Tuesday, April 29, 2008

April Showers

After a long spate of unseasonable, gloriously sunny and hot weather, the hills are green again. Unfortunately so was everything else, as yellow-green pollen dusted our world and wafted though our open windows. There had been no rain to speak of this entire month,that is rapidly coming to a close.

The short lived vernal pools that provide an essential but “fleeting” nursery for wood frogs and salamanders were dangerously dry, after being deep in snow earlier in the season. The Spring peepers and their sneezing human neighbors collectively sent up prayers for just a bit of rain to ease the dryness and the allergies.

Our petitions were heard, as April showers have been falling for two days. I slept like a baby as rain pelted the roof all night long, a rhythm I easily fall into. Now the last of the winter’s wood is burning in the woodstove to lessen the wet chill in the air.
And yet, another passage occurs, as canary-yellow goldfinches and the first rose-breasted grosbeaks appear at the feeder and my winter flock of chickadees head back into the woods until the “tourists” leave.They have been such jolly company all winter long!

The woods are alive with frog song and trilling birds as the rain gently falls. I pray the local amphibians will have what they need for this breeding season. Their relations worldwide are in dire straits due to loss of habitat, pesticides, and the rapidly spreading fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis,known as Bd for short.

Frogs are celebrated by cultures around the world as the "bringers of rain". Traditional shamanic societies in North and South America attributed the calling of the rains and control of the weather to frogs. As the rains fertilized the parched earth and cleansed muddy, stagnant waters, the attributes of abundance, fertility and healing were also given to Frog. Ritual objects made of frogs or in their shapes were used in traditional healing as well, especially illnesses brought about by emotional imbalances.

The wonderful metamorphosis that transforms the little tadpole into a handsome frog delights the child in all of us. And clearly displays the power of transformation that this totem animal is also graced with.

In Mexico, especially in the Guerrero region, metal masks in the shape of frogs were worn during ceremonial rain dances. The one depicted here from my collection, features a ruddy-cheeked spirit whose blue eyes also reflect an affinity to water. This wonderful mask of beaten copper was probably created in the early 20th C. It is charmingly painted with multi-colored spots that resemble those of the dapper leopard frogs that will be leaping through these boggy woods soon.

Long may they leap … all over the world…!

For more information on the art of Mexican mask-making, please see: Mexican Masks by Donald Cordry,University of Texas Press

For more information on vernal pools,please go to www.vernalpool.org

For more on the plight of amphibians see: Defenders (of Wildlife) Magazine, Spring 2008, “Slipping Away” by Sara Shipley Hiles.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Seeing with Closed Eyes

Due to my ongoing explorations of dreams, a friend recently shared this poem with me and it made me smile.
I hope it will do the same for you. It is such a lovely thought to warm ourselves with our favorite dreams and fully savor them when they are most needed!

Frozen Dream by Shel Silverstein

I'll take this dream I had last night
And put it in my freezer,
So someday long and far away
When I'm an old grey geezer,
I'll take it out and thaw it out,
This lovely dream I've frozen,
And boil it up and sit me down
And dip my cold toes in.

More food for thought...

“It was the wise Zeno that said he could collect a man by his dreams. For then the soul, stated in a deep repose, betrayed her true affections: which in the busy day, she would rather not show or not note.”- Owen Felltham

“Seeing through the mundane and witnessing the sublime is less than an eye-blink away…”-Bodhidharma

