Category Archives: ArtNature

Ode to the Trees

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February 13, 2017

Writers must write, they say, and a journal can be a writer’s best friend.  I’ve kept a journal most of my life.   Lately, I’ve been re-reading old journal entries.  The following “Ode to the Trees” was written seven years ago this month.

Friday, February 5, 2010—After a long drought, it’s finally raining.  The winds of change are blowing.  The rain symbolizes the tears of sadness shed by humanity for our misbegotten past.  Oh, woe is us.

But look, we are still alive, breathing through it all, taking heart from the invigorating negative ions misting the air.  They spread an aura of dust settling, after a long dry spell.

This is Earth renewing herself, in gentle, friendly spirit, as the trees wave hello. “We believed in you, and we salute your awakening.

“You have not killed us all, as we exhale enough oxygen to keep you alive.  Who emits the most carbon dioxide anyway, you or us?

“We are the trees.  We thrive on your exhalations.  We breathe in what you breathe out, and vice versa.  We are yin to yang and yang to yin in karmic symphony.

“We are strong but gentle, and we stand our ground, waving in the air, celebrating this triumph we call life on Earth.

“We are the giants, the gentle giants who comfort and shelter without leaning on you.

“We stand tall and proud because we reach for the sky, while sinking our roots deep into the earth that supplies the minerals, water, and all the molecules necessary to nurture us where we stand.  We reach for the sun, trees that we are, thriving in the light and heat of the greatest nuclear power plant in the solar system.

“We require nothing from you, have survived many generations of man and will survive more.  We watch cultures come and go, structures rise and fall, wars and fires sweeping the land.   We have survived floods and hurricanes and thrive on them, to keep life interesting as it comes to us.

“We have seen plagues, pestilence, and famine, and we have compassion for you.

“We offer you shade under our branches, shelter from the wind, rest for your aching back.  We offer wood for your houses and stoves, paper for your mills, and decorations for your Christmas.

“Love us as we love you,” say the trees, “and we will all breathe easier.

“We think you are cute, the way you run around, thinking you are smart because you can cut us down, grind us up, burn us and convert us to junk mail.  We’re okay with it, because we are strong and durable.  We’ve left many seeds, and we can reproduce ourselves.  Our seeds can wait hundreds or thousands of years, hidden in nooks, crannies, dusty and out-of- the-way places that even squirrels can’t reach.

“So trees know small, in our genetic memory banks, as do we all.  A lowly seed has the potential of the tree built within it, needing only the proper time and environment to thrive.

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Bananas!

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

In a previous blog, I lamented the loss of a banana tree in the storm Hermine.  I was ready to cut the remains of the banana stalk but decided on impulse to let it remain, hoping the broken stalk would still have the uumph to ripen the bananas.

And so it has.  Bananas are ripening daily, with ten cut so far and those pictured awaiting breakfast cereal.  The chickens love them.

This experience reminds me not to give up too soon.  When all seems lost, and years of effort wasted, nature can provide some sweet surprises, generating hope for another season of fruitfulness.

 

Rosaliene? Cosmic Balm?

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Iguazu Falls, Argentina, kco0295

Rosaliene Bacchus (rosalienebacchus.wordpress.com) is one of my favorite Double X Avengers in the blog world.  The Double X Avengers are those gifted with the most chromosomes, the most genes, the most sense, cents, and thus the most likely to survive in the future “Survival of the Fittest” paradigm.

In 1995, long before I met Rosaliene in cyberspace, I traveled to Argentina and Chile and took this photo at Iguazu Falls, Argentina.  It does not show the violent food poisoning I got at the fancy dancy hotel, probably from unwashed lettuce.  Shame on me for eating uncooked food.  Should you desire to live among those with Survival Skills Technology, do not eat uncooked food at the Olympics.  Take your own food to Iguazu Falls.

Having said that, I offer another “Lesson in Living from the Double X Gene Pool.”

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My all-time favorite instrumental, “Moonlight and Magnolias,” reminds me of Savannah. It is cut #12 on this CD.

