Keirartworks's Blog

hmmm. hmmm? Observations, actions and connection points through art.


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Cabin 15: A shedding

The bowl is close to full with impressions, gathered from this place through me.

Loon songs, shore waves and tree frogs singing in alternate – major second, minor third, major fifth, unison.

Owl, just after twilight. Snarls of nocturnal hunters as they chase then meet their kill – the unforgettable, intense charge of those screaming moments.

Squirrels, smaller critters: scuttle, collect, stash, prepare, and inspire me to do the same.

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Smaller and smaller sounds: a snail, crawling. A caterpillar, chewing. A nuthatch’s claws, scaling bark.

Trees, breathing.

Me, breathing.

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An astonishing variety of spider web, from filagreed net to flowing gossamer fabric. Replaced within a day after a wind storm. Not replaced, now, in the pathways I travel regularly.

The ongoing, astonishing concert of mushrooms pushing up out of the blanket of mycelium under my feet. My feet step differently now.

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Cedar branches curved lovingly around the trunk of an old ironwood, or in an upwardly repeated pattern like ribs grown out of a spine. Growth and decay in the same place; death and life seamlessly connected.

A battered, heart-shaped rock that smiles so lovingly that I smile back, each time.

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The surprise of sunlight through the leaves onto a new place I’ve never seen, rich with old story that I begin to be able to read and feel.

Rain like a steady healing balm. Rain like violent aggression, roaring thunder.

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Huge pounding waves that spit rocks at my shins, just as easily as they spit my body when I crawl toward land, then suck it back hard to pound and spit out again.

Those same waves that hold me safe and cradled, clear me of grit and stain – when I release myself to them, away from shore. When I am out of my element, trusting.

Such fierce tenderness, from this great lake.

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Wind, that comes through here from around the planet, from Oscar this last time, spreading news from the sky. From my upstairs window, eyes closed, I felt sure I was on a ship traversing the sea, carried by that wind. I sang into it like joy.

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Breezes from no specific direction, like intriguing, surprising suggestions. Invitations-  to collaborate.

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I realize I have been learning (re-learning?) a language here. I know also I’m just beginning to find the place where my own rhythm fits, in a strong, dignified way, within it.

As an artist in this time and place, I have a strong feeling that my task now is to find ways to translate, to intersect what I’m learning with the quick, blaring, bright (also soft, compassionate and supportive) places where people gather. To re-learn, through the older lens of this graceful, growing place, the language of human.

This week I venture forth. Like the fool of the world, I take my simple understandings (bread and cheese wrapped up and tied to a stick) out there – to find a good place to bring my bowl of treasures and begin to sing them into form – music, art, writing, performance.

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..to seek my fortune. A story as old as the hills, and possibly something that many women in their fifties need to do in these times of shift and change, to shake off the effects of old contractual assumptions that no longer serve.

The quest to find a winter place includes all of you who read this blog, of course. I’ll be out there talking and connecting, but I also travel here, where I write. I invite you to connect with me if you know of a place that might work for this, if you hear an intriguing suggestion on the breeze.

It can be anywhere in the world where people gather, in a people ecosystem.

 

 


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Cabin 14: September

I swim in the rain. The lake is now well beyond bracing, but not yet head-achingly cold.

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It occurs to me as I go in for the third time that this is perhaps what the crows had been trying to tell me,

HEY! Time to think about Packing Up! COLD COMES!

What I didn’t hear then, I hear now, loudly, clearly. During the shouting swim, after the swim bundled and watching the fire blaze hot in the cold rain.

From my snug place under the new guest-house tarp I understand that my days here are now numbered.

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I think about the fire in my belly, and what it burns for: beauty, art, connection, integrity.

I think about what I will take with me from this place, what I will leave behind, six weeks from now.

I think about cutting and stacking firewood in a place where it will stay dry, so I can visit and stay for a snowstorm or two, in the darker months.

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The wildness of this place has seeped into my bones in the time I’ve lived and worked (and howled) in this place.  I realize that I’ve never felt more anchored, more safe than I do, here.

I memorize this feeling and pull it over me like a blanket of sounds – waves on the shore, rain and wind in the trees, crows spreading news.

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I have just enough time left to make a new skin for myself from that blanket. It will replace the old crusty carapace I broke out of, then ate. I will wear my new skin into the urban studio I’ll work from this coming winter, and draw music, art and story out of it.

The intersected ecosystems of urban many-human with wild and natural. My (estimated) two-year tour to find the intersection points between human and natural ecosystems. Like stones from the shore I’ll pick up stories, defining moments, shared burdens and acts of collaboration, write them into my skin, make art.

