Choose A Better Story [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Watching an early episode of the Millennial Farmer I was astounded to learn how computerized farming has become. Driving the tractor was far more digital-than-donkey. Even the word “driving” is mostly misplaced, just as the word “telephone” is loosely applied to the magic box in our pockets that searches the internet, takes photographs, measures our step, our heart rate, acts as a calendar, a compass, a flashlight, a newspaper…

Farmers can do more, faster, with greater precision. The seeds are planted to exact depths and meticulously spaced. The temperature of the earth and the minerals in the soil are collected and measured as data points. The farmer monitors the technology and engages the steering only when making a turn. Keeping the machinery in good running order requires an entirely different set of skills than it did twenty – even ten years ago. I wonder what farming will mean to the grandchildren of the people I watched mowing their fields. Like a modern car mechanic, in addition to wrenches and oil, farming demands computer diagnostic skills and a continuous upgrade of software. While the process is different, the basics remain the same. Plant. Nurture. Grow. Harvest. Feed.

To feed. Hands in the soil. Eyes to the horizon gauging the weather. Eyes on the advanced weather forecast technology. Praying for rain. But not too much.

There’s an old black-and-white photograph on the wall of the farmhouse we rented for our family gathering. People assembled on the porch, wearing high collars and long prairie dresses. Horses and wagons populate the foreground. I marveled, standing on the same porch in the old photograph, how close-in-time I am to the people in that picture. Two headstones away. Tom once told a story, when he was a boy, of sitting in the lap of an elderly woman who, as a small child, sat in the lap of Abraham Lincoln. That makes me a mere three headstones from the 16th President. “He smelled of saddle soap and lavender,” she reported.

I hear abundant chatter about rural America being all red and urban America mostly blue. Both colors have to eat. Both are made better by technology. The food is grown in the red while the computers are imagined and made manifest in the blue. A single step back from the chatter reveals how truly interdependent we really are. I am grateful for the easy availability of food at my local grocery store. I imagine the farmer is grateful for the advanced technology that takes some of the guesswork and toil from their lives.

We are, all of us, a single headstone away from passing on a better or lesser world. Both are possible. The choice is ours. Where do we desire to place our focus? What world do we desire to create?

Farmer’s take great pride in feeding the world. Entrepreneurs and software engineers take great pride in making tasks easier for others. Generally, gratitude is not only a much better story than division, it’s also more productive. It’s also more honest. I find that people are highly motivated when helping others. The question is, “Why can’t we see how we are helping and being helped?” Our interdependence is right in front of our faces.

The noisy trappings of our time may seem complicated but the basics remain the same: Plant. Nurture. Grow. Harvest. Feed. We eat what we sow. We choose the thought-seed that we plant. Technology can help us be more effective and efficient. It cannot help us gain wisdom or sort what we lose in our dedicated color-crayon-divide. It cannot help us choose or pass on a better story. Only we can do that.

read Kerri’s blogpost about HAY RAKES IN THE SKY

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Restore The Heart [on KS Friday]

Last night I sat on the floor in the corner of the bathroom. It was very late and I couldn’t sleep. I said to no one, “Something, sometime, some way, has to tip in our favor.” I was disheartened after a day of exceptionally discouraging news.

“Disheartened” is an interesting word. Heart removal. An empty cavity where the energy should be. The thought made me laugh and laughter is always good for the disheartened. My laughter brought me back to my senses. I sat on the floor, shifted my focus from woe-is-me and placed it squarely on all that I am thankful for. The list is long and runs through creature comforts like hot showers and electric light to soul-comforts like a crazy Aussie dog to heart-comforts like an incredible wife. Also, there is wine on the deck. Walks in nature which imply good health, walks through imagination which imply an artistic spirit, walks with awe which imply an insatiable curiosity. Through the right lens, my life-view from the bathroom floor is remarkable.

My empty cavity filled to overflowing.

