Letters Home continued … excerpts from Bulgaria ( nov. 2013 )

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There is a daily flow to my life here , alone , that is new to me . An important part of this is that I think of God a lot . His love surrounds me in everything I see , hear , taste and smell . I think there is a spiritual power in repetition , a devotional quality like saying rosaries or reciting mantras . I have found a personal routine that is peaceful in its simplicity . This week my art has become a part of this as I once again am working on sketches for the “momento mori ” series begun this past summer . There is great synchronicity and this awareness brings not only humility but also joy .

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I have become enchanted with the dirt pathways , garden fences  and stone enclosures . I was invited into a village home while on one of my daily walks . I could barely hold back tears as a plastic yard chair was brought into the room for me while everyone else sat on the cracked cement floor and stared at me … a warm fire tended by a father who obviously cherishes his four children and a mother trying her best to keep everything clean with loads of hand washed clothing and blankets hanging on the line on this cloudy , cold day .

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The weather has turned colder now and my fire skills are slowly improving and the routine of chopping wood is making my arms stronger . It is in these daily survival tasks and in picking the apples and walnuts from the orchards that brings meaning to me . You all know that I am not a “foody” but I so much enjoy and appreciate the fresh vegetables and fruit , and because everyone labors so hard on their land , it makes the taste of every bite very delicious … and all organic and I feel the energy of the sun from these foods of the earth . I made kumquat (tree in front) salsa and roasted a large chunk of village made cheese on the open fire , added some chopped walnuts and thought I must be eating the food of the gods !

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My day trip to Stara Zagora … sometimes called “Middle Earth”. It is the 6th largest city with its history going back 7000 years .

The bus driver was so kind . I must have looked a bit lost … and the depot was large . I tried to ask him where the city center was but he spoke very little English and so he left the bus and walked me all the way thru the noisy station and down the street until he pointed to the first street light and motioned three blocks further to the right . And so off I went with a thankful wave not knowing what lay ahead … Seriously , I was guided and blessed this warm autumn day as I wandered and experienced exactly what I had hoped for . I do have a Lonely Planet guide book that Nani told me to buy and I had read about this city the day before . First I came upon a huge and elegant city park as beautiful as any in the large cities of America . Once again , like in Plovdiv , this tree lined park was alive with affectionate families , young children , lovers , and many older men playing chess and just hanging out together talking and laughing , each with woolen caps or berets on and old suit coats , all smoking cigars or cigarettes . Suddenly , in front of me , was the largest open street market I had ever seen , with an amazing array of items from neighboring villages as well as from Turkey and Greece and fish from the Black Sea , pottery and colorful rugs , antique baskets brimming with nuts , flowers , cheeses , sheepskins , hand knit woolen socks and whole pigs hanging on hooks . I was definitely overwhelmed ! So much so that I instinctively turned towards the quieter narrow side streets . And then there it was , right in front of me , a most gloriously beautiful and ancient church .

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I enter and a heavy scent of incense surrounds me like the morning fog hovering over the distant plowed fields I had left only earlier that day . A small choir is singing and grounding the sweet sound of the soprano voices was a deep chanting from a man on the other side of the isle . Hundreds of candles are lit and a priest in resplendent robes of velvet and a crown like high black felted hat trimmed in fur , is also chanting . The walls and ceilings of frescoes of Jesus and religious scenes depicting Biblical stories with gold leafed halos are all shining like stars reflected thru the light from the narrow stained glass windows . The people begin moving down the tiny tiled , wide center aisle  of worn red carpet for the communion sacrament and I find myself amongst them and I am blessed as a young girl next to me sheds silent tears down her cheeks .

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After this wonderful time in the city , I finally had a mishap . I got on the wrong bus once back in Chirpan to go back to my village . I didn’t think it was right but didn’t want to insult the old man who sat next to me on the sidewalk bench and had given me a wrapped hard candy . He kept on nodding that the bus would be coming soon and motioning for me to just sit and wait . A bus came and he smiled letting  me know this was the bus to Gita , my village . I got on and saw that I was headed right back to Stara Zagora as I noticed the turn off dirt road to Gita . I yelled , “Gita ! Gita! Stop , stop “! … so I was dropped off and I knew that it was about an 8 mile walk …. the sun was still shining near the horizon but it would set within an hour and there are no street lights . The valley was very quiet and ……..

…….to be continued

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And so for LIFE , this beautiful life , I remain so grateful . And when the difficulties of our human existence arise , may we seek the light that abides within us and choose to Love , not only others , but ourselves . For it is then that new choices appear and become possibilities and we can act on them …..

