the flower-power stickers adhering to my growing-up wall and my sister’s volkswagen beetle were these colors. hot pink and orange daisies, yellows, greens, vibrant and happy. and you think that some pantone or pms chart somewhere was the place they originated. but it’s not so.
this is where they came from.
and the tulips stand – proudly but not arrogantly – in their color, in their field. completely present and at ease, they open to the world, giving it all they’ve got. stand in nature and try not to be humbled…it’s impossible.
belleruth naparstek guides you – inside and outside – to quiet. a place of presence, of ease. not trying to push out thoughts or streams of consciousness passing by, but allowing it all to flow. with practice, you can feel the roots growing under your feet, the steady breathing of awareness, calmness.
and, if you are fortunate, you are held gently, right in the middle of tulip petals, and you are reminded, once again, you are alive. “knowing in a deep place that this place is inside of you…that you are better for this…“
i haven’t stopped. since march 2020 when my son – at the beginning of the pandemic – in an effort to help me feel connected to him and my daughter – suggested we have a shared text with photos taken in our day. a picture-of-the-day. and every day, not-failing, i have sent one since. i am in absolute delight when they now share a photograph on this thread; i know busy-ness and work and life have picked back up some time ago and picture-of-the-day is no longer on their radar. but, because i am a mom – and i know moms everywhere can relate – it’s still on mine. i look for something that somehow represents my day, every single day.
i have to say – this has been a good thing, this intention to seek and snap the picture-of-the-day. i take lots of photos, so some days this is easy. but there are others when my photo is of mashed potatoes or chicken soup or the accuweather tornado watch or glasses of wine at the end of the day. some days are just life. normal, regular, not supersized, life.
the trillium placed itself in front of the fallen log, clearly, on purpose. ready for its photo shoot, its bud profile at this stage resembling a mighty tulip, the toadshade waited for someone to come along and take its picture. and there i was.
that very day i ended up using a graceful fern in our backyard as my picture-of-the-day. the composition was just a little better, the curve of the fern beautiful. but the trillium knew it would end up featured. i had whispered thank you to it after my baker’s dozen shoot. it stood proudly as we hiked away, knowing.
paying attention – to the littlest details of a day – requires intention. i know i could get lost in the other details of our life, the more pressing, the more complex, the minutiae and nuances of moment-to-moment adulting.
but one text from my son changed that and offered me a continuing reminder to find something – any thing – big or little, positive or disconcerting, dreamy or a little bit scary – that was a real piece of my day. it also offered me a chance to physically let them know i was – at that very moment of sending – thinking of them.
i know there are days – i don’t want to think about how many – that my grown children look at their phones and – in unison from 1400 miles apart – roll their eyes as my picture-of-the-day drops in.
the chicago botanic garden spring field guide arrived. a really beautiful small magazine of images and quotes and information, i have kept it nearby to peruse from time to time. on the last page – under a stunning close-up photograph of the bud of an orange tulip poised to open – are the words “thank you for helping us thrive.” the text goes on to express appreciation for members who “allow our community of plants and people to flourish.” without members and their support, the garden would falter. instead, they are thriving. “come alive this spring at the garden,” they encourage.
there are moments – as an artist – that you feel truly alive…even more than other moments.
the moment the theatre audience stands at the end of your concert. and – maybe even more – the moment of hush at the beginning when first sitting at the piano, boom mic poised.
the moment – performing in the glaring sunlight on a flatbed trailer or in the artificial light of a wholesale or retail show – people come to the very edge of the flatbed or the edge of your booth to tell you that your music has comforted them in a time of sorrow or has accompanied them in a time of joy.
the moment you open email to find a message – someone has taken precious time to write to you – that says, “our favorite piece of yours came on dish radio and we danced!”.
the moment someone orders twenty copies of a cd to give to all their family members.
the moment someone writes to comment on the many-many words you have penned.
the moment someone comments on your cartoon “i can relate.”
the moment someone says, “you have no idea how much of an impact you make.”
that is true. we actually don’t. have any idea.
it is with an abundance of gratitude that i think of anyone who has supported my – and our – creative work in the world: purchasing cds or tracks or tickets to a concert, forwarding a blogpost or cartoon, hanging a painting, sending us a written card or a virtual coffee. you have helped us thrive.
when you wear the shoes of an artist, you are not necessarily aware of any dent in the air you have made. you are not aware of the seeds of thought or questions or perhaps, hopefully, goodness that are scattered in concentric circles or in the breeze around or after you.
this minute magazine is full of inadvertent wisdom.
