What’s next? Everything.

Being in the ‘place between’ stories can get (too?) comfortable.

Place between stories

Place between stories

After several years of discomfort and kicking the constant quest for meaning and recognition via one’s profession, something settled. My life led me gently back to basics, and fulfilment came from simply doing things that came naturally. Walking, gardening, drawing and painting, writing, cooking, tending the home and relationships. That was all going on when I was focused on my work as well, but it was my work which established my rhythms, and now it is the day itself, the earth’s cycles, and my body.

The long periods of deep uninterrupted focus needed to progress on my book resulted in new insights and excitement as previously unrelated areas began to reach out across ideological space and contact each other. The book is also an excavation of sorts, and I am undertsanding better where I’ve arrived and how I got here.

In the meantime, I joined a neighborhood traffic action group and worked with them for 2 years. Our successes led to the town council wanting to work with us, and now several of us are involved with plans to take what we’ve learned to other villages. Added to our weekly meetings are also planning meetings with the municipality.

Then one of the people I was working with on that project is involved in a regional version of Let’s Gro, an alternative festival held in Groningen. I went to the first meeting for ‘Let’s Win'(short for Winsum, a largish town close by) and suddenly found myself in a group where for once, I wasn’t the only one interested in transition, and alternative forms of art and community building. It was just amazing, inspiring, and the dynamic of the meeting captured my imagination, highlighted my research on my book, and also let me see what my contribution could be as far as facilitating more creative approaches in a number of areas.

So, oops, I have another project to be committed to. All of a sudden, I can’t just take off on my Pieterpad walks, but have to schedule them between ….meetings! My life is suddenly full of meetings! And more responsibility! Is this truly the direction I wanted to move in?

One aspect of the place between is that while you are waiting for what’s next, the possibilities seem endless. I guess one reluctance is that when things start to take form again, I have to make choices, and all of a sudden things get narrowed down again.

So I’m thinking about these things now. It seems that this social engagement is a natural outgrowth of having pulled back out of society for several years. I now feel called to share some of the things that have become clear. And I definitely want to collaborate. So these needs are being filled by the path my life is taking at present. But I am reluctant to let go of the long easy (well,not always) days of doing what I want when I want, and having time to really listen and reflect.

Let’s Gro- an Inspiration Festival

LetsGro_A3poster_IedereenEenMoestuin_Tryntsje_Nauta_WijZijnKees_website

A vegetable garden for everyone

Last summer,  I heard that Charles Eisenstein would be at Findhorn’s, ‘New Story Summit’ conference. At first I wanted to go, but the idea of attending a conference put me off. I’ve gone to similar gatherings only to experience a few intense days of inspiration, then being unable to maintain the ‘conference high’ back in familiar surroundings. The seemingly promising contacts also water down, and in a few months, I’m left wondering if I couldn’t have spent all that time and money more wisely.

From what I heard of the conference it sounded like I’m not the only one to resist this old way of orchestrating knowledge-sharing – despite positive feedback there were serious rumblings of rebellion and dissatisfaction throughout the week.

Mailing briefly with Charles after the conference, he understood my concerns, yet noted that this form of gathering was still precious in that it created a space where diverse people could meet and exchange experiences. But he, too, has been feeling the urge to explore more open-ended ways of doing this.

Well, last week I was very lucky to experience a fantastically successful alternative to the old conference form. And I didn’t have to go abroad to do so. I’m privileged to live just outside of Groningen- a culturally rich university town in the northernmost end of Holland. It has always been on the progressive side despite the Calvanistic influence, but now, things are really starting to hot up.

The Let’s Gro Inspiration Festival was a perfect platform for exploring transition. There were 122 events planned over 2 days in or around the centre of Groningen. The theme was ‘The future of the city Groningen’. All the events were geared to exploring alternatives to existing forms. The scope was huge: community greening initiatives, socially engaged art, repurposing buildings, recyling, upcycling, social work, new energy alternatives, rethinking transport in the city,exploring community in various forms, etc.

