A fondness for rocks…and consciousness

I admit, I like rocks.  I like to collect them and make things with them: stone walls, pathways, nature chimes to name a few pastimes.  I also appreciate it when artists use rocks in their art-making.  I am particularly fond of river rocks and from one river in particular, the Deerfield River, Charlemont, MA, pictured below.



The Deerfield is a pristine river which flows for 76 miles from southern VT, through northwestern MA and empties into the Connecticut river.  The river rocks found in it are smooth from tumbling in the rushing water.  I’ve fished the Deerfield, camped next to it, swam in it but mostly, I enjoy kayaking it.  The water level rises and falls, subject to releases by the Hydro-electric dam several miles upriver, which are scheduled and posted on the internet to allow for maximum enjoyment by anglers, swimmers and boaters.  I generally take 1 rock on my visits and like to use them as ‘pavers’ for backyard pathways.



The rocks pictured above came from the Deerfield and they average 4-6 inches in length.  The rain that has been falling on them all day make them look like they were just pulled from the river.

I collected a bunch of beach rocks when I was recently on Cape Cod, in Falmouth.  Falmouth rocks seem to have a distinctive pink color.  The rocks pictured below are about 2 inches in length.

I love to stroll the beach and choose from among the millions of rocks underfoot.  These particular rocks were removed from Surf Beach, which faces Vineyard Sound in early July this year.  I enjoy using these rocks as strikers for my nature chimes.  You can see a striker I have prepared on the right.

I noticed some interesting rocks yesterday, while on a bike ride on the central Mass rail trail in West Boylston.  The rock on the left can be found on the right side of the trail, about 3/4 of the way to the end of the trail as you are heading to Holden from W. Boylston.  As you can see, this large rock makes a good kickstand and is perfect set your snack or water bottle on, while taking a break.

I found the other rock protruding from the Quinapoxet river, which runs along the trail for most of the way.  This view is from the opposite side of the river, which you can reach by returning to the trail head in W. Boylston by River Road.  While driving past the river, this rock was an obvious focal point.  I like the way the top of the rock seems to sun itself, while its base is surrounded by the cold, clear, rippling water.  The many shades of green in the water and vegetation behind the rock provides an image of soothing, coolness.


Consciousness – Andres Institute of Art

A favorite spot to view art made from granite is the Andres Institute of Art in Brookline, NH where this piece, Consciousness is permanently installed, along with about 100 other pieces.  I love the shape, the texture, and the sheer size of this piece.  The rock is about 4 feet tall and 6 feet in length.  The great thing with public art in a place like this is that you can run your hands all over it.  You can sit down next to it, lean against it and caress it.   You can find more information about this free exhibit on their Website .

Consciousness is the also subject of The Untethered Soul, by Michael A. Singer.  I bought this book about a week ago, on the advice of my good friend Sarka, a mindful visual artist and doctoral student.  Singer tells us:

What differentiates a conscious, centered being from a person who is not so conscious is simply the focus of their awareness.  All consciousness is the same.  Just as all light from the sun is the same, all awareness is the same.  Consciousness is neither pure nor impure; it has no qualities.

This book has been a great help to me as I strive to better understand what it means to practice mindfulness.  I’ve learned that it is not enough to simply be mindful of what you are doing in the present moment.  It is equally important to maintain an awareness of everything that is happening, without letting one or more things take over.  Singer suggests that we should center our consciousness within ourselves.

The difference is that when your consciousness is not centered within, it becomes totally focused on the objects of consciousness.  When you are a centered being, however, your consciousness is always aware of being conscious.  Your awareness of being is independent of the inner and outer objects you have happen to be aware of.

This was a new perspective for me — that it could be beneficial to be aware of being aware.  Singer elaborates:

Once you become conscious of the consciousness itself, you attain a totally different state.  You are now aware of who you are.  You have become an awakened being.  As you pull back into the consciousness, this world ceases to be a problem. It’s just something you’re watching.  It keep changing, but there is no sense of that being a problem.  The more you are willing to just let the world be something you’re aware of, the more it will let you be who you are — the awareness, the Self, the Atman, the Soul.