Here at home, music is cosmic balm for me.  I first heard “Moonlight and Magnolias” on a jazz radio station broadcasting from Charleston (that’s the one in South Carolina, for those who don’t know, where the War of Yankee Aggression began).

The 20th century radio station went off the air before I learned the artists’ or CD name.  I searched high and low, finally finding it two years later at the “listen-stations” Barnes and Noble used to have but can no longer afford.  I ordered the CD.  Kinky.  “Moonlight and Magnolias” is not typical, and it shows what the group can do.

As you may know, everything is free in the Cosmic Commune, and money doesn’t exist.  Therefore, we spend our free time having fun.  Having fun includes swimming at Iguazu Falls after we clean up the water, and dancing to good music.  These are the two best exercises known, except for the third one, and they are free, as well.

Having said that, I add that when you’re tired of swimming and dancing, you may want to sit down and knit some socks, for fun and profit.  The Cosmic Improv Group, deprived of their own  opposable thumbs, likes to give me advice on how to do a more efficient job.

Cosmic Improv Group, Chapter 4:  “The Knitting Dimension ensnares katharineotto.planetearth.ind in Earth Plane Reality”

By katharineotto.wordpress.com, an alter ego of katharineotto.planetearth.ind, representing unlicenced freedom to be who I am.  080116

 

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The first socks I ever knitted. kco0105

January, 2005

The Cosmic Improv Group helps me knit, in its way.  Its unique way, should I choose to see it their way.  I’m to “attitude-adjust” as necessary to get what I want.

I finished knitting my first pair of socks, but the CIG–that contingent of advisors who haunt my imagination and worst nightmares–made it as hard as possible.  I was counting stitches to decrease, to shape the second toe, trying to figure out what the directions were saying, and having trouble reading the small gray print on the back of the yarn label, when the phone rang, startling me and making me lose count, my place in the directions, and my composure.  The caller hung up in the middle of the answering machine message, or so I thought.  But the fax machine made noises as if to receive a fax, and then it quit.

I figured it was Capital One trying to fax the bill I never received and requested two days ago.  Capital One can’t just send a fax then and there.  No.  It has to be processed through another office in another city, so I was told the fax would come before 5 p.m. on the following day, which was yesterday.  So I was awaiting this fax, which did not come through.  My mind runs through a list of worst-case scenarios, primarily that the impatient fax sender lost her job and hung up before recognizing the phone could take faxes.  I would have to call again.  Maybe the fax was out of paper or malfunctioning.  This is the story of my life.

Meanwhile, I hear the Cosmic Improv Group gossiping about me.  Fukyoo leads the band.  “See how easy she is to provoke?” he quips.    “It’s only a fax.  Let’s see if we can make her make a mistake on her sock, so that it’s not just like the other one, and she will have to live with the imperfection forever.”

“Okay,” say the others.  “That sounds like fun.”

“Oh no you don’t,” I respond in my mind, not mad enough yet to say it out loud.  I go back to work.  The phone rings and hangs up again at the same place.  The fax starts and stops.  This happens a third time, and I pick up the phone but only hear fax tones.  I hang up.  I check the fax for paper, and it seems to be okay.  I rail against these angels, who, I decided, have caused my machine to malfunction.  I worry that the overworked, underpaid, stressed out sender at Capital One will give up and I’ll have to call again on Monday.  I change the fax machine to fax only mode so the answering machine will not pick up.

I hear Fukyoo and the others chittering in the background.  “Let’s make her lose her knitting needle.  That worked yesterday.”

Yes, it did.  I took my finished and unfinished socks to a meeting, but when I got home, my fifth double pointed needle was nowhere to be found.  Never mind that I was only using four needles.  I had bought five needles, and my sense of order dictated (yes—dictated) that I should be able to account for all five of them.  I searched high and low and finally decided it fell out of my bag at the meeting.

I had been losing and finding these needles since starting the socks.  Usually they fall in the crack between seat and arm in the recliner, but my cat was sleeping there and I didn’t want to disturb him.  I felt around the sides, to no avail.  When Bud finally moved, I found the needle in the crack behind him, but by then I had been fifth-needle-less for over two hours.  I had gone through a temper tantrum with a good yell or two at the sprites who plague me with their games.

