Harvest Tales [on KS Friday]

We sat on the back porch of the farmhouse. Columbus stared across the fields and told stories of his youth, working on a farm. He never talked about that time in his life, at least I didn’t remember hearing about the harvest times.

We rented the airbnb to take him back to his hometown. He wanted to see it one last time. He was slipping deeper into dementia and knew this visit would be his last. Earlier in the day, I found him in the kitchen. He was lost. He couldn’t remember how to make coffee. I’m not sure he knew who I was. We made coffee together and pretended all was well.

I was surprised that he didn’t want to spend more time in the little downtown. He wanted to walk the cemetery. He wanted to tell stories of his friends. He knew where every headstone was located. He knew right where his friends were and I listened, gathering more stories from his life. Sometimes I asked questions, prompts, to keep the storytelling going.

After the cemetery, we found the little house his grandfather built, the little house where my grandfather was born. It was being used as a storage shed because it was no bigger than a storage shed. It was in someone’s backyard. There wasn’t a fence and no one was home so we crossed the yard and walked around it. Holy ground for my dad. Now, it is sacred ground for me, too. He was a salmon swimming upstream returning to his origin. He was planting stories in us, reaching deep into his beginning tale. I was quiet, now. Listening.

We ended the day on the farmhouse porch. Staring across the field. Harvest tales.

read Kerri’s blogpost about HARVEST

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Feel The Rhythm [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We lay awake in the night listening to the waves pound the shore. Boom. Rest. Boom. Rest. This lake that is sometimes glassy-in-stillness can rival the Atlantic Ocean in restlessness. It has many moods. It can turn on a dime. I have found great peace walking the shores. I have stood in awe as it blasted those very same shores, hurling boulders with ease.

When we were fortunate to live for a summer in the littlehouse, right on the lake. Kerri had to adjust to the constant sound. Her musician’s ears were caught in the rhythm of sound lapping the shores. Nature’s metronome. We teased about parking a piano on the back deck so she might compose an album of pieces set to the lake’s pulse.

The most striking visceral-revelation that I brought back from Bali is that we function together. Just as I am impacted by the lake, my pace and rhythm are impacted by the people around me. No one is an island. David Abram wrote in The Spell of the Sensuous that it is nearly impossible to meditate in the un-united states. We are an angry frenetic lake, fast moving wave. Changeable. I will always remember pausing at the custom’s gate re-entering the country. It was too much. Finally, I stepped through the doors and felt sucked into a chaotic turbulent whitewater river. It was months before I adjusted, before a walk down the street didn’t feel like a fist fight.

Columbus (my dad) would sit for hours each morning, on the porch. Listening. When I was younger I wondered what he was listening to – or for. He grew up in Iowa and came into adulthood moving to the rhythm of the corn. He lived his adult life in Colorado. It was a different rhythm, the metronome of the mountains. For many years he yearned to live where he understood the rhythm. He was, I think, listening for the corn.

When I return to Colorado I feel an immediate recognition. The mountains are the rhythm I was born into. Alignment. My original dance was a mountain dance.

Kerri and I are both transplants to the lake. Perhaps that is why we hear it so clearly. Jim E. told me that people go to the shore to stare into the infinite. We listen to the lake with the same awareness. The lake was here before me. The lake will be here after I am gone. The mountains, too. We are, of course, delusional to entertain the idea that we control it – nature. That we are somehow separate. Sometimes I think it is the artist’s job to bring proper perspective to the community, to pop the separation-notions – even for a moment – out of ego-brains.

This lake could hurl me like a pebble. It also brings peace to my soul. Stillness. We are not as distinct as we want to believe. That recognition is the single greatest blessing of artistry. It’s a circle dance. Just as my dad is disappearing back into the corn, I, too, will someday rejoin my original rhythm and fold back into the mountain.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LAKE

Catch His Hand [on DR Thursday]

Many years ago, somewhere in the middle of the 1990’s, I painted a portrait of my dad. It is monochromatic and a fairly quick study. In the painting, he is either emerging or returning to the corn. Or both. I can’t remember why I painted him in the corn except that he was born in Iowa and wished his entire adult life to return to the small town where he grew up. Perhaps this is a painting about yearning. Perhaps it is a painting about returning home.

