A Delicate Balance

Recently, I watched a film produced by Patagonia–
The Refuge: Fighting For A Way Of Life.
The film illustrated the plight of the Gwich’in Nation of Alaska, specifically the area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

“The Gwich’in population is located in northeastern Alaska, the northern Yukon and Northwest
Territories of Canada. Known as ‘The Caribou People,’ the culture and life of the Gwich’in has
been based around the Porcupine Caribou herd for thousands of years. The Gwich’in peoples
have relied upon the caribou for food, shelter, clothing, tools and medicine. So intertwined with
the Porcupine Caribou herd, the Gwich’in have named the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge
“Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” which translates to ‘The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.’
The Coastal Plain is the destination of the Porcupine Caribou herd, which migrates to the Coastal
Plain each year to birth and raise their young. Not only does the life of the caribou begin on the
Coastal Plain, but it is also where the life of the Gwich’in nation is supported. The lives and
heritage of the Gwich’in are directly tied to the caribou herds – much like the Plains Indians
relied on the buffalo. Without a healthy caribou population, the Gwich’in culture would
struggle to survive.” from http://www.alaskawild.org/educate

****
This painting is my tribute to the Gwich’in Nation in recognition of their intricate and interdependent relationship with the Porcupine Caribou. In legislating, thereby allowing corporate oil moguls to exploit this sacred region, we are influencing climate change to our detriment. In saving this region from such exploitation, we are not only protecting the rights of the Gwich’in Nation, the Caribou and migrating birds, we are protecting the future of a healthy earth for generations to come.

Blog on Hiatus

Hi Everyone Who Reads My Blog…

I hope that you’ve appreciated my art, poetry and essays over these past five years. I’ve taken short breaks at times, but mostly I’ve been here. As a writer, it’s been a good thing for me to show up to this writing space daily.

Life is certainly giving us challenges by the truckload these days. Sometimes, there is the need for quiet contemplation and introspection. It’s been forced on many by social distancing and sheltering at home during the pandemic.

There is so much going on in the realm of politics. In the US, it consumes the media and our minds if we listen to it for very long. There is such a basis of fear in the way the media delivers the news. The most immediate concern to me is Climate Change. We are each individually and collectively affected by this across the planet. I don’t know what has to happen before humans begin to relate to the earth in a more reciprocal way. Heaven help us.

We have leaders, outside of politicians, to guide us in accommodating the changes we need to make in order to survive beyond the next twenty years. There are solutions that can be implemented now. These are covered quite effectively in this book edited by Paul Hawken, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming. I might have mentioned this book in an earlier blog, but it bears repeating. My 25-year old granddaughter and her boyfriend were visiting recently. I handed the book to them to browse through. My granddaughter looked directly at me and said “I’m going to give this book as a gift to everyone that I know!”

It is a book that offers precise information about what we can do NOW to change course. It’s going to take strong leadership to do this. However, behind that leadership it’s going to take each and every person to line up across the earth. Forget the idea of different countries, cultures, religions, beliefs, skin colors, foreign languages–we need to unify to save our earth, which is saving ourselves and all the other amazing species in this one ecosystem.

Blessings to everyone

Christine
Mt. Shasta, CA, USA

The Backstory

The elephant shows up in my art more and more frequently.  I’ve posted this mixed media painting from 2018 a few times.  I don’t think that I mentioned the entire backstory for this piece.

I cut my little purple elephant from a photocopy of an earlier painting.  Whimsical, right?  But the actual photo of an elephant that I used as a model was an orphan in Dame Daphne Sheldrick’s Wildlife Refuge for traumatized baby elephants.  Many of them were orphaned due to poachers taking down their mothers and harvesting the ivory tusks for profit.  A very sad story that continues to this day!

I could see the trauma in the eyes of the little elephant.  A glazed, dazed look of dread.  For he had witnessed the violent death of his mother.  And then, he was left to wander in this confused and fearful state until he was rescued by a helicopter team and brought to the sanctuary.  Once there, it took these tender experts time to help him overcome the initial effects of the trauma.  Gradually, he was integrated in with a group of older elephants to help him with further recovery…to the degree that he could recover.