Here is a small selection of what was available to do, most of it free!

  • a masterclass in self organisation in the city, how to initiate citizen actions
  • a pop up restaurant using locally produced organic products
  • a talk about creating community green spaces by residents who did so successfully
  • a presentation on the ‘home of the future’ featuring new technology to enable the elder home-owner to remain at home longer
  • panels and events for young entrepreneurs in the creative industries
  • a guided tour around a garden started for low income families, to give them work and enable them to grow their own food
  • a ship container with a display of cradle to cradle projects, and a room where oyster mushrooms are being raised on coffee grounds collected from the huge Internal Revenue building’s restaurant.
  • a café run by volunteers, serving free meals, using only donated food slightly past hold by date, or surplus from restaurants and local farmers
  • a nature hike in the city’s green spaces
  • a vintage clothes swap event
  • a party for internationals- students and young entrepreneurs

There was music, dance, partying, art, theatre, film, and this water sculpture on the main market square. There were seminars on urban beekeeping, on providing a basis income for everyone, creative strategies for the city, safety in neighborhoods, sustainable entrepreneurship, a mini Maker’s Fair, and more.

What I loved about it was the free form way you could put together your own program. You could meet or not meet other people, you could choose where to linger, when to go, what to see, taste, hear, experience. The knowledge gained could be applied locally, which was the intention. And the people one met lived nearby enough, had enough common interests and networks to make keeping in touch realistic.

I attended several events on one day and though I didn’t come home on a conference high, I was quietly inspired and grounded in my neighborhood and in Groningen in a new way. Possibilities opened up I’d not been aware of before. This is truly a place where people are exploring new ways of building community together. There is so much going on!

As a result of contacts made there, I may be assisting a student project about social initiatives, and have since heard about some other socially engaged artists.

And speaking of community, I learned about the Community Lover’s guide to the Universe, which I hadn’t been aware of until now, were you?

Larger conversations, searching for the soul in my art

Too early on, creating beautiful things became my sole source of praise, and self-worth. I think it took me an entire adult life to start to reclaim my art for myself, and disengage it from the outer trappings of approval.

David Whyte speaks about diving deep down to the core of our work where we are engaged in larger conversations with unknown forces. And that this level of work is hugely distanced from the usual criteria of professionalism, income generation and success.

He says that without this larger conversation, nothing will nourish us, we won’t find the passion or renewal needed to progress and grow and become fulfilled in our work.

I’m finding it increasingly harder to keep on with my oil painting. It seems to me so entwined with the old forms of art making, but not in the positive sense of craft mastery. Rather that, once finished, whether I see it that way or not, my painting becomes a product. It belongs to the market value system simply by existing.

I think if my work sold effortlessly, I wouldn’t get so hung up on the promotion aspect of it. If people bought my work for who I am, and not who the gallery is, and this work was seen to be a necessary part of someone’s life, or of the community,  I’d just keep keeping on.

This is my latest still life, I like the tippy-top band of colour best.

Tanny's bowl

Tanny’s bowl

I have been wondering how/if my painting is connected to my soul, to my heart’s path….It still seems to be about doing something well, and the very real joy of mastering  technique and using it expressively. But it has no context. I don’t feel part of the artworld or akin to my fellow painters who are trying to live from their work. It is made in a vacuum and stays there. It is something I do, but not who I am……..

But maybe I haven’t dived down into it deeply enough. I can’t seem to find the ‘passion’ or ‘renewal’ to go on with developing it. [Later: I reconnected to my painting again and there is so much delight in just the doing, and in seeing the progress, and getting closer to my vision of how I’d like to paint. The reward is in the joy of doing and discovery. So though there are ups and downs, I won’t be stopping anytime soon.]

