December 2009 Archives

#21 winter solstice 2009

Today is the shortest day of the year. The sun sets early and I'm posting this message before the light merges with night. I have numbered the short days with captured images to share new stories of the year.

21-monkey-balls-2.jpg"As black days came unnumbered, merging with night, the pulaar--visits between villagers---started up again. They told new stories about animal and human doings, about the demise of their traditional lifeways and melting ice caps, and waited in their cold heaven, for the coming of light."
--Gretel Ehrlich, This Cold Heaven, p. 356.

#20 winter solstice 2009

The tiniest remains of the orange sunset linger and ignite the contrast of hill and sky. The indigo blue of the night snow is like a river of reflective surface. A week ago my friend Willi offered me a huge pomegranate for my photo and I told him I was trying to use objects from my or nearby gardens. Now that the ground is buried in snow drifts, I reach for the clementines on the counter to flavor my palette of images. I break my own rules, relying on an intuitive direction for this year's solstice series.

20-tangerines-on-white.jpg"Darkness reconciles all time and disparity. It is a kind of rapture in which life is no longer lived brokenly. In it we are seers with no eyes. The polar night is one-flavored, without past or future. It is the smooth medium of present time, of time beyond time, a river that flows between dreaming and waking."
--Gretel Ehrlich, This Cold Heaven, p. 47.

#19 winter solstice 2009

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Snow day! Eighteen inches and counting. As the light faded I went out in my long, red down coat, boots and waterproof pants as well as two ski poles. My steps were slow and deliberate, searching for firm footing before shifting weight. My dog bounded and hopped like some cartoon character sniffing with her nose buried in the snow. The piled powder shifted and exaggerated the shapes of buried pots and plants. The jar on the porch had a new interpretation of shoulder and neck. The transformation simplifies and elaborates the landscape. As daylight drained, the snow swirled in its own light.

19-snow-shoulder.jpg"An hour after midday the light was gone and we drove on through the white darkness of the Polar night. The details of the landscape melted strangely one into the other like frozen fog, and little ice-covered hills looked like mountains."
--Rasmussen in 1921 quoted by Gretel Ehrlich, This Cold Heaven,  p. 46

#18 winter solstice 2009

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We got our Xmas tree, our daughter is home and we don't have to go anywhere. Arriving  home after dark we had a dinner of story telling and time on the couch. Can't ask for much more.

18-pod-1.jpg"Greenlanders say that only the Quanallit-- the white people--are afraid of the dark, while Eskimos like nothing better than long winter days of story telling and talking to spirits."
--Gretel Ehrlich, This Cold Heaven, p 38

#17 winter solstice 2009

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"We met up with an old man, named Uutaaq, who invited us to his home. His father had gone to the North Pole with Robert Perry and he wanted to tell me the story....His wife lit the traditional candles on the coffee table before the stories began, as if their wavering light would summon the thread of the past into the room."
--Gretel Ehrlich, This Cold Heaven, pp. 235-236


#16 winter solstice 2009

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Endings faced me as my intro to wheel class met for the last time today at the Corcoran in Washington, DC. On the way home the day faded with a violet sunset over the far blue-ridge mountains, making elegant blue purple lines in the distance. It was earlier than my usual pattern when I pulled off the highway, but It felt like the middle of the night.

16-birdhouse-gourd.jpg"No matter what you did in winter, how deep you dove, there was still no daylight and no comprehension that came with light. Endings were everywhere, visible within the invisible, and the timeless days and nights ticked by."
--Gretel Ehrlich, This Cold Heaven,  p. 36

#15 winter solstice 2009

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Heading down to the studio in the dark I reached for a headlamp flashlight as my guide. When I stepped out onto the gravel and snapped it on I realized the battery was dying. The fading ray seemed like it would barely illuminate the path. But the further I got from the lights of the house the headlamp was just enough to decipher grass from gravel and the difference of wet and dry. Every year as the days get short I have to re-learn the art of walking in the dark, a seasonal lesson about moving forward only once the eyes have adjusted to a new type of vision--just as a twist to normal sight is sometimes required to resurrect creative momentum.

15-candle-2.jpg"Tonight the darkness jolts me. I walk around the room trying to lift the dark cover of night with a flashlight in my hand, as if its fading beam were a shovel. I am trying to understand how one proceeds from blindness to seeing, from seeing to vision."
--Gretel Ehrlich, This Cold Heaven, p. 38

#14 winter solstice 2009

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This morning the world looked as if it was a black and white photo. Fog, ice and general dampness shimmered in the air. I slowly walked to the pond on my way to the studio, studying  the great blue heron slowly flapping past, gliding above the frozen ice, wondering how it feels to be that long winged long legged bird.

