I learned to look for cairns when I began backpacking in the Sierra Nevada at a young age. Cairns are little towers of stacked rocks to mark the way of a path or trail. In the Sierras, they are especially helpful when traveling cross-country away from the main trail. They are a welcome sight on the granite terrain, knowing you are headed in the right direction.
Since my backpacking days, it seems my entire life I’ve been looking for cairns, literal or metaphorical. Now I build them, usually with my group three other women friends that I been adventuring with for going on over 25 years. Usually, these are for more spiritual reasons, sometimes to mark the passage of a loved one. It is a treasured ritual we have adopted. Below are some of the cairns we have built or come upon.
I just returned from a wonderful week visiting Vancouver Island B.C., Canada. Four nights of that stay were at the Point No Point Resort where myself and three of my friends enjoyed, among other things, beachcombing on the stunning beaches in the area. They provided a gallery of natural art.
I’m hoping my photographs can give you some idea of the beauty we encountered.
It’s tomato time here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The only advantage I can see of the hot summers we have been having is that the tomatoes love them. Growing good, delicious, organic tomatoes is an art form and I have gotten good at it- actually a little too good. Frequently I get tomatoes over a pound and they aren’t even the beefsteak variety. But, there are only so many tomatoes the two of us can consume. We have a freezer full now and they are still coming on. Finding the extra homes other than the compost pile has gotten to be too much effort. Next year I will have to go down to three plants. The varieties I grew this year….
Sungold- (cherry tomato- so sweet!)
Amish Paste (Prolific and huge)
Brandywine (the best slicer)
Black Krim (great flavor)
Really, I can’t take all the credit for the success. I’m just conducting a series of variables that I have figured out to be a good “Tomato Artist.” I need to thank the following contributors to my bodacious tomato harvest:
Quality heirloom tomato starts
My partner for tilling the raised beds, hauling manure, and installing a drip system
The sheep up the road for their great poo
The cows and horses down the road for the same
Our composted kitchen scraps
The earthworms and microbes for decomposing the above
The earthworms again for aerating the soil and leaving their casings
The farmer that raised the straw that I much with
My own two hands for their labor in planting & tending
To be honest, I am feeling burnt out on gardening right now. There is something so satisfying about growing your own nutritious and tasty food but it is work. Usually this time every summer I swear I’ll take next summer off. Knowing me, come spring the lure of fresh tomatoes with basil and dill will lure me back again.
I’m still working away trying to hone monotype techniques on my gelatin plate. A monoptype is a one -of-a-kind print. I cheifly use stencils and then sometimes stamps to make my images. Then I go back in with colored pencil to highlight. The following two prints were inspired by my visit to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in May. I closed down the place gawking at all the beautiful seal life.
My nightly delight is Lizzy, our little feral cat who pokes her head up at the door begging for food with her pathetic meow. I can finally pet her and pick up her bony little body. Most likely she has feline leukemia. We feed her all she wants but she never gains any weight. I had to paint a picture of her.
It’s another hot smokey summer in Oregon. It appears that temperatures of 90 and above and forest fires are the new normal. Summer used to be my favorite season here but now that the jet stream has settled further south, spring and fall will get my vote. Then air quality has been so poor you really don’t want to be outside doing much.
Motivation has been difficult. My studio does not have air conditioning. If I don’t get work done first thing in the morning, it doesn’t get done. I think I’m getting summer cabin fever. Who knew there was such a thing?
Rather than just push through it, my usual MO, maybe I should learn to roll with it and make this season the one to read, watch movies, and write more? Maybe this is a good time to relax my expectations and go with the flow….
Fred Rogers often told this story about when he was a boy and would see scary things on the news: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
These are dark times-, especially in the U.S.A. If you listen to the news enough you would think that there are no more good people left on planet Earth. I refuse to believe that- even though the media showcases all the crooked politicians and sex offenders of the world at the expense of everyone else. Sensational sells.
I only have so much real estate in my brain for the negative. In order to function and remain positive, I have made a conscious choice to monitor what feeds into my psyche on a regular basis. Rather than start my morning with the news I turn on upbeat Irish music and then switch to podcasts that showcase people making a difference- the “helpers”. My favorites are “The Good Life Project” and “On Being with Krista Tippett”. (Then the Moth Radio Hour provides me with plenty of inspiration.) If you are new to podcasts, give them a try. I don’t even use earbuds when listening. The speaker on my smartphone is adequate.
It is important to me that my art expresses beauty or brings a smile. There is no way I can achieve that when a dark cloud is spewing from my radio as I work. Trust me, I remain informed but not at the expense of hope. Like Mr. Roger’s mother said, I will continue to “look for the helpers” and give them my attention rather than further empower those that would rather have us discouraged.
While I was at Ghost Ranch two weeks ago (see my post “Escaping to an Artful Landscape”) I took a 5-day long pit firing workshop. Long before we had electric and gas kilns to fire clay, indigenous people including Native Americans, extracted their clay from local deposits and fired their ceramic ware in pits they dug into the earth. Wood, droppings and other combustible materials were placed around the pots and then
covered with shards, moist clay or more wood. The pit was then lit on fire and tended for hours. This is the oldest known method of firing pottery.
Though pit fired ware is generally not as sturdy as those fired at higher temperatures in modern kilns, they can be quite beautiful- especially if the surface is burnished beforehand. Depending on where the pot is in the pit can affect how the surface responds to flame, smoke, and oxygen. The addition of other salts around the pots can also create colorful patterns. Ceramic artists today are modifying the basic techniques and achieving
stunning results. I’ve been attracted to this method since it is so primitive & close to natural processes. Beautiful useful and decorative items can be created using only the four elements (there is water in the clay).
Due to time constraints and high fire danger at the time, we had to modify our firing methods. Instead of digging pits we had to fire in galvanized tubs and had to fire for shorter amounts of time. Our pieces did not achieve the range of colors that can be possible. Still, I understood the process, had fun, and plan to try this behind my home clay studio.
Below are are some of the pieces I made during the workshop.
The 3 sheep were inspired by the black sheep running loose on the ranch. I identify with black sheep!