Be The Miracle [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“The infinity in the microscope is as dazzling as that of the cosmos.” ~ John O’Donohue

After my surgery, the doctor said, “You my friend are now a modern medical miracle.” It’s true. Had I been born in another century I would not have survived. In fact, had I been born in another century, I would have met the average life expectancy of 30-40 years. Each and every one of us, walking the streets with an expectation to live beyond our thirties, are modern medical miracles and indebted to the brave explorers of the microscopic cosmos.

Early in this pandemic, before it hit the shores of these divided-united-states, we watched the movie Contagion. So much of the world painted in the film was spot on. Pandemic deniers decrying the virus as a made-up assault on their freedom. Charlatans selling miracle cures and misinformation. Conspiracy theories run amok. The initial panic emptied shelves at the grocery store. Quarantine. An economy in tatters. A weary and anxious populace awaiting a vaccine that would stop the micro-assault. A microscopic threat vanquished by a microscopic man-made-miracle.

When we pulled into the abandoned-drive-through-bank to receive our vaccines, I felt that I was in the movie. We’d placed our names on a list to receive vaccines that would otherwise need to be discarded. The call came on a Friday afternoon, “Come now!” We jumped into the truck as the sun was setting on a frigid snowy day and raced to the given address: an abandoned bank turned into public health center. We were directed to stop at cone number 1. Nurses in snow pants, knit caps and mufflers came out to the truck. It was so cold that we had to open the door to communicate, the windows were frozen and would not roll down. A bit of paperwork, coats shed and arms exposed, and the vaccines were administered. Coats and gloves and hats were quickly donned again. We were asked to wait at cone number 1 for 15 minutes. They gave us a flag to wave if we needed help.

As we waited, engine running to beat back the bitter cold, we admired those amazing women who gave us our shots. They were absolutely delightful, upbeat, and incredibly kind. Pandemic. A blisteringly frigid day. They’d been giving vaccines since early in the morning, repeatedly taking off their gloves in frostbite conditions. We were the last two of the day. And there wasn’t a hint of exhaustion or suffering or complaining from the cold. “People can be amazing,” Kerri said. “It’s good to remember that sometimes.”

It was good to remember. Dedicated people selflessly serving others in the face of a deadly virus, enduring extreme cold, extreme misinformation, tip-toeing across ice and politics to bring big-heart-comfort and a bit of modern miracle to the dazzling cosmos called my body and yours. My health is your health. Intimately linked as we pass in the grocery store or on the street or trail, across the nation and the world. The microscopic world does not know us as individuals and cares not about our investments or beliefs or freedoms, imagined or not. All that I know is that I am, once again, a modern medical miracle, and owe a deep debt of gratitude to the men and women at the microscope and those that stand for hours in the cold.

read Kerri’s blog post about VACCINES

Witness The Generosity [on Merely A Thought Monday]

You know the ritual is over when the sacrifice is made. Sometimes the sacrifice is literal, an offering of thanks to the greater powers. A life given for life received. It’s the elemental story cycle with gratitude as the final act.

Sometimes the sacrifice is unconscious and, therefore…unconscious. Unseen. Not felt.

In the weeks before the holiday, the delivery trucks were ubiquitous, zipping this way and that. The deliverers-of-packages worked overtime to ensure all good things arrived on time. We tracked the good people hauling our packages to remote destinations, a luxury of the modern world. As I stroll down my street this week I see, post-holiday, the garbage collectors are working overtime, mechanical arms groaning and methodical, clearing the mountain of debris, boxes, empty bottles (I contributed my share), wrapping paper and remnants of our ritual. Our offering of thanks to the greater powers leaves a mighty litter trail.

The day after Christmas, at the mouth of the lot where we park to hike our trail, the discarded trees were already stacking up. Kerri speculated that the people who enjoyed the trees must certainly be going on travels. Why else would they discard their trees so fast? “Or,” she speculated, “maybe they’ve had them up since the first of November. Maybe they are ready to move on.”

The sacrifice is too easy. It’s piled on the curb. It’s hauled away.

Despite how this reads, it is more meditation than criticism. This holiday season was one of my favorite precisely because we could take nothing for granted. 2020 was brutal for us as it was for many. With our patterns blown to bits, with our security nowhere to be found, our community fragmenting, with no easy choices, we were – and are – conscious of every single step. We are grateful for every moment of heat in the house, for every kindness that has come our way, for every small kindness we’ve been able to offer. We imbue our meals with a deep thankfulness that we did not a scant one year ago.

