Ethereal Butterfly

For me and others, butterflies are a symbol of both hope and transformation.  At this time, perhaps we are being invited to transform something in ourselves that hasn’t been working for a very long time.  This is such an individual thing but it can make a collective difference.

One thing that I learned about the butterfly a few years ago.  The butterfly can remain in the cocoon and won’t emerge until the conditions are right.  So the  butterfly stays in a state of suspension for an indeterminate period of time.  My daughter had a direct experience of this.  She had moved, for one reason or another, to several apartments over the course of a few years.  Each time she unpacked, she placed a little cocoon that she’d been carrying with her on the mantelpiece.   One morning, she got up and above the mantelpiece was a beautiful, fully formed swallowtail butterfly–the cocoon broken open.

According to Jeremy Hemberger, “Most butterflies and moths stay inside of their chrysalis or cocoon for between five to 21 days. If they’re in really harsh places like deserts, some will stay in there for up to three years waiting for rain or good conditions. The environment needs to be ideal for them to come out, feed on plants and lay eggs.”

butterfly1

This painting evolved from an online class.  Sometimes, you have an intention for your painting…I want to paint a butterfly.  Then the unfolding happens.  In that single moment in time, that butterfly painting expresses something inside of me that wants to be seen by me…and perhaps recognized by another.

It seems that right now we are asked to be in a holding pattern.  We are living then in a suspended state…this isn’t easy, is it?  We are so action-oriented, busy, busy.  And now, we wait until conditions are right before we emerge once again.

What can you do for yourself to foster those right conditions?

Your Own Butterfly

On an 8×10″ piece of watercolor paper (140 lb. weight), drip and spray acrylic inks or dab paints to cover the paper (what you paint on is called your substrate).  Choose either cool colors or warm colors for this first layer.  Some cool colors are blue, green and purple and the warm colors are yellow, red and orange.  Let the first layer dry and then come back in with the opposite colors to make designs of your choice.  Let that layer dry.  Finally, add dabs of white in strategic places across the substrate.  Once that is dry, draw a butterfly shape in the center.  You can use white charcoal or white colored pencil to draw the outline of the butterfly.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Don’t forget the body in the center.

Choose a favorite color and paint the background around the butterfly shape.  You can let some of the background peek through outside of the butterfly.  You can use a more transparent paint so that the under layers are visible yet don’t compete with the central butterfly.  Look at an image of a butterfly noting the symmetry on each side.  Design your butterfly.   You can use markers for this.  Don’t strive for perfection.  Get lost in the creative process.  Your butterfly is unique to you.

Alone Doesn’t Have to be Lonely

I don’t remember exactly what inspired this mixed media painting.  Except that it was another intuitive journey and continued to shift over time.  Putting down colors that I was drawn to, seeing images within the evolving piece, deciding which ones to elaborate on and which ones to let go.

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It was a cold, winter’s night in the mountains where I live.  There was the early dark of winter and a blizzard outside.  There was nowhere to go and no friend to meet.  An existential loneliness settled in around me.  Resistance is the first response when an uncomfortable feeling presents.  Feet dug in…”I don’t want to go there.”  But it persisted and I needed to be with it.  I’d been working on a painting of a polar bear in the Arctic.  I’d been trying to paint the aurora borealis.  Good luck with that!  That sky went through so many changes.

aurora

What prompted me to paint a polar bear in the Arctic, that I can’t really say except that as I created the background, his image hovered in the painting.  I brought him forward.

polarbear1

That night of extreme loneliness, staring at this painting in process, imagining the polar bear as his world disappears, I wrote the poem that I’ve already shared in this blog earlier.  It begins like this…

It’s cold and I’m alone again at night
The stars so far away, no comfort there
Is the polar bear aware of his plight?
Ice floes are melting, does anyone care?

Painting this piece, writing the poem, helped to shift my energy.  The poem and painting connected me to something outside of myself, bigger than my small life and this moment of loneliness.

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To be human is to feel loneliness at times.  In this time of the pandemic, social isolation and uncertainty, find a way to either write, draw or paint or any other creative activity.
One exploration could involve color.  Color crayons, watercolors, acrylics, colored pencils…any of these work.  On a piece of paper, put down colors that you feel particularly attracted to.  Place them side by side, at different angles to each other.  If you are using paints, notice which colors make other colors “pop” forward and which colors recede.  Let yourself play with color.

