Category Archives: Tanabata

Floating Worlds, or Your July Book of Days

Here’s a sentence no one has uttered for a solid couple of centuries: Tensions are high right now between Canada and the United States. Be that as it may, I have nothing but admiration and goodwill for Canada, perhaps because I have only known really wonderful people from Canada or perhaps because an awful lot of my favorite music comes from Canada. Then again, maybe it’s because Canada Day, the national holiday of Canada, typically falls on my birthday. This year, though, since the First of July is a Sunday, Canada Day falls on July 2nd. Here below the 49th Parallel, Independence Day in the States is on Wednesday, and so for a lot of folks it’s going to be a weeklong celebration. (Why work Monday and Tuesday if we’ll be off on Wednesday? And then the weekend is right after, so why work Thursday and Friday?) As for me, I’ll be working most all week, preparing for a few events happening at the end of the week––events that maybe you’d like to come to, if you are local. More on that later.

But first: Here’s your Convivio Book of Days calendar for July. It’s a printable PDF as usual, and a fine companion to the blog. This month’s calendar is designed over a sheet of suminagashi marbled paper I made back in 1995 at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, just about the time that Seth and I first met. Suminagashi is a marbling process where sumi inks are floated on the surface of water and where patterns are created by your breath: by blowing gently on the water, the ink on the surface moves accordingly. By setting a piece of paper atop it, the ink pattern is printed on the paper. It’s a most lovely and organic approach to paper decoration, and one of the traditional ancient crafts of Japan.

I’ll be teaching a suminagashi workshop at the Armory in West Palm Beach on Saturday, July 7, which, as luck would have it, also happens to be the Japanese Star Festival of Tanabata. That fact, like suminagashi itself, is a happy accident… when we scheduled it, months ago, it didn’t even cross my mind that it would fall on the seventh day of the seventh month, but it has. Tanabata is celebrated by writing wishes on strips of paper and tying them to the trees… so we’ll be doing some of that at Saturday’s workshop (not to mention a little letterpress, too). It’s a morning workshop, just three hours, so you can learn a craft, make a few wishes, and be on your way by midday, leaving you an entire long summery afternoon to enjoy other things besides suminagashi. If it sounds like something you’d like to do, register here (you do have to register ahead of time, and probably the sooner the better).

The month continues through many saints’ days and at the end of the month, we come to Lammas Eve, another of the cross quarter days that usher us, by traditional reckoning of time, into a new season. Summer, though, was so late in coming this year, perhaps it’s best to say that Lammas is not so much a seasonal shift as a gentle reminder that summer is waning. Indeed, the days have been getting shorter and shorter each day since the Midsummer solstice of June… six weeks later, with Lammas, we are fast approaching the halfway point to the autumnal equinox of September. William Shakespeare, for good metaphoric reasons, chose Lammas Eve as the night that his Juliet was born, reasons we will discuss in the blog once Lammas comes. But we have a whole month of summer before that, so for now, let’s just enjoy it. To that end, here are all the events I’m involved in this coming weekend… I hope you locals might attend one or two (or three):

Real Mail Fridays: Campfire Social
Friday July 6, 2018, from 2 to 6 PM (an open house; come and go as you please)
This monthly letter writing social is at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts at Florida Atlantic University Libraries in Boca Raton. Donation: $10 at the door. This month we’re enjoying campfire-inspired foods, and we’re asking each person who comes to write a short letter of welcome to summer campers attending the two sessions of letter writing camps hosted by the Delray Beach Historical Society. Here are two info links: this one for the event’s webpage, and this one for the Facebook event page, where you can say, “Hey, I’ll be there!”

Cason Cottage Snail Mail Revolution Event
Friday July 6, 2018, 6 to 9 PM
The links above will provide information, too, for this event, a sort of After Party for the Real Mail Fridays Campfire Social. I’ll be speaking beginning at about 7 PM at the Delray Beach Historical Society’s Cason Cottage about the Jaffe Center’s Real Mail Fridays letter writing socials and showing some artists’ books… and you’ll get a chance to write a letter or two yourself. It’s a pot luck but you shouldn’t feel obligated to bring food. Just come.

Workshop: Floating Worlds (Suminagashi Paper Marbling)
Saturday July 7, 2018, 9:30 AM to 12:30 PM
And I’d love to teach you about suminagashi and Tanabata at the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. Advance registration is required; please register here.

 

Somewhere in the Stars

We are in the midst of summer and a period ruled by stars: Sirius, Altair, and Vega. Sirius, the Dog Star, entered onto the scene a few days ago: by July 3rd, Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major, began rising with the sun. The sun occupies the same part of the sky as Sirius through the middle of August. It just so happens to be the hottest time of the year while all this is going on… and so we call these hottest days of the year, ruled by Sirius, the Dog Days of Summer.

That’s our story about Sirius in Canis Major. Meanwhile, here is an old story from Japan that relates to our other summer stars, Altair and Vega: It is the story of Hikoboshi, the Cow Herder, and Orihime, the beautiful daughter of the Sky King, Tentei. Orihime wove beautiful cloth on the banks of the Amanogawa, the Milky Way. Her father loved the cloth she wove, and so she worked very hard to make enough for him so that he would always have plenty of it. But Orihime worked so hard at her weaving that she never had time for anything else. And as much as Tentei loved the cloth Orihime wove, he knew she needed some balance, some time away from her work, and so he arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi, the Cow Herder, who lived on the other side of the Amanogawa.

