The strength of oaks

Oak elder 1

It's been another week in which family and health matters have kept me out of the studio -- my apologies. As I despair about missing so much work time, I've been thinking about this quote from painter Vincent Van Gogh:

"It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done."

Oak elder 2


The hound's prayer

Beechwood

Please come, Lady Spring. Bring sun, soft rain, and mud gentle under paw and foot. Swell the streams and wake the Wild Ones from their sleep. Oh, please hurry and come.

Beechwood 2

I am dreamimg of grass river banks and bird song. Of bluebells, stitchwort, pink campion. Of tender young bunnies that I...umm, will not chase...

Beechwood 3

...and lambs that I, uh, won't go near.

Beechwood 4

I am dreaming of warmth. Doors standing open. Roaming from house to garden whenever I like. Lounging near our front gate and bar- ....umm, not barking at all who pass by.

Beechwood 5

Please come, Lady Spring, and bring Summertime with you. She came to us very late last year -- perhaps she's forgottten the way to our hill. So please bring her along, with her sweet peas and foxgloves, her salt sea winds and her cool woodland shade. But if Summer can't come yet, please come by yourself, and I'll keep you good company here.

Beechwood 6

Winter was fun, but he's outstayed his welcome, sitting soused by the fire and refusing to budge. Our wood stocks are low, our spirits need thawing, my thick winter coat has now started to shed. Please come roust him out, send him back to the northlands. Please come just as quick as you can.

Beechwood 7

I'll show you my hillside, my best spots, my secrets. You can sleep in my dog bed and share all my treats. Your favorite flowers are almost in bloom now, and the Bird Choir is practicing. My People have set you a place at the table. We're ready. I'm ready.

Please come.

Beechwood 8

Tilly's prayer first appeared in a post back in March 2013, re-published today with new photographs from a nearby beechwood.


Visiting the cloutie tree

Entering the woods

Black dog running

Winter
by Holly Black

Like coughing a bite of apple from a slender throat
Like a grandmother reborn from a wolf's belly

Black dog arriving

Like slipping a foot into a glass shoe
Like a frog prince thrown against a wall 

Cloutie tree in the winter woods

We slough off the skin of the old year
And wait for what's underneath to toughen.

Clouties

Tilly beneath the cloutie tree

The photographs today are of the "cloutie tree" (or "wish tree")  near my studio, in its mossy winter guise. For more about the folklore of clouties, see this previous post: "The Blessings of the Trees."

Frost in the winter woodsHolly Black's poem first appeared in The Journal of Mythic Arts (2008). The poem in the picture captions is from The Thing that Mattered Most: Scottish Poems for Children, edited by Julie Johnstone (Scottish Poetry Livrary, 2006). All rights reserved by the authors.


The lessons of autumn

Oak 1

Oak leaves

From The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich:

"All through autumn we hear a double voice: one says everything is ripe; the other says everything is dying. The paradox is exquisite. We feel what the Japanese call 'aware' -- an almost untranslatable word meaning something like 'beauty tinged with sadness.' "

Oak 2

"Autumn teaches us that fruition is also death; that ripeness is a form of decay. The willows, having stood for so long near water, begin to rust. Leaves are verbs that conjugate the seasons."

Oak 3

Oak 4

"The truest art I would strive for in any work would be to give the page the same qualities as earth: weather would land on it harshly, light would elucidate the most difficult truths; wind would sweep away obtuse padding. Finally, the lessons of impermanence taught me this: loss constitutes an odd kind of fullness; despair empties out into an unquenchable appetite for life."

Oak 5

Oak 5The poem in the picture captions is Gary Snyder's paean for the American continent (called "Turtle Island" by some indiginous tribes). The poem is sent out from this English hillside, with love, to all who live in the troubled land of my birth. It comes from Snyder's Pulitzer-Prize-winning collection Turtle Island (New Directions, 1974). The text above is from Gretel Ehrlich's fine book The Solace of Open Space (Viking, 1985). All rights to the text and poetry in this post are reserved by the authors.


Under the old oak

Tilly and the oak elder 1

It's one more week until the U.S. election. For this and too many other reasons the Internet feels like one giant howl of anxiety, anguish, and rage....

And what I've been thinking about lately is silence. There is not enough silence in modern life. I don't mean the complete absence of sound, but those quiet moments when the human world recedes: the haranguing voices of the daily news, the ads that follow us shouting Look at me!, the commercial and cultural sound and fury that makes it hard to hear our own inner voice, our own inner music, or our own heart beating, much less the beating heart of the natural world that we share with our nonhuman neighbors.

