Marking the Hours: Chapter 2

The Liturgy of the Hours is the official set of prayers “marking the hours of each day and sanctifying the day with prayer”.

Lessons learned on an island

When the fog lifts, it is a slow process.

At first, a gray curtain cascades from the sky and intersects with the water so completely that there is no horizon. It is eerily quiet – except for the incessant drone of the fog horn.

When you are paddling a kayak, you have no sense of direction. Your eyes struggle to focus on something –  anything.

Suddenly, the shroud begins to dissipate. It withdraws, slowly revealing the outlines of the masts of moored boats then their hulls and finally the water.

You catch a glimpse of the Casco Bay ferry emerging from nothingness. And all that is known and familiar becomes visible.

You regain a sense of direction.


 I am in my kayak again.  I am seeing the world from the water.

I go out early in the morning before the sun heats the air and waves begin to form. I glide across the smooth surface of the water. Kayaking is practice in living in the moment.

Jo kayak

Photo credit: Liz Johnson

When you are worried about capsizing into 60 degree water, you pay attention. You need to be aware of change. It can be a change in the tide, the current, the wind, or sound. Sometimes a change is felt without knowing where it originated – the movement of tankers and cruise ships can be felt across the channel as a subtle ripple under your boat.

It appears that the water is moving forward, but it is the wave’s energy that is moving. The scientific description is that ”waves are the forward movement of the ocean’s water due to the oscillation of water particles by the frictional drag of wind over the water’s surface. “

If you have forgotten your 4th grade science, here is a video that explains it.

The highest part of the wave is called the crest: the lowest is the trough. From the crest, it is easier to see where you are and where you are going.

It is more difficult to find direction in the trough.  It can be terrifying .

I am living in the in-between:

In between what was and what might be

In between what was done and what there is to be done

In between what was created and what to create next.

In a kayak, to  prepare for what might happen next, you sit quietly and listen.

To create, the Sisters of St. Gertrude’s believe you “listen with the ear of the heart.”


When you enter the water in a kayak, you should know where you are starting and where you want to end. You should be prepared for landing at other places if there is a storm or you are tired or you just want to stop to look for eagles or watch the baby osprey fledge.

Maps are for use on land. Entering coordinates into my phone and being guided by a disembodied voice – is convenient , as long as the battery is charged.

Charts are for use on water. Aids to Navigation – landmarks, lighthouses, buoys, beacons – are overlaid on a detailed background with depth markings. And a chart is waterproof.


I always have a chart and a compass with me in my kayak even though I mostly ‘handrail’ between and around the islands .

A handrail is a feature or landmark that leads towards your destination and one that you can follow or keep within sight. It can be manmade or natural. The most common in kayaking and canoeing is the shoreline.

flat water

Peter Turchi in his book Maps of the Imagination: the writer as cartographer

 (Using the map as a metaphor),…considers writing as a combination of exploration and presentation,…. He compares the way a writer leads a reader though the imaginary world of a story, novel, or poem to the way a mapmaker charts the physical world.. .Goodreads

“To ask for a map,” says Turchi, “is to say, ‘Tell me a story.’ “

In school – maybe even in 4th Grade – along with memorizing Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride,” I learned a poem by Carl Sandburg

The fog comes on little cat feet.

It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches

and then moves on..

In the fog, it is more difficult to discern direction.

To see where to go next, you have to wait for the fog to lift.

Sometimes you just need to stay in place.


No bigger than a shoe box. That is the directive.  It had taken 2 years to recover – physically, financially, emotionally – from my last community based artwork – Welcoming the Stranger. My commitment to myself (and friends) was to work small.  And alone. And with compassion – for myself and for others.

(Although there are 50 gallons of paper pulp in my studio currently – 50 gallons and the word small in the same sentence might be an oxymoron)

No bigger than a shoe box.                         IMG_1112

While at St Gertrude’s,  I made handmade paper and a one-of-a-kind book entitled Religare. I mined the monastery for materials and meaning. After my 3 week residency, I had the  inkling of an idea – triggered by an image – but it is not fully developed – it dances around the edges of my consciousness – elusive – It is that lack of direction that is unsettling to an artist.

I realize I need a way to express myself until the path unfolds.

Two summers ago I was a tour guide on Peaks Island, Maine. In preparing my spiel about the early settlers, I researched Greenwood Gardens, the Gem fire, and other local lore. I cobbled together a history of the Trefethen Evergreen Improvement Association – the TEIA.

