Sky Thoughts

Billy here: The planet Jupiter is bright in the East after dark. The moon is already growing again and will be full next week on the exact day of the halfway point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. It could be said that the beginning of spring is next week. I am seeing little sprouts in the ground. Some trees, confused by the Pacific warmth, are already flowering. I feel spring rising in my energy levels, shaking off the slumbers and sicknesses of the winter. Each day the Sun rises a minute earlier. The days stretch out slowly as the Earth’s path around the Sun moves the tilt of the Northern Hemisphere toward the Sun. In just two months our 9.5 hours of daylight will stretch to 12 hours of daylight. The full moon after equinox will bring another lunar eclipse. Since Samhain of last year, the full moons and new moons have been aligned with the winter solstice and the cross quarter days between the solstice and the equinoxes. In fact, this Spring Equinox will fall on a new moon near the node and a total solar eclipse will occur. Alas, the eclipse will only be visible from the far Northern Scandinavian archipelagos such as the Faroe Islands.

The moon follows a nineteen year cycle where a certain phase will happen again on the same day. So last year the new moon happened on Winter Solstice and nineteen years later, the new moon will be on the Winter Solstice again. Also, every 18.6 years the moon completes a full cycle of lunar standstills. This year, the moon is at a minor standstill during the month after the Autumn Equinox. If we lived in the same place all our lives, we could set up stones where the moon rises at its most northern and southern spots on the horizon and watch the cycles of this breathing spiral uncurl over the span of nearly two decades.

Night time is amazing to me. The opacity of day melts away into an opening into the entire Universe. Our consciousness could be like that, an opening, letting the opacity drop away until the Galaxy shines through. It has been said that in order to free up our energy to perceive as widely as possible, we have to let go of sinking our energy into our sense of self importance, of how we look to the world beyond our little selves. Nothing shrinks me down to size like looking out into the sky, thinking that there are at least 100 billion planets in our galaxy alone and at least 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe…


The Golden Record

Spence here:  I have heard of “Murmurs of Earth” or the Golden Record–the Voyager Interstellar Record by Carl Sagan and associates. This record, attached to both Voyager I and Voyager II probes, launched in 1977, contains 116 images, mathematical equations, hopeful greetings in 55 languages, natural sounds and music, carrying a representation of life on Earth to life beyond, which may be reached in space. I am happy to be reminded of it as I read the chapter called “The Voyagers” in Linda Hogan’s book Dwellings. I have always been fascinated by time capsules. I like to think about what I would put in one. I appreciate the hope and optimism the Golden Record conveys. I also find it heart-breaking, as I have been reading about Alberta, Canada and the tar sands pollution this week. It is akin to meeting a new friend and then having them steal from you. The conduct of humans as citizens of Earth has not become the representation encapsulated in this record.

Recently, I read about one of the oldest known time capsules being opened. It was buried on July 4, 1795 by Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. Reported to be inside is not quite the exciting collection of objects to me–old newspapers, gold coins from 1652, a medal depicting George Washington, a silver plate and other governmental memorabilia–how inclusive and creative! How about potsherds, feathers, skulls, drawings or jewelry?

Lately, I am more interested in life as a mirrored image of stars in the sky. I have been thinking of this, since my learning of Voyager I leaving the heliosphere and travelling further into space than any other human object, as well as our glimpsing of the comet Lovejoy last week. Looking through binoculars and the hazy Pacific Northwest atmosphere, it is wondrous to me to view the fuzzy patch of dust and ice, hurtling through space. I like to think of that dust, that hopeful, energetic, propelled  dust being a part of me. We are of the same elements. New and old in this holographic universe, where our reality is created by us and how we interpret our past and future path. I look up and I study the branches of the trees, the cobwebs, the birds–I appreciate the idea of all the entities and creatures reflecting all aspects, different moods and ways of being. I look to the ground and take my glasses off. I can see the dirt moving and feel microscopic creatures in there, a trail of them going in a spiral like the galaxy! The ocean holds the same creatures in the waves as in a nest or the Milky Way holds.

