Radio Silence



Even the November of 2011 – several months after Hurricane Irene tried to drown Vermont, most of the state was still in recovery mode.

One coworker was still excavating almost a foot of mud from her basement – and still counting her blessings that the house had not been swallowed when the bubbling little creek that ran 20 or 30 feet from her house became a torrential river and in a matter of minutes. Another coworker had waited out the birth of his second child while Irene was raging overhead.  In my neighborhood near Arlington, Vermont, homeowners along the Battenkill River and other low-lying areas were also recovering. Some homes would remain empty for months.  The thing I remember most about those early months, however, is not the destruction, but the way, Irene brought out the best not only in our neighbors but in the people who came from other areas of the country to lend a hand.

I saw people who I knew were still cleaning out from their own messes deposited by overflowing rivers somehow finding time and resources to start collection drives for neighbors and neighboring towns in more dire straits. Through the grapevine we’d hear stories of people making trips over the mountain on four-wheel-drive vehicle or even horseback to collect much needed supplies for town that have been literally stranded by washed out roads. There were collection boxes at the country stores.  People needed everything – furniture, baby supplies, food and drinking water – We scoured our home for anything we could donate.

In the week or so before and after the Election, we engaged in a bit of radio or media silence at our house.  Unlike Irene, the campaign seemed to be bringing out the worst in competitors across the board, and, recognizing that watching the mayhem wouldn’t slow it down, we tuned it out.  This also meant that we missed a fair amount of news related to Hurricane Sandy, and, aside from following Facebook to find out where to donate, I’ve been living under a figurative rock of late.

Then a few days ago, I clicked on one of my news sites.  The election was over, and the people who govern us were still making me think Thing1 and Thing2 could work things out more equitably.  Most of the photos coming from affected areas in New Jersey and parts of Queens still looked as if there had been a war.  There were a few stories about looting after the storm, but they were did not dominate.  What started to dominate, as I read more about the aftermath, were stories very much like the ones that had played out before us in Vermont just a year ago.

I saw the bit about the New York Marathoners morphing the race into an opportunity to race.  I saw a group that was helping people collect sample sizes of much-needed toiletries.  I saw Occupy Wall Street occupying Sandy and getting supplies out to people across the area.  And mostly what I saw was confirmation that while the infrastructure may be damaged, our national social conscience that the media and politicians love to denigrate for one reason or another, is healthier than we are sometimes led to believe.

The Art of the Art Community

Saturday our  writing group met at my house.  We had all been looking forward to this for weeks and even months, and there was no way I was going to miss seeing these people.  But when an invitation to a friend’s Origami Days celebration appeared on my Facebook page, I felt more than a tiny bit of conflict.

Leyla Torres, a gifted illustrator had recently revealed on her long-time interest in Origami on her Facebook page, and she joined the community of Origami users in their global, on- and off-line celebration of the art last weekend.  But writing group is now sacred to me, and I contented myself with the hope that I would see the results on Facebook on Sunday.  Fate and my family had other plans, however.

The Big Guy took command of the kids for the afternoon so that grownup talk could happen at our house.  I expected them to return about the time the group ended, but it was getting dark by the time they bounded in the door.  The Big Guy usually finds something fun for them to do – hardware stores, Lego exhibitions, and welding shops – and today was no exception.

This man who has avoided Facebook like crazy had discovered Origami Days as he was driving by our friend’s studio in Arlington, VT.  He took a chance and dragged the kids into the tiny gallery, and they emerged an hour later brimming with a different kind of energy.  Their excitement still showed by the time they glided in the door, pockets full of Origami swans and toys.  In two minutes, Thing 2 apprised me of their day, of the entire history of origami, and of the generosity of their hostess.  The Big Guy then told me that she was holding the gallery open just a little longer, so I grabbed my keys and out the door I went.

The gallery was in an old carriage house behind the big stone Church in Arlington. Petite with a sometimes soft-spoken demeanor but a feisty spirit, Leyla shares gallery and studio space with her husband, John Sutton, a multi-talented artist and gifted photographer. Heated by an old wood stove, the simple rustic gallery was decorated with John’s black-and-white photos (in frames he built himself).  But it was the riot of color on the table at the center of the small space that grabbed my attention and held it.

Strewn across the table were dragons and roses and butterflies and intricate boxes made of folded, interwoven pieces of paper. Some of them seemed (deceptively, I’m sure) simple; others clearly had taken hours and years of practice to learn how to construct.  Leyla cheerfully shared the history of her interest in this craft and in a community of paper artists dedicated to sharing peace through art.  But it was the colors that caught my heart as they reminded me of a gift/prize I had received from another artist earlier in the day.

Maria Wulf, a fiber artist and the wife of our group leader has been joining our sessions, and she serves as a gentle sounding board and resident joyful spirit.  That spirit is evident everywhere in her art.  She designs quilts that are colorful and somehow contemporary and traditional.  She had created a giveaway contest on her website, and I was the lucky winner of two colorful potholders.

My prizes were, like Leyla’s origami, a marvelous combination of connecting shapes and colors.  But they were each reflections of their creators, spreading happiness and peace.  I knew the two of them should meet at some point, and I told Leyla about our group and about my potholders.  I asked if I could link to her site (I’ve linked to Maria’s site since I’ve had this blog), and I could see her excitement rising. We talked about art and writing and encouragement, and, suddenly, she stood up and went to the basket full of origami art at the end of the table.  She started rummaging and pulled out seven or eight flat pieces that could be easily carried home and said, “Here take this to your writing group as a gift from me.”

I thought about the other gifts she’d already given my kids this afternoon. They were bits of paper, and they were art, but they were also trophies of a world made just a little wider in the space of an afternoon.  And when our group next meets to widen it’s world, I’ll bring these trophies, and, with them, (I hope) the encouragement that feeds not just the artists but the communities they nurture.