Wow, heady stuff.  Seems like it would be worth trying this out.  Actually have been trying to do this the last few days.  I suggest you give it a try too.

Singer, M.A. (2007).  The untethered soul: the journey beyond yourself.  Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.







Re-purposing junk to make art.

RecycleBinI love to fill up my recycling bin with cardboard, bottles, cans, plastic and even metal coat hangers.  It always makes me feel good – like I am doing my part to help save the environment.  Lately I’ve even taken to washing out items like hummus containers before tossing them in the bin.

But I never really thought about using recycled materials, or should I say re-purposed materials in my nature art until Professor Young Song at Lesley University asked me if I could.  You see I’ve been asked to lead a chime-making workshop in one of her graduate Eco-Art classes this summer and during our planning meeting she asked me if I could find and re-use pipes for the chimes instead of buying new aluminum pipes, which is what I usually do.

That question caused me to look around at my junk and my friend’s junk to see what I could use.  But before we go down that road let’s level set a bit.  What does it mean to recycle?  Google tells us that to recycle is to convert (waste) into reusable material.  Yes, that is what I want to do.  I want to take junk and transform it into material that can be reused.  Right.  That describes what I want to do.

But wait. Google also tells us that to re-purpose is to adapt for use in a different purpose.  Ah ha. Now that is more accurate.  I want to take materials that were designed for one function and transform them into art.  But not just any materials though, I want to take materials that have outlived their usefulness, otherwise known as junk.

So that is actually what I want to do.   I want to convert junk into reusable material and transform that material into art.  It’s a 3 step process: acquire, recycle and re-purpose.

My friend, Joyce has a garage that was an excellent source for junk or should I say, potential art-making materials.  From her garage, I harvested a broken beach chair, a discarded shower curtain rod, a broken kayak carrier, an aluminum mop handle and some other great stuff.  I found some items in my shed as well including a few random pipes, a bent flagpole and another broken beach chair.  The great thing about all this junk is that much of it was destined for the trash bin, but now it gets to live on…indefinitely as a piece of art.

PipeCutterAcquire: So the first step is acquiring the junk, which as you can see from the list above, I got a good start on.

Recycle: The second step is to prepare the junk, converting it to something that is usable.  For this I used my new favorite tool, the pipe cutter, to cut the pipes to length. I then drilled holes in one end of the pipe and used a file to sand off the rough edges from the cutting and drilling.

Re-purpose: The third and final step will be to suspend the pipes from the cross piece, essentially transforming the broken chairs, and shower rods into art.  We will actually do this last step during the workshops I will be holding, but the photo below gives you an idea of what the prepared, re-purposed pipes will look like once they are suspended from the cross piece to make the finished nature chime.



Learning How to … Live Your Truth

Did you ever read something that felt so right it stopped you in your tracks?  Then you scrambled to save it, jotted down the author or the title, or copied the link, or copied the entire piece to a word document you would not lose it?

I did all those things when I read it a few months ago while at work.  The company I work for (Liberty Mutual Insurance) has an internal website that employees can use to create online communities.  I was viewing an online community called Mindfulness@Liberty, when I came across a post, on a website called mrsmindfulness.com.  It was posted by Mellie.  You can check it out at the end of my post, where I put the link.

The post asks (and answers) 3 questions:

  • What stops people from living a life that’s true to them?
  • What are values and why are they so important?
  • How to discover your core values in six simple steps?

It also presents a short piece by Joseph Campbell, which I love, entitled Follow Your Bliss.

“Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one that you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn’t know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”
–Joseph Campbell

Here is a link to the full post.  Check it out.


If by chance the link is broken or no longer works, message me and I will send you the complete post in a word document.



Leaving the music behind…at least some of it

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to start purging my stuff, you know, simplifying and down-sizing.  It’s what us baby boomers are doing now.  Most of us just have too much stuff. But I did not start purging random stuff like books or clothes; I started to purge my musical equipment.

