— by Susan Eirich, PhD —
The phone rang: “I have something that belongs to you,” the voice said. “But first we have to meet because it comes with an explanation.” Judith and I met at the local library. She was carrying a flat dress box. Inside lay a very intriguing work of art. Inscribed on the first leaf of this handmade “book” was the statement: “I am Bluebell.”
Judith, a fiber artist, began to tell me about its two-year journey.
Connecting with Bluebell
“I received a request to create an art piece for a nonprofit benefit on the theme “Bison.” I had seen the massive creatures in Yellowstone with butterscotch calves. I had seen the lovely paintings and powerful sculptures at the National Wildlife Museum. Yet I really knew nothing of “bison.” I didn’t want to just paint a preconceived notion of what buffalo is. I wanted to take it deeper into the animal. (While Bison is the correct name they are commonly referred to as buffalo).
Slowly a memory floated into view. It was Bluebell, the buffalo at Earthfire. Her curiosity had gotten the best of her and she had joined a workshop, walking around to the door of the yurt, listening, as a Tibetan Buddhist lama spoke. Everyone took note of her, welcomed her presence and gave her scratches as they exited the space.
Imagine….this huge, inquisitive bison interacting with the workshop participants. I was compelled to learn more about her. One way of learning was to “talk” with her. I called an animal communicator who had been at Earthfire. Through her I asked Bluebell how I might create a piece of Art that would honor her and support her species.*
Bluebell and retreat participant
Though somewhat surprised that I was contacting her, Bluebell thanked me for allowing her a forum for her “Teachings of Loss”( her words) and clarification on what being a buffalo entailed. As she connected with Bluebell the communicator received a kaleidoscope of emotions. Sadness about losing her mother; her sister; and her abundant wide-roaming herd. “I’ve lost my sister. She had been weaker and unable to adapt to a new way of life. I figured out a way. Here I am; how do I adapt. Rosebud (her sister) couldn’t quite get it together. I lost my mother, had a weakling sister. I no longer had my tribe/herd and that is how we function in the world; that is how we are supposed to be living, and we can’t. BUT we are also individuals.” She kept stressing that throughout our discussion. She was very emphatic about that. Animals are individuals, distinct personalities. She stressed again and again the importance of the individual within the herd…..each a “being” with unique characteristics. It was very important to her to get that message out. She gets very upset when people stereotype bison. Terribly upset “when they use us for marketing. That is not who I am.” That was a huge theme. She does not tolerate the cowboy/Indian version of buffalo. Another huge theme was, “I am a displaced bison but I found a home and people now have to hear what I have to say.”
When she came to Earthfire she was glad to be there and roamed around trying to find a purpose. She decided she would be the greeter. She seemed grateful for her home at Earthfire and she has fashioned the Institute’s humans and visitors into her new herd. She noted her friends…the coyotes, the goat and departed soul friend Windwalker the cougar and spoke of their wisdom that needs to be heard. She loves Susan and Jean because they have good vision.
The Making of the Book
Once I had communicated with Bluebell I grasped a vision for the “bison” piece. Her beautiful and thought provoking words would tell her story and honor her species. As an avid reader I was drawn to the book format for stories, and as a fiber artist I had an appreciation of handmade papers and books. The plant fibers that transform into paper would hold Bluebell’s journey on the earth.
Bluebell with a snow covered face
For me Bluebell’s “Teachings of Loss” evoked a sense of “unraveling” much like the circular edges of a hurricane. Thus I divided the pages of the book in half, tore them into half circles and when rejoined created a circle. I placed Bluebell, the calm, wise mother, in the center of ” the storm;” the center of the book. By “Bluebell” I mean her beautiful fleece:.dense and musky, remarkably soft; rich in varied colors, very subtle combinations of browns and golds and a bit of gray. It has a richness not only in color but in fiber – its thick density and odor. It was purposeful.
To offset the darkness of the fleece I added local, hand spun, naturally dyed wool in shades of green and gold. Bluebell was regal indeed!
I hand-wrote her words on each page in her designated, descending order of importance on each side..
I am Bluebell was the most important so I put it on top.
…I am Bluebell…
…My sister has left…
…I am an individual…my species is bison…
…I am grounded…and grounding…
…I like goats.
…I am the wise mother
…I love the coyotes…they are very wise beings
…I miss the old souls, Mother…Windwalker
…I am not a football team
…I do not roam the plains
…I am not to be feared
“I am Bluebell” by Judith Austin
It takes some effort to read them…and it takes a full heart to hear her. I mounted the piece on wood donated by a local lumber yard…
Bluebell had requested: “Honor me. Honor what you are doing.” I felt that I had done her justice: .honored her, and her kind.
