Musings on quiet mornings…

I have a fairly light schedule this month, which is very welcome after two rather full months. June and July were full of great things– with a beautiful new grandchild topping the list of events that included an artist retreat, attending an art workshop, vacationing on the Outer Banks, flying to California to meet little Elizabeth, and quite a bit more. Even such wonderful events on my calendar, though, take their toll of energy, and by the time August came around, I was ready for a month at home without a lot going on.

I’m trying to take advantage of this quieter month to be more intentional in how I use my time, with the hope of developing a sustainable rhythm to my days and weeks. Although I very much enjoy spontaneity, I find I also need structure, so my goal for this time period is to see what sort of balance works best for me. Of course, I know that that balance will change as circumstances change, but I’m hoping that I can find a flexible rhythm that I can adapt as needed, while still maintaining some continuity.

One thing I’ve realized is that I am calmer and at the same time more productive in the long run when I keep my mornings quieter for reading, writing, walking, sketching, praying, or putzing around the house getting enjoyable chores done. When I schedule up my mornings with appointments or socializing, I often end up feeling like my days are hectic races and that I have somehow sold my quiet-loving nature to a to-do list. On the other hand, when my mornings are quiet, I tend to feel peaceful and yet energetic, and in the afternoon I enjoy spending time with people or often get done as much as I do on the more scheduled days. I also am much more present with Stephen and with others after I’ve had quiet mornings.

I’ve also found that I mostly paint when I travel rather than when I’m home, because art time typically gets scheduled out. Last month, though, a wise friend reminded me that I need to prioritize both art and prayer, both of which tend to get pushed to the side if I get too busy. As this month of reflection goes along, I’m finding myself painting a good bit more than I usually do when I’m home, and when I paint or sketch more, I also pray more. I’m writing more, too, and today I even surprised myself by trying my hand at a bit of fiction for the first time. This shows me yet again that if I nurture my spirit in the ways it needs, creativity will flow.  I’m planning to keep making time for quiet in the coming weeks, and hoping to enjoy many creative hours.

Resurrection Bay Sunrise (Alaska)
Meadowbrook Farm Sunset

Squirrel Sketches

Winter is finally here, with its crisp, clear sunshine; blustery wind; and twittering birds flocking to the feeders to fill their bellies and keep warm. And with the always entertaining squirrels chasing one another in trees and scouring the deck for seeds the birds drop. I’ve had a fairly full schedule recently, so when I’m home, I savor the quiet minutes I carve out to sit, usually with either Petra or Acadia warming my lap, watching the lively world of our deck, and sipping hot green tea (I have a new favorite– Dragon’s Well green tea– yumm! It has a mild chestnut-like flavor, and I love chestnuts.)
As always, I sit with sketchbook in hand (actually balanced on Petra or Acadia, who are remarkably obliging), doing many partial sketches, as my subjects are rarely still for more than a moment. I sometimes spend a few seconds here and there over a couple of days on each sketch, coming back to them as the bird or squirrel is again briefly in that same pose. 
I’m getting to know the three squirrels who regularly visit our deck- a large male, a large female, and a smaller female, who I’m guessing is a late summer baby from last year. The male is here the most, and when the female isn’t here, he spends all his time eating. When the female is here, he spends almost all his time following her around. The youngster is a bit more reddish than her elders, and I’m wondering if that is a factor of her age or if she’s just more reddish by nature. She isn’t here as often as the adults, and she moves away if they approach here. I’ll be watching her over the coming months to see whether she becomes more gray. 

Here I am at about 15 or 16 with Roy, a squirrel with a broken leg that my veterinarian asked me to care for

Steam rises from my bowl of oatmeal, visible in the cool morning air. Finches sing and wrens scold, filling the air with life. A young Goldfinch flutters wings and lowers head, begging his father for food. A loud humming heralds the arrival of a hummingbird, who is suddenly hovering a couple of yards in front of me as she studies me. Two sleek yearling does and two young bucks sporting velvet-covered spike antlers waft silently through the yard, pausing to nibble fresh grasses on their way from woods behind to woods in front, as Rowan lies beside me watching calmly.

My morning dog training client cancelled at the last moment this morning, so I’ve been enjoying the unexpected gift of a slow morning. Breakfast on the deck in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt– such a treat in August, some leisurely sketching, laundry hung on the line (always so satisfying), and time for a bit of relaxed reading. I have a full afternoon and evening schedule ahead of me, so am thankful for a quieter than planned morning to just be.

Innisfree Garden

I can’t believe I’ve lived here for twenty-six years and haven’t been to Innisfree Garden until today. It certainly won’t be that long before I go again to enjoy the peaceful grounds, the lily pad bordered lake, the abindant flowers, and the wonderful rock formations. I strolled around the lake with Jonathan, then we each went to whatever spot had caught our eye to spend time thinking, praying, reading, and just being.

