Friday, January 29, 2010

"3 a.m. New Melleray Monastery..." up at Autumn Sky. New Melleray Monastery is one of my favorite places in Iowa, as I wrote in an earlier post.

Also live at Reality Hacker : an interview with Sandy Frank on her first completed Beings of Light sculpture; photo featured here was taken by Robyn Beattie.

This particular sculpture rests on our piano at home (a gift for my husband). It stands nearly 18 inches by 6 inches across, and given the light inside, is exquisitely warm to the touch. One's palm fits perfectly across the stomach--something you learn when you live with one of these miniature beings of light. I had to give her temporarily back to Sandy for a photo session, and I miss her already...

Contact info:

To view Robyn's photos:,

To view more of Sandy's work or to learn about the sculpture classes she teaches:

Friday, January 22, 2010

Storm, Revisited

One January several years ago, 55 mph winds coursed through our redwoods. I woke and walked down the stairs to light a candle. As I blew out the match, the lights went out, followed by the unmistakable snap of a tree trunk. I called my husband and ran up the stairs to my daughter's room. Before I reached the top of the staircase, the tree fell, missing the house, but landing across our deck and damaging the hood of our car. After the third tree fell, we gathered up our children, backed the van out from under the tree, and drove ten miles to my father's home. All told, 8 of our tan oaks hit the ground (all previously infected with the sudden oak death virus), one of them narrowly missing one of our cabins, one crushing the clothesline stand the ladder to the children's play structure, another taking the power lines to the house down.

Since then we've taken down the remaining infected oaks near the house. And called in a tree expert to help us gauge the health of our Doug Firs, oaks, eucalyptus, madrone, and redwood groves. In addition to taking a few questionable other trees down, our expert recommended listening for high wind warnings ( and considering staying elsewhere when such storms came along).

So this January 2010, Monday night at 3:30 or so a.m., when one of our healthy oaks fell (root ball and all) parallel to the power lines (60 feet of tree missing our roof and cabins), I hatched an alternate plan to sit out the storm with its predicted 60 mph gale winds in the day, expected to drop to 40 mph at night. We packed up and headed to the family house overlooking the Russian River, arriving just before bedtime. We rolled out our sleeping bags in front of the fireplace. As I stepped out onto the back deck to survey the river, bits of rain stung my cheek; porch lights from the resorts across the way and the arc of my mother's flashlight glinted to reveal the vast, brown, swirling waters, cresting up over the bulkhead of the patio, creeping towards the sauna building. Eerie, but lovely--the sound in the dark, of river eddying around the tips of the bamboo lining the path to the dock.

We slept to the hum of the fireplace fan blowing its warm air over our heads. At 7 a.m., I rose, took stock--calling a river mom for a road report--was it wise to risk the drive to school? No sonner had I hung up (having decided to brave it), than the house shook with a terrific series of bangs--of the unmistakable tree variety. My mother and I froze--grabbed one another's arms. Two of the kids were safe in the kitchen eating burnt oatmeal. The other, still sconed in his sleeping bag, I rolled away from the sound. We waited for the rest...of our imagined tree. I opened the front door, flashlight illuminating a 20 foot redwood branch extending from the roof, spear tip resting on the van windshield.

Adrenaline propelled me under the branch and down the stairs to back the van out. But the brute limb, as I backed up, just came with me. I got out. I thought about it--but not with my best "woods smarts"...I had a feeling the heavy end on the roof might boomerang down and take out the car windows. But at some point, your "woods stupids" kick in and you just take an action. I yanked the spear tip free of the windshield wipers. It teetered peacefully in the air above me. So I shoved it. Hard. Bam...the good fairy of falling tree limbs for wives dealing with storms while husbands are out of town came to my rescue. The branch crashed down perfectly between the van and deck, missing the windows, my head, etc, denting only a foot of the garage door and leaving in the bedroom roof a spike of wood, from whose tip rain dripped steadily down onto the carpet.

The next morning, waiting to meet the contractor, a light rain persisits. Despite the threat of skyborne limbs, I'm still here. In the river house, in love with the wide river. And the dim barn blue of a heron with its slow lift, heavy winged ascent, and breath defying u-turn in its neck.

Friday, January 8, 2010

An Average Life

This is poetry’s province; a form of deep memory; a place from which to witness the intangible, unspeakable thresholds of incarnation we misname an average life.--From The Poetic Narrative Of Our Times, by David Whyte

The same mist I drove out of this morning at 8 a.m. hung in the trees at 2 p.m. when I returned with the kids from school. At dusk, thicker still when I step out the front door for newly split madrone, startling a deer from behind the truck where she’d been feasting on gutter acorns out of the mounds of dumped leaves of Oakmont and elsewhere. I watch her three darting leaps up the hill, listen to an owl settling, hooting, in the top of a Doug Fir, wipe the black bark sludge from my hands….a few of my father’s old fence boards into the stove, and the madrone soon catches. While soup simmers, I sneak in a few sentences of an email to Denmark on the kitchen counter laptop, though something (timing of the Gods? obsessive 360 surveillance at 30 second intervals?) causes me to glance over my shoulder, in time to see my 3 year old under the table where he’s managed to plug in the iron and set out a few large silk napkins like his sister did last week. So matter of fact, intent, I have to admire his careful movements.