On my way to an appointment, I heard an interview with the great great grandaughter of Charles Darwin, Ruth Padel. She has recently written his biography in verse. As she spoke of her family and Darwin she conveyed their deep love of nature imbued with a sense of sheer wonder. She quoted Darwin as saying, "if I'd have my life to live over again, I would make it a rule to read a poem a day."

14-pumpkin.jpgFlying at Night

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.

Ted Kooser
Published in "Flying at Night"

#13 winter solstice 2009

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Friday night after Thanksgiving we had a simple dinner at my father's loft. We began to exchange stories about his father's youngest sister. Dad and I traded stories back and forth till Warren reminded us there was a profile written about her stashed with my mother's books. I went to the shelf and found the slim booklet.  Zoe began to read about the time that Frannie had slipped in the bathtub.  Zoe soon looked up laughing and told us that Dad and I each had told a different half of the same story. That evening, bathed in  candlelight, with stories, laughter and the last of the pumpkin pie, was the highlight of my visit home.

13-squash.jpg"We sit side by side on the porch swing, waiting to see what tale will be told next. We are learning the way in which stories end, how they drift into near silence, yet leave an after-ringing, like a bell."
--Ted Kooser, "Lights on a Ground of Darkness"

#12 winter solstice 2009

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After yoga I had coffee with my fellow yogi Tom Davenport. I am always a sucker for his stories of what Delaplane, Marshal and The Plains were like when he was a kid. We often talk about movies because among other things, he is a story teller, filmmaker and founder of Folkstreams where he posts films and short videos. For instance, his stories and films document and connect musicians, craftspeople and the history of the Delaplane church or street festivals in Brooklyn with specific images and sounds to ignite imagination. In the back of Tom's Subaru were a few turnips rolling around, complete with frozen greens and dirt from his garden that have resurfaced in today's image.

To keep people all alive a little longer, it just takes honesty to write a few pages in handwriting. That person will lift up into the light a little bit. 
--Ted Kooser talking about writing his new book Lights on a Ground of Darkness [from my notes listening to a radio interview].

#11 winter solstice 2009

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The day seems bracketed by the ground of darkness. A cold predawn walk for the newspaper began the path, and a post-sunset drive home from a neighbor's concludes with disappearing light. The space in-between seems like a short spurt of energy and imagination.

11-red-onions.jpg"Our memories of a place, no matter how fond we were of it, are little more than a confusion of lights on a ground of darkness." --Edwin Muir

#10 winter solstice 2009

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It seemed that any time my mother cleaned her desk she came across a collection of postcards. Newly discovered, they would inspire her to send to one of her four children, the odd exhibition invite or photo with her haiku-like message describing her travels in NYC or a recently attended public reading.

This afternoon I sorted packing materials, images, and pots and cleared off surfaces in the studio racing to take a photo before I lost the light. I came back to the house as if walking in my mother's footsteps, seeing through her eyes the spectacle of the sunset. The light drained and the trees stood in silhouette while I sat in my daughter's bedroom listening to an interview with the poet Ted Kooser.

10-locust-pod.jpg"Were it not for the way you taught me to look at the world, to see the life in everything, I would have been lonely forever."
--Ted Kooser from his new book Lights on a ground of darkness from the poem,  to the memory of my mother.

#9 winter solstice 2009

Last night I taught the final class for the semester at Hood College in Frederick, MD. I try to instill a sense in my students that drawing is valuable for clay artists. I want them to see with their fingers and leave marks both in clay and paper as they define their path. I left Frederick just as it began to snow and the roads were immediately slippery. To drive last night, at first through the Maryland snow with no visibility, and later through the Virginia freezing rain, was to to drive with eyes in the tires of my car. I could only see as far as the beamed headlights reached; it was a great metaphor for the path of the artist. We make one choice at a time based on a small visible, yet slippery section of the road.

09-squash1.jpg       "To fall
is to return,
        to fall is to rise.
To live is to have eyes in one's fingertips,"

Quoted from Octavio Paz at the end of A match to the heart

#8 winter solstice 2009

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When I was in my 20's I remember my mother told me that she brought me up with the idea that as the only girl with three brothers that I was as strong as they were. As we reminisced she was recovering from a broken wrist. Her broken bone made her feel a new kind of fragility and had her rethinking the differences in strength between men and women. I try to walk without a limp and exercise and feel like a wimp as I pick my way carefully around dogs and slippery spots.

08-garlic-braid.jpg" 'You have always been so strong. Now it is time to learn about being weak.'... How could I grow strong by becoming weak, I asked. I was being purposefully naive. What he was asking for was balance."
-- as told to Gretel Ehrlich by Takashi, a farmer-monk from southern Japan [in a match to the heart].

