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

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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 :)

Unfinished Transformation

unfinished

I tried to paint an abstract…I really did.  It was fun, too, for awhile, until I couldn’t stand it anymore and had to start putting in form.  It looks to me like this painting really wants to be a landscape.  The bird was a real joy for me~I spotted him as I was walking the trail last summer. It was very hot and he was poised there, still for long enough for my lowly point-and-shoot to focus on him.  Yay!  At home I pored over my field guides and my best guess is that he is a Dickcissel.  I will be giving more substance to the compass plant he sits on, while endeavoring to keep the overall feel light and free.

This and another thing came together in my mind as a meditation.  I cam across the movie, “The Nun’s Story”, with Audrey Hepburn.  It looked like a heavy movie but I’m a big fan of her’s so I watched it anyway the other day.  I was struck by what seemed to be a central teaching for the nuns~ the Grand Silence.  They learned to silence their thoughts so they could hear God.  I liked this idea, and I wondered to what extent any of us could reach for that within our lives without entering a convent or monastery. Not that I think there is anything wrong with them~not at all.  I find the idea of them quite beautiful.  What I mean is, I wonder what positive change can a person bring from within a worldly life if they focus on transforming themselves rather than others. I suspect there is great fullness to be found in that inner stillness.  And light.  And freedom.  I suspect that things like road rage and red light cameras and materialism dissolve. I feel lighter already :)

Journeying

Jim and Katie on Dune Trail

This morning I thought I’d share this painting I did a few years ago of my children.  They are sitting on the Dune Trail, gently enjoying a small snake that has come across their path.  We are lucky to live in a place where one  needn’t  fear the snakes.

I feel almost a mystical tie to Illinois Beach State Park.  When my family first moved to Illinois in the 70’s, my parents took me there to see it.  I remember seeing a young lady in a park uniform putting out flags and something like a bell went off inside me.  “That will be me one day”, I found myself thinking.  Then I forgot all about it until my life had taken me down several other roads.  Life zipped along, to the day someone suggested that I might want to monitor butterflies for the Nature Conservancy.  OH!  magic.  It became my life~nets, workshops, days on the trail counting butterflies.  My children grew up, it now seems, on this and other trails.  Now when we walk the trail we find layers of memories all along the way.  One day I remember that young lady and am startled to think, yes, that did become me one day.

Now my children are grown-ups (wonderful and awful all at the same time!)  and my knees tell me they are done chasing butterflies.  It is a difficult decision to pull away from something that meant so much to me for so many years, but it has been time to for awhile.  There is a new monitor at Illinois Beach, I am told.  I feel like the old racehorse that runs the fence when he hears the bugle, but I know it is time for me to turn my focus.

Yesterday I had a reception jointly with another artist at a gallery I joined this spring.  I feel like I’ve come home all over again~all these years I thought nature people were my tribe but I started to notice how isolated I felt.  I don’t really belong in that world.  But at this gallery the artists come and hang out together.  Hours fly by as we discuss media and method.  I found my peeps!!! Funny how that can happen almost by accident, isn’t it?

Leading a Volunteer Workday

The Botanists 4:2015The Botanists

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Yesterday I had the good fortune to help lead a volunteer workday at a nearby nature preserve.  Almond Marsh is blessed with a large natural marsh and a nice quality upland savanna.  It is also blessed with a wet area accidentally created when a road was constructed. A low area filled with water, creating snags that attracted herons who nest there every year now.  When I arrived I saw a large bird fly right over the parking lot….a Bald Eagle!  That was an auspicious start to the day.

In a short while my charges for the day arrived~3 Brownies and their mothers.  My job was to take them out into the woods and teach them a little about what they were seeing and then have them pull garlic mustard.  I’ve done this before, but this was the first time I felt like an elder passing along knowledge.  It was really moving to see these little girls bend over, studying the Toothwort and Trillium I was showing them, and then learn to pull the garlic mustard.  Once they learned how to get the whole root they were all over it, triumphantly holding each one up for me to admire.  They were too young to be given detailed natural history lessons, of course.  I hope they loved the day as much as I did, and that they left with questions forming in their minds and wonder in their hearts.  I hope they come back.  They and their mothers were a delight.

The painting I wanted to share with you today is a celebration of the many citizen scientists it has been my pleasure to know over the years.  As I understand it, sometime in the early 80’s folks around here started to adopt parcels of land.  In some cases these were already forest preserves, but had not been managed.  In others they were parcels of land that people just wanted to save.  Organizations were formed, funds were raised, and land was purchased.  People began to study their field guides and historical records to discover what plants and creatures should be present.  Techniques were developed to restore the ecological health of prairie, wetland savanna and woodland.  Really, it has been a human blossoming as well as a natural one.  Every now and then I step back and marvel at these people from different walks of life teaching themselves botany, entomology, birdology :) you name it, and then dedicating thousand of hours every year  to help restore natural processes in the land.  When I sit in stewardship meetings, I notice that all of us are growing old.  Will this have been a fluke, a passing thing that will die with us?  I hope not.  I hope it continues, and I hope it spreads to every region.  Spending a day with 3 sweet little Brownies and their wonderful moms gave me hope for the future.

To read more about this movement and hopefully be inspired to start it in your area, I recommend the book, “Miracle Under the Oaks”, by William Stevens.

May eagles soar above you, and flowers bloom at your feet.