Turtle, my spirit animal?

The turkey vultures flew above me circling and magnificent in the blue sky…. How could such gorgeous creatures accomplish such a seemingly disgusting job? I have always thought all creatures have an important contribution to the earth and to all other creatures, although we may not like looking at what they do. Imagine if no one cleaned up the dead…. They perform an important job that helps keep the world clean and limits the spread of many diseases. Their digestive system contains incredibly strong enzymes that can destroy bacteria and diseases that would devastate others.

I have been reading Ted Andrews’ book “Animal Speak” and he writes much about finding your own spirit animal. Be aware of what animals are presenting themselves to you, he says, and where you find them.

I love to be out in nature and truthfully, so many animals call to me. He says that you may have several spirit animals and some for different periods of your life. The horse speaks to me so powerfully and has to have been the spirit animal of my youth. The horse can express everything in my art and connects all of life. The horse is also a very glamorous creature and appeals to the ego.

This year I was surrounded by frogs and I have to say I find myself attracted to these small amphibians with their fascinating feet that have pads on them that pull them securely into the earth. I like to think of them when I am doing Tai Chi or a standing meditation. They help me become grounded.

And then I have loved the slow and lowly turtle that plods along slowly but surely persistent in aiming for a goal. Able to hide and protect itself and then emerge again on it’s grounded path. Perhaps this is my spirit animal now, a simple reptile that helps me connect to the Earth and keep my path steadfast at this time.

The simple turtle has found it’s place in art through the ages and I have had fun creating batik with turtles.

Above is “Turtle Merges With Earth, Water and Sky.”

Looking again on the little creatures…

This summer I have developed a new respect for the little creatures. It all began with reading Jon Katz new book “Talking to Animals” and coming to realize the tremendous power of intention in relating to animals and of course to many other life aspects as well.

Bee balm back in my yard that the carpenter bees love so much

When the carpenter bees got into full swing eating the wood above our small front and side porch they had sawdust falling down covering the steps and floor. Instead of going into a full blown panic about our old house being completely consumed by them and crumbling to the ground, I took myself to a quiet place and felt for the earth below me. I thought about the purpose these bees had and realized they had a job of eating dead wood and also they are pollinators.

When I called upon them to find a home in the dead trees and please leave my home for me, many left. Not all, but it looked to me with my poor eyes that they were taking others or maybe larva with them.

What was also strange, blue wasps seemed to be moving in, and actually carrying things in… There seemed to be something going on between the carpenter bees and blue wasps and I wonder if next year I will be talking to blue wasps. I have to appreciate that they are also a placid insect and easy to talk to compared to yellow jackets or hornets…

I saw the carpenter bees down in front of my house near an old half dead tree collecting pollen and actually it felt good to see them. I felt akin to Tom Bombadil in The Lord of the Rings who rejoiced in all creatures.

Recently while finishing up many of my hand dyed and painted silk scarves for the Bedlam Farm Open House I met a new visitor.

I placed one of my soft silk velvet scarves over one of my evergreen shrubs to dry ( the best sort of drying rack) and came face to face with a lovely green Praying Mantis who looked right at me as if to say What are you doing here? Then approached my soft purple with reds scarf and touched it as if to say, And what is this beautiful soft thing?

She, the females are big and are known to eat the male after mating, crawled onto the scarf and what a gorgeous sight they made. My friend Abrah Griggs, an illustrator from Vermont who made the image at the top of this post, immediately spoke for the scarf and also made a great drawing of the Mantis and scarf which she agreed I could share with everyone. Abrah appreciates the little creatures and has taken to selling some of her work as cards and cups and I am sure there will be more.

It was a wonderful Open House at Bedlam Farm and a great year for appreciating more that Mother Nature shares with us.

My kitty Singer helps with silk painted scarves

The silk painting on the scarves is a very different process than batik. As with batik the fabric, the silk is washed well before I begin the dyeing and painting.

I dye the scarf first in sections and sometimes use shibori techniques as part of the early process. I have fun experimenting outdoors with my dye buckets and use the fiber reactive dye I use for batik, but vinegar is added in the bath as this is a protein fabric. Silk can not withstand bleach as I found out years ago when I tried it only to have the bleached areas fall apart.

