“Wondrously Strange,” Our Crossing to the Marquesas


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South Pacific12

I was reading from some of my old sailing journals when I came across this entry. It captures so perfectly what it was like to be crossing oceans in a small sailboat with young children, that “wondrously strange” brew of the ordinary and extraordinary mixed together.

The photo is of our landfall at Nuka Hiva in the Marquesas Islands after a 28-day crossing from Mexico. But in the middle of the voyage we had no idea how long it would take or even if we would ever reach the islands. The fact that that mist shrouded green gem rose from the sea exactly where we thought it should rise seemed a miracle.

May 1, 1986,   11° N 123° 40′ W Pacific Ocean

We are flying wing to wing at 6 1/2 knots toward the Marquesas, at last. We’ve been at sea 16 days, since April 16, and are not yet to the half-way mark. Out of 2800 miles we still have 1560 to go.

So far our crossing has been better (physically and mentally) than I imagined. We were all a little sea-sick our 2nd and 3rd day out but have been fine since. We try to live one day at a time (always a good idea) and not think about how long it might take us to reach our destination–especially now when a 40 day crossing seems likely.

Our worst days (and nights) have been during the two rain storms we’ve had so far. The dampness and clamminess of everything is disheartening, and the black, wet night watches uncomfortable. The constant roll and pitch of the boat make the simplest task arduous. Brewing tea can become a chore of maddening dexterity and frustration.

And yet in other ways, life goes on uninterrupted, unperturbed, as if we were still at anchor in San Carlos. Sometimes I sit cuddled with Dale in the dark cockpit surrounded by a stream of sea and stars and marvel at the children’s voices drifting up from the galley, their light banter as they do their nightly dishes amid a dim circle of light. The only light in a thousand miles of darkness.

Then it strikes me as wondrously strange, our few feet of ordinary human activity adrift upon an endless indifferent sea beneath an ocean of stars.

Other sailing epiphanies you might enjoy

Water with a Razor’s Edge

The glassy surface of the ocean rose up creating a razor-sharp edge as it continuously slipped along beside us, like a wave that never breaks.  Watching it, I thought, I never want to be anywhere but here. And, I never want to lose this. I sought to etch it in my mind so it would always be part of me.

La Gitana – Our Larger Self, Sea Saga, Part V

She seemed almost as alive to us as the other creatures that she cavorted with, the dolphins that played at her side, the whales that swam beneath and circled her, the flying fish that landed on her decks. Her spirit was all her own. But her breath, her pulse, her beating heart, her life blood, was us, the people who inhabited and cared for her, plotted her course, walked her decks, stroked her beams, and dreamed her dreams.



The Pieta & the Writer’s Palette, Redux


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It’s been said that for writers the blank page is our canvas and words our paint.

But I don’t think so.

Images and ideas are the paint, words the loaded brush, and sentences our brushstrokes. The mind and imagination of both writer and reader is the blank canvas.

Nothing is there on the page—mere white space, black ink strokes. Yet in the act of reading the mind becomes awash in colors, images, ideas, emotions. Like magic. What the reader draws upon is not only the writer’s words and images, but the reader’s as well, his memories and associations. Our reader co-creates with us.

What both the writer and reader draw upon, as do all visual artists, are all the images and associations from our own lives as well as all those who came before us and left their imprints upon our imaginations, through books and artwork and film and advertising. Scraps of overheard conversation, images of bloodshed and atrocities on nightly broadcasts. Scenes drifting by a train window, songs played upon the radio, sounds of playground laughter. Faraway land and cultures and wilderness areas glimpsed in our travels or from magazines or TV documentaries.

We draw upon myths and legends, iconic images and personal histories passed on from one generation to the next, spanning back to the beginning of life, perhaps, if we do indeed carry within our genes memories of primeval birthing. All these images and association stored in our personal or collective unconscious.

What interests me in all this is the creative process. How we dip our brushes into this swirling palette, and bring out more on our loaded brushes than what we had intended or even realized at first glance. And yet our work is the richer for it.

Here’s an example of a scene I created without being fully aware of its implications until in the midst of the writing, and moments afterwards. This is from “Tamara in Her Garden.”