We took a nice walk in a cold sunshine this week. I am hoping to volunteer at a non-profit bike shop and Billy and I are working on a secret art project, perhaps to be unveiled next month. The music studio is awaiting a new ceiling, but we’re hoping to get some music practice in anyway. I am looking forward to the International Film Festival here in Portland–a chance to get another perspective. On the reading list: The Tao of Travel, by Paul Theroux (he wrote a fun train-journey book called The Great Railway Bazaar), Riding to the Tigris by Freya Stark and Far Distant Echo by Fred Marks and Jay Timmerman (for all you canoe-enthusiasts out there). Happy winter reading–see you after Groundhog Day! Let our thoughts of Utopia in the Golden Record give us strength to carry on what we know to be good work and tidings to all beings.

Friends of space, how are you all? Have you eaten yet? Come visit us if you have time.

–Murmurs of Earth, Sentiment from Eastern China

Epiphany Emoticon

Spence here: Long shadows and warm meals. Neighbor check-ins. So many trips to the library and many good reads. Chilly fog in the morning, which hangs below the gray cloud cover, like a dream of floating, waiting, altruism… Walks in the pouring rain. A string of good days.

It takes time and patience to live well. It takes listening, not just waiting to talk. This is what I come to learn every day–maybe every hour–since I forget and remember again. A myriad of Life’s details, washing away the marks in the sand I wanted permanently etched there. Slower, kinder, less edgy next time. What is necessary? The neighborhood noises felt aggressive to me today. People sawing, hammering, pounding, yelling, orchestrating–cars racing over the speed bumps with a startling “ker-thump!” Usually, I am apart of all of it, with my construction/building habits and busy-ness. When I feel quiet however, through the strings of my mind fall sometimes into a jumbled pit–ambition, drive, lack thereof and worth. Too much! So, I went running.

I haven’t run in many months, since my ear started to clog and ache. Our household has been sick for awhile now–I did not escape it. Thankfully, I am feeling better and I took off running like a child or a cat. The feeling of running–just flat out–like a wild thing through the woods, is one of  merriment for me. Perhaps it is connected to youth–memories of my mother and I galloping through fields pretending to be wild horses. The sun was streaming through the trees at the park and I could see my breath. I found I had more energy and strength in my legs than I gave them credit for and I just kept going. I rounded the corner of the muddy trail, where the dogs go to fetch and chase squirrels and I kicked it up a notch until I cleared the hill top. Since tearing the ACL in my knee several years ago, its taken me eons to get back to the feeling of what I call “The Gazelle”. The feeling of thick, strong muscles and tendons, springy, reactive tissue, toes as tough as hooves and speed! Before my injury, I wasn’t running marathons or anything, but I had started to really get into the groove of trail running. Jumping roots, dashing around trees, stomping mud puddles and then topping it all off by dunking in the Willamette River, (much to the amazement and horror of all my friends, as it is polluted–hey, I swam “upriver”!) on 90 degree summer days. I’d come home smelling like the animal I aspire to be and my tongue-tied brain would be set to rest.

Some neighbors came to dinner recently and started in on a gender-ized conversation about aggression and ambition. It started with work complaints and ended up progressing to a version of  “men do this and women do that, blah. blah.blah.”  with a little “no offense to the men at the table” thrown in. Obviously, I am not a fan of this kind of talk. While it is safe in many ways to come out as a transgender person in so many of my local circles, I forget sometimes I need to–like someone can look at me and know I’m transgendered. So, I’m always a little surprised when I completely shift the conversation, ostensibly by coming out and revealing myself. The direction changes and thankfully, so do the comments. I have come to appreciate this as a very effective anti-bashing tool. “I don’t believe a word of it,” I say. “Its all nurture.” I think ambition and aggression are genderless. I have seen this in one of every kind. As Billy tagged onto something another neighbor said about cages, “Gender is the biggest cage we have.” I love the people who came to dinner, but I am still surprised at the values placed on gender, and our slighted capacity to bloom in our lives because of its constraints. During my run I started to arrive at a place of thankfulness for being transgender. While I have always maintained it was a life-saving decision for me to transition, I haven’t always loved myself for the necessity or way of being. It is still hard to find respect and reverence, not just tolerance, in society  for being trans. I want to appreciate the oldest of old tribal ways of all our ancestors, who upheld a veneration for the dualistic nature of the wildness in all beings. Not just for our resource or drive or climb to the top, but all of our shared sense of true living-ness.

I have been reading the book Dwellings, by Chickasaw poet, Linda Hogan. I love her writing in this book! She mentions a concept called “far-hearted”, one she gleaned from the Bushmen. I feel the saying really encompasses all my ramblings this week:

This “far-hearted” kind of thinking is one we are especially prone to now,with our lives moving so quickly ahead, and it is one who sees life, other lives, as containers for our own uses and not as containers for a greater, holier sense.”

