it is entirely and utterly exfoliated. delaminated. naked.
the slender tree stands alone in the marshland, like a graceful ballerina in allongé. barely a side branch, it is stunning against a blue blue sky.
and, yet, in all its raw nakedness, its vulnerability, it stands proudly, stalwart, determined. it is still alive.
we stand next to our canvases, in front of microphones, in recording studios, on wooden stages, at qwerty keyboards, poised in front of 88 keys, with ballet shoes or tap shoes or jazz shoes, behind the cine-camera, in front of the cine-camera, at the potter’s wheel, baton in hand, holding sculpting tools or playscripts, focusing lens and aperture, holding written words in our fingers.
we are naked trees in the marsh. we stand – vulnerable to the elements – unprotected. we brave lack. we brave abundance. we withstand the inbetween.
we are exfoliated every single time we put it out there. we are artists.
it looks like the hubbabubba fairy flew through, magic wand in hand, touching stumps and shredded trees everywhere. it is striking to see and not just a little disturbing. there is blue-fairy-dust-smattering all over the woods. trees have been felled, underbrush torn up, everything ground into rough-hewn mulch. one shade of blue and many shades of brown.
only it’s not magic dust and no hubbabubba-bubble-gum or jolly-rancher-blue-raspberry fairy has been there. instead, it’s an herbicide and part of treatment for the invasive species eradication project on our trail. it’s completely and understandably important, but it sure doesn’t look very nice. right now, it looks a tad bit decimated, but good strong organic matter remains and will grow and rejuvenate, despite the eradication of so many toxic invasives.
we need be cautious. often the invasive stands in the forest, all tall and righteous, and we are convinced that they are a beautiful partner in the woods community. or the invasive is short and squat, pudgy bushes that look lush and, again, we are convinced they are contributing members of this symbiotic woods. careful discernment is necessary, for we can be easily fooled, particularly by those invasives that look mighty or seem healthy. and these mistaken identities can – as we have learned – lead to the detriment of the very lovely and thriving woods.
that’s the thing about invasive species, i guess. you don’t recognize them as invasive. you trust – as you look around – that they are supposed to be there – for the good of the woods or the preserve or the wetland or the lake. here, in this woods, they appear to be a part of it – ever-present, growing and greening up in the spring. according to the national park service, “invasive species—nonnative organisms that cause harm to the environment, economy, or human health—have serious impacts on native ecosystems. they disrupt ecological processes, threaten ecosystem integrity, degrade cultural resources…”. they are not what they appear.
i suppose there are institutions like that as well. invasives choking out the real life, the real growth, the organic nature of the organization – all bent on preserving their own agendas, maintaining control, practicing a generalist survival strategy honed through the years. bobcats and coyotes are generalists and, i must say, i know a few.
the national wildlife federation states, “detecting new invaders quickly, and responding rapidly to eliminate them, is essential to limiting impacts and costs when prevention fails.”“many invasive species thrive because they outcompete native species for food.” i suppose it would be wise to be wary of being outcompeted.
“many invasive species destroy habitat” and “some invasive species do great harm to the economy,” national geographic warns and then adds, “invasive species are almost always spread by human activity.”
“you can treat and dispose of invasive non-native plants by: spraying with chemicals, pulling or digging out live, dead or dying plants, cutting back plants to prevent the seeds dispersing.” (gov.uk)
yes. these are some of the efforts we are seeing in our own treasured woods: the removal of the toxic longstandings – masked as steadfasts participating in the mission of the forest – for the true benefit of that forest and wildlife community.
“once invasive species become established and spread, it can be extraordinarily difficult and costly to control or eradicate them.” (national wildlife federation)
in that light and with great intention, in one dedication to such efforts, “the national wildlife federation leads the charge to prevent invasive carp from entering and decimating the great lakes.” the national park service explains, “invasive carp cause serious damage to the native fish populations in the lakes and rivers that they infest because they out-compete other fish.”http://www.invasivecarp.us asks fishermen who catch a carp to “immediately contact the appropriate agency personnel for the state you are in.” we are urged to be ever mindful, to be transparent about what we see, about that which is destructive.
yes. watch out for those carp and all the other invasives. the hubbabubba fairy has left the building.
