Friday, September 16, 2011

Still here!

Greetings Everyone!

Yes, it has been far, far longer than I could have ever imagined since my last post. The only word that can best describe these past few months is : RELENTLESS.

What have I been up to? First, I am still working on my next book though progress is slower than I had hoped for... too many unexpected things
keep appearing that demand my attention, so it has been a summer of making plans only to have to re-configure them again and again. It has felt impossible to count on anything going right this summer.

Some dear friends of mine lost their son due to suicide early in the summer. This came as a complete shock to all of us as we all thought he was doing so well and had finally found a new direction for his life. He was a beautiful, artistic and deeply spiritual young man and it is easy to imagine that he just found the brutality of what humans do to one another and the planet to be just too much to bear anymore. We all feel that he was simply too sensitive and unable to shield himself from all that is going so badly wrong here. His family is still trying to cope and comfort one another, but he has left an enormous hole in their (and our) lives.

I also lost two of my beloved kitties. The first to go was Miles, and as readers here may remember, I thought he was walking off this earth in late winter. But he had a big rally in the spring and he had a fabulous summer, spent mostly in his favourite spot, a big wicker chair in the shade garden. But by early July, I began to see him decline again. Since I was now used to big ups and downs with him, I wanted to see if he was really ready to go, or was just having another lapse. Finally, near the end of July, he gave me the sign that he was done and with the help of our wonderful vet, he began the next leg of his adventure leaving this incarnation behind. I miss him very much...even now almost 2 months later.

My second kitty, Shanti mysteriously vanished less than 2 weeks later. I had been getting strange impressions, fleeting thoughts of him being ambushed by a predator, perhaps the Bobcat I had seen here last year. Every time I had the feelings come to me, I tried to dispel them worried that I might be creating something unconsciously. Now, in retrospect, I suspect that I was being told in advance of what probably took him. I have never had this happen to me before, receiving messages ahead of time from a companion animal. I was very surprised and somewhat upset when Shanti did not return home one Monday. I looked and called for him for many days afterward but part of me already knew he was gone. I am grateful for the message because it has felt to me like this was something of his choosing, which seems strange to say, but that is how it feels. He and Miles were best buddies and it is easy to feel that they are now keeping each other company... so whenever the grief begins to well up, I picture them together, rubbing faces like they always did, and it is easier... but only a little.

In addition to these sad events, July and August were also filled with a very demanding and exciting new art project which I will tell you about another time once I have permission to share the photos. It was a return to one of my old skills; painting, with many new challenges. I had no idea what I was doing but it actually went quite well. The project was delivered on time and everyone seemed pleased with it... I will share more soon.

Then came Irene. You have no doubt heard the stories and have seen some photos. We were impacted quite strongly here. At first it was all about just shifting into emergency function mode. We lost power for 4 days and then one more, so there was lots of scrambling, chainsaw work and simply coping with life but no electricity for many days. It was hard to not know how the rest of our area was faring. Radio stations finally started filing news reports and we began to realize that in fact, we were the lucky ones.
The worst part was that the rivers rose... higher and faster than anyone could have imagined.
We had between 8 and 11 inches of rain in a short period of time and all the steep mountains around here drain very quickly as they cannot possibly absorb that much water. We estimate that on our river alone, the water rose 12-14 feet in less than 6 hours. It was quite frightening. We were unable to get out for about 2 days because roads were flooded or bridges washed out. My neighbour who had a beautiful organic farm lost almost all his crops to the flooding. Only a few plantings high up on the hill survived.
Other neighbours lost much more... livestock, garages, barns and homes were either drowned, swept away or flooded too badly to repair. Fortunately, no human lives were lost. Several close-by mountain communities were severely impacted and it will take years for them to recover. Some places will not recover because they have been swept clean by the water. For some, not only did they loose their homes but the very land their homes were built upon no longer exists.... only boulders and a newly channeled river remain where there had once been lovely green gardened homes. I have only just been able to start venturing out to see some of the places that are familiar and near to my house...and it is heart-breaking to see the damage done.
Here are some shots from a normally tiny little stream. I have made many little creations along this stretch of stream. Some have been seen here on this blog. Now, it is a challenge to even find where these secret places were because the landscape itself has been so severely altered. Here are some photos to give just a tiny taste...

This tiny stream turned into a powerful, raging flood and tore through the forest, uprooting mature and young trees along its banks. When the waters receded everything is left a jumbled mess. Deer paths and trails that used to give access along the stream are now impassable and the stream itself is often not recognizable as boulders and sand have been whipped into a froth and re-deposited in the newly carved out channels. This is but one stream of hundreds, if not thousands in these mountains. All will have damage like this. Some not as bad, others far worse. I know in my mind that this is just Nature at work, but still, it breaks my heart to see so much destruction and dying trees everywhere. No one is going to come with a chainsaw and clean this up... it will take years for the trees to rot enough so that they can come apart and the streams will be open and free of debris once more.

The winds too helped to destroy certain trees. Here we have twin Hemlocks that had been simultaneously pushed over by wind and undercut by raging floods. Where I am standing is easily 15-20 feet above the river, yet this area had clear evidence of being flooded by powerful currents which just peeled the trees off the rocks, roots and all. Next to where these trees have fallen had been a lovely little glade of ferns, mossy tree stumps and gorgeous wildflowers in the spring. Now the glade is filled with sand, boulders and tree debris... nearly 4 feet deep! It is bizarre to see river debris where there previously had been no evidence of waterflow at all.

