Reflections and notes on the relationship of art to nature and of nature to art from along Warwoman Creek, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Katuah Province of Turtle Island, where the light, the dark, the seasons, the time of deep past, deep present and deep future all mix in alchemal mists to reveal and hide and transform these slopes, shaded coves, bright rivers, deep forests and me, and together sustain me and my art.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

New iBook Just published!

A new interactive book of my poems, paintings, photos, video, and spoken word.

A book for this season, the season of wintering - an interactive book of my poems, paintings, photographs, video, and spoken word.  A meditation on winter, and wintering.

These words and images - two sides of the same coin, tumbling in a great river - bearing witness to the Creation. I’ll meet you there.

This book is available for download with iBooks on your Mac or iPad, and with iTunes on your computer. Multi-touch books can be read with iBooks on your Mac or iPad. Books with interactive features may work best on an iPad.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


of Place, Attention. and Attraction

(Drawing from Our Own True Nature - Part 3)

Place is the first of all beings, since everything that exists is in a place and
cannot exist without a place.

- Archytas ‘Commentary on Aristotle's Categories’

A place for everything, and everything in its place

"The question is not what you look at —
but how you look and whether you see."
- Thoreau

There is a center to all this
and it’s all in a place

So, how do we do this - draw from our own true nature?

It begins in a place,
in a way of being in a place,
and a way of being in place there (1).

Come, follow me out the door and into the woods behind my house. 

It is a warm, sun shining mid October afternoon as we step off the dirt road and cross the verge of drying grass rustling beneath our shoes. Asters, the palest of blue now, mingle among the bending stems. We push through the thicket of Rhododendron, push long trailing branches aside, and step from the outside of warm sunlight on our face into the inside of cool dancing shadows of deep umbers and dark greens. The moist aroma of humus envelopes us, and we feel we have stepped from the outside of something into the inside of something else.

Scattered at our feet are pale yellow leaves Hornbeam, some of the first to fall this time of year. In this place sunlight still comes, but only splintered pieces of it, shaped like blades scattered here and there on Rhododendron leaves, shards of that whole sky we felt outside on the road. Its light still carries the blueness of a sky now far above us. Here below, it is the shadows that draw us in.

A fallen and rotting Maple tree lays here, its punky old body slowly sinking into itself, but still ample and fat enough to sit on. We sit and it is only now that the tinkle of a nearby branch of water comes to us. What is it about intimate places that often open our ears? We take off our shoes and socks, and now we feel the cool moisture that nurtures the forest floor, and so too much of the life around us here. We stand up and begin to walk, slowly and with care (2). Along with the coolness coming up through our soles, we feel the particular dry texture of a small cluster of pine needles, the slick smooth of fallen Rhododendron leaves, the crumble of pieces of bark, the tickle of a shiny black beetle scurrying out from beneath, the pillowy softening of moss. We feel where the ground softly rises to our foot, and where it comes up hard. This last tells of a trail, a path, and we follow.

Paths always go somewhere. It’s in their nature. We know this, so we look ahead to see where. It meanders and wanders away from us until it’s trace gradually disappears among what seems a meaningless tangle of Laurel, Hemlock, Oak Hickory, and countless others. We follow, and in following the trail opens up before us, and in following we follow the impress of generations of other creatures coming along this very same way, leaving their impressed pressure of passing, of goings and comings to some felt need or urge, or even curiosity.

Follow this passing of beings and see that they and we together are making a way up into a deep fold between two high ridges, along with a small gurgling stream that is tracing its own path back downward. Along its water born path stand tall sentinel Hemlocks firmly anchoring its banks, some six feet in diameter and several hundred years old. They are all dying now from a blight (3). One soft foot step after another we slowly make our way, stepping between the catastrophe of dead limbs scattered around the dying, feeling for the firmness of the trail through our soles more than looking for it.

Suddenly the bower of arching Rhododendron thicket gives way to opening woods. The land rises here and our breathing deepens. Tall trees spread out across an open slope that reaches down from the ridge, spreads out, and then gently pushes the path of the stream it into a wide curve around. Oak and Hickory reach far above. Beneath them in the vast airy understory weave spindly, wispy saplings of Holly, Sassafras, Mountain Maple, and Poplar. Standing at the edge of this open half moon shape between slope and stream, on our backs, on the nape of our necks, feel the gentle stir of air flowing up the cove with the warming day. Rat-at-tat-tat! A wood pecker startles us. Its sound fills the cove and fills ourselves. Echoes off the slopes on either side almost give us the shape of this cove (4) .This is a conversation - woodpecker calls - we listen - the hills echo - then we hear the shape of this place. We are startled because hearing is so intimate. It makes us vulnerable (5). We become a little more attentive to surprises.

Before us, the trail heads straight through this open place, as if in a hurry to reach the thicket of Laurel farther on, as if all who pass this way know to seek some security beyond. Its imprint in the soft earth makes a deep furrow in the soft earth and tells us this is a very old line of passage drawn through these woods.