Early dyebaths on my silk scarves

I have found a few cleaners I can use to lessen the colors as I like ethereal floating effects. After that I examine the scarves to find what is revealed in the abstractions of the early dyes. I paint on silk as a watercolor technique using silk dyes and can add some details with fabric markers. At the end the scarves are rinsed and put in a pail of silk dye set where they are circulated for five minutes before being washed out, dried and then carefully ironed.

Singer scoping out her participation

The other night in my studio my cat Singer was watching me paint on the scarves and got carried away in the excitement. She stepped forward into one of the small dishes of blue green silk dye. I watched her small paw go in and with brush in hand I lifted my poor kitty by the scruff of her neck up and away from taking the next step. The blue green dye splattered to the scarf I was working on (“Mare and Foal on a New Day”).

My painting table, complete with the silk painting cups

Poor Singer had a paper towel wrapped under her foot as we headed to the sink. Yes, cats hate water, and Singer had never had a bath in her life. She cried as I washed her little paw under the warm swirling water which looked terrifying to her in the bathroom sink near my (our) studio.

My good friend Kate Austin-Avon suggested that I should have captured Singer’s paw print on paper first, but I had none handy and am not that fast a thinker. At any rate the Mare and Foal scarf has Singer’s touch added to it. I have always said that I am an intermediary as I create my art. With batik the wax spreads and has a mind of it’s own. Dyes interact differently as the colors overlap and I take what comes and roll with it. For this silk scarf Singer helped me create!

So these photos above show the “Mare and Foal on a New Day” scarf complete with Singer’s touch… It will be at the Bedlam Farm Open House, on Columbus Day Weekend, Saturday and Sunday, October 7 and 8, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. Bedlam Farm is located at 2502 State Route 22, Cambridge, New York.

Below are some other scarves and sashes that will be for sale at the Open House.

Gratitude for what can be created with my batik art

I have had the luck of having many of my customers being very talented in making things with my batik art fabric. I am including some of the totes made by them. The design work of these women is excellent. Some have shops on Etsy, and others do it for themselves and as gifts for friends, but all of them I am grateful to for sending me the photographs of their beautiful work.

You will see the work of Lynn Boyd, who does excellent design for strong totes with many pockets and panels inside. She made me a garden batik tote that I love to bring to the shows with me.

There’s Jacqueline Stack, who does have a shop on Etsy, and she has purchased many of my batik art fabrics from me and has a good sized selection of the totes for sale in her shop.

Anita Johnson from DragonRyderDesigns did a lovely Horse With Wind Blown Mane tote, and she has it available in her shop.

Horse with Wind Blown Mane tote by Anita Johnson

Lastly, a new customer, Lisa McCann, has bought some garden fabric from me and designed some really elegant looking totes with my garden art fabric and has purchased more fabric and is designing new totes for a show she will be attending soon.

Take a look at all of these and see what you can do with my art fabrics, and visit my Etsy shop for a big selection of different sizes of fabric that you could use in a quilt, a hanging, a purse, a dress, and more, as much as your imagination could create!

Click here to browse art fabric in my Etsy shop.

Feeling The Earth Below My Feet

It was 20 years ago when I started taking Tai Chi from Mark Tolstrup, who at the time was in Glens Falls, teaching Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and seasonal meditation going back to the ancient Taoist teachings. I was on our jersey cow farm and becoming more scattered and distracted each day, something I still suffer from to this day.

On the farm, my husband Dick and I never got vacations and we worked every day and I think perhaps after 24 years, we needed one.

I started the Tai Chi classes and instantly noticed a connection to the ground in my feet. For the first time in my life, I started to feel roots to the earth. The Tai Chi classes did so much to help me to calm and ground myself and be able to focus on the things that I have to do. But they also helped me connect to the earth in a new way. I have always loved nature and being outdoors, and I was outdoors every day on the farm, in the warm months bringing the cows to the pasture.

