A String Workshop

Materials

Pick up a ball of string or rope at the hardware store. Choose one that appeals to you, that resonates with you. It could be nylon and yellow, or natural jute, clothesline, or cotton.

Session One: Introduction

We'll take a seat around the work table with chosen material and begin by asking why we chose this string and not the fifty or so other options.

For example, some strings are quite thin; others are smooth. The one I have in my hand is nylon braided – I can see the tufts at the cut end have frayed, with the outer nylon opening outwards and the finer strands from inside standing up. I didn’t realize at first how many strands there were inside and how the wrapper holds them so tightly together. I wonder if I take it apart further what I will discover.  

There are manila ropes, cotton ropes, polypropylene ropes. Some are twisted; others are braided. What does yours look like? 

Session Two: Finding Your Way

Unravel some of it, play with it, tie it, untie it, loop it, braid it. Then recall that this is the thread of your life. There have been slack times, tightly stretched periods, twisted times, and knots. Sometimes there’s a knot that is so tight you can’t find a way to loosen one of the strands. You give up, leave the knot there, and go on.

String.jpg

Can you call to mind one of these times? A change in your life, the death of someone you love, or even a small knot, such as when you answered too quickly. Can you see that every event is connected to everything else? My own knots are like rosary beads: I know my way by touching them.

Session Three: The Way it is

Read the following poem by William Stafford:

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it, you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

What has been the dominant thread that you see weaves through your life? How has it supported you? Have you lost it and then found it again? The golden thread throughout my life has always been art. What is yours? What are some of the other strands?

  Filling the Vessel , Linda Hoffman,  in process 1999 

Filling the Vessel, Linda Hoffman,  in process 1999 

Session Four: Your Golden Thread

Share some of your string with another participant. Find a way to weave the two strings together. Do this without speaking. Then talk about what you created with each other.

  Source,  Linda Hoffman & Margot stage, installed in Worcester

Source, Linda Hoffman & Margot stage, installed in Worcester

Session Five: Creating a Sculpture

Make loops with your mass of string. Let it fall to the ground. Then pick it up and hang it from the ceiling. We’ll look at everyone’s unique creation.

Then we will clip some of everyone’s string and tie it to our own string mobile.

Notice how in your sculpture your string is still dominant, but the other strings add color and texture, accents, and interest. Your string is the support and your creation is unique.

Session Six: Letting Go

Bring a few objects to our next session to add to your string. Words in wire, sticks, a nail, a shell. Nothing that you are attached to and wouldn't mind losing. Put out on the table all but one of your objects. Walk around and choose a few objects and then add these collected objects to your string mobile. We’ll walk around together noticing how we feel about our chosen items distributed on the other mobiles.

Look at your own piece and share your reaction to it. Does “I don’t like mine” or “I like mine” occur to you? Now, recall that this is your life. Grab and hold and love it. Form it some more. Keep shaping it. You can’t discard it. Keep using it.

String-3.jpg

Two Bad Women and One Good Apple

The Apple Was a Northern Invention

When she ate the pomegranate,
it was as if the seed
with its wet red shining coat
of sweet flesh clinging to the dark core
was one of nature’s eyes. Afterward,
it was nature that was blind,
and she who was wild
with vision, condemned
to see what was before her, and behind.

The poet Eleanor Rand Wilner has a different view on this most well-known ‘apple’ story. I’m not referring to the pomegranate versus apple question — that debate we may never resolve, but to Wilner's portrayal of Eve as ‘wild with vision,’ a seer and a mystic. The poet completely uproots the traditional portrayal of Eve as a fallen women unable to resist the tantalizing offer of the serpent. 

The story of Adam and Eve is a collective, cultural invention. However, in my personal version, our sister Eve has been condemned for two thousand years because she satisfied her desire to taste the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, because she wanted to know the deep truth about who she was and the meaning of life.

Our Eve had much in common with Lalla or Lal Ded, the 14th century Hindi mystic poet, who also experienced her own expulsion. Married at twelve, starved, beaten, and abused by her husband and in-laws, Lalla was finally able to leave that household when she was in her twenties. She found spiritual teachers and eventually, her own divine wisdom. 

