May 18 – 23, I participated in the Cullowhee Mountain Arts Retreat at Camp Henry, a 300-acre retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains, about a two hour drive from my home. The marketing materials I’d read in advance promised, “Surrounded by the majesty of unspoiled nature, you can have a week to refill your creative well.” They did not disappoint. I was filled to overflowing.
Among many soothing and refreshing influences, I especially appreciated the mindfulness training sessions led by Michael Hudson, an Episcopal priest and rector of St. David’s church in Cullowhee, North Carolina. The emphasis of Michael’s practice was on using your breath as a touchstone to steady and quiet the mind. On clarity of vision, gently noticing whatever comes into awareness, opening up a space for it, and gently allowing it to flow on through. His words, voice, and the points he emphasized, all encouraged us to connect deeply with the essence within ourselves. Surprisingly, after the session, in addition to feeling refreshed, I found myself awash with emotion that I couldn’t name.
Given all that inner churning, it was difficult to focus outward and transition to an art activity on picnic tables by the lake. I was glad when we were forced indoors by unexpected winds. Still later that day someone pointed out to me that water was not only running through the river and man-made gulleys, but literally seeping out of stones on the Lake Logan Episcopal Center property where the retreat was graciously hosted. Somehow all these influences swirled and coalesced that evening into the words of this poem, which I offer for you to meditate upon.
Water rises up and seeps out of mountain rocks.
It rushes down ever-present falls seeking level ground.
My emotions also burble up and want out.
The spaceous lake is high and wide.
Buffeted by strong winds, many reflections rippled and clear,
I put my toe into the muddy edge,
Breathe in my amazement,
Exhale in gratitude and dive deep,
To surface refreshed,
Shooing my bubbles away gently,
As if with a feather.
Before Michael Hudson was ordained, he was a successful songwriter in the Contemporary Christian field with 75 hymns to his credit. As his journey led him to become a liberal Anglican, he turned his considerable skill at matching text and tune to writing hymn texts. He began a spiritual discipline of writing a text for each of the gospels of the three-year cycle of Scripture readings. The result is this book, Songs for The Cycle, a collection of 153 beautiful, evocative, and very singable poetic hymn texts.
Making Marks On Paper
For a full week, seven exceptionally compatible artists were treated like rural royalty by the staff of The Lake Logan Episcopal Center in Canton, North Carolina. We stayed in rustic cabins, which had all the modern amenities, including goodie bags provided by the board of Cullowhee Mountain Arts. There were three other gals in my cabin, but we each had our own room and private bath, and a shared kitchenette. We stayed up many nights in front of the fire place or on the porch overlooking Lake Logan, discussing art and politics and girl talk. Every meal had vegetarian and gluten free options–and scrumptious desserts, but healthy, delectable meals were not our most delicious treat.
The best food for an artist’s soul: amazing views, powerful and motivating instruction by Lisa Pressman and Norma Hendrix, yoga, massage, and glorious time, space, and materials to expand our relationship with our art.
Early on in the week we were prodded to think about what inspires us to make art. “Trees” was my instant reaction, but we had to say more for this assignment, go deeper again.
While thinking about what impresses me to call trees “my peeps,” I was struck by the ironic fact that Lake Logan was man-made to create a reserve water source for paper making operations, and the ecologically bountiful environment of Camp Henry had been a corporate compound for Champion Paper Company, built after they methodically clear-cut all the timber from the lush mountains of Western North Carolina.
Trees Inspire Me
We discussed our inspiration assignment responses at an afternoon “fire circle,” where the only heat was from the intense sun and the passion of our thoughts. Mine are shared below.
Here we sit, where the trees were felled to make paper,
Making marks on paper.
Trees inspire me,
Their height and breadth and diversity,
A bedazzling multitude of green hues,
Spikey needles and broad leaves,
The “touch me” call of bark – smooth, gummy, aromatic and peeling.
I hear their voices –
the rustle and moan, the creak and crackle of their unique animation.
Trees inspire me by their scope and resilience,
We latecomers walk among beings who have turned two hundred rings around the sun,
Both strong and flexible – they can sway and end, confident of their roots.
No matter how we cut them down, they volunteer anew,
To give us oxygen and maple syrup,
To give us shade and shelter,
To encourage us to lift our heads and hearts and look up,
To give us paper to set down our art and poetry.
I am inspired by trees.
Everything about this week was incomparable. The activities, the people, the instruction and facilitation, the venue. One of the items in our welcome goodie bag on Day One was a rice paper scroll whose purpose remained a mystery till late in the week.
On the next to last day we were challenged to record on the scrolsl (in any way we wanted) that which was most important to us to take home and keep with us. My choice was to meld a mantra I’ve counted on for years with the renewed focus on playful expression of my own special voice that was highlighted by this awesome experience. I’ve acted on this by adding a new link from my home page to my informal art portfolio. I’m sure since I’ve been newly powered up, I’ll be adding work to it soon.
Here’s what my banner says.
If you have creative leanings, I hope you will keep it in your vision.
I am a wise, resilient, uniquely attractive goddess.
Blessed by Creativity.
My heart-centered life purpose is simply
To sit in God’s palm radiating Divine Love
Through playful expression and rightful action.
MAKE YOUR MARK
NO Judgement, Criticism, Procrastination.
It’s just stuff.
Put it down, pick it up, move it around.
If not now, when Then?
~ Breathe, smile, make your next move. ~
FUN IS THE FIRST PRIORITY.