From clippings, obituaries, newspaper articles, and TEIA meeting agendas, I noticed parallels with current island issues of development, tourist crowds, trash removal, water shortages, traffic noise, etc.

I became fascinated with the Daveis sisters – Mary and Mabel – and their contributions to 1920’s island life. Mary served as the first woman president of TEIA. They wintered in Portland and summered on Peaks Island living in ‘Magpie Cottage.’ They were Christian Scientists. They were conservationists and suffragists. They lobbied for water to be piped to the island when the aquifer was threatened. And succeeded.


I combined as much of the history as I could verify with a great deal of poetic license and created a one act play – Hats Off –  based on the lives of Mary and Mabel.

stage-scene.jpgExcerpt: Act 1 – Scene 1


(Takes newspaper out of purse. Flashes it in front of Mary’s face. Then proceeds to read aloud from newspaper.)

Today’s headline: Peaks Island – the “The Coney Island of Maine.”

(Mary turns from mirror to listen.)


‘The idyllic island off the coast of Portland invites you to spend a day or week  (OH PLEASE, NO) in one of our sixteen hotels or 600 cottages. Experience the many amusements we have for visitors to Peaks Island. Take a leisurely ride on the ferry (MORE LIKE AT CATTLE BOAT.) Enjoy a play at the Gem Theatre, visit the prairie dog zoo, try your hand at bowling. And when tired, rest at the beer garden.  (CAROUSE).

The smell of steamed lobster will entice you to stay for a shore dinner. Take a walk along the boardwalk to Trefethen pier to enjoy the sunset (AND HOPE YOU DON’T FALL THROUGH).

Boats leave daily from Boston. Make your reservations now to visit the Coney Island of Maine -.’

(Infuriated rants.) Just what we need – more tourists with their cars and their noise; and their garbage; their unseemly behavior. They destroy the natural beauty … They take advantage of our gentile hospitality.

(Yells out the window using a megaphone)

Slow down; Some of us live here!!

Island Shorts - Poster (1)



I submitted Hats Off to the Island Shorts festival. It was accepted. Auditions held. The cast selected. Elizabeth Davis as Mabel; Heather Murdoch Curry as Mary; Molly Johnson as Tour Guide and Liz Rollins, Director. All generously and tirelessly worked learning lines, creating costumes, commandeering props for sets. Everyone was a volunteer.



Excerpt – Act 1: Scene 2                             TOUR GUIDE/OPERATOR

This is the Trefethen Evergreen Improvement Association – the ‘Club’ – that’s what us islanders call it. Originally the Dayburn Casino – known throughout New England for its dance floor – it went belly up. The lack of dance partners due to WW1 may have contributed to its demise.

 (Guide attempts to continue – reading from a paper so looking down)

In 1922, the Casino became the permanent home of TEIA. Two of the founding members were the Daveis sisters – – Mary and Mabel—who invested time and money to support the mission:

(Looks up as if asked a question. Holds up her hand to stop. Continues reading.)

 The mission of the TEIA is to improve Peaks Island, to preserve its natural beauties, to develop its resources, to promote its health, cleanliness and attractiveness, and advance its religious, intellectual and social life.

The Daveis Sisters were instrumental in the establishment of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Portland. They played an important role as early members of the Audubon Society in establishment of the Migratory Bird Protection Act of 1918.

Excerpt – Act 1: Scene 3

 (Mabel: Hears the eiders. Takes out binoculars and peers first to the sky and slowly lowering them down. Makes sounds of eiders –Addresses eider ducks.)

Ladies – I’m so happy to see you back here. I guess , like Mark Twain, news of your demise has been greatly exaggerated.(chuckles to self.)  I have recently been invited to speak on your behalf about the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act – protecting all nongame birds, nests, and their eggs.

(Continues to talk to eiders while looking through binoculars. Kneels and leans forward addressing birds.)

I wish you could have been with me at Harriet’s tea party in Boston. At the end of the party, 900 of Boston’s most influential and fashionable women pledged to stop wearing hats with feathers.

(Tilts head as if listening to ducks respond.)

Yes, the very same women responsible for the near extinction of your ancestors. – (Incredulous) Imagine – almost eliminated by hats. Imagine – saved by hats!!


Following the death of Mabel Daveis at the age of 87, per her wishes, the Magpie Cottage was dismantled and the land upon which it stood donated in perpetuity to the songbirds of Peaks Island and those who wish to listen to them.

