Life to Art

Iris

In Spring, the bulbs that have been seemingly asleep underground, poke their heads up through the crusty earth.  Where I live, it’s usually the crocus first.  Then the daffodils.  Next, the tulips.  Finally, the irises.  Several years ago, I planted tulips and irises along the path in the front yard.  Probably not the best decision as there’s a lot of hopping over them by me and any guests who come to visit.  That said, they are there and make their appearance when conditions are right.

This painting was actually based on a photo of a little iris growing beside this path.  The tightness with which it held its bud form was noted.  The very next day, I was shocked (in a good way) to see that it had burst open overnight.

iris

 

 

Like a trumpet sound, it was impossible to ignore.  A beautiful declaration to be noticed and appreciated!

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A bulb holds promise, doesn’t it?  Years ago, I moved into a house in the San Francisco Bay Area with my family.  When we had first seen the house, before we purchased it, I had noticed the abundance of flowers in the backyard…it must have been springtime.  Months later, the flowers had come and gone.  Digging in the backyard, I found all of these gnarly brown flaky things in the soil.  I had no idea that I was tossing bulbs away, the flowers that I had witnessed in the spring.  When I think back on this, I feel sad…I didn’t know.

These days I plant bulbs and look forward to the glorious gift packaged within each tight little knot as it prepares to share its glory!

The garden, nature, is a source of inspiration to artists across time.  It’s no surprise.  Witnessing beauty, our hearts are uplifted.  The artist finds a way to render this beauty…there are so many ways.  I wonder what it is that leads one from observation of beauty to the desire to paint or portray it.  Maybe it’s a desire to preserve it and the feeling that it gave when you first witnessed it.  Or maybe it’s a desire to share it with others.  Perhaps it’s instinctual to want to capture it in an artistic way–to claim it more deeply.  I wonder.

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Sheltering in place, many more people are buying plants from the garden center.  There’s nowhere to go, nothing usual to do — creating a garden…often a food garden with flowers to beautify seems like a good idea.  Seeking the good in the present circumstances through a return to the soil.

 

The Ballerinas

In these uncertain times, we strive for balance, meaning, purpose.  We hope for the safety and health of ourselves and those we love…and we extend that prayer for our entire family, neighbors, community, state, country, neighboring countries, the earth.  We are in this together.  We always have been.

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I honestly don’t know why I started to paint ballerinas.  Perhaps it is their perfection of form–the way their bodies stand tall and poised, their mastery of graceful movement.  Perhaps it was the memory of a fleeting girlhood fantasy of being a ballerina.  Perhaps it is their delicate beauty.

I began painting ballerinas, several of them, one after the other.  This first painting was a total surprise to me.  It’s one that started out as something else, a compassionate feminine Buddha portrait, and then, it turned into the ballerinas.  At first, the central ballerina was a flower, the bleeding heart.  However, all around her, other ballerina figures were developing.  Suddenly, the bleeding heart no longer fit.  The flower became the central ballerina and she too changed over time.

Ballerinas.1

Sometimes, the way in which the paint or acrylic ink  “dripped” prompted a new figure.  I limited the color palette.

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Today is a good day to notice beauty.

Worlds Within Worlds

In her book, Anatomy of a Rose, Sharman Apt Russell, nature and science writer, has dubbed human beings as “the blind voyeurs.”  She says that while we witness nature’s spectacle of spring flowers, we are not the intended audience.  Rather, the intended audience is the pollinators!  There is a very serious seduction going on here.

The pollinating bumblebee, the birds, the butterflies and so forth…are the intended audience.  Each one of these has a quite unique perspective towards the flowers.  And an important purpose.  The attracting flower has another intention–to reproduce.

Is our role as human beings to appreciate the beauty of a field of flowers?  Or a single flower?  To be inspired by a flower while recognizing that it’s not all about us–that the flowers aren’t here specifically for our pleasure.  The ones we sometimes see, the ones we often don’t see.

Walking along, when I take the time, I notice the beauty and fragrance of a flower.  Witnessing beauty is an amazing exchange so in that way, I (you) could also be an intended audience.  It can be both.  I appreciate Georgia O’Keeffe’s wisdom on really seeing a flower.

“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small.  We haven’t time, and to see takes time–like to have a friend takes time.”

 

 

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Last summer’s hyacinth flower.

