On Finding Inspiration

The last few weeks have found me too busy preparing my work and my studio (while sick) for the 2019 Art Harvest Studio Tour to get out my weekly blog post. Since this question came up frequently during the event that ended yesterday, I decided to reblog this post I wrote two years ago until I have time to write a fresh post!

By Alanna Pass

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There is a magic in the creative process.  When I am totally in the  “zone,“ it seems as though some divine force plants a seed of inspiration into my psyche & leads me on a journey to bring from the ethos something new & different into the world.  Generally I need to be in a space where I am fully present-  at least with my own thoughts.  I don’t necessarily have to be in my studio.  Often inspiration comes on a walk or doing something as innocuous as washing dishes or weeding the garden.  At this point it is important for me to get the idea either in process immediately or at least written down, for inspiration can be as ephemeral as fairy dust in a breeze.

Sometimes I must plant a seed myself if nothing has been offered from above.  I keep a list spirit-of-g-r-horse-qeof concepts that fascinate me. …

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Beyond the Studio Door

“Failure is success in process”- Albert Einstein

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”  ― Salvador Dali

img_2951So you walk into an art gallery or an art festival and there is the fruit of the artist in all of its magical glory, looking like it was created effortlessly.  What you don’t see is the plethora of mistakes and sometimes heartaches that go into making art.  It’s a part of the process.  If you aren’t willing to fail, you are not going to learn.  This is especially true in the medium of ceramics.  There’s no way you can work with mud and transform it into permanent objects without running into some challenges.  There are so many variables to contend with in the making- construction, drying, firing, glazing, and firing again at a temperature around 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.

img_2950This week before my open studio on the Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County I img_2960opened my kiln to find my share of disappointments.  The beautiful grape leaf plate on the upper left (traced from one of my grapevines leaves) has a crack down from the notch of the leaf shape.  It’s still lovely but not saleable.  I’ll use it though.  No one will notice under a pile of carrot sticks.  Those three lovely bowls with incised grape leaves rubbed with iron oxide all cracked.  This was a img_2961puzzle.  Maybe they got jostled when I removed them from the press mold?  These will become part of a mosaic on my future walkway. Then there was the barn owl sculpture with hairline cracks in two places – maybe from cooling too quickly in the pit fire?  I love this piece though and I am not sad to keep it.

The failed prints I have cut up and am using in other img_2962incarnations such as “quote blocks,” little sculptural pieces with collages.

Thankfully, there will be plenty of other lovely things to look at my studio sale-  but the invisible mistakes will be just as much a part of it for me.

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Beautiful Failures

They are the cracked

The not quite right

Products of my hands

And soul

Victims of experimentation

Poor judgment

Or forces beyond my understanding

 

Sometimes their enduring beauty breaks my heart

Their fatal flaw rendering them undesirable to others

Then sometimes their glaring shortcomings

Are so embarrassing

They are destroyed or reincarnated

Taking on a new form that will touch my soul

Or someone elses

 

The buyer will never know

That my work is built on beautiful failures

Marveling at my wonderful talent

Wishing they could have it too

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On Noticing Small Things

Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.  Mary Oliver

vintage-1135015_1920I was never much of a noticer until I took Glen Moffat’s Natural history class in my sophomore year of college. Until that time most birds other than gulls, jays, & hawks were all little brown things that flit about in the trees.  Wildflowers were all pretty.  Trees were either pines with needles or trees with leaves.

We wore hiking boots to that class.  Armed with binoculars and magnifying glasses off we went on various field trips up into the Bay Area hills and beaches.  Mr. Moffat was a short middle-aged guy with the jan-meeus-xV7Fxi5xjJM-unsplashexuberance of a young golden retriever.  His enthusiasm was infectious.  Suddenly all those little brown birds were visual wonders with names.  Among the many were wrens, bluebirds, flycatchers, tanagers, warblers, and sparrows with all manner of coloring, beaks, and feet.  Ducks were not ducks any more but dabblers and divers, shovelers, canvasbacks, and scoters.  There were actually five types of gulls I could img_2728identify: Ring-billed, California, Herring, Glaucus, and Western.  I began to recognize the calls of birds. The wildflowers took on identities of their own and I learned to tell them apart, asters, shooting stars, goldenrod.  There were differences in the shrubs, gooseberry, goat’s beard, California buckeye.  The pine trees became firs, hemlock, cedar, red, yellow, and white pines.

My fear of science dissipated to the point that when I transferred as a junior to a university I changed my major from Art to Natural History, an interdisciplinary study of botany, ecology, zoology, and geology. My studies of botany turned more intimate. I peered into dissecting scopes and marveled at the inner structures of flowers, algae, lichens, and fungi. Slime molds had designs that were worthy of a display in an art museum. I was introduced to the world of mushroom-2786789_1920lichens, mosses, algae, & liverworts.  I learned that most fungi were not mushrooms but rather molds and yeast.  Mushrooms were merely the fruiting bodies of the spidery white webs of mycelia living underground or in rotting material.  Latin names swam about in my psyche. Now everywhere I walked was a treasure hunt of natural wonders.

