A Week of Sadness; a Week of Reminders

I don’t normally write about dark subjects. In fact, during difficult times, my journal tends to sit gathering dust, then when things are looking up, I start writing again. I’m not sure why that is, but that has been my habit for as long as I can remember. It’s not that I don’t think about the sad or dark things that come my way, but for some reason I have little interest in writing about them. But last week was a sad week for many people I care about, and I am mulling on it now.

My sister lost a very close friend who died unexpectedly. To add to her grief, they had had some misunderstanding and hadn’t spoken for a few weeks. The funeral was yesterday and was devastatingly sad for my sister. My heart aches for her.

A close friend’s cousin, with whom she’s very close, received a very grim diagnosis last week, and their whole family is reeling. My heart aches for my friend and for her family as I pray for comfort for them in this very hard time.

Another good friend lost her sister on Sunday, after a two year, very brave battle with cancer. They are thankful her pain has ended, but these sisters were very close, and the loss is great. My heart aches for this friend and her loss, and she is very much on my mind.

Yet another friend lost a friend of hers Sunday after a long and painful illness. She is relieved that he is no longer suffering, but her heart aches deeply. She is unable to attend the funeral, because of estranged relationships in their circle of mutual friends. My heart aches for this friend, too, with her double grief at losing her friend and being unable to honor him at his funeral service.

My father called a few days ago to tell me that my uncle, his younger brother, died. He had a massive stroke and died a few days later. My father had been planning on seeing him a couple of weeks from now at my uncle’s granddaughter’s wedding. I didn’t know my uncle well, but my heart aches for my father, and I am sobered at the reminder that a death in the family brings.

Then a few days ago, Steve and I were driving along and I had to suddenly pull completely off the road to avoid a head-on collision with someone who seemed to be aiming right at my car and who continued to head straight for us, despite me blowing my horn at them. It felt like a very close brush with serious injury or death, and I was shaking but very thankful to be safe.

Life is precious, as are the people in our lives. This past week has been a reminder to me to cherish the people I love and to celebrate the gifts they are in my life.

Filled with Wonder

Fall colors, brilliant sunsets, perky Chickadees, serendipitous snowflakes… I’ve had many moments of surprise and delight in the past week.

On Wednesday I sat on my deck with a friend and painted the fall colors and then did a page of quick watercolor sketches of the Chickadees as they came flying in to pick up seeds. I love the freedom and curiosity of these little birds.

Thursday and Friday Stephen and I went hiking in the mountains above Riga Farm. Thursday afternoon and evening we took a three mile hike up the mountain road above the farm, returning in time to watch the sunset as we came back down the mountain.

Friday morning I was awake very early and enjoyed a few hours of quiet reading, painting, and walking while Steve slept. I painted the stream out back through the kitchen window, since it was too cold to paint outside.

We expected it to be a bit chilly on Friday, but we did not expect snow! It snowed off and on most of the day Friday, not accumulating on the ground, but sticking long enough to speckle the dogs’ backs with white. Many of the snowflakes were perfectly formed six-pointed stars.

After a pleasant six mile ramble on woods roads through hilly areas and around beautiful mountain lakes, we hiked up Round Hill– a shorter but much steeper hike. I got scared and stopped a bit below the peak to paint the view, while Stephen explored farther up to the top. While I was painting it started to snow again, and the snowflakes landing on my slightly damp paper made wonderful watermarks– another of the magical effects of working in watercolors. I will never grow tired of this medium and the surprises it provides.

Yesterday I painted on my deck with another friend and tried to capture the kaleidoscope of color surrounding my house. The tall stump in my painting is a relic from a tornado-type storm years ago– the children were young, and we watched with awe as the majority of the tree fell in slow motion, landing across the stream with a mighty crash. The stump that remains is still living, and each year the branches grow a bit longer and fuller and drop a pretty tapestry on the grass in the fall.

Today I sat on my deck yet again, enjoying the warmth, despite a bit of drizzling rain, and the Chickadees joined me almost immediately, with one even landing on the handle of my paintbrush as I was painting with it! Another Chickadee hovered a couple of inches in front of my face, as if studying me. It is an amazing feeling to be trusted by a tiny wild bird!

Things that are beautiful….