We pause. At our feet notice the almond shaped tracks pressed neatly into the earth, paired two by two where a deer has stood here too and paused, just like us. All who have passed this way have and known that this is a place. It will open up all around us, and if we step into it we too will come into its center, its focal point, and be revealed.

There is a center to all this
and it’s all in attention

Walk out into the opening, feel the spaciousness spread out around us. Discover a place to settle, to sit a while. Sit. Feel this place come to us, slowly in wave after wave of subtle awareness - the crackling of dry leaves beneath us, the fluttering of pale leaves falling, the way they catch on their way down threads of stray sunlight here and there. Odd paths they make through the air, twirling, twisting, tumbling in arabesques in such silence in such long slow falls to earth. Slowly it comes to us in wave after wave of growing awareness. This is an opening too. Time loosens and slows now, perhaps because we are no longing moving, perhaps because it seems a place that is holding a slow sense of time to itself. Here, in this particular place in the woods, everything seems to come to rest in its own place around us - a place for every thing and every thing in its place - a kind of fullness, an arrival of a completeness. This makes it more than a fragment or shard of something larger. This place opens ourselves too, urging us to attend to here and now. It’s a long now (6).

Hear the too-wit of a bird, unseen. It is calling, or perhaps it’s just so delighted about something within its own self it has to send a song out.


            Take off all
            your clothed and
            clammy thoughts.

            Sit awhile.

            Make nothing up
            between the intervals of silence,
            but listen to them.

            Between each breath
            is a song you’ve forgotten,
            is always calling us
            to gather to this wild
            and shocking world.

            This music happens to us
            before we can ever think about it

            this song happens in us
            before we can ever say it’s impossible

            to listen before we speak
            of nothing or everything.

Sit a while and gently reach out with eyes and ears and nose, to see and hear and smell more - the tang of Hemlock resin, the textured pattern of light and shadow of bark and leaf, the tangled lines of trunk, limb, branch and twig all drawn out and tending in long sinuous wanderings outward and finally upward. Notice that this is what turns this jumbled, snarled tangle of things into a meaningful pattern. This happens between us - leaf, twig, branch, or human, all searching, all urged through this tangle of life.

With the impress of this, take a deep slow breath now, settle once more on pelvis (7).

                OUR BREATHS EACH TIME

                Our breaths each time
                reach out and come back.

                They must so love the world
                they always go back
                for more.

                Or perhaps I’ve gotten this
                all wrong. This breath’s
                not ours at all, but the world’s.

                The world’s searching deep
                into our opened chest
                and then pulling back
                for more.

                This tide,
                in its gravity of care
                is drawing us on forever.

We open our eyes. Ask permission of this place to be here, not just in thought, but out loud, loud enough to feel its sound resonate in the chest. Say it with respect, as if meeting someone of importance for the very first time. This returns us to the conversation. Say “hello” to the ground we’ve already sat down upon, to the pale grey green ruffled lichen clasped to the side of a Red Oak, to the dangling Sassafras leaf turning orange upon the branch. Say “It’s nice to meet you” to the purple 
Gentian pushing up through the leaf litter. Ask permission to be here with each of them. Now feel the body gradually relax - this is our reply (8).

There is a center to all this
and it’s all in its attraction

We sit a while longer, letting our eyes wander, following wherever they lead us. Patterns surface around us, then submerge one into another. The rough crusty edge of bark on a Shagbark Hickory leads us upward along its trunk to turn around a boll, twist into whirling grain toward its center. Spangled dots of soft yellow Hornbeam leaves drift through the airy understory and trace a dotted curve and dissolve beneath deep shadows under a Hemlock.

Notice how the patterns hold our attention, some more than others, and how they draw us into them. We feel drawn to these again and again, and as we are, we feel more and more relaxed (9). They attract us and become themselves centers of attention- and this too is a conversation. Here around this center of our being here, we discover other centers, the spirally grain on a tree boll, the unwrapping, rewrapping of purple Gentian petals, the star like clusters of tiny Asters up on the hillside. In offering our awareness to them, they have replied in offering some quality of themselves to us.

From high up in the canopy above us one Poplar leaf separates, descends and falls, like a stray thought gently into our lap. Held in our hand, its broad delicate sweep of pale yellow matches the breadth of our hand. Its creased veins reach out from midrib to margin alternating just like that of the tall tree itself. They crisscross those in our hand beneath.

See through the lamina of its gathered light, through its life lines of veins to our own beneath. The layers of life are permeable. One hand beneath another, both gathering one life through another, one life coming through another, lines of life cross. Along our mutual edge the margins crumble, the lingering light reveals that edge where one thing always becomes another is what we are here in relation to this edge of being. These layers come to us because we see them in ourselves.

