Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Little Roadside Memorials . . .

   Many times I have driven on back roads and have seen little memorials alongside the road, sometimes in the most barren and unlikely places. They are tiny works of art, sad little reminders of life that is no longer. Sometimes people come and put things on the little memorials - toys, plastic flowers, and other little things. Some of these little memorials have the names of the people on them in some way - perhaps painted on, and some have more elaborate name plates on them.

   I have always been curious about the birth of this tradition. The Hispanic culture has its Dia de Muerte, and many other cultures actually have celebrations during the year remembering the dead. Even elephants, as they pass through areas where their ancestors have died, stop to tenderly pick up the bones and feel them and then put them carefully back where they were.
   There is something very touching and harking back to a gentler time when each stage of life was something worth remembering, and something that was treasured.
   “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there. 
   "It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”  ― Ray BradburyFahrenheit 451


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Old Friends . . .

"A good friend is a connection to life - a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world." ~Lois Wyse

   Cleaning out my files, I found so many letters I have saved through the years from friends and relatives. Many of those people are gone from my life - perhaps a divorce many years ago or a death.  But they are all folks who touched my life in so many ways, and I honestly cannot bear to get rid of any of them. Some friends suggested that I use them in some art projects, so that is what I will do.  As I run my hands over each letter, it is as though  a moment in time is captured forever. I do not need to read the letters, for I can gain my sense of my friend just by that comforting touch. I will laugh silently to myself, or perhaps a tear will come from my eye as I remember some truly touching time spent as we perhaps cried or shared a sorrow together.
   Letter writing is truly an art. There was a genuine joy in waiting with anticipation for the postman to come, then looking into the mailbox with a sense of getting a treasure.  The letter was generally carried to the house, where I delayed its opening a little longer, perhaps fixing a cup of coffee or tea to sip while I read it.  And then I would open it carefully, and pour over those words.  I would look at the handwriting and somehow understand if my friend or relative was well or not, even if the words went unwritten. Each word had a meaning beyond what was actually on the page. Some words carried a color within them that I was clearly able to see, and others perhaps a flavor or a scent, or an emotion unspoken and yet coming through clearly. 
   I am so happy that I have those sweet memories.  I am so glad I can look back on my life and time spent with those friends and others - it adds a richness to each passing day. I am going to look forward to sharing the art I create from "The Art of Writing." The colorful mailbox is mine and I painted it in this way about a month ago with the help of a little four-year-old grandson of a neighbor. If you click on any of the photos, they will become larger for viewing. The hands are from a 2006 journal quilt I made and somehow they seemed appropriate. They are photo transfers of my actual hands, and originally, the hands acted as a clasp for a quilt that opened to expose a different scene. I used the hands art because it reminded me of the hands carefully opening a letter to expose a little of the soul of a good friend.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Giving a Life to Those Who Have Died . . .

"Sometimes love lasts a moment.
Sometimes love lasts a lifetime.
Sometimes a moment is a lifetime."

   Before the advent of the Safe Surrender for unwanted newborn babies, many babies were discarded as people might discard a sack of trash. They were put into garbage cans, toilets, and other unsavory places such as the side of roads. California had no Safe Surrender. Babies that are found in this state are simply cremated, with the ashes kept for several months and then they are cast into the pile of ashes of all sorts of people who died and who were not claimed.
   It is estimated that prior to Jan. 1, 2001, some 500 babies passed from this earth in California as castaways. Some had been abandoned; still others had been killed. Not all were newborns; the oldest of the children buried in the Garden of Angels in Desert Lawn Cemetery of Calimesa, CA, was five years old and killed apparently by his parents. (The photo to the left is one of my many art cards I have made. This one seems to fit the story really well; I avoided using photos out of respect for Debi and for the children. You can google the cemetery to see photos. You can click on the photos for a larger view.)
  The Safe Surrender law was brought about by Debi Faris-Lujan, a housewife with three children of her own. One evening in 1996, she heard a television news story about a newborn baby boy found dead in a duffel bag alongside the San Pedro Freeway. She was so touched by the sad story that she set out to find the child and bury it. Not knowing what she would face, she set out and would not give up in her quest to get the child and give it a decent burial.  Before the burial, however, she had found another baby boy and a baby girl as well. So that first burial August 26, 1996 involved three babies Debi named Matthew, Nathan and Dora. (This is another of my art cards that somehow seemed appropriate for this writing.)
  This wonderful woman gave her own money with her husband to buy caskets for the babies, and ultimately the two bought more plots as well. Later, she would win the lottery (I don't know if it was the big one or not, but she donated much of the money to more burial plots for the babies). Debi Faris-Lujan, who now lives in Arizona but returns to California every month, is founder and director of Garden of Angels and Safe Surrender for Newborns, P.O. Box 1776, Yucaipa, CA 92320, 909-229-0123.
   To date, some 95 babies are buried in the cemetary. Each baby is not only given a name, but wrapped in a newly made blanket and it is held by Debi before it is placed in the casket made for it with a little soft toy and flowers as well. There are funerals for each child, often with others in attendance. Sometimes white doves have been released into the sky, In that brief and final moment or moments, that tiny person becomes a real person who has mattered in this world. (I picked my art quilt, "Wabi Sabi," as the third and final piece of art. Wabi Sabi is a philosophy of the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.)


Monday, September 3, 2012

Death of a Hummingbird . . .

