Rake The Ritual [on DR Thursday]

It is that time. The ritual of the green bags. They are green because they are biodegradable, an important detail in the ritual cycle.

The rite unfolds over the course of several weeks. Each household in our tree-lined neighborhood, according to their own special timing announced to them by the trees, shuffles into the fallen leaves with implements of collection or whirring blowing machines. They sculpt the leaves into piles. They scoop the leaves into green bags. They pile the green bags at the curb.

Some prefer to place the bags in a perfect curbside line. Some prefer to stack the bags. Later, an orange truck (our ceremony is punctuated with secondary colors!) rumbles slowly down the street, acolytes jump from the truck and collect the bags.

The communal bags are taken by the orange trucks to a community field where they are stacked high into transformational mounds. Over the winter, over time, the mounds slowly reconstitute. They compost. The green bags dissolve. The contents of the bags compact, heat, and join, becoming vibrant rich soil.

Energy changing form.

There is a matching ritual in the spring. The people, according to their own special timing announced to them by their flower beds, leave their houses and bring shovels to the mounds of soil. They collect buckets and truckloads of the former-leaves-now-earth, return home and dig the new soil into their gardens. The planting marks the beginning of the next cycle. As shovels turn earth, the trees bud, new leaves, future soil, pop green and tender on the branches.

A perfect life cycle. A time honored autumnal observance. The ritual of the green bags.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GREEN BAGS

Meditation, 48x48IN, mixed media

meditation © 2012 david robinson

Welcome The Next Normal [on Merely A Thought Monday]

There was a time when my marker of the holiday season was the return of Pirate Christmas Ale; a rich and happy stout. It tickled me that the return of the holiday season was signaled with a Pirate and not jolly Ole Saint Nick. I drank one-a-night, from the day I saw the Pirate’s return to the store, through the end of the year. Pirates-in-holiday drink in moderation.

It’s been many years since I walked with the Pirate through the threshold of light’s return. With my move to Wisconsin came the establishment of a new normal. And then came COVID. I think we’ve both come to the realization, after a few years of deep disruption, that there will not be a return to normal. Just as with my move from the west coast to the upper-midwest, there will be the creation of a new normal. Just what that will be remains to be seen.

We know the new normal means leaving the house. We work at home and have mostly isolated these past few winter seasons. Cabin fever is getting to us. So, we’re taking calculated adventures. A visit to the Botanical Gardens. A walk around the small town of Cedarburg. A drive into Chicago. We continue to hike our trails but we’re both feeling the call of exploration, the desire to sail our ship toward the horizon. We really wanted to go to a concert but chose not to – COVID considerations remain central to our weird calculus.

Yesterday, while walking the streets of Cedarburg, we saw a tent behind the Stilthouse. Tables and heaters. We grabbed a spot under a heater, ordered lunch and lingered over a glass of wine. It sounds so normal yet, what was once commonplace, what was once something done without much thought – was a rare and delicious treat. We savored every moment.

Lately, we’re getting this reminder again and again. When the water line into the house broke – and we were without water for a day, the return of the water through the faucet brought cheers and happy dancing. There’s so much we take for granted. There’s so much to be savored in the commonplace, in the everyday, especially when we understand it might not be available forever.

Mostly, there is this: during the darkest days of every year, people come together in many ways to light candles, to exchange gifts, to make meals, to offer hope, to help each other through the dark time. Whether they realize it our not. The light returns. The earth spins. There’s water in the pipes. A heater and a table. Merlot in the bottle. Good friends. Good cheer. New work. The beginning of the next normal.

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD CHEER

[this post marks the 200th consecutive week of the melange. Corks are-a-poppin’]

Light A Candle [on DR Thursday]

A Double Haiku

Candle on a rock,

His favorite fishing hole.

Observance, our own.

Electric aspen,

Trout slide through glassy water.

Quiet, like his voice.

read Kerri’s blog post about OBSERVANCE

www.davidrobinsoncreative.com

See The Shape [on DR Thursday]

The Balinese would call this an auspicious day. They would never perform a funeral rite on a day that was not promising. This soul will come back in seven generations and requires a providential sending.

The Greeks placed coins on the eyes of their departed loved ones. Fare for safe passage over the river Styx.

Columbus’ son will give his eulogy. His son-in-law will guide the ritual. His granddaughter will sing for him. His daughter-in-law will play her compositions, prelude and postlude, and sing a special song for him. His coins are his family. They will pay his passage. Actually, that his family will perform every aspect of his service – his sending – is testament to his earth-passage, what he did during his time while walking on this planet.

Heart.

We laughed while driving across Kansas. The day was fraught with obstacles. Breakdowns and high winds. “Columbus is making this trip eventful,” I said. He was full of mischief.