Why is it that gratitude is so easy when everything else is hard – and why is gratitude merely lip-service when everything is easy? It is, I suspect, why our congress can’t move to help a struggling populace; they have it too easy to identify with the people they represent. We are too easily taken to the curb, to readily swept away.

It has been my role in this lifetime to walk the margins and look inward at the mechanics of my community. To see. It’s the role of the artist to see the patterns, the shapes and colors of their culture and reflect them back, to make conscious what is too easily ignored. To bring the heart, the eye and the mind to the ugly as well as the beautiful.

By the backdoor of our house are bags we’re filling with crackers and peanut butter, socks and sweatshirts. The bags are for the army of people appearing on our streets with signs that read “Homeless” or “Hungry.” It’s not that I am a fan of hard times, I am not, but I’m grateful for what these times are evoking in me – in us. It’s waking us up, helping us reach to others rather than push them away. It’s moving us to see and wildly appreciate our simple abundance.

In the early days of this new year, with the glitter all but swept up, the champagne bottles hauled away, I am moved to tears at the acts of generosity I’m experiencing and also seeing pop up all around me. The holiday is over, the sacrifices made, but the generosity-of-spirit continues. It’s rising in hard times. It’s there. It’s everywhere, if you care to see it.

read Kerri’s blog post about DISCARDS

Pursue The Quiet [on KS Friday]

If I were going to write an autobiography I’d call it IN PURSUIT OF QUIET. Drawing has always quieted my mind. The simple act of descending the stairs into my studio has the same effect. I’ve learned that it is not the picture on the page or the image on the canvas that I’m chasing, it is the quiet mind I enjoy.

When I was a teenager, Mahlon and I drove into the mountains, hiked through the snow and set up camp. It was so quiet, the cold wind whispering through the treetops, the only meaningful voice in the conversation.

During the first winter that Kerri and I spent together, the snow was a siren call. We had to go into it. More than once, late at night, we’d bundle up and walk and walk and walk. The sound of our feet crunching newly fallen snow, the wind off the lake – no words necessary.

I reread what I wrote on this day last year, the first day of the new year. I vilified the previous year. I spouted hope for a better year to come. I know better now. It’s best to be quiet. It’s best to reserve judgment, to stay far away from “should-be” or “might-have-been.” It’s best to stand on the back deck, face to the sky, feel the flakes hit my face, and appreciate…all of it. Every last bit of it.

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOW WHISPERS

find Kerri’s albums on iTunes

Be Like BabyCat [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We had a difficult time choosing our Melange this week. The final week of the year is overwrought with reflection and, let’s face it, 2020 is not like any other year. There is too much. For the first time in our 151 consecutive weeks of writing, on Sunday night we published an almost empty slate; one solid decision and four placeholders. We knew our prompt for Monday because, well, it was Monday. The curtain was rising.

It is tempting in a year like no other to write about the tragedies, disgruntle-ments, mountains to climb and we’ve certainly done our share of that. The pandemic has merely served as a baseline to the other palette of poo that populated our 2020 experiences. As we rounded the trail on Monday we decided that filling-out the Melange week with DogDog and BabyCat might be the respite that we needed. Our boys keep us laughing. They bring us back to the moment, to the real stuff of life. More than once this year, lost in the stormy sea of my mind, I’ve joined the boys on the rug, ruffled ears and stroked chins – and in a matter of seconds I’ve been awash in the thought, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” They are wizards of transformation.

BabyCat is a study in contentment. Scratch that. He is a master of contentment. While DogDog runs circles through the rooms of the house or barks at imagined intruders, BabyCats seeks stillness and sleeps. While we wrestle with fears of the future or sort through the wreckage of our stability, BabyCat finds the most comfortable place in the house and occupies it. He is not ashamed of his inactivity. He revels in it.

I watch him. He is my first cat, an alien being, a mystery that I can’t help but study. Yesterday, as he moved from one nap into the next, I thought that, if BabyCat was an artist, he would be in a constant state of conception. He sleeps on his ideas with no imperative to actually make them happen. He loves an idea for its own sake. In that deep-state-of-fulfillment, he specifically and successfully rejects all forms of self-criticism. He is a hedonist, shameless in his love of pleasure, his ease of enjoyment.

There were days in 2020 that pounded us into mush. If Kerri or I found ourselves in a fit of despair, without fail, in a matter of moments, BabyCat would crawl into our lap. He’d plop his hulking contentment in the center of our darkness, stop all movement, and purr himself to sleep, taking our despair with him into that netherworld. There are few more effective soul-balms than a contented cat on your lap.

