Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sing, Paint, Write, Live!

When I try to describe the richness of life at the Ranch, some parts are easy to describe. I know folks can understand the thrill of building something useful, the sense of community that comes from cooking and eating great food together. But how to describe the overwhelming sense of creativity and innovation around this place? I´ve never experienced anything like it. In a hurried and small attempt to help y├íll get a feel for how full our days are with imagination breaking into reality, here´s “A Smattering of Days in the Creative Life”:

Friday: It’s always amazed me that at places like Yestermorrow and the Ranch, folks infuse artistry into their work as well as their play. Today, Carolyn and Nicole are in the library with colored pencils and glue, drawing up cards for a memory game they will play with the local elementary school kids on Monday. Jodee is touching up the octopus mural she crafted on the wall of the Cork. Taggert is jubilantly removing a deliciously deep concrete sink from the sand mound he molded it with. Junior and Alex are stripping the bark off the live edge on the reddish-gold tropical cedar boards they’ll use to make a bookshelf for the classroom. Geoff is planting peanut grass and palms next to the curvy drainage ditches he dug that snake away from the Cork to prevent erosion. And Rachel is patching the spot in the cob oven that has fallen away by sculpting one of our cats in hot pursuit of a lizard. As folks roll into the main house from their various places of work to wait for dinner, Nate spreads out an old canvas on a table in the library, puts Tchaikovsky on the CD player, and folks gather around to doodle and paint. I’ll have to take pictures of this canvas…or sneak it into MOMA.

Saturday: University of Washington students are here, and since they have the day off, several of them volunteer to cook dinner with me. None of us have cooked Thai before, but we begin to whip up curries, mango salads, bean fritters and sauces with gusto, figuring out tropical substitutions for whatever ingredients we don’t have. Meanwhile, other folks are nurturing their spirits on their afternoon off: Nicole paints a watercolor in the library; Nate starts on a cutting board made of bright purple, yellow and speckled white and brown hardwoods; Red and Anne construct costumes for Sole’s Fable, a video that Sparky and Maxine are making to give Tim and Robin’s baby lessons in morality. As folks filter through the kitchen, the music gets pumped up, the Christmas lights turned on, and soon there are ten people jamming and hip swinging, chopping and frying to a playlist that reminds me very much of Murray, my fratastic hip-hop loving younger brother. The feast is served, and we’re able to celebrate another rejuvenating Saturday.

Easter Sunday! While the kitchen is buzzing with folks creating an amazing Easter brunch, Alan, Nicole and I head to the church for a recording session of Al’s new song “Hope for the Flowers”. The main Easter service was the previous night, so we have the church—decked out in palms and tropical flowers—to ourselves. Alan, along with others, wrote this song for his friend Trina, a radical Catholic lady from Jersey who wrote a simple but powerful book many years ago about flowers, butterflies, and transformation. The book has been a wild success over the years, and since it’s going to be a movie, it needed a theme song. Alan and I sing it as a duet, many times over, in the church this morning…what a perfect way to worship, to celebrate the life-from-death story of the Lenten and Easter season. After the recording session, we go back to the Ranch for some good eats (mango scones!) and an Easter egg hunt. Each egg containse a mandate—ranging from “Tell us what you like best about your mom” to “Perform an ancient fire dance and chant” to “Sing Happy Birthday in an Arnold Shwarzennager voice.” Whoda thunk that Easter morning could be giddily fun even without copious amounts of processed sugar? J

Monday: Birthday of Robin (co-founder of the Ranch with husband Tim)! Plus Geoff and Sparky´s last day at the Ranch. The convergence of these two important events unleashes a cacophony of creativity. The day starts when Nate, myself, Chris and others create a breakfast masterpiece for Robin including Spinach Strata and homemade mango chocolates flourished with edible flowers and leaves from the garden. The staff-intern crew grabs percussive instruments and marches single file toward the Choza, Robin and Tim´s house, where we spy Robin and Sole grinning down at us like Rapunzel y Rapunzelita from a window of their house. Later that evening as the sun sets, we gather up at the Cork for a serenade of original songs. We move the party back to the Choza after dinner where the singing continues and Robin is gifted with homemade watercolor birthday cards and a sleeping baby, which allows her to enjoy the evening. Adding to the magic of the evening is the fact that Robin and Tim designed the Choza themselves and built it with the help of many hands: we sit on a deck made of bamboo slats that shoot outward like the sun, glance up at a stained glass window made by Alan, lean against an arched doorway crafted with love.

Tuesday: I always thought that singer-songwriters popped out of the womb belting out the masterpieces they crafted themselves. But since being at the Ranch, all that’s changed. Here there are songwriters around every corner who are also gardeners, carpenters, firemen, fathers. Apparently you don’t have to be wearing hip clothing, sitting alone, melancholic, in your trendy studio apartment in a grand city to write a song—my friends here write songs in poo stained work shirts on the front porch, on the ping pong table, fiddling and laughing and figuring, and finally, sharing. So on this particular morning, when I woke up with lyrics to a chorus running through my head, I knew I had to try. I walked up to the Cork and somehow scribbled a whole song in the thirty minutes before breakfast. I debuted to a couple friends right before we ate our pinto and vegan pancakes. What a soul-freeing, intimate experience to write and then sing your very own song! I have been singing other people’s songs for years and very much enjoying it, but to feel your own soul coming through your throat and fingers and eyes, and to have others connect with it is other-worldly. I can’t wait to share it with y’all.

So there you go, five days in the life—in my life. I hope and pray I’ll never forget how much richer my world can be when I allow it to be infused with creativity and artistic expression.

Pura vida, friends!

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Yes, it´s continued to be a phenomenal several weeks here at the Ranch. Don´t have time for a full post now, but a couple quick updates via photos:

I almost stepped on this, but my tico (Costa Rican) friend Gino warned me in the nick of time.

Apparently this is the ¨small one¨...we´re going to see the big ones in a couple weeks.

I´ve been doing lots and lots of singing lately, and a little song writing too. The famous Al Smith and I recorded an original song called ¨Hope for the Flowers¨(based on the book--its in the OConnor room at the Farm) in the church on Easter Sunday, and have been working on some others...what a joy.

Ranch folk enjoying a carnival after an away soccer game.

And the shitter is finally up! Look at those gorgeous rafters...

That´s all from me for now. Love you all!