I find it’s a good practice, when fresh from a bout with self-pity, to wander the house slowly. To intentionally touch the stories that live in the furniture or the glasses or the plants. To step out of the fear-mongering and into the riches of the present moment. Laying on our dining room table is a bundle of branches Kerri gathered from a fallen pussy willow. The furry catkins glowed silver and caught my attention. They warmed me with a memory. A walk with dear friends on ground so muddy that we laughed and hopped in search of solid footing. It was cold. Trees were down; the day before the wind and rain was brutal. Finding the pussy willow branch on the ground made both Kerri and Jen giggle with delight. A treasure! So simple. Their excitement turned toward possibilities. Vases or ribbon?

Enhearten: to restore strength and courage to a saddened spirit. The memory was good medicine and sent me to bed where I fell into a deep sleep, paradoxically enlivened and peaceful. Heart restored.

Kerri’s music is available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about PUSSYWILLOWS

watershed/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Open And Share [on Merely A Thought Monday]

We have “go” bags packed. One contains our important papers. The other has a change of clothes and the dog’s leash. It’s not that we’re paranoid. During the civil unrest a few years ago – buildings ablaze and murder on the streets just a block or two from our house – the local authorities advised people to be ready to leave on a moment’s notice. We prepared our “go” bags and thought it such a good idea that we’ve never unpacked them. Now, when the tornado sirens wail, we simply grab our bags and the dog and descend into the basement. Easy-peasy in times of scramble.

Each night we watch Youtube videos of people hiking long distance trails. Often the hikers talk about the moment that they “leave” the mindset of the city and enter the freedom of the trail. Everything they need they carry on their backs. They cease dealing with what is supposed-to-be and fully enter life with what is right in front of them. There is a plan and the plan is constantly in flux. There is little to no consistency. What they can and cannot control becomes readily apparent.

What is most important, what is consistent to all of their stories on the trail, is how important other people become to their experience. Leaving the mindset of the city brings them back to the basic tenet of their humanity. They are totally dependent upon the kindness of others. They enter an ecosystem of mutual support. The illusion of “every-man-for-himself” falls away. They open. They share. They fill themselves with gratitude for others. The people who try to go-it-alone don’t make it very far.

I think that is why, at the end of each day, we watch these people on the trail, with their “go” bags on their backs and their hearts bursting with appreciation for their lives and for those who walk with them, if only for a day. They remind us of what’s most important. They cut through the noisy abstraction of news and ratings and likes. They don’t expect their walk to be easy or comfortable or pretty. They remind us to fill our days with gratitude for others, to turn toward our fellow travelers rather than turn away. They offer a hand and accept assistance. They share. They remind us, in our scramble to find safety in the storm, that life in an ecosystem of support is what it’s all about.

read Kerri’s blogpost about STORMS

Choose A Double [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The storm that blew through last night was ominous. The thunder shook the house. I lay awake, marveling at the force of nature. And, while I lay awake, counting the seconds between flash and boom, I also counted myself lucky. I rolled gratitudes through my mind, enumerating all the things I was thankful for in the previous 24 hours. There were more than I could count.

It is very easy to get lost in despair. It’s very easy to count all the things that don’t work, go wrong, hurt a lot, and didn’t-go-my-way. It takes a bit more intention and effort to turn the eye toward the good stuff. Counting gratitudes requires aiming focus.

It reminds me of an exercise I used to do with groups, revealing to them how easy and fun it is to blame-the-universe or other people for our woes. Blame is like sugar. It’s addictive. The groups would tell outrageous blame stories and laugh. Blame lightens the load. It’s an easy answer to the mysterious question, “Why?”

It’s much harder to see and embrace participation and choice in a life path. Ownership comes with responsibility. There is circumstance – that which I can’t control. There is what I do within my circumstance – that which I can control. The moment I suggested to the groups that they transform their blame-story into a story-of-choice, they fell silent. Every group. Every time.

Blame requires allies and layers of story; it happened to me. Choice needs no audience. It is the story. I made this happen.

