On the Path

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Today I’ve brought you to an imaginary trail at a very real site.  This birder is enjoying the prairie restoration as it might appear some years from now.  Previously, Fort Sheridan was a military installation on the shore of Lake Michigan.  There are wonderful photos of the soldiers riding their horses into the waves after exercises to cool them.

The title I gave this post  reflects what I’ve been pondering lately.  I recently read a wonderful book about Mary Cassatt and her relationship with the Impressionists.  How they struggled~ with their inner visions, with critics, with each other.  As Manet lies dying, the author has him realizing that all is Love, and that nothing they wrestled with mattered in the end.  This kind of rocked me back on my heels.  If nothing matters, then…?

After chewing on that for a little while I realized what the author meant.  Our efforts do matter, although not in the way we are accustomed to think.  After all, once we’re dead what difference does it make how many units of widgets we sold or how much money we accumulated or how big a house we had.  And it didn’t matter how the artists painted.  It just mattered that they did.  The originality they sought would have emerged regardless, in the doing.  It is the love we infuse into what we do that matters.

The Impressionists changed art forever, just by painting from their soul and being in their moment.  I believe it is that way for all of us.  We can wring our hands over the changes to the planet, or we can get on with doing what we believe to be right.  

So, here’s to nature restoration, and the art of whatever it is each of us does with our lives.  May it be infused with light.

 

Watery Memories

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Up in the northern reaches of Illinois Beach State Park, near the Wisconsin border, is a network of wetland meadows.  When I found it some 15 years ago, it immediately became one of my favorite places on earth.  Just looking at it I can feel the cool water as my bare feet plunge into it and time drops away.  When I finished this painting, my son delighted me by commenting that he should be perched on a tussock sedge nearby.  Indeed, the two of us spent many happy afternoons splashing about, tripping over the tussocks, peering into the waters for little fishes, frogs, and other treasures.  More than one cell phone met its demise here as, laughing and covered with rich black mud, we’d emerge to return to civilization, much damper than we’d planned to get.  Part of me will always be there, I realize, and so going back will always feel like visiting with a part of myself.

This weekend my son is home visiting me from college.  His interests are wide-ranging, so we’ve enjoyed discussing the changes we see happening in the world, from politics to climate.  Yesterday we needed to pop into his old pediatrician’s office to get records his college requires.  As we stood at the desk a mom entered, carrying her baby.  It made me feel a little dizzy to stand in this place next to a tall young man who is my son, where once (yesterday, surely) I carried him.  I know the emotions that are swamping me are not new in the world, but they are new in my world and so I felt moved to share them.  Maybe when it gets warm again he will go back and play in the water with me…

Treeline, Rollins Savanna

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Here is a painting I completed last fall.  As you know, I’m very partial to this former farm which has been saved from development.  Just think~it could have been acres of beige mcmansions and pavement.

I’ve been reading that more and more people are becoming disenchanted with the suburb, and are returning to the city.  This is wonderful news for cities, and pretty good news for the environment.  People are bringing with them new ideas about local food, green roofs, even chickens in the heart of the city!  To me, that is indeed heartening.  

Perhaps some of that innovation can be introduced to the suburbs as well.  All we need is a paradigm shift, and suddenly those ugly and mostly empty strip malls could become community centers, local markets, stuff like that.  My father, who has spent large chunks of his life living in other countries, tells how people live in neighborhoods where one can walk to a grocery store, a dry cleaner, a library.  My nearest coffee shop is 8 miles away, on roads only a desperate coffee addict would risk on foot or by bicycle.  How did we forget to put ourselves, our human selves, into the equation when we were building these so -called communities so many of us live in?

I feel so lucky to live where nature preserves are a priority.  That is a huge blessing.  But every other part of this county has lost its soul.  Do you suppose that is why people are rude and angry?  I understand there is now a degree a person can get, called “community planning”.  That sounds promising, doesn’t it?

Spirits Rise

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This past fall I was swinging along on one of my favorite trails in a savanna restoration and I saw this flock of crows lift off, taking my spirits up with them.  Some years ago we lost most of our crows to a disease.  Let’s see…West Nile Virus, was it?  We’ve had a few diseases sweep through and I confess I can’t always remember which is which.  But I do remember finding windrows of dead birds lying along roadsides and trails.  It was awful.  A lot of people don’t like crows but I have always had a soft spot for them, so on this day to see a flock of them really made me happy.

It’s a cold, shiny day today.  This is a winter like the ones I remember, with snow falling most days, and very cold.  Last week I went with a friend to Florida.  She was house-hunting and I got to go along :).  All around us we heard people gasp, “it’s cold!!” while we were enjoying the 70-degree weather.  I saw a sign that read: “The Lower the Latitude, the Better the Attitude.”  And it was true!  Every single person we encountered was kind, the pace was leisurely…. why can’t the rest of us live like that?  I loved it, and Florida is beautiful.  However, while my friend  found her house, I found that I’m not tropically inclined and couldn’t wait to get back to Illinois, minus zero wind chills and all.  Can you believe it?!  I can’t, but there it is.  Now if I could just inject some of that Florida attitude into life up here in the frozen tundra….

 

 

Snow, snow, snow!

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I have to admit, with all this talk of global warming and several mild winters in a row, I was growing complacent here.  Not this winter, though!  We are experiencing an “arctic vortex”, a term that is causing much hilarity around here.  I prefer Arctic blast.  after blast. after blast….  Getting back to the vortex idea, though, it reminds me of what a science teacher told us one awful winter when I was in college.  He explained that a sustained low pressure forms over Chicago-land during the winter months, drawing cold and storms from surrounding areas.  “In other words,” he said, “winter sucks.”  Ha!  I hate to admit it but actually I’ve enjoyed this winter.  To help get into the spirit of it all, I recommend the book “Snow Child”.

In this painting, I’ve taken you to the frozen, snowy dunes of Illinois Beach State Park.  Do you see the little bird lurking in the background?  These little guys must eat seeds.  I see them all winter long, hopping about in the clumps of grasses.  Personal feelings aside, it is good to see all this snow.  It insulates our native flora, and will recharge our water systems.  

Me?  I’m heading to Florida… :)

Oak Tree

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I wanted to do something a little different here, maybe go for capturing the spirit of the tree or the setting, rather than just represent it.  I mean, we have cameras for that.

Thank goodness the weather broke a little here.  It is amazing how much softer the air feels at 33 degrees than it did at 12.  I’m actually going to venture OUTSIDE tomorrow morning for a workday.  We went for a walk in the woods a couple of days ago, my friend and I.  We were visiting her site which is remarkably high quality.  Crews were replacing some bridges across creeks and other fragile areas.  We were surprised to see Florida plates on the trucks.  Imagine~being sent from Florida all the way to northern Illinois to build a bridge!  They were pretty cheerful, all things considered.  Now if we could get the snowmobilers to stay on the bridge instead of running through the wetland next to it….

My big news is that I’ve found a new site to be steward of.  Yay!  The first one given to me was such high quality I was afraid to do anything to it, and it was an hour away which wasn’t practical.  My new one is more of a rolling savanna with a lot of scars that I will enjoy trying to heal.  There is a stand of pines that were planted at some point.  They don’t belong there but  they aren’t doing any harm and they make me feel like I’ve got a little bit of home here with me.  I’m looking forward to sharing the journey with you,  along with new paintings of course.

I hope you all have a blessed Christmas