Shifting into Here and Now


It’s a new year for me, and I am back on the prairie (and in the beloved Meadow Studio, though without a functional toilet. Not to worry. I have strategies for that.) I am also attempting to come fully back into the present and this realm.


Thursday, I couldn’t stand it anymore; I’d done the 72 hours of rest, ice, and elevation and I had had it with sitting, and with getting little done. So I wrapped up the knee and set out to see how far towards the Meadow studio I could get. Though slow, I made it there and back with only a little difficulty. I was thrilled. Friday, Jack and David hauled all my stuff and me out there in a single trip on the trailer behind the tractor. Chef Linda had that day off, so I stayed out there till late evening. I got the studio set up (including building this year’s ‘refrigerator’) and set some fiber soaking. A very young, lone deer came by and peered in, as if to welcome me. And even before setting up, just sitting with my leg raised, I saw a new piece – really, a series – that wanted to be made.


Saturday was Halloween / Samhain, so before I went to the studio, I went in to Lake Forest and got what I needed for my annual ritual. I stayed out in the studio, working long peaceful hours on fiber prep, stretching and resting periodically, till about 10:30, then hobbled back to the (thankfully) deserted Barnhouse; the hearing residents had gathered in the Ragdale House earlier for games.


At midnight, I had an unexpectedly, overwhelmingly joyous celebration. The membrane between the worlds has never, ever seemed so porous as it was this year. Perhaps that was due to the very recent crossing of a young four-legged one. If any of the other residents had glanced in, they’d have seen a ridiculously smiling old-ish deaf woman sitting in front of three tiny place settings, gesturing and making toasts to no one visible.


Earlier in the week, it had become apparent to me that though he was now happy and free of his fears, Chance could not or would not leave me, this innocent creature who was so utterly attached to me while he was in this life. Perhaps he simply did not know how to go on. I needed to show him a way.


Sunday, the Day of the Dead, was gorgeous. I ventured out onto the prairie for the first time since arriving, and walked much further than I intended. I was in search of a certain stone, and, I swear it, I was accompanied by a pack of boisterous, frolicking non-corporeal dogs: Chance, Face, all my dogs going back into childhood. I didn’t question it, just absolutely loved it, and reveled in the sense of them with me. I found the stone, we made our way slowly back to the studio, and I transformed it into Chance’s stone. Then dear (live) friend Linda met me, bearing gifts, and together we gave him to Ragdale, and Ragdale and the prairie to him, and set him free.


Monday, I drove back into the city, to take down my work from Words Matter. It was lovely to see Eileen, Audrey and Shawn, who all were there at the same time, and to easily slip back into a different world of old friends for a bit; both fun and reassuring after the all the otherworldliness. Then home to admire the very fast progress on the new back porch / deck that had begun with the demolition and hauling away of the old one early that morning. I took a long walk with Lupe who seemed impatient with my slow gait and my still-fresh memories of spirit dogs, when -hey!- here she was, The Real Beastie herself. I made much of her. Then a long, sweet whirlpool bath to soothe the day’s sore ladder-climbing knee, and a lovely evening with Paul and Lupe, who stayed by my side all night.


On Tuesday morning I packed more fiber and a few other forgotten items and returned to Ragdale, feeling oddly subdued and unfocused. It was a beautiful day, 70 degrees, so I gave up on the studio and went for a long prairie walk. I was definitely alone, no dogs of any kind. It made me a bit wistful. I walked too far and the knee began to throb so I stayed in after dinner, tried to write, gave up and had a restless night, reading until 3am.


This morning, I went ahead and had a second helpful massage, and then a good studio day, in spite of the still-painful knee. I refrained from a prairie walk because of it, went to two residents’ open studios, ate another delicious dinner with incomprehensible voices swirling all about me, and then came upstairs to write this. This afternoon, the same solitary young deer visited again, walking slowly past the studio, peering into the windows, unafraid, maybe welcoming me back again.




