Once we got in the groove of it, each early morning a few of us on my New Mexico writing retreat met to go walking in nature. Yesterday, we went to Plaza Blanca near Abiquiu. Never have I entered a place where tall white rock walls surrounded and towered over above. It was an echo canyon that returned our voices—from us to the rocks and back. We were miniature walkers there. Only one witness to us did I see though of course there were others. A lone raven surveyed us from a cliff top perch as the dawn came on. Out and out we walked till time called us back. I’d have liked to climb up to the rock, to have pressed my body against the body of stone.Georgia O’Keeffe camped here and painted. She made these cliffs famous with her paintings. Above and around her were the rocks and below the occasional spring flower. Yesterday we got to walk where she had.
Today I’m in Taos, New Mexico, leading a writing retreat for 16 women at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. Because my mind is so full of them, I thought I’d offer this today, an interview with me about Step into Nature by Annie Scholl, a writer for Unity.org. The day we chatted was just the day after my father died; I think my raw and open heart led me to answer her fine questions better than I might have otherwise. Here it is. Unity: Tell us a bit about your book.
Patrice: Step Into Nature is about developing a relationship with one’s imagination in nature—about gaining a sense that there’s less distance between us and the earth than we might believe. It’s about recognizing the unity between humans and nature. We are nature. We make false distinctions because our lives, for many of us, are so removed from nature. My book is also about having faith in one’s imagination and trusting the creative process.
Unity: How did you know Step Into Nature was your book to write?
Patrice: Oh, that’s a great question. Well, here’s what happened. I used to be a distance bicyclist, so I got exercise through riding 20, 40, 50 miles. Then I hurt my neck. When I turned 50, I rode 100 miles, and that’s the last time I’ve ever been on my bike. My neck has arthritis. I get migraines, and the like. So I had to find another way to do two things—exercise and be outdoors. I don’t say it in the book, but the truth is, I begrudgingly began walking in the woods. I say “begrudgingly” because I liked the speed of the bike and I liked the distance you can cover.
When I started walking, I noticed I had this profound connection with nature and that my imagination was getting larger. I was getting ideas. I literally felt like the trees were talking to me. I write in the book that the mind thinks differently when the feet are in action. I started grabbing little slips of paper out of my backpack to write notes on, and I would go home and develop those notes. Then I started carrying little notebooks. It was like, Wow, something’s happening to me.
What I found through walking is how much we need to know the earth, because we’ve lost our way to the earth as humankind, especially in the developed world. In order to come to solutions about how best to take care of the earth, we need to know the earth—to have a relationship with nature. Through doing so and engaging our imagination, I believe we will be able to come up with solutions that haven’t been considered before. That’s why this book was mine to write.
Unity: In the book, you said you’d been asleep to the natural world most of your life. So did you feel like you were the least likely person to write this book?
Patrice: If someone had said to me seven years ago, when I was 50, “Patrice, you’re going to write a book, a connection between nature and imagination and spirit,” I would have said, “yeah, right.”
Unity: Elaborate on that a bit.
Patrice: I have had a very profound relationship with my imagination since I was a young child because my father, who died yesterday, was an artist. He was more an artist of possibility than an artist of actuality. He would take me to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and he would say, “Look at this. Look at the underarm hair of that Modigliani painting. Look at the light on the brick building across the street.” He taught me how to see. So that part of me was flush. The nature part of me was the surprising part.
Unity: How has nature changed you? And would you call it a transformation?
Patrice: Absolutely. A big transformation. I’m way more observant about not just the natural world, but about the world in general. I would say that’s the biggest shift. For example, where I used to think ants were disgusting, I’ll look at ants now in delight and curiosity and I’ll look at bees. I had a bee land on me recently. I didn’t say, “Ooh, what if it stings me?” I said, ‟Oh, wow. How cool. I hope it doesn’t sting me, but if it does, it’s okay. I want to get a closer look.” It’s like a meditation. The woods slowed me down. I’ve become in less of a hurry and less impatient. In January, I was out walking, and there on a branch were the dead leaves from this past year, and coming up right behind them were the new leaves. So when I get impatient or I think things aren’t working out the way I want them to, I remind myself of what I see in nature—where something is dying, like my dad, something right behind it is getting ready to be born.
