Friday, October 31, 2014

The Bird and His Feathers

This story was written by my daughter, Cymone Lenio. She is twelve. I feel honored to have collaborated with her on this project.

The Bird and His Feathers

Once, not too long ago, there was a black bird. His feathers were sheer black. He was a gentle fellow, never giving mind to the others who bragged about their colorful feathers that were more beautiful - more flamboyant - than his. The other birds teased and played tricks on him. Black Bird never complained, only played along. One day, the other birds grew bored with simple teasing. They wanted to do something more.

‘Sparrow should steal his most precious belonging,' exclaimed Crow.

‘No, Crow should threaten his wife,’ Raven cawed.

‘No,’ replied Starling. ‘Send Cardinal. He is vibrant and fast. He is smart and can be deadly with his beak. Yes, I think we should send Cardinal.’ There was a murmur of agreement, so Cardinal took off toward Black Bird's nest.

‘Hello, Blacky. How are you doing today?’

‘I am just fine, Cardinal. I am waiting for our eggs to hatch.’

‘Lovely,’ Cardinal sang, his plan already forming in his sharp mind.

Black Bird was suspicious. He was not a trickster, but he was smart enough to know that the other birds were up to something. So he sent for Eagle who was always willing to help.

‘You know,’ started Black Bird. ‘There's someone here who wants to see you.’

‘Me?’ asked Cardinal, confused. This was not part of his plan.

‘Yes. Come.’ Black Bird led Cardinal to the tip of a branch where a sudden gust of wind and a dark shadow engulfed them.

‘What is this trickery?' asked Cardinal.

The great Bald Eagle, the king of the forest birds, swooped down and screeched, 'Be gone! No more foolishness!’

Without needing any more convincing, Cardinal dashed off, leaving two brilliant red feathers behind.

‘Here,' said Eagle. He picked up the two red feathers and placed them on the underside of Black Bird's wings. They glowed beneath the sun.

‘From now on, you shall be known as the Red Winged Black Bird.’ And so he was. The other birds sang praise, stunned by his beauty. He was never teased again.

The End.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Natural Circles

I was one of those kids who'd stick my hand into a deep, dark hole. Although it scared me, something about the circle pulled me toward it. Once my hand was inside, I'd hold my breath and wait for the creature nestled within the darkness to nip my fingers.

Today, as always, when I walked the along the river, my eyes were drawn to natural circles. Each one contained a hiding treasure waiting to be discovered, caressed, and left alone.

Nature's mandalas - reflections of the sun and moon - represent unity, wholeness, infinity. Protection. Completion. Timelessness. Eternity.

Anicca: birth, growth, decline, and death.

The circle implies the idea of movement, and it symbolizes potential. It signifies family, friends, and community.

The Self.

I have entered a new place - one where I wait, breath, listen, and wait some more. Something will dawn on me. Somewhere, something will glisten, catch my eye, and grow.

I am open to the possibilities.

Family, friends and community surround me, envelope me. I feel protected, so nothing will nip my fingers when I stick my hand into the deep, dark hole.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

New Work with Natural Rocks

Everything in my world is new. New drill press. New studio. New car. New clothes. New shoes. New home. The thing that is grounding me most is spending time in my greenhouse studio working with rocks. I love rocks, and I love creating one-of-a-kind pieces of art.

Here is some of my recent work, some of which can be found in my shop.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

New Beginnings

I find that there is a serene beauty in death, an emerging strength. Energy turns inward, and Mother Earth relinquishes room for new life to grow and thrive.

If I close my eyes and envision a slowing of life, I see yellow, rust, brown, crumpling, drying, cracking, flaking, arms outstretched in an effort to absorb the last of sun's rays. I smell mold, must, decomposing soil, and then my nostrils fill with dust. When I envision a sudden end, I see dark, vacant spaces. I am suddenly buried but I'm not scared, and it isn't quiet. There's a constant scratching sound, like insects moving specks of sand, worms wriggling through dirt, birds pecking for seed. I fall into a deep slumber, waiting for roots to envelope me as they grow into new life.