–Linda Hogan

She prefaces this by telling a story of watching wildlife managers stocking a river. Instead of lifting the fish out and into the water with nets and care, they dumped them into the bed of the pick-up truck, backed up the truck to the river and then kicked them out. I like to think while people can be “far-hearted” and uncaring, we can also be “near-hearted”. Really that should be our main ambition.

Billy here. “Epiphany Emoticon!” says Spence. In a conversation at dinner with the neighbors, emotions and voices raised at the mention of the use of emoticons. Some were adamantly against their use and others not. Some insisted that emoticons are a bastardization of language in the world of truncated thought in texting vernacular. Others held the view that emoticons convey a context of the visual when we are not speaking face to face. Then someone said no one has an epiphany reading emoticons. Someone else suggested the ridiculous existence of an epiphany emoticon. This makes me laugh out loud at the paradox (I really can’t bring myself to type “lol”). The funny thing is that this dinner happened on the night of the Eastern Orthodox Epiphany feast, but I didn’t know it until I looked it up just now. Epiphany: from late Greek epiphaneia, means “manifestation or striking appearance” especially of the divine. The idea that an epiphany could be represented in a symbol and also cause an epiphany at the same time seems unlikely, but this is an apt metaphor for thought and language in general, because no language can adequately talk about reality without separating itself from it, except perhaps in classical Chinese, whose very nature is image rather than the subject-object dichotomy created in Indo-European languages. In classical Chinese poetry there is no subject or object, just raw perception, ripples on the lake reflecting back the mountain. I don’t know, but perhaps the danger of emoticons is the same danger of language coding in general, if it’s too simple, its weave too coarse, reality itself falls through the net. It seems to me that an epiphany would actually necessitate the breaking down of the language net so we see the whole order of things. The map is discarded and we are left only with landscape. Is there a need to talk about it? Is a blog as ridiculous as an epiphany emoticon?

We spotted Comet Lovejoy in the backyard through binoculars (and even through the light pollution). Sometimes I think being who we are is like trying to spot a faint comet – a fuzzy patch of light in the sky against a wash of light and finding that it looks entirely different than you thought – or maybe you don’t spot it at all because you think it’s somewhere else. But then, when the fuzzy cosmic blob resolves through the lenses, I realize this little rocky, icy being was washed into our Solar System from the Oort Cloud by the galactic tide of the Milky Way, just like some flotsam washed ashore from the ocean, and my brain melts a little bit into the epiphanous.

City Sundries

 The Rush to Get There

On this morning in the year 2007, a violinist gave a concert in a subway station in Washington, DC.

Leaning against a wall, alongside the usual litter, the musician, who looked more like a local kid, played the works of Schubert and other classics for three-quarters of an hour.

Eleven hundred people hurried by without slowing their pace. Seven paused a bit longer than a moment. No one applauded. Some children wanted to stay, but were dragged off by their mothers.

No one realized he was Joshua Bell, one of the most esteemed virtuosos in the world.

The Washington Post had organized the concert. It was their way of asking, “Do you have time for beauty?”

-Eduardo Galeano, Children of the Days, A Calendar of Human History

Billy here. Schubert isn’t always necessary to have beauty in our lives, it is all around us in the mundane things. A trash heap often has a symmetry of form that stuns me. I try to ask myself often, “What is beautiful around you right now? What calls you back into the world around you and away from rushing by in your head?” I forget to ask myself and then I have killed time. But isn’t time a friend, something with which we could grow old? In these long, dark winter evenings where we recharge for the summer’s adventures, are we itching to be somewhere else, or can we allow a space for pause – for something spontaneous to unfold?

Waiting in the doctor’s office on a routine visit, I read a bit of an article in the National Geographic on memory. The average adult human brain has something to the order of five hundred to a thousand trillion synapses. “Every sensation we remember, every thought we think,” says writer Joshua Foer, “Alters the connections within that vast network. Synapses are strengthened or weakened or formed anew. Our physical substance changes. Indeed, it is always changing, every moment, even as we sleep.”