“I can see that sparkle in his eye,” Kerri responded. Nothing was going to stop us from getting to his service. Nothing. Not even mischief.

I have often been asked, “What is the shape of your day?” A curious question to ask a visual artist. “Not flat nor two-dimensional,” I think but do not say. “Certainly organic. Not geometric. My days are rarely geometric.” I never know what lines-of-thought or surprise events actually close to give definition to my day until the end, when I stand back and look at the whole. That is true for all of us. No one knows the shape of their day at sunrise.

Today, the lines have closed so we gather to look at the shape of Columbus’ life.

Heart. Big heart.

read Kerri’s blog post about HEART LEAVES

Columbus circa 1998

Look. Really Look. [on KS Friday]

“I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart).” ~ e.e. cummings

The ritual became real when Kerri asked the bride and groom to turn and look at the community of people assembled as witnesses to their wedding, “No, really look,” she said. Eyes met eyes. Family. Friends. The unspoken but oh-so-apparent moment: We’re here for you.

Rituals, like a good story, are about single moments. Everything builds to the moment. In the ceremony, Kerri told the couple that they would have days that they could not take their eyes off of each other and that they would have days that were…not so much, but in all of their days, through all of their challenges and celebrations, they would have this moment, and this single-moment, when all else dropped away, would carry them through everything: standing before their community of support, they looked into each other’s eyes and said, “I do.” I carry your heart.

Initially, when they asked her to perform their wedding, she was stunned. “Why me?” she asked. After their ceremony, unique in all the world, simple and profound, I wanted to ask but did not, “Now do you know why they asked you?” My wife understands the power of a moment, the deep river of a ritual, and the long ripples that simple words and intentional actions can send through the long-body of a lifetime.

“Are you ready?” she whispered to the couple when the music faded. “Yes. Oh, yes,” they replied.

read Kerri’s blog post about I CARRY YOUR HEART

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

Mark The Passage [on KS Friday]

Just after we met, we dug a small pond in the backyard. It was a party that Kerri called The Big Dig. People came with shovels. We drank mudslides. I met many of her friends and neighbors. We laughed. It took less than ten minutes with so many people to dig the hole. The liner went in and rocks placed around the edges. The pump was placed and the water rushed in. It was a marker in time. It was meant to be a marker, a ritual of passage into the new and the unknown.

She’d planned The Big Dig before we met. Originally, it had nothing to do with me. It was serendipity that I could be present for The Dig. Serendipity or design. Who knows.

The morning after the party, sipping coffee, we sat in lawn chairs on the muddy ground surrounding the now bubbling pond. Kerri used the “M” word, married, “When we are married…” She realized what she’d just said. She blushed and apologized and backpedaled. I was, at the very moment she used the “M” word, doing something I’d never done before: imagining myself married. To her. I was seeing it and, laughing at her anguished retreat, I confessed what I was seeing. We sat by the pond and stared at each other. A ritual passage into the new and unknown.

The pond has always been mine to care for. This marks its eighth year. We just replaced the liner. We had to put flagstone around the pond because DogDog was cutting a deep velodrome path around it, racing in excitement every time John and Michele let their Dachshunds out. Each day we walk to the pond to try and catch a glimpse of the frog-in-residence. This year we named the frog Magic.

Just a few days after The Big Dig, Kerri took me to the marina where the 4th of July celebrations are staged. Bands played. There was a carnival. Too much food. The dog jump is a big attraction (dogs running and leaping into a pool of water in a distance-leap competition). After dark we sat on a blanket and watched the fireworks. Sitting on that blanket, vibrant color exploding in the night sky, I imagined myself living in this town, so far from the west coast that had been my home most of my adult life. “Can I live here?” I asked myself. The answer was immediate: you can’t live anywhere else.

DogDog was born on the 4th of July, probably while we were watching the dog jump. We will celebrate his eighth birthday on Sunday with a rowdy race around the pond. His favorite thing. And then snacks. Also his favorite thing. And then a visit with Unka-John. His really, really favorite thing.

A step into the new and unknown. Ritual passages. You have no idea where they will take you or what the reality of the step over the threshold will bring. You cannot know. You can only step.

“This looks like fireworks,” she said, showing me the up-close-photo of the plant. “I love it,” she smiled.

“Me, too.”

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

read Kerri’s blog post about the FIREWORK PLANT

i didn’t know/this part of the journey ©️ 1998 kerri sherwood

Find A Horizon [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be only afraid of standing still.” ~ Chinese Proverb

Each morning, Kerri wanders outside to check her tomatoes. It is one of my favorite new rituals. I watch from the window as she steps out beyond the deck to the potting table, hands on hips, and scrutinizes the plants for newcomers. After a careful count she hurries back into the house to tell me the results of her count. Each day yields a new arrival. “There are ten!” she proclaimed this morning. Then, she took out her phone to show me the photos she’d taken. A family portrait of tomatoes. Miracles in the making.