On any other night, between flash and boom, I might have tossed and turned and counted my woes. I am more than capable of diving into dark holes and indulging my blame story. I have and will again drown my sorrows in pity and it’s-not-my-fault denial. But, on this night, during this storm, I was filled with awe for the power of nature, for the abundant good that boomed through my life, for the chance to live another abundant day. A double double of appreciation.

read Kerri’s blog post about A DOUBLE

Reminisce [on KS Friday]

Staring at a waterfall throws me into reminiscence. The rushing water pulls me into the past. I never know where I’m going to land, who I will remember, or what moment I’ll revisit. Waterfalls are time machines. They are also great reminders that time-does-not-stand-still.

While Kerri took photos of the falls, I was transported back to the ranch. A long time ago. Sunset over the fields. Tom and I sipped wine while he told stories. He was a great teller of stories. He was a great saver-of-lost-boys and it had only just occurred to me that I was among the lost boys that he’d saved.

Applying for jobs is akin to staring at a waterfall. Reminiscence without the romance. I was preparing material for a position that involved mentorship and, to stir my cover-letter-thinking, Kerri asked me a question, “What was the single most important moment you’ve experienced with one of your mentors?”

I responded with the first memory that came to mind. And, in truth, it didn’t come to my mind; it hit my heart like thunderclap. Tom came for a visit. I was living in Seattle and he flew in to spend some time with me. It was so simple. A visit. This man that I so admired went out of his way to hang out with me. I mattered. It altered the path of my life.

Time flows by. The waterfall of my life is rich beyond measure. I am now the age Tom was the evening that we sipped wine on the deck at the ranch. I am forever grateful that he altered the course of my life-river – by simply showing up.

Tom and me a long time ago.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE WATERFALL

[this piece reminds me of THE LOST BOY and Tom]

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

riverstone/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Play Back-Up [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Sometimes life imitates art. And, when it does, there’s nothing better. I painted “Helping Hands” almost a decade ago. I lived it last week. Again and again, that rowdy tyke wanted to scale the higher wall. It was pure joy to play back-up to his adventure.

So many are currently playing back-up to my adventure. Scaling this higher wall is infinitely do-able with so many strong hands ready to catch me if I fall. I am most grateful for all of the hands helping me.

read Kerri’s blogpost about HELPING HANDS

Listen To The Snow [on DR Thursday]

It’s snowing and it’s making me feel like wrapping in a blanket. Cozy and reassuring.

The tall grasses are bowing with the weight of the snow. It’s beautiful. It’s quiet. The kind of quiet that only happens in a snowfall, like the world stands still and listens. We stood with our coffee and looked out the kitchen window at the enormous flakes falling. Quiet outside, quiet inside.

Yesterday we were in Florida. Bill called it paradise. I disagree. For me, paradise has seasons, an open window at night, the cold air driving me deeper beneath the quilts. Paradise calls me outside to walk. Paradise includes the infinite space that opens with the hush of the snow, when world rests and takes note. It makes the green shoots of spring that much more magical. Difference hones appreciation.

It’s good to be home. The snow serves as a welcoming committee. “Welcome back,” it whispers, reminding us of life’s rhythms, “It’s time to recharge.”

I look at my list of things to do and decide that I will listen to the snow. Today is a day to rejuvenate. To stand at the window and listen.

read Kerri’s blogpost about SNOW

In Serenity, 46×30, mixed media [my site is down and under construction]

in serenity © david robinson

Look-At-Me-Look-At-You [on KS Friday]

Crossing the soggy path, the deer left hoofprints pressed deep into the mud. “Those weren’t here before,” she said. It was our second loop around the yellow trail.

A half a mile down the path she suddenly stopped, grabbing my arm in the way that let me know to stand silent and still. She pointed into the woods. The deer stood frozen, looking at us. It’s ears twitched, deciding that we were not a threat. It flicked its tail, a shock of white, and walked a few steps, stopping again to scrutinize us. We stood that way for several minutes. Look-at-me-look-at-you. Boundaries dissolved.

And then, as if released from a spell, we walked on, filled with delight at our communion with the deer. “They’re usually not out this early,” she said. We encounter them at sunset but rarely in the late morning. We decided it was a gift, a sighting of encouragement. We embraced the deer-symbol of life’s regeneration. Moving with grace through obstacles, having a fresh perspective on old impediments. Good perspectives to carry into the new year.

