Sail Anew [on KS Friday]

It’s hard to know what to believe. For instance, each day I cross paths with an advertisement showing me what to do if I experience tinnitus. The ad is muted so what I see is a smiling woman yanking repeatedly on her earlobes. And, each day, I think the same thing: this has to be some trickster-ish plot to get masses of people to pull on their ears. Invisible theatre worthy of the great Augusto Boal. I’m considering jumping on the city bus, taking a center seat, and without comment, begin tugging my lobes. I’ll either clear the bus, make friends or, in these United States, most likely be shot by an armed citizen whose only answer to the unknown is to shoot it. I suppose that sounds cynical but we citizens of the U.S.A. are living proof of the adage, “If a hammer is the only tool in your toolbox, then everything looks like a nail.” If a gun is your only solution, you’ll kill a teenager who accidentally pulled in your driveway or shoot someone who mistakenly knocked on your door. We read about it everyday. Every single day.

There’s another ad I appreciate appealing to people to check-the-facts before forwarding or liking what they read. “We are awash in misinformation…” it warns. “Amen, advertisement!” I cheer, “What took you so long?” With so much mis-info-noise ringing in our ears, we either need to regularly check what we hear or smile and yank our earlobes. My theory is that yanking our lobes will occupy our fingers so we can’t like or forward info-dreck. By-the-way, the statistics on gun deaths are easy to check. No one is making up the story of neighbors killing neighbors rather than talking to them. Of course, in one horrific case, a neighbor killed his neighbors because they talked to him. Sometimes the factual stuff is so disturbing it’s better to yank on your ears than consider how out of control it’s all become. Our elected officials are certainly yanking on their ears to make our noise go away.

My hope? My fantasy? We are trying to bust out of our cocoon. A caterpillar transformed can’t know it has become a different critter until it breaks out of its hard protective shell. Escape from a cocoon is not an easy process. It looks ugly. It’s not meant to be easy. The difficult cocoon-exit is essential for the next stage of butterfly survival and thriving. An arduous rebirth is necessary for the caterpillar to fulfill its transformation. Flight, an utter impossibility prior to the protective cocoon, the next part of the story. The fulfillment of possibility beyond imagining. Maturity. Wings dry while the butterfly catches its breath following the struggle. And then, the newly-minted butterfly takes its first step off the branch, releasing the old story, and sails anew into the world. Or, sails into a new world.

A new world. People protecting each other as civilized people are meant to do. All grown up. Listening. A bag full of tools for every situation. No guns needed. No longer a necessity to yank on its ears.

taking stock/right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

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read kerri’s blogpost about BUTTERFLIES

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Allow Good Things [on DR Thursday]

Pre-Covid we regularly had dinner parties or hosted gatherings of Kerri’s choirs and ukulele band. Each week the big dining room table was piled high with food and drink. People crowded into the kitchen and living room. People spilled out onto the deck.

Now, we use the dining room table when we have large projects that require space for organization. We use it as a staging ground when we’re preparing for a trip. Covid ushered in an era of reclusion and the necessity for space and quiet.

Last weekend we had a surprise large project to assemble. Tons of paper to sort. As Kerri prepared the plan I headed to the dining room to clear the table. I stopped in my tracks with what I found there. The table was covered with rocks. There were several gallon size ziplock bags with painted rocks and rocks ready to be painted. Mostly, there were paper towels spread like islands across the table surface, each populated by dozens of hagstones. Odin Stones. Adder stones. Magical stones of many names, all sizes, from tiny bead-size to fist-size rocks, each with a naturally eroded hole. The power of water working on earth.

I hadn’t realized that we’d collected so many. We’d inadvertently converted our dining room into a hagstone sanctuary, an epicenter of ancient folk magic: nature’s talisman of healing, protection and wisdom. I laughed. Apparently we could use a bit of ancient protection. I certainly could use a healthy dose of wisdom. I considered laying on the table, body across the bumpy stones and saying, “I’m ready! Do your stuff!”

We bumbled onto the secluded beach a few months ago. The power of the lake is palpable. The beach is a festival of wave-polished rocks and treasured hagstones. The gulls circle and chase. The portal to the beach requires crawling through trees recently burned. Fire. Air. Water. Earth. People have created whimsical structures, crude altars and twisted sculpture from the driftwood.

