Sunday, April 28, 2013

My Tryst with a Tree

I am not one to wallow. When things in my life feel as if they are not exactly all wrong, but far from alright, I tend to remain positive as long as I can, then erupt into a brief intense storm of frustrated emotion that runs over every miserable inch of grief, despair, humiliation, injustice, confusion and loss, finally arriving at a state of defiance in which some major action demands to be taken. But big fixes take time, energy and money not always available. Little ones can almost always be arranged with a little bit of imagination and faith. For me, all it took was a tree.
1.On My Way

There are a few things I've come to count on in life, easy to come by and guaranteed to make me feel good. One is riding on a train, and another is a visit to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I will always feel a sense of belonging and clear direction in these two places, however displaced and lost I feel everywhere else. 

2.On Board

And so, when my emotional storm cleared, along with my latest credit card payment, I pulled up the Amtrak site on my laptop and bought a round trip same-day train ticket. To NYC. To see a tree. The second I hit “print,” I knew I had found a way out where there seemed to be none only moments before.

3. Pointing the Way

Well, two trees really. One is a bonsai oak, small and magnificent, like an ancient wise guide; the other is a weeping beech, large and compassionate, like a protector of souls. And I needed both guidance and protection. I needed these trees. I was not expecting definitive answers. I just wanted to feel the way I feel in their presence, as if I too am capable of that depth of peace and purpose. These trees know things. These trees know me. The me that has been and will always be riding trains and walking through gardens.

4. Not Alone

In 6 or so hours, Vermont was behind me and I had arrived in Brooklyn, a light traveler with a backpack and a camera. Unfortunately I was not the only person who thought this would be the perfect Friday in April to visit the Garden.  Still, I had faith that my weeping beech would not be so popular given all the newly bloomed cherry blossoms demanding attention.

5.You Can't Always Get What You Want

Lovers of metaphors, this one’s for you. I found my weeping beech dry, thin, bare, unable to connect with the ground and surrounded by a fence. Maybe it’s just late to leaf, but it looked like it had been ravaged by disease or storm, and in no shape, literally and figuratively, to protect itself, much less any desperate seekers of solace like myself. Something in my head said “Lesson One.”
6. A New Sign

On my way to the beech I had passed a tree I don’t recall ever seeing, probably because I was too focused on getting to the beech. This time I made a mental note to circle back to it. You look interesting, I thought, maybe I need to come talk to you later.

7.Weeping Hemlock

The tree is a weeping hemlock, widespread and low to the ground. Evergreen, non-flowering, unremarkable, self-contained, but open on one side for any visitors willing to fit themselves into its inner space.  

8. Under the Hemlock Things Are Looking Up

Metaphor lovers still with me? This really is the post for you. I felt immediately calm and welcome. The air under the tree felt different. The density of the foliage muted sounds and light from the world beyond its self-described circle, but did not block it out entirely. Several of its largest branches had reached down and replanted themselves. This tree was working within the space it had, but not limited by it, holding on, immovable, unshakeable and yet strangely delicate and free. This tree knew who it was and didn’t care who else knew or cared. Its message to me was be open to all, but keep your own circle and feed yourself.  

9. Bonsai Conservatory

Next I went looking for my bonsai, the one that 20 yrs ago inspired the poem that named my one and only published book of poems. Unfortunately I was not the only one who thought it would be the perfect day to view the bonsai collection.  Not only that, but when the crowd cleared, I could not find my particular bonsai. It was 100 years old when I first saw it. Maybe it has been moved elsewhere for proper care. It didn’t really matter, as I had already received all the wisdom and guidance I needed.

10. Contemplation

After a brief moment to reflect on a bench I left the garden, making a final stop at the gift shop for the perfect t-shirt to honor my visit.

11. Commemoration

I also found this vintage postcard picturing a little girl in 1926 who looked just like pictures of both myself and my mother at that age. 

12. Some Things are Timeless

And speaking of my mother, here she is pictured below, all grown up and with a look of self-containment strikingly, shall we say, hemlockian?

13. Everything I Need is Here

I realized upon arrival in NYC that I could not in good conscience sneak in and out of my native city on one day and not pay a visit to my parents. I changed my return ticket to Saturday and spent Friday night in the apartment that has been my family home for over 40 years. And by the end of the day I knew that I had perhaps not found in NYC everything I want, but I had definitely found everything I need.