Take slow deep breaths now and draw in the warm scents of mid day drying forest leaves. Realize that each scent we breathe in consists of a group of molecules sent to us from each particular living being that we are now physically absorbing into our bodies, and thus actually becoming part of us. Consider that every breath of air we breathe in has been breathed before, many, many times before - by that deer that paused before we came to the edge of the forest opening, by that Woodpecker, by that song bird singing too-wit, by that Poplar tree, even once long ago by Socrates, even before that by mastodons (10).

We close our eyes now, and in our mind smell those scents, see the colors, touch those textures, and follow those patterns and rhythms. Let them emerge and submerge one into another. Notice how they entwine with our thoughts, indeed become our thoughts just as those scents have become part of our bodies. Notice that that this is no longer a strange land, no longer a tangle, but now a familiar place of patterns we recognize. This is a conversation attracting us to what we share, what is living and wants to live within us, and us in them. This is a center and we are attracted to it (11).

Open your eyes, but only softly. Reach for a pencil and notebook we’ve brought. Open it and begin to gently trace the patterns we’ve sensed and felt. This too becomes a conversation, like any genuine conversation in which we cannot know where it will lead us. We just join in. Notice now how we are following something, following toward something. Our lines echo one another over and over again, retracing, remembering one another, and another deeper pattern. We are drawing closer. And it pleases us!

We close our notebook, take a deep slow breath, and feel a fullness fill us. It feels whole. We respond by feeling whole ourselves. Standing up, we turn slowly around, scanning the immensity surrounding us. Notice those patterns and rhythms we drew from it all now looking back at us life familiar friends, smiling. No longer the maze we confronted when we entered the forest, it is now a labyrinth of meaning we’ve met (12). We remember David Waggoner’s poem “Lost”:

            Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
            Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
            And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
            Must ask permission to know it and be known.
            The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
            I have made this place around you,
            If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
            No two trees are the same to Raven.
            No two branches are the same to Wren.
            If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
            You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
            Where you are. You must let it find you.

We say “thank you” out loud, and begin slowly to amble back down the path we’ve come, refreshed.

* * *

We are all standing together on a branch of all life. This place, the Sun, moon, mountains, rivers, the leaves turning and falling in mid October, your breath, your reach and seeing - all are the drawing of being in and out, the art of what is. Long before our species was born, this drawing had been drawn. It is still being drawn. Each sunrise attests to it, each rustle of leaf, each breath of wind against our face. We live in it, each one of us, now. We can add to it, or we can try; we can also subtract from it. We are the only species given this two sided gift. We can chop it down, incinerate, strip mine, poison, and bury it like feces. But we don’t create it. We didn’t create it. If we destroy it, we can’t replace it. In a perverse imitation of God the creator of life, we have often become such un-creators.

Drawing, culture, pattern, these nutrient centers all about us, aren’t man-made. Even the culture of humans is not man-made; it is just the human part of the culture of the whole. We, and all we make of it are as much a part of nature as the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans (13).

When you look, and listen, think and speak directly and draw intently into and from this, something beautiful happens. This something is called art. If you think that way, speak and draw that way, this drawing then gets into your hand and heart. If people see and hear you, it gets into their eyes and ears, minds and hearts. But the art exists anyway. The only question is - are you going to take part in this great drawing song lifting over the mountain, out along the river, through the streaming night, in the teeming caverns of cities, and if so, how? (14)


