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!

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