A Landscape of Dented Buckets and Grain Sacks

15.05.03

May 03, 2015

We were driving through the Nova Scotia countryside in November taking in farms and farming practices. The practices and work we saw was much like the work of small farmers back home. Most farms were multi-crop in addition to dairy, beef, goats, or sheep.

The workers of the land told a story of animal health and land balance. Dairy and beef farms did not hold thousands of animals, but like crop acreage, were in the tens and hundreds. The farms we drove by were much more like the farm of my mother’s youth than industrial feedlots and mono-cropland found across the US. Rather than miles of feed bunkers with animals living in mud and manure, Nova Scotia animals were on pastures.

We traveled a two-lane road without a centerline. Rolling hills transitioned into wooded land and the landscape steepened. Soil held fast with grass pastures in cleared homesteads. Harvested corn stalk covered a few acres on most every farm. The fenceline opened upon a two-story, 1920’s or 30’s home. White, with a small porch sporting styles, rails, and posts, the home spoke a carpenter who did not hurry his work. Fifty feet or so away, a white barn rose out of the ground. The wife and husband walked in rubber mud boots, topping out just below the knee, toward the barn in. A dented galvanized bucket swung in her left hand and his right arm wrapped was around a sack of feed.

We stopped. The feel was a familiar. When someone we do not know shows up at the farm, Belinda and I wonder what is going on. The same feeling was in the air as we approached the farm couple. Like anyone showing up at the farm back home, the first question that must arise is, “are they lost?” Yet, it is Nova Scotia and not central Washington, so it may be just as normal to ask, “Tourists?”—I’m not sure, do folk visit Nova Scotia to spend days driving the countryside? I hope so. Continue reading “A Landscape of Dented Buckets and Grain Sacks”

Kneading—A Contemplative Practice—Bread

15.04.12

April 12, 2015

The other day I read an article talking about 10 foods everyone should make at home. Bread was one of the ten. I gotta say I like it when someone says, “everyone should be doing this…” and I am doing it.

Growing up, mother made bread. It was the sixties and early seventies and there was an onslaught of commercials enticing folk to buy easy no work food. Our family, like most, bought and ate plenty enough of this no work food, including bread. So, homemade bread was not a stable during the week, but instead was relegated to weekend food. More like pie.

When we were young adults Belinda and I began making bread. It was a once-in-a-while effort. Encouraged by Belinda’s father and mother, bead made in the home slowly became a norm. If nothing else, Belinda’s father was an opinionated man. A gadget like a bread machines was okay if it were the only way you would make bread. But if you are really going to make bread, you had better get your hands in the middle of the work. He opinionated that if you had time to eat well, you had time to make bread, and everyone has the time to eat well. Any surprise our bread machine has sat on the top shelf in the pantry for a long time?

If there was one thing that kept my bread making practice a once-in-a-while affair it was kneading, particularly the first. Then one day the folks gave us a Kitchen Aid. Now, the Kitchen Aid is just this side of a bread machine, but we choose to think not and in favor of weekly bread, Belinda’s daddy affirmed our thinking. And, after all, it doesn’t do all the kneading. But it does handle the first one and that was enough to get my hands into dough most every week. Continue reading “Kneading—A Contemplative Practice—Bread”

Sageness in the Canyon Landscape of Prickles, Songbirds, and Sunlight

15.02.22

February 22, 2015

When I am in southern California I take a few hours and walk a canyon. On the backside of two weeks of traveling and meetings, I finally found myself walking a southern California canyon on a Saturday morning. Entering the north-south canyon before sunrise, I hoped to hear the canyon awaken as the sunlight made its way from ridgetop to canyon floor. Also, its being a southern California canyon just outside of Camarillo, I hoped to have it all to myself for a little of a while.

