veil

Masks and labels

Mock or Mask? Robin L. Chandler, 2017.

In the Sixteenth Century, French-Dutch mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes, launched the modern age with his words Cogito ergo sum, I think therefore, I am. With this new framework, he separated the mind from the body, freeing the mind from the body’s passions, and banishing the idea that sickness came from a sinful and impure mind. This concept complemented Francis Bacon’s scientific methods based on empiricism and inductive reasoning, and consequentially, humans gradually separated from ourselves as natural beings, no longer in tune with the spiritual gifts of wilderness. In Western society, animals became creatures to be feared or resources to be exploited, instead of interconnected beings deserving respect as cohabitors of our planet. Animals became veiled in our fears, our greed and our separateness.

And animal names became epithets hurled to mock and mark, or threatening masks donned to wield power.

  • You are a vulture: They were tearing themselves to pieces, and their vulture lawyers, were picking at the carcass of their marriage.
  • You are a snake: You’re nothing more than a lecherous snake in the grass.
  • You are a wolf: Who do you feed to the media wolves?

In large part, we are divorced from nature. Wilderness and animals have become our adversaries instead of teachers with whom we share time and space. Indigenous peoples embraced animals as a bridge to the liminal, lifting the veil into the spirit world.

Hilary Stewart in Looking At Totem Poles writes “the people’s understanding of the interconnectedness of all living things and their dependence on certain animal and plant species fostered belief in the supernatural and spirit world. Life forms, especially those taken for food…each had their own spirit…certain birds and animals were associated with particular behaviors, powers or skills, and people sought their help to achieve success…in the dark of long winter nights, when fires burned…then the spirits drew close to the village…a time of ceremonies, speeches, singing, dancing and feasting…through costumed spiritual transformations and re-enactments, they brought past histories and adventures into the present…thus the carved beings of crest and legend portrayed on the totem poles, often recreated in masks worn by dancers, sprang to life.”

On this Halloween, as you engage in the ancient rituals of Samhain welcoming the end of harvest and the return of winter’s long nights, contemplate the true meaning of the mask you wear to celebrate the season. And while I will never advocate for discarding the benefits of the Age of Enlightenment, I would argue for the necessity of balance, and a framework that envisions humankind as a part of the natural world, instead of outside of the natural world, where it is all to easy to don the mask of conqueror and exploiter.

meeting

 

Deer

Meeting. Robin L. Chandler, 2017.

Fortune:

each day you will meet a painting, a poem, a place, a presence that changes your life.

Gabrielle Munter’s The Blue Gable

Gary Snyder’s Mountains and Rivers Without End.

Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House.

Painter

Poet

Photographer

Bus driver

Historian

Buddhist

Archivist

Teacher

Physicist

Pianist

Sister

Lover

Friend

Wife

Tiger

Whale

Hawk

Dog

Cat

Deer

Grasshopper

Infinite

How do you do?

Better meeting you.

 

 

 

a shadow crosses the land

Chalk Hill summer

Chalk Hill Summer, Robin L. Chandler, 2017.

On a recent trip to paint the landscape of Chalk Hill, Sonoma County, I had the great fortune of encountering a coyote, a flock of crows and a rattlesnake. The summer grasses were golden and red with just a few hints of winter’s green. Sketching in an oak tree’s shade, I could see the sun drenched heat rising from the land. As afternoon became evening, I walked amongst the new grapes and vines and met coyote, crow and rattlesnake. We, all of us, were not immune to our physical presence and we each, gave the other, a respectful berth, content to observe from a distance. I reflected on their spiritual meaning, because forms and symbols are the essence by which many live and breath. Indigenous peoples of the American Southwest consider coyote, a trickster or the one who brings gifts but sometimes takes those gifts back; crow, the one who warns of attack or is the harbinger of change; and rattlesnake, a messenger carrying prayers for life-sustaining rain and one whose dens are portals to the spirit world. As the evening shadows deepened, I packed up my paints, and headed home, considering the meaning of these encounters.

This week’s total solar eclipse brought a great shadow to our land, both literally and metaphorically. It was a magical experience; a reminder of our planet’s dance within the universe and a chance to participate in an event that has captured the imagination of humankind for thousands of years. But for many of us the shadow brought by the solar eclipse, served as metaphor. We see trickster roaming our land spreading lies and hate and laughing at the results, causing a shadow now darkening our democracy. We see the warning signs; and soberly we know the situation will worsen before it gets better. But we must be strong and have resolve. We must act and make our voices heard to sustain the social and environmental justice principles we hold dear in our communities, in our county, and on our planet.

Lost Dog

Mount Saint Helena after the rain. Robin L. Chandler 2017.

This morning brought another glorious day of painting here at my Chalk Hill Artist’s Residency. For the last three weeks, I have walked acres of vineyards cradled between the Russian River and Mount Saint Helena here in beautiful Sonoma County. During this time, I’ve forged deep connections with this beautiful landscape and the people, animals and birds that call this place home, and I’ve tried my best to put those feelings into my paintings.

The morning also brought a couple of “lost” dogs: Okie and Shadow. Out in my yard, I found these two out and about. They weren’t really lost, they were just not where they were supposed to be. But that said, I was happy they graced my porch and gave me their joy and friendship on such a beautiful day. Dogs and people soon all fell in to place, and they were on the next stage of their journey, and I was off to my studio to paint and paint some more!

