CLOUD TALK, SQUIRREL TALK

2015-01-15 10.23.18All of nature communicates with other parts of nature. In his poem, “The Social Life of Water,” Tony Hoagland writes, “Cloud talks to lake;/ mist speaks quietly to creek.” That makes conversation elemental.

I talk to myself in a less restrained manner than when I was younger, less encumbered by doubt and hesitation. Will I become one of those old women who unabashedly converses with herself out loud in public? It’s already happening in nature—I speak freely when I’m out in the woods and, yes, aloud, at times.

Some squirrels are willing to engage with me. One summer there was a squirrel in a section of Jacks Peak Park who often chatted with me when I arrived at that place. We’d carry on conversations lasting several minutes that only ended when I got too faraway to hear the squirrel’s next comment. And birds will occasionally engage in a prolonged dialogue. Once Michael noticed that a bird and I were chatting, was startled by it and said, “You two are talking to each other!”

There are several human languages I know only a few words of, but that doesn’t tend to stop me from speaking the words I know along with those I don’t yet comprehend. Isn’t that what we do when making art, when engaging with imagination? We enter into conversations with ourselves and the world around us, without having a complete understanding, but with curiosity and the mind of inquiry at the helm. We ask and listen for answers, imagining our way into comprehension! Art-making begins with a question not an answer.

What will you ask today?

NEAT AND ORDERLY OR NOT?

IMG_2317 For some people a neat desk, an ordered room, may be the ticket to making art. Knowing where everything is settles some of us and may aid in the process of seeking. For others, however, the absolute opposite is true. According to Dr. Kathleen D. Vohs of the University of Minnesota, “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition which can produce fresh insights.” She suggests that when we want to think in new, unpredictable ways, working in a messy office may aid in our ability to do so.

Maybe that’s partly why it’s the forest, in particular, that fosters my imaginative thinking—it’s darn messy out there. Take a walk in the woods and we see bushes upon bushes, tree after tree, fallen tree limbs and branches everywhere; the ground is layered in a mulch of forest detritus. Looking out ahead while in the woods often I can’t actually see the trees for the forest because of that wild plethora. Such seeming disarray gives my subconscious permission to dream. Out in the woods, it’s not only the thick chaos of the plants and trees but the many actions of the animals all occurring at the same time. So, we, too may swoop and burrow, tunnel, lurk and sting!

My desk is its own forest, my own wild disarray!

A Linked Legacy

IMG_3124In the magazine Nautilus, Mary Ellen Hannibal writes about the author Vladimir Nabokov and his study of butterflies: “Nabokov once wrote that, had he not left Russia, he might have spent his life entirely on lepidoptery, and not fiction.” It was in Nabokov’s hometown of Vyra that his father introduced him to butterflies and, having left Russia forever, he longed for home for his whole life. In her article, Hannibal asks, “So, at heart, was Nabokov a scientist or an artist? Asked that question once, he expressed puzzlement: ‘There can be no science without fancy,’ he replied, and ‘no art without facts.'”

Artists have been responding to nature since our human beginnings. Being grounded in the natural world makes for art that’s located in the real, which is an ideal springboard into imagination, the natural world being infused with mystery. The earth provides something actual to work with, to respond to, to springboard from. A fine way to get to know a place is to engage and interact with it intimately, and making art will do that for us. Especially in Spring!

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Return to the Forest

IMG_1011 IMG_2181 In one of my most favorite poems ever, “The Waking,” the American poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “God bless the ground; I shall walk softly there.” On Sunday, I did just that; I walked softly on the forest floor and gave thanks.

Had my foot not been badly sprained, the forest is the first place I’d have gone after my father’s death, but I was on crutches then. There is nowhere as good as the woods to bring sorrow. My foot’s healing has come slowly; my father died and I developed a limp. Michael took me up to Jacks Peak to walk the gentle Pine Trail and then onto the former logging road Lower Ridge where we could stroll two abreast and I could take Michael’s arm for stability, for calming reassurance.

Maybe it was twenty years ago, maybe it was twenty-five, some time ago, I began taking my father’s arm, at first for a different kind of stability, for the way that physical closeness can bring two people who’ve had a long tumultuous relationship. The experience of being near can remind of us what’s most true, the bedrock of love. My father and I never talked about my taking his arm when we’d walk along Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz and elsewhere; it was just something we’d do.

