I was about to turn off the TV when the commentator's statement caused me to pause.
"This is a brilliant world we live in," he said. Granted the sight directly in front of his eyes and mine, almost 7000 miles away, was inspiring. Athletes from around the world smiled, hugged, snapped pictures, mingling as if one during the closing ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics.
But my own reaction caught me even more by surprise.
That word sounded so contrary to the majority of descriptors I usually hear about the state of the world, that I simply sat on the couch and stared at the screen.
Brilliant – giving off light, lustrous, exceptional, grand
I found myself desperately wanting to believe it. Like the survivor of any prolonged drought, I had forgotten what brilliance looked like, what a cool sip of water tasted like, much less a fresh perspective.
In short, I had forgotten to look for brilliance, or recognize it when I saw it. Prior to Covid and the constant barrage of distressing Breaking News, I had known there was brilliance. Somehow I had allowed it to dull.
Then a couple of days later, Brilliance appeared at a Starbucks. Drew and I had stopped for mid-afternoon caffeine outside of Atlanta, during one of our 8-hour driving days to our condo in Portland, Maine. While waiting, I noticed a bulletin board overflowing with colorful Post-its.
I took a closer look.
At least a hundred notes declared their messages of hope, happiness and encouragement (along with the occasional "Steve/Mickey was here"). No matter how cliché the phrase, I found my smile grow and mood lighten. When I read the pink note telling me to "Breathe, you got this!" I actually felt that I did, whatever IT was. In that moment, sipping my Frappuccino, I was surrounded by a community of Brilliance.
Yesterday, Brilliance literally hit me in the head on my morning walk.
And showed up a few hours later at Portland Head Light in an artist's creativity.
Brilliant is back in my vocabulary – having never left my life or the world – but is in desperate need of polishing.
May 7, 2014
I arrived in Elko, Nevada for the first time.
I assumed it would be my only time. You have to want to get there. And I did.
Sarah Sweetwater was waiting for me. After a year of back and forth emails and multiple changes in my travel plans to visit labyrinths in Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona, Sarah and I were set to meet at 11:00.
(Please read more about Sarah on a blog posting I wrote about her in 2018.)
It was part of a Big Push, to complete my 50-state journey of walking labyrinths and gathering stories from their creators by July 4. After this trek to the west, I would have three states left. Sarah was key. At the time, Sarah's labyrinth was the only one in Nevada, listed on the Labyrinth Locator, which met my two primary criteria – located outdoors and built and/or envisioned by a woman. And from everything I had read about her online, she was a remarkable woman I was eager to meet!
June 26, 2021
I arrived in Elko, Nevada for the second time.
I assume it will be my last time, but you never know.
Drew and I left Redwood City, California early this morning, drove 530 miles, and reached Elko around 5:00. We're on a 4-day road trip to our home in Conway, Arkansas, after Drew completed his job at Alto International School in Menlo Park.
We briefly stopped at the hotel, then drove to Elko Peace Park, where – eight years before – Sarah and I walked the labyrinth she designed. Surrounded by her creativity, I wished for her warm and caring presence. Sadly, Sarah died one and a half years after my visit.
I stood at the entrance of the labyrinth, breathed deeply and said, "Thank you, dear Sarah, for the gift of this peace labyrinth and for the difference you made in the lives of many, including mine. I carried a rock that I would place in the center – to say that I was here, that I remembered.
When Sarah and I reached the center during our walk in 2014, she explained that she had designed space for the word PEACE to form concentric circles in 82 languages... "as many as I could find," she said.
Then she shared a secret.
"I included my signature somewhere among the Peace messages. Can you find it?'
When I gave up, she leaned forward and pointed....
Mountain peaks with two small Ss at their base.
I smiled today as I touched it, then gently placed the rock, and retraced my steps along the path.
June 27, 2021
Drew and I are back on the road. We carry the peace of the labyrinth with us, and invite any of you who visit Elko to experience Sarah's beautiful labyrinth for yourselves.
I have never met Madeleine Robinson in person, although she lives only 35 minutes away in North Little Rock (Arkansas), and we collaborated on my children's book, The Power of Bread, for 6 months. She and I connected as author and illustrator, through editor James Matthews, before COVID-19 officially became a pandemic. And like everyone else, Zoom became our primary means of seeing each other, at least from the shoulders up.
It took just one meeting, seeing sample sketches for the book's first pages and hearing Madeleine's imagination take flight on the rest, that I knew she was the one. It was like the images, which had been floating around in my head for years, were all of a sudden alive through her illustrations. In a word, I was "Wowed!"
I envisioned my characters in watercolor tones of clay and desert, palm tree and bougainvillea – the Middle East, where the power of the bread weaves its magic. Madeleine, who works most often in watercolor, imagined the scenes first in pencil sketches, then brought them into brilliant life with her paintbrush.
The Power of Bread is a first for Madeleine and me, my first children's book to write and hers to illustrate. As a recent college graduate with a major in Studio Art Illustration and an abundance of creative talents, her career is just beginning. I assure Madeleine that when she's a famous, sought-after children's book illustrator, I will proudly proclaim, "She illustrated my book FIRST!"
Madeleine leaves for Los Angeles at the end of July.
"Hopefully, with a lot of hard work, I will begin to make music and illustration my full-time careers," she wrote in a recent email. (She also writes music and performs with her band, Sleepover.)
"It's one of the most exciting and scary prospects to me, and I can't wait to have such a big change in my life."
The voice of a young woman following her dreams.