Much of my recent work has been inspired by death and rebirth, new beginnings, the warmth of sun beckoning seeds to sprout through ashes. Rather than focus on the dismal, I try to unveil nature's way of leaving room for new growth.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Gift Of Choice

I have never really considered how fortunate I am to have the ability to make deliberate, intentional decisions. I have grown up with the gift of choice. I chose to enter the Peace Corps after college. I chose to attend graduate school. I chose to move to the Methow. I chose to work as the Director of Confluence. Some choices involved spontaneity while others were made methodically, often resulting from extensive family discussion.


We did not choose to lose our home in a wild fire. We were suddenly – unpredictably – thrust into a position to make decisions that we otherwise wouldn’t have considered. Do we rebuild? Do we pay off our mortgage? Where do I set up a new studio? How can we be considerate of our land, let it do what it needs to do? Do we really need that (the answer is usually no)? Do we both continue to work full-time while trying to manage the weight of so many choices?

The gift of choice can be laborious. Yet, I recognize that it is a gift, even if it feels like I’m being forced into it.

The past month has certainly been trying. However, the support has been tremendous, including by the Confluence Board of Directors. They have stepped up even more than before, something I thought impossible given how much time and energy they already contribute. Dedicated volunteers have assumed more shifts in my absence, and Kate (our Administrative Assistant) has caught some of my dropping balls. To each and every one of you – thank you.

Despite the outpouring of support and how much I love Confluence…due to the fact that Confluence needs a strong leader (especially now after this season of disasters)…with my energy ebbing and flowing, I do not feel capable of filling that role. I have made the decision to resign; a choice, but not an easy one.

The summer has almost passed, not without causing damage to the Valley’s economy. Like many other local businesses, Confluence was impacted by power outages, smoke-filled air, low class enrollment, and slower tourism. As a creative hub in our community, it’s essential that we play a role in rebuilding, supporting, giving, sharing.

Confluence is 26 years’ strong. It will continue to thrive with your support, and with a dynamic new Director. If there’s anything I’m certain about after a month of reeling, it’s that the future of our vibrant gallery is promising.

I will stay with Confluence until a new Director is hired and trained, and I will continue to volunteer on the Show Committee. Moving forward, my work will be as a mother and artist, offering support to my family as we adjust to this new life.

Thank you for your support and understanding. May this fork in the road be promising for all of us, no matter the direction we choose to take.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Look Up From What You're Doing

I hiked Patterson Mountain this morning. More than half-way through I realized I had been looking down, buried in thought. I suddenly felt small - the breeze chilling my sweat, the views, smell of sage brush, birds calling. That feeling of being small came as an enormous relief.

The weight of thought can be overwhelming, to a point of self-destruction. Grief can result in confusing, desperate isolation, an inability to see light streaming through cobwebs. I find that grief rushes in, then fades away, and this roller coaster recurs many times throughout the day.

How can we sift through heavy layers? How can we think of rebuilding? Where will we go? We're still paying mortgage for a non-house. We have to pull down dead trees, remove debris, check the well, and think about a design? Trivial things add weight, too. We need to clean up the dog poop around our borrowed home, but we don't have a shovel yet. I had to buy Saran Wrap for the first time in my life because we don't have a drawer filled with recycled plastic bags. My drill press is stuck in Wenatchee because there's no home for FedEx to deliver it to. A change of address takes 3 business days to mean we have to drive 2.5 hours to pick up my package?

I am self-consumed. I only hear the first part of most conversations, and then my mind drifts off again.

Can someone give me a magic wand?

My cousin just underwent brain surgery and will soon begin chemotherapy. Robin Williams committed suicide. Several more homes down-valley were lost in last night's flash flood. Gunmen shot and killed 65 people and injured 17 others in a Sunni Muslim mosque. A friend's daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia and is now undergoing chemotherapy. BKS Iyengar died. Protests in Ferguson - tear gas deployed, bottles flying, bullets flying. Wait - what's going on in Ukraine?

And here's me: finding my breath. Searching for heart rocks.

Join me this very moment. Look up from what you're doing. Take a breath. Give someone a hug. Cherish what you do have. Pay attention. We were given this life for a reason.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Today's Rose: Our Community

I don't know which is more overwhelming, losing our home to a wild fire or the incredible, loving response of our community.

A) Losing our home to a wild fire and the aftermath.