(Hear the birds singing.)



This is 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Protection Act. Be thankful for the Daveis sister’s foresight and generosity and advocacy.


Island Shorts: 6 plays, 6 casts, 6 sets, and back-to-back rehearsals for 4 weeks. The 3 night run was a big success. To celebrate, the cast of Hats Off made a commitment to jump from the ferry dock.  With the Rollins boys in tow – Winter and Wyeth – we jumped!!!





Marking the Hours – Chapter 1

The Liturgy of the Hours is the official set of prayers “marking the hours of each day and sanctifying the day with prayer”.

Lessons Learned Living in Community

The Monastery of St Gertrude’s is located in Cottonwood, Idaho. It is 4 hours by car (6 hours by bus) from Boise. Built in 1924 of porphyry stone from a quarry on site, the monastery is on the National Register of Historic Places.


St. Benedict of Nursia, Italy lived as a hermit in a cave for 3 years and emerged with 200 guiding principles – the Rule – adhered to by monastics throughout the world.

The Sisters of St Gertrude’s support the teachings of St. Benedict as written in their mission statement:

We are a community founded by creative, courageous, pioneering women ministering to the needs of the times.

Using early Christian communities as our model, we live out the values of praying together, living together, sharing all things in common, and serving the wider community and one another.

They also offer a Residency for Artists. It is a month-long “opportunity for women visual artists, musicians and writers to spend time with their practices in a monastic setting amidst the Benedictine Sisters.“

The Benedictine sisters pray 5x a day. Since I had been researching Books of Hours and prayer,  I hoped living within a prayer-based community would provide direction for my artwork or at least words to fill the sheets of my handmade paper.


I arrived in Idaho on the first day of river rafting season and the opening of salmon fishing. The road to Cottonwood was jammed with RV’s, rafts, tents – people setting up temporary ‘villages’ along the highway.

As we crested the mountain, the Camas Prairie stretched before me.


The population of Cottonwood is 916 or so – about the same as Union Bridge in Maryland and Peaks Island in the winter. There is a coffee shop, hardware store, café that also serves ice cream, and a grocery store. The monastery is located 3+ miles from town.

cottonwood sign

Thanks to a 50+ year friendship with a generous friend living in Idaho and her SUV, I arrived at St. Gertrude’s with several boxes of art supplies and dehydrated paper pulp.

Lesson 1: Healing Hospitality

I had been corresponding with Sr. Theresa Jackson for several months. She was aware that I was  “stuck.” Therefore, the only real requirement for my stay was to help in the kitchen. It would be my first lesson in living in community. Rinsing pots proved to be the best way to meet every Sister and for them to learn about my art work. (Not to mention learning how to make Heavenly Fudge and Wacky Cake.**) .

In exchange, I would be provided with a room, meals, studio space.

With its high ceilings, oak moldings, wide baseboards, polished floors and antique furniture, St. Gertrude’s echoes the architecture of  the 1920’s. Statues of saints fill every niche and religious artworks adorn the walls.

My room consisted of a single bed, dresser, comfy chair, desk and an unfettered view of the prairie. For the duration of my residency, I chose to disconnect from all electronics: computers, TV, radio and cell phones. A book by Joan Chittister Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St Benedict Today sits on the desk. Every morning I read a chapter to learn how the Rule can be applied to current day life.

bell towers

Bells ring when it is time to pray.  The sisters ring them by pulling on ropes through the ceilings of offices located in the bell tower. The mass is led by the sisters. There are multiple prayers books. They sing in a style of call and response. Their prayers focus on issues in the world.

Lesson 2: Grateful Simplicity

There are 100 Benedictine monasteries throughout the U.S. St. Gertrude’s, once the home for 150 sisters, now houses less than 50.

Everyone has a role in the support of their community and maintaining the various buildings, community projects, and stated mission. They have  mixed sources of income-producing ventures which allow them to continue to live together and care for each other.

Everyone – sisters, cleaning personnel, workshop attendees – took meals together and cleared their own dishes.

Everyone serves themselves at meals. The compost bucket held very little waste.

At the end of the week, leftovers usually appear in a soup.

Nothing is wasted.

The 1920’s kitchen was converted to a processing center for making herbal products and raspberry jam.

Vats heated with wood once used for washing clothing are now used to process apricots and peaches for canning.

peach tub

All paper and cardboard are recycled.

Clothing is chosen from donations.

Dust cloths and cleaning rags are washed.

