On Making Nature Art

LiminalChimes2SmallAs Spring time is upon us, it seemed the perfect time to write about nature art, a subject near and dear to my heart.  Why does nature art appeal to me?  Nature art lives at the intersection of art and nature, that fascinating boundary area where disparate worlds collide.  Nature art inhabits the liminal space by virtue of its interdisciplinary qualities.

Several years ago I was inspired by a local potter, who created a wind chime with her ceramic pieces to place on the Midstate Trail, as part of a project I was running to introduce art onto this footpath in central Massachusetts.  I loved the concept of adding a piece of art to the woods that would create both sounds and movement, thereby appealing to multiple senses.

Since then, I have experimented with several designs, including the one pictured above, which consists of wood, stone, rawhide, aluminum, wire and mono-filament.  I call it Liminal Chimes to honor its interdisciplinary nature.  In this post, I will present the steps I used to make this piece, so that others may follow them.

Step 1.  The Wood.

Chimes-Step1

I only harvest dead wood for my chimes.  The Sholan Farms apple orchard in Leominster is a favorite place for me at this time because the rows are filled with prunings from last fall.  Apple tree wood is perfect to use because it is a hard wood and the bark is smooth.  I cut the branches to lengths of between 12″ and 14″ to make the cross pieces, from which the chimes will be suspended.  I drill 7 holes in each piece to thread the rawhide and mono-filament.  I carry pruning shears and a small 10 inch hand saw in the orchard to cut the branches I find on the ground into transportable lengths.  This is what they look like after I have culled them from the piles, cut them to between 4-6′ and pruned them.

Chimes-Step 2

The photo below shows the wood cross pieces after they have been cut to 12″ in length but before the holes have been drilled.  I use a hand held circular saw to make the end cuts and a table saw to cut off burrs formed after I pruned them.

Chimes-Step 3

You may wonder why I cut so many of these chimes.  These are for a workshop I am holding at the Leominster Public Library during school vacation in April, 2017.  There will be enough materials for 20 students to each make a chime.  I also cut smaller pieces of wood from the apple tree branches to form clackers.  These pieces are typically about 4″ – 6″ long.  These are used as soft clackers.  When the chimes hit these pieces, it produces a gentle, softer sound.  The photo below shows several sizes of soft clackers; two with bark and two without.

WoodClackers

Step 2. The Pipes.

I’ve found aluminum pipes work best and are less expensive than copper. I purchase them from a local hardware store/lumber yard in 6′ or 8′ lengths and then cut them down to size.  For these chimes I like to use pipes that are 11″ and 13″ long, which I can get out of a 2 foot section of pipe.  The 2 inch difference in length provides a pleasant harmonic sound.  Here are the pipes being transported, cut to length with a hand saw and drilled with a small drill press.

Step 3. The Rocks.

Rocks serve as hard clackers in my chimes and you can use any rocks you like as long as they are not too big.  Hard clackers make a louder, sharper sound.  I prefer rocks that are approximately 2 inches in length but you can use larger or smaller rocks.  Some of my rocks have been retrieved from beaches and shallow river beds but any rocks are fine.  The photo below shows a group of rocks I have collected.  I am also showing the wire used to wrap the rocks.

Wrapping the wire is relatively simple.  I generally begin by pulling a 12 inches of wire from the spool.  There is a handy snipper attached to this package at the top left, which is used to cut the wire.  Then I wrap the wire around the rock for several turns and fashion the ends of the wire into a loop.  Rocks that have angles may be easier to work with because the wire does not slip as much, however you can also wrap the wire around a smooth rock with good results.  A photo of two rocks that have been wrapped are shown below.

RocksWithWire (2)

Step 4.  Assembly

The last step is hanging the pipes, wood and rocks from the wooden cross piece as well as inserting raw hide into the holes at the end of the wooden cross piece to suspend the chime.  You will want to start by threading the rawhide through the holes at each end and knotting the end of the rawhide because then you can hang the crosspiece from a convenient place.  This will make it easier to determine how long to suspend each of the remaining pieces.  I like to use rawhide or leather because it stands up well out of doors and is a natural material.  I like mono-filament because it is strong, durable and transparent.

You may suspend the pipes, wood and stones at various lengths, however I like to make sure the tops of the pipes are at the same height.  I also like to center the soft and hard clackers at the middle of the pipe.  You can see the finished chime below.

Lastly, you will want to suspend the chime from a place, inside or outside, where it can hang freely so the chimes and clackers can move unrestricted.  The photo below is placed against an interior wall only so you can easily see it.

Finished Chimes

Conclusion.

The following pics are from the EcoArt juried exhibition at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA during February and March, 2017.  The same piece above displayed above was accepted into this exhibition.

EcoArt1

My first nature chime workshop will be at the Leominster Public Library in April, 2017.

Mindful Dish Washing

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A frozen moment in time

Mindfulness is being present, which is ignoring the past and future while focusing only on the present.  Awareness is the state of being conscious of something. A mindful practice involves both and ultimately involves witnessing your mind wander and gently bringing your focus back to the here and now.

While being mindful may initially take a specific effort, awareness is a more natural way of being.  As one becomes more mindful, awareness becomes a constant state.  Both practices lead to a fulfilling, empathetic life style that grows in intensity.

There are many resources available to those of us interested in a pursuing a mindful practice.  There are websites, blogs, apps for your smart phone and institutes, like the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School www.umassmed.edu/cfm , which was founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  Zinn tells us that:

“Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, non-judgmentally, in the present moment.”