Things that were beautiful today:

Fall colors lit by late-afternoon sun…

Chickadees boldly singing inches from me…

Titmice timidly gathering seeds nearby…

Smiles both seen and felt…

The soft sheen of Bituminous’s fur against my arm

Things that are beautiful tonight:

Trees silhouetted against the bright orb of the moon…

Late-season crickets singing before the frost silences them…

The stone walkway, softly lighted by moonlight…

Petra’s eyes, shining up at me as we walk…

The warm glow of lights shining from the windows

Les Artistes

photo by Alexis Thompson

On Tuesday I gave a power point presentation on my life as an artist for the “Les Artistes” lecture series in the Center for Lifetime Study. What a delightful group of people! This was my first experience giving a lecture and presentation of this sort, and I had a great time. Of course it’s always thought-provoking and enjoyable for me to look back over my growth as an artist, and I was hoping that by talking about my relatively slow start in the arts, I would be able to encourage the members of the audience to give painting a try, if they hadn’t already or if they were struggling with artists’ block. To that end, I focused especially on the process of art more than the product.

I find that many people, perhaps professional artists even more than most, often end up being so goal or product oriented that we lose the joy of the process. That seems a real shame, since painting or drawing can be so meditative and calming, so I spoke about sketching, about doing “parking lot art,” and about being playful with color. I illustrated my points with examples from my sketchbooks and my finished paintings.

People had fabulous questions and comments that, in some cases, clarified for me why I compose my paintings or choose my subjects as I do or got me thinking along new lines. It’s always wonderful when feedback after an event contributes to the ongoing growth process. It was a privilege to be asked to present my work and a delight to do so! Thank you to the class organizers and to the Center for Lifetime Study!

Here are a few pieces that I included in my presentation:

My first elephant painting, when I was sure I couldn’t paint an elephant

A more colorful elephant piece after I relaxed and became playful with color

Horse Chestnuts (Conkers) painted just for fun with an online watercolor group

Some examples of “parking lot art” painted in local parking lots or highway rest areas

And two older paintings of mine that have a story:

Pen & ink with watercolor Barn Swallow for Stephen, who hates mosquitoes and loves swallows. He used to always watch and tell me about the swallows swooping in the fields across from work, so I painted this for him.

Veedor the Andean Condor, a wedding gift for my brother and his wife, who were excited to see one of these birds flying in the mountains of Venezuela on their honeymoon. Andean Condors live about 60 years and mate for life, so I thought this was an appropriate wedding gift. I met and photographed and sketched Veedor, who flew around, then crash landed against my legs and tore my jeans. I don’t normally like having torn jeans, but having jeans that had been torn by a free-flying Andean Condor was pretty special!

Colorado- dog training, hiking, and sketching

I was in Colorado a couple of weeks ago for a few days of hiking and painting and for a “Dealing with Difficult Dogs” conference with Sarah Wilson and Brian Kilcommons. The conference was another fabulous opportunity to watch Sarah and Brian teach and work with untrained shelter dogs that they hadn’t met until that moment. Sarah did some quietly spectacular work with some shy/sensitive/deficit dogs. As always, it was wonderful to watch the shy dogs move in a matter of minutes from shut down and fearful to sweetly trusting, as they discovered that Sarah was trustworthy, safe, and kind. I never grow tired of watching Sarah win the confidence of these dogs who have never known that a human could be a pleasure to bond with.

Brian worked with independent dogs and on-leash aggressive dogs, and he, too, is always impressive and eduational to watch. His confident and skillful timing and use of the leash to help move the dog into respectful connection is a dance of sorts, and I came away with new mental images of how to use the leash and improve my timing to give a dog more helpful feedback and effective communication.

On the third day of the conference, Sarah and I co-taught a full day of hands-on intensive learning. Over the years Sarah and I have developed a seamless teamwork as we’ve worked together, and it was a real pleasure to be doing so again. The students were fabulous to work with and were very impressive with their handling of the many dogs we worked with at the Longmont Humane Society that day. In the afternoon Sarah demonstrated how she teaches loose leash walking. She worked with multiple dogs of a wide variety of temperaments, and all were walking nicely beside her in attentive, happy connection within minutes.

In addition to the dog training parts of the trip, I greatly enjoyed seeing friends from all over the country and Canada, some of whom I had met before and others whom I was meeting for the first time at this conference.

As for the hiking and painting, Colorado in the fall is GORGEOUS. Rowan and I hiked through Chautauqua Park to see the Flatirons on two different days, and we drove and hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park one afternoon. I could easily spend a week in RMNP, but that will have to wait for another trip.