After today’s fairly long hike (6+ miles) I was really hungry, so we detoured through Rhinebeck on the way home to stop at the Matchbox Cafe, my favorite place to get a burger and fries. It was a great finale to a great day of hiking and spending time with Stephen!
The Quiet Side of Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island is aptly named and full of beauty that one can enjoy in silence and solitude. As I drove along the Loop Road in Acadia National Park, even the not-quite-busy season crowds were enough on a beautiful Saturday in early June to deter me from stopping and sketching as often as I would have otherwise. Then I drove across to the Quiet Side and felt all tension melt away as I left the crowds of people and lines of cars behind.
I stayed for a few delightful days with a friend in a little one room cottage in the village of Southwest Harbor. Jana is an incredible artist who has spent a great deal of time exploring and painting all over Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park (see her website here– Jana Matusz), and over the days I stayed with her she shared many of her favorite hiking and painting spots with me. We hiked out to less-known but beautiful spots where we painted the coast or the woodlands. We watched a Peregrine Falcon fly in with food for her chicks, we saw a gorgeous Common Loon on her nest trying to be invisible, we saw an Osprey carrying a fish to its nestlings and then flying away with it again (did the chicks turn up their noses at it?), we climbed the aptly named Perpendicular Trail, we bushwacked down to a beautiful waterfall, and we tried, as so many have, to push Bubble Rock off the cliff where it hangs seemingly so precariously, and, of course, we ate lobster!
Like me, Jana likes to hike and paint quietly, so we both greatly appreciated the spirit of the Quiet Side. While we often chatted and laughed while driving from place to place, we hiked mostly without speaking, marveling at the play of light and shadow on birch trees along the trail or the various songs of myriad birds who mostly remained unseen or sudden vistas opening out before us. Then once we’d decided on a place to paint, we’d fall into a comfortable and companionable silence, each focused on our work, each appreciating the spot in our own way and attempting to capture it with our brushes. Be sure to check out Jana’s paintings on her website. We use different mediums and paint very differently, but I love her work and learn from studying every painting of hers.
It was a wonderful few days of hiking and sketching and I am eager to return and do some more exploring and painting. Many thanks to Jana for sharing her love and knowledge of the Quiet Side!
(Click on images to see larger image)
The final week of my month in Maine was the 2017 Summer Acadia Artist Retreat at the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park. We had a foggy start to the week and, although I love painting the softness of fog and mist, one of the other program leaders and I were planning some indoor alternatives to plein air painting in case some of the participants weren’t keen on being outside in the fog. At our first gathering, however, all the participants waxed enthusiastic about the fog and said they were excited to get out and paint the fog-wreathed landscape. That enthusiastic spirit prevailed throughout the week as we painted in fog and sunshine, hiked as a group to Little Moose Island and then dispersed to paint whatever views captured our attention, shared thoughts and ideas over meals, learned from Ranger Kate Petrie on her fabulous geology walk and touch tank presentation, painted taxidermy models and a retired ranger who kindly sat as a portrait model for two hours, did figure drawing at nearby studio in town, and more, including, of course, lots of free painting time on our own. All the planned activities were optional, and varying numbers of artists participated in each, with everyone free to pursue their own interests and goals for the week.
Each of the four program leaders gave a brief presentation; mine was on quick sketching of wildlife, particularly birds. I also demonstrated the meander folded journals I like to make and fill when I travel to a special place. Below are photos of my meander journal opened out; I love that this kind of journal is called a meander journal, since I fill it as I meander through time and place.
I really appreciated the opportunity to garner some helpful suggestions and ideas from the various presentations and from the other participants and am looking forward to putting some of these ideas into practice in the coming weeks. In addition to the painting and sharing times, we had delicious and plentiful breakfasts and dinners served at Schooner Commons, Schoodic Institute’s dining hall, as well as box lunches that we prepared each morning at breakfast so that we could be free to paint or explore throughout the day. On our final night we had a fabulous lobster dinner, cooked and served by the lobsterman who had caught the lobsters that day!