I was eleven years old when the house burned down one night. Burned clean to the ground. Nothing left but heaps of ashes and twisted metal folded among the stone foundation. Sifting through the silt and rubble, firemen found the charred remains of my father, who had died in bed, and the broken bones of fifteen young men, boys really, buried beneath the house.

They found me crouched in the garden, dress torn and singed, eyes so wide, they said, it was as if the fire had burned off my eyelids and I would never sleep again.

What I remember most about that night now is the way my Aunt Rose held me afterward, drew me to her lap and rocked me. I was tall for my age, taller than Aunt Rose by then, but she held me nonetheless. Gathered me up, all the odd and bony parts of me, the long thin back and stooped shoulders, the heavy head. Folding herself over, stroking and holding, rocking me like a baby, like I was part of her lost self. And I, spilling over her yet holding too–tightly, tight. And thinking with open eyes: She knew. She knew, too.

Now when I remember, and remember how she held me, I am reminded of ancient Italy. Of towering cypress pressed against an Aegean sky. Of sun-drenched doorways and crumbling stoops. Of Michelangelo’s Pieta, cool and smooth in a cool, dark hall, the Son’s body spilling half naked across the Mother’s lap as she held him. Holding and spilling. Holding and spilling. Remembering places I’ve never yet always been.

As I was creating the image of the child being held by the Aunt, I began to realize I’d seen this before—it was a deeply familiar, iconic image, steeped in religious, artistic, and maternal associations. The Pieta was already part of my palette.

I didn’t realize until after I had written the words that drawing upon this iconic image was thus imbuing the scene with a sense of suffering and sacrifice, of sin and redemption, of death and the hope of resurrection.

Realizing this, it became part of the story. The protagonist herself realizes the implication and draws upon images of beauty and decay, life and death, art and darkness, all washing together but impossible to hold without spilling. She draws upon places we’ve all been, or know, figuratively, without perhaps having been there ourselves.

The phrase “remembering places I’ve been and never been” is particularly potent because it captures for me some deep truth—that humans, particularly with our exposure to film and art and news, are exposed to places, scenes, people, cultures, that become part of our world view, our memories and associations, without ever actually having “been” there.

Which brings us back to the original point of this post: The paint we dip our brushes into is so much more deep and vast than any of the creators who came before us had. Along with our individual experiences come experiences filtered through the minds and imaginations of others, framed by their cameras, their perceptions, their agendas, their images—but it all becomes part of our consciousness, gets missed in with the personal, and recreated into our works.

Art that inspires us becomes part of our subconscious, our memories and association, part of that “paint” swirling around in our minds upon which we draw when we “paint” with words. The Pieta was already there, already steeped in associations, already all-ready for me to draw upon when seeking the perfect image for this particular scene of a wounded child being drawn to the lap of her maternal aunt to be comforted, the child herself being “too big”, her wound too devastating, for the Aunt to hold, so spilling past her, unable to hold it all, to even grasp it all, all that her niece had suffered, and so spilling beyond the aunt’s ability to comfort, hold, heal.

And yet the act of attempting to do just that—that despite the enormity of the task, its impossibility, its futility, the attempt in itself becomes a kind of absolution, a love beyond love, a sacramental act, that touches the child more tenderly than anything else might have.

I think in writing this, I have touched upon, unawares, a realization, that this is something I seek again and again in my writing to capture, articulate. The impossibility of healing, comforting, redeeming, forgiving, witnessing, the sorrow and hurt of this world as it unfolds in each of our lives, and yet the absolute necessity to attempt to do so, for just the attempt itself—the whole-hearted, deep-throated, full-bent attempt—is enough. The attempt despite no hope of succeeding, is precisely what’s needed, and will suffice.

If we live a million years, we can do no more, nor less, than that.

We are so much deeper and wider and richer than we will ever know, so much more than our personal histories can account for, and we might never know it but from these percolations bubbling up from the deep Unconscious, or those deliberate dippings below the surface.

Lending our pens to that which writes us.

[I wrote this post several years ago before I began painting myself. Now I find it more true than ever. Even for painting, my “brush” is dipped into the deep unconscious before I ever put a stroke on paper or canvas]


Favorite Pairings – Peace and Power in Art & Music


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Joep Franssens’ Harmony of the Spheres and the art of Sohan Qadri

Both express the sense of peace and power that comes from mediation and tapping into the Unconscious. A powerful duo. Enjoy.



