Acadia purrs on my lap, Milo snores softly at my feet, steam drifts from the spout of my teapot, and birdsong fills the house (thanks to Stephen installing microphones by the feeders). I sit in my rocking chair wrapped in warm wool, watching as dawn slowly yields to day. It’s my weekly Quiet Day, when Stephen goes to the office and I have an unscheduled day of silence and solitude. Not complete silence, as I hear a woodpecker drumming his morning beat over and over, a Crow cawing as he sweeps across the clouds, and myriad other birds raising their voices in their spring chorus, but the silence that comes with no speech and more or less inner quiet.

I sit. I sip my tea, stroke my sweet cat, still my soul. In a while I’ll open my Bible to read and ponder this morning’s passage. I’ll spend time in prayer for family, friends, and others. I’ll prepare and eat breakfast. I’ll walk with Petra and Milo. But for now, for these quiet early morning moments, I sit and watch. There is no need to hurry on my Quiet Day, no to-do list governing my time, no schedule to fit myself into.

This is my day to be and to be refreshed. A day to connect with my own soul,and, in the process, renew my connection with the One who is always here, waiting for me to sit quietly with Him over a cup of tea or a page in my sketchbook or to walk with Him as I enjoy His creatures and His creation.

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
 I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.”
Psalm 130:5-6

“This is the day the Lord has made,
let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Psalm 118:24

“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,
the world and all who live in it…”
Psalm 24:1

Today’s sketching

The Memory Project

My father and I just participated in the Memory Project, which connects artists with youth around the world who have faced poverty, abuse, neglect, violence, loss of parents, or other serious challenges. The Memory Project sends the artist a photo of a child, and the artist then creates a portrait of the child and sends it back to the Memory Project. The portrait is then delivered to the child along with a photo of the artist, with the goal of helping the child feel valued, important, and cared about as an individual.

We were sent photos of two young Ukrainian orphans, Ilya and Ivanna. Artists can make the portrait in any style or medium on paper or canvas, so I did my portrait in watercolor, and my father did his as a caricature (he has done many thousands of caricatures of children around the world). He drew the boy playing soccer, since it is such a popular sport in the Ukraine. I really enjoyed working together with my father on this project., and we’re planning to sign up again, along with my sister and one of my brothers. I’d really would encourage any artists who do portraits to consider doing this very rewarding project.

Working together in my parents’ dining room
My father sketching out his portrait, adapting a head-on view for a caricature
Ilya playing soccer

Musings on Loss and Longing

A couple of weeks ago I had a dream about Rowan in which I felt the strongest longing I’ve ever felt. It wasn’t just missing him; I’m not sure it would be possible to miss Rowan more than I have so much of the time since he passed from this life three months ago. In my dream I had left him with someone because she needed some help or company, but after I got home, I realized I couldn’t bear to be apart from him, and I was determined to go back and bring him home as soon as possible. It was an overwhelming feeling that was different from the abject grief I’ve been feeling, in that it was intense missing combined with an urgent drive to go to Rowan.

The intense longing of that dream has stayed with me. I have lost many dogs and cats and some people dear to me, and have deeply grieved, often for a long time. My grief for Rowan has been even more overwhelming than most of those other losses, but the longing that dream awakened was on a whole new level for me. Then a few days ago I started reading Psalm 42 and got as far as the third verse, when I suddenly recognized that I was reading a description of the longing from my dream.

  As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night…

To be sure, the psalmist was speaking of longing for God, not for a dog, but I realized that the intensity of the psalmist’s longing was the same intensity that I had experienced for the first time in my dream.

It’s been somewhat comforting all along to remind myself that Rowan was a gift from God to teach me more about God. Actually, not so much to teach me as to help me experience more of God’s love than I had previously been able to experience, through the ways God worked through Rowan in my life. But now I’m wondering if perhaps Rowan wasn’t here just so I could know God better only through Rowan’s presence, but perhaps also, through his absence, to open me to a greater longing, as in my dream, and then realize that in some way, that longing is actually my soul’s deep, and previously unacknowledged, longing for God. A longing that will keep me actively seeking God with all my heart throughout this life.

My longing for Rowan remains and makes my heart ache and my tears flow day and night, but I pray that it will always keep me open to longing for God, the ultimate source of all that Rowan was for me.