I hiked this same canyon in September. Showing the effects of the ongoing drought, the canyon was dry and brittle. Normally, hiking these canyons in the fall, there are the jewels of prickly pears hidden in the crevasses of northern exposures. Pears make hiking a wonderful taste. This particular canyon has an abundance, ripe for the picking. They also have an abundance of hairlike prickles called glochids, near impossible to see, covering them. Should you pick a pear, the prickles from the fruit detach and leave you with a handful of stickers. You can get around this by lighting a match and burning the prickles off. However, it being a brittle dry fall, it did not seem wise to start any fire, even if it was only a match, so I did without pears.

15.02.22b Continue reading “Sageness in the Canyon Landscape of Prickles, Songbirds, and Sunlight”

Coffee and the Art of Inattentiveness

14.12.28

December 28, 2014

5:15am, the morning after Christmas, and I am standing outside a McDonalds. Waking this morning in a home away from home, I negotiated pass bodies scattered on the couches and floor finding my way to the kitchen. I figured I would have a cup of coffee and write for a while. Looking at the coffee grinder though and glancing into the family room, I thought some of those scattered bodies might not think too highly of my grinding a pot of coffee at this hour. Then it came to me, I’m in the city! I’m not thirty or forty minutes from a coffee shop. I should be able to jump in the truck and have a cup of coffee in less than five minutes! I sneak out of the house, stepping on remarkably few bodies, start the truck, and head down a Christmas light lite road.

The off-the-beaten-track local bakery is only two minutes away, but it is closed. As they well should be—after all, should anyone really be out this morning away from family…can’t coffee be given up until a bit later, just once? The question comes and goes from my coffee deprived noggin; I’m not to be deterred. Two choices remain, Starbucks and McDonalds. I don’t like the thought of either, but my high minded virtues slipped away when I slipped out of the house. With sorry justification, I choose the closer of the two and turn into the McDonalds parking lot.

Some guy stands just outside and to the right of the entrance doors. Near him is the only car in the parking lot and I assume it is his. Shutting the truck door behind me, I quickly judge the scene. Continue reading “Coffee and the Art of Inattentiveness”

Eating Locally, Artistically

14.09.13

September 13, 2014

Belinda and I were asked to join a ten-day program to eat locally. Folk were hoping to get some statistics on how hard it is to eat food from within a 100-mile radius of our home. We didn’t join in, but it is harvest time and what isn’t grown in our garden is by one of our neighbors. This is our vegetarian time of year and local eating is easy.

The local movement has asked us all to consider eating locally for a while now. The local idea is moving along, but one needs only to drive through town and see the cars at Applebees, McDonald’s, Outback, and the slew of non-local eateries and know it has a long way to go.

Perhaps more folk could enjoy local foods if they understand locally does not mean never eat non-local foods. Rather local eating is about honoring non-local food by knowing food is sacred and relational. Relational meaning one knows their food and the landscape of origin—soil, farmer, weather, rancher, water, fisherwo/man. Such knowledge brings forth an intimacy that binds one to their food and its relations. This bond creates better tasting meals and a reason to share.

There is not a farmer, rancher, fisher that does not want to share the fruits of their labor. Sharing enriches those who labor and those who eat. Most of the time there is no reason for meals to be non-local in origin, but there are times when everyone becomes richer by eating from the landscape of another.

An example that comes to mind is artistically given in the 1987 Danish film Babette’s Feast. Babette, a refugee from the Paris Commune (during the French Revolution), arrives in a small village on the western coast of Denmark. Worn out she arrives at the doorstep of two sisters with only a letter from Achille Papin, a renowned French singer. Having little money the sisters take her in after she agrees to work for free. Continue reading “Eating Locally, Artistically”

The Creative Learning Wheel

12.12.14

The following reflection is by Corey Hacker.  Corey joined My Future last September.  With great presence, Corey has guided and mentored youth throughout the fall. 

December 14, 2012

Creativity is a powerful tool that can be used to achieve ones highest goals.  For a young person’s mind, the ability to be creative in a comfortable environment is essential to the learning process.  My Future is a place that kids can use their imaginations to create art and feel free to express themselves without the fear of criticism.  I very much enjoy being able to help the kids that come to My Future tap into their creativity.

