A New Year Dawns

I’ve been grumpy about the unseasonably warm weather – over 70° leading up to Christmas just didn’t feel right. But heading into the end of the year, Voila! And it’s so crispy cold that the bay has frozen.

There is a beauty to the frosted morning, a certain chilled pink and blue glaze over lawns and hills. White clouds lift from chimneys like weightless cotton candy. I don’t think of the water as noisy, but the hush when the bay freezes is palpable.

I love winter. It has it’s place in the cycle of life, for hibernation, rest, reflection. It’s a time of meditation, reading and stirring a cauldron full of veggies to warm the belly. For a cat in the lap. For contemplation and planning, for reviewing and resolving to move ahead.

skatersWelcome, winter. Thanks to the Solstice we know your time is limited. I will enjoy you while you’re here.

Tidewater Retreat

On October 17-19 I was on retreat with my AWWG sisters in Mathews, VA. I had never visited this part of Virginia before and was smitten with the peace and big sky. This is a bit of my scribblings.

In the Tidewater we have our own weather.

Pattern: clouds march offshore, moving south along the coast. Clear inland. This is counterintuitive to our inland weather, usually West to East.

Broad soft curling rivers of salt marsh sweep and weave, flush and suck, swell and drain up and down the seaboard like lungs. The silt that creeps into corners, the poisons that filter down from our civilized behavior fan out and settle. 

But then: the sea fills to bursting, inhales a great wet breath up into the rivers. Back toward their source, breathing saline into small channels, seething between reeds tangled with plastic trash, dragging the scum with her when she falls back away toward the moon.

Like the trees, there’s an exchange. At first it’s not so obvious, but here is the swish and pulse of our body’s lymphatic health, breathing salt soup life, in and out of our pores.

She seems boundless, indefatigable, infinitely absorbent. We clever ones already test her limits, tinkering with the chemistry set of the globe. It looks like the calcium cities built over eons by coral will be bleached dead before we ever learn their language. And yet they gave us Florida.

Here the dawn comes: extraordinary color the camera won’t get. Greeny sky, violet pink clouds, slate blue waters, all very Maxfield Parrish: smooth fields of tonal color and flawless gradients. The clouds feel muscular, bubbling, and constrained along the beach like eager horses. Later in the day they will wander toward and lumber over us. In the Tidewater we have our own weather.

More Summer Painting

I’ve been busy, too busy outside slurping up all the delicious low-humidity summertime that August has brought to Southern Maryland to post work I’ve been doing, so here are a few things I’ve been working on.

click images for larger view

 SummerSolstice3  paintingPisc
 Solstice Sunrise, oil on canvas, 14 x 11″  6am, June 21, 2105 ©Patrise

The Holy land is everywhere.

Astrology Rob Brezhny is a weekly source of inspiration for me, and sometimes he knocks my socks off with a profound connection, a pithy quote, a soulful connection. But today it’s just one simple sentence.

The Holy land is everywhere.

I spent my Memorial Day Weekend basking in my new home, enjoying the neighborhood and the house. This was somewhat a wise decision to keep things low key, and somewhat forced house arrest due to budget constraints. It worked out beautifully. With no dollars to spare my food was humble and home-made, my engagement was with neighbors, friends and pets, and my entertainment came from the cycle of the day.

One splendid evening I took a walk with dog Lily and cat Charlee, and we watched herons wading in the sunset waters of Piscataway Bay.

The Holy land is everywhere.

Dip Paddle; Pull; Repeat.

9547350874_f5985d855e_qMy paddle felt familiar in my hands, even after 18 months without setting sail in my lovely battered plastic kayak. A twice-postponed trip came about, at last, on a perfect day.

This is an easy to have a boat, really. It’s plastic, it floats even when full of water. No ports or holes in the hull to leak, nothing to rot. Very little gear required.Just get it on and off the car, drag it to the water, shove off and…. ahhh.