Then share it.

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I shoo the matronly porcupine out of my cabin in the wee hours of this morning, gently and respectfully. She’s just curious, after all. Leaves slowly, lumberingly, quills only slightly raised.

I’m so grateful to be the adopted wild thing here this summer.


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Cabin 13: Up before the Crows

Here among the trees it’s difficult to differentiate between strength and power. But this is a good place to observe from: my human experience of both.

In people terms, it’s easier to see: that man has great power but uses up the strength of those around him and wields it abusively; this woman is strong in her personal power to withstand abuse, and does not abuse in return, etc. You can switch the genders if you like, it certainly works both ways.

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Humans most often connect power with money, and we have a cultural belief  – a rule of thumb even – in the West that the person with the most money/power will become corrupt. I’m not sure that’s true across the board, but certainly it seems to be playing out alarmingly, right now.

I see nothing that resonates with that here in the forest by the shore. The power here is enormous and palpable, but always collaborative: that tree is the oldest and strongest; she is powerful in her support and shelter of the younger trees. Everywhere I look, here, there is integrity.

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Wisdom, here, is easy to mistake for beauty: the long arcing reach of a branch, the new growth out of a fallen but still living trunk, the tiny white mushrooms among the giant orange ones. The oldest trees and rocks seem wisest, but not in the way we would measure wisdom in human terms. Here it is the way everything is connected, intertwined, mutually supportive – an active web of old, shared wisdom.

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Humans are complex in a different way than this ecosystem is, as a rule. We inevitably distort the natural system that has endured for millennia, perceiving it through the myopic lens of our little speck in time.  Tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes are measured according to their potential and actual effect on human populations, since this is the measurement we can most easily relate to.

There are other ways to measure the effect of crisis, catastrophe, trauma. I’m curious about these, since I am the only one of my species, and by far the least important [useful? connected?] living thing in the fabric of here.

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I remember reading Claude Levi-Strauss in my third year Antho course. It was the early ’80s, and although indigenous studies existed then, their blessedly corrective influence had not made it to my University (tho my marvellous Woman Professor of strong opinion did ask us to consider the ethics of Mr. Levi-Strauss’ methods). What I learned in that elective course was about the early white, male dominated colonist mode of observation:

go to the remote place, take notes, find samples (people, artifacts, photographs), bring them home to Europe, write about them, pronounce yourself an expert.

His 2009 obituary is here – an excellent, informative read.

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In the light of contemporary understanding and my own experience here this summer, I might describe Mr Levi-Strauss’ approach this way:

Bring your preconceived theories and embedded european belief systems to a remote, unfamiliar place. Using those as a lens, forage for information and samples from the field that fit your theory, not worrying too much about consent or effect, since you’re doing this for the good of Mankind, which isn’t here in this place. Bring notes and samples home to Europe, write and teach from them, accept the acknowledgement of your peers and the public as a leading expert.

Do not ever admit that you are using other people and their cultural belief systems to better understand your own. That your lack of awareness or acknowledgement of this agenda is dishonourable and disrespectful to all concerned. That taking from them, without deep mutual understanding and full consent is an act of abuse and entitlement.

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I think of what indigenous  means, and find myself comfortable, today, with this loose definition:

Here before me.

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Most mornings, the Crows wake up the world along the shore. Spreading news where news is needed, standing watch. I’m learning to distinguish their voices, begin to hear vocabulary, urgency or its lack, which voice has seniority, which voices are learning.

The tone of a crow’s question. Her statements.

A few mornings ago they came here, to tell me something I think. Of course I didn’t understand.

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There is no question whatsoever that I arrived with preconceived theories and embedded belief systems, just under two months ago. Without knowing it, I came also with an unhealthy dose of ptsd, stored up from the past fifteen years. We all have this; I just brought mine here where it soon became as obvious as an oil spill. 

As the trees and the lake patiently heal my fractures and behavioural maladjustments, I also come into closer alignment with an older, unbroken self. I become more aware, more collaborative, as I learn the way of things around me, the deeper rhythms beyond what I perceive with my quick, trained, authoritative human eye. The integrity of this place sends me back inward again and again, to measure and assess my own.

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I’m more conscious of the way I walk through and in, how I am always in relation to what is around me. How every choice I make affects and changes what is here. I take more care to acknowledge this, and choose wisely.

This makes me feel better about taking photographs for painting and writing reference in the winter. For use in this blog which I fully acknowledge is written, mostly, for humans.

5am. Making peace.


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Cabin 12: inside an Art Project

Thanks James, for coaxing this out of me.