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream…

Friday, April 25, 2008

Creating Compassion

The little village I live in boasts under a thousand residents. Many of us are independent creative sorts that choose to live a simpler life, closely connected to Nature and migrated here from other parts. A group of us interested in art and creativity began meeting seven years ago. Last night at our meeting we had as our focus an interesting exercise in creating compassion through writing and art making. We were invited to bring an object from our homes that we live with but don’t really care for. We could loathe it, find it unappealing, or just be indifferent to it. But for some reason, we haven’t been able to get rid of it (sound familiar?).
We all unpacked our objects and looked at them, some of us making sarcastic remarks as we did. Our hostess then guided us to begin journaling from the object’s point of view, using “I am” sentences.
For instance, my object was a white china teacup and saucer, sprinkled with pink roses, that was from my Mother’s Depression-era wedding. She never really liked the pattern, as she preferred modern things with clean lines. But they were newly married, no one had money and this was a generous gift from a well-meaning relative. We used it for holidays and birthdays in our small family celebrations all my life.
My “I am” sentences about the cup and saucer were something like this…
“ I am delicate and feminine with a nick or two here and there acquired over the years.”
“I am dressed in shy pink roses, scattered about in neither a dramatic or creative manner.”
“I have never been truly appreciated by those who have owned me.”
“I feel out of place in a cabinet filled with earthy stoneware. I am old fashioned but not quite old enough to be admired for my antiquity.”
Next we were to write from our own perspectives and it was interesting to see how after hearing the story of the spurned object, our sarcasm softened and we wrote of more positive attributes… I even admitted to once in a while drinking tea from it to honor the potential usefulness and graceful utility that it embodies. When I do so I am having tea with my mother long since departed. I hear her say as she did several times,” These roses were never really “me” either, but as you get older you’ll find you are more accepting of them…” “Never!” I thought in my youth, but this is starting to happen little by little.
Later ,the cup gently whispered back, as I was doing the drawing exercise, “I am content in knowing that even when empty, I am filled with memories of happy occasions shared with those who have passed on.” I had to smile.
When we all read our comments and observations aloud, the results were almost prose poems and many amazingly reflected the personality and attributes of the writer.
It has been wisely said that many times the things we don’t like in others are traits we often possess ourselves!
Consider the peace that could be found in ourselves, our families, our communities, our world, if we each took the time to soften our judgment of the “other”, hear their story and perspective, and come to a place of empathy and compassion.
It is possible…it just takes effort, an open mind, and an open heart.
Try it and reap the personal benefits … and collectively we all will benefit…
Wishing you and the “others” in your life peace of heart and mind…

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Perceptions, Impressions

The air and light is as soft as a baby’s cheek this morning. A delicate haze in the sunlight brightened with flickers of pistachio, softens the shadows and brings out mauve, lavender and palest lemon yellow. I am seeing with the eyes of the Impressionists.
I have disregarded this visionary group of French painters for a very long time.
Their work reproduced in sofa-sized copies and printed on everything from calendars to museum shop umbrellas had become a cliché that I barely gave notice to or had interest in. I had an ephiphany standing in front of the incredibly long Monet Waterlilies at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Standing close you can only see several feet in each direction, and the scene your mind tells you that you are seeing, transforms into delicious squiggles of luminous paint. It is pure abstraction and vibrantly fresh and alive in mostly unblended color…
Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir “discovered” this way of seeing when they broke the shackles of studying academic art and ventured out into the fresh air along the Seine. The stale formality of Nature as a classical backdrop for historical or classical allegory was transformed into a living, breathing environment. In squinting their eyes just a bit and looking at a sun-drenched scene, all the shades of prismatic color revealed themselves in light and shadow. They kept the colors separated in expressive daubs of paint but juxtaposed them perfectly so the viewer’s eye did the mixing but could translate the artist’s way of seeing at the same time. What a brilliant discovery! This added to the subject of “real life being lived”, and attempting to capture the literal “throb of life” in Paris and surrounding environs in paint on canvas was totally revolutionary….
I have been reading Susan Vreeland’s historical novel about Renoir painting his most ambitious painting, which titles the book as well “Luncheon of the Boating Party”. Though she has done her homework, I was a bit rusty on the ins and outs of friendships and rivalries of this substantial group of French painters and missed many nuances that she alluded to. This has been happily compensated by watching a wonderful series produced by the BBC called “The Impressionists” (available through Netflix). In it Claude Monet is being interviewed in 1920 as an old man, and regales us with the personalities and traits of his friends and contemporaries during these formative years of Impressionism. It is very well acted and filmed on location and has added much to the Vreeland book, which relies mostly on conversation between the characters to tell the story. I highly recommend both for a weekend escape into an amazing time of looking at life and art with new eyes. Time travel anyone?
May you discover a new way of seeing your world and appreciating the beauty that is there before you, if you have but eyes to see!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day!

