I know people who choose to live in forests – with forests, that is, rather than with humans. I am one of these whenever I am able, though I recognize a balancing urge also, to interact in the world of people, thoughts and ideas. So, internet connection, car, art studio, city streets cloth face masks for me, too.

My ex is perhaps still friends with what seemed to me to be an alarming number of men who have ended up in the eddy of inherited? houses they could not afford to maintain, or had no desire to. Each room filled with stuff piled on top of stuff, the whole house and yard choked with stuff so that they are left with only a corner of the old kitchen to live in. Perhaps a different kind of forest, thick and impassable with once-useful things.

Amazing, these worlds that exist outside of what’s considered acceptable in our wealthy consumer culture: old blankets repurposed as blinds to cover windows, yellowed wallpaper and institution green paint left to peel, rusted coffee tins full of square nails and lost tools on top of old newspapers piled two feet high. Some who live this way have dogs, some have books; they all know things most people haven’t considered.

Others I know live on boats and work in solitary construction jobs, are friends with their faraway daughters who visit occasionally, but regularly. They yearn for Scotland, and home.

Some, widowed, sit in a room at a retirement lodge and practice naming the people in the dresser-top photos. When he turned ninety, one friend of mine told me that being in such a place was like being asleep all the time until someone came to visit. He’d been a musician, passionate in connection and love. As a widower in a care home he existed in a kind of almost-death, waking into life and memory only in the presence of an other.

Through injury or illness, some of us exist in a vegetative state. Non-responsive, but physically stable and alive. Some stay in this state for years then emerge, slowly, achingly into interaction with the world.

Neuroscientist Adrian Owen writes about his research into the this liminal place of being alive and yet not in his 2018 book, Into the Grey Zone. It’s been a good thing to read in these strange times, and I agree with The New Yorker review: “Strangely uplifting…the testimonies of people who have returned from the gray zone evoke the mysteries of consciousness and identity with tremendous power”

I’m wondering if these extremes are what we fear, we who live connected to others through children and jobs, the exchange of goods and thoughtful engagement with community and neighbours. To be alone without external interaction, to forget how and who to be, with others. Fear is a great blocker of insight and greater awareness. In our fear of forgetting, what do we miss? What do we not notice?

Ondaatje’s The English Patient; Trumbo’s Johnny Got his Gun are just two of many stories that have fascinated me – both crafted around disconnection from our senses and our memories. Do we identify memory with Self? I am the person who did and felt these things. I am identified by what and whom I can remember.

What a mystery then, that though he had no memory left, my Dad in his last days was still fully present with me, still communicating, responding, as the person I know.

Swing forward twelve and a half months to 8am on this quiet, wet Monday. I’m in the place I’ve been coming to meet myself every morning for many months now. Here is where, pre-dawn, I gather my thoughts with dreams from the night before and put them on the table in front of the third-floor, east-facing window.

As the light seeps slowly into the world so my thoughts and rememberings return to me in different shapes, intertwined. If I’m still enough, If I keep my willful, active self at bay, I can give them form in some appropriate language – words, or pictures, or sounds. I think this morning it will be my cello I go to, to play them through and out.

6:30am, Monday May 18, 2020, upstairs with Mia the cat in the deep rain morning. I dreamed of garbage piled high in the streets, coated with clusterflies. Children were walking over this on their way to school…

We are afraid to be alone with ourselves, maybe. To be unwitnessed by another human is to be without an important anchor of external self-reference. He thinks I’m funny, she loves my smile, they like my work…. I feel permanently fragile in the loss of these warm things. I miss the quickness of laughter, the lift of an eyebrow, the intensity of a lean-forward response. I miss body warmth and touch; I miss the complexity and resonance of in-person humanness.

#StayHome is a difficult gift, but a gift nonetheless. The isolation challenges me to be fully here, by gum, without worry or anxiety about how important I am, what I do in the world, how others might respond to me, what I’ll do next. I have no idea about any of these things, after all, nor control over which way the world shifts, since what I remember the world to be is no longer what it is. I can only bear witness, show up into my creative space, respond in whatever way feels right, and stay as open as possible to change.

In these morning moments with the table and the dawn I feel more like dad seemed in his last days – absent to my measured, measuring self, maybe, but entirely and fully present to wonder. Curious.

There, a breeze in the sway of the birch, heavy with catkins. Leaves pushing open at the tops of the big trees. A busy chatter of sparrows and starlings. The through-wet-glass blur of the house across the street.

A seagull angles southward.

Aggression is the other side of green.

AgressiveRed

As a 14-year-old downhill racer I was trained to attack the hill, to ski not just on top of it, but in it. At the same age I was also developing my approach to cello. My first teacher – a passionate violinist who adored Kreisler, who played always from inside the music – would beseech me to ‘stop playing like a girl’.  He deliberately invoked my rage- so I roared.

