17 December 2008

Onboard the Martha's Vineyard Ferry

The Chair


The Happy Couple

The Waiting

08 December 2008

Death of a Living Legend

Odetta Holmes
(December 31, 1930 – December 2, 2008)

I never knew much about Odetta's life, or even her music. I didn't know about her work as a champion of civil rights; I didn't know she'd received the NEA's National Medal of Arts. I was unaware that the Library of Congress had given her a Living Legend Award. All to my discredit. Yet, somehow, I was aware of Odetta's influence and it felt legendary.

Her name always carried a heaviness, a somber, awe-inspiring sense of purpose for me.

It was all because of one song.

I was 6 or 7 years old. My older brother was playing the then new, hot LP The Original Hits of Right Now Plus Some Heavies From The Motion Picture "Easy Rider". Odetta's mellow, measured, grave and resonant tones on "The Ballad of Easy Rider" created a hushed, serious moment in the midst of the album's pop and rock frivolity that was not lost on my young self.

"All he wanted/
Was to be free..."

This refrain has always haunted me.

Too young to experience much of the 60s while they happened, (except the Hula Hoop, which has a surprisingly long and fascinating history, by the way) I tried to catch up during college. On a study-abroad trip one summer, I joined a long queue of German students filing into a classroom to finally watch the infamous, "Heavies"-laden Easy Rider.

To my horror, it was dubbed. My German not yet being very good, I missed most of the dialogue, although the dubbing did lend a note of hilarity. (That summer I also caught Broadway Danny Rose in a German theater. Woody Allen speaking German with someone else's voice. That was way more psychedelic than the LSD scenes in Easy Rider!)

Lost without translation, I wasn't getting very much out of the movie. Giving up on the film, I started watching the audience. The students were mesmerized, sitting in rapt attention, staring open-jawed at the screen, as if in a collective state of shock. I was puzzled. I mean, it was 1984, people! Motorcycles, drugs, hippies...that was old news. Germany couldn't be that far behind the times!

Afterward, in conversation, I discovered the reason for the mass hypnosis. It wasn't the counter-culture attitude of the protagonists that fascinated the ueber-controlled German population: it was the simple breadth of the horizon that blew them away.

Nowhere in Germany (or maybe Europe, for that matter) can you get on a motorcycle and just DRIVE. Certainly not on deserted open road, without buildings surrounding you and towns constantly popping up. No wild, wind-in-your-hair, flag-shirt-fluttering-on-your-back, "God is dead/drive he said"* experience available to them. In less miles than Hopper and Fonda traversed on their epic ride from Los Angeles to New Orleans, all within the United States, a Munich biker would find herself arriving in Moscow, having crossed at least 4 borders.

The Germans responded to the panoramic vistas shown in Easy Rider like a starving man to food. They couldn't get enough, despite being unable to fully digest what they took in.

I listened to them with jaded amusement, all the while a bit shocked by their shock.

And then Odetta's voice floated through my mind.

"All he wanted/
Was to be free.."

That's what the German students saw in the movie, what they felt in the scenes of endless, open road. And they wanted it too.


A basic human desire. A need. As Odetta knew, a requirement.

From a December 3, 2008 Los Angeles Times article about Odetta:

The traditional prison songs that she learned in her early days hit home the hardest and helped her come to terms with what she called the deep-seated hate and fury in her.

"As I did those songs, I could work on my hate and fury without being antisocial," she recalled. "Through those songs, I learned things about the history of black people in this country that the historians in school had not been willing to tell us about or had lied about."
[Edited to include Spoiler Alert on Easy Rider!!! Read further at your own peril.]

"All he wanted/
Was to be free..."

The freedom-seeking, motorcycling hippies are killed at the end of Easy Rider, you know.

"And that's the way/
It turned out to be..."

Thank you, Odetta. I hope you found freedom before you crossed over.

*This is a line of poetry from the novel Drive, He Said by Jeremy Larner. (You can find reference to it if you follow this link, scroll down and click more.) Larner's novel was allegedly inspired by a poignant poem of Robert Creeley's entitled I Know A Man.

30 November 2008

Subtle Beauty

November 30th already! Fall's glorious colourations have faded in my woods, but, even with her psychedelia temporarily dimmed, Mother Nature continues to create spectacular tableaux.

20 November 2008

14 November 2008

Drink The Messenger

That's it. From now on, I am taking the advice of my tea.

What? Is she crazy? Desperate? Or simply open to whatever clues and signs the Universe sends, no matter the messenger?

"When we practice listening, we become intuitive"

I'd like to think the last, that I am taking this tea-bag slogan to heart and practicing my listening. There's a lot to know and a lot to learn, and you just can't always predict whence the information may come.

