The Gift of the Night

I woke at 2:30 this morning with too much on my mind. After lying in bed for a while, trying to go back to sleep, I gave in and got up somewhat grumpily. I knew it was going to be a long day.

I walked into my dark studio and reached for the light switch, then noticed the glow of moonlight and paused with my hand on the switch. My mood shifted slightly and, without turning on the light, I slipped into the warm night, the waning moon shining softly through the damp air. I sat on the picnic table and listened to the faint chirping of a few distant crickets.

A few stars peeked through the mist above the trees that stood vaguely silhouetted in the moonlit sky. I thought (hoped) I’d see some nocturnal inhabitants of the land, but they must have been in the woods or their burrows. All was soft and still.

I sat alone, resting in the solitude and silence. Nothing was in focus, nothing demanded attention. There’s a magically alive quality to the quiet night, and, despite my earlier grumpiness, I was thankful to be awake and outside, and I thought about how much I miss by habitually sleeping until after the sun is up.

As I sat musing on the picnic table, my favorite passage in one of my favorite books, Prince Caspian, came to mind. Young Lucy awakens to her name being called and walks through the trees in the quiet of the night while everyone else sleeps. All of a sudden she comes upon Aslan and rushes to him, burying her face in his mane, basking in his loving, comforting presence. No words are exchanged; they just sit and are together.

I sit alone and yet not alone for half an hour, cherishing every minute of peace and silent communion, then head inside with quiet enthusiasm for the day. I know it will be a good day.

Searching for Service…ah, no, not really…

“Searching for Service”… that’s what my cell phone display said yesterday after I lost reception while driving down Cooper lake Road.

As a dog trainer, I often get calls from people “searching for service” in the sense of needing dog training help. Of course I’m delighted to receive such calls– that’s why I am a dog trainer. I also make calls searching for service, when I need car repair or a doctor’s appointment, or anything else that requires someone else’s skills. I’m glad to be of service and I’m thankful to be able to call for service when I need to.

However, driving down Cooper Lake Road, I felt no need to “search for service,” despite the words on my cell phone. It gave me a delightfully free feeling to know no one could call me and I could call no one. I anticipated an hour or so of uninterrupted solitude– a precious gift of time for myself.

The funny thing is, I am often the one who interrupts times when I could be alone and quiet, filling it with unnecessary calls or web browsing. I don’t quite understand why I turn on my phone and make calls or click through web sites when I really could benefit from silence and stillness, but I do, then sometimes regret the lost opportunity for solitude.

That’s why I was so pleased to have driven out of range of cell phone reception yesterday. No one, not even I, would interrupt my quiet time at Cooper Lake.

I hiked a short distance through a pine forest, until I found an opening by the shore. Sitting on pine needles with low-bush blueberries and huckleberries within arm’s length, I let my mind wander at will as I painted the landscape and sampled fresh berries. The sun shining on the pine needles filled the air with a satisfying fragrance, and the clear air gave a perfect view of the distant mountains.

Rowan sat with rapt attention, watching a huge flock of geese floating nearby, quietly honking their contentment. Every now and then he got up to pick and eat a few berries, then he’d sit back down and focus on the geese.

A delightful afternoon painting and pondering in peace.

Birds and Flowers

Now that my schedule is calmer and more manageable, I am excited about painting again. It’s funny how creativity can be so easily squelched by stress and demands on one’s time and attention. Even when I had time to write or paint during the past few months, I usually couldn’t get started. When I did try, everything seemed flat and uninspired.

As I’ve found out over and over, I need chunks of time alone and quiet to flourish physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Without that, I start to lose track of who I am and just do things all day without truly “being.”

Often I sit and listen best when I have something in my hand, so this past week I’ve spent much time with a pen, pencil, or paint brush in hand, contemplating the beauty of creation and trying to catch a little of that beauty on my paper.

The hummingbirds really like the Bee Balm. Arielle and I were sitting on the front steps a couple of days ago, watching a hummingbird zip from blossom to blossom.

I painted these while sitting in the garden on a misty evening and plan to do them again with sunshine on them.

Steve came home with some beautiful lilies for me, so I painted them a few times. Flowers are hard for me for some reason, but I was happy with how some of these turned out. I am trying to figure out where to use detail and where to keep it loose.

I love painting flowers that Steve gives me. That way I can still enjoy the flowers long after they’ve wilted and the petals have drifted to the table top.

During the past couple of days I’ve been painting a Canada Goose and a Great Black-backed Gull from photos.

This gull is from a photo by Dennis Hill from a free photo site online.

Water, waves and reflections are all challenging for me, and I worked for quite a while trying to get the rippling waves right in this painting. With both the waves and the reflected wings, I painted using many layers, allowing the paint to dry thoroughly in between layers.

I did this Canada Goose from a photo by Carol Hickey. She takes wonderful wildlife photos and has given me permission to use them as painting references.

More plein air paintings

I love the idea of plein air painting– sitting outside, looking at a gorgeous view, taking time to really absorb it as I paint. I have a long way to go till I’m comfortable painting landscapes, but the more I do, the more I like doing them.

Here’s a small painting I did in New Hampshire earlier this week. I sat on a friend’s doorstep and painted with several dogs lolling or playing nearby. A peaceful, quiet way to pass a half hour.

On my way home the next day, I stopped at the northernmost parking area on the Taconic State Parkway. The sky was overcast, lessening the intense heat, and the humidity was a little less stifling than earlier.
I laid a couple of tracks for Petra, then chatted with an elderly farmer who uses Aussies to herd his sheep. After hearing about his sheep and how Aussies figured out for themselves how to herd the sheep, I took Petra tracking, while the farmer and his wife watched. She did very well, and we both enjoyed the break from car time. She’s so deliberate and careful– just the opposite of Rowan.

