Monday, June 27, 2011

Hi Mom Up There in the Heavens

Helena P

She had naturally curly hair.
In the kitchen, she twirled in a circle and showed us how ice skaters don't get dizzy.
She said she has a crooked smile, but I never noticed it.
Is there lipstick on my teeth? 
Every week she lit a novena candle for us kids; all five of us. Sometimes twice a week.
Oh. And she loved ice cream.

This piece is: Mixed media...acrylic, pastels, collage and ink on canvas. I love mixed media; you can create caricatures, impressions and abstractions and just go with whatever ideas and emotions rise up, which is good because I normally have a tendency to "over work" things; I do it in creating art as well as in writing. It's best to let things go, but I often can't determine when to stop. It's a process. When I get stuck, I simply step away, put on very loud music (well, I should say lou-DER music) and dance. Moving and breathing changes everything and brings you back fresh.

Here are a couple of my favorite tunes, in my "Playlist for Painting":  "1901" by Phoenix (does dancing not make you happy?)

And "Two Shoes" by Cat Empire. (Mountain bikers obviously love this song too)

I thank my mom everyday for teaching me to be fearless. She always encouraged me to go out and see the world, and experience as much as I can in this short life. Maybe she was living through me in a way. When my sister was born and I was ten years old, we were sitting on the porch one day and she said, (with a faraway look in her eyes), "I wish one of my kids would go to Alaska; that way I could go there  someday." Sounded pretty crazy to my young ears.  I never thought of that again, but somehow she must have planted a seed, because that is precisely where I ended up. In a place where I am inspired daily by the landscape and a healthy sense of adventure. Hmm. Fate.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Summer Solstice

The Summer Solstice is appreciated and observed like a major holiday in many communities of the far north. The longest day and shortest night of the year marks a time of great abundance, when we are fishing the "lazy man's way", sitting around the campfire and watching red salmon drop into the fishwheel box with little effort, until it's time to harvest by filleting, vacuum packing and smoking. The fishwheel turns non-stop in the rushing, silty current, delivering healthy, fresh food that will last all winter long. My all-time favorite recipe for grilled salmon is a simple combination of brown sugar, olive oil and cayenne pepper.

To watch the Arctic Midnight Sun refuse to drop below the on the following link:

The summer wildflowers are in bloom! Sitka rose, Jacob's ladder, forget-me-nots, dwarf fireweed.