We rounded the corner and crossed to the middle of the bridge. A week ago during the polar freeze we imagined the river was solid ice. Now, it stirred into motion, puddles atop frozen sheets, the current pulling below. The sky and trees reflected on speckled patterns of ice in transformation. It looked like a grey whale swam in for a rest.

Once again we found ourselves under a spell with the river. Moving in an ancient dance with water and sky. Look-at-me-look-at-you. Our stinging fingers brought us back. Time to go home. Warm up. Sip a glass of wine, and revel that deer-spell and river-magic would make it on the list of our Daily Gorgeous.

[this piece of Kerri’s breaks my heart every time I listen]

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE RIVER

last i saw you/this part of the journey © 1998 kerri sherwood

Let It Rain [on DR Thursday]

We are reading Raynor Winn’s new book, Landlines. It is terrific. We make a cup of tea, get under a blanket on the old couch in the sitting room, Dogga asleep at our feet, and Kerri reads to me. Life does not get better than this.

A theme in the book is to put yourself in the way of hope. It has become my mantra for the turn of the year. Hope is coming through; stand in its path.

I started a new painting. I’ve been making sketches for a few weeks. It is the theme I snagged on when broken wrists and lost jobs stopped all artistic motion.: train through trees. As David Bayles and Ted Orland write, there is a difference between stopping and quitting. I stopped for a spell. Putting on my painter-clothes and descending into the studio felt like coming back into myself. Embodiment. As I lay out the composition and layered in some under tones, I felt as if air rushed into my lungs after holding my breath for too long.

We mimicked our smack-dab cartoon and took a midnight walk along Lake Michigan to bring in the new year. “Star dust is raining down on us,” Kerri said, in the first minute of 2023.

Stardust. Standing in the path of hope. A deep full breath. A good book and a warm blanket. A cup of tea. The excitement of rushing to photograph a train racing through the trees – and all things that inspire a painter to paint, a composer to compose, and two writers sitting side-by-side to capture their thoughts as the ritual beginning of each new day.

Life does not get better than this.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BUFFALO PLAID

Choose Awe [on KS Friday]

Of course, it’s not enough to appreciate the cloud-stripes that stopped our motion on the trail. I might have painted them in one of my pieces – for no other reason other than they are a cool pattern. Of course, I would have believed I was making it up. Imagination at its finest. But, in mid-trail, to peer up and see them painted on the sky-canvas sent us into a Google frenzy. You’ll be relieved to know that striped patterns in cloud formations are due to an oscillation called the Kelvin-Hemholtz instability. Phew! Not aliens or Van Gogh run amok, just ordinary old Kelvin-Hemholtz, unstable and oscillating. Again.

Nature continues to astound me. Nature continues to blow my imagination to new heights. As an artist, I am relieved knowing that I will never create anything as perfect or profound as what nature tosses up every minute of every day. There’s nothing left to do but play in these fields and appreciate the conversation. Since I am also a unique-form-thrown-up-by-nature, respecting the conversation, having deep gratitude for the moment, wouldn’t hurt.

Standing on the trail, watching the miraculous lines scratched into the blue-blue sky, I re-realized something important: Google might be able to explain it – which is no small feat – but explaining it, labeling it, putting it into a context-box also diminishes it. It gives us the illusion that we are separate from it; that we can control-it-by-rationalization. Visitors at the zoo.

Sometimes I think awe is a better path than explanation. I imagine that we might approach global warming, weather weirding differently, if we weren’t under the illusion that we could Google nature into submission. Awe is participatory, boundaries dissolve. I-am-that. Life beyond definition, beyond category and sub-category, glimmers.

Next time, I will opt for a few more moments of astonishment before reaching for my phone. Explanations and easy answers can wait their turn in line.

Lost. In the Questions ~ Kerri Sherwood

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about STRIPES

lost. in the questions © kerri sherwood