 

 

Poetry in Perilous Times (3)

We have not had very much precipitation in the mountains this winter.  We’ve had three big storms that deposited a lot of snow in the city proper and on the mountain.  However, it was quickly washed away with rain at the lower elevations.  February brought idyllic spring-like weather.  While we enjoyed it, we also felt some trepidation.  The summer and fall of 2018 were frightening to us living in this highly forested area.  Fires sprung up in every direction around us.  We were told to be packed and ready to evacuate…but where to, we wondered.  Some of us stashed non-perishable food staples in the car, packed a suitcase, a tent, sleeping bag, bottled water, clothing, important papers, etc.

The smoky skies extended throughout the summer months starting in early July through October.  It was an intense panorama of smoke-filled days and nights.  We wore masks when we ventured out.  Typically, summer is a time to appreciate the lakes and hiking trails, to walk briskly, climb, swim and breathe deeply the fresh mountain air.  Not then.  Honestly, there is a certain dread of the coming summer.  Without a winter of sufficient rain and snow, we pray for our own safety and that of our forests and forest creatures.

I wrote this poem in September of 2018…

When the not-so-far ridges have been obscured
by smoke for months…
When your mind is clouded with confusing thoughts…
When what you once perceived proves to be false
or limiting…
When you sip your morning
cup of tea and place one foot
in front of the other
and say yes to this new day,
you have learned faith.

The smoke hangs on the ridge waiting for
directions from the wind.
The firefighters are out there
day and night manning
bulldozers, helicopters, heavy machinery–
we trust them to do their jobs–
to be wisely directed by those
who understand the nature
of fighting fire in a heavily forested area
with up and down rugged terrain.  We
have to trust them.  We have to trust
and to hold onto faith that everything is
going to be alright…
and until then,
that we can bear it–
be strong
be patient
and live our lives truly
and boldly.

We have to trust that we have
sufficient courage,
to share our gifts and
to proceed
into this new day.
We go forward into the uncertainty
on wings of prayer, hope and trust
and faith
and whatever love looks like today.

Then, I go into the garden to harvest tomatillos.

tomatillos

As of this moment, it is snowing and accumulating.  Yay!  And the rest of March might bring more precipitation.  We hope so.

 

Lobo, The King of Currumpaw

Waking up, becoming conscious, can be slow and painful.  And, at times, we are given a gift that changes our perspective for the better for ever.  So it was with Ernest Thompson Seton.  In the late 1890’s, Seton set out to trap Lobo.  This wolf was the nemesis of the cattle ranchers.  They enlisted the services of Seton to trap the wolf and rid them of this cattle predator.  One point that I thought was interesting was that the earlier frontiersman virtually exterminated the buffalo which was the wolves natural prey on the open plains.  With the loss of that resource, the next best thing was the cattle, who were tamed and didn’t put up a fight.

Lobo presented many challenges to Seton and showed great savvy in steering clear of poisoned bait, traps and Seton’s other devices.  Finally, Seton got a clue on how to entrap this infamous wolf.  Lobo, the alpha male in his pack. was “in love.”  The male wolf rarely leaves the female’s side for this period of time.  That is exactly how Seton trapped him after months of failure.

The thing is that once he killed Lobo’s mate, it was easy to trap a broken-hearted wolf who was grieving.  The traps that Lobo had been so clever at avoiding, now three of them shut on his legs.  When faced with the trapped wolf, Seton felt a surge of perhaps respect or compassion.  He brought the wolf home and tried to save him.  Lobo quickly died of a broken heart over the loss of his mate and the loss of his freedom.

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Seton never hunted wolves again and in fact went on to become a player in the conservation movement of the time and a co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America.  He was a noted author and naturalist.  In the book that he wrote documenting his experience with Lobo, Wild Animals I have Known, (1898), Seton made himself the villain and Lobo the hero!  And so it was…this wolf was the key character in changing the course of Seton’s life and in awakening the public to the necessity of preserving rather than exterminating species..  Lobo assisted Seton in expanding his consciousness to recognize that wolves were beings with lives, emotions and even an intelligence that is hard for humans to comprehend.

 

Worlds Within Worlds

In her book, Anatomy of a Rose, Sharman Apt Russell, nature and science writer, has dubbed human beings as “the blind voyeurs.”  She says that while we witness nature’s spectacle of spring flowers, we are not the intended audience.  Rather, the intended audience is the pollinators!  There is a very serious seduction going on here.