1  Actually being in place is rare and not something we are familiar with to a large extent any more. Urbanized and industrially configured places have largely reshaped our relationship to place and thus to being there. Such places are shaped to their function, not for inhabiting them. Among the few left to us are places of religious worship, sports stadia, cemeteries, national monuments and parks. The rest have mostly become spaces of utility, of use, spaces in which things take place, not being.
2  Walking barefoot is one of those really simple things you can do to change your relationship to the land. Literally, you have to walk with respect - rocks and pebbles especially demand it of you. 
3  An adelgid creature is moving south along the Appalachian chain and feeding on Hemlock, destined to kill them all and drastically change the ecology of riparian and riverine zones of life.
4 Sound helps create sense of place. The way it does is wonderfully evoked in The Last Quiet Place
5 While we can refuse to see what’s right in front of us, we can’t refuse the sounds that come to us. The open space of woods might appear to be seen as out there, but the sound of it happens in our ears, within us, and we are made a little more vulnerable, a little more attentive to surprises. 
6 In our own lines of daily passage, we move through many spaces, some have names, many do not. But some are places - this open space beneath towering trees we immediately recognize as a place especially its own in some way. It seems entire in some way. It seems whole. Here its dimensions unfolding in sight, scent and sound wrap around this place and belong to it. It is unmistakably alive, seamlessly in and of itself, way beyond ourselves and our human concerns. But this is important - this awareness of aliveness happens within ourselves. In this one moment we recognize it is some part of ourselves as well. In this moment we literally breathe it in with each breath. In this same moment a fissure rises too within us - how we are both part of all this and strangely separate, how this would not happen without our being here now along this path, how a part of ourselves would not arise to awareness without our being here. This rarely if ever is true at the office, the store, the expressway always on our way to some place else. 
7 It can be difficult to give ourselves over to a place, to shake off self possession; we are so often turned back upon our separate selves, to live in our wandering minds and chatter to ourselves about how to make the world work for us. But slow, deep breaths can often return us to being in place. 
8 This ritual of “talking to trees” can seem oddly uncomfortable, just as it does when we meet a stranger on the street unsure of their intentions, uncertain of what may come from the meeting. But out here in the woods no tree is going to assault you, even with an angry reproach. Asking permission out loud to be here as if everything here could hear it, moves our intentions from inside ourselves out into the world’s public space. It makes it public (and we feel it this way), makes it more real for this,and encourages our actions to follow our intentions . In doing this, we have subtly shifted our relationship to our surroundings from an I - It, toward the I - Thou relationship Martin Buber has written of. This changes how we see, smell, touch, and most importantly, how we know. For some of us, this can seem blasphemous in some vaguely uncomfortable way. It can conjure for us so called primitive people superstitiously believing they can actually speak to “spirits” in trees. We are not going that far here. We are just directly acknowledging our presence to other living creatures, and accepting the scientific fact that they too sense their environment and are capable of responding to it. They may not respond like a bird, or even by the snort of a startled deer, but they do in myriad ways carry on a conversation with other creatures in their surroundings. Just one of our own ways as humans is to speak. 
Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being, by Esther Sternberg reports how endorphins are released when we are in a pleasing place.
 10 There is a reason breath features so prominently in this walk in the woods. In a way “The the soul of the visible landscape, the secret realm from whence all beings draw their nourishment. As the very mystery of the living present, it is the most intimate absence from whence the present presences, and thus a key to the forgotten presence of the earth,” and so offers us a direct path back into its presence. So David Abrams introduces us to the fascinating role air and breath plays in our awareness and in our cultural his chapter “The Forgetting and Remembering of the Air,” in his The Spell of the Sensuous (1996) 
11 There is a center to all this and we are attracted to it. With practice we can feel its pull growing in us. In their work, painters and drawers daily feel this pull of attraction between shapes and the spaces between them. They really couldn’t do without that perception - It’s what enables them to create meaningful relationships in their work. 
The natural world, including our own inner nature, contains attractions, that hold it meaningfully together and sustain it in balance. We are drawn to these meanings, this balance. When we experience ourselves as being ‘in place’ When we actually notice what our seeing experience is like, we become aware that we are in the center of a pool that moves out all around us. There is no latitude and longitude, no intersection of streets, no house number to our location. This is a center of a field of experience. This is perhaps why when we meet something there is the experience that they have come to us - they have approached into our field of experience. For an artist, the spaces between are electrified and charged. When we experience a reciprocal meeting with something else in this concentric field around us, we realize that they too are at their own center of experience, and so when we meet our two centers interact, our fields overlap and a moire pattern is created.  There is mutual attraction. In the natural world there is an especially charged attraction between these centers. Physics has come to know that this happens at all scales of existence, from the sub atomic to the planetary. 
12 We have been taught that images are like pictures, either before us in the world or in our “mind’s eye.” But the images we experience are rarely static - they change as we experience them. It is much more accurate to say that we see/experience through images, and in this sense images are very much a medium we live within. And because images seemingly "out there" change us, warm red increasing our heart rate for example, images are an important intermediary between nature and ourselves. 
13 “We, and all we make of it are as much a part of nature as the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans” seems a radical statement in our world and in our time. For much of our human history it was not. Our contemporary concepts of psychology are cleaved along the lines of Freud and Jung. Freud accepted that we are estranged from the world (note his Civilization and its Discontent), but Jung gave us the concept of psyche as not something hidden unconsciously inside our individual selves somewhere, but that it we with our conscious minds that are inside a psyche that is alive all around us in nature.
14 Some of the content, and many of the words in these last three paragraphs, are rudely and crudely appropriated and recast from Robert Bringhurst’s brilliant essay "Poetry and Thinking," in his The Tree of Meaning: Language, Mind and Ecology (2006), p. 143.

All I’ve described here might be subsumed under the concept of ‘embodied knowledge’ - that feeling, sense experience, proprioception and perception, are not just subjective, but part of the circuit of real meaning circulating through our embodied experience with the world. This runs counter to much of the mechanistic view of traditional psychology, art practice, science, and philosophy. But there is a growing body in all these fields that does reflect what shamen, poets and singers have always known. Here is a short list of sources that explore this current body of knowledge:

The practice of experience in nature:

Alexander, Christopher, “The Practical Matter of Forging a Living Center,” chapter 5, The Nature of Order: Book Four: The Luminous Ground, 2004, Center for Environmental Structure, Berkeley Calif.