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Image result for sohan qadri paintings

Image result for sohan qadri paintings

Playing with Abstracts, Loving the Process


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I was surprised by how much I love painting abstracts. Just playing with color, design, textures is so freeing and creative. There’s no worry involved, no trying to make the work look like something in particular, or any hesitation to try something new for fear I’ll “ruin” it.

Yet it’s not like I begin with no thought in mind. I have a sense of what I want to create or capture. It’s not like I’m just throwing down color willy-nilly, although I suppose there would be nothing wrong with doing that either. But I like the creative process of laying down lines, swirls, design and adding paint to create a sense of balance, interest, complication, and completion. Each layer or choice adds something distinct and interesting to the whole.

In this first piece I started with that primal swirl in white oil pastel, then added the three slanted lines at the top in gold oil pastel. After that I dropped in various hues of blue, wet-on-wet so they could mix and mingle, and let it dry. When dry I added the dark blue dripping at the top, coaxing the drips around the oil pastel. I added the dark gold at the bottom and in various places for interest and balance, then let it dry again. In the last pass I toned down the gold pastel with blue pastel, added more “sparkles” and swirls of white and gold pastel, then more blue pastel toward the center of the major swirl to help the white pop.


It was all a careful, studied consideration, born of intuition and gut-feel, to reach the balance and interest I was looking for. My love of blue and gold in combination was given full rein to play with each other, and I noticed how my favorite doodles when I’m lost in thought made their way into the painting as well.

In the end, this piece reminds me of the night sky, with its swirling galaxies, shooting stars, and so on.  Although intentionally, that wasn’t what I had started out to create, I think my love for the night sky, that mystery and romance, was expressed here subconsciously.

I think that’s what I love about the making of abstract art, the little I’ve done so far, surprising myself with what gets pulled up subconsciously from some deeper inner reservoir. It’s what I’ve always loved about writing too, surprising myself with what comes out on paper.


The next piece I created was totally different in style and by intention. I wanted to experiment with lifting out a figure from layers of paint, which I did on the right. I wanted bright primal colors. After the deep blue and red on the right I laid down a brilliant yellow and then a dark gold below. Then I added the marks at the top and bottom left purely for what I thought would be “interesting” and enough to balance with the dark red and blue on the other side without taking away too much attention from that vague ghostly figure, which I saw as being the main focus.

When I reached what appeared to be an interesting balance, I stopped. “Man in Motion” came to me unbidden when I looked at the figure, so I suppose I will name it that, although what that means, if anything, I do not know.


This last piece was inspired by my love of scarlet and gold “in conversation.” I decided to split the painting into two unequal wholes. I started with swirls of gold and red oil pastel across the whole sheet. Then I used masking tape to divide the two sides and began splashing on two or three variations of red, one on top of the other, wet on wet. I did the same with yellow and gold on the other side. Then I used crushed cellophane to add pattern and texture to both sides. Finally I added some drips of blue on the red, and drips of dark gold and red on the yellow side.

But I wasn’t quite satisfied.

So I did something dangerous and daring. I added a strip of dark blue across the middle of the yellow side. It was awful! I thought I had ruined it and began trying to sponge it away, then I washed and scrubbed it, but a green stain remained. So I added more yellow on top of it and added more swirls of gold oil pastel. And I kept playing and experimenting until finally I was satisfied, and decided I liked this better than what I had before after all.DSCN3425

This is what I ended up with. For some reason the colors seem brighter in the previous photo than in this one, but in actuality, this is as rich and luminous as the one above. However, this final version seems more interesting and “complete” to me than the first, which seemed to lack “something,”  a depth, perhaps, or focus, or darker interest.

Anyway, I enjoyed this whole process so much, I know I’ll be painting more abstracts.

Knowing little about abstract art I did some research online and found this essay on the Metropolitan Art Museum website. It was fascinating how many abstract artists felt they were tapping into some “universal inner sources” when they painted, and how they felt their works “stood as reflections of their individual psyches.” I also like how “these artists valued spontaneity and improvisation, and accorded the highest importance to process.”

“For Abstract Expressionists, the authenticity or value of a work lay in its directness and immediacy of expression. A painting is meant to be a revelation of the artist’s authentic identity.”

