Take me to the river ::: Being (t)here, with India Flint


"Have you ever had that feeling ~ that you'd like to go to a whole different place
and become a whole different self?"
~ Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

While I stood on the edge of that beautiful tidal river for the first time
 - the expansive and ever-changing River Tay in Newburgh, Fife -
I had many thoughts about being more than 4,500 miles from home;
how far away that was, continents separated by great bodies of water.
Still, THIS place, somehow, felt so familiar ...
This was Scotland.
And after a long wait filled with the ups and downs that life dishes,
I had finally made it to
this river.

Two things ahead were certain, I mused: the first,
I intended to have a grand adventure ... no suitcase was big enough
to contain that excitement !  And second, 
India Flint was teaching a textile master class called
which I knew would alter my perception of 'place' forever.
Although I wasn't exactly sure  how  she would do this
there was no doubt in my mind that she most definitely would.

Why was I so certain?
'Twas an enchanting video [view here] that I watched last year,
a culmination of India's three week residency at Big Cat Textiles
describing her impressions of the river ... showing how her work was
influenced, guided by landscape ...
as she described, "...infused with the indefinable, individual essence of place."

So we began ...
our next few days were a gentle process of mirroring all the attributes of this river
using the materials at hand;
watching and listening, sensing, observing, smelling,
but mainly  paying attention ...
slowing down enough, taking time for that to happen.
Thirteen of us from different parts of the 'whirled' were about to interpret
just what being t(here) meant.

I thought a lot about how in my own work I use photography as a way to illustrate
how a subject  feels ...  not necessarily rendering true to appearances, but
making my world look the way it looks to me.
Perhaps I could express something similar with cloth, paper, stitch, local plant dyes
and a collection of written words ?

Each day included much walking ... mainly alone,
although I was very happy to make the acquaintance of an adorable
dog friend who also happened to need time walking.
I was lucky - she knew quite a few back roads
and was ever eager for one more jaunt to the river ....
so I spent a good deal of time down there.

"All the technique in the world doesn't compensate for
the inability to notice."
- Elliott Erwitt, photographer

While the River Tay daily ebbed & flowed
we made a few ripples of our own in the local alleyway
[much to the amusement of local residents]
with the beginnings of our stitched concertina books ...
the first of several environmental displays we would assemble in the village
and as it turned out, a potent way to stay melded as a group.

As anyone who knows India a bit may have already surmised,
well, things don't stay white around her for very long ...

~ our paper books wrapped in hand stitched silk bags ~ 

Ecoprinting on paper was new for me and I had purposely avoided doing any of it on my own
beforehand, wanting instead to attend this workshop as a "clean slate" in that regard.
But it wasn't long before I fell under the spell of those paper marks, just like with cloth ...
swooning & exclaiming along with my class-mates over the gifts from Newburgh plants,
both subtle and bold.

~ folded paper fresh from the dyepot, still wet ~

The studio atmosphere was sublime for concentrated work ... the old stone walls of
the [former] church leant an air of solidity with the added advantage of providing
fine acoustics for the eclectic range of music India brought along.

I don't believe I have ever worked within
a more friendly, generous & supportive group of gals.
Many of us spoke of this phenomenon afterwards ... what a truly special group this was ...
somehow - given our diverse backgrounds & locations - a perfect mix of temperaments,
creativity, good humor, and all out camaraderie was shared & appreciated by each of us.

I miss you all !
[and I do hope we carry on with our "pinkie" agreement ... winkwink]

: : :
"Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you,
spend a lot of time with them and it will change your life.
No one is here today because they did it on their own.  You're all here
because someone gave you strength.  Helped you.  Held you in the palm of their hand."
- Amy Poehler, Harvard University commencement address
: : :

Part of our daily process was listening to verse & selections from great writers.
India provided a rich & varied mix,
reading softly to us for a few minutes each day.
Later, after writing our own impressions gleaned from the common experience of walking,
we read our chosen words aloud to the circle, each person's words
adding a unique cadence to the shared story.

