Sabbatical, cover crops for a studio practice:

oats cover crop in the garden

“I refuse to take part in the segregation of the imagination that assigns greater value to some experiences than it assigns to others. If there is to be a flourishing that I can cultivate, I want its reach to be wide.”

-Camille T Dungy, From Dirt, Emergence Magazine

Amidst so many changes and unknowns that the year 2020 has tossed our way, it has taken me a while to realize that what I am doing with my year is probably best referred to as a sabbatical, a year-long break from working the fields. In my gardens and across my land, I’ve planted many rounds of cover crops, more than ever, while considering how to give my beds and forest areas a break, a boost, an extra round of nourishment and inspiration before the next growing season asks much of them. From oats to buckwheat, they grow, we harvest, and I either hoe them into the soil, or daniell gathers them to add to his active composting hobby (his new skill for this year). The sabbatical, the cover crops, the composting…these feel like they are all related.

In my studio practice, this time is not a time of doing nothing. It is a time to follow each and every whim that floats up out of a day’s passing, to pay attention to where my attention is going, and watch for interesting and inspiring ideas that are emerging in new and energizing ways, all as a form of nourishment. While the time I spend hiking slower on familiar trails may feel like dawdling, these experiences of watching colors and motion, plants and insects, and listening for their stories, are akin to the layers of leaf litter and microbial networking that will bring fresh energy and material to my studio practice moving forward.

Some days, this may look like catching up on notes from reading and listening, including excerpts from the For the Wild podcast, the Emergence Magazine and Dark Mountain websites, books like “The Warmth Of Other Suns”, and zoom gatherings with Robin Wall Kimmerer or Sharon Blackie. These words by people who are considering how to be a positive force in the world we are inhabiting, right now, bring me much inspiration, from paying closer attention to keeping my own seeds from my garden, to considering the role of myth, lore, and ancient traditions in our 21st Century lives. And then there is always, always, the pure delight of essays by Ross Gay.

In the larger world that reaches beyond the all-important world of humans, my focus has been shifting and growing, as I practice ‘deep listening’ , a practice of intentionally listening to the wide sound-scape as well as the specific sounds of plants and trees and wind and crickets and trains. Akin to meditation, I find it calming and reassuring to become just part of the ecosystem, not always striving to be an outstanding human. For, after all, we are just one small part of the places where we stand.

Beautiful American Beech tree, with better cell reception than my abode!

As this year turns to Autumn, I hope that you are finding ways to connect with the world around you, habits that bring you solace and clarity. I hope that you are feeling nurtured, as well as finding ways to nurture.

If you are interested in my work:

PVAS: I have been offering Nature Journal Gatherings through our Potomac Valley Audubon Society each month, and we’d love to have you join us.

Over the Mountain Studio Tour is Virtual for 2020!

Visit my studio with social distancing protocols in place, by appointment.