Stairway to Heaven … a minstrels ballad

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The beautiful music of the rock band , Led Zeppelin , spoke profoundly to young people of my generation and was a mantra to many …. the vibrations of the sound opening a door to a different realm of spirituality , one that transported the listener into a more mystical view of life .

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Stairway to Heaven

There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold

and she’s buying a stairway to heaven .

When she gets there she knows , if the stores are all closed

with a word she can get what she came for

ooh , ooh , she’s buying a stairway to heaven .

There’s a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure

cause you know sometimes words have two meanings .

In a tree by the brook there’s a songbird who sings

Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven

ooh it makes me wonder

ooh it makes me wonder .

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There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west

And my spirit is crying for leaving .

In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees

And the voices of those who stand looking .

ooh it makes me wonder

ooh it makes me wonder .

And it’s whispered that soon , if we all call the tune ,

then the piper will lead us to reason.

And a new day will dawn for those who stand long

And the forest will echo with laughter .

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If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow , don’t be alarmed now ,

it’s just a spring clean for the May Queen .

Yes , there are two paths you can go by , but in the long run

there’s still time to change the road you’re on .

And it makes me wonder

Your head is humming and it won’t go in case you don’t know ,

The piper’s calling you to join him .

Dear lady , can you hear the wind blow and did you know

Your stairway lies on the whispering wind ?

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And as as we wind on down the road

Our shadows taller than our soul .

There walks a lady we all know

Who shines white light and wants to show

How everything still turns gold .

And if you listen very hard

the tune will come to you at last

When all are one and one is all

And she’s buying a stairway to heaven .

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The magic of this song is that it speaks to each listeners heart and soul personally , taking the imagination to the heights , enabling us to visualize a most magnificent journey where all will be explained , where tears will be vanquished , hope will be restored and brotherhood will prevail . I hear this song in Bulgaria .

One Thousand First Chapters ….. a tale from Bulgaria

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Looking out into the early morning fog she could just barely see , near the inner gate , an object on the wet ground . I am her younger sister by fourteen years and she is much older now as I listened to her story . It lay there white as the snow that had recently melted in the coming spring of 2014 , a large , once emptied , plastic soda bottle now filled to the very top with a soft white liquid . Someone must have thrown it over the stone wall the night before . She opened it and tasted with her finger … something I wouldn’t have done … as she thought it might be fresh goat’s milk . And so by this one simple act of her accepting this anonymous village gift on this one balmy day that would end with one unpredicted sighting of one moons eclipse , a strange and mysterious , to me anyway , chain of events would be unlocked.

 

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I asked her hesitantly like a first tee off shot with my driver on the golf course , just what the day before had been like and who would have given her this unpasteurized milk from a goat and how could she even consider to drink it , wasn’t she afraid of getting sick from some unknown germs , the kind our mother warned us about !  And so she began her story of which I had no preparation for other than that the past reputation she had in the family was one of craziness of which I didn’t agree with .

 

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” Yesterday , I awoke to the chanting of my name . It was early and the fire had gone out from the night before and I was cold so I wrapped a blanket of wool around me and walked outside to see who it was . Angalinas face appeared from under her ever present hooded jacket. She speaks no English and me only a little Bulgarian . Someone was with her slumped against the outer gate . I recognized him from the streets and as he stood I noticed that his clothes were extra dirty as he pointed to a gash of drying dark blood on his forehead . We tried to communicate with some frustration as he lifted his shirt and showed me an old , long , jagged scar like a rough charcoal line on canvas , that crossed his exposed rib cage . Sadness touched his face and I thought of a lost bird feather falling to the earth . He let me understand that he was tired and suffered a heavy headache . I recognized the word “aspirin” from Angalina so I went and got him some from my room and gave it to him . He held long onto my hand and bowed his head as they both walked down the  dirt lane with the fog and disappeared “.

