Thursday, October 27, 2011

Black Cats

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm ready to let go of the whole idea that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck. I encounter black cats on my walks all over the place here in Portland, and I'm really beginning to feel foolish crossing the street or turning around and going all the way around the block to avoid them.

It's time.

So I went on a search-and-find-out-the-real-story quest. Here's what I discovered.

There was a time - albeit a while ago in 3000 BC in ancient Egypt - when all cats were held in high esteem and protected by law from injury and death. A cat's death was mourned by entire families who embalmed the bodies of their pets, wrapping them in fine linen and placing them in mummy cases made of precious materials like bronze and wood - a scare commodity.

The first documented demonization of black cats came about  during the Middle Ages in Europe. Cats in general have always been survivors, and back then they quickly overpopulated major cities. It also helped that they were probably fed by poor, lonely old ladies. I'm sure there were lonely old men in the mix, but they aren't mentioned in my source for some reason.

When witch hysteria hit Europe, many of these homeless women were accused of practicing black magic, their cat companions (especially black ones) were also found guilty by association. In Lincolnshire in the 1560s, a tale tells of a father and his son who were frightened one moonless night when a black cat darted across their path and into a crawl space. Hurling stones into the opening, they saw the cat scurry out and limp into the adjacent home of a woman suspected by the town of being a witch. The next day the father and son were supposed to have seen the same woman on the street - her face was bruised, her arm bandaged and she walked with a limp. From that day on in Lincolnshire, all black cats were suspected of being witches in night disguise. The notion traveled with colonists across the pond. The belief that witches transformed themselves into black cats in order to prowl streets unobserved was especially potent in America during the Salem witch hunts.

Many societies in the late Middle Ages attempted to drive black cats into extinction. As the witch scare mounted to paranoia, many innocent women and their harmless pets were burned at the stake.  In France, thousands of cats were burned monthly until King Louis XIII halted the practice in the 1630s.

On the other hand, there were some, more enlightened societies that believed quite the opposite of the black cat. Many believed that a black cat brought good fortune and also, anyone who found the one perfect pure white hair in an all-black cat and plucked it out without being scratched, would find great wealth and good luck in love. In Britain, on the Yorkshire coast, wives of fishermen believed that their menfolk would return safely if a black cat was kept in the house, and English sailors believed that keeping black cats aboard their vessels content, would ensure fair weather when they went to sea.

Today a black cat in the audience on opening night portends a successful play. In the south of France, black cats are referred to as "matagots" or "magician cats." According to local superstition, they bring good luck to owners who feed them well and treat them with the respect. In the English Midlands, a black cat as a wedding present is thought to bring good luck to the bride.

I now feel as if a historically huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

Black Cats • 8" x 8" watercolor framed to 12" x 12" • $200

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rock Cairns

The word cairn comes from the Irish carn (plural cairn) or Scottish Gaelic càrn (plural càirn). 

I encountered my first cairn hiking in Maine - I had never hiked until I came to Maine. For a couple of summers as a teenager, the only hiking I ever did was with a gang of Maine townies once a summer. The first summer we hiked Mt. Washington. I had never seen a mountain that big in person. The hike up and torturous stumble down just about killed me. But it was also a stunningly rude awakening to a whole new way of being I would eventually come to love.

Much, much later and as part of my get-mentally-and-emotionally-healthy-or-die phase, my therapist at the time informed me that I was a workaholic, among other things. Workaholic was the only ic I could relate to. All of the other ics were over my level of understanding at the time. All I know is I was working 24/7and loving it.

So what's wrong with that, I asked regarding working 24/7. I love it!
She asked me if I remembered my children's birthdays. 
She had me there.

As part of the the exercise I had to make a list of stuff I loved to do. 

Work, I said. 
No, she replied.  You have to find something else you like to do. You have to make a list of things you like to do and start doing them on weekends. You are not allowed to work on weekends any more.

I sat there and thought about my list.

I can't think of anything, I said.
Fake it, she replied.

So that night I made a list of stuff I was faking I liked to do. The only one I remember on my list is hiking because that's what I started doing. It didn't cost anything and I lived in Carrabassett Valley - hello - the hiking capital of Maine.

I spent a long time just hiking around the valley by myself. I didn't scale anything, I was just trying to get a feel for it. I hiked along through the woods and periodically asked myself, do I like this? I remember not being able to answer that question for a very long time. So I just pretended I liked it. I did however like the cairns I'd find along the trails. I liked adding my two cents worth and building some of my own.

I eventually got into seriously good shape, started running more - every day, did a 10k, scaled the Bigelow Range - my ultimate personal goal, and then hooked up with a bunch of other women hikers. As a group we hiked everything we could whenever we could.  It all culminated at Katahdin. For two years in a row we did Katahdin. It was incredible and the cairns up there were very cool.

I ended up hiking constantly for many years everywhere I traveled -  built cairns wherever I went - but gave it up when I moved to Portland. Maybe someday I'll get back into it, but for now I'll do a day hike with my brother when I go to California or with my kids when I go to Seattle. But that's it.

These days I hike along the beach and build rock cairns there.

Rock Cairns • 8" x 8" watercolor framed to 12" x 12" • $200

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Peace is an Inside Job

I figured it was time to do another meditation for peace. I occasionally forget what peace is, and it would appear the world is forgetting too.

I try to find things I like to do because if I love what I am doing, I'm creating good energy. We all know energy is constantly expanding, spreading out - the Theories of General and Special Relativity - so it's really important for me to be in a good place as much of the time as is possible.

There are lots of ways to find inner peace. I have found painting these mandalas to be a great exercise for me.


Mandala For Inner Peace • 8" x 8" framed to 12" x 12" • $200

Monday, October 3, 2011

Just Pretend

If somebody asked me
to live in a tree
and it was environmentally
I would absolutely
move in one today.

But since it's not
I'll pretend instead
and then pick a spot
to plant a tree
 so one day
there be many.
 In memory of Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement 

 Just Pretend • 8" x 8" framed to 12" x 12" • $200