   Today when I got back from the mountains where I attended a big quilt show, I went over by our clubhouse to water the plants as I do normally every other day. Suddenly I spotted something moving and trying to get away from something I couldn't see. When I got close, it was a hummingbird, a small one, on the pavement, and the ants were after it.  I immediately picked it up, took it inside the clubhouse and carefully hand cleaned any ants off of it with warm water.  Then I dried it off and took it home.
   Once home, I made a makeshift "nest" to keep the little bird warm lest it be in shock. Then I hung the hummingbird feeder next to it and tried to get it to take a little nourishment lest it be dehydrated. Through much of the day, I stayed with it, trying to coax it to get better from whatever had befallen it. At times, it seemed as though it was rallying around, sipping the nectar with its tongue as I would help it to drink from the feeder. I felt certain that it was improving.
   But as suddenly as I first found it, it slipped away, its little tongue gently out in a beautiful little sad arc.
   I have placed it gently into a tiny ceramic birdhouse lined with cotton balls and it is still seeming to drink from the feeder. I just can't seem to let it go without some sort of homage to it, even if it be temporary. Poor dear little soul.
   Hummingbirds have found their way into much art, poetry and other writing. I can see why. They are such endearing birds, perhaps because they are so tiny and so seemingly fragile, though they can actually be quite aggressive when they are defending their territory. Sometimes they are immensely curious as well, coming right up close to other animals or people with seemingly no fear. They will look for a long time, as if trying to get to know the nature of something better, or perhaps they are trying to look into our very souls.
   I found this beautiful poem about hummingbirds, and it seems a fitting goodbye to my tiny little friend.
And the humming-bird that hung
Like a jewel up among
The tilted honeysuckle horns
They mesmerized and swung
In the palpitating air,
Drowsed with odors strange and rare.
And, with whispered laughter, slipped away
And left him hanging there.
- James Whitcomb Riley

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Blue Moon . . .

   The next blue moon will supposedly occur tonight, August 31, 2012.
   There are a lot of myths and folklore about the blue moon, but a blue moon is actually defined two ways: 1) Two full moons occurring within one month. 2) Or it can also be the third full moon in a season that has a total of four full moons instead of three.
   This is a rare occurance in any event.  The moon doesn't really turn blue during the blue moon phase, but in theory it could. It will only appear blue if the atmospheric conditions are just right, such as smoke or dust particles or something else in the atmosphere that produces a haze that would possibly change the way humans would see the color of the moon from earth.
   Some volcanoes in the past made the moon appear to be blue and in 1950 and 1951, some major forest fires in Sweden and Canada also caused it to appear to be blue.
  The blue moon that will be visible tonight is going to be a calendar blue moon, or the second full moon in the calendar month.
   Blue Moons occur only about seven times in 19 years—or approx. once every two-and-a-half years. The blue moon phenomena is sort of  like the leap year, happening as a calendar catch-up. It takes the moon about 27-1/2 days to go round the earth. Since this is less than the number of days in a calendar month, occasionally causing the two moons to occur in one month.
   I doubt I will get to see a blue moon tonight as it has been raining a lot this afternoon, so we are unlikely to have dust or haze. I suppose anything could happen though.
   Though it isn't a blue moon, this journal quilt done in 2006 had that eerie feeling of a blue moon.  At least that is always how I have perceived blue moons. You can click on it to make the image larger. This was a challenge done in my Cut-Loose Quilters group, which has since disbanded more or less. The challenge was to take a book, go to a certain page and line, and then make a journal quilt based on that line. I cannot remember the name of the book right now nor do I remember the name of the artist, but it was a very fun challenge.
   I am not a beer drinker, but I saw this beer at the grocery store that would be very appropriate for watching the blue moon phenomena tonight.  I doubt the autumn special brew is available yet, though it is feeling as though we are jumping into the fall quickly with the heavy rainy weather that caused my Verizon to give a flash flood warning. This would definitely warm the soul!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Today is the First Day of the Rest of my Journey . . .

"I learned that sometimes a [life] journey can take you to a place that is not on any map." - Cold Fever (movie)
   As we get ready to start September, I am reminded of the celebrations of Route 66 that take place this month in parts of Southern California, especially in San Bernardino County.  Who'd ever think that a road that was originally intended just to get people from one point to another would become such a lifetime legend for so many people.
   In these parts at least, folks flock to the Route 66 areas on the map, meet up with other folks with the same destination in mind, and discuss the wonderful sites along the Route as if it has been their legacy all their lives.  These sites, sometimes fantastic in what they offer, and sometimes just showing the funky side of life, have taken on such an incredible meaning that some people have web sites and Internet lists all about the joys of Route 66.
   But what is it really that draws us to want to join in the fun and sense of adventure? For me, it has always been a representation of something beyond the ordinary, something to aim for - it is that "road less traveled" perhaps.  Going to a location like Hackberry, Arizona, where very few people would end up consciously is sort of like joining an expedition to some unknown and far-distant part of the world, not really knowing what lies ahead, or even, in some cases at least, why the heck you are going there in the first place.
   I had a lot of fun making my art quilt of Hackberry, Arizona, not because it is in a juried traveling exhibit for three years, but because it drew me back to my memories of another time and place where I lived a very different life than today.  It was a good life - today's life is good too, but in a very different way.  I had a life partner back then, and there was this sense of sharing that now just goes on inside the journal of my soul. My goodness, what an interesting journal, and what an interesting journey this has been! The neat thing is that it feels as though the journey has just begun. And who knows where it will all lead?