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Updated: Apr 29, 2021

A new acquaintance of mine here in California, Maggie Chessing, posted these photos of “morning altars”, or “mandalas” as she prefers to call them. She makes them from the pruning she does in her own garden. I am so enamored of them I asked if I could interview her about making them and post some photos of these marvelous creations.

In the past she used to put the branches that she pruned from her yard in vases on her deck. Mostly she was too sad to throw away her prunings. She thought of it as “therapeutic recycling”. And then she came across a book by Day Schildkret. ”Morning Altars: A 7-Step Practice to Nourish Your Spirit through Nature, Art, and Ritual. It is a beautiful book in which he talks about his daily walks in the woods and his ritual of creating art from things that have fallen on the forest floor.

Maggie has altered the practice to fit her needs. She says she does it “randomly” and not on any specific time table. She waits until the current one is either blown apart by the wind (which she doesn’t mind) or until the plant material decays or until the next time she prunes her prolific branches and then she creates a new one. Lately she has begun adding other items; some glass jars from a church potluck, some vases of wild California poppies, pinecones, dried berries, blossoms etc.

It strikes me that this could be a beautiful and meaningful spiritual practice. Either to make large or small altars in some public space such as a clearing in the woods as Day Schildkret does. Or, to make one on a surface in your yard – or even indoors if you, like me, don’t have much outdoor space of your own.

In the introduction to the book, “Morning Altars”, theater director Anne Bogart has written;

We are debris arrangers. Equipped with

what we have inherited, we try to make

a life, make a living and make art.

We are assemblers. We forge received

parts into meaningful composition.

This state of affairs is our plight and our

destiny, but it also offers the opportunity

to find meaning as well as to find

communion with others.

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