This morning I was confronted by a sweet fragrance, an elusivefamiliar waft. Was that the honeysuckle? I know I've smelled it in previous Springs, but it took a few moments to identify--to remember--to recognize that those modest and faithful boxwoods, encircling the patio, are in flower and emoting their delicate perfume. I smiled in gratitude for this moment of sensory splendor--this breakthrough in memory. How many Springs have to pass before I am on a first name basis with this occasional odor?
I've been thinking a lot about patterns of behavior and how the repetition of work can lead to moments of breakthrough or growth just as these stoic boxwood are having their flowery moment. These past months I've been developing a practice of writing and sketchbooking. (sketchbooking: the practice of filling a sketchbook with images, ideas, practices, thoughts, new methods, skribbles, lists, found objects, collage, bad ideas, dreams, paint, etc.) The sketchbook is a warm, generative place for taking risks, experimenting, and practicing. It is my friend, my log, my history, and my plans and goals. It is page after page of possibility. I try to contribute to it daily and through this repetitive process make discoveries, dig deeper, and hopefully have a moment, a page, a scribble that smells really fragrant.
Similarly, my writing is a daily practice. There are three parts to this effort. The first is Field Notes. Everyday I track forrestrial observations, how many eggs I collected, the weather, what I cooked for breakfast. (You get the idea.) This pseudo-scientific practice of mine helps me to attune to whatever stood out to me that day and also helps me to keep track of my accomplishments and progression in my projects. The second part is my daily artists pages. For three pages I write whatever garbage thoughts are hanging around in my jumbled mind. I commit them to the page in hopes that I thereby de-clutter the brain for more creative productivity. What I have found is that this process has not only been a method for confronting my anxieties and depression, but a place to delve into the shadowy parts that aren't easily accessed. I have to make friends with these shadow-parts, and sometimes, I get stuck hanging out with them longer than I like, but the daily writing keeps me going, keeps me working through the muck. The third kind of writing is creative writing. This I do less frequently than I'd like, but I have real, good intentions (see my goals in my sketchbook) of more faithfully writing for art and for others to see.
I think my artistic practices are not unlike Pat's gardening. Unfortunately because of how time and growing seasons work, his cycles are longer and may take weeks, months, or years before a break through, a blossom, or a fruit is born. This weekend, he received two Chestnut trees from his parents for his birthday. They will work hard for many years before generating their first breakthrough, their nuts. How many cycles of dormancy and growth, of cold and warmth, will they practice before generating this new thing that they are genetically programmed to make? It's really fascinating to imagine that nut of creativity is present in these two stick-like plants and will someday, years from now be realized.
And over these years Pat will learn where plants will thrive and be happiest, how to coax the greatest yield, how to surrender to the grateful moments of growth and productivity, or how to accept the natural phenomena beyond control that may squelch your well-made plans. In either case plodding ahead, and practicing will lead to growth and new discoveries.
Happy first--official calendar day of SPRING!!!!
These past few months Pat has grown chainsaws for hands. Let me explain. About a week after Thanksgiving we decided to clear a significant portion of our upper meadow to make room for the planting of hazelnuts and some fruit trees. Upper Meadow is a bit of a misnomer since most of this stretch of land is not made of lovely prairie flowers and grasses but overcome by a dense thicket of honey suckle and buck thorn, our resident, invasive weed trees. These weed trees will easily spread--overtaking the meadow and undergrowth of the wooded areas. So, we are trying to not only curb their rapid and tenuous growth but also sow plants that will feed us while creating a more hospitable environment for local plant and animal species. Our goal is to clear about an acre for what we are calling our Nuttery.
Now, Nuttery is no misnomer because we certainly belong in such a place that requires an insane amount of meticulous stripping of thorny, stubborn plants. In November, we circled March 17th as our deadline for the clearing, and although Pat (and less so I) have faithfully devoted hours and days to this project, we are about only 25% cleared. With early budding and the growing season upon us, our clearing time is shrinking. It will have to be enough for this year.
