Gone Fishing

boys fishing 2


I hesitate to mention where this painting takes its inspiration for a couple of reasons. Technically speaking, the boys should maybe not be there fishing. When I saw them there, however, I decided I’d much rather paint them than scold them. If we do not allow young people to interact with the natural world, how can we expect them to grow up with a love of it that will move them to protect it? Personally, I think it is a miracle they had fishing poles in their hands instead of cell phones. Or really, that they were there at all.

My other reason for reticence is I’ve recently learned that professionals are no longer allowed to take photos or make images of the preserves. !!!! What?! A friend of mine is a steward, and she saw a ranger hunting down a photographer who’d been reported taking photos. I have to say, even typing these words makes me furious. We pay the taxes that make these preserves possible. We dedicate hundreds of hours volunteering to restore them, and now we can’t take pictures of them? Holy smokes. I cannot even call the person responsible for this new rule, because I fear I won’t be able to be civil to her.

There is a third aspect I’d like to mention, and that is the decision to include people. Just today a woman complimented me on a painting she saw of mine, specifically because it had no people in it. Well, hmm. It’s true that beautiful places sometimes get “loved” to death. But I would like to suggest that this hands-off attitude is part of the problem. Those of us who love nature have gotten the idea that humans are bad and must be kept away from nature. And there is the natural backlash, people who despise nature because they’ve been told it matters more than they do. If you think about it, humans and nature have had an uneasy relationship right from the beginning. I mean, let your guard down and it will kill you! So, for a very long time, humans taught each other that the way to survive was to beat it down. Fell the trees, plow the earth, pave everywhere else. Now the pendulum has swung the other way, with many feeling nature must be protected from humans at all costs.

I think there is a better way. I think this underlying belief that people and nature must be held separate isn’t good for people or nature. Both lose and it isn’t working so well. Instead, I believe we should see how we can weave ourselves back into the fabric of Life. We who love the natural world can’t pretend that people don’t matter, just as the human race as a whole can’t keep pretending the natural world doesn’t matter. Me? I like to see boys leaning on a fence, fishin’.

Into the Light

Pakistani girl in alley

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Clearing out my Dad’s house in preparation for selling it means being reunited with some of the paintings I did for him over the years. ( A couple of them got snapped up by my siblings!  Yay!)  I always sort of liked this one, even though it is quite different from anything I usually do.

He’d been working in Pakistan and Bangladesh, helping design irrigation and drinking well projects.  I think things have not gone well with those wells in Bangladesh in recent years. It is very sad. Anyway, he liked the people there very much. He wanted me to capture the feel of an alley in Pakistan, how the buildings loom over the young girl as she walks along. She seems unaffected, serenely striding toward the light around the bend.

How different her world is from mine, yet she has something to teach me. I can read the terrible headlines and wring my hands over the state of things, or I can set my course and stride forward, not letting myself be deflected. I cannot put out the fires in California, or stop the bulldozers in Austin, but I can avoid the consumerism that drives them.

I wish you all a serene day with lots of light streaming in :)

Gardens and Art

Big Clay Pot;CBG

Big Clay Pot

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As I’ve mentioned you some of you, my dad passed away about a month ago.  On Father’s Day, in fact.  He was a wonderful man who lived an enormous, interesting life, from serveying mountain peaks in Alaska to helping design hydro-electric plants in Bangladesh.  Wherever he traveled he made a point of learning local customs and language, and would relate to a person at whatever level they felt comfortable. I could go on and on, of course, as any of us could about our dads. I adored him and feel I’ve lost my moorings without him to talk to every couple of days.

My trips into my studio have been sporadic since he died, and I notice my interests have shifted.  I find I’m drawn to gardens more, and paintings of them. It turns out there is a rich history of artists in their gardens.  Not a serious subject, maybe. But then, I think there can be a useful message here. Many of my environmentalist friends espouse a wish that humans would go away. Some people hate nature, some people love nature and hate people.  Wouldn’t it be better to embrace both?  Since both exist, after all.

My dad would go into a proposed project with a series of questions.  What conditions exist?  What problems exist? How can a solution be found that maximizes benefit but causes least harm?  Well, granted, he worked on a number of dams in his day and we didn’t always see eye to eye on that.  But the point I took from his method was always to look to nature for solutions. For me, a garden can be an excellent model for getting along with nature.  Can you plant beautiful plants in with the food plants? This can keep soil in good tilth and break up pest problems. Can you contour the garden to maximize water where needed? Can you put in plants with big leaves in that area that always grows weeds, so you don’t need herbicide? These are some of the things gardening has taught me. I want to share them, because in the face of all the scary news of climate change, water shortage, (and contamination from chemicals), bee hive crashes, I think we need to find elegant, easy actions to take to help ourselves out of the mess we find ourselves in.

