For every change in my life, I have stood on a threshold, momentarily paused in my forward action. Birth is the first threshold, and death is the last. In between are a thousand moments of transition where I stepped from into a new stage, times when I left an old habit behind, or moved beyond old ways of understanding, experienced new gowth, or achievement.
I wanted to do a series of photos inspired by these threshold emotions. I knew I wanted some dreamlike effects, so I chose a lens that would be variably sharp and blurry (Lensbaby Sweet 80 on Olympus OMDEM 5 mio 4/3rds).
I also wasn’t up for any self-portraiture, so as I often do, I turned to my doll collection to see who wanted to stand in for me: a very old Apache woman with a dark, dried apple face stepped forward, as did my small carving of Dzonoqua, the Wild Woman of the Woods, my muse and mythic persona.
On a day when I was very tired, after a long drive home after Spring Break, I took dolls and camera out into the back yard. I had some ideas, but both the camera effects and the dolls themselves took over the shoot. Here’s what happened.
A recent Daily Create asked us to video “where our feet go.” I couldn’t face the cliched video-pointing-down-at-feet-walking, so I put on a bathing suit, grabbed my Go Pro and sank into my hot tub for both still and video photography.
I was surprised at how dreamy the resulting images were.
In today’s Daily Create, we were asked to draw our childhood home. I have done this drawing many times over the years, and I notice it has gotten less and less specific as time wears away at the bright stones of memory, polishing them down to their glowing centers.
Now it is mountains, trees, tracks, river, house.
I grew up on the Wenatchee River in the foothills of the Enchantments. The image of me upper left is from an underwater shoot a couple of days ago and seems to me a face full of memory.
Even a rudimentary sketch like this seems beautiful to me, and I stare at it falling into a reverie of a time both long ago and yet still a room I can walk into that is as close as breathing.
The Mysterious Night Journal for me used to be gel pens or Prismacolor on black paper, but as I work in my art journal and so often disappear into the many rooms of memory, I see it is the canvas of the soul.
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Dreaming in the New Year
During the holidays, it’s sometimes hard to even hear yourself think. These are joyous family times for most (though not all, I acknowledge). But eventually visitors leave or you travel home. You become aware in the northern hemisphere of the short days, the long nights, the rain or the snow. In the southern hemisphere, dog days of summer keep temperatures hovering around 100 degrees F.
Now is the time to find your own quiet place, go deep into a kind of dreaming trance and let some other spirit speak quietly to you. It’s true that this healing mental and spiritual drifting has an affinity for water. In the Mysterious Night Visiondrawing above, Cheryl has drawn a bubble bath. In my household, it’s the hot tub with a glass roof and the sound of the constant rain. I’ve been in warm climates this time of year, and there we are drawn to waterfalls and the warm sea.
Give yourself to those private moments, and then find a place to curl up and draw in your Mysterious Night Vision Field Journal. If a white bird seems to flow out of curly pink hair–so be it. TheNight Vision Journalis never about “learning how to draw”; it is first and foremost a place to bring the images and colors behind your eyes to the black paper which is so much like the drawing board of a dream.
the dark buds of dreams
In the center
of every petal
is a letter,
and you imagine
if you could only remember
and string them all together
they would spell the answer.
It is a long night,
and not an easy one—-
you have so many branches,
and there are diversions—-
birds that come and go,
the black fox that lies down
to sleep beneath you,
the moon staring
with her bone-white eye.
Finally you have spent
all the energy you can
and you drag from the ground
the muddy skirt of your roots
and leap awake
with two or three syllables
like water in your mouth
and a sense
of loss—-a memory
not yet of a word,
certainly not yet the answer—-
only how it feels
when deep in the tree
all the locks click open,
and the fire surges through the wood,
and the blossoms blossom.
Yesterday was a day of dark storm clouds broken by sudden sun openings. Although I felt weak from a lingering flu, I picked up my camera for a short walk to see for myself what all the drama was about.
From the bridge over the Willamette River, still golden cottonwoods lit up with sunlight while thick, black clouds roiled behind. The light quickly changed to shadow and then the sun came back again, so my vision seemed to move between the everyday world and that Otherworld always waiting for a turn of the head, the shift in light that would reveal that world where every object is imbued with its own spirit and is waiting to speak to you about whatever is in your heart.
As I was crossing the boardwalk between two ponds, I stopped to frame an image of leaves, water, and reflections when I was startled by the banking flap of enormous wings. Great Blue Heron had flown directly into the focus place of the photo I had framed.
Instantly, I thought of a fragment from Ovid’s Heroides I had read earlier on the morning:
“Chance is always powerful. Let your hook always be cast; in the pool where you least expect it, there will be fish.”