“love in bloom” is the garden’s initiative june 3 – september 24. magnolias and redbuds, tulips and shooting stars, azaleas and irises start off the spring. “blooms aplenty.”
you’re an artist and you know that your life is different; it lacks the security – particularly financial security – of others’ lives. the moment you look at the total bill for one of your full-length recordings you are reminded. the moment you open your meager royalty checks – in these days of online streaming – you are reminded. the moments you ponder what’s next. you are encouraged by people to make another album, author a book, produce more cartoons, yet you know that any of these are without the good heart-and-mind-fertilizer of solid footing, as there is no promised return on your dedication or time or that vulnerability that comes with the territory. yet, i stand next to my piano and ponder the scraps of songs, i linger over the keyboard of my macbook, wordsmithing manuscript, i lay out the next smack-dab and write the next blogpost. blooms aplenty. yes. asking for help? not so much.
“we hope you find inspiration in the brilliance of spring,” on a page listing 80,500 bulbs planted-last-fall.
you’re an artist. and you hope there is inspiration – even an incandescent filmy thread – in your work.
“the woods are a recovery story of resilience and bouncing back…” writes the managing ecologist, woodlands.
the albums, blogs, manuscripts, paintings, cartoon strips – all recovery stories of resilience and bouncing back. we – artists – are on tiny trampolines in the world, trying.
“consider making a gift so that we can protect and celebrate the natural world for many seasons to come,” rounds out the garden’s “thank you for helping us thrive” message.
share. pass on. join. follow. gift. donate. purchase. download. consider coffee. consider being a patron to an artist – of any medium – who helps you move from one day to another, one season to another.
“discover the world of spring ephemerals. the garden’s mcdonald woods…ephemeral wildflowers make their brief appearance.”
we – artists – are ephemeral wildflowers, making a brief appearance in this universe, ready for anyone who wishes to catch a glimpse, to share in the synergy of our art.
“in years with little to no spring rain, ephemerals produce fewer flowers and less seed, which can impact their ability to bounce back in future years….if plants are healthy enough and if they have the right natural disturbances such as fire, they are resistant to annual variability in the weather and can adapt to longer-term climate change.”
“i want to know if you will stand in the fire with me and not shrink back.”(oriah mountain dreamer)
we – ephemeral artists on our tiny trampolines – need the rain. we need the fire. we need you to stand in the fire with us. we need your help.
at the front corner of my growing-up yard on long island was a forsythia bush. and many years, at the march of my birthday, i remember having my picture taken there. home. spring. there are few things that make me think of Home like forsythia does.
except for maybe the voice of my beloved daughter on the phone. she is forsythia for me. for just moments or for an extended conversation or – if i am fortunate – in person together, the sound of her voice, her zeal, is Home.
and except for watching the way my beloved son immerses himself in his music. his hands – now all-grown-up man-hands – moving dials and sliders, his voice and body dancing, his explanations – it’s forsythia for me. Home.
and except for the look across the room from david – the moment he touches his hand to his chest while in his gaze – forsythia. Home.
and dogga – at the door with his angel-babycat greeting me – thrilled, once again, to see us. forsythia. Home.
and the love and care and concern that are abundant in our lives – our family, our friends. forsythia. Home.
and the work we have chosen to do – create – music, paintings, many-many words, cartoons. forsythia. Home.
there is often a need to step away – these days. for us, that mostly means a hike at the end of the day or a longer hike on the weekends. sometimes it means getting in littlebabyscion and just driving.
we are a little limited by lake michigan – we cannot mosey east from here. but we can mosey north and south and west.
mostly, we go west. a little north or south thrown in for good measure and to shake it all up a bit, but west. east would mean up and over the u.p. or down and around – through gary, indiana – which is no one’s idea of a good mosey. so. west.
it doesn’t take much for us to decide. our days are filled with trying to sort to optimism, to wishing wishes and dreaming dreams. we work on finding ways and places we can contribute all we have learned and worked at in these last decades. sometimes that is easier said than done. and so, there is often a need to step away, yup.
the wander women – amazing and truly inspiring thru-hikers – have a QR code on their youtube channel. when you point your phone camera at it, it brings you to a place where, in multiples of $5, you can express appreciation, channel sisu, buy them a cup of coffee (or multiple cups, for that matter).
