August 17, 2013 § 6 Comments
Perhaps many people consider seventy years of age as “old.” After all, there are seven decades of life lived, Medicare and social security (hopefully), and many more physicians in one’s life than ever before … even if you are reasonably, or extraordinarily, well. Then there is the school of thought that seventy is the new sixty, sixty the new fifty and so forth. While this might be a pacifying concept, I believe it was created to perpetuate our culture’s obsessiveness with youth rather than celebrating the gifts of each season of our lives, especially those of Elderhood.
I begin my seventieth year on Tuesday, August 27. My life is not perfect but it is plentifully blessed. It is graced with a simple abundance. I have no material riches or golden parachutes upon which to financially coast, and nothing of value — as our world defines it. Yet, I feel endowed with wealth given the beauty of nature and life that surround me, the friends, neighbors, and extended family that have come into my life, and the work God has given me to do with the talents that I probably do not use enough. The wonderful Erma Bombeck said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.”
This too is my hope, prayer, and goal.
I seek to live authentically, fully accepting who I am now. Of course, I have a few more aches and pains. I walk at a brisk but thoughtful pace almost every morning, as I can no longer run four miles daily. I am no longer a size-six jean. Instead, I am a tad more full-figured. And importantly, I like how I look and feel for it has softened the harder edges in my face as well as my heart. I am grateful for the creative talents that have been given me together with my search for what I can contribute as a form of ‘personal ministry’ as I move forward into this next stage of my life.
Yes, I said forward. I am not a survivor of seven decades, or retired — I am still on my way!
I have no great wisdom to pass on but merely a few musings that apply to my experience and may also apply to you, or someone you know.
- The joys of my life have nothing to do with age.
- The morning sunrises and evening sunsets always thrill for never are they the same.
- The light, whether sun or clouds, rain or snow, cast upon the landscape for my photographer’s eye to see and, perhaps, capture, always presents a new beginning.
- The arias of birdsong in the mornings are my wake-up call. The insects, like a Philip Glass composition with its repetitive structures, lull me to sleep at night.
- I listen for the sound of snow for it quiets the busyness in my head.
- When a gentle rain falls, there is a Christening of the land that provides a meditation in grace.
- I live more completely in the moments of my hours and days (at least I try). It comes easier now for I am more detached from areas of pain, the loss of love and things, the fear of death.
- Importantly for me, one who lived on an ambitious, aggressive fast track for all of my teen and adult years, I am more available to truly speak with, listen to, and be with friends … even hand-write a note or card instead of e-mail. Just “being” with people, if only in passing, with a focused and respectful awareness of them and what they and their souls have to say has become a daily gift.
- Finally, these seven decades and events of my life have taught me the blessing of humility — a quality frequently misunderstood in our frantically busy and too often violent world.
These past two years have been watershed markings for me personally. My home and studio are no more. I sold every piece of silver, china, crystal, multiple cameras, custom made clothing, accessories, and most of my jewelry as well as gave away many things to churches and other organizations for the needy. I shed every possible extra or unused item in my life, including books and music. I only kept what I knew I would return to for inspiration and solace and the basic tools for my writing and photography.
At the moment of this writing, I sit in a lovely corner of my bedroom, now my official studio, next to a window where I hear an occasional bird in song and the humming of insects. I live in a small, Zen-like apartment with windows that overlook only wooded land and the wildlife that resides there. I take my morning walks through the quaint historic village of Athens, New York and am two short blocks from the mighty Hudson River. I could not ask for more. I have all I need — or want.
I have curated a medley of images from the past fifteen years in which I see truth and hear music. These are my personal criteria for they tell me if an image is worthy. Whether or not you have seen some of these, I sincerely hope you enjoy the retrospective. There is a brief Coda following the images that you may wish to read.
Mary Oliver has long been my muse. And though this image is not her “Red Bird” from her exemplary book, “Red Bird Poems,” I heard her reverence for everything in nature when I came upon my ‘bird on the fence’ along the Hudson River amongst a plethora of flowers one warm, mist-filled summer morning.Red Bird Explains Himself (Excerpted) by Mary Oliver
“…And this was my true task, to be the music of the body. Do you understand? For truly the body needs a song, a spirit, a soul. … And I am both of the earth and I am of the inexplicable beauty of heaven where I fly so easily, so welcome, yes, and this is why I have been sent, to teach this to your heart.”
Please rejoice with me on this milestone birthday and know that we are always beginning, always being reborn along with the whole of Nature and its cycles of seasons.
May 25, 2013 § 1 Comment
To My Readers
Following Shalimar, a memoir about my mother, many readers asked me about my father. Whenever I attempted to write about my Dad, I struggled with the emotional architectural dig associated with disquieting memories concerning him. In the process of this particular writing, I realized that what I thought was the truth about our relationship was not grounded in its foundation. My selected memories resided more in the world of ‘magical thinking:’ what I wished to be fact. I had not hit bone — some thing raw, authentic, yet undisputed in its origin, and undeniable in its marrow. I persevered to bring an honest accounting of my experiences with my father, which uncovered a singular truth that haunted me my whole life — and still does.