Navigating all of the logistics results in fatigue - scrutinizing insurance and the bank and continuing mortgage payments. We must figure out how to affordably and sustainably remove tons of debris and hundreds of dead trees. We must determine the best way to restore the land - sit back and watch it, let it guide us, not rush into planting native grass seed just because we desperately want it to be green again NOW. We want to love it again, but it's too soon to know if we can.

Derek wrote a letter to our senators. We are very concerned for the people and small businesses of our valley. We appreciate the President's declaration for assistance with infrastructure. The county and PUD are strapped for cash, and every little bit helps. The county is making us truck our fire related debris over the mountain pass from Twisp to Omak (instead of using the transfer station) because they don't have the resources to haul it themselves. That means each landowner is paying a significant amount in hauling costs to clean up their sites, some of which may be covered by insurance, but not all.

We need additional resources in our valley for those affected by fires and for small businesses. We also need resources to train BAER coordinators who can work on private/state land to rehabilitate the resources. As Derek wrote his letters, both HWY 153 and HWY 20 were closed because of rock and debris slides. 

Please write our senators to request that they continue fighting for resources for all of us to get back on our feet.

B) The warm embraces we continue to receive after the wild fire. Allow me to elaborate.

We have received hundreds of emails, phone calls and letters, packages, financial contributions from across the globe (Africa to Alaska), shelter, clothing, toiletries, books, journals, bright flowers, tools, offers to help sift and clean, blankets, stuffed animals, jewelry, meals at local restaurants, gift certificates, fresh food, and hugs. We are doing our best to keep a list of who donated what so that we can send thank you cards, but I think we've lost track.

A few examples of giving might shine light on the nature of our community.

A Seattle friend purchased a gift certificate at Twisp Feed & Rental to help us replenish Sa'be's food, bed, and ball. We went to redeem the gift certificate, but Katrina (the owner) refused to accept it. She said that we can use it sometime when she's not there. I will not buy dog food anywhere than Twisp Feed and Rental. Please join me in doing the same.

Our landlord will not accept any insurance-supported rent payments from us. Instead, she requested that we pay our rent forward to valley-based non-profits. Yes, we will.

Red Shed Produce is generously donating fresh produce to fire victims. Our fridge is stocked with carrots, beets, several different types of squash, tomatoes, strawberries, onions and herbs. After losing our extensive garden, pantry filled with canned goods and 2 freezers stocked with home grown food, we were grateful to receive the gift of farm-fresh produce.

Twice since the fire we were too tired to cook for ourselves so went out to local restaurants. Both times we were surprised by members of the community who purchased our meals.

Although the small businesses in our valley have taken a huge hit this year, we received a gift certificate directly from Goats Beard Mountain Supplies.

Yesterday four woodworking friends gathered at Local 98856 where I will rebuild my studio. They measured the space and brainstormed workbench designs, a mind-blowing birthday gift to me. The men are determined to incorporate a kegerator which is funny because I don't drink beer. As we were talking, Tess (the owner of Local) gave us a huge box of fresh peaches from her garden.

Local 98856

The list of giving continues on and on. And on.

I wouldn't choose to live in hell, but if I did I would want to do it here.

Close friends stayed with us throughout the first week to cook, clean, wipe tears, listen. At the end of each day they asked us what our thorns and roses were. Two weeks ago I couldn't decipher the thorns from the roses. Today, thanks to our community (no matter how overwhelming it can be), roses are abundant.

Monday, August 11, 2014

After The Disaster: The First 10 Days

Ten days after our home was destroyed by a wild fire, I struggle to find the right words to express where I sit in the world. There is a heavy weight behind my eyes. I'm exhausted.

Day one: I stood inside the grocery store staring at shelves of food. Where do you begin when your pantry is empty? What pantry? I couldn't bring myself to buy eggs.

I wanted to see our home again. Once we arrived at the property, I felt like I was suffocating. Derek wanted to stay. I couldn't.

Day two: It took us 6 hours to run errands in Twisp, an endeavor that would normally take 2 or less. We absorbed embraces, shed tears, shared our story and others' sorrow. We provided shoulders for others to cry on. Our trunk overflowed with gifts - locally grown produce, flowers, clothes, a yoga mat, backpack, books and handmade journals for Cymone, rocks, cards, gift certificates, and fresh eggs!