One of my goals for this retreat and really for the whole month in Maine was to try new approaches and materials, and the retreat was great for that with so much varied input and opportunities. I had been wanting to do more with gouache, which I’d only used a few times, and one of the retreat artists uses gouache, so I asked a few questions and watched her work, then went out a played with it. These two are gouache, the fisher from a taxidermy mount and the landscape did plein air in my meander journal on Little Moose Island.
I’d also been wanting to do figure drawing again, which I’ve only done a few times, so it was great to have that as an option one evening at a studio in Winter Harbor, and again, I learned a lot from seeing how the other artists there approached it. While doing the figure drawing, I also tried working with walnut ink, which I’ve had for a while but have never used. (I’m not posting my figure drawings here since some viewers might not appreciate the nudity.) I also had not painted a portrait from life before, so painting a ranger who patiently sat for a portrait session was new and very enjoyable. I don’t think it looks a whole lot like him, but I was happy with it as a first portrait in watercolor from life. A bonus was that we got to hear wonderful stories from his work as a ranger while we painted him.
I tried sketching on Rite in the Rain paper when it was too foggy for my pencil to work on ordinary paper, and that worked wonderfully for sketching a Herring Gull at Schoodic Point. I’ll definitely keep a pad of this paper in my car for damp days.
I tried doing watercolor on multimedia artboard, which I had never even heard of, and I loved it! I’ve already ordered a pack of it and am eager to do more with it.
And of course I painted the rocks and trees of Schoodic Peninsula!
Here’s a link to Schoodic Institute’s write-up of the retreat with many more photos: Artists Reflect on challenges, techniques, and experiences at Acadia Retreat . We’re already starting to think about next year’s retreat, so keep posted for updates!
I’m back home in the Hudson Valley of New York, but when I close my eyes I see spruces and firs draped in Old Man’s Beard lichen, their trunks nearly white with other lichens, their roots clad in bright green mosses; pink granite and greenish-black diabase rock glistening in the surf; Herring Gulls and Eider Ducks flashing white in the sun as the fly over blue-green water. I hear the steady pounding and crashing of waves on the rocky shores and feel the nearly constant cool breeze that wonderfully keeps black flies and mosquitoes away. The songs of Black-throated Green Warblers, Northern Parulas, Swainson’s Thrushes, Winter Wrens, and many other birds still play in my mind. I feel cool mist on my cheeks and watch the hide and seek game of the islands as thick fog rolls in and out and in again.
I was planning to post again after my second week, but I was so enjoying my break from computer time that I decided to wait till I was back home. I was also heading out to explore, sketch, or hike by 5:00 most mornings and wasn’t spending much time inside, so I didn’t really have time to photograph my artwork or post about what I was doing.
The second week of my artist residency was just as wonderful as the first, perhaps more so, as I settled into a quieter internal state of mind and became more and more present with the world around me and with my own being. I had been very much looking forward to this extended time of quiet, and it was, as expected, a time of insight and personal growth, as well as a wonderful time of sketching and painting.
I’m still reviewing and pondering my times of roaming and observing and meditating, so will probably have more thoughts as time goes on, but one significant insight for me was realizing how much I pressure myself, even when there are no external demands on me. While in Maine I was reading and pondering the book Nature as Spiritual Practice, by Steven Chase, and one section I really liked was about how the cycles of nature can be a kind of liturgy– liturgy being something repetitive that shapes us over time. The liturgy of the sea helped me recognize the pressure I was placing on myself.
One morning I was sitting above the sea in my favorite contemplation spot–a sun-warmed hollow in a diabase dike (a vein of dark diabase rock in the pink Schoodic granite), and I started thinking of the steady rise and fall of tides and the ebb and flow of waves. I thought of the refreshing action of the waves on the rocks and tide pools and then about how much I needed to be refreshed. And that led me to the realization that I was pushing and driving myself even while there, which was absurd, since I’d be sketching and painting just as much without pressuring myself, just because I love to do those things. As I realized that, I felt the pressure wash away, and I came away from that time with an eagerness to simply live as God made me to live with the abilities and passions he has given me, without driving myself to always do more or be better in order to satisfy some internal voice that was telling me I never did enough.