I heard a rumour you’d moved,  he said. How are you doing?

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A year ago I read Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, in which she suggests that artists find places where no one has been, and then find a way to take us there (Scientists do this, but collect data to analyze for us.  As good metaphors do, this one planted itself like a long echo, with pulses one year apart.

I just heard the first of them.  Ah.

The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration — how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?

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Lobsters can’t grow beyond their hard shells unless they crack their old skin, pull their soft bodies out, and then eat the old shell.

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There are You Tube videos of this that are exhausting to watch: the process requires a period extreme discomfort, after which the lobster is soft and vulnerable to predators. But it’s unavoidable: grow, or die inside your old, hard skin. To moult and risk being consumed is to live.

(In case you read a 2007 online story that suggests otherwise, you should know that this is not true about eagles.)

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I can be softer, here. I’m human, so this softness makes me stronger.

As my old skin falls off, my listening increases. I move differently, feelingly.

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Lost, to what, I wonder, as I receive and note impressions of this place that notices me: the shy veery who comes ever closer; tiny mushrooms twenty feet up the trunk of a sapling; the perfectly coiled snake; the bee, the impossibly strong, intertwined tree roots, the enormous mushrooms, the song of waves on shore.

Twilight is my favourite so far, but there is no time of day, no weather that is not rich with beauty and promise, so long as I am present in it, and open.

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Thank you, Rebecca, for the long echo. Thanks, James, for the simple question, artist to artist. Thanks Scott, for helping to fund studio space for me this winter, so I can build the work. I look forward to making your painting.

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I am living inside an art project. Lost, on purpose, here where the horizons are broad.


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Cabin 11: The Guest House

Perhaps a little space for an outdoor kitchen might be good? A place to hang my lantern so I can read. Shelves that make a little more sense. Some clearer idea of protocol, i.e., dishes, garbage, drinking water, coffee and how/when to prepare for dark._MG_9439

A good friend these past forty years comes from afar to reconnect, and applies his reliable insight to this off-grid situation of mine.

“Would you come here to seek relief from bureaucracy and the vicissitudes of life in these enervating post-truth times?”, I prompt.

He offers welcome, pragmatic suggestion. As always when in the presence of my friend’s formidable mind, I begin to look at the mental, emotional, physical and psychological puzzles presented by this off-grid situation through a different lens.  Hmmm.

Yes, indeed.

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Possibilities for learning what we know so far: why moths, when, and where from? Why and when peepers, and how different from tree frogs; how many of each and where?

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Mushrooms: which ones and where, in what conditions; and mycorrhizae: connecting which tree to which plant; where is the information, the nutrient, the pulse of this (I’ve just read it’s one pulse per second, but need to know more).

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What happens when I walk through all of this, when I breathe here, work here. How would I describe my own footprint in this powerful, complex but oh-so delicate place?

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How do I describe all of this to guests, who come to stay in my guest-house?

This is where I go with my artist body-mind. My brilliant, pragmatic friend nods, witnesses, agrees. Then he suggests, “Perhaps a tarp that pulls out from here, so we can stay outside should a flash thunderstorm occur?”  Since one did.

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Thanks for the visit, my friend. All good inspirations, for a time somewhere in my future. For now, though, they are the tangent too far. There’s much to attend to.

I focus my efforts in grant application writing and research design – into people – and continue to explore the quantum possibilities of where I will migrate to, after the snow flies.

 

 

 


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Cabin 9: around the dented corner

For those of you who have endured the mess described in the past few posts, I salute you. It’s not easy to travel with someone who finds herself on a foggy path of confusion and vulnerability, and stay with it. My pain is no more or less important than anyone’s; we all deal with terrible loss and betrayal. And yet this is just what I needed from you.

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For the record, I’m through the worst now, patched up mostly and moving forward again, through the (marvellously dented) corner and into comedic relief. It turns out Ugly Keira can be very very funny, if you give her some love. She digs the Cabin, and asks better questions than I do.

We had a great discussion with Nora Bateson, Aretha Franklin and Donna Haraway the other night that was, at points, hilarious. Sadly Virginia Woolf couldn’t make it, but I know she’d have had a great time.

Huh. Who knew?

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I believe very strongly that we all share in each other’s journey, that telling story from these journeys is a fundamental human act of trust and love. I have no idea, of course, but I hope that someone I’ve never met among those who read this blog has found a spark of helpful self-recognition, or at the very least, a chuckle, even if it was at my expense.

Both writing and reading are acts of intimacy; all heart-felt human stories are worth telling, and hearing. This is one real way we look after each other.

Thank You for reading. Onward ho!