There is nothing like that glide, the feel sound and smell of the water all around you.  Such a smooth flowing sensation, and the sound of the dip, pull, swirl, lift, dripping, and repeat again, finding  your rhythm, it’s exquisite, it’s ancient, it’s instinctive.

We all know it’s lovely to look at:

The name comes from Capt. John Smith’s 1608 map, where it is labeled Mataughquamend, an Algonquian compound translated as “where one goes pleasantly.”

My local kayaking river is the lovely The Mattawoman Creek,  a short tributary of the very long Potomac River. Hailed as one  of the most pristine river ecosystems in the state, Mattawoman is prized as a trophy bass nursery. The river also hosts increasingly scarce  anadromous fish like shad, alewife and herring.  Mattawoman’s sweet, wild, water is much appreciated by birds and fish, fisherman and paddlers. I love it because it’s still pure enough to swim in.

Those Magnificent Flying Things

Pandion haliaetusor osprey, with cargo

The bird count wasn’t spectacular, but the bird behavior was great. I watched a gang of male red-wing blackbirds harassing a large white Egret, buzzing the tall bird, who ducked and squualked and lunged at them comically. Later we saw the white bird flying, still trailed by hostile red-wings. Real-life Angry Birds!!

Osprey were on the hunt all up and down the stream. More than once I saw them flying with a nice fish in their claws, back to the brood, or for lunch on a favorite branch. They look like a loaded bomber, carrying their cargo below, but there is no way they’ll let that fish go until they’re ready.

Later, a half dozen swallow fledglings begged fitfully on a low hanging branch as mum and dad ably demonstrated hunting on the wing. I paddled right up to them, and they just eyed me, until I spoke. That always breaks the spell. They flew away with perfect grace.

Nelumbo Lutea, the American Lotus, has the largest bloom of any plant native to the US

Flora in Abundance

The rivers edge is lined with waterplants,: wild rice, cattail, pickeral weed with its lavender spike, spatterdock, the round yellow waterlily and her cousin the American Lotus, which is just beginning its glorious blooming season. These unfurl huge platter-sized leaves that repel water, rolling it into rounded pools like mercury. And the grand blossoms sway on tall stems, each cream petal large enough to drink from. Apparently a thoroughly edible plant, this lotus is found throughout north America

We only saw a few in full bloom, but plenty more ready to burst into bloom in weeks to come. The showy redwings perched on them for lovely effect.

Changes in the Water

Over the 11 years I’ve paddled and swum this river I’ve seen it grow cloudier, more weed choked. That’s the imprint of increased sediment and nutrient load resulting from upstream development. Although a short river (30 miles) it runs through some active DC exurb communities where sand and gravel pits are evolving into subdivisions. Runoff and erosion are inevitable result of this activity, unless mindful steps are taken to prevent it.

It’s still clean enough to swim in, but its not as clear as it was 10 years ago. The water is murky from silt, and Hydrilla weed chokes the shallows, fed by human and farm waste, plus suburban lawn chemicals. The Mattawoman’s productivity as a fish nursery is measurably declining, particularly in the last decade.

You Can Help

Rain capture system

There are steps you can take to help local improve your local watershed health, but it does require some adjustment of behavior.

  1. STOP using chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides on your lawn. Let there be many grasses, clover, even dandelions in your yard! Consider replacing some or all of your lawn with a better habitat for birds, wildlife, butterflies.
  2. CAPTURE and reuse rainwater for gardening, or at least divert it to disperse into the soil.
  3. REPLACE impermeable surfaces with permeable pavers to allow rain water to filter through the earth instead of running into sewers, which washes waste and toxic residues into the local waterways.
  4. SUPPORT the Mattawoman Watershed Society or your local water quality organization in whatever way you can.
  5. GO OUT & ENJOY the beauty and diversity of the waterways, and share your experiences, especially with children.

