The concept is quite clear to me. Baba Yaga is a beleaguered forest spirit, on the knife edge of extinction. She's maybe checking out a new place to take her house, or maybe going to a sustainable forest practices conference or something. How to depict that in her suitcase? The trick is to pare back on the ideas. Now that I have one day to finish up, plus finish up some other stuff in other parts of my life, before making the trek to the mainland, I have to finish what I've got. Okay then.
Back in the Russian forest, she added potatoes and nettles to her stews. Here in the Pacific Northwest, she has to work out new recipes. Here is one of them. Sorry, but due to ethical constraints, I was unable to test it.
It was unusually sunny when I took the picture. Because of the gleam, some of the words in the image are unclear. Here is the complete recipe:
10 gallons stream water (frogs okay)
1 wasteful child
1 kelp stipe, diced
1 gallon blackberries or salal berries
1 # sautéed Hooker's onions
3T Russian sumac powder
Simmer 3 days and a night (do not allow to boil!). If desired, strain out clothing, shoes, hair. Garnish with fir tips, sour cream made from deer milk.
I keep a journal something like the one I am creating for Baba Yaga. As a forest kami she uses animal hides instead of art store paper. The journal reflects a beleaguered spirit who was once dangerous and present but is now herself in danger. The first page, of course, identifies herself and asks for the journal to be returned if lost.
It was the middle of the night so I thought it was a dream, but when I went to print out a letter I'd written to Mom, it turned out not to have been a dream. The cats, it seems, had a violent disagreement (or perhaps it was fun?) on top of the printer. Result: ten sheets of paper, toast. One printer, also toast. There are a few little plastic pieces that don't seem to go anywhere, and the paper feeder is detached and no longer snicks into place.
Well, people used to write letters by hand, didn't they? The trouble is, Mom has dementia and doesn't do well with my handwriting. I like to send her photos because as an artist, she is always interested, while text sometimes bypasses her consciousness altogether. There was only an hour until I had to go to the Post Office, though. I'm not a very sudden artist.
Calligraphy! I'd calligraph something for her. Okay. I have some calligraphy projects that she did back in her heyday, and they are all rather dark German poems. Best not to revive them. Rumi, though. He's got the flavor of what Mom used to like, but he's upbeat as well.
I trimmed and glued the feed-sack forest painting into the lid of Baba Yaga's suitcase. What to do for the box itself? I thought of forest debris, but the Grandmother carries that with her as a matter of course and does not need to deliberately glue it into her luggage. I rummaged around amongst the canvases that I don't think will sell, and found this nude, of a mother and dancer. I don't remember why I painted moths on her but seeing them now, it became clear that Baba Yaga, with her skulls and iron teeth and now the wool robe I knit her would obviously have moths. Obviously.
Yesterday I poked around online looking for origami moths to fold. I ended up with a design by Michael Fosse, and kept folding and folding all evening. The paper was from a rather distasteful book that I got from the free shelf at the Post Office. It will do better remade into moths than read.
This morning I used Damar varnish, which is a tree-based resin that yellows with age, to metamorphose the moths into a more permanent part of Baba Yaga's entourage. After painting the wings I sprinkled fish-scale pigment onto them. I am not sure what the next step is, but I do know that I have to keep moving the moths as they dry so they don't stick to the paper underneath.
Taxes loom. My friend and accountant Jill visited in the middle of this and I persuaded her to model Baba Yaga's robe.
In the next few weeks before the show, I think I need to stop having new ideas about this project and simply consolidate and polish what exists.
If I happen to have an idea from now on it, it will have to go into one of the other moldy rescue suitcases. Mother Holle, the German weather witch, might get her own luggage, or Daskiya, the Northwest Indian basket ogre.
Knitting the beargrass into the ceremonial robe was an excellent idea! The robe took a very long time to knit, and it looks fantastic, and then you find yourself offended by the bits of grass sticking out of it, and then you re-calibrate and think, well, vegetation belongs on a ceremonial robe.
There was some beargrass left, dry and crackly. I soaked it for a few hours and cut up the cat food bag into strips. Today in the afternoon, as snow fell outside in hard little pellets, I made a short shimenawa. These straw ropes denote a sacred space. Will it be a problem for Grandmother Yaga that they ward off evil spirits? Is she an evil spirit? Depends on how you look at her. Nature has always had an edginess to it.
Nowadays we might look at a forest in terms of board-feet, or the soybean fields that could be there if it weren't for the dang trees, or, if we are an environmentalist, as a sacred space that needs protection. Gone, for the most part, is the ancient terror that we once felt. Forests had wolves, they had bandits and you could get lost forever. You could meet Baba Yaga.
Perhaps I feel, somehow, that we meet as an equal. We could ruin each other. The balance of power has shifted, mostly, to me. For one thing, I own a chainsaw and I know how to use it. On the other hand, some day I will die and the forest will eat me. Time for a rapprochement.