This narrative also contains new images that are, in part, an homage to Georgia O’Keefe. I believe she captured the bones and marrow of her subjects, revealing an unequivocal truth of being. They are interspersed throughout this writing but are not directly related to it. View them as meditative pauses. They are here in honor of all fathers and daughters who traversed through the seasons of their hearts and, of course, for you, my readers, friends, and patrons.
The heart, as does nature, lives through seasons of change. It was that way for my father and me. I believed he never really wanted me when at the tender age of ten for the first time, but certainly not the last, he uttered the words I wish you had never been born.
Sixty years later, as I approach the age of seventy, I finally discerned the veracity of my father’s existence: the role he played, and did not play, in my life and in the life of others. He was not a demonstrative man yet he had a sentimental side, which he rarely allowed to shine through. Though he supported my childhood creative endeavors with financial help, paying for dance and acting classes, costumes, and such, he understood little about my young aspirations. In his defense though, there was no framework in his life experience to understand my particular childhood uniqueness. We attempted through many years to bond, but these efforts were, for the most part, awkward and filled with misdirected anger and pain.
My father was not around much when my brother and I were children for he worked two jobs to provide for our family. He was a fireman in Cleveland, Ohio, which required evening shifts several nights a week, and he drove a Brinks armored truck on his days off. Dad was a dedicated, hard-working man.
My mother was a homemaker. And as previously shared in Shalimar, she was a seriously neurotic, deeply depressed woman. My parents developed a chasm between them that lasted their respective lifetimes. The reason for this division, told to me by my mother, was that when she discovered she was pregnant with me in 1943, my father asked her to abort. Though my parents believed the abortion was successful, for a fetus was expunged, to their great surprise they discovered a few months later that I remained in my mother’s womb. Had she survived, I would have had a twin sister.
Ten years later my father angrily spat those cruel words I wish you had never been born. I sat crying in the middle of our yellow and white linoleum kitchen floor, his words striking me like a stinging arrow. I was a child caught in the mutual hatred between my father and mother — and, a palpable reminder of what they did not want. I believed my father’s harsh words were said for me to absorb as absolute.
My mother had fertile ground upon which to build an arsenal of reasons to maintain her intense disdain of my father: he was mean and harsh, stingy, quick-tempered, absent, humorless, unloving, a man to be feared. Sadly, he was also a racist and anti-Semite.
In great contrast with those behaviors, it was my father who always came to my bedside to cool my forehead after childhood nightmares. He had a sixth sense too about my epileptic seizures. As I emerged from an episode, he was already in my bedroom massaging my left arm and leg, which were in painful spasms. When I was a young adult woman of twenty living in New York City, I had a serious automobile accident. It was my father once again who drove all night from Ohio to keep vigil at my hospital bed.
My view of my father and his actions were greatly filtered through my mother’s eyes. He was, therefore, diminished in my mind and heart, not only because my mother monsterized him, but also because he truly was a difficult, unyielding man most of the time.
Thirty-Third Street, New York City, 1964
Dad made an impromptu visit to New York one early October, a few months following my twenty-first birthday. He said he wanted to ‘see the sites.’ So, we wandered to the usual tourist haunts and he was especially interested in the United Nations. After a long morning of walking in cold, misty weather, we stopped for lunch at a pub on Thirty-Third Street just off Fifth Avenue. We finished our meal and walked out into a light rain with the last of the gold and sienna leaves floating down from the City’s sidewalk trees. Every fiber of my being said it was time. This was the moment to ask about my birth and so I did. Is it true that you and mother tried to abort me? His face and eyes, clearly expressing a range of emotions from sorrow to anger, and then incredulity, revealed the truth at last. I knew then that we, together, had hit bone: even the marrow. He asked me how I knew. I told him that mother informed me of this on the day of my birthday that past August. His initial response was That bitch! This was something you were never supposed to know, or needed to know. His eyes filled with tears, trickling out of their corners and down his cheeks. In a raspy, choked voice he uttered I am so sorry you have learned this. He said nothing more. He did nothing more. He simply turned and walked slowly down the street in the rain as I stood there stunned and confused. I felt like an emotional see-saw, wanting to forgive him, hate him, love him. I did not move for what seemed a long time as my hair, soaked from the rain, clung to my head and neck. Black mascara stained my face, but not from tears.
We did not speak for fourteen years after that incident. And in the following decades, our communications were infrequent and strained. These were fallow periods in which my father and I, unbeknownst to one another, respectively struggled to overcome the shapeless demons that plagued what I believed was a fundamental love for one another. These many seasons of my heart helped me to see beyond the crippling challenges of my birth, my tormented mother, and my parents’ mutual pain and guilt with which they lived. As I discovered what was important and authentic in my life, I found the courage to walk into my wound and embrace the inner universe of my heart. In so doing, I discovered not resentment or hate, but an unwavering love and compassion for the man whose life force gave me mine.
The Nursing Home, 2005
On a steaming July day in 2005 with a hurricane about to hit Florida, I received the call. My father was about to die. I made quick arrangements to fly into Ft. Lauderdale but was warned that the hurricane would most likely disrupt the flight schedules. We flew over the storm in torrential rain, yet I did arrive. I was expecting to visit my father in his bed hooked up to machines and tubes. This was not the case for he rallied during my travel time. He said this is not my time. And he was right.