Throughout my residency I read psalms that speak of sky and sea and wind and creatures of all sorts praising God through being what they are and doing what they were made to do, and I let them lead me in praising God both with words and by living as he made me to be. I had never before asked myself how a wave praises God, but that was one question I asked nearly every day as I heard the fierce crashing or the gentle lapping of the sea in its various moods. And how is the wind, so very present on Schoodic Peninsula, God’s messenger, and what message might it have for me?
2 The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
3 and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
4 He makes winds his messengers…
11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord…
I have come home with more peace as well as more questions to ponder, and I’m looking forward to continuing to observe and share the beauty I find in creation with a greater awareness of my place as a student and observer of nature, while continuing to grow as an artist and a child of God. I am overflowing with gratitude for the opportunity to have spent these weeks immersed in the beauty of Acadia National Park and am so grateful to the Park and to the Schoodic Institute for this gift.
I’ve spent most of every day in the past week hiking, birding, climbing on rocks, sketching, and painting. I’ve identified two new birds for my life list– a Merlin and a Red Crossbill. I’ve walked an average of over 16,000 steps per day and I’ve filled about 50 pages in my sketchbook. I’ve watched and attempted to paint sunsets (not too many, because it’s often been cloudy and sometimes drizzly) and one sunrise (this morning at 4:50– the sun rises much earlier here than at home, thanks to latitude and longitude), and I’ve watched and attempted to sketch the otters here twice so far (they were a highlight of my last time here, and I love watching them swim and dive and cavort in the water). I’ve only pulled my computer out of its case a few times and even then have only been online briefly. I’ve spent hours in silence and days with few words spoken aloud, giving me much time to ponder, to pray, to simply be.
And that’s enough words for now, so I’ll just add photos of some of my sketches and some photos I’ve taken of this amazing place (will wait till I’m home to post my paintings). (These are just quick photos, because I’m not going to take the time to scan and crop them until I’m back home.) I am so very, very thankful to be able to spend time here immersed in nature and art. Thank you so much to the Schoodic Institute and Acadia National Park for giving me this opportunity, and a huge thank you to Stephen for holding down the fort at home and letting me have this time away.
Otters scampering and swimming. Gulls in formation facing the sunset on Schoodic Point. Seabirds like specks, migrating over the sea. Fragrance of spruce rising in the sun, while Kinglets sing, scarcely seen. Storm waves crashing, resounding, revealing power beyond comprehension. Planets, stars and velvety darkness awesome in the night… These are wonders of Acadia National Park, some easy to behold, others easy to miss.
My car is packed and ready to go. Some food, some warm clothes, my binoculars, and lots of art supplies. What more could I need? Tomorrow morning I head to Maine for a month of painting at Acadia National Park! During my artist residency the first two weeks I’ll mostly be on the Schoodic Peninsula side of Acadia, where I’ve already spent a few weeks exploring and painting.
I love to experience and share with others the wonders of nature and the joy of quieting oneself to see what the land and its inhabitants have to say to us, whether in day or night, fair weather or storm, grand in scale or miniscule. In my first residency, in the fall of 2015, I focused on the big picture and primarily on what was easy to see—rocks, sea, wind. During this artist residency I plan to focus on aspects of nature that may be easy to miss—detailed observation and field sketches of wildlife behavior or of changes in a location or in plants over the course of day and night or fair weather and storm.
Whether easy to see or easy to miss, all creation, whether easy to see or easy to miss, is valuable and worthy of study. It is a powerful teacher, and when I quiet and open myself to learning what it has to offer, I gain insight into the hidden wonders of nature and also into myself—a combination that enriches my life and refreshes my sometimes harried soul.
