Turtle energy is a huge part of my life.
Sometimes, in the stillness of an early Sunday morning—my day cleared of demands on me—I can watch as if outside myself the slow progression of events that I know lead to where I want to go.
Hank Wesselman (now gone) taught: “We have the power to create our own lives and who we are within them.”
From a distance, from the perspective of my soul’s “seeing,” as I take my power into my own hands, I watch somehow the slow parade of one small responsibility checked off after another, each bringing down one of the barricades of those between me and what I dream for my life.
In these crystalline moments, able to step back from the nitty-gritty which, of course, I am living, a wave of pure pleasure and peace washes over me, fills me, erases for this time all the worries and doubts within me.
I feel my being as risen, omniscient, hovering in a blue and cloudless sky, separate from all my concerns and knowing utterly I will find a way to carry them to completion, each becoming lighter and lighter as I make my way there.
I feel this. I really do. And it is such a reprieve, for just this little while, to dwell in this place.
Light within Fog
I have been sick for nearly a month now. Thank goodness my head is clearing at last so I am not so foggy and befuddled. At least I am beginning to feel deeply again and even write about those feelings.
It has been a dispiriting time, alone for Christmas and for New Year’s. Not what I would choose.
But there is a certain dreamy distance that comes from being sick. It forces you to step back, take a break from the mad rush of life and responsibilities. I have had this now, even as I do the work expected of me, putting off what is not mandatory until later.
Being sick this time brings with it a warning or a lesson to stop the patterns of living that brought me here. It tells me I need to learn new lessons, a new pace, that allows breath and spaciousness and REST. And in that rest and spaciousness and breath is the ability to BE with who I am again and take time to sense what is right for me, instead of perennially forcing myself to trudge against the wind, my whole body bent over, pushing as hard as I can to conquer all on my path.
I don’t want to live that way anymore. It is how I was forced to live as a child, and I am tired of carrying on the lessons that they taught me. It is high time, yet again, to LISTEN to this message before my life has passed me by with only work to stand for what it has been.
It is time to remember to trust again, too, to know that I am always taken care of.
I haven’t had the energy to work in the studio. I have stepped foot in there often to bask in the piece I have created so far. The next step is to remove the tree trunks that are now only push-pinned over the canvas with my face. It is time to begin to “paint with fabrics” the forest floor, greenery here and there, the sky, her hair.
It will come, but not yet. I do not have the energy. I also feel the whole of it gestating inside me as I slowly come to envision how I do want to drape the fabric, layer the folds of pattern and shape to create the rest of the forest.
It will come, and when I get there, I will love doing it. My entire body will expand with the joy and magnificence of creating!
Honoring of Trees
My beautiful trees.
Forked birches here beside me
deep within Fairy Woods.
Others of you up the road.
You, who years ago,
formed a stockade fence
inside my brain
to keep me sheltered from his advances,
his ridiculous lack of integrity,
his crossing of the line
too many times too often.
You set yourselves up
within the cavity of my skull,
each of you giving of who you are,
my own staunch army
preserving my sanity
for those long weeks.
I acknowledge each of you
who stepped forward
to be my loyal minion,
who joined together,
trunk to trunk, in protection
so my brain would not scream out,
running in abject terror,
so all of me suffering so deep inside
could clamp my awareness instead
on the barrier of your solid strength,
the power of your presence,
your benign spirits
vowing to keep me safe,
and the knowing you were here for me
and would not leave,
would not forsake me,
until he was gone.
Only then did you break apart
and come to me again as simply trees,
the living, breathing trees
who have been my friends all these years.
You returned to being
sisters and brothers,
as you wrapped your gentled branches around me
to hold me again and again.
Great-Grandmother Tree at the Lake.
Shaman Woman Tree and Hawk Woman Tree
on the way to the High Beaver Pond.
My Seven-Trunk Tree growing up.
Grandmother Great White Pine in back of the house.
All others of you quite simply and gorgeously
the trees who have helped me become who I am
these 37 years.
You let me lay my hands upon you
and hear your words.
You touch my heart.
You salve my spirit.
It is all of you I want to honor
in this piece I am creating,
and that at last today—
the painting of you finished--
I believe I have.
Every single one of you:
I honor you.
I thank you.
I am so grateful for the blessings
you never fail to give me.