So, I’m still concerned about the fax Friday morning, the toe of my sock is begging to be finished, my feet are cold, and I sit down to refocus on the project.

But I can’t find my fourth needle.  Yes, I know I have a fifth needle, but that’s not the point.  (Pun.  Ha, ha.  Get it?)

“Where should we hide her needle this time?” say the sprightly spirits.

“I know.  Let’s hide it in her hand.  She’s so upset now that she has forgotten how to count to four.”

Yes, the needle was in my hand, but then I couldn’t find the pattern, and when I found that, I was so insecure, that I plodded super attentively though the last few steps.  And a perfect sock I have.  And the fax finally came through.  Twice.

It probably helped that I’d let loose with a belly buster of a temper tantrum at the Fukyoo crowd, at the top of my lungs, somewhere in the middle of this emotional intensity.  “No, you can’t make it easy,” I screamed.  “You have to make it hard.  Why can’t you people get lives of your own so you won’t have to mess with mine?  Don’t you have anything better to do?”

“But you’re so much fun,” they say.  “We enjoy playing with you.”

“Mere flattery,” I say.  “If you think my ego needs sycophants like you, you are wrong-O.  If you really want to have a good time, you’ll do things to inspire rather than infuriate me.”

“She’s hearing voices again,” they tell each other.  “Voices inside her head.”

“Yes, and she’s talking back to them.”

“You know what that means.”  They all look at each other with great concern.

“Maybe we should back off.  She might really crack under the pressure.”

“She cracked a long time ago, if you ask me.”

“Don’t tell her that.  It will only upset her.”

“Good thing she has no neighbors.  If anyone heard her scream the way she does, they would surely have her committed.”

“At least she doesn’t scream or talk to those voices in public.”

“Not yet, but we’re working on it.”

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How America looks from Bali, 1996

 

 

Shoveling Steps

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My place in the Cosmos

Wednesday, July 6, 2016—And Brownie did indeed lay an egg yesterday.  When I noticed I’d been worrying about her, I decided my worry made it worse for her, so  turned my attention to the concrete dock steps, even though it was mid-day and cooking.  I hauled self and tools to the end of the dock and shoveled three bucketfuls of mud into the wheelbarrow.  I hacked oyster and clam shells and barnacles off the bottom steps, feeling surprisingly good about this heavy work in white hot heat.  The primary motivator was the realization that it would provide left-sided upper body exercise, and help strengthen my left wrist.  This wrist remains bent and atrophied from a break two years ago.

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Brownie

Once I began shoveling, though, the exercise provided so much more, including memories and associations to the river from my earliest childhood years.  Maybe lifetimes of memories.  I always imagine Moses as a baby, floating up a river maybe like this one.  I think of Creek Indians, the river’s slow pace, the easy rhythm of living off the land.  Yesterday, the tide was going out and low enough that water only covered the bottom step.  I saw ripples of shrimp and minnows and thought about going shrimping.

With steps cleared, this will be more feasible.  I wondered if this is now against the law.  I understand scooping mud and using it for gardening is now a no-no, but all was quiet yesterday, with government spies in airplanes and helicopters off harassing other people.

When I had all the mud I could haul, and a bit of sunburn, I brought the wheelbarrow to the east side of the deck and dumped it between buried concrete blocks and lawn (weeds) next to tomatoes that are thriving.  The plan is to extend the length of the plot along the front of the deck, where I can water easily and have water run away from the house.

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Mud garden

I imagined being a slave on a rice plantation in the old South, a life I was comfortable enough with, because the water was cool and the work hard but paced like the river itself.  I imagined being a woman in that life, with healing skills and sunny disposition that kept me safe.

I thought about myself as a true scientist, a life scientist, who makes discoveries through trial and error, going my own way, not calling attention to what I’m doing.  I’m not sure of what I’m doing, for one thing, and I don’t trust others’ judgment or discretion.

