doing the work

The molecules of spring in the air tease. I am itching to start a new quilt. New beginnings are just below the surface of the barely visible ground, still covered in a thin blanket of white on this cold late March morning. It’s that time of year that invites shedding, purging, and finishing. Closets have been cleaned out, preparations for a full body cleanse have been made, but all of my winter projects beg to be finished before I take on anything new. It’s time to do the work.

I spent the better part of the past week finishing the quilting of a dolphin inspired design that I had abandoned long ago. I had been too ambitious all those years ago, making a raw edge applique piece too big to accomplish the competent finish I desired. In an impusive moment, I had cut the whole thing up into pieces, thinking it would be easier to manage the machine quilted lines I was making. I remember feeling disappontment after sewing two pieces back together, how challenging it could be to make a curved seam under normal circumstances, but add batting and another layer of cloth, well, what a silly idea that had been. I had only ended up with an ievitable pucker and bulge never fully exorcised after mutilple rippings and re-sewings. All the pieces went into a bag after that, to be buried out of sight out of mind. I don’t know if it was the early call of spring or the call of this quilt to come out of hiding, but the urge to unearth the bag and iron out the long folded pieces for re-assembling on the design wall came hard and fast recently. Within three days I finished the last bits of quilting, sewed all the pieces together without the frustration of years ago, and fashioned a system of appliqued strips to enclose the seams. It would be a lot of extra work. Would it be worth it?

These winter months in the wake of my father’s passing have been quiet, as if inviting me to finally, cross over into a different way of occupying time. Not in the usual bursts of deadline driven effort that have characterized the tempo of my career as an architect and paid my mortgage. Everything about life at this time now feels, magically, more immediate. There is the time spent doing daily home health care work with elders, to being a daily presence for my daughter who is temporarily living at home again. Hours spent sewing, with needle and thread or yarn or fabric in my hands just becomes an extension of this new sense of dailyness that for some reason, holds the energy of Dad for me.

While sewing, a recently finished quilt that occupied wall space next to the worktable distracted me. It wasn’t right. I wasn’t in love. I was disturbed by the aspects of this quilt that, tweaked just a little, could easily evoke the feeling of a swastika. I had loved the making of the blocks of this quilt, large free form shapes in primary colors that were inspired by drama often seen in evening skies. As I sat and pinned and appliqued for the hours and hours it took to finish the back of the dolphin quilt, the flow of the work evntually led to a flash of clarity and courage to cut up this finished sky quilt into nine equal pieces. Which led to an entirely different way of assemblage that would require even more pinning and sewing of a system of self bindings into place.

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More extra work. And worth every moment for the transformation that became possible.

Doing the work hasn’t just led to completion. It has led to spaces where change is possible.

Then there are the many feet of knitting that has filled odd hours throughout this winter. Almost twenty-four feet to be exact, four scarves worth, three bound off with many many tails of yarn beginnings and ends to be woven in to make the finished edges.

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This work is equally repetitive, also hidden in the end, never seen except while in the process of its doing. It is the work of practice, of staying present to the beauty of a moment, however that might be manifesting. I have many hours in front of me of threading the ends of yarn into a large needle and finding just the right path for each one to disappear into. Is this what happens in death then? The thread of our life remaining interwoven into the memory of something worth remembering but now unseen, all traces of that thread’s beginning and end now consumed by the unknown?

Doing the work puts me in direct contact with this unknown. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

 

is this progress?

Its not that I actually spent endless hours in the kitchen. It’s that entire blocks of time, even whole days, were conditioned by the time required to prepare certain foods this past week. A clear pattern formed. Bursts of energy would go into kneading, rolling, rubbing, and chopping. The spaces in between would fill with anticipation, potent creative juice that would send me to a quilt or book chapter in process, a walk in the woods, or to my imagination for what the next meal would look like to accompany the fruits of my effort; a frittata that used up all the bits of leftover vegetables in the bin combined with the fresh eggs and feta cheese from a local farm store to go with the fresh bread, or a simple onion sauce to go with homemade pasta.

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Most of these efforts have been born out of a desire not to spend valuable time and money at the grocery store buying things I don’t need. All I really need is some good grain and flour for making bread; produce, meat, eggs and cheese from the local CISA farm I support. This past week, my experimentation with making levain starter has paid off, and the round crusty loaves, proofed and baked in a cast iron pot, emerged crackling as they cooled, yielding moist airy hearty sourdough crumb.

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One snowy cold afternoon I decided to try making filej, an Italian hand rolled spiral pasta from a recipe in “Cooking with Italian Grandmothers” by Jessica Theroux. I love this book full of hand-earned wisdom. Making the pasta took a long time. First kneading a stiff dough made from semolina flour and water. Then hours of rolling thin ropes to be cut into small pieces, each twisted around a skewer and formed into a smooth spiral with one swift roll with the palm of the hand.