For some, the Garden of Eden was nature before people stumbled.  I’ve always felt it could be a paradise in which people worked with nature.  A beautiful, healing place.  What do you  think? Can we create that? That would be some art.

Butterflies and Turtles

Baltimore Checkerspot and Turtlehead

“Baltimore Checkerspot and Turtlehead”

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This is my debut with my new smartphone.  The Samsung S6 takes amazing photos, but will they translate on the internet?  Fingers crossed…

Many beautiful moons ago when I got drawn into prairie restoration and butterfly monitoring, I learned of efforts to rescue the Baltimore Checkerspot from extinction. It is a fascinating business involving host plants and habitat. Although the butterfly doesn’t live at Illinois Beach State Park anymore, (it is hanging on in other sites), I did come across a small population of its host plant, Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) .  I wanted to paint it in a way that suggested its habitat, and also to pour out my yearning for the butterfly that should accompany it and hopefully will again, one day.

Night Heron

Green-backed Night Heron

Green-Backed Night Heron

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When I was a young girl, my family moved often for my dad’s career.  This meant that we lived in lots of interesting places and I got a taste of several different kinds of habitats, all of which imprinted themselves upon me.  Finally we landed here, in northern Illinois.  It is a land of water.  Rivers and streams criss-cross the area, and there is a liberal sprinkling of lakes, bogs, marshes, swamps, fens… all gifts from the last glaciers.  Paradise to a barefoot kid who found she quite liked mud and frogs and turtles and sunfish.  So when this beautiful heron let me get close and look at him I knew I wanted to paint him.  I don’t go plunging into muddy water anymore, sadly, but he does.  Just watching him brought back that feeling of wonder~ what amazing creatures are lurking under that floating duckweed?

I’ve been reading about the benefits of wordlessness.  As an intellectual endeavor I find it difficult to achieve but sometimes I find myself sinking into it without trying and then I remember I spent much of my youth in that state.  I would head out the door in the morning, meet up with a favorite tree, say, or pond, and just lose all my words. It happens when I am painting, too.  In fact I found it impossible to teach because whenever I tried to demonstrate a technique my words would sort of tra ..i .. l .. o f  f … I’d “come to” to find my students studying me with concern, waiting for me to finish a sentence! Ha!  Not so good for teaching.  But great for sorting problems or simply being.  I’ve read that our wordless mind can process considerably more bits of information than the part that is busy narrating our story to us.  All those words get in the way of truly knowing.  When the words fall away I’m left with a sense of energy connected and flowing between me and, well, everything.  Have you experienced this?  Give it a try~it’s pretty fabulous :)

Bogs and Other Murky Things

Pitcher Plant Revised

Pitcher Plant, Volo Bog


My daughter and I went to prowl around the Volo Bog again the other day.  It was a lovely day, cool enough for us to really slow down and look at stuff.  The Pitcher Plants were getting ready to bloom, along with starflowers and a few others.  I’m happy to have this real bog right near my home.

I’ve been pondering things like fantasy, science fiction, sports… I hear people say, with all seriousness, that the human race will need to colonize Mars because this planet will prove unable to support us.  I see people get lost in the worlds of vampires and zombies and identification with their local sports team.  Finally I asked myself why this bothers me so much and this is what I’ve decided: it seems to me that people sense that they are disconnected from their true selves, but aren’t sure what that really is or where to find it.  And so they move, switch jobs, distract themselves with alternate worlds.  In “The Power of Now” Eckhart Tolle writes, “If you saw an angel but mistook it for a stone statue, all you would have to do is adjust your vision and look more closely at the “stone statue,” not start looking somewhere else. You would then find that there never was a stone statue.”   I think that is how it is with everything.  We won’t need to buy more stuff or build bigger houses or consume more substances if we can learn to look deeply within our own selves to find our eternal connection to what is real.  And when we are there, we won’t need to trash this beautiful generous and life -generating planet because we will discover that we already have enough.  We won’t need wars or frightening regimes to control us or tell us what to believe.  We won’t need a new world order because we’ll see that the one we have is well worth taking care of.  I don’t fault entertainments like fantasy or sports, I just feel nervous when I see society go unconscious in the pursuit of it.

By the way, I’m not saying angels are real…although they might be :)