Instead, my ninety-two year old father sat in a wheelchair with his left leg crossed over the right and his arms folded. He looked small. My stepmother stood close to him at the ready to help should he need it. They waited in a soft, earth-toned lobby of a nursing home. As I entered into this world of the aging, I registered little, seeing only my father’s blue eyes clouded with age yet retaining an intensity of spirit and purpose I had not seen before. Our eyes locked into one another’s and through them for a few suspended moments we had an immediate understanding, an unspoken communication: So, we have made the journey and through it all we accomplished what we needed to do. We did our best. We understand more. And, now we love. Then, spiraling back into the presence of others, I moved towards him with my arms outstretched. Like a great Samurai warrior wounded in his final battle, his honor refusing to give way to frailty, my father stood to greet me, bracing himself on trembling arms and hands and unsteady limbs. Simultaneously we said I love you. Twice. I was amazed at the nobility and courage of this act as I carefully embraced his fragile frame and kissed his cool cheek. I felt only bone for this once strapping 180-pound man who fought raging fires in Cleveland, Ohio, now weighed a mere 110 pounds. Proudly, he sat down as he stood moments before — shaking and unsteady but without anyone’s help.
Though his body was tired and worn from the battles of old age, his mind remained clear and his focus keen, like a great white wolf ever alert observing, listening, taking it all in — missing nothing and savoring everything.
As I sat next to him and took his hand, I noticed the gossamer-like skin covering his bones. We sat silently for a few minutes simply looking at one another. I noticed how long and slender his fingers were as his hands gracefully draped over the arms of his chair. These were the hands of an artist, or should have been, for they were exceedingly graceful. I never really looked closely at his hands before. I regretted not having my camera with me so I could photograph them. I did not know it then, but this would be the last time I saw him.
“Part of our task is to learn how our ancestors informed our lives” ~ Joan Halifax
My willingness to acknowledge my father’s genuine being, though painful at times, has been illuminating too — for wisdom is born amidst pain. I learned about steadfastness and faithfulness to one’s self — not only to others. My father knew who he was; what he could and could not do, or be. And, he accepted his role in life never asking for, or wanting, more.
My father was neither famous nor infamous. But, he paid attention to the small, humble acts of daily life and in so doing provided a lifetime of service to many people. He was dedicated in the support of his family under challenging and oftentimes painful circumstances. He gave of himself to all eight of his brothers, sisters, respective spouses, and mothers-in-law during their illnesses as most passed away over the many decades that he lived. He was a courageous man who walked into seething fires to rescue others, which he never spoke of — and for admitting a raw, heartbreaking truth to his daughter on a rainy October afternoon amidst the falling leaves on Thirty-Third Street in New York City.
I believe that my father and I ‘hit the bone’ of what our love really was — and it was one filled with challenge, stress, and very few soft, nurturing corners and edges. Yet, the cornerstone of our relationship, perhaps the truth of what exists in all human relationships, supported a deep-seated, inexplicable love and compassion.
Well Dad, Emerson wrote, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived…this is to have succeeded.” I am not certain that your life helped me to ‘breathe easier.’ It would be dishonest of me to say this was so. The gritty truth, the bone and marrow of our existence together, is that you did not want a child. And, yes, that still hurts. However, I do believe that once I entered your world, you loved me as best you could. I have come to understand and respect this restrained love. And through our struggles to accept and love one another on some fundamental level, I discovered something very valuable: a genuine, tender compassion for you. I prayed that you would be freed from the quick anger you wore on your face and in your heart, the pain of your internal world, and prejudices towards others whom you truly did not know, nor even tried to understand. I wept when you died and again during this writing, thinking how these negative forces within your soul may have caused the cancer that ultimately consumed you.
Ah, but you were my father. You gave me life. And, I loved you.
My father passed the following year very quickly as the cancer consumed him in less than two months. He was ninety-three years old.“If one carries his father on his left shoulder and his mother on his right shoulder until his bones were ground to powder by their weight as they bore through to the marrow … that person would still not have repaid the deep kindness of his parents.” ~ The Buddha
February 23, 2013 § 3 Comments
This is a story of forgiveness and love. It is a true narrative and one I have been reluctant to tell.
But a good friend recently said, “It is important as a writer that you not only share the beauty and serenity of your life, but also the grit.”
So, here is a story about my mother and me.
My Mother Helene
My mother killed herself on St. Valentine’s Day, 1973. She swallowed a fifth of cheap scotch with a bottle of tranquilizers. She was fifty-three years old and died alone in the upper West Side apartment in New York City that we had once shared during my performing arts career.
She was exotically beautiful: tall and slender with a smooth satin olive complexion that deepened to rich sienna by simply sitting in the summer shade. Her eyes were large, dark brown and seductive, especially when she laughed and tossed her auburn hair, which cascaded in waves to her shoulders. My father said he married her for her laugh. It was deep and sexy, but only when she wanted it to be. This is the only remaining photograph I have of her and my father took it when they were in love. She was twenty-three and pregnant with my twin sister and me.
When my mother was nineteen years old, she acquired a one-ounce bottle of Shalimar perfume. How or under what circumstances I do not know. What I do know is that she was in no financial position to buy a one-ounce bottle of perfume. Certainly not Shalimar. She married her first husband at sixteen, divorced at nineteen and in those years gave birth to a son who, when I was born, became my half-brother.