Sometimes we just have to speak what is inside us and take the risk to share what we have to say.
Thanksgiving Week Off
I’ve taken the full Thanksgiving week off. I am racing the cold in my studio in the barn. I am trying to finish the painting on my Self-Portrait with Trees so I can shut off the water in here, put antifreeze in the toilet for winter. With only wood heat in my studio, I am now using electric radiators to keep my paints and water from freezing.
I have today, tomorrow which is Thanksgiving, Friday, and Sunday. Saturday is completely taken up with a sweet Carole Sing and a workshop on making kimchi.
During this week, I am also learning a new program to help my own books and others’ get a higher ranking on Amazon. It’s impossible for me to learn this during a regular workweek. I have too much work to do, too many emails to respond to, details to attend to.
Baring Myself as an Artist and as a Writer Within GAB
I have been shy about showing the tree trunks that go with this piece, resistant to baring myself, risking ridicule perhaps? But, as I was gathering the right colors of housepaint for the birches, I started thinking how similar this is to baring our souls as we first write and then read our stories out loud to others within GAB.
I remember how much my voice shook as I read my first story when I took the Instructor Training. It shook less the second time and less still the third. But even by the last story, I was so hesitant and anxious about others hearing who I truly am.
And yet, as I was painting the birches, it came to me that, AS we let ourselves be vulnerable, as we reveal our imperfections, we are opening ourselves to others as simply being human. As such, we offer ourselves as just like everyone else: no one is perfect. I think this helps us feel that we are not alone.
So here I am, being vulnerable with you by showing you the progression of the tree trunks before they are finished. I only started photographing them as I began work on the birches. I’ll show here the earliest rendition on these and keep going so you can see how they've evolved.
I am not yet satisfied. After I painted the birches which I kept for last because of their complexity, I saw I need to go back and do more on the simpler trees. I will do that. But, as a practice in humility, in vulnerability, I wanted to push myself to bare these unfinished, imperfect trees.
The Beauty of GAB
GAB is a beautiful program. It allows us to be vulnerable as we speak who we are in all of our imperfections. And, as others listen to and hear us, as they respond with positive feedback, slowly we come to accept both ourselves and also others more deeply.
I am so grateful to have taken the dive into GAB as are countless others all over the world. I am grateful, too, for my abilities to speak not only through words but through my art.
The Tree Trunks for "Self-Portrait with Trees"
I included the above pic as a reminder of the whole piece. AFTER I have created the forest floor, touches of greenery, the sky, and her hair by "painting" with fabric on the canvas with my face, I will cut out the tree trunks and glue them on top. My face will then peer out through my beloved trees. The canvas is about seven feet square.
ONWARD! True Life Stories of Challenges, Choices, & Change
Close to the end of creation, this anthology is due to come out at the end of November. I have been honored to be invited to serve on the committee producing this and to also design the cover. It has been a real treat to be a part of this small group, spearheaded by editor Emma Fulenwider. We meet almost every other week to orchestrate the unfolding of this powerful collection of stories from GAB instructors.
My own story of challenge, choices, and change was accepted and is listed in Part 3: Choices. I am excited and pleased by this and would like to share my story here which is part of my upcoming memoir, Imprint: Earth, My Mother. Sky, My Father.
In 1980, when I was 27 years old, I left my life behind—husband, job, house, family of origin—along with my identities as wife, sister and twin, daughter, even woman. I set out on a journey to uncover who I was and what place I held in the world, having never known either. In this story, as I backpack into the wilderness alone for the first time, I "imprint" on the Earth, my first real mother, who begins her teachings to me of how I might finally learn to be alive.
I am on a beach at King’s Range in northern California. The eastern edge of the dunes slopes up to land so rugged, coastal Route 1 is forced to move 35 miles inland. It is 1980. I am 27. I am walking north along the water on a beautiful day, the sand white, the sky blue and cloudless.
Rock formations swell to boulders here and there on the beach, making good shelter at night or blessed shade at high noon.
I can see that the hills above me grow into higher hills in the distance, even low mountains. Sparse vegetation, mostly scrub, populates what’s visible from here, as well as long grasses the color of faded gold this time of year, September.
