Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Step into Nature: FREE SIGNED COPY and Guest Post by Patrice Vecchione

Welcome to guest blogger Patrice Vecchione, whose new book Step into Nature: Nurturing Imagination and Spirit in Everyday Life,  is, says David Rothenberg, "a true workbook for the senses." As poet Jane Hirshfield writes, this book "...illumines the intimate connection between inner and outer, contemplative and wild, and shows the reasons these connections matter." Continue reading to find out how to get a free signed copy!

                                            Monterey Pine, Jacks Peak Park, California.

That a connection exists between nature and imagination is something I knew from way back, even as a city kid at a remove from unfettered natural enclaves and expanses. Most all children have an innate love of snow on the tongue and wind through their hair. Young spirits are fed by the natural world peeking through, even in small ways. Kids have fewer filters to separate them from that first, true human home.

My parents graced my young life with art--taking me to museums, concerts, and the ballet. A direct infusion into nature herself was not their m├ętier and was limited to brief forays at various parks and trips to the Bronx Zoo.

 As a kid, nature actually frightened me, its unpredictability did. Summer storms replete with thunder and lightning rumbled that point home. Through art, however, I began a sustained a relationship with the earth, liked how the denseness of a sketched forest removed me from the museum floor and into its haven. Images of earth’s places wholly drew me in way before I began to recognize and frequently experience the pull of firsthand nature enlarging imagination.

                                         "Winged Man" by Patrice Vecchione

Some years back, having been a long distance bike rider who, due to arthritis, had to give up even short rides, I took to the woods, for the banal desire to get exercise outdoors, not in a gym. It began innocently enough—I’d walk for an hour or so, get hot and sweaty and return home happily tuckered out.

The place I chose to walk was Jacks Peak Park, a 500 + acre densely wooded park ten minutes from home. What I’d ignorantly assumed was a park with few trails I quickly discovered possessed over 10 miles of interconnecting paths and more if one includes those that go off onto private property.

At first I went walking with little more than car keys and a full water bottle but, after a few weeks, I needed more. Words started coming at me that I felt compelled to write down—a back pocket pen and no paper meant my right hand and inner arm became my canvas, got filled with ink. Once home, I transferred those words to paper.

                            Notebook of "Finds:" feathers from two hawks and a Great Northern Flicker.

With a back-of-the-junk-drawer notebook added to my pocket I began walking not only for exercise but in order to listen and respond. The forest had begun talking to me—the wind whispered, the trees insisted I pay attention. Pay attention to what? To them and to the play between the whole of that natural place and her individual parts and my own imagination. It was just that I’d walk and hear things and be curious about what I was hearing and thinking and have to stop to listen, record, respond. 

What I heard and saw and smelled and touched turned into poems, essays, and collages. There I’d be mid-step watching and waiting—two mice chatting in the bushed, a squirrel leading my way down a path, the frightening loudness of a tree falling nearby. A small yellow flower with red spots at its center made me bend into the brush for a photograph. In late summer all the foliage at the end of life became newly beautiful to my eyes. Having previously preferred high heels to hiking boots and being anything but a nature aficionado, I became a changed woman, an artist anew.

"The Yellow Mountains," watercolor and collage, Patrice Vecchione

This link between nature and imagination was something I had to explore, to write about. I felt a book coming on. Luckily, my literary agent saw the value in it too, as did Simon & Schuster/Beyond Words/Atria Books. My book was bought on proposal and I received six months to write the book. Six months? As the ink on my signature dried I doubted that possibility. However, those six months were the happiest of my 58 years.

The wind wrote my book and the Great Northern flickers did. The rolling rocks gave their unrestrained input. The mountain lions I knew were somewhere lurking added elements of surprise to the words I found. I wrote it in the way nature revealed herself to me—one step at a time.

After about another six months Step into Nature: Nurturing Imagination and Spirit in Everyday Life became a book to hold with pages to turn. It explores the unique identities of places, the link between imagination, inspiration and intuition, how engaging our many senses can expand our creative abilities and revive our spirits, the value of solitude in artistic practice, and more.

Gotta go—nature calls. Who knows what next words may call!

