Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Samhain, a Celtic Festival and Local Heritage

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I went to a Celtic Festival last week-end and had a grand experience with their version of Samhain. A Gaelic festival, it is thought to have been initiated about 2000 years ago, at the end of harvesting and beginning of winter. Thus, it notes the changeover from summer to winter, from lighter to darker months. and occurs about halfway between autumn equinox and winter solstice. It is believed that the veil between this world and the other world is thinnest on October 31-November 1 and spirits pass through. Ancestors were honored and spiritual or other harm was hopefully warded off with costumery and vivid masks. This, as one can see, relates closely to our Halloween when folks dress in scary or fun outfits and venture into the night for a bit of revelry and treats.

I am part Irish (the common “Kelly” is my mother’s father’s family name) and feel kinship with the traditional music and dance. So, when I discovered a Celtic festival was taking place an hour away I was all in. One of the first things noted was a flag depicting six Celtic territories of Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Brittany–and the seventh noted is Galicia,  (Spain), which apparently has been disputed. I would enjoy learning the definitive conclusion on this, if anyone knows.

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The festival took place in the Spinning Room located within the Willamette Heritage Center, created by the Mission Mill Museum and the Marion Co. Historical Society.  The old woolen mill was established in 1889 by Thomas Lister Kay, and has been well-preserved. A few more buildings from a missionary enterprise (that sought to convert the Native American population during 1834-44) were relocated from a site 13 miles north along the Willamette River. Those photos will be shared later. You will note a life-sized sculpture of a sheep, the creature whose lush wooliness underlay the booming business.

These are a few initial pictures of the grounds.

The buildings and grounds are  marvelous; we enjoyed exploring all day in between festival events.

Marc and I wandered about the cheery gathering, shopping for a few goodies at the marketplace in the Spinning Room of the Mill Building. We looked at the wool and noted the processes required to make the yarn and enjoyed watching a friendly woman spinning.

And saw kilt folding by Eric Chandler as he demonstrated how men traditionally folded and put on their kilts. He noted that his shirt was on backwards–so he righted that. I lack technical language to explain all this so will simply share what was observed. (A last picture of it being draped over his shoulder did not come out well.)

Entertainment was enjoyable, from Gordon Munro the enthusiastic storyteller to a singer and dancer (Brian O’hAirt and Maldon Meehan) who performed sean-nos, a more casual, free and intimate style of Irish dancing and singing, if I understood correctly. They are quite accomplished. And I am ready to take classes!

Even though I’d hurt my knee recently it has been healing well so I impulsively joined in as the ceili dance got underway. The fine band Biddy on the Bench played for us. It was well worth the effort it to meld with the cheerful crowd, people helping one another learn. I have been to one other and hope to attend Portland’s monthly ceilidhs. This time, after 15 minutes the tender knee required me to sit out the rest, though I tapped my happy feet and bounced about!

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This is music and dance after my own heart. I wished my mother was alive and could have been there with us. Edna Kelly Guenther loved a good gathering and merriment and told stories about big and little things in life that I feel no one can match.

Afterwards we strolled about and looked at and in the mill and missionary structures.

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A few pleasing shops shown below are in the above building; we ducked in to get out of rain. Our favorite was the bookbinder shop and Spencer, the book binder’s son who now runs the shop, shared some of his trade and how much he loves his work.

Buildings that stand to the right of the mill area include houses from the 1840s and Pleasant Grove Presbyterian Church from 1858.

We have come to the end of our Samhain Celtic Festival outing and a big thanks to the Ceili of the Valley Society.

But the real Samhain starts tonight. Have a safe and happy one (or Halloween) if so inclined. And welcome a good winter–our rainy season has begun in earnest here!

