzying heights of fatalism.  Yet, if you are fortunate (I cannot speak for always), a calm overtakes you at the beginning of the tempest.  You give yourself to the fates as willingly as you give yourself to a wise teacher.

We ride into the storm relinquishing ourselves to destiny, the ending of which even Fate is not certain…though sometimes, it seems, the outcome may be a matter of choice.

On November 12, 2016 I suffered a stroke.  I write now from the visual perspective of 120 degrees having lost partial sight, peripheral vision, in my right eye.  I write now from the philosophical perspective, the intuitive perspective of a great many degrees more.  I am a fortunate one.

Stroke, v. – an act of moving one’s hand or an object across a surface, applying gentle pressure.

Oh mother, father, lover, child, friend…sister, teacher, adversary: caress my fragile, fight-filled, sometimes frightened soul that I may know we live.  Soothe me with murmurs of eternity…

In my next apostasy:

img_0066Far below…I’m the shadow on the hill.

High above…I’m the ghost rain tendril.

Gaze across…the plains of Augustine.

I’m the cloud…living out my next dream…next dream…next dream.

Look at me, I’m flying!

Further Inquiry:

Music and Book Credits

  • A Life Uncommon, Jewel
  • Falling Upward, Richard Rohr
  • Ain’t Life a Brook, Ferron

Art and Photo Credits (in order of appearance):

Sculptor at work – stock photo

Weight Loss – Alexis, 2003

Self-Made Man – Bobbi Carlyle, 2000

Dawn & Vulcan Clouds – Beverly Salas, 2016


Chasing Water…Finding Flowers

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Rio Grande del Norte Taos, NM

Gradually, the village murmur subsided, and we seemed to be embarked on the placid current of our dreams, floating from past to future as silently as one awaked to fresh morning or evening thoughts. Henry David Thoreau

How blessed are we who can ride these currents, swim with the fish, dance in two mile high gardens?  Gratitude, humbled by the scope of nature, and the gift we have been given.

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Clarity on the East Fork, San Juan River, CO

You there! Mingle in the mountains, waltz with the wind, float the rivers big and small.  Give yourself over to the current…cooling your skin wetting your soul.

We went seeking relief from the heat.  North! Taos, Pagosa Springs, Durango.  We went seeking water; we are Pisces by nature, if not by birth.  We will ride most anything down a river, including our will.  Lacking flotation devices, we often take up a mask and snorkel.  64 degree water is difficult to swim, but still possible.  These things are not without risk; though most people shy from physical discomfort.

Why…why not bear witness to universal truths using all of your senses?

Time is but a stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. It’s thin current slides away,
but eternity remains…(hdt)

Inhale slowly, smell the rain-soaked mountains, truly see them.  Stick your finger in a sun-dappled columbine and taste.  Sh-h-h-h, listen to the breathless wind call out while birds and bees sing their rejoicing!

Feeling acutely aware…the rivers, the mountains, the air we breathe come from almost forever.  We live here but a moment.   Let’s be OK with that!

 

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The Unbearable Darkness of Seeing (Part 2): The Light Side of the Moon

“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.” Henry David Thoreau

Though I have posted a couple of photo collages, I have not written my blog since January 2015 when I was body slammed by circumstances beyond my control (see Unbearable Darkness…Part 1 and before that Points of Convergence).  My belief system, my ego, my career all collapsed in a crumble of lost dreams and what I then felt were false “signs.”  Life kicked the chair out from underneath me, and I found myself wondering how, where, or even IF I fit in.  I was despondent.

Gratitude It took two weeks of mourning lost opportunities and employment before I could even begin to feel as though life were worth the effort.  Soon, my friend Louisa invited me to participate in a 100 Day Project.  Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to feel and express gratitude for all the good fortune I had received.

Augury Four days into my gratitude project (keeping a daily journal about the people, events, and things for which I give thanks), after he spoke at a UNM climate change rally, I met Dr. Bruce Milne: Director of the Sustainability Studies Program at the University of New Mexico.  Many people had told me over the course of two years that I must meet Dr. Milne for he and I shared a goal of sustainable lifestyles as a way of life.

Ironically, following on the heels of my Unbearable Darkness and false signs, upon introducing myself and quickly outlining my skill set, Dr. Milne said our meeting was a “sign”… the answer to a prayer he had sent out to the universe.  He described his prayer to me along with several other auspicious signs he had received just prior to my introduction.  As he spoke, I saw the sparkle of a tiny, joyful tear in his eye, as if to say, “The universe does deliver what we pray for.”  Turns out, he had wished for someone with exactly my skills (along with a minor in Sustainable Studies) to help him transform two of his dreams into reality.

Had his prayer changed the course of my life?  When, exactly, had he sent out that prayer? Did the fate of my true path require the collapse of an alternate destiny?

Gratitude Dr. Milne had also been deeply engaged in expressing gratitude.  To that end, he had developed and written “The Method: Mindfulness and Gratitude Practices to Achieve Personal and Collective Sustainability.” How’s that for Points of Convergence?  He wanted his text transformed to a book. Thus, a month after my world collapsed, I was hired by UNM’s Sustainability Studies Program (an alternate dream of mine) to help create a book. Additionally, through our collaboration, we brought Indian scholar, environmental activist and anti-globalization author, Vandana Shiva to the University of New Mexico where she beautifully encouraged a sold out audience to believe, “We are all seeds of creativity.”

…the answer to someone’s prayer.  Giving up on signs and no longer believing in fate, I had become someone else’s sign and fate.  One has to laugh.  By helping to  bring gratitude, peace and most importantly, light, into my community, I had allowed light to shine in my heart again.  Thus continues, the Circle Game.

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