Tuesday, October 29, 2013

October 29, 2013: “Remember friend, as you pass by, as you are now, so once was I....”

This photo, taken a few days ago, shows how much remains of the dirt that lifted with the roots, when Hurricane Sandy hit last year on this date, heaving thousands of mature trees onto the ground, throwing many from their homes, and many others into grief. For me, living in the country, our hardship was limited to a week or so without electricity, during a cold turn of season; but the fallen trees have remained a continual reminder of losses. I was relieved when summer foliage put many of them behind a shroud of green.

Now that they are revealing themselves again, the toppled roots, I am surprised that the seasons that have passed, with freezing and thawing and rain and more rain, have not loosened the soil more.

(You can see many more photos I took immediately after the storm, in blogposts [HERE], and [HERE] is a link to a subsequent post, with more photos, along with some drawings and studies.)

This photo, above, was after the winter, earlier this year. I chose to imagine that the depressions would provide opportunities for amphibians and other creatures depending on vernal pools, and that the dirt would loosen and the roots would be a habitat for birds and snakes and insects, as below --

Below, a painting on paper, completed in my studio only this summer. Nature's workings unfold slowly; so do mine.

My many photos and drawings of the trees' root wads, upturned and exposed, have been a way of channeling the grief and sadness and loss, and have led me slowly to a dormant gesture in my work.

©2013 Ravenna Taylor, (as yet untitled), oil on prepared paper, 22 x 27 inches

In this earlier blogpost, [HERE], I wrote about the unfolding of this imagery in my work, and the friction it suggested, with the more methodical and orderly compositional style I've had over recent years. Maybe the sense of friction ignited the sense of licking flames in this image. I am open to what will happen next in my work; I trust that a sidetrack will lead me to experiences I value.

Remember friend, as you pass by,
as you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you must be.
Prepare yourself to follow me.
- Gravestone inscription

Friday, October 25, 2013

High Water Marks II

©2013 Ravenna Taylor, digital painting over photo

It takes only two points
to describe a line, but
between those two points
an infinite number

of unseen points is presumed.
And it's said that there is
in Nature
no incidence of a straight line -
but if the line waves
then it is a form of locomotion

for sound, or light, or water,
for cold drafts of air,
or the spray of a storm.
Maybe time travels in waves.
Other forms of locomotion
could be, for instance, feet,
if you're lucky, or
wings, or wheels, or thought.
You can draw a line
around your foot
but that won't get you anywhere.

©2013 Ravenna Taylor, Untitled, oil paint on shaped paper, 30 x 22 inches

Thursday, October 17, 2013


the joints of my digits unfold
  syllables of my thoughts

and my tongue limns
a threshold to my throat

it can't be helped
that my skin can't hold me in

that my ear gathers clouds
so the white of my eye

waxes like a moon
viewed only as reflection

veins of cinnabar
breaking to marbleized sky 

©2013 Ravenna Taylor


Thursday, October 10, 2013


I’m waiting my turn to submit a routine blood sample. The agency I use is located within a small shopping center in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The door opens from a sidewalk into a large square room: a slate-grey carpet, big windows on one wall, seating around the perimeter in apple green vinyl, to blend with the wall behind my chair; the wall I can see is beige. There, a couple in their seventies; he's reading his tablet, she's like the younger woman to my left, tapping her toe, nodding her head, to the rhythm of Motown on the radio. I think if there must be music piped in here, Motown is ok with us. 

FWIW: This acronym blusters self-effacement with an undeniable need to express. None of that has to do with this.

My first experience of acute pain that became disabling occurred in 1989 -- suddenly, it seemed. We were renting a railroad flat, first floor above a garage, in a flat section of San Francisco. The day my ovary ruptured, I happened to be alone in a room with one window looking out on a wall of the building in which I lived, overlooking an alley between ours and the next building. I couldn't move or get to a phone, and all I could see was light on the exterior wall, which was transformed from an ugly nameless beige to a square of sublime yellow light, to which my spirit clung until the eruption in my belly settled into dull ache. Afterward I promised myself I would never forget that clinging to the light.

©2002 Ravenna Taylor, "Subito," oil on canvas, 22.5 x 21 inches

A long recuperation followed after surgery, during which I decided that I really needed to live in a place that had more pleasurable possibilities than the plaster ceiling and the curve of the crown moulding in the living room of that Edwardian flat. In a few years more, we were living in a small house we'd bought (with the help of my father-in-law, RIP) on a hillside above the valley in which we'd rented. Selling points had been trees: two Acacias in front that completely filled the living room window, and were themselves filled with chattering birds; and at the back, a towering and beautiful Monterey Cypress tree to view through the bedroom window, which overlooked a steep drop and would have had quite a long view to the east if not for the tree -- but there are views all over the SF Bay area and who needs a long view at home, when there's a Monterey Cypress about 150 years old or so to enjoy? We were high up in the top of a tall tree, on a raft in the sky, in my imaginings. 