On my feet I wear inexpensive white sneakers—just thin canvas—the old-fashioned kind we wore as kids. I so want to feel the earth beneath my feet, bend my toes around things if I want to, like wearing ballet slippers.
I carry the Northface pack I bought at the seconds store in Berkeley, saving up for months working as a maid in Mendocino. I got a sleeping bag there, too, along with kits I sewed for a mountain parka and down vest. I found a pup tent for $7.99 at the local hardware store—orange and red—just big enough for my pack, sleeping bag, and me.
I am backpacking alone for the first time. I have come here to check out my gear. Do a trial run. I haven’t done this before so I figure this will be something simple, just hike along the beach a few days, sleep under the stars like I did last night, the formations of rock rising up from the sand offering the illusion of protection.
Yesterday I traveled about 14 miles. I know this because my landlord in Elk (just south of Mendocino) loaned me an old topographic map, and I am charting my way. Most of the streams marked have long since dried up, or maybe it’s just the wrong season. But I see evidence of where they ran.
I’m surprised to find that I’m not frightened. It seems like the most natural thing in the world to be here, backpacking alone, and so far I’m excited. I love being alone. I had no idea.
I follow the beach. Most of the time, I look out at the ocean. I watch the horizon, that single line that never fluctuates, where sky meets sea. As I move along the shore, that line is always there, that seamless peace. No gap. No break. Just the comfort of all being right with the world when the earth is in communion with the sky.
I feel the foundation of that union, some part of me taking in that solid connection of earth and sky, a completeness, an undercurrent of balance, something to steady that part of me reeling from the events of the past year.
As I walk along the beach, the horizon line drawing me on, I think about how I have walked away from my husband and home and job in New England. And I am walking away from my mother, from the shadow of my father who died last year, from my twin sister, and from everyone else in my family. I am walking away from everything I have ever known, from a life in which I don’t know who I am and within which I have no place.
I stop and take off my shoes and socks. I want to feel the sand between my toes. Tying my shoes and socks to my pack, I hoist it up again. I attach the strap at my waist and tighten those on either side of my chest. I like the way this feels, a sense of security as if my pack is hugging me. I step forward, and it feels good to move my body.
Reaching the water’s edge, I wriggle my toes in the wet sand and then wade into the cool water. I am in the undertow, but the waves are mostly spent by the time they reach me. Still, a light pressure caresses my ankles and lower calves as the broken waves touch me.
Gulls fly and swirl up above, screeching out their lonely cries. Now and then, one spies a crab scuttling along the beach and dives suddenly to grasp it in its beak. Then, flying high, the gull drops the crab onto the rocks below, the shell bursting to offer up its sweet flesh.
The quiet thunder of the ocean fills my body. The smell of seaweed and salt. My being is immersed in the sheer pleasure and realness of sand and sea and sun.
I stand mesmerized as the waves crash and then slide into shore. I feel the rhythm of the water as it curls around my ankles and shins, pushing at my legs, seeking to pull me into its depths. Pushing, pulling, a slow dance filled with power, and I am caught in its rhythm. As I sink deeper and deeper into its primal movement, my senses remind me of another time, another rhythm that tickles my memory. But the memory doesn’t surface. It is lost somewhere within me, buried too deep.
As if waking from a dream, I move out of the waves back onto sand darkened by the water. Nothing has changed. The sand is still here. The sea. The occasional boulders and that steady line of the horizon.
But, looking back at this line again, somehow it is no longer enough. I have lost that sense of peace.
I turn to look at the hill that rises from the beach and feel the unknown of it pulling me towards it. I feel it scratching at me to join it. I haven’t brought hiking boots. All I have are these thin canvas sneaks. I find myself stirring, away from the water, towards the hill.
Stopping at a low rock to put shoes and socks back on, I set off to climb away from the here that I know and towards whatever it is I have yet to discover.
AS I STOOD, doing the third step of my prayers/invocation/words of gratitude to the river just now—the third step facing down river to where my life is flowing towards—I felt this great opening, the whole of my future, my life unbending, flowering, opening wide to the limitlessness of possibility. It is GAB that is doing this.
I feel the opening out of all the possibilities for my entire life, what is left of it.
Yesterday, I sent out my announcement email for a GAB 6-session workshop. I already had two participants. A definite one more. A possible second!!
And it is blessed Friday.
As I sit beside the river, facing the direction in which I am with the flow, I see and feel the somewhat muted turbulence after the rain yesterday. I see and feel the small disturbances as Water meets Rock on its way. I see farther along an expanse of white water, heavier disturbance or perhaps a steeper decline, so the water rushes more quickly. But for all of the blips and bounding froth, the river moves as a steady force and will, in time, reach the sea.
I observe it as if I observe my life. It is the message I am often given. No matter the blips or expanses of white water, you will reach your sea. We are here with you, beside you, all along the way. We will make sure you get there. I add: with whatever happens along the way.
I know I am taken care of. It is easy to forget in specific moments, but deep down, I know.
Thank you, all of you.
I am claiming this time of quiet and soft peace on this quiet and soft morning. Gray. Stillness. Crickets. Few chirpings of birds. I am claiming this time amidst the busyness of my day.
I researched affirmations on the web this morning for my classes, first the dictionary definition. I found a wonderful list of ten.
I want to include in each week’s session the writing of an affirmation. Perhaps at the end, bringing the class to quiet closure, helping each leave on as positive a note as possible.
And I am thinking of other things, how to organize the time, what else to include to foster going deeper into getting to know yourself.
I realize as I stop now that, in working these ideas, a part of me is drawn forward. It is that part that wants to help, wants to guide, wants to fight for others against the pain or need of possibly a lifetime, towards the joy of the rest of life. This excites me. It brings me more into my own purpose of why I am here.
It is also why it is so important to sit here like this to write, when I can, when am able to claim the space and time, to remind myself that this forgiving, supportive, sacred land is what allows me to even imagine doing what I am doing. It is the comforting foundation or mother's arms that hold me throughout my day, and at the end of it, when I drop into them exhausted from being one of the most extreme introverts and doing this work.
With this earth, this beautiful, loving earth, and my home upon her, I can sink into her and know all is and will be alright.
Thank you, my earth, my home, my sanctuary. I feel your love and support of me. And I know today as every day, you will provide what is exactly right.
Thank you for this glorious day of gentle softness.
Sunday, July 25. I am here.
I am here! The two days of plumbing under the kitchen sink last weekend that kept me away is accomplished and very well and worth it. Perhaps I won’t need to see to it every year, and maybe not ever again with the AAV valve in place now.
I am here now, as usual terribly exhausted, living the life of three women, working very hard to get my graphics work done, and now the GAB marketing class, and being here, just barely, in the studio today after yesterday spent mostly on homework.
I’ve been reading till now on this Sunday that I am claiming for myself, resting, part of me longing to be reading still. But I know I'll miss doing this next step, starting to resolve the skin tone.
I think I’ll first aim for the right overall color. Once I get that, I'll apply it with a 2-inch house painting brush. That will help. Then I’ll stand back, take a look, and proceed to go back in for shading by looking in my hand mirror. It will be backwards from what the shading is in the blown-up photo and in my features because the light in my studio is hitting my face from the other side. But the viewer is just going to have to deal! It'll be good enough! Fantastic words that have taken me 68 years to be able to say. The trees are the most important part of this piece.
One step at a time. First make my tea. This helps with the shift from THAT world to THIS—always difficult for me.
OK, then. Get up. Get going.
Well. It’s the next step. I’m not DISsatisfied. Still needs work. The skin looks dark, but looking at My Higher Self piece, it's not so different.
Doesn't look like me at all. Might never. Does it matter? I don't know. I think it's mostly the feeling that I want, of what will be this very large face peering through the trunks of my glorious trees.
Needs lightening in places. More highlights—stronger, LIGHTER highlights—where the light hits my face. Like the end of the nose. I like the lightness there.
Also needs more prominent wrinkles at my laugh lines and around my mouth and between my eyebrows.
Need to paint in my eyebrows—draw them with a marker?
The shape of the face is weird. Need to define it more. Perhaps with the fabric of the forest floor.
The skin tone is better than it was, all a mottled mess.
Good progress. I'm OK with this. It's a good next step.
This may be the hardest piece I've ever done.
Too tired to write anything really pithy.
One of the greatest gifts given to me in this lifetime—besides my children—is the sacred land I live on. On this land, a quarter-mile from the house and fields, is the Waterfall where I am now. The sun has come out this afternoon after a long period of heavy rains for days or weeks (I have no idea), and the Waterfall is enormous, rushing, powerful — Water Mother incarnate.