While working with the mud, I imagined today’s techno-geniuses looking to profit by expropriating my ideas, saddling them with rules, and ruining the fun for me.  I thought about Machu Picchu and how all prehistoric and locally/land-based cultures made use of what they had.  They worked with nature instead of against her.  The land owned them instead of the other way around.

The mass migrations created by shipping and its sequelae–because of dissatisfaction with treasures close to home—seems so sad and unnecessary, I thought.  The Cosmic Improv Group—that gaggle of hallucinations inside my imagination and unheard by others— told me this has been necessary to show others what I’ve always known.  The CIG likes to watch me work and give advice and support.

I want to experiment with river mud to learn or re-learn its properties, not only in gardening, but in building, too.  I don’t intend to ask government permission, or even to talk much about what I’m up to, unless they’re willing to help with the shoveling.  I really am creating a fertilizer factory, in a left-handed sort of way.

The idea of a “left-handed way” opens a “new cell in my brain,” as my left-handed mother would say.  My approach is “backwards” to some, but it is also yin-motivated, as I consider that the left is my yin side.

I imagine that if I discover the many useful properties of mud—or re-discover them—the asset plunderers and money exporters will seek to own and control, and I will be squeezed out, once again.

Eat dirt. You’ll feel better.

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So suggest some researchers into eco-therapy, a trendy new concept that has doctors writing prescriptions for spending time in a park. While they don’t specifically recommend eating dirt (a pathological condition known generally as “pica”), they do say the soil contains mood-enhancing micro-organisms that enhance happy-making brain chemicals, such as serotonin.

The star of current research is the benign Mycobacterium vaccae, a micro-organism found in soil and discovered to enhance serotonin levels in mice.  Serotonin is the neurotransmitter du jour in psychotropic medications like Prozac and is known for its ability to alleviate depression and anxiety. (Mayer, et al.  “Gut Microbes and the Brain:  Paradigm Shift in Neuroscience”. The Journal of Neuroscience. 12 November 2014, 34(46))

I practiced eco-therapy long before science discovered it. I’ve been a river rat since childhood.  After leaving home, I wound up in New York, but two years of noise, bad smells, pollution, too much concrete and pavement drove me to the opposite extreme—the mountains of Colorado– in 1977.  After some bouncing around, I moved to another big city, Atlanta, in 1992 for career training and lived there three years.  I spent all my free time in the back yard, planting flowers.  Because of the garden, the house sold for much more than the realtor believed I could get.  So my eco-therapy was financially rewarding, too.

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I spent too many years after that working in offices, often with no windows or with windows fronting on parking lots, and missing the best part of the day outside. Now retired and living on the old family homestead, I spend as much time as possible outside, scratching in the dirt with my chickens, and surrounded by the greens and blues of nature.  I’ve always liked the smell of earth, and now science is telling me why.

The scientific community is discovering what humans have instinctively known forever. In “The Nature Cure:  Why some doctors are writing prescriptions for time outdoors,” by James Hamblin, MD (Atlantic magazine, October, 2015) tells of the emerging “eco-therapy” concept. Dr. Hamblin writes of the M. vaccae. He also references a UK study showing physical activities in natural versus “artificial” environments, induced less anger, fatigue, and sadness.  Another study found that patients recovering from gall bladder surgery fared better if they were in rooms facing trees instead of a wall.

“The Nature Cure” also cites research that says people are attracted to and feel restored by looking at images of nature, especially savannas, slow-moving water, foliage, and “birds or other unthreatening wildlife.”

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Since then, I’ve stumbled on similar articles about the healthful and mood-enhancing effects of nature in Yes! magazine and Mother Earth News.  The winter, 2016 issue of Yes! is devoted to creating a “culture of good health.”  In “The Curious Case of the Antidepressant, Anti-anxiety Backyard Garden,” family practitioner Dr. Daphne Miller says “It’s well-established that the microbes in soil enhance the nutritional value of food and, as found in studies of farm children in Bavaria and among the Indiana Amish, improve immune function.  (Researchers were finding that exposure to a diversity of microbes early in life led to fewer allergies.)”