Here, is where the road goes over the stream. If you look to the tree at the right you'll see debris stuck up high in the tree. It is hard to get a sense of scale in these photos, but the red line I've drawn on the photo is at about 7 ft... I could barely touch the debris.
I noticed that the river had brought down a lot of Golden Birches. I also noticed that there are a LOT of roots now exposed from trees that have lost their footings and have been swept downstream. I've started collecting some old pine bark and roots and any other bits of materials from the debris fields that I might use in my work. If I can, I'd like to make some art pieces to sell to help the flood families who lost so much. I would never use roots ordinarily,
but so many are now exposed, no longer able to sustain life and their unusual shapes may make for some interesting sculptures once they have dried out. I am debating whether to go back and collect some of the bark off the downed birch trees. It is a rare opportunity to collect fresh and gorgeously bright bark... but it is so hard to be in the forest amid such destruction. It is like walking thru a battlefield after a great battle is over. The dead lie everywhere. To take anything feels like a desecration... yet, trees are so generous in the gifts they wish to bestow when their time to lie down has come. I will have to find the courage to revisit this forest to just sit and listen for guidance as to what is most honouring of the trees... to remove some of the precious golden bark or just leave them be, and let Nature finish what she started.

I'll be posting other brighter messages soon. I have a new and very magical Faerie house to show you.
Some news about fun event I'll be participating in and of course, sharing more new card images to get geared up for Autumn. Tonight we are having our first frost and the trees up high in the mountains are already tinged with reds and oranges. We may get a really good foliage season this year...which means I have to get FOCUSED and get ready for the very shortest season of all; Autumn.

Sorry it has been so long since I have posted, but as you can see, things have been challenging... and there have been deep emotions to process and embrace and dear friends- human, feline and tree-people - to say good-bye to... creativity has been hard to come by these past few months. But I do have some bright spots to share as
well... so I promise to not let so much time go by before writing again. And since this has been an unusually sad and emotional posting, I'll finish it with an appropriate image... this was taken by by neighbour as it apparently arched over my house at the end of August and is used with their kind permission.

Peace and Blessings to you all.


Bonnie K said...

Welcome back, Sally! No need for apologies on your part. So much loss in such a short time is difficult for anyone to process. We all grieve with you.

The devastation that Irene left has impacted so many - even those of us on the west end of the state. We did not get the flooding as did your area, but it still is heartbreaking to see the damage and know of the lives that have been completely changed. My husband spent last week near Cobleskill doing disaster relief clean-up. Brought back pictures that were unbelievable of the damage.

Be well and safe, my dear. I patiently await your next musings.

Anonymous said...

I hope you'll consider another perspective about the hurricane. Nature has just rearranged her gifts, making room for new ones. Those streams may have been corrupted by man to the point that what you saw as natural for years was really damage. Now Nature is rerouting her streams back to where they were, thus opening the door to thousands of new trees, shrubs, and wildlife. Water is life, thus new streams mean new life. Those homes that were destroyed were in Nature's path, and never really belonged. The people impacted will make new homes, but their monetary losses pale in comparison to the environmental losses we all inflict when we choose to live out in natural areas. We are the interlopers.

Sally J Smith, Environmental Artist said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for taking the time to write your views. I do appreciate the alternative viewpoint. I would politely ask... where are we to live? Was not all of this earth at one time "natural"? I totally agree that what humans are doing to the ecosystems all around the planet is deplorable and yes, in our current level of consciousness, most of us are interlopers indeed. And yes, much of how we have altered and changed this environment is now going to show us just how wrong we were to think we could out-design Nature.
Here where I live I am very fortunate. Most people here try to live respectfully with the land and the laws that protect this landscape are considerable, which is why there has been such slow development here - something that is always a tug-of-war politically. What happened here in my area was unprecedented and the areas that were badly altered were "wild" lands and human occupied alike. I grieve for the wild lands as much of not more than the human losses. To see young trees ripped up by their roots and thrown down the stream beds, piled one on top of another brings tears to my heart. Nature is sometimes violent, there is no use in denying that. I am just sad to see beauty lost.... and yes, I know it will regrow and re-establish itself in new ways and in new places... and in 100 years, all this destruction that I now see will be invisible in the new landscape...but still, for me, it is hard to be in the ravaged places and not feel loss and grief.
As for the human element and their losses... in our area, people live very modestly. As is so often the case, those who can least afford it, end up living in the most vulnerable our case, the river flood-plains. Should they have been there? In an ideal world, probably not. But people have been living along the lakes and rivers of this area for thousands of years, and on rare occasions, big events happen. We hopefully will learn from this and adapt our living strategies to be more respectful of the power of Nature and in ways that allow humans and Nature to co-exist in mutual reciprocity.

Thank you for your viewpoint. I'm hoping to shortly post an outside link to something you may enjoy...the making of living bridges. I wish we could make such structures here where I live... perhaps someone will figure out how to make it possible in our more severe climate.

very best wishes,


Welcome to the enchanted world of Environmental art and Faerie Houses sculptures created by Sally J Smith. Here you will find photos of the artist's unique art-forms and hear some of the stories from behind the scenes as she shares with you her creative process.