Calligraphy is everywhere on the prairie and in the woods.

I’m home; got in Friday during the late afternoon, very tired; unloaded the car yesterday, am not yet unpacked. The final 10 days of the residency were absolute bliss; I pleaded a bit and was temporarily excused from all but the most urgent outside admin till this week. And so I was able to let myself surrender fully into the flow. Not only was I able to I get to that place that seemed so far away during the first bit of the first residency, I went way, way, way beyond it.



There was a second piece that insisted on being made. The final Saturday morning, I brought food for lunch and dinner out to the studio in the morning and then spent eleven straight hours of what can only be called perfection, quietly bursting through any last shred of trepidation to a complete understanding of all the work, where it is headed, and most importantly, what it means to me and why.


The overbeaten milkweed was terrible to cast with, at least with the sheet formation method I had to use (it did, however, make lovely sheets; I air-dried several to use, and restraint-dried some in the wee press.) But, oh, the beautiful pale glowing color!  Moon-like. I’m not giving up yet, but further experimentation was best left for the home studio.


The final week wasn’t without a few physical struggles in the making, but it was still wonderful, purposefully moving forward, happily solving those problems, fully engaged.



It was a time like the beginning of my work with paper, in this same geographical location in the old Meadow Studio: like music. What the current Meadow Studio gives me, among many other gifts, is the ability to spread out, switch processes, work on several things simultaneously, and to see all the work in relation to itself, the space, the prairie, and: my worldview. I repeat: bliss.



(Final tally: just under six weeks in residence, not counting time spent at home, seven new works, counting the ear installation. Only two are ‘finished’ – one of those gets a wee bit more tweaking then heads out into the world in ten days – but I know exactly where each piece is going!)


This Single Species (working title) is by no means finished, and will probably never be seen again this way, but I had to see them together on a wall for myself. They will not be for sale for a long while, if ever; they’re going to be tweaked, then move around.

Prairie dance

The Flow


December! Things are moving along wonderfully and peacefully in the studio.  I met most of the new group on Monday (one person arrived Sunday night – an artist I went to school with! – and the final two arrived yesterday). All interesting folks, and of course everyone is happy. I went home again, after Wednesday night’s dinner for Thanksgiving, and cooked us a lovely, stress-free holiday dinner: we had things to celebrate! Now I stay put till the residency ends.


Before I left, I added some color to another piece, and resolved and built a rather complicated odd armature, which is kind of funny because the shape is quite simple. Needing to extract it after casting made it complex. The piece has been asking to be built. I came back Friday at noon and made a fat post of heavy sheets for it.  Saturday was beautifully warm, so there was a long, muddy but lovely prairie walk, then a late night casting and embellishing the piece: so far, so good. There are two more points at which it could fall apart, but that’s how I roll. (Then again, if it all works, the armature is adaptable and re-usable; a series could happen.)


Now that most of the leaves are gone, you can see the ears from the studio door.

I came back to the Barnhouse wireless near midnight to discover that ZIA sold a significant piece from the group show, as well as a few small studies. Excellent! Sunday, it was misty, drizzly and wet. I did the extensive prep – building a single-use armature – for another floor-cast piece. Yesterday was another late night, casting it in one go. This rather dull list-blog is meant to say that I am in heaven, with only a tiny bit of admin (due this week) to interrupt this beautiful, peaceful flow.  (Today, the sun is out: hello, prairie).


My world. And a summer-worthy sunset.  Ahhh.


here now


There was another prairie burn; same quadrant as last year, and another in the woods. This time, I didn’t need to wait for smoke; I saw the vehicles and knew what must be happening.  Jane Fulton Alt was there, and it was lovely to talk with her and also to watch her work.  And to watch it all begin.


It’s been a struggle, but eventually I got there: losing track of time in the studio, diving through that portal. There was imagery that just wouldn’t leave me, resulting in an experiment that might not have worked, but those?  Those are what excite me, involve me, take me to that place.  And it worked, so I made another, and will make at least one more. Ahh. So now, I’ve no words for the best of reasons.