I remember, in the way-back when I was teaching pre-school, one day I used a famous book to show the kids how to draw. It was a very structured, easy and effective method of helping young ones create recognizable objects on paper, instead of what looks to us adults like scribbles.

We went through several of the examples: a teddy bear, a chair, some fruit. Then I gave the kids a choice of items from the pictures in front of me. A high-pitched, excited voice was raised: "Can we draw a sphinx?" Uh...(panic—that wasn't in the book!) After a moment of silence I admitted, "I don't know how to draw a sphinx, Nathaniel." "It's ok, " he comforted me, "I'll show you." And he did.

Not every message the Universe sends has that same wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee-it's-spilling-in-your-lap kind of action. Sometimes it is just utilitarian stuff. The other day, for instance, I went out in the rather chilly afternoon to hang up some laundry. To my shock and dismay I found my way barred by an animal. A very still, possibly dead, animal. A skunk animal. Oh, no. How did a skunk end up in the middle of my lawn in broad daylight, probably dead? (And where is Miss Marple when I need her? Or better yet, Kinky Friedman!)

And how incredibly fortunate that Brujo hadn't noticed it when he went out earlier. (Believe me, this is tremendous luck. Brujo loves to play with skunks—he bites at the spray as it hits him in the face— and he adores almost nothing more than a good, fresh, sloppy carcass to roll in. Who'd've thought our cute, playful, lap-lovin', bath-hatin' Boston Terrier puppy would turn out to be such a Mighty Hunter that he needs to be masked in the scent of his prey at all times?)

I took the laundry back inside (Why? I dunno. Shock? To keep the skunk smell off of it?) and made the announcement. Chris went out and returned with the news that "...she's not only merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead." Poor skunk, but, whew. My great worry had been that the skunk was sick or injured and I would have to figure out how to care for it. (You may have guessed, and rightly, that that sort of thing has happened to me before—though never with an animal who possesses quite such a persuasive defense mechanism—and that I really wasn't feeling up to the task.)

So out we went for the burial. We decided that over the fence was the safest spot, as Brujo would be unable to retrieve, and possibly attempt to resuscitate ("C'mon, let's play!"), the body from there. Bringing the skunk and a shovel, we trudged down the hill, through the bit of woods to the far left fence corner. When the deed was done, and we had wished the skunk spirit safe journey, we turned to go back inside. There in front of us was the crushed remains of the far right fence corner, the large dead tree that had deformed it, and a perfect escape-route for our adventure-lovin', runs-at-moving-vehicles, doesn't-necessarily-come-when-you-call-him, dog.

Well, you can imagine how we spent the rest of the afternoon, and, yes, I did finally get that laundry hung out. Back inside later on, our brains beginning to warm up, Chris and I had the same thought at almost the same moment: if it hadn't been for the dead skunk in the middle of the lawn, we'd have never known about the fence.

So, far be it from me to ignore a message, however it arrives.

As a public service, in case you haven't had time to read your tea bags lately or you don't get this kind of tea, I'll share some more of the wisdom, 'cause you never know when it might come in handy:

Empty yourself and let the universe fill you.

Your heartbeat is the rhythm of your soul.

Delight the world with kindness, grace, and compassion.

Appreciate yourself and honor your soul.

Every heartbeat creates a miracle.

10 November 2008

A Tale Of Two Minds

Someone left this about the house, and I simply couldn't resist picking it up. I haven't even thought about this book since high school but, you know what? It's marvelous stuff!

Certainly, Dickens is rightly poked fun at for so obviously "being paid by the word", and his reliance on the most ludicrous of coincidences to execute his plots is, well, ludicrous.

(For the life of me, I cannot figure out how it is that two men, who just happen to look so much alike as to pass each for the other—despite one being French and one English—both fall so madly in love with a woman they barely know, whose character is so thinly-drawn as to consist solely of long blond hair, obedience to rules, and an insistent soppy-saccharine compassion, that they would each give their life for her happiness and safety, but...that's Dickens.)

Still, there is something here of brilliance. So many of his passages possess a rare and soulful elegance of both syntax and meaning. Witness this description of Darnay meeting the other aristocrats in prison:

So strangely clouded were these refinements by the prison manners and gloom, so spectral did they become in the inappropriate squalor and misery through which they were seen, that Charles Darnay seemed to stand in company of the dead. Ghosts all! The ghost of beauty, the ghost of stateliness, the ghost of elegance, the ghost of pride, the ghost of frivolity, the ghost of wit, the ghost of youth, the ghost of age—all waiting their dismissal from the desolate shore, all turning on him eyes that were changed by the death they had died in coming there.*

It's beautiful. Honestly, brings tears to my eyes (though that may also be the must and mildew wafting off the pages themselves...)

