A Gray Day, a Gray Cat, and a Cup of Tea

Today is one of those chilly, autumn days when I’d like to just sit by my window with a hot mug of tea and read a book. I had other things to do today, but I did take some time to start my day quietly. Before turning on my computer, I made a pot of white tea, picked up sketchbook and pencil, and scooped Silver onto my lap.

With hot tea to warm me inside and sketchbook to help me see the beauty outside, I ran my fingers through the velvety warmth of Silver’s fur, watching the Chickadees, Titmice, and Nuthatches coming and going outside. The bird (and squirrel) traffic at the feeders was steady and enthusiastic, perhaps making up for lost time during the storm, perhaps just increasing because the days are getting cooler. I sipped my tea, sketched my birds, stroked my cat, starting my day with a few minutes that transformed the gray of the morning from dull to cozy.

Feeder visitors- blue gray colored pencil and ballpoint pen
Silver is curious, as always
She’d drink it if I let her, but now I won’t! This cat is never boring.

Maine Retreat

Wrapped in the warmth of a wonderfully soft, fleece blanket, steaming mug of green tea in hand, I settled on the deck and watched. Watched Chickadees, Titmice, and Nuthatches at the feeder just feet from me. Watched two loons swimming a ways across the lake. Watched the morning light transform the distant mountains from misty outlines to purple splendor to the full glory of fall colors.

So began my days last week while on retreat in a cabin on Wilson Lake in central Maine. This wasn’t my typical solitary retreat, as I went with a close friend, but it also included time for private reflection, personal evaluation, and contemplation. How could one not become quiet and thoughtful before such a magnificent display of God’s creation?
My friend Sarah and I took a week away as a writers’ retreat, and write we did (and cook, and eat, and hike, and sit on the dock star-gazing, and canoe on the lake, etc). Every day we did one or more ten minute writing exercises, which we then shared and discussed. Those conversations led to discussions of our writing styles, subjects, and goals, and to mutual encouragement as we enjoyed each others’ strengths in writing. Sarah made some long term plans and got a good start on her next writing project. I worked on various writings, including some memoir-type selections and a short article about how crating can be a stress-reducing haven for a dog, with my old dog Bilbo as an example. That article is posted on the My Smart Puppy blog.
As I always do on retreat, I spent much of my time in silence, sometimes reading, sometimes journaling– either in my private journal or my artist’s sketchbook/journal, and sometimes just quietly observing nature and musing. As I started this retreat, a friend, Cindy Steffen of the Prairie Pond Woods blog that I follow, emailed me some questions that she had recently used when she led a retreat, and I pondered and wrote on these questions throughout the week (the questions, with some modifications, come from the book The Questions of Jesus, by John Dear):
  • What are you thinking in your heart? (a clearing of the mind exercise)
  • What are you looking for? (passions? desires?)
  • What do you want me (Jesus) to do for you?
  • Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside? (dealing with integrity)
  • Will you lay down your life for me (Jesus)? (what does that mean, etc?)
  • What is your name? (playing with God’s proclivity to rename and Jesus’ to nickname)
As all retreats come to an close, this one did too, but, as usual, I have come home with an inner peace and quiet that has me listening more than speaking and that holds me calm and steady in the midst of the storm raging outside.

Lake Wilson Sunset (plein air watercolor)
Artist’s journal pages (click to see larger image) 

Maine Colors– Scenery and Birds

Today was one of those crystal clear days when I can’t get enough of the fresh air, the sunshine, and the scenery. From the moment I woke up and looked out the window of my bedroom (the window is right over the bed, so I can look out without even sitting up), I was entranced with the colors. At first the sky was just brightening up and there was a long line of orange over the hills opposite our cabin. Soon the sky was a soft pinkish, with violet clouds across the lake and dusky rose-colored clouds over the mountains at the north end of the lake. All day long the lighting and colors shifted. I did several sketches as I sat and pondered the thoughts and questions that came to mind throughout the day.

Yesterday when Sarah and I were walking in some nearby fields, we saw our first Bohemian Waxwings– a flock of about six were flitting from tree to tree! I have seen Cedar Waxwings many times, and when I saw these I thought at first that was what they were, but then I noticed the different color of the undertail coverts and the white on the wing edges. Their voice is also a bit different. While we were watching these pretty birds, a Bald Eagle soared far overhead and disappeared into the colors of the hills.

Maine Night Sky

The Big Dipper hung huge above the far side of the lake, each star punctuating the indigo of the night sky. I followed the end of the dipper out to the North Star– bright and clear, with every point of the Little Dipper visible. 

When I woke during the night last night, I lay on my bed in this beautiful rental cabin on a lake, looking out at stars more numerous and twinkling with more brilliance than I have seen in a long time. I couldn’t sleep for some time, but I didn’t mind; it was worth a few hours of lost sleep for the opportunity to savor the tapestry before me. Opening my window, I lay listening to the lapping of waves against the dock, while filling my soul with the light from above– a wonder-filled night.

O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hand hath made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee; 
how great Thou art, how great Thou art!