Seasoned gardeners might not experience the same level of enthusiasm, but we newbies are wide-eyed at the little green orbs that show up overnight, at the basil plants spilling out of their pots.

It has already inspired new recipes. I blubbered on Sunday evening when I tasted the basil-and-tomato-saute over pasta. Food-that-makes-you-close-your-eyes-and-slow-down-so-that-you-can-savor-every-last-bit-of-it is high on my list of pleasures-to-be-cultivated.

We are learning. We are trying new things. We are setting up new spaces, rearranging furniture. At the same time, we are cleaning out, pulling bins from the basement. Sorting. Making space. The energy is moving.

In the past few years, our growth and learning has looked and felt like loss. Job losses, dear ones passing, broken wrists. Armor falling to the ground. Layers peeled. There’s nothing like time spent in the wilderness to put a fire beneath curiosity. When the questions are basic, “What do we do now?,” the available options are at the same time infinite and absent. There’s only one thing to be done and that is to keep moving. Find a horizon and walk toward it.

The tomatoes are harbingers. The season of losing layers may, at last, be done. There is now plenty of space for curiosity, for growing things. “What do we do now?” is still a question floating in the air. But, from our point of view, with the wasteland just behind us, we see the yellow buds and tiny green orbs as signaling a harvest to come. Hope. The energy is moving. A daily visit to the potting bench, rubbing basil leaves to enjoy the scent, seems like just the right amount of forward movement.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOMATOES

Enjoy The Return [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It’s back. Pop Goes The Weasel, in an incessant cycle, playing as background accompaniment to the birdsong. The truck circles the neighborhood, the sonic equivalent of water torture on wheels. I’ve spent too many hours pondering how the driver, the seller of ice cream, sitting in the epicenter of the looping Pop refrain, retains their sanity. I couldn’t do it. It’s low on my list of aspirations. I’m certain my assignment in hell will be the ice cream truck driver.

Of course, the musical assault is accompanied by – no, much more, it inspires – the delighted squeals of children, excited-to-a-frenzy when hearing the tune, begging coins from their parents, and running to the truck to get their treat before it disappears around the corner. The happy squeals bring instant forgiveness to my hardened heart for the Weasel drumming of my brain.

It’s the solstice. The ice cream truck, like the position of the sun in the sky, is a sure sign of summer’s return. On a walk by the lakefront a few days ago, the truck bellowed passed us, looking a bit worn and tired. It stopped. The neighborhood kids scrambled, parents’ pockets were emptied, purses turned upside down, skinny legs and clenched fists raced toward the paint-peeling truck.

Forgive my brain but I was suddenly overwhelmed and duly impressed at the chain of innovation that, although it now appears old and ordinary, went into making this dilapidated truck and the joy it invokes possible. Refrigeration. Pasteurization. The waffle cone. Ice cream on a stick. Recorded sound. Speakers. Not to mention the internal combustion engine.

As the kids swarmed the Weasel, I looked around at all the older faces, those folks with newly emptied pockets, watching their kids and grandkids enjoy the ritual that they once enjoyed when they were the young enthusiastic pick pockets. Every face was smiling. Even mine. Add that to the chain of innovation. It might be the most important of all the innovations in the chain. Bringer of joy. Inciter of happy memory. It certainly should be the point, the aim of all invention. Better life. No one needs to read a business book when an ice cream truck is circling the neighborhood. It’s all right there.

Bird song. Children’s squeals of delight. Pop Goes The Weasel. Hot days. Melting ice cream. Summer.

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD HUMOR

Read A Tiny Note [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I was still in shock. It was late, beyond midnight. The roosters were watching for the sunrise. The ritual I’d witnessed that night blew the metaphoric wheels off my car. Wave after wave of knife-wielding priests ran at the Rangda, a priest chosen for the evening to wear the mask, to enter the trance and become the demon. The priests stabbed the Rangda but to no avail. The blades bent. They were repelled. Eventually, all entered the trance and turned the knives on themselves, taking the energy, the protection of the Rangda, into their bodies. Into the community. No one was injured. Peace was made with the Rangda. Balance was affirmed.

I held one of the knives after the ritual was complete. It was not a stage prop. I could not have bent the blade on my chest without doing injury to myself.