We will meet soon for a long-awaited lunch and a chance for me to thank Madeleine personally for her exceptional work. It will be a time to celebrate a connection which brought a book to life, and sent a message of peace into the world.
Madeleine's covers for The Power of Bread
My battered, water-stained copy of The Yosemite was the first thing I put in the bag for our overnight trip to Yosemite National Park. After all, John Muir was the reason I had added Yosemite to my Bucket (aka Before 70) List in the first place. Muir, the revered conservationist, naturalist, Father of the National Parks, had personally invited Drew, me...and thousands of others, with the lyrical magic of his prose.
"Nearly all the upper basin of the Merced (River) was displayed, with its sublime domes and canyons, dark upsweeping forest, and glorious array of white peaks deep in the sky, every feature glowing, radiating beauty that pours into our flesh and bones like heat rays from fire....Never before had I seen so glorious a landscape, so boundless an affluence of sublime mountain beauty."
~John Muir, July 15, 1869 (journal entry)
As Drew and I followed a slow caravan of cars into Yosemite Valley, I imagined what it must have been like for Muir to walk into the same area 150+ years ago, all by himself. Take away the vehicles, people, lodges, restaurants, gift shops, bars, visitor center, medical clinic, art gallery – and yes – even Starbucks, and Muir would have been left with.....everything. Everything that matters.
In a meadow, bathed in sunlight, open to the sky, with Yosemite Falls to our backs, we paused to complete my personal Yosemite quest. I pulled Muir's book from my purse, turned to an earmarked page and began reading.
"No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite...how softly these rocks are adorned, and how fine and reassuring the company they keep: their feet among beautiful groves and meadows, their brows in the sky..."
~John Muir, The Yosemite
Later, upon taking our leave of the park at Lower Yosemite Fall, it was as if Muir himself gave us a parting gift.
"In the bright spring mornings the black-walled recess at the foot of the Lower Yosemite Fall is lavishly filed with irised spray...Beheld at a certain distance, [it} seems to be colored, and drifts and wavers from color to color mingling in the foliage of the adjacent trees, without suggesting any relationship to the ordinary rainbow."
~John Muir, The Yosemite
For those of you who follow my blog, THANK YOU, first of all! Then a word of reassurance that you're reached the right place. Instead of receiving a notice of a new posting from Labyrinth Journeys, my name appeared instead. Aside from feeling a bit self-conscious about that, I'm excited that my website has been refreshed as an author site. With the addition of my children's book, The Power of Bread, it was time to branch out.
I invite you to visit the website and subscribe to my blog – under the photo of Drew and me snowshoeing in New Hampshire.
You'll notice I didn't say that I personally made the changes. Web design is as much a mystery to me as physics. But, thankfully, I know someone who does.
James Matthews – the exceptional editor and book designer of both my books – creates websites, among an impressive list of other talents. James' official title is Director of Communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas. He's also a multi-media documentary artist. On his website, James says that he has "a bias toward the human-made landscape, manual processes, and the physical object." How does that translate into some of the creative work he's been engaged in for the last 15 years in Little Rock? I'll share one example and refer you to his website for a glimpse into others.
His Eviction Quilts series...
James has designed and sewn nine quilts. Each quilt represents a person or family who has been evicted from their home, belongings left by the side of the road. James pieced together a story of loss in each quilt and named it after the street where he discovered and collected the fabrics. South Cedar Street, pictured above, features a lime green center made from a woman's dress and a man's shirt.
The quilts have been displayed in several Arkansas museums and were awarded an Honorable Mention at the Delta 60 Exhibiton at the Arkansas Arts Center. (For a more in-depth story of James' journey to create the Eviction Quilts, you can read an article which appeared in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.)
In reflecting about his quilts, James told me, "... the quilts become a sort of material archive, a way to save the soon-to-be-discarded pieces of a transitory event such as an eviction. As with all my work, the project is an attempt to get people to see their surroundings with fresh eyes."
Whether James is creating his own art or supporting the creativity of someone else, like me, his work invites us to pause, to pay attention. . .to see.
It arrived! The box of books. MY book!
The Amazon delivery guy had barely stepped back into his van when I was out the door, lifting the fairly heavy box of 75 books as if it weighed nothing. But, of course, it was everything!
Inside was 10 years of work, and 15 years since The Power of Bread's story began. All those years packed inside a 19.5 X 13.5 X 7.5 box, waiting to be opened. Just beyond the cardboard flaps lay a finished product, a celebration; yet I stood, momentarily, unmoving. Reflection seemed in order, for cups of tea and pondering the process. But not now... later – when I'd pull out the file folders of first, second and fifteenth drafts and re-live it all.
I cut through the tape, and there they were! There they were...
Madeleine's beautiful and inspired cover
Yes, I did. I cried.
The next day I drove to Little Rock (30 minutes away), with books wrapped in bows for family. Drew already had his copy in California, daughter Katherine and family's copies were in the mail to Maine. I was on my way to share the book with my first, and most important, in-person audience. It felt like a gift I was giving myself.
We met, socially distanced and slightly shivering, in Elizabeth and Ben's (behind the camera) backyard. I presented them each a book and began the story.
"Tomorrow is our Breads of the World Festival," said Ms. Goodwin..."
The Power of Bread was at long last where it belonged – in the hands of readers.
To my dear grandchildren ~ Luke, Nate, Ruby, Anna, Robert, Matthew and Hazel~ and to children everywhere, the world's best hope for peace.
Back cover with summary...
I slowly, carefully – so as not to damage a single fragile page – removed it from the plastic.
Little Women, one of my favorites, given to Grandma (May) by her older sister, Carrie.