My yoga teacher

My yoga teacher

“Whether our practice strengthens our ability to be present with all that we experience is the only criteria we need for what we do or don’t do on the mat.”
— Donna Farhi, Bringing Yoga to Life

I’ve mentioned before that the new thing in my life these days is yoga.  I am very much a novice, having taken only a dozen or so beginning classes, but I like it very much and sometimes even feel I need it, like a craving.  And it will surprise no one that I’ve also been reading  few books about yoga.  Often a writer’s words help me to articulate and name the feelings and thoughts that rise from my direct experience.

The following words from Donna Farhi’s Bringing Yoga to Life resonated with me and gave me food for thought:

“Any practice can be used as a shield to protect us from life. . . . we can make schedules, control, and otherwise fill up our day with so many plans that there is not even the smallest crack for an outside influence to seep in.”

“An important part of learning to channel our energies is increasing our tolerance for staying in the pause between desire and satisfaction. . . . learning to be in the pause between a feeling and a reaction.”

So as you focus on your breath and the pause between inhaling and exhaling, allow the pause to be “a neutral place from which to make a new beginning.”

“To the degree that the mind is preoccupied with memories of the past and fantasies of the future, that is the degree to which we cannot reside in the present moment.”

“. . . there is no experience that is permanent and intransigent.”

“Working with discrete increments of awareness gives us the ability to separate and define our day-to-day experience as multidimensional rather than the smear of consciousness that is the product of the untrained mind.”

“What does incremental awareness afford us?  First of all, it allows us to reclaim our lives and the joy of everyday experiences.  We become actualists instead of theorists or fantasists.  We stop choosing for or against our experience or the assumption that it should somehow be different than it is.  Once we drop these assumptions, we can start choosing to open ourselves to all of our experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant.”

“Whatever connects us to our essence is our practice.  Whatever clears our head so we can see what is important is our practice.  Once we get clear that we are practicing to live, not living to practice, we can bring the concept of formal practice into perspective.  If our formal practice is utterly disassociated from our everyday lives, no amount of time on the mat will bring us peace of mind.”

“. . . it matters less what we do in practice than how we do it and why we do it.”

“. . . this radical process called yoga asks us to live without solidifying our viewpoint or fixing our point of reference.  There is no experience from our past that needs become a fulcrum for the one we are having now — or the experience we have yet to have.”

“We begin to create a more peaceful world the moment we develop the tolerance to be with a feeling without having to immediately act upon it.”

“. . . the practice is the reward.”

Gearing Up for Halloween

October 26, 2016

Current display at the Greenwood Library

Current display at the Greenwood Library

Every year businesses in the Greenwood and Phinney neighborhoods host a daytime trick-or-treat walk, and this year is no exception.  Here is the display advertising the event, complete with a few new crows in witch hats!

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Library staff who are scheduled to work that day are welcome to dress up in costume.  I’ve always had lukewarm feelings about Halloween and never felt very comfortable dressing in a costume.  Maybe one’s feelings about this holiday are formed during childhood, and we never went trick-or-treating when we were kids.  My parents held the view that this activity was akin to begging and therefore shameful (?!?) in some way.  My mother would buy candy bars to give to us on Halloween so we wouldn’t feel deprived!

I don’t hold the same views as my parents did, and I enjoy seeing how excited kids become when dressed up and given candy treats.  It’s a festive occasion.  I still do not like to dress up in costumes — too exhibitionist for me.  Perhaps I should stretch myself and move out of my comfort zone.  But I don’t think so.

Happy Halloween!

New October display at the Greenwood Library

New October display at the Greenwood Library

The new October display is up at the Greenwood Library.  I scanned my crow paintings and used them to decorate the bulletin board and surrounds for the interior book drops:

Book drop surround

Book drop surrounds

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Painting Crows

September 27, 2016

Recent watercolor paintings of crows

Recent watercolor paintings of crows

“All that is wild, is winged.”
— Jay Griffiths

I’ve been painting crows in preparation for some October displays at the library where I work.  I have plenty of models — I bet I see at least one crow every time I step outside.  With my hearing loss, I no longer hear the high-pitched tweets of many songbirds, but I still hear the raucous call of cawing crows.  I’m thankful for that!

They are ubiquitous, as noted in the following poem.  I love how Mary Oliver calls them the “deep muscle of the world.”

Crows
by Mary Oliver

From a single grain they have multiplied.
When you look in the eyes of one
you have seen them all.

At the edges of highways
they pick at limp things.
They are anything but refined.

Or they fly out over the corn
like pellets of black fire,
like overlords.

Crow is crow, you say.
What else is there to say?
Drive down any road,

take a train or an airplane
across the world, leave
your old life behind,

die and be born again —
wherever you arrive
they’ll be there first,

glossy and rowdy
and indistinguishable.
The deep muscle of the world.

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Fading Hydrangeas

September 26, 2016

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Hydrangeas are maybe my favorite flower.  I love their colors, a changing palette — they age so beautifully.  And I love their round shape.  Even this late in the season, I see hydrangeas as fresh as the one above, which I photographed at the ocean in Bandon, Oregon.  But more common are those that are past their peak, fading, fading.

