Having fun with my colored pencils. There is nothing like sketching every line of a bird, especially one as ornate as a Great Horned Owl, to teach you what that bird looks like! Thank you to Sibley’s Guide to North America Birds for giving me such a detailed painting to work from.
Once again I find myself sitting in the local coffee shop starting a new winter holiday letter. Time seems to slide along regardless of my intentions. This year I’ve tried to focus on the moments as they pass. Because you cannot stop them. And I also never stop, other than when I’m sleeping. Each moment is a whirlwind of activity or a tumult of worried thoughts. Meanwhile the clock ticks and precious moments pass. I have begun purposely to stop: to sit still and notice what that feels like. It’s a strange sensation that can be hard to hold on to. But I’m getting better at it, and in that time I have added a soupçon of joy to my day. This practice has inspired me to nurture myself by singing, drawing, reading, listening to music, walking, sitting at a window and bird watching—or even writing!
Most days before dawn this winter I have looked out at the southern sky from my bedroom window. Multiple planets and constellations hang there. The brightest star is Antares, part of the constellation Scorpius. Starting in December Mercury, Venus and Saturn gather near Antares, to be joined by Mars in late January just as Venus is plunging down below the horizon. The crescent moon itself descended through the sky in early December until it passed Venus and Saturn, then faded completely as it moved out of the path of sunlight shining from the other side of the earth. As morning came on, the sun flooded the sky with pinks, reds, oranges, and a shimmer of pearl. Afterwards, I set to writing.
The holiday season was filled with the usual things: covering the evergreens with blue LED lights in the front yard and solar lights in the back yard, making a wreath from yard scraps and last year’s ribbons, setting up the artificial tree inside and hanging all the ornaments I have collected or been gifted over the years, baking cookies and caroling, then packing up cookies and other gifts and sending them off to family. But this year, we had the addition of a Christmas Vole: he camped out in our basement starting two weeks before Christmas. Occasionally, we would see him skittering from the basement door to the kitchen where he hid beneath the stove. After a month Dave was able to trap him with sunflower kernels and release him by the creek.
New Year’s was also eventful: We rediscovered Roxy Music and had so much fun listening to a couple of their albums while chatting and drinking local microbrews. Dave also made timpano at my request, and we ate it while watching Stanley Tucci’s BIG NIGHT. Good movie to watch while you are eating. Not so much if you aren’t: you will be hungry by the time the movie finishes.
This year Dave and I have found joy together in seemingly small things. We acquired a painting for the master bedroom after almost thirty years of searching. It now hangs above the bed on a wall that had been unadorned since we moved in. In our previous house, the space above the bed was occupied by my print of The Lovers by Klimt. The Klimt had hung in my apartment before we were married. I thought it was beautiful: the gold leaf and geometric patterns mixed with flowers, and the passionate embrace of the couple, brought me joy. Dave did not like the print so, out of a sense of fairness (he had put up with it for five years), when we were packing up to move again, I gave it away to friends. We vowed to visit art galleries once we were in Boulder and find a painting we BOTH liked for our new place. It was ten years before we found such a painting: No Food for Lazy Man by Kayeni from Ghana. It represents our philosophy of life, but it is not a bedroom painting and hangs in our foyer. We kept our eyes open for ten more years, buying smaller pieces that we scattered about the house: mountainscapes, Boulder Pearl Street Mall scenes by local artist Mike Brouse, photographs of birds (some of Dave’s) and beautiful stain glass panes made by our friend Julie Golden. But nothing that fit in the master bedroom. Then I saw a new painting by Mike called Connection: Two figures, a man and a woman, walking away from the viewer and physically separate, but with their bodies leaning in towards each other. When Dave saw it he said “Yes!” and Mike kindly painted a version of it in earth tones to match our bedroom décor. Add to that the floating oak frame Dave made, and the result is stunning. You can see a picture of it here.
We hope you are having a joyous 2019 so far. See you in the funny papers! (Mine are here. ;) )
You can never reach the horizon
You can never reach anything
Even the hand you hold
you are not holding
you are not even touching it
The feel of flesh on flesh
is merely the feel of repulsion--
negative against negative
electrons in the atoms at the surface of your skin
and the electrons on the surface of your lover’s hand
jump back from each other
It’s not that you don’t belong together
Its just that this is as together as you can get
Blame it on your skin’s electrons
They are just a little excited—
just negatively charged enough—
to repel other electrons in other atoms just enough
to create a pressure sense in us
to give us feedback that we feel as soft or rough or cold or hot
based on the relative excitement
of our electrons and the electrons
of those things we touch
When you pick up your cat for a hug
or a plate to clear it from the table
or the trash can to take it out to the curb
or any “thing” for any reason
you are creating a little force field between
you and that thing
But that field is not strong enough to blow
you and your cat apart or
send your plate through the window
or throw your trash can onto your neighbor’s
car as it goes by
It’s just enough so you’d notice.