We’ve returned a few times to comb the beach for the miracle stones with holes made from years and years of their dance with water. A feather on the stone. Time disappears as we slowly walk the beach, heads down, sensing as much as looking for the rare hagstones.

According to tradition, only good things can pass through the hole in the stone, made magic by the watercarver. Our growing collection, a prayer-pile or incantation cairn. Good things.

I will, someday soon, lay on the beach after dipping into the cold Lake Michigan water, warm myself in the sun, and feel the large hole that life has worn through me, myself now a magic hagstone. Grateful, I will think, “Only good things. I’m ready. Let’s do it.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about HAGSTONES

winged, 26x20IN, acrylic, nfs

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Show Us The Way [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Our Sweet Boy is getting older. A few night’s ago, for the first time, I watched him struggle to stand up; for a moment his back legs refused to cooperate. I felt a hot rush of panic, Kerri caught my eye to acknowledge that she saw it too. And then, in a miracle moment of instant transformation, he caught sight of Boris-the-cat next door and all signs of decrepitude vanished in his hot-dogga-dogga-rush to bark at the window. Crazy Boy was back.

He’s always had two distinct personalities: Crazy Boy in the daylight hours and Sweet Boy after the sunset. Each evening, Crazy Boy herds us to the living room. Once we are settled safely into the couch, the signal that his duties for the day are done, he collapses on the floor between the living room and dining room. When next he raises his head, Crazy Boy is gone. The spirit of Sweet Boy fills his furry being. Our now gentle dog checks in for a head-pet, and nestles in beneath our feet.

It’s the ratio that is pulling at my heart. Once, Crazy Boy dominated the hours of the day, wearing deep circle-paths in the backyard in his exuberant patrol. In the past year, there is a new more-equal balance of Sweet Boy and Crazy Boy hours. His ebullient patrol still wreaks havoc with the backyard flora and fauna, just not so often. He’s become more content to observe his vast territories from the cool of the deck rather than continually clear the yard of marauders. Now he sleeps more of the day away.

When we are away on errands he sleeps in the sunroom by the backdoor but is joyful and bouncing by the time we get the key in the lock. He is the world’s best welcoming committee. Yesterday, we were completely inside the house before he was aware that we were home. “Some watchdog!” we quipped. Once again he struggled to get up. Kerri knelt by his side, ruffling his ears, she said, “Don’t worry, Dogga, our joints hurt, too.”

We’ve joked that Dogga had a tough assignment with us. A hyper sensitive dog with two overly sensitive artists. He’s been part weather vane – I know when Kerri or I are about to storm because Dogga looks at us and heads to the bathroom, his quiet space. We’ve averted many-a-storm because Dogga turns and slinks toward his sanctuary. “It’s okay!” we call after him. Not wanting to upset the dog has taught us how to not upset each other.

“I guess we’re learning how to grow old together,” Kerri said.

And Dogga – as always – is showing us the way.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CRAZY SWEET BOY

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Encounter The Plantimal [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Suddenly, stretching its neck beyond the leafy cover of the forest green, a Wild Giraffe Flower looms above us, scrutinizing. We stand very still. Though not dangerous, a Wild Giraffe Flower sighting is rare and their behavior is largely unknown. Our guidebook cautioned us not to run away but to stop all motion, take deep breaths to calm ourselves, and appreciate the moment. I whispered, “Remember. Be still. Breathe!” Wild Giraffe Flowers are skittish around humans. Kerri managed to get this single photograph. Any more movement and she feared the skittery plant critter would quickly disappear.

Traditionally, Wild Giraffe Flowers are thought to be one species: giraffa taraxacum officinale. We read that there are most certainly subspecies but scientists have had little opportunity to gather data so the question remains open. They are hard to track. Hard to find.

“Wasn’t that incredible,” Kerri said, showing me the photo of the Giraffe Flower. “I can’t believe I caught it!” We were still breathless from our encounter with such a rare plantimal.

“I can’t believe it stayed with us for so long.” I replied. “We’re sooo lucky!”