Dr. Miller states we need a diversity of organisms found in animals, plants, soil, water, and air for optimal functioning of our immune and nervous systems. She laments the modern practice of crop monoculture and use of pesticides and herbicides, which all deplete soil of micro-organism diversity.

Finally, “Nature Really Does Make Us Happy,” by Eva M. Selhub and Alan C. Logan, in the December, 2015/January, 2016 issue of Mother Earth News, takes a slightly different tack.  Here, behavioral scientist Roger S. Ulrich is given credit for the original research on gall-bladder patients.  He is also given credit for a landmark 1979 study on stressed students.  He showed them images of nature scenes and cities.  “The nature scenes increased positive feelings of affection, playfulness, friendliness and elation.  Urban views, on the other hand, significantly cultivated one emotion . . . sadness.  Viewing nature tended to reduce feelings of anger and aggression, and urban scenes tended to increase these feelings.  Also, seeing natural landscapes was associated with increased production of serotonin,” say the article’s authors.

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Other studies cited in the Mother Earth News article indicated elderly inhabitants of a residential care center in Texas had lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) when in a garden rather than a classroom.  The presence of plants, particularly flowering ones, in a room can reduce stress caused by an emotional video.  In Taiwan, rural farm scenes produced higher alpha-wave activity, particularly in the right brain.   Alpha-waves are associated with peaceful states of mind.  Forest scenes and natural water scenes also decrease heart-rate.  In Japan, forest walks reduced cortisol levels.  Forest walks are also credited with reducing depression and hostility, while increasing vigor and improving sleep.

Norwegian research shows that having a plant near or within view of a work station significantly reduces the amount of sick leave workers take. Japanese research adds that greening high-school classrooms with potted plants significantly reduces students’ visits to the infirmary.  Nature scenes fired up opioid receptors in subjects’ brains, imaged by fMRI in California.  Endogenous (produced by the body) opioids reduce perception of stress, enhance emotional bonding, and decrease brooding over negative memories.  Urban scenes were found in Korea to activate the amygdala, a part of the brain associated with anger and fear.  Chronic stress and cortisol may promote activity in the amygdala, which selectively prioritizes memorization of negative experiences and events.

So there you have it. My take-home message is to escape as often as possible the boxes where we live, drive, and work, and to enjoy the health-sustaining multi-dimensionality of the great outdoors.

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Photos, top to bottom:  Camellia;  White-tailed deer;  Trees and marsh;  Pecan tree with Spanish moss; Moon River at high tide.

Folk Art, USA

Yard art from Gallery by the Sea, Tybee Island, GA

Yard art from Gallery by the Sea, Tybee Island, GA, 2015

Folk art, Telluride, Colorado, 2003

Folk art, Telluride, Colorado, 2003

Interstate Ladies' Room art, somewhere in Texas, 2003

Interstate Ladies’ Room art, somewhere in Texas, 2003

Yard art, Milan, MI, 1996

Yard art, Milan, MI, 1996

Clothing Art, Bernard K. Jenkins, "Role Model," Savannah, GA 2006

Clothing art, Bernard K. Jenkins, “Role Model,” Savannah, GA 2006

Folk art, a dedication to Sandfly, Georgia's African-American history, 2003

Folk art, a dedication to Sandfly, GA, a 200 year old African-American neighborhood trampled by a parkway and Wal-Mart, 2003

Sidewalk art, from the Savannah College of Art and Design sidewalk art show in Forsyth Park, 2006

Sidewalk art, from the Savannah College of Art and Design sidewalk art show in Forsyth Park, 2006

Farm art, Dublin, GA, 2006

Farm art, Dublin, GA, 2006

Sorry Charlies, on Ellis Square in Savannah, GA, now re-opened following repairs stemming from local government incompetence, 2006

Sorry Charlies, on Ellis Square in Savannah, GA, 2006

 

 

Nature's art. A stump in the Okefenokee Swamp, Southeast GA, 2000

Nature’s art. A stump in the Okefenokee Swamp, Southeast GA, 2000

 

 

 

How America looks from Bali, 1996

How America looks from Bali, 1996