Eventually, I became so adept at plant ID that as a junior I was hired on a botanical study to map rare and endangered plant species in a potential wilderness area.  The plants we found, among them, a sundew (a small sundew-2783310_1920insectivorous plant) eventually converted the land into a protected natural area.  After graduation, I worked in Alaska for a forest fire ecologist, cataloged sea life with NOAA, and mapped vegetation types with the US Forest Service.  I walked the sandy barrier island off the coast of Prudhoe Bay identifying sea birds on a study with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and counting the abandoned but ever warm eider-duck-2020993_1920downy nests of eiders.

Those years of scientific study are long behind me but I am still an observer always looking for acquaintances in the natural world around me. I know the name of the birds about my yard and their calls.   I don’t have to worry about filling the hummingbird feeder so full as I noticed that their skinny tongues are over two inches long.  I noticed that the little myotis bats that darted about on warm summer nights have all but vanished as with the

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Courtesy phys.org/news

warblers, the tanagers, swallows, cedar waxwings and other seasonal migrants. This troubles me. Some years back after the neighbors sprayed the brambles on the fence line, the quail disappeared. The red wind blackbirds still pass through winter and springs filling the air with their songs.  This year, the aphids did not show on my kale!

 

When I learned to notice nature, my life changed radically to the point I made a career out of it.  Science became my friend rather than something to be afraid of. The environment became something to enjoy and protect.  It is not necessary to go to the extremes I did but it is important to be aware of the natural world that surrounds us.  It can form and direct us. We humans as the decades pass are losing our connection to the earth as we retreat further and further into technology.  But it is keyboard-393838_1920important to remember that our so-called civilized lives are built on the back of nature from the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the raw materials in our house, cars, devices, and the fuel in our vehicles.  Without a connection to the earth, we continue to degrade the planet to the point it will be unable to sustain a quality of life for ourselves or its other inhabitants.  It’s happening now with climate change, pollution, and degradation of the land and oceans.

roof-768735_1920One way to keep that connection is to learn the names of the birds, animals, and plants that inhabit your environment.  Even in the city, there are species that have learned to cohabitate with humans.  If you look closely, you may see there is more than one type of sonny-ravesteijn-xsJka-hK8Gs-unsplashsquirrel, & brown bird.  Watch the crows going about their day.  There are communities in the sky conducting business you are not savvy to.

By naming the plants and creatures we encounter, we offer them respect and become aware that the earth does not just belong to us. We become advocates for our environment rather than just exploiters. Give your children binoculars and magnifying glasses rather than devices to rob their minds. Give yourself some too. Look up and around you and learn to notice the magnificent gifts that this planet has to offer.

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Cheering on Greta Thunberg

greta 2The world take note..we have a new spokesperson for the planet…

I had been ignorant of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish girl who has thundered on the world stage as a climate activist, that is until last week when I tuned into her Ted Talk. I was awestruck by her composure, her knowledge, and her willingness to cut to the truth of what is happening to our planet and then chastising our greta-thunberg-best-quotes-school-strike-15th-march-780x405complacency to take real action in spite of the scientific facts.  Greta’s intensity is riveting as she speaks.

Greta at age 8 heard about climate change, fell into a deep depression, and went mute.  This resulted in her diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome  (a high functioning form of autism), obsessive-compulsive 330px-greta_thunberg_4disorder, and selective mutism.  She started pulling out of her depression when she began to formulate an action plan for climate change. First she wrote essays.  Then inspired by Parkland students, she decided to organize a school strike.  Since no one else would join her she started striking from school alone sitting in front of the Swedish Parliament for three weeks handing out leaflets.  Her demands were that the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement.  Eventually, through social media and the press, her fame began to spread.  Since then, she’s inspired school strikes around the world and has become the hero of thousands of school children as well as adults. Greta speaks globally about the importance of action to solve climate change.  Time magazine featured her on the cover of their May 27th issue and she has made the list of the 100 most influential people of 2019

Continue reading “Cheering on Greta Thunberg”

Pausing for Bumblebees

Covered in pollen in a zucchini flower
Bliss in a zucchini flower

It is the height of summer blooms. Bumblebees are to be found everywhere about my yard.  I find them in the cool of the morning sleeping in flowers, drunk from the previous day’s feeding.  As the day warms I pause to watch them at their work, mindfully probing into pistils within blooms sucking out nectar.

They are especially fond of compound flowers, those in the genus, Compositae, the daisy family, the largest example being a sunflower. These are flowers within flowers.  Look closely in the middle of a dahlia, zinnia, daisy, dandelion sunflower, etc. and you will find multitudes of tiny flowerets surrounded by showy petals. It’s like one-stop shopping for bees.

Bumblebees make up the genus Bombus with 255 different species.  Generally, they are black with varying stripes of yellow and sometime red. They make nests near the ground under logs, duff in small colonies.  They are honey producers but in smaller quantities.