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(PS You might take a look at a re-post of last week’s neighborhood sights with a touch of Halloween, since the photos then were a bust–sorry for that glitch. Now they can be seen!  Friday’s Passing Fancy: Historic Irvington Fall Mosey )

Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: December Gleanings

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

Breath is heat slipping over tender frost,
life leaning outward to inward as demure
roses pale and pines yet soar as spires;
bright leaves spent so soon are bejeweled.
This light is sparsely cast and laid
upon each day and place like prized
filigree wrought of another world,
or an extra skin for the darkening journey.

This heart flares with a blossoming of soul,
settles in for wintry dreams and musings,
snug inside a sojourner’s still-lithe flesh.
Mind catches up though trailing green, gold.
What stays alive is redesigned in December shadows;
we transform within its secret opalescence,
its sheer, still points like a canopy of safety.

Beauty and this Beast: Wildfire!

Columbia Gorge: Before and After
Credit: James C King,  Oregon Wildland Firefighters

The pictures tell the story but I will say it: I am heartbroken.

To understand how much I love the Pacific Northwest, I will tell you that at 19 years old I fled my Midwest hometown via a one way plane ticket to live at the edge of Seattle, Washington. My life had been a strange mix of the horrid and sublime; it wasn’t to become truly and healthily balanced until years later. But I knew anything could be withstood if I was close–step-out-the-door close–to the wilder areas of nature, specifically mountains, rivers and lakes, forests. I had tasted some of that happiness when summer camping and other visits to northern Michigan. So I had yearned for even more wilderness before cabin living (with older sister) on Lake Washington, an area then still more rural. Every morning I stepped outdoors to take in expanses of lapping, radiant water and greenest trees, to hear music of scampering animals, trilling birds. It wasn’t perfect in all ways; I returned to MI. a year later. But the brash and gentling natural world had so potent an effect on me that all I had to do was shut my eyes: soon arrived the residual energy of its orderly and stirring designs, mysteries and truths. Nature always had felt like a conduit for the healing and instructive powers of God.

Most people seek and can be fortunate to claim a geography that fits them, feels most like home. I was relieved to give up flat, wide-sky expanses of mid-Michigan for this other. Though I visited often it took 20 years to make the permanent move; I have resided in Oregon since 1993. It has been everything I’d hoped in most aspects. Of greatest importance have been the natural world’s opportunities for exploration; activities have seemed endless.

But now: wildfires. Within this part of the state lies our historical treasure, the beloved Columbia Gorge. There is so far zero containment. Six hundred firefighters are out there working day and night. No human life has been lost at this time. Scores of forest creatures have perished, so many more to follow.

Last Saturday a teen-aged boy set off a firework during high fire danger weather in Eagle Creek. That fire began to rapidly grow, then exploded on Monday and now is merged with an older Indian Creek Fire: it now all covers 32,00 acres and counting. Many things can spark flames in fire weather but now these lick at the outer edges of Portland; my husband works in an area that is now at a Level 1 warning–“Be Ready” to evacuate (L 2, “Be Set”; L 3, “Go”). Many communities have been evacuated or may soon be.

And we are not the only ones; an estimated 500,00 acres are burning in Oregon alone. Many are raging in California. There are 1.8 million acres afire in the U.S. right now, per Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown’s latest figures.

Just ten days ago my spouse and I were hiking in the very areas where the fires are devastating the forests and creatures. My post last Wednesday was a cheerful account of hiking to Bridal Veil Falls and enjoying other areas. At that time I felt an eerie sense of the risks of brittle dryness as we trekked among voluminous grasses, unruly thickets and towering trees. One mistake or lightning strike could ignite a fire. But people here are wary and respectful of fire danger watches and warnings. It never occurred to anyone a Washington state youth would exercise such poor judgement, set a conflagration going.

I have stayed indoors for three days, trying to not watch too much news, waiting to hear from Marc on and off since he can see more from his office window. Air quality from falling ash (accumulating on cars, my balcony, other outdoor surfaces) and smoke blanketing the skies is unhealthy, causing burning eyes and congested lungs if out in it too long. (My not-perfectly-healthy heart warns me to take no chances.) The cat I caring for and I are anxiously pacing at times, peering out windows, sniffing the breeze through a cracked window and recoiling–even he does not want to go out. I have the air conditioning unit on high most of the time to filter and cool hot, thickened air. People have donned masks so they can breathe outside when they must leave their homes.