Photo by Arielle Fischer Wellons

Happy 13th Birthday, Milo!

Thirteen years ago today a little Beagle boy was born in a kennel where Laboratory Beagles were bred. The eldest of eight puppies in his litter, puppy CVBAJJ, went a few weeks later to be a part of a dog food trial, testing the use of DHA as a food supplement for puppies to determine its effect on trainability and bonding. From what I’ve heard, Milo excelled and was at the top of his class, which certainly seems likely to me, given his problem-solving ability and his fabulous bond to me and love for everyone he meets.

Whenever I tell people Milo started life as a laboratory dog, they express great sympathy for him and outrage at the cruelty he must have endured, but Milo tells a different story. To be sure, he was under-exposed to the world when Sarah Wilson, my dog training mentor, first got him from rescue. He didn’t know what the green stuff coming out of the ground was, nor what the incredibly high, blue ceiling was, and he found new places overwhelming. But, he was healthy and clearly had been well-treated, looking to people for affection and security, and through Sarah’s skillful guidance became confident and happy to be out in the world (that story will be the subject of another post soon). And, though I often underestimate him because he is so silly and funny, he is an incredibly intelligent dog and a great problem-solver.

I found this information that I think could have come from the trials Milo was a part of:

…it is becoming increasingly evident that nutrition can also significantly impact the achievement of genetic potential in the puppy in ways not previously appreciated. Such is the case with increased puppy trainability with appropriate dietary concentrations of DHA. The benefits of improved trainability can have long-lasting effects by strengthening the owner-companion animal bond and thus increasing the likelihood of a puppy’s successful integration of the puppy into various environments, work or households. (from http://www.breedingbetterdogs.com/article/nutrition-and-dha)

I think it’s really cool that my little Milo has contributed to strengthening the owner-companion bond and increased the likelihood of puppies being successfully integrated into homes!

And now, though Milo is thirteen and his face and whole body are getting whiter all the time, he is wonderfully healthy and active, and in many ways still acts like a puppy, flipping his head and ears around and tossing toys high in the air. Outside he gets the zoomies and flies around the yard, never getting out of breath. He’s still an awesome tracking companion, and now we’re learning to do Nosework together, which we especially enjoy when the weather isn’t conducive to tracking. At home Milo is my constant companion, sleeping near me wherever I am in the house, moving with me if I go to a different room, and snuggling on my lap whenever he can.

Happy Birthday, Milo Bean! You truly are a delight!

Some photos from the past year

Beagle lap warmer
Joy with a favorite toy– chipmunks in a log
Joie de Vivre
Solar powered Beagle loves the summer sun
Soulful eyes
Playtime with Paul

Red Wolf

The red wolf (Canis rufus) is one of the most endangered canid species in the world, with only 45 red wolves remaining in the wild. Native to southeastern United States, their population was decimated by habitat loss and intensive predator control in the 1960’s, and in 1980 the red wolf was declared extinct in the wild. Since then, through captive breeding programs directed by the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP), red wolves have been reintroduced into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina, including one red wolf male from the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY. (For more information see the Wolf Conservation Center’s page on red wolves)

Red Wolf

Red Wolf
10″ x 9″ watercolor
I will donate 30% of the proceeds from the sale of this painting to the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY to support their work of research, education, and breeding of red wolves and other endangered wolves.

(Thank you very much to the Wolf Conservation Center for the use of their photo and for the opportunity to sketch wolves there.)

Red Wolf Field Sketches

Wildlife Painting and Website Update

I’ve been in a slump since losing Rowan and haven’t done much painting at all. I have been filling sketchbooks, one with nearly daily sketching of birds, people, and life in general; and the other with stories and sketches from Rowan’s life, but I just couldn’t manage to do a full painting. However, I did finally get my brushes wet last week, and a tiger came to life on my easel. I’ve often found that when I’m feeling stuck as far as art goes, painting wildlife gets me going again, and this was no exception.

