What Comes to Mind at the River

Reading and then meeting Kyo MacLear affirmed, for me, everything that’s been formulating inside me the past several years…about birding, art, nature and life.  Many things have formed me into this person who shows up at the Bow River around 10 on a winter’s morning, taking pause above the river and observing wildlife.

My friends and family wonder and ask…mostly not asking anymore, “What are you painting?  Why don’t you paint?”  and at those questions, I can only sit with who I am and be grateful for the grace of anything and everything that led me to this place where I find myself.  As I drove up from the parking spot this morning, I just kept saying, aloud, “I love my life. I love my life.”

I will paint again.  But, the truth is…painting was a lot about ego.  It was a lot about around-the-clock commitment.  It was about trying to balance full time work, raising children and keeping it all together.  My stomach sometimes hurt as deadlines for shows approached.  I was terrified in front of blank canvases.  I couldn’t assert myself with dealers, set boundaries or say what I needed.  I didn’t have money to buy those outfits that seem to be required if you are an artist, especially a female artist. Painting had lost its magic and so, when I paint again, it will be profound because it will be for all the right reasons, not for all the wrong reasons.

Doris McCarthy said, “Paint every day.”  I think more about her as days go by, without painting, than anyone.  She explained how those muscles work.  She explained how time also rushes by. Doris was my friend and she gave me a lot of strength. I think about Doris when I know that I will physically paint again.

Now…did the painting really stop?  I argue, “No”.  I have been intensely researching my next body of work for years now…having painted about 15 panels related to a Covenant series, I then began to connect again with the landscape.  It just happened.  It happened at the reading of two poems, the first,  The Wolf Between the Trees by George Bowering.  I used his poem, with permission, embedded in the poem along with a cup full of ash…remains of personal papers I had burned in the studio.  This is the painting…

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and secondly, a tribute poem written by Paulette Dube for the Caribou.  I’m including her words, here.  I hope you will read them.

In the new days, magic was on the surface of things, the shine of it all, quick and bright and fast as new rivers.

 Now Rivers winds Under Earth, has to be convinced, to play her deep song, entreated , to show herself.

 The Celts call these « thin places », where the other side is so close, the veil shivers your arms as you reach through.

 The First People travelled (sic) these sacred pieces of earth, to think on things in the presence of Creator.

 I know them as mountains.  I see them with my spirit eyes, walk them with blood and bone legs.  They teach, as clear as bird song or scolding squirrel lesson, bracing as clean water through moss.

 This alpine terrain is grey onion paper, thin as ash.  Feet must be wide to avoid lace-like flower and moss, spider web and lichen.        Be mindful.

 The Creator’s ear is earth as we do not see it.  Make joyous noise if you want to be herd.  Get yourself a song and string from bone to bone, a home of light and wind.

 She moves.  She feels her calf, inside, taking nourishment from her own bones and teeth.  The calf moves (as my son once did)  deep in the dreaming place.  The cow’s thickening body keeps the Small one warm, keeps him from hunger, keeps her     moving.

 Born where the dark forest gives way to lake, loon’s perfect call – silver sharp tremolo – traces the surface of this morning sky :  clear as mountain water scythes the earth.

 Loon calls from the lake face, that voice – shapes my form-    coming through the trees.

 The land reacts to our presence when we belong

 Noise of a sow grizzly and her two cubs.  To each a place, to each, a means of prayer and play.  To each, the necessary silence.

 Sacred whorl of grey and brown, blow open the gate.  Allow a wild glimpse of self.

 When you descend to leaf litter, feathered legs and all, you are an angel – touching Earth.

 The engine that is me, hears the song that is you…

 …coming together is a song I cannot bear for long.  Satiated by my own irregular rythmes.

 Promises shape who we are, what we will become –

we pray.

 His brow is unfurrowed.  Streamlined, he walks the wind, easily.

 Healing is water over stones, wind over grass, gaits – fearless.

Feral hearts wander – oblivious to fences of human design.

 Survival embodies existence but – does not define it.

 He moves through sunlight to scrub, deliberate – elemental – muscle.

 Hummingbird hears colour – Coyote knows crack in a leaf is direction – Bear walks trail made of wind.

 If Humans could once again divine the essential – would we find home ?

 A candle in a church is a thing of beauty – a flame in the wilderness is a miracle.

 Find something big to pit against – to throw loneliness into –  Amid bone, snow and stone –   caribou.  The precious, the delicate of design – we live here.

 Fire and earth – water and air – there is no room for anger.

 Memories permit us to speak of things –

our heart tends to in the night.

The resulting painting, upon hearing this poem is posted below.  The words to the poem are written into the painting.  It was at this punctuation mark in my life, at this painting and the other, that I realized my painting would always be about ‘place’.

Caribou 3

So, as an artist, what I’ve been doing ever since is sorting that out….the surface, the paint, collage, text, subject matter.  It might take a lifetime to make sense of it.  I don’t know.  But, in the meantime, I am energized and interested and creative and LOOK!  I write!

Everything I’ve been doing, in the sorting,  has made for this wondrous life of mine.  It’s taken me out into the landscape.  It’s caused me to notice more.  It’s manufactured poems, paintings, photographs and connected me with videographer, Liam of Beam Media and the photographer,  Jack Breakfast.

And this morning, I met Doug Newman.  It was after two cups of coffee at home and after two posts about books that I have read that I headed out into the cold with Max man.  The roads were bad, so I decided to get us down to a parking lot that edges the Bow River and to explore the first wintry day on the river.  There was only one other car in the lot…a man speaking on his telephone.  Max and I headed out.

This is what I wrote once back inside the car…and after snapping four photos on my cell phone…and after turning up the heat and settling in with CKUA.