You see, I used to play in a band, actually a few bands.  All cover bands.  Boy was it fun, nothing like it actually.  I started my first band at the tender age of 13, with my best friend Jim, who is still my best friend by the way.  We used to rehearse in the basement of the Lady of the Lake church and my dad swore he could hear us 1/4 mile away at King’s Corner to our continued delight.  I played in college and then again when my kids were young and finally quit the last band about 2 years ago; an acoustic ensemble I did with my daughter and occasionally another musician or two.  We did not need a lot of equipment for this last band, however, I kept much of the gear I used in a few previous bands.

Amps and guitars, like mixing boards and microphones are not like old exercise equipment or lawn furniture.  Musical equipment is special, even when its old, at least to me it is.  That’s because it’s used for music-making, and music-making is a pretty special something, no matter the venue, the kind of music, the age of the performers or the number of audience members.

So, I sold the items above in the last couple weeks.  The sub-woofers and power-amp were used to power the kick drum and bass guitar, to add that thump in the chest when we played R&B songs like Mustang Sally or dance songs like Love Shack.  The mixing board was used to run the vocal mikes for multi-part harmonies and all the instruments.  I sold other stuff too, PA speakers and stands, a Marshall guitar amp and another power-amp.  I gave away speaker cables and guitar cords.

As I parted ways with this wonderful stuff and helped load it into the cars of random strangers and one non-so-random but cool high-school friend named Rich, who is still in the music business, I grew melancholy.  Not sad but very much aware of the poignancy of the exchange: the high hopes and excitement of the buyers countered by my own sentimental thoughts, of how the years have come and gone like the gigs and songs of my youth.

I still have a few guitars left as well as a microphone or two but I won’t be parting with them anytime soon.  I am thinking (and hoping) there may be a few more gigs to play and songs left to sing, before this guitarist sings the blues for the last time.



Volunteering at the Center for Mindfulness

This week, I attended my first volunteer session at the Center for Mindfulness (CFM) lab at UMass Medical school in Shrewsbury.  The CFM offers training programs for mindfulness-based practices and conducts research on the affects of mindfulness.

I attended a 5-day mindfulness tools training program about 18 months ago in January, 2016, where I was introduced to the center.  Since then, I have occasionally attended free guided meditation sessions offered to course graduates and the local community.

CFM Website

The center offers several training courses like the Mindful Eating course above which helps attendees use mindful practices to change unhealthy relationships with food.  Another course that many people have taken is the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.


Research – One day a few months ago, I was looking at the CFM website to see what was new and noticed that the research team was accepting volunteers to work in the research lab as technicians. I immediately applied, had an interview and was accepted.

I learned that the research lab is currently exploring the effectiveness of real-time neurofeedback for augmenting mindfulness-based stress reduction training.  Basically students in the MBSR course above are given the opportunity to participate in the research study that monitors the affect of meditation on the brain in real-time.

My role as an EEG technician volunteer is to attach and detach electrodes to the head cap shown below and support the scientist leading the research session by updating an online tool with data obtained during the session.  The photo below shows the head cap on a research participant from the CFM website.


If you’re interested in the CFM, check them out here: http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/

Smoking emojii 2
One more thing, the Center for Mindfulness also has a research study that is exploring how to use mindfulness for smoking cessation.  So if you are a smoker or know someone who is, you might want to check them out at the link below.


A Mindful Bike Ride

Today, May 7, 2017 I rode my bike on the Nashua River rail trail, from Ayer, MA to Pepperell, MA, a distance of 8 miles.  During this ride, which took 1 hr. 33 minutes in total, to ride to my destination and return, I tried to remain mindful of the experience.  Here are some thoughts as I reflect on my ride, about 2 hours later.

Photo taken while riding.  Love to do this…riding no hands…ever since I was a teen.  It eases my back muscles, which get tired from being hunched over.  Luckily my bike is very stable.