Each moment is an adventure unfolding. It is our relationship to the moment that awakens time in us, a moment as mundane as eating eggs for breakfast or waiting for the bus. I find myself closing up when I get greedy for excitement or exotic places, when I feel like I know where I’m going. The minute you know where you’re going something crazy happens. A storm cancels the travelling plans. You get sick. Or you bust your knee dancing, like Spence did. Life smacks you back down to the drawing board again and again, until maybe we could get the gestalt of things, the life of it all, instead of painfully agonizing over the technical details. And then, when I catch myself agonizing, I could try not smacking myself with chastising thoughts about how overwrought and ineffective my way of being is!

And just for fun, in conclusion, here are my top favorite reads of 2014:

  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go by Shaun McNiff
  • The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
  • Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder
  • Living, Dreaming, Dying: Wisdom for Everyday Life from the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Rob Nairn
  • The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing As Meditation by Frederick Franck
  • The Other Way to Listen by Byrd Baylor
  • Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence by Gregory Cajete
  • Coyote Warrior: One Man, Three Tribes, and the Trial That Forged A Nation by Paul VanDevelder
  • Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future edited by Melissa K. Nelson
  • Transformations of Myth Through Time by Joseph Campbell (I have to add that after reading thousands of pages of his other work, including the entire Masks of God series, this transcription of his lectures was such a refreshing, accessible and succinct overview of his amazing life’s work – if you’re going to read one book by Joseph Campbell, this might be it)

Spence here: Sometimes I am saddened by how fast time goes. I think, “gee, my nephew is 12 and the next time I see him, he will probably be on his way to adult-hood”. Or sometimes I wonder what I could be doing more for struggling communities in Somalia, Pakistan, Australia, New Mexico or downtown Portland, for that matter. What can I do for the trees, plants and other species affected by our human existence? But then I get sick myself and realize that there are small things I can do for all these struggles and the biggest thing I can do is have compassionate for our collective existence. I can praise health. Sometimes I have deja vu, and I remember it has all happened before and will all happen again somewhere else. Or is happening right now, somewhere else, I’m not sure.

Today, Billy and I had a city date. I am always thankful when the bus ride is uneventful, the sun is out and we discover new books, new parks, places we haven’t been in a long time. But the catch is to be thankful when things aren’t so awesome.  Such as the man in the doctor’s office, causing a scene, the way my head aches because we are not quite so over the colds we got or the way the wind whips into my hood, whistling into my ear ache! The other day I wasn’t feeling so hot and I decided to take the whole afternoon and lay around, like the dogs do.  I ended up feeling better in health, but with a twinge of guilt. Besides having a lot of house chores I could be helping with, there are other projects I would like to see completed. But what is the point of “completed” without a sense of joy in it?

I think I am doing better with January. I was actually thinking today that this winter thing might not be so bad. Here is the fun list of projects I thought of this week, which I would love to get going on. May it inspire you to make your own list, or just enjoy what comes.

  • Find a trout fishing book about what flies to use in certain circumstances–make drawings and paintings of them and then try your hand at tying some!
  • Make a fly-tying bench
  • Work on poetry manuscript and research possible publishers, attend a reading
  • Work on screen play and book of short stories
  • Make a picture frame for that picture of Billy and I we like so well
  • Go for a city hike with a full backpack
  • Practice knots for camping and boating
  • Research fly-rods and other fishing equipment for the spring–its almost time!
  • Finish construction the the music studio

2015 Forecast: the Sorcerer of Trois Frère

Sorcerer of Trois Frères

Sorcerer of Trois Frères. Photo credit: Courtesy, Department of Library Sciences, American Museum of Natural History

Getting into harmony and tune with the universe and staying there is the principle function of mythology.

– Joseph Campbell

Billy here: The Twelve Days of Yule are over. The Full Moon after Solstice shone bright through the fog and the squeals of trains on Sunday night. The Sorcerer of Trois Frères, the cave drawing from the Pyrenees pictured above, has been on my mind all through Yule time. In a small village in England called Abbots Bromley, a tradition remains of what is called the Horn Dance. This dance involves reindeer antlers passed down through generations all the way from the 11th century.  It was once also danced many years ago on Twelfth Night, the Christianization of the last day of Yule, in the first week of January. My intuition tells me, under no scientific lead whatsoever, that this dance is a remnant of the same mythology of this ancient cave painting said to be around 15,000 years old.


Sir Benjamin Stone’s Pictures – Festivals, Ceremonies and Customs. Published by Cassell & Co. London. 1906. Wikipedia Commons {{PD-1923}}

The first full moon after Winter Solstice once marked the beginning of the New Year in Pagan times, which was Sunday evening this year. The days are lengthening and it’s time to begin preparing to plant for spring. Our friends on the land here have built a chicken coop for spring chickens to come, a little hoop house and a circular garden plot in between our cabin, the main house and the barn.

