Refuge- it’s personal where one feels a sense of peace and security. In the last few years, numerous of my natural refuges have been destroyed by wildfires, development, and clearing for agriculture. There is no stopping it. Climate change marches on despite my best efforts. I live lightly, donate money, and write letters without the satisfaction of seeing much change. Thus I’ve taken to the one thing I do have control over which is my own backyard. I mean that in a literal sense.
I’m starting to take one section of my yard at a time and rewilding it by putting it into a native plant garden. I really don’t know what I am doing but thus far determination and a boatload of good advice have been enough despite my fears. It was a big deal to have a dump truck arrive and deposit 5 yards of soil in the middle of my driveway then the following week spend over a thousand dollars on native plants. Vison is a strong force when you act on it.
I did not have important business to attend to, a family emergency, or anything pressing that required me to get on an airplane and travel during this Covid 19 pandemic. That fact was, I was going nutty fruitcakes having been so restricted for so long. I NEEDED TO GETAWAY. I guess this would come under the mental health category. After venting to my sister outlaw (former sister inlaw), Jean, a couple of months back she said “why don’t you come up to Juneau for a visit?” A trip to Alaska and a lot of hiking in the wilds sounded like just the ticket. Before I knew it I had gone online, cashed in some frequent flyer miles, and then was to be on my way August 5th for a 6- day trip.
I have to say that before I departed I consulted my inner “riskometer.” I knew I would be forced to be closer than was recommended to strangers, but I also knew that Alaska Airlines had HEPA filtration and offered every other seating. All passengers and crew were required to wear masks. That combined with the N-95 masks and face shield I just purchased to wear would make my risk of acquiring the virus very low. Juneau, Alaska also had a very low infection rate.
When I left I was self-contained with my PPE, hand sanitizer, and enough food so I would not need to purchase anything to eat. The Portland, Oregon airport had maybe 20% of its normal traffic. I felt secure there. The first leg of the trip to Seattle I had an entire row to myself. Now Seatac airport, a major airline, hub was a different story. It seemed to be more like at 80% capacity. The gate of my departing flight was fairly crowded with its share of sloppy maskers. I waited outside of the gate area in a sparsely occupied alcove area and then waited to board last. As advertised the middle seat was empty. I did not accept the offered drinks from the flight attendant and avoided using the lavatory during the 2-hour flight to Juneau. On arriving I got a Covid test required from the State of Alaska. Then Jean and I were off for some adventures.
Every day we were out hiking rain or shine and there seemed to be way more than the former. It didn’t matter. It was so nice to be out in nature and such a beauty- not that the Willamette Valley in Oregon isn’t beautiful. This was a different beauty- a total change of scenery. We saw a beaver, 4 black bears, including a mama and baby, a beaver, porcupine, spawning salmon, bald eagles, ravens, and a plethora of wildflowers
Three days later my covid test came back negative which made socializing less stressful. There was no going out to eat nor shopping which was fine with me. Being outside was what I needed in cooler weather than what the Oregon summer was serving up.
I’ve been back home for over two weeks and no Covid. For me, this trip was worth the calculated risk I took. I’m in a better frame of mind and feel refreshed. This pandemic is going to be around for a while – probably at least another year or so. In my late 60s, I don’t want to lose two years of my life to this pandemic, but I don’t want to lose my life either. So it continues to be a dance with risk, being safe but not paralyzed with fear. I can hardly wait to look at this time and talk about it in the past tense- while being healthy.
“A good river is nature’s life work in song.” ― Mark Helprin
If there is one place that will give me a sense of peace, it is in the presence of a river. Besides being beautiful, rivers have an uncanny way of calming the spirit no matter what kind of dither you are in. In the infinite haiku of moving water, we can let go.
My favorite river in Oregon is the McKenzie. It is born from an underwater spring in Clear Lake high in the Cascade Mountains out of Eugene. From Clear Lake, it tumbles down a fantasy of waterfalls, disappears for a bit into the lava bedrock, and reappears in Blue Pool, a deep touramaline pool that gathers all kinds of visitors to admire its beauty. Eventually, the McKenzie becomes a big river. It tumbles down from the mountains in a sparkle of rapids, calming as it flows into farmland before it flows into the Willamette..
