Monthly Archives: June 2015

Life, tilted

Shooting star (Dodecatheon pulchellum) Coeur d'Alene, Idaho by Betsey Crawford

Shooting stars (Dodecatheon puchellum)

There are moments that tilt life, even if we don’t know it at the time. Not the big moments, when our paths take sudden and dramatic turns, like locking eyes with the stranger who will become a great love, or taking your child in your arms for the first time. The quiet ones. Moments that say, from now on, your path will change. It may not be a dramatic shift, just a tilt, but it may make all the difference. The photos accompanying this post are from one such tilt.

Bruneau-mariposa lily (calochortus bruneaunis) Coeur d'Alene, ID by Betsey Crawford

Bruneau mariposa lily (Calochortus bruneaunis)

One tilt can lead to another, even eleven years later. When my dog, Splash, came into my life in 2001, she created a tilt, for the simple reason that she has never understood cars, and I couldn’t let her off leash anywhere a car was conceivable. I started taking her on trails, mostly through the woods of Montauk, at the eastern tip of Long Island, and so started an entirely unexpected chapter of my life. The most important aspect of that chapter, for this post, is that I began taking my camera with me everywhere we went.

I wasn’t new to photography, but up until then it had been about things — my son, trips taken, gardens I designed, flowers I wanted clients to see. In the woods it became aimless. As my eyes lit on something that touched me, I took a picture of it.

Chocolate lily (fritillaria affinis) Coeur d'Alene, Idaho by Betsey Crawford

Chocolate lily (Fritiallaria affinis)

This produced a bunch of very uninteresting photos. It took a while to convince me that the camera and I see the world differently. My eyes can pick out the truncated branches and twisting trunk of the dead tree that looks like a rough-hewn angel. The camera records every branch and trunk in the neighborhood, so the fascinating dead tree is barely evident. One spring I was convinced that I could convey the castle-like qualities of aging stumps, with their upper edges worn into crenellations and their ramparts of moss. The camera, lacking my imagination, recorded a bunch of old stumps.

I kept going. There were delicate wild azaleas and cascades of mountain laurel in the spring, sweet-scented clethra in early summer, gold grasses and red sumac in the fall, light glimmering on the water, tracery of branches in the winter. It was part of the meditation and the fun of being in the woods season after season. The camera and I began to come to grips with each other’s strengths and limitations.

Shooting stars (Dodecatheon pulchellum)

Shooting stars (Dodecatheon pulchellum)

When we left on our journey in 2011, I had been making mandalas for a few years, and was still working on them as we traveled. The easiest art to practice on the road, however, was photography, since it involved no supplies, no setting out or cleaning up. I could just grab my camera and go, and it went everywhere with me, recording our adventures.

Oceanspray-Holodiscus-discolor-Coeur-d'Alene-ID-by-Betsey-Crawford copy

Oceanspray buds (Holodiscus discolor)

That didn’t change dramatically in the month of May, 2012, but it tilted. I came to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for a month off. George had had complicated surgery in February. In April we’d made a trip to the east coast to see friends and family, and to finalize the sale of his boat. He stayed in the east to do that, and I came to Coeur d’Alene. It wasn’t a happy time. We were both exhausted and out of kilter. My son, Luke, the main draw in this neighborhood, was going through his own challenges. I spent an unusual amount of time, for me, just sitting and watching the Spokane River go by.

But something wonderful was happening on Tubbs Hill, a promontory into Lake Couer d’Alene, a wild place, full of trails, right in the middle of town. It was a banner year for wildflowers. Everything was blooming in full force. Once I saw this, off I went, day after day, morning or evening, sometimes both, taking pictures of the whole show, starting with a patch of shooting stars, out on a small ledge over the lake, their vivid pink glowing in the late afternoon sunlight.

I left the trail and got down on the ground with them, taking picture after picture, day after day, as they bloomed, faded, and went to seed. Lying in the golden sunlight, in the cool May evenings, with Splash settled near my feet, was heaven, and as flower succeeded blooming flower, a heaven that lasted for two months.

Chocolate lily (fritillaria affinis) Coeur d'Alene, Idaho by Betsey Crawford

Chocolate lily (Fritillaria affinis)

One day, a few weeks into the season, I was on the ground, taking pictures, just off a little used path. After a while I sat up, and looked up. I’d forgotten where I was, and everything rushed into my heart at once — the cool, dense earth I was sitting on, the trees soaring above me, the sun showering through the branches like ethereal gold coins, the lake glinting off to my right, the green breath of plants surrounding me, the delicate beauty of the wildflowers, my passion for them.

Let the heart love what it loves, says my favorite sutra. Life tilted, and the tilt has made all the difference.