On the other hand, this little laying out of objects collected on my last 2 walks does make my heart beat faster. It feels very close to who I am and who I always have been.

collection

collection

The little grass ring was woven while waiting for the bus to go back home, it has since been pimped up a bit with wool, pine cones and feathers, I’ll add a photo of the finished object later. (On this photo, inside the ring is a pinkish disc of lepidolite given to me by Rende). The wonderful weathered sticks are each from a different nature reserve- Gasteren Duinen, Balooërveld, and Sleenderbos.The flint is also from the sandy paths of Ballooërveld.

All my life I’ve been collecting feathers, sticks, shells, stones, seedpods. And weaving baskets from grasses and laying out collections in various configurations. I’ve never linked these activities with Art. It seemed too personal, like my own intimate rituals which had nothing to do with anyone else.

But it seems that this urge is more widespread, and that it is an expression of a new kind of art, linked with nature. So I’ll share it here, and so doing, feel to be part of a larger community also working with natural materials for healing, connection, meaning creation, peace, and the simple pleasure of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#7 Passing a threshold

Pieterpad, Rolde en route to Sleen (via Schoonloo)

For the introduction to this (hopefully)480 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

Sign along the Pieterpad

Sign along the Pieterpad

This leg of the journey I was accompanied (figuratively) by Robert MacFarlane and his, ‘The Old Ways’. I’m in the middle of reading it and it is a delight. He writes of his own wayfaring, always with an eye to how walking is linked with meaning creation, local myths,and personal stories.

I was on this section of path for 3 glorious warm and sunny  days. Time to sink deep into one’s own rhythm and thoughts. The path wound through several nature reserves, and while I love wooded sandpaths best of all, I have to admit it got a bit repetitive.

Still, there was variation- going over streams, the path breaking out into open fields, heather bogland with wide peaty ponds, and the occasional paved road. Being late July the birds are very quiet. I didn’t see many in the woods and missed their songs. Actually I was feeling quite starved for other signs of life by the second day, and was so pleased to find a young cat on the path near Schoonloo (Dutch pronounciation – double oo is pronounced like our long o in ‘snow’). And once when I stopped by a field with cows in the distance, I looked up and they were all coming toward me, all curious and snuffly. One got close enough for a nose kiss- what a big, black, WET nose! The horses were being boarded by a friendly stables I passed at the end of my second day. The place I was staying was 2km off the path and I did 16km that day.

An important part of this experience is surely the encounters with people on the way and those in whose homes I rest at night. There is a network of private homes which host only hikers and cyclists for a low fee. The one I stayed in this time couldn’t be beaten by a 4 star hotel in my eyes. I had a little private suite in their beautiful home, and they were very kind. Here was the breakfast served in ‘my’ sitting room overlooking the garden. And I got a packed lunch for on the way.

bed and BREAKFAST!

bed and BREAKFAST!

While I walked, I mused on a Joseph Campbell quote I have in my travel journal:

Whether small or great, and no matter what the stage or grade of life, the Call rings up the curtain, always on a mystery of transfiguration- a rite, or moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth. The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand.

Joseph Campbell in conversation with Michael Toms,‘Notes from an Open Life’.

The walking seems to have a lot to do with this kind of life stage. I can’t explain it concretely, but it is in itself a ‘Call’.

Here is what Robert Macfarlane has to say about walking as a way of creating meaning:

 …it seemed that every month I had been walking the old ways, I had met or heard tell of someone else setting out on a walk whose purposes exceeded the purely transportational or the simply recreational, and whose destination was in some sense sacred. Thousands of these improvised pilgrimages seemed to be occurring, often unguided by the principles of a major world religion, and of varying levels of seriousness and sanctity.

-Robert MacFarlane, ‘The Old Ways’

I’ve covered 100km now, on my own two feet, one step at a time. And encouraged by an account of Robert MacFarlane’s-  some of it done barefoot. The first thing you notice is temperature, after that as he notes as well, there is a feeling of reciprocity you get the second your skin directly touches the Earth’s skin.

barefoot

 

 

 

 

 

 

#6 Walking the path of passion and heart

Pieterpad, Glimmen to Rolde

For the introduction to this (hopefully)480 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

Beautiful wooded sand-paths through trees and fields.

