in this natural setting. enjoy.
in this natural setting. enjoy.
I thought I'd share a couple of photos from our latest wilderness getaway. The family usually just packs up the camper and heads out. We sometimes have a general direction in mind, but we don't always have a place. We just take it as it comes. I find these outings to be very relaxing, recharges my creative abilities.
A warm drink on a blustery day to help me stay focused. I have just over a month to go in my master's studies and I am looking forward to completing the work. This last class is on aesthetics in education and I am enjoying the material. I am reading from Landscapes of Aesthetic Education by Richmond and Snowber. Celeste Snowber is the instructor for this class and I find her writing really resonates with me. I just read a poem of hers called Moist Manna where she refers to a child catching snowflakes on his tongue.
In it she asks:
I wonder why as adults, we forget to lie down in the textures of the natural world and behold the beauty of what falls into our arms.
I still feel as though I am moving through life too fast; barely looking up from the load I am carrying. At this moment I want to look up and wonder at everything that is around me, the ants at my feet, the leaves overhead and a warm mug in my hands. At this moment I have everything I need. At this moment, I am okay.
We are listening as artist Toni Onley sweeps his arm along the horizon. "Now this is worth painting!" he declares. My eyes follow his arm out past his fingertips and I fight back a feeling of vertigo as I see the land below. An afternoon wind has begun to blow up the side of the cliff towards us. It combines with the heat from the sun making the space between me and the land below almost tangible. If I had wings, I could spread them at this moment and I would be airborne. The mountains continue back as far as I can see, each range becoming a faint version of the one before it. The view is so large that it overwhelms me. Toni has plunked himself down in the grass. He's unrolling his brushes and talking to all the grey heads, "I hate teaching these community workshops, but it is the only way they would let me have this Yukon residency. Your landscape is amazing...Who paints regularly with watercolors?" My hand goes up, but mine is the only one. It would seem that I am the only one aware of who Toni is. His eyes quickly dismiss me as he replies, "Well okay then, let's just have fun. Paint what you see."
I look back at the landscape but it is too magnanimous for me. I don't even know where to start. I look over at Toni; he is talking about boats and the coast as he wets his page. Pale greens and grays swirl around his brush effortlessly. He has captured the summer haze from forest fires and the space inside the valley.
Space? How can anyone paint space?
It is not what he has said with his brush that stands out, it is what he didn't say. The same restraint shown in his painting technique shows up in his teaching. He sets his work down and says, "Now it's your turn", expertly steering the conversation to unrelated matters. Unable to to duplicate what I just saw, I looked towards the ground. There are some pine cones and needles in front of me so I focus there. Others are happily painting caricatured trees in dark green blotches, their little branches pointing upwards. Toni doesn't seem to mind. He keeps on chatting and moves over to see what I am doing. As his shadow falls on my work and his sentence trails off, I feel myself begin to sweat.
What will he say? Does he object to me painting the miniscule instead of the magnanimous?
I hold my breath and wait for his wisdom but he merely grunts and returns to his chatter. For a moment I feel as insignificant as the ground cover I am painting. I can hear him continuing his chit-chat with the others. I feel disappointed.
Looking back on this experience I see it what I missed so long ago...Toni painted the isolation, the love of a moment share between a man and nature. He painted his relationship to the things that brought beauty and meaning into his life. He spoke with his brush and I must do the same.
These are seemingly unrelated topics at first. What they have in common is their connection to my life lived in rural BC. This land calls to me with images of loveliness, brilliant green in spring, vibrant colors in summer and the serene monotones of fall and winter. On the surface, deceptively romantic, but really it's a struggle everyday. Routine items, like keeping warm and dry, growing food and running a variety of appliances with electricity become these large choreographed performances. The latest venue played last night as the heat seal from the wood stove crumbled into my hands right after I had filled the firebox for the night. I could not repair it and when the door was closed without the seal the air whipped in the gaps and over the wood filling the stove with bright orange flames. I could tell it wouldn't be long before the stove reached a dangerous temperature. Pulling the fire apart was the only solution I could come up with so I called my son and we pulled each log out, dousing it with water in a metal bucket and hauling it outside. We successfully emptied the firebox of wood while filling the house with smoke. Our eyes and throats burned and I couldn't help but wonder if there had been a better solution. After an hour of airing out the house, I finally headed to bed. It was after 11:00 p.m. and I had some trouble falling asleep. I kept thinking about how great it would be to sell the place and move somewhere...easier. I decided to open my window and put on an extra quilt. The weather was mild and the fresh air felt soothing on my throat. At some point I must have drifted off because the next thing I remember I was waking up to the sounds of a discordant chorus of coyotes with the neighbor dog singing back up. It was 2:20 a.m., only 3 hours remained until the start of the next day. Bring it on! I thought sarcastically before I drifted off again.