i take many photographs of us in shadow. it lowers the how-do-i-look bar to practically zero. though it does leave me a tad bit curious about why my head always looks bigger than his. i think it’s my hair poofing out; his is pulled back neatly, while mine is helter-skelter flying in the wind. nevertheless, whether we are smiling or not, whether our eyes are open or closed, whether we have a funny look on our faces – none of this matters.
some of my favorite shots of us are in shadow. we are on the dock at northport harbor. we are on trail in breckenridge. we are at the john denver sanctuary in aspen. we are on a frozen lake up-north. we are walking barefoot in florida, carrying our flipflops. we are in the sun on our back patio.
i know i might be accused of over-documenting. so many photos. “1.81 trillion photosare taken worldwide every year, which equals 57,246 per second, or 5.0 billion per day,” according to photutorial.com. at least they are not all mine.
yet i know that it takes many, many shots to get the right one. my dear friend scott is a world-class photographer with a compositional eye to die for. he shoots thousands of shots at a-list events. which makes me feel justified in my overshooting. i have loved being behind a camera since my parents gifted me my first 35mm when i graduated high school. crunch and i would go out and about for hours on end, on escapades, taking pictures and dreaming of what they would look like developed. the advent of cellphone cameras – as they are today – makes it infinitely easier to snap, snap and over-snap. and, though i can confess to that, i will not stop.
because every now and then, when i go through all the photographs i’ve taken on a hike or at home or traveling or with one of my children, i find a jewel. like the lyrics that are tucked into notebooks-upon-notebooks, scraps of paper of melodies, pa pads with ideas for smackdab cartoons and blogposts, sometimes something special turns up. “practice makes perfect,” my sweet poppo would always quip.
so, the other day, while we were hanging out with richard diebenkorn, i thought i would document our time together. not a gem of a shot, but – truly – they aren’t always gems. sometimes they are just reminders of time spent, thready mementos of moments, scraps of lyrics or color samples or heart rocks. they are a diary of time, back and forward, threaded clockwise and reverse.
despite the vast ponderings of art critics and pedantic curators, it would seem that richard might just be trying to create mood, evoke emotion. this ocean park painting – like the whole series – depicting shimmering light and air, his extended time in santa monica sun. he painted and re-painted 145 canvases in this series. a diary of time.
selfies and shadows, smiles and light. all stuff that counts on the way to 1.81 trillion.
in a weekend of weather whiplash, it was stunningly beautiful out. the temperatures reached the fifties, the sun was out, the snow was melting, the breezes were mostly gentle. we spent most of the weekend outside. it was revitalizing – in a week we particularly needed a bit of revitalizing.
we usually take the trails – and stay on them – but this was a week of off-trailing. we trudged our way through the marsh, feet sloppy wet, laughing, just so i could get a good picture of the stand of birch. it put us in territory we hadn’t been and the geese stared at us, wondering what we were doing there. miles later, it was no wonder our legs were tired, but oh-so-worth-it.
and then – something caught my attention sticking up from the dried straw of marsh grasses. i reached down to look at it more closely and drew in my breath. a set of three-point antlers. likely not seen by anyone except us. just touching their smoothness we could imagine the white-tailed deer that had shed them. i took pictures and laid the antlers back down in the marsh, knowing that’s where they belonged.
in the days we have hiked since that day, we have seen many deer in the woods and fields. sunday was a gift of a day – alone on the trail, we had so many visits we lost count. gentle faces peered out of the brush at us – we all stood still, silent. these beautiful creatures of grace and intuition and agility, so welcome as reminders to us. they were – seemingly – everywhere around us – off the trail by the river, in the woods next to the trail, crossing our path time and again, watching us. they knew we meant them no harm; we didn’t even move to photograph them. we just watched and our heartbeats slowed down, worries abating in these shared moments.
antlers are said to signify strength, determination, alertness, and protection. in a time during which i need strength, determination, alertness and protection, i will carry them with me – in my mind’s eye. the balance of things of beauty and things from which we would choose to shield ourselves…the deer are powerful nudges to remember both exist, to be gentle with oneself, to move with conviction, to be devoted to truth and not be mired in others’ agendas, to stand – even antlerless – in grace.
it was snowing and we were walking along the lakefront – on third avenue. we cut in through the park and walked along the shoreline. though it wasn’t obvious in just a glance outside, the wind was pretty fiercely blowing the falling snow south, so walking north meant keeping our heads down and imagining that we would look like all our pals on life below zero after our walk – frozen eyebrows, d’s beard all crusty with icicles, my hair frozen to my hat. later, on our return trip home, it was easier walking south than north.
