Monday, May 28, 2012

A Box of Bones and other gifts

Recently I opened my post office box and there, wedged inside that open-ended cave, was a box. I was not expecting anything so this was a pleasant surprise. Checking the return address I knew it would be something wonderful, sent with love and much thought. When I got home, I carefully unwrapped the package to find a gorgeous cigar box, and cradled inside was a bubble wrapped collection of bones. What more could a girl ask for?

Through the years I have "trained" my family and friends, letting them know if they want to win my heart, save me any expired beetles, teeth, nests, bones or anything else you come across that once lived a wild and free life. I am happiest surrounded by these leftovers. A bear skull shares space atop my mantle with an assortment of bird nests, wasp nests, and bleached turtle shells. Hunks of quartz from my former New England home and other rocks perch on tables beside deer jaw bones and vases of found feathers. I even brought a little owl home that I saw wedged in the grill work of a tourist vehicle at the grocery store parking lot. I can only imagine how that happened. He resided in my freezer for few days to allow me some sketching time before I gave him a decent burial in the back yard.

Now I've scared all of you haven't I? I witness a wide range of emotions when someone new visits The Crooked Little House. Their eyes will wander around, trying to be polite by not letting me catch them staring, while a smile is frozen on their face. But I also usually notice a hint of wonderment and longing, wanting to get a closer look at my treasures. Maybe it's a primal thing rearing up, a suppressed urge to get close to nature again as our ancestors were. And then occasionally someone will show outright joy and eagerly inspect my natural adornments. By taking the time to observe and draw these finds, I learn about how these animals lived their lives, and I feel it's my way of showing respect for them and their sometimes "untimely" demise.

For me, drawing bones is always a fun challenge; getting the highlights and shadows just right, working in some texture where it exists such as in the marrow inside a deer bone, and if adding color, really seeing the soft hues lurking amidst the obvious whites and tans. These bones once made up a living, breathing, spirit that probably had a family, felt pain and surely experienced joy. This animal shared our world asking nothing from us yet giving us so much pleasure. So now these animals will forever live on in my sketchbooks and in my life.

Dostoevsky said:  Love animals. God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble their joy, do not harass them, do not deprive them of their happiness; do not work against God's intent. Man, do not pride yourself on your superiority to animals; they are without sin.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Standing Poetry

Willa Cather said, "I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do."

For years, my favorite tree has been a snag in the middle of the water at the Kitty Hawk Boat Ramp, standing like a sentinel, greeting all who come to share the beauty of this spot. This old skeleton has witnessed water snakes struggling to down an oversized catfish, osprey exploding onto the water surface after a flash of a finned dinner, beginning kayakers trying to keep their balance, and many other small dramas.

I have tried to capture the essence of this tree many times. My favorite painting of it was done while I was so sick I had to hold a wad of tissues in one hand and my paintbrush in the other. But I felt drawn on that particular day to try to capture the poetry of the tree leaning under a broody sky with soft reflections dancing about its base. That painting lives at my youngest son's house now.

I knew one day that tree would be taken down by a storm or would just collapse from pure exhaustion. I dreaded that day. And this year it happened, or maybe it happened after the hurricane last year. All I know is when I pulled into the parking lot, anticipation coursing through my veins, I saw that my tree had vanished. And for me, the place had lost its spirit, its poetry.

Sadly I decided to drive to the new town park to sketch the turtles and perhaps a bird or two. The trail had been extended around the pond, and as I neared the bend in the path there stood the most beautiful snag sporting a huge cavity where I'm sure many creatures have found protection. This one too was on the other side of perfection, and its days are definitely numbered. But I had fallen in love again. I will sketch and paint it as often as I can till it gives up its roots. So far I've done three finished paintings. And when the day comes that I walk around the bend and it is no longer there I will remember that there will be more trees, more standing poems for me to love.

FYI: A snag is a standing dead or dying tree. They are important for wildlife, providing nesting sites, storage areas and sheltered spots for roosting and perching, as well as fabulous subject matter for wandering artists.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Here Comes the Night

 The best stuff always happens after dark, at least that's my opinion. My oldest son was born during the Perseid Meteor Shower, and I suppose that's why he and I would always get up in the wee hours of the morning to watch the shuttle or space station pass overhead.

So I was very disappointed last Saturday evening when clouds and rain filled the sky on the night I was promised a super moon unlike anything I had seen before. I follow all this stuff even though I don't know a lot about astronomy - I just enjoy the beauty and wonder of it all. Remember the scalene triangle?

One of my greatest pleasures comes from painting at night. At first it was just a challenge I wanted to try. But soon it became a passion. I found I could use a clip-on booklight aimed directly at my paper, lessening the effects of the light on my eyes which had become accustomed to the darkness. There's something magical about working amidst the sounds and smells of darkness. And yes, occasionally the bugs are too much, even for me, and I am forced to paint inside while looking though a window. But most nights I can brave the elements.

So now as the nights become warmer, it's almost time to make some moth sugar and see what night visitors I can attract to my front deck.

Here's a recipe if you want to try it:

3 tablespoons sugar
jug for mixing
old paintbrush
apple juice (optional)

Fill the jug with water, stir in the sugar. "Paint" the mixture onto a rock, stump or fence post. Just after dark, go check and see if anyone has come to feast. If not, try adding a small amount of apple juice.

Tonight, when my eyes can no longer stay open, I will climb into bed and fall asleep to the musical offerings of my resident mockingbird who croons to the moon and stars each night.

"Most glorious night!
Thou wert not sent for slumber!"
                  - Lord Byron

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ch ch ch ch Changes

Change your thoughts and you change your world.
                              - N.V. Peale

Lately, a Red Admiral butterfly has been frequenting my front door whenever I step outside, fluttering around my head and perching on my shoulder. They are a very "people friendly" butterfly so he may have just been saying "hello" or checking on the soon-to-be-blooming "bee bush" by my front door. I  make it a practice to put cantaloupe, watermelon and orange rinds out for the butterflies and birds along the hedgerow at the back of my yard. (Catbirds love watermelon; at least mine do.) A few days ago I stood amidst a huge kaleidoscope of butterflies, Red Admirals and Painted Ladies, feasting on the juice from a cantaloupe rind. The feast lasted all day and into the early evening. (I'm sure dancing commenced after I went inside.) And by the next morning, they had all had their fill.

I learned long ago to pay attention  when a fellow creature makes its presence known to me. Butterflies, because of their life cycle, signify change, and most certainly, I have been going through some changes; in my work and my personal life. Change frightens a lot of people, but for me, it's a welcome event, bursting forth with new ideas when I am feeling stagnant and helping to redefine my life when I've lost my direction. So I have bravely challenged myself to try new things with my work and my day to day life and so far, so good!

One of the biggest changes happened just yesterday, May 4th. My oldest son graduated medical school and is now a surgeon and will continue with his residency in Orlando, Florida for the next five years. It's a big change for me. He has been relatively close by for the last four years and both he and his brother, along with my daughter-in-law, have helped me through difficult times. I will miss him terribly yet I am so incredibly excited for him.

So change is definitely in the air. When I returned home it seemed everything had grown another few inches. That marvelous "new growth" smell is in the air, and there are now buds being birthed on my trumpet vine, just waiting to open up to this year's flock of hummingbirds.

So I say to you Mr. Red Admiral, "Welcome. Let's Fly"

FYI: a group of butterflies may be called,
Lek (means a gathering)