I would delight in the morning sun and dew and the sounds of the cows as they awoke and headed to the barn to be milked. I also loved the sky as I headed off to feed the calves and the young stock and brought the cows back to the field in the evening. Seeing the clouds billowing high above me and the shadows of sunset on the fields in the golden light was something I remember to this day.

Me and my angel

Anyway, I took classes from Mark for as long as he was in Glens Falls and then he moved to the Tai Chi Center on Phila Street in Saratoga. This was an hour ride for me, and I still continued to take classes for many years until my schedule got overly filled and I no longer wanted to make that trip.

I do, however, continue to practice Tai Chi and the Qi Gong exercises, and especially love doing them up on the hill behind my house where there is a flat area where I can look out over the valleys and farms below me and off into the Adirondack Mountains.

The connection to the earth for me is something that spilled over into my art, and I have done many batik showing the below ground energy, which I can feel now beneath my feet. Some of those batiks are Moonlight Over Spring, Vegetables After the Thunderstorm, Green Horse Rises From the Earth and Merges with the Wind and many vegetable garden batik you see below with the magic energy from the earth showing as beautiful particles interwoven with the roots of carrots and beets.

Happy Birthday, Singer!

I looked down into the well-bedded stall of hay and saw the bright colors of gold, white and black. A tiny little kitten, a calico. I always think of calicos as a jewel of cats. It was my kitty Singer when she was born, and it was 15 years ago in August that it happened. I really can’t say what day it was. On a farm, we had so many cats and they were always having kittens.

This litter was especially beautiful to me with the little calico lying there, tinier than a mouse. The unfortunate set of circumstances came when Singer’s mom was hit by a car and killed, and we took the litter of kittens and put them into a big stall that was for our cows to calve in and was nice and clean and we could keep them safe and away from other animals so they could get a good start on life.

Soon after that, though, I developed a bad infection in my arm from working with a splintered fiberglass fence post and I had to go into the hospital. I was there for 16 days and they were afraid I would lose my arm. I was very antibiotic-resistant.

I didn’t think of Singer a lot those days in the hospital, but I sure thought about being home and how was everyone doing, and Dick was feeling frantic with all the work that had to be done. Fortunately, our daughter Jaka returned to the farm to help him. When I got out of the hospital, which was at nine o’clock at night, Jaka came to get me, and we went home to find a sick calf waiting for us. She and I worked with the calf to get fluids into it and set it by what we called a hot jug, a jug with warm hot water that would help to maintain the calf’s temperature at a healthy level and help it to recover. It worked, and the calf grew up to be a fine cow.

Back to the barn, though, my little jewel of a kitten, Singer, had grown a lot. People had put food in for the kittens, and milk and water, and they were doing fairly well with the exception that they had eye infections. I brought Singer to the vet and I got medicine for the eyes. Most of the kittens’ eyes healed quite well, but Singer has one eye which remains cloudy to this day, that she can see out of a little bit. Her other eye, thankfully, is fine. I brought Singer back to the house, and from that day forth she became my friend. She insisted on sleeping right next to me every night, and still does. Singer would burst into purring at the slightest touch, and seemed to be so grateful to be with me. And I was very grateful to be with her, as it was a long road to recover from my hand and arm surgery.

Since then, Singer has been my studio cat. She was fascinated by me using the tjanting tool that makes lines of wax on my fabric and watched intently as I developed my designs. Singer has been very active but two years ago developed a hyperthyroid condition and has been getting medication twice a day for it since then. She also developed kidney problems. Her appetite has been poor, and she never was a great eater, very fussy. In spite of being very thin, she persisted at being active and seemed to be purring happily a good deal of the time, and continued to enjoy watching me do my artwork.

This spring, however, Singer at 14.5 years had a very bad spell. She ate very very little and I brought her in to the veterinarian who gave her fluids and injections and some other medications. In spite of giving her these, she continued to lose weight and over a period of two months she dropped down to 4.8 pounds.

I continued to bring her back in for fluids and steroid injections to help her to feel better, but she continued to not eat. Just at the point when I said to myself, the end of this week, if Singer is not eating, it probably is the time for her to pass that rainbow bridge, and I could not imagine that time coming. The day before my plan to bring her in to the vet, she began to eat. She brightened up. And she stayed that way!