“True,” she sighed. “It’s a good thing I caught the photograph. No one would believe us otherwise.”

“Yes, I’m sure they’d think we’re just making this stuff up. Like it was only a dandelion or something.”

read Kerri’s blogpost on WILD GIRAFFE FLOWERS

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Sip It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

There are deep, meaningful layers to this story-image. The first is an answer to the all-important-question, “How do we entertain ourselves at a bar?” We make fun contemporary art, of course! Or, we make fun of contemporary art. I’m not sure since the line of distinction is blurred in real life so it is more blurred at the bar, where life isn’t really real and escapism is to be expected.

Have I confused you? It’s simple really. Limit your palette to two bar napkins, two sipping straws, and the fruit remnants from a brandy old-fashioned. Arrange a composition. Snap a photo for posterity. Ask yourself and others, “What does it mean?” And, when you find yourself concocting answers to the great amusement of your friends, you might recognize that the actual art-of-the-moment is the performance of the improvisational play entitled What Does It Mean?

You’ll conclude – if you are honest – that it – your art work – has no inherent meaning – and all supposéd meaning is projected onto the image. It can mean many things or nothing at all. Just like life outside of the bar [that sneaky escapism always loops back to the real stuff!] The composition might simply be appreciated for its clever arrangement and varied texture. It might conjure up fond memories of old-fashioned’s past.

Here’s what it means to me: I could not be considered a local Wisconsinite until I had a palette of experiences, like eating cheese curds or attending a fish boil. On the tippy top of the list was to enjoy a brandy old-fashioned. More, to know whether I preferred my drink sweet or sour. This composition, the scattered remains of the drink-of-the-state, reminded me of the day I ascended to the top of the list and sipped my first ritual old-fashioned. I would anoint this piece with the worthy title BELONGING AT LAST.

read Kerri’s blogpost about POST OLD-FASHIONED

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Grasp The Natural Truth [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

I often tell Kerri that she’s beautiful and her built-in-response is to deflect or deny it. I believe her response is learned – I’ve yet to meet a child who is overly concerned with how they look. Kerri is not unlike most of the women (and men) I’ve met in my life: they’ve learned to not like their bodies. In fact, I just spent a few moments searching my vast memory banks for the women I’ve known who loved their bodies and I can recall a whopping two.

The message-assault on a woman’s psyche is intense and begins young. Change it, mold it, shape it, cut it, starve it, lift it…The industry demands that a woman continually strive for the unattainable shape, size, color…They can never-ever look into the mirror and think, “I’m beautiful. No changes necessary.”

If I had a magic wand, I’d ding Kerri and all women on the noggin and make it possible to grasp the natural truth of these words: you are unbelievably beautiful.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BURLAP

smack-dab. © 2023

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Tip The Cup [on KS Friday]

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” ~ Ray Bradbury

My grandmother famously hid a horse in her kitchen when the truck from the glue factory showed up to take it away. What makes that story remarkable to me is that my grandmother was 4’7″ tall when she stood on her tiptoes. Although her physical size was diminutive, her spirit was grande.

Another detail of the story that confounds me: from the backdoor, there were stairs up into her kitchen. And then a hard left turn. It was no small feat getting a horse into the kitchen. Sometimes I ponder what it must have looked like, watching this teeny-tiny woman hurriedly coaxing a big-big horse through the backdoor, up the stairs and into the kitchen. I wonder if she shushed it as she peeked out the kitchen window, waiting for the truck to drive away. I can’t help but laugh heartily every time I imagine the scene.

Once, she and my mom drove me to college in Santa Fe. On the way we stopped to have lunch. I was grateful for their efforts, driving me several hours to school, so I reached to pick up the check and my grandma pinned my hand to the table with her fork. We burst out laughing. She was fast and left no room for debate.

The sun streaming into the farmhouse brought grandma to mind. Standing in the kitchen, looking at all the food we’d prepared, the mountain of snacks and beverages Kate and Jerry hauled from Minnesota, the bins of cookies and sweets, I thought, “This place is just like grandma’s purse.” Her purse looked like a punching bag and she could produce anything you needed at anytime from that bag. Screwdriver? Yep. Saltines? Yep. Duct tape. Of course! Water? How much do you need? It was the clown car of purses. Were I to be lost in the desert and had one precious wish to be granted, I’d wish for my grandma’s purse.

