Re Weaving the World

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(“Heartwood” – Valentine’s Day Gift from artist Iren Schio)

 

At winter solstice I was becoming physically ill from an intolerable situation involving sleep deprivation during which time I was possessed by the idea of making a wreath. Since I have been weaving wreaths out of balsam greens since I was a child and they have been an intrinsic part of my solstice rituals for almost forty years, I assumed that my not making a wreath was breaking an emotional and spiritual tie and this was why I was so distressed/obsessed.

 

I knew that my friend Iren had grapevines so I asked her for a few to fashion a small wreath. I was then troubled to discover that even after soaking the vines they remained stiff and un – pliable. Determined not to give up I struggled to form the vines into a circle without success.

 

By this time I began to suspect that there was more going on than I originally thought because I knew that my inner state usually mirrors what I am experiencing in the world. Certainly, I was not doing well spiritually, emotionally, or physically.

 

I fought with the vine. Eventually, I formed an ugly distorted round that I had to tie with twine in order to create the semblance of a genuine open sphere. The use of twine forced the vine into a shape it refused to choose on it’s own and that fact alarmed me.

 

I hung the wreath on a tree outside my window after placing a calcite “dagger” that I had found on the day of the solstice in its center. The calcite gleamed like ice, and this addition to the ugly skeleton wreath felt just right, so I left it.

 

Shortly, after finishing the wreath I found the strength I needed to make the decision to get myself out of my intolerable situation. Every time I looked at the wreath with it’s dagger I thought that the struggle to make it, ugly as it was, had helped me make a decision I would have done most anything not to make.

 

When I moved I left the misshapen vine hanging from its tree.

 

One day, returning for some clothes, I saw the bedraggled wreath that now looked quite pitiful. Feeling sorry for it I picked it up and took it with me not knowing why. Before I left it on the ground outside my door, I removed the dagger. It sat there for about a month, neglected.

 

When the red willows began to glow, turning that unearthly golden green I decided to use some reeds to add another layer to the wreath. I gathered some, and late one afternoon I sat on the floor at the window and started to thread the willows into the grapevine skeleton. I was delighted to see that a circle was emerging without effort or string! I was re- weaving my world, I suddenly thought with surprise and delight not having a clue what I meant.

 

When I ran out of reeds I hung the wreath in the living room and every time I passed by it the wreath seemed to remind me that it was a work in progress and that soon I would be weaving some more!

 

Valentines day dawned and with it came a dark cloud that had been hovering since the day before. I was grieving loss of trust and possibility.

 

Knowing how important it was to honor my feelings because this was such an important part of self love (if we cannot love ourselves we cannot possibly love others I had learned over the course of my life) Yesterday afternoon I gathered more reeds. Placing them in a vase under the hanging wreath I marveled at the beauty of these willows that grew so straight and true and bent with such grace.

 

Once again I sat down on the floor and began to weave a third layer of reeds into my wreath. I could still see the places where brown twine peeked through, but at some point I had already decided how important it was to let them be. The original circle had been broken. I needed to witness and stay with that brokenness…

 

Once again I ran out of reeds and re hung the wreath on the living room wall. This time I felt real satisfaction because the wreath had become thick and strong.

 

Earlier during the day (before re-weaving for the third time) I had received a beautiful card and a piece of “heartwood” with tiny bones attached to the string from which the wood could be hung. I placed the heart inside the now sturdy hanging wreath and suddenly heard words in my head: “You are re- weaving the world.”*

Thinking this thought to be a form of personal hubris or wishful thinking because I was in an ongoing state of despair over Earth destruction and in particular the lack of desert rain, I ignored the message, finished the third (but probably not final) weaving listening to poet and prophet Bob Dylan’s song “It’s Not Dark Yet But It’s Getting There” feeling both personal and collective grief flowing through me like water.

 

When I re hung the wreath with it’s new “heartwood” center Bob’s song “You Gotta Serve Somebody” was playing… Oh, he was so right.

 

Freed from the day’s depression and feeling physically lighter, I had an illumination: By honoring my grief, and acting out this grief by working on my wreath, I was making the choice to love and strengthen my heart self and choosing Life in all its wonder, grief, and complexity.

 

At the same moment I heard the desert crack and open to the healing balm of falling rain…

 

Postscript:

In retrospect I think it may be possible that re-weaving one’s own brokenness also may also help the Earth in some unfathomable way.

“You are not an artist.”

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Yesterday I completed a little sculpture for a woman artist who is also a friend. It is her 75th birthday. I had been collecting sticks and pine cones, and my friend Iren had sliced sticks, cut noses, and provided me with giant acorns from Texas (which I had never seen before) and a glue gun for the three owls I was going to put on a unique piece of river driftwood that Iren picked up when we were wandering at the edge of Red Willow river… “Perfect, we both murmured at once.”

 

(Iren, I have come to see, is a Muse without parallel as well as my friend.)

 

All I knew yesterday was that I was going to make owls…

 

As the little sculpture emerged I heard someone in me say, “don’t think just do it.” I listened to this voice. However, reflecting on this thought as I chose eyes for the owls I noticed that I felt very nervous. No one was pushing me to do anything and yet I felt as if someone was peering over my shoulder whispering “this is not good enough, you are not an artist. Hurry up and get this silly thing finished.”

 

The intrusive idea became boringly repetitious as I worked. Annoying in the extreme. Discovering that I was making “reindeer owls” because I had simply made them up delighted me! And yet, there was that voice…

 

Suddenly, I had an illumination. My mother was a gifted artist who worked in many mediums. The child in me recognized very early on that there was no room in our house for more than one artist, although she did support my brother’s love for music, his athletic ability, and even complemented me on some of my poetry as a midlife adult, saying once “there must be some place for that kind of writing,” a kind of back handed complement, I see now. When I began publishing my work about 20 years ago my mother remained silent. Needless to say I had already spent 40 years as a closet journal keeper up to that point.