3585467548_c358293c7b_mDip. Splash. Rustle of cattails. Flop! a fish jumps. Cry of the osprey. Swish, drip, dip, repeat. Breathe. The kayak can take you into intimate shallow glades, where fish drowse amid the water weeds, where birds don’t notice you watching them as they catch bugs, pick berries, gather nest material. The rusted remains of a gravel dredge now creates a sculpture garden where turtles sunbathe.

Get out there, seriously.

Day 4: Goodbye, East

Current Location: Russellville, Arkansas
Miles traveled today: 508
Miles traveled so far: 1207
Cities traversed: Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock
Significant Milestone: Crossed the Mississippi River
Roadkill Observed: armadillos (TN), turtles (AR)

What really struck me today was a sense of the land. Tennessee is a vast and beautiful collection of stony hills and lush woods. There were dogwoods all along our path for another day. Even in the rain, TN is lovely. As we rolled into Memphis and things flattened out, the sky brightened until some blue could show through, and by the time we walked to the river the clouds were mid-westy with marching cumulus.

I studied the satellite map last night and was awed by the twisty arcs of the Mississippi. I’ve never navigated that river, but I feel I know it well after reading Jonathan Raban’s Old Glory. Right around Memphis he was fished out of the river and completed his journey on a barge tow, at the insistence of the captain, due to the treacherous nature of this river.

And she did not disappoint. Like milky coffee, seething with boils and the prongs of submerged trees, I wouldn’t dare sail on anything smaller than a paddle wheel steamer. We got a good look at the broad vista from downtown along the rail tracks. Later, crossing the Hernando de Soto bridge I couldn’t see much with all the fine iron girders of not one but three bridges.

Once on the Arkansas side I was struck by how dead flat it was, and how there was no ‘urban’ – right across the line from a major city. Memphis sits up on a bluff, but the Arkansas side is flood plain and more flood plain, and it continued like that for scores of miles inland.

Take a look at this satellite pic, and notice the swirls and whorls of the current and former oxbows. This river has written herself into this land for longer than we know. It wouldn’t pay to underestimate her willingness to change her course.

ribbons and scrawls of the mighty miss

Here’s a sampler from today, to give you a feel for the road.

watercolor highway
The Mighty Mississippi
Lovely Downtown Memphis
click on this for a larger view. It’s worth it.
Elvis Lives!

Wind Song

There’s this song made by the wind and the winter forest. A hum, deep but light, begins then rises, in such a way that you think “a train is coming!”

But it’s the trees waving in synchrony, singing together.

Living in a national park, the wind can move a long way through the trees before it arrives. This house is perched in a clearing, on the shores of the tidal Potomac, ravines to either side. Tall tulip poplars, white and pin oaks, sycamore and ash thrive in this rich riparian zone.

The forest is singing this morning after a long and stormy night. The air has been moving wildly since yesterday afternoon, when warm low clouds raced north to meet the front. Later, gouts of rain sliced up from the south and lashed the roof with stripes of wet. Deep in the night the house went quiet, silent enough to wake me up. There was no electric hum, and thus, no heat, no light, no water. But these days, I keep my iPad charged, so I read until I fell sleepy again.

With the hint of daylight the engines of the world began whirring again, and the push, push, push of cool wind began sweeping the skies, allowing a clear yellow light to paint highlights on the singing branches. The house is surrounded by tuning forks, moving in resonance. Now they are but waving gently, but comes a rising hum, and the wind springs like a lion, brushing the trees together as if they were grasses, and they sing, sing, sing.



NB: I searched for a video of this effect, and couldn’t find just what I wanted. I’ll get out and make my own. I did however come across two items of interest.

Wind sculpture — a beautiful sculpture that uses that ‘coke bottle’ effect

White Noise downloads – high quality recordings of beautiful sound

Setting Sail into the Storm

One hundred years ago and only the old watermen would have known: a great storm is approaching. So late in the year, the lowering sky and restless wind could be chalked up to October’s moods. But now, the Weather Channel blares drama from every flatscreen.