Brown, Tom, Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking, 1977

Hempton, Gordon, One Square Inch of Silence, 2009

Macy, Joanna, Coming Back to Life, 2013

Nicolaides, Kimon, The Natural Way to Draw, 1941/1969

Rezendes, Paul, Tarcher, Jeremy, The Wild Within, 1998,

Woodard, Honor, the photographic work (a contemporary artist working very deep into embodied knowledge, but whose work is largely unavailable except through web pages - see her personal blog Silvermoonfrog for a taste).

The psychology of experience and consciousness entangled with nature:

Abrams, David, The Spell of the Sensuous, 1996 and  Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, 2010

Arnheim, Visual Thinking, and Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye, (1954)

Benediktsson and Lund, Conversations with Landscape, 2010 (“Introduction online”)

Gendlin, E. Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning:A Philosophical and Psychological Approach to the Subjective, 1962

Nicholsen, Shierry Weber, The Love of Nature and the End of the World, 2002

Reed, Edward S., Encountering the World: Toward an Ecological Psychology, (1994)

Sewall, Laura, Sight and Sensibility: the Ecopsychology of Perception, 1999

The science of the the entanglement of consciousness with nature:

Bateson, Gregory,  Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, 1979

Bohm, David,  Wholeness and The Implicate Order, 1980

Edelman,  G . A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination, 2000

Gibson, James J., The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, 1986

Konner, Melvin,  The Tangled Wing: Biological Restraints on the Human Spirit, 2002

Margulis, Lynn,  What is Life? 1995, and Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution, 2008

Maturana and Varela, The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding (1998)

Maturana, Autopoieses and Cognition: The Realization of the Living, 1980 

Prigogine and Stengers, Order Out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue with Nature:  p. 83: "Nature must be described in such a way that man's very existence becomes understandable. Otherwise, and this is what happens in the mechanistic world view, the scientific description of nature will have its counterpart in man as an automaton endowed with a soul and thereby alien to nature."

Tucker, Don, Mind from Body: Experience from Neural Structure, 2007

Varela, Francisco, The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, 1993

The philosophy of the entanglement of consciousness with nature:

Bringhurst, Robert, The Tree of Meaning: Language, Mind and Ecology, 2009

Cronin, William Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, 1996

Dewey, John,  Experience and Nature, 1958 and Art as Experience, 1934

Harding, Stephen, Animate Earth, 2006

James, William, The Principles of Psychology, (1850/1950)

Johnson, Mark, The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding, 2007

Jung, C. G., The Earth Has a Soul: The Nature Writings of C.G. Jung, 2002, edited by Meredith Sabini,

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice,  “Eye and Mind” in The Primacy of Perception, 1964, and Phenomenology of Perception, 1962

Roszak, Theodore, The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology,1992

Whitehead, A. N., Science and the Modern World, 1925 and Process and Reality, 1929

Sunday, October 20, 2013


This Line Drawn

We pick up a piece of charred willow,
wrap our fingered sense
around it, its body soft as silk,
and draw from the arch
of a bison’s back
across a curve of wall
in the amber flare of tallow light.

In this amber flare of tallow light
is our line too
in this chambered hour
of now
drawn deep into the heart
of something else
that has always been

following all the dead
into the night,
behind the eyes
in this mind’s eye
in the light of this

this line
blown perhaps with ash
by breath through reed
where no light comes at last
but into the dream that opens
like a flower of night
reaching, reaching,
again and again.

We draw, and are drawn into
the wild body
the animal body
the dream body
the vegetative body
nature’s body
rooted in heaven’s earth,
heaven’s earth
rooted in nature’s body,

the wild flame
the animal dance
the dream song’s breath
the rhizome’s circling
the greening flow
under the great tree.

© Laurence Holden 2013

Saturday, September 14, 2013

"September Mountain"

"September Mountain" 2013
porcelain, 13"h. x 9"w.
wood fired in The Hambidge Center Anagama Kiln
September, 2013 under direction of kiln master "Tamba" Egan.

"Tamba" pulling "September Mountain" out of the kiln this morning:

Saturday, August 24, 2013


- for my drawing students

It’s simple, really

we look
we listen
we draw upon
our looking and listening

each day
alone, together
in our pool of light and shadow:
these mountains, these rivers
our selves

where form is never more
than the revelation of content
leaning into the light
leaning into the dark

to where the singing comes from,
ardent, longing,
as a river that knows
where it’s going.

            SEEING, CREATING
                    - to be read to my students in drawing class

            Seeing, creating,
            it is an endless quest
            for it is going nowhere in space or time,
            only deeper into the presence.
            There is grace in this.

            It is the grace of knowing
            that our consciousness and the light
            are always arriving in this world

These two poems were written for a college course I taught long ago. They were meant to introduce my students to a skilled way of knowing that in important ways was already their own. I was introduced to it by a teacher even longer ago, and he by his teacher before that. This lineage is old, very old, at least as old as the painters of the Lascaux caves. But the skills and issues it raises are still relevant - more crucially so these days than ever (1).

What could it mean to draw from our own true nature? After all, what is our true nature? It is a deep and often troubling question. For a long time now we seem to always be at war with ourselves and each other over it. Now the question of our very survival as a species questions what it means for us.

