Winter Fire

7I9A7811 7I9A7861 7I9A7864 7I9A7892I have many favorite memories from my childhood but some of my favorites of all are the times my family went snowmachine-ing into Riding Mountain National Park from where we were stationed at Sugarloaf Station.  My dad drove his park issued, double-skied Bombardier in classic plainsman style — standing with one knee up on the seat, the other foot down on the running board to steady his body while his beaver fur hat flapped about in the -30C weather.  My sisters, mum and I rode in a sled behind with the dog on our legs to keep us warm.  The sled was tarped so we were out of the wind but it didn’t matter, it was still cold.  I remember looking out the back of the sled at the blur of the ice season in the spruce and the pale skin of the aspen hanging on to ratty bird nests, everything dull and dark and grey as the frigid sky.  I remember the terrible moments when the wind gusted and blowing snow poured into the back of the sled as we rode.  I remember the feel of the snow crystals on my face — brusque and prickly.  We would get to where we were going and my dad would shut off the snow machine; the sudden quiet of the woods was like a roar in my ears.  We’d all crawl out of the sled and we’d poke about in the woods and eventually build a little fire under a lumbering spruce (which you’re never supposed to do) and we’d stay a while.

My mum would unpack a picnic that included a thermos of hot chocolate, cookies, hotdogs for roasting, whole wheat buns for our roasted dogs and ketchup and mustard for the trimmings…sometimes a jar of sauerkraut, too, which I didn’t like until I grew up and my tastebuds settled down a bit.

Ever since those times, I’ve always known there’s nothing so wonderful as stopping in a winterscape to have a hot fire, a snack and a thermos of tea.  I’m telling you, it’s the very best and in a world of humans who speak often in wild hyperbole I want you to understand that I mean that statement with all my heart.

A picnic fire in the frigid heart of winter is the very best.

I’m thinking so much lately about my younger years, those developmental times that built a sort of foundation for who I am now as a human, a lady, an outdoorswoman, a full time creative and small business owner.  I can tell you I’ve worked hard to be who I am, to develop what is good in me and weed out what is bad in me but my parents also worked hard to bring magic to my childhood whenever they could.  My mum strived to fill our lives with culture and a passion for the arts and she worked especially hard to make my sisters and I into cultured little ladies with rich imaginations though we spent so much of our young years in the backwoods of Canada.

I should have grown up to be a feral beastie because my childhood was largely barefoot, weird and wild.  But instead, I can tell you the names of classical pieces of music (so many of them I studied for piano), I can speak broken Quebecois style French (though it goes more and more to rust with the passing of years), I can tell you what I believe if you take the time to ask me and listen to me, I can set a beautiful table and throw an elegant dinner party, I can articulate my emotions and my physical pain, I can look out at the natural world and translate the lessons I learn from the land and the critters there so that they mean something to me as a human.

I’m not sure any of that is of value in the real world, but I value it in and of itself but also because my mum valued it.  It’s my delight to unfold myself for people who don’t know me well and to reveal, piece by piece, the residual magic of my upbringing — to present those ideas, those pieces of culture and grace and grit paired with my current skill set and simply surprise others.

It is also my delight to see the people I love unfold in a similar manner.  Just when I think I know everything about a friend or loved one, just when I think I have a tactile sense of their dimensions, they surprise me with an opinion, with a keen proclamation of faith, with a talent or skill, with a blinding humility or such a deep capacity for grace that I have to entirely rewrite my definition of them in my mind.  It’s thrilling.  Growing with people, changing alongside them, discovering them and re-discovering them is completely thrilling and the very true root of my notion of relationship.

I can’t remember what I set out to say when I began writing this blog post but I think it’s close to being finished now and sometimes (more often than not) finished is better than good and the fact is, I just need to get back on the blogging wagon…so with that said, may you get to know, even more, the people you love and the people you don’t love, and may you discover that you love the people you know you love even more than you thought you did and may you find yourself loving the people you thought you didn’t love with all your heart…and may you be curious about who they are, who they were, and who they will be…and may your winter fires be warming.
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All is Calm

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It’s January 4th and I’m just finding the space to think about this new year, celebrate it in my small ways, step out on the land and marvel at the passage of time, the contrast between the ticking time of my physical heart and the sweep of geological ages.  Isn’t it funny to be so young and fleeting compared to a wedge of towering basalt upon which ancient lichens grow?  Life is full of juxtapositions.  I can’t help but marvel at it all.