I finish the job for him, ironing his “cape”, tying it about his shoulders; then, rummage for a new undisclosed location for the iron. Naked but for his warm little cape and superhero boxers, he throws his arms around my neck, demands to give a kiss of thanks on my forehead. I carry him outside, where we listen together for the owl—a long moment. But dusk has deepened, the woods silent. A moss-damp, mist rich stillness.

Which invites listening. Attunement. I talk often with my mother friends about rhythms of togetherness and apartness—how as one’s children grow, one’s need for retreat changes. After eight years of raising children, I’m surprised to find occasional moments of shared solitude—if there’s such a thing…often in the woods (listening for owls) on our acre, or out at the ocean, the sense of renewal is as good with my family as when (if) I’m alone. (Or is that the result of writing regularly at night when they are asleep, or the result of no longer breastfeeding--no longer sleep deprived or in total hormonal uplink with the youngest).

I sense a heightened collective listening as we enter 2010. David Whyte’s post, The Poetic Narrative of Our Times, raises some beautiful concerns. Whyte writes: It may be that we live in a time of collective heartbreak, where for the first time in history we are being asked to witness the disappearance and reappearance on a global scale of what it means to be fully human; to give away our identity and see how it returned to us through a sincere participation in the trials and necessities of the coming years. Opening with descriptions of night mist and mountain-scapes, Whyte uses nature to ground his accurate but sorrowful observances and gives sobering examples from political as well as family life scenes to make his point about how much we stand to lose. On a positive note, he suggests, It might be liberating to think of human life as informed by losses and disappearances as much as by gifted appearances, allowing a more present participation and witness to the difficulty of living. He calls on poetry to give an “unflinching” view of life on life’s terms, with all of its "terrible beauty" (see the rest of his post here:

As a fond straddler of present incarnation and night time dreamlife, I’ve noticed a paradox: the more deeply I relax into my body before falling asleep, the more likely it is I’ll go lucid that night in dream. As if the “aloha” to each individual cell fires their imaginations to let go of their anchors and congregate in the astral body, take flight, out of the constraints of time and particular incarnation. I think we’ll need to inhabit both: earth as well as star realm, present incarnation as well as those of our dreams, in order to forge a consciousness our planet and our children might survive.

Further reading:

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle—I’m halfway through this excellent compilation of spiritual understanding—with its “evolve or die” call to growth.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Story of a Storyteller (Cathryn Fairlee) and A Musician (Stephen Pryputniewicz)

Since the birth of my children, my father Stephen Pryputniewicz has cared for my children one day each week so I may pursue my writing (and wife Robyn as well, once she joined our family). I maintain this blog and write due to the blessing of their time. I wanted to start 2010 by thanking them—and writing about Stephen’s upcoming performance.

Currently a keyboard accompianist for The Hot Curtain Revue (a West County Comedy Improvisation Group active for the last thirty years comprised of founding members Scott and Darlene Kersnar, members Susan Packer, Frank Ferris, Steve Page, Michelle Jensen, and light techs Mike and Waits Taylor), Stephen performs next (piano, guitar, drum) with storyteller Cathryn Fairlee on January 23rd at Guerneville Community Church from 7-9 p.m.

How did you become involved with Cathryn’s work?

I first met Cathryn when I played at her wedding years ago. Last summer Cathryn showed up at a house concert and we spoke of Patrick Ball's storytelling punctuated by harp music. Soon after, Cathryn saw a Hot Curtain Revue performance and suggested we collaborate. Cathryn is part of a storytelling association and has traveled to many countries (including China, Guatemala, Ireland, Bali, Mexico, Turkey) but wanted to bring her work to a West County performance.

How would you describe her work?

Cathryn tells traditional stories from all around the world often including songs.

What draws you to her work?

I love storytelling in general, and Cathryn's is very theatrical. I especially like her use of distinct voices for various characters.

How did you choose the music to go with the work?

We started with a survey of music I already can play, and a handful of Cathryn's stories...kind of a synergistic jam session. Hard to describe: you had to be there. There are a few stories where I play an entire piece that sets the tone, some stories have little sprinkles of music throughout and other stories have music at the beginning and the end.

What have you learned by working with storytelling—how is it different, for example, than working with River Repertory Theater (a former West County Theater Company)?

I have learned to be flexible, and to listen carefully. It is similar to working with theater: knowing the story well enough to anticipate the music cues. However, storytelling is not scripted like a play. The story is memorized, but not verbatim. So the words that cue a piece of music may vary from telling to telling.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a piano player for improv theater?

Making the music loud enough for the actors to hear, while still being able to hear the actors! Having dozens of musical snippets at the ready for any mood.

How about challenges of playing music as a background to storytelling?

Rebuilding my guitar finger calluses after years of no guitar playing.

Any other upcoming performances where people can hear your playing?

To be announced: a performance by the Hot Curtain Revue, likely this spring.

To find out more about Hot Curtain Revue or upcoming performances with Cathryn:
contact Stephen Pryputniewicz at:

or Cathryn Fairlee at:

Performance location: Guerneville Community Church, 14520 Armstrong Woods Rd.
Reservations by the 20th: $10; Tickets at the Door: $12. 707-433-2297

Lively Q and A to follow.

Watch for an article forthcoming in January by Cathryn Fairlee regarding this performance in The West County Gazette.

For more information on Patrick Ball (Theater of Legend-Celtic Harp and Spoken Word):