Blessing for the Autumn Equinox

Relief from the burning sun is a blessing.
A blessing, too, is the bounty from the garden, the plants that bloom as proof that life is generous.
Bless the food that grows and stores the sun and makes the light delicious.

The balance in your life as night equals day, then slowly lengthens the shadows, that is a blessing to you.

To understand that your time walking on this earth is limited is a blessing;
as is your chance to be kind for another day.

Bless this night for everything that leaves us, that grows dark, that we can release into the mystery of the moon, the stars, and the sun that will rise into another day.

Bless the cooling pavement, the sidewalks that do not radiate heat to the knees.
Bless the waning heat–no longer hot enough to stand on your skin like a knife.

May you harvest the heat and use it in the darker months to brighten life,
to shine your goodness onto the world,
to let it be a dot of light in the dark night to comfort the wanderer
who sees it in his distance.

The wheel of life has moved through a year to this point,
and you are here again.
Blessed is this sacred time we walk on the face of the earth,
knowing there is a dawn to come.
–Q. McDonald, © 2018

The Useful Operculum

Yes, I know that the SEO for this post will be terrible. Who searches for “operculum” anyway? Who even knows what an “operculum” is? One of the joys of keeping a creative blog is knowing that there are ups and downs of attention spans, keywords, ideas, and results. Some will work better than others. Let’s hope this one works for you.

An operculum is a door. It can occur in plants or animals, but the one I’m talking about is the door that closes the opening in mollusks–snails.

The snail builds it for protection. When threatened, the mollusk retreats deep into the spiral of its shell, and closes the world out with the operculum.

The beauty of that spiral, the perfect geometry of the sea creature reminds me that utility does not have to be ugly just because it is practical. Even practical  objects should have a beauty that speak to its use. The operculum is smooth and polished, perfect enough to be a talisman, let alone a door.

The necessity of doors is important, too. For the mollusk, the operculum is protection from being eaten, from being forced from its shell.  From having sand heaved into the shell in a riptide.

I’m often jealous of that mollusk. I’d like to have a beautiful barrier against pain and abuse, against people who think that privacy is a sign of anger and unwillingness to mingle. Everything, from mollusk to human, needs time to be alone, to hear the soundless sky settling onto the earth. To hear the seed of an idea roll over and start to sprout. To weigh choices and decisions, consequences and risk. Because creativity is always about risk, and being certain is not.

The operculum is not a guard against the unknown, but a choice to increase growth. We all need an operculum.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She is also a creativity coach, to help people put their creativity to work in their lives. She is writing a book about The Invisible, Visible World.

Asking for What You Need

We all need basics: air, water, food, friends. Once we acquire those, we have to start asking for what we need. Our friends are not mind-readers, no matter how much we wish they were. They may offer help,  but it’s up to us to ask for the kind of help we need. We aren’t very good with that.

“You’ve known me for 10 years! How can you think I’d do that?” or “Why didn’t it occur to you that I needed a babysitter?” Each of us has enough on our plates. And yes, you have to risk being told “no.” Asking for what we need is half of the solution. Handling “no” is the other half. It’s not easy being a friend and an adult at the same time.

This cactus cannot ask for what it needs. It needs water. It’s growing by a canal–all the water it could ever need is no more than 15 feet from its roots. But it can’t move and it can’t ask, and the canal is a concrete channel, so the water won’t leak over to it. Like most cacti, this one is hardy. It hasn’t rained significantly in three months. There are limits to hardy, too. Nature is not always soft and gentle. The cactus may well die, the soft parts dry, leaving a beautiful skeleton.

Note: these photos and brief essays are a prompt to help you think about the changes you might want to make in your life. I photograph the Invisible, Visible World to help us all become aware of what is around us. To think deeply about what we care about.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people in emotional and psychological pain. She also helps people finish that book, painting, music, or dance. Or get started. But you have to ask for what you need!