Beautiful wooded sand-paths through trees and fields.

It has been quiet here but after a month taking care of the house while Rende was away, I’m back on the Pieterpad.

travelling light

travelling light

This time was different. After being housebound I was wild to just get going, so I threw a few things in a daypack, waved to hub and dog and took off- without any real idea how long I’d be gone. This is so uncharacteristic of me- the list maker and planner, and worrier par excellence:  ‘what if I can’t find a place to sleep! I’ll end up being a bag lady’, etc.

It is true, in high season the few affordable accommodations are usually booked, and they were. But in those cases, I was lucky to simply bump into people who directed me to a private address where, in need, the owner would provide a bed and hearty breakfast for a reasonable price ( from around 25-30 euros). Some of the chiquer B&Bs were asking €70!
Influenced by my immediate surroundings after living in caution for so long, I need to learn to trust more and not try to control everything. This risk-taking suits a part of my nature which has been dormant for years and reminds me of my youthful hitch-hiking trips through the western US.

I ended up walking for 3 days and it was the most beautiful part of the route to date. After day 1 the weather was hot and sunny. I mentioned that the landscape would change from our stark northern spaces to a softer, forested environment. There were miles of sand tracks going through several nature reserves. It was so deserted I was able to get relief from the blazing heat and bathe unseen in a pond nestled in the heather dunes of Ballooërveld.

For several weeks previous to the trip, I’d been immersed in Charlotte Du Cann’s book, ’52 flowers that shook my world, a radical return to earth’. And I travelled accompanied by this sense of communion and connection. And with questions about passion and life path brought up by rereading of Du Cann’s own journey to self discovery. One can’t help be challenged by her stark honesty, and bitterness transformed, to confront the parts of one’s own identity that no longer burn true. Du Cann’s stripping down process has brought her to an incendiary core, it seems. Anything false is immediately consumed. And being in proximity with that kind of unflinching honesty forces one to try to locate the same kind of truth in oneself.

Shaded approach to Rolde

Shaded approach to Rolde

I walked among trees and dunes, in quiet, listening to birds, listening to my breath and footfalls, listening to my heart and thoughts, in peace and joy and belonging. I stopped when I was tired, ate when I was hungry, slept in clean sheets in the homes of kind strangers, and took more steps towards inner healing and finding one’s truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#5 Changing landscape

Pieterpad, Groningen to Glimmen

36 km done, 447 to go!

36 km done, 447 to go!

For the introduction to this (hopefully)480 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

Along a city street

Along a city street

Entering a wooded path

Entering a wooded path

You can already see that the landscape I’m in now is different from the wide open spaces of the northernmost parts of this walk.

This leg started in the city then went along a canal. Eventually, the path led through woods, past several lakes and recreation spots, past houseboats, and behind the neighborhood Haren on a sand path.

Below is a common sight in Groningen and the surroundings. Because of all the canals criss-crossing the landscape here, almost everything can be a bridge. Whole slabs of road simply lift up to make way for passing yachts and cargo barges. In the case below, part of the railway rises up-  note the cycling path to the right, which is also in the air.

Bridges up

Bridges up

 

Here they are lowered, the cyclists on the other side are still waiting for the barrier to lift. .

Bridges down in place

Bridges down in place

Open to traffic.

cyclists bridge

I thought when I started this trip that I would keep a journal, and that it would be a time of contemplation and insights. So far, aside from recording the journey in photos, I have not had the urge to take notes during the walks, or share anything other than these basically factual posts.

Maybe it is because I am not yet really immersed in the walking. It is still one activity among others in my normal days. Probably when I’m on the road for several days at time, the experience will be different.

One insight I had this time was that you always end up taking yourself with you. I’ve read different people’s wayfaring experiences, and have been struck by each person’s approach to walking. Some are focused on the destination, others on the achievement, still others on the flora and fauna on the way. I wonder what mine is.

