At the End of a Grand Year

Chinese Lanterns

(On my birthday, we had only two, but it was still beautiful)

Frida necklace13“Pies, para que los quiero si tengo alas para volar?” – – – Frida Kahlo

2013, lucky 13, was a year of great changes and growth. It was a year full of walking and ice skating and driving around my new home of Downeast Maine. It was a year of new friends and a new life, of teaching art to children and adults, of becoming a craftsperson full time, of, in general, adjusting and changing and adapting to this place that adjusts and changes and adapts as the seasons switch and the days appear and disappear, ever different, no two the same.

what shall weIndeed

Last night, while yet more snow fell and the skies looked ominous and grey-orange in the lateness of a December night, I spoke about how I felt that the winter here is more beautiful than the summer. My friend who I stood with, in the dark, said that he cannot really appreciate one without the other, implying I suppose that the contrast between the seasons, the starkness of this place, is what inspires the wonder and awe that I feel when finding myself on a porch at night with sleet and snow pelting my curly hair.

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Last year’s first snow, magnified on my windows

“I like it when I take the controls from you, and when you take the control from me. I really am a lucky man…” says Bill Callahan in his song, Small Plane, one of my favorites of his and a perfect song for the last few days of what was a huge year for me.

Jordan Pond January 5Ice-scape from Jordan Pond

A year ago, I lived in a beautiful but cold apartment that sat up above a quiet street in Northeast Harbor, Maine. I named it the House that Floats, and soon after, I moved into The Caravan: the tiniest house in Northeast Harbor. I packed my life into a space that is less than 350 square feet, and made a life there by planting flowers and vegetables, sewing, and making jewelry into the wee hours. It is a house with few doors and no closets: it is like living on a very small ship, with everything battened down into its appropriate place.

early morning coffee cupsEarly morning coffee cups at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts

Soon I will move into a new place, and I am not sure what its name is yet, only that it is a very blank slate in a very new town. I realized whilst walking around it the other night that I have no furniture at all anymore to put inside it: no table, no bed, no anything at all save a workbench, a sewing machine table, a cabinet and a bookshelf. So I suppose I do have some things, after all. If I have learned anything from life, it is that our magpie nature dictates that we fill our spaces in no time, and no doubt, the new house will fill up quickly with what I consider to be beautiful things. I decided a little while ago that one of the gifts of all the transitions over the last few years is that I get to decide what and who comes in my door, that this life is mine to create in beauty to the best of my ability.

laboriousA Laborious Mosaic

This past year has taught me a thing or two about beauty, and about cultivating a beautiful life. I have done my best to keep moving forward in this new place, this place in which many people have been for years. I still feel very, very new here: a feeling only amplified by the choice to try a new town on the same island. My newness is exposed almost daily as I remark on sea smoke on the ocean, or ice on the branches of trees, or on the discovery that a good winter coat really saves you in the cold days that seem to be with us with full force. Tonight we go down to 0 degrees, and over the next few nights, to much below that as we enter January. As far as I remember, January was the coldest month, last year full of ice skating on fierce winter days, and that by February everyone is ready for the bitterness of winter’s chill to be over, only to realize that at least two months lie before us before the warmth returns. February, as one of my friends said, is when everyone goes crazy for a while, just dealing with being in the middle of it, rather than at the magical beginning, or the slushy end.

autoretratoAutoretrato

But, I am getting ahead of myself. Here we are, on December 30th, one short day away from a new year. I am sitting in a beautiful old house in Bar Harbor, housesitting and catsitting for friends who are out of town. I am eating pasta alla carbonara and drinking French wine that I bought from the folks who run the restaurant that took all my time and energy this past summer. I am thinking about what I want for the new year, what I am grateful for from last year, and what to do on the very important last day of 2013.

