May Day


wildflowers along the road #2

I prepare for the workshop I teach each week by gathering and arranging flowers. It surprises me each time I do this. I do not sit and go over my notes as I did when I taught college.  I do not search out one last reference before the class begins or map out a plan. Instead I hold the topic I have chosen inside of me and let my thoughts and feelings run over and through it while I walk around my property and admire and cut flowers. When I return to the house I make intuitive pairings: evening primrose with scented geraniums, iris with hummingbird sage, and put them all around my home.  Flowers are mysterious, wonderful, deeply sensual, and completely feminine.  Their subtle fragrance softly scents the air in my rooms. I prepare the space for the evening by bringing the fragrance, beauty, and gentile wisdom of flowers inside so that the women who gather can feel their presence and be guided by it.

I went to a lecture the other night in which the speaker said that nature is inherently hostile and wants to kill us. It was difficult for me to sit through the talk. I wanted to stand up long before the question and answer period and challenge him. I wanted to ask him where the feminine was in his depiction of a hostile natural world. I wanted to ask him about the existence of wonder and mystery, and where they fit into his view of life. Instead I was rendered speechless as if his portrait of the world left no space for me to exist or talk.  At the same time, I also understood him. The world is not all flowers. It can be harsh and feel cruel. It is tornados, earthquakes, and wild beasts. It is violence, heartbreak, and destruction.

When I was a kid my father once sent our cats out after a rat that was living in our woodpile.  I ran crying to my room. I was heartbroken by the senseless violence of one animal killing another. When I finally emerged from my room my brother had left our Encyclopedia Britannica open right outside my door to the section on Black Death. This was how things were understood in my childhood. The rat had brought his death on himself. My father was a kind and sensitive man but he also once threatened to drown a new batch of kittens that must have felt to him like one litter too many. He was expressing the side of nature I believe the lecture was addressing the other night – the defense of territory, survival of the fittest, random acts of destruction, and the frightening raw force of nature unleashed.

Both aspects of nature exist side by side – flowers and violence, beauty and devastation, life and death.  I tend to my flowers but I also trap the mice in my studio, and relocate them to uninhabited parts of the canyon.  Yesterday while I was painting, a mouse came out to watch me. I told him how cute he was. I thanked him for the adorable blue paw prints he had left on one of my painting as if he was adding his signature to the work created in his home.  Then, I set a trap for him. I feel cruel moving him. He might have babies who are waiting for him to return, but living in my art studio is not an option for him. I am not like my father, trying to kill all trespassing rodents, but I am not peacefully coexisting with them either. I too participate in the destructive side of nature. Perhaps over time I will mouse proof my studio and all the paper will be in plastic boxes and all the supplies in containers.  I do not mind that the mice are there. I am happy to share the space with them. I only mind that they eat my things and nest in my drawings. I respect them as fellow artists. Their nests, made from my art materials are wondrous and absolutely beautiful. I can feel how hard it is for me to make peace with trapping and relocating them. I continue to imagine ways that I will one-day mouse proof my studio.

I appreciate the beauty and abundance of nature more because I know that it lives hand in hand with danger, death and distruction. I know that there are snakes in the grass and black widows in dark corners. A few weeks ago the coyotes literally climbed the 10-foot fence around our chicken yard, ate all the chickens and climbed out again. Like the child crying over the doomed rat I do not want to acknowledge the blood thirsty, ferocious, violent side of nature.  I want to imagine a world with only harmony, hearts, and flowers. We live every day with the possibility of unforeseen natural disasters, and tragedy.  This year we witnessed the devastation from the tornados in the southern United States and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  I understand how easy it is to loose sight of the beauty and begin to believe that nature is trying to kill us. We live in an unjust, irrational world but still I choose to embrace the light that exists side by side with the darkness.. It is my faith. Some waves knock us down and we tumble in the surf and come up gasping for air.  We dive through others and come up to see a pod of dolphins playing in the water close enough to touch. I have been tumbled and left gasping for air enough to pay attention to the waves but I always come up for air looking for the dolphins.

Today as I finished writing this and left my house to go to work, I drove past a spectacular male peacock walking along a stone wall at the bottom of my street.  There he was in all of his glory.  Imagine – a peacock.

3 comments to May Day

  • Hello Marlene,
    I leave the mice to my cats who usually do not finish the job. I return them to the great outdoors and to their fate.
    I moved to Ohio in Aug. of 2007 and live on the banks of the Ashtabula River in northeastern Ohio. One of the pleasures of being here is watching Mother Nature in her furies and not being afraid of losing my home! The River is a constant source of pleasure and awe. She changes shape sometimes daily, depending on the rain which feeds her. She always brings me peace.
    I read on your facebook that you are an intern at the Jung Insitute. I am so jealous. I was accepted after graduating, also from Antioch, but I was 8 months pregnant with Andrew and could not imagine leaving him for 20+ hours a week. So, I declined. It is one of my regrets in the past. I worked with Janet Dallett while I was in graduate school and just learned of her death last year. I just read her book, her final book, “Listening to the Rhino: Violence and Healing in a Scientific Age” and was reminded of her great wisdom and how important she was to me.
    I chose this area to live based on the light. When I realized I wanted to return to Ohio, where I grew up (from NY originally) I came “back” to Ashtabula because my mother is still here and (I imagine) will eventually need help…already has in some cases. Brian moved here with me. He is finishing undergraduate school at Kent State; spent a semester in Germany; and was made Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year. Intellectually, this move was great for him though he still misses CA. Andrew is living with Don in So Pasadena and probably will leave for Japan this summer to teach English in a foreign language.
    I gathered from your facebook that you are single now and I want to visit your site about that. I am still married but we are not together. In the past few months, I have rekindled the Jungian fire which was dormant for so long. And in this place, it is not easy to do. Well, easy to do in my head and on paper. If there are Jungians here they are very hidden!!!
    I noticed that tomorrow, Gilda Frantz is speaking at Antioch; wish I could be there. I’m sure it will be very interesting!
    To be continued….

  • Tom

    Your comment about killing off the competing artist made me laugh. Caught me by surprise.

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