Songlines

Songlines-mapIn my favorite creation story the world is sung into existence. I first came across this wonderful idea as a child, in one of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, ‘The Magician’s Nephew’, where he has his divine embodiment, Aslan the lion, slowly move across a pitch black and featureless void, singing first the stars into the darkness, then the sun, and then on to all the details of the world we love.

Polly was finding the song more and more interesting because she thought she was beginning to see the connection between the music and the things that were happening. When a line of dark firs sprang up on a ridge about a hundred yards away she felt that they were connected with a series of deep, prolonged notes which the Lion had sung a second before. And when he burst into a rapid series of higher notes she was not surprised to see primroses suddenly appearing in every direction.

Fairy bells (Disporum trachycarpum) at Settlers Grove of Ancient Cedars near Murray, Idaho by Betsey Crawford

Fairy bells (Disporum trachycarpum) Settlers Grove of Ancient Cedars near Murray, Idaho

All these decades later I can still feel Polly’s ‘unspeakable thrill’ at the thought of Aslan’s ‘gentle, rippling music’ sending waves of green up the hills he had just sung into existence. While the rest of his creation story is straight out of Genesis, Lewis knew the world’s myths, and perhaps took the singing from its originators, the aboriginal peoples of Australia. This retelling is from Sara Maitland’s ‘A Book of Silence’:

In the beginning is the land — flat, dark and featureless — until the ancestors went traveling the paths of it. As they travelled they were creating the mountains and the hills and the rocks and the animals, people, places. They did not do it once and for all, they do it still. The paths must be walked. The creation work must be done; the land is forever and the creating of it is forever. The dreaming, singing, dancing, walking goes on and on, forever.

Tall bluebells (Mertensia paniculata) at Settlers Grove of Ancient Cedars near Murray, Idaho by Betsey Crawford

Tall bluebells (Mertensia paniculata) Settlers Grove of Ancient Cedars near Murray, Idaho

The ancestors included humans, landscape features, and the first of certain totem animals, who gathered themselves together from primordial mud and proceeded to sing the rest of the earth into existence. To me this creation story has the keenest intuition into the actual processes that formed the earth — the earliest floating particles and gasses that gravity pulled slowly together into a swirling mass. The billions of years of coalescing, exploding, hardening, cooling. The pushing up of gigantic mountains. The coming and going of vast silent seas. The slow emergence of plants and animals. The millions-of-years-long evolution of human beings.

All this time the ancestors were singing, breathing, dancing the world into form, the landscape into rivers, forests, rocks, flowers, canyons, people, animals, birds, sky, clouds. These songs and stories created songlines, maps to the Australian landscape. If you know them, you can find your way, landmark by landmark, along the line you’re following, through trackless desert, along the ridges of mountains, finding water in the valleys, seeing the quicksand to walk around.

Meadow rue (Thalictrum occidental) at Settlers Grove of Ancient Cedars near Murray, Idaho by Betsey Crawford

Meadow rue (Thalictrum occidentale) Settlers Grove of Ancient Cedars near Murray, Idaho

The best part is that, fired by the same forces that shaped us in the first place, we are still singing the earth into creation. The dreaming, singing, dancing, walking goes on and on. What a wonderful task to be given: to sing of all we touch, each person we speak to, every place we visit, everything that opens our hearts. To spin songlines every day of our lives.

Settlers Grove of Ancient Cedars in the Idaho National- Forest by Betsey Crawford

The paths must be walked. The photos accompanying this post are from such a singing, along such paths: going with my son, Luke, and my dog, Splash, to Settlers Grove of Ancient Cedars near Murray, Idaho. An echo of deep time: the oldest tree there was a seedling in 900 CE.

When I was last in Coeur d’Alene, my friend, Marie Cecile, said something that I took as a beautiful blessing — that as I go from place to place, I’m not only bringing my own energy to that place, but I’m also taking the energy of that place with me, and bringing it to the next place, and so composing an interwoven network. Her words inspired me to create the map of my song lines since leaving on our adventures in 2011. Warm color lines brought us west and south, cool colors north and east. This summer I will be adding brand new ones, tying nature to spirit.

Baneberry (Actea rubra) Settlers Grove of Ancient Cedars near Murray, Idaho by Betsey Crawford

Baneberry (Actea rubra) Settlers Grove of Ancient Cedars near Murray, Idaho

As I travel these lines I sing of wildflowers, and my love for beauty, for my family and friends, my love for the green sighing of the forests and prairies, the gray mists of the coasts, the hot breath of the deserts, the prickly cacti flaunting their gorgeous, silky flowers, the tiny shooting stars nestled in damp woods. I sing as I walk, as I meet people, as I take pictures. We all do this, singing of the life we love, of the things we’ve lost, the joys we long for, paying attention, bringing life to life, our songlines floating out behind us, like spider’s silk, both gossamer and resilient, reeling from our hearts.