Five clay whistles, brought to the lips, transform a single breath. A simple note, again and another, begin to form a melodic song, pulled from the earth. Soon a plaintive sound is swirling and echoing around familiar symbols – resonating a story – small enough to be held in the hand.

The whistles are found on postcards in Silvia’s dented red tin. We see a woman, one arm clasping a young child, a tiny house pinned to her chest. Her other arm extends. It reaches and grasps the moon, an articulated orb precariously balanced on the shell of a turtle.

This whistle is the story of creation and creativity, reminiscent of Sky Woman and the creation of the world on the back of a turtle, slow, determined patience. It is the story of a woman, a mother, desperately holding onto the creative, while grounded in the domestic. As it rests in my hand, it becomes the story of pneuma: the life-giving breath, the soul of the story, the whistle that begins the song cycle of Silvia.


The postcards announce openings and exhibitions. There is a “whistle talk” and a slide show. Written on the back are short notes: the life of a dog named Buddha, Christmas greetings with a festive hat drawn on the turtle, the exchange of myrtle. With endearment, each is signed, “Dd.”

The postcards had sat on Silvia’s table or desk, each in their turn for a time. They are dog-eared, with a splat of tea here and there. The dents and dings of daily life mar their surface. But at the end of the day, Silvia placed them in her tin, with fondness, with memories. It was left to me to find this woman, this artist. A woman I knew had a song. I would need to find Dd.

Google, that tireless sleuth, quickly locates the woman holding the moon, but intruding on her life becomes another matter altogether. How would I rationally explain my interest in Silvia, when I couldn’t understand it myself? My desire to learn Silvia’s story, felt so forcefully and tangibly within, became strange and suspect when I stood outside it, looking in. Through impulse, I asked a friend, if she knew the artist, the creator of whistles, and through the happenstantial links of human connection, the introduction was bridged through a professor and his routine Sunday brunch. A few weeks later, I sat on my porch, in the sunlight of an extended Summer, listening to the stories told by Delia Robinson.

Silvia and Delia were neighbors in Montpelier before Silvia moved to my little village. They formed a long friendship, initiated with an Easter basket, secretly left on Silvia’s porch. Their houses nestled around the crossroads of Sparrow Farm Road and Gould Hill Road, surrounded by forest and farmland. The neighbors there, like those in many rural locations, formed tight-knit bonds through daily interaction, neighborly help, and the celebrations of life. There were parties and birthdays and huge bouquets of flowers picked from their gardens. Books were read and exchanged. Dogs barked while running circles around cows and chickens and the ubiquitous rats. There was child-rearing advice, and excursions, pastries, and an old world pantry. There was Silvia’s closed-up house, surrounded by blooming gardens. Plants and seeds were exchanged. There were broken-down cars and bees and bear costumes. There were generosity and love and misunderstandings. There were also stories, told by Silvia, of family and Estonia, and the writing she published about her childhood – a notebook, somewhere, still not found.


These were the stories that animated Silvia’s photographs. They shared her spirit and taught me the depth of her tenacity. They told me where to look, and who to speak with next, each voice singing a round of Tuljak. Through Delia’s whistles, we hear the first notes, the song of Silvia’s life, sung in Estonian chorus.

Multi-note Clay Whistles: The Journey, The Turtle Ride and Talking to the Moon.

3 thoughts on “Pneuma

  1. Oh my!
    Thank you for bringing Silvia into our lives!
    Please publish this book please?!…
    You’ve brought her to my own front porch!
    Marvelous journey.
    I’ve begun reading them aloud in a soft,
    storytelling voice bcause she is so mysterious and yet so very present!
    Waiting is difficult…

  2. Hi Angela! Two things ~ one is that tomorrow I was planning on telling the PreK’s the story about Sky Woman when we go to the Forest Classroom. I am slowly teaching myself the art of storytelling and rather than continuing to make them up, I am working on learning some Abenaki stories. Also, I live very close to Sparrow and Gould. We can walk there easily from my house. Let’s make a plan for you to visit!

    1. I am going up to Sparrow and Gould on Sunday morning. Perhaps I can stop in afterward, if you are free? & I love the many versions of the story of Sky Woman. I will ask William about it tomorrow!

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