“You have no events scheduled today.”

When I see that in my Inbox, I feel as though I have been handed a gift. And I have—a gift of time, time to disengage, unwind, rest, play, or read. To walk with Ramble, to sit with Acadia purring on my lap and a cup of tea in my hand, to sketch and write. When that gift is combined with solitude and silence, I begin to find and draw forth the quieter parts of myself, the parts that slip into the background when I live with noise and the busyness of daily life and my inner compulsion to keep constantly connected with the world via the email, texts, and phone calls (thankfully I am only occasionally on social media these days, so that is less of a factor than it used to be).

I’ve set aside a few days as a retreat. While I won’t have complete solitude, much of my time will be alone, and I will see that welcome message in my Inbox each morning, if I look at my email at all. The first day of a retreat is more of a puttering day for me, as I gradually disengage from my usual responsibilities. Even though my calendar may tell me I am unscheduled, my mind takes a bit longer to let go. That’s why I try to set aside three or more days of retreat once or twice a year. So today I puttered around the house and in my garden, my mind gradually slowing down and moving into a more relaxed state.

Tomorrow I expect to be more and less focused. Less focused on “shoulds” and more focused on trees and birds and spring flowers and what they reveal about myself or about God. By day three I am usually more “in the moment” and in a more relaxed attitude of prayer and contemplation than I typically am, better able to let go of the “This is a retreat; I want to make the most of it,” frame of mind and instead just walk through the day appreciating the life I have, in a more natural connection with the quieter parts of who I am and in communion with God.

I generally find that for the first few days of an extended retreat I am withdrawing from people, cherishing the respite I feel from being over-connected and over-committed. After that I begin to look outward again, as my inner being has become rested and refreshed, and I find myself looking forward to connecting. But I’m not there yet, so now, I will step away from my computer and into the peace of my retreat.

I wrote this piece two days ago on the first day of my retreat. Below are my sketches from Days 1 & 2. And now I will once again step away from my computer and return to the refreshing rest of retreat.

Musings after spending several hours sketching an oak tree


A to Z April Blogging R


I love this time of year when we still have some fall color, but we can also see more and more of the essence or “bones” of the trees. Trees are one of my favorite subjects for drawing, painting, sketching, and just plain looking at. They are more cooperative than dogs, cats, or people, and especially more so than birds. It seems no matter how quietly I pick up a pen and my sketchbook when my cat, Acadia, or my dog, Ramble, are sleeping, they immediately wake up or shift position in their sleep. But the trees in my yard generally stand fairly still and they hold their essential shape (with minor changes due to falling limbs on occasion), except when leaves are growing in the spring or falling in autumn. But those changes take place more slowly than I sketch.

However, even though the trees stand still, the light can change dramatically in a matter of minutes, so sometimes I need to observe closely and sketch quickly. As I sketched this morning and tried to capture the morning light on one of our venerable black locust trees, Paul’s words from Ephesians and Colossians about making the most of every opportunity came to mind and led me into meditating on the importance of being attentive to the opportunities God brings my way. I don’t want to miss the privilege of seeing his fingerprints in the world or cooperating with him in some work he has for me, and sketching trees always seems to slow me down and bring me into a place of mindfulness. I wonder if one reason God made trees to be stationary beings is for them to model a patient attentiveness and responsiveness to all that happens around them.

Locust Tree in fleeting morning light: “make the most of every opportunity…”
Locust tree in fleeting afternoon light
These three ash trees have graced our land for over 60 years (I counted the rings), but had to be cut down last month due to Emerald Ash Borer damage. I wanted to honor them with a sketch before they fell.
Dead now for several years, this pine still stands, a source of food and shelter for many birds and insects. It is beautiful as its bark and branches catch the sun.

Rocks of Acadia National Park crowned with fall color


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Recent Musings and Sketches

My focus the past few weeks has been to rest, refocus, and continue to develop a workable, helpful rhythm of life, as I mentioned in my post of August 14th. Grief seems to drain me of creative energy, even when I’m not specifically thinking of recent losses, so I’ve been doing a lot of reading the past few weeks since we lost our sweet Petra. Reading often calms my mind so that I can think constructively and, more importantly, seems to renew my energy and motivation for doing things that need to be done (laundry, cooking, etc.) and for creative expression, whether sketching, painting, or writing. I will often think I’m just being lazy or that I have lost all creative ability, but if I then spend a few hours reading, interspersed with a couple walks with Ramble, all of a sudden I find that I’m eager to start sketching or even planning a painting.

I’ve mostly been sketching trees, either with ink, which I love because of its simplicity and the way it lends itself to both bold expression and subtle nuance, or with watercolor and gouache as I attempt to capture fall colors. I’ve also continued to sketch Stephen as he reads in the evenings, and sometimes myself from my reflection in a window as Stephen reads aloud to me.

Watercolor sketch of Stephen reading
Graphite pencil self portrait from window reflection in a dim room
Graphite pencil sketch of Stephen reading
Water-soluble ink sketch of Stephen reading
View from Fishkill Ridge- watercolor and gouache
Trees in our yard
Schoodic Peninsula rock and fall color from photo) in gouache
In honor of three Ash trees that succumbed to the Emerald Ash Beetle
The Bedford Oak
Dead Pine tree in our yard in water-soluble ink
Black Locust in Ink