Wizards of transformation. Contentment in a storm. No words necessary.

read Kerri’s blog post about BABYCAT

Savor The Simple [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

If there is a single reoccurring lesson rippling through these days of pandemic, it is this: appreciate the small things. Savor the simple pleasures.

With our plate heaped with job losses, backs stabbed, broken-and-not-healing- wrists, parent-worries and COVID restrictions, there is ample fodder over which to fret. We do our share of midnight staring at the ceiling. These are the circumstances, the storm that whirls around us.

In the center of our storm we attend to the moment. We step on the back porch and breathe the cold air. We check the pond for sightings of Epic and Tiny, our frogs-in-residence. We watch the crows chase the hawk from the neighborhood. We laugh at the lengths DogDog will go to get a treat. With care, each night before retiring, we make-up Uncle Mortie’s Hotel, a blanket on the couch where BabyCat loves to sleep (our ample cat snores like a champ so it is no small pleasure that he chooses to check-in to the Hotel over crashing at the foot of our bed).

The smell of coffee. A close-up photo on the trail of pine cones and needles. A special rock. The color of the sky. Deer leaping through a field of sunset grasses. A 45 minute drive to Simple Bakery (a big adventure!) just to get a few pieces of flourless chocolate cake. And a macaroon to share on the drive home. Friends who go out of their way to send encouragement, to touch base, to say, “We are here.”

Life reduced is, in fact, a discovery of riches. Expansion in another direction. A practice of appreciation of “what is.” Sharing a single piece of flourless chocolate cake, the bounty of our adventure, just so we will have anticipation in the morrow, another piece waiting, a double- savor to share.

read Kerri’s blog post about FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE

Appreciate The Moment [on KS Friday]

The Final On-The-Road Haiku. A triple. Kerri’s chose this piece before we drove from home and it’s especially appropriate for this week.

We toured the basement.

“Look, this is my son,” he said.

Family picture.

He did not know me,

“He is his own man,” he said.

Dementia owns him.

The sweetest moment:

hearing tales of me, his son,

standing by his side.

Grateful on the album AS IT IS is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about GRATEFUL

grateful/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

Direct Your Gratitude [on KS Friday]

Skip wrote, sharing some of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It was a breath of fresh air in a week that’s been chock-a-block with disrespect, deceit, and hypocrisy:

Skip wrote, “I love her discussion of what the tribe does each morning:

Here the school week begins and ends not with the Pledge of Allegiance, but with the Thanksgiving Address, a river of words as old as the people themselves, known more accurately in the Onondaga language as the Words That Come Before All Else. This ancient order of protocol sets gratitude as the highest priority. The gratitude is directed straight to the ones who share their gifts with the world. 

All the classes stand together in the atrium, and one grade each week has responsibility for the oratory. Together, in a language older than English, they begin the recitation. It is said that the people were instructed to stand and offer these words whenever they gathered, no matter how many or how few before anything else was done. In this ritual, their teachers remind them that every day, “beginning with where our feet first touch the earth, we send greetings and thanks to all members of the natural world.” 

Today it is the third grade’s turn. There are only eleven of them and they do their best to start together, giggling a little, and nudging the ones who just stare at the floor. Their little faces are screwed up with concentration and they glance at their teacher for prompts when they stumble on the words. In their own language they say the words they’ve heard nearly every day of their lives. 

Today we have gathered and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.* 

There is a pause and the kids murmur their assent.

 We are thankful to our Mother the Earth, for she gives us everything that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she still continues to care for us, just as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send thanksgiving, love, and respect. Now our minds are one. 

The kids sit remarkably still, listening. You can tell they’ve been raised in the longhouse.”

*****

A legacy of respect and gratitude. A duty to live in balance and harmony. An orientation of responsibility both to self AND other. Can you imagine – will you imagine – the members of our red team and blue team meeting on the streets and joining hands with protestors of all colors and religions and sexual orientations, starting each day, together, speaking The Thanksgiving Address, “Today we have gathered…” Directing their gratitude straight at the ones who share their gifts with the world. Gratitude set as the highest priority.

It is a legacy to be admired. Words that come before all else. It is a legacy to be desired.

*The actual wording of the Thanksgiving Address varies with the speaker. This text is the widely publicised version of John Stokes and Kanawahientun, 1993.

LEGACY on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about LEGACY

legacy/released from the heart ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Take It In [on KS Friday]

The morning air was cool and crisp. When I let Dogga out I stood by the back door and breathed in the hint of fall.

I laughed as I lingered by the back door because I had the revelation. It’s the revelation I have every year, the revelation that signals not only the change in season but a truth I wish I could hold onto throughout the year. It’s simple: life is a circle, not a line.