The first sensation I had when setting out on this walk was the sense of freedom- the delight in not having to fill up my day with ‘meaningful’ or productive activity. The realisation that simply walking is enough always fills me with elation.

I am a mosey-er, other walkers always stride past me while I’m looking at the fall of light on a leaf, or stopping to listen to birds. I’ll occasionally catch myself thinking ahead about reaching the destination, then reminding myself it isn’t a contest, even with myself. I just keep being grateful for every painless step- that so far my knees and feet are fine. I guess gratitude is the main emotion as I wend my way through familiar yet new landscapes. As I see the country I’ve lived in for 30 years now so intimately and through totally new eyes.

Here is the last part of this leg: Haren is a well to do neighborhood, what I like best about it, beside the mansions (often converted to insurance companies and social- and healthcare facilities), is that there are wide spaces with fields of horses right in the neigh-borhood. (sorry)

Mansions along the main road in Haren

Mansions along the main road in Haren

horses in Haren

horses in Haren

 

I have a month break while Rende is on his walking holiday in the Pyrenees, but in July I’ll be setting out again all being well.

 

 

 

#4 To Groningen by foot

Pieterpad, Garnwerd to Groningen

For the introduction to this (hopefully)480 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

horse graffiti under a bridge approaching Groningen

horse graffiti under a bridge approaching Groningen

The weather report was good. I dressed lightly in anticipation of the sunny skies sure to appear later in the morning.

Wrong again. It actually didn’t clear up until I was done with my 4 hour trek, (the most ambitious up until now). There was a strong cold wind the whole time. But it was invigorating and somewhat of a victory, because until now, I really didn’t know if my condition was good enough to attempt this leg, which was more than twice the distance I’d been doing so far.

I started out with an hour’s bus ride to get to my starting point, Café Hamminga in Garnwerd. (see previous trip for photos). Here is the interior, it was a cosy beginning before facing the chilly winds and occasional drizzle outside.

interior Hamminga

The first leg was a stretch along the dike, a rich agricultural area with lots of sheep. I absent-mindedly started collecting small clumps of stray sheep’s wool for craft projects, and with nowhere else to put them, stuck them in my  pocket. In the freezing wind, I had my hands in my pockets a lot of the time, and eventually, as I collected more bits of wool, they became warm from the woolly lining!! Don’t ask me why, but I found amazing comfort in this for the whole walk. Perhaps because it was an unasked for and unexpected gift.

The walk was 14km or about 8 miles. It meandered along paths, through farms, along canals.  A promised resting point midway was no longer catering to guests, so they referred me to the house below where the lady was very kind and gave me hot tea and some time to rest. The rest of the photos give an idea of the first 7km.

I kept thinking it would clear up, but the grey cloudy skies stayed in front of me, while behind, patches of blue started to appear. Eventually the path led out of farmland to an asphalt road and a bridge over the canal. Here you can see the approach to the bridge,  and the bridge swinging open to the side for boats to pass.

Just across that bridge, there was a wonderful wooded path and acres of fields with horses and sheep acting as a sort of buffer zone between the path and the major motorway just a mile away.

Along parts of the path were sculptures with poetry. The modern building is part of the Zernike technological complex- the path I was on runs behind it. And along the water are the grounds behind the crematorium where people erect intimate monuments for departed loved ones.

After that things began to change from farm and nature to the city. The wooded path came out in a park in one of the neighbourhoods of Groningen, first passing under a road, the viaduct containing the inevitable graffiti. Then you know you are in the city. Another kilometre or two and I came to the green heart of Groningen, Noorderplantsoen- an English- style park full of old trees and site of the eclectic and magical Noorderzon cultural festival every August.

I walked to the market square and my legs were tired but I still had enough energy to do a few errands before embarking on the train, bus and cycle ride home (a little over an hour).
And to take the time to revel in the idea of having walked 8 miles without any trouble at all.

Central marketplace in Groningen

Central marketplace in Groningen

For more pictures of Groningen see my Flickr site.