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…
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 –
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’.
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.
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.