Garden Companions

Garden Companions

Don’t you love the word, “companions”?  I suspect that ultimately our experience of the world is meant to be alone, one-on-one with our sense of the sacred.  Still, there is that pull for connection, and most of my happiest moments were in the company of a friend. That amazing rainbow you both spot at the same moment, the shared joke.   Most of my friendships have formed purely by chance, but my son doesn’t do it that way.  When he is in a situation he’ll stay off by himself until he spots someone he thinks would be compatible, and then he moves forward and offers friendship.  He is mindful of his friendships, too, making sure to spend time with each, paying attention, bringing them together and weaving them into a group.  I don’t know how he knew to do that but it inspires me.

Anyway, that is what was on my mind as I painted this little corner of my garden.  There’s the pot that doesn’t have its annual dose of nasturtiums yet.  And the spirea shrub that started out as part of a hedge and for some reason died back to this shadow of itself.  This dying back left a gap that (naturally) I had to fill.  So in went the lamb’s ear because it is fuzzy, and the sedum because I thought it was pretty and the mint because I like how it sprawls late in the season.  And quite by accident, there was an assembly that looked sweet together, I thought.  Like many chance friendships, you should see them now!  All stems and seedheads, all straining away from each other.  And that reminds me of me and my friend D., who is following her dream to live in Florida.  And my other friend who followed her dream to California.  I don’t know yet where my dream will take me.  I always thought it would take me to California, but since the houses I always saw myself living in go for millions, perhaps not.  Anyway, hopefully my friends and I can keep in touch.  And perhaps I’ll be watching, waiting for a new companion to share the journey.

Emotions in Art

Willow Fronds in Spring

Weeping Willow Fronds in Spring

I’ve been reading the latest Louise Penny book, which always give me artistic pause.  Her mysteries often have art woven into the story, with the characters pondering the deep, dark meaning behind the creation of art.  Hmmm.  In this one, she has a character stating that a good piece of art begins “with a lump in the throat”, and involves destruction before creation.  There is probably a lot of truth to that,  although I have seen paintings on exhibit that probably were cathartic to make but more properly belonged in the studio or the therapist’s office than on display.

For the most part, when I paint, the love and joy I wish to share is the starting point, and beyond that I am reaching for beauty and to avoid trite.  Sure, anyone paying attention must be feeling dismay at things like California running out of water, or escalating hatreds leaping up in the world like wildfire.  And yes, I could paint that but I choose to look for the beauty that is here.  I guess I feel that whatever we turn our attention to will expand, so I choose beauty and love, not out of a polyanna wish that bad things would go away, but because they exist.  It is my reply, if you will.

What about you?  What do you look for in a piece of art?  Often what I see actually sell at galleries is nothing more than washes of color, and I wonder what that means.  Are people exhausted, and simply wanting the equivalent of white noise on their walls?  I think this may be the case.  We are asked to understand so much, these days.

Oil and Water

Lake Michigan Willow

“Lake Michigan Willow”

Well, here it is, my first oil painting.  I’ve got to say, it wasn’t easy to force myself to make the change but every time I read another book about the environment and what we are doing to it, I found it harder to live with painting with acrylics.  For my first one I  thought the lakeshore would be an inspiring choice.  I wanted to catch the wonderful color of a weeping willow just as it is breaking bud in the spring, and the subtle colors of the sky meeting the lake.  Even so, this painting languished in my studio for months while I wavered.  Happily, the good people at Earth Paint added a gorgeous purple to their line and that was the inducement I needed.  I ordered a pound of the stuff, which ought to keep me happy for quite awhile.  The pure pigments are mixed with walnut oil, and I use no chemical additives at all.  The pigment is completely archival, and I’m told that walnut oil will neither yellow nor crack with age.  So, off I go on my next painting adventure.

Fritillary on Monarda

Fritillary on Monarda

There is a group around here that turns up at meetings and events, carrying posters about Monarchs.  They are alarmed, and they want everyone else to be alarmed, too. I’ve been biting my tongue.  My problem with this misty-eyed, poster-waving group is that in focusing on one species they are missing the larger point.  Plant milkweed in your yard, they seem to be saying, and everything will be fixed.  Well, ok.  I have a river of swamp milkweed running through my garden (smells divine!) and I actually see Monarchs in about the numbers I would expect.

In the area that I monitored butterflies for 20 years, there are over 40 species of butterflies, and don’t get me started on moths!  You might have to get close to some of them to see it, but each of these creatures is gorgeous and worthy of protection.  Each one has complicated life histories, and each one faces challenges from the way humans do things.

