In the last two or three years, Chris McLarty has written hundreds upon hundreds of haiku. She started using the three-line, 17-syllable poetic form that originated in Japan to explore and express her grief after her husband, Jim, was killed in the spring of 2007 while kayaking on the St. George River in Searsmont. “This … basically saved my life,” she said of her turn to the miniature poems.

Here are two she wrote during the first year after Jim’s death:

my tears can’t hurt you
they just fall out of my eyes
into emptiness

When do I cry most?
in the middle of the night.
Oh yes, and at dawn

**********

by February
prayer flags were winter colored
white on white on white

strung across the deck
frayed and twisted by the wind
they send forth tired prayers

what flags do I need
before I can pray again
and believe in God?

After three years, McLarty has come through the acute phase of mourning, but she’s still writing haiku. And she is in the process of writing a book about using haiku for grief work in order to share the practice that has meant so much to her.

These days, many of her haiku are not about grief. For example:

outgrowing bad taste
is what we all get to do
except for tattoos

**********

yes, I’m in trouble
if God is in the details
my brush is too wide

McLarty will teach a haiku workshop this summer through Schoodic Arts for All, where she will also teach the art of making jewelry with polymer clay.

A longtime resident of Camden, McLarty grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, in the small town of Elkin. Her father was a manager in the woolen blanket factory there. Summers were spent with a large group of cousins in Blowing Rock, N.C., where her mother’s grandfather had made money in the lumber business and had become a big landowner.

When she was younger, her family attended the Methodist Church, but when she was a sophomore in high school, her parents divorced, and her mother, seeking a fresh start, began going to the Episcopal Church. This particular church was “low,” that is, it had relatively few rituals and ceremonies and emphasized the Protestant strand of Anglicanism, rather than its Roman Catholic strand. Nevertheless, McLarty said, the church was “ceremonial enough to suit you,” and “it was a comfort to have the liturgy.”

She was married as a sophomore in college and later she and her husband moved to Alaska, where she taught high school for several years. They were divorced after six years; a few years later she came to the Midcoast to attend the Maine Photographic Workshops, “and a whole new religion was opened up to me — and that was the religion of photography.”

With her eyes newly opened, she decided to go to Arizona State University to study for a master’s degree in art education (she had previously earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts), with a  concentration in photography. With her master’s, she taught college in North Carolina for a time, then came back here to teach at the Maine Photographic Workshops. And that’s where she met her second husband, Jim McLarty.

He introduced her to Africa, which was a life-altering experience. “That [first] trip to Africa probably did as much for my spiritual life as anything else,” she said. “When you are there, you feel complete … you are at the beginning of everything.” In 1988 she and Jim started a tour company, Rafiki Safaris, taking small groups to East Africa, and she still leads trips several times a year. The company’s name means “friend” in Swahili, which is how she and Jim wanted to show people the Africa they loved.

A number of years ago, she started working with polymer clay in her jewelry making business, called “Maridadi” — Swahili for “all dressed up.” McLarty also has a graphic design business that helps pay the bills, but she doesn’t find that tactile enough to be satisfying. “I always have to be doing something with my hands,” she said. The jewelry work, like the haiku, has a therapeutic aspect. “It’s a lot about how I do my grief work,” she said.

She belongs to several artists’ co-ops in the area: Archipelago in Rockland, the Rockland Art Market and the Co-op in Lincolnville, and attends several craft shows each year to sell her work as well. She also sells out of her home studio, and will give tours of her garden to interested customers.

McLarty is a member of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Rockland, and belongs to the Camden Garden Club.