All in a
day's work with
my Womanswork Gloves.
Still March, and there I was, out
pruning and clipping and clearing. I did,
indeed, feel like a strong woman
building a gentle world and
this oregano shoot
a gift from the
of gratitude, when
minutes earlier I'd been
grieving the latest reports on
Coronavirus cases spreading around
New York, moving north toward
Boston, slowly making its
way toward us.
I collected compost from
Umpleby's Cafe and Bakery in
Hanover and came home to process
it. But when I downloaded the photographs
from what had been glorious Compost
Compositions, I saw that something
had gone terribly wrong
with the exposure.
happened to my
trusted Fuji camera that
it also messed up the images
I captured at The Lebanon Landfill
earlier on that same day. What's going on, I
wonder, profound grief emerging not
just at these 'lost' images, but
at so much right now, for
so many people in so
is gratitude for my
whose recently released book
of poetry, Voice Message, captures her
profound grief at the loss of her 21 year old
daughter almost a decade ago and the loss of all
that might have been, but can't be because of a single fall
on a single day on a ski hill far away. I can't read
more than a poem or two a day. It's
just too intense right now
with this virus...
own two children
at home, both approaching
twenty-one, but not there yet. We
are not meant to be together right now.
They are supposed to be with their own friends,
like Rachel was all those
we are together.
As they mourn the loss
of a graduation or a 20th birthday
with friends I think about all the different
kinds of losses and can, I think, finally comprehend
that grief in all its forms is real, but that
ultimately, some is just so
much more profound
I grieve for the
loss of images from
the landfill that I will never
see, I am grateful not just for those
that were on my other camera, but for
the knowledge that I can always go
back another day and the crew
will be there making more
mountains out of our
trash. It will be
child can not
be retrieved. So when
my husband told me that babies
& other young people are now dying from
Covid-19, I experienced more grief, but am grateful
for 'Woman's Work,' like tending the garden or sewing cloth
masks that will protect us from ourselves (lest we touch
our faces) and each other, (lest one of us is sick
and coughs). It is strange to protect
ourselves from ourselves. At
this moment, though,
what else is a
out of repurposed
boxers and favorite old
floral flannel PJs, which were
buried at the bottom of our rag pile
in that funny drawer beneath our dryer
which we so rarely open, but which
is, at this moment, proving
I sit and sew, I
think about Katherine
transforming her grief into
poetry. While I can never know
what she has experienced, I embrace
this time with my children and the chance
to channel my current angst. Who
knew old cotton rags would
offer this opportunity at
out that making
masks is harder than I
thought. What I am creating
looks nothing like what I see on all
those YouTube videos. Then I remember
that we are in a time of crisis, and I
am doing the best I can with
what I have, where
day at the landfill,
I had two cameras, so
even though the settings were
off on one, the other was just right.
Using the tools at hand, I was able to capture
the eerily empty six-foot social distancing spaces at
the recycling center. In a time of crisis, I think
it helps to have guidance whether in
the form of a spray-painted
box, or poetry in a book,
written by someone
It does feel,
though, that mothers
and mother earth have super-
powers in their abilities to hold and
sooth pain &, by doing so, nourish that pain
so that it can transform into whatever
it is meant to become, in all
its tactile, fragile
I stand in my
new office space,
created yesterday so
that our basement can be
a hospital if & when we need one...
And here beside me stands
my lady of perpetual
#frontstepsproject is on Instagram
@Katasasvari can be found on Instagram & on the web
Voice Message by Katherine Barrett Swett - - Please order through your local independent bookstore. I ordered mine through Still North Books in Hanover, NH
If you can, please support those in your life who needs it...whether it's the person who cares for your loved ones, cares for your home, or cares for you. Venmo and a simple old fashioned check work wonders.
I visited the
Lebanon Solid Waste
and Recycling Facility (also
known as The Landfill) last week,
this is what I saw: Fresh snow and a
sparkling blue sky. The air
smelled clean and the
earth seemed to
had just settled
on the freshly turned
compost piles and tracks from
the machines that accomplished
that task seemed like
snakes in the
a year, I've been
documenting the Landfill
and have not been surprised by
the tons of waste dumped onto the
ground, creating a mountain
where there had once
been a valley.
been in awe,
however, at the raw
beauty of this rugged piece
of earth in our midst and the artful
way the crew at the landfill
sculpts our garbage
contain the waste
from our lives, no matter
who we are or where we come
from. Beneath the skillful manipulation
of soil and wood chips mixed with our garbage,
lies all of us, mixed and mingled together.
The universality of this reality
humbles and invites
soup carton could be
mine. And how strange to
see one of the organic produce
bags from the Co-op stuck in the mud.
As a photographer, I love the yellow against the
dark earth and the way the sun makes the plastic shine.
