This weekend I dragged myself to the Central Park Conservancy to see Magnolia trees in full bloom as if my life depended it. Because it did. It was he first time since the Spring began that I have been there. I had all these plans to take photos and the first thing I did was just plop down on a bench, kick my feet up and let the sun’s hands cradle my face. It felt so damn good, just like love. If that was all I did that day, I would have been happy. I listened to the silence, the faint sounds of children playing (it was Easter Sunday) and the amazing bird calls from tiny feathered bodies in hidden places I never saw. I drank it all in greedily because I have been starving for it so long.
There are so few places where I feel like I actually belong but I have never, not as long as or as far back as I can remember, ever felt alone in nature. Whenever I’m in nature I feel as if I am with returning home. I let go. I rest. I recharge. I explore. I get inspired. It’s free and abundant and I thank God for it.
I also have no fear of tramping all up and through Central Parks’ isolated spots. For some reason, I never feel fearful when I’m taking isolated paths. I wouldn’t recommend it. But I’m crazy and this is just a fact that occurs to me long afterward. I follow my intuition about what feels sketchy and what feels safe but I never imagine the worst when I’m in nature. I really feel very protected and at home. I feel welcomed. If for any reason I don’t feel that way I know it’s because of some negative energy and I don’t question my intuition about that. I just move. Somehow that’s easier for me to do when I’m in the woods. I can remember walking from North to South Campus at night on a road with no lights, years ago when I attended Bard College. I rarely felt like afraid of the darkness among the trees. I don’t know why. And there were definitely real dangers at large there.
Like I said, I’m nuts. I’m possibly also very naïve.
I just know that there isn’t much that can keep me away from the feeling I get when I’m surrounded by tall thick trees or lush, lovely gardens spilling over with a festival colors, fragrances and textures. I can get lost for hours and never mind if I don’t see one person, because I’m not alone. In nature, I’m never alone.
Querencia is a Spanish word with many nuances. At its simplest, it refers to your favorite spot, a place where you long to be. But its meaning can go even deeper. Querencia may be a sanctuary where you feel safe and authentic, or a situation that enables you to draw on extra reserves of strength and courage. It’s a special kind of home: an empowering shelter that makes you feel that you belong in this world and love your life. Can you guess where I’m going with this message, Gemini? These days you need to be in your querencia even more than usual. If you don’t have one, or if you don’t know where yours is, formulate a fierce intention to locate it.
Querencia is a metaphysical concept in the Spanish language. The term comes from the Spanish verb “querer,” which means “to desire.”Querencia describes a place where one feels safe, a place from which one’s strength of character is drawn, a place where one feels at home.
We came to the entrance of the Comeau Woods trail in Woodstock and I swear it was like something from a Grimms fairytale. Looking at it, you might think, it looks dark in there, it might be dangerous. Where are we going? What if….but before I allowed my mind to create more reasons about why this might be a bad idea, I listened to the louder part of me that said, this is what you have been craving. Go in and be in it. You are not alone. Indeed I was not alone. My husband was with me and he was ready if I was. And in we went. And it was all I wanted. To walk along this raw and well worn trail next to a wide creek, surrounded by towering trees so thick that they created a canopy of shade in the heat as we got deeper into the woods, met occasionally by others who were on their way out and some for whom this walk was obviously one they took often. There was a woman on her own who stopped close to the edge of the water and sang and another who set up on a rock near the widest part of the creek and started writing in her journal.
Francis stood guard while I walked out to a flat rock in the middle of the water and just stood there and felt it all, felt the water moving all around me, the sound of it’s rushing like a meditative never ending prayer of peace until it felt like it was no longer outside of me but inside, like breath, like a heartbeat. I took some pictures, spent time studying pebbles in small pools in naturally formed craters. I was in bliss. And then we made our way back, falling in silent step with one another as if we had walked the path together in another life. We even talked about the feeling that we were connected to the earth in a way we could remember from a different time. We weren’t scared or unsure. This was actually very familiar. And we didn’t challenge it. It felt natural because it was.
That’s why I need the woods. I need nature. I remember my place when i’m there. There’s no conflict. Only acceptance That was my vacation moment. It was short lived and I needed it. It was fuel for the future.
“Nature can bring you to stillness. That is its gift to you. When you perceive and join with nature in the field of stillness, that field becomes permeated with your awareness. That is your gift to nature. Through you, nature becomes aware of itself. Nature has been waiting for you, as it were, for millions of years.”