I Lalla set forth blooming as a cotton flower
Then the carder and the cleaner kicked me again and again
Next a woman spun me and lifted me from her wheel as gossamer
And in the weaver's room they hung me as warp on the loom
~ Lalla 102

Then the washermen beat and dashed me on the stone
And rubbed me with clay and soap to whiten me
Then the tailor cut me piece by piece
Now, as finished cloth, I have found my way at last to Freedom
~ Lalla 103

Tr. Jennifer Sundeen

Lalla had to tear off the cloth of the society in which she was born and, piece by piece, remake herself from within. She danced naked through the streets, uttering verses that were remembered and passed down, adn then finally recorded 400 years later. A rebel, a seeker, she gave up the comforts of hearth and home to wander, always loving and always teaching. She didn’t follow a prescribed path or religious dogma, but discovered her own truths from within her own body.

 Photo: Carol J. Hicks

Photo: Carol J. Hicks

Then there is Reinette Clochard, an old French variety, an apple we grow in the orchard. Reinette means ‘little Queen’ in French, and a clochard is a bum, a vagabond, a homeless person. Not only is this a strange name for an apple, but it is an odd juxtaposition of social classes. And why the queen and not the king? The apple is small in size, giving meaning to ‘little’ queen; but her mottled yellow color of skin is more like a wild apple found in the woods, an apple without regal color, one that Thoreau would have grabbed, bitten into, found to be hard, and delighted in its ordinariness. Reinette Clochard’s flesh is pale and soft, creamy, the opposite of the crunchy sweet apples preferred by many today. She can be kept easily at room temperature for several months. That’s why she used to be loaded onto ships for sailors to eat, their only fresh food. 

Reinette Clochard Apple.png

 In France, Reinette Clochard is making a comeback. She comes packaged in wooden boxes and is sold as a specialty apple. In our orchard, people disdain her. They don’t know what to make of the name or her appearance.

The apple season at Old Frog Pond Farm has reached its fullest expression. Pickers have been walking the orchard rows, counting the color-coded blocks on their maps to find the Honey Crisp and Crimson Crisp. Once these were picked out, they began picking Liberty and Freedom. Reinette Clochard remained on the tree, her ripe fruit finally falling to the ground, until I went out and rescued her.  

And now, you may be wanting to ask, what does Eve, the mystic poet Lalla, and this old French apple have in common? 

Apples originated in the forests of Kazakhstan, traveled along the Silk Road in horses’ bellies, and in the pockets of Roman soldiers through Europe and to England, and eventually to America. The apple carries within its skin poetic, mythological, geographic, social, and scientific history. As women, we belong to the lineage of expulsed women seers. We carry the seeds from these early destroyers of social conventions. We need to clamor loudly for what we want. Can you imagine being named little homeless queen?  Surely no woman named this apple. We should reject the labels that society assigns us.

When I think of Eve, I see her as a nonconformist, a woman with the strength to go against convention. The same is true for the wild mystic Lalla. Sometimes I forget the lessons they both exemplify. I don’t allow myself to do what matters most to me, what connects me to my deepest roots, or speak my truth. And Reinette Clochard?  We shouldn’t forget the girls and women all over the world who are without education, who are demeaned, abused, or locked into confining roles, who still need our help.

Two of the newer apples we grow in the orchard are named Liberty and Freedom. Odd names for a fruit, you might think, but these are disease-resistant varieties. The suggestion is that the orchardist is free from the concern of scab, liberated from the fungal disease that makes growing apples in new England so challenging. These names reflect the significant changes in plant breeding in the last century. If only changing the human heart was as simple.

Today is our last day  for apple picking. There are only a few Liberty and Freedom apples on the trees. We need more of both in this world. We need to remember the Eves, the Lallas, and the Reinette Clochards. We need to remember all those, both men and women, who sought knowledge and freedom and did not settle for less.

Plein Air Poetry

Today is for poetry at Old Frog Pond Farm. This afternoon, twenty-four poets will gather and walk the trail around the pond and through the woods, along the orchard, to the meditation hut, with a stop at the rock turtle, and back to the dam. The poets will be reading the poems they began writing earlier in the year inspired by a visit to the farm.