Colors.  The photo above captures many of the colors I saw today.  On the left you can see the brown leaves on the ground, which darken as they are in the shade.  The tree trunks are very dark brown, almost black.  The grass along the trail is not yet green, but the leaves on the trees and the vegetation have many shades of green, especially the pine or spruce trees that are scattered around the trail.

The photo below captures the brilliant green of the water grasses.  Riding along this water, I skidded to a halt.  I backed up and took this photo.  The green against the darkness of the water pulled me in.  The dark green pine trees in the background help to make the bright green grass in the foreground leap out of the photo, the same way this scene lept out of the landscape as I was driving by.  The green of the grass almost made my eyes hurt.  The sun had come out at this point and I moved quickly to capture the sun on the grass so I could capture it in a photo.


I love to look to the side when I am riding my bike, altering my perspective.  The trees rush past, but only the trees in the foreground.  The trees in the background pass by more slowly.  I was in the moment when I was looking to my sides as I was riding today.  I was aware of what I was doing and I was aware of how the landscape was moving past me.  I looked on both sides, deliberately.  I peered into the wooded areas, looking for anything out of the ordinary, an animal, an unusual shaped rock or bush, anything.  I did not see any animals but I did see a few trails, perhaps trails used by wildlife.


When I was taking the photo above of the bright green grasses in the water, something splashed in the water right in front of me.  A frog or a fish I suspect.  It reminded me of the wonderful and various life forms in and around of us on the trail.  I took the following photo on the trail as a sort of teaching moment, a bold reminder that we are in a special place.  We need to be sensitive to our surroundings.


Temperature.  I was chilly when I started about 2pm.  It was 66 degrees under mostly cloudy skies.  I had a thin long-sleeve jersey over a t-shirt.  Not enough.  I almost turned around, but decided that I would eventually warm up, which I did.  The chill I felt for the first 2 miles definitely distracted me from being mindful about the entire experience of riding.  Even so, I was very aware of my discomfort.  So I learned this about myself.  If I am physically uncomfortable, a mindful practice may be elusive for me.  I will have to try harder in those situations.

Wind.  The wind today was a constant companion.  I felt its strength on the ride to my destination.  It was behind me the entire way.  I pedaled almost continually, the entire 8-mile distance, coasting only a handful of times.  My body felt strong, however looking back, the strength I felt in my body had clearly been augmented by the tail wind that was helping me along.  I discovered this fact on the way back, because on the way back I was headed into the wind.  And it slowed me down…considerably.  In fact, what took me 42 minutes with the wind at my back, took me 55 minutes to return headed into the wind.  I also noticed the gears I used were different.  On the way to Pepperell, I was in the 8th gear (harder), most of the way.  On the way back to Ayer, I was often in the 3rd, or 4th gear (easier) and did not get higher than 5.

Historical Perspective.  The Nashua River rail trail follows the former railroad route that ran from Worcester, MA to Portland, ME.  I know this because there are many granite markers along the route, preserved by the trail committee.  Below are photos of the same marker from different views.  At this particular spot, Portland is 118 miles away to the north, while Worcester is only 29 miles away to the south.  I have heard that conductors would use these markets to gauge the distance during their ride.

Water.  Not surprisingly, there was a lot of water along the Nashua River rail trail.  Here are a few photos of the water views from the trail.


In the photo above, I am heading south on the return to the trail head in Ayer, MA.  This is a great stretch because the trail bisects this body of water.  A few moments after I took this photo, while riding again, the water became visible on my left.  This is a favorite place for walkers and cyclists to stop and rest and perhaps catch a glimpse of a bird, or duck or the splash of a fish.  It is interesting to me how water seems to attracts both wildlife and people, drawing us all in.  I took this photo because of the juxtaposition of the straight, horizontal line of the fence, with the vertical line of the trees, highlighted by the water in the background.  I also liked how the fence on both sides of the trail seemed to vanish in the distance as they appeared to move close to each other.