After my two week residency, I’ll spend the third week visiting my son and daughter-in-law Jonathan and Minet (and my granddog Clemmie) and painting with a friend on the Mount Desert Island side of Acadia. Then I’ll head back to Schoodic Peninsula for the week-long Summer Acadia Artist Retreat, where I’ll be one of the program leaders. I attended the retreat last year and had a wonderful time with the other artists sharing ideas and learning from each other. (I think there are still a couple of openings, if anyone wants to sign up.)
There’s no cell signal on Schoodic except for at a few high places (and even then it’s iffy), so I’m anticipating a quiet few weeks. Bliss!
I scan the ochre-colored sandy path closely as Paul and I walk beside the canal, he sometimes riding, sometimes pushing his tricycle. I’m intrigued by the houseboats lining the canal. Who lives in them? What are their lives like? I’ve been fascinated with houseboats ever since having a childhood friend who had lived for a time on a houseboat. The path is lined with pines and other trees I can’t identify– the flora here in California is so different from that of the Northeast. There are birds, many species new to me, in these trees, and I have binoculars in my pocket.
The binoculars remain in my pocket, though, and I barely glance at the birds, much as I am drawn to them. I continue to closely watch the path ahead, making sure my active grandson doesn’t step in the wrong place anywhere along the path. There’s actually surprisingly little dog waste given the tremendous number and fascinating variety of dogs to be seen anywhere one goes around here– from tiny Chihuahuas to towering Great Danes, from a diminutive nine-week-old Shiba Inu that looks like a bright-eyed teddy bear to two lumbering Newfoundlands who look like real bears. The vast majority of dogs here are social and well-behaved, and I’m guessing that the vast majority of dog owners are considerate and responsible about cleaning up.
Apparently not everyone takes advantage of the conveniently placed poop clean-up bag dispensers and attached garbage cans, though. What I’m most concerned about Paul stepping in is human waste. I know from an earlier walk with Paul that there is some along this path, thankfully covered with a little paper, but obviously something to keep my quicksilver grandson from inadvertently running in. I also want to be sure Paul doesn’t jump on the navy blue sleeping bag, unzipped and spread out right beside the path, that I’m pretty sure is sheltering a sleeping person. That would be an unwelcome surprise and rude awakening for the sleeper.
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I see a movement above me and I look up and see a very small, fairly nondescript, drab-colored bird fly from the pine branches above me as another alights in the same low branches, then immediately disappears! I glance ahead along the path, then tell Paul there’s a bird in the tree even though I can’t see it. I’ve been teaching him some basic bird species and he’s been quite interested, though he’s generally ready to move on pretty quickly. The branches are low and not particularly dense. Where could the bird have gone?
The binoculars still heavy in my pocket, I glance back and forth from Paul to the branches overhead. And then I see it: a beautifully fashioned, perfectly camouflaged, narrow tube-shaped nest with a small opening near the top, hanging from one of the branches, partially obscured by the needles of another branch. It appears to be made of moss, the same color as the surrounding pine needles. I never would have noticed it if I hadn’t been alerted by the quick movement of the parent birds.
At that moment Paul spots a rock on the path a little way ahead– round and white with small black speckles, about the size of his fist. Running to it in delight, he picks up the rock, looks at it closely, then adds it to the treasures he’s already collected in the compartment on the back of his tricycle, and we continue on our way.
The next day, my last before returning home, I once again take Paul out on his tricycle for a walk along the canal, hoping to look more closely at the hanging moss nest and the birds whose home it is. We don’t get any farther than the sleeping bag that’s still beside the path, however, because just at that spot, without any warning, Paul’s tricycle suddenly collapses and falls apart into three separate pieces! Thankfully he’s been walking, not riding the tricycle, so though startled, he’s not hurt.
As quickly as I can, which isn’t very quick due to my lack of tricycle assembly experience, I reassemble the tricycle, only to have it immediately collapse once more in a heap in the sandy path. All the while Paul is providing shrill two-year-old commentary, and soon the sleeping bag stirs, revealing a sleepy older woman’s face. I apologize for disturbing her rest and tell her we’ll be on our way as soon as possible. After a short time that seems long, probably to all three of us, I finally get the tricycle precariously assembled and we head home where Nathaniel will do what dads do– repair broken toys.