Before my arrival, I envisioned a bucolic setting enveloped in silence. While there were intentional silent retreats, there was always a buzz of activity  – Sisters mowing lawns, greeting visitors to the museum, preparing the rooms at the B and B and registering attendees for workshops and retreats at the Spirit Conference Center.


Spirit Center




Bed and Breakfast Inn

Historically, the sisters of St. Gertrude’s raised all their own food and animals. Today, they grow a limited amount of vegetables and fruit and herbs for a line of Nature’s Gifts products. They cultivate raspberries and when ripe, everyone harvests them by hand. The annual Raspberry Festival takes place in August and features their homemade jam.



Lesson 3: Creative Peacemaking

The art studio had been originally designed for making stained glass and small icons. Upon arrival, my clutter busting tendencies that led to the shredding of all my journals  kicked in — I cleared surfaces, organized tools, categorized books, and set up a coffee center. I even created an excel spreadsheet of the materials for future residency participants. This was another lesson in being a part of a community,  I first had to be sure changing the space was permissible.


Then I unpacked my boxes. And I sat. And I looked. And I breathed.

I make paper. I reconstitute the pulp using a blender from the raspberry jam kitchen, create a pulp bath in the sink, mop up the floor from a leak in the sink. And make more paper.


I make smaller deckles to make smaller pages that can be cupped in the hand. Collected together they form a kind of breviary. The contents of the breviary might have included psalmsScripture lessons, as well as hymns and prayers. Often breviaries were carried by women.






Sometimes a Sister would just walk by.

Sometimes a Sister would just look in.

Sometimes a Sister came to talk.

Sometimes they would ask what I was making.

Sometimes I would respond:

I don’t know yet.

Sometimes they would respond:

Just ‘listen with the ear of the heart.’


Lesson 4: Prayer awakens. Justice impels. Compassion acts.

The Sisters pray 5 times a day. Attendance at prayers is optional. At the end of each day I attend vespers and then walk a path through fields of wild lupine and swaying pine trees to the property boundary.

To view the distant mountains and surrounding river,  I climb a stile over a barbed wire fence.stile

Unlike Marc Chagall’s painting of Jacob’s ladder with angels ascending and descending from heaven, I am firmly earthbound.








The Benedictines follow the Principles of Catholic Social Justice teaching. As part of this commitment,  the Sisters watch the nightly news – in community. Often their request for a specific prayer relates to current events.

One night, their prayers revolved around concern for the children being separated from their mothers seeking asylum.

An image appeared to me as I sat in the sanctuary.


It was a woodcut by Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945) – a committed pacifist – who had lost two sons to war. Entitled Die Mutter/The Mothers. They form a circle – of arms – surrounding their children. They were bound together in the effort to provide protection.

That night, I began work on Religare. – It is a handmade book composed of multiple accordion folds – each fold sewn to form a pocket. Within each pocket is a card inscribed with words from the Rule. The book forms a circle when opened and a breviary when closed.  Religare is translated as ‘ to bind together.’ The Benedictine sisters are bound together within their community and committed to justice through prayer.

religareIn my time at St. Gertrudes’s, I witnessed acts of kindness and compassion – within and outside the community. My role as an artist was supported. I was relieved of daily responsibilities and protected from worldly intrusion.

I resolved to seek imagery in my own work that would reflect that same kindness and compassion. But, I had done all I could do…for now.

On my walk after vespers, I listened as the wind in the trees resounded  like the ocean.

It was time to go back to the island…


** Cooking Lesson #1:  Wacky Cake

9×14 pan. Dump all ingredients into the pan.

2 cups sugar

3 cups flour

½ cup cocoa

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 TB vanilla

2 tsp apple cider vinegar

¾ cup vegetable oil

Add 2 cups of cold water and mix with a fork until blended. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes


1 ½ sticks of butter – melted

1 cup cocoa

1 ½ tsp vanilla

2/3 c milk

Blend in 4 and ½ cups powdered sugar until correct consistency for frosting.  Frost cake shortly after removing from oven.

Cooking Lesson #2: Heavenly Hash

12 oz chocolate chips

½ c crunchy peanut butter

Melt together in microwave for 3 minutes

Add 3 cups of miniature marshmallows

½ – ¾ c crushed walnuts or pecans

Spread in buttered pyrex dish.

Cut up into squares

Wrap individually and put one piece on a pillow

Thank you to Sister Chanelle Schuler, BnB Host, for the recipes (and lessons.)