Friday, December 8, 2017

Thoughts on living with a bird

Our Lutino Cockatiel has died, and I have been reflecting on how it has been to live with a bird.  His bird wife Briea (beautiful in Gaelic) passed many years ago at the appropriate age of 16—apparently Cockatiels have a life expectancy of from 15 to 20 years—but Airee (song in Gaelic) did not get that memo, and lived for 28 years, 4 months.  So, these thoughts are not unduly sad or regretful as his life was long and full; they are more a reflection on the dynamic of living at the bottom of a bird cage.  Just to be clear, that would be John and I living there, since Airee was fully flighted and rarely inside the actual cage.   

 When we moved from Nova Scotia to Cortes Island to continue my painting and drum making, and to become oyster farmers, “How to move the birds?” was an up-front issue.  Turned out the solution was also up front.  A hamster cage was converted into a flight deck.  We understood to keep the box high enough for them to see out the front window, but to cover the sides of the travel cage.  Apparently, birds get car sick if they watch scenery whizzing by out the side window.  Go figure. 

We were driving a moving van and a pickup with a camper so after a day on the road the kids (dog included) were all shifted into the wee camper space in a sort of layer cake arrangement.  Birds above, humans in the middle, dog at floor level.   Birds had an aerial diaper fashioned of washable nylon so the upper and middle zones did not interact unpleasantly.

Our first landing on Cortes Island was in a housesitting arrangement, with Airee and Briea taking residence in my studio space.  They promptly took up their own housekeeping and began making egg babies. We discovered that to keep these from becoming bird babies, one was required to hard boil and then replace the tiny eggs.  I know this sounds harsh, but we learned that eggs don’t hatch in the wild for many reasons and birds are not troubled by this.  They sit for the required 21 days and then roll the white ball out of the nest.  It is much more traumatic for eggs to disappear (as they are also wont to do in the wild).  This initiates much stressful bird parent searching and beeping and flying about. 

When we built and moved into our own house, the bird story shifted to include a cat. Mesia was a cat with considerable attitude, even within the arc of cat attitude, which is already considerable.

She had a great affection for boxes.

And quite a nuanced definition of what constitutes a box. 

Mesia’s passing overlapped with the arrival of Losha, a young beauty who clearly had at one time belonged to a family, but had fallen on hard times and was living rough.

Losha combined the family and the box, and suddenly the birds were looking down on 6 cats.   When the bird dust settled (birds are actually quite dusty, and when they accidently fly too close to an inside window and graze it with wings or body, they leave a white dust imprint the glass) we were a family of 8, representing the entire food chain if one counted the fish in the garden pond. 

All three cats were remarkably uninterested in the inside birds, and then just the one bird, while ridding our dooryard and surrounding woods of many many birds and mice, the latter for which I admit gratitude.

You will have to take our word for it, since I never managed a photo, but John would regularly sit with Airee on his shoulder and a cat in his lap. 

Long before Airee became old, we discovered ways for life on top of a bird cage to be easeful.  Why struggle over bars when pressboard makes a good roof-top floor; why keep food and water inside when the recipient is outside?  And why not have a fresh warm breakfast every morning?  We do.  And then on November 29th he was gone. 

Long ago, I used to collect epitaphs, in anticipation of having a selection to choose from for my tombstone, but since my life with birds, there is really only one:

You could not say she was refined,
You could not say she was unrefined.
She was the sort of person who kept a parrot.
Mark Twain

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Giving thanks in Hawaii

We are Canadians on a Hawaiian holiday and didn't notice that our trip overlaps the US Thanksgiving holiday.   Canada celebrates Thanksgiving in early October without any reference to Pilgrims, yet we discovered so much here to be thankful for.

First, of course, are the sunsets.  World class, filled with wonder sunsets.

Then there is Mother Ocean in all her many guises.

The green lushness of everything continually amazes.  Yet we have discovered another dimension of giving thanks here on the Big Island.  It is quiet and intimate but no less profound, maybe even more so.

  There is the joy of having so many places to go and fish to see.

There is permission to do--well--nothing at all. Very rare for an oyster farmer and artist from Cortes Island. 

There is the almost perfect lack of energy to do any work. although a new series of paintings traveled all the way to Kona to tempt me. 

There is the simple blessing of eating in.  And what could be more celebratory than a real pineapple?

Even when the sunset comes with a Tiki torch.

And last night the moon returned.  I can not imagine a greater light by which to give thanks.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Why go on a pilgrimage?

Bali 2018, A Journey into Self-Mastery, has been cancelled because of uncertainty regarding the ongoing volcanic activity of Mt. Agung.  Our sincere apology to those who anticipated joining Ann Mortifee and me on this extraordinary journey.   