 

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My sister began whispering and I had a difficult time listening as her words became misunderstood all flowing together without proper sentences. I tried to make it all out as I heard phrases of a dead bird falling from the sky , her picking it up , it’s body still warm as she carried it home and took photographs … little girls playing circle games in front of one with the same always flowered dress too large on her and sitting on the steps of the deserted and dilapidated village church , always sad and watching . She went on about a sleeping newborn she had held and a cow separated from the herd in the grass fields of black dirt . She sighed about some new flower blossoming that she had not known existed , gold flecks in the trees , some song lyrics I didn’t know by Nina Simone and Pink Floyd music drifting too loudly out of a broken window of the bee keepers house . She wanted me to know what had happened to her those five months she spent away from America …. but all I’ve told you so far took place on just one of those days and how could I listen to about the remaining one hundred and fifty days that had still been unspoken off … let alone just this day before the appearance of the goats milk in that old bottle ! I could see I was in for a very long golf tournament …….. to be continued

 

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“In the midst of winter , I found there was , within me , an invincible summer “.    … Albert Camus

 

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Dedicated ,  with love , to my little sister , Amy .

East of Eden … to a field in Bulgaria

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John Steinbecks novel lays in my suitcase of most treasured things and the magnificence of this inspiring book I first read as a teenager , remains . It tells an epic story about good and evil and the life of two families , the Trasks and Hamiltons  that span three generations . The setting is Northern California and Steinbeck weaves his masterful tale amongst gorgeously saturated descriptions of the Salinas Valley . Retelling the Biblical story of Cain and Abel it is more a story of America , ” a monster of a land”.  Mr. Steinbeck received the 1962  Nobel Prize for Literature ,”for his realistic and imaginative writings combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social perception”.  East of Eden along with his other beautifully written books are social novels dealing with the economical problems of rural labor but always with a streak of worship of the soil .

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The above photograph and the one following are by Dorothea Lang from her series , “Harvest Gypsies” . The San Francisco News in 1936 commissioned her and John Steinbeck  to collaborate on several articles about Salinas Valley migrant workers .

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Themes and Symbols:

classic struggle between good and evil

mystery of identity

inexplicability of love

murderous consequences of loves absence

human capacity for self destruction , guilt and redemption

earth

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The film version was the first starring vehicle for explosive 1950’s screen personality , James Dean , who received his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor .

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Quotes :

” And now that you don’t have to be perfect , you can be good”.

“A kind of light spread out from her and everything changed color . And the world opened out . And a day was good to awaken too . And there were no limits to anything . And the people of the world were good and handsome . And I was not afraid anymore”.

“Thoughts are slow and deep and golden in the morning”.

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Personal note :

The morning air had that distinct mossy feel that happens just before the rains fall . One thousand swallows flew above with a surprising and unexpected sound . For a long while I had been resting on the warming earth under a clouded blue sky letting my dogs roam the golden pastures surrounding the village . Standing , I called for them , and began walking with a hesitation in my step , still wanting to remain on this hill of quiet beauty where most mornings life itself accepted my place in this distant foreign country . A song floats by on the wind … long ago remembered lyrics now … and drifting to my consciousness … ” there’s a feeling I get when I look to the west and my spirit is crying for leaving , … in my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees and the voices of those who stand looking …Oh , it makes me wonder , oh it makes me wonder “.

And then I saw it ! On my way home from somewhere , there she was standing at the edge of my life . A horse . The farmer leading her with a hand on her chestnut colored neck , back towards the stonewalled enclosure . I stopped , and all I saw was this immense creature of power and beauty , the kind that makes you sigh as to its sheer existence walking God’s world with you . And with a  second sigh , she fell to her knees , rolled over heavy on her back and her slow movements loved with the earth beneath her . No bridle or saddle or cart behind , imprisoned her and as the old man coaxed her up , she pranced with a pride and grace like a satin nightgown fluttering in the breeze or a petal from a rose after being thrown into a River stream floating gently with the current . I had fallen in love with this  creature on the outskirts of town and stood watching on the stairway to heaven .

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Dedicated to to my dad who rode off to eternity on the back of his beloved horse , Kentucky Belle …

Departures

A beginning journey of profound discovery and growth brought about through the instrument of death.

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The opening scenes give no hint of what direction the film will take . It begins as a narrative about a young couple in financial crisis . Daigo is laid off from his orchestra , sells his highly prized cello letting go of his dream and moves with his wife to his departed mothers house in a small Japanese town . Looking for work , he answers a newspaper ad for a person dealing with departures . Thinking it is a travel agent job he finds out it is a misprint after he has already been hired and given a large cash advance by his boss . He is then taken along with Mr. Sasaki to observe the process of embalming . There are many scenes of preparation after death and each one is beautifully touching and very strange with most family members remaining quiet as they observe . I was spellbound watching . It is a ceremony of precise ritual and grace . Sometimes during this process there are emotional outbursts of truth and we can see Daigo beginning to learn tender lessons of life . In the ending several plot threads weave together so naturally … like death , and a final scene pointing out ,” they want to come home ” , is a poignant message , especially when it is spoken by the Gatekeeper .