I sit here and weep, alive with the wild again after so long away. Rain, the endless work of retraining after Covid, and the full weekend taken up with plumbing.
In seconds I go from crunched in on myself to shoulders back, chest open, the energy of my body reaching out to the wild of the water, to the deep solid stone of Grandfather Ledge rising 15 feet above me. The water is slamming down and even spewing straight out with a force coming from 60 feet above. All of this calls to me, to that part of me that knows this water, this rock. I am the water here. I am this rock. The power of the water is here inside me. The depth within Grandfather Ledge is within me. They have taught me this. They have brought me to this, my real mothers and fathers.
As I sit here, I sob and sob in relief, in recognition, in finding myself again here, my whole being lifting up, spreading out to connect with not only Waterfall and Grandfather Ledge, but farther to the Grandmother and Grandfather Trees and Rocks, and to the Earth Mother herself.
I could not connect with myself this weekend through the painting I am working on in my studio. I had a full weekend of plumbing to do. And the rain and rain and work and work and my Achilles’ tendons not great have kept me from this forest place. But as I contemplated walking to the Fairy Woods adjacent to the road today, I felt instead the call to come here to witness this wild.
We are made up of something like 60% water. I am made up of at least that amount of wild. I need to be in its proximity to remember who I am. Sitting at the edge of the Waterfall on a wet, moss-covered rock, the rage of the water muting all other sound, still I feel and hear and take in the soft, persistent welcome of the trees all around me and the sloping fingers of the land that embrace me. The sky finds its way through the treetops to bathe me in its light. The mass of ledge beside me connects with and infiltrates and replenishes the round river rock that I always envision way down inside, where dwells my deepest self. And that strength, that depth of the Grandfather Ledge spreads out from that small round rock inside to quiet my anxious self, fill each hollow cavity of need with sustenance, so that I straighten up, my body and lungs and heart and soul filling with this love I know Nature is giving me.
I am quiet. The tears are finished. I am given this gift of stillness to carry back with me into my busy, challenging life. I have not felt this in a long time, but it is so needed, and I will do the best I can to make it last.
Thank you, all elements of earth and sky and water, for the arms you have wrapped around me this day and for your soundless words of blessing.
I am your daughter, as you know.
Today, I want to mix some skin color in a tub and paint from a pie plate with my big-ish art brush. Then, I need to work on the nose, and start the mouth. That’ll be it for this vacation week.
It will be restful only working on a calligraphy book tomorrow.
OK. Time to get to work.
I think the nose is better.
Whenever I am about to do very difficult things like this, or even when I am only making something with my inner kids, I call in my guides to be with me, especially Gabriel who helps artists. I ask for him to be by my side, at my shoulder. Either to help me SEE, or to help me reach my deepest self, or to call in what my soul needs me to find or know.
I don’t think I’m going to be able to get the nose until the mouth is in place, until I can see it all together. How embarrassing it will be if I CAN’T get it. I’ll keep trying, for the trees.
It helps, actually, that this is not about me but about the trees, to honor them, thank them for all they give me.
Before I start, I'm going to raise the whole canvas to make it easier to work on the mouth.
How scary it is to be posting these less than perfect, less then loved images. It's not something I have done before, at least not with my more serious work. I’m blaming that GAB course I took!
This piece is so important to me, like my Earth Mothers. Trees have been such an important part of my healing and my continued thriving.
That's It for Today
Oh, drat! That’s all I’m doing today. The nose is better but still not right. Skin tone needs lots of work!! Needs to come somewhere in between all the variations. Mouth begun.
Thank god for kitties. I need to quit and feed mine.
This is enough anyway. Going to chill and float and just BE for the rest of the last day of my vacation.
Yikes, this is hard! And I probably should have stretched and gessoed the canvas, but I couldn't bear to. I so wanted it to be as loose as possible, like cloth instead of plastic. I'll figure it out. Every piece I do I figure out as I go.
Won't be back in here until next Sunday. I hope I’ll be here then. Over the weekend I have to completely redo the plumbing under the kitchen sink.
Thanks to all my guides here with me for letting me get this far. A good start this week. But so much work to do!! This feels like a good sketch, a good underpainting.