i’m not sure how the tree above the sidewalk melted the snow to be a heart. no person was involved – ours were the only prints on the walk or anywhere nearby; i suppose no one else wanted to be outside in the storm. it was a mystery. but it was a perfect heart.
it’s our tenth valentine’s day. we don’t celebrate this holiday in a big way. it is also his birthday, a valentine baby for his momma. a few years ago he sent me a dozen roses for the first time. expecting them to be exquisite, they arrived – as you remember – disheveled and mostly petal-less. all the buds had fallen to the bottom of the hefty delivery box. i gathered them into a crystal bowl. rose petal lemonade.
it is not likely that he will have roses delivered again. but hearts – on the other hand – we find them together everywhere. on-trail rocks, caramel autumn leaves, tucked inside acorn centers, maple tree winged seeds, puddles, morning glory leaves, pieces of shredded prayer flags, raindrops lingering on the leaves of plants, in snow. i don’t think we actively look for them. but they show up. much like real hearts.
found hearts are different than purchased roses. in pretty much every way. they don’t try to be beautiful. they don’t arrive all glitzy and wrapped. they don’t make statements. they are not haughty nor does the color matter. they are simply waiting to be seen, to be recognized. and they don’t cost anything.
on a cold and cloudy day, the colors are muted. it is stunning. the trees have reached out and caught the snow as it flew by. the branches have held onto it, inches of white topping a narrow spectrum of greys and taupe, some tree trunks black in the dim. it’s quiet. we are – on most of the trail – first there, save for the deer and squirrels and rabbits who have left behind evidence of their passing. gorgeous. i am not cold, though the temperatures have plummeted. i feel wrapped by the woods, embraced. the paradise of winter is not on some beach somewhere. it is right here, in the middle of fallow.
it occurs to me that the colors there – in the woods – are the colors in our living room. i see now why – both – they are the colors we have chosen and why they feel so peaceful. the woods is in our living room.
i turn out all the lights – each lamp – the standing lamp, the side-table lamp, the lamp in the window nook, the lamp on the secretary – but leave on the twinkling white lights on the tall branches. they light the room just enough. they are the outside, brought in, a branch from the cherished tree in the front yard, a branch from the woods. they rise high above the old wood floors and bathe this room with starry light. they do not hold the snow as it falls any longer, but they hold memories and profound reminders of the rhythm of nature.
this is, yes, i suddenly see, why this is the palette from which our living room has evolved. it is muted, a quiescent slate from which anything can grow, in which any burst of new color blossoming is celebrated, a serene woods any time we need it.
it’s exactly how i draw horses. back in the day i had a book that taught me how to draw them. i was horse-crazy and i studied this book and practiced over and over. i did not retain much of all that study – or all of the other books i read about horses – but i can still draw a horsehead. so when we flew over this island on our approach to the tampa airport, i was astounded to see the first vestiges of my own drawing. i named it van gogh horse – for obvious reasons. high tide and angle and an active imagination helped, but i sure do think it looks like a horse.
it had been three and a half years since i had flown. we’ve read many articles about aggressive passengers and, i must admit, that doesn’t sound too enticing. i can’t imagine being rude to people who are tending to your needs as you zoom through the sky. not to mention all that recirculated air and the folks in the seat behind us hack-coughing. ahem. so it was a little nerve-wracking.
but it was also magical. you forget. i spent a lot of time looking out the window, mesmerized by the cloud formations and the landscape below, checking the flight plan on my phone to see where we were (technology is pretty amazing!) and taking photographs. i looked – i am sure – like the quintessential tourist-on-the-airplane. but i didn’t care. we have driven everywhere in the last years so it was like a small miracle to jaunt from milwaukee to tampa in two hours and forty minutes.
i remember days i flew often. midwest express airlines and real plates and real silverware and gourmet meals and mimosas in the morning or wine in the afternoon. and, the pièce de résistance…warm chocolate chip cookies. it was an experience – a whole experience. i flew midwest as often as i could, flights to los angeles and nashville and south and out east.