On the Trail

Awhile ago, I took of a photo of an old oak tree that was perhaps misshapen by the elements and because of this, it was fascinating, beautiful to my eye.  I loved the way it bent and twisted and yet reached towards the sky.  Gnarly could be a word to describe it.  I could see the beauty in gnarly although the word, gnarly, doesn’t have a great connotation.

That said, my mind equated it to beauty.  I am neither an experienced nor representational painter.  Yet, this photo image of the tree spoke to me.  I used it as inspiration for my painting of a stylized Tree.  Too many of us think of trees as inanimate, as non-communicative, as unfeeling.

I’m reading a book, Braiding Sweetgrass, by the author, Robin Wall Kimmerer.  She is Native American and her family was shifted from reservation to reservation.  She remembers the Pecan Trees in the various places where she and her family have lived over the generations.  The Pecan Trees–no matter where they are physically located across the country–all produce the fruit, the pecan nut, at the same time.  And, then, they don’t produce for years at a time.  What is gleaned from this fact, is that there is an underground communication system among the pecan trees whereby they concur, regardless of climatic conditions and local geographic factors, to produce fruit.

Fascinating, right?  So walking on a trail by the lake yesterday, I encountered a friend riding his bicycle.  We chatted briefly in a casual way.  Then, out of the blue, he says that he communicates with the trees during his seven mile bike ride around the lake.  That when he moved here many years ago, he was impressed with the trees, their beingness.  That he felt he could turn to them for counsel.
Haven’t some of them, the old growth, been standing here for years?”  He added, “Haven’t they seen the whole human play unfold?”

I was shocked by the synchronicity of my painting and his thoughts on trees.  I responded, “You are weird.”  By that I meant wow, how can it be that we’re both on this tree wavelength.  Today it occured to me how the earth, trees, nature, etc. infiltrate our thoughts and beings when we are receptive.  How they speak through us about what is needed to preserve life on earth.  The conservation efforts, the environmental impetus of a world in jeopardy.  Are these quests all earth and nature-instigated?  Humans think they have these brilliant ideas…but who is our coach and guide?  The earth herself, perhaps.

At some point, maybe we realize that we are the spokespersons for our planet.  At some point, we might remember that we are visitors here. We hope to leave this earth home that we’ve only borrowed, intact and viable for future generations.  And, for the other life forms that exist, survive and thrive here besides humans.

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“Truth”

I live in the mountains of northern California.  In early 2018, my sister, Kathy, moved one hour south of me at at a lower elevation.  Prior to moving, Kathy had fought cancer for several years.  She followed her own instincts in treating it.  In January, 2018, she opted for chemotherapy.

Following is an excerpt from my journal at this time.

Angels meet and greet.  Glances exchanged, hearts engaged, hands touch–sisters–when the end is near, the truth becomes clearer.  I couldn’t drive her to her first chemo appointment.  It was yesterday.  It was rescheduled from last week.  Last week, I had a good excuse–a big snowstorm.  My sister, lymphedema in her right arm–swollen beyond recognition.  A warrioress with literal wounds.  A bandage is swathed under her arm and across her chest.  This wound that hasn’t healed–the bandages need to be changed daily.

My word today is truth.  Her word is courage.

I told her that I couldn’t drive her because I couldn’t sit there beside her in the hospital as she underwent this intravenous process.  I wouldn’t have been the best support.  She thanked me for telling her my truth.  If we can’t be straight with one another now, when?

She got her hair cut short.  She asked me to knit her a hat, which I began working on immediately.  I painted her a picture of a woman surrounded by butterflies.  I think that she’s going to make it.  We need optimism.  Truth is, I don’t know very much.  The mystery is here, is in us, is around us, is us.  Nature helps.  I send her daily photos of the nature where I live to calm and center her.  To support her with beauty.

Truth is, some days I think that she’s doing better than me.  Truth is, love is a strange animal–she is always showing up at odd times, giving us opportunities.

Like that night I sat on a log beside my driveway, stargazing.  It was so peaceful, I shut my eyes.  A visiting cat sat beside me.  Out of the shrubbery beside me, a rustle. Opening my eyes, I see a creature emerging.  I can’t name it immediately.  And then,
Skunk.  A few feet apart, we stare at one another.  Neither of us felt threatened.  I watched him waddle away.  Truth is, it felt like love.  Does recognition equal love?

Truth as an expression of love.  I love you enough to tell you the truth.  Is there something that stands in the way of truth?  At least, I can try telling it to myself.  When my parents were in their declining years and the family was in chaos, I began a poem with this line:

“Truth lies in a shallow grave
while perspectives hang out everywhere…”

transformation.