I rushed to get these ready and installed on the last warm day; still waiting to get a shot in the snow (it disappears quickly.) I wanted one on the fallen section of tree, but could not get the ladder safely positioned; too many huge fallen branches all tangled together.


A few days ago, I went home again overnight, to switch out supplies, see my pack and luckily was able to catch a haircut on the way back; chopped it short (winter artificial heat and too much hair: no fun.) This week I will meet with my fellowship’s benefactor, which I’m looking forward to. I’m also contemplating the possibility of extending my stay. Oh, and there is snow, just enough to make the path back from the studio more visible to my tiny flashlight; the late nights have begun (it’s also dark by dinnertime.)


This imagery is still insistent. I am not resisting. This was a test piece that made me very happy.


In progress, above and below…


Touchstone Place


Good morning!

I am at Ragdale (which has a lovely brand-new web site), still not quite realizing I that am actually here. This sudden utter freedom is stupendous, after six months of being buffeted about by the outside forces of our situation, and then being rather locked down since returning home from teaching in August, snatching bits of time in the studio while nearly every moment of every day was dictated by those forces. I wasn’t the primary person who was affected, and (if I do say so) we did both cope rather well throughout the ordeal, so I simply did not realize (or did not allow myself to think about) how constricted I had been feeling until it was past.


Someone had painted this bush right outside the studio window where I usually place a drawing table. The red and the green are fluorescent colors. I was quite amused for a moment, even laughed out loud, but the straight-out-of-the-can artificial colors are too jarring, and I am too influenced by what I see, so…


…this is the new drawing place, and I’m finally using that screen in the manner for which it was intended.

And now, here I am, still a bit shell-shocked. But the studio’s set up, fiber soaking, I had my first prairie walk and delicious dinner by Chef Linda, and I slept deep and woke when my body wanted to. Oh, and I am living in the lovely Hayloft room when not in The Best Studio In The Universe. On top of it all, not only do I have everything this marvelous place has to offer laid out before me, I am honored to learn that I was named this year’s Prairie Fellow…riches upon riches!


These colors.

prairie day


The Meadow milkweed harvest at Ragdale. I always, always think I am too early, just after the equinox / Mabon. I also always take a first look round the meadow and think, “Oh!  There isn’t much this year.” Yet I am always right on time, and there is always a good-sized harvest.


Fall has barely begun, just an inkling.  The work was hot and sweaty under the afternoon sun, as I crawled into dense foliage, with thorns or pesky burrs.  Yet for someone who lives contained by buildings, fences, concrete, alleys, it was glorious.  Just to BE, out where the only visible boundaries are trees and the big bluestem hides nearby buildings, just me and prairie, sky, birds and critters.


And the Meadow Studio.  No one is in residence just now, so I went and peered in the windows, said hello, and made a fervent wish that our situation will allow me to be there later this fall. I’m scheduled for late October through November. I sat in the shade and trimmed my stems, then walked a circuit round the meadow, tossing the seedpods back in for next year. It’s a rich, vital wheel on which to turn.


I love this year’s version of the Ragdale Ring. Love it.

There was even more reward:


I couldn’t yet get near it without, say, a machete, but:

the Ragdale ear is still here!


It’s lasted eleven months and it looks solid, and is most wonderfully, subtly warped. The dye has faded but is still there, and some seems to have moved through the piece. I’ve been making more plans for this site this year, regardless of whatever might have remained. This is better than I hoped (and I owe a lot of that to other harvests). I already value this place so much for the enormous gift of allowing me to interact with a landscape over time; that has now gone to a whole new level. I’m feeling a bit like one of those seedpods.


(Thank you, Ragdale and Lake Forest Open Lands).


Ah, Ragdale.