After I walked and played with (trained) all the dogs for a few minutes, I sat and painted the view off toward the distant Catskills.

Fireworks, Fireflies, and Crickets

Last night all eighteen of us crowded on the upper deck of the beach house and ooohed and ahhhed as we watched the town of Corolla’s spectacular fireworks display. They were some of the more impressive fireworks I’ve seen, with linking rings, Saturn-like circles with rings around them, gorgeous showers of gold sparks, and many multi-color displays.

Rowan loved being out on the deck with us. He sat on top of the picnic table and looked around happily. He only occasionally looked at the brilliant lights in the sky, but he got very excited when the next-door neighbors shot off a long string of ground sparkler-type fireworks that made a tremendous amount of noise. At that point he jumped off the table and ran over where he could watch them better, only coming back to the table when the neighbors were done.

After the fabulously loud and colorful finale, we clapped and cheered and Rowan barked joyfully, then we all crowded through the doors and played a rowdy game of Catch Phrase.


We’re home now, and I need some time alone outside to unwind after our long day on the road.

As I sit and look around, I see fireflies twinkling in every direction. No loud noises, no bright colors, no fancy shapes. Just hundreds of tiny lights shining briefly but brightly, turning on and off with seemingly random timing.

Sitting silently watching, one hand resting on Rowan as he lies beside me, I listen to the unobtrusive and sweet chirping of crickets in the woods behind me. It’s early in the season and there aren’t many crickets yet, but the few singing tonight work peace in my heart.

I breathe deeply and feel my body relax and my mind quiet.

I’ll take fireflies and crickets any night…

Plein Air Painting

Landscape painting is not my forte, but I’ve been giving it a try this week. I love the whole idea of painting outside. When I do, I see so much more of the beauty in nature, and sitting in one place painting quiets my soul in a way few other things do.

It is wonderful to sit on a dock, quietly painting and pondering, while the sky goes from blue to orange to pink. Sometimes I meditate or pray while I paint, but more often my mind is calm and still and I am just in the moment. This is something I plan to do a lot more of this summer.

This week on the Outer Banks, I’ve been sur-rounded by beauty. Sunsets, sunrises, dunes, Currituck Sound, Currituck Beach Lighthouse, crashing waves, a calm early morning sea, and more. I wish I could paint it all, but am hampered by both time and ability, but I’ve done some painting. None turned out fabulously, but each is an enjoyable reminder of time spent pleasantly.

I painted some of these alone, some with Steve, one with Arielle, and one with Jonathan. Somehow having my hands occupied keeps my mind from wandering and makes it easier to relax and focus on conversation (or meetings, sermons, or lectures).

I find it so much easier to paint animals, and it occured to me today that perhaps I should try to paint a landscape the same way I paint an animal. Look for the areas of light and dark and think about where I want detail and where I can leave it loose. I can hardly wait to go work on a dunes painting I started yesterday, keeping those thoughts in mind.

A week on the Outer Banks

We’ve been with Steve’s family in Corolla, North Carolina on the Outer Banks all week, and I’ve finally had a chance to catch up on some sleep. I’ve also been able to paint and write again, both of which have fallen by the wayside in the past few, overly busy weeks. Taking time for myself this week has given me a chance to think about my schedule and my priorities. It’s been too easy to let my schedule just happen, rather than managing what goes on my calendar. I’m planning to be more careful with that when I get back home.

Wonderful Family Time

There have been eighteen of us here in the house, and it’s been a great time together. We’re all different in many ways, but everyone respects each other and is genuinely interested in what’s going on in each others’ lives. We’ve had good conversation, both one-on-one and in groups, and we’ve played some fun games.

I’ve played Scrabble and Boggle, and I’ve laughed while watching others play Wii Sports. I’d never heard of the Wii before, and I have to say, it was pretty amusing to watch two people box against each other or play tennis through their little figures on the TV.

Poor Rowan was very confused by the Wii tennis. He could see Steve and Cara swinging at the ball, he could hear the racquets hit the ball and the ball bounce on the court, he could even see the ball on the TV, but there was no ball where he was poised to intercept it. Finally he just stood between them and the TV and barked uncontrollably. Apparently even a smart dog can’t figure out interactive TV games.
It’s also been great to have our family together. Because of Jonathan’s work schedule, he might not get home again until Christmas, so this was a special time to connect as a family. Our kids are so grown up now!
Seeing through fresh eyes

We brought Rowan with us, and it’s his first time at the beach. He LOVES it, and having him here has made this so much more of a vacation for me. I love his constant company and his gentle presence with me. He also makes walking on the beach so much fun. Everything is new and exciting for him and, in a way, it’s like when we used to walk on the beach with the children when they were young. Having a curious young child or dog opens my eyes to see so much more, as I see their delight in investigating everything new or in any way different.

Crabs are especially interesting. They pop without warning out of holes in the sand, then skitter backwards while one follows them closely. Unfortunately, they also pinch! On Rowan’s tender pink nose! That sends him leaping backwards in the air, but he’s back a moment later, closely following the crab as it backs away.

He hasn’t shown any urge to hurt a crab; it’s more like an intense curiosity, even when they retreat into the water. Rowan’s first introduction to crabs occured when he dug up a crab hole until the occupant suddenly darted out past his face.

Every crab, every jellyfish that has washed ashore, every horseshoe crab shell is fascinating and worthy of notice and can be a source of fun and delight. Thank you, Rowan!