 

Wardrobes

Moving to the mountains of northern California twenty years ago, a re-wilding has occurred.  There has been subtle permission to become more of who I am.  One obvious change has been to my wardrobe.  When I first moved here, my closet was filled with the clothing I wore while working in downtown San Francisco.  It soon became obvious that these clothes were not practical for life in the mountains. I had a fondness for some of these tailored clothes–the neatly pleated fuschia skirt.  The black belt with the gold and silver cranes intertwined on the wide buckle.  The knee-high boots with a slight heel–a bit of cool esteem.  The black and white checked tailored suit paired with the raw silk blouse.  The fitted, stylish dresses in my favorite colors–turquoise, deep red, navy blue with polka dots, a few soft pastels–each one fit a mood of the day.  Some were concealing, others modestly revealing.

These clothes didn’t come out of the closet once I moved to Mount Shasta!  Each year, I shed more of them.   They were traded for practical and comfortable jeans and tee-shirts.  I searched for the best hiking boots or running shoes–comfort and hardiness are everything.  In the winter, it becomes about layering.  I ordered silk leggings and tops.  Long-sleeved cotton shirts, wool sweaters and vests.  Waterproof outerwear, down jackets.   I didn’t miss trading nylon stockings for the sturdy cotton, and wool sock blends.  I knitted myself a few hats that I could tug down over my ears, and scarves wrapped up under my chin.  Mittens, a variety as, like socks, there was often one missing.    Of course, come summer, all of this was shed for the comfort of light cotton and less is more as the temperature rises into the 90’s or 100’s.  A serviceable swimsuit for dunking in one of the many lakes.

I wonder, Do clothes make the woman?  Or, am I being tailored by my environment?

Living in the mountains brings out an inherent spirit of adventure that had been dormant.  Where does this trail lead?  And that one?  What hidden lake is waiting for me to discover it?  The falling in love with where I live.  The beauty that lures me.  The trail that winds and I wonder what’s around the next curve, up that hill, over that ridge…I must follow.

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I encountered this bear on a river trail a few days ago.  We were a comfortable distance apart as he posed for a few photos.

Remembering the Connection

invitation.2019

This is another theme of mine that replays itself.  Truly, I don’t understand how anyone (me included at times) canNOT see that everything affects everything.  When my daughters were young and watching Sesame Street, there was a cartoon that they replayed frequently.  It went something like this…If I pop my little brother’s balloon, he’s going to cry.  Mommy is going to come running.  He’s going to point his finger at me.  I’m going to get into trouble.

An effective example of actions with consequences.  So it is with our earth.  We are invited to share in the beauty and the bounty provided by nature.  And, it’s a wise thing to live sustainably and reciprocate in ways that we are able.  How we impact our planet, “our carbon footprint” for one, affects not only us, but the other creatures with whom we share this earth home.  And also, the generations to come.

This painting invites us into the forest and to receive the healing salve of being in nature.  It is an invitation requiring reciprocity.  Please respect this earth–home to many.

 

A Day in the Park

Going north to Ashland, Oregon, without a particular plan, I experienced a day of variety and flow.

Her face
finely chiseled ivory
a cameo portrait
hair woven in braids
and curls piled high
tattoos traced her arms and any bare skin
her clothes were colorful, soft and flowing
her expression–lost in another time and place–
her fingers played the keys of the accordion
while she pumped the bellows gracefully
the soft, insistent, melancholic music
forcing its way into the heart’s land
I placed a few dollars in the accordion case
and she barely nodded as I said “beautiful” and
“thank you.”
I walked into the park
the loud tones of a man’s voice
rose over all other sounds
as he swore and beat on the man
lying at his feet on the ground.

The man on the ground was curled in a fetal position.  His arms and hands shielding his head as a circle of young men gathered and held back all at once.  I hurried two curious young girls along the path catching them up to their mother who finally said “They didn’t need to see that.”

I found a park bench in the shade beside the duck pond on this overheated day.  I marked the rentals in the newspaper out of habit and hope. I watched the mother duck and her nine, count them, nine ducklings being herded here, no here, no there, keep up–the fluffy-headed, wide-eyed ducklings.  “Yes, mother, oh yes mother, oh!”  They do respond to every barked order.  Survival is a serious business and this duck pond, for better or worse, is their home for now.

