In this part of Oregon we often get a little February break from the cold rain, when the clouds part and warm (sort of) sunshine pours in. We got such an interim this week. I was in downtown Eugene one afternoon, temporarily free of my winter coat and comfortable in only my wool sweater, when I saw this shorts-and-Tshirt-clad young man come wheeling along on his skateboard, dog in tow with one hand, fishing rod in the other. Was that Summer passing before my eyes? What month is this?! And if he is fine in shorts and short sleeves, why do I need wool and corduroys?
4:50am PST, January 31, 2018. Clouds had been forecast, but at our house the night was mostly clear, with wisps of mist veiling over the moon, making it appear to pulse. It was fun that it happened to be a “blue moon,” the second full moon in the calendar month; it was spectacular that it happened to be a “super moon,” the full moon closest to Earth in its elliptical orbit; it was magnificent as it became a “blood moon,” with the shadow of the Earth totally eclipsing its brilliant face, painting it red.
“Believe me, you will find more lessons in the woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you what you cannot learn from masters.” – St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Many, many times I’ve been under this tree down the hill from our house; recently I really looked at it for the first time. It grows as one oak tree, but originally there were three individual ones. As they grew their trunks united at the base; two of them grew together again higher up where they rubbed each other, and then separately once more. It makes quite the sculpture, this intertwining dance of three trees in one. Conventional thinking usually assumes that trees too close together compete for resources—this looks more like cooperation.
So much noise this week. Aren’t we better than this? Surely? When the one at the head of the administration spews heedlessly, I could easily do the same out of my own anger and frustration.
Time to gather myself. If I want to work for good, I’d better be sure that it is out of a spirit of good that I am working. Along my news feed came this poem by Jack Ridl, which aptly settled my seething into quiet. I headed for my studio to paint with the poem.
Next I’ll start writing letters to my representatives. Again.
Come listen to me and hear my song,
The song of a wondrous youth,
I’ll sing of Olaf Åsteson
Who slept many days, ’tis the truth.
Yes, it was Olaf Åsteson
Who lay so long a-sleeping.*
The Dream Song of Olaf Åsteson, a fifth-century Norwegian saga of which only fragments exist today, describes the spiritual experiences of Olaf Åsteson, who falls asleep on Christmas Eve and dreams until the feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. This saga has fascinated me since I discovered it years ago, and I always read it this time of year. There’s something about stepping into something so ancient that girds me for the New Year.
In these bleak days of midwinter the light glows within. The darkness intensifies its brightness, the cold enhances its warmth. It might be the most potent time of year.
The Shepherds’ Play is a medieval mystery play that my kids grew up with in the Eugene Waldorf School. Teachers and community members play the parts, and the whole school community turns out for it. The play is funny and earnest, with the angel overseeing the drama, and the unwitting shepherds (the most human of humans) being the first to glimpse the face of the sacred.
The play opens and closes with the players singing these words—
Bless O Lord the way we tread,
Bless our comings and our goings;
Bless likewise our daily bread,
Bless our leavings and our doings.
Bless our death with thy death’s leaven,
That to us thy life be given.
A year ago I, along with the rest of the country, was reeling from the election. The corrosive divisions among fellow Americans were terrible, and largely have remained so. A poet friend of a friend decided that, for the duration of this administration, he would post a poem a week. It was one thing he could do. I decided to follow suit, and every week for the last year I have posted a painting or a sketch on Face Book.
I have been humbled by the responses. From right, left, and center. I didn’t imagine my own art could be such a bridge, let alone what would come back to me by the sharing of it .
Art works. There is the work of making art, and then there is the work that the art does when released into the world. This blog is to further my art’s working.
It’s the rainy season in western Oregon. I often draw or paint outside, so that means the full winter regalia of boots, rain coat and rain pants. Let’s go.