The craziest part of rereading this book, is how much, and how quickly, my thought patterns have become infected by Dickens' style. Perhaps you have picked that up in the paragraphs above, but here is an even clearer example. Yesterday I made a big pot of Cheese Beans from the original Moosewood Cookbook (the recipe is massacred in the revised edition and I don't recommend it) and my carnivorous brother announced that it tasted like vomit. This is the answer my Dickens-saturated brain produced:

"Tastes like vomit, Sir, I say you nay! Now, had you declaimed that yon warm cookpot contained a material which, upon first and cursory examination, did resemble vomit by looks alone, I might be inclined to agree—'tis true that the swirling sauce in company of so many indistinguishable bits and cutouts of vegetable matter and other edibles does come over in appearance altogether autumnal or spew-like in hue, but good Sir, that is in appearance alone! One breath of the sweet and savory aroma, one tiny morsel slipped delicately between the lips and the truth is out. 'Tis ambrosial in the extreme, Sir! And I , for one, intend to partake of it heartily, and, if need be, with the blindfold of Justice herself, that most impartial of Saintly Virtues, upon mine eyes to disguise any apparition of puke."

*Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. 1962, New York, London, Richmond Hill, Ontario: Scholastic Book Services,7th printing, pg 316

07 November 2008

A Sheepish Obsession

I have become enchanted by fiber. Utterly, completely ensorcelled.

Mesmerized by mohair, lured by llama, beguiled by bamboo, conned by cashmere, won by wool.

How do I know?

Even when I am sorting through a poorly shorn or sloppily skirted fleece, audibly bemoaning the profusion of too-short-to-use second cuts, complaining about the multitude of friable, sunburned tips, deploring the way-too-nasty-to-clean giant
dung tags I have to snip out and drop, somehow without touching them, into the compost bag, I do so with undertones of awe.

Has the rich smell wafting off a dripping-with-lanolin Border Leicester lamb fleece clouded my wit? The glistening, starry midnight of the downy
thel, (undercoat) of a black Icelandic bedazzled my common sense? The indescribable satiny-softness of Kid Mohair abducted my intelligence? The luminous, rich colors of hand-dyed Bombyx Silk blinded my judgment?

Perhaps, all of the above.

And this: what slips through my fingers as I wash and card and spin is not wool, or alpaca, or linen. It is energy on the brink of transformation. It is the art-i-fact of some animal or plant's cycle of growth. It is a part of the Life-force that is about to become clothing or craft. It is a gift from Nature. It is Food for the Soul.

31 October 2008

Moon Days

“When I admire the wonder of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in worship of the Creator” ~Mahatma Ghandi

I know I owe you a full report on the NYS Sheep and Wool Festival, and a post about Photo District News' Photoplus Expo, but, it being Halloween (or Samhain, as it used to be known in parts of old Europe), my mind's gone Lunar.

"The moon develops the imagination, as chemicals develop photographic images." ~Sheila Ballantyne

For me, this night signifies the end of the fruiting, playful, outdoors time of the year, and the beginning of months of quiet and introspection. I fantasize having many long, moonlit nights to read, spin, knit, write, and generally develop my creativity. I also look forward to warm fires, root vegetable casseroles, festive gatherings of friends and family, and movie-nights, my Sweetie and I huddled under a blanket with a puppy or kitty lap-warmer.

"Three things cannot be long hidden, the moon, the sun, and the truth." ~Buddha

The moon's silvery glow seems, at times, to possess the x-ray-like power of revealing that which is normally hidden. Only the moon makes clear the soul-structure of our bones, not their physicality. Maybe this is why moonlight can yield access to feelings and thoughts we suppress in the daylight hours, whether they be poetry or lunacy. (And how often are the two confused!)
“See how nature - trees, flowers, grass - grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence...we need silence to be able to touch souls.” ~Mother Teresa

The cold time of year often feels silent to me. And this silence somehow opens up a different perspective, a whole new world—like that catches-your-breath feeling you get when you step out early in the morning onto last night's snow. The world seems pure and new and wondrously strange. It's the closest I'll ever get to walking on the moon.
"You've got the sun, you've got the moon, and you've got the Rolling Stones." ~Keith Richards

What more can be said?

21 October 2008

20 October 2008


10 October 2008

Paintbox Hillsides

I know there's been a delay in the writing and I apologize, but I've been away on assignment soaking in one of the most spectacular landscapes in the Northeast (USA). This is just a tiny taste of what it looks like right now in Vermont.

05 October 2008

After The Storm

02 October 2008


The wet weather doesn't seem ready to stop, but it has its crystalline moments.