The image below conveys this quote in a graphic way, which is how I have learned to learn. I better understand complicated concepts, when they are presented in graphically like this.

mindfuldiagramzinn

One year ago, in January, 2016 I attended a 1 week mindfulness course offered by the Center for Mindfulness.  It was a formative experience for me.  I learned how to practice mindfulness in several ways: by sitting quietly and meditating but also by mindfully eating and walking mindfully. I learned about the benefits of living in the present, instead of in the past or the future.

 

Washing the Dishes

washing-dishes

I learned how one can be mindful during a mundane task, like washing the dishes or getting dressed.  I learned that by focusing completely on the experience, regardless how mundane, one begins to experience life more fully.  I also learned about the concept of awareness and that a wandering mind is not a problem, which is explained below:

Awareness sees the whole picture. With it, we can experience life with a more open lens. We might think it’s a bad thing to notice the mind drifting, but actually the reverse is true. The fact we can see it means we’re opening to greater consciousness.  It’s true that in mindfulness practice we’re cultivating a capacity to attend with greater stillness, stability, and strength. But with awareness, we can discover a way of being that isn’t caught in the reactive jumble of thought, sensation, and impulse, even when attention is drawn to it.  (from the online article A Wandering Mind is Not a Problem)

Practicing awareness feels natural to me.  It also goes hand-in-hand with a mindful practice.  Being aware allows me to experience fully every part of my daily life, including the fun times as well as the not-so-fun times.  It allows me to ‘step outside of’ my emotions and acknowledge what is happening around me as well to notice my thoughts and feelings.  Becoming aware of uncomfortable moments, like those sad or angry feelings that can happen in our lives, do not seem as uncomfortable or threatening when viewed from a thoughtful, mindful perspective.  More from the online article quoted above.

We’re called back to awareness when we notice the mind has wandered. Every noticing and every coming back inevitably happens in awareness. From this perspective, mind wandering isn’t a problem—indeed, noticing it means we’re starting to see our habitual patterns of perception more clearly. With awareness, we start to see that thoughts are just thoughts, sensations just sensations, sights just sights, and sounds just sounds.

This is one of my key goals in 2017: to be more mindful and more aware of all the experiences that make up my daily life, both the pleasant experiences as well as those that are more challenging.

My wish for you, dear reader, is also to have a mindfully aware 2017.  I hope your goal setting for this new year brings you everything that you wish for as well.

References:

Halliwell, E. (2015) Mind-Wandering is Not a Problem.  http://www.mindful.org/mind-wandering-is-not-a-problem/

A Research Project on Mindfulness

shellv2I have been working on a research project that explores my attempt at practicing mindfulness while trekking the Camino de Santiago for 4 weeks in June, 2016.

Camino de Santiago

What is the Camino de Santiago? The Camino is a 500-mile pilgrimage in northern Spain that reportedly follows the route taken by St. James the apostle 2,000 years ago. Trekkers take this journey for several reasons: spiritual or religious, cultural, physical, personal and others. I took this journey it to learn how a mindful practice while trekking impacts the experience. This blog is a way for me to share my experience, reflections, findings and interpretations.

petestrek

I solo-trekked 460 miles in 4 weeks averaging 15 miles a day.  This involved walking for 21 days and riding a rented bike for 4 days.   I stayed in albergues (hostels) every night, which made it an inexpensive (10 euros) and fun communal experience (5-10 bunk beds per room).

viewfromthetop
View from one of the high points, with a hiking buddy in the lead…

The trek wound through medieval villages and remote countrysides.

I witnessed impressive art & interesting architecture

I experienced expansive vistas and stunning views.

The Research Project

The research methodology I am using is an autoethnography, which uses self-reflection (journaling, photography) to explore a personal experience (trekking the Camino) while connecting it to a broader social context (mindfulness).  My data collection methods involved writing in my journal and taking photos with my iPhone, which I then posted on   www.instagram.com/peterjcormier

This project is in the very early stages.  I’ve used several data analysis coding techniques to explore the data in my journal including

  • Descriptive Coding (using a noun to describe meaning)
  • Values Coding (categorizing data into values, attitudes and beliefs)
  • In Vivo Coding (lifting actual words or phrases from the data)
  • Themeing (categorizing the data into obvious and underlying meanings)

An Arts-Based Inquiry

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Art-based research is a form of qualitative research, which uses one or more art forms to interpret the data.  The art forms that may be utilized in this effort include dance, music, literature, visual art, drama or poetry.

In her book, Method Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice, author Patricia Leavy (2009) explains why poetic inquiry is a useful interpretive approach.

Poems are highly attentive to space (which includes breath and pauses), using words sparsely in order to paint what I term a feeling picture.  Put differently poems use words, rhythm, and space to create sensory scenes where meaning emerges from the careful construction of both language and silences.  In this way, a poem can be understood as evoking a snippet of human experience that is artistically expressed as in a heightened state. (2007, p. 64)

I used poetry and the results of In Vivo coding to interpret 2 short reflections on mindfulness I found in my journal.  This yielded the following poem, which has recently become my mantra.  Reading it helps me practice mindfulness, which is made more special by bringing to mind, the many different experiences that marked my Camino journey.

Here and Now.

Be.
Just be.
Try not to overthink.
Don’t miss this opportunity.
Instead, just be.  Embrace it, this moment.
That is the secret.
You understand.  You always have.