Her story was now part of the universe.
My sister is very smart, cautious and isolated. She has lived in the same apartment for 40 years in Delaware. She called me one day to ask what I was doing. I told her to look up buffalo on the Earthfire Institute webpage. Suddenly a door opened for her. She didn’t know there was that kind of world out here. She was just unaware. She never thought about land and animals. She read some of the articles and watched videos on Bluebell and she was over the moon. Bluebell helped my sister to open. It was wonderful to see. She wanted to learn about Bluebell and the other animals at Earthfire. She opened, opened, opened and soon discovered that all animals have emotions; they are individuals.
Bluebell’s losses were particularly instructive for me and my sister. She had been estranged from the family for years, lost in a sense, due to the family dysfunction. I was divorced…had lost many friends in Vietnam…and an old friend was fading with dementia. Loss, adaptation, struggles for individual rights….the themes resonated with me. Had not my own mother been a “loss” to mental illness? To acknowledge my pain as similar to Bluebell’s was a staggering moment. We had both suffered.
Likewise the ensuing resiliency was a second chance at life. As with her, I picked up the pieces of my life and moved on; not always joyfully but gratefully. We were both alive, we had a voice and we created a new purpose.
We journey together….honoring our paths and each other.
We are unique individuals…..and …..Bluebell is another sister.
“But,” Judith said, “that is not the end of the story. There is the journey of the piece itself.”
“The artwork was generally overlooked at fundraiser. Finally a woman bought it because she wanted to have a work of art from me. I asked her if I could borrow it because I hadn’t had a chance to photograph it. I took it home and she forgot it. I called and called to have her pick it up and received no answer. Eventually I wrote and still received no answer. I just didn’t seem to be able to return the piece to her. I didn’t know what to do with it.
I finally got mad. I realized that we were not talking about my art work – we were talking about Bluebell. This work was her words and a part of Her. A lock of her hair. This person doesn’t care about Bluebell. I took a stand for Bluebell. I wrote the woman again and said this work of art is no longer available. You are dishonoring her. This piece took a lot of sensitive work and you have forgotten her. This was a piece to honor her and her kind and forgetting is not honoring. This was just a prize for donating to the non-profit and you don’t appreciate it and Bluebell deserves a better home. It has been two years and the statute of limitations is up. If you want a piece of my art I will make you something else.
She was stunned and furious. She left a phone message calling me names; berating me: “this is just your ego; you have a problem with your work, we should talk about this.” No, I though, the point was Bluebell, not my work. You knew how much I cared about the piece and no I am not required to talk about it – I made my point in the letter.
I put it in the closet so my kitties wouldn’t get after it. Every time I went in the closet there was Bluebell. And there was Bluebell. And there was Bluebell. One day I went in and realized Oh! Of course! This is Susan and Jean’s!. That is why she’s been waiting here. That is why nothing has ever quite worked. It was like she spoke to me: “I belong to Earthfire and Susan and Jean.’ That makes sense, I thought. And so I called.”
Judith’s Bluebell now hangs in a place of honor in the yurt, where we hold our retreats and all can admire it.
“I am Bluebell” in its finished form
CODA A couple of years ago we received a donation. It came in a card that said this donation is in Judith’s honor- please let her know. It was from Judith’s sister. Of course I sent her a nice thank you note and let Judith know. But I had no idea of the backstory.
I wonder how many of the donations we receive are moved by some wonderful story. What a lovely thought. I would love to hear them.
* For those interested in the philosophy or practice of telepathic animal communication there is a protocol that is it is always necessary, as when working on humans, that any animal communicator or energy healer have the permission of the animal before starting the communication. The “grandmother” of interspecies telepathic communication, Penelope Smith, has a website (http://www.animaltalk.net) full of resources, along with ethical guidelines.
Bio: Judith Austin, fiber artist
Judith Austin first showed her work at age four in the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The Washington Post noted that some visitors to the show thought that Judith’s work, “A Happy Man Admiring Pansies in his Rock Garden” heralded a new era in American Art…..others said they hoped not! Judith earned a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and has taught elementary Art for years. She is an innovator in her own work combining a variety of materials, in unorthodox ways, to interpret highly original design concepts. Judith’s one of a kind work has been shown in galleries across the country. She has created commissioned work for corporations, non-profits, theaters and private collections. Judith was chosen as a member of the U.S. Textile Delegation which traveled to the People’s Republic of China in 1984. She has received awards from The American Institute of Architects and Interiors Magazine. A first degree Black Belt, Judith lives and works, with her two cats, in the inter mountain west.
Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.