the most memorable experience was the – only – one time the airline lost my luggage. i had concerts and appearances in boston and all my attire was in my suitcase. a midwest express representative – jimbo – who is still my friend on facebook – immediately set to helping me, told me to go buy some necessities, including concert attire, and send midwest the bill. i am mostly a jeans-wearing performer – though there were some exceptions that particular trip – so that kept the costs down a bit, but they covered every last thing i needed. customer service at its best. i called all those items “my midwest express collection” and flew midwest loyally until the airline was no longer.
in a memory-filled moment with the smell of baking chocolate chips in my mind’s eye, i googled the milwaukee-based airline and was jazzed to see it is hoping to make a comeback one of these days. i wish them well. here is the best news:
“the airline plans to bring back the cookies if it starts flying again.” (milwaukeemag.com)
i know that can take some time and some luck. but warm chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the airline’s tiny kitchen could encourage me to start flying more again. i mean, people can’t be ornery with cookies.
if i had to draw an airplane experience – even though i am clearly not gifted at drawing – i would draw people in cushy two-across-seats, trays down, real plates and silverware, coffee cups and mimosas, warm chocolate chip cookies, linen napkins. smiles and horses out the window.
we know the trees well. on all three of the hikes we usually take in our area. we watch them as they change through the seasons, giving their leaves over to fallow, holding snow, reawakening. their portraits shift against the sky – from dense to sparse and back to dense. we notice when limbs fall and when nests are built in their branches. we watch as they turn from photographs of trees to graphic images, of dark and light. ever-changing. evolving. we use no filters.
eyes wide open – sort of – we move about our days. we see the people we see, do the work we do, go the places we go. some days are all about the familiar, the patterned, the every-day-ish-ness of it both reassuring and maybe a little stifling. we look at the days without noticing the days, at the people without noticing the people, at the work without noticing the work, at the places without noticing the places.
sometimes i stand just inside the front door of our home and look in. i try hard to pretend that it is my first step into this home. and i look – really look – to see what i see, feel what i feel, notice.
and from the air – way high up – the mountains below appeared to be mostly snow-laden. you could see small groupings of trees, likely stands of evergreen, i would guess. it seemed like tundra, vast and untouched, far from anything. the mountains must have risen out of the ground centuries ago, no rhyme or reason, geological remnants of time past. it looked cold. i shivered gazing down. the altitude flattened it all out.
and, in a moment, i was back at the side of the pond, iphone camera in hand, capturing the frozen windswept surface in waning monochromatic light.
it would appear that a giant angel was hula-hooping in the clouds and dropped their hula hoop, which landed in the upper branches of a tree at the botanic garden. or, perhaps, that a spaceship -with no defined interior- had dropped down for a visit. or, maybe, there was a filming of sesame street’s “the letter ‘o'” about to do another take. brightly lit hula hoops of neon light suspended in trees, they cast an eerie glow onto the frozen ground, onto the path. michael bublé sang “walking in a winter wonderland” and we found ourselves inside the magic.
there is definitely something to wandering paths amongst many other people all oohing and ahhing. i had vowed to myself to leave my camera in my purse, but it wasn’t minutes before i failed at this. there were just so many colors and textures to remember, so dreamy. vast installations of creative lighting.
we had hoped to go. the ticket cost was a little prohibitive but we decided – when we woke and new year’s day was to be a little more mild than it had been – to splurge.
we were stunned even at the entrance to the garden, the trees wrapped in lights, every single branch and twig gleaming. we moseyed along the path, pulling over to let groups of people by so that we could be somewhat alone as we strolled.
but this wasn’t a silent and solitary hike in the woods. it was a performance piece we all took in together. each person’s glee added to ours and, dropping all expectations and all analysis of how-do-they-do-that, we were caught up in the captivating displays.
we already have a plan for next year. there are snacks and beverages and fire pits, places to linger, places to immerse. i could stand and watch the water and light “all i want for christmas” over and over and over. i allowed myself to wonder what a garden would look like lit to a piece of my own music.
we talked about our favorite displays driving the backroads. though spaceship fantasies are not my thing, hula hoops definitely are in my wheelhouse and the hulahooplights made my list. by the time we got home we realized that we had listed all of the displays we had seen, each design extraordinary, a celebration of the marriage of color and light and and sound and garden.
our late-night snack had a different air. the gift of being outside in the cold. the gift of beauty. the gift we had given ourselves – permission to splurge a little. a new year and its new intentions.