 

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Departures won the Oscar in 2008 for best foreign language film and the musical score and cinematography are important aspects of the films beauty , especially the notes of the cello .

 

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Life and Death

Music and Food … there is a great message of food !

 

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Salmon : natures cyclical aspects

 

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Geese :  the camera shot of fire dissolving into geese taking off is like the Phoenix returning from the ashes

 

This film is one of my favorites and an inspiration along with the death of my mother for my sculpture series .

 

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Personal note:

A young woman , far from her home , had appeared in the town as she had been recently hired as the new librarian . I noticed she was pregnant and alone and we soon became friends after spending time and secrets with each other . One day , after her asking , I happily agreed to be her birthing coach and we attended classes together . It had become a precious friendship . The day she birthed her baby daughter also birthed in me a quiet realization of an astonishing aspect of the mystery of life .

The small hospital was very busy and under staffed that morning … I delivered her baby ! I literally caught her in my hands as she entered this life just moments before the nurse came in the room . I have become a memory keeper and following is one of my dearest . That day , the scent of birth hit me like a strike of lightning but is difficult to describe . This new smell was neither pleasant nor unpleasant yet I thought of the musky earth mixed with a faint scent of a flower and I could feel its aroma like a holy garment covering me . And I was to find this exact same smell years later at the moment of death of both my husband and mother . Death and birth share the same intense scent ! I am deeply awed and comforted by this .

 

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Painting by William Blake

Dedicated , with love , to my beautiful friend Janet whose father just recently departed

Letters Home continued , excerpts from Bulgaria

ImageI continue to walk in my moccasins this village in awe like in a musical dream state . The air is filled with the incense of nectar , open fires , burning leaves and the scent of spices cooking . Daily I’m chopping firewood , gathering fallen walnuts and feeling the sun . Yesterday I climbed high into an apple tree under the bluest sky just like I did as a young girl !  The land here is open with no fences and the animals are taken out to graze daily by a shephard who gets paid a fixed amount for each one in his care . At night the cows , goats and sheep are milked and kept in the yards behind the houses . It’s so lovely morning and evening to hear the different bells the animals wear tinkling in the distance before   you even see them . 

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Monday , the old man shaking the bell from his donkey cart , who I had noticed before but was too nervous to approach ,  came down the lane yelling out in Bulgarian , so I decided to finally see what it was all about … he was sharpening tools and said his name was Milo , so I brought him the much used axe and his thankful smile as I handed him some coins , blessed my day .

 

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There is no hot water here so I’m constantly boiling on top of the wood stove in the evenings and outside in the fire pit during the day . Some homes still use stone wells where a bucket is lowered from a rope . Just outside of my gate there is an old cracked cement drinking structure that I think is used for rain water for the animals returning from the fields . A walnut tree overhangs here and a few days ago I noticed that someone had cracked walnuts open with a stone on this cement … Many Roma’s live here and I see that some hang blankets over the doorways of abandoned buildings , with cots on the ground under areas of the tiled ceilings that are still standing … So now I leave apples and figs there and they are always gone the next morning . Today , a rose was left there . The Thracians called this place in Bulgaria the ” valley of roses ” and perfume and rose oil are still very highly prized from this area .

 

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The villagers have welcomed me in many unusual ways … little Bobi with her dolls , Rosetti, ( no , roll the R she repeats to me and laughs when I try ) and Angala , a sweet teenager with bare feet who runs out from her gate and puts her arm thru mine as we walk in silence together a little ways . And a group of junior high aged kids ( school day from 9 to one) have jokes with me saying names in our differant languages . I’m beginning to recognize certain ones , the skinny boy with black  hair sticking straight up , the charming one with the shy smile and the dark skinned girl with the pale green eyes … they are all so beautiful to me . Too , there is the nice old man with the hand knit woolen sweater , wool cap , and baggy pants tucked into his boots and two kind women both named Elana .

 

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I wish you could hear the sounds , a strange language with mothers scolding children , the cattle man directing the cows with their heavy hoofs , a particular laughter of the women at the open market . I wish I could take these sounds home , remember it all . As I write I feel both a tremendous sadness and a joy , a wanting from within me , something ecstatic . I choose my words carefully , this is what I truly feel for it rises in my chest like the water from the well and I swallow and my eyes brim with tears as if I will overflow.  I don’t know what this is or where it came from or just when it began . I never thought I could find so much in the passage of the cows and horses or in the sounds of the village children playing . Something has changed , last night I was invited to a village families home for a New Year’s Eve meal and part of me wants to mark this as the moment of change although I know that it isn’t . The change is something that has come more slowly , perhaps it even began before I left home . What this change means I don’t know , just like I don’t know if I am happier or sadder than I have ever been . There is a purpose in all this although I do not know yet what it is . There is so much that remains unsaid.