Dame Daphne Sheldrick and her husband, David, started the shelter for orphaned animals, especially elephants, many years ago.  He passed away in 1977 and Dame Daphne  continued the trust in his name.  She died in 2018.  I wondered if the work that she and her husband had so passionately lived was being carried on.  I am relieved to see that their daughter, Angela, who worked alongside her mother for twenty years, continues this heroic work with the help of her husband, their children and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust team.  This is really a huge task as the poaching continues.  It occurs to me (and to others) that if there wasn’t a market for ivory, then the elephants might have a chance.  However, there is a market.  How does one address such greed?  I read recently that if someone is bragging to you about their ivory collection or even a trinket that they have…show them a few photos of whose life was taken to add ivory to their collection.  In other words, shame them.

****
There are 415,000 elephants remaining in Africa.  Recently 350 elephants died in Botswana.  Cause unknown.  So far, these deaths have not been connected to poaching–no tusks were removed.  Elephants are deeply feeling animals.  Some have said that they are mourning the loss of lives in their community.  I can believe this to be true.

 

What are you feeling?

Things are scrambled.  There is disorientation.  My brother in San Francisco doesn’t drive.  He relies on buses.  The buses are running but it’s always a risk.  Who else is going to be on the bus?  What are their personal habits of cleanliness and responsibility towards others?  He can’t get to his usual places to shop for the food he usually eats.  He is eating more canned food.  His health is suffering.  He isn’t getting the exercise he normally gets.  He lives alone, is a social being and feels cut off from his connections.  His lifestyle has been severely curtailed.  He lives minimally with a small carbon footprint.  Even with that, this is rough.

After a recent conversation with him, I felt sad.  I told him that he needed to eat healthy.  That much he could do for himself.  The stores where he usually shops are over-crowded making him less likely to shop there.  I told him he could have fresh produce delivered.  Regardless, he is down-hearted by everything that is going on right now.  Living in San Francisco, he feels the impact more than I do where I live.  Less freedom of motion.  His is one story among many…one good reason for kindness towards one another.

Expressive.1

This face came about from what I was feeling in the moment.  The words that I wrote  were:

There is so much that is going on that is challenging for many at this time.  I wouldn’t know where to begin.  An ongoing sadness and simultaneously, an awareness of the extreme beauty that surrounds us.  Concern for self and family and community, the world–the earth.  Humans haven’t lived softly on this planet.  Why have we distanced from the earth who sustains us?  There are so many questions hovering in the air.  I like to think that where there’s a question, nearby is an answer.  We have to pay attention–become conscious of the feedback that we are receiving from the earth and her other creatures.  We aren’t alone in this.  Why do we forget?

Then, yesterday, sitting in my tiny garden in the backyard, leaning into the uncertainty, a little hummingbird settled nearby, framed in a wire rectangle of the fenced enclosure.  It visited for an indeterminate time and we studied one another.  The rarity of such an experience always feels like an honoring.

This painting is a reminder to not run away from your feelings.  As they arise, do acknowledge them, embrace them, sit with them, be patient with yourself through them.  It is in this state of acceptance and bringing comfort to them that they are recognized and eased.  Have you noticed that?

In the midst of uncertainty, some things feel right with the world.  We look for those things.

Take good care.

Musings on What is Hard to Comprehend

how much longer

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to comprehend that a virus could be so powerful on so many levels.  It makes people sick, it takes lives, it travels across continents, it halts the workforce, it stops education as we’ve known it, it damages economies–giant corporations and small businesses alike are affected, it creates arguments of politics around to wear or not to wear a mask (in America anyway).  It separates families and friends.  It brings inequities, injustices to light.  It commands that we save the world with better choices as to how we use the world.  On and on.  I bet you can add to this list and that if we analyze the list we make, it seems that we could find good and not so good within it.

I appreciate the perspective that the virus is giving us feedback.  That any response from the earth is feedback to us as a human species.  Often we act dumb in the face of such feedback.  Often we ignore it for as long as we are able to.  Often we try to outsmart it or upgrade our technology or continue more forcefully in the direction that we’ve been going.  Even while we see that’s not helping.  In fact, proceeding as we have been is making things worse.  However, we don’t seem to know how to stop and turn ourselves around.

Why is that?

Why do some people accept that wearing masks could halt the spread of the virus and adamantly wear their masks in public?  Why do other people vehemently object to wearing a mask at all?  What is the motivating force beneath each of these stances?

These days, I am fortunate to live in an area that isn’t highly populated.  Although we are now getting tourists in the summer.  And our numbers have increased accordingly.
I get out very early and shop for groceries–when I shop early, the store aisles feel a bit more spacious and I feel calm as I shop.  This is one thing that I can do to lessen the intensity of these times.  When I shop early, I’m in better shape over the course of the day.  Returning home with my weekly groceries, as I handle each item, wipe it down or rinse it in a pan of water, I am tuning in more to the particular item.  I give it attention that I might not otherwise–a type of gratitude.  Hmmm.  Interesting.  I note this.  I could consider it a big hassle and I have…but today, no, I’m grateful.

I also notice the accumulation of plastic bags…the ones that don’t break down in a landfill, the ones that end up choking the sea creatures that we conveniently forget have a life down there in the astonishing depths.  What am I to do with these plastic bags?  Isn’t there, I wonder, an alternative to plastic!!!  How brilliant are we that we can’t come up with a solution here?  Wouldn’t our minds be put to better use in learning and practicing how to harmonize with our planet in reciprocal and beneficial ways?   Instead of strategizing war tactics or how to make it big in the stock market.  Think of the jobs that would materialize if we put our heads together to make the world a better place for all creatures great and small and including the earth.

“You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one…” from a song that we all remember.  The truth is, we need to proceed wisely in a better direction or we won’t be earning our keep here.

Good Fortune

cat.

Good Fortune.  This piece began as a painting of a nautilus.  I lived with it for awhile and then, I changed it into something else.  A cat of good fortune.  I remember the figurines of Chinese porcelain cats from my own childhood.  Perhaps I’d seen them in magazines or in my Irish/German grandmother’s house in Bernal Heights in San Francisco.  Maybe I had seen them in the little trinket shops in Chinatown.  Regardless, I could use a stroke of good luck.  So I painted this cat to symbolize good fortune.

We do that, don’t we, imbue an object d’ art with symbolism.  I recently realized my tendency towards mixed media.  While I paint mostly with acrylics, I like dimension, texture and sometimes a 3D effect.  As if the subject is coming off the canvas a bit and announcing its presence.  I have some of my mother’s costume jewelry…two pieces were perfect for the eyes.

Lucky times.  Luck of the draw.
Reminding me of this Taoist story of the father and son…

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.

****
Do we make our own Good Fortune, I wonder?  Is it unrealistic to consider that we are going to always experience only good fortune?  Is every event and circumstance intended for our growth?  Is any experience, whether perceived as good or bad, only for our evolution?  “Maybe?”

The Dive

A couple of years ago, I was invited by a local art gallery to preview an art exhibit, choose a painting and write a poem referencing that painting.  The painting that spoke to me was of an adolescent girl wearing a swimsuit, standing at the end of a diving board, preparing to dive.  Her body looked rigid, almost like the diving board itself.  Shoulders were raised nearly to her ears; her mouth was tense and straight.  Below is the poem I wrote.

I am not there to read this poem to you.  I’d like you to read it quietly once.  And then, read it aloud to yourself or to someone else.  Feel the poem.  Pretend that you are the diver.

The Dive
©by Christine O’Brien

Feet plugged into the
sticky resin springboard,
I note the space between me and
the crushing water below.
The form I hold.
Buddha stillness.
The grace I invoke
as I design form
gliding through space.
The breath I hold.
The breath I take
like thunder in a canyon
fills my ears.
The shadow of fear
remains at the other end
of the platform
while I stand on the edge
in focused repose.

This is not my first dive
though my raised shoulders,
clamped mouth and clenched jaw
could be interpreted as fear.
There is always that
but with prayer and practice
it quickly transforms
as there is no turning back now.
The dive grooms the diver
in this conspiracy of grace, form and space.
Originally, it was a dare from friends
that sent me up the hot aluminum ladder
on that sweaty summer day.
Now, it’s a drive from within,
not towards perfection
or for judges’ scores.
There is no competition.

It is the ecstasy of flight
that sends me to this precipice.
Neither bird nor stone falling through space,
I am a wingless angel
who rejoices in
those few seconds of airtime.
Body imprinting space
air molecules conforming, buoyant.
I visualize the flex, fold, arc,
the straightening as
I neatly incise the water with my hands,
barely a splash.
I surface a few feet away,
victorious,
a different sort of Phoenix rising.

****
And then I made my own painting of another sort of dive by another sort of creature.

card27

 

She Stewards the Earth

SheStewardstheEarth.2

Do you upcycle your art?  Valuing her face, her direct look, her expression, I wanted to utilize her in a new painting.  This then became a mixed media piece.  I collaged her face, painted her dress with an earthy color and added symbols.  I did some texturing on the canvas prior to drawing and painting the buffalo.  I also used some “resist” to have the underpainting show through.