it’s been suggested manyatime to us that maybe we should have a QR code. our very own. i know that we are pretty verbose – lotsa words – maybe more words than anyone wants to read, but you can pick and choose, like from those overburdened menus at tgif’s. but they’ve encouraged us, adding very generous words like “we love to read your posts” or “this would be a way we could say thank you for something that touches us”. their thoughts – QR trail magic – we could use it for coffee or maybe a glass of apothic or…if you wish, it could be thought of as gifting us with miles. miles of thru-hiking middle age. and so anytime we just needed to step away – go find zen in the country outaways west from our home – we could use those miles. to keep going and going and going, thanks to you and you and you.
and then, we could maybe – just maybe – stop and get a coffee or a piece of flourless chocolate cake on our way. if coffee and flourless chocolate cake and red silos and gravel roads don’t help, nothing will.
and so, with the pompoms of people we are grateful for, our QR code is born. we’re gonna name himherthem “qrky”.
it was easy to lose ourselves on the beach. it was cold, but the sun was out and we were all dressed for it. our hike had brought us through the preserve and then – a little jaunt through the woods – to the shore. deserted, it was sandy, punctuated by driftwood and thick stripes of rocks. the further south we walked, the more rocks. the shoreline curved and must have been the place where the stones were captured as lake michigan rogue waves carried them in. so much to pick up, with smooth edges to run our fingers over, ponder. so easy to lose ourselves.
we walked – heads down – looking, looking. the treasures were abundant, all right there. we found the first hag stone. there is something about hag stones. these rocks – with a hole straight through them – mysterious and beautiful, hag stones are thought to have special powers that represent protection and luck. sandstone, limestone, flint…we found another. and then another. we walked and walked on the beach, looking, looking – because it becomes addictive – finding treasures just waiting to be found. easy to lose ourselves.
it got colder and, with the wind picking up, it was time to leave. we ended up bringing home a few rocks, some magical hag stones, and some sea pottery, gorgeous sherds of earthenware with green glaze, worn down for years perhaps by the powerful great lake. despite no knowledge of the origins of any of these, the connection to the day and to the water made them alluring.
“luck will show itself when it’s there.” (ricko dewilde – life below zero) on challenging days, luck is certainly hard to see. the grass-is-always-greener mindset takes over and it’s easy to succumb, the we’re-never-lucky-like-that defeatist, unmoored. easy to lose ourselves.
but the grass-is-greener-anywhere-else moment yields. and after a pause, a deep breath, mind-quieting, a good lookaround tells us something else.
a walk on the beach with dearest friends. talking and laughing and quiet treasure-hunting. finding sea pottery and sea glass and heart-shaped rocks and smoothed-to-ivory driftwood and hag stones – there all along, just waiting to be seen.
and luck starts to show itself. even in ice cubes.
there is nothing, weather-wise, that dogdog likes better than snow. he is invigorated by it. he’s not particularly fond of rain and he is definitely not a heat-wave dog. but snow is a different story entirely. when asked, “what’s keeping you in wisconsin? why wouldn’t you want to move to florida?” i have to answer, “the dog doesn’t want to live in a hot clime.” period. i mean, really – every summer – he suffers (cue up maria portakalos in mybig fat greek wedding – “she suffers” as i cannot write the word without hearing her voice.)
as i write this, dogga is at the end of the bed, curled up on the quilt, sleeping. he’ll be ten this year and that is astounding to us. he is slowing down a bit, sometimes acting like an older dog. but there is nothing that makes him seem younger than a good snowfall. running out, he eats the snow off the deck, licking it – like a sensational ice cream cone – as he goes. we look out the window to let him back in and there he is, curled up in the snow, covered in giant flakes, happy as a clam. snow is his gig. it floats his boat. it’s his cup of tea. it makes him happy, gives him the energy of a puppy, it’s his thing.
i wonder if we are as wise as this. our snowdog is not thinking about his reaction to snow. he’s not analyzing it or weighing its costs v benefits. dogga is not wondering if it will last or when the snow will melt, thereby rendering him snowless and less blissful. he is not asking when it might snow again, banking on the next time, forgoing some of the joy of this time. he is just out there, laying in it – full-out, napping, accumulating snowflakes like seconds of ecstasy. he’s fully immersed in something he loves, paying no mind to the rains of spring or the heat of the summer, unconcerned about the turn of the seasons. he is simply in snow and he is happy.
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.
