My friend Ann was visiting me from Vashon Island this morning so we could talk about future projects together. I guess this is why this blog post took a big left turn from what I thought I would write about.
In 1998 I made a book where I/we tried to capture the spirit of a place. That book is called "Volcano Blue."
Volcano Blue came about when I was invited by Seafirst Gallery in Seattle to participate in their show celebrating the centennial of Mt. Rainier National Park. I think I had about 6 months to create a book, which for me is a very short time. My solution was to make it a collaboration. I invited Ann Spiers (poet) and Kim Newall (visual artist) to help create the book.
It was unanimous we could only begin by taking a trip to Mt. Rainier together. Until then all ideas were off the table. The three of us drove up the NW side of Mt. Rainier near the Carbon River Glacier. We hiked up so when we got to the lookout cabin we could turn and stare eyeball to eyeball with the mountain. Ann would sometimes feed us informational tidbits, having grown up in the area and spending much of her time on the mountain hiking and with her geologist husband. Ann knows the native plants, native stories, and much of the geology of the mountain. I wondered how we would ever get all this depth and richness in the book.
The cuts Kim did for the book are patterns of cedar trees, rocks, topographical maps, and geological maps. The many transparent colors overlay, usually with one pattern dominating from each view. There is a cool blue north view and warm red south view. And of course more an in between of greens for east and west. The horizon shaped mountain and foothills were designed from a computer program that let us pick any two points and it would give us a condensed horizon line. We chose points that allowed us to create flanks of the book that would correspond to places on the mountain which inspred Ann's poems and printed the poems accordingly. Ann was often called to the studio during printing to cut a word or flesh out a line so I could register everything properly.
Ann is such a gifted poet. The poems are so lovely, and she even wrote some of them so you could read the stanza order both ways. I printed them in steps, so whether you were climbing 'up the book' or 'down' the poem would work. The book is about 19" high and spreads out about 4 1/2 feet, but you can also read it in your hands, turning the accordion pages as you go.
I met Ann Spiers when I lived on Vashon Island. I was there for 19 years. I met so many women who shaped and inspired me. Most of them older and showing me how a woman can enjoy her 40's and 50's (and now their 60's). Ann was (and still is) one of these women. Rayna Holtz is another. Rayna is the person who started me with letterpress and book making. An amazing series of coincidences brought me into her living room where a C & P was at work, printing books for Laughing Dog Press. I was immediately enchanted and thus began my career as a letterpress printer and book artist.
Here I am when I am still printing at Rayna's on her 8x10 C&P. There was no treadle or motor, so I had to turn the wheel and feed the paper at the same time.
Here's one of the poems I wrote while learning to print at Rayna's:
I learned faith at the wheel of the press
To roll ink across the chase
I must believe in the poem again
and again and
again as it appears
kissed on to each white wing of paper
Rayna is a political and environmental activist. She pays attention to nature, to culture, and to the poetic use of words. She taught me to think about what I was writing and wanting to print. I met Ann through reading events on the island, and because she is a friend of Rayna's. Ann is also a writer, naturalist, and gatherer of stories. She makes me laugh till I am going to pee my pants. Her own life is usually funnier than the stories she tells about other islanders, which are already side splitting. I hope I am in at least one of them. If not, I have work to do!
Rayna is cleaning press rollers and talking while I am taking pictures. We had so many profound and personal talks over many months of Tuesdays when I would come and help print.
Ann and I made seaweed paper in her kitchen for a book of her poems I printed called Tide Turn. It was a lot of fun and took many months to do. It required a lot of beach walks to gather seaweed, and Ann always entertained me with island stories.
What I want to say about these two women is that they helped me move into nature more deeply. They taught me native plants (including seaweeds!) and to soften into the ways of butterflies. When I came to the island I was 27 years old. I had been living in Asia, Canada, and before that, Seattle. I was so immature and just treading water in so many respects. These older women (not that much older, but just enough) were role models of creativity and living with respect for nature. They were grounded in the community and held wisdom that comes from learning through observation of how nature collaborates. They were feminists without giving up their femininity or sense of humor. Married with children, they were committed to shaping a beautiful community vision, a place they wanted to raise their families, devoting many many hours away from home and family (on top of their jobs), and they continue still.
As I wander in the wilds of nature (and into the nature of self) I think of the diverse community of island women and thank them all. For somehow, without me planning or trying, I learned from them a way to be in the world that feels grounded and true. The way I learned to be is brazen, sustainable, rich in experience, and holding a vision with heart.
When I started writing this blog post I really thought I would just focus on Volcano Blue and some of the hikes Bill and I took this summer. We had a great time in the mountains, but I will save them for another time.
P.S. On my wish list is to make a book for Crater Lake National Park (Mt. Mazama) in Oregon.