During my childhood she recounted many times the story of that favorite bottle of perfume, perhaps because she treasured it so and what happened to it destroyed forever an aspiration and deep longing within her. It seems that my brother at four years of age, walked to her bedroom vanity, reached for the Shalimar, unplugged the stopper, and poured the sweet smelling essence over the rug, bed, and curtains. Clearly this was not a malicious act on my brother’s part, but merely the result of a curious, Puckish four-year old. However, she truly never forgave him.
One of my most vivid memories of my mother was when she turned her back on me after a kindergarten play because I misspoke one of my lines. It was 1948, and we were in the middle of a heavy December snowstorm, the kind that slammed northeast Ohio with great regularity. Our house was within walking distance of the school and even though it snowed and I wore a leg brace on my left leg for the polio I contracted earlier that year, I still walked, or rather limped, to school. I was always slightly behind my schoolmates, of course, but I hobbled to-and-fro nevertheless.
After our kindergarten performance was over, I looked into the audience for a wave or some acknowledgement from my mother. She simply glared at me, turned on her heel and left me there. Not a word or gesture. Nothing. With a child’s wonderment, confusion and a growing awareness that I must have done something very wrong, I followed her but couldn’t maintain her pace as she resolutely continued her indignant march towards home.
My trek following her through the unremitting, battering storm seemed to last forever. I only saw her rigid back and hunched shoulders wrapped in a blood red woolen coat. Her head, covered and tied at her chin with the hood of the coat, was held down slightly and to the left to avoid the heavy pelting of the snow. She never turned to look for me. Her only comment when I finally reached our house and took my seat at the kitchen table was that I was never, ever to humiliate her again by making a mistake, especially in public. And, so began my performing arts career. There were many events for twenty odd years with my mother like the kindergarten play, but that particular memory still stands out the most for it was hotly branded into my heart.
The Bad and the Beautiful
My mother hated the world and I will never know why. She beat my brother regularly, threw him down the basement steps and banged his head repeatedly against the kitchen wall. She tried to abort me but only succeeded in aborting my twin sister. She did not love her family. She hated her father and she hated my father. She belittled her mother unmercifully.
These events remain mystery for there is no one left in my world that can shed light on her darkness. My father, now gone, and my brother, still living, locked their memories concerning my mother in fortresses deep within themselves. My father was unable to bear a reopening of his wounds and my dear brother to this day cannot claim our mother as his own.
Yet, through her depressions and rages she was capable of much creativity. I watched her create beauty in her home, develop her own innate sense of style in clothes, and surround herself with exquisite use of color and form. She was bold in her imagination and intellectual curiosity. But her talents were feared, ignored, and laughed at, by my father, her parents, and everyone else who knew her except for one person: me.
I understand today her madness as well as her grace but to do so I had to reach deep into shadowy folds of my memories. The fabric and texture of my existence were, for the most part, created through my polio and my mother’s willingness to embrace her little girl’s idea. Even then, I was a contrarian and resisted the accepted form of physical therapy for polio and, instead, decided to study dance. I sensed that I needed to heal myself through my own movement and not that of a physical therapist doing it for me, no matter how skilled. With my unwavering insistence and my mother’s faith in my adamancy for this atypical form of therapy, I restored the muscles in my left arm and leg and my polio not only healed within two years but also changed the path of my life. I became a performing artist at a very young age, which continued for twenty plus years followed by an immersion into the visual arts as a photographer, painter, and, now, writer. My creativity would have languished without my mother’s desire and inspiration to help me actualize it and my mother would not have continued to exist without my creativity. They were entwined and interdependent — two energies flowing from one to the other.
I endured my mother’s ranting and raging against life, against the world, because my intuition, even as a young child, told me that her creative energy would become mine. And it did. I learned to accept her relentless criticism of me because there was always an important insight that inspired me as well whether it was about my performance, my choice of clothes and costumes, how and what I said and, of course, how I behaved. She clung to my creativity as if it was a lifeboat. I existed to serve her needs. But strangely enough, she served mine too.
My mother’s anguish and rage prevailed for the twenty-eight years I knew her before she killed herself. For years after her suicide, I thought often about my sad, beautiful mother with her dark bedroom eyes, sensual laugh and an anger that tore souls apart. What I discovered though, traveling into that particular abyss, eventually changed the size of my heart.
Twelve years after her death, I encountered her again. In meditation after yoga practice, I saw a perfectly shaped pulsating pink heart rimmed with an indigo blue light. Tiny drops of blood fell from the center of the heart with each beat. I felt it was my mother’s heart. I sensed her presence along with a faint scent of Shalimar. In one moment, almost suspended in time, I felt her deep and seemingly endless anguish too. I absorbed her pain and sadness not only from those years I knew her as her daughter but all the preceding years of her life. We walked arm in arm strolling under an azure sky into a field of tall, emerald green grass. The slender grasses swayed with a soft, warm breeze as she stood there with tears in her eyes and asked if I was all right. I replied, “Yes, mom, I am truly fine and my life is good.” I told her how much I missed her, that I did not blame her for what she did, and that I longed to have just one more conversation, a conversation in which we could crystallize the joys and absolve the sorrows of our life together. She said she had to go and then touched my hand and walked further into the tall grasses until I could no longer see her or sense her presence. I emerged from the meditation with a strong conviction that my mother had visited me.