2667_1127644710456_1297271_nPlanting strawberries: another life (2007)

I have a few habits for New Years Eve; I clean my house very well, I take out all the trash, I pay all the bills, I sweep the dust out of the door. I light candles and eat good food and try to reach the people that I care about. I think about resolutions in a realistic way, as far as what I can really do with my time in the new year. This year I am resolving to be more organized in my business and teaching, and to believe all the compliments that people give me in order to be helpful and keep me going on this path. I am trying to let go of some fear and terror that has held me back for a few years in the hope that it is only a roadblock put in place by my survival skills and instincts. Fight or flight has no place for me here in my new home: this is a place of peace and forgiveness and acceptance of differences. This is a place where people help each other.

carousel 2Carousel

Last night, during another long conversation, a friend and I spoke about the North Pond Hermit and other Maine characters of special significance. A friend of mine who used to live here was complaining the other night about how anti-social everyone is: how everyone stays home and expects others to come to them, about how everyone entertains themselves with various projects. I agree that it is a different sort of place in that way: we all are here for some reason, and I think that reason has something to do with peace and solitude, with creativity and independence, with being away. It is hard sometimes to communicate with people who do not wish to live here about the power of being away here, away in a small community of independent spirits, who occasionally gather together over dinner or a fire. Is it escapism living here? Sometimes I wonder about that, wondering if it is a sense of escaping the external world into a world of your own making. Sometimes I wonder if that is bad, or good, or neither. There is a power in creating your own world, and there are few places where you really can do that; in most places, I think the external forces are so strong that you are challenged to create an inner world at all, much less one that can influence and forge your external world in a meaningful way. There are so many people here who do so many things: small things that add up to a very rich and full life. Some people might think that life too quiet, and that, I suppose is why there are so few people here. Another friend said a few months ago that the beauty of this place is that there are so few people, and the ultimate downside is that there are so few people.

viseReliquary of the Heart

Is it a place of contrasts? To be sure. Is it a place of introspection and quiet? Again, to be sure. Is it the end all be all? Most certainly not, but I am beginning to wonder if there is a place like that at all, or if life, is, indeed, what you make it.

Egon Schiele Landscape 1913Egon Shiele, 1913 —

I pasted this to the front window of my house. Each day as I stared outward, the landscape reminded me of this painting.

So, here we are, sitting on the cusp of a new year. Tomorrow night, during the new moon, we will all listen and watch as another year ends and one begins. My prayer for the new year is that we spend more time noting the present, thinking about the future, and are less hemmed in by our past.

I hope to spend more time thinking about where I am then where I have been or where I am going.

looking outLooking Out, Looking In

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The North Pond Hermit

“A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Strange tales abound here: this land of woods and rugged coast, of granite and fir trees and deep, cold, clear waters. In the waters, down at the harbor, seaweed and kelp stream from buoys and docks, pulled out and pushed in by a constant flow of tides. They flow out and stand, streaming, as if they are the hair of a strange and spooky spirit, barely tethered to the shore.

This place, this land of such long winter; right now, as I type, tiny flecks of ice and snow are hitting my deck and the rain is pouring down. It is 36 degrees, and it is April 12th. Hidden in these woods are old trucks, older houses, ancient bottles, middens: the remnants of lives lived here for centuries.

If you drive north of where I live, the land becomes level again, and then downright flat. The trees are spindly and lighter colored than the fir trees that populate this section of the state. This is the road to Baxter State Park, the place with the tallest mountain in Maine, Katahdin, and one of intense, majestic beauty. As you drive west from Millinocket, the flat roadway all of a sudden becomes intensely wooded again, out and up as you drive toward one giant mountain. I was informed the other day that the reason for this is a conjunction of two small tectonic plates: one that originates from the East, and one from the West. Each brings different rock, soil, and climatic features that inform the visage of this part of the state.

But today, the story is not about the lands north of Mount Desert Island, or of Baxter State Park, but rather, of Rome, Maine, a small town about 120 miles west of where I sit at this moment, typing while listening to the ice fall from a grey, cloudy sky. The videos linked below were made by our state media conglomerate, and I find them really fascinating. Mostly what I find fascinating is the attitude of the North Pond Hermit’s pursuers: they clearly knew of a person who was consistently robbing them of food and tools and other supplies, and had known of him for a long time. They also seem to have a fondness and a fascination for him, as if they don’t understand his behaviors but don’t want to make him feel scared. Almost, they want to protect him from others and protect him from himself, protect him from what sent him into the woods thirty years ago, while also understanding that if someone has burgled his neighbors close to 1,000 times over thirty years, that there must be some sort of consequence.

See what you think: each one is about two minutes long.