In the photo above, you can see a beaver home in the middle of the pond, which is common site in New England.  I was drawn to this view because of the ripples on the water, making the pond come alive with movement.  The sun glinting off the water also caught my attention as I was riding.  I only noticed this because I was deliberately looking to the side as I was riding today.  This helped me to be mindful as I practiced being a careful observer.

IMG_3532At the end of my ride, I checked the app on my phone, which you can see in the image on the left.  It shows that I traveled almost 16 miles in 1 hour 33 minutes.

It was a fun ride.  When I finished, my body felt good.  I felt both physically tired and emotionally exhilarated.  My senses felt ‘full’ from the experience.  I had seen, heard, felt and smelled many different things during the 93 minute ride.

I drove home with a smile on my face, my tired body sitting heavily in the driver’s seat, with my bike standing upright and swaying gently behind me in the rack on the bed of my truck.



My 1st Chime Workshop


On April 19, I led 18 children in a workshop to create their own set of nature chimes during school vacation week at Leominster Public Library. It was a wild, hectic and fun experience.  I had three helpers: two teen-aged volunteers and my sister Renee, who heads up the children’s library.  They turned out to be indispensable because most of the children were between the ages of 9-11 and they needed a lot of attention and support.  Several parents in attendance rounded out the support system.

Everyone made a modified version of the chime in the photo above, which contained only one aluminum pipe instead of two.  This change proved fortuitous because many children had difficulty threading the mono-filament line through the hollow pipe.  Also, many struggled with wrapping the pliable wire around the stones, which was not surprising as I myself have struggled to wrap the wire tightly around a smooth stone.  Some children also had difficulty tying knots.

It was a wild scene as the volunteers and I moved from child to child, cutting and threading fishing line, helping to wrap the rocks, and generally answering questions and providing encouragement while the cacophony of ringing chimes and young voices filled the large sunny room.  However, in the end and after only 1 hour, everyone had completed a functional set of nature chimes. They soon left with smiling faces while the sounds of their moving chimes seemed to fill every part of the library drawing surprised looks and friendly smiles from patrons and staff alike.  One chime kit was sent home with a parent for a sibling who could not make the event and 2 other kits went home with the teen volunteers, who were pleased to be taking home something they were now well-experienced with making.

Photos below of three of the young chime-makers (permission given by their parents to take and use these photos for promotional purposes).

Preparation & Cost

I tracked the preparation time involved with making 22 sets of chimes.  The workshop was limited to 20 attendees but I made extras just in case we needed more.  There were 18 attendees and 3 sets were sent home, bringing the total chimes provided at 21.  In total, it took 7 hours to prepare 22 sets of chimes.  I received $250 for the workshop.  After materials cost of $75, I was left with a stipend of $175.  Based on 7 hours of preparation and 1 hour for the workshop, that breaks down to about $22/hr for my time.

  • Materials – pipes, wire, rawhide, mono- filament – ($75)
  • Labor to prep the chimes (7 hrs) and workshop(1 hr) – ($175)
  • Total – ($250)

Preparation activities :

  • drive to and from the Sholan Farms apple orchard to locate and transport the pruned apple tree branches lying on the ground between the trees (2 trips).
  • drive to and from the hardware store to buy and transport the aluminum pipes, wire and rawhide strips (1 trip)
  • cut the pruned branches to 12″ and 4″ lengths.
  • drill 7 holes in the 12″ branches and 1 hole in the 4″ branches.
  • cut the aluminum pipes to 12″ lengths.
  • drill 1 hole in each 12″ pipe.
  • file ends of each pipe and hole in pipe.
  • cut rawhide to 24″ lengths.

Future workshops

The next workshop is planned for Saturday, August 5, 2017 at The Trustees of Reservations – Bartholomew’s Cobble in Sheffield, MA.  It will be an all-ages event and will be found on the Trustee’s website as we closer to the date, www.thetrustees.org


On Sunday August 20, I have been invited to lead a chime-making workshop for a class of graduate students of Professor Young Song, who teaches environmental art and social justice at Lesley University, Cambridge, MA.  We will be utilizing recycled materials for this workshop in keeping with the philosophy of the program.

Young Song