Although she still isn’t a big eater, she is eating, and she is purring, and she seems happy.

And even though I don’t know the exact day she was born, I call August her birthday, and hope she will have a few more.

Finding a new home

I was eager to get Jon Katz’ new book, Talking to Animals, and after reading it, I became very inspired to try to send some of the mental images that he spoke of in his book to create an effect or manifest a change in an animal around me. After speaking with Joan Reid, I learned of the tremendous effect that humans can have on energy.

Energy is everywhere around us and I feel it very strongly when I am out in nature and when I do my batik. She spoke of how dowsers can actually change the course of water, change the course of a vein of water under the ground, and occasionally change the course of a stream. I had also heard of how water can be purified through concentration and prayer and was part of Dr. Emoto’s book on his water crystal work.

So as I watched the sawdust falling from our house from the work the carpenter bees are doing on it, I began to wonder if I could put my intention to work on getting them to find a new home. I spent some time before them trying to picture the images Jon Katz spoke of in his book, of speaking to animals with images. And I didn’t find it all that easy to do, which surprised me in a way because I am a visual artist. I found it much easier to think of words for them.

Here’s above the porch by the side door. You can see the work that the carpenter bees have done.

For instance, “I really need this house. I can’t have it fall down around me. It’s been here since the 1800s and I want it to continue for a long time.” I realized that the carpenter bees have a purpose in our world just like the rest of us and I tried to think of what it was. I realized that their job was to break down dead wood.

So I started thinking of where there was dead wood away from our house. At first I thought of the stream and the deep ravine, which is maybe 1/4 mile away from our house, and there are a good number of dead trees in there which could stand to be broken down and returned to the earth. I spent time visualizing these trees off by the brook, and I concentrated on the carpenter bee. As I stood there concentrating my mind on them, a lot of them did come out of the wood and swarmed around, but did not bother me. As time went on, and it was maybe 10 minutes, some of them did fly away. I had my hopes up.

They did come back later. I tried to think more of the purpose of the carpenter bees and what they were doing, and realized that they were also pollinators, which provides a real benefit when you’re growing berries and vegetables and you want flowers and fruit. I found out that they do lay eggs in the wood and I wasn’t sure if I got them to leave, what would happen to the eggs? Would they move them? I have seen ants moving their eggs if their nests are disturbed and had to stop and wonder.

The sawdust on the doorstep

Carpenter bees look like a bumblebee, but are not bumblebees, and have a shiny back end rather than the fuzzy back end that the bumblebee has. They are also very placid. I would not want to stand so long outside of a bumblebee’s nest. I also learned that the males are the ones that come out and gather pollen, and the females stay inside with the larvae or eggs. On a hot day, I saw a plump carpenter bee working its way through the circular hole in to the nest, its legs loaded with pollen.

So I would have little sessions of standing, working on the images and realized I was trying to send them a long way away. Maybe not a long way away for a bee, but it was hard to imagine something specific that distance. Then I found a tree right in our front yard which was decaying and had significant rotting that had taken place. I had seen woodpeckers near it, and I thought, boy, that would be a nice place for the bees. So I started imagining that tree and hoping that maybe they would find that to be an attractive home, and they wouldn’t have to move far.

The sawdust on the trash can

As the weeks have gone by, now and then on a hot day I will hear the carpenter bees out on the roof by our side door and go, “Ugh, they’re back! Will they ever go away!?” And then I try and take myself and calm down and re-establish a connection to them and visualize that tree. There are many fewer bees there now, and I haven’t cleaned up the sawdust that fell on the doorstep and the trash can out back, but I’m hopeful.

I don’t know what will happen if I succeed in getting them to move and then in the spring, the larvae hatch — will I need to start all over again? And if I do, I had better start much earlier to get them to move before they decide to lay eggs. So this morning I spent some time below the big tree in front of our house, looking at it and imagining the carpenter bees, and hope they are finding this as a good home. Good luck.

I’m sure there are different types of wood they would like. Some that are much more attractive to drilling into to make a home than a big dead elm or a hardwood tree, and that is a factor to them finding a comfortable home. I hope they can find wood that makes them happy that is not in my house.