At a neighboring bench, someone said that the old woman was part Cherokee.  She weaves baskets out of pine needles!  Her old fingers do such fine work and she’s so proud.  She only learned two years ago.  She outdid her teacher…it’s in her cells this knowing how to weave baskets.

I approach the basket weaver.
“Do you teach classes?” I inquire.
$50.00 a person.  Gather some people.

I want to learn from her.  It’s obvious that she knows how to live a fulfilled life.  Teach me that, please.  She touches my arm as if a touch can impart such wisdom or is she reading me?  Her eyes show neither humble senility nor prideful superiority–only a quiet wisdom.  Yes, teach me soon, I’ll pay.  Her daughter, works in a salon, files fingernails.

The pianist in the ice cream parlor trying to sell me his cd.
“I really just came in to buy ice cream,” I emphasize.  I buy a cd, finally, for two thirds of the price–he’s a good salesman, but can he play the piano?

I got the last haircut appointment in a little shop off the boulevard.  The perfect cut.

This day held all a day could hold, all that life could hold.  Beauty and violence, the extremes and beauty prevailed.

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Do you ever choose a day of flow without any particular plan?  Have you written about it?

Bear with me…

Having lived in Mount Shasta for three years, I continued to feel like a stranger in a strange land.  As if I had fallen into a life and world that were so foreign to me.  Following is an excerpt from a journal written in 2002…

Tonight after dark, I walked the loop road around my wild new neighborhood.  Tree spectres, star navigators, I felt like an orphan returned to her original home, finally and afraid.  I didn’t know this terrain.  I knew huddled box houses, concrete, asphalt-paved city streets, skyscrapers,  city lights and the sound of foghorns.  Now, living in the mountains, I walked along snow-berm lined roads and felt out of place in the deep quiet that is induced by snow.  I looked to the stars for guidance, but didn’t grow up reading them.  Foggy nights and shuttered windows allowed neither awareness of the stars nor the sun’s rising and retreating.  Is it too late for me to become familiar with nature in her rawness?  Aren’t I the daughter of this more truly than anything…or anyone?

Though the road was partially lit by a slightly waning moon, I carried a flashlight.  I had chosen to move here, to be so displaced.   Even with this yearning to connect with nature, I was surprised by a lurking fear.  What strange stalking beast might be watching me?  Yes, there are bears, mountain lions and bobcats here.  A few barking dogs raced down paths to announce themselves…and me.

A few days ago, at Castle Lake, there were about ten fish, trout I think, about 12″ long, each one laid neatly at the base of a pine tree around which a circumference of snow had melted.  The fish lay dead, intertwined, resembling a celtic knot.  A single fish laid a few trees away.  Where do fish go in winter when this mountain lake freezes over to a depth of several feet?  How did this neat pile of preserved fish get here?  Away from the water on a higher plane–the water hadn’t risen that high.  A mystery.

Were the fish, a bear’s bounty abandoned perhaps when s/he was unexpectedly intruded upon?  A bear who fished the lake before it froze, laid them in a neat design beneath the tree and then was driven off by a hunter, perhaps?  Or his suspicions of one?  Or was it an offering of some sort?  Or perhaps a bear scared a fisherman off…but then why did he leave the fish?  The cluster of fish frozen beneath all of that snow for weeks and now a temporary melting and no bear to claim this defrosted bounty.

I’d written a mini-writing workshop to share with a circle of friends about winter–exploring their feelings–about this one in particular.  This winter had lavishly dumped 90-inches of snow over our town in less than one month!  That’s a lot of snow to move around to clear pathways, driveways and streets.  Berms grew and city streets were narrowed, slushy and hard to navigate.  A precarious and often impossible situation.  Some days, I stayed  home and checked the weather reports regularly, looking towards a break.  Emerging into January, a new year, temperatures rose to the 40’s and rain fell for two weeks dissolving some of the berms.  And then, a dry spell, a few visible sunsets causing a body to halt in her routine to witness the translucent alpenglow on the mountain.  The beauty, ah yes, I remember why I moved here.  Such breathtaking beauty and nature pounding down the door.

Really, though, what does any of this rambling have to do with bear?  Or abandoned fish?  Or my winter themed writing workshop?  Only everything!  Terry Tempest Williams and other writers of our times, have likened the hibernating bear to the in-dwelling hidden deep feminine!  The introspective cave dweller.  The female bear who births her young in the spring.  Winter gestations, hibernations, cave dwelling–not to be feared but appreciated for allowing one the time and space it takes to gestate, find her voice and create.  Isn’t that what I’m doing here?  In Mount Shasta?  According to Williams…if you should meet this bear in the wild, open your blouse and show that you’re a woman and you will be allowed to pass unharmed, so the story goes.  And where has my cat wandered to after hours?  It’s well past closing time.  I hope she hasn’t encountered a bear.