I am having trouble embedding the videos, so follow this link: Hermit Captured, Part 1. After watching Part 1, you can watch Parts 2 and 3.

At the end, when you are left with that mental image of a fifty-something man who has not seen his own face in almost thirty years, who lives in the woods of Maine in a nylon tent, who refuses to leave that tent during the long winter lest he be found, who spends his days reading and meditating, think about what that would mean for you. How would it be if your last conversation with another human being was in the mid-90’s? How would it be if your neighbors were the needles of fir trees, the birds that call in summer and migrate in winter, the rush of streams and rivers, and nothing else? How would it be if you hid, and I mean, really hid, away? And then, how would it be when you were finally found?

Do you think he is sad? Happy? Both?

“There is a chivalry, here, of a sort”, said Isak Dinesen in her book, Out of Africa, and that idea plays true here in the rural towns of the middle of Maine. People protect each other: it is the culture of the place. Never are you truly alone, even if you choose to live your life as if you are. Clearly, in the case of Christopher Knight, his isolation and his invisibility were protected both by his cleverness, but also by the people who surrounded him, even though they knew nothing of him. A strange cultural element of country life is that people are allowed to be here; encouraged by the spirit of Yankee independence, there is no one way to be.

“Knight remains at Kennebec County Jail, where he is being held with the general population of inmates.

He is not under suicide watch, according to jail officials, who said they couldn’t answer any additional questions.

“I saw him a couple days ago and I was pleased at how well he was adjusting,” Perkins-Vance said. “He was more social. He actually had expression on his face.”

She said Knight has been charged with the burglary of Pine Tree Camps, but noted that other charges also have been filed. She did not specify what those charges are.

“I think this is as much of a shock to him as it is to us to comprehend what’s going on inside his mind,” Hughes said.” (Bangor Daily News)

Photodiary — Snowshoeing on Jordan Pond

“Well, I know now. I know a little more how much a simple thing like a snowfall can mean to a person.”

Sylvia Plath

snowshoeing

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Last week we had a huge snowstorm here. Nemo, we were warned, was the storm of the century, but it turned out just to be about two feet of snow and lots of wind. The wind woke me up that night because it shook the house. I dislike sleeping on the second floor of buildings: I am more comfortable on the first floor, and this apartment is very high off the ground. At some points it felt as if the whole building was twisting around its center point, and I remembered how, in the old days here, they used to bolt the houses into the ground using ropes and later, cables, that were driven into the bedrock to stop the houses from blowing away during the gales. The coast of Maine: so wild, so windy, with its daily changing weather and unpredictable light, dark, air, stars, water. Last week, during the storm, the seas were up to 30 foot swells and the boats stayed in the harbor, lashed down to the docks with nylon ropes. The sea roiled and boiled and changed color to a darker winter green as it swooped all around our island. A storm surge of 2 feet covered the rocks and froze the grasses at water’s edge.

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After the storm had passed, and I had dug myself out of the driveway, I went snowshoeing for the first time, down at Jordan Pond, my favorite skating spot that was now covered in snow.

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This place is a winter wonderland, and now that I am no longer scared of winter, and know what it is, and how long it lasts and how different it makes you feel, so reflective, I love to go outside and explore how it changes from day to day. Each day is distinct: as if the environment switches, late at night, when we are asleep, like the screens in that story The Veldt. Each morning when I wake up I see differences in the snow, in the ice, in the light; I hear different bird calls and the shadows on the rocks have changed. The idea of Earth as Dynamic is nowhere more true than here: where you can watch the landscape change almost before your eyes.

snowshoeing8

Here I am, just past the point of no return for winter, when the first hints of spring are peeping in the tips of oak trees in the forests….when the birds are singing more than they have for three months. In other places, plants are bursting forth, but for us, we have a while yet to wait.

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While snowshoeing, I paid attention to the snow, and noticed how much it looked like sandstone in the desert. The wind had licked layers of ice crystals and made beautiful dunes that reminded me of being at the beach in England, or in the desert of California.