I suppose that’s why someone like me who is playing with art and doing it purely for my own pleasure and interest would be drawn toward the abstract. And no doubt it is why the creation of art itself can be such a healing activity.

The essay ends with this interesting bit about the “expressive potential of color,” and the artist’s quest for the sublime.

Mature Abstract Expressionism: Color Field
Another path lay in the expressive potential of color. Rothko, Newman, and Still, for instance, created art based on simplified, large-format, color-dominated fields. The impulse was, in general, reflective and cerebral, with pictorial means simplified in order to create a kind of elemental impact. Rothko and Newman, among others, spoke of a goal to achieve the “sublime” rather than the “beautiful,” harkening back to Edmund Burke in a drive for the grand, heroic vision in opposition to a calming or comforting effect. . . . For Rothko, his glowing, soft-edged rectangles of luminescent color should provoke in viewers a quasi-religious experience, even eliciting tears.

Certainly color and color combinations have always had a particular hold on me, even to the point of a “quasi-religious experience” that has led to a “tearing up.” It’s how I judge art in general, not so much for its beauty but for its ability to move me, whether toward the sublime or in some other deeply felt way.  This is true for me both as a maker of art and a lover of art.

Love, I think, is the glue that holds it altogether.

Friday Pairings – Butterflies & Vivaldi


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Evocation of Butterflies. http://www.artinthepicture.com/paintings/Odilon_Redon/Evocation-of-Butterflies/

Sharing some favorite pairings with you on this lovely Friday morning:

Artwork – “Evocation of Butterflies” by Odilon Redon

Music – Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Recomposed by Max Richter


More Redon to revel in as you listen

'Day', Odilon Redon, ca. 1910 Tienes un EHA muy bien estructurado @IndigoHorizonte  Ahora solo queda ir completándolo a medida que tu proyecto crece, pero con lo que has hecho ya sería suficiente. Añade cosas solo si es necesario. Cuando redactes tu dosier, el que nos entregarás al final del curso, recuerda que es conveniente que incluyas imágenes relacionadas con cada punto, autor, corriente, etc. que menciones :

Redon, Odilon - Flowers, Red Board


Odilon Redon – Magia simbolista | Pintura y Artistas

Night Howl, Deep in My Bones


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Wikipedia Commons A_Rose_Made_of_Galaxies_Highlights_Hubble's_21st_Anniversary_jpg

Last month around this time when the moon was full, our nights were filled with howling. Almost every night we could hear the mournful cries of coyotes in the fields behind our house, along with ecstatic barking, yipping, chortling–as if they were celebrating a kill, or worshipping the moon, or engaged in some wild orgy.  Or perhaps they were merely giving voice to the irresistible life force pumping through their blood and brains and hearts, a force of nature too wild and fierce to hold back.

The sound, terrifying and exhilarating at the same time, echoed long in my mind afterwards, like ripples of water moving away to the edge of consciousness and reverberating back again. Like something heard long ago deep in my bones, from an evolutionary or primal past.

They say we humans carry in our genes the imprint of life-forms going back to when the first cells emerged on earth.  Deep in our blood, our bones, our very atoms, lays some faint memory of our ancient beginnings. Phylogenists call it our “vast evolutionary tree.”

If we go back even further, traces of that time when the morning stars first sang together may still be felt when we look out on the night sky. We are the stuff of stars, after all, so say astrophysicists.

Carl Jung envisioned our Collective Unconscious as a reservoir lying deep within our psyches containing our evolutionary memories.  While they lay below consciousness, they break through in dreams and myths and fairy tales, in primitive urges, the call of the wild, in our more-than-human yearnings.

Sometimes we feel this wildness rising within when witnessing powerful displays of nature: thunderstorms booming across the land, waterfalls careening over cliffs, huge waves crashing against rocks, hurricanes lashing at trees, lightening forking across a dark sky,  earthquakes heaving beneath our feet.   It frightens and excites—creating both the desire to escape and to embrace that primordial power.  One wild howl elicits another—the urge to howl back, to voice our own wild yearnings—to sing or dance, or paint or play, or grab words from the air and fling them onto paper. I heard that howl and answered back one night on anchor watch in Pago Pago.  A hurricane was blowing a few miles off Samoa and we were set to ride it out if it blew into the bay.