I was reading this at Barnes & Noble this week and my eyes got a little bit wet. I’ve always understood nature’s gift to humanity but I’m not really sure I ever fully grasped our gift to nature or that nature can feel us when we align ourselves with nature. It makes total sense. I’m sure I’ve heard it said before. But this was the first time I really feel like, oh shit, I’m not just feeling nature. Nature feels me too!
I try to take a walk in Fort Tryon, our nearest public park at least once a week. When we lived in Harlem I would get a little antsy if I went too long without strolling to the conservatory in Central Park from 110th Street. It just got me to breath deeper, to recharge, to be still. And stillness has been something I have required access to since I was a child. Nature has been the thing, which gets me there the quickest.
So I don’t know if you remember how last year I was raving about this head wrap company that I found at fanmdjanm.com. I was especially jazzed to see that they had these cool, funky video tutorials on different ways to wrap the fabric on their site. That had me really excited. It made me feel like this was something I might actually be able to do. My bff, Vanessa and I used to wear African fabrics on our heads in High School but I never really learned how to do anything fancy and I never really wrapped my whole head.
The one other time I can remember rocking a head wrap was in my mid- 20s. One day when I just got it into my head that it would be cool to wrap my head in a white fabric that I had to go this poetry reading my white ex-boyfriend invited me to. I had my hair out natural then after having cut my second set of locs and I thought I looked really cute. Well we were sitting at a bar that night and he looked at me smiling a smile that I had come to know as a snarky kind of “what’s this?” smile and then he called me a Nubian Princess but not in the way that brothas in Harlem on 125th Street do. I think he meant it kind of as a joke because he couldn’t take it seriously. He wasn’t familiar with this part of me. I was annoyed and offended and generally put out for the rest of the evening and never wore a head wrap in public again.
Well I finally ordered my head wrap fabric from Fanm Djanm (which means strong woman in Haitian Creole) last week and I can’t wait to see it. That’s it just above. It’s called “Ill Thrill” and I like it because it feels like the pattern than can transition easily from a formal or work (because I do intend to rock it at work) as well as a recreational setting and can be paired with a range of different outfits. I just love the shade of orange which has been a color that started rocking my visual world last year.
Orange started speaking to me loudly saying, “HEY!!!! Come and play with me! Everything is cool! I’m bold and can’t be ignored but I’m also very friendly and happy and I want you to come take a closer look. I want to sooth you and excite you at the same time.” It’s hard for me to look at orange and feel anything but a kind of blind joy for no reason. It also emanates a glowing, loving warmth. Few colors do all of those things to me at once. It was one Fall Season a few years ago while I was taking pictures outdoors that the color orange started to emerge for me with a deep significance I had never noticed before. I couldn’t believe I had been alive for so long without ever appreciating the golds, yellows and bronzes of sunsets and Fall foliage. Now, I can’t pass these colors in nature without being driven to distraction.
Color is wonderful and traditionally, many African fabrics have been full of color and ornate patterns but I haven’t always felt comfortable appropriating the looks I see worn by African hair braiders up and down Harlem standing at street corners in beautiful dresses that they wear all the time. But that’s just Western thinking getting in the way of what I feel drawn to and what I’m entitled to connect with by way of my ancestral roots.
As Spring has begun to emerge in NYC I’ve realized officially that while I don’t miss our tiny apartment in Harlem, I do miss the neighborhood. As antisocial as I can be, I miss the small neighborhood feeling of being in residential a brownstone neighborhood where the tallest building for a few blocks around is not more than four of five stories high. And nothing beats living across from Marcus Garvey Park and watching the seasons change in the foliage there. Ohhh, let me not get too nostalgic. It starts to get me emotional. I have to embrace my new surroundings in Inwood, which is exactly what my husband and I did this weekend.
The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park was the one thing I had been looking forward to visiting when we moved to Inwood and we finally got to go this past Sunday. First of all, Fort Tryon is just beautiful! I can’t wait to go back when everything is in full bloom. I love that it’s so close to us on the A train. I have so many plans for that park! LOL! The lovely, leisurely ten minute walk to the Cloisters and the Cloisters Museum was perfect. When we arrived at the Cloisters I was totally enchanted by what looked like a castle or a Abbey on a steep hill. It appealed to all my childhood “Sound Of Music” indoctrinated fanaticism.
We didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the historic details and paintings or artifacts. Mainly we walked around the beautifully assembled structure and enjoyed the peace and stillness of the architecture. I love the use of arches in Medieval European church architecture. I always have. Over the years and as a result of some art history classes I have learned a bit about the strength and receptivity of the arch. Not only is it an aesthetically pleasing shape but it is able to withstand more weight than the more traditional post and lintel door way. To me arches and archways represent the feminine and in Holy places this feels justified.