 

Urban Naturalist at Night

Night walking is very different from day walking, particularly in the city. Most people are home, so the porch lights are on, and most windows are dark, or lit by the light of screens. There is the literal feeling of being an “outsider” because no one sits on their front porch at night.

Moonplant: walking at night. © Quinn McDonald, 2018

Surrounded by people, you feel totally alone, but not necessarily lonely. There is much that connects us in the night.

The day’s work is done, the family is together. Or maybe that’s just what we would like to think. As I walk down streets, I have no idea what happens behind those doors. I am free to make up what I want to think. For now.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She walks every day, sometimes at night, in the invisible, visible world.

The Sparkle Tree

It’s Spring in Phoenix, a tiny slice of time wedged between bare-tree winter and sweat-soaked summer. It’s a wonderful time, a time to savor, to hear bird’s singing day and night, to see huge flowers on trees, to walk in the early morning and feel a cool, refreshing breeze walking with you.

I turned the corner on my morning walk (you may want to read this first) and saw a bare tree. The bark was smooth and dark, and mixed in with leafing and blooming trees, it looked like a sketch on a blank sheet of paper.

Hanging from the branches were lead-crystal beads and pendants. I recognized them as pieces from an old chandelier. The graceful pieces sparkled in the sun, sending shards of light into the air and across the sidewalk. It was other-worldly. Beautiful.

Because I look for symbols to inspire me when I walk, I saw more than an eccentric decoration on a tree in a stranger’s front lawn. I saw the care someone had taken to string the beads and pendants together. I recognized the need to add something to a bare tree to make it winter-beautiful. It was wonderful to feel another person’s need for beauty, for their boldness of hanging up chandelier parts in their front yard, knowing their neighbors might find it strange, or “different,” or “weird.” Instead, the chandelier came to life in a tree, flashing messages of light across a quiet neighborhood. It was, for a second, magic.

And I got to see it. I could have walked on another street, but I hadn’t. I could have been staring straight ahead, but I wasn’t. I got to experience this surprise light show and appreciate it.

I don’t assign meaning immediately to these incidents. I do write down how it made me feel, and what details I remember in a journal. I let the connections happen on their own. Maybe later in the day I will experience a bright idea that is eccentric, or one I am not sure to follow. Then I’ll make the connection.

Meanwhile, I have another symbol to hold on to, in the world of kairomancy. (See the link above for more about the word.)

-Quinn McDonald is an urban naturalist and kairomancer who walks five miles a day through areas of Phoenix, where she lives. She is also a writer and a creativity coach who helps people find meaning in their lives.

Notes on Survival (Poem)

Milkweed pod, Montana.

Milkweed pod, Montana. © Quinn McDonald, 2016. All rights reserved.

When my parents arrived in this country, they had been allowed to bring three crates of items. Those crates contained their entire life–for two adults and two children. Bedding, clothing, pots and pans, dishes, important papers, books, photos, toys. Three crates. Although I was born later, the impossibility of the decisions of what to pack stuck with me.

As a child, I played a game– what I would pack if I had to leave quickly and go to a new place? This poem is rooted in that memory.

 

 

Seed Pod: Notes for Survival
I left dawn behind, but took the last star in the sky
I left the sun behind, but took the ragged fringe of shade
I left the fragrant, blooming tree,
but stole the hanging seed and packed it.

The smooth seedpod holds the wisdom
of casting shade and woven nests,
Going back ten thousand years
Folded in its traveler’s shell.

Still willing, when it hits the ground
(at last)
To send out an exploratory root,
To test the ground for possible survival.
It has one chance to birth a branch
Fed by a dream of stars held in its crown
A filigree of shade laid on the ground
And then, to birth another seed to pack.
© Quinn McDonald, 2016. All rights reserved. No use without express written permission.

Days Getting Shorter

As August turns to September, we’ll still have another month of heat, but the long days are over. We have just less than 13 hours of sun now. Oh, we’ll still get over-105º days, but not as many, and not every day. The pool will cool slowly, and I’ll be able to take morning walks again.

© Quinn McDonald, 2016. All rights reserved.