My history with corvids (crows, ravens, magpies) goes back a ways. When I was about 14 yrs old, I had my bedroom upstairs in an old farmhouse. There was a small window in a dormer and it lead right out onto the roof. My brother and I used to get onto the roof so we could see to the back of the property. On the prairies anything high will give you at least a 20-50km view. We weren't the only ones who used this 'perch'. A magpie discovered it while trying to amuse himself one day. He sat outside my window at about 4am and 'sang'. It was summer and it was hot so I had my window open. His raspy voice sent me flying outta bed. I flung open the screen and started swinging at him with my arms. He hopped out of the way and looked at me with great amusement. "Ach, ach, ach", he said and look for my response. I cussed him out with every word I knew and he responded, "Ach, ach, ach." I finally had to crawl out and chase him off. He visited me at 4 am for the next 4 days and sang before he lost interest and looked for someone else to pester.
Sitting alone with my tea Saturday morning is something I enjoy. This morning as I sipped with both hands I looked at the moon-shaped scars on my left hand, then an arrow shaped scar on my right thumb. I don't have many scars, but the ones I do have are connected to my encounters with wildlife. As a kid I spent a lot of time trying to enter the world of small rodents. Any free time consisted of walking around the family's 160 acre land with my head pointed toward the microcosm on the ground. I remember digging into tunnels the width of a golf ball trying to see how small creatures decorated their homes. I meant no harm and reasoned that the owner would instinctively understand so I was surprised one day when I received the injury to my thumb from a set of tiny, sharp teeth. It happened so quickly that I didn't get to see the resident owner with much clarity. I marched over to my Dad to declare my disappointment but his face clouded with worry and he began to pelt me with questions, "how big was it?" and "Was it frothing at the mouth?". The whole entire event was confusing and I quickly categorized it as an exception to my rule. Many years later I received the scars on my left hand through much the same kind of denial. On this day the dog was barking furiously at a brown furry lump half his size so my brother and I went to investigate. The lump had one good eye and as he turned to look at us I could see the terror and desperation in it. I decided to act. I ran to the house, put on several layers of work gloves, had my brother hold the dog back and approached the lump. He was a muskrat and I knew he belonged at the pond behind our house. I reasoned that with my gloved protection I could pick him up and relocate him to the pond before he even knew what had happened. Well, his teeth were larger and sharper that the mouse. He bit through all 3 sets of gloves and deeply into the flesh of my hand. I tossed him down and he took off with the dog in pursuit. Amazement turned to worry as the wound wouldn't stop bleeding. We were alone that day, so we did what we had seen in some movie somewhere and tied a tourniquet around my bicep. The bleeding stopped quickly after along with the feeling to my arm. It's colour drained and it began to feel cold. Apparently the 'sock' was effective, but a little too tight. It was removed an hour later by an amused Doctor and two unamused parents. I no longer approach wild things in an attempt to understand them, instead I try to incorporate their natural world into my art. I share the same world with them, yet their ability to integrate with their surroundings in a way that works within the ecosystem is something I still cannot do. I want to know what they know so that I can live and die an integrated part of the world, as they do. I am deeply embarrassed for humans that we have let hedonistic desire pervert our existence in this world. I see what a mess people have made and wonder if it will ever change.
I spent some time 'in the moment' today. As soon as everyone had gone off to work and school, I took the dogs and headed down the road for a walk. It was cool out, perhaps only +3. The moon, full and round was still visible in the west. We walked quickly in the crisp air and I could hear the panting of the dogs, my clothing brushing on itself, a few brave birds, and...what was that? Large rustling from the bush to my left. Thanks to the heavy winds of last week, the trees were bare and I was able to see a cow moose get up from her bed to look at me. I am always amazed at how big they are! Their ears are no less than 8 inches high. They looked like awkward teenagers with their long skinny legs. I whispered a silent prayer that she would not see me as a threat. We were so close together, her and I, looking at one another. She made no aggressive move toward me and I could enjoy her beauty while the dogs and I walked past. My large dog let out a low growl and I hushed her. It was a beautiful moment !
This cow was standing outside our dinning room window last winter. She looks very much like the moose I saw today.