I have noticed the growing trend of choosing a word for the new year, a word that encapsulates what you’d like to become, what you’d like to work on, what you would like to let go of…and while I don’t have a specific word to apply to 2017 I have been ruminating on something I would like to practice in my life with even more fervor.  This year, I intend to work even harder at remaining calm.  When everything falls to pieces or when someone treats me terribly or when I don’t get my way in life or when I suffer total failure…I want to remain calm.  Beyond practicing calmness, I want to find myself in the habit of immediately moving into a problem solving state of mind — I want to find myself recognizing the disaster and instead of reacting emotionally, I want to fluidly engage my ability to critically think and logically process my way through a dilemma.

I look at the world around me and I worry that North Americans have become prone to hysteria and hysteria feeds hysteria and even morphs into histrionics at times.  I don’t like it.  In point of fact, I find it self-indulgent, juvenile and even embarrassing to witness, especially in adults.  Babies are allowed to totally lose it, not 25 year old men and women.  Furthermore, I worry about the effect we have on children, adolescents and even our peers when we lose all self-control, drop everything and pitch a fit.

While Rob’s dad was staying with us and helping with renovations up at the house in November he said something during a conversation that stuck with me.  We were discussing healthy eating and exercise and he said he likes to stay active and fit and be as healthy as possible because he feels he is an example to people around him.  He’s retired but continues to work as a reading specialist with children in a backwoods town in the 49er country of California.  His five kids are all grown up and a few of them have given him grandkids.  Because he’s been an educator in every capacity in public schools his whole life, I believe he is hyper-aware of how adults mold children and youth, how our smallest actions and reactions are noticed and absorbed by the people around us — without even trying, perhaps by osmosis, we can have an effect on everyone we come in contact with.

I’ve been thinking about the responsibility we all have to not simply live for ourselves in an age when where is so much emphasis on self-_______________ .  When an individual is suffering a crisis of the soul, I hear their friends say, “You just keep on doing you.  Don’t worry about that person.”  But…what if we did worry about others more — or at least the less obvious repercussions of our own actions?  What if we looked at our lives in an honest way, what if we took a deep, scouring look at all our behaviors and were brave enough to realize what needs adjusting?  What if we were courageous enough to actually MAKE those adjustments, how would it affect our relationships, our families, our neighborhoods, our communities…heck, our whole country?

I believe our kids would grow up braver, stronger, and smarter.  Future generations would be creative, logical, deep feeling groups of people who practice calmness in crisis.  I don’t simply want to improve myself for my own sake, but for the sake of the people I surround myself with.  I want to be a good example, to the best of my abilities (despite the fact that I’m a terribly flawed human being) to the people in the world I live in.  It’s hard, honest work.  I’m up for the challenge.

Happy New Year to you all, go forth and conquer.

XX

7i9a4324 7i9a4658 7i9a5107 7i9a51117i9a5217 7i9a5224 7i9a5228 7i9a5382I’m creatively unexercised.  It makes me neurotic.  When was I in the studio last?  I feel cheated on time lately, though I know that we all are given the same number of hours, minutes and seconds every single day.  Time is fair.

I check back through my day planner to see if I’m guilty of squandering my days.  I don’t think I am.  I’m working as hard as I can.  I see the lists I’ve been making, every single day, for weeks and months — the way nothing seems to get crossed off, the way I transfer lists over into the days that follow and the pile of things to do just grows and grows.  I felt hopeless today.  I cried a little.  I had a miniature existential crisis.  I questioned my faith, my lifestyle, my food, my desire to hunt, our farm, whether or not I should blog anymore, if I’m going to lay down on my deathbed some day and regret having an Instagram account…I wondered what the heck I’m working so hard for.  I wondered why I can’t just find the sweet spot with small business, the sweet spot when it comes to balancing photography, writing and metalsmithing…cease the need to constantly evolve.

