Last August I went to Montana for the Elk River Writing Workshop (I highly recommend checking it out if you’re a nature writer, my workshop leader Beth Piatote will be back next summer, and she is excellent. Check out her book The BeadWorkers Stories, and when her book of poetry comes out, you have to read the one about sewing red dresses—chills!) and there was another participant who was working on a project for the cover of Orion Magazine. I’m a fan of Orion. I set a goal to be in Orion like a year and a half ago, but this wasn’t the way I expected it to happen.
At the workshop, fellow attendee Marina Tsaplina announced she was working on an art piece called Dream Puppet for the cover of Orion. After the workshop, it would hang in the Yaak Valley where it would be photographed. (You can read more about it here.) It was a puppet made of natural fibers and dyes. She even made glue from rice. I took a botanical foraging and dying class in the fall of 2020, so it was extra cool to see all those types of dyes and fabrics in action. This project spoke straight to the portion of my soul that loves arts and crafts.
I couldn’t give as much time as I would have liked, the days flew by quickly, and there was a lot to take in. In between lectures and workshops, I lent a hand when I could. I even attended a talk while practicing the pinning skills I learned as a kid helping my mom sew.
Marina told me about the project, which was bigger than a cover. She worked with her local community in New York City to engage people with disabilities in creating the bulk of the piece. Having worked with my local disabilities community through my job over the years, it spoke to my heart. But as someone who has dyslexia, it spoke to my brain as well.
The first night of Elk River, keynote speaker Jim Enote (go here to listen to him, so worth it) spoke of his grandmother and holding her hand. She was a woman with gumption, and I love a woman with gumption. She reminded me of my grandmother. When he spoke of holding her hand, I could feel my own grandmother’s hand in mine. He also spoke of the essential life skill we all learn as children of tying knots.
I had to thank him for giving me that moment with my grandmother, of feeling her hand again. Another person did that for me years earlier, which meant so much. I told him that in my family, tying knots was important for tatting, crocheting, and knitting, and making friendship bracelets. We discussed my tattoos. He wanted to know about the symbols, meanings, and history. I pulled up my sleeve and showed him the butterfly that represents me, the bee for my mom, and the mum for my grandmother.
The following morning, he sat with me for breakfast. Marina joined us to ask him about tying knots. He was an experienced mountain climber, so his knowledge of knots was vast. I watched and filmed the steps on her phone as he taught. My fingers acted as the solid force that held the rope. Marina was so diligent in practicing these steps. How could I not help her even in a small way to achieve her goal?
After the last workshop and before the gala, workshop mate Keene Short (check out his fantastic writing and photography), and I helped make yellow flowers. We sat in the little shed out back in the garden as the rain fell. We watched a hummingbird visit the flowering containers and chatted. There is something about working on a shared goal and a project with your hands that opens up a moment. As a society, we’re so focused on forcing eye contact to “know” if we trust someone, but not making eye contact can relax and make space.
Marina continued with her project, and you can read all about it in Orion. I’m happy to have been even a tiny part of it. As someone who has been an active community organizer for my entire adult life, I have so much respect for Marina’s goals, ideas, and execution. She found a way to safely bring people together and socialize over a shared project in the middle of a pandemic.
****I’m taking this opportunity to give another shout-out for Orion. This past fall I took a workshop through them taught by Jessica J. Lee (another excellent workshop leader, especially teaching remotely). Fellow attendee Sarah Capdeville has a piece in the current Orion as well. Here is the link. Please check it out while you’re there.**** How remarkable is life, and how lucky I am to meet such talented and fabulous people? Pretty darn lucky, I’d say.