I stood at the bow of La Gitana, hanging onto the staysail as the deck lurched beneath my feet like a wild stallion while the surging waves rose and fell and the chain from the anchor rooted deep in the mud below grew slack or tight.

Overhead a torrent of clouds crashed against a full moon, sometimes swallowing it whole, then washing away streaming moonlight. All around me the night raged while the anchor held tight, and I held tight, the terror and exhilaration pumping through my blood and brain.  The wild urge to let go and be carried away by the night was fierce. Later I tried to capture what it felt like.   Here’s what I wrote:


(Anchor watch in Pago Pago, Samoa)

Alone beneath a wild and ragged night I watch,

                            moonlight and clouds wind-tangled across the sky.

Suddenly I am loosened, lifted, flung far–

fingers raking stars, mouth howling moon, mind mooning time

my heart-beat

riddles the universe.

Alone beneath a wild and ragged night I stand, astonished,

gaping into the maw of some vast mirror.

It’s close to capturing what I felt, but the last two lines trouble me. “Gaping” and “maw” keeps the visceral effect I’m looking for, capturing the sense of trance-like awe and terror.  But mirror moves it away into something more philosophical or intellectual.

I’m tempted to stop with the line “my heartbeat riddles the universe.” That captures the physicality of my wildly beating heart breaking out of my body to become the heart-beat of the universe.  And it also hints at the mystery of human heartbeat itself being a riddle, the riddle of the universe, that the evolution of the universe over eons led to the creation of a human being, whose heart—its essential being—is the ability to reflect back upon the universe, to take it all in.

Human consciousness is the mirror through which the universe sees and knows itself, and through which we see and know ourselves—the fullness of being, our primal past and present standing face to face.

That’s a lot to howl about.

[Reposted from July 2012]

Stepping Barefoot into Reality with D.T. Suzuki


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I love this photo of the Zen sage D.T Suzuki. He was one of my first “gurus” if I, or he, believed in such things. His “Essays in Zen Buddhism” certainly was a huge influence in my life, as he was for so many, including Martin Heidegger, Thomas Merton, Carl Jung, Alan Watts, and John Cage.

So I was excited to find this photo and article about him on Maria Popova’s fascinating website Brainpickings. Many of the quotations she includes were ones I highlighted in my dog-eared copy so long ago. I highly recommend you reading her article on “How Zen Can Help You Cultivate Your Character.”

What I love about Suzuki’s approach to Zen is its emphasis on the psychological and the practical, and the turning away from the merely logical and rational, or verbal.

“The truth of Zen is the truth of life,” he writes, “and life means to live, to move, to act, not merely to reflect.”

He goes on to explain:

“In the actual living of life there is no logic, for life is superior to logic. We imagine logic influences life, but in reality man is not a rational creature so much as we make him out; of course he reasons, but he does not act according to the result of his reasoning pure and simple. There is something stronger than ratiocination.”

“Zen is to be explained, if at all explained it should be, rather dynamically than statically. When I raise the hand thus, there is Zen. But when I assert that I have raised the hand, Zen is no more there.”

“Zen therefore ought to be caught while the thing is going on, neither before nor after.”

We must see directly into the thing in itself as itself, into the “suchness” of life: “responding to a call, listening to a murmuring stream, or to a singing bird, or any of our most ordinary everyday assertions of life.”

To do this: “We must first of all acquire a new point of view of looking at things, which is altogether beyond our ordinary sphere of consciousness.”

When we do: “The old world of the sense has vanished, and something entirely new has come to take its place. We seem to be in the same objective surrounds, but subjectively we are rejuvenated, we are born again.”

Yet this new “sphere of consciousness” must be grounded in our practical, ordinary lives.

“Psychologically there is a most intimate and profound relationship between a practical turn of mind and a certain type of mysticism .  .  .  If mysticism is true its truth must be a practical one, verifying itself in every act of ours, and most decidedly, not a logical one.”

He goes on to quote the Zen poet Hokoji:

“How wondrously supernatural,

and how miraculous this!

I draw water, and I carry fuel.”

This too is what I love about Suzuki’s approach to Zen, his emphasis on work, and on work as love.

