Summer Altar, Taking Heart

Summer Altar

As summer passes, I keep up my devotions and tinker with my hearth altar. I call the directions every morning while my tea water boils. It centers me for the day. I add symbols of art I have harvested from my creative endeavors this year, though my biggest creative project will be in the cauldron for some time to come. And like many of you, I pray and hope and wish for the health of our country and all those who dwell here, who come here seeking refuge, who live here in despair and hope. Among other mercies, books are my solace and strength.

Earth Works coverAt the far left on my hearth altar is a new favorite book by friend Byron Ballard, Earth Works, Ceremonies for Tower Time. I was a reader for an early draft of this book, and can promise you that it is well worth having on hand if you are looking for practical ways to connect and create community in these trying times. Byron offers homely wisdom – how to call a circle, the importance of understanding where your water and food come from, knowledge that is both personal and political  – leavened with humor, humility and history. I pick up this book when I am feeling lonely on my spiritual path, or when I need to remember the basics, or when I just want to feel heartened. It is for those of us who have “gone to ground,” which now that I think of it, is just about everyone I know. Reconnect to your land base, to your beloveds, to your divines. It is the most spiritual and most down-to-earth book I have had the pleasure to read for a long time. Spiritual work is more important than ever, though the culture would have us forget that. This is not uncommon. See below, re: writing.

Summer Altar_kitchen witchMy kitchen witch presides over my enjoyment of the remodeled kitchen I conjured up last summer. She was made by my friend Griselda Tello, and her spirit dolls on Etsy are definitely worth a look! Next to her is a sweet poem written by my son and his wife for Mother’s Day. My daughter-in-law really took to the Celtic knots I was practicing before my class in McCloud last spring, and created this heretofore unseen knot work design. She has clearly surpassed me and should be the next teacher of this art. Other treasures: a clothespin gardener doll made by my daughter when she was small; a laughing buddha from a spirit friend in England, some fiery colored candles from another friend. Really, everything in this picture was a gift from someone. I am so fortunate to have such wonderful friends.

Summer Altar_Act With Kindness Here is another gift: my contribution to next year’s Heart to Heart calendar. As always the creator lets me choose how I will present the words, so it is nothing but pure pleasure to go into my studio and puddle around with ink for an afternoon. And it fulfills the calligraphic maxim to “keep your nibs wet.” With all the writing I am doing, I have not been actually inking much, but I still love it and am glad to play. Here are some of my offerings to this long-running calendar from other years, to which I have been contributing since 1996. This calendar is not for sale; it is only gifted and many of the copies are given away to people most in need or who have very little.

On the upper altar, I marked the anniversary of my beloved cat’s passing with a little memorial. My heart is still sad with missing him. I have two semi-feral cats I still care for, so every now and then I am allowed to pet the little female. Someday I will have a lap cat again, but that time is not now. Summer Altar_Beloved

Lastly, I will leave you with a book recommendation, for it is, like Earth Works, a lifeline for hard times. While out for my morning walk I meet a friend and he demands to know what I am doing to help our country out of the mess we find ourselves in. I promise that the work I am doing is indeed part of the effort to right the ship of state. But as is often the case, as a writer I feel it is not enough, not valued, not important. And then I read Alexander Chee’s new book, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, and to say I take heart doesn’t cover my feeling of deep gratitude and recognition.

The last essay in the collection, “On Becoming An American Writer,” left me in tears and renewed my dedication to my writing work. Excerpts of this particular essay are here, and for more tastes of his writing, try here.

“Only in America do we ask our writers to believe they don’t matter as a condition of writing. . . . All my life I’ve been told this isn’t important, that it doesn’t matter, that it could never matter. And yet I think it does. I think it is the real reason the people who would take everything from us say this. I thinks it’s the same reason that when fascists come to power, writers are among the first to go to jail. And that is the point of writing. . . . I have new lessons in not stopping, after the election. If you are reading this, and you’re a writer, and you, like me, are gripped with despair, when you think you might stop: Speak to your dead. Write for your dead. Tell them a story. What are you doing with this life? Let them hold you accountable. Let them make you bolder or more modest or louder or more loving, whatever it is, but ask them in, listen, and then write. And when war comes—and make no mistake, it is already here—be sure you write for the living too. The ones you love and the ones who are coming for your life. What will you give them when they get there?”

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Robert Cable 08/14/2018, 4:32 pm

    Thank you for your update, Cari. Your letter, your art are touching, inspiring. My wife Lorraine and I condole with you on the loss of your cat. (Our own two are approaching that point). Good luck with the feral cats–and feral people. Peace & love from Massachusetts.

  • Jacqueline Quinn 08/14/2018, 11:23 pm

    Beautiful, thought provoking post. Thank you.

  • Laurie Doctor 08/15/2018, 5:24 am

    Cari, I love seeing the images of your altars- in your kitchen, in your studio. Your commitment to writing, and your struggle about how to contribute to this world speak to me, and I know many others. I think of how much strength and direction I receive from all the writers that have left footprints- just now reading “The Brothers Karamazov” from other difficult times, and also the recent book, “The Overstory” by Richard Powers. Both authors writing in trying times, and beautifully. Thank you for the post, and the excerpt on Alexander Chee.

  • Michele 09/16/2018, 6:41 pm

    “Gone to ground” is an apt description of how so many of us feel right now, I think… Thank you for sharing the lovely altar photos, and for the inspiring Chee quotes.

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