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Copyright 2012 Mary Montanye All Rights Reserved.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Where is your creative place?

Crow Island Woods was an elongated, rounded at its edges, strip of land – a slight mound actually – behind the low-slung, single-storied, yellow-bricked, big-windowed elementary school I attended in the late 50s and early 60s.

The woods were farther out from the school even than the chain-link fenced-in playground with its wood-chipped surface, its canvas-seated swings, rings, and jungle gym. Crow Island Woods stood green and welcoming on the far side of the school’s playing field with its patches of grass and dirt and baseball diamonds. These woods were what Lesley, my best and only friend, and I considered our haven, a wooded sanctuary sacred as any church.

Every recess and lunch period we escaped to this tiny patch of forest from Mrs. Gellar’s third grade classroom. We didn’t like third grade much, because Mrs. Gellar often called on us to respond to questions we rarely had the answers for, and where bigger and more boisterous boys and girls teased us for our skinny legs and fat pigtails.

None of the other kids ever went into our woods, as we called them. They stayed on the playground and field to play games with their friends. Four to five times each day, if you counted before and after school, we were alone among the low hanging branches thick with leaf as spring reached into summer, or bare and crispy in midwinter.

Lesley and I sat ourselves on tree roots big as benches beneath our small bodies and worked on an ongoing saga – an epic tale based on the life we wished to be living in a time and place we would have much preferred to inhabit.

With our fat 3-ring, wide-ruled notebooks (red for me and blue for her) we made up our conception of an ideal society loosely based on the tribes of the American Indians that we were currently studying in school. We created our own secret language and drafted the laws of our world. Loud boys and stuck-up girls were refused entrance to our tribal lands. We stationed guards at all entry points.

The laughter and screams of our classmates in the field and playground beyond our sanctuary faded as we debated whether our society should have school teachers and priests, or if perhaps they too should be banned. As we focused on the details of our ongoing story and inhaled the heady fragrances of the cool mulch and sun-warmed leaves, we invariably missed the school bell calling us back to class. One of us would suddenly notice that the calls and laughter of the other children had stopped. Everything was silent except for the occasional chirp of a bird or the rustle of the breeze through the trees. Our classmates had returned to class and we were late again.

Crow Island Woods was not the first or only place I connected the outdoors with creativity. Nor was I the only child to do so. But because I had very few friends and was lonely much of the time, I retreated to the worlds of nature and fantasy perhaps more quickly and more often than most. Today I’m rarely if ever lonely and most of my solitude comes about by choice. Still, I find that love of a place – a special wood or field or beach – feeds my creative spirit like no building ever could.

Tell me, are you also fed by the natural world? Do you have a special place that feeds your creative spirit? If you've lost the connection you once had and are hungry to find it again or, perhaps, discover it for the first time, I'd love to know.

Monday, April 23, 2012

It Begins

I began this year determined to make it one of self-discovery and exploration.  I was going to focus on ME and what I wanted and needed.  It sounds a bit self-absorbed, I know, but I'd been living in a fog probably since my 60th birthday, two years before -- feeling like I was merely going through the motions of day to day living and had lost my joy, my sense of purpose and curiosity.  I needed something to shake up my world, but was afraid to hope for this something.  I was frightened that if I asked for more than I already had, I'd be given experiences too overwhelming or painful.

Still, nothing felt exciting.  Unusual for me, nothing piqued my interest.  I imagine this is what depression feels like and if so, I have even more empathy for those who suffer from it.  I couldn't seem to get myself excited or hopeful about anything.

I signed up for online programs like Cat Caracelo's Vision Quest and Tara Mohr's Playing Big.  I took Jen Louden's Shero's Journey and Teach Now.  I wanted something, anything to awaken me, to make me feel hopeful and positive again.  And I trust these wise women.  They've shaken me up before, awakened me through their teachings.  I knew if anyone could set me on fire with renewed passion and commitment, it would be them.

I also signed up for photography courses led online by Kat Sloma and Susannah Conway, yoga with Marianne Elliott and Anna Guest-Jelley.  I committed to A Year with Myself and did personal coaching with Melissa McCreery.  All helped, I think.  Every one of these courses and teachers helped me to understand that it isn't self-absorption to search for authentic dreams, discover them, go after them, and take good care of yourself on the way to achieving them.  I learned to look to myself for the answers for me, rather than to ask others for the answers.  I learned that friends and colleagues, mentors and teachers, can guide but never dictate what it is that I should be doing.

Oh, it is SO difficult for me to admit this.  I'm thinking now that YOU will all be thinking --it's taken her THIS long to figure it out?  But the truth of it is that it has taken me this long.  And perhaps my willingness to listen to the wisdom of others and to take the time and space needed to explore my creativity and inner longings is why what happened next, happened.

What happened is that in February -- only a month into my year of my very big challenge -- I fell in love.  My falling in love has set me on a new adventure.  It is why my life has turned upside down virtually overnight and everything feels chaotic and topsy-turvy and out of control.  Love can do that.  Love can make you want to change everything, give up long-held beliefs, toss out the tried and true for the unknown and the new.

What happened to me in February is that I fell deeply, drastically, abruptly in love with a place.  Many of us think of falling in love much too narrowly.  We think of it only as something we can do with another human being, a person usually of the opposite sex, or perhaps a pet or our newborn baby.  But love is so much richer and deeper than that.  It can be for non-human beings other than our pets, for plants, flowers, trees, and places. Places like the wild Oregon coast and a tiny coastal town with a funny name -- Yachats(Ya-Hots).  I fell in love the coast and with Yachats and because I did, my life, and my husband's life, changed virtually overnight.

I've fallen in love and everything has changed.  We bought a house in a week and returned home to Colorado to begin the process of closing down one phase of our lives and opening another.

And now it seems important to begin a new blog dedicated to this new love.  I want this blog to be a space to post photos and to write about the changes as they occur.  I want to share with you what I delightfully discover about this place as I get to know her better.  I want you to love her, too.  But more than that, I want to encourage you through my story to find your own magical place -- or animal or flower or tree or river or sea -- to love.  I want you to learn, too, that no matter what happens in your life with your human loves, you can choose to be in love anyway and always.  Perhaps we can have a conversation about it, and you can tell me of your loves with places of the earth -- places with trees you love to embrace, waters whose depths you want to explore, or mountains you long to scale.  Or you can talk to me of species different than our own that you deeply, passionately love and want to protect or even save.  In other words, I'll tell you about my love and you can tell me about yours.