Refuge- it’s personal where one feels a sense of peace and security. In the last few years, numerous of my natural refuges have been destroyed by wildfires, development, and clearing for agriculture. There is no stopping it. Climate change marches on despite my best efforts. I live lightly, donate money, and write letters without the satisfaction of seeing much change. Thus I’ve taken to the one thing I do have control over which is my own backyard. I mean that in a literal sense.
I’m starting to take one section of my yard at a time and rewilding it by putting it into a native plant garden. I really don’t know what I am doing but thus far determination and a boatload of good advice have been enough despite my fears. It was a big deal to have a dump truck arrive and deposit 5 yards of soil in the middle of my driveway then the following week spend over a thousand dollars on native plants. Vison is a strong force when you act on it.
This is the painting I wake up to in the morning and go to bed to at night. It brings me a sense of peace and order when I look at it.
Why did I paint this?
The migration of birds fascinates me: What inspires them to leave? How do they navigate their journey? How can their tiny bodies withstand travel of thousands of miles of such rigorous travel? Then there’s nature- always an inspiration.
In this painting with a base of sponged, brushed, and stenciled acrylic on a 12 x 12” dimensional artboard, we look down on a flight of white birds over forest. Stenciled ferns are below the abstracted trees. The symbol of a river is collaged on the upper left quadrant and the collaged 4 negative triangles in the lower left quadrant symbolize direction. Most of my collage papers are made up of “failed prints.”I bless my failures as they never fail to add the perfect touch elsewhere. Rain is represented in the upper right quadrant by stamping a painted piece of corrugated cardboard.
To add a little sparkle I added a bit of gold leaf at the top. A stamped Asian symbol on the lower right quadrant adds a zen quality to the piece.
I took a larger cradled artboard, flipped it over, and painted it black. Then I mounted the painting inside of it to add a dimensional frame. This is an intuitive painting meaning I paint by what inspiration shows up at the time. The color palette was inspired by another artist’s work and then I tweaked it to make it my own.
Even when I can’t travel, I look at this painting and I can go somewhere else. I’m so glad no one purchased this at my last studio sale. It is called Spring Migration.
Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.Mary Oliver
I was never much of a noticer until I took Glen Moffat’s Natural history class in my sophomore year of college. Until that time most birds other than gulls, jays, & hawks were all little brown things that flit about in the trees. Wildflowers were all pretty. Trees were either pines with needles or trees with leaves.
We wore hiking boots to that class. Armed with binoculars and magnifying glasses off we went on various field trips up into the Bay Area hills and beaches. Mr. Moffat was a short middle-aged guy with the exuberance of a young golden retriever. His enthusiasm was infectious. Suddenly all those little brown birds were visual wonders with names. Among the many were wrens, bluebirds, flycatchers, tanagers, warblers, and sparrows with all manner of coloring, beaks, and feet. Ducks were not ducks any more but dabblers and divers, shovelers, canvasbacks, and scoters. There were actually five types of gulls I could identify: Ring-billed, California, Herring, Glaucus, and Western. I began to recognize the calls of birds. The wildflowers took on identities of their own and I learned to tell them apart, asters, shooting stars, goldenrod. There were differences in the shrubs, gooseberry, goat’s beard, California buckeye. The pine trees became firs, hemlock, cedar, red, yellow, and white pines.
My fear of science dissipated to the point that when I transferred as a junior to a university I changed my major from Art to Natural History, an interdisciplinary study of botany, ecology, zoology, and geology. My studies of botany turned more intimate. I peered into dissecting scopes and marveled at the inner structures of flowers, algae, lichens, and fungi. Slime molds had designs that were worthy of a display in an art museum. I was introduced to the world of lichens, mosses, algae, & liverworts. I learned that most fungi were not mushrooms but rather molds and yeast. Mushrooms were merely the fruiting bodies of the spidery white webs of mycelia living underground or in rotting material. Latin names swam about in my psyche. Now everywhere I walked was a treasure hunt of natural wonders.
Eventually, I became so adept at plant ID that as a junior I was hired on a botanical study to map rare and endangered plant species in a potential wilderness area. The plants we found, among them, a sundew (a small insectivorous plant) eventually converted the land into a protected natural area. After graduation, I worked in Alaska for a forest fire ecologist, cataloged sea life with NOAA, and mapped vegetation types with the US Forest Service. I walked the sandy barrier island off the coast of Prudhoe Bay identifying sea birds on a study with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and counting the abandoned but ever warm downy nests of eiders.
Those years of scientific study are long behind me but I am still an observer always looking for acquaintances in the natural world around me. I know the name of the birds about my yard and their calls. I don’t have to worry about filling the hummingbird feeder so full as I noticed that their skinny tongues are over two inches long. I noticed that the little myotis bats that darted about on warm summer nights have all but vanished as with the
warblers, the tanagers, swallows, cedar waxwings and other seasonal migrants. This troubles me. Some years back after the neighbors sprayed the brambles on the fence line, the quail disappeared. The red wind blackbirds still pass through winter and springs filling the air with their songs. This year, the aphids did not show on my kale!
When I learned to notice nature, my life changed radically to the point I made a career out of it. Science became my friend rather than something to be afraid of. The environment became something to enjoy and protect. It is not necessary to go to the extremes I did but it is important to be aware of the natural world that surrounds us. It can form and direct us. We humans as the decades pass are losing our connection to the earth as we retreat further and further into technology. But it is important to remember that our so-called civilized lives are built on the back of nature from the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the raw materials in our house, cars, devices, and the fuel in our vehicles. Without a connection to the earth, we continue to degrade the planet to the point it will be unable to sustain a quality of life for ourselves or its other inhabitants. It’s happening now with climate change, pollution, and degradation of the land and oceans.
One way to keep that connection is to learn the names of the birds, animals, and plants that inhabit your environment. Even in the city, there are species that have learned to cohabitate with humans. If you look closely, you may see there is more than one type of squirrel, & brown bird. Watch the crows going about their day. There are communities in the sky conducting business you are not savvy to.
By naming the plants and creatures we encounter, we offer them respect and become aware that the earth does not just belong to us. We become advocates for our environment rather than just exploiters. Give your children binoculars and magnifying glasses rather than devices to rob their minds. Give yourself some too. Look up and around you and learn to notice the magnificent gifts that this planet has to offer.
“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”
― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
Over the July 4th weekend we took our annual trip camping up the McKenzie River here in Oregon. The river has its beginnings at Clear Lake, from springs that immerge from lava tubes at the North end of the lake. It then runs down a steep grade in a series of gorgeous waterfalls & pools before running free. The water is sparkling clear. Being by the McKenzie River is healing, but being on it and part of its energy in our kayaks is akin to a spiritual experience.
I find peace in rivers, especially the McKenzie. They provide inspiration for my art & poetry.
The River Called to Me
With a voice born out of eternity
Fluent in all languages
By my sparkling water
A silver ribbon in a dark forest
“McKenzie Rapid”- Gelatin print & stamps over pen & ink. The feeling of being in the midst of a rapid in a kayak is so exhilarating. I tried to capture the energy here.