Was this imagination or a true mystical experience? I don’t believe proving it, or not, is important. Whatever the occurrence, it was the catalyst for my releasing the past and opening my heart to understanding, compassion, forgiveness.
Again, Into the Abyss
A few years ago I was bound to a wheel chair due to a broken right ankle. I was, for the most part, immobile once again. I, who still moved like a dancer and filled my active days with cameras, tripod, lenses or easel, paintbrushes and oils to bring a canvas to life, was unable to do any of these things.
When the accident first occurred I unraveled emotionally and spiritually. I cried and raged at myself, at the world, at God most of all. The long since forgotten polio, its encumbrances, physical pain and entrapment of my body, rolled over me like a tsunami. The black hole of my mother’s madness asserted itself. My art studio stood fallow. I no longer smelled the oil paint while standing lovingly at the slop sink carefully cleaning my brushes after a long, productive painting session. I could not spontaneously grab my tripod and camera to capture an image that I knew would not pass my way again. All was lost. Forever. This was my mother’s darkness: her Shalimar, her absolute loss of spirit.
I was in this depressive state for two days. I watched and listened to the persistent rain and then felt a slight stirring within. The darkness slowly lifted as I began to see that God’s rain was a christening of the land as well as a cleansing of my spirit. I realized I was capable of releasing my anger and emotional pain. Sitting for hours in the wheel chair really seeing, truly hearing the steadfast rain, my artist’s eye eventually returned. Though I could not record through a photograph or painting what I saw, I could express the ‘innocent speech of rain’ in words:Burdened by soft, steady rain Viridian leaves hang low on long limbs. Some moisture clings — leaves glisten silver; Some moisture falls — a rain sonata. A lone bird (unknown) sings her Aria. In one ordinary moment, All flow to some changed place, Become some new thing Again.
The rain finally passed and in its stead flirtatious streaks of sunshine broke through light and dark clouds illuminating my wheel-chair-view of the world with a pair of white butterflies that never quite left one another in their pas de deux from flower to bush to tree limb. I thought of the elegant one-ounce Baccarat crystal bottle of Shalimar perfume sitting on my bathroom vanity. A bottle always resides with me now and every so often I dab the sweet essence behind my ears and on my wrists — a modest gesture as a tender bow of tribute to my mother’s life.
I am gently touched by my mother’s madness. Only today there are spiritual paths and therapies that enabled me to walk into the wounds of the past and emerge with gratitude for all that has happened in my life. I have a strong belief that the events of our lives create a tapestry of teachings, learning, and insights. And, if we are willing we can enter the darkest cave within ourselves and discover the illumination of our being.
I understand my mother’s teaching for teaching it was. I learned from her pain how to minimize mine. I learned from her anger how to channel mine. I learned from her hatred how to love. And, I learned from her repressed creativity how to nurture my own and allow it to fully bloom even though, from time-to-time, I lose my Shalimar, my footing. Unlike my mother though, I know that my spirit within is larger than a whole lifetime can hold and it will rekindle for the light is always there — whether a warm glowing ember or ablaze with the essence of creation and loving forgiveness.
For many years now on St. Valentine’s Day, I purchase a dozen roses to honor my mother’s life. I know no one else remembers her, or cares to, so my action is a ritual of love and honor. Here is one of the roses from this past Valentine’s Day.
September 23, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Most people would say that Witten Pond belongs to its owner. I believe he would say that he is merely the caretaker. I would go a few steps further though and say that Witten Pond is a place where God most assuredly resides, providing those who witness its purity and grace with an enhanced view of life. I felt God’s presence the first time I set foot upon Witten Pond land and have had many talks with Him over the years. I had these informal chats while I walked, photographed, or simply basked in the calm and peace that permeate the world of Witten Pond. Every leaf and blade of grass, the sound of the rushing stream, the haven that wild life seeks, the slowing of each moment into sheer perfection, the presence of tranquility in both the wild and tamed landscape — all of these can only exist in God’s time.
It is now almost thirty years since I first saw Witten Pond. Surrounded by state forest preserve, it is a secluded fifteen-acre property ensconced in the Hudson Valley Region of New York state. I lived there for a while and visited many times over these three decades to do my photographic work. In fact, Witten Pond has provided me with a rich cache of subjects that evolved with the years. I created a self-imposed retreat many times in what is now the guesthouse, Lily of the Valley, experiencing some of the greatest joys of my life given the inspirational energy that abounds on this land.
My most recent visit was in early spring of this year. The gardens were not yet in full bloom. However, the spring-fed Pond’s rippling reflections shone through its sparkling waters with such clarity that much of what I photographed were images reminiscent of impressionist paintings.
The oldest structure on the property is the guesthouse, now replete with heating and plumbing — though thirty years ago, those conveniences were iffy at best. The fishing and hunting lodge-cum-renovated guesthouse was built in the early 1900s of chestnut, prior to the blight, and is of post and beam construction. It stands high on a hill with stonewalls banking steps of indigenous bluestone that lead to a charming, rustic porch. The porch, of course, overlooks the Pond as well as the high Catskill Mountain peaks, and there are secret gardens in almost every direction. For now, those gardens will remain hidden, but I captured the Lily of the Valley house as it stands so nobly on the hill.
