Thanksgiving…across time

Long-returning friends & those here for the first time will surely be grateful for what Virginia Bodner left behind–memories; influence; gifts for eye, ear, heart & mind; and, shared here for the first time, writings just being discovered. Beyond her unassuming beauty of eye & ear, more was often going on–reflecting in tranquility, connecting heart & word, exploring the medium of expression….

She had grown up at home both in & out of her body–diving from the heights or flying off with a crow; dancing in leotards & disappearing into the music; at one with nature, in tune with her own feelings, & equally engaged in the lives of the mind, interested in the nature of the world. Her lovely, quiet voice had been partly tuned by piano, dulcimer & autoharp; more so by the elemental sounds of the encountered world; and more so still by her own heart-felt attention to the delicate life experienced.

Her quality of relation was a main source of her impact, influence & effects. Her artistic & poetic makings are of the same cloth–shared adventures, reflections, ways of tuning, feeling, asking. In the words of the old Hebrew thanksgiving song, Dayenu, “it would have been enough” to give thanks for the insight, good will & pleasure of the person.

Yet there is more to be found–& to be grateful for–in her artistic example, both practice & product, the by-product of craft, her caring attention to details. Her poetry practice (& products) were mostly in solitude–not hidden, but made & tucked away in quiet moments apart, often a form of meditation, fine-tuning not just awareness, but mood & sense of being.

Something else again comes out through the poetry, however. For one thing, she had all the tools of language, insight, and feeling required for that unlimited art. Though she studied natural sciences & teaching, she’d loved & practiced ‘language arts’ from an early age, including the oral–playing Anne Frank in high school; reciting poetry (Homer to e. e. cummings) in Cambridge, where she also discovered Tagore & Basho, along with a life partner similarly inspired, leading both to India & Japan after.

She went on discovering countless poets, poems, song-offerings & blessings since, world-wide & local alike, whether from the masters, professionals, neighbors, friends or students. Although grateful for what Yeats called “monuments of…magnificence,” she never believed the arts were meant mainly for masters & admired contemporaries alone (the 1%), but values meant for all ages & levels of sophistication.

Nor was sophistication or even knowledge key to what the arts offered, providing value-added experience as part of being human. In this, her relationship was essentially the same as with the natural world. First came a quality of attention, experience & relationship, a respect out of which interest in learning grows. Neither nature nor the arts were subjects that began or ended on or off school grounds.

She brought nature into school, while also the opposite, taking the classroom outside, restoring a little wetlands as an outdoor classroom. What had been a field of rubble & mud became a place for contemplating nature, as well as for exploring inner experience, where the arts expanded the range of response. More of that story is told on the Our Little Wetlands page. The point here is that neither nature study nor the arts were ever primarily academic to her, but active engagements in the daily life.

As a student at Radcliffe, she broke school rules to rehabilitate an injured bird (Iris) in her dorm room. Nor was this her only wild friend. When she’d left for college, she said goodbye to a rescued crow (Crocus), who’d been flying free for some time, but greeting her each morning. After an absence of about four years, Crocus showed up in the yard for her wedding.

If you knew her well, you recognize the spirit of the person. If you’ve never met her before, some such remains possible through the work left behind–especially the poetry–whether written as meditation, to/for specific readers, photo-album or to test/expand poetry’s potential.

Newcomers may want to check the earliest post below (“Hello, Friends”) for orientation to the site, a work in progress. Those especially interested in her writing will find the most examples so far on the Pen-Play page, but some also in Friends (two poems at the top) & the Poetic Discovery post below (two to take breath away), as well as a prose article in Our Little Wetlands .

~~~~   the pot is fired
~~~~~~with wood & dung
~~~~naked we enter the flames