The radiance of the sun and unusual balmy temperatures have all of us singing in these parts, but not as eloquently as the single warbler that has been trilling for days now from the budding tree-tops. So far he is still solo, as no one is answering his call or disputing his territory. It is his gift to us all….
As quirky as it is to be comfortably walking barefoot outside but having to carefully avoid random patches of the last snow, it is comforting to see that Nature is more vibrant and expansive each passing day. We seem to be going in the right direction. Yellow-green day lily and iris fans and the purple tips of hosta are appearing over night but I am longing for colorful, exuberant displays of flowers!
I treated myself to glorious fiery orange roses yesterday, a belated birthday gift from a friend. What a delicious treat they are and we should all treat ourselves to flowers regularly, if just a small bouquet of wildflowers artfully arranged. They give so much to the beholder and add so much to a home environment.
For your pleasure, I am sharing a glimpse of the staggering beauty of these particular roses in the little photo next to this entry!
The powerful color and expressive shape of roses have been cultivated in silk and cotton floss around the world ,as talented hands embroidered rosettes, solar discs and trees of life onto clothing and utilitarian cloth.
A wonderful book on this subject was lovingly compiled and researched in hard to get to places by Shelia Paine. It is called Embroidered Textiles: Traditional Patterns from Five Continents: with a World wide Guide to Identification. These natural symbols were not just decorative but were believed to provide protection against misfortune and increased life force in nomadic and other tribal cultures. They were also treasured as wealth and provided beauty in sometimes very bleak or harsh environments.
As beautiful as the day is outside I’m equally happy photographing examples of splendid textile gardens and cataloging them for future inclusion on my website www.deborahgarnercollection.com
Woven, beaded, richly embellished cloth is a personal passion of mine. I’m including a detail here of a lovely 19th C. embroidery from Uzbekistan with whimsical floral designs to add to the visual celebration for our bountiful Mother Gaia/Earth on her special day!
Whether you are inside or outside today do take a moment to send appreciation to the Earth that sustains us, or think of something that you could do that would contribute to reducing even in a very small way humanity’s impact on her …and don’t forget to stop and smell the roses!

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Yesterday a dear neighbor and I ventured off our rocky ridge and descended down to the Connecticut River valley. For a few moments we were as stunned as if the Land of Oz stretched out before us. The weeping willows along the riverbank were festooned in long chartreuse ribbons of tiny new leaves, the forsythia was blinding in its chrome yellow splendor and the exotically beautiful magnolias were just beginning to bloom….
We are about three weeks behind at our 1100 ft. altitude, not exactly Alpine I admit, but just enough over the line to make a big difference. From our understated grey and brown hills, now and then highlighted with the subtle mauve of maple buds and dusty puffs of white birch flowers, to the floral extravagance of the valley seemed tropical and decadent simultaneously.
Even in the hills it reached 80 degrees yesterday and today promises the same.This is not the normal transition.80 is more of a June temperature than April...
I put up the screens last night, opened the windows and happily slept with fresh air, the first songs of the little Spring frogs called “Peepers” and the otherworldly commentary from courting barred owls wafting into my bedroom. Heaven…
Mudseason, our regional “bonus” season for surviving a strenuous winter, is officially over and I must say despite the deep drifts and thanks to a remarkable road crew that constantly groomed our dirt roads, it was not too bad. Sometimes just getting to the grocery store 12 miles away is an Indiana Jones experience when parts of the road become the consistency of cookie dough and you literally have to go with the flow, helplessly pulled from side to side! It can be quite the adrenalin rush!

The first butterfly has been spotted…it may have been a queen Monarch or a Fritillary.It was a lovely shade of orange but not quite as vibrant as the male Monarch.
I think Icaught a glimpse of the first hummingbird that usually buzzes by my studio window around April 28th. It may have been a shy little pine siskin visiting the birdbath. I only saw a quick tiny bird silhouette at dusk. I must get some nectar mix for them today, as the only meager natural offerings are five lavender-striped crocus flowers.
Now I can wash the layers of the mud off my formerly black car, that has been a demure shade of bisque for weeks and also take off the noisy studded snow tires for another year…
Yes, let me slip on my flip-flops and head out the door back down to civilization.
It is so odd to know its 80 degrees, I’m going out in flip-flops, and my daffodils are still beneath 8 inches of snow!
Wishing you all the pleasures of the season wherever you may be!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Rhythmic Alignment