Inside the guesthouse, I came upon a small, hand-carved Buddha on the dining room table. Though it was largely cloaked in shadows, the simplicity of the setting silhouetted against the light-filled French doors leading to yet another secret garden, intrigued me so that I released my camera’s shutter to hear God say yes, let us dine with the Buddha!
Leaving the house to walk to the other side of the Pond, I turned to evaluate the perspective. There is a giant, outrageously red maple tree that resides on the front lawn of the guesthouse and it was ablaze with its new color. Again, the Pond rippled and danced with light as the red maple punctuated the scene.
An old Zen bench sits at the Pond’s edge and appears to almost rest in the water. It is a place of meditation and prayer, sequestered by aged trees with round, thick trunks and a backdrop of lush, green foliage. Though the Pond is stocked with enormous trout that the owner only catches and releases, when I photographed the Zen bench through the water’s reflection, it was alone … steady and timeless.
Across the Pond from the guesthouse, is the owner’s barn residence, which, in part, serves as an art gallery. My inaugural photography exhibit was held at this gallery many years ago. The owner collects art and wine, but I was interested in the treasure trove of sculpture inside the barn’s gallery.
We know little about this Buddha except that she is from Thailand. It is the largest wood-carved icon I have seen since it is all head and stands at eight or nine feet and is about four feet wide — an imposing work with a majestic energy.
At last though, I sought out a much smaller wooden sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi by Italian sculptor, Alfeo Faggi. I have longed to photograph this piece, but something always went wrong. I believe that it was God’s time that day in early spring and He was at my side. I had never before seen this inanimate St. Francis look so vivified with love, caring and compassion. Weeks later, when I reviewed my finished images, I was awestruck. One could almost say that these images were of Christ wearing His crown of thorns. Or, when Faggi sculpted this sensitive, tender statue, that his hands were guided to reveal the merciful countenance of Christ.
In the process of writing this journal, I recalled an image I took many years ago with black and white film. It was during a full moon whose rays flooded the landscape and illuminated an extravaganza of light and shadows. That night, the moon’s stunning blue-green hue spilled onto an old garden bench that resides under dogwood trees overlooking Witten Pond. It remains there to this day.
I love Witten Pond for it is a sacred place. I feel a shift within when I walk the pathways of the land and sit at the Pond’s edge. Once more, my visit to the Pond yielded its grace and wonderment for me to photograph. And once again I was reborn and I was blessed.
I will begin work on Witten Pond Part II, either when the green leaves turn to sienna, gold, and red, or when the snow gently falls, sketching a true wonderland. It will be in God’s time though, not mine, for I have learned to wait.
Blessings and Namasté
July 20, 2012 § 2 Comments
Much of our country is experiencing drought conditions. Those of us in upstate New York began seeing the portentous signs these past two weeks: green grass slowly turning straw-colored in patches, and flowers, though not yet withered, looking thirsty. Some of us with wells talked about water conservation, which meant vegetable and flower gardens were not getting their needed quota of moisture. And for some with shallow wells, short showers became the norm.
Just two days ago, on a hot, sun-drenched day, feeling more like desert than mountains as if an infrared camera filter had been cast over our landscape, I spotted a Mother Doe and her fairly new born fawns on my lawn. I actually saw them about a week ago when their legs still wobbled and Mother Doe was cleaning these new beings of her birth. Alas, I was on my morning walk sans my camera and miffed at myself for leaving it behind. Mother Doe visited my front lawn frequently since the birth of her twins, and I made no time to grab my camera and take pictures. However, she took time the other day to stand and stare at me as if to say are you not going to take advantage of taking this image? Again, my camera was buried in my bag and while I ran for it, I really did not think she would still be there. But she was! Standing just a few feet from her and her babes, I took the picture. She was proud, and though I have never heard of a doe giving birth to twins, I have seen this wondrous thing. And, I do believe she knew it was special and wanted to have someone record it for her.
My own critters, Ella and Simon, approached this momentous event very differently. Ella took her position half way up the staircase so she could clearly observe Mother Doe and the twin fawns, while Simon simply slept through it all nestled between the window sill and an old Czechoslovakian oak bench. His favorite post.
Today, I woke to sprinkles of rain, then an intermittent drizzle, and finally a steady soft soaking rain. This was a Christening of the land and I was lulled into contentment with the ‘innocent speech of rain.” Rather than take a picture through the wet screen and spattered glass window, I decided to write a poem.
the innocent speech of rain
by lee anne morgan
Burdened by soft steady rain,
viridian leaves hang low on long limbs.
Some moisture clings — leaves glisten silver;
some moisture falls — a rain sonata.
A lone bird (unknown) sings her aria.
In one ordinary moment,
all flow to some changed place,
become some new thing
I know I have said this before, as have others, but it is okay for me to say it again. The small events of our days are more often than not gently touched with Grace, even miracles.
May 27, 2012 § 2 Comments
Look and See
This morning, at waterside, a sparrow flew
to a water rock and landed, by error, on the back
of an eider duck; lightly it fluttered off amused.
The duck, too, was not provoked, but, you might say, was laughing.
This afternoon a gull sailing over
our house was casually scratching
its stomach of white feathers with one pink foot as it flew.
Oh Lord, how shining and festive is your gift to us.