And tonight, when I told my lover let’s lay in silence for awhile, “Let’s not talk,” he pinned my hands and I growled like a bear in captivity.  Then he left.  I felt angry because no man could contain me any longer.  Now I have a voice and sometimes I displease a man.

 

Nowhere to Go...Dec. 2001.jpg

“Nature Includes Us”

Years ago, watching a documentary on the life of John Muir, I was struck by this one sentence “Nature Includes Us.”  Growing up in San Francisco, although we lived blocks from the ocean, we didn’t have a sense of our connection to nature.  Our lives were conducted within the four walls of a house that was bursting at the seams with nine children.  The thrust was to get an education and then get a job in downtown San Francisco with its concrete and high rises.  Nature was the sky between the buildings and we seldom looked up.  As a young woman, I moved a block-and-a-half from the ocean.  That is when my interrelationship with nature became more conscious.

Moving to Mount Shasta twenty years ago, there was a sense of rebirth.  Discovering the hiking trails, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, forests–not to mention our mountain rising above it all at 14, 179 feet–opened me to the wonder and beauty of nature.  I could be in a an abiding state of awe over this beauty which includes me and you.  In San Francisco, there was little or no sense of the four seasons.  There was fog…sun in the Mission District and Noe Valley perhaps–those banana belts–however, fog in the Sunset District was the summer norm. In the mountains, we have the four seasons!  Each season with its distinct flavor and rarely fog…not ocean fog anyway.  There might be a mist that seeps between the trees after a heavy rain.  The type of mist in which magic lurks.

And bears.  In some Native American Traditions, bear medicine has to do with “introspection.”  It is associated with the season of Winter.  Bear goes inside a cave and hibernates when winter is at its most intense.  Bear has eaten a fair share of grasses, roots, berries, fruit, insects, fish and small animals and any garbage left outdoors and accessible.  Living in the mountains you hear bear tales and you cultivate your own.
There was the story of a man who camped way up on Old McCloud Road.  He had a nightly bear visitor.  To deter the bear, he would bang pots and pans, a little symphony, to scare the bear away.  There is definitely an etiquette of what to do when you encounter a bear.  It’s good to inform yourself about this if you enter bear country!

Of course, you don’t want to leave food or garbage lying around either at home or if you’re camping.  Bears don’t read “private property” or care about the campsite delineation.  The back of the property where I live is open to an alley.  In the late summer when the apple and pear trees are laden with their fruit, I have a bear visitor.  He’s very low profile as he comes in the night.  The only calling cards are broken tree branches and a pile of scat!  The neighbor’s barking dogs sometimes alert us to his presence, but he’s pretty elusive.

Hiking in the Castle Crags alone isn’t the most brilliant idea.  I have done it a few times.  Once, I thought I’d walk in the upper Castle Crags, the Root Creek Trail.  A couple came running from the direction I planned to hike.  They told me there was a big black bear and it was running towards them, not away.  I immediately turned around and changed my mind about hiking there.  Bears deserve respect especially in their habitat.  And the stories about mama bears, don’t mess with them, are real.  However cute the cubs might be, they are best observed at a safe distance or on TV.

I walk frequently by Lake Siskiyou, five minutes from where I live.  One summer, I took my binoculars as I was following a certain eagle who perched on the opposite shore.  The cry of an eagle is distinct even to the non-educated ear.  Staring in the direction of “my eagle,” I heard a bird cry behind me.  I turned just in time to see a black bear running a terraced part of the terrain twenty feet above me.  Both of us paused in our tracks and stared at one another for a brief moment.  Then the bear continued on its journey.  A jogger came along shortly.  He asked if I had seen a bear and which direction it had gone in.  I said yes.  And we both stopped to consider how close we were to this bear.  There had been no reason for fear to be triggered.  The only true feelings were of awe and gratitude.

“That is why we live here,” he said.  And two strangers gave one another a quick hug and continued our separate ways.

I doubt the bear was in awe of us.  There was a moment though in which I felt included in something very special.  To be given a glimpse of the wild in nature was to glimpse the wild in me.