Words from "accidental" poems written on my walks became new poems, reassembled.

This writing practice stayed with me throughout my journey through Scotland 
and has now come home with me ...
a powerful tool that I didn't even know I was in need of ...

~ torn scraps from one of my poems ~

Occasionally when something entertaining was happening with us below
we'd catch a little giggling from above.  These two sweeties, who run Big Cat Textiles
and Hat in the Cat [in Perth], took amazingly wonderful care of us during our stay ...
Alison [on right] fed us the most deliciously yummy healthful food - catering to 
all food restrictions, I might add - and Netti provided for any needs tossed in her path,
including places to lay our heads and doggy therapy.  Both went 
above and beyond the call of normal hosting duty
in every way.
Rockin' wonderful, the both of you !

~ Molly's flowers, morning inspiration, surrounded by class books ~

Book work progressed through many stages ... 
experimentation with useful mordants & clever solutions for resists,
unusual mark-making with found objects,
stitching with a wide range of thread sizes & types [Big Cat Textiles had lovely offers on hand],
and the addition of textile scraps ... silks, wool, lace & crochet.

The table displays at the end of each day were steadily growing more beautiful
and our bundle 'displays' in the village were sights to behold.

~ double exposure, India laying out bundles ~

~ below the Newburgh railway arch ~

As we neared completion of our river books
India presented us with one more surprise [our workshop was full of them, bless her] ...
an unexpected technique for felting a small blue "river,"
a long piece of textile goodness to tie around our finished books.
Having just attended Michel Garcia's indigo dye workshop the previous week,
India recycled the spent dye liquid [that which usually goes down the drain]
thinking perhaps it might still be useful ... and this was to be our color source.
We were thrilled to give it a try.

positive results and a very pleased dye master ...

Finished books in hand, we walked down together as a group
and joined our self-made rivers
with the great River Tay.
Seemed a supremely fitting way to draw our time together to a close,
by making this symbolic gesture.  I know I'm not alone when I confess
these were some very emotional moments.
I won't be forgetting this experience any time soon for not only
have I come home with new & important tools, I've brought home
a deeper understanding of how to *be* ...

Thank you, India.

~ my river book ~

: : : 

The second day into our class, Maya Stein's weekly '10-Line Tuesday' poem arrived
via email.  I've included Maya's poems several times on this blog & made mention
of how often her words are completely perfect in their timing, apropos to life in that moment.
So it was with this one.
I'd like to make special note of it
for posterity ...


Just east of certainty.  A little south of courage.  A hair's
width from ease.  Clicks away from ready.  A turn
or two from acceptance.  A shuffle from faith.  A set of stairs
from achievement.  A riverbed from happiness.  A handspan from
peace.  A wink away from freedom.  A few lines until the poem's
done.  A highway, a night's sleep, a phone call, a touch, a rotation
of gears away from that certain yes that tells you where you are is
exactly where you need to be.  I know, the signs can look as if they're missing,
and the map so distant and unclear.
But I'm telling you, you aren't lost.  You're never lost.  You're always here.

: : :




Shortly after stashing my bags at the guest house
and not two hours into my arrival in Scotland,
I went out for a walk and came across this ...
a most thought provoking sign.
Local residents would certainly have pegged me for a tourist
should any of them been watching as I maneuvered for a photo angle,
but I couldn't pass it up.
I was having one of those hairs-standing-on-end moments
about good things to come; as I stared up at that sign
I just knew I was in for a mighty special adventure.

How true that was !

Now, as seems to be my way,
I'm needing a bit of time to let everything percolate ...
I'm busy editing photos, gathering thoughts from memories & notes,
and spending some precious hours exploring new directions in handwork
while that fire burns bright.

I've posted a few images over on Instagram,
for now, a wee small taste
of my delightful journey to bonny Scotland.

Very soon, I'll have some tales to tell ...