Monday, June 13, 2011

By Way of the Horse

At the age of 52, with no prior interest in horses, I propelled myself into the local horse world with an over-the-top enthusiasm. This was several plus years ago and at the time, I wondered, why horses and why now? My adult life had consisted of work as a therapist, yoga teacher, writer, and full-time pilgrim on a spiritual path that was predominantly nature-based; I felt peace in the mountains surrounding my home in Alaska, and had long ago given up the guilt ridden discipline of religion where I'd learned to beg for specific outcomes from a kindly god somewhere outside myself. Meditation was my prayer life now and through this contemplation, stored knots of resentment, lethargy, anger, jealousy... samskaras they are called in yoga philosophy, would eventually work themselves out if I were diligent and accepting of the darker human hindrances we all experience.
I would excavate the reason for this newfound yearning later; in the meantime, I volunteered at a summer horse camp. Before the children mounted their horses, I taught a yoga session that resembled their ground work in the round pen: poses that required them to stretch, balance, concentrate and develop strength, as well as deep breathing to help eliminate fear while becoming familiar with these 1500 pound animals. I read books on centered riding and natural horsemanship, and for the moment, was perfectly happy mucking stalls, cleaning tack, grooming, and walking the horses on lead ropes from arena to feeding stalls at the end of the day.  There was a quiet, satisfying rhythm to these actions. And after the children left, I could be alone with the horses, watching their fickle personalities and herd alliances, and enjoying the soft nickering and playful energy they displayed after a dinner of hay and grains.
Then one day while leading a particularly feisty quarter horse named Obi, I felt an overwhelming flood of emotion, and began to cry inside. Waves of pain unfolded in my chest as I buried my face in Obi’s mane, shielding my tears from the children. In the days that followed, I felt hurt and exposed, like a shell had cracked open leaving me frightened and vulnerable. God was talking to me, not through words in my now scattered contemplations, but through putting me in a situation where I had to interpret raw feelings and reveal the hard broken places within myself.
An old wound that had festered in my psyche for years bubbled to the surface; it was big; a betrayal by a person I deeply loved and cared for broke our friendship into tatters.  Though intellectually I knew how to let it go, and did with a focused energy at the time, I truly had not forgiven myself for unreasonably responding to her transgression.  Now my unfolding kinship with the horse was revealing old wounds; I was thrown off balance and stripped of all confidence, yet in my heart, I knew that in time the horse would graciously render it all back. I would simply have to get back in the saddle.
My training from the ground up began with a 14.5 hands chestnut Tennessee Walker named Bandit. We started my lessons in March; snow was scattered in patches on the still frozen ground. The first six weeks I rode bareback, learning the basics of feeling and sensing the horse’s body, an awareness of his musculature and breathing. Many of these insights had parallels in yoga; I began to feel my body from the inside out, and how my subtle energies were a form of contact between us. The subtleties of communication, from turning my trunk to squeezing my thighs, leaning forward and back, sitting tall or slumping, the urgency in my voice and the rate of my breathing…all these messages had meaning, and Bandit responded accordingly. I learned to read his cues, and he mine. On days when I didn’t feel well, he could sense it and was slow in his responses to match mine; on days when there were hard winds whipping up new sounds in the paddock, he was distracted and fidgety. Out on the trails, we rode with exuberance. We became partners, and as the weeks passed, I slowly gained a new confidence that filtered into my inner and outer landscapes. Even greater was an inexplicable joy that bubbled up out of nowhere and needed no coaxing. My heart was expanding…I forgave, and was forgiven.
Nature has always been my guide. The god of my understanding is found in the majesty of hiking in the Chugach Range, rafting glacier fed rivers, and skiing cross- country after a freshly fallen snow. The ground of my being relies upon recognition of the beauty found in the wild places that surround me everyday. It’s no wonder I was led to the horse; he has become another portal, a living, breathing, responsive, loving portal that is capable of bringing healing and rebirth.
            I’m always compelled to liberally thank Bandit after a lesson or ride, when all he requires of me is a treat and a good brushing. It is gratitude that isn’t forced or ritualized; it just emerges without thought, a spontaneous prayer. Thank you for allowing me to open, thank you for being patient; thank you for being intuitive and cooperative, even passionate; thank you for your quiet dignity…because now I feel all those qualities silently pouring forth through me.
A meditation teacher once said that training the mind is like training a horse; the horse is the breath and the rider is the mind. We use the breath to calm ourselves and develop a clear mind, free of samskaras, or past hurts and failures. There are countless pathways on the long road to inner freedom and the search for the Divine within ourselves.
One most illuminating, even mystical, is by way of the horse.

If you love nature and writing, go to Page Lambert's website. She offers an array of writing workshops: Connecting people with nature; connecting writers with words. I look forward to attending her workshop next summer titled "Literature and Landscape of the Horse." Click here to learn more:

Monday, June 6, 2011


Sometimes I'm too busy communicating to think; sometimes I'm too busy reading about writing, or reading about photography that I don't actually DO either one. This was never so much a problem before all this wonderful, damning, radical technology. Hate-love. Hate-love. Hate-love. Huh.
To part from any further complaints, I'd like to share with you some of my photographs of our recent trip to Italy and Greece. 

One of my favorite movies is "To Catch A Thief", by the masterful Alfred Hitchcock. Tooling around the island of Kos, Greece in a dune buggy, sharing the main roads with cars on skinny mountain roads winding along an azure sea reminded me a little of "To Catch A Thief", where Grace Kelley motors along the French Riviera in an expensive convertible with her pink chiffon scarf blowing in the wind. Hahaha! OK, no comparison there. Still...I hope you enjoy these attempts at capturing the beauty of these warm, wonderful places.