Medieval art on the other hand does nothing for me but make me cringe. Remember those reprints of Unicorn tapestry that were all the rage in the 70s? My mom had them around when I was a baby and they kinda freaked me out even then. After seeing “Unicorn in Captivity” at the Cloisters, I know my freak out was warranted. At first you think oh it’s a Unicorn that is fenced for protection in and looks pretty content. On closer inspection you see that the Unicorn has been taken by force, has been hurt and is bleeding in places were it’s been poked and prodded. Unicorns aren’t even real! Leave them alone sickos!!
There was one painting I saw that I remember studying in art history class whose significance has deepened for me this time around. It is one in which the Virgin Mary is visited by an angel telling her that she will give birth to the savior. The painting was commissioned by a married couple who it is said were hoping for a child of their own which is part is why they requested it. I cannot find the painting online for the life of me but it’s something like the one above.
I think what made me pay attention this time was the relatable aspect of a married couple wanting a child. It made me really look at the Virgin birth as allegorical and archetypal. The birth of “Christ” represents the spirit of the creator in the birth of every child. Mary represents a doorway to salvation through Immaculate Conception but that doesn’t mean that sexual intercourse is evil the way many organized religions teach. To me, it means that if we are consciously and purposefully intimate, we are in communion with something bigger than ourselves in order to give birth to more love than there was before. That’s my read anyway. Also, I think Angels are very cool and Mary was just a regular chick in her time who became a celebrity because of a divine visitation. There is Mary and Oshun and an Angel in us all.
See what going to the Cloisters did to me? LOL!!
I can see myself going back there just to hang out, read, write in my journal or have a picnic with close friends. Oh joy!
We’re all here for Oshun so I equate that with Oshun being here.
-PBS Documentary on the Nigerian Oshun Festival
So I’ve been working on this project lately that has required a study of different illustrations of the goddess Oshun. Oshun is one of hundreds of Yoroba Orishas, a Goddess who embodies, beauty, sensuality, healing, abundance, harmony, divination and the feminine archetype. I am discovering that there are many different interpretations of what Oshun represents but essentially she is in some ways to ancient African religions what the Virgin Mary is to Catholicism, what Venus or Aphrodite was to Romans and Greeks. But unlike those latter mentioned, Oshun, to my unending delight, is represented primarily as a very dark skinned Black woman. Her colors are represented as a constant spectrum of gold, amber, yellow and orange. She can be found near bodies of water and always carries a mirror. She likes sweet things and is often shown wearing a veil which allows her to see the world eternally as a sweet heavenly vision of beauty. Doesn’t that sound dope?
It hit me yesterday as I looked at all the googled images of her, how powerful the symbols of her identity are with regard to visual interpretations. With all the different versions out there, there are those basic elements that never change. Like the Virgin Mary, Venus or Aphrodite, artists understand that key colors, elements in nature and symbolic objetcs are what communicate to the viewer who and what this woman represents. This is art 101 obviously but I never really even understood this even in art history class. I wish it had been taught to me in this way. A Picasso version of the Virgin Mary will not look like Carravagio’s, but the basic symbolical indicators will be there somewhere whether literal, obscure, abstracted or minimized.
Blue, white, rays of natural light. Yellow, gold, mirror water nature. When we wear these colors, spend time in specific natural spaces, we can recognize that certain religions and cultures would see us as invoking saints, goddesses, gods, spirits that are represented by these things. We attribute powers to elements based on both ancient practice and natural metaphysical laws.
Why do the colors deep blue and purple represent royalty? Why does yellow invoke joy and lightness? Most of us have been conditioned to an unconscious reflexive knowledge of white as representing purity. The color black however has had the worst rap ever. Buried in decades of negative association with death, evil, abyss, black actually symbolizes the highest seat of wisdom as seen in clergymen and ministers who wear all black or martial arts masters who acquire the Black belt in the various disciplines of Martial Arts. We all know that a Black Belt can only be acquired with intense hard work and commands great respect. For me, seeing so many versions of Oshun with this dark black skin is even more of a validation and praise of the color black. It sends the message to my heart that blackness is beautiful, is sacred, is virtuous. And every version of Oshun must be dark skinned in order for me to understand that she is Oshun.
It is said that in the Vatican, there is a black version of the Virgin Mary hidden somewhere and that this is the one the Pope worships behind closed doors. Oooh! My google search of Black Virgin Mary has produced such a range of beautiful renditions! The darker Goddesses are stepping out into the light.