I first sat at a picnic table to eat my lunch, then sketched the view looking down the lake.

After that I meandered along the lake until I came to a shady hill with a cool breeze, right by the 60 foot fountain. There were seats on the hilltop, overlooking the lake, where I sat and pondered with pen in hand, thinking about how to add sabbath rest to my week on a regular basis. I think I’ve decided on Wednesdays. I’ll focus on spiritually and physically refreshing activities on those days, and keep internet browsing, email, and phone time to a minimum, in order to help ground myself in the here and now. That will also give me the quiet time for contemplation, prayer, and open-ended musing that I need in order to stay grounded in who God has made me to be.

After writing for a while, I wandered a bit more, until I found myself enveloped in the fragrance of sun-warmed pines on a dry hillside– the perfect place to sit and sketch.

Finally, rested and refreshed in body and soul, I made my way slowly around the lake until I met up with Jonathan. We then explored, as we compared notes about our day. I’m looking forward to going back very soon.

Bullfrog on lily pad

Partially done sketch from above Corncrib Crossing
Swift Long-winged Skimmer Dragonfly on Lotus bud
One of many benches in strategic nooks

Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed

PJ– July 2001 to May 28, 2013

PJ was my friend Sarah’s dog, and I got to know her well while I was pet-sitting when Sarah would travel. Later on PJ spent a fair amount of time with me and always fit in as a sweet, happy member of our family.

It was a kind of grace to be
PJ’s friend. She came to Sarah as an unsocialized, semi-feral puppy, and Sarah slowly, patiently taught her to trust. Over time PJ became more and more social and ended up loving people, but when I first met her as a two-year-old, she was still quite
reserved. I immediately felt an affinity for this shy, camouflaged
sprite, who so loved being quietly outside by herself, and I always felt
it was a gift and a privilege to have her trust. Sarah often said that PJ had the same personality as I, but in a dog’s body. Maybe that is why PJ and I connected right away; I felt as though we understood each other without words.

PJ was an observer. She spent much of her days watching and waiting in eager expectation. Hour by hour contentedly watching a tree in which she knew a squirrel sometimes foraged. Waiting patiently for a woodchuck to come out of its hole. Watching and waiting while a squirrel walked within a few yards of her on the deck. Weather rarely deterred PJ, and she would frequently ask to stay outside when the other dogs came in.
Watching the Horse Chestnut tree on a rainy day

Watching the world with her, whether slowly
meandering through the woods on leash, investigating every interesting
scent, or roaming fields searching for something moving subtly under the
grass, or sitting on the deck with her watching her watch a tree for hours, opened my eyes to much
that I may otherwise have missed. During times when I might otherwise have been stressed, PJ often helped cultivate a peaceful spirit in me, attentive to easily-overlooked but fascinating aspects of the natural world around my home.
My shadow and PJ, enjoying a winter woods walk

 I miss the gentle tap on my elbow or soft poke behind my knee that were
her quiet ways of saying, “Hi, I’m here with you.” I would turn to see
those bright eyes, that sweet expression or happy grin, and her wagging tail. I miss the
thump, thump, thump of her tail on the floor whenever I’d look in her
direction. I miss her uniquely beautiful ears that would twitch slightly in my direction to greet me, when she was “watching.”

PJ, beloved scruffy girl, I miss
your gentle spirit and quiet zest for life. I will watch and wait and remember all you taught me.

A young PJ, in pencil
watercolor sketch done in the field
How to Appreciate a Tree, by PJ

Silver — 1998 to May 23, 2013

Snuggling while I was working at my computer

Silver sold a painting for me once. When I first saw dark blue pawprints on my recently finished painting of Stonehenge, my initial response was neither appreciation nor joy. Silver, always energetic, mischievous, and into everything, had taken advantage of my brief absence from my studio to leap onto the table She had walked through the wet blue paint on my palette, across the freshly dried watercolor painting, and then along the table and windowsills, leaving a trail of bright blue prints all around the room. I hurriedly scrubbed as much of the blue as I could off the paper, but faint marks were left in the middle of the sky. Unfortunately not faint enough to qualify as sky, the marks ruined my painting… or so I thought.

After some mulling, it occurred to me that perhaps I could hide the marks by covering them with a flock of birds. Not where I’d normally place birds, but it was the only hope for this painting, so I added them. Someone saw my Stonehenge paintings on facebook and came here to look at them. She decided to buy the painting with the flock of birds, saying she particularly liked that one because of the birds. Thank you, Silver!