“For the soundness of ideas must be tested finally by their practical application. When they fail in this–that is, when they cannot be carried out in everyday life producing lasting harmony and satisfaction and giving real benefit to all concerned–to oneself as well as to others–no ideas can be said to be sound and practical.”

“The fact is that if there is any one thing that is most emphatically insisted upon by the Zen maters as the practical expression of their faith, it is serving others, doing work for others: not ostentatiously, indeed, but secretly without making others know of it. Says Eckhart [Christian mystic], ‘What a man takes in by contemplation he must pour out in love.’ Zen would say, ‘pour out in work,’ meaning by work the active and concrete realization of love.”

Throughout his essays he quotes generously from Zen masters and poets, and from Christian mystics and other Western thinkers and philosophers. Thus he weaves together common threads as well as pointing out differences between Zen and Western philosophies and spiritual practices.

Popova calls his essays “a moral toolkit for modern living, delivered through a grounding yet elevating perspective on secular spirituality.”

I would have to agree with that. Certainly I used it as a “toolkit” for my own own understanding of Zen and its application to ordinary life.

Suzuki writes:

“Life as it is lived suffices. It is only when the disquieting intellect steps in and tries to murder it that we stop to live and imagine ourselves to be short of or in something. Let the intellect alone, it has its usefulness in its proper sphere, but let it not interfere with the flowing of the life-stream. If you are at all tempted to look into it, do so while letting it flow.

Zen . . . must be directly and personally experienced by each of us in his inner spirit. Just as two stainless mirrors reflect each other, the fact and our own spirits must stand facing each other with no intervening agents. When this is done we are able to seize upon the living, pulsating fact itself.

That is what I work to do:

To grasp the fact of life and its sufficeness with bare hands.

To “step barefoot into reality” as the poet puts it.

Although, too often this is forgotten in the busyness of things, the turmoil and petty pleasures that swirl around us all and steal our attention.

But I’m beginning to understand that even these upsets and petty pleasures have a place within the larger scheme of things, if only we would see them as such:

Oh, how wondrously supernatural,

and miraculous this!

The spilled cup, the dime novel.”

In a life that suffices, nothing is wasted.



California Dreaming


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Big Sur and Mothers Day picnic 036

McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns Sate Park, Big Sur, California

Two of my paintings are being shown at a local gallery this month. They are part of an exhibition titled “For Love of Central & Coastal California.”

One is a view of iconic Morro Bay Rock as seen from the top of Highway 46, not far from where we live. It is one of my favorite views, especially in the spring with the green hills folding down to the sea. In the actual view from the highway, Morro Rock can barely be seen, even on a clear day. But one of the wonderful things about painting is that you can move things around and make them smaller or larger to fit your vision and what you want to capture.


View of Morro Rock from Highway 46, watercolor by Deborah J. Brakset

This painting was a composite of the following two photographs that I took not long ago. I tried to capture the intense green hills and their shadows from the first photo, and more detail of the ravines that spider up the far hills in the second. I made the hills steeper than they actually are and emphasized the road dipping into the folds.


The second painting on display is a view of a hidden sea cave as seen from Highway 1 near Big Sur.


Sea Cave, Big Sur, from Highway 1 – watercolor by Deborah J. Brasket

It is a composite of the following two photos, the first featuring the yellow wild flowers that grow near the highway overlooking the sea, and the second shows the cave itself in its private cove. You can barely make out the fence and pathway leading down the cliff toward the ocean in the photo.

Big Sur and Mothers Day picnic 047Big Sur and Mothers Day picnic 088

This last painting is not part of the show but shares the theme. It is a painting of a pathway lined with oaks leading to the river near our home. A “California dreamer” leans against a tree trunk.

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“A Splash of Sunlight” watercolor by Deborah J. Brasket

This is the reference photo, sans the mountain and the “dreamer” I added.


I was trying to use the colors and the looser style found in the following painting, one of my favorites by Henri Manguin.

Henri Manguin - The Parkway, 1905 at Pinakothek der Moderne Munich Germany by mbell1975, via Flickr

“The Parkway”, 1905, by Henri Manguin

Mine isn’t as successful as I had hoped, but it still captures enough of that “dreamy” feeling of late afternoon, with the sun filtering down through the leaves, to want to keep it.