Nothing ever touches in this world
not in the way we think
But no worries.
Physics has always worked this way
And if we hadn’t asked a bunch of questions
And done a few experiments
We would never know the difference.
Our brains just deal with it
So keep reaching for every horizon
just know you will never actually get there
And that is exactly how it’s meant to be.
It’s always been the journey that is important not the destination
—Ellen A. Wilkin
The Nutcracker Suite chime announces the arrival
of the Christmas mouse.
No cousins here, nor extended family
The rabbits left a while ago and
no critters have come since the last cat
who graced every chair and left fur everywhere
Those pheromones would make
any discriminating mouse scat
Yet here she came just days before
skating across the floor
where the stockings hung with care
and while the lights blinked in the windows
both up and down the stair
and the trees stood trimmed
and wreaths doors adorned
As mulled wine steamed and warmed
and hot chocolate frothed ready--
in the grate even the fire roared steady--
the carolers were about to sing!
And she comes skittering!
From the basement door
across the hearth
a dark furry body scurries
and into view does hove
just missing my slippered feet
and slides beneath the stove!
We must accept and add to our ken
that we are the victims of
the plans of mice, not men.
—Ellen A. Wilkin
I Am Art (In Memory of Vincent Ferrini)
I am art
this body of work
on mud-lined paths
under cottonwoods and among willows
armed and embracing
after dreams escaping
the dawn drenched in
that has no name
of words upon words
and the light from
prancing across the page
the resting on comfortable beds
the redressing of wounds
from reckless seething battle
the soft light of the moon
not even stirring the dark corner
where I lie
but inventing story
the whole while
the voyage beyond
the tiny yard and house
the pushing off from shore
the dark clouds and the rain
pouring into a leaky boat
The new land with lamp posts for trees
ancient marble and stone for grass
under my feet
the bright umbrellas chasing away grey
and the map to home
lying in among
tourists souvenirs stored in a tray
-- Ellen A. Wilkin
About the Collaboration
Julie: It was a pleasure to collaborate with Ellen, we had a great conversation and found we had a few things in common. Relating to the natural world, I hooked into the Cottonwood, one of my holiest of trees! It was a joy to paint "Bark of the Cottonwood" and make a new friend.
Ellen: We started from a common idea. We met to throw out ideas and we found common ground. Themes came up: the idea of art and creation and of artists and creators and how there are labels: she is a painter, he is a poet, she is a sculptor. Oh, and that person over there is NOT singer or a dancer or an illustrator. And we talked about how these conventions, these slots we put people in can stunt our growth as artists and can be harmful to the formation of the artist. We are creators of anything and everything.
Just before Julie contacted me about ArtSpeak, I had came across the poet Vincent Ferrini and I was caught by how he referred to himself as "the living poem." "I am the poem, the work of art, the art of living." And I thought he had something there. After Julie and my conversations about art, it all seemed to come to "We are the creation." It just all morphed together and I channeled something that became the poem, I am Art. And that is why the poem is dedicated to the memory of Vincent Ferrini. He was, in effect, part of the collaboration. I not only became friends with a new creative person in my community, I found a connection with a poet from another part of the country who is no longer with us, but whose legacy is rippling on through time and space.
Note: The art and poem pairing is on display at along with other visual and spoken word artists through end of May 2018 at First Congregational Church 1128 Pine St, Boulder, CO 80302 Phone: (303) 442-1787
Back yard birding reveals
the Black-Capped chickadee
Heard before its seen
A hooded eye for sure
Its back a mossy gray
And as soon as I've filled the feeder,
It flies from tree
in a blink
and snatches seed
and materializes back to tree
who was that masked bird?
A chipper thing--
it seems carefree
Hanging with its mate,
It sings merrily of its deeds
And The House Finch knows
how to build stable
its family perches on the gutters--
I often wake to the scritch-scratching of their tiny claws
outside my window--
Then moves to nestle in the branches of the birch
the cotton wood, the pine and,
At the appropriate time,
all alight on every bird feeder,
in every back yard
ubiquitous you might say
Ack ack ack
they would say back.
But I have to walk out along the creek to see
The squat Kingfisher
He calls from its wobbly throat
I never see him
he is up there somewhere
spying the creek from the top of a tree
He's looking down on me, I know
and only when a Red-Tailed Hawk
decides to land in a branch above him
does he take off and reveal his secret to me
The large crested head, the blue streak
I can't help but I.D.
And although he's checked out our feeder this year
its best to be within a stand of no less then three pine trees
to catch the Red-Breasted Nuthatch,
There he is
Facing tree roots,
He clings shyly to the bark
Upside down and
he calls, a nasal trumpet.
eyes sharp and lined
through in black
a shimmer of blue gray
for a cloak
He covers the tree
in one way or another
yet mostly hides from me
--Ellen A. Wilkin