Ash on my son’s truck; he lives somewhat closer to the fires.

Everything feels different for me, brought into a razor-sharp focus I did not have 5 days ago. The trails I have loved hiking and walking, above and along the Columbia River, are forever altered, so quickly. I am profoundly thankful my sense of urgency told me ten days ago to hike those trails at Bridal Veil Falls among others, my annual pilgrimage (marking 16 years lived past a heart event while hiking). Any area structures and homes near there are being or have been evacuated.

Lively, tuneful birds flitting among the forest, the bears’ huffing calls, signs of cougar, rushing creeks and waterfalls, the sight and scents of that deep, sinuous, busy Columbia River from high wooded trails, the town of Cascade Locks and the Bridge of the Gods and beyond…hard to think of today but harder to avoid. I try to console myself with the fact that I at least possess hundreds of photographs from over the years and such fine memories. I know there are other areas intact in the Northwest to enjoy but for the foreseeable future nothing will be well and not ever the same along miles of the Columbia Gorge. Not as it has been for many thousands of years.

So I weep, there is no stopping it, for great losses. How can we ever repair such damages? Or must we watch earth’s demise, just wait for Mother Nature to repair things again–and will that fully occur this time? Powerlessness wells up and harangues me. Hurricane Harvey has devastated so many areas down south. Now there is Hurricane Irma tearing a path of destruction. All over our globe climate change usurps the last flimsy denials, our illusions of domination. Many Native peoples everywhere spoke of the loss of natural balances long ago; so often those warnings went unheeded. I think hard on these things as I prepare to share a few photos from over the past 8-10 years.

What are we to learn amid all this? At the very least, we must come to know more deeply all we are given on this earth, so much better honor and care for it. And beware reckless greed though it feels so late. Nature’s bounties and complexities have been our guides and lifelines, yet too fast can be threatened. And lost. Can we have forgotten that the earth was made to be enjoyed and utilized in an alliance,  a partnership that provides us housing and food and a myriad resources every single day? This planet is constructed for an alliance, for interdependence that has sorely been taken for granted more often than we want to admit.

Love and honor your small spot on the earth wherever you are, love the beautiful and the homely, the short-lived and aged plants and creatures, those underfoot and making homes in small spaces and those high above, the ever blooming and those that require more tending, bodies of water that beguile and nourish or desert that stuns with its rare raiment, the jungles with their lushness and secrets, the valleys and woodlands with emerald swaths and changing shadows and light, the far northern lands with austere majesty.

I want to ask that you think of us here. Hurricanes and other disasters are so overwhelming while I suspect fires can be noted as spectacles then put aside by the public, with less probing thought afforded long-term consequences. Far less federal aid is generally allotted for fire damages and rebuilding efforts, as well as those who must relocate. I appreciate prayers for all life suffering from the wildfires in our country.

(Starting with the picture of the blue heron among Columbia River’s shoreline rocks are five consecutive pictures of Cascade Locks, a village/area long a favorite for us, and we most recently had lunch by the river just ten days ago…all now threatened by voracious flames with evacuations underway. You will see Bridge of the Gods that has so long spanned Oregon and Washington; we hope it holds. But news is that wildfire sparks have now “jumped” the river to WA. More devastation unfolds.)

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Off for a Mosey

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This time of year I like to head out and immerse myself in some fresh Spring-into-Summer experiences. It is Mother’s Day week-end, and my mother passed away during very close to Mother’s Day, so it seems appropriate. Not because I am yet burdened with grief–it has been thirteen years and she is still with me in countless ways–but because little could more excite her than getting out to meet new people, absorb  new sights, and return with more stories to share. It was like she carried a cache around with her into which she would nestle bits and pieces of many places and faces, whole conversations, moments of insight, detailed descriptions of all she felt and observed. A treasure chest is what she had within her, and she passed much on to me, to all who knew her.

