Thursday, February 28, 2013

Talking To The Trees: You are safe.

(This is the third from my collection of essays. To read the first two go here and here.)

I was doing my morning stretching exercises in the woods by the roots of this old – yet newly sprouted – birch tree when I heard, “You are safe.” I’ve always felt a sense of welcoming comfort standing over these roots. I know the tree is a woman, a ‘she’. I also know, she knows me, sees me and watches over me. I can feel her strength and her deep knowledge of life that comes from living on this earth. I also know she hasn’t always been the small birch as she appears now.

Once, not too long ago, she was a large, powerful and beautiful birch tree. I don’t know what happened to her wide branches and full trunk. I do know that she had a choice then to die or be reborn. She chose rebirth. She chose to stay rooted and sprout anew from one of the small suckers at her roots.

Where I stand to do my stretching is, I feel, where she used to stand in all her strength and glory. I can feel the power of her roots under my feet as I stretch my arms down to the ground, outward and then up to the sky. As I reach down, across and up, I feel energy flow between us from her roots to my feet, from her limbs to mine. She has stood by me as I’ve cried and sighed. She’s offered gentle comfort and wisdom. Sometimes, it’s just the warm flow of energy between us that gives me solace. Sometimes the energy is balancing like the arm of a friend around my shoulders. Sometime, when I’m especially fearful and worried and my monkey mind is swinging this way and that, I feel her quiet, rooted strength. Then like an anchor in turbulent sea, I feel myself pulled slowly to a stop and the sea calms.

There are other times, though, when I get a friendly reminder, like a tap on my shoulder, that I’ve gotten a little lost in my own inner woods. At times like these, and I blush a little to admit that there have been many more times like this than I’d like to admit, I hear her chuckle at me. I can almost see her shaking her head at me, a smile on her face, at the mountain I’ve made of some molehill problem.

Her perspective is always refreshing and reassuring. And I respect her wisdom. After all, she’s lived on this earth far longer than I have and seen many, many more people and problems that I ever will. She is a survivor. And it’s her indomitable spirit that I feel so strongly and admire so much. If she can lose almost everything and chose to live, re-grow and blossom, then so can I. Whatever storms blow her way, she stands her ground.

She tells me to do the same, “You are safe.”

I believe her.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Some days are made for soup.

After a brief bought of sunshine and warm temperatures, it’s back to normal winter weather. Cold. Damp. Drizzle. That calls for one thing: soup.

The Portland area is well known for coffee shops on every corner. And that’s a good thing. If there wasn’t so much caffeine available around here, there’d be a lot of people falling asleep at the wheel. But after a whole day of caffeine and the buzz that goes with it, it’s time to relax with a cozy, comfort dish like Seafood Chowder.

Here’s the recipe:
In a 3 quart dutch oven or heavy sauce pan cover 4-6 yukon gold potatoes peeled and cut into quarters with water and cook until tender. Drain off the excess water and mash the potatoes in the pan. Set aside.
In a fry pan or skillet, cook 3-4 slices of bacon until crispy, drain off the excess bacon fat and sauté ½ chopped onion.
Heat up the potatoes and add 1to 2 cups of milk, stirring constantly to get it smooth and evenly heated. Add ½ to 1 pound of your favorite shellfish. Or do what I do and use a ½ package of the Trader Joe’s frozen seafood mix. Add the bacon and onions.
Stir everything together and let the fish cook until the shrimp is pink. Serve with sprinkle of paprika and/or parsley on top.

What do I like best about this soup? You can boil the potatoes ahead of time and put the rest of the soup together right before you eat. A soup to make a rainy, gray, wintery day in the Pacific Northwest better!

Friday, February 15, 2013

As the wheel turns…Good day. Bad clay.

I had a bunch of odd balls of clay leftover from other throwing days and the last of my 100 pounds of clay was gone. The ever-thrifty person that I am, I decide to wedge up the small chunks into bigger chunks and throw them on the wheel. It started out good. Centering went well. Pulling out the plate turned out to be a challenge but that’s not new. I’m still learning the art of plate throwing and it’s tricky.

What was new was the feeling in the clay. The clay felt really squishy from the outside but after centering it got harder than usual. As I pulled up and out, I felt little bumps pop out. Not bubbles but hard little pieces of clay. I cut a few out, compressed around a few and kept on working.

I got a small plate and bowl. I wanted a small cup or mug to go with it. I had another bat, so I decided to give it a whirl.

My gut told me to give up. The small ball of clay didn’t feel right at all. But my stubbornness won out, so I threw it on the wheel anyway. It did not go well. I pressed on. It got worse and worse. I took that ball of clay off and tried another of my re-wedged balls. No luck. I took it off and tried another and another and another. All of them had lumps and bumps that no amount of compressing and centering could fix.

Did I stop?

The challenge was on. I’d gotten two pieces out of this clay, I was going to get one more, my mind reasoned. My gut said, I had bad clay.

Turns out, my gut was right. Of course. The biggest lesson isn’t trying to throw odd crusty balls of clay. It’s not listening to myself and trusting that my gut is the real expert here. Not my mind. But, that’s another lesson to remember as the wheel turns.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Question: Where has my writing gone? Answer: To pot.

I’ve been so busy making pots, plates, mugs, bowls, vases, I haven’t been writing much. And when I do write here, I’ve noticed, my posts are more and more about clay.
Good thing or bad thing? I’m trying not to judge. But it’s hard not to get caught up in our old cultural standards. Go to school. Graduate. Get that job and keep doing the same thing until you retire.

After doing art for decades and meeting some really wonderful artists, I’ve found out a few insider secrets. Artists who do art usually mix their media along the way. I know painters who love to sculpt. Print makers who love to paint. Sculptors who love to sew.

I started out as a writer. I went to college and studied communications. Graduated. Got that job and kept writing. I dabbled in art along the way, until one day, I realized I had to do art. I thought I was going to be a painter and turned out doing sculpture, masks and garden art in copper, window screening and clay. Now, I’m working in a new way with an old media. I’m throwing clay into bowls, vases, jars, plates and mugs.

Where did my writing go?

After a few years of art making, it found its way into the back doors (literally) of my mixed media sculptures. You can see them here. For years, I didn’t realize it. Someone else had to point it out to me. I was amazed. I hadn’t even known that’s what I was doing. Just like I didn’t know that I’d fall in love with wheel throwing and throw away metal. And for a while, I stopped writing too. Except about clay and according to our cultural standards, that doesn’t count, right?


If an artist is an artist no matter what media they use to make it, then that goes for writing, too. I was a writer and I still am. I may not write print ads, TV and radio spots or newsletters anymore because now I’m writing blogs, journal entries, essays and stories. Yes, ok, I’ll admit it, one of my stories seems to be growing into a novel.

The more I’m on this planet, the more I see that life is not what they tell you it’s going to be. Sometimes that’s bad. But, most of the time, it’s good. Maybe the pots are helping my plots. I don’t know now. Here’s what I do know, it doesn't matter now. Maybe someday, someone will see the connection and be nice enough to point it out to me. And I can be amazed all over again.