OK, I’ll confess: I’m right there with them, those eager meteorologists. This is their moment, and it’s the best reality show on TV, stealing the ratings from not only Real Housewives and Storage Wars, but the last gasps of the Presidential election. There’s good old Jim Cantore, knee-deep in surf, gamely reporting at the risk of his own dry socks.

I love this stuff. I grew up with a northern fresh-water version of bad weather, doing homework by lantern light and cooking on the fireplace though fierce winter storms. You can’t scare me. So although my hotel is closing at five tonight due to a mandatory evacuation of low-lying St. George Island, I don’t want to go.

I’ve planned this trip for months! It’s my reward for soldiering through the grueling house dissolution project. Not the parental home this time, but my own. And along comes the Perfect Storm, just in time to derail my get-away. I want to curl up here in this hotel, in my nest of white comforters and pillows, TV remote in hand and watch the river rage from my room, perched high and dry above the waves.

potomac river from st george island md

The wind has slowly built its strength over the last three days, and now is an insistent presence. At first I was disappointed to get a room on the west side of the building, until I visited a friend this morning. There on the sunrise side, with its nice view of bay and dock, what met me was a rude and pushy wind, cold enough to make you want to shut the windows. So now I am glad to be back on my leeward side.

When the storm gets nearer the wind will turn and make a nasty onshore assault, but at the moment I’m enjoying the shelter of the building at my back, hot tea in my hands, while I watch the small trees toss their manes and marsh grasses bow. The arc of each gust pushes a crescent of riffles across the slate gray surface.

I should be packing. I don’t want to go. I like my high perch, a good view and well away from any big trees that might decide to fly around. Somehow I think the hotel will be better at keeping its lights on than my home. And without my dogs, home is cold comfort indeed.

Besides, the gulls seem unconcerned. They sail the wind as if it were a summer breeze, so perfectly formed for gliding, their long tapered wings only moving when they head into the wind. Look: they are busy now diving and fishing. There are hundreds of birds, all over the river. The more I look, the more I see. I want to join them, these small darts hanging on the wind.

I feel a sweet breath of calm between wind gusts, but they are getting shorter. The next blast follows on the heels of the one, nipping, chasing, hurrying to join the storm.

I love bad weather. You can’t scare me, most of the time. Last hurricane, though, it got to me. In the howling night of Irene, at home in the swamp forest, the grinding shriek of the wind came in whirling thrusts and woke me in time to hear a massive oak smack down just outside my bedroom window. I grabbed my big dog in a bear hug and burrowed beneath the quilts, shaking like a leaf.

A storm is an engine: heat and moisture help set it into motion, then its low pressure center becomes a black hole, hoovering everything into itself. This ravening wind churns along ocean currents, sucking sand, devouring islands, hurling trees about like toothpicks. It’s nothing personal; we are but grains of sand to rearrange.

Sandy’s pull is strong now. I see clouds racing to meet her. Leaves are pulled loose and sprayed across the water. They call up from downstairs and want to know when I am leaving. I eye the water, beginning to creep across the road. The pressure is dropping and the pressure is on: I need to leave before it is no longer an option.

The day grows darker and it’s time to go. The thought of setting sail in my car frightens me. Where will I feel this safe again? When I admit that I am afraid, I don’t know who I am.

I pulled up anchor on my life, this year. I walked a path that would have either saved or sold my house, and it sold. Clearing out all my possessions, I felt the ache of loss as I weighed each thing in my hand, as I chose again and again to let go and say goodbye to objects I thought I’d have forever.

I’ve found a new lightness, imagining I’m as free as those gulls gliding on the wind, but now it’s time to leave the earth, to allow my feet to lift, to feel that infinitesimal space between me and solid earth. It feels like an enormous gulf, and I flail wildly for a sense of up and down.

I love bad weather, I tell my self. I want to set sail, ride the wind. But now that the time is here, my heart is in my mouth.