Each card had a different animal on it, and its qualities translated into human terms in a little accompanying book. When we had a chance encounter with an animal in either the real world or through dream or another chance encounter such as the logo on a truck that arrested our attention, we would say that the animal “flew into my cards today.” We would look up the meaning of the card and through drawing and journaling think about the lesson or insight the animal was bringing. I consider this to be High Play.
Well, Great Blue Heron had certainly flown into my cards–smack into the intense focus of my camera.
I didn’t actually know anything about the symbolic or shamanic meaning of cranes or herons in Western traditions, so I did due diligence when I got home and looked it up.
I learned that herons and cranes were important in Celtic mythology. One reason was because those bird species lived in a misty environment between land and water–the marsh. Just as an hour of quick-changing sun and shadow shifted my seeing between worlds, so does the heron live in that liminal place at the doorway to the Otherworld.
I really love the other reason, too, which I learned from Anna Franklin’s excellent online site, Power Animals, Allies and Totem Animals, “The Celtic god Ogma was said to invented ogham [an ancient British and Irish alphabet] after watching the flight of cranes, the shapes of the birds against the sky giving him the idea for the angular letters.” As a poet and writing instructor, the idea of my writing springing from the shapes of birds against the sky is deeply satisfying.
I have been thinking pretty much non-stop lately about the Mysterious Night Vision Field Journaland the classes my sister and I are creating. The appearance of the Great Blue Heron literally flying into my focus tells me we are on the right track.
Your Mysterious Night Vision Field Journalis your Secret Book, your Book of Dreams where you draw and journal in that numinous space between land and water where the heron lives and feeds. We look at the outer world with our inner eyes, and when the heron flies, we understand the writing their stick legs and archeopteryx shapes make against the sky.
When the heron flapped giant silver wings into my lens, folded up and settled on his log in the pond, I got goosebumps all over. I definitely felt the necessity of responding to this vivid visitation in my Mysterious Night Vision Field Journal; this time as this blog post.
Moss says, “Feeling is your clue to meaning.”
Do you know the poet Mary Oliver? What she doesn’t know about the Science of Shivers doesn’t need to be known. Most of her poems creep up on me and give me the shivers–including those about Great Blue Heron:
Heron Rises From the Dark, Summer Pond
By Mary Oliver
is the long-necked, long-bodied heron,
always it is a surprise
when her smoke-colored wings
and she turns
from the thick water,
from the black sticks
of the summer pond,
rises into the air
and is gone.
Then, not for the first or the last time,
I take the deep breath
of happiness, and I think
how unlikely it is
that death is a hole in the ground,
that ascension is not possible,
though everything seems so inert, so nailed
back into itself–
the muskrat and his lumpy lodge,
the fallen gate.
And especially it is wonderful
that the summers are long
and the ponds so dark and so many,
and therefore it isn’t a miracle
but the common thing,
this trailing of the long legs in the water,
this opening up of the heavy body
into a new life: see how the sudden
gray-blue sheets of her wings
strive toward the wind; see how the clasp of nothing
takes her in.
Watch carefully then tell me: who flew into YOUR cards today?
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BOOKS I REFERENCED IN THIS ARTICLE
Note: I have personally read all of the books I referenced in this article and can recommend them to you as good companions on your Journey.
Your Mysterious Night Vision Field Journal is not like any other art you’ve done or seen before. Because the soul is always dreaming, awake or asleep, the stream of images is always available to you. Just as the stars are still out in the daytime, Dreamtime is always with you. However, the bright sun of your awake mind dims them to view. You need a reliable entry point, a way in,
In all shamanic traditions, there is a gateway to the spirit world. It could be a crack in a cave wall or a burrow under an old growth tree. Maybe it’s at the bottom of a lake or a back door to your own home you never noticed before. Whatever it is, you can draw it and come back to that drawing over and over as your own unique doorway to your imagination.
Prepare a quiet space to work in your Mysterious Night Vision Field Journal. Make sure you will be undisturbed. Leave your technology in the other room, turned off, so you won’t be distracted. That includes cats, dogs, and kids!
Spread your tools out before you: black paper, gel pens, colored pencils. Light a candle if you want. Now, breathe and center yourself.
Let the image of a doorway, gate, or other portal form in your mind. No judgment or editing! Let it be what it is going to be. Stay with it a while. Do you need a password or special key to get in?
Now, wait for it to open. Be patient, and when it does, go through.
“Finally, your patience is rewarded: the ancient stone door creaks open, the drawbridge is lowered, the boulder magically rolls away from the mouth of the cave. However you visualize your portal to the mythic realm, see it as inviting you to adventure.”
–Jill Jepson Writing as a Sacred Path
Now, quietly pick up your pen and begin to draw. Become as immersed in your drawing as you did when you were a kid.
This is important work, this building a portal to the world of waking dream.
Report back here with a comment: what was your experience? Describe your portal to your imagination.