As a naturalist, I am saddened. Will one of
the crows or other birds that
visits this open land
be poisoned by
when the sun went
behind a cloud, it was not
the play of light, but the play of
textures and tones that caught my eye,
and the way the color of the ground shifted
from raw black soil to brown shredded bark to a
layer of plastic and then on to the snow-covered hillside.
And here was this massive vehicle whose sole
job is to smash it all up, but which,
in the process, creates these
elegant circles in
our waste, the landfill
crew harnesses a complex mix
of engineering, biology, chemistry and art.
It's all about containment - How to safely entomb
our garbage so that it stays where we put it,
does not leach toxic runoff or become
a landslide, or explode from
The Landfill this
past week I thought about
our current struggles with the Covid-19
pandemic. Just as our waste is mixed and mingled
so too are we all in this complex crisis together. Our challenge
though, is that as a society, we don't have the tools
we need or the necessary systems in
place to manage a crisis of
it's not hard to
manage what I know or
to plan for things I understand. Like
in this discarded tax preparation worksheet
from 1992, I can do whatever calculations I must.
But when confronted with variables I do
not understand that are beyond
my control, I become
a bit befuddled.
at The Landfill
last week, though, the
manager indicated that they
were receiving 35% less waste than
just two weeks before. He suggested that it's
like everyone & everything is taking a deep breath and
a giant pause. Maybe, I thought, that is what the earth and each
one of us needs right now...as long as we care for
each other along the way...because
we are most definitely in
at the landfill
or at home, or wherever
we may be right
my sister and I
pledged to not give each
other presents on birthdays and at
holidays. We are allowed, however, to give
each other this or that when the mood feels right. In late
2018, she sent me this bracelet she had woven with, among other
fibers, coffee filters. Who knew that coffee filters would become one of
her muses throughout 2019 and into 2020? It made sense, then,
that when I went to visit her a few weeks ago, I would
bring more filters from my compost collection
collaboration with Umpleby's Cafe
in Hanover, NH.
when I came to
her studio a few days
after arriving and found that
she had already begun transforming
those filters into fiber, testing the differences
between the Umpleby's filters and
others she receives from
friends near and far.
It was also
no surprise that
within a few days, she
had given me a copy of her
design for A Sweater Somewhat Slanted
and had taken me to The Yarn
Underground in Moscow,
ID to find just the
all the beautiful
wool at the yarn store,
I kept returning to this particular
pinky, reddy, orangy shade with a hint
of yellow mixed in. When I started knitting the
first few rows, I realized that this was uncannily similar
to the colors of two childhood sweaters -
one made by my grandmother in
1972 and another by my
mother in 1974.
It's a bit
neither my mother
nor my grandmother was
a big knitter. It's also odd that
with all my purges and clean-outs,
I had saved these two sweaters and had
actually just taken them out of
storage a few days before
going to Idaho. Clearly
I was not in charge
of my color
a week, we
knit, together and
apart. I discovered that my
hands remembered how to create
a sweater out of wool and that I could
even read and knit at the same time. I had seen
Sarah doing this and thought it was one of
her superpowers, but it turns out it's
not so hard when you're working
with a simple yet elegant
pattern like the ones
I love that
our relationship is no
longer about who's thinner or
prettier or more accomplished. Both in
our 50's (for a few more months), we now explore
our creative lives and the world in general
together. We can finally admire our
differences and celebrate
all that we share.
allowed her superpowers
to evolve over the past decades.
It's taken me a bit longer to discover mine,
and to let them flourish. I love that I embroidered my
first stitch at the same time she sent me that coffee filter bracelet.
It was like a subversive invitation to just go for it, whatever
'it' might be. And here we are, more than a year
later, and I've embroidered an entire dress
and she is working on her second
knitted coffee filter bag.
neither one of us
knows where our respective
superpowers will take us. We do know,
however, that when the shit hits the fan and life
throws us curve balls, we will harness our
gifts & create beauty out of
are at hand.
“Whatever our gift,
we are called to give it and
to dance for the renewal of the world.
In return for the privilege
- Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
home & am thrilled
to snuggle with my dog and
to hang out with my beautiful compost.
That said, nothing can replace how I feel when
I am with Sarah. I wonder what gifts we will unwittingly
exchange next? You can be sure, though, that
salvaged coffee filters will be part of
the mix and that we will be
making it all up
as we go.
It's been quite a year.
110 pounds of compost
processed in the bins behind
That's 52 weeks
of at least 110 pounds
each week, which adds up
to 5,200 pounds or
2 1/2 tons.
As you know,
compost is a thing
for me, coming from a
place of deep caring
inspired oodles of
photographs, yards and
yards of embroidery, and an
entirely new way of
where these tons
of compost will lead
in 2020 and
and turns will emerge?
Will there be chaos or coherence?