I wonder if one reason wildlife inspire me is that they struggle for survival every day, all on an individual level and some on the species level, and they don’t give up; they just keep on doing what they were made to do. That’s what I am ready to do again, and I’m especially hoping to do a number of paintings of endangered, threatened, or vulnerable wildlife and then donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of those paintings to an appropriate wildlife conservation organization, sometimes a local group (for example our local bird club or the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, where I sketch wolves) or to a larger organization, such as the Wildlife Conservation Society. I figure that allows the purchaser and me to be partners in supporting the cause of species needing help.

I’ve also just updated my website. A number of people have asked whether I’m listing new paintings in my ETSY shop, and for now I am not planning to. It’s a bit of a hassle to list them there, and I didn’t get much traffic, so at this time I’m planning to focus on my website (including this blog) and on facebook. So, if interested in something you see on my facebook page or this site, please email me (naturepainter@hotmail.com) or contact me on facebook. Most pieces are for sale, even if details aren’t listed with the image.

Tiger! Watercolor & Ink 8″ x 8″ $250 Tigers are the largest members of the cat family and are generally solitary for much of their lives. Several species of tigers have become extinct in the last century, and the remaining six species are endangered due to habitat destruction and poaching.


Art Exhibit and Holiday Sale

I just finished hanging twenty-two pieces, mostly watercolors, plus a few ink drawings, at the East Fishkill Community Library. I’ll have quite a few more paintings, some framed and some just matted, there just for the opening reception tomorrow evening, but the pieces that are hanging will be there until the 26th.

A number of my paintings are wildlife, some of them endangered species, and I will be donating a portion of the proceeds from the sale of any of those to an appropriate wildlife conservation organization– the Wolf Conservation Center and the Wildlife Conservation Society are two I have in mind. I’m open to suggestions of other worthy organizations.

Opening reception– Friday, December 2–   6:00 to 7:30PM


Musings on Grief and Advent

I thought I was doing a little better about losing Rowan, but I’m not. I think I was just distracted by preparing for my art show and also a bit numb, and now reality is hitting hard, really hard. No matter how tired I am, when I lie down to sleep, my mind starts going and going, and sleep is impossible for hours. I know it was Rowan’s time and he needed me to let him go. I did it for him because I never wanted to take the chance he would suffer or panic, and we were coming very close to that point. I will always be thankful for the clarity I had about the timing, so that I could give him the gift of a peaceful, gentle departing, but I can hardly bear it that he’s not here with me anymore.

I know it could be much worse. Stephen is here with me. My family and close friends are alive and, for the most part, in good health. As incredibly hard as it is to have lost Rowan, I know that losing any of them would be much, much more devastating. But, while that does help me keep some perspective, it doesn’t lessen the intensity of my grief for Rowan.

Unlike any of those people, Rowan was with me almost all the time for most of his thirteen years, so I feel his absence acutely throughout the day (and night, when I’m not able to sleep). Nearly everything reminds me of him, like the loud sound of my electric kettle lid closing, which bothered him, so I automatically look up to reassure him. Or the early dark of these late fall evenings, when Rowan and I would often go outside, just the two of us, to walk and play in the dark yard together. Or every time I head out the door to go someplace and start to think that it’s cool enough out to take Rowan in the car with me. Even those words, “with me,” which almost always got Rowan to leap up and dance in front of the door so he could go “with me” wherever I was going. And so much more, all day, every day.

Several wonderful people have reminded me that grief is grief, whether for a person or a beloved dog. I know that is true, and I know it’s going to be a long time before the sharpness of this pain softens and the many good memories cause me to smile rather than sob, but it is hard to know how to be and do life in the meantime, especially in this holiday season. I’ve been busy with show prep, matting and framing paintings, which has required a lot of focus. While I’m doing that, I can feel fairly normal at first, but a fog of sadness gradually creeps in, almost without me noticing, until finally the fog obscures nearly everything and I am exhausted and overwhelmed once again. And if I stay busy too long or too late in the day and don’t spend time feeling and processing the grief that is always there, I am all the more likely to churn wakefully through long hours of the night. I know this will get better someday, but right now that someday seems a terribly long ways off.

So I guess I need to take extra time to ponder and be and journal and process, and I guess this year that is going to be a big part of my focus for Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Not my usual Advent focus, but maybe not entirely inappropriate, as I think of Jesus, who came to live and die and show us God’s love, God’s comforting, redeeming, renewing love. In my calmer moments I can turn my thoughts to him and be thankful for his many gifts, including the wonderful gift of his love expressed to me through Rowan. And I trust that in my less calm moments he is right here with me, caring about and understanding my grief, because he came to live life on this earth, experiencing the pain and grief that comes with being human.

