Saturday, July 4, 2015

"A Day for the Book"

It was a day from a book,
steeped in its own warm juice
heavy with smells of growing ...
-Alastair Reid, "A Day for the Book" from Weathering: Poems & Translations

Such days are a true gift: moments strung together like brightly colored beads, each one intricate and fantastic in detail and completeness. One such moment, like a core memory (thank you Inside Out) a bubble of perfection, but an entire day brimming with golden moments?

I tell you, I could hear the mermaids singing. Okay, it was the cooing of a llama (same thing if you ask me) which is no less magical and heart-stopping.  The day went under the guise of a painting workshop and while I went with no expectations (okay, I had hopes for a Stevie kiss) I was pretty certain at the very least, I would have a lovely time. I mean, I was going to Apifera Farm for the day and to paint on top of that. Surely goodness and love would follow me all the day, right?

I admit, my hopes had wilted just a tad given the predicted 100 degree temperature for the day, although I figured the heat might keep me out of my head and open to experiencing a new way to approach painting. More than anything, I was worried the heat might keep the Misfits sequestered away in cool, dark places and while I was journeying there to paint, it was to paint while in conversation with these spirited animals that drew me half way across the country. 

There is a lovely description of how the day unfolded HERE. In addition to Katherine Dunn, our teacher and guide into the deeper alchemical mysteries of donkey ears, goat kisses, inner stories and paint, there were a total of four of us creating together in the cool of a barn. Katherine's horse, Boone, watched over us for the first part of the morning while Lady Birdie, a dainty llama occasionally peeked in to check our progress. 

our studio/art laboratory for the day

one of Katherine's lesson pages

The gentle and intimate mood of the workshop was established by an opening session with the donkeys where we were invited to drop into silence and to open up inner ears and eyes, allowing the donkeys to guide us into the art of intuitive presence. It was a Mary Oliver poem come alive -  

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
- Mary Oliver, "The Summer Day"


Only a poet's words come close to capturing the experience of being welcomed by a herd of diminutive donkeys. While I wished I could have my camera handy to capture the gestures and the details of these soulful creatures, I am grateful Katherine encouraged us to engage directly with the residents of the farm rather than filtering our experience through the lens of a camera or smartphone.  Rather than busying myself with my camera, I was open and receptive to receiving tender nuzzles from donkeys and the kisses of dear Stevie (yes, my expectations were filled!)

I was able to stay alert to the subtler language and gesture of the animals as they initiated us all into the magic that is Apifera Farm.

The morning was a blend of donkey love, art lesson and inspiration, creative play and spirited conversation. Sitting around the table painting, I was reminded of the rich history of women's circles: women coming together to converse while hands are busied stitching, painting, drawing, knitting or sewing. What is crafted is found not only on one's lap, but deep within, as each of us wove our stories into the collective story of meaning, purpose, healing and hope.

It is a privilege to sit with others in a space of trust and respect and even more so when tender seeds of creative exploration are being put down. Watching Katherine paint was both inspiration and confirmation of my own artistic instincts and aspirations. I learned new techniques and skills but more importantly, I was initiated into a way of relaxing into the flow that is at the heart of any intimate conversation whether it be a creative or spiritual one. The trick is to stay present, curious, open and welcoming to whatever presents itself to the mind, the eye, or the subconscious, engaging with it to see where it may lead, but staying relaxed enough to switch partners and dance with a new impulse or idea.

Sounds a lot like communing with the donkeys or goats or horses. 

Original artwork © Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm
Lunch was served in the cool and inspiring space of Katherine's studio. A feast of ripe watermelon, cantaloupe, avocadoes, grapes and crackers that quenched hot and thirsty artists. The only thing juicier and more nourishing was the array of artwork that surrounded us as we continued several lively conversation threads.

all artwork © Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm

all artwork © Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm

The afternoon brought more painting and time to wander around and greet the Misfits. Despite the leisurely pace, the day flew by! It was hard to accept the day's end and even harder to contemplate shaking off the fairy dust and reverie that Apifera immerses one in. 

We each walked away with a painted record of our time together, but more than that we collected moments and memories that will nourish us in ways I suspect each of us is slowly discovering. Katherine asked us to put into a word what we felt like upon entering the farm and again, a word (or words) that capture how we felt by the day's end. When I passed through the farm's gate, it wasn't a word or thought that arose so much as a full body sigh, a sense of relief at arriving. By the end of the workshop I felt rooted, grounded, as if I had come home  ... to myself and to the life I am ready to claim and transform. 

Our day captured and translated into this poem piece by a sister painter

Indeed, the day had already transformed me! While painting in the barn, I slowly became aware of Boone, Katherine's horse, breathing slowly and steadily into my back as if inflating me to a fuller and more awake version of myself. By the end of the day, I was able to naturally assume the posture of confident and capable artist, sizing up and seizing hold of my world. 

Thank you Katherine and sister painters for the bounty of gifts so lovingly parceled out on this magical summer day. It was a day for the book, a day tenderly folded and tucked away into my heart for safe keeping, a day I will return to again and again to nourish and sustain me whenever I feel my spirits flag. 

What the day offered was space and time to dream, paint, and play. What I believe we all experienced was permission and safety to tune into our hearts and listen for the quiet murmurings of our deeper selves. A sound I believe sounds very much like the trilling coo of a llama ... or perhaps it is the unique voice of this llama, dear Lady Birdie? 


  1. oh, that Lady Birdie! she's like a 1940's Hollywood starlet.....those eyes!!!

    what a fabulous experience....i can only imagine the magic that wove itself through that day and it fills me with such delight to see/read/feel how you're sinking fully into your glorious self.

    much love to you, dearest of souls....xoxoxo

  2. How wonderful! Such an experience to cherish and treasure. Great animal beings, they seem so wise and healing. xoxo

  3. thank you for sharing your innermost feelings on this day that was so special for me too, and others. I was so proud of how diligently you all worked too. We were sisters against the heat! And...I do think I need to up my workshop wardrobe-gads, I know we talked about embracing our aging selves, but, I looked like the forest witch who arrived from somewhere in that sloppy attire! But it was so hot, I couldn't think when I dressed. Birdie will await your next visit!

  4. What a beautiful and soulful look at your day. Wonderful photographs too. xox

  5. Hello. What a lovely post, really delightful photos too. Best wishes!

  6. What a beautiful post. There was something so calming, almost meditative about it. You really captured the feeling of the day. Thanks for sharing.