I didn’t bring a camera with me, but hiked the edge of the Bow River this morning. I watched a Bald Eagle fish, its wings, so powerful. Three times, it landed on tree tops to the left of me, by 200 meters. The geese, exhausted and resting, lifted off of the dark water, along with the cacophony of gulls each time the eagle dove toward the water. Two deer swam, gracefully, from this side and shook off like wet dogs, once arriving on the shore across from me. A perfect morning.

From an interview with Kyo MacLear, writer of Birds, Art, Life… this…

Q: In the book there’s a list, the “Pantheon of Smallness,” in which you compare items such as blackbirds and Rembrandt’s etching. Equating the arts with nature was deliberate, no?

A: It was. It was also a bit playful. I wanted the readers to come in and fill in their own ideas. The Pantheon of Smallness was a way of thinking about smallness differently. Sometimes we make small things, sometimes there are small bird songs, but it can have an enormous impact. Sometimes you have to whisper to be heard. Our culture is very much one of “bigging it up,” always upping the noise level in order to produce a louder signal. What you see in the bird world is sometimes that the smallest tweet can actually pierce through the cacophony in a different way. That became a metaphor for thinking about art. Emily Dickinson did quite miniature work that had a very profound, almost epic, impact, culturally speaking.

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While typing that paragraph, I saw the gentleman leave his car, carrying a camera and sporting a huge lens.  I watched, discreetly, as he took photographs.  I saw him pan as geese took flight.  I saw him quietly observe for quite a long time.  Finally, as he turned to get back into his vehicle, I rolled down my window and we began to chat.

It turns out that Doug also posts photographs to Alberta Birds.  We introduced ourselves to one another and I began to ask him questions about photography, equipment and we shared some of our ‘bird’ moments.  It is such a pleasure to discover another birder along the quiet pathways of my every day.  It was nice to experience his enthusiasm and his excitement.  He opened up his photograph of a goose taking flight and I was in awe of the detail and the strength captured in that single image.

I love my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s Birds: May 4, 2017

Over the past two days, ‘they’ve’ been draining the water from one of the smaller wetlands that neighbours the pond at Frank’s Flats.  I’ve been holding a bit of a grudge, given that, of course, multiple families of geese and waterfowl have already done their romancing and settled in.  Changes will be even more dramatic when the 22X (Stoney Trail) expansion requires ‘them’ to interfere with the wetlands on the west side of Macleod Trail.  I know. I know.  This infringement upon wildlife and plant life is a constant struggle as human beings lay down more and more pavement, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t cause a person grief as they are witness to the process.  Where are the advocates for wild life and who is listening?  I sometimes wonder.

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I met ‘a guy’ in one of those bright orange vests.  Don’t ask me his position.  It was a complicated title.  I just nodded.  He seemed interested that I pick litter and that I know anything at all about the wetlands.  He participates in the annual river clean up.  hmmm

He was out on that fine day, checking that everything was staked out and assured me that the remaining large trees would be coming down, but that on the first rip down, because of a specific time line and government regulations, as well as the distance from wetlands, they were required to leave the big ones for the sake of the ecosystem and the nesting birds.  I explained that the magpies and crows….murders of them…were so distraught that for days they gathered in a single tree, yelling at the land.  And yes…I did cry over the crows.

Due to the construction of a heavy duty drainage system last season, Enmax has not been able to properly maintain/facilitate the Osprey Platform on the Sikome Lake side.  As a result Mother Goose has been there for almost five weeks.  I’m thinking the goslings will either starve or fall off the platform.  In the meantime two pair of Osprey have had to take up residence on top of sign platforms both directions on the loud and dangerous roadway.   I don’t know how they will all manage.

Follow Up to This: The Fish Creek Conservation Officer returned my call,  inquiring about this.  I was assured of a couple of things.  First, it is offence to mess with wildlife in any form, in its natural circumstance in a Provincial Park.  Second, if a bird is nesting ANYWHERE, then this is natural to that bird.  This gentleman had a very calm voice and was telling me the facts.  At this point, I need to grow in acceptance of some of these circumstances where I make observations of birds/animals.

Nature will have to take it’s course.

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I know that for the entire extent of the Stoney Trail’s development, wildlife, wetlands and trees/natural plants have been impacted.  I know that I need to accept ‘progress’ here and in our beautiful park lands, including the Bow Valley Parkway.  It’s just that I don’t think the general population receives all of the information as some of these projects go ahead at warp speed and gather a momentum that becomes destructive and insensitive to a wilderness/natural environment that we, as citizens of Alberta, generally, treasure.

Maybe this is a cliche, but our human population needs to slow down.  Not good for economic climate? Tourism? Well…things to think about.

Today’s pelican…a senior, just like me.  On its own, but it took flight, just after this photo was taken…something about Max, I think.

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My friend, Julie, let me in on the very public location where Mrs. Great Horned Owl and her offspring are hanging out these days.  These owlets will likely fledge within the next week.  In the meantime, Max and I took pause, some distance away and watched.  Of course, I cried.  I was in awe that edging on a bike path, a mama could tend to her babes…so vulnerable, so strong, so absolutely magical.  We need to realize that the species we share this planet with require our advocacy.  We need to stop…and watch, learn and cherish.  This is my plea as I write tonight.

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Species that I have observed in the path of Stoney Trail development, presently.  The mammals; coyotes and deer, have already vacated the paths I take.

  1. Canada Geese
  2. Mallards
  3. Osprey
  4. Black-capped Night-heron
  5. Goldeneye
  6. Redheads
  7. 5 nesting pair of Grebes
  8. Common Mergansers
  9. Common Raven
  10. Red Winged Blackbirds
  11. American Wigeons
  12. Buffleheads
  13. Frogs like no other year