I picked up my camera and it made me feel tired.  I turned the studio on and just looking at my tools made me feel tired.  I went outside to deal with the last of the garden.  I picked the beets and carrots.  I made soup.  I answered emails.  I fiddled the day away.  This evening, I went down to water to find a little quiet and be in the wind and spitting rain.  It didn’t solve any of my problems, getting all tangled up in the breeze, but I had a sense of space as I watched the rapids froth and roll and I knew everything would be ok.

Summer is over.  My life is so hectic in the hot months.  It takes a long time for me to settle in to the winter months, figure out how to live with Robert again and share space, slow down, sleep deeply at night and readjust to having a helper in life.  I want to fast forward to the good stuff in life this winter but I know I have to patiently and calmly fight for it.  So I will.  So I am.

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I feel completely sick about this US election — I’m not talking about the candidates (I don’t want to open that can of worms in this space — besides, I identify as a libertarian and I really have no dog in this fight), I’m talking about the way people talk to each other and treat each other and squash each others opinions and spit in each others eyes.  Alienation and public shaming is the new pink.  It exhausts me.  When is the last time you sat down with a total stranger, asked them their opinion on this election and simply listened to what they have to say with an open mind and an open heart — connecting as humans, not clashing as enemies?  I have been asking everyone I meet who they plan to vote for and everyone seems terrified by my question, at first, until they realize I’m not going to jump down their throats and make them feel like trash.  I just want to know.  It’s my way of understanding the people around me.

We learn by listening to each other.  By hearing opinions.  By being courageous and open to the idea of having our own notions changed.  Are you afraid to learn and grow?  Are you afraid of changing your mind?  See each other.  Hear each other.  Listen to each other.  Even if you don’t agree, be kind to each other.  It’s just politics.  And I think, above all, politics requires diversity.  Absolute power corrupts.  We need a mixed bag of kittens in Washington DC because this nation is split right down the middle and both sides of the matter deserve and require representation.

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Rob just arrived home from elk hunting.  Thank God.  I’m going to whip us up a nice dinner.  I hope you are all snug in your homes tonight.  I’m so glad you are in my world.

XX

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Beast Mode

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I’ve been coming and going so much these past three months it has been impossible to really sink into any fresh ideas in the studio.  I’ve found it best to simply embrace some small scale production work.  It’s so much fun!  It’s straightforward.  I sit down and I make a batch of one thing.  I make as much of it as I can until I am ready to make a batch of a different design — I go into beast mode.  These are rings and necklaces and earrings that I cannot seem to make enough of.  I fall into an easy rhythm.  I’m past the point of persnickety calculations and problem solving.  I simply make.  I make, over and over again and the making is a meditation.  My mind wanders towards the light.  I talk to myself, the dogs, the cat.  I miss him.  I think about my impending late evening run in the grasshoppers and gold.  I think about swimming in the river, feeling the smooth green run over my pulse points to cool me, vein by vein.

I’ll probably carry these designs into the fall and probably into part of the winter, too.  And gladly.  I love them.

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Idaho is beginning to burn.  The sky above the Snake River is heavy with smoke today.  I watched it drift in and turn the sunset deep orange last night while I was running the dogs.  I begin to worry for him this time of year.  Just a little.  I fret.  Just a little.

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I finally acquired a very grown-up thing — it’s called a coffee bean grinder.  I like it.  I grind my cute little coffee beans in the morning, make a squatty little French press, add my milk and enjoy the heck out of that cup of coffee.  The sun rises over the canyon wall in a terribly beautiful haze, the river swirls, the herons (the herons)…

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Tater has been starting his day by rolling in some heinous carcass somewhere so once he comes home after his death-bath I drag him outside and shampoo him with dish soap because nothing else will strip the stink of decay from his fur.  He’s disgusting.  But I love that about him.  He’s so much more macho-wolf-y than the other dogs.

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We bought a farm in June.  We closed on it in mid-July and the people we bought it from are so great.  There was no penny pinching niggling negotiation.  There was only straightforward neighborliness.  One day we were standing in their kitchen with them celebrating the official sale and purchase of the place and they simply said, “Hey, do you guys want the washer, dryer and fridge?  We don’t need them.”