Budi explained it all to me. I had so many questions. In his culture, the dark forces are not to be resisted or banished. There is no hell separate from heaven. Evil and good are not compartmentalized. There are energies, some dark and some light. There is no need to make peace with the light. The necessity is to face and make peace with the dark. Balance is created, an intentional relationship with a dynamic whole. It’s a dance of responsibility, a balance of dark and light. The middle way.

Balance.

I loved this photo when Kerri showed it to me. Clover. You can’t tell but it is tiny. It is bursting from beneath the stone that serves as the step onto our deck. It made we wonder if the fairy people were close at hand. They serve, in the western tradition, a similar role to the Rangda in Bali. Nature spirits. It was most important to keep in the good graces with the Fairies. Honor their places. Respect and maintain the balance. According to tradition, they went into hiding, they left because we assaulted their spaces; we came to value the path of resources, mining, deforestation, fracking, damming…over the path of balance.

This tiny breath of clover. I sat on the stone last night. The air was cool after a humid and hot day. DogDog was doing his rounds. I had not thought of the Rangda in years. A tiny community on a tiny island. The “mayor” of the town introduced the ritual to us as their art. “We have so little to offer you,” he said in his broken English, “but we bring you our most prized offering, our art.”

Art. A prized offering. The dance of energies, an intentional relationship with the dynamic whole. An ongoing ritual of balance. It was the first time I witnessed a community that had yet to exorcise its art from the sacred. It bent knives. It restored balance. It belonged and gave deep meaning to every member of the community.

Tiny. Like the Fairies or the community on the island. A simple respect for what is good for the whole. Balance is expressed in the tiny things, the choices of where to walk, what to say. What helps in the long run. What does not. What gives meaning and cohesion to a community. What does not.

Budi would caution us with COVID and guns and a globe that is weirding and warming, “Rangda is ignored,” he’d say.

“Yes,” I’d reply, “the fairies have gone into hiding.”

But, all is not lost. They left a tiny note at our back door. Balance, it reads, is a relationship, an intentional act. It is an ongoing ritual, a tiny sacred thing.

read Kerri’s blog post about CLOVER

Choose Your Way [on DR Thursday]

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ~ Viktor Frankel

I always feel a bit disappointed in myself after writing a post like the post I wrote yesterday. It was a near-rant, an ugly system becoming more ugly as it fights to protect its ugliness.

It’s been a battle all of my life, wrestling with what to do or say when my desire to focus on the life-giving runs headlong into the harsh realities of the life-denying. To shine a light on the life-denying is sometimes the most life affirming thing to do, it just doesn’t feel very good. “Look at the ugly. No, really look.” Last night, I listened to a conversation – in all seriousness – about the collapse of our democracy. It’s been a minor fascination of mine to witness how self-destructive people and organizations – and nations – will become before they admit that they need to change. Before they turn and say, “I’ve been lying to myself and to you.” Sometimes they destroy themselves rather than turn and face their truth. That was the crux of the conversation. It seems more and more likely that we’ll set ourselves on fire before we embrace the truth of our dysfunction.

One of Kerri and my greatest losses during the time of pandemic was our weekly ritual dinners with 20. Thursday night we’d cook at his condo. Sunday night we’d cook at our house. We’d cook for each other. Sometimes we’d cook with each other. Always we’d drink wine, laugh, and reaffirm what is most important about life. Each other.

Post-vaccination, after a long year of isolation, we recently, gratefully, returned to our ritual. We cook. We talk about our days. We laugh. 20 and I tease Kerri. She feigns indignance and loves every moment. We talk about art. We share the curiosities that have crossed our paths and screens. Sometimes we talk about the nation’s self-immolation but only briefly as we very quickly realize that it pulls us from what is really important. Each other.

Tonight is dinner with 20. We can’t wait and are making our menu, designing our day around what will be the most important thing to happen all day. Time with each other.

As a nation, “We have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.” ~Thomas Jefferson, in a letter discussing slavery.

How a question is framed determines the answers/paths-forward one sees or does not see. It could be said of our national trauma that we’ve framed our dilemma with justice pitted squarely against self-preservation, or, to be clear, self-preservation will be at the cost of justice-for-all. It’s too bad. As the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, self-preservation will always negate a reach toward justice. You’d think that we’d someday recognize that the wolf we have by the ears is of our own creation and that justice-for-all is the only path to self-preservation, national self-actualization. You’d think that it might occur to us, rather than do the same old thing in the same old way, to ask a different question.

If I had a magic wand I’d ding the noggin of this nation with the one strength we share, the one thing that 20 and Kerri and I know without doubt, the only real path to laughter and support and all the other good things we can offer: time with each other. A good meal made with heaps of love. A ritual born of a simple desire to each week make the world a bit better for each other.

read kerri’s blog post about DINNER WITH 20