Standing beside him, I’d slip my hand into the crook of his arm. He always made way for my reach and kept me close. We walked that way for years, before walking that way helped him not totter, protected him from falling. Before he got slow. Before I got impatient with his slowness.

When I was a little girl and I was slow, he’d get frustrated at my slowness, and he’d say, gruffly but not meanly, “Grandma was slow, damn it, but she was 102 years old!” Like all young children, I was engaged by what I saw and stopped to look at everything. When, in my frustration, I used that same line on him, my father didn’t like it, and so I stopped, but reluctantly as I loved the chance, admittedly, to tease him, as he, most all my life teased me, and often not in kindness.

Yesterday, walking arm-in-arm with Michael, I brought my grief to the forest as I’d longed to do these past weeks but couldn’t. Michael’s patience and kindness welcome my sorrow. The forest is waking up; spring is everywhere. I saw my first Sticky monkey flowers of the season and my first Vetch. There goes my Pop, farther from me, and here comes spring again. “God bless the ground! I shall walk softly there.”

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Layers of Listening

IMG_3099As of late, I’ve noticed that there are layers to listening. There are the nearest and loudest sounds and, if you keep tuning your ears, there comes the next layer of sound, that which comes from a greater distance or a more quiet nearby sound.

Toward the end of day once while sitting in the window seat Michael built me, I listened, aimlessly letting my ears attach to whatever was there—birds and cats in the bushes; my neighbor with his too-loud Harley and his friends with their too-loud bikes; the rush hour traffic many blocks from here. And then I heard it, from a distance—I’ve heard Michael’s car. For the first time I heard the familiar engine noise from blocks away. I heard my husband coming home to me. Now I hear it often when I sit in this spot with the echium about to begin its raucous bloom outside the window. My heart always does it’s “Michael’s almost home dance!”

But the last few weeks, this too: I listen for my father’s voice. I can hear him. Within me I can hear his voice clearly. In his last years, my pop got softer, his voice did, and everything else about him. Not only what he said, but how he listened. He began to listen. Funny how it happened after his hearing wasn’t so good anymore but that’s okay, it did happen. He’d tilt his head in my direction. I miss his voice and I miss his listening.

What are you listening for? Can writing or art-making bring it closer? Might you tune your ears to all that’s being said just for you to hear?

Arrival!

The UPS truck pulled up and a young man knocked at my door Monday morning, handing me my brand new book! Here’s the tour schedule. Please come.

IMG_3085STEP INTO NATURE BOOK TOUR

Saturday, April 4: Poetry Workshop/signing, Monterey Public Library, 625 Pacific St, Monterey, CA, 831-624-3949. 2:00 – 3:30, free

Tuesday, April 7: Santa Cruz Book Launch: Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave, CA, 831-423-0900. 7:30pm

Thursday, April 9: Monterey Book Launch: Pilgrim’s Way, Carmel, CA, 831-624-4955. Venue: Carmel Art Association, Dolores Street, between 5th & 6th, Carmel, CA 6:00: music by Dave Holodiloff, choral poetry reading by Robert Down School 4th graders, drinks & hors d’oeuvres

Saturday, April 11: Poetry Workshop, Tor House, Carmel, CA. 10:00 – 4:00. details: moc.e1500778629noihc1500778629cevec1500778629irtap1500778629@ecir1500778629tap1500778629

Sunday, April 12: Book signing/reading, Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA, 415-927-0960. 4:00pm.

Tuesday, April 14: Book signing/reading, Elliott Bay Books, 1521 10th Ave, Seattle, 206-624-6600, WA. 7:00pm.

Thursday, April 16: Book signing/reading, Annie Bloom’s, 7834 SW Capitol Hwy, Portland, OR, 503-246-0053. 7:00pm.