For a Michigander, summer seems to last forever in the Southern Maryland. Of course, I’ve been preoccupied with the Big Move, but today, a fortnight past Equinox and I’m marveling: suddenly the forest has been glazed with transparent  yellow. Leaves are floating to earth on the steady breeze off the river like a shower of golden coins.

new abode

My new abode is in the same neighborhood, but a world away. As someone who craves wilderness and loves the river I’m in heaven. From my former home I could walk to the bank, library and grocery, and often heard the highway sounds, despite my wooded setting. Now, I hear only the wind (boats and planes too, occasionally).

My former house was a grand home, a generously proportioned and welcoming space. I adored it and enjoyed it to the hilt. As a single woman I managed to create a family home: a place of gathering, shelter and community. I built the most wonderful art workspace I’ve ever had, and I shared my hearth with many beloved friends and fascinating strangers. The house earned many names: Clearwell, School of Witchcraft & Artistry, Home for Wayward Girls, Pet Cemetery and finally, the name that stuck: The Holy Unpredictable Manor.

Alas, in recent years the Holy Unpredictable Manor came to be more of burden than I wanted to carry. More time, more money were needed to keep up the property, and I was changing, moving toward  something new, where my efforts and direction were not based so much in the material world. I see it in my creative life as well. Having just purged and relocated my studio, joyfully selling and giving art to many people and places, I’m struck by the physical load of my painters life.

Writing is occupying more of my attention, as is digital art, and these are so much more portable than the crates of supplies and stacks of canvases I just relocated.

new outdoor studio

I’m not abandoning my painting. My love of that 15th century technology goes on, there are landscapes I long to dwell in on canvas. And I have students now, a new generation curious about the Old Ways. But I see a bigger picture, and a smaller footprint, for my life going forward.

Summer Happy Place

A friend of mine has been building her own water park in her back yard, one that includes among other things an outdoor shower and dog wash. I took both dogs for a lovely cedar massage bath and we talked about how summer heat meant seeking relief in the cool of the water.

I’ve been going to the water all my life. I love the rocky forest, adore the sky, dance around the fire, but my Element is irrevocably Water.

Ripples © by Alexander Kozlov

Yesterday the heat broke in the afternoon, a great whoosh of wind blew leaves, rattling and bone dry, and thunder rumbled, but not a drop of moisture fell. The thermometer dropped from 103f/39c to 88f/31c and the sense that I was imprisoned indoors lifted. My kayak was still on the car from Monday’s jaunt (more later) and I zipped over to the local launch ramp and managed to get both dogs in with me and go for a paddle. (No pics, alas, since my phone is so water-averse!)

Good Dog Pepper © by Paul Byrley

It was glorious, if a bit awkward getting sorted. Lily didn’t want to sit in her seat behind me. Seneca was confused and had trouble arranging her boney arthritic limbs. But eventually, with much splashing and a false start (white poodle swimming behind kayak) we were off. My old dog barked at the waves, my young dog leant against my back, too warm, but reassuring for both of us. I paddled without clobbering anyone. We pushed out against the incoming tide, aided by a breeze from the stern.

I was rewarded by an osprey rush-hour, each bird carrying their fish like a suitcase as they flew. A very large and splendidly marked bald eagle sat prettily in a tree. When I paddled too close, s/he flew out in a circle but returned, showing off the broad white tail, handsome walnut dark wings and snowy crown. Catfish like leviathans leapt near the boat, thrilling that is! What if one managed to flop IN the boat? It’s happened!

Blue Heron in Virginia © by David Pitts

A squadron of 21 white egrets flew overhead. We saw terns, tree swallows, geese, a green heron. I heard redwing blackbird, wood thrush and cardinal. Two very tall Great Blues flew in to find a roost, clearly a pair who wanted to be together. It looked tricky, all those long legs trying to perch in a tree.

Then the water breaks into rippled flowing colour of underwater and sky and three shades of each looping forth and back, I feel the most connected, I feel the flow, I feel at home.

Take me to the River.

all photos from Flickr posted with Creative Commons License