If we only look, and see.
I drove to Provincetown through steady, pouring rain and spent my first day ensconced in a heavy, wet fog. I departed a week later, again, in both a drenching rain as well as a thick, rolling fog that, in fact, followed me to my home in Catskill, New York. However, the days in-between the needed rain were spent in munificent sunshine with daytime temperatures reaching just seventy degrees and nights cool enough to warrant a little heat upon waking in the morning.
Since the fog apparently had a firm resolve to remain for my first full day, I used this time to settle into my studio, buy food and other sundry supplies, and, finally, to simply breathe and listen. I was on the second floor of a sweet hideaway, which had everything I needed — all neatly packaged into 350 square feet. Windows were on all four walls of my room and I had a deck that looked out upon the owner’s gardens as well as the many trees in which sweet songbirds serenaded me every morning beginning around five o’clock. This was not a problem though, for I wake early.
On my second day a butterscotch sun rose, beaming warmth and illuminating things I knew (yet really didn’t know) were waiting for me to discover. I would be out walking very soon. First though, my morning ritual: I brewed a pot of Assam tea and sat on the deck in the cool morning air with my steaming hot mug of brew (always with milk), watching the sun kiss the water, then the roofs of houses and, finally, the treetops. I made notes in my handwritten journal, and struggled with a poem to the point of agitation. This frustration signaled that it was time for my first walk in Provincetown.
While my studio was hidden high in the tree tops, I was only five minutes walking distance from the shore and town. And, a portion of that small jaunt was through a storybook garden inspired by Monet’s gardens at Giverny. I smelled the sweet scent of wisteria before I entered “Suzanne’s Garden.” It was named after Suzanne Sinaiko, the mother of my temporary landlord. He donated the garden to Provincetown and I was blessed to walk through it many times during my stay. Of course, this time being mid-May, not everything was in bloom. Those flowers that were in radiant splendor, ranged from voluptuous wisteria vines, hanging like gushing waterfalls from the gazebo, to the morning-fresh faces of red poppies — a red that only poppies own, and large, imposing irises, presenting themselves in colors both bold and soft that would defy an artist’s palette. (Well, except for Monet’s.)
I began this Journal entry with a poem from Mary Oliver, a Pulitzer winner for her work. She has lived in Provincetown for many years and most of her poetry, weaving in and around Provincetown, provides keen observation, rapture, awe, and humility in the natural world of what most may see as ordinary, or do not see at all. Unknowingly, she has been my muse for several years now and her poetry has profoundly affected the way I see though the lens of my camera. She says, “Poetry is prayer.” I agree.
For me, the act of photographing is about ‘seeking the soul’ of the subject and not about a precise rendering of a place, person, or any thing — animate or inanimate. I bring an interpretation to my images in order to illuminate the quality of soul-spirit I see, and this often takes me down some interesting pathways.
My walks on the beach while in Provincetown provided a meaningful opportunity for me to look through my lens with eyes, and mind, wide open to what ever would be presented. I was on the bay side of the Cape so there were no dramatic waves crashing to the shore, or the sheer theater of Maine’s craggy rocks — just an unpretentious and fairly calm tide rolling in and out. Yet, there were treasures that were clearly there to be discovered if only by my camera and me.
A small duck stepped from the shore into the water for its morning swim just as I passed. A weathered blue-gray fence framed with rough sea grasses shooting out of white sand, appeared Zen-like in its austerity. Two classic old dinghies — one, half buried in sand on the shore, and the other lingering and turning on the water like a ballerina going through her daily workout making certain each movement was close to perfection. Then, to come upon an old retaining wall with wood pilings and iron hinges holding everything together, telling me stories of inclement weather that challenged the sturdiness of this aged structure, people of all types, sizes, and shapes who walked past it not recognizing it had stories to tell, and dogs that barked and played in the sand, chasing the water that lapped the shore so close to it … ah, it was all there in the wall. Even its colors hinted of mystery and happenings about which none of us will ever know.
On The Streets
On another day’s journey, I left the beach to stroll up Commercial Street to return to my studio. This is the street that is a residence for galleries, a variety of stores, restaurants, coffee houses, old homes, bakeries, inns, a museum, and more. I found my way to this now famous Street from the beach using a narrow, sandy pathway that, for me, epitomized the once quaint Provincetown that both lured and inspired artists, writers, and some of the foremost thinkers of the day in the early decades of the 20th century. There are other paths between the shore and Commercial Street from the top to the bottom of this one-way thoroughfare. However, none was as pristine and reminiscent of another time as this one — an era when Eugene O’Neill, Jack Reed, Louise Byrant, and other talents gathered to shape new ideas in art and thought and in so doing, disrupt the mundane.
As I walked closer to my temporary home, I noted this stately inn (no sign outside though) that cried out to be photographed saying, Am I not stately in my architecture? Have I not aged well? Do you realize that my back yard overlooks the water and I see the sun rise, experiencing every day the parade of life on the beach? I am so fortunate, yes? Yes.
I crossed over to a lesser-known street, Bradford, which runs parallel to Commercial. It is not heavily traversed by tourists, but those who live here year-round use it for conducting the business of every day life. However, on a backstreet off Bradford, there is a gate that belongs to a an old house in disrepair. I must state here that I do believe the house appeared to be haunted. The gate, clearly neglected and weathered with age (except for the mystery of the two pots holding freshly planted pansies), offered to my eyes a wizened beauty and spirit that stirred me within, taking me to other places and different lifetimes. And, it is this small, insignificant discovery that is the wonderment and joy of my work.