Every year, it's the same
next? Will I
be OK? Will
we find renewal
from transformation or
will we remain
or diversity? Will we hover,
like these hydrangeas
above the fray...
...or will we
let ourselves mix
and mingle with others, and
in the process, embrace
the mess that may
Will I? These are
the kinds of questions I
ask at the end of each year. It's hard
not to, especially when there's so much going
on. At this moment, though, I wonder how these compost
photographs will inspire you and me to transform
ourselves in 2020 and the decade ahead.
Keep me posted. I'm curious...
my blog or following
me on Instagram, you'll know
that I was planning to include my altered
Cotillion Dress in my current
solo show at AVA
If you've been
to AVA to find the dress,
you'll know that it's
me how the creative
process works, and how hard
it can be to separate one thread from
another when they all feel
integral to each
evolved from last
year's curiosity about how
I could share Walt Whitman's poem
"This Compost" in a colorful and affordable
manner by embroidering it on old
things, like a pillowcase or
a cloth diaper from
I listened to numerous
podcasts about art, women,
the climate crisis, racial justice and
the idea of white fragility. Each voice I heard
inspired me to rethink my past and
my relationship to it. And then
I remembered the white
dress in the attic...
it all began
because I love the
colors of compost and so
started taking pictures of it all the
time...until, magically, I had
what they call a 'body
of work' worth
what you love most just
has to stay home. In this case, I am
grateful that I gave my work to the Exhibits
Director at AVA and let her decide. The dress, even
though it seemed essential to the show for
me, just didn't fit and would have
been a distraction.
I am grateful
to this beautiful piece
of silk and lace for inviting me
to explore my own identity as a creative
person, not just with a camera,
but in life. The dress, as
My first solo show opens in 11 days.
What is the story I want to tell?
Is it about the cool colors,
textures and shapes of my Compost Compositions?
Is it about the stories
those Compositions tell about
food, culture and the regenerative
power of waste?
there is more.
Behind these photographs
there is me, a woman in mid life
choosing to share her work
and, by default, her
story - -
A story that
begins with a beginners
mind - - a willingness to explore
not just content that most
ignore, but process
that is why last year I had
so much fun dismantling and composting
my Harvard and UVA Degrees.
Why not explore?
that is why I am OK
sharing my first attempt at decorating
a silk dress with embroidered
imagery of my own
that it is Show Time
the connections between these
In a world filled with fear,
I am no longer afraid to reframe my
relationship to garbage or
To learn more,
you'll have to come to
the show. The opening is October 11
at AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH. My Artist's Talk
is November 1 at 5pm, also at AVA Gallery.
Or, you can just keep reading this
blog. More will be
dresses out for a dance
and I played dress-up.
Our mother took
they hung in my
attic for over a decade...
until it was time to
let them live
went to our
local theater company
and others went to goodwill.
A few stayed behind
well, they just
I resist those colors,
textures and the spirit of my
Not exactly me.
I'm a mender
(see last week's blog
post), not a maker or re-maker, but
maybe there was a costume designer with
the imagination I needed to help
re-create these in my
Rebecca Sewart, owner of
Pins & Needles Garment Company. She
saw the potential and, probably with her upcoming
work with Joseph and the Amazing Techni-Color
Dream Coat in mind, started with the
dress. The entire process
gift to have an
person who loves fiber
come to my house and lovingly
transform a complicated fabric into the
coolest pair of 'retro' trousers
a gal could own.
approve, because I feel
her spirit when I wear her re-imagined
evening gowns, which now contain Rebecca's energy
as well. Stay tuned for our next shared
creation...It seems that
My sister is the incredible maker, Sarah Swett, who plays with fiber and is currently enamored with making her own clothes. My mother is Shiela Swett, who loves to take photographs of nature out her back door. I learned about Rebecca from the owners of The Pink Alligator, a consignment store in Lebanon and Hanover, NH. Rebecca is now creating costumes for a production of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat for a theater company in Massachusetts.
Final thought: I have to assume that those who made my grandmother's clothes and the fabric from which they came earned a living wage, since they were either hand made or couture, but I don't know for sure since working conditions varied fifty years ago. In today's world of fast fashion, though, I am trying hard to use the fabrics I have and keep things as local as possible. This project brings me complete joy because it honors my grandmother's standard of owning well-made clothes that last and my standard of embracing the ethic of slow, sustainable fashion. And in the process, I have clothes that make me feel powerful and beautiful, but which I never would have bought off any rack in any store. Thank you, Gram.
cotton object that rips
when I touch it. It's
just a t-shirt,
No. It's more.
It contains memories:
My first years of marriage;
Playing squash with my husband;
Being in my 20's and feeling
invincible; It's so much
more than just
near and far, I got
out a needle, some light
purple thread, and got to work.
I want to wear this fragile
cotton shirt again.
I love it. It's
in our throw-away
society, mending matters.