Unity: How are you possibly doing this interview the day after your father’s transition?
Patrice: You know this book is my life. My artistic practice is the core of my life. My father was, as I said, an artist of possibility. He was an artist not in reality. He very rarely would put pen to paper. Very rarely would his brushes come out because he was afraid of failure. I proved to my dad, by my very life, that I might not ever succeed in the big, big world. My life may be a relatively small life, but almost every day I write or I sew or I collage. I’m not afraid to put the pen to the paper. The six months I spent writing that book were the six happiest months of my 57 years. It only makes sense I would talk to you. My dad would want me to be talking to you.
Unity: Well, thank you … The book is beautifully written. Some of the passages are stunning. How do you write something like this? Did the words just come tumbling out?
Patrice: Yes, they tumbled. It’s like being in love and nobody else is there. It was me with nature and the spirit that is life—whether anybody wants to call it God or Great Spirit or whatever—whatever that essence is, I was directed. I just said to myself, Just take what comes. You can always change it, Patrice. That’s what I did.I think a lot of the problems people have with writing is they don’t trust their own voice. They think it’s not “author-ly” enough or it’s not “this” enough, and they question it. If you question what’s coming, then I think the source from which imagination comes from starts to wither. It’s like a child. If a child comes up to you and says, “Look at this,” and you say, “Oh, show me later,” well, eventually the child stops bringing you whatever it is they want to share. I look at my imagination as a child who is bringing me gifts, and yeah, you bet I’m going to stop what I’m doing and look.
Unity: What do you hope your book does in the world?
Patrice: I hope it connects people with the vibrancy of their own imaginations—and that it connects them with nature and they see a relationship between their imaginations, nature, and a place for themselves in the natural world. That they feel welcomed by nature.
Unity: Do you believe your book can help contribute to positive changes for the earth?
Patrice: Absolutely. I wrote it with the belief and confidence that it was possible. There’s a great quote from the Talmud that says, “Every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow! Grow!’’’ I think that is the imagination and earth together. There’s a benevolence in “grow, grow.” We can do this. We’ve created such amazing things as human beings. Certainly, we can shift and create a world that is sustaining and sustainable.
– See more at: http://www.unity.org/resources/articles/voices-unity-conversation-patrice-vecchione#sthash.t155gYiV.dpuf
A shout out to the small parts of nature that are too easy to ignore. Here’s to our capacity to move slowly enough on the earth’s back so that we may observe and celebrate all that we often walk by, step over, or turn away from without realizing what’s being missed. How often I do that; how often I neglect to bend down to the mystery growing at my feet. There tiny creatures go about their intricate lives, minute leaves unfurl and blossoms no smaller than a the pinkie fingernail open to morning light, giving their all to the day, undiminished by my human lack of attention.
Once I too get low to the ground there’s the ant parade, the single ant carry much more than her own weight to an unseen destination; there’s the smallest pebble rolling down hill, tiny rodent footprints. And these flowers whose names I will learn, photos taken in the nearby chaparral that’s walking distance from my home. Whole lives I know nothing about except that upon slowing my pace and crouching down, I am made happy by the small, wild beauty of this earth.
The airport shuttle was late; I stood outside the hotel worrying about making my flight, pacing and cursing. Then it hit me: the day was bright and the air’s chill was fading. A brilliant Portland morning after a successful book event at Annie Bloom’s the night before. Old friends and my nephew had come. My father, gone less than two months, even made an appearance. Why would I curse even once? Why allow impatience? If I missed the flight, there would be another one.
Then the light became apparent—in an unexpected place—a basement window grate. Sunlight is nature. Found by nature once again, the light got inside me. And for you, when does it happen, as I know it does, that nature finds you unsuspecting and suddenly you too are brightened and warmed?