Finally, The Dunes
I waited all week before I visited The Dunes. I had walked about 35 miles at this point in my stay and I have to confess that I was not up to “walking” The Dunes. Neither was I prepared for what I encountered. It was mid-day with a hot, blinding sun that baked the sand, which ranged in color from the whitest of snow to unbleached linen. I wore sandals but should have had the sense to wear hiking boots. I had no idea how steep these magnificent mounds were. Since I was alone, I became keenly aware how easily one could lose their way on this desert-of-hills. I never walked to the ocean side, but perhaps next time … only with a walking companion though to help me mark the way.
Yet, I soldiered on and climbed a couple of these massive dunes. I do believe it was a worthwhile effort. The vast, undulating sandy landscape, punctuated by brittle brush as far as the eye can see, brings one to a true state of humility. I was but a mere speck among these majestic wonders.
Many miles were walked and 600 photographs taken. Fourteen survived my self-editing process. I loved the welcoming people, their willingness to talk and share on a deeper level other than social superficialities, and their pride about their historical town. I was enamored with all the dogs I met that abound in Provincetown, for their presence is fully embraced by everyone. I received the privilege to pet Fenway, an Old English Bulldog puppy of twelve weeks who gives as good as he gets, a Shi-Tzu named Curly, a Golden Lab, named Lana, a black Standard Poodle named Spike of all things, who ate entire ice cream cones in one sticky, drippy gulp, and a variety of other dogs whose names now reside in the deep folds of my memory.
Thank you Provincetown for your graciousness. And, thank you Mary Oliver for reminding me of the ‘gift’ we receive when we truly ‘look, and see.’
I hope you, the reader, enjoyed this walk with me on this particular journey, seeing through my eyes.
April 22, 2012 § 2 Comments
It is a cool, rainy, and windy Sunday this particular April 22. Much needed rain was announced by a series of lightening and thunder storms late last night. Before I began writing this Journal, I lit what I believe to be one of the last wood fires of the season and took a few moments to contemplate with the candles and crystals that are as much a part of my inner world as the creation of these words and my art.
As I gaze out of my studio window, I see that all the trees are now leafed out. Yet, I remember an uncommonly warm day in mid-March when the sun blazed through bare tree limbs, illuminating a raw, stark landscape, while creating dazzling reflections in our Catskill mountain streams. In this rare combination of extreme warmth, sans the ‘new green’ of spring, and the uncompromising glare of the sun, everyday places and things one might not see were in bold relief.
When Paul McCartney wrote the first line, the long and winding road, of his ballad, it is said that he was thinking of a road that led to the peace and calm of his farm in Scotland. There is a long, winding road not far from my home called Cauterskill Road. The road twists and turns, revealing vast farmlands, old iron bridges, ancient outcroppings in thick woodland, cultivated horse farms, and our ever-flowing Catskill Mountain streams.
I left my desk that mid-March day in a fit of irritability over something I no longer remember. I drove to Cauterskill Road feeling I belonged to it and it was mine — for a short while. I meandered for a bit before I crossed one of the first old iron bridges that the road hosts. I pulled off to the shoulder and took in the bright rays of sun and warmth as peace finally settled my restless spirit. I looked at the bridge I had just crossed, one I had seen countless times before. However, given my vantage point, it appeared as something grand leading to a dark, mysterious void.
I walked to the center of the bridge and found a reflection in the clear, pristine water, presenting an image I have taken for granted because I have seen it countless times. However, on this day, there was another aspect to photographing something I thought was ‘typical’: how fortunate we are to live in this place where waters are still pure and trout can play hide and seek among the smooth as well as craggy rocks.
I got into my car and drove on around a sharp curve and found what I believe to be one of the signatures of Americana: the Red Barn.
I reached an open expanse of farmland and a perfect split rail fence that seemed to go on and on. I could have been in the Old West …
I was thinking that I had the best job in the world: being a witness to whatever presents itself in the moment and then sharing the moments, the experiences with others. When I finally passed the split rail fence, I found myself confounded by a tree that appeared to be in a dance frenzy! If there had been leaves and swaying branches I could have grasped this apparition better. But this was merely a bare tree on the road side. Does she not have form, grace, and a hint of abandonment in her dance? Oh my, I was enthralled photographing her as if I was doing a fashion shoot with a super model.
Wending my way home, I stopped to take this image because I had seen it earlier but rejected the concept. Haven’t we all seen this classic scene in our Catskill Mountains? But, the prospect of the image haunted me and I was grateful that the light tuned out to be just perfect.
This was my drive along my long and winding road, which brought me to my door. Waiting for me were my beloved Simon and Ella. Whatever it was that caused my annoyance and bad mood hours before, was no longer retained even in the deep recesses of my mind. I walked in the door and used my camera two more times.
Thank you for joining me on my long and winding road journey on a warm, sunny mid-March afternoon.
And now I am back to April 22nd, having completed this journal entry and will next be writing to you from Provincetown in mid-May! Be well with many blessings coming your way …