I have begun the practice of beginning my days in silence (no Internet, no music on the stereo, not even a book to read) while I drink my first morning cup of coffee...often outdoors, if the weather permits, underneath the old oak pictured here, or in the woods, or another favorite spot close to the studio. Or else indoors, by a window looking out at the birds, the weather, the land. Watching and listening. It slows me down; sets the tone for the day ahead; roots me in the actual world and not the fickle, transitory realm of cyberspace. It prepares me for the deep work of creating by honing the sharp instrument my attention.

If I could gift you with one thing in the anxious week ahead, it would be this. Silence. Blessed silence.

Tilly and the oak elder 2

"Why is silence important to writers?" Lorraine Berry asked Utah-based writer Terry Tempest Williams in an interview in 2013. "Is silence something that we all, regardless of whether we’re writers or not, need access to? And how do we find that in our increasingly tuned-in, turned-on world?"

"Silence is where we locate our voice," Williams answered, "both as writers and as human beings. In silence, the noises outside cease so the dialogue inside can begin. Silence takes us to an unknown place. It’s not necessarily a place of comfort. For me, the desert holds this space of quiet reflection; it’s erosional, like the landscape itself.

"You also ask why is it important that writers write and not embrace a life of silence. In many ways, we do embrace a lifestyle of silence, inward silence, a howling silence that brings us to our knees and desk each day. All a writer really has is time. Time to think. Time to read. Time to write.

"Time for a writer translates into solitude. In solitude, we create. In solitude, we are read. If we’re lucky, our books create community having been written out of solitude. It’s a lovely paradox. It’s the creative tension that I live with: I write to create community, but in order to do so, I am pulled out of community. Solitude is a writer’s communion."

Tilly and the oak elder 3


Into the woods once more....

Three trees

In  The Horn Book (a long-running magazine about children's literature), author & folklorist Jane Yolen was asked if she, personally, believed in magic. This is her answer:

"I believe there are prestidigitators who can do card tricks and saw-the-woman-in half tricks. I believe there are politicians who can make us believe up is down and wrong is right. I believe there are preachers who try to sell us a mess of pottage.

"And then I believe that an owl in flight, a hawk in stoop, an otter rising out of the duckweed, a triple rainbow over the Isle of May, the New Jersey skyline as seen from the Highline in Manhattan on a night of the full moon, the small greenings of spring, honeybees on a blossom, and a newborn’s finger curled around mine are small everyday miracles, another word for ordinary magic. And that I believe in."

Entering

Reverie

Rock spirit

Do you believe in magic?

Book & trail

Brown eyesThe Jane Yolen quote above comes from The Horn Book (January, 2012). The poem in the picture captions is from This Great Unknowing by Denise Levertov (New Directions, 1999). All right reserved by the authors.


Widdershins collage #6

Fairy Tales by Terri Windling

Fairy Tales

Framed collage in my studio, prior to the exhibition

Drawing detail by Terri Windling

Collage detail

Once upon a time there was a girl, there was a boy, there was a poor woman who wanted, there was a queen who couldn't have, there was witch who lived under, there was a green frog at the bottom of, there was a troll, a tree, a bear, a bright eyed bird who knew the secret of, there was a fairy who had lost, there was a child who had found, there was a wizard who had made, there was a princess who had broken, there was a story that was trying to be told. Listen. The wind is speaking....

Collage & drawing details

Collage materials

Bits & bobs

Roughs and texts on  the work table

Patterend papers & tape measure

Coffee cup, threads, twigs, paints

Collage materials

texts for collage

Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino


Widdershins collage #4

The Language of Trees by Terri Windling

The Language of Trees

The thing you need to know, child, is that trees do speak, they do tell tales, they sing when the've a mind to, they are gigglers, gossips, grumblers, cataloguing every ache and pain, and yet they hold no grudges, claim no debts, speak ill of no creature. They have their tempers, yes, trantrums of branches lashed in gusts and gales, but then they come to rest in stillness, spent, humming contentedly. You've heard them, child, just yesterday. You thought it was only the wind. The thing you need to know is that by dawn-light every tree stands tall and chants its name, its history, its kinship web and lineage. You've heard them, child, the rustle beneath the dawn chorus of birds. The thing you need to know is that the trees tell stories older than the oldest tales of humankind -- by dusk, by night, by starlight, you have heard their midnight murmuring. You told me so. You thought it was just water running in the stream. The thing you need to know, child, is that trees do speak, in their own language. They mutter with the crackle of old brown leaves, they sigh with the snow drifiting at their feet, they utter exquisite arboreal poems as each tender new leaf unfurls, they laugh in shivers of green and gold tickled by the passing breeze. The thing you need to know, child, is that trees do speak, in the tree language. And yes, you will understand their speech one day, root child, sweet sapling.