Recently, my good friend Pam introduced me to a very talented musician Sarah Jarosz who is also a gifted songwriter.  I can’t get this beautiful song Sarah wrote out of my head: Lost Dog. Maybe it sticks with me because all of us, bury old bones and find new ones, and all of us lose ourselves, and with determination, talent, good friends, and a wee bit of luck, find ourselves, again.

“ Lost Dog.

Where did you sleep last night?

Under the cold street light.

Who last called you by your name?

 

Where did you leave your peace?

Other half of your broken leash.

Why did you run so far away?

 

Lost Dog.

Something ‘bout you breaks my heart.

Why you burying bones out in the yard?”

Leave no trace

Bear Rug Flag. Robin L. Chandler 2017.

Bear Rug Flag. Robin L. Chandler 2017.

“I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle dove, and I am still on their trail,“ wrote Henry David Thoreau in Walden; or Life in the Woods. “Many are the travellers I have spoken to concerning them describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who have heard the hound, the tramp of the horse, and have even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.” Thoreau’s words can just as readily apply to animals in the wild, especially those we are endanger of losing all trace of.

On Wednesday February 15, 2017 the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing to consider “modernizing” the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to eliminate red tape and bureaucratic burdens that eliminate jobs. According to the Washington Post, during the two-hour session, lawmakers discussed how “federal efforts to keep species from going extinct encroaches on states’ rights, is unfair to landowners, and stymies efforts by mining companies to extract resources and create jobs.” The ESA is a 43 year old law, enacted during the Nixon Administration, when we were beginning to grapple with the devastating impact of chemical use and human development on the environment. This legislation has likely saved from extinction the bald eagle, the California condor, gray wolves, black-footed ferret, American alligator, and the Florida manatee.

The Center for Outdoor Ethics developed the Leave no Trace Principles to protect the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy nature responsibly. Ironically, the meaning of these words “leave no trace” could be twisted to serve as an epilogue for the Environmental Species Act. This phrase, used malevolently, can mask and suppress the evidence at the murder scene. Leave no Trace. Should the Environmental Species Act be terminated, or so diluted as to be ineffective, we can “leave no trace” giving a green light to actions that would “endanger” species.  We should take note of our crimes locally and consider disappearing the California Grizzly from the California State Flag. The last California Grizzly Bear was shot in Tulare County in 1922, and the last believed sighting was in Sequoia National Park in 1924.

It is not too late to fight the proposed destruction of the Endangered Species Act, in my humble opinion, one of the noblest pieces of legislation in our country’s history.

“All of this is made more precious, not less, by it’s impermanence. No matter what goes missing…disappearance reminds us to notice, transience to cherish, fragility to defend wrote Kathryn Schultz in her article “Losing Streak” published in The New Yorker February 13 & 20, 2017. Loss is a kind of external conscience urging us to make better use of our finite days. As [Walt] Whitman knew, our brief crossing is best spent attending to all that we see: honoring what we find noble, denouncing what we cannot abide, recognizing that we are inseparably connected to all of it, including what is not yet upon us, including what is already gone.”

Mindfulness, the Buddhist practice of self-awareness, is needed. We must recognize that the vanishing of others is akin to the vanishing of our selves. All life on the planet is endangered. Take action today: call your Senators and Representatives and advocate to preserve and strengthen the Endangered Species Act. Because the ESA ultimately protects you and me, as well as other endangered creatures.

Mend

Mend. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2016.

Mend. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2016.

Mending. Helen Keller once wrote “although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” Our garden is blessed with fruit trees and in the fall we harvest pears, persimmons and figs. Generously, we share the bounty with other inhabitants of our neighborhood, our neighbors, the scrub jays, the squirrels and the occasional raccoon. But today I saw my first crow choosing a fig. It reminded me of a story in the BBC news about a little girl named Gabi Mann who made friends with a flock of crows. About five years ago, part of Gabi’s lunch unexpectedly became a feast for the crows, but then something special happened. Gabi started purposefully sharing her lunch with the crows, and as if to mend the relationship – strained by the stolen lunch –  the crows returned, bearing gifts. Four years later, Gabi ritually feeds the birds, and the crows continue to express their thanks with gifts. Gabi saves and savors the gifts including beach glass, beads, lego pieces, and her favorite, a pearl colored heart. Mending.

the price of temptation?

Eye ra. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2016.

Eye ra. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2016.

A cyclops is Eye ra the cat. Was he born so? Or when a young rake did he fall in with a bad lot and pay the price, tempted by their kind overtures and promises like poor Polyphemus wined and dined by Odysseus? We never heard Homer’s saga sung from the cyclops view. His impairment troubles Eye ra not, nor does his low-pressure like tabby stripe. No clouds or storms torment him, the sun shines from his soul, but toned with a mischievous humor. Describe Eye ra thus: laidback with a quirky twist of happiness; the epitome of the hipster cat; a born jazz player, always read to riff. Top Cat, the indisputable leader of the band. To a syncopated beat, I chant Eye ra, Eye ra, Eye ra, Eye ra, Eye ra.