All of this to symbolize White Buffalo Calf Woman.

There are many tellings of this story.  Here is one.  (It’s one-and-a-half minutes long.)

I titled this piece “She Stewards the Earth,”
because I believe that women have a deep
connection to the earth.  That in some ways,
we are more deeply aligned with the earth
than men.  That perhaps we are an avenue of
communication between humankind and the earth.
I feel that our bodies are sensors to the disharmony
that the earth is experiencing due to our misuse.

What do you think?

Mystery

cat1a

It was strange to see this cat girl emerge.  She was painted just before the time that women were donning knitted pink cat hats.  They were called “pussyhats” and worn in the 2017 Women’s March on Washington DC.

A little recent history lesson from Google:

A pussyhat is a pink, crafted hat, created in large numbers by thousands of participants involved with the United States 2017 Women’s March. They are the result of the Pussyhat Project, a nationwide effort initiated by Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, a screenwriter and architect located in Los Angeles, to create pink hats to be worn at the march for visual impact.[1]

****
As an artist, have you noticed this…not only does your art respond to the political and socio-economic climate, but sometimes it is almost predictive.  Artists, poets, writers, creative beings have a heightened sensitivity.  It’s no surprise that they can tune into something before it hits the press.  And express it through their art.

Obviously, my girl’s hat isn’t pink–but the concept of woman merging with cat, with her wild nature–and yes, she has magic–are reminders to myself.  A woman is an enigma to the male of our species.  Rather than men fearing and trying to dominate what they don’t understand, why not honor her?  Why not seek her out for wise counsel?  Why not be curious to know her more deeply?  Why not recognize that she has gifts to share (that he does not possess) and lend value to them?

That men are making most of the rules, guiding the politics of our lives, belies the fact that women comprise over 50% of the population in America!  2019 census shows 168.08 million women versus 161.48 million men!  When are women going to realize that they have more power for change than they are exercising?

There are so many things in place in our society (and world) that we know are morally wrong and socially unjust.  Women know this deeply…if they could gather their courage and unify their voices, change for the good would occur.

What is something you, as a woman alive today, are called to take a stand on?  How are you going to align yourself with what you know to be true and correct?  Is there an action you know that you need to take?  One step at a time…dare to take the first one.

 

 

 

Dream It Better

dreamitbetter4

How do you care for our earth?  As an individual, I steward a small piece of earth.  I’m grateful for this little plot of land with its variety of fruit trees planted by someone else, perhaps over fifty years ago.  They probably had no thought of me.  But they gave me a gift all these years later.

We are facing a time of global crisis.  The way that we’ve been “using” the earth isn’t sustainable.  The Native Americans believe that we have a responsibility to consider seven generations to come.  They and some others realize that the earth is on loan to us now and to be conserved for future generations.  But most of the world hasn’t held this as a value.  We’ve taken from the earth’s resources and not given in return.  We’ve used and abused our earth, our oceans, our air quality.  Now we see disruption across the planet and we wonder how can that be?  As if it came out of nowhere.  As if scientists hadn’t been warning us.

****
This painting is inspired by the animals that live along the Rio Grande River, the fourth longest river in the USA.  Beside a large portion of this river, there is a “wall” being built to define a boundary between the US and Mexico.  This particular area, along the Rio Grande bordering the state of Texas, is considered to be one of those invaluable riparian habitats.  Jaguarundi, Pronghorn, Ocelot, Javelina, Mountain Lion, Fox, Birds, Beetles and Butterflies are some of the animals and insects that inhabit this area.  The “wall” would disrupt the natural navigation patterns of these animals and insects. Some of these species, like the Ocelot, are already endangered. The Rio Grande River itself is in grave danger.

I call this painting “DREAM IT BETTER.”

****

We are touched by things that we hear or see.  We know that some things, as the disruption of a riparian habitat, are wrong.  We feel bad about it.  It may even arouse our passion!  Instead of stopping  at feeling bad or sad, consider, “What is an action step that I can take to make a difference?”  One step would be to do some research.  To find some legitimate organizations that are opposing such destruction.  Get informed.  Then see how what you learn can be shared with others.  Take the leap from helpless observer to active participant.  One small step towards change.