Though bumblebees don’t get as much press as their smaller cousin, the honey bee, they are extremely important pollinators.  Bumblebees are particularly good at it. Their wings beat 130 times or more per second, and the beating combined with their large bodies

photo courtesy livescience.com
photo courtesy livescience.com

vibrate flowers until they release pollen, which is called buzz pollination. Buzz pollination helps plants produce more fruit.  Bumblebees flap their wings back and forth rather than up and down like other bees. Researcher Michael Dickinson, a professor of biology and insect flight expert at the University of Washington likens wing sweeping like a partial spin of a “somewhat crappy” helicopter propeller,

They are gentle bees, single-minded in their work and rarely sting which is good because their sting can be particularly nasty.  I have never been stung even though I sometimes gently pet their fuzzy backs then they are immersed in feeding.  Such sweet bees.

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In Praise of Bumblebees

They probe dreamily in the center

Of pie sized yellow flowers that nod towards the east

Keeping me company

As I work in the garden

 

These tiny winged beasts do their work

Heads up down, up down

Placing in precision their needle-like proboscises

In a sea of stamen and pistil

 

Gentle black creatures

Intoxicated by pollen and nectar

So immersed in their work

My finger can stroke their furry backs

 

I find them in the morning exhausted

Dozing in the midst of flowers

Dusted with yellow

Dreaming bumblebee dreams

 

Buzz and bumble

Find purpose in my zinnias, my dahlias

And sleep until the warmth of a new day

Calls you to your tasks again

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Fun facts thanks to livescience.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of a Different Feather

daiga-ellaby-h43VqtlnV7U-unsplashA cup of steaming tea in hand

From my padded perch with propped up pillows

I gaze out the bay window

Observing morning activity at the feeder

 

Among the usual finches, chickadees, & nuthatches

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Author’s photo

Unusual activity catches my eye

A petite junco carefully feeds seeds to a juvenile robin

Three times its size

 

Wait, this cannot be!

This bird is of another feather

With no natural obligation

But my eyes do not lie

 

This little junco is clearly committedimage2977637_web1_shaw-1

To care for this young robin

As another to its own

From mindful feedings

To standing by at the edge of the concrete bath

As the youngster bathes and drinks

 

I wonder, what is the story of this orphaned robin

And how did it come under the junco’s care?

I would like to think mercy to save another not of its kind

2018_bird_week_15_dark-eyed_juncoI can only conjecture

But still, I find hope

In the actions of this tiny little bird

And its very big heart

 

*Note: According to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, “cross-species” feeding is a very rare thing to observe.  You can read more about it here.

 

 

A Serving of Good News for the Environment

Remote rives in GAARYou don’t often hear positive news of the environment- especially in the U.S. these days, so when an email from the Natural Resources Defence Council of a similar title showed up in my inbox yesterday, I thought I would share some heartening tidings.  BTW, the NRDC is one of the strongest environmental lobbies in this country, if not the strongest.  I have been a monthly contributor for years and am also one of their email activitists.  That means numerous times a month I send out emails to urging government officials to support environmental legislation.

The NRDC has filed 87 lawsuits against the current administration since its inception 2 1/2 years ago.  On average that is one lawsuit every 10 days.  Of those, 47 of those have been won in favor of the environment with only 3 setbacks. The others are still in litigation.

Some recent  groundbreaking legal wins include: (Copied directly from the NRDC newsletter)water-3340044_1920

  • Defending our natural heritage in the Southwest: A federal appeals court ruled in our favor, finding that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) illegally approved the drilling and fracking of oil and gas wells in the Greater Chaco region of New Mexico, a spectacular landscape sacred to indigenous tribes. The court reversed the approval of 25 drilling permits, and the landmark case has national implications for BLM decisions to allow drilling. Read more here
  • Forcing energy giants to pay up: Another court blocked the Interior Department from trying to repeal regulations closing loopholes that enriched fossil fuel companies at the expense of taxpayers. The repeal would have let oil, gas, and coal companies avoid paying millions of dollars in royalties for mining and drilling on our public lands. Read more here
  • Upholding President Obama’s permanent ban on offshore drilling: A judge ruled that Trump illegally sought to reinstate oil and gas leasing in the pristine, sensitive Arctic Ocean and wildlife-rich Atlantic deepwater canyonsRead more here
  • Opening the door to protecting threatened giraffes: An NRDC lawsuit finally forced the Trump administration to concede that giraffes may warrant protection under America’s Endangered Species Act. Giraffe populations have plunged by 40 percent in the last 30 years. And America is a big importer of giraffe hunting trophies and bone carvings. Read more here
  • Protecting whales on the brink: In the face of NRDC legal pressure, the Trump administration finally listed the Gulf of Mexico whale as endangered after dragging its feet for years. An estimated 22 percent of the species were decimated by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and there are only 33 of the whales left on the planet. Read more here

The NRDC is still waging dozens of other critically important courtroom battles: lawsuits to save the Clean Power Plan, protect national monuments like Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante, restrict the use of bee-killing pesticides, stop the climate-busting Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, and so many more.

Consider contributing to environmental causes no matter what country you reside in.  I like the NRDC since most of the money received from donors goes directly to the cause.

Together we can make a difference.  For more information go to NRDC.org

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