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Like learning to ride a bike, once the feeling of the motion registered, the process became automatic, but each piece of pasta sliding off the skewer was still as different from, and as equally unique, as the last.

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I stood at the sink rubbing corn that had been boiled and soaked for a day, rubbing vigorously to remove the brown husks still clinging to the bright yellow surface of each kernal. Part of the large colander full would be used to make posole or corn stew of some sort. the other part would be ground and made into tortillas.

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So much time was being devoted to this task and I was loving the process until the thought popped into my head, but is this progress?

All week I had been loving the time invested in these tasks of turning something whole and raw into something delicious and nourishing. I wasn’t worried or second guessing why I found such enjoyment here. Only when the thought of this not so innocent question that came accompanied with hints of guilt and fear, did I think that I should stop the current food-inspired flow. I was forced to consider how my actions constituted onward movement toward a worthy destination. I struggled to find acceptance in the simple forward movement of my seemingly simple actions that allowed me to dwell in the meditative spirit of doing nothing, going nowhere.

I have to remember that anytime we create new capacities or resources, we also introduce new threats – so progress, defined in the way I have grown up, is never a simple forward movement. I think about my reluctance to embrace so many of the efficiencies created by industry, how processed food and fast food has introduced a whole new host of medical issues to reckon with, altering the core of systems we need for our very survival. And how ironically, our medical system has sped ahead to create even more efficiencies without even considering the impact of its supposed progress. I don’t want to accept this. I don’t have to accept this.

Eventually, I came back to knowing that there’s nothing wrong with doing nothing, going nowhere. The leftovers from the roasted chicken dinner with carrots and purple potatoes would combine with the corns for a hearty stew.

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I came back to feeling the compassion and equanimity that lives in this space. Yes, we do what we have to do to survive. And yes, infinite beauty and hope can co-exist in the simplest ways of survival too.

 

 

flying

I have started flying again. Not in an airplane kind of flying. This flying is just me, one moment standing on the ground on my two legs with the thought, taking a few steps to initiate lift off, becoming horizonal above the earth, and then simply gliding though the air. There is no surge or need for overt power here. It is as easy as taking a breath. As exhilirating as the most unanticipated discovery. As natural a movement as any other I have ever experienced.

Crazy, right? You could say I am dreaming. My eyes are closed. I am lying in bed presumably asleep. I know I have flown like this before, and I know this way of being with the world is completely normal. No surprise, the flash of lonliness that appears. Who else flies like this? Until now I’ve never thought to ask or consider that there could be a real conversation with another about flying. I’ve never trusted that I could be heard and be able to continue the conversation even if they didn’t see or understand it my way.

A friend recently sent me a podcast of Brene Brown and Krista Tippett about ‘the spiritual practice of belonging’. (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/on-being-with-krista-tippett/id150892556?mt=2&i=1000401797450)  It is a wonderful conversation, where Brene Brown offers this,
“What if loneliness is driven, often, by changing who we are, being perfect, saying what we’re supposed to. What is loneliness is driven in part by our lack of authenticity?”

It would be easy for me to dismiss this flying as just a figment of imagination, to want the acceptance that would come from such a view. But that would not be an authentic me. To acknowledge my own desperate wanting to belong I need to say, yes, I want to be part of something, AND, I want to stand alone, to fly all by myself, when I need to. It’s terrifying. But as Brene Brown goes on to say, “Your level of true belonging can never be greater than your willingness to stand alone and be yourself.”

It is no coincidence that another friend also recently recommended I watch a Netflix series called Sense8. We had been talking about unrest in the world, how the black & white of political/economic separation is creating a context that is increasing unbearable to even talk about. He has found some hope in this show that depicts a world where difference can be celebrated through ultimate connectivity and intimacy with others across the globe, within an intact individual identity that can communicate telepathically. It is classified as science fiction, but for me, this show vibrates with a completely believable portrayal of humanity offered in both difficult and beautiful, always heartfelt, ways of love.

Last spring I ventured deeper than usual into the woods in front of the swamp I knew was there, but had never actually seen. There was a call of the wild that I had been hearing in the days prior, and finally couldn’t resist. It turned out to be a nest of herons located high up in a lone tree growing out of the middle of the water. As Yogi and Nora romped in the vastness of the swamp waters, I watched as the birds flew back and forth from this perch, emitting their distinctive cries. there was a lumbering grace to the large bird being horizontal in a way that felt familiar.

I want to remember this feeling of gliding so easily between worlds, between truly authentic me and a community that can hold a truly diverse and sustainable way. A world where flying like a bird, or communicating telepathically, or even standing alone, can be normal too.

