She Looks Upon the Land

I live in the forested mountains of Northern California.  It is nearing the Fourth of July.  When it’s not a time of Covid, we have a huge influx of tourists (around 3,000 people) to celebrate the holiday.  It’s been fun in the past.  However, due to the virus, the event was cancelled.  Honestly, it’s a relief for many reasons.  One being, the long term drought in California.  The tinder-dry forested area isn’t a place for fireworks.  (It’s hard to believe that they allow fireworks in such an area!)

A few days ago, when I noticed the Safe and Sane Fireworks Booth going up by the local supermarket, I felt myself tense up.  Honestly, I cannot believe that a mountainous area would ever sell fireworks and permit their use.  This shows a great disconnect.  We’ve had several years where we’ve been living on pins and needles as forest fires have encroached.  We’ve lived with months of intense smoke that obliterated the usual pristine vistas.  We’ve been prepared to evacuate should the fires get any closer.  We’ve watched neighboring communities be forced to evacuate and witnessed a complete town, Paradise, CA, succumb to fires.  And not too far south of us, in Redding, CA where my sisters live, I stood watch with them hoping that the Carr Fire would be contained, controlled and put out!

I wrote to my local City Council expressing my concerns.  The sale of fireworks has been a profitable fundraiser for a local club.  It’s been done this way for awhile–sort of entrenched system that I’m coming up against.  Safe and Sane Fireworks, according to the local Fire Chief, have not caused problems…it’s been the illegal ones that cause harm.
Regardless, my bottom line is that fireworks of any type should be banned in forested areas!  Does that seem like common sense to you?  It does to me.  Better foresight than hindsight.

She just knows
© by Christine O’Brien

She looks upon the land and she just knows

That things could be much better than they are.

we day tripping visitors blink and doze

While wise ones see into the future, far.

When hindsight and foresight fall by the way

And the many lessons offered aren’t learned

As media hype says what it may

Through promoting fear, their paychecks are earned.

What else is new across this span of strife?

Humans burying their heads in the sand

We hear past echoes and we join the chime

“we can’t make a difference, one small life.”

Remember, holding hands, we are many.

Infused with earth love, we are not puny.

Forest

 

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.

On the Trail

Awhile ago, I took of a photo of an old oak tree that was perhaps misshapen by the elements and because of this, it was fascinating, beautiful to my eye.  I loved the way it bent and twisted and yet reached towards the sky.  Gnarly could be a word to describe it.  I could see the beauty in gnarly although the word, gnarly, doesn’t have a great connotation.

That said, my mind equated it to beauty.  I am neither an experienced nor representational painter.  Yet, this photo image of the tree spoke to me.  I used it as inspiration for my painting of a stylized Tree.  Too many of us think of trees as inanimate, as non-communicative, as unfeeling.

I’m reading a book, Braiding Sweetgrass, by the author, Robin Wall Kimmerer.  She is Native American and her family was shifted from reservation to reservation.  She remembers the Pecan Trees in the various places where she and her family have lived over the generations.  The Pecan Trees–no matter where they are physically located across the country–all produce the fruit, the pecan nut, at the same time.  And, then, they don’t produce for years at a time.  What is gleaned from this fact, is that there is an underground communication system among the pecan trees whereby they concur, regardless of climatic conditions and local geographic factors, to produce fruit.

Fascinating, right?  So walking on a trail by the lake yesterday, I encountered a friend riding his bicycle.  We chatted briefly in a casual way.  Then, out of the blue, he says that he communicates with the trees during his seven mile bike ride around the lake.  That when he moved here many years ago, he was impressed with the trees, their beingness.  That he felt he could turn to them for counsel.
Haven’t some of them, the old growth, been standing here for years?”  He added, “Haven’t they seen the whole human play unfold?”

I was shocked by the synchronicity of my painting and his thoughts on trees.  I responded, “You are weird.”  By that I meant wow, how can it be that we’re both on this tree wavelength.  Today it occured to me how the earth, trees, nature, etc. infiltrate our thoughts and beings when we are receptive.  How they speak through us about what is needed to preserve life on earth.  The conservation efforts, the environmental impetus of a world in jeopardy.  Are these quests all earth and nature-instigated?  Humans think they have these brilliant ideas…but who is our coach and guide?  The earth herself, perhaps.

At some point, maybe we realize that we are the spokespersons for our planet.  At some point, we might remember that we are visitors here. We hope to leave this earth home that we’ve only borrowed, intact and viable for future generations.  And, for the other life forms that exist, survive and thrive here besides humans.

noname1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom…

Freedom is a choice.  Is it?  Stand beside the ocean in your birthday suit.  Or walk into that floral painting .  Daffodils?  Delphiniums?  Crocus?  Lupine?  Horizon lines.  Yesterday, someone said that as artists, we are fascinated with painting horizon lines.  The sky meets the sea.  The land touches the water.  I roll in flowers in fields of forever, at least in some dreams.  If I ruled the world…every day might be the first day of spring.  That jubilant season.