Ah, Ragdale. I’m home now, after loading the Subaru one final 2013 time (with David’s steadfast and much appreciated help) and unloading (with Paul’s, ditto), and a fine evening of comfortable homecoming celebration. I slept deep and late, woke to Lupe’s gentle nose and a sweet note from Paul, who was out getting us dinner for tonight from my favorite takeout place.


Grateful for my papermaker’s boots, I dashed out as storm #1, with spectacular,  frequent close lightning strikes, began to wane into a simply torrential deluge.  The standing water was six inches deep in parts, here and on the path to the studio.

Ragdale and the Shaw prairie continued the changing-season show during the last week, with the severe storms that caused so much damage to areas of the midwest. We fortunately escaped the worst. There were three seperate storms that rolled through during the day, and the sky put on a spectacular show: each storm had distinctly different cloud formations.  The studio was rattling and banging from the winds, but I was working away and didn’t know what was occurring elsewhere, or that I should be worried.


Storm #1 moving out, #2 moving in…


On another night, when the intensified internal shifting I was undergoing threatened to spin off-course into a downward spiral, Chef Linda set me right with a delicious plate in the warming oven, chocolate, and a poem by Dan Vera that was as warming and healing as the superb food, and nurtured me just as vitally.


Four harvests happened, including steaming, stripping, bark-removal and drying for three of them: good batches of fiber all (five counting the earlier-in-October milkweed, and a sixth harvest of winter bast yet to be done).


Four ear-fungi were made, with the highly improved third-generation construction method. One was installed, right back where the original was located. I want a grouping of three there, but wasn’t sure how smart that would be because of the colder temperatures (the adhesive needs some warmth to set properly; it was 8 degrees below the minimum). I decided to come back and add the others in the spring. However, I’m happy to say that this one did survive three days of rain and some snow; I hauled the ladder over and checked it yesterday before I left, and it was still quite firmly attached.


Bits of the original were still attached to the tree, and gave me lots of information when I removed them. After installing, I scouted around again under the now-leafless young scrub trees to see if I could find any other pieces; I didn’t, but was rewarded instead with this lovely raccoon skull.


On Monday I made a fine decision: not to push to finish things, because I didn’t need to.  Unlike past years, when leaving Ragdale meant leaving my work for long periods of time (or, more recently, when I’d been working to satisfy deadlines), this residency segues into my self-provided long stretch of home studio time: I can continue! So, I decided to simply keep taking advantage of the Meadow studio itself. I left with five new works in progress, completely built, only awaiting color.


Since these six projects are in progress, I don’t feel comfortable showing them yet, but here is a teaser detail of one.  (Yeah, I know: sorry.)

And there is a sixth: the beginnings of a new installation, fully thought out and sketched out, with two prototypes made. The second of these was informative enough that the third attempt here at home, with all my equipment at hand, will very likely be the first component of the work.


Early in the residency, walking off-path in the meadow to see a fine sunset, I discovered three milkweed stalks I’d somehow missed during my previous harvest.

Some writing was done as well, and a couple of lovely 2014 classes came in and were booked and/or are under discussion. And above and beyond everything else: that palpable internal shift. I don’t quite know how to write about that yet, but it is personally profound, and I don’t think it might have happened as thoroughly and articulately without this place and what it provides.


I brought them in to grace the studio’s ‘relaxing corner’ along with some prairie dock leaves (which I love), intending to strip their fiber when I left.

I’ll admit: each year of my post-salary life, I’ve wondered if I can afford to come back to Ragdale, and, when I get there, if this year will be the last. But during this, the first residency without an agenda in such a very long time, I learned: I really can’t afford not to. This is the touchstone place, where I am renewed, always. Thank you, Ragdale.


But then, as I was packing up yesterday, I knew where they needed to be.


And now: four to six months at home, with all these new riches spread out before me.  And, just moments before I was leaving, a text: “Lots of mulberry cut down next door, want it?” Ahh, yes.