Thursday, April 23: Book signing/reading, Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande Blvd NW, Albuquerque, NM, 505-344-8139. 7:00pm

Tuesday, April 28: Book signing/reading, The Ark, 133 Romero St, Santa Fe, NM, 505-988-3709. 4:30pm

Thursday, May 7: Writing workshop/signing/reception, OLLI@CSUMB, Monterey, CA, Michele Crompton ude.b1500778629musc@1500778629notpm1500778629orcm1500778629. 4:00 – 5:00 workshop, 5:00 – 6:00 reception and signing.

Friday, May 8: Art Opening Reception for Patrice’s Collage Show: All Roads Lead to the Mother. Patrice will exhibit her collage and sign copies of her new book. Studio One in Big Sur. (Located above Local Color at the Village Shops in Big Sur, 35 minutes drive south of Carmel.) 6:00pm

May 9: Step into Nature: Making Art with artists Erin Gafill & Patrice Vecchione . Participants will have the opportunity to explore collage, painting and writing with Erin and Patrice. Workshop includes lunch, $125. Studio One in Big Sur, 10:00 – 4:00.details: “Erin Gafill >” <erinleegafill@yahoo.com>

Tuesday, May 12: Book signing/reading, Diesel Books, Oakland, CA, 510-653-9965. 6:30pm.

Friday, May 15: Book signing/reading, East-West Books, 324 Castro St, Mountain View, CA, 650-988-9800. 7:00pm.

Saturday, May 16: Writing workshop, East-West Books, 324 Castro St, Mountain View, CA, 650-988-9800.11:00am.

Tuesday, May 19: Book signing/reading, Barnes & Noble, 894 Marsh St, San Luis Obispo, CA, 805-781-8334. 2:00pm.

Tuesday, May 19: Book signing/reading, Chaucer’s Books, 3321 State St, Santa Barbara, CA, 805-563-0010. 7:00pm.

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The Wind Chime Memorial Park

IMG_3840 Out in the California hills far from my home is a place I’ve frequented for many years—a hot springs, complete with an old hotel seated amongst the hills. There are miles and miles and hours and hours of walking trails there. Some trails go up and up and back into the land in several directions. One trail takes the walker past the hotel through a tunnel of trees and then on out into the valley. Once I found an old cow rib back there and carried it back with me as a sign—a good sign. The valley trail skirts a small creek or, if there’s been a lot of rain, a not so small creek. There’s been a recent addition to the landscape. It’s the Wind Chime Memorial Park where, dangling from a number of trailside trees are lots and lots of wind chimes. Walking amongst those trees is to walk into an orchestra of wind transforming sorrow into song. What sound does your sorrow make? What’s the music of it?

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Grief & Art

IMG_3072The last photograph of my father was taken by his good friend Tim during their final visit. In it my Pop hardly looks like a dying man—his skin hasn’t a wrinkle; his eyes are clear; he’s wholly engaged in conversation, happy to be with his old friend. But less than a week after that picture was snapped, my father left, without packing a single bag, but yes, with a hat on.

 

A response to grief for me is to make art. During my mother’s dying, poem after poem came, voicing what I was unable to articulate any other way. Last Saturday I sat with a copy of Tim’s photo wanting to build a collage around my father’s beautiful face. I’d look at his face and well up with tears, unable to conceive of a picture. Clearly it was too soon for that project.

 

However, amidst a stack of handmade papers on the table, were two that caught my eye: one was comprised of red, brown and white circles, and the other a thick, solid saffron sheet. I deconstructed the circles, cutting them free from their background so I had a stack of circles beside me that I placed and re-placed on the solid paper, spot-gluing them, finally, adding a few leaves, some small circles of cut-out maps, and gold decorations. The design that formed calmed me; it felt right. I retrieved a sense of rightness when my world had lost its predictable form, when it felt angular instead of like a (more-or-less) sure round ball.

 

Later, I sewed this collage to a bottom sheet of orange felt. I like stitching paper to fabric. In addition to spending lots of time with my dad at Bookshop Santa Cruz we also frequented Harts Fabrics; he too loved the textures, the colors, the trims. The collage isn’t finished yet; I’m going to add more beadwork, but here is it so far.

 

Needle and thread in hand, with scissors and glue, too, I began stitching myself back together. All the while I worked thoughts played and settled down easily, while the grief held steady but didn’t overwhelm. It was good to make something appealing to my eye, to feel a sense of order where otherwise there’s isn’t one.

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