Boundaries

Whither We Wander

One of the weirdest things about Ménière’s disease is that when the weather, and the air pressure change, you can feel it. I know it’s not just me, because when I visit chat rooms of other people with this wacko disease, I see other people reporting the same exact symptoms, that, in any other forum would, be cause for being involuntarily committed.

Right now the wind outside is pounding, and, even though we’re in a house with walls of 10 inch concrete, and 3 feet of dirt surrounding it, I am rocking. My brain literally thinks we are wrapped in a hammock being tossed back-and-forth even though I am literally lying on my bed holding on the mattress, so I don’t fall off.

Are used to love blustery days, especially at the beach, standing at the top of a bluff, feeling the wind and spray blast against my skin. These days, however, it seems as if mother nature isn’t respecting my boundaries.

But the wind howling and bringing down trees outside have to be her way of reminding that there are some things you just can’t control.

Talking to Trees

Talking to Trees, Oil on Canvas, 24″x24″
Click here if you would like this painting to live on your wall.

The last few lazy days of summer, and right now, it’s the light and the lines of the trees that compel. There are some red hair in there, but mostly the mountains are a jumble of green and gold.

What Compels You?

At the Point, 14″ x 14″, Oil on Canvas
Click Here if you would like this painting to live on your wall.

I tried to paint a different spot in that creek the night before, with no success. I knew instantly why it hadn’t worked. I was trying to paint everything all at once, and everything at all at once doesn’t work in any part of my life.

Saturday had been an incredible day of painting in the Pennsylvania countryside with my mentor. Work and an upcoming ear procedure had receded to become a blurry part of another background. I had meditated with the trees and the past their prime daffodils as the clouds chased the sun, and an occasional mist called me off.

Saturday had been a success, because I had stopped to meditate on the trees, intertwining with each other, and taking the time to answer the question, “what compels you?” What part of this part of the natural world compels you to simply stand and exist in the moment, without making plans or replaying conversations where you wish you had said some thing else?

What compels you to just let go?

That was the question.

Sunday morning I struggled to find that focus. The upcoming procedure was closer, and that evening reality would creep in with homework and budgets.

Now, my mentor and I stood on the rocky shore of the creek, watching a group of horseback riders waiting for their mounts to drink and splash. It was a magical moment teeming with characters and details.

I turned away from the charming story playing out in the creek, and something that looked like a heron standing on a jagged shore further down caught my eye. The rocks around him gleamed in the sunlight, and the water quietly eddied around the larger stones that fortified his peninsula. My mentor and I stared in its direction for a while, a different element, capturing each of us.

“I don’t think that’s a heron,“ she said.

I tried to zoom in with my camera, but it was no more accurate than my eyes. For a minute I thought of that scene in Harold and Maude, when Maude insisted that a remembered, flock of seagulls would always be glorious birds to her. I decided that even if that glimmer of light on the shore was a carefully hung T-shirt, or a spiky stump, I would let it remain a glorious bird that had first drawn my eye to a sliver of sunlight in the middle of the river and got ready to paint.

I knew what compelled me about that scene, and it wasn’t the possibility of a glorious bird. It was bright clarity of simplicity emerging from the murkiness of “everything all at once.”

Back to the Land

An interrupted meditation by the Battenkill

I’m having a lot of conversations with spring in my work these days. Some days spring is popping; others it’s buried under a fresh dumping of snow. Likewise, some days I paint the conversation with reckless abandon and no image in mind, but as my head turns, outdoors again, I find myself going back to the land to absorb and paint it as I feel it in the moment.

The natural world feeds my soul.

A few months ago, I worried that returning to representational landscapes was simply a fear of being brave enough to paint abstract. Now I realize that the mountains and changing seasons are not only integral to feeding my soul, they breathe new life into creativity.

Going back to the land doesn’t become a choice between abstraction and reality. It is the way to connect the visible world to the abstraction that lives in the soul.

Incubation

I used to think about December as the beginning of hibernation. Creative output always seems to slow down as the days get shorter, and work seems far more intrusive than it does in the crackling light of autumn.

For last last few weeks my output has followed the same trend. It took me a while to recognize the pattern because I initially blamed the slowdown the Ménière’s disease that’s been with me in earnest for a year now. Yesterday, though, as I drove down the mountain and had to stop and catch my breath as fast moving clouds dusted with powdered sugar the top of a mountain across the river, I realized that this time of year is not solely about hibernating.

To catch that moment, you would’ve had to be in the exact spot at the exact time with me. The peak of the mountain is almost hidden by two others that “overlap“ each other in the view that is only seen when coming down the road from our remote town to a “main“ route. The moment sparked attempts to repeats – something that shouldn’t be too difficult in Southwestern vermont in the winter – but it was the only one that day. The moment and the search germinated hours of wonder and reading and discovery.

