This Thing Called Joy!

IMG_6379 IMG_3239 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.

What the Woods Taught Me

IMG_3192Out 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!


IMG_2315At 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!


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?


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!


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.”


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?


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.


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.e1519410190noihc1519410190cevec1519410190irtap1519410190@ecir1519410190tap1519410190

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.b1519410190musc@1519410190notpm1519410190orcm1519410190. 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 >” <>

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.


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?