Yesterday on the flight up to Seattle I was happy to be quiet in my aisle seat stitching an embroidered heart on gray flannel for my May art show at Studio One in Big Sur that will include a wall of fiber hearts in thread and beads and ephemera. It was comforting to not be in a hurry, grateful the pilot was at the helm. Not so many days like that in the midst of my book tour. A flight attendance came by with her coworker and said, “Please show her what you’re doing.” So I did.
The woman in her smart uniform looked at my stitches, rushed to get her phone and returned to show me photos of over a dozen hearts she’s found in nature—ivy growing in the shape of an enormous heart along a building, pine needles the wind swept up into that form, heart shells, stones, and twigs. She said, “Just as I’m about to see a heart in nature—and I’ve seen a very lot of them—I hear a voice that tells me to look. When I do, somewhere nearby is a nature-made heart.”
Taking a walk near Seattle University before my first talk of the day at the curbside there were two tiny daisies pushing their bright faces up to the day. Nature and imagination do their damnedest to get through, oh, yes, they do!
Last night for my book launch for Step into Nature at Bookshop Santa Cruz there was a standing room only crowd—new faces and longtime familiar best-beloveds! Wallace J. Nichols gave me the most beautiful introduction, saying the evening was about love, as it was—love for the earth and community, imagination and spirit. Every once in awhile life comes to meet one right where one dreams it will. Last evening was such a time. My gratitude is enormous, big as the earth herself. Here’s the bouquet my beloved agent sent.
Tomorrow is my Monterey launch at the Carmel Art Association. Sunday I’m at the San Jose Poetry Festival and Book Passage in Corte Madera that afternoon. Next Tuesday I’m on to Seattle at Elliott Bay and Portland at Annie Bloom’s. Then onto New Mexico. This is to say thank you to those readers of this blog for your love of our mother earth and your support of your imaginations and my work.
Out walking yesterday, I was reminded of this: stop, look, listen. That’s what the woods taught me. Hardly all at once but over time the forest has educated me in paying attention, how not to be in a hurry or absorbed by distant thoughts. Rather: here and this and now!
What appears as a visual chaotic cacophony is actually an enormous number of separate parts in action, coming together to create the forest floor—trees and fallen tree limbs, lichen, rocks, bushes, lots of assorted detritus, layer upon layer of mulching matter, a host of animals, mostly hidden from view, from the tiniest insects to mice and squirrels, rats and rabbits, so many birds—at least when I’m out there, that’s mostly who’s there or who I know of, anyway.
In a shady place, the tiniest of flowers was clustered trailside. White, five-petaled, yellow-centered speck-like testaments to spring raised their bright heads toward the filtering sunlight. And there we were, Jeannie and me, bending down for a closer look. It’s spring, after all, it’s spring!
At the entrance to the forest, the borderline between asphalt and soil, I lean into the trees, into the breeze, nose twitching like a dog’s. If I’m tying my shoes or waiting for a walking partner I stand at that juncture between out and in longer than I would otherwise, full of good anticipation. “Let’s go,” says a voice. Giddy.
Before entering the forest what I know is that my body will move, stretching my legs, my lungs will fill, my heart will get to increase its pace. I’m confident that my eyes will be gifted with beauty, my ears will the chatter of birds and squirrels. What I can’t know are the details of the walk to come. From the outset they’re unknown. That’s joyous anticipation. Every walk changes the walker. I love being thusly made better by the earth.
Step into Nature, my new book, officially launched yesterday. At day’s end when I returned home it was to a bright bouquet that my terrific editor, Anna Noak, had sent, as well as a box of books! Today I’m standing at a new juncture—the beginning of a many city west coast book tour, full of good anticipation, giddy as before a forest walk. The book is already beginning to garner attention—an excerpt was published in Spirituality & Health yesterday and many interviews are happening!
Delightful anticipation that occurs at the door to nature is much like that which those of us who engage in art-making experience each time we open the paint box, reach for the sharpened pencil, lift the piano lid to initiate creative process when the forest of imagination whispers. It’s your name I hear; that’ your imagination is calling!