Curiosity is one thing I got from her (and, of course, my father, if I need to be inclusive). She was usually aglow with something that happened on the way to the store or what she garnered when interacting with a stranger or friend or perhaps after reading something. She sometimes would stand at the kitchen window while cooking or wasjing dishes and gaze into the distance as though she was catching sight of something marvelous. It could be a songbird or sunlit leaf or shape of the clouds–or her own imaginative thoughts. And, I must note, her prayers for us all and many more.

I, too, have a very large appetite for learning, doing, rooting out the unusual or interesting if ordinary moments, people that render and reflect lives that are deep and complex. Life is noteworthy in its infinite varieties no matter where one goes in this world. Sometimes that is just down the street and around a corner. I want to see what is there, too, though I may be uncertain of the outcome. Or perhaps because of that.

But this time it is a bit farther afield in the jewel of the Pacific Northwest that is my home. So I will not be writing blog posts this coming week but shall return with a broader, refreshed viewpoint and my own smallish satchel of new stories and ideas. And quite simply, the pleasure of any travel is its own reward.

So, to those of you who are practicing mothers, have mothers you are not always thrilled with (are any of us, every single moment?) or deeply love your mothers or profoundly long for a mother…I send you good will and kindnesses. Remember to care for yourself, too–we are all our own mothers in the end.

Talk to you after next week!

Captivating Moments: Photography

 

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I have become more of a human being since taking photographs daily. More satisfied, centered in the moment, less opinionated of what and whom I experience. Photography offers an intense personal experience while also requiring objectivity, a distancing. It asks me to abandon restrictive thinking and give myself over to a finer sense of things, the gravitational pull of life around me. Order can be created even if there seems to be little–or exposed and higlighted. And it takes discipline, which is something I enjoy.

At the start–ages ago, back when I got my first basic Brownie camera around age nine–it was just about capturing a moment in life as it was happening. It gave me a taste of control and power to frame and steady my hand, trigger the shutter. Polaroid cameras, which developed the picture in moments, were too expensive so I had to take a roll of film to the pharmacy and wait for a couple of weeks to see what I caught on film. Sliding the shiny pictures out of the envelope brought a thrill of excitement. There were people I knew, there was my house, my yard or the park, the neighborhood’s goings-on. I could tack them on my bulletin board or in my scrapbook for safekeeping.

I didn’t understand much, even though my father had a scientific bent and explained the rudimentaries. I couldn’t get past the fact that my eye saw things upside down and so did a camera, then turned them right side up again. I did realize photographic images are two-dimensional, not three. Still, it fascinated me that I could make something occur, cause a moment in life to hold still and be made to last forever with a picture. But I had to be careful; I couldn’t waste pricey film. Taking pictures was meant to be something special. I do muse over what my father would think of digital photography: here now, gone the next second. No visible errors, less idiosyncrasy. There is much to be said for the intrigue of irregularity and for  permanence. Ten years after my first camera I got to develop my own film for a class. The alchemy that could be rendered chemically, visually and emotionally was spectacular.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, photo by Marianne Casamance
Chartres Cathedral, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; photo by Marianne Casamance

In later years, my parents travelled overseas and my father dragged along his beloved Pentax and additional lenses. That meant hundreds of photographic slides upon their return. I remember hours of being riveted by pictures of Europe projected big as life on a white screen. My parents narrated their journey with anecdotes and laughter. The pictures seemed so akin to real places and events that I could interpret the atmosphere, absorb diverse colorations or foreign designs of topography and architecture, nearly hear people chat as they ate at outdoor cafes and shimmied through narrow passageways. I felt I had gone along, had prayed within Chartres cathedral, visited Mozart’s birthplace, savored tea and biscuits at an Irish bed and breakfast. For me, pictorial images were like a magic carpet. Whatever I could see–in fact, often just visualize–took me right there.