I never do get back to see the hanging moss nest, but I have a clear enough memory of it and the birds to look them up and identify them as Bushtits– a new species to add to my life list of birds I’ve identified! I also have memories of a delighted boy holding a round white rock with small black speckles, a tricycle collapsing into pieces on a sandy path beside house boats, and a sleepy older woman patiently watching a baffled young boy trying loudly to grasp what had just happened to his hitherto unquestionably reliable tricycle.
Birding in a city neighborhood with a curious two-year old is nothing like strolling quietly, binoculars in hand, through the dense woods and open fields I’m accustomed to, but it, too, is rich with moments of delight and wonder.
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Rowan’s registered name was My Mountain Ash, and last fall after we lost him I ordered a mountain ash tree, also called a rowan tree, to plant in his memory. I had given Rowan his name both because his coloring was red like the berries of the mountain ash and because in Celtic legend the rowan tree is supposed to ward off evil spirits and protect the home. I expected that Rowan would be somewhat protective, being an Australian Shepherd. As it turned out, my social, friendly dog who loved pretty much everyone did, on a couple of occasions, warn people away from me, and I always trusted his judgment about people.
What I hadn’t expected was the way Rowan was so tuned in to me that he helped me recognize and face the inner demons that threatened me in more ways than anyone else could have. As is so often the case, I was blind to many of the obstacles that bound my soul and hindered my way forward in life. In various ways, Rowan helped me see where I was hurt and didn’t know it. And since my hurt so obviously stressed my sweet dog, I was all the more motivated to work through that which was difficult to face. And then he was always there with me, lovingly walking with me, snuffling me gently with his whiskers, bouncing with joy when he saw me, all the way through the darkness.
I’ve been missing Rowan so, so much, and a big part of the grief for me has been the horrible emptiness that I’ve felt whenever I think of his name, that name that for over thirteen years signified so much presence and strength for me but that since he left has reminded me more of absence and emptiness. I was hoping that planting this tree in Rowan’s memory would help bring me some degree of closure and comfort, and it seems to have. My sadness is of course still with me and I’m sure will remain for a long time, but now when I think of his name, I also think of his tree, a living, growing tree that bears his name.
Yesterday I finally was able to complete a portrait of Rowan that I started months ago but wasn’t able to keep working on. In the end I found it soothing to work on, almost as if I were spending time with Rowan, though when I painted the eyes I burst into tears, because it felt like he was looking at me again.
Here’s my first sketch of Rowan’s tree; I’m sure I’ll be sketching it many more times.
My father and I have continued to make portraits for children through The Memory Project since first doing portraits of Ukrainian children in February (click here to see those portraits). In March we did portraits of children from Bolivia who live in an impoverished area on the outskirts of a city. My father did a caricature of a thirteen-year-old boy named Jose and I did a watercolor of thirteen-year-old Laura. My sister, Jennifer Thompson, also did a watercolor of fourteen-year-old Isidro, and my brother Thaddeus Thompson did an acrylic portrait of a Bolivian boy, Jose Michael. It was fun to do these as a family!
After doing the portraits of Bolivian children, my father and I wanted to do more, so in April we did portraits of children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I did a watercolor of nine-year-old Abati and my father did a caricature of eight-year-old Baraka. These children have very likely suffered from war, violence, displacement, and malnutrition.
I’ve never considered myself a portrait artist, but it is a privilege to be able to do a portrait that will help a child in these circumstances realize that he or she is special and valued as an individual. While painting the portraits, I often pray for the child I’m painting, that somehow he or she would experience God’s love and care and that my portrait would in some way convey that love to the child. If you’re interested in participating in The Memory Project, you can find out more information at https://memoryproject.org/.
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.”
“This is the day the Lord has made,
let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,
the world and all who live in it…”