Drawing from our own true nature is a way of knowing:

 - soaked in the senses, all of them - the six listed in textbooks as well as all the others that hover ephemerally along the edges of our consciousness.

 - never opposed to any of them and never detaching itself from the lived experience of breathing, smelling, touching, feeling, seeing.

 - that happens in an experienced place, not a generalized space, but a specific place centered all about you. It is a center in which not only you move, but everything else does too. A consciousness moves and connects through this experience.

- not dependent on concepts, facts, or perspective. It is a knowledge that emerges from the personal process of living through the body. It is embodied knowledge. We all have it. We always have.

When I say we can draw from our own true nature I am implying much more than a nature we own or possess by ourselves. I am saying it is much more than even ours. What is drawn from the yearning line along the edges of a beech tree is also drawn out from within us and our own lives. What is drawn from a tree, a leaf, a stone, a cloud, a river, is also drawn from within us - and it is one contiguous line. Nature speaks to us and our inner nature replies. This line is where our own true nature leads us home - to ourselves and to the world.

Eye and hand and heart connect. Knowing courses through this as a river. It is not forgetting what we think we know, or what we’ve been told or taught. It is only a setting aside of this while we attend and connect. All that other is still ours, but comes back to us reshaped, tempered by what we truly know by touch and feel, seeing and listening. I can say it draws to us our own true nature because it draws from a nature that is all around us, of which we are each very much part, and which is very much part of us. We are in dire need of this re-centered perspective today. The natural world we were bequeathed writhes in rejection of what we have done to her: the toxic air and water, the injection of CO2 to cripple the subtle equilibrium of life enabling climate, massive deforestation upsetting weather patterns and the global water cycle, vast petrochemical agriculture that has sterilized that top six inches of top soil so teeming with life.

If this was just a way to delight in the senses and in the body, it would only be self limiting, delusional hedonism. But drawing from our own true nature is not navel gazing. It is engagement with the world. Our body of senses inhabits the larger world, and is in constant and permeable dialogue with it. The world, reality, our senses, our individual selves, are all tuned to, shaped for, developed for this one song that is Creation. We are all its music, part of its line. None of us - stone, star, wind, or child, is separate, dominant, or different. Each one of us, like each stone in the river, carries the shape worn by the moving river of life. We carry the shapes of this in all our yearnings, hopes, dreamings, loves, and fears. Touch, smell, listening, feeling, seeing - they are all reciprocal - a conversation of exchange. We touch and are thereby touched by. We see and are seen by. And perhaps at the farthest reach of conjecture we are even thought by.

To draw from a stone in the river is to draw on that intimate and vital conversation - the world inside us is the inside of nature. This turns our accustomed perspective inside out. We in the modern western world got it all very wrong when we split the conscious from the unconscious, when Descartes split res extensa from res cogitans. We have  forgotten the “con” in consciousness - the “with” of it. We did get lovely highways with scenic overlooks, Walmarts, behemoth medical and military industries, a hierarchical social structure of power, oppression and privilege. But we also acquired the loss of nature and with that some important loss within ourselves of something essential to our very human potential (2).

So, how do we do this - draw from our own true nature? It begins as simply as my opening poem presents. And if you have been wondering all along what strictly I might have meant by “drawing,” I’ve meant just as precisely among all the meanings - pick up a stick of charcoal (willow is the best) (3), and draw! Draw me the Creation! (4) It will connect your mind, your eye, your touch, your heart in a way that makes real sense. It’s a river that knows where it’s going. I’ll meet you there.


1.  Climate change, global warming, the sixth great extinction of species we are entering now, will, like dominoes, change much of what we think we know - socially, politically, economically, religiously, spiritually. It’s not as if we’ll just adjust our summer fashions to suit the change of weather.

2.  There is a long shelf of books on this alienation. If I were to arrange the most contemporary ones I would start on the left with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) and on the far right Bill McKibben’s 2006 book The End of Nature. and somewhere In the middle would be David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous (1997), along with Joan Halifax’s The Fruitful Darkness (1993).

3. Cut from the dead branch of a willow you know along a river you know, and charred.

4. As a poet I know how words can follow a line too. I take this, and have adapted it, from Venerable Bede’s 7th century biography of Caedmon, the first English poet we know by name. Caedmon was at dinner one night with friends. Afterwards, as the harp was being passed around for each guest to offer a song, embarrassed by his lack of skill, he excused himself to look after the animals. In the barn he fell asleep, and in a dream an angel came to him and said “Caedmon sing me the Creation” (in the Anglo-Saxon: “Caedmon sing me Frumsceaft!”). And so, in his dream he did, going the next day to a nearby monastery to ask for it to be written down - and so began the long line of written English lyric poetry.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013



At this river
I touch the flood
of Spring.