As it turned out, my neighbors needed a view instead of a Monterey Cypress, and had the tree cut down, after we'd been there about 10 years. They went away for that period so they didn’t have to witness the assault on a vitally healthy mature tree. I actually did wail and scream and cry. And then I started to envision a move to a place where I would be surrounded by trees and rivers. The increased value of our SF house made it possible for us to have an old clapboard farmhouse with a big old barn, and a pond, near the Delaware River in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. It took a few years to make it happen, but we’ve been here ten years since September.

©2001 Ravenna Taylor, "Instrumental Dwellings 7," mixed media collage, 6.75 x 7.25 inches

A few days ago, I was at home only because my gym was too crowded to enter, hence I happened to be present for the four minutes it took as the day-long storm's twilight tinted wet orchard grass heads and turning leaves to the color of a faded rose. We make the most of such “events,” while life often makes demands for resilience and optimism; my store has run low, Nature never does. I have told myself that something needs to change; a part of me, reflecting upon the fact that it’s now 10 years since my move, wonders if it is conditions that foster this, or is it my inner rhythm, a ten-year cycle that propels me? Not either/or, possibly both. Things change anyway, one might as well choose sometimes! There have been setbacks, and nothing to crow about for years. I'm looking for high points, the crow caws in the tree's pinnacle.

Today the woman who took my blood, wearing apple-green pants, was managing the place entirely alone -- her co-worker was sick. With each new client, she apologized for the wait. She didn’t complain but didn’t conceal her situation behind a false cheer. She was a human being doing her job well, pleasantly answering the phone while filling out forms, once or twice breaking into part of a song on the radio. She was my good news for the day; I wanted to be hers. I thanked her; I acknowledged her situation, I told her about the woman in her seventies tapping her toe, and the woman who came in after me and smiled at everyone in the room, about how in the waiting room, her clients were enjoying the music she’d selected. The phrase “tickets to paradise” came up in a song, and she said she wished she had some, she’d go for sure. I confided that nothing especially good had happened to exult in for some long time, but I look around every day and think it doesn’t get a lot better than where we live. Of course, she probably grew up around here and doesn’t have the perspective I’ve gotten from moving around so much. I hope she might be on the uprise of a wave, one that will propel her to newly changed conditions, the kind that don’t demand resilience and optimism, and a continual search for silver linings.

That’s all.

 ©1996 Ravenna Taylor, "Another Migration," watercolor, gouache, 30 x 22 inches

Addendum: This morning (April 6, 2014), I found this poem by Mary Oliver, and I've decided to add it to the end of this post.

Singapore - Mary Oliver

In Singapore, in the airport,
a darkness was ripped from my eyes.
In the women's restroom, one compartment stood open.
A woman knelt there, washing something
in the white bowl.

Disgust argued in my stomach
and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.

A poem should always have birds in it.
Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings.
Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.
A waterfall, or if that's not possible, a fountain
rising and falling.
A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and
neither could win.
She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this?
Everybody needs a job.

Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
But first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor,
which is dull enough.
She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays, as big as
hubcaps, with a blue rag.
Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing.
She does not work slowly, nor quickly, but like a river.
Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.

I don't doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
And I want her to rise up from the crust and the slop
and fly down to the river.
This probably won't happen.
But maybe it will.
If the world were only pain and logic, who would want it?

Of course, it isn't.
Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only
the light that can shine out of a life. I mean
the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,
the way her smile was only for my sake; I mean
the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.

Monday, October 7, 2013

"In Esso In Ero"

© Ravenna Taylor 2004, "In Esso In Ero," collage, 11 x 9 inches (click to enlarge)

Dim-lit damp Monday
breezes soaked with smells
of fallen leaves.

There's a story to tell
about October
-- but this air won't tell that story.

Thursday had called
for the hat brimmed against unbroken sun.
That man couldn't see
the grey, or the shadowed creases.

Or maybe he just needed an audience,
the way some men do.

I wonder now
not about him

about being a woman
of a certain age

about never quite unbeing the uncertain age.

There's a story to tell
but this air won't tell it.

©2013 Ravenna Taylor