~~~~~emerge clothed
~~~~in smoke & whispers

  

Poetic Discovery:

Those who knew the person will recognize the spirit, personality, character, and qualities of attention found in the poet being discovered here. Even those closest to her, who’d known the poet all along, lacked sense of the full scope, rich range & artistic achievement of makings she’d leave behind. Even she wouldn’t have known, one making at a time, part of living, not of a literary or artistic ‘program.’

She respected, & even loved, the craft of whatever she did, dance, music, visual arts, but arguably the writing most of all, though substance & essence were what drew her–called sincerity, in some old Chinese texts, meaning without pretense; not the concept, but the practice of wholeness, attentive to what is (worlds within, around, connected).

Her visual artwork, especially later, was mainly a kind of meditation, in this case a way of getting in touch, discovering, realizing, & expressing in outer color, movement & form what was primarily inner reality–visual, emotional, & dynamic. The variety is often startling–yet even more so in the writing being discovered, one folder, notebook, page, pile at a time.

Only a small sampling or her writing has made it up on-site so far, most being transcribed (&/or, in the case of finely penned or brushed pages, scanned) into off-line files for organizing (in time; by type; for whom; on what; within her musical & thematic sequences). A few who knew her well were familiar with her Basho-like gifts–gems of attention, sometimes called ‘haiku moments,’ a long practice, mostly in the background.

Fewer knew her deep love of music & dance, and of how these could play together in her poetry. No one knew how many musical meditations & letter-poems she’d written, let alone the artistic tours de force finished & set aside in a drawer while going on with life. It was not that she hid them, or held back from sharing, but felt no need to push them forward either.

Here are two surprising, exhilarating, energetic, deeply playful examples, each taken somewhat out of context from a different grouping. ‘divinity‘ comes from a sequence she wrote to & for her mother; ‘Downhill from here…‘ was part iv. of a gift called “Mahalo…my husband,” in this case her breath-taking take on the last stage of a shared lifecycle: 
divinity
Downhill from here

Whew! Besides the over-the-hill couple about to experience an imminent decline, the we in the last presumably includes her Plumb Lane buddy Kitty Houghton, a companion presence beside her throughout the poem & much of their childhood, starting in the same nursery (born days apart), country neighbors thereafter, part of each other’s family. Odds are it’s Kitty being quoted in “Look ma, no hands!” before their last leap– 

[The Catherine Houghton Arts Center at New Hampshire’s White Mountain School is named for Kitty–downhill skier, classical organist, jazz musician, doctor of linguistics (fluent in 6 languages), Peace Corps Nepal & U.N. Bangladesh veteran, Dept. of Commerce foreign service officer with global postings, small plane pilot on volunteer missions (e.g., Angelflights), active member of the 99’s (women pilots), school trustee & mentor…Virginia’s lifelong friend & god-mother of her son).

Kitty dropped in every so often, in later years quite literally from the sky. Landing at a little strip at town’s edge after waving at the house, one of her last stops, included 2 young Nepali women in the little cockpit, heading east to a 99’s gathering with a film on their daring mountain missions.     

Kitty’s mother, Edda, was an artist, activist & university supporter. Sam, a Harvard graduate, served a time in a state elected body. Virginia’s mother was university trained in biology. Her father, a college camping friend of Ansel Adams, had been chair of the  university biology department–before becoming a national figure of historic import in the early to mid-1950s, having to leave Plumb Lane behind (twice) in the process, first to Hawaii, then the Pacific northwest.]    


DISCOVERY #2

Like the natural world, the arts were part of Virginia’s daily living, nourishment received & experience shared. That was also part of her teaching–the art practiced as a profession, without that ever getting in the way of direct person to person relating with students, parents, colleagues.               

As a teacher of the ‘gifted,’ Virginia believed that each & every child–as well as many, if not most, adults–, had been endowed with creative gifts that deserved encouragement. Notable among these is the urge for discovery. She knew that looking closely was never a matter of the eyes only, or even primarily; seeing into the heart of things involved qualities of attention & relationship that informed her science, poetry & teaching alike, expressed also in ethical example, friendship, good will & respect.

People are accustomed to associating the sciences with search & discoveries–those in the past prelude to the all the more exciting ones on the verge & in process, just being made. Poetry, for Virginia, was equally so, starting with paying attention, from which many discoveries happen as if by themselves. Poetry provided vehicles for paying attention, making discoveries, and sharing with friends–& not one kind only.

Attention involved her whole person & could operate in various modes, sometimes simultaneously–from photographic detail out of time to sensuous movement; gem-like moment snapped from the flow to inward exploration & musical reflection. Often, the adventure was just seeing where the path might go–though sometimes, she had a particular person in mind, being written to &/or for, whether still in this world or not.

Poetry provided ways for both tuning one’s instrument & communicating more fully. The instrument tuned can be called, attention, awareness, the whole feeling-thinking-sharing being, or personal experience. As voice of the experience, the poem speaks to both writer & reader, while becoming an experience in its own right, an artistic adventure with all aspects of the medium potentially at play [line & layout; sound & sense; mood, color, visual image, texture & form; rhythms of movement & stillness; feelings & thought; imagination & memory…], mostly self-arising elements in response to the moving experience, guided by the attentive seeker. Seeking what? Not necessarily anything more than the openness itself, inner listening.