Now that you've heard from Patrice, you're likely enticed to hear more. And you can. Patrice is offering one signed copy for free. If you want it, here's what you do:

1. Comment on this blogpost between now and October 15.
2. Raffle-style, I'll pick one name to get a book.

3. Check back after October 15, or sign up to "follow" this blog and you'll get an email when the winner is posted.
4. If you're the lucky winner, email me your address, and you'll get your free, signed copy of Step into Nature.
5. If you're not the lucky winner, never fear, you can buy the book here or here.

Patrice Vecchione is the author of Writing and the Spiritual Life and two books of poetry, and is the editor of numerous anthologies. She offers creative writing and collage workshops at universities, libraries, parks, and community center, including Esalen Institute.
She lives in Monterey, California, with her best beloveds--her husband, two cats, and her garden. Connect with Patrice on Twitter @VecchioneAuthor and Facebook
PatriceVecchioneAuthor and www.patricevecchione.com.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

William Shakespeare: Infinite.

                            "In nature's infinite book of secrecy a little I can read."

                                  ~ William Shakespeare


Monday, August 17, 2015

Residing in Wilderness: A Guest Post by Irene Owsley.

Welcome to guest blogger Irene Owsley, whose images from three artist residencies in Alaska's wilderness have given all of us a new perspective on the wild. This guest post first appeared on the blog Thinking Wilderness.

Traveling by kayak for 8 days with two wilderness rangers during an artist residency program in the Tracy Arm-Ford’s Terror Wilderness of the Tongass National Forest, Southeast Alaska, I was intensely aware of a world defined by moving water. We paddled up the fjord, filled water jugs from cascading waterfalls, dodged growlers and bergy bits in our kayaks and admired icebergs from a safe distance.

View from my kayak, Harriman Fjord, Prince William Sound. L-R: Cascade, Barry & Coxe Glaciers. Nellie Juan-College Fjord Wilderness Study Area, Chugach National Forest.

It rained occasionally, and the sun was elusive. Fog clung to the spruce branches above us, leaving fat droplets on the undergrowth we hiked through. At the end of Endicott Arm loomed Dawes Glacier, the great carver of this landscape. We camped nearby, next to a glacial stream, itself a microcosm of the mighty glacier beyond, alive with sound and movement where water was constantly flowing, crushing and moving rock, working on the palette of the landscape.

View of Dawes Glacier, Endicott Arm, with kayaks in the foreground.  Tracy Arm-Ford’s Terror Wilderness, Tongass National Forest, Southeast Alaska
Single Shot: View of Dawes Glacier, Endicott Arm, with kayaks in the foreground. Tracy Arm-Ford’s Terror Wilderness, Tongass National Forest, Southeast Alaska

And that’s what I was doing, too, trying to make an image of these dynamic forces at work, setting up my tripod in the shallow part of the stream. I was captivated by the smooth granite slide, the multicolored rocks at its base, and the tide which moved in and out, its flow competing with the outpouring from the mountain behind. The setting was primeval, exuding the essence of self-willed landscape, to echo the words of Howard Zahniser, principal author of The Wilderness Act of 1964.

Sunset at low tide, Sanford Cove.  Chuck River Wilderness, Tongass National Forest, Southeast Alaska.
Sunset at low tide, Sanford Cove. Chuck River Wilderness, Tongass National Forest, Southeast Alaska.

At this spot, I shot several vertical images and later stitched them together in Photoshop to create a panorama of the scene that had made such an impression on me. It was one of several panoramas I made as my contribution to the Voices of Wilderness artist residency program conceived, organized and run by a truly dedicated wilderness ranger and artist, herself, Barbara Fischer Lydon, now based out of the Glacier Ranger District in Girdwood, Alaska.

View from Black Sand Beach, Harriman Fjord, Prince William Sound.  L-R: Cascade & Coxe Glaciers.  Nellie Juan-College Fjord Wilderness Study Area, Chugach National Forest.
View from Black Sand Beach, Harriman Fjord, Prince William Sound. L-R: Cascade & Coxe Glaciers. Nellie Juan-College Fjord Wilderness Study Area, Chugach National Forest.