Truly, in the mountains I don’t want spring to come too soon.  I want the deep cold that encourages spring flowering and summer fruiting.  I whisper to the cherry tree and the bulbs beneath the earth, if they are listening, don’t blossom too soon.  The deceit of a false spring could halt the blossoming and inhibit the bees when temperatures fall to freezing again.  I wonder if the trees can understand my language–if they know I care.  Do they witness my own wishy-washiness when it comes to not using plastic?

Is this a fantasy that I’m living?  Is this reality a tiny wedge (Kathy would ask “a wedge of cheese”) in an orgasmic universe?  I want to say omniverse although I’m not sure why.  Is that what the big bang means–one giant orgasm that sprung the worlds into being?  Can I say that here?  Freedom to write what I want, to have my own secular thoughts.  The ones that were forbidden by a childhood of too little freedom with an autocratic ruler.

It occurred to me again, that I really only found my voice recently.  No wonder I save volumes of my writing.  I won’t say everything on this blog.  Some things I hold sacred, private.  Having freedom entitles one not to speak when one chooses.

Yesterday, at the lake, I noticed the sky.  The clouds were reflected in the water.  I thought I could dive into the sky.

Freedom, claiming it, takes courage especially if you’ve been oppressed.

Freedom’s close companion is responsibility.

Castle Lake.1a

Speaking What I Know

Several years ago, I participated in a theater group.  One of the classes involved choosing, memorizing and reciting a piece.  When something has meaning to me, I am able to connect with it and recite it with presence.  Otherwise, I’m not very fond of public speaking.

This is the piece I chose to recite–an excerpt from a book entitled Woman and Nature by Susan Griffin:

“He says he is not part of this world, that he was set on this world as a stranger.  He sets himself apart from woman and nature.

We are the bird’s eggs.  Bird’s eggs, flowers, butterflies, rabbits, cows, sheep; we are caterpillars; we are leaves of ivy and sprigs of wallflower.  We are women.  We rise from the wave.  We are gazelle and doe, elephant and whale, lilies and roses and peach, we are air, we are flame, we are oyster and pearl, we are girls.  We are woman and nature.  And he says he cannot hear us speak.  But we hear.”

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Herein lies one secret to speaking in front of an audience.  To feel connected to what you read or recite brings power to your voice.  I see acting as something quite different.  In that case, you stand outside of yourself to play the character or you in some way inhabit the character.  However, that feels more difficult and less desirable to me.  To feel passionate about my topic infuses my ability to stand up in front of an audience and speak with authenticity.

I like to be prepared.  I had to become deeply familiar with Susan Griffin’s words.  I would have expressed my love of and deep connection to nature in different words.  Her flow of words, her particular associations, although they expressed a shared belief, weren’t my own.  Memorization of her words and where to put the emphasis when I was reciting was somewhat challenging.  Yet, I met the assignment. It occurred to me that my audience’s values were different than my own–that the subject matter might be something they hadn’t deeply considered.   Regardless, I recited with passion and the hope that my message was understood at a level deeper than the words themselves.

Finally then, it is not up to me how anyone receives what I say.  It is not up to me how anyone interprets my art.  It is only up to me to share it.  That’s what I came here to do, it seems.  For now.

butterfly

 

Wardrobes

Moving to the mountains of northern California twenty years ago, a re-wilding has occurred.  There has been subtle permission to become more of who I am.  One obvious change has been to my wardrobe.  When I first moved here, my closet was filled with the clothing I wore while working in downtown San Francisco.  It soon became obvious that these clothes were not practical for life in the mountains. I had a fondness for some of these tailored clothes–the neatly pleated fuschia skirt.  The black belt with the gold and silver cranes intertwined on the wide buckle.  The knee-high boots with a slight heel–a bit of cool esteem.  The black and white checked tailored suit paired with the raw silk blouse.  The fitted, stylish dresses in my favorite colors–turquoise, deep red, navy blue with polka dots, a few soft pastels–each one fit a mood of the day.  Some were concealing, others modestly revealing.