As a child and young adult, I was results-oriented: I wanted to see the fruits of my labor, have picture souvenirs of my North American trips. It wasn’t the process that mattered so much as the result: memories, little bits of them frozen in time. But I have changed. Now when I leave the house with my humble pocket Nikon and good Fujifilm Finepix S cameras in hand, I set out to be surprised and inspired. Moved, startled, intrigued. It is a bit like playing detective: I have an urgent need to know more, to deliberate over scraps of information, to search for and gather evidence of the multitudinous layers of reality, as well as what may yet be hiding. I want to be present within the essence of life, this planet I inhabit, even the universe as it reveals its mystery moment by moment. At the very least, I want to clarify my own truth. Get to the core of things. Be attentive.

Writing has done this for me well over fifty years and sometimes I wonder how I can use up an hour or two a day taking pictures when what I need to be doing is writing. But one flows into the other seamlessly. What my vision brings to me can be made into a complex picture, then a bigger story. Walking into the world with camera in hand unlocks secrets to which I would not otherwise be so privy. I closely observe the way shadow changes rhododendron blossoms. I watch how a couple leans toward one another in the spring light, then the man turns sharply away. I see a child poke a muddy puddle and talk to himself about frogs and other beings unnamed. Over there is a house with an extravagance of foliage and two empty chairs. Who steps out in the dusk to sit there with the quieting birds? Photography uses a different part of the brain than language; it enlarges my reservoir of skills and ideas, stimulates possibilities.

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Photography stops me in my tracks. Ruminations, selfish self-regard, and odds and ends of worry all pause. It wakes me up to the variety of humans and other creatures that roam the earth and with whom I share it. I am not ever lonely when I take pictures by myself; I feel connected to everyone, often deeply. It is another way to become more aware of what is sacred in this living. If nature mimics universal design and our bodies and souls reflect the cosmos as well, what is not sacred? How can I not see God, camera or no camera? It strikes me that God is the Eye of all and we are both the seers and the seen; that thought cheers me. And I am excited my humble camera can do its small part.

There is a wealth of design out there. An old friend of mine, an artist, once said that good design was her religion. I pondered over that for, while it isn’t mine, it is certainly part of what I believe in and value. Whether natural or human-made objects, my eye seeks a contiguous whole made of intricate, often minute, pieces. Design requires proportion, light, space, perspective, materials. It requires mathematics and intuition, a feel for composition that will impact the environment and ourselves a little or a lot. We are altered by harmonious, innovative design (or a lack thereof) within our cities, our neighborhoods, our homes. We even design our own daily lives, and its signature shows up in the degree of our well-being.

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My neighborhood affords me such loveliness and fascination that every time I walk, I see things anew. The light, the weather, the time of day and angle at which I take the picture–it all matters so much. And these streets are lined with historical houses. The trees are varied, mammoth, many. Gardening is a full-on activity here, so I have the pleasure of appreciating every bit of effort people put into their yards. Our climate is good for growing things and all year nature displays her virtuosity. I count myself fortunate to be surrounded by such beauty.

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As much as I adore this visual art, documenting life as I experience it, I can’t say I have any expertise. I still feel new to it; there are volumes to learn. Still, I persist.

I have always believed being a witness is important, to whatever is unjust, turbulent or painful but also victorious, balanced or full of love. There is a part of me that wishes I had been able to become a globe-trotting photojournalist. When I was a mental health and addictions counselor I was a witness to chronic suffering, but also healthy transformation. As a writer I am witness to vagaries of the human spirit and a plethora of story that defines this world and us, both here and gone. With my camera I can discover a moment or it, me, then crystallize something of it. It takes patience but that is something I cultivate. I have the opportunity to be right there, up close. And a small revelation will unfold before my eyes. Then I can carry it home to savor the beauties. Mourn any losses. Study its lessons. Share my world with yours.

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(Other than the Wikimedia photo, these are my pictures. If you are interested further, please check out my blog Visionary Views, which is linked to this main blog.)