And so Orihime and Hikoboshi met. They fell in love right then and there. The two soon married, and that was wonderful, but they became so enamored with each other that all else fell by the wayside. Orihime pretty much gave up her work at the loom, and as for Hikoboshi’s cattle, well, they were soon roaming all over Heaven. Tentei grew angrier and angrier over all this, until finally he had enough. He separated the two lovers on either side of the Amanogawa and forbade them to see each other. Orihime despaired over the loss of her husband and pleaded with her father. Moved by his daughter’s tears, Tentei relented. But he allowed the two lovers to meet only once each year, on the seventh day of the seventh month. And so the story goes each year, and here we are today: the seventh day of the seventh month. It is the Japanese star festival, Tanabata.

As stars, the lovers are Vega and Altair: Vega, the Weaver Star, is Orihime, and Altair, the Cowherd Star, is Hikoboshi, separated always by the Milky Way, except, as legend has it, for this one night each year when they are reunited. Beneath the stars, here on Earth, we honor Orihime and Hikoboshi by writing wishes on strips of paper and tying them to the trees. Bamboo is traditional, and that’s what I tied my wishes to last year, but I would think any tree would do. Heaven and the stars, I am sure, grant us a bit of leeway in these matters.

Two or three of my wishes from last year remain still on the bamboo outside our back door. The ink is long faded. I know I wished for protection, and for good health for us all, and especially for my father. His health gradually faded over the seven months that followed, until his death in February. But I am grateful he did not suffer terribly, and so perhaps that was the best manifestation of my wishes for good health and protection. Will I write some wishes on paper and tie them to the bamboo this year? Probably, though it most likely won’t be until after dark. There are no rules about that, either, and if there are, well, again: Heaven and the stars surely can be flexible with us mortals.

Perhaps it is all these thoughts of stars, but there is a song that popped into my head last night, a song I’ve not thought of in years. In 1982, when my grandpa Arturo died, Rosanne Cash released a record called “Somewhere in the Stars.” I know the title track is a sappy love song, but even so, I was able to reinterpret it for my own situation. It meant a lot to me then when I was missing Grandpa, and it suddenly means a lot to me tonight, too, missing him again, and my dad, and everyone else who is somewhere other than where I’d like them to be (like right here in front of me). If it’s a little sappy, so be it. I’m a little sappy sometimes, too, and there are nights when we need stories about dog stars and star-crossed lovers and reminders of all the ones we love.

 

 

Top Image: A very particular Somewhere in the Stars. This is a Hubble Telescope wide field image showing the “Summer Triangle,” a giant triangle in the sky composed of three bright summer stars: Vega (top left), Altair (lower middle), and Deneb (far left). Can you make out the triangle? [Public domain] via NASA, 2009.

 

Tanabata

Tanabata

Here is an old story from Japan: Orihime was the beautiful daughter of the Sky King, Tentei. She wove beautiful cloth on the banks of the Amanogawa, the Milky Way, and her father loved the cloth she wove, and so she worked very hard to make enough for him so that he would always have plenty of it. But Orihime worked so hard at her weaving that she never had time for anything else. As much as Tentei loved the cloth Orihime wove, he knew she needed some balance, some time away from her work, and so he arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi, the Cow Herder, who lived on the other side of the Amanogawa.

It was love at first sight if ever there was such a thing, and the two soon married, and that was wonderful, but they became so enamored with each other that all else fell by the wayside. Orihime pretty much gave up her work at the loom, and as for Hikoboshi’s cattle, well, they were soon roaming all over Heaven. Tentei grew angrier and angrier over all this, until finally he had enough. He separated the two lovers on either side of the Amanogawa and forbade them to see each other. Orihime despaired over the loss of her husband and pleaded with her father. Moved by his daughter’s tears, Tentei relented. But he allowed the two lovers to meet only once each year, on the seventh day of the seventh month. And so it goes each year, and so here we are today: the seventh day of the seventh month. It is the Japanese star festival, Tanabata.

As stars, the lovers are Vega and Altair: Vega, the Weaver Star, is Orihime, and Altair, the Cowherd Star, is Hikoboshi, separated always by the Milky Way, except, as legend has it, for this one night each year when they are reunited. Beneath the stars, here on Earth, we honor Orihime and Hikoboshi by writing wishes on strips of paper and tying them to the trees. Bamboo is traditional, but I wouldn’t think necessary. We hold our wishes, write them down, place them in the branches, open to the sky and to the stars, to Vega and Altair, to the Milky Way, to Heaven.

Image: Wishes of our own written on handmade paper, tied in the bamboo here at our home in Lake Worth. I made the paper from kozo years ago with Richard Flavin, who was visiting from Japan to teach a workshop in traditional Japanese papermaking and paper decoration at Paper & Book Intensive at the Penland School in North Carolina. After all these years, Tanabata wishes seemed the right thing to do with that paper.