My sweet boy on his last morning


Farewell, my sweet Rowan


At Artists Bluff, NH September 2010

Bright, golden eyes, watching me everywhere; a little bob of his head, as he sat figuring me out; silky, soft fur, soothing to my soul; gentle whiskers, brushing my face ever so softly; sweet, steady presence by my side, walking through thirteen years.

Today I said good-bye to a big piece of my heart. My sweet Rowan has been in my life for a little over thirteen years, but it feels as though he was never not with me. How can he be gone now? It doesn’t seem possible, and yet the emptiness of the house tells me it is true.

There is so much to say, so many stories he wrote on my heart, like no other dog I’ve ever known, but they will have to wait for another time. Right now my heart is broken and still trying to grasp this new reality.

I am so thankful for the past two and a half months since Rowan’s diagnosis of nasal cancer. He had been declining for a while, but when we started him on prednisone in August, his life, energy, and joy were renewed, and we had a marvelous fall together, walking, hiking, playing, hanging out. And this past weekend he had a wonderful time with our grandson, Paul, something I had always hoped for him, since Rowan always adored children, and I knew he’d love our grandchildren.

Today Rowan’s time ran out. I knew the time was drawing near, and I wanted to let him go in peace before his joy in life was gone. He was tired but still happy. He chased a ball one final time (only a few feet, but he grabbed it and held it happily); walked with me in the driveway looking up with his wonderful smile of connection; and rode in my car– one of his most happy places, because he always knew I was near if he was in the car. He was in the car with his head on my lap as we said good-bye for now.

Here’s a poem I wrote about Rowan a few months ago:

He’s always been more human than dog,
holding my heart within his frame,
mirroring my soul in his golden eyes,
small fleck of blue a hint of heaven.

When I’m broken inside but don’t know to cry
he bears my pain and helps me feel it
hurting with my hurt till I seek healing
and we both are whole again.

Hide and seek, approach and retreat,
his favorite games the play of my life.
Disconnect, reconnect, laugh with delight,
my soul in Rowan’s eyes, my joy in his smile.

Rowan, thank you for all you have been for me. I thank God for bringing you into my life and teaching me so much about His love through your sweet presence with me. You have touched my soul in ways no one else could have, and I will always carry the imprint of your soul in mine.

Rowan and me

Sketching in the Rain

I love rain! The pattering sound works solace for my soul. For an introvert it’s also often more peaceful walking in the rain, because so many people stay inside, leaving the road or trails to me and the few other people who don’t worry about melting. When I was running track or cross country in high school, I usually finished third or fourth in races– unless it was a rainy day. Then I often won, because I found the rain invigorating, while most of the other runners were psyched out by it.

I also love sketching, but it’s not always easy to blend the two. A couple of weeks ago I was sketching wolves at the Wolf Center when it started to rain, and suddenly my pencil ground to a halt on my paper. The paper in my sketchbook was heavy enough to stand up to getting rained on, but it turns out that graphite pencils don’t work on ordinary wet paper. No problem; I switched to a watercolor pencil and continued to sketch the wolves. That worked okay, but I really prefer the finer lines and detail I can get with my trusty mechanical pencil with .7mm or .9mm lead or with my favorite– a Ticonderoga No. 1 (extra-soft) pencil sharpened to a good point.

When I came home from that sketching session, I did a bit of research and found the “All Weather Sketchbook” by Rite in the Rain. My order arrived last week, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting a rainy day, so I could test it out. Today fit the bill, with heavy rain off and on all afternoon. I hurried out with watercolor pencils to draw the remaining colorful trees in our yard– I really love the soft look of fall colors on a rainy day. At first that worked beautifully, but as it rained harder, my drawing liquified and ran off the paper (onto me). At that point I pulled out my Ticonderoga pencil to sketch a tree that has already lost all its leaves. It worked wonderfully! This paper is really cool and stood up to getting heavily soaked. And now I don’t need to take weather into account when I schedule sketching trips to the wolf center or zoo!

Sketching in the rain
Sketch on Rite-in-the-Rain paper