 That pretty much encapsulates what Silver’s presence in our family was like. Vibrant, playful, and curious, Silver was an active part of nearly everything that went on in our home, adding her own unique personality to the mix. She loved the dogs and enticed the Aussies into chasing her down the hall almost every evening. I wrote this about Silver in an article about our pets a couple of years ago:

Silver, one of my two cats, sashays in front of the dogs, then crouches, swishes her tail wildly back and forth, and suddenly darts down the hall, Petra and Rowan chasing playfully after her. Moments later she confidently strides back into my studio, hops up on the table, and walks through my palette, then leaves a trail of blue paw prints across the bookshelves. I love this cat. I am never bored with her in the house and it would be hard to be lonely. Her mischievous, playful ways are balanced by her quiet poses as she sits on an upside down box or even on a piece of paper and solemnly watches me for long minutes, clearly just wanting to be near.

Silver was Arielle’s cat– a gift for her 11th birthday. Arielle had asked for a kitten for her birthday, and I’d heard that there was a stray kitten at the animal hospital. We went to see it, but the kitten had been adopted. Instead there was a skinny one year old cat who was climbing up the inside of her cage. Arielle took her out, and the cat climbed right up to her shoulder and walked back and forth between our shoulders and heads, constantly on the move, constantly purring. I reminded Arielle that she had wanted a kitten, but was proud of her when she decided that she’d rather give this lonely, affectionate cat a home.

Silver adored Arielle from day one, and even though Arielle hasn’t lived at home much for seven years now, whenever she would visit Silver would be either in or just outside Arielle’s room. For days afterward, I’d find her hanging out by Arielle’s door a couple of times a day. Since Arielle went to college, Silver began to connect more deeply with me as well, and most of the time she was somewhere near me, whether roaming on my desk or painting table, purring on my lap, or sitting beside my chair.

Silver loved all people and often greeted visitors at the door and would beg to be picked up as soon as they settled in a chair. She loved to go to the vet; it was a new place to explore and there were new people to see– all good in her mind. She even loved her crate and was happy to hop in and go for a car ride.

It is so hard to wrap my mind around the idea that this vibrant, loving cat is no longer here. She was with us for so long and was a warm, loving part of every day for me in the past few years. I miss you so much, my little gray shadow. This house will never be the same without your playing, your pranks, and your purring.

On my lap, watching my face
She loved to sit in baskets, boxes, and wastebaskets
Sketches during Silver’s hyperthyroid days (once treated she was calmer)
Helping me with my work
Watching the birds with me

My last sketch of Silver

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.


There is a contemplative 
in all of us,
almost strangled
but still alive,
who craves quiet
enjoyment of the Now,
and longs to touch
the seamless
garment of silence
makes whole.
                                                 Alan P. Tory
I move
around the house, breathing air rich with potential. My thoughts slow, not in
lassitude, but with quiet peace that opens me to the broad expanse of today. I
look around, see sunlight painting patterns on the fir flooring,
Milo basking on the hearth, the meandering stream sparkling through the woods.
Birds sing from time to time, but not often; I hear the near stillness of a
winter day.
Time alone, solitude– words of invitation to step out and in.
Out of the bustle and pressure of rushing toward the future, into the richness
of the present moment. My tattered soul longs for, yet resists the quiet
invitation, clinging anxiously to the
demands of the urgent, even while reaching for the Now.
present gently envelops me; my eyes open to the small and the large that I’ve
been missing in the rush. Fingers relax, breathing slows and deepens, colors
catch and hold my eye, smiles dance across my face…
hour passes timelessly, I in concert with it. Afterward, my soul once again
whole, I look to the future, now filled with peace and joy. 
Morning Sparkle

A Blessing Named Bituminous

A lapful of love, a warm chin in my elbow, a soft paw tapping my chest, green eyes gazing into mine. This was Bituminous for many wonderful years.
This morning his time ran out, and I let him go peacefully before he lost his peace in this life. He snuggled his cheek into my hand right up to the end, enjoying my gentle love that wanted to keep him forever, but even more wanted for him to never know the suffering that would have come soon due to his failing body.
My Bituminous—a mighty hunter in his younger years; a friend small in stature but great in trust; a beloved member of our family for over eighteen years. Somehow, because he had beaten the odds so many times over the years, I thought he would keep on going forever.
I learned much from my little friend. Early on he showed me what trust looks like. I remember stepping outside before bed and calling him to come inside. The night was black and so was he, and all was silent. Then a small piece of the night would step into the circle of light spilling from the windows, and Bituminous would come running joyfully to me from the darkness. A small creature, less than one tenth my size, hurrying toward me without hesitation, with perfect trust. From him I learned to have a greater trust in God, who is so much greater than I.
In recent years Bituminous has helped me learn to slow down and savor quiet moments. Over the past few years I have spent many happy hours with my warm cat on my lap, with him sleeping or watching me, and me reading or watching his calm breathing. Life slowed down as I stepped out of the rat race, into peaceful reflection and silent connection that enriched my days and helped me grow into the person I am today.
Thank you, Bituminous, for the gifts you brought me. You were a gift in every way.