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orb

It was Monday morning, the third sunrise after Dad’s passing. We had started looking at photos, and Mom had pulled out a shot of the two of them that would be perfect for the obituary. I offered to crop in, the way I like to do on my iphone and turned on the camera function that shows me the last photo taken in the lower left corner of the screen. I hadn’t taken but one picture in the past three days, unusual for me as I am always snapping something that I see here or there. So I was surprised to see an image I didn’t recognize at all there. A flash of thrill went through me. I opened the photo full frame to find a scene of two small cabins at a water’s edge taken on a cloudy day. It wasn’t computing, what this photo was, where it was taken, or how it had landed in my camera. Looking more closely I couldn’t ignore the large milky orb right in the middle of the red cabin that filled the center of the photo. Or a smaller fainter orb about the same size below it.

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Definition of orb (from Merriman-Webster online)

1: any of the concentric spheres in old astronomy surrounding the earth and
carrying the celestial bodies in their revolutions
2: archaic : something circular : circle, orbit
3: a spherical body; especially : a spherical celestial object
4: eye
5: a sphere surmounted by a cross symbolizing kingly power and justice

Seeing orbs in photos is controversial. Some believe it is a trick of the camera lense. Others believe it is a visible presence of a spirit in celestial form. I don’t have a hard time believing the latter. Whenever I see an orb in a photo, especially as prominently as this one, I feel a shiver go through me. My heart stops for just the briefest moment to register the energy of what is there. Looking down at this unrecognizable image in the wake of Dad’s passing, I wondered what someone, maybe even Dad, was trying to tell me.

Oh, I checked the time it was taken, 9:48 pm the night before (January 22). But I had been sound asleep with the phone on the bedstand next to me. I checked all the ways a photo could land in my album, through a mesage or what’s app chat. Nothing. I showed it to my brother who cycled through every rational explanation and came up blank, leaving even him with an uncharacteristic expression of confusion and resignation.

Two weeks have now passed and I continue to be haunted by this photo that still sits prominently in this place on my phone. It continues to taunt me to decipher its meaning. It’s no secret that I covet spherical forms, collect crystal spheres, embed spherical energy into my quilts, even watch for how the sun rearranges itself through the trees to be seen in the forest when I am there.

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For someone who thrives on seeing meaning and connection in all things, this continues to be a mystery that offers no clues.

So I trust. I trust that the meaning will reveal itself in time. I trust that whatever part Dad has in this comes from his heart, that maybe he is letting me know how much he trusted too.

 

a week

Dad’s obituary will run in tomorrow’s newspaper. I’ve had a week now to move through a range of shock, disbelief, grief, and acceptance of his passing, Surrounded by family, Dad died peacefully in his own bed after only one day of hospice. My mother, brother, and I have been re-adjusting to the feeling of three, not four. I don’t know what day it is. The space Dad has left is a huge culmination of molecules affected. The air we walk through here now contains both his essence and his absence. The words of sympathy and admiration for this man who forged an incredible life centered on family, friends, and community have been pouring in and we are resting in the truth of just how significanty Dad touched others.

When I am here, I love to capture the beautiful view my parents enjoy from their east facing exposure to Canandaigua Lake and the hills beyond. I have shared the glorious sunrises that fill the sky with color and drama during all seasons. I love them all, but it is the winter scenes that capture the spirit of something primal that I suspect Dad felt too. There is nothing more exhilirating than stark and cold of a brilliant winter day.

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Dad loved to downhill ski. He became part of a devoted group of friends who would travel to Aspen each year. After several seasons of this, he decided to initiate the rest of us, taking us to Montreal to ski in sub zero cold one winter weekend. It took. We became a family of skiers through his passion, and had years of weekends together travelling to our beloved Holimont in Ellicottville NY early on Saturday mornings to be the first on the slopes, not waiting for lunch to eat Dad’s famous egg and olive sandwiches for breakfast in the car from the large lunch basket which we all whole-heartedly contributed to packing the night before. There was always fun apres ski with friends after the last runs, and then we’d drive to Jamestown to spend the night with our Gramma Ford, arriving to the smells of her home cooking that Dad grew up with. We would be back on the slopes again first thing Sunday morning, ski all day, then make the three hour drive home, always stopping for some of his favorite Perry’s ice cream on the way. Black raspberry was his favorite. Years of family ski trips to Vermont and Colorado followed. He and Mom skied in the Alps. He became known for his signature one piece Bogner suit and white hat. And finally, retired here to the Bristol Hills west of Canandaigua Lake, he would ski daily at his beloved Bristol Mountain, just minutes away from home.

When Dad broke his leg two years ago at the age of 83, skiing, he mourned his loss of time on the slopes. He never did ski again.