Bless him.  I might have remained a mouse, hyper aware of my environment and expert at invisibility, had he not prodded the carnivore in me.

GreenlikeChagall

So Mouse found her power.  From there I developed card games in which I could dominate, energetic ways to push and pull inside a debate with family, and learned to love the exhilaration that came with playing the bass line in string trios, duets, and as principal cellist in two orchestras.  For a deeply introspective kid it was a wobbly but decent way to explore my urge to join.

Colour_Urge-to-Join

Later this approach became more sophisticated with my Uni friends and their fine fine clever minds. Even though my intuitive self felt heavy inside the quick of their conversation I could pull and move the feeling in the room with my cello ‘sensibilities’ – anchoring where I chose, releasing when I chose, pulling and pushing the ‘dance’ of it all – though I was not conscious of my manipulations.  I didn’t know I was flexing my silent ‘roar’. I remember inflicting wounds, and feeling bewildered from inside my own invisibility.

I had an understanding that it was proper to be ‘mouse’ when not playing music.

You could call that naive, and it was.  In retrospect I could also call my naiveté an abuse of personal power, since I was – unconsciously – manipulating the human ecosystem without regard for the effects of my ‘flexing’.

Trail2

We all have this story, or a version of it; we travel into our powerful selves only by increments, we learn temperance through experience.  I tell mine here not as a confessional but because it’s a way to feel what green is.

I offer the idea that green is the colour of naiveté, of newness and innocence.  It grows into the colour of strength when tempered with awareness, and nourished by tenderness.  I think we breathe green like forests do, and like leaves do, to filter toxins from the air and drink the sunlight- to feel the deep joy of spirit at peace.

taken September 27th, 5pm.

I offer too that green is the breath that supports the roar of red.

moss like this reminds me of lungs

Some painting notes, then – a technical application of Green in 2-D  painting.

Both green and red are essential in my practise of painting.  I tend to overlap yellows and blues on the page or canvas to make my greens, but the result is the similar, somatically. If I need to I use Hooker’s, Sap, or olive greens, but I avoid opaque greens completely.  (Too many institutions were painted this flat, bad-tasting colour in the ’50s.  I do wonder why.)

Here is a little green artists’ pigment history  – (for more link to this excellent page here).  It’s interesting that for me Emerald Green acts more like crimson on a canvas if used in it’s pure form – and the pigment used by Van Gogh and Cezanne was extremely toxic.  A ‘not-green’, if it’s also rat poison.

Sap Green
Derived from the unripe berries of the Buckthorn shrub. It is highly fugitive, as is a sister-pigment, Iris Green which comes from the sap of the Iris Flower. During the Middle Ages, Sap Green was reduced to a heavy syrup and sold in liquid form. Today’s synthetic Sap Greens are lakes obtained from coal tar.

Emerald Green
Also known as Schweinfurt Green, Parrot Green, Imperial Green, Vienna Green, and Mitis Green, this beautiful but poisonous of pigments was also marketed under the name Paris Green as a rat poison. As a paint-pigment, it was prone to fading in sunlight (an effect which could be reduced in oil paintings by isolating the pigment in between coats of varnish) and also reacted chemically with other colours. For instance, it could not be combined with sulfur-containing colours, like cadmium yellow, vermilion or ultramarine blue, as the mixture resulted in a deep brown colour. However, it had a brilliance unlike any other copper green known to modern chemistry. It is said that Emerald Green was the favourite pigment of the Post-Impressionist Paul Cezanne. In some of his watercolours, thin washes containing the colour have browned, but thicker applications have remained bright green. Van Gogh was another avid user. Modern imitations include “Emerald Green” or “Permanent Green”.

i used to identify with the glamour I can pull up out of my performance joy, as though it was the best part of me. It certainly got the most attention.


Now I think of it more like one of many essential ‘functions’.  A runner learns how to run, or a digger to dig- I’m a musician. so performance is a muscle I learned to identify and then make good use of.  I’m only now beginning to to understand that it’s not the point.


Gandalf uses glamour to great effect (greater in the books) when he absolutely needs to make certain that what he’s saying is heard and understood.  He gets bigger, more dominant, more resonant.  A performance.  But not the point.


There are deeper things in me that are far more essential, valuable, and private.  They include My Ugly which I spar with in deadly contests more often than I care to acknowledge.

I have grown a deep respect for My Ugly over the years.  She has taught me more than anyone else, and is wiser than I will ever be.


I feel like the ocean tonight.  As though the surface of me has nothing to do with who I am- it’s just a reflection of everything else.