Ajahn Sona, the abbot of Birken Forest Monastery--when speaking about my intention to lead a journey to Bali with Ann Mortifee from August 18 to September 4, 2018--called it a pilgrimage to the inner holy land.  I am finding myself asking, What is a pilgrimage, and why go on one?

The images illustrating my reflections are from the photographs of Alex Arbess-Joy, a 20 year resident of Bali who will be guiding us to many vibrant communities where we will have the opportunity to learn the way of Balinese prayer, dance, theatre, cooking, music, ceremonial practices, painting, mask-making and other arts.

I read that a "pilgrimage is a meaningful journey to a sacred place." How significant this becomes when I think about Ajahn Sona's comment, and that Ann and I have called our trip to Bali a journey toward self-mastery.  This is a pilgrimage to re-energize inner clarity and spiritual purpose while enjoying the company of other like-minded seekers.

Our immersion in the cultural, artistic and spiritual practices of  Bali will give us a new sense of awareness and wonder regarding our own life choices and directions.

We learn to be adaptable on a pilgrimage.  Coping skillfully with adversity, as well as experiencing joy and serenity, are the hallmark, not of a tourist, but of a seeker of emotional and spiritual growth.

We mark our journey in significant ways while on a pilgrimage.  We may journal,  take photographs, draw, write poetry, create work with our hands that opens us to a deeper connection with the mystery and magic we experience.

Those on a pilgrimage don't just visit a place, they come away inspired and changed by it in some way.   I know my paintings and drums and use of the Journey Oracle divination cards will expand in ways I cannot now imagine, by being able to absorb experiences in a culture that deeply feeds Spirit.  

We discover and celebrate "what really matters" as we travel both inward to self-mastery and outward to the ancient wisdom of Bali.  Come with us.  It will be an outrageously marvelous time.

Contact Alex at  for more information and to reserve your space.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Spiritual self-mastery in Bali

Bali 2018, A Journey into Self-Mastery, has been cancelled because of uncertainty regarding the ongoing volcanic activity of Mt. Agung.  Our sincere apology to those who anticipated joining Ann Mortifee and me on this extraordinary journey.   

Come on a spiritual adventure in August 2018.   Ann Mortifee and  myself. Kristen Scholfield-Sweet, are leading a journey into artistic and spiritual self-mastery in Bali, Indonesia.  Begin this journey with us to Bali by enjoying my thoughts about "What is spiritual self-mastery?"  Thanks to Alex Joy for his images of Bali.

 These images illustrating spiritual self-mastery are from my painted and natural shamanic drums.

One purpose of spiritual self-mastery is being fed by found treasure.  When we go beyond what we think we know of something as simple as the necessity of water, we discover the mystery of  the Holy.

In Bali these participants in procession carry containers of holy water on their heads.

One mission of spiritual self-mastery is going here to be healed.  The here in this healing is our openness of spirit; our reaching out from our usual experiences to touch the unknown.

And when we make this intention to understand or change a view, we are met by another's openness.

One strategy of spiritual self-mastery is being fed by falling asleep, and then waking up to honouring.  When we let go of the analytical mind, the spiritual intuition can grow, as a child grows in the safety of a mother's love.

One gift of spiritual self-mastery is awareness of spirit skills and limits. When we pause to absorb and integrate new experiences, we find we can literally see a situation with new eyes.

This extraordinary opportunity to experience the spiritual and artistic mastery of Bali is fully detailed in our itinerary: Mystic Traveller in Bali 2018.   Please join Ann and I for a journey into self-mastery when we explore the magic and mystery of the ancient Balinese culture.

For more information and to reserve your place email Alex Joy at

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Artistic self-mastery

What is artistic self-mastery?  Enjoy these images illustrating some qualities of self-mastery in art from the Journey Oracle deck of divination wisdom cards available from my Etsy webstore.

One purpose of self-mastery is going into the blood pulse.  This means to evoke our creative soul, our guiding spirit, and go into a way of being in which an ongoing exchange of giving and receiving creative impulses are constantly available.

One mission of self-mastery is finding eloquence with which to give a gift.  As Lewis Hyde says of Walt Whitman, "Those who can express themselves in speech have been given that mysterious something, like the mouthpiece of a trumpet or the reed of a wind instrument, through which experience is transmuted into sound." With self-mastery we begin by taking in the gifts of deep experience and then bestow these gifts outward in a flow of gratitude.

One strategy of self-mastery is really seeing something.  When a fully lived experience passes deeply into us, it increases in both inner and outer meaning.

One gift of self-mastery is self-confidence. This is the state of climbing out and up into a clear space.  Not into haughtiness but to a way of being that is active, autonomous, self-contained.

Great experiences fracture the acceptable truths of how we imagine our lives.  When our imagination is awakened--as it will be by learning these qualities of  artistic self-mastery--revelation will emerge.