I do not know
the end of this,
nor how it begins:

the dead
and the living
swept along

the crested
plume of it,
the trouble

the muddied
loss, the loosened

how it is
a song
that trembles

a torrential

of things
we never expect
or fathom.

©Laurence Holden, 2013

Monday, June 3, 2013



of coming light
trace Pine along the far ridge
untethered above the mist.
Just a chimera

in and out of sight,
in and out of existence, as if playing
with the idea of being
and not being. River too

does this,
but in her own way
taking everything with her
but never leaving. We too,

in our own way, believing,
unbelieving, hoping
and refusing hope, singing
and crying. I have not

spoken of such things
in a long while now. Could not,
my mouth stuffed with rocks
and sand, so much
not understood. I could

have drowned, not knowing
how mountains and rivers move,
rise and fall in an instant
here and now, for all

in the quick arrow
of light loosed
upon this world. Everything

we could not know
changes, yet remains the same.

©Laurence Holden, 2013

Sunday, April 21, 2013


                                          THIS FLOOD OF SPRING

                                          I touch
                                         This flood of spring
                                         Trembling nakedly
                                         Pouring out of silence

                                         This life
                                         Once more

                                         It screams
                                         A call
                                         That pierces
                                         My unhearing ear

                                         That would believe
                                         That winter is the one
                                         True end for us.

Monday, April 15, 2013


This is the way it is:

I live at the foot of Rainy Mountain. It is dreaming of a fullness that has always been.  Below me runs Warwoman Creek, singing of a coming and going that has always been. The Reindeer Age has come and gone, and so too the sorcerers of Les Trois Frères. I have been painting and writing about the river and the mountain now for 12 years.


Michelangelo has dropped his chisel, its edge chipped and long worn away. He has walked away into the ever more, dreaming of it in Carrara marble dust.

Rembrandt has used his thumb to smear the light below an eye, to smudge its clarity, and bring it back into the rough and tumbling, sighing world.

It is a late August afternoon near Arles. and Vincent is trudging home along the graveled road, leaning into the rising mistral, his paint box strung on his back. The mistral has muddled all the light. Later, Frances Bacon remembers this moment as still and forever.
In his last studio, wanting the light to only come from the sky, Claude removes his green tinted glasses to see through the last of the paintings for the L’Orangerie. In a way he does not recognize, the sorcerers of Les Trois Frères are still there, shimmering in the light that were water lilies.

In the silence of the chapel, Henri, in his robe, reaches out with his charcoal fastened to a long stick, high up onto the wall to make an arching mark that echoes the back of an auroch, but which will become too, the slope of a mendicants robe

Bill, in the cool winter light of his Long Island studio, a wide house painter’s brush in one hand, a spatula in the other, moves quickly toward a large canvas. He leans forward over his right foot, stabbing his brush forward into the wet paint and shoves it up in an arc over, over, then down, trailing, twisting into a point. He leans back over his left foot and says NO! and with his other hand round the spatula sweeps away this last trailing gesture of how things are - always coming, always going. Life rises, falls, lifts and expands, and falls again.

In the Lascaux caves, along Via Ghibellina, on Breestraat street, at Giverny, in Provence, out on Long Island, the image is still, yet always moving in the yearning eye. The words are moving, yet echo a still and abiding presence. There is an emptiness that remains in always, a silence refusing encryption. And yet, and yet...

I live in a secluded cove just below the Blue Ridge Escarpment. My studio faces the North Star. The deep slopes, roaming mists, shaded forests and bright rivers here, the light, the dark, the round of seasons; these singing of the time of deep past, deep future, all gather here in a deep present. They all are speaking/singing /glimmering around old camp fires of an ancient encampment.

                WE ARE ALL VAGABONDS

                We are all vagabonds
                on this earth, wanderers
                with hungry hearts

                looking for a home
                we never had.

                At night we gather
                to distant fires
                of scavenged wood and brush

                to stir the ashes there
                and seek answers in the stars.

                In ceremony
                we mark our faces
                with our dream of want -

                flames and crosses and circles.

                And we carry this into all our days
                even into the desert of our lives

                dreaming into each new country
                our home again.

It is fall and it is my 67th year.


 The light dims. It’s spectrum shifts from viridians, cadmiums soaked in phthalos, toward umbers and manganese violets soaked in ultramarines. The leaves are blazing just before their descent. In this, an end and a beginning, are folded in one another’s hands.

I walk the river. Perhaps this is what the mountain is dreaming. Over and over again I go, in all seasons, to see this plainly there before me, this truth about the joining of beginnings and ends, and to ask over and over again, just how this can be. I often return with poems to sing, but always the questioning too, raw and abiding. Sometimes I abandon my clothes and immerse myself in the river to feel what it’s like to be part of it. But I always climb out, it’s surface behind me mirroring and recalling my shape, without my ever managing to leave the question behind in the water - how is it that beginnings and ends are enfolded one in another? And then the greater, nagging question: what does this mean?