 

Throughout her life my mother was tight – lipped, sharply critical, and short on praise, a perfect Victorian woman. Eventually I came to understand that much of what she said was more about her than me, but unfortunately this mind/body knowledge and personal truth became mine only recently.

 

The fact that my mother’s voice was still attempting to kill off childhood joy and my need to create also reminded me that her perspective was just that, and not “truth.” It also speaks to memory in Nature and how this can manifest through family systems. It is amazing to me how pervasive childhood words and phrases stay with a person throughout her life. Gosh, I am 73 years old now!

 

My mother has been dead for many years and the difficulties between us have been resolved. Mostly, I just feel sad that she was never able to please herself, which is probably why she could not tolerate having a creative daughter. Envy stole her life in many ways… but it freed mine to appreciate the work of others.

 

I finished my little sculpture thanking Iren in my heart for helping me deal with a destructive part of myself that still lurks beneath the threshold waiting to sabotage any creative effort.

 

It is true. I am not an artist. I have no formal training although I grew up in New York’s metropolitan area and spent my childhood at art museums with my mother, and did inherit a sense of proportion, love of color and form as well as my mother’s love for Nature, although her connection was academic and mine comes through my heart.

 

Here in Abiquiu, especially with Iren, some part of me has been set free, and even though my humble creations are simple, I am possessed by the joy of making.

 

Thank you Iren

A Sense of Wonder…

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Whenever I go to my friend Iren’s house I am astonished anew by the art – work that defines this particular landscape, inside and out. Iren creates art in every medium I can think of often utilizing Nature as her collaborator by using found objects, wood, stone, bones, shells, metal, glass to create highly original sculptured art forms.

Take the garage for example, not usually a place one thinks of as an artist’s canvas. The windows are made of old bottles whose colors shine brilliantly – amber, grass green, and cobalt – in the late afternoon sun. There are wooden panels replete with metal objects arranged in such a way that my eye returns again and again to the powerful and intriguing designs; these panels are hanging on the walls above the carpenter’s equipment that lines one side of the room.

Iren uses the chain saw like an old friend to cut the log I brought with me in two. Turning next to the table saw, she shapes one piece of the pinion pine into what will become another piece of Iren’s most original art. Awed by her expertise using these machines I ask her where she learned these skills. Iren tells me that her father taught her to use these tools as a child. I suddenly think of the gorgeous dining room table and chairs inside the house built by her dad…

I am delighted, excited, honored to be witness to this process of hers. Ideas are flowing, even as she runs the edges of the split log over rough sandpaper. We both comment on the sweet intoxicating scent of the newly cut wood as she shaves off its irregular edges effortlessly. We run our hands over the extraordinarily beautiful design that the bark beetles created while they devoured the cambium layer beneath the bark of what once was the trunk or branch of a tree. I am amazed by the fact that this destructive beetle created such beauty while it was killing the evergreen, and how Iren’s creative mind and hand is turning a piece of this conifer into an object that is more than a canvas depicting natural art.

“We can drill three holes in the top for sticks.” This remark excites me. The use of the word “we” is more than generous, since I am simply observing. But it reveals a lot about Iren’s character, her generosity of spirit, the manner in which she invites and draws a person into her world… I suddenly imagine gnarled roots coming out of the newly flattened and lightly sanded top with its three holes… “Which size drill shall we use?” she asks next, as she shows me the different sizes and we both agree on the same one.

“We could bore holes for some stones on the side,” she states more as a question to which I instantly agree. In the next breath she hands me the wood and gives me a pencil to mark the places where the holes will go to complement Beetle’s designs. I love every idea that springs to her mind. Iren picks up the drill and I watch as the drill bit grinds three holes in seconds. Each is quickly sanded. We discuss what we might do to bring out the design. Perhaps a little more sanding. Olive oil and beeswax are two other possibilities.

We leave the garage in the golden late afternoon sun walking swiftly to the studio. My eyes fasten on the rounded metal sculpture with scissors to my left, and then jump to the beautifully sculptured adobe wall with a niche containing what looks like a small statue of a goddess that Iren built to hide a gas tank. Every time I pass the wall I want to go through the small inviting wooden door! As usual I am lagging behind her. There is just too much about this landscape to feast my eyes on.

Once inside the spacious studio with its tower that overlooks the river, and which has to be the best place in the world to watch the full moon appear over the eastern horizon, Iren pulls out tin boxes. One is hexagonal in shape. Even Iren’s containers intrigue me. I pour through the stones with the eyes of a child, thrilled. There are three holes to fill. The blue green copper pieces catch my eye. I choose two. “How about a piece of coral?” she asks. Perfect, I think, as I choose a small irregular shape, a fragment of the sea creature that lives at the bottom of the sea… Iren’s already rolling little glue balls and puts a couple in the holes before handing the wood to me to press the last glue ball and the three chosen objects into place.

Just like that we are done.

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“We’re running a bit late,” Iren remarks as I snap back into linear time. I shake my head trying to catch up with the switch. This whole art-making process took less than two hours and it’s time to go back to the house to feed my two little girls (that happen to be canines)…

As always I leave here with regret. Once again I have spent a mystical, magical afternoon at Iren’s house with a woman who stops time, allowing me to become the child I once was. Thank you Iren.

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Above: Picture of half a log – look at the designs!