And not just butterflies, of course.  The bullfrogs who sang out all through my childhood…where have they gone?  I don’t know, but I can tell you that the pond I so enjoyed now sports a ring of mcmansions, all with perfect Chem-lawn green skirts. Perhaps most distressing to me of all is that NO ONE else has noticed.  Not even the naturalists I talk to.  When I point out that you don’t hear bullfrogs anymore they scoff. Then they cock their head to listen.. Then their face goes still…. oh.

One of the big problems is habitat fragmentation.  I’ll give you an example.  There is a strip of dunes that a group fought to save, many years ago.  Those dunes are the heart of Illinois Beach State Park.  They are tricky to care for, because if you run fire through, the creeping juniper dies.  If you go in and hand pull invasive exotics, you disturb the fragile sandy soil. And, I’ve been watching succession take place.  This is as it should be, but it is also heartbreaking.  As organic material accumulates in the older dunes, more species of plants are supported.  So grasses and forbs are moving in, and even trees.  The patches of juniper and bear- berry shrink.  To monitor butterflies is also to monitor the plants they depend on, and by extension, the ecosystem.  When succession proceeds, some of those species will wink out.  If the park weren’t surrounded by towns and pavement, the rare plants and their butterflies could still find refugia further up along the shore.  Sadly, though, this very specialized habitat is boxed in.  There is nowhere for these species to go.

What can we do?  Find locally, responsibly grown native plants.  Native to YOUR region.  If everyone dedicated even a corner of their yard to a native shrub or two and a handful of native flowers, those corners would start to connect up, creating rivers of habitat running for miles.  Think what a difference that could make.  Know ahead of time that native plants can be unruly.  But they don’t require water or chemicals to thrive.  You’ll notice it feels different, in that corner.  The air has a different energy to it, the soil will be more springy.  And you’ll start to see wonders.  I am constantly surprised by new creatures calling my yard home~yesterday I saw a southern flying squirrel!

Another thing we can do: fight Monsanto!  Pay attention to how much control over our food supply they have taken, how they have reduced the access farmers have to diverse seeds, providing seeds that require inputs of chemicals to grow.  This is bad news for the farmers, bad news for butterflies, bad news for us.

So, yes, Monarchs deserve our attention.  But it is a mistake to try to save the world one species at a time.  I believe our world can weather global warming -ahem- if we pay attention to the forest, and not just the trees.

Come Fly With Me

Pelican Soaring

Soaring Pelican 



Pelicans have always owned a place in my heart.  Perhaps it is how unlikely they look, or the fact that they hang out in my favorite places.  For all that I love them, though, I never thought of them as graceful until one golden afternoon in Carmel by the Sea.  There I was, mesmerized by the WHUMP of the huge waves coming in, when a skein of pelicans soared in to land.  Wingtip to wingtip they floated on the air, effortlessly adjusting to air currents and each other.  

That moment lives on in my mind to this day, and inspires me.  For this painting I wanted to give the viewer that sense of soaring freely out over the limitless water.

Garden Art!

Poppy window 

New ideas come slowly to me, so when one does, I get pretty excited.  One of the things that bums me out about living in Illinois is how bleak things look as soon as the leaves fall.  I stare out my window and see grey.  And brown. For months and months.  **sigh.**

 Then it hit me~ what if I painted something to bolt to the wooden fence where I can see it?  So, that burbled away on a back burner for an embarrassingly long time until the day my eye fell on an old basement window that has been kicking around forever.  Wait!  What if I found outdoor paint and…

And so here it is.  As soon as I am brave enough, I’m going to see if I can figure my way around the power drill and bolt this baby to the fence.  I’m definitely going to start scouring the garage for other interesting castoffs, too, because it occurs to me that I might not be the only one craving something pretty to look at from a window.  If you want one, let me know!  I’ll be posting them to my website as I finish them.    Please forgive my shameless moment of self-promotion…

Connecting With Nature, Connecting with Inner Spirit

River Meadow, IBSP

As I may have mentioned, recently I got to be part of a 3-artist show at the Lemon Street Gallery in Kenosha.  That was a delightful experience.  Here were all these walls to fill, and the other two artists were mostly doing jewelry and sculpture.  After I hung about 20 paintings and stood back, I was struck by the fact that there wasn’t an underlying theme.  Some botanicals, some landscapes, some gardenscapes.  Hmmm. And of course when people arrived, so did their questions.  They wanted, naturally enough, to know what it was I wanted to convey.  Well, I’ve been giving that some thought and here is what I’ve come up with.  I create art to help people connect with nature and with their inner spirit.  Now that I know that is what I’m about, I can look for ways to make that message clear in my paintings.  

So, here is my wish for peace and connectedness to all of you this steamy hot July afternoon!

Wren (detail)