Picking up the pen & setting it in any motion on the page was an invitation to pay attention, like opening the door & setting out–to a process rich with active discovery, whether memorable or not, unusual or not, intentionally focused or to discover the path more or less step by step. Many writers have noted that it was only by writing that they knew what they thought. For Virginia, thought might not be what others think thought means.

At Inspiration, for example, the family’s one-room refuge in the northern New Mexico mountains, each visit involved a log-book entry. Hers were often a shining moment or two, images arising from the land tuned into, saying more than the words–with nothing extra or commentary. (There are lots of these entries on the Pen-Play page.) Unlike some loggers, she rarely spoke about her feelings or about what she’d noticed or thought, presenting these in the snapped moment, feelings embodied not objectified.

Now it’s we who get to make discoveries, including the excitement of finding a major poetic voice fully worth wider attention in its own right, for its own value to those who may appreciate such. Reinforced by the growing body of work, that discovery takes place in particulars–line, perception, craft, concept & experience of each part & whole.

Forever young

Forever ageless now, being all ages, though a younger face comes to view most, as if lit from within, enveloping the heart.  Ages fall away as easily with cottonwood & willow leaves. 

If you’re arriving for the first time, happy browsing in any direction–whether scrolling down or skipping around the pages. Ditto if you’re coming back to continue a chapter &/or see what’s new.

Newest additions from Virginia herself cross time-zones & personal eras–going up more or less as found, mostly on the Pen-Play Art-Play pages, as well as at the top of the Friends page, where her ‘letter-poems’ to friends have been slowly going up. Even her rough scratch-books (e.g., the green memobook just up near the top of the Pen-play page) hold a variety of treasures, including gems like: …
                         cast               released
                              the net itself
                                   singing

Cards & notes from friends cross time zones, too, some deeply personal, lasting connections (e.g., from Jan, Marlane, Cathy…). Those who knew her well are of a theme–which all may recognize. Our connections with Virginia don’t just continue–but continue to evolve & deepen, as she keeps on adding not just her own “2-cents worth” in found words, but a poetic legacy worth wider attention.

Emily Dickinson’s writing was found well organized, in keeping with her literary ambitions. Virginia Bodner’s teaching materials are that well organized, reflecting her professional engagement, but her personal writings are scattered about in memo books, notebooks, sketchbooks, drawers, boxes, cookie tins, scrap-paper piles…, letters to loved ones &, here & there, publications she herself never actively sought.

A reviewer of the poet Ramanujan’s work said recently he felt like he was reading over the writer’s shoulder. In our case, we see & feel through her eyes, with a dual sense of recognition & new discovery. As with her visual artwork &, earlier, spontaneous dance, she plays, explores, feels, considers, reflects, & intentionally shares, often at the same time.

Play may tend to predominate in bits & pieces, but even there, gems jump out, moments lit from within. One night might find in the same notebook, a page crafted for a particular person, complete in all but mailing; a meditation inspired by specific music; an experiment with form; a jewel-like embroidery of moments. Looking over her shoulder, we come not just face to face, but also heart to heart.

A long-questionable line in “Moon Shadows,” a family poem from the mid-1980’s, “as long as any of us are here, we’re all here,” has never seemed more true–or more false, as her quiet voice retains its strong impact in our lives & psyches. How can we feel & miss at the same time? Absence & presence both intense. “Don’t be sad,” she said one night recently. “I’m here. I love you.” How like her….

Hello, friends!

Welcome to Celebrating Virginia Bodner! Most of you will probably know many reasons to do so, yet few, if any, will know all. Even those who’ve loved & admired her–along with her makings & effects in this world–have realized all the more about her spirit & gifts as she passed from it–in one sense. As an inspiring force, her presence doesn’t just remain, but grows.

We invite you to participate. Share whatever thoughts, photos, experiences that remembering Virginia/ Ginny/ Gin/ Nature Girl/ Mrs. B./ Mom/ friend (however you think of or call her) suggests, either through the comment box below (moderated to skim out spam) or via bodlibrary2017@gmail.com.

Pages are up for the work of her brush, pen and friends–especially things recently shared or discovered. We hope to continue adding Virginia’s:
~~~Poetry (snap-verse, weathergrams, haiku–& beyond…)
~~~Artworks (see Alice’s Gallery for now…)
~~~Nature thoughts & writings (Mud-Puddle Marsh, etc.)
~~~Biography (a most amazing life…, with many surprises)
~~~On-going Initiatives (outdoor classroom/ Wetlands, etc.)
~~~Dear Friends (co-conspirators, i.e., YOU, us, etc.)

On return visits, you may find not just more offerings from others who have known, been inspired, and loved Virginia, but new offerings from her just going up–as fresh now as when they were first experienced, penned, drawn, &/or photographed. You’re certain to find plenty of surprises among them, as in her biography. When returning, you may want to check for more recent additions to the seemingly bottomless page by scrolling down to check for new sections from the bottom up, as well as from top down.

She did more than appreciate variety & diversity, loving the world in its unique particulars. Her love for individuals & arts, once experienced, made for lifelong relations. Not to put a halo on her once blonde head, just being honest about it–the joy & beauty she found from girlhood on in nature (as participant, student & teacher), she also found in the arts (as participant, recipient, do-er, helper) and in persons.