We need poetry to mine the subtle, the tenuous, the painful, the ecstatic, and elegiac feelings of our humanness. We need poetry when we are tired, hurt, hassled, and missing connection to our own heart. “I come to the farm,/having very nearly forgotten myself,” begins Lucinda Bowen. “And here blooms a memory. . . my surprise at improbable sweetness.”

Early in the year, Susan Edwards Richmond, organizer of the event, and I, choose a theme. This year’s subject, Memoir, “invited the poets to dig deeper, to go beyond surfaces, and draw, sometimes unbidden, wells of feeling from the landscape,” wrote Richmond in her introduction to the chapbook of poems. 

 Susan Edwards Richmond, Plein Air Reading, 2013

Susan Edwards Richmond, Plein Air Reading, 2013

Poets sign up to participate. Throughout the spring and early summer, they visit the farm and walk the paths. When they come upon a view, a place, a tree, or a sound that awakens their muse, they stop and write. They return home, work on their poems, sometimes visiting again. In mid-summer, they submit their poems to Richmond, editor of the chapbook. For some, Richmond responds with suggestions, working closely with the writer to enhance the poem; others’ work arrives fully fledged. Then Richmond orders the collection, giving shape not only to the book, but to the walking event. Our slow-moving herd of poetry appreciators can’t be running from the dam to the orchard to the bell; then flying to the meditation hut and back again — or the walk would take us far into the evening hours.

Sometimes it is one of the outdoor sculptures at the farm that moves the poet to words. For poet David Davis, the ringing of Paul Matisse’s Olympic Bell brought back memories of Nepal. “Forty years ago in Katmandu/I heard a monk ring a temple bell/That shook my chest and opened my ears.” Polly Brown begins her poem with, “A sculpted figure by the pond,/gathering sky in her round arms,/Is my mother—alive but so lightly tethered/to the place and condition of her body.” She, too, mentions the bell, “hauling on the hammer I sound the bell/in the woods,/ and they [her mother and father] fly to me.”

Some poets invite us to feel the plight of the greater world. Linda Fialkoff writes, “So many refugees/choked into one small boat/fueled by a damp, ragged/body long held hostage.” It is as if she knew that Alicia Dwyer’s Suspended Encampment, a hanging sculpture behind the Medicine Wheel, would be arriving for the sculpture exhibit. Dwyer’s sculpture not only refers to the plight of Monarch butterflies, but to the migrations of people, the refugees throughout Europe, and now, the homeless millions in the aftermath of the recent violent storms and earthquakes.

  Suspended Encampment , Alicia Dwyer (partial)     Photo:Robert Hesse

Suspended Encampment, Alicia Dwyer (partial)     Photo:Robert Hesse

bg Thurston picks up a stone and hears, “Sometimes sorrow/sits like a stone in your heart/and you are unable to lift it.” For Heather Connelly Bryant, the raspberry patch evokes a strong memory, “Yet I was wrong—now there is new life, new love, new/hope— infidelity no longer hangs in the air, everywhere.” Richmond, also wrote near the raspberries, “each of us now with our own green past, red stained fingers. Only rarely/was there enough/but we were always sated.” 

Richmond and her husband brought their children to pick raspberries at this farm years before I moved in, and she was so happy when she learned that I would continue to care for the patch and open it for public picking. Since that time, Richmond and I have collaborated on many projects — Wild Apples, a journal of nature, art, and inquiry, five years of Plein Air Poetry at the farm, and our most recent collaboration, a children’s book, Where’s My Bonkers? about a girl, her mother, and an apple. It’s always about collaboration at the farm. We share, inspire, and co-create together.

 Cover Art & Design:  Lynn Horsky

Cover Art & Design:  Lynn Horsky

We invite you to join us this afternoon, Sunday, September 17 at 2pm to walk and listen to the poets read their poems. I guarantee you will be sated.

If you can’t make the event, a limited number of chapbooks will be for sale at the farmstand and on the farm’s website. The walk is free and open to the public.