“we’re guided by the spaces in-between the facts,” she stated. and then continued, “instinct, faith…”
standing outside, inside the beauty of creative lighting, feeling as if we were somewhere between graphic and real, it was easy to wrap around these words. the spaces in-between, the rests between the notes, the white space, even the kerning. all the space in-between counts.
the moments of instinct – action based on sheer gut. the moments of faith – action based on exposed heart.
joey is back. every now and again he is posting a wild country backpacking trip. we are somewhat relieved to see him again; he hadn’t been around in a long time and we weren’t the only ones who seemed worried. we watched him pull out maps and trail books and choose the space in-between all of it, the wilderness through which he could instinctively find his way. joey coconato’s guiding star is not conventional. maybe that’s why we love to watch him.
the fulcrum of balance in daily life is a challenge. balancing the very real needs of living – paying bills, staying healthy, doing good work – with the very real needs of living – the moments, the recognition of time flying by, the autograph we leave behind. in-between the stuff of accumulated years we seek the space of minimal. in-between the daily barrage of tasks we seek the space of quiet. in-between the challenges and troubles we seek the space of grace, of peace.
there is the day we stand in the kitchen – each arguing for our “side” of the story, full-steam ahead fueled by accumulated stress and anxiety – when we look out the window and it has begun to snow. suddenly, there is air, a little space. suddenly the facts-of-the-matter seem less important. suddenly we realize that this moment of discontent counts too – and, just as suddenly, we realize we are tossing the heart out with the angst.
we read an article written by a philosopher/psychologist in finland. he referenced that “for five years in a row, finland has ranked no. 1 as the happiest country in the world”. since david and 20 are constantly trying to convince me to move to finland, i thought it in my best interest to read this article. surely it would shed light on why those sisu folks are so darn happy.
there were three basic tenets. the first – “we don’t compare ourselves to our neighbors.” the second – “we don’t overlook the benefits of nature.” the third – “we don’t break the community circle of trust.”
just reading those made me think – for pretty obvious reasons – that the united states of america is doomed to unhappiness. i sighed. it would seem that finns walk in the spaces in-between more than we all do. I am hoping my quarter-finnish ancestry will help me list that way.
so how do we find the balance point, i wonder, that space between.
walking at the chicago botanic garden – in the middle of graphics and lights and magic and real-live-nature called “lightscape” – helped. the way home was a smorgasbord of holiday lights and displays. we passed lake bluff’s stunning square, all green and blue and twinkling white lights.
we arrived home, grateful to have taken the space in-between everything else – the worries, the busy, the not-enoughs – to appreciate awe without measure, to be outside on a cold winter’s night, to delight in what we saw surrounded by strangers who delighted with us.
the stairs in our home go straight up a few steps, turn 90 degrees to the left and then another 90 degrees to the left before the last few to the landing. if you turn left again you will see straight into the treetops through the office window, will pass the bathroom, and will head down a short hall to our daughter’s room. if you turn right at the landing you walk into our son’s room.
there’s a big window in his room ahead of you and it faces north. it is the window of magic. for if the circumstances are just right and the frost gathers and holds hands with the sun, this is where the crystals are found. and they are divine.
that day, in every corner, from every angle, the ice shimmered, an evanescent presence that would disappear as the window warmed. the ephemeral tiny expressions of frozen wouldn’t last. not yet. it is still fall and there will be warmer days still.
but for right then, to stand and gaze at the strands and shards and bubbly droplets is to take part in the very moment, that very moment of cold. it was to acknowledge it. and to recognize its transient beauty.
a long while ago i was gifted a necklace with a silver snowflake charm. in the tiny box was printed a brief message, “every snowflake is unique; it’s true. each one’s special, just like you.” not the thought-provoking words of mary oliver or john o’donohue, but a simple reminder of unrepeatable gorgeousness, in words anyone can grok.
these last days have been harder, a holiday with empty chairs. we are adults now and we know that this is the way of life. john pavlovitz writes, “in this season each of us learns to have fellowship with sadness, to celebrate accompanied by sorrow. this is the paradox of loving and being wounded simultaneously.”
we walked on the trail and spoke of each member of our family. we each spoke a gratitude for each person, each step on the trail punctuated by a story or some enlightenment. we laughed and i wondered what gratitude would be uttered for us, hoping that words would not be difficult for the utterer to find. our thanksgiving was bookended with early morning pumpkin pie and full bellies of mashed potatoes at day’s end. in the middle was appreciation for the people we love.
it is easy to see the cold, the long winter ahead, the empty chairs. they are apparent and they can be brutal.
it is harder to walk, peer through the window, and see the crystals and their exquisite – even if brief – magical uniqueness.