I ask my oil paint this same question. Like a river it flows, yet stays and says: this is presence. What does it mean?

It is spring, and I am closer to my beginning and my end then ever. But I often find myself afraid that time is a river running only one way. This is not what the river says. It runs, but never abandons its beginning - it merely stretches and stretches. and in its tremendous elasticity creates and affirms it’s enduring presence. This is difficult to grasp. Our lives are so ephemeral, so soaked in transience. But perhaps it’s not just us - perhaps everything is this way - it’s just the way Creation works. All our names are writ on water. We all follow, inextricably, undeniably, from noun to verb.


So I converse with the river, with its song, with the song I sometimes take away with me, with the paint and with the words. It’s all a great language, echoing. Everything in the Universe echoes - language is filled with water, water is filled with language.

For more on the history of my work go to:

Monday, March 18, 2013



Late into the night,
toward morning,
my aging father is channelling
ghosts - get in the car
son - take down those old
family photos - put them
in the car - they'll be waiting
for us - I've got to drive to Austin.
He fumbles in his pocket
for the keys he no longer has.

His words come alive
out of the past as if there were
a future for them, imminent.
Son - get in the car - we've
got to go.

Fathers and sons - what does
pass between them,
unseen, unacknowledged?

He looks at me then
from across the room,
from a distance I've never
seen before, or even

I turn off the light,
close his door, get
in his car and head west
toward Texas,
dawn following me the whole way.

©Laurence Holden, 2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013



                DEATH, AT NIGHT

                It is the long thing
                with fingers and a mouth
                swallowing the moment
                and all the light there is.

                A dreamless ocean
                shallowing at its edge -
                a marsh, an inlet,
                in late fall or early winter
                when the weather changes.

                The night,
                long, but afterwards,
                like my neighbor Annie,
                who after the death of her husband
                of fifty years, the next day
                swept clean the porch
                and set out pots of flowers
                along its edge - geraniums
                to meet a broad and silenced day.

                An abandoned shore
                of arrival and departure,
                the slack tide washing and washing,
                the beach swept clean
                reaching and reaching
                beyond the reach
                of ever seeing.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


            IN THIS TRADE

            By night and by moon
            I am paid no wages
            for my heart.

            By the nub of this light,
            by the stub of this pen,
            between the dark creases
            of my words on this page,
            along the suture that this line is
            of hope and hopelessness,
            while the world counts its coin
            in mad sanity, I ply my illicit trade
            in prayers

            to any lovers
            who might pass this darkened way.

           ©Laurence Holden, 2013

Saturday, February 16, 2013



I opened
this morning to a bluebird,
dead in the fine ashes
left of yesterday’s fire,
soft as down.

The eyes to her world
gone dead, she squints now
at something else
beyond sky and blue
feathered flight.

Such a delicate
illusion of blueness
for which there are
no words.

If there is a word,
it should not
be spoken, but held
somewhere back
of the tongue

in the place
where its song
made a space
within us - to sleep
in our ear, and to curl
in this shell of time


I put on Paul Simon, singing
    “these are the days
    of miracles and wonders”

    “the way we look
    to a distant constellation
    dying in the corner of the sky.”

and find myself
slow dancing around the room
my arms held out
to the beautiful beat of wings,

Sunday, February 3, 2013


First snow, yesterday - surprising gift
Second snow, this morning - a kind absolution

snow to clear the mind
green grass under spruce
to welcome the heart.

© Laurence Holden, 2013

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Just Published! a new iBook of my poems & paintings

Ten Poems and Eleven Paintings, Christmas 2009 - Laurence Holden

TEN POEMS AND ELEVEN PAINTINGS, CHRISTMAS 2009 - a book where vision and poetry gather, where sound and sight converse. These paintings and poems share something important - a concentrated form of paying attention - paying attention to what is! And what is, is both moving and still, both seen and unseen, heard and unheard. The paintings are still, yet move in our minds, thoughts, and feelings. The poems move in our minds, our thoughts, our feelings, and yet they form pooling echoes of the still and eternal present. Paintings and poems - two sides of one coin.

This electronic version includes two additional videos and is developed and adapted by Louis Leon from a handmade limited edition book the artist created and gave for a Christmas gift to friends and family in 2009.

(Laurence Holden lives along Warwoman Creek in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of the US, drawing his paintings and poems from his connection to the land here. His work in paint and word are just two natural dialects for the same thing - bearing witness to the Creation. His work articulates a belief that if we can restore our understanding of the land and our relationship to it, we might save ourselves too in these perilous times. 

Laurence's poems have appeared in several issues of the Chrysalis Reader, as well as in Written River, Appalachian Heritage, and The Reach of Song: The Poetry Anthology of the Georgia Poetry Society, 2011 and 2010, His work received an award of excellence from the Georgia Poetry Society in 2010 and an honorable mention from the Byron Herbert Reece Society in 2011. His paintings have appeared in over 20 solo exhibits, and are represented in over 200 public, private, and corporate collections.)