28 September 2008

Autumn Jewels

24 September 2008

Spoken For (Part 1)

A deer just told me off. Really. Brujo and I were enjoying our evening constitutional when he paused to take care of some personal business. While waiting for him, I chanced to look up and not 20 feet away from us stood a doe, 4 little ones ranged out behind her, all feeding.

None of them moved, despite our proximity, though the Momma kept her eyes on us. Brujo must have eaten something he shouldn't have today, because he was taking a bit longer than usual. Ms. Doe seemed to know this and she had absolutely no patience for it. After the interval she thought appropriate had passed, she glared at me and stamped her left front hoof, clearly telling us to move on!

The fawns paused in their masticating, but didn't run. They had ultimate faith in their Momma and waited on her signal. Chastened by her forceful stare, I nodded, and urged Brujo to hurry it along. We trotted off and all five of them put their heads down to resume their meal.

This isn't the first time a wild animal has "spoken" to me (though I don't believe I have ever been told to shove off before.) It is always a magical and humbling experience. The wonder of it stays with me for days—that feeling of being touched by the extraordinary, in the middle of a very mundane moment, has a way of making all moments shiver with possibility.

How does it feel when wild creatures contact you?

23 September 2008

Don Juan el Brujo

You'll be seeing more of Brujo soon as he is a key player in the drama unfolding within and around me. Stay tuned.

16 September 2008

September Verdure (With Recipe)

Green, green, green! Is there a color that says "Alive!" more insistently? Energy readers see the heart chakra as a beautiful, translucent green, the color of Nature's love. Doesn't it make you feel vital?

It's September 16th—in my part of the Northern Hemisphere green is already starting to give way to yellow, orange and red so we have to get it (and preserve it) while it lasts.

On a recent trip to the farmer's market, I fell in love with the pure verdancy of the tomatillos and the poblano peppers. Very different hues, both singing life at full volume. So I took some home. (Isn't the contrast in texture between the tomatillo husk and fruit amazing?)

Salsa Verde seemed the perfect way to combine these delicacies, so I brewed up my first-ever batch. My version is mildly hot, fat-free, super easy, and fabulously green.

Salsa Verde

A dozen-ish tomatillos
1 poblano pepper
1 medium onion, preferably a sweet variety, like Vidalia
Fresh garlic to taste (I used 4 or 5 cloves)
1/2 large bunch cilantro
1 lime
Pinch of salt

Remove the husks from the tomatillos and wash off the waxy coating underneath. Chop the tomatillos, pepper, onion and garlic and stew together with a small amount of water until quite soft. Let cool. (I put mine in the refrigerator for a couple of days until I had time for the next step.) It will look like this:

Not green enough yet!

Chop the cilantro (including stems),

and juice the lime.

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Puree together until smooth. Adjust salt to taste. Serve warm, room temperature, cold or (see below) frozen.

A bit tart, a bit sweet, with a flavorful bouquet I haven't found in jarred or restaurant salsa. I was tempted to eat some for dessert!

To keep the green going all year, freeze or can. I froze some and then scraped a little out of the top of the jar to get the lid to fit more snugly. It made a superb (though unusual) sorbet. Try it and let me know what you think!

08 September 2008


You know how life gets busy and you can become jaded? How sometimes it is so easy to stop paying real attention to what and whom you love? To choose, instead, to feel stressed, harassed, unappreciated, over-worked and sorry for yourself? I do.

But one day, if you are very, very lucky, your Sweetheart limps over to you, listing waay to one side cause he is having a disc problem flare up and is in excruciating pain. He stops and leans on the tallest available piece of furniture, one hand pressed to his hip, as if with his fingers alone he could stem the agony. He looks you in the eyes and tiny tears roll down his face, though he is fighting like mad to hold them back. He mouths a choked half-sentence to you, whispering for your ears only a truth he can barely allow to be real:

Your fingers float into the air of their own accord; they brush the wetness from his cheeks while you gaze into his beautiful, raw and open face. And then, if grace is truly with you that day, you experience a moment like no other. In an instant you are awake to how very much you love him, and all the tenderness inside you bursts out from under mounds of anxiety and to-do lists. You are awash in a healing balm so strong that all the soft, vulnerable, over-protected parts of you throw a sudden party. They can breathe freely again, finally, after months and months of slow asphyxiation!

And you (yes, like Harry Potter) are reminded once more that the ability to love is the single greatest power in the world, and that you, self-absorbed and over-anxious as you may at times be, possess that power in great abundance.

Then, and only if you are
the most fortunate and blessed being on Earth, your Sweetheart carefully, with great effort, bends down to kiss you.