It occurred to me, when I found it while re-stacking paintings after the great studio flood, that I painted this when he was roughly the age I am now. For a fleeting moment I wanted to paint a monochrome self-portrait simply so I might place it across the room. We’d have a staring contest that reached beyond both of our lives.

I chucked the idea for many reasons but mostly because I had no idea what “field” I might emerge from or into? My symbolic return home would be…what? I am not connected to a single place, a tiny town in Iowa or, like Tom Mck, a ranch in California. I have been a wanderer.

I’ve always loved hands. They are, in many ways, more expressive than faces. They are not as guarded and rarely put on airs. My dad was a working man and has working man hands. He was proud of the work he did. It was hard and broke his body but he loved it. It was out of doors under the open sky. He started his career as a teacher and, although he never confessed as much, I think he hated teaching. The classroom was suffocating. He needed to get his hands in the dirt, feel the sun on his face. Even after he retired, as he aged, he sat on the porch in the mornings, he worked his garden or clipped his grass or cleaned his gutters; anything to be outside.

I had a dream many years ago that has stayed with me. My dad and I were free-falling through time. As we fell, he reached out his hand. I stretched out my arm, tried to grasp his hand, but in falling, we were just out of reach. In the dream I stared intently at his hand as I tried to extend my arm, tried to grasp his hand. I knew, if I was successful, if we could catch his hand, it might not stop our fall, but we, neither of us, would fall alone.

read Kerri’s blog post about COLUMBUS HANDS

Touch The Arc

A painting I did twenty years ago of my dad.

Years ago I started a portrait of my dad (we call him Columbus) emerging from – or returning to – a cornfield. At the time it seemed an odd painting, something more elemental than intellectual. Something I had to paint though I didn’t really know why. I thought I’d left portrait painting far behind. Columbus is from a very small town in Iowa so the necessity of the cornfield made some small sense. He yearned to live in the town of his birth and although life took him other places he maintained a deep heart-root to Monticello. For Columbus, Monticello, Iowa was and always will be home.

After laying it out, after applying the under painting, the portrait felt complete – or I felt complete. So, I stopped. I have carried it with me all of these years.

These days, dementia has its slippery tentacles around Columbus. He is a mighty combatant in this tug of war, a war that he cannot win, and feeling his strength waning, his single wish was to one last time visit Monticello. So, this past week, Kerri, my mother, and I – as Kerri likes to say – followed Columbus’ heart around Monticello.

His heart took him three places. The first was to the cemetery. It is the place he will finally rest with his brother, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends. He wanted to wander. We followed him as he touched stones and told stories – stories he told to us but for himself: a friend who died too young in a car crash, a kind scoutmaster and mentor, an old girlfriend, a high school pal who flew an airplane and their adventures landing in cornfields. We followed, listening, renewed to the deeper truth that the stories we tell of others, the stories of shared time and experiences, both comic and tragic, when combined, scribe the arc of our own lives. Columbus needed to go to the end place to scribe his arc, to touch the depth and arc of his experiences.

The second place was the house that his grandpa Charlie built. It was the place of his childhood, the place of his greatest freedom, the place where all his stories begin and, now I know, where they return. This house is the cornfield. It is, for Columbus, the font of family and the source of his ideals. It is the symbol of his pride. This small house, with no electricity or running water, no indoor plumbing, this house that was pieced together with found material, smacked together with a handsaw and a hammer, an evolution, this house is Columbus’ holy ground. It still stands, just barely. And although now a storage shed for someone, it holds riches beyond words or measure. Columbus needed to stand in the source of his belief.

Finally, we followed his heart to visit his aunt JoAnne. She is only two years his senior but his aunt never-the-less. She is the last living person to know him through the entire passage of his life. She is his connective tissue, the one capable of affirming that it all happened, that the house and the people in it were exactly as he remembers, that this life, although only a minute long, is bottomless in the love that they share. They are the burning point of family, the front line. When we left her, Columbus and JoAnne hugged and cried, saying to each other but not for a moment believing it, “I’ll see you again.”

Stories told at the end place. Stories told from the beginning place. Stories told that connect the places. Columbus counts himself a lucky man. He knows with absolute certainty the trinity of places that hold his life/story. Sitting on the porch he (once again) taught me that stories – lives – are like a river and the flow transcends a single life. He just taught me that the story, a good life, like the painting, is never really complete.