Yes!

We will move in sometime in October after all this fire season madness.  I’ll be able to sneak in, by the end of August, and begin painting and gleaning furniture.  Our bed is in the Airstream in McCall so I have, quite literally, been sleeping on a Thermarest since May.  I’m over it.  I’m really over it right now because it has a hole in it and I cannot seem to find the time to patch it.  It’s ok.  There are worse things.  I just pretend I am always sleeping out under the stars with a stone for a pillow and the huge loft window kind of makes that a not-pretend thing anyway.  That said, I look very forward to having a bed and sheets and blankets again.

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I read until I cannot keep my eyes open at night.  It seems a good way to fall asleep.  This summer, I have liked:

Barbarian Days

My Brilliant Friend

The Journals of Grace Hartigan

Wabi Sabi

Dakota

The Cloister Walk

Thousand Pieces of Gold

River of No Return

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And finally, copper Birks.  How could I resist?
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Just Like You

7I9A25647I9A08177I9A99107I9A25417I9A25867I9A26007I9A2655I hit the wall yesterday.  I was bleary eyed, I could barely type out single words let alone sentences on the computer, I was 100% ineffective at everything I was hoping to complete.  I needed to spend the day in the studio and when noon rolled around I knew there wasn’t a chance I would be remotely effective in that space either so I shut it all down.  I stepped out of the house to peer at the sky — it looked capable of anything.  I packed a bag with my camera gear, water and two coats in case of rain or cold or both.  The dogs eagerly loaded in the truck and we were off.

More often than not, there’s so much to do around here that it can feel difficult to justify days like yesterday and I have to remind myself that going outside is how I sweep out the cobwebs and reverse the muscular atrophy that comes with too much computer work, too much photo editing, too much time spent hunched over in the studio, too much tame living.  Going outside is vital to my work.  It’s as important as answering emails, submitting images, writing my morning pages and crafting cocktail rings.

I signed another contract for a photography job this week.  I was on the fence about it for a long while.  I was afraid (I am still afraid) it might be a mistake, an overextension.  I like to do my very best, no matter what I’m working on, and I’m afraid of this job and what it might do to my life over the next few months.  Fear.  Fear.  Fear.  It will be a lot of work and I need to find a way to do it with joy and HEART, injecting soul and honesty into every image.  I talked to Rob about it.  I talked to some of my friends about it.  I wrestled with it like Jacob and the Angel of the Lord

In the end, I committed to the work because I didn’t feel like I could say no to it.  In this business, there’s soul work and there’s survival work and sometimes the two can operate hand in hand and sometimes they can’t and you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do to get by.  I know there’s some romance hanging like a golden sunbeam over what I am doing with my life as a freelance photographer and a metalsmith but the fact is this, these are jobs.

In fact, I think there’s too much glamour attached to the notion of doing full-time creative work, I mean the image of the working artist — it’s not more noble, it’s not more soulful, it’s not more meaningful, it’s not more emotionally and spiritually centering to do art full-time for a living.  The work itself can be noble, soulful, meaningful and centering (ANY job can be these things) but doing creative work as a full-time job isn’t going to strip your life of normalcy.  You’re still going to be human   You’re still going to have your struggles.  I’m just trying to be honest about this because sometimes folks get worship-y about the lives of full-time artists.  The work is just as messy and complicated and beautiful as having a job out in the real world.

Just like you, there are mornings when I don’t want to do my work.  I want to do something else.  I want to stay in bed curled up with my animals and read a book instead of facing my inboxes or sitting down in front of a necklace design I managed to bung up when I let myself work too late in the night with muddled eyes.  There are times, too, when it’s the joy of my heart to work!

I get tired.  I get energized.  I get hurt.  I get healed.  I get empty.  I get full.

I’m just like you.

Anyway, the dogs and I went out yesterday, we had some gale force wind blowing in our ears, we found plenty of really cool dead stuff to look at, we watched the hawks hunt, we listened to the canyon wren, we heard the chukar chuckling, we gazed off in the distance and daydreamed, we kept our eyes peeled for antlers, and we walked it out, mile after mile, until the sun went down.

We don’t regret, for a moment, how we spent the day.