14. Creature of Light

That included this old photo of myself, in which I look a lot like the little girl in the vintage photo, and am undeniably, unstoppably happy, a creature of play, a creature of light, looking up, looking on the bright side, which is who I am meant to be, then, now and always.

15. Gift of Life

Before I left the inner space of the weeping hemlock, a piece of bark dropped at my feet. I picked it up and pocketed it, only looking at it carefully later, back at my parents’ house, where I noticed its unusual coloring, rosy pink in the center and muddy brown at the edges. From now on I will always look at this little gift and think of all the soft bright life that exists inside me whatever drains, darkens or toughens me from the outside. I am going to strive to be like that tree in its well-maintained but not impenetrable circle.
16. It All Goes by So Fast

Yesterday I was back on another train going in the other direction, back to Rutland after my 36 hour circular journey. Today I am here again at my desk writing this post. There is so little time to get things right in this life, get things going in the right direction, when so much time is spent righting the things that have gone wrong, going back, starting over. But in the end it seems the most important journeys are not back or forward, but inward.  Or so I was told by a tree in Brooklyn.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

One Week in April

 Sunday April 7th

This is how my week begins, with a work desk full of items in progress, from newly purchased colors to pieces just begun, to those one hour from being finished and every stage in between. This is my Array of Possibilities greeting me Sunday mornings after the Saturday market is done and gone and my next priority is to find a way to create new inventory by next Saturday. In the image above I can see everything I ideally want to create and how many hours each project represents. I also know how many hours I have to give in any given week. They are never the same number.

For those of you in the know, fiber does not always arrive in nicely wound balls you can crochet from. Usually it comes in a twisted loop called a skein, which needs one of these reeling contraptions to get into ball form. The machine does spin on its own momentum, but my hands get things started and keep them going. This “modern” device replaces a second set of willing hands which are almost never available for this sort of thing nowadays, or in a pinch, the back of a chair. Many a time-consuming tangle has been avoided thanks to this invention, which, like most designed for primarily women’s work, seems to allow more labor under the guise of making it easier. 

Beading the Purple

This scarf came with me to my weekday job last week and almost made it to Saturday market but for two hours of fringe and beadwork I refused to wake up at 4am instead of 6am to accomplish. If all goes well, the new yellow scarf seen below will get further along than its purple cousin.  Seeing 6 inches added to an item each day has always felt to me not like an additive but a subtractive process, in which the piece is not so much growing, as the empty space I can already see it filling is disappearing.  I like to think of all creative processes as an erasing of emptiness, a conquest of the negative. Wherever there seems to be nothing, there really is something waiting to happen – we just can’t see it, or haven't made it, yet.

Monday April 8th on lunch break at work

 Tuesday April 9th at home half watching tv

Wednesday April 10th end of day

 Thursday April 11th

 Friday April 12th before bed

Saturday April 13th 6am


Anything not done by bedtime Friday carries over to a rushed Saturday morning session reminiscent of those reality shows where a timer goes off and someone yells “utensils down!” I actually keep a clock on my workdesk. Once 8am rolls around, whatever is done is done, and whatever isn’t stays home. Sales have been poor the past two weeks, a mixed blessing, as I could have used the money, but as a result, I was able to build inventory and present an impressive table at market, the yellow scarf being part of the display.

Farmers Market Saturday April 13th 

On Saturday night, I update my records, make notes on the market and plans for the new week, which brings us back to Sunday morning. Here is the beginning of the scarf I will work on all week, which only a week ago was just a skein of yarn being wound on a reeling machine.

Sunday April 14th

If I can’t meet my usually overly ambitious weekly goals by market, I at least like to end Sunday with the week’s items finished and brand-new projects planned and ready to bring with me over the next few days. These two wrist warmers feature Pima cotton, part of my new lightweight spring line. For some reason I chose to make one of each instead of following through with one pair at a time. They languished half-done all of last week while I focused on the purple scarf, and the same thing happened this week with the yellow scarf demanding all my attention as it got closer to completion from day to day. Maybe after I write this post I can finally give each of these now solitary items their proper mates!

Maybe Tonight

Also today I hope to send out a spring newsletter to my current mailing list. If you have not already signed up, please do. I only send out a few newsletters a year, and with my recently irregular blog posting habits, it's a good way to find out what I've been up to. Meantime, you can always find my most current newsletter under the NEWS tab at the top of this page.  Many thanks to my faithful followers, and happy spring - or autumn, depending on your hemisphere!