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Painting hydrangeas

Painting hydrangeas

Watercolor sketch of hydrangeas

Watercolor sketch of hydrangeas

 

 

Quintessential Minnesota

September 4, 2016

These things mean "Minnesota" to me.

These things are emblematic of “Minnesota” to me:

  • Stands of white-trunked birch trees
  • The haunting calls of loons on the lakes
  • The whine of mosquitos in my ears
  • The raised welts on my skin from mosquito and other bug bites
  • The humidity
  • The sound of wavelets lapping on the dock
  • The sustained low rumble of thunder, like God’s stomach growling
  • The play of clouds across spacious skies
  • Rusty cars (even though there are far fewer rusty carts now compared to when I was growing up there)
Rusty cars

Rusty truck

The old red barn on the farm where I grew up

The old red barn on the farm where I grew up

As long as it stands, the old red barn will be the anchor on our Minnesota family farm.  My recent visit was the first time I had returned since my father died more than two years ago.  Now the land has been split into two parts, owned by my youngest and oldest brothers.  The old square farmhouse with peeling white paint has been torn down and in its place is a beautiful new home with lots of windows looking out on the land, spiffy modern appliances, and even air conditioning.

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I am not a sentimental person, so I had no qualms about seeing the new house, and I looked forward with eager anticipation to the changes and improvements that my brother and his wife made to my old childhood stomping grounds. I was not disappointed.  At first I was just a tiny bit disoriented because the new house — while sited in the same spot as our old one — has a larger footprint and extends farther to the west.  It took me a minute to figure out where the old smokehouse had stood, to identify the stump of what had been the tree with the tire swing,  and to recognize the trees still standing next to the garage.  (The old garage has also been replaced by a new, larger one.)  Other trees have grown even taller than my memory of them.  But once I was reoriented, everything felt familiar and comfortable and welcoming.  I realized that, for me, the farm was not the physical buildings, but rather the land, the landscape and its seasonal changes, family ties and memories, and the rhythm of daily farm life.  Those things endure and I love them just as much now.  My visit was a homecoming.

Old barn and new garage

Old barn and new garage

“The eye for beauty is the eye for love.”
— Paul Gruchow, Journal of a Prairie Year

Once again I was struck by the beauty of my childhood home ground.

Fields and woods

Fields and woods

“The landscape seemed increasingly to be a succession of lines — the line of hills, the line of trees, the line of reeds, the line of cattails, the line of water  . . .”
— Paul Gruchow, Journal of a Prairie Year

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One view to the east

 

One view to the south, with woods and wildflower patch

One view to the south, with woods and wildflower patch

“Our language does not distinguish green from green.  It is one of the ways in which we have declared ourselves to be apart from nature.  In nature, there is nothing so impoverished of distinction as simply the color green.  There are greens as there are grains of sand, an infinitude of shades and gradations of shades, of intensities and brilliancies.  Even one green is not the same green.  There is the green of dawn, of high noon, of dusk.  There is the green of young life, of maturity, of old age.  There is the green of new rain and of long drought.  There is the green of vigor, the green of sickness, the green of death.  One could devote one’s life to a study of the distinctions in the color green and not yet have learned all there is to know.  There is a language in it, a poetry, a music.  We have not stopped long enough to hear it.”
— Paul Gruchow, Journal of a Prairie Year

Farm fresh eggs

Farm fresh eggs

My brother and his wife are bringing new life to the farm with animals — chickens, dogs, barn cats, pigs, and they rent the pasture to another farmer for grazing cows.  While the scale is more of a hobby farm, the animal husbandry and stewardship of the land is as hands on as the farming of years past.  Butchering six chickens brought back old memories.  I learned that a farm skill like butchering chickens is like riding a bike — you never forget how to do it!  Farm-to-table meals are not the rare thing they are in the city!

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My brother raises buff orpington chickens for meat, and the few hens lay eggs

My brother raises Buff Orpington chickens for meat, and the few hens lay eggs

 

Watercolor sketch of chickens

Watercolor sketch of chickens

 

Butchering chickens using a chicken plusher to remove the larger feathers.

Butchering chickens using a chicken plucker to remove the larger feathers.

 

Chicken on the spit

Chicken on the spit

 

Cow in the rented pasture. The red ear tags help to repel flies.

Cow in the rented pasture. The red ear tags help to repel flies.

 

Pigs raised for pork

Pigs raised for pork

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My sister-in-law titled this watercolor sketch "Bacon 2017"

My sister-in-law titled this watercolor sketch “Bacon 2017”

In my Dad’s final years, as he grew frailer, he resisted change.  Many things were falling into decrepitude, but changes were deferred for as long as possible so that my father could be in familiar surroundings.  Now that he is gone, it is rejuvenating to see my brother’s and his wife’s efforts to remake the farm into a dream home for their own lives.  It seems only right to me that they move the farm into modern times.  Time to create new memories in this deeply rooted place!

Watercolor sketch of one of the old oak trees on the farm

Watercolor sketch of one of the old oak trees on the farm

 

Watercolor sketch of zinnias in the from garden bed

Watercolor sketch of zinnias in the front garden bed