© Quinn McDonald, 2016. All rights reserved.

For those of us who live in the desert, winter is the time we treasure. Summer is too hot, too harsh. And it’s losing its grip. Time to celebrate.

Quinn McDonald is a poetic medicine practitioner.

Creativity Hop, April 4, 2015

Broken mirrors have brought New York photographer Bing Wright a lot of luck. He photographs sunsets in the shifting glass surface of broken mirrors, then creates prints.

Broken+Mirror_Evening+Sky(Agfacolor)

The exhibition, called Broken Mirror, Evening Sky  at the Paula Cooper Gallery looks like vibrant stained glass windows.

Broken+MIrror_Evening+Sky+(Kodacolor)

A quote from the gallery’s website says, “Cracked glass seemingly generates doubled reflections, disjointed gleams and refracted light into shards of images.”

While on the topic of glass, here is more interesting work, this done with mirrors.

mirror-1

Alyson Shotz created a picket fence of mirrors and let it reflect the scenery around the fence within the mirrors.

50_alyson-shotz-mirror-fence-2Here is the same fence from a distance. You have to work to see it behind the first row of trees.  If you look slightly above the ground, you can see the straight line created by the top of the fence.

50_alyson-shotz-mirror-fence-3

Here’s another  installation that both reflects and disappears into the landscape.

Have a creative weekend!

Quinn McDonald loves the reflective nature of art.

Saguaro: Home in the Desert

cactus1Saguaro cacti (Sa-WAR-oh) provide food and homes for a large number of desert animals. You wouldn’t think so–the cactus has big thorns, are tall (40-60 feet), and live for 150 years. Doesn’t sound like a friendly place to set up housekeeping.

Saguaros attract Gila Woodpeckers. With their tough beaks, they drill holes in the low- to middle areas of the cactus, between the ribs.  You can see one in the center of the cactus in the photo on the right.

A saguaro is not hollow. It’s made up of tough, long ribs and woody structure. This is what a cross section of a dead saguaro looks like:

Cross-section of a saguaro, showing the woody interior and the ribs that hold it upright.

Cross-section of a saguaro, showing the woody interior and the ribs that hold it upright.

A bird has to be pretty persistent to drill through the outer skin into the cactus. When the bird breaks through and hollows out a space big enough for a nest, the bird abandons the cactus. The cactus protects itself by secreting a material that hardens into a waterproof lining for next year’s nest.

Hand holding a saguaro boot.  © Take a Hike, Arizona.

Hand holding a saguaro boot. © Take a Hike, Arizona.

The lining is called a boot, and the Native American tribes used the boots to carry water and to use as waterproof shoes. The next year, when the boot is firm, Gila Woodpeckers will build a nest. After the woodpeckers abandon the nest, elf owls, screech owls, purple martins and starlings will take turns. There is a strict pecking order (yeah, I said that) of birds.

cactus3Higher up the saguaro, the Gilded Woodpecker can drill through the harder ribs. They build nests underneath the arms of a saguaro, which protects the entrance to the nest. It can also provide important shade in a landscape that rarely has overcast days.

In late April the saguaro sets flower buds. Bats, moths, and small birds pollinate the flowers.

Once the fruit forms–at the top of the arms of the cactus–it provides necessary liquid and food for birds, and the chunks that are spilled and drop provide food and liquid for rabbits, desert squirrels and rats.

A saguaro grows slowly. A 10-year old plant may be only a few inches tall. While they are still small, the cactus is food for bighorn sheep and mule deer.

Those that survive to the 30-foot mark or higher and develop arms (at around 75 years of age) provide the support for the large platform nests of Red-Tail and Harris Hawks. Once the nests are built, Great Horned owls and other large hawks might battle for the nest. Harris Hawks are team-hunters and they get the first call on the nest. Take on a Harris Hawk, and you have the whole family to deal with.

Saguaros are fascinating and do a lot more than stand around and look tall.

Quinn McDonald is a naturalist and writer who lives in the Sonoran Desert.