In the gloom and cold of these midwinter days and nights, it’s easy to lose our way, especially if we get sick, but there is always the promise of the shedding of antlers. Old projects can be finished and new ones begun. There seems to be something auspicious in the air, new beginnings, but new beginnings planted in a very old and fertile soil…

The astronomical calendar is done! Perhaps I will be selling them on Etsy?  What’s next? What is the lesson of the antler magic? Perhaps the coming Spring will bring some answers…

March 2015 001

Moon Calendar 2015 by Billy von Raven


There have been lots of dreams of late about the making of art and the livingness of all things: rocks, clouds, lakes. Aboriginal artists have said that they are simply marking spirits that are already there when they paint. We all want to make and share what people call art or be creative in some way. The marks left by simply being are what we call art, but art encompasses all of being, not just the marks left behind. Art is not just a record of the experience of deep presence we had at some point in time, but the deep experience and connection itself, some sort of playfulness with it. I resonate with what Joseph Campbell said about there being no meaning to life in actuality: there is rather only experience, engagement with the world on every level. Though that engagement could be what we might call meaning. In our present materialistic society we value the product, the piece of “art” or the record of deep experience, over the experience itself. Artist and art therapist Shaun McNiff summarizes it well: “Can you imagine people feeling that their prayers, spiritual exercises, and meditations must be exhibited in a gallery or commercially published?” I keep fighting the urge to “make something” of myself and my projects and instead slow down to simply enjoy the process. Drawing is a way of being present, a way of touching the feelings within me and beings around me with awareness. One resolution: to draw more as a way of being present!


Spence here: Billy had a good idea to post more of our sketches and artwork from the last year. I like he reminds me to look back in a way that helps us move forward. The mask of “productivity” is constantly donned in our household, however, it is in hiding behind that I forget to enjoy my life. Today, I shed the itchy feeling that “something” should get done, and less my own irritation about what it means to have worth. I have been obsessed with the continuity of construction where we live–hurrying up to create a space in which to create–I think sometimes this has caused me to actually lose focus instead of reaping the satisfaction of process and patience. Besides, we have made good progress, and the reprimanding voice in my head lacks credit and a pat on the back, which is what we need to push us ahead to finish. We are almost there–just a few more days of work on the music studio–insulation, trim work and paneling. In the summer we will replace the roof and work on a sitting area/patio just outside the door for folks to gather. It will all come about, just at the right time, no time sooner.

I heard it mentioned the other night we are over the hump of winter. I did not feel it until just now. Even though we have celebrated the Solstice and New Year’s, I didn’t get it. Our holiday felt heavy to me. Winter is a hard time for some, I think. I appreciated and enjoyed filling out my holiday cards, as I always do–thinking about loved ones and how lucky I am–but also I felt more ladened with worry about plans, the cold, money and that ever elusive value of “work”. Like a dog behind a fence, I dream about the other side, but have lost the cognition leading to the series of steps to opening the gate. I have many skills but lack confidence and belief. This week I am working on finding them again. Going through my own journals helps me realize I “work” all year long to get ready for now. Too bad, in a capitalist society, one does not get paid for “now”, but it won’t stop me from working on it.

Twenty-fifteen feels very much like Coyote energy to me–even though in the Chinese Zodiac it is the year of the Sheep. I think (and secretly hope) life this year will be enlightening, with a side of mischief, which we will laugh at along the way. It feels like behind every rock or leaf is a smirk–but a gentle one of recognition and constant learning, but by way of “The Fool” in the Tarot Cards, with a sprinkling of magic, as always. Good luck! Here are a few of my sketches, from the “Land of Enchantment”, New Mexico.

 Part of inhabiting the mystery is shedding the idea that you have to work and work, and rush and rush, as though if you worked harder and faster, you would find the answer. These inclinations have to do with a desire for permanence. Inhabiting the mystery means embracing impermanence. You can’t hold on to anything. That’s just the way it is. You want to go deeper, but maybe this awareness of impermanence is as deep as you can go. At the very least, it’s real. Everything else is an illusion.

In a deeply experienced life, things are always entering us and becoming a part of us. This table goes inside. The river goes inside. These words go inside. All of our immediate experience goes inside us and simply vanishes there. Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that enough?

– David Hinton