I hope you enjoyed this brief stroll with me through California’s  sunlit and sea-splashed hills. May you savor the natural beauty that lies in your own backyard, wherever that may be.

Water with a Razor’s Edge


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Large sand dunes between Albrg and Tin Merzouga, Tadrart.  South of Djanet. Algeria. 2009. Photograph by Sebastião SALGADO / Amazonas images

Photograph by Sebastião Salgado

One of my favorite pastimes when we were sailing was watching the wake the boat made slipping through still waters. The glassy surface of the ocean rose up creating a razor-sharp edge as it continuously slipped along beside us, like a wave that never breaks.

Not every wake was like this and so fascinated me. It came only under perfect conditions. When the sea was clear and still, smooth as a mirror. When the wind was non-existent or so light it was like a baby’s breath. When we were sailing lightly on a zephyr’s breeze, or motoring through calm, still waters. When the wind rose and rolled, the wake would change, shot over with foam, its curl not so distinct, its edge not so transparent.

I’ve searched everywhere for a photo of a wave or boat wake that captures what so fascinated me, but the closest I can find are images of sand dunes with that razor-sharp edge following the undulating line of its crest. Sand dunes have their own haunting beauty and they too shift over time, but even so they don’t do my memory justice, for the wake I watched was alive, vibrant, constantly moving, a steady companion.

It was sculpture in motion, the way it  curled up continuously creating that sharp, transparent edge. A slight undulation along the lip as it held its form was mesmerizing. Watching it, I thought, I never want to be anywhere but here. And, I never want to lose this. I sought to etch it in my mind so it would always be part of me.

Of course, it wasn’t just the sight of that never-ending curl, that razor-sharp edge trembling in the sunshine that moved me. It was the whole experience. The still sea stretching out forever, the soft swish of the hull parting the seas, the whisper of the wind against the sails.  It was the tang of the salt in the air and the balmy breeze stroking my skin with silk gloves. It was me, bare-legs stretched out against the warm teak decking, sitting absolutely still in a sea of motion.

It was my family tucked away with me within our living, moving, breathing home, miles and miles from anywhere, safely embraced by the sea and sun and breeze.

If anything clearly captures the essence of what it was like to live aboard La Gitana all those years, it was the poetry of moments like this, repeated over and over again, like glittering pearls strung along a string.

I think now what fascinated me then was how this was such a clear example of the ever-changing changeless: The constant subtle variations in the wake’s shape that made it so mesmerizing to watch and yet changeless in its constancy, it never-ending formation. And while it lasted for hours, it was ever a new thing, newly created moment by moment.

I wanted to reach out and touch that razor’s edge, but I knew if I did it would  dissolve beneath my fingers.  How could water, so malleable that it melts through your fingers, create such a sharp, clear edge and hold it so long?

These things fascinated me then as they do now and fed my interest in the sublime ambiguities and paradoxes that underlie this beautiful world we live in.

“Writings from Wild Soul”


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The first blogger I ever followed and the first to follow me back was Wendy Sarno.  What drew me at first was the name of her blog “Writings from Wild Soul” since the word “wild” is also featured in my blog.

But what made me follow her and keep on reading her all these years was the deep, soulful, way she writes about her encounters with nature, which are always rich with detail.  When I read her posts I am swept away to a green, lush, world that humbles and excites me, and I always learn something new. A new way of seeing, a new way of being. I come away feeling blessed.

She calls herself wrensong, and says:

I am a poet who collects stones. I am a wanderer of creek beds and forests, canyons and high desert who, coming home, sometimes finds words to tell the story. I am a companion with others in the search for Deep, Wild Soul. I shape containers in time and space for others to come together to write, to tell their stories, to hold each other in the telling. I am a grandmother and the companion of a cat named Alaya. I often travel out into open country with a man who calls himself Dunewalker who has hung his hammock in my heart.

She has now collected her storied essays and poems in the book “Writings from Wild Soul.” She writes of this experience:

A friend just wrote to ask if I felt a glow of accomplishment. Well, not exactly.

Years ago I remember reading about Pueblo potters, mostly women, and how after they had made a pot and were preparing to put it in the fire they gave thanks to the clay and to the newly formed vessel saying simply with honor, “Now you are a made thing”. That’s how I feel when I hold this book. Not a glow exactly at all but a simplicity of wonder “My goodness, now you are a made thing”.

