Feel Free to Touch

We signed in at the first stop along the tour, providing our contact information for tracing purposes, and sanitized our hands. The woman who greeted us inside said “Feel free to touch anything that catches your eye. Texture is a big part of my work.”

She explained her process of using tubes of liquid clay in different colours applied to the pottery piece before firing to create the design and texture.

“Just bring me the piece you’ve picked up and I’ll wipe it down to return to the shelf for the next person.”

She had the kind of eyes that left no question that there was a smile underneath her mask. I tried hard to communicate my smile with my eyes, but in truth I was fighting back tears – tears of relief at being invited to engage my senses in the experience, and tears of grief at the strangeness of times that made this whole conversation and process necessary in the first place.

The past couple of weeks have been difficult and stressful – in my family, in my social groups, in my community. As we face the reality of a second Covid wave, navigating life and how to be together has been exhausting. Without having really recovered from the numbing fatigue of the first wave, the additional spectre of winter approaching feels almost insurmountable in determining how to gather and visit outdoors in order to keep everyone safe.

Even the welcome sight of Orion, winter’s mythical hero of the sky, shining through my bedroom window at night hasn’t prevented a couple sleepless nights battling existential angst.

The thought of sitting through one more Zoom meeting the day before had been almost unbearable. Self-care in the form of a nap and meditation beforehand, and the promise of a screen free weekend (well, almost screen free – there was a new episode of Star Trek Discovery waiting for me) a weekend engaging all the senses, reconnecting with nature, with myself, and with others again. Even if it meant wearing masks, exaggerating eye contact, and endless hand sanitizing.

We set off in the morning for a studio tour, a bi-annual local event whose spring offering this year had been cancelled as a result of the first wave lockdown.

Ever since I discovered them in the early 80’s, studio tours have been a source of joy and peaceful pleasure for my soul – traversing the countryside with a not quite to scale brochure map, discovering new artists and meeting them in their natural habitat, tasting, touching, seeing, smelling their wares and selecting the best of treasures to bring home. A feast for all the senses.

“Feel free to touch.”

Sometimes it’s not possible to fully acknowledge how much you miss something so vital until what has been withheld is offered to you once again. In this strange new world where touch holds the very real potential to spread illness and kill, the offer came as blessed relief.

The spectacular views of the countryside in autumn in the river valley along the escarpment, the colour and vibrancy of the artwork, provided visual stimulation that was more than satisfactory.

The smell of woodsmoke from firepits surrounded by socially distanced seating adjacent to outdoor kiosks with unidirectional traffic flow and sanitizing stations on entering and leaving.

Even the most reticent of us uncharastically chatty at the first opportunity to socialize and gather since the spring, regardless of not being able to see each other’s faces or stand closer than two meters apart.

At our second stop along the way, I purchased a pair of silver and citrine earrings. Citrine is a mineral whose properties promise to help with anxiety, depression and those seeking a new purpose. It attracts self-worth and dissolves emotional blocks. I’ll keep you posted.

As we disembarked the car for the last studio on the tour, I stopped to take a photo of a glorious maple that had managed to hold onto its foliage when most of the trees here have already dropped their leaves.

A flock of Canada geese passed overhead, their honking to each other in whatever conversation geese have in flight filled the air.

Touch, smell, sight, sound….

Only one sense remained unengaged.

We made one more purchase here – partly from the desire to support the artist who commented on how grateful she was for this show as it had turned out to be her only sales opportunity of the year, partly because it was a beautiful functional piece of pottery, a pedestaled serving plate.

I remarked that I was anxious to go home and bake something just to serve up on the plate and was invited back to share my wares the next day.

We found coffee and cookies in exchange for a donation there. My partner, either out of optimisim or desperation for caffeine, chose the coffee. Having been fooled into drinking watery coffee on one to many occasion before now, I chose the grocery chain cookie option, and while neither of our taste buds were entirely satisfied, all our senses had been engaged.

Having fulfilled the objective of the day in less time than anticipated and having (as usual) overshot the studio tour budget, we returned home to further engage the senses with books, a dish of risotto and a glass of wine left over from the night before, me to my Star Trek episode and my partner to his book.

In these very weirdest of times, where the ordinary feels extraordinary and precious, where we are forced to be creative and innovative in navigating life in a world that presents very real challenges to our physical, emotional and spiritual health, it was a good day.