What do I want to capture when I paint or draw? Moments of breathlessness? Revelations of the grit that lies at the foot of these mountains? Or appreciation of one the few places humans haven’t tamed?

Tonight will be occupied with the work of work, but in the back of my brain, the next painting session is germinating. It occurred to me that every racing thought, every quiet space that arrives with the dark of winter is not about hibernating through depression. Instead that darkness may just be the needed incubation for what will come next.

Where the Taconics Meet the Greens

12 x 12, oil on canvas

I see this particular view every time we come back from and the Equinox that I have to go back to again and again because I can’t get them out of my head and they never the same two days in a row. This is another one of those spots.

The difference is I have to remember this one because there’s no good place to park and draw or take pictures, so, each time we round this particular corner at the crest of this foothill in the Taconics, I try to commit another part of this view to memory.

Good to Know

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, and Vermont and got its first foot of snow for the season.

Skiers were giddy. The woodstove was roaring, and, almost five years to the weekend after we got back on the grid, the power was out (again).

I’d gotten up at 5a.m. on to get the apple cinnamon oatmeal slow cooking on the back of wood cookstove. While the apples melted into the oatmeal, the Big Guy and I went out to dig out one of the cars so Thing2 could get to work.

Wet snow had bent dozens of trees down to our driveway, collapsing the canopy layers of lace curtains and cutting us off from the little bit of civilization that starts 1000 feet up our road. The Big Guy and I laughed as we shook branch after snow-laden branch, shrieking as the snow exploded off the loosened limbs, onto our heads and down our shirts.

We’ve talked about leaving this place in a few years to be closer to better healthcare options and to wherever the kids end up. Part of me won’t miss the digging and lighting of candles, watching the batteries to make sure the fridge and the well pump hold out until the power company has cleared the lines.

The other part of me knows that there is magic in the snow covered branches. There’s something else — not quite magical but almost as good – about all the work. As we pull out water jugs from our emergency supply and check the wood bin, I realize that, if ever we leave this place, the one part of these challenges I will miss is having the regular reminder that it’s good to know that we can get through them.

Teeming with Life

It’s been one of those perfect puffy cloud days here in Vermont. Storms rolled through a couple days ago followed by another day of soaking rain. In their wake is a landscape so green and lush it fools you into thinking that our “brave little state“ is steeped in opulence.

Teeming, 18” x 24”

A little “Appalachian Spring,” I thought, would be the perfect soundtrack to get some hyper saturated trees and skies on canvas. But as the music started to meander, so did the paint and water. The greens and blues started to play with the sun and shadows, and pools, where so much in the woods begins, started to form, and I realized the green isn’t about opulence, it’s about life.

Get Your Head in the Clouds

I love my job. I love doing the research to become more effective at my job teaching kids with disabilities how to access their gifts. It’s easy, however, to get absorbed by the work, Barely noticing when your feet turn to clay and your head turns to Jell-O (which is just as susceptible to gravity).

I painted the headless statue a few years ago at a friends’ farm during an open house they were hosting to celebrate rural and creative life. There were a dozen morbid reasons the robed figure could’ve lost his or her head, but, as I sat staring out at the mountains that rise up along the border between Vermont and New York, I felt a connection two it that generated a happier explanation for the decapitation.

Whenever I stare out of the mountains, I feel my spirit lifting into the clouds as I try to become one with nature. I never succeed at the merger, but the attempt always brings an unparalleled feeling of peace, followed by a burst of creativity. Whenever I see that statue, and one of my paintings or in real life, I like to think that the figure simply got lost in the clouds, and the feet of clay just got left behind.

I’m on April break this week, and I’ve spent most of it focusing on the things that keep my feet covered with clay. I’ve budgeted. I’ve done some windowshopping. I’ve done some research for my upcoming thesis. And I have bought into guilt for not getting in touch with creativity during this brief bit of downtime.

One of the things I do love about my job is that every day demands intense creativity. I know, however, if I don’t get my head back up in the clouds at least for a little bit this week, that well, while never running completely dry, will become tepid.

So today, instead of working on the feet of clay stuff like cleaning my office that looks less and less like a studio every day, I’m spending a little time giving into wanderlust with my watercolors in my bag. There are times when you really need to get your head back in the clouds.

How to Handle a Day

I love that the animals don’t need a weather report to know how to handle the day. They went out for their morning constitutional‘s, scanned or sniffed the sky, and were back at the window in less than five minutes, waiting to come in.

They’ve been curled up next to and on the couch in my office for hours. Some mystical meteorologist has told them that something big may be on the way, and a good, solid nap is the only way to handle this kind of day.