The thing about trees is they grow old so gracefully. Their bark, with it's deepening folds and scars, tells a story of winter storms, dry spells, encounters with other life forms, and unfathomable patience. As it ages the tree grows ever larger. To stand beneath the awesome presence of an ancient behemoth is humbling and thrilling. What if we humans grew larger (by that I mean taller) as we aged? My 92 year old grandmother would be 15 feet tall. Sure there'd be healthcare issues and building code changes but I can imagine some positive paradigm shifts if old people were giants.
I no longer get to spend much time in the playground sandbox negotiating sand castle dimensions with my co-architects. I rarely break out the costume boxes for livingroom improv theatre productions these days, but I love the act of collaborating. I search it out through music making, with projects in my classroom, and endeavors with my co-workers. Last week I had the rare and immense pleasure of building something beautiful with a group of friends. It was Micheal's vision (you can go see it at the new Hot Mama's location) and Ron Blacquiere did the painstaking work of pouring that amazingly clear coat of resin, but we all bantered, giggled, debated layout patterns, and worked together to make this happen. It was lovely! Here's to building more sand castles with friends!
...for the first time they both recognize that they will become very close friends. It is not that they get along well, exactly. In fact crow makes some rather odd comment about fur not being quite as waterproof as feathers that irritates rabbit, and rabbit's very large ears make crow uneasy from the start. They soon confront one another on these two matters and then move on to bantering and haggling about other things. You see, this is what they love to do best.
When I photographed this duck and it's sad little water supply, my daughter and I were mainly struck by how funny a duck looked flitting about in such a little puddle. After I named the photo it became entirely something else for me. How many of us have had the experience of returning to the location of a childhood memory and being stunned by how different memory and reality can become. You remember the tree house being so much higher in the tree, or you remember the secret cave being much farther from the trail, or the pond was so much larger in your mind's eye.
Memories distort, embellish, and enhance with time. Photographs do not have those magical qualities. Photos are magical in their own right. They can trap places, ideas, feelings, relationships in perfect vivid color for an indefinite amount of time. Our digital photos don't even ever fade.
My childrens' lives are captured in a virtual river of photographs; taken by me, by them, by anyone with a phone and a finger, and posted in perpetuity online. I imagine a multi colored chem trail of their past streaming out behind them.
Will our compulsively photographed pasts be a source of new human pleasure or a loss of the magical human memory machine with its unpredictable distortions, grand embellishments, and definite enhancements? I personally like remembering the pond as a vast blue expanse where a duck can swim forever.
Lately I've been working on several quilts that feature ice. It strikes me as surprising that, given my compulsion to make work picturing layers of earth, I have waited this long to feature the layers I actually grew up on. I am an ice child. I walked the permafrosted treeless tundra on countless family outings. I understood the ocean as a thing that slept for months beneath a solid cap of ice. I jostled in dog sleds towed behind snow machines, out to fishing holes drilled into feet of ice, to check crab pots or fish for arctic grayling. I helped my parents with regular chores like chipping ice off the front stairs, shoveling a path through the snow from our door to the street, or digging our oldsmobile out so my dad could plug it in and run the engine occasionally.
How odd and exciting that I've neglected to explore that world underfoot until now. I really know so little about the magic and mechanics of deep ice. What I do have is a storehouse of memories; the sounds, the smells, and sensations of a world on ice.
Creating is much like approaching a shimmering body of water on a warm dark night. We have to kind of screw up our courage to strip down and plunge in. No amount of toe dipping at water's edge will inform us about what is beneath the black surface, what full emersion will offer to and require of us. Once we jump there is the constant movement, the motion, the exertion that keeps us in the now, present in the process. We have to scramble to shore if we want to view the whole dark mass of water again, but getting out means we have to find the courage, time, will... to get back in again. For so many people that is the hardest part.
One of the many amazing places I visited in Japan was a collection of shrines and temples on Mt. Misen on the island of Miyajima. As we hiked up the mountain trail it seemed as though every curve held another elaborate wooden temple, an ancient well tended shrine, or a stone statue lovingly adorned in knitted hat, sunglasses, or even once, a pair of headphones. At the mountain top the structures were nestled between giant rounded boulders and wind twisted evergreen trees. The place hosted a constant stream of humanity, coming to pray, coming to be thankful, or coming to draw breath at the top of the world. People carried cameras, water bottles, folded paper prayers, and tiny clay statues to be left as offerings or intentions. Not for the first time in my Japan visit, I marveled at the apparent social contract to protect and preserve public spaces. There is very little of the territory marking that so many Americans seem compelled to do. I did not see tagging, senseless damage, or strewn garbage. Instead, I was overcome by the countless small acts of beautification and intention. It would be a mistake to pretend I understand the complex workings of Japanese society, but my short time there left me with a sense of lightness. My spirit was bouyed to spend time in a culture that seems so profoundly aware of the notion of the collective, the opportunity to care for each other through self restraint and ownership of one's actions, and the incredible power of many.