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After snowshoeing on top of the frozen lake, on top of the powdery snow, I took a moment to snowshoe into the woods at pond’s edge and look at the trees. So much like the setting of a fairy story, this wintertime; I am constantly on the lookout for wolves, or harpies, or secret, magic people dressed in capes, or….something. Mostly, though, I see no one at all.

snowshoeing16snowshoeing15snowshoeing17“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

John Muir

A Clear Eye and a Full Purse

“Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in the doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your one presence rather than the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement.”

Alice Koller

I spent this evening relaxing and redecorating my bedroom. Earlier today, I took all the objets d’art from above the bed and installed them in a shop window as part of the installation for the holidays. When I came home tonight, my bedroom looked remarkably naked, so instead of passing out on the bed (which is what, for a moment or two,  I wanted to do), I dug into bags and boxes, pulled out all the mussels from a mussel-hunting day last week, and…

I made my bedroom new, again.

Using mussel shells, periwinkles, flickering candles, antique wooden boxes, a branch that fell into the garden of one of the summer mansions, sea urchin skeletons, and dried hydrangeas, I re-made the bedroom. As a friend of mine said a few days ago, “everything is artistic“…

After finishing the re-decoration, I read some more about Alice Koller. It always makes me laugh with wonder and a sense of bewilderment how sometimes things or ideas are thrust into your path to make you take a moment and reflect on what is happening. I stumbled across Alice Koller tonight when I was looking for thoughts about solitude. I found the quote above in my search, and then began looking for deeply for information about her.

Lately, I have spent a lot of my time on the phone with friends; this is because I spend the majority of my time here alone, and seek connection with my friend-family who are far away. This solitude is a first for me; I have always been a decidedly social person prior to my incarnation as the lady in cowboy boots who walks through Northeast Harbor, Maine.

It turns out that Alice Koller, at one point in her life, moved from the city to the country, to Nantucket. She moved with a puppy, while my animal companions are the crows, blue jays, and doves that fly outside my windows and in the garden below. Animal friends who I don’t have to own: the best kind of animals. Here is what Alice said, in 1983, about her short life in a small, small New England town, on her lonesome:

My urgent need was to find out what I believed and wanted and felt independently of what anyone else believed or felt or wanted me to believe or feel. Two factors were working for me. First, I knew how to think: I knew what should count as the statement of a problem; what evidence was persuasive and what inadequate; what a pointed question was and what was mere idleness; what fit well with matters whose outlines were already in hand and what conflicted outright with some other view of the facts so that one or the other had to be discarded (but which?). I subjected everything I had done that I could remember to that kind of thinking and I placed every conclusion I reached alongside one single question, “But is it true?”. I kept raising that question hour after hour, even though I had no criterion for what true would mark out until I was about halfway through my task.

The other factor was that I was at the same time learning what the shape and texture and focus of my daily life had to be. I was living in the country for the first time, and although Nantucket can scarcely be called a wilderness, Siasconset bestowed upon me great spreads of space and silence. To be outside I had only to open my door and take one step. With no people to have to thread my way around, my personal living space was without boundaries. I could go out into the low flat landscape and let the night display the patterns of the stars. At the edge of the moor no artificial lights illuminated the night, and I, a city girl, was astonished to discover that objects are cleanly visible under the light of the full moon. The beach, accessible to me on foot extended for two miles; there only Logos chased the gulls who dared to land, and only I walked. I acquired a taste for wildness and silence almost immediately.

By having removed all socially imposed regulations of my activities, I began to notice the natural rhythm of my day. I was changing almost imperceptibly each day, and I’d suddenly realize that the small increments had coalesced into something wholly new. Although I could not have given voice to it at the time, I was providing myself with the context in which I most naturally flourish…

I was then free to resolve that each moment of each day had to be lived in whatever way my then very weak understanding grasped as being right for me. I would not let it matter whether anyone else agreed with any of my decisions: I alone would judge the fittingness of everything I did. When any action I was considering or belief I was entertaining threatened to conflict with my most basic sense of what was right for me, I would do what I understood in the light of what I saw, no matter what the consequences were. It is a way to learn to consider consequences broadly and carefully so that you don’t unnecessarily visit harm upon yourself or others. But it’s also a way to teach yourself what you can and are willing to endure in the name of your sense of appropriateness.” [New York Times, 1983]

Fishermen here call sea urchins Whore’s Eggs – I have a few spines embedded in my thumb tonight