In both nature & art, she shared what she loved with others for the values found there. If her relationships showed integrity, sincerity, honesty, good will; attentiveness, intuition, & genuine feeling, she also had a few lacks: lack of self-consciousness, self-promotion, hidden agendas & personal ambition, for example. (Again, this simply describes what those who knew her well will recognize.)

When it came to teaching, Virginia held nothing back, sharing wonders & treasures with children, teachers she mentored & worked with, and parents (whose perspectives & caring she identified with, as she also did with students). “Thank you for being there for us,” more than one group wrote in a parting note. She was there for them, which is why many parents were grateful, too. She gave and exchanged without reserve, including evening hours at home & weekends at the cabin devoted to reflection & planning.

As in how she engaged in collaborative arts like drama, dance, music-making, & linked-poetry, she neither held back, nor over-pushed, but delivered when asked. Given the impact of her “Anne Frank” performance in high school, as well abilities with piano, plus her enjoyment of painting & poetry, she could easily have gone professional in almost any of the arts, yet she majored in biology, and chose teaching as her main practice.

She never lost touch with the arts, however, whether encouraging her students or practicing them herself “on the side,” as recreation. What she didn’t do was try to push her own creations forward to a wider audience or to make something more out of them (like career or reputation) beyond the primary making. Little, if any, or her drama, dance & music survive, except in some memories, but in her retirement years, the visual work flowed, with more examples up shortly for your enjoyment. Most have never been seen or exhibited before. They were made the way she might make up a song or dance to express the occasion.

If she’d been a jazz musician, she’d have enjoyed joining in for the joy of the music & the playing together, with no thoughts towards producing a record or booking a performance. It was the doing, the playing & sharing that had primary value. Not that she objected to wider sharing or tangible productions that might bring value to others; these just weren’t part of her ordinary agenda or personal repertoire. She left such things to others.

The same applied to her poetry, impressive expressions & expressive impressions at the same time. Not that sought to impress anyone. The only way a verse of hers could be named a “Grand Prize Winner” (described as “best haiku of the year in English”) was by having been sent off by her husband. Though she never sent any writing off for publication herself, others close to her did, including a few linked-poetry co-consirators.

Her short poems of the moment often resonate as if in a quantum state–at once expressive impression & impressive expression. Hers were like that, the impression of a moment registered with feelings intact, often scribbled on scraps of paper or in notebooks tucked away, some just now turning up. Among these are not just the haiku-like, but also the more personally voiced, thoughtful, and/or dream-based.

There are a few examples where she played a more active role in drafting, selecting & tweaking material for publication, even if someone else did the actual sending. These were in response to direct requests, e.g., the article she co-wrote for Orion Afield, and the entries submitted to her college class’ anniversary reports (the last just published in May 2019, an especially noteworthy weaving of prose, verse & autobiographical reflection). These will go up as clickable Pdf.’s, as soon as possible.

She was never fond of deadlines, or of having to finish, though willing to help others faced with such dilemmas–offering responses to someone else’s “almost last drafts,” for example.

Alas, we didn’t have her help in drafting the notice for the local paper, a challenge that required serious efforts from all three named “survivors.”  Any way it’s sliced, diced, chopped & blended, it far from does the person justice. It’s also an unsatisfying format which the newspaper then mucked about with to conform its own template–even moving parts about.  

Given the venue, it was aimed primarily for Virginia’s local friends and former students. Each item deserves expansion, e.g., her web of friends and extended family. We hope no one will mind having been grouped together instead of individually identified. As for the life at the center, hers was far too amazing & full of interesting surprises to fit in any conventional format.   

CLICK TO OPEN:   Virginia-Bodner-Obituary (for/from Optic) 

Besides mucking about with the text & paragraphing, the newspaper also squeezed text into unreadably narrow columns, extending the “column inches.” Of course we were amateurs at the form. In retrospect, it might have been more useful to keep it extremely short, with hardly any biographical material, to direct readers to this website all the more clearly. “Live & learn.”  

Gus questioned the “happiest years” statement included, by the way, suggesting we should add an “among,” since other years could also qualify, e.g., some in her childhood. Yes, that was so, as well as her times as student, young explorer, bride, mother, etc. She never really ran out of happiest years, though coping with three decades of Parkinson’s side effects (like tremor & balance issues) took a toll.

When things got tough, however, that made bright spots all the happier–as in the active adventures of her last years with loved ones. If she couldn’t climb Hermit’s Peak with her kids any more the way she had at 50, well a more modest walk or time at the gym could still make her and her companions happy. Not the happiest of a lifetime with so many exilarating peaks, perhaps, unless you factor these into the embedded memory.

High spots may be shared on site by & for her wider circle of friends, left in the COMMENTS box, below, or sent via email at bodlibrary2017@gmail.com, for adding to the “Friends” page. (See menu.)