#7 winter solstice 2009

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"The Arctic people of Labrador say that a person is born empty: dreams fill him, and a person who doesn't dream is no better than a black fly."
--Gretel Ehrlich, a match to the heart

07-garlic-pod.jpgOn Saturday we had our first snow. I have been having intense dreams of skiing both in my backyard and on steep unknown mountains. Today the driveway was slippery and I cautiously made my way back and forth from studio to house and car. At one point, the dog was excited and ran at me with huge happy leaps. I crouched low to the ground and spread my arms wide, speaking to her in low tones. Warren said I lowered gracefully as if practicing tai chi and warding off the lightning speed of puppy energy. It is as if my dreams are filling in what my normal instincts are at this time of year. The sunset colors came early and the view of the mountains provided a closing punctuation to the day.

#6 winter solstice 2009

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"The tides know everything about habit, but also everything about cleansing and healing."
--Gretel Ehrich, A match to the heart

06-paper-wasp.jpgSometimes Warren gently pokes fun of my habits and routines. I eat the same thing for breakfast nine times out of ten.  I like to read the paper for a few minutes, drink coffee and write in my journal. I see my habits shifting in small increments, just as daily tides cycle around the clock. Routine allows the influx of new material and the output of ideas. This repetitive process  cleanses my list of doubts and with my injury helps document the pace of healing.

#5 winter solstice 2009

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Last night with snow in the forecast I picked the last calendula flowers by flashlight in the garden and a few herbs when the lemon peppers caught my eye. Today, I hunkered down, enjoying the snow. I read about traveling in Greenland and spoke to a painter friend in southern California. The soft blanket of fresh white transformed the landscape, my California friend spoke of the shadows that inspire her painting. It was if the words of our conversation left the weight of imprints in the snow. A poet lives in the moments of transitions, seeing memory as shadows or a house as a shell or the night as a river. As artists we find meaning in the overlooked.

05-leaf-plate.jpg"She said she wanted the dancers to be carried by movement and also driven by it; to show how memories are weighted differently, how time is changed, how some memories leave shadows."
--Gretel Ehrlich,
Arctic Heart: a poem cycle

#4 winter solstice 2009

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Today was full of firsts since September when I fractured my tibia. I woke before dawn and before Warren. I walked the dog ( without crutches!) and I went to yoga.
In the predawn light I looked up at the silhouette of a tree against the slightly lighter, cloudy sky. In the branches were big objects which at first I thought were big magnolia seed pods until they shifted and cawed when I realized there were 12 crows clustered in a wild cherry tree.

The silhouettes reminded me of one of my favorite later prints of my Mom's of a single crow. It hung over the dresser in their Maine cabin bedroom. And it is stored in my memory like this morning's image of a dozen black birds in the dark branches. Fueled by the birds I returned to my yoga class where I breathed deep and stretched wide, making connections between the movement of the body and how it sparks the mind to make new connections in the visual and tactile world.

[ A seed pod from our big leafed magnolia]

"To be inspired is to have accepted spirit into the lungs and heart, to watch it circulate through miles of blood vessels and capillaries whose tiny fenestrations allow oxygen, nutrients and grace to leak into the tissue of muscle and consciousness, then be taken up again, reoxyginated, and returned."
 --Gretel Ehrlich A match to the heart

#3 winter solstice 2009

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After yesterday's dismal rain, today was a day to eat weather and walk on the road with all tendons extended, drinking in the sun, clouds, sunset, and rising of the moon.

03-gourd.jpg"You walk inside yourself on roads and ropes of blood vessels and tendons. You walk inside yourself and eat weather."
-- Gretel Ehrlich from
A Match to the Heart

#2 winter solstice 2009

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Last spring while in New York City, I found a draft of a novel my mother had written about a young woman who emigrated from Ireland to New York. It was hidden in a closet in a brown cloth bag like potatoes in the soft ground full of compost. I knew the book existed and have been vaguely searching for it for the last few years. In reading the first few chapters I could feel her genetic connection to Ireland--the wet weather, and green landscape as well as the adventurous spirit of a young woman willing to let go of known territory and explore the mystery of a new country. Returning home again from a Thanksgiving trip to New York, I was aware of the brilliance of the moon and that I still have a few treasured potatoes in the ground.

02-potatos.jpg"In winter, light sources are reversed. Snow-covered earth is a torch and the sky is a blotter that soaks up everything visible. There is no sun, but the moon lives on borrowed time and borrowed light."
--Gretel Ehrlich from This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland

#1 winter solstice 2009

This is the first in this year's winter solstice series. It is the first image leading up to the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year on December 21.