Here’s just a taste of the kinds of rich, satisfying meals she serves.

From “Into the Silence

My husband and I just got back from the Pacific Northwest. We spent two weeks nestled under those great tall trees on Bainbridge Island and went off roaming the region. One day, out on the far side of the Olympic Peninsula, we hiked into the Hoh Rainforest over a rooted and winding trail along the Hoh River.

There the Sitka Spruce grow eight feet in diameter, two hundred feet tall and the great Western Cedar even larger. In that damp world everything grows thick with lichens and moss. The forest floor is strewn with moss covered fallen nurse trees, licorice fern, sword fern, lady fern, salmonberry and huckleberry. The huge big leaf maples cover their trunks with epiphyte mosses and drip with long beards of moss. It is a lush, moist realm of old tree life blessedly preserved from the ubiquitous clear-cut logging fields.

We went in search of silence, one square inch of it. No, really, there is one, sort of. On Earth Day in 2005 Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist, dedicated this spot he had chosen in the Olympic National Park as a sanctuary to silence. He calls it One Square Inch of Silence.

I was thinking about this invitation to silence this Sunday morning in July when I looked out and was struck by the intense green of the neighbor’s tulip tree against an intensity of blue sky, the etch of brilliant green against that fierce, endless deep blue. I was struck with my instant need to put words to it, to find words to say it, this meeting. I think it was Annie Dillard who said something like “God imbues the world like color”. This I have faith in, this imbue-ing god, the one who looks out at me from your blue eyes, from the red cherries, the gold finch, the grass, the moss covered Sitka Spruce. This god who offers the god-self as beauty, intensity, tenderness, who meets me silently the way the sky meets a tulip tree, the way an ancient rainforest holds its moist, mossy self. And for a few moments I’m enthralled, held in a large, sweet order to things, belonging to this encounter between tree and sky. All the while the sunlight spilling thru in silence. All in silence.

From The Bones of Winter

I had the sense all morning on this day between winter and spring that I walked at the edge of life and death. Wandering up the luminous green of a grassy trail that snaked thru the prairie blackened from a winter burn with its charred grasses and woody stems, I saw flocks of robins browsing listening to what stirred under the flattened mat of an old season. Here and there shoots of green emerged from thick tangles of old root hinting at the tall grasses that would wave here in a summer wind. It was there I found the bone -white shell of a box turtle lying belly up on the ground. Part of the lower plate was gone and it lay there like a mouth open to the sky where season by season it collected seeds and leaves and fallen petals and rain and snow and dust. The yearly stories shed by the land into this waiting cup.

All winter I fed the small birds from bags of old seed and I was as hungry as they were for something fresh and moist and alive. When I walk I tell my story. I whisper my hungers and my hopes to the grass and the wind. I share whatever arises in my wandering mind, memories or dreams. Sometimes poems. Sometimes tears. On this Sunday, as I leaned into the rising path and the wind, I felt my good, deep breath, muscles warming, a flicker of joy at the sight of green, and a sweet pleasure in the gift of a broken turtle shell like an offering, offering its stories and offering to hold mine. And as the hours moved my slow steps along this trail or that, I began to feel the gift that wild places always offer us, an easefulness rising thru my bones out of the moist earth, something around my heart unclenched, made room for delight in a pond chorus of frogs in their spring song.

From her website Listening to Stones which features her poetry:

Rain Like Fallen Grace

I’m cutting daisies in this rain falling over the quiet morning like Sunday Grace.

I’m holding utterly still breathing the scent of water and flowers

The cups of the small roses reaching up

Every leaf trembling

 green prayers



The Seeing

I’m on the phone with a friend who

is gazing out her living room window when

she notices a dead branch has fallen

across a live branch in a big pine

and formed a perfect cross.

In the center of the cross is a nest

and in the nest is a dove who is feeding

her three nestlings.

We were talking about how to keep

our souls alive in these difficult

political times and suddenly in

this seeing, and in her telling me

of what she sees, and in my seeing

thru her words the branches, the tree,

the nest and the doves,

we know.

This is how.


This is how we know, in the seeing. This is why I read her writings: that deep seeing, that deep knowing.

I hope you feel as blessed as I do today after tasting her rich offerings to the world.