It is a glorious morning…cloudless blue sky, blinding sun penetrating the dense woods at that perfect angle that pops everything out in such dramatic fashion.
The “chiaroscuro” that Velazquez, Caravaggio and other painters used so well and to great effect. I simply love this light and now while the branches are still bare it is possible to see deeply into the intricate patterns the branches make as they interact, and visually interweave. Soon the new leaves will emerge and slowly the green curtain will close around me once again. Several times in the past months the same effect and delineation took place with sparkling snow. It was at just the right consistency to wrap itself around each branch and trunk and left just a tracery of black and grey along one edge. Then it was a magical lace curtain that was drawn around me, exquisitely detailed and totally ephemeral. I tried to capture it with camera, pastel,and oil paint but it was too sublime …
But now great patches of mottled brown earth and dry thatch are appearing in the remaining snow daily. The ground is as spotted as a Pinto pony and new birds are arriving daily and staking claim to the new turf. The faithful Robins back for another breeding season wrest stunned earthworms from the chilly mud and Mourning Doves coo and woo in patches nearby. The woodpeckers still drum but further away , but the rhythm of today is the song of the doves…Ah yes, out of the treetops and back down to earth. Sweet and slightly mournful tones to stir the emotions and those internal waters. It is time to awaken and align with the new season at hand…and all of us must find our own natural rhythm to get us there.
The resident cats just look at me with profound mystification at my need to take this intellectual meander when… duh, the door is wide open onto the deck!
Maya tosses me a glance that says “Later…”, and flicks her impressive black plume of a tail as she returns to Vole patrol duty outside and Luna just gives me her most soulful look that says “These cushions in the sun are in perfect alignment with me”…
When the seasons are as dramatically distinct as they are in these parts and can turn on a time, it’s not quite as simple as breaking out the flip-flops for some of us humans. Slowly but surely I’ll get there…Here’s hoping you are there already, perfectly aligned and moving toward your dreams at your perfect pace and rhythm….as Maya says”Later…”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Signs and Symbols...

It is a very cold morning here in the woods. The sun is steadily climbing up the hill through the tangle of still bare branches and shyly spilling into my studio.
The most distinctive sign of this new season at this moment is the noise…
The distinctive “drumming” of numerous Pileated Woodpeckers is rattattattinggggg from all sides. It is like being in the middle of a mellifluent construction site! I love this resonance of beak against pith and bark, and the vibration of it reverberating through the woods. Rat-ta-tat-ta-tat! It is a wake-up call for all of us to notice that a new season is at hand.
I enjoy reading about and paying attention to natural signs and omens. They are the language of Nature and are pretty universally agreed upon, for the most part, save Snake and Owl which get bad press in some cultures.
There is a wonderful book by naturalist Ted Andrews which I refer to almost every day. It is called Animal Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small. In it the Woodpecker is about the heartbeat of the earth, the power of rhythm, and the use of discrimination. The Pileated Woodpecker is sometimes known as the “Cock of the Woods”,this makes me smile, as the other dominant bird holding forth this morning is the Rooster, crowing loud and true, at my neighbors down the road. The Rooster is about watchfulness, resurrection(as the herald of the rising sun) and fertility…
I love the thought of the universality of that sound resonating at daybreak in Bali, across Africa, in rural areas around the world and here in the US. It is such a blessing to wake-up to these sounds instead of alarm clocks and radio yabbering…(We’ll have more about these cross-cultural symbols later as they embellish cultural costume and artifacts because of their potent symbolism…)but back to natural sounds and signs...
One of my favorite watercolorists was Charles Burchfield, American (1893-1967).
He was a masterful recorder of Nature, weather and the special atmosphere of seasons. He achieved this in a quite unique and symbolic way. There is a lovely little book of his work called Charles Burchfield’s Seasons by Guy Davenport that you may enjoy.
I am going to attempt to post images two favorites on today’s blog page.
The first is ”The Coming of Spring”. It shows hills with trees just starting to bud, riverlets of water running down and bringing the mud to life and pussy willows to explode into fury catkins. This looks just like where I live or at least will, in a week or two.
Burchfield wrote about this picture and the rushing water(which is also musically coursing through my woods as snow melt) “So completely did the personality of the stream enter into my consciousness, that at night when I lay down to sleep, my pillow seemed to be full of sound….” He often creates marks that denote sounds and the vibrations of growth that I just love!
The other image is “Autumnal Fantasy” that has nuthatches instead of woodpeckers but the vibrational notations capture what it is like in these hills this morning.
I hope wherever you are today, that you can take the time to notice Nature and the signs she is giving you!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


"astral journeys, inner worlds" is in the new Studio Gallery at Hampden and will end on April 28th,2008...

ARTIST STATEMENT astral journeys, inner worlds

I am a dreamer by nature and disposition.

Ever since childhood I have recalled dream imagery immediately upon waking. “What did you dream last night?” was my Mother’s first inquiry of the morning. We would review all that had occurred in my nocturnal wanderings and when a synchronistic event happened later that day, she would happily announce,” There’s the end of your dream!”