And because it's cool
the art of
also known as Sashiko
When I love
something, I care for it.
When I love someone, I care
for them. Love takes time and patience.
It can be messy and slow and it
is always imperfect. But
it's possible. We just
have to show up
have a sense of humor.
For 26 years, I have only seen
colors, shapes, & an artist's signature.
When I told my husband about this project,
he asked: "Oh, your dancer shirt?"...
"My what? No, the one with
cool colors and
It turns out I had never
actually paid as close attention to
this shirt I love as much as my husband had.
Sometimes I guess we just see what we see. What's
cool is that I didn't feel anything like a
dancer back in the 1990's, but
I definitely do today. It's
now more perfect
to my mother for
teaching me how to sew.
Happy Mother's Day
Make it Personal
New Deal is really
all about me.
inspired by the
boldness and creativity
of the original New Deal (My Green
New Deal, Part 1). Yes, I am ready to be accountable
and count my windows while also looking out for deceptions
(My Green New Deal, Part 2). Yes, I am here to say
"Yes" to this mess (My Green New Deal,
Part 3). But I am also ready
to bring it home and
make this global
been doing that for years,
measuring my family's impact, taking
lots of photographs and
examining my life
Because I think
big and like to share, I created
Climate Action Playbooks
(no longer in print),
but really I'm
happiest when exploring
my world from behind the lens
of my camera...
excited about things
in the rear view
mirror while taking my
daughter to visit
It hit me,
our last campus tour and the
late night entrance into our garage,
that the future is not just about my children
building the skills they need. It's also
about me and my husband
modeling those skills
Self Care. I
can't help others if I
am exhausted. Step 2: Join
the group filled with people who
care about what I care
about and do what
I love to do.
So I slept
well on Friday night
and asked some friends to join
me at an inspiring lecture
portraits of some of
the people there - - laughing,
hugging, and caring for one another.
Amazing. Make it about me &
suddenly I'm out there
having a ball and
Isn't it cool
that by being seemingly
self-centered, we are in fact being generous?
What do you need to do to make
the climate crisis
How did I get here?
Why does it matter?
If you read my
post, "Why By Degrees"
you have some idea. But what's the
real story behind this blog and this site?
If you've known me for any length
of time, you've witnessed
A blog called
It sounded exotic. Ataraxy stands
for "serene calmness." I needed that. For
a bunch of ancient Greeks, Ataraxia was a lucid
state of robust equanimity. Heaven.
That's me. In the garden.
I wanted to share.
Then I found
Rufus and George.
Why not let them speak for me?
Our global problems are all about consumption
and our need for objects of all kinds. What insights could
a ruffled 50-year-old Steif Chimpanzee and a broken
china pug share about our relationship to all
our belongings, big and small?
So I briefly had a blog
called "Rufus &
a problem, though.
I had more to say than Rufus &
George understood, about how stuck we seemed,
caught between 20th century expectations and 21st century
realities. It hit me when I forgot to pull up instead of push down when
I peed. It's so confusing, changing a habit I'd had my entire life.
Flush the toilet. Push down. Until now, when everything
was a hybrid. So I created a blog, a business,
and a book, all called "Our
But I was stuck.
Why would anyone care?
Who was I behind the blog, book
and business? What was I trying to prove, and to
whom? So I got help. When my new business coach asked
me those same questions, I knew, in my heart, that I
was a photographer. When she asked me what I
loved, I knew -- compost and being outside
and noticing light and texture and
beauty. So I ignored all I had
been doing, got my
I kept exploring,
while taking small steps
forward. A web site. A business card.
A trip to New York City to photograph compost
& a few months later, have a 'pop-up' show where
I stood by my work and told people I was a
photographer and that I was into
compost, which kept inviting
me to go deeper, beyond
the soil, and into
I kept diving.
Saboteurs yacked on
my shoulder, but I kept going.
A visit to my sister in Idaho gave me time
to process. Compost, it seems, has the answers for me.
Pay attention. Be patient. Honor micro- dramas.
Allow for the mess and complexity
contained in any story, even
my own. Change "by
My work inspires joy and
new ways of being by celebrating this
magical convergence of creativity and climate action
that I experience every day. Who knew?
Welcome. This is going to be fun.
Maybe we'll meet in person
some day and you can
share your story
So that's how I got here.
It matters because you matter and your
story matters. Even if, like mine, your journey includes
false starts and stops and takes you this way
and that, it's relevant and of value.
Because, in a democracy,
we all matter.
Evelyn R. Swett
honors community, everyday transformation and joy.
is a bi-weekly viewsletter that hopefully inspires joy & transformation. It will include links to recent blog posts, updates about my work, and, best of all, inspirational action prompts for you to explore your creativity and passion for the world you love. Oh, and I promise I won't share your information (that would be so uncool) and I don't actually do promotions, but that text is required.