Living from Belonging

It was the beautiful design that first caught my interest. Online research revealed that this “taka” was made by the Ngadha tribe, who live on the island of Flores, in Indonesia. And although I read various theories, I would not be surprised if only the Ngadha know the taka’s true meaning and uses.

I was also intrigued by the fact that members of the Ngadha think of themselves first as “we” (not “I”) – a bit like how the taka includes two equal parts joined in intimate connection. Placing primacy on a first person plural identity is evidently quite rare among human cultures. That’s a bit surprising given how much we humans have always been dependent on each other for our very survival.

Jayne Curnow explains the Ngadha view using these words:

“individual independence is not a coveted state of being; rather being singular plural is the principal mode of existence. In this context, the nua is the central heartland for the spatial and material expression of clan unity, although the emotions of being singular plural transcend time and space….Ngadha practices of interdependence are reflected in the community economy, which privileges Ancestor worship, community cohesion and group distribution of resources above the needs and desires of the individual….Interdependence is a dominant feature of everyday Ngadha life and organization. Ngadha people’s view of their own society involves a sense of self that questions the conceptual separation of self from others. Frequently, people alerted me to the ways in which everyone and everything is connected.”

Now, most of us do not live in tribes. We live with members of our immediate family, or with a roommate. Many live alone. We pay a price for that. Jeffrey Simons and Lane Beckes argued that pro-social behavior that was required by tribal living provided evolutionary advantages. And a sense of belonging, of being deeply known, appreciated and cared about by a larger group has some significant psychological benefits.

Intentionally working to form groups that provide a sense of belonging and adopt a “we” perspective (as is true of many religious communities, for example) seems particularly wise in perilous times like our own. At a minimum, that could provide access to a broader range of perspectives as well as to useful instrumental support. I tend to agree with those who argue that social capital can be very valuable even when other resources are not available.

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality . . . Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize the basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality. “

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.1967 Christmas Sermon on Peace

Morrisonite: Images Within the Stone

Morrisonite was never very abundant and mining in the single location in eastern Oregon, U.S.A. where it is found has ceased. Depending upon how the rough jasper is cut, egg shapes may appear piled up on a heap or overlapping in a row. These may be plain or filled with pattern as in the first example below. Lines or patches may appear traversing the clusters. The possible colorful variations seem endless.

Patterns flow through in three dimensions, creating an interesting challenge for those considering how best to reveal what is hidden within.









Communing with Surfaces

I first met Ken Matsuzaki on a trip to Japan. The first photo is of his pottery on display when I visited in 1997. After I returned, I was delighted to see Ken again, as well as examples of his latest work in Boston at the Pucker Gallery, which continues their long-term relationship with the master potter.

Entranced by the exuberant surfaces of the works on display in 2010, I asked and was granted permission to take closeups. I hope the photos below convey some sense for the joyful adventure of looking closely at their remarkable diversity.











Jasper Dreams

As you look in closer and closer at a slab of Morrisonite jasper, the dream images are still detailed and fascinating. The closeups below provide an idea of the wide range of patterns in this colorful jasper from a single location in Eastern Oregon – an area that is spectacularly beautiful in its own right.

I can get lost looking for good sections to enlarge. Three of these photos show the source, an image taken from its center and how that section looks enlarged and hung on a wall. Morrisonite provides endless options for that kind of treatment as well as for framing beautiful small sections as cabochon art.

Melting Art on Cars

In late November 2019, I noticed wonderful large ice crystal formations all over a car. This November, most interesting symmetrical patterns formed on car hoods after a light snow began to melt. The patterns varied quite a bit, probably reflecting the different engine and hood support designs within.

I had to wonder what other wonderful designs I might discover by getting out early after the first freeze of the year.

A Bumper Crop of Edible Mushrooms

When I was out taking mushroom photos, I came across two people from Europe with a basket full of hen of the woods as well as a bag of honey mushrooms, both gathered from the bases of oaks. I learned the number of edible mushrooms each person can collect is limited where they come from, but here, where there are no such limits, they had gathered so many they would need to give some away.

They explained that the best way to learn which mushrooms are safe to eat is to go out with an expert local guide. But books and online resources (like this one) can be helpful.

In addition to being eaten as food and medicine, mushrooms can have profound cultural significance. Those with psychotropic properties are used in healing rituals. The Maya carved wonderful anthropomorphic mushroom stones, and a jade pendant bears witness to the significance the Chinese place on mushrooms use in traditional medicine.

Fungi support the health of forests and can survive fire. They have been used to control insect pests and to clean up plastic and organic waste. No doubt our appreciation for fungi will increase as we learn more about what they can do.

Pandemic Stories: Art in Nature, An Invitation

When I first came across the installation in Menotomy Rocks Park, early morning light streamed through the trees onto the translucent flags. A sign explained that Nilou Moochhala, the 2021 Artist in Residence in Arlington, Massachusetts had created this work, “Reflecting on Our Pandemic Experience.” As she describes, individual flags were designed in response to interviews she conducted with a diverse cross section of this town of 50,000.

Every other flag had a word embedded in its design. I found Freedom, Madness, Tolerance, Humanity, Denial, Inclusive, Collaborative, Wary, Grateful, Unreal, Healing, Cautious, Overwhelming, Devastating, Love, Comforting and Confusing among others. Patterns and colors out to the edges suggested that the stories that inspired the multi-media flag drawings are still going on.

The words, patterns and colors all seemed part of a lively conversation going on within and among the flags, and I was being invited to join in – literally, as I learned. There was an opportunity to add my own responses to the pandemic via an online questionnaire. All responses plus this art work would remain in an archive at the local library.

We are connected like the flags by this pandemic, I thought. None of us can escape being affected in one way or another. Nilou’s art asks us to bear witness to the diversity of experiences. While there are great challenges, grief and suffering, the flags remind us that supportive connection and even growth are also still possible in these dark times. This art asks us not to turn away but toward. It asks us to hold and honor all of it with kindness and care.

Closeup of section of a sign posted at the installation.

Closeup of section of a sign posted at the installation.

Closeup of section of a sign posted at the installation.

Weathering the Storm

Recently, I came across an abalone shell that called out to me. At first I looked for abstract patterns in its colorful interior. Then, a wind-blown tree came into view. There was no mistaking the tree that both stood strong and bent with the wind. It feels a bit like that now, I thought. We began to see patterns with COVID 19 that we did not understand. Now we find we are in a storm with no place to hide from the global wind. Is this tree in a storm a warning, hope for resilience in the face of threat, or perhaps both?

Learning to See

This paperweight was on the window sill for a while before I noticed its changeable personality. Two curved layers with outer films of dichroic glass reflected and transmitted light. Now that I looked more closely, depending on the light and the angle, everything changed.

I got out my camera to see what the super macro setting would capture. How could one small object do all of that?

Beauty on Both Sides

I have always been attracted to abalone’s iridescent interiors, but I had no idea about the range of patterns and colors that nature creates on their outsides until I started collecting these shells. Although there are commonalities among the suborders of the Haliotidae family, each individual shell is unique. And the outsides of the shells can change color based on the types of algae the abalone has been eating.

There is often a beauty to both sides of natural objects. In these days of deep divisions, I find that to be a most refreshing idea to keep in mind.