Every year we take a trip on the fourth of July to camp by the McKenzie. Part of that trip includes one or two runs down the river in our inflatable whitewater kayaks. We skipped last year as my spousal equivalent had a series of knee surgeries. We were both nervous about this year’s run down the river as our skills were rusty. In the end, we both agreed that if we didn’t buck up and get out on the water we would never forgive ourselves. There is the feeling of being by a river but being ON a river is the ultimate experience.
Off we went and in 50 yards hit a class 2.5 rapids, a rough way to warm up. We paddled through the waves as they roiled up around us. My adrenaline was buzzing until my mind and muscle memory kicked in and I thought to myself “oh yeah, I can do this!” The following rapids were pure fun. We had lunch on a gravel beach with wildflowers around us. It was a memorable run and probably will be the high spot of our summer. I’m so glad we got over our fears.
Rivers are great teachers, so full of metaphors. Here are a few lessons I have learned from my numerous rides on their liquid paths…
Pick a run that matches your ability but is still challenging.
Have at least one buddy that will watch your back.
Go with the flow- watch where the main current is. It takes less effort.
Keep your sights to where you want to go. If you fixate on a rock, you will hit it. Aim to the side.
Stay committed in tough water and paddle with intention.
Find a peaceful eddy and take a break now and again.
Enjoy the scenery.
You will fall out of your boat occasionally. It’s okay. Get back in and keep on going.
“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” ― Salvador Dali
So 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.
This week before my open studio on the Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County I opened 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 puzzle. 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 incarnations 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.
They are the cracked
The not quite right
Products of my hands
Victims of experimentation
Or forces beyond my understanding
Sometimes their enduring beauty breaks my heart
Their fatal flaw rendering them undesirable to others
“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” -Joseph Chilton Pearce
When I was a child I would sit down with a set of crayons and draw without much intention other than just being in the moment with my colors and paper. Painting was even better. There was nothing like afternoons in school where the math and reading were put aside for time standing at the easel with giant paper and pots of tempera paint. I remember painting with big fat brushes with long handles pictures of skies, big suns, houses, horses- the usual subjects for a little girl. The paintings I made were often brought home and gifted. There was not a lot of attachment to the pieces as there were always more paintings and drawings to come.
At some grade in school, the easels were put away and we were subtlety given the message that art was not important and academics were. Art was play, nothing to be taken too seriously. Good grades, college, and a career were.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain
Don’t refuse to go on an occasional wild goose chase; that’s what wild geese are for. –Henry S. Haskins
I became a risk taker in late in my late teens. A depression had settled over me and thoughts of suicide sometimes crossed my mind. Then it occurred to me that rather than do something so unimaginative like throwing myself off a bridge, I might as well live my life with abandon if I was that disposable.
My inner compass did not consider this as a license to make stupid choices like getting addicted to drugs or criminal behavior. Rather I decided to take risks and see what life could offer me in the realm of adventure. My first step was to extract myself from my miserable high school experience. I graduated from high school early and started attending my local community college- a total liberating experience.
I was taking an evening beach walk last week when my two friends, a couple, each pulled out a pair of Zeiss binoculars to look at a bird. “Wow,” I remarked, “Someday I am going to get myself a decent pair of binoculars” as I inspected one of the pairs. Then I stopped and said to myself, “What the hell am I waiting for?”
About 30 years ago on a hike, I had difficulty identifying a bird that my companion easily did. She said “take a look through these” and she handed me an expensive pair of Leica binoculars. There was the bird with its colors and features crisp and crystal clear. I was astounded at the difference between her glasses and my inexpensive pair at the same resolution. “Someday,” I said to myself.
Those excuses…too expensive, too extravagant, too precious, not practical. What bunk. I’m in my mid-sixties. Practicality can only work so long as an excuse. Really, sometimes it’s good to reexamine your longings, take them seriously, then take action.
I got home, did some research and ordered a fabulous pair of high-quality binoculars with all the features I could ever want. They came yesterday. I love them. This morning in bed I watched a Downy Woodpecker at the feeder with my new binoculars. The colors and features of the bird were crisp and crystal clear.
The somedays roll past
Like tumbleweeds on a desert highway
Piling up on fences
The calendar pages turn
“Someday I will…”
I declare longingly to myself
Until I realize there are a limited amount of pages left to turn