These clothes didn’t come out of the closet once I moved to Mount Shasta!  Each year, I shed more of them.   They were traded for practical and comfortable jeans and tee-shirts.  I searched for the best hiking boots or running shoes–comfort and hardiness are everything.  In the winter, it becomes about layering.  I ordered silk leggings and tops.  Long-sleeved cotton shirts, wool sweaters and vests.  Waterproof outerwear, down jackets.   I didn’t miss trading nylon stockings for the sturdy cotton, and wool sock blends.  I knitted myself a few hats that I could tug down over my ears, and scarves wrapped up under my chin.  Mittens, a variety as, like socks, there was often one missing.    Of course, come summer, all of this was shed for the comfort of light cotton and less is more as the temperature rises into the 90’s or 100’s.  A serviceable swimsuit for dunking in one of the many lakes.

I wonder, Do clothes make the woman?  Or, am I being tailored by my environment?

Living in the mountains brings out an inherent spirit of adventure that had been dormant.  Where does this trail lead?  And that one?  What hidden lake is waiting for me to discover it?  The falling in love with where I live.  The beauty that lures me.  The trail that winds and I wonder what’s around the next curve, up that hill, over that ridge…I must follow.

bear1.jpg

I encountered this bear on a river trail a few days ago.  We were a comfortable distance apart as he posed for a few photos.

A portal

…is an entry point, a place you might not usually notice…for a moment, it is visible.  And then it seems to dissolve into the ethers, defined as “the essence of the universe.”  You enter rather spontaneously or you might miss it entirely.  A lost opportunity.  Hesitation, over-consideration, distractions camouflage the opening.  If you enter, you are in new territory.  You can be certain of disorientation.  Remember Alice in Wonderland and the rabbit hole?

blacandwhite1

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I remember a time when I was hiking at Southgate Meadows on Mount Shasta.  It was my birthday.  A friend had tied a scarf, a birthday gift from her, around my curls and I had set out alone.  After hiking a couple of hours, I came across a bubbling spring.  The sound of it was like a herald.  A man, also hiking, stopped and told me that this spot was  a portal.  He said that if I sat and listened for awhile, I might be able to hear the quality of musical notes that the water running over the rocks was creating.  That a certain combination of sounds produced an opening, a portal.  He wandered on.  I sat and listened.  There was definitely a music of sorts.  However, I can’t say that I found the entry point.

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In writing or painting, the writer or painter looks for a portal…an entry point to the story that wants to unfold or the painting that wants to evolve.  I think that there might be two portals–one for the writer to begin writing and then one for the reader to be drawn into the story.  One for the artist to enter the painting and one for the viewer to bear witness.  Each entrance requires a surrender…which is the consent to be changed by something external to us.

Have you discovered such portals in your life, in your creative pursuit?

Reflections

Reflections
© by Christine O’Brien

A whole forest has tumbled over
and lies, bottom side up
in the water!
A horizontal duck skims
the surface of the forest
and its twin follows upside down.
The crags promenade
above and below
snow sifted on their high points.
Ripples distort the reflections.
A bird call sounding like
a squeaky wheel
although no bird is in sight.
I promised to sit here
for one hour today
witnessing
what I see and hear.
An invisible dog’s bark.
One noisy motor boat passes
not at high speed.
The surface of the lake responds,
disturbed,
waves, the wake, plowing hard to the shore;
silt at the bottom by the shore
rises to the surface.
everything is affected
including me
It takes awhile for it all to
settle down.

Castle Lake.1a.jpg

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When was the last time you took an hour (or half an hour) to witness your surroundings?  Something shifts when I take the time to do this.

Bear with me…

Having lived in Mount Shasta for three years, I continued to feel like a stranger in a strange land.  As if I had fallen into a life and world that were so foreign to me.  Following is an excerpt from a journal written in 2002…

Tonight after dark, I walked the loop road around my wild new neighborhood.  Tree spectres, star navigators, I felt like an orphan returned to her original home, finally and afraid.  I didn’t know this terrain.  I knew huddled box houses, concrete, asphalt-paved city streets, skyscrapers,  city lights and the sound of foghorns.  Now, living in the mountains, I walked along snow-berm lined roads and felt out of place in the deep quiet that is induced by snow.  I looked to the stars for guidance, but didn’t grow up reading them.  Foggy nights and shuttered windows allowed neither awareness of the stars nor the sun’s rising and retreating.  Is it too late for me to become familiar with nature in her rawness?  Aren’t I the daughter of this more truly than anything…or anyone?

Though the road was partially lit by a slightly waning moon, I carried a flashlight.  I had chosen to move here, to be so displaced.   Even with this yearning to connect with nature, I was surprised by a lurking fear.  What strange stalking beast might be watching me?  Yes, there are bears, mountain lions and bobcats here.  A few barking dogs raced down paths to announce themselves…and me.

A few days ago, at Castle Lake, there were about ten fish, trout I think, about 12″ long, each one laid neatly at the base of a pine tree around which a circumference of snow had melted.  The fish lay dead, intertwined, resembling a celtic knot.  A single fish laid a few trees away.  Where do fish go in winter when this mountain lake freezes over to a depth of several feet?  How did this neat pile of preserved fish get here?  Away from the water on a higher plane–the water hadn’t risen that high.  A mystery.

Were the fish, a bear’s bounty abandoned perhaps when s/he was unexpectedly intruded upon?  A bear who fished the lake before it froze, laid them in a neat design beneath the tree and then was driven off by a hunter, perhaps?  Or his suspicions of one?  Or was it an offering of some sort?  Or perhaps a bear scared a fisherman off…but then why did he leave the fish?  The cluster of fish frozen beneath all of that snow for weeks and now a temporary melting and no bear to claim this defrosted bounty.

I’d written a mini-writing workshop to share with a circle of friends about winter–exploring their feelings–about this one in particular.  This winter had lavishly dumped 90-inches of snow over our town in less than one month!  That’s a lot of snow to move around to clear pathways, driveways and streets.  Berms grew and city streets were narrowed, slushy and hard to navigate.  A precarious and often impossible situation.  Some days, I stayed  home and checked the weather reports regularly, looking towards a break.  Emerging into January, a new year, temperatures rose to the 40’s and rain fell for two weeks dissolving some of the berms.  And then, a dry spell, a few visible sunsets causing a body to halt in her routine to witness the translucent alpenglow on the mountain.  The beauty, ah yes, I remember why I moved here.  Such breathtaking beauty and nature pounding down the door.

Really, though, what does any of this rambling have to do with bear?  Or abandoned fish?  Or my winter themed writing workshop?  Only everything!  Terry Tempest Williams and other writers of our times, have likened the hibernating bear to the in-dwelling hidden deep feminine!  The introspective cave dweller.  The female bear who births her young in the spring.  Winter gestations, hibernations, cave dwelling–not to be feared but appreciated for allowing one the time and space it takes to gestate, find her voice and create.  Isn’t that what I’m doing here?  In Mount Shasta?  According to Williams…if you should meet this bear in the wild, open your blouse and show that you’re a woman and you will be allowed to pass unharmed, so the story goes.  And where has my cat wandered to after hours?  It’s well past closing time.  I hope she hasn’t encountered a bear.

And tonight, when I told my lover let’s lay in silence for awhile, “Let’s not talk,” he pinned my hands and I growled like a bear in captivity.  Then he left.  I felt angry because no man could contain me any longer.  Now I have a voice and sometimes I displease a man.

 

Nowhere to Go...Dec. 2001.jpg

Horse Camp

I wrote this entry a few years ago.

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Nature is a vital re-balancing refuge.  Today, I hiked up to Horse Camp (elevation is 7950 feet)  from Bunny Flat on Mount Shasta.  The hike takes me about an hour in one direction.  Sitting at the backside of the Sierra Club’s stone cabin built in 1923, I face Olberman’s Causeway–a path built by Joseph Macatee Olberman.  The path leads up to Avalanche Gulch which is the beginning of the climb to the summit of Mt. Shasta.  I’ve been told that scaling Mt. Shasta is not something you want to do in late summer.  It’s the season for avalanches.  Summiting is not something I aspire to…but I love being here.

The mountain has a few slimming glaciers on this south side; it’s mostly cocoa-colored now with sparse hardy trees, shale and rocky outcroppings.  At this lower elevation, there is purple lupine and rugged bouquets of gold flowers that soften the landscape. Flutters, birdsong and a sneaky chipmunk keep me company.  The chipmunk gets more daring, checking me out to see if I have food.  A few feet away, I see that he looks healthy enough.

Voices precede their owners, filtering down from the summit trail.  Masculine voices as if through a megaphone.  There is a stone fountain with a water spicket–the most pristine
spring water to be found…and cold!  A rugged woman with an overnight pack stacked high trudges by me.  She’s no stranger to nature and camping.

I could say that I’m on a Vision Quest…questing for my next occupation, preoccupation, gift to offer the world.  Afterall, a gift given is a gift received.  Connecting to the earth at this power spot, I imagine that if I get quiet and receptive enough, something will get through to me.   I’m here yet often somewhere else in my head.  Meanwhile, the men catch up with their voices.  No one I know in this weary bunch of summiters.  They unstrap their backpacks and rest on the adjacent bench.

The chipmunk is right under my feet.  So bold.  “Go away,” I whisper.  One man clucks for the chipmunk.  The chipmunk ventures closer but sees no food offering so he retreats– back to me.  My mind wanders and I wonder if my smartphone has reception here.

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In the spring, 2019, this is how Mount Shasta looks from Bunny Flat, elevation of 6950 feet, after a “real winter.”

 

mountaininthespring.jpg