Art in Your Life

How many times have you said (or heard someone say) “I don’t have an artistic bone in my body?”

My reply is “I don’t believe that.”

We are all artists in some sense as we imprint our life upon the blank canvas of each new day. The fact that the arts have not been stressed in a world of academia, resigns many of us to the theory that we are not creative. We see art as the territory of an elite group of eccentric individuals, not for “the common man.” And the number of these individuals who make it to the respectful ranks of successful artists, supported monetarily by their art, is even smaller. So if you can’t make a living at it, the competition is stiff, the chances of positive recognition are slim, then what’s the point of integrating it into an academic curriculum? What benefit could it possibly have? How could it improve the quality of life?

Big questions with lots of diverse theoretical answers. Some answers have been researched in a structured way; many have personal experience to back them up. What has been your experience with art? How has it influenced you? Have you discovered that ‘creative bone’ or allowed it to lay dormant? Time and money are often factors. Who has the time to take an art class or go to see the art show? And making art can certainly be an expensive hobby.

We are all artists to the degree that we choose to be. An artist and one who appreciates art become one in synchronistic moments. Practicing an art form or experiencing someone else’s art can be life enhancing. Who sets the table with a vase of arranged flowers and pretty place settings thereby elevating herself and her guests? Who stands in awe of a stunning sunset? Who becomes breathless over the blue sky brushed with wisps of white clouds? Who admires the evergreens and bare deciduous trees frosted with white snow? Who witnesses the burst of flowers in spring and laughs with birdsong? Who is revitalized by the last nectarine on the tree, untouched by bird or bug. If you are among any of these, you are a lover of the arts.

For what is art but a capturing of one moment in a photograph, on a canvas, on film, in a poem, a dance, a sculpture or acted in a play? How fortunate that some of us can take what nature has provided and transform it into our own individual expression. Why wouldn’t we want to experience this pleasure in as many ways as possible? Art viewed, participated in and discussed is a forum for communication with other viewers and/or fellow artists. Whatever emotions it might touch–love, anger, joy, grief or passion, it achieves the purpose of opening us and providing an opportunity to share with another.

There are a variety of mediums to choose from. We each have unique tastes and we begin with a curiosity to explore one of them. One person might enjoy molding clay, another plays with paints and yet another loves words. Experimenting and experiencing are the best teachers. When was the last time you attended an art exhibit? When was the last time you listened to classical music during dinner? Have you always wanted to take a photography class? On a sunny day, picture this–you, watercolors, a paint brush and canvas sitting in the backyard giving yourself permission to come out and play. For today, why not place a vase of your favorite flowers on the kitchen table? See what opens up for you and those who live with you. The artist in you is longing for recognition.

Enjoy!

Nature, the Harmonizer

When I’m in harmony with the natural world, the ducks are drawn to me.

Mountain lakes are amazing year around. If the winter is cold enough, Castle Lake freezes over. You can walk and/or ice skate on it. I have walked across it–yes, walking on water! It takes a bit of daring. We’ve seen those movies where someone falls through the ice. I don’t walk on it unless there’s been a long and hard freeze.

Now, it is spring and the ice is floating on the water as it melts into this new cycle. The wild ducks are flying in and skittering to a halt upon the lake.

This particular day, I arrived, walked towards the shoreline to take a seat on a boulder. Coming from my busy day with the energy of busy-ness, the few ducks by the shore swam hurriedly away. I sat for awhile, being there in the quiet and dearth of bustle. The beauty takes my breath away. Such awesome beauty brings tears to my eyes and seems to settle into my being. There is the rising awareness, a renewed consciousness, that there is so much more than I perceive.

When there is no hurry, nowhere else to be, nothing that I need to do–when I’m fully present–a calming effect occurs. The quiet of the outer natural world envelops and penetrates until I’m one with it. When that happens, I am no longer perceived as separate.

In fly two wild ducks, landing in their ungracious-seeming awkwardness. It actually looks like fun, as their webbed feet make a splash landing. One of the ducks swims off in her exploratory way, grubbing for food. The other one swims closer, very close. I watch her for a few moments. I expect her to fly off when I rummage in my back pack for my camera. She doesn’t flutter a feather. When an animal stays within range, I figure they want to be photographed. They remind me, and through my photography, I remind others that we share this planet with such an array of amazing creatures. There is always the daily miraculous when we pause to be aware of it. And, that we remember we are part of it, not separate, is imperative in these times.

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Sitting in nature, taking quiet time, revives and resettles your whole body, mind, spirit system. From this space, this place you are able to harmonize with your natural surroundings. Then, there is the opportunity to carry that energy out into your daily encounters. The world sorely needs harmony with something higher than what the media offers.

Ecology

Why is ecology important? Ecology is the basis for a state of one’s personal and global well-being.  It recognizes the interdependence between people and nature (which includes us)  that is vital for food production, maintaining clean air and water, and sustaining biodiversity especially notable during this time of climate change.

Why is biodiversity important?  Each life form adds to an environment that works for many.

“Biodiversity boosts ecosystem productivity where each species, no matter how small, all have an important role to play. For example, A larger number of plant species means a greater variety of crops. Greater species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all life forms.”

I might think I’m an independent person.  But if I consider everything that sustains me…water, air, food, sunshine and how all those things are delivered to me…I’d soon realize how very dependent I am.  Interdependence sounds better.  But it can only be effective if I live in a reciprocal way.  Not just taking things in…but giving back and sharing the bounty with others.  And respecting and caring for the source, the resources.

Many humans seem to think that they stand outside their environment.  I mean, they might live in a house or housing.  They might have a garden or a few plants on a balcony.  They might live in the city or a rural area.  Yet, they often think that they are separate from their environment.  That the effect of one on the other isn’t important.  There is also the peculiar notion that nature has to be dominated and that “humans know best.”

I wonder how we awaken to this interdependence and the need for reciprocity.  I wonder how corporate interests can continue to do irresponsible logging of tropical forests and fracking or dredging for oil.  I wonder how they don’t seem to consider the ways that this is impacting the local wildlife, the indigenous peoples there.  How it is drastically affecting climate change and that across this beautiful earth, we are all going to suffer for this irresponsibility.  Neither the very poor nor the very wealthy, neither the ignorant nor the very wise, neither kings, queens nor presidents are going to be spared if we don’t gather our wits and understand this vital relationship soon.

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.”

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?