Beginnings, endings, connections…

”What color was it?” Mother would ask, “How did it taste or smell ?”.
She was a dreamer extraordinaire and it never occurred to her (or me) that most people supposedly dreamed in black and white (how bizarre!) or thought they didn’t dream at all, much less perceive the dream environment with waking senses.

Dreams and symbolism became deeply ingrained in me, as did a longing to travel to the exotic realms of my imagination. As an adult I have been fortunate to explore the world firsthand and through the cultural artifacts that I collect, study and deal in. Many times these experiences are part of my dream life and I delight in recalling sights, smells and sounds of the material world transported to another time and place.

The images offered here are like snapshots of personal dream experiences, I like to think of many of them as “postcards from the Edge of Consciousness”. I invite you to have fun and enjoy the visual journey here…
In the sleep-deprived culture we live in, the dream state is not as restorative for most as it could be. I hope these pictures will bring a smile and encourage exploration in your own rich inner landscapes.

May you have sweet dreams and may all your good dreams come true!
As I was saying,there are many ways of traveling. The long Winter nights were used by traditional tribal peoples to share tales of courage, challenges successfully met by cultural heroes, romance and trickster stories to delight young and old in campfire circles around the world.
Dreaming was taken seriously and wisdom carefully gleaned from dreams shared. I have long kept dream journals and recorded as many episodes as I can recall each morning. I enjoy going back over them and noticing the recurring symbols and themes and speculating on what I am working out in my dreamlife. All of this recently culminated in a body of work called "astral journeys, inner worlds" that is being presented in Hampden Gallery at the University of Massachusetts this month. For more information here's the link http://www.umass.edu/fac/calendar/hampden/events/DEBORAHGARNER.html
The image in the right corner of this blog is called Dream Journey and is very evocative for me.
I used it as the postcard for the exhibition. The ripe, fecund natural world is being lead into a more barren world it seems, until the old blind man who confidently leads the way is noticed to be following the fiery light of his passion, his soul.... and so it is with each of us when we allow ourselves to follow our bliss.
This work began as simple monoprint landscapes, overtime I collected images from very early (1919) National Geographic magazines that were being tossed at the recycling bin .These were collaged in to populate the scenes as they related to dreams I had been having. Colored pencil and water color washes helped me achieve the effect I was reaching for. I will share more images in a small slide show and include my Artist Statement about this work to hopefully add to your enjoyment.
At the opening I was delighted with the enthusiastic response from other "dreamers" in attendance! I hope this will encourage some of you to tap this rich native source of inspiration that was our collective creative birthright!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Welcome to my blog

After many months of deep snow,howling winds and precarious road conditions...the great mounds of ice are finally receding and adding to the slurry of mud on the sides of our dirt road.The metal sap buckets are still hanging from Sugar Maple trees and still filling impressively at this late date. The barred owls are mating, the lovely maroon colored trillium are stirring under the cold mud and soon a very hungry black bear will be heading for my birdfeeder as the sun begins to set.
This is the stuff of dreams for a transplant from the steamy South. Though I grew up in semi-tropical splendor,waisthigh ferns,the humid air thick with the headiness of gardenia, jasmine,wisteria;the stiffling heat was debilitating to me and I survived these pre- airconditioning summers with a stack of library books and a frosty bottle of Coca -Cola under a shady tree. I made sure that I had my library card as soon as I was six and checked out everything I could find on cultures of other lands. As an only child ,this introspection and armchair travelling served me well on long hot days and still provides respite during the short dark days of a New England winter. I have weathered 28 Northern winters now. My Southern friends think I am absolutely mad and a case could be made to that effect. But this land, these woods ,these rocks and hills are part of me now and I don't mind the slowing down and inward traveling that takes place in front of the woodstove. And I cherish the company of my two compatible felines Luna and Maya... Inward travels are especially sublime....
When I was three I fashioned tiny clay figures of a turbaned man dressed in a long robe and a veiled young girl and a young boy dressed like the man. My parents were astounded...we didn't have a television at that time , no copies of the Arabian Nights...."Who are you and where did you come from?!", my Father remembered saying out loud to me as he noticed the detail in the figures attire.
That is the question I'm still trying to answer...and I'm happy to say I'm getting closer.
This blog is about the threads that run literally and figuratively through my life, the inter-connectedness of passions that started as a very young child, and grew with me over five decades now. My hope is that I may share something with you that you haven't noticed before or that sparks interest or gets you thinking about the threads in your own life. There are many ways to travel and and if undertaken in the right spirit they all lead back to HOME...