The goal of the Voices of Wilderness program is to bring artists into the wilderness and allow them to create pieces, in their particular medium, that speak to the values of wilderness. The work of many artists was collected over a four-year period for a 2014 exhibition that traveled to seven museums and communities in Alaska, culminating with a show at the Anchorage Museum – all in celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act. The traveling exhibition brought huge awareness to this milestone in conservation history and spurred public engagement with wilderness, both through the efforts of the artists and the participating public lands throughout Alaska.

Single Frame: View from my tent down Harriman Fjord, Prince William Sound.  Nellie Juan-College Fjord Wilderness Study Area, Chugach National Forest.
Single Frame: View from my tent down Harriman Fjord, Prince William Sound. Nellie Juan-College Fjord Wilderness Study Area, Chugach National Forest.

For me personally, the value of my participation in Voices of the Wilderness has been immeasurable. It offered me the unique opportunity for self-supported living in designated wilderness areas in Alaska for 7-10 days at a time which inspired new expression (through my photography) and the articulation of much that lay buried within – this love of all things wild. The experience lifted me to a higher level of understanding where “wild” is concerned and made me acutely aware of the critical need to preserve and support what wild areas we still have. Just as importantly, I was introduced to other artists and wilderness activists who became models to me through their fierce support for wilderness.

[FEATURED IN SMITHSONIAN EXHIBITION] Glacial stream, Endicott Arm.  Tracy Arm-Ford’s Terror Wilderness, Tongass National Forest, Southeast Alaska.
Glacial stream, Endicott Arm. Tracy Arm-Ford’s Terror Wilderness, Tongass National Forest, Southeast Alaska.

And not least, my image of “Glacial Stream, Endicott Arm,” (above) is included in the Smithsonian’s exhibition, “Wilderness Forever,” at the National Museum of Natural History, one of thirteen finalists chosen from over 5000 entries. My image was awarded first place in the professional category for “Scenic Landscape.”

View of Tracy Arm near Sawyer Glacier.  Tracy Arm-Ford’s Terror Wilderness, Tongass National Forest, Southeast Alaska.
View of Tracy Arm near Sawyer Glacier. Tracy Arm-Ford’s Terror Wilderness, Tongass National Forest, Southeast Alaska.

Irene Owsley, a freelance photographer, specializes in the outdoors and travel, particularly in northern regions. Her work has appeared in such magazines as Canoe & Kayak, Sierra, National Parks, Earthwatch, and Natural History and in the publications of several conservation organizations. Since 2011, she has been accepted to participate in three artists residencies in Alaska’s wilderness. A long-time resident of Washington DC until just recently, Owsley found the “wild” in this large metropolitan area by creating a body of work called “Wild Washington,” with images from the riparian areas along the Potomac River. She has exhibited her work in galleries and has been profiled in Rangefinder, Photographer’s Forum, and Nikon World magazine. A new resident of New Mexico, Owsley is focused on producing large scale panoramic landscapes as a way to explore her new home.  She serves on the national board of ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers), promoting best business practices for photographers. www.ireneowsley.com

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Karman Vortices and other Earth Art.

The following images come from the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center whose acronym is (yes, it really is) EROS. The EROS Center has an incredible slideshow of satellite images of our one, our only home.

"Our common home," as the subtitle to Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato Si', reminds us.

Edrengiyn Nuruu August 1, 1999.  The Edrengiyn Nuruu forms a transition zone between the Mongolian steppes to the north and the arid deserts of northern China to the south.

Karman Vortices September 1, 1999. Each of these swirling clouds is a result of a meteorological phenomenon known as a Karman vortex. These vortices appeared over Alexander Selkirk Island in the southern Pacific Ocean. Rising precipitously from the surrounding waters, the island's highest point is nearly a mile (1.6 km) above sea level. As wind-driven clouds encounter this obstacle, they flow around it to form these large, spinning eddies.
Lena Delta July 1, 2001. The Lena River, some 2,800 miles(4,500km) long, is one of the largest rivers in the world. The Lena Delta Reserve is the most extensive protected wilderness area in Russia. It is an important refuge and breeding grounds for many species of Siberian wildlife.
Dragon Lake December 1, 1999. Nicknamed "Dragon Lake," this body of water is formed by the Bratskove Reservoir, built along the Angara River in southern Siberia, near the city of Bratsk. This image was acquired in winter, when the lake is frozen.
Bolivian Deforestation August 1, 2000. Once a vast carpet of healthy vegetation, the Amazon rain forest is changing rapidly. This image of Bolivia shows dramatic deforestation in the Amazon Basin. Loggers have cut long paths into the forest, while ranchers have cleared large blocks for their herds. Fanning out from these clear-cut areas are settlements built in radial arrangements of fields and farms. Healthy vegetation appears bright red in this image.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Muriel Rukeyser: This moment is real.

                                        Sundews, Prince William Sound, Alaska.

"This moment is real, this moment is what we have, this moment in which we face each other, and if a poem is any damn good at all, it invites you to bring your whole life to that moment, and we are good poets inasmuch as we bring that invitation to you, and you are good readers inasmuch as you bring your whole life to the reading of the poem."                     

 ~ Muriel Rukeyser

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I thought I knew ice.

After nearly 30 years in Alaska, after decades kayaking coastlines replete with tidewater glaciers and hiking mountains up to vast icefields, I thought I knew ice. But that’s the wonderment of the natural world: it continues to surprise me.  So when I traveled to the Antarctic Peninsula in February, I saw ice as I never had before.


Endless forms most beautiful, wrote Charles Darwin, and so it is, perhaps nowhere more evident than with ice. Yes, he was writing about biological evolution. But there is, in these giant ancient-ice bergs, an evolution as well. And an unsurpassed artistry.

Once they break from the icesheet or glacier of the continent, they live for years, decades. These bergs are so big they are named and tracked, watched by satellite. B9 sheered from the eastern Ross Ice Shelf in 1987; in 1989, it broke into three pieces; in 2010, the largest piece, B9B, collided with the Mertz Glacier, causing it to calve a massive berg.

And they travel. By current and wind they travel hundreds of miles, circling the continent, moving northward. B9 covered 1200 miles in 22 months. One berg blocked our route through the Lemaire Channel one day, but by the next had shifted, allowing passage. 

Not until this trip had I truly seen an iceberg. Growlers and bergy bits, yes, and floes. But not bergs. They are a different animal entirely. Freed from the icecap or glacier, they wander the coasts and ocean for decades, their faces changing, their bodies eroding and falling apart, until nothing is left but shards like bones.

They are not just white, but a changing tapestry of all colors, swirling in dark seas. Their ice is blue and pink and yellow, purple in dark light, and sometimes struck gold, shining like diamonds. Like the white of a color wheel, it contains all other colors, and reveals one or another or several at any given moment, in any given light and shadow, any alteration in perspective. A changing, moving work of art.

Watching the beauty before me, the constantly changing kaleidoscope of color and texture, never far from my mind was climate change. The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most rapidly warming places in the world. Ice shelves are collapsing, glaciers and ice caps are retreating and thinning. There’s news this month of the catastrophic collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which holds 10 percent of the continent’s ice.

The beauty and the terror of life on Earth right now. Species like Adelie penguins who nest on ice having to move farther south, away from us. The grief of what we are destroying, the joy of what remains. The beauty and the terror: not of getting trapped in the ice, but of losing the ice, the great melt underway.


There is an absence here, an absence of human presense, like a fresh breeze through an open window in a room that has been closed for centuries. It is a place to rest worry and fear, to see by the light of a new path, a new way of living on this planet. There is a lack of thinking that there is anything here for us to do, other than witness.

I still dream of moving through the ice gallery, a gallery of sculptures by elemental forces. Nature doesn’t cling to her creations, said one of my companions. It's like a sand mandala, he said, the beauty formed, and then swept away. Beauty, on a different time scale than ours. More slowly, gradually, at least from our perspective. Geologic time. Earth time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

St. Augustine: and the people forgot themselves.

Resurrection Bay by Rockwell Kent

"And the people went there and admired the high mountains, the wide wastes of the sea, and the mightly downward rushing streams and the ocean and the course of the stars, and forgot themselves."

~ St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions