A Celebration of Color

IMG_3782 For years the color orange made me cringe; I’d have to look the other way. Until one day I saw orange as if it had just been born; apparently, I’d been asleep to it before. Weird orange blinders had covered my eyes from the truth of its beauty for so many years.

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That color has a persuasive depth I’d never given it credit for, one that harmonizes. Even in a slip of paper caught in a chain-link fence beside some orange berries.

Though I’d loved marigolds for years, it had been for their smell and shape, but at last I love them also for their uncompromised color. Orange doesn’t apologize; it doesn’t say, “I’ll just fade into the background” like certain shades of blue, green or yellow do, and I like that. Red, too, is an unapologetic color. Is that why I wear it on my lips, so I’m less likely to apologize for what I say? Maybe. IMG_3775

Walking alone in Berkeley the other morning after an event for Step into Nature, after a good night’s sleep, colors sort of jumped at me—in a good way. I was seeing afresh. It’s good for the eyes’ soul to be in the unfamiliar, to get jolted into seeing. And color is what I saw.

Here’s to the range of color in spring. Even after spring’s first flush is over, now that we’re in the middle of May, even in California where some claim we have no seasons (though they’re wrong), damn, the season’s bursting colors are everywhere. Once you see something it’s likely you’ll see something else. That’s what’s happened to me. Here begins an occasional color series.

IMG_3793If you go out for a walk this weekend, notice at the color lifting itself to your eyes. Is there something you want to say back, something in the ordinary, everyday beauty that is this planet that you want to celebrate? Might it be orange?

Not a Pair of Clippers, Nor an Insta-Cold Icepack

A few days ago a soft and pliable package arrived in the mail. Though I could have, I’d not ordered anything from REI.

Toward the beginning of Step into Nature, I consider what to carry when walking in nature and what best left behind—both the actual objects we might carry in our pockets as well as that which gets brought along, knowingly and unknowingly, via heart and mind. “Here’s a list of useful things I’ve never carried along but might: a collapsible ladder to get up close and personal with the otherwise unreachable, a foldaway hammock in case a nap is suddenly needed, clippers for the poison oak when going off-trail, an insta-cold ice pack in case of a fall, a set of colored pencils in every hue and a pad of drawing paper…” Of all those items, can you guess the one I’d most truly like to have? Might it be the one you’d like also?

In his endorsement of my book, author David Rothenberg said, “I shall never head for the woods without a ladder and a hammock again.”

There was no ladder in that package. Ah, but a hammock there was—a gift from Karen, a young woman, who’d sent this gift to me. Karen had been my poetry student when she was a little girl, a student who wrote these words when she was about 8: “Future is inside me, right beyond that storm of hope.” Karen and her mother came to my Seattle event. We’d not seen each other for about 20 years! And then, who appeared as if by more magic at my collage show reception and workshop? Karen’s sister, Julie, who’d also been my student! Not only did she come to the show she purchased a collage called, “Forest Honeymoon.”

The hammock will fit easily in my fanny pack and will serve me well after a long walk when a nap is in order. What unexpected thing might you carry for a walk in the woods or out in the meadow or along a beach-side trail?

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Not Always

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From long before I understood the words’ meaning, when she was angry at me, my mother would say, “I may not always like you, but I will always love you.”

One evening when I was 24 I went to her home for dinner. She was a fabulous cook and had prepared crab crepes for us. Before we sat down I told her that I was in love. “With a woman,” was her quick retort. “Yes,” I said.

With such a sense of coldness and finality, my mother said, “You are not my daughter.” And being so much herself, she went on, “If you’d known how much this would have upset me, you’d have waited till after supper to tell me. Get out.”

My mother was an alcoholic; she had mental instability. She was the hardest worker I’ve ever known, the best storyteller, the most open-minded of mothers. Not so when it came to her firstborn.

That was the last face-to-face conversation I had with her for five years until receiving a call from the hospital that brought me to her bedside. Waking up from a coma, my mother looked at me and softly said, “You haven’t been to supper lately. How come?”

After a deep, pensive breath, I replied, “I promise to come to dinner a lot from now on.”

My mother lived for nine days, was conscious for the first five of them. The many hours I sat with her before she fell into a final coma were spent telling stories and singing together. She never recalled having cast me out, never remembered the mean messages she’d frequently left on my telephone answering machine. My mother had stayed true to her word: “I may not always like you, but I will always love you.” Those are the words I carry with me to this day.

What words of your mother’s do you carry with you?

The Letter Writer

IMG_3673For California Bookstore Day, Bookshop Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz Writes invited me to serve as a letter writer. A Bookshop patron sat down before me with his request for a letter. “This is for my mother,” Carlos said, “for Mother’s Day.” When I asked him to describe her he said, “Strong-minded, independent, self-willed.” “Bet I’d like her,” I replied, and asked for an example of her independence.

“She’s just like her mother! When my grandmother was 83 she decided to go dancing, in Mexico City. I told her she was too old to do that but she insisted. So I said I’d take her. ‘No,’ she told me, ‘I’ll take the bus and the metro.’ I warned her against that—it’s too crowded. But she insisted. On her way to the dance the subway was so full that my little grandmother’s rib was broken by the crush of people.

‘Yes, it hurt,’ she told me later, ‘but I went dancing anyway.’ On the way home she slipped and someone stepped on her arm. At the hospital, she told me, ‘Soon as this rib and my arm get better, I’m going back; I had a great time!’ My mother is just like that,” said Carlos.

So I began, “Dear daughter of the woman who dances no matter what…”

There’s a long history of professional letter writers. Carlos told me that in Mexico City it’s still a thriving business. In fact, he hired a letter writer to help him with his graduate school application—he got in!

With only a single day at this post, I found it to be an intimate way to be with strangers. One young woman asked for a letter for her brother who’s having a difficult time. Another asked for a letter to her mother who’s help with wedding planning she’s most grateful for.

Just yesterday, going through my father’s things, I found a cache of letters he wrote. Were they drafts or had they gone unsent? I’ll never know. It’s in our very human nature to extend ourselves to others through the written word. Who’s received a paper letter in a stamped envelope from you lately?

A Visit with Georgia

IMG_3581The writer André Aciman, in his book Alibis, says that when he travels, arriving in a new city or town, he imagines what it would be like to live in that place. Aciman envisions walking the streets as if they were his streets. When I read this, I felt I’d come home, not to a place but to an idea. That’s what I’ve done, most anywhere I arrive, ever since I can remember, even when I was a child. The more I like the place the more I feel myself living there. In my imagination I go through my days—what would it be like to write sitting at that window every morning, looking out at that view? Were I to walk those hills, who would I be? If this were my café, who might walk in and join me for a coffee? Would I dress the same? Think the same? Love the same?

IMG_3575  Last Tuesday morning that’s what happened when along with the writers participating in my writing retreat I toured Georgia O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu. It wasn’t only a visit with Georgia but a visit with another me. Here’s the view from O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu house and photos of her home.

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O’Keeffe had had her eye on this place for many years before she was able to make it her own. The adobe house was in disrepair and owned by the Catholic Church who didn’t want to sell it. After ten years they relented. It took another three before O’Keeffe could move in. Nowadays the house appears pretty close to how it was when she left—the teas and spices in their kitchen jars are as she left them. Her old Mercedes is still in the garage. But more—the garden is alive with trees, flowers and vegetables. O’Keeffe had wanted to live in Abiquiu because she wanted a garden, to grow her own food, and there wasn’t water enough for one at Ghost Ranch.

Years ago, a writing student of mine went, uninvited, to visit O’Keeffe and was sent away by O’Keeffe’s housekeeper. But before the visitor left she turned back to see the painter lift back a curtain, smile, and wave.

How do you enter a new place? Do you too imagine your life there? Who might you be if your home was faraway and long ago?

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Early Morning at Plaza Blanca, Abiquiu, New Mexico

IMG_3574   IMG_3538 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. IMG_3552Never 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.IMG_3518Georgia 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. IMG_3570

Interview with Unity.org

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. IMG_3395Unity: 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

Earth Day Praise for the Seemingly Insignificant

IMG_3314  IMG_3326  IMG_3342 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.
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Discovering Unexpected Light

IMG_3281The 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?
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Nature & Imagination Get Through

IMG_3278 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!

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