A week has gone by, and the snow that was here for Dad’s spirit to merge with is gone. Rest in peace Dad.

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here and there

I am back with my parents in western New York State for the week. Ben is with me this time, a holiday visit to stretch across the space between Christmas spent apart from Nana and Papa this year as they continued their current journey with convelescence. Instead of making the kuebies (one of Dad’s favorite Christmas cookies) that are typically made on Christmas Eve, I made them on New Years Day, and the tin now sits on the table here as a reminder of traditions we have shared for so many years past. It’s not that that we haven’t had a Christmas apart in our individual homes ever before. It’s just that Mom and Dad coming to us in Massachusetts these past twenty years had become a tradition of its own. This year was just different, bittersweet as Molly Ben and their father John cocooned in my country home with the snow and peace of the day.

Still, feeling the difference on Christmas Day, worried, Ben asked if his grandparents were going to die. We all did our best to reassure him that they just needed to heal from their repsective surgeries, that it would be too hard for them to travel this year. Ben is no stranger to death. He remembers his Grammy K and Great Gramma Gigi, both had come to live in our community when they needed more support, both eventually moving to nursing homes where Ben would visit and provide comfort before they passed. One of us added philosophically that as human beings, we all age, just like Grammy K and Gramma GiGi, and we all die someday, trying to put the cycle of life into perspective for Ben. We even talked about Desi, our very old cat who now lived with John and was beginning to fail. Little did we know that the process of Desi letting go would begin so soon, that she would stop eating the day after Christmas, that Ben would be witness again to the poignant process of death.

I now sit for hours in my favorite chair here in the wee hours knitting, waiting for the sun, my view out to the woods at the side of my parents house, and remember the sunrise captured here a month ago.

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I took the image home and let it simmer. There is something about the contrast of red on dark with glimpses of hills and sky between a tangle of bare winter branches that had captured my attention. My new stock of hand-dyed cloth made there in the fall, in the same hills as this image, was now sitting here on my studio work table alongside piles of commerical cloth scraps. It wasn’t long before I began to experiement with contrasts here too.

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The developing blocks went up on my design board and it took only days to piece together a composition that evoked for me, the feeling of being there, watching for the sun’s playful presence. Now back here, sitting in the chair, waiting for sunrise, I travel across the space of my imagination between here and there, to my studio there, to time spent sewing it all together, knowing that my heart will be holding the essence of being here with my beloved parents at the same time.

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Desi died the day after we arrived here. She was a beauty. My last image of her was in John’s lap New Year’s Day, a skeleten with fur, still emanating her beauty as John stoked her gently, back and forth, back and forth.

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extremes

On Christmas day in the woodlands behind home, an extremely beautiful light was seen emerging from behind an otherwise blustery, snowy display of winter.

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Today was also one of those spectacular winter days with intense bright sun and frigid air, extremes that also came together in a most compelling and refreshing way. It was the kind of day that was impossible to stay indoors for too long. Walking into the woods, body wrapped in layers of down and wool and protective footwear, felt really good on the one hand. It also felt really hard on the other. Soft fluffy snow on top of crunchy crusted over snow wasn’t deep enough for snow shoes, but just deep enough to make each step a slippery challenge. I was frustrated that I hadn’t brought my cramp-ons but I wasn’t going to turn back. Cranky and feeling the pressure of moving too slow, I urged Molly to go ahead, even if I didn’t want her too. The extreme beauty of the day had tossed me back into the turmoil of extreme emotion. What was this? How dare these extremes play with me so. Bittersweet feelings, my almost sixty year old body and soul wanting to just move as it wanted to move, not any faster, not any slower, not to the expectation of any other. I thought of all the years when my younger body and soul moved fast, really fast, and no doubt projected what could only be felt as the nature of my extreme energy then, to whatever companion I was with. I witnessed the flow of cool clear water co-existing with the beauty of crystallized snow,

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compassion for my younger difficult self washed in, and I eventually re-united with Molly further up the path.

My current knitted project is more ambitious than usual. Using number six needles and thinner yarn, I have been experimenting with texture, mixing knit and purl, and a palette of color that features extremes as well, warm white accent in relation to purple, blue, green and gold. This one is taking a really long time. It evokes something traditional, perhaps even Peruvian or South American, as if to create some sort of context for the reality of my daughter actually being home here, in this very different home than where her heart has been for the past three years. I set the two small balls of yarn I am working with down into the bowl of crystals this morning (so Yogi won’t get them).

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Another kind of extreme. Of soft glowing color resting with very hard and and dense, but equally glowing color. Both earth’s elements. The only seemingly insignificant difference is that the molecules that define one are simply moving slower than the molecules of the of other…