We drove up to the property. Derek wanted to stay. I had to leave.

Day three: I am starting to lose track of time.

Day four: Red Cross, Room One, a meeting with the insurance agent. We were informed we had to file a separate claim for the truck. That damn truck didn't burn and the key (a security key that can't simply be replaced) was inside the house.

We are fortunate to have insurance, yet it means we're not eligible for certain services. We have to pay out of pocket, and insurance doesn't come close to covering the cost of our loss, or what it will take to rebuild. We must continue to pay off our mortgage. Note: we realize that we are fairing better than many others who have suffered losses in our community, but have been forced into the shameful role of self-advocacy.

Day five: My birthday.

I tried to go back to work, unsuccessfully. How am I supposed to be a leader when I'm feeling so weak?

We went to the property. Derek wanted to stay and I couldn't. Why did I keep rushing him? Being there made me gag. I was sure I could smell the cats.

Derek dropped me off at the Lewis Butte trail head. I walked - fast - up and over the hill, sweating, breathing. I wanted to cry but my eyes were dry.

That night friends surrounded us, loved us, consoled us. There were too many faces, too many questions, too many melancholy stories, too much talk about the fire, too much love - just too much. I broke down, yet I soaked up every ounce of love and energy, storing the support for later.

Please keep the love coming, even if you think we don't want it.

Day six: My body returned to work. I'm not sure where my mind was.

We went to the property. I managed to stay for an hour. I kept returning to Cymone's bedroom. I found some of her writing.

Day seven: We aren't certain if we're more stunned by our loss or by the response of our community. Food, clothing, gift certificates, financial contributions, quilts, tools, books, more journals, art, hugs, tears, ample offers to help, more hugs.

Day eight: I keep reminding myself that I'm incredibly lucky. We are alive. We have one another. We have - much more than we realized - a breathing, dynamic community. Yet I need space to grieve the loss of things that are more than things.

Of course, there were the things-that-weren't-things like photos of Cymone over the past 11 years, my own baby photos, my grandmother's engagement ring, art collected throughout our travels, blankets and curtains woven by my mother, heirlooms, my wedding dress.

But then there were the un-things.

My great-aunt Lenio had TB. She spent time in the mountains to clear her lungs. In 1938 she designed a poster for an auction to increase awareness about TB. She became a social activist, eventually joined the resistance movement and assisted in the escape of Jews from Germany to France. She was arrested and taken to a concentration camp where her TB became active, ultimately killing her. Our daughter bares Lenio's name (Cymone Lenio). We were gifted the poster...

Cymone's kindergarten class spent weeks painting a batik which one of the parents transformed into a quilt depicting the natural wildlife of the Pacific Northwest. The quilt was auctioned off to raise funds for the school. I bought what became Cymone's favorite blanket.

How can we hold the un-things in our minds and hearts to ensure that they aren't forgotten? Cymone's years of writing & paper cutouts, my first painted chair, my first natural rock ring - a gift from Derek, the mandala I drew for our wedding program, all of the letters (several hundred pages) I wrote home while in the Peace Corps, the cassette tapes of my grandmother sharing her life story when she was 92.

These un-things aren't replaceable, little moments of history that will no longer have a voice.

Day nine: We are both so tired. We are asking ourselves when the grief will turn to hope will turn to the ability to pay forward the gifts we have received.

Day ten: That's today.

I woke up with my head spinning, random thoughts and questions rolling over one another.

Maybe I shouldn't have driven last night. I was tired and probably wouldn't have responded quickly if a deer jumped out in front of the car. My eyes hurt. Stop pitying yourself, Nicole. Get out there and help someone else. Wait. You need to take a nap. Why did I let Blue Star Coffee Roasters give me coffee? I need to support our local economy, so I bought a travel mug. I desperately want to hug Cymone. What's this about people saying our fundraising efforts are inappropriate? The news broke us even more. Why blame the victim? This is what we do in the face of a disaster. Embrace the reactions - they are merely a part of your experience. The conversation with my brother was the best we've had in years. He stepped up to be my big brother. I think that was the best present of all. My thoughts are beginning to spill.

We're ready for this vacation to be over. We want to go home.

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