One of my favorite experiences with the program has been teaching the potter’s wheel.  The potter’s wheel is a tool that is used to make circular clay pots.  The wheel takes a specific skill set to operate successfully.  The kids are taught step by step how to create using the wheel.  The wheel teaches patience and helps the students understand that only through practice and concentration can one perfect the skill of throwing a pot.

The pots that are made with the wheel are then glazed by the kids and fired in a kiln.  They are then able to take home their works of art and use them, or give them away as presents.  Watching the students end up with a sense of accomplishment is what is really cool about My Future

12.12.14b

12.12.14c

© David B. Bell 2012

Walking With Dead In A Landscape Of Art

November 23, 2012

This month began with a Field Trip for a few of the My Future students.  Many of their artwork made up a Dia de los Muertos alter presented in downtown Yakima.  Like with other artful students, My Future youth helped create an alter asking and answering questions of life and death.

Being present and intentional with Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) calls an artist to consider the rightness or wrongness of their art.  For one whose ancestral culture is that of Dia de los Muertos there is a normalcy to participating in a long tradition of art that plays at that edge of death and life.  But for those of us whose culture is of landscapes other than that which birthed Dia de los Muertos the question must be asked, can we be artful and not disrespectful?

Many American Indians remind non-Indians their participation of Indian practices is a fragile one.  From sweats to sage smoke, flutes to the four winds, American Indians recognize many non-Indians appropriate their practices—Such appropriation not always for financial or social gain, rather, acts, such as the use of cleansing sage smoke, are done without embodying the fullness of the sage’s landscape.  Due to centuries of appropriating bodies from sacred burial sites for scientific study to decades of claiming religious and social practices for non-Indian events and ceremonies, American Indians rightfully question when non-Indians produce Indian-like art.  Such history calls the artist to carefully question their participation in cultural art that is not their own.

So it is fair to ask why does Dia de los Muertos have such a large presence in the art of My Future?  Fair and important, because the directors of My Future, Belinda and myself, are white, non-Indian, non-Latino/a, and Dia de los Muertos is nothing if not indigenous and Latino/a.

Not appropriating culture art is tricky for artists, because an artist’s being is wrapped around the constant wonderment of landscape.  Wonderment often leads to eternal questions of life and death, hurt and joy, love and rejection.  One instance of art where an artist found life and wonder outside his culture of birth is Starry Night.  In painting Starry Night the Dutch artist Van Gough beckons the observer into an intimate relationship with the French landscape.  Van Gough presents a landscape of swirling cypress, mountains, and sky, which calls the observer to open the door of finitude, walk out the angular home, church and steeple in favor of entering the cosmos of mystery and wonderment.

Another instance is Woody Guthrie’s song This Land Is Your Land.  Guthrie moves beyond the landscape of birth and asks the listener to consider the landscape of a continent.  Similar to Van Gough, Guthrie calls the listener to an experience of wonderment so large the listener must become fluid where tactile and emotion become one.  In this context of grandeur sky and land, plants and clouds, and water and voice, Guthrie destroys concepts of ownership and No Trespassing signs.  Artists, by nature, reach into the landscape in which they find themselves to mold and breathe life as to beckon us into creations texture.  Such reaching in, though,matters because embedded in the landscape is culture, and it is this life of the ancients which calls the artist to enter into a landscape conversation which strives for art to jump the chasm of appropriation and become an appropriate reflection of culture.

The landscape of My Future is one of America.  Not the nationalistic U.S. america, but peoples America of North, Central, and South America.  This is landscape of an imagined borderless continent where youthful artists walk freely because walls fade and land speaks freely.  Such a landscape does not assume, but speaks the voice of teacher.  This relationship, when done well, allows the student artist to awaken to their place in the culture of landscape.  This place of learning helps the student become a non-assuming artist who embodies the landscape’s voice.

Doing our best to listen to landscape does not mean culture is never appropriated, but rather, My Future staff and students hope their Dia de los Muertos art grasps to reflect their conversation with the landscape, presenting art that is reverent.