Releasing my Inner Goddess

My Inner goddess has become quite shrouded as the years pass. I find myself wearing greys, greens, and brown a lot. Some of that has to do with being a farmer for much of my life. The poop keeps me humble. My batik do not share that state and ring with bright colors and images of myths from ancient times as well as flashes of joy I experience in the landscapes and farmlands that surround me.

I have been working with Kate Austin-Avon for years. Kate has created my website, helped set up my Etsy shop, and so much more. This year we have worked together on adding my batik images to clothing, quite a challenge! There are now dresses, scarves, headbands, leggings and capris with my wild and mystical art as the design. When I dropped off my artwork for the Bedlam Farm Open House held on the weekend of the 10th and 11th of June, I found Maria in her studio rearranging all to make a gallery out of her studio. She took the photo you see at the top of this page.

We talked about my clothing. Maria was my first customer buying the Magical Birds leggings. I talked about my art and how it fitted on my clothing, and how some of the leggings had an ancient mandala like effect when they were printed on the leggings. The images will look different on each person that buys them. So the serpents and arrows and magical frogs will appear differently on each person who buys them.

The Magical Frogs on the leggings that I bought look a lot different than the ones that Kate is wearing. My frogs are plumper and very happy, healthy like a plump Buddha. The frogs that Kate is wearing are sleek and long, kind of matching her frame and personality. Maria jumped on this and added that each piece of clothing was becoming a personal sculpture on the person who wore it, a three dimensional image, and as my art often stems from ancient images from the mythical past, each one would become a mythical goddess image. (Take a look at Maria’s work and you will know what she’s talking about.)

The ancient art of Indian, Egyptian, Celtic, and so much of the ancient art relates to creation, the spiral, birth, sex, goddesses, the great fertility that comes from the earth and women, and my art, Maria’s art, and the ancient art all reflect this. So I hope you will take a look at some of the fabrics from my original batik that have been added to my clothing. They are now available through my website — you can click here to shop.

I want people who look at my art and wear my clothing to feel the happiness and joy of spirit that I feel when I create my batik art.

 

 

Black Gold

Clover

Dick and I looked out on the field. It looked like a broken up parking lot, likely an old drive in movie theater, but we were at the top of the hill looking out on what had been a cornfield. The land maps had listed the soil type as Nassau Shaley loam, but only the pieces of shale showed now.

It was the first crop season on our new farm and we had seen the farm it was snow covered, with no idea how the land actually looked. The land had not been used for over a year since the owner farmer had died. The earth needed fuel to produce new crops and what better than the cow manure produced daily by our herd of jersey cows.

Call it what you want, it is the same stuff, it stinks!

The cat and the flowers.

We would spread the manure daily on the fields until the first hay crop was completed and then we would pile it to use later. Cows don’t like the fresh poop on their food… What a surprise! Manure on pasture would be avoided until fall after the grazing season and then spread with stored rotten manure which had turned close to soil. The land needed lots of this.

We were classified as HEL land, which stands for Highly Erodable Land and as beautiful as our upland fields were, there was a danger of erosion, and they did need to be handled a certain way.

“A certain way” would mean that seedings of grasses and legumes were more favorable to holding the soil than corn. And when rotating the crops to grow corn, the land should go through minimum tillage rather than plowing deeply down into the soil, which makes it soft and fluffy but also makes it more likely to flow away.

So we did go onto a conservation program of putting some of the corn land into alfalfa and grasses, and some into clover and grasses. Fields that were planted with a legume, clover or alfalfa led to higher milk production when the cows ate it.

Dick with his prize crop of corn

After several years, the land would be rotated back into corn. This program led to much higher yields, along with all that beautiful cow poop that was spread on the land. You can see Dick with a prize field of corn as he’s getting ready to start chopping it for silage for the cows, and you can see what results putting the cow manure back onto the land makes.