Pat uses his chainsaw to chop down the trees, and I systematically strip the smaller twigs off of branches--breaking and sorting the sawed-off limbs into three sizes: brush, chipping pile, and logs. As I methodically break these plants down into their base pieces, I contemplate Aldo Leopold's writing from A Sand County Almanac:
When some remote ancestor of ours invented the shovel, he became a giver: he could plant a tree. And when the axe
was invented, he became a taker: he could chop it down. Whoever owns land has thus assumed, whether he knows it
or not, the divine functions of creating and destroying plants.
There is a part of me that truly dislikes these trees, but I can't help feel some remorse in their destruction knowing that it's a favorite place for the deer to find shelter. Hope resides in spring, though, when we find our shovels and start planting new trees.
If I haven't made it clear already with words, perhaps these pictures can give you a sense of the amount of labor required to clear this land.
Pat is far more patient with the process than I am . It can feel overwhelming which is new for me in that I usually savor projects that are painstaking slow --like hand quilting and weaving. What I know about undertaking slow art projects is that really being with a repetitive, tedious process can give way to new thoughts and a keen awareness as the repetition grinds away the grime and fog left by the rapidity of life. I find myself wondering what does it mean to really surrender to the slowness and the steadiness of these projects? In the nuttery, I can feel my body find its rhythm, my mind slow down and I begin to notice birdsong, stones, how the limbs grow in contortions seeking out the sun which now heats the ground unobstructed. Bit by bit, limb by limb, tree by tree, we clear this land and eventually the repetition will yield a fruitful nuttery!
OK, I know I know. As was repeatedly drilled in to me at School of the Art Institute, if you make something, you are responsible for getting the word out and for finding your audiences. This is especially true for artists and musicians. It is the way of our world and while I often fantasize about Canadian art subsidies, I must exist in the reality of that our NEA is soon to be a wistful memory. The good news is that the worldwide interwebs and social media democratizes distribution making it very easy for things like this blog to be posted, handmade goods to be sold, podcasts published, and songs debuted. The bad news, is that with such people generated productivity, wonderful, genius creations can get lost and muffled. It's often luck or causes unrelated to quality that some art works receive popular attention and distribution. The WBEZ podcast Nerdette demystifies why certain artworks are hung on museums and a few songs are broadcast on radio stations while many, many more get swallowed by the mainstream. Towards the end of the podcast, Nerdette Host, Tricia Bobeda recalled a discussion with author Sandra Cisneros in which Cisneros commented that (I'm paraphrasing) there are two artists in one body--one that makes art and the other that has to sell, promote, get the word out, etc. The more self-promotion one does, the less time there is for making art and that thought becomes one of those vicious cycles that turns my mind towards Canada.
In a perfect world an artist looking to profit from her creations wouldn't have to think about the selling. I wish this was true since I am so horrible at self-promotion and often clueless as to where to begin. I'm lucky that I have supportive family and friends who are continually lifting up Spring Bird and me. Thank you!!! I am thankful to all of you who read this blog and have shared it or talked about it with friends. Time is precious for everyone. So, my only wish is to generate content worth taking the time to read, look at, or even momentarily consider.
This long preamble is really a red herring since this post is actually about promoting the first issue of Woolgathering which should be popping up in mailboxes across the country right now. It has been a months in the making and feels so good to have it out in the world. I'm looking forward to diving into the next issue about Summer and to creating more interesting and hopefully inspiring content.
If you are interested in receiving the Spring issue of Woolgathering, please fill out this form.
If you've received Spring Woolgathering and are interested in subscribing for the remaining issues in 2017: Summer, Fall, and Winter, you can check out the packages here and please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
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Also, check out the Nerdette Podcast Popular Vs Cool with Derek Thompson
Anna Lentz, artist, writer, and creativity coach who blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.