The pollinating bumblebee, the birds, the butterflies and so forth…are the intended audience.  Each one of these has a quite unique perspective towards the flowers.  And an important purpose.  The attracting flower has another intention–to reproduce.

Is our role as human beings to appreciate the beauty of a field of flowers?  Or a single flower?  To be inspired by a flower while recognizing that it’s not all about us–that the flowers aren’t here specifically for our pleasure.  The ones we sometimes see, the ones we often don’t see.

Walking along, when I take the time, I notice the beauty and fragrance of a flower.  Witnessing beauty is an amazing exchange so in that way, I (you) could also be an intended audience.  It can be both.  I appreciate Georgia O’Keeffe’s wisdom on really seeing a flower.

“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small.  We haven’t time, and to see takes time–like to have a friend takes time.”

 

 

insideaflower

Last summer’s hyacinth flower.

Poetry Today (in Perilous Times) 2

Poets, writers, artists have a three-fold purpose as I see it:
1) the task of witnessing.  2) the task of writing it down or rendering it in some creative way.  3) sharing what they’ve written or created as a result of witnessing.  They’ve then come full circle with their particular art.

Within it, poetry has the imperative to share a message.  That message is intended to be evocative.  To awaken in the reader some of the same emotions that the witness/writer has experienced in putting pen to page.  A writer or painter can never be guaranteed that her audience is going to feel the exact same emotion.”  They can’t be attached to the outcome or response to their piece once it is released.  Fly away little bird.  But they must release it and allow it to affect and influence whoever it might, however it may.

Poets write about anything.  Poetry can express everything.  It is rare that the reader is privy to what precisely preceded the poet writing a particular poem.

I painted a piece with fish as the theme.  I don’t remember why I chose to paint these fish.  As I stood back from it and studied it, I felt tranquility.  It was exploratory.  But it didn’t have pop!  Not enough value contrast.  Or cohesion.  It prompted this poem, regardless.

A Quiet Wonder
© by Christine O’Brien

Underwater Kingdoms
Civilizations that we can’t comprehend
the sheen of scales
glint of colors
that stun in light’s glory
the silver trails through
unimaginable depths
the flash of a tail–
fish or mermaid
who is to say
for certain things
happen in depths
where humans
dare not go
we can’t all be Cousteau
though at times
if you’re at all
contemplative
you dive deep
into the dark waters
into what you’ve not known
beyond fears that taunt
and perhaps discover
another side
a way through
a quiet wonder

If this poem causes the reader to pause and contemplate something beyond their norm, then it has succeeded.
fish6aa

Poetry Today (in Perilous Times)…1

Wouldn’t every previous generation say that they lived in “perilous times” or as in the Tao, “interesting times” at the very least?  So many of us have a connotation of poetry as  an archaic (if not boring) language and irrelevant to “modern life.”

How do we get potential readers to cross that chasm of calcified thinking regarding poetry to a reinvigorated and revalued view of poetry?  Is there a place in a relatively newly minted culture where poets and poetry are elevated, revered?  That poetry activates both one’s emotions and values could be one reason that it isn’t welcomed in a society that wants to control its constituents.  There isn’t often comfort in living outside the box.  However, there is power in it.

How does anyone realize that within him/herself, perhaps a dormant inner poet or artist lives?  Sometimes the inner poet comes to life out of despair.  Nothing else seems to suffice.  Nothing else calms or soothes.  Sometimes, she is revived through love.  Sometimes, it is when change is forced and the hand you’ve been dealt doesn’t seem to have an open door–poetry can provide the doorway.

Poetry is not only a bolster for the faint of heart.  In fact, poetry is for everyone and especially in these times.

Consider Wendell Berry, novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer, an earth-connected poet of our times.  I love his bit of a poem about salad

“Wash your hands, get them good and clean,
Hurry and find a basket
Let us gather a salad, and so unite
To our passing lives this seasons fruit.”

How relevant is this four line stanza to your daily experience of life?  These days, you better be sure to wash your hands!  Of course, too many of us don’t have a garden to gather lettuce leaves for a salad.  Perhaps there is a farmer’s market nearby or at least a marketplace that gives you that feeling.  However, you gather your salad fixings, to pause and remember our unity to the food that we consume is like a prayer.  Our lives are fleeting and the food we eat to sustain us lends quality to our lives (or it doesn’t)…well, it’s all expressed in this stanza.

Poetry can bring awareness and value to the things we take for granted.  It provides the pause we need in our overly busy lives.  Giving attention to such things makes for a more conscious society.