Over time, I have come to think of the manure as future earth, and have taken any cleanings from Steppin, my cow, and Vanilla, my llama, and piled them carefully to the side. As time goes on, everything is broken down into a beautiful soil, which is much more valuable than the dirt just sitting there on our shaley rocks and I think from my beautiful pictures of flowers and vegetables, you can see what the results are.

I get out there with my trusty wheelbarrow every day, winter and summer, to make sure the poop is picked up and piled, and take it back out two years later as beautiful black soil.

A Long Necked Tale

He felt kind of grouchy and shy after he was shorn.

He ran over to me and gave me a kiss…I fell in love. “This is the llama for me!” I thought.

Our neighbors had bought two llamas many years back right before we sold our farm and they were fascinating to me and Dick too. We now lived up the hill from our old farm and I had my cow Steppin Up with me when she was not milking at the Hoyt Farm, but she was getting older and it was harder for her to be an efficient part of a working dairy. I decided to retire her and keep her here for the rest of her days. But she needed a friend. When our neighbor announced he had lost his long time job in a recent reorganization and had to part with many horses and the llamas it clicked. A llama would be perfect!

There were two llamas however, both males and I never saw them together. They had three horses in with them and all seemed to adjust well to one another.

A good fence was needed. They would not be so respectful as Steppin about being content with one little polywire strand to keep her in place. I got tall posts and the wire mesh fence and began the long installation process. With help at the end to finish the project, the pasture was ready and the llamas arrived.

Vanilla looking a little bit mean

Vanilla was a fancy fella; white, brown and black — a calico, were he a cat. The other llama (whom I named Chocolate Latte) was brown and ragged looking, tall and much older than Vanilla. He was very distant; I could not get near him. The pasture had good grass and water and I would give out snacks but Vanilla was the only one who came up to get them.

I soon found Vanilla did not like many things: To be brushed, to be shorn, to have his back patted, and to stare in to his eyes was seen as a challenge. He could spit as llamas are known to do. The neighbors told me, “Oh yes, he liked to rush up to the fence when people stopped by and then he would spit on them!” Now they tell me!

Most of the time he was good and I have found that many people like to encourage bad behavior in animals by teasing so I am not sure it was all Vanilla’s bad manners. Some days I got a kiss but some days he was just in a grouchy mood.

All went well and then the day came when Steppin arrived from the milking herd for retirement.

He’s happy at spring. He could play on one of the basketball teams.

Vanilla was so excited! He fell in love and did an elaborate mating dance. Steppin had never seen a llama before and was very curious but Vanilla was inclined to put his ears back in a warning (like horses do) in spite of his attraction. The poor other llama just kept to himself.

As summer came on, I tended to pasture weeds and stepped into the llama pasture to cut back weeds. I saw Vanilla look at me down the hill and the brown llama at the lower side of the pasture where I was heading. He swung into action, tearing down the hill and attacked the other llama with a vengeance! The screams and growls llamas can make are indescribable, terrifying!

There was no end to this battle. There was spitting and llamas actually hate the smell of their own spit and would stand back, mouths open airing out. They were scary looking. I called my neighbor and no one was there but they called later and everyone thought they would settle down. They continued to fight and scream all day and night, and five days later it was agreed they must be separated. They were bleeding when the other llama was led away — which was not an easy thing to do.

Two friends together on a cloudy day in early spring

I kept Vanilla and many said, why did you keep the vicious one? Because he was friendly to me, I could pat and feed him and in his mind he was protecting. I always knew llamas were used as guard animals but I did not realize how powerful they could be. I think too that Vanilla had been put in his place by the horses at my neighbor’s farm but here he was king. It went to his head all right.

He is watchful and feels secure here in his home with his person and his cow. I did get Vanilla gelded as is recommended for males of many species and he is just a bit more peaceful. As you look at the males of the animal species, not to mention the humans, you can see that the testosterone impact creates a lot of aggression, violence and possessiveness and creates a certain danger. Experienced llama folks would ask, “What were you thinking? Two males?”

Live and learn. I enjoy having Vanilla here and seeing how regal he looks and how he leaps in the air to impress me and anyone who stops by. He loves women but is not so friendly with men. He and Steppin are happy and they both help mow the sloped pasture and add a special touch to our homestead.