Tiny woman. Endless supply of love and support. She knew how to fill our cups. She knew how to tip herself over so all the beautiful stuff could rush out.

where i’m from/blueprint for my soul © 1997 kerri sherwood

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Keep The Connection [on DR Thursday]

A Haiku: Sun bathes the hilltop/Green grass, stones etched, dates with names/Here, we meet again.

Carvings in stone. I’ve read that among the first evidence of human-made-art is associated with funerary rituals. Send the soul on their journey with the proper talismans. There are petroglyphs, too. Scratches in stone. A message? A journal? A reach to the “beyond”? A handprint on the wall of a cave.

The earliest Greek theatre was a religious ceremony. A portal for the gods to come through and speak. Can you imagine the role and responsibility of the playwright?

I watched a Rangda ritual in Bali that shook my world. Priests with knives ran at the Rangda, stabbing and stabbing. The knives bent, the Rangda taunted. One of the priests fell into a trance and began channeling a voice from beyond. The entire community leapt to surround the priest and hear the ancestor’s message. As introduction to the ritual, the only English speaker in the village told us something akin to: “What we have of value to share is our art.”

Can you imagine? An entire community that held their art and artists as sacred. Valuable. As the means to connect to their ancestors. It was so profoundly moving that I couldn’t sleep that night. What I had known and experienced personally was, in this place, alive in the public heart. I mourned the art-poverty of my nation and community. We tape bananas to the wall and lose ourselves in a made-up-maze of the conceptual.

I was taken aback in the pioneer cemetery. Most of the headstones were homemade, a red-brown sandy-cement with shells or rocks pressed in; a name scratched in the surface with a stick. Families doing their best not to lose their kin. Moving forward in time, we found a few stones made of marble and decorated by a stone carver. More substantial, perhaps, but the purpose remained the same. Keeping connected to what has come and gone. Attending to the ancestors. The story of us etched in stone.

shaman. 36x48IN. Oil on canvas. nfs.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE CARVING

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Look At Them Now [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Kerri hit the nail on the head. “Most people wouldn’t do this,” she said. “They’d think it was the same. They’d be bored” True. Too true.

She made her observation while we were walking our usual trail. We don’t walk it everyday but often enough to call it “ours” or “the usual.” Although we walk the same trail, to us it is never the same. Never. For instance, a few days ago the Mayapples bloomed. A single white flower hides beneath the leafy canopy. Last week we checked but the flowers hadn’t yet appeared. They’ll be gone by Father’s Day, the flower and the plant, just as the mystery cowboy told us. Walk the same path long enough and you’re likely to converse with a mystery cowboy.

It’s an exercise in seeing. Or, perhaps, it’s an exercise in not taking the surrounding world for granted. It is constantly moving. Dynamic. A crane flew right over our heads! The turtles are barely visible buried in the mud of the river. Tender green shoots broke through the devastated landscape and now, only a few weeks later, a blanket of vibrant viridian covers the forest floor. Tiny purple and blue flowers soon followed. The honeysuckle have now made an appearance. The thunderous frog song has all but disappeared.

And then there is the light. Dear god, the light. The colors shape-shift as the sun moves across the sky. The cloudy days evoke entirely different tones. There’ a reason filmmakers call the impending sunset “golden hour.” The winter palette is a world away from the summer hues.

We hold hands. We walk slow enough to see, slow enough to immerse. Slow enough to give our attention to the unique-within-the-same. Each day uncommon. Seeing it is a practice of challenging the assumption of “sameness.”

The practice of the trail has become the practice of our lives – or vice versa. Move slow enough to see. Pay attention. Give attention.

Across the yard from the farmhouse porch stand two guardian trees. “Look!” she exclaimed, running to show me the latest photo. “They’re so amazing,” she said, showing me the growing series. “They’re entirely different in the morning than they are in this light…” she said, turning her focus and camera back to the trees. “Geez! Look at them now!”

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE TREES

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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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