It’s useful, when so much of our unease is about “getting there,” about being some place other than where we are, to realize that it is not a line we walk, but a loop. Hurrying to “get there” when looping is nonsensical. Life as a cycle is much more amenable to presence-in-the-moment. It cracks the hard bark of desire and allows space for insight, gratitude, and appreciation.

Yesterday I read that this year, 2020, has been a decade long. I reminded myself, standing at the back door awash in my yearly revelation, not to wish a moment of my life away. To stand in it – all of it. This is certainly a time of disruption and the fatigue that comes with loss of balance and the comforts of the known. This IS the experience. This is life. This is what change feels like. Pattern disruption is meant to be a slap into awareness.

And, as it turns out, for me, that hint of fall in the air comes as a gentle seasonal slap. Slow down. Do not rush to get through it. This is precious life – all of it – no matter the circumstance. As Chris wrote months ago, “So, this is what it feels like to be in a pandemic.” Yes. This is what if feels like. We are in it.

It is the call of Kerri’s Millneck Fall. Stand still. Take it in.

Dogga races with great zest around the yard, protecting us from marauding squirrels. The frogs in the pond sound out, morning roll call. The smell of coffee pulls me to the kitchen. There will be plenty of time as we cycle around to make meaning of these days.

Millneck Fall on the album Blueprint For My Soul is available in iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about MILLNECK FALLS

millneck fall/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Stack It High [on KS Friday]

a shred of hope copy

It’s day 4 of the salmonella blues. We think the offender was the green onion in the tabouli. We made a big batch on Sunday and it was delicious. And then it wasn’t. If it was possible for our world to get even smaller, more constrained, we found the way.

If we wanted to, we would stack the tales of woe one upon the other: pandemic, broken wrists, lost jobs, and today, the top of the woe-stack would be bad onions. We simply do not want to focus on that particular stack. So, instead, we stack our tales of gratitude: we are safe in our home, we have ridiculous amounts of love for our crazy dog and oversized cat, we are healthy (mostly), we have each other, we have incredible family and friends. We live our art. In fact, during the moments we feel sorry for ourselves, all we need do is slide the stacks together for side-by-side comparison. The gratitude stack is a mighty mountain next to the wimpy stack of woe.

This morning, when we felt that we could sit upright, we went into Kerri’s studio. She brought a word to mind and began playing, improvising. My job, as always, was to hit the record-button and stand still. What she played lifted me. I couldn’t help but look out the window, the sun sparkled in the leaves of the tree out front. I was overwhelmed by the feeling that everything was going to be alright. No matter what.

I told her about my feeling and she said, “Oh, that’s good! The word I chose to play was ‘hope.'”

What’s atop the gratitude-stack today? A little shred of hope.

 

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A SHRED OF HOPE

Kerri lingers in Facebook limbo. Everyday I ask with increasing mock-suspicion, “What exactly did you do?” Her indignation resurrects her almost-lost Long Island accent, “Idintdoanything!” she huffs. So, if you desire that I might live another day, consider subscribing to her blog. It will keep me out of trouble and for that I will chuck you on top of the stack of gratitude. The view is excellent up there so give it some thought.

 

 

close-up Arches with website box copy

 

 

a shred of hope ©️ 2020 kerri sherwood

a day at the beach ©️ 2017 david robinson

 

 

 

Leave Her A Note [on DR Thursday]

IMG_2686 copy 2

my loves, mixed media, 24 x 48IN

I came around the corner just in time to see it. Kerri crawled onto the bed, resting her head on DogDog, she closed her eyes. BabyCat, not wanting to be left out of the snuggle, moved over and curled into the cuddle. I stood very still and memorized the moment.

My artistic well has been dry all winter. I believe dry spells are great opportunities to experiment, to make messes and learn again to be free, to not take anything on the easel too seriously. And so, in my emptiness, I began playing with my memorized moment [last week I published the rolling iterations this image passed through].

Sometimes playing with an image feels like wrestling with an angel. It has the upper hand and is toying with you, the mere mortal. One day, after wiping the latest iteration off the canvas, I had a very mortal thought: this might be the last painting I ever paint. Pandemic thoughts reach deep.

And, what if this was my last painting? What if? I would want my last painting to be a love note to my wife. I would want her to know that one day, as she laid her head on DogDog and BabyCat curled against her, I stood in absolute adoration and appreciation of my family, my wife, my moment. My life. My loves.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MY LOVES

 

 

pumpkinfarm website box copy

 

my loves ©️ 2020 david robinson

*this painting is not yet up on the site. the paint is still drying.

**there’s another canvas on the easel with a painting already in process! (phew).