Work table

Collage detail by Terri Windling

Bits & bobs

Drawing detail

Collage materials

Framed collage in my studio, prior to the exhibition

The language of trees

Listen

Leaves & threads

Can you hear them?

This post was composed on 8/27, & set up for automated posting on 9/1. I'll be back on-line on 9/5.


Blessings for the works we lose

Woodland reverie 1

Woodland reverie 2

Miss Birch (cropped) by Virginia LeeLines Lost Among the Trees
by Billy Collins

These are not the lines that came to me
while walking in the woods
with no pen
and nothing to write on anyway.

They are gone forever,
a handful of coins
dropped through the grate of memory,
along with the ingenious mnemonic

I devised to hold them in place -
all gone and forgotten
before I had returned to the clearing of lawn
in back of our quiet house

with its jars jammed with pens,
its notebooks and reams of blank paper,
its desk and soft lamp,
its table and the light from its windows.

So this is my elegy for them,
those six or eight exhalations,
the braided rope of syntax,
Tree Nymph by Virginia Leethe jazz of the timing,

and the little insight at the end
wagging like the short tail
of a perfectly obedient spaniel
sitting by the door.

This is my envoy to nothing
where I say Go, little poem-
not out into the world of strangers' eyes,
but off to some airy limbo,

home to lost epics,
unremembered names,
and fugitive dreams
such as the one I had last night,

which, like a fantastic city in pencil,
erased itself
in the bright morning air
just as I was waking up.

Woodland reverie 3

All artists have books, or poems, or paintings, or projects that are never made manifest, ideas burning brightly in imagination that never transition into the physical world for all kinds of reasons: the timing isn't right; the pen isn't at hand; we are too busy, or ill, or fearful, or lazy; we don't have the space, the tools, the confidence needed to craft inspiration into tangible form. For whatever reason, we lose them. A story outline grows stale on us, the spark of a painting idea dims and goes out. So often there's a sense of shame attached to these never-mades and incompletes: the manuscripts stalled at Chapter Two, the illustrations planned but never finished, the projects discussed but never organized, the poems, like Billy's, lost among the trees....

But  I prefer to think of these unformed artworks with gratitude, not shame. I imagine them all dwelling deep inside me. Yes, in one sense they have been lost: they will not be rendered in physical form. They will never engage in the conversation between writer/artist and reader/viewer that completes a work of art, existing only as scribbles in notebooks and sketch pads, slowly disappearing from memory. In the timeless realm of the soul, however, nothing is ever lost completely. I believe that each creative impulse nestles down in the dark loam of the psyche at levels much deeper than conscious thought. They are the compost that nurtures the roots of every story and painting we create today. And I bless them all.

Woodland reverie 4

Terri Windling, Devon, May 2016

Woodland Reverie 5Billy Collin's poem is from Picnic, Lightning (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998). The poem in the picture caption is mine; I've posted it here before, but it seemed to lend itself to re-use in today's context. The lovely drawings are "Miss Birch" and "Tree Nymph" by Virginia Lee. All rights reserved by the authors and artist.


Back in the woods again, at last

Woods 1

Woods 2

"I feel safe in the woods, safer when I’m alone. Some people find that solace in church, others by listening to music, or reading quietly by a fireplace. For me it’s always been nature. Yesterday I took a long walk in the woods behind my house. I’ve been there dozens of times, but each time I see something new. Nature is brutal and relentless, but it is also gorgeous and balanced. I came home dirty, wet and happy. I’ve learned more from being alone in the woods than anything else."

Chris Offutt  (author of Out of the Wood, The Good Brother, No Heroes, etc.)

I couldn't agree more.

Woods 3

Woods 4

Woods 5

"The World is not something to look at, it is something to be in."  - poet Mark Rudman

And I'm so very glad to be back in the World.

Woods 6

Woods 7The quote by Chris Offutt is from an interview in Salon (March, 2016). I recommend his books, for he's among the still-too-few American authors skillfully depicting rural and working class lives. His latest, My Father the Pornographer, is a memoir about his father, fantasy (and porn) writer Andrew Offutt -- who, oddly enough, I worked with years ago, having been given the assignment of editing his "Conan" and "Red Sonja" novels when I was a very young editor at Ace Books in New York. It was a strange experience, to say the least.

The poem in the picture captions is from Poems: 1960 - 1967 by Denise Levertov (New Directions, 1983), and was inspired by the Mark Rudman quote. All rights reserved by the authors or their estates.