 

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Love Song … for Denise and Armando

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Only the first verse had been written , three years ago when I watched them perform together on the stage  on Orcas Island … he on his guitar and she with her soprano voice . They moved the room and applause spread  like ink spilled on paper … as I trembled …  I hope we  will once again listen to them perform , now that the song has been finished.

I saw them

a crown upon their head

a wing on her shoulder

flight on his brow

a goddess of wine

a man in his youth

drunk on the olive of her skin .

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I saw them

a crown upon their head

with baby come forth

eyes of a doe

a mother of grace

a man on his journey

drunk on the olive of newborn skin .

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I saw them

stars upon their heads

a cloak of purple

wrapped golden round three

a woman of love

a man and his music

drunk on the beauty of life .

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Song completed … January 2014 … meg dickerson

for you , dear (deer) little Owa

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Doorways ….. memories manifest …..beginning moments of this new year 2014

ImageAn intention for what is written in my blogs is that they will touch someone spiritually in some way unknown to me . They are , for me , like one thousand first chapters ( the title of the novel I always wanted to write of which for years i only have the beginning paragraph and the ending written).  Yet I never really plan these writings. They come to me like the ocean waves of Hawaii , three rolling in and breaking followed by a long moment of calm and then three more as the surfers gaze into the horizon line waiting .

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Three remembered humans , three faces alight with surrounding halos , none of which I had shared a spoken conversation with but who changed me : the woman from India , the old man on the streets of Mexico , and the spark that caused the lucid memory of them to return to me , the man in Bulgaria.

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I did not know that he was a well revered character until two months later having followed a thread on the internet . That first day of my arrival in Sophia I saw him on the street , he looked at me. I stopped and watched . It was a strange moment of longing for all of life to just stop so that I could watch a little longer . This is what I later found out about him : His name is Dobri Dobrev . He is 99 years old , a man who lost most of his hearing in the Second World War . He has travelled 25 kilometers every day for decades from his village in his handmade clothes and leather shoes to the city , a trip he makes by foot , where he spends all day begging for money . He is well recognized around the cities churches , known for his prostrations of thanks to all donors . He has donated every penny he has collected, over sixty thousand dollars , towards the restoration of decaying monasteries and churches and the utility bills of orphanages and living off the kindness of others .

ImageThe woman from India … Six years ago :

After having ended a most heartbreaking time of near ruin , deceit and betrayal , I was brought to a spiritual awakening . Soon after , this beautiful woman came into my life for a glorious moment on a winter day the week my grand daughter , Sequoia was born . I was in Ann Arbor on that snowy day and took the bus to town , going to the book store . Once there , I followed a sign pointing upstairs to their coffee shop and a notice about palm reading. The cafe was noisy with holiday chatter . I ordered tea and sat down . She sat alone in humble quietness  , dressed in silk with a red bindi on her forehead. Our eyes locked from across the small room and something unexplainable happened …. A strong moment of recognition …. Eyes of fire yet calm like water . That night my third eye ( ajna chakra ) was activated and I believe manifested thru her , thru the Divine …. A gift of such beauty like many peacock feathers swirling in the wind of sunshine falling from the sky above . I smile right now remembering the name of that book store , Crazy Wisdom . Some days , under my bangs , between my eyebrows , I paint a red bindi . My little grand daughters know of it’s meaning.

ImageThe very old man in Mexico … seven years ago

He was moving so slowly with an old walking stick, up the steep cobbled hills of Puerto Vallarta where I lived . The neighborhood boys were laughing at him taunting with words I did not understand . He looked at me ….. I took his arm …. I thought he was Jesus . His weathered feet were caked in dirt layers thick , he smelled like the earth , pungent after a spring rain . We walked together in silence, him patting my head and holding my hand, arm in arm . I didn’t know if he was newborn , 100 years old or from the beginning of creation . I  never saw such beautiful old feet , or felt